AUTHOR'S NOTE: This started out as posting a plot bunny, because in all honesty, I'm never going to write it out fully. I have the Daydverse to finish, and I'm 28. After the Daydverse, it really is going to be time for me to be more or less done with fandom, because I like the outside world too much, and when I'm in a good place in my life -which I very much intend to be - I'm too busy. That's nothing against older people who are still into fandom, it's just me. But I think it's a good idea, or at least an interesting one, so if anyone else wants to take it and do something with it, feel free, just tell me. I just chose to also post it here because I decided the narration interspersed with first person glimpses also worked intriguingly as a oneshot. This is my only and will remain my only Hunger Games fic.
Cinna Mantua was born Cinnamon Barton in District 11. His family worked the spice orchards (cinnamon is harvested from the inner bark of a subtropical tree) and he was named when his skin was almost exactly the color of cinnamon bark at birth.
They say you always remember your first time. I certainly can never forget. I was twelve, of course - we are all twelve - and luckier than many, as my name was only in twice. My parents were proud of their skills in making sure that our family could get by with only one tesserae, but I wasn't allowed to be proud of what I could do. Everyone wore their best for the reaping, and I had spent a month on mine; working in secret, on the edges of fields, before and after work that was already too long, by starlight and the glow from the coals in the kitchen fire.
Looking back, it was clumsy work by hands that didn't know any better yet, still ignorant of darts and interfacing, easing and rolling hems, but the instincts and ideas were there. I'd wanted to look good if it was me, to make my family and my district proud in the judgmental eyes of the Capitol instead of letting them look down on our grubby homespun and rough stitches, but they didn't see it that way.
My mother tore the feathers from my hair, scrubbed the sap away that held the shining flax seeds in careful patterns on my face. I still remember the husks popping like slaps when the tunic with all its hours of homemade beading was tossed in the fire even though fabric cost. I wept then, but I should thank her now. Back then I still thought the reaping was truly fair and random, and I didn't realize that in keeping me one more drab face in the crowd, she was probably saving my life. I'd have been a good show, if a brief and bloody one.
He tries to be 'good', satisfying himself with making nice things for friends' weddings and such, but when he's sixteen, his closest friend becomes a Tribute, and he actually has hope for her. She's not very pretty, but she's strong, clever, and ruthless…but her stylist sees nothing to work with, and she comes off as a kind of farm animal in the preshow, crude and ugly, which of course is the capitol sin of the Capitol.
My hands were fists on the cuffs of my workshirt, and I could taste the blood as I tried not to cry. We had all promised not to cry, as we did every year, but even though everyone knew the promise would be broken eventually, there would be no excusing it this soon. On the corner of the screen, Caesar Flickerman was interviewing the stylist, and I felt myself shake with hate as I stared at his over-tightened eyes with their four rows of eyeliner and two of lashes. I loathed him, so much more than those who would have no choice but to turn knives and bludgeons on Rosemary. Whether or not I liked his personal taste, he had obvious skill, and there was none of the effort he'd so clearly preened on himself in what he'd done to her.
I could have made her an Amazon of the fields, strong and hard and secretly poison as a walnut tree, but he'd made her worse than ridiculous. She was barely made up, her hair piled awkwardly on her head by hands who couldn't account for curl and texture, a silly crown of fruits perched too tall and too dainty, and the dress...was it supposed to be a cornucopia theme? All that blobbish and spangled silk produce hanging here and there and wherever over the lacy gold basketweave that fit her nowhere. So wrong for her muscled arms and broad back, the stark lines of her face, making her the one to mock when I could have had every savvy coin in the Capitol fighting to sponsor her.
She makes it into the final six, but dies of a simple infection as he watches a far less deserving girl make it to the last four because she was gorgeous and is showered in sponsors' gifts. He realizes that he'd be an awful tribute, is a fairly shitty farmer…but he could not only shine as a stylist (something he's always wanted but has been taught to hate himself for because the Capitol is supposed to be EVIL, not glamorous and so beautiful and exciting that wanting so much hurts) but maybe save someone's life.
He runs away, leaving his parents with his younger brother who is 'the better one' anyway, relentlessly practical and hardworking and making it look like he was killed in a farming accident. The journey cross country to the Capitol is almost six months and very treacherous, but when he finally arrives, he knows better than to just waltz in. He spends another six months living in the garbage dump on the outskirts of town, foraging for better food and scraps of things that can be fashioned into better things.
The jacket alone took me three months, and I was ashamed that living in a garbage dump I ate better than I ever had dreamed of at home. Some things, of course, were hopelessly spoiled by the time they got to me, but there were plenty of fruits and nuts, hard cheeses and even wrapped candies and half finished bottles of wine. The hollows of my ribs were filling out for the first time in my life, and I decided to save the trousers for last as I used my little shard of broken glass to pick buttons free of a stained waistcoat and cut strands from last season's wigs to be knotted one at a time onto the hairpiece slowly filling out in my makeshift refuge.
Finally, shortening his name to the more Capitol-appropriate Cinna and taking a new surname, he shows up at the train station slim rather than emaciated, decked in what no one would ever guess came from discards, in a tizzy that he lost his ticket. He's allowed on the train without a second glance, and seeks out a talented but unfashionable tailor on the outskirts of the fashion district. He says he's been kicked out by his family for running up too much debt too young, and needs a job. His story isn't believed a moment (something he doesn't learn until years later) but his talent is obvious. The tailor takes him in, teaches him, grooms him, and as Cinna's skills grow, the little fashion house starts to garner attention.
By 21, Cinna has opened his own tiny establishment, but he has also learned to play the politics of fashion. With his wholly original, outside-the-box approach and the mechanical aptitude that he'd never expected to be useful in fashion gained from repairing broken farming equipment, his fashions become famous for their little surprises. False eyelashes that flutter like bird's wings, wigs that sprout umbrella-like hats when it rains, heels that heighten in the mud, etc. He gets them onto a few prominent people, and at 25, it finally happens: he gets the chance to enter the contest to become a stylist for the Hunger Games.
I nearly run into his new assistant as I burst into the workshop, waving the letter with the excitement of one of our clients being shown the very latest in triple heels. "Caledon! Caledon! I...I..." I'm too out of breath, too excited, but one look at my face and the richly scented velvet of the letter and he knows, punching the crimping shears into the air like a victor's spear.
"I knew it, boy!" He snatches the letter away, squinting closely at it in lieu of fetching the embroidery spectacles on the far workbench. "You've got your theme then, good, oh very good. Leatherwork's a strong suit of yours, and it won't hurt you too much to go understated there. You'll do something clever, of course, though." His brow creases with concentration deep enough to defy the surgeon's hand. "Spectacle. It's all about spectacle. You can't forget that, Cinna. This is the Hunger Games, not some debutant's party dress. Too far might just get you there."
The first year, he fails, losing to a rival whose design isn't as good, but who has been enjoying a year of supreme trendiness. The second, he takes a bit of advice and invests in a night with Finnick Odair, whom he has been told by his old mentor would be worth it, even though not why - especially as Cinna doesn't actually favor boys. To his surprise, Finnick catches almost instantly that his Capitol accent has a few flaws, and guesses that he's ex-District. He takes that secret as Cinna's payment, but also offers to let Cinna dress him for his next big party and to talk him up as a potential stylist. Cinna creates a translucent confection of fish scales that are transparent but reflect light just enough that you can never quite see through them, and it's the talk of the night.
The next year, he's not sent an invitation for the contest, and it crushes him…until he's directly invited to be a Stylist. He accepts, but stuns Seneca by asking for District 12. Privately, his reasons are that he wants to give a kid from an outlying district a chance but can't risk being assigned to 11, where the right 18 year old might still recognize him, but publicly, he just says he wants the challenge.
I had her measurements already, and I'd been playing with possibilities on the District theme for almost a month now at various levels of age-appropriate skin and sex appeal, but I'd been careful to not actually look at the face of my Tribute before now. I had told myself it was to prevent forming misconceptions about what she could look like before she was taken to Beauty Base Zero, but there was something in those piercing grey eyes that seemed to wring the truth from me even in their naked confusion and vulnerability. I hadn't wanted to see HER; who she had been, the family she was taken from, who burst out screaming at the reaping. Bad enough that there was no escaping the news of the sister she had volunteered for. I hadn't wanted to see that, and I hadn't wanted to lose hope unfairly if she seemed impossibly plain.
But she wasn't. No Finnick Odair, maybe, but that sort of boon came to one stylist a generation if they were lucky. Still, I was very, very fortunate. No skin diseases, not too skinny, not at all fat, with good bones and such striking eyes. I couldn't have asked for better. Nothing ladylike in the way she held herself, but that could be an asset to us both to present her as a fighter. And she was a fighter, every bit as much as Rosemary had been. Her eyes took my breath away, burning like coals in ash. I smiled despite the tragedy of her presence, knowing what waited on the mannequin. Maybe we couldn't have asked for better than each other.
The Girl on Fire is a triumph, and catapults him to the most desired stylist in the Capitol. His fashions quadruple in price, and he's flying high - higher still because it's widely agreed that his work actually contributed to saving both Katniss and Peeta's lives by making them the darling of sponsors. The victory tour and impending wedding almost drive down the horror of actually having had Tributes in the arena, but then comes the announcement of the Quarter Quell.
He's devastated, bursting into tears in public at not only having Katniss and Peeta in the arena against one another again right when he was planning their wedding, but also Finnick and all the other Victors he's come to know and often dress. He's in shock, poking aimlessly at bits of trim for something that couldn't possibly make it better when he's approached by Petrarch and Finnick.
It's a cautious conversation at first, but like bits of silk patterned together, it starts to take shape. They know where he's from. Haymich has made it known the attitude he took towards Katniss. They think he would agree that the Capitol is dangerous, the Games unacceptably barbaric. Things are happening. Things where image will matter. He joins the rebels and their growing plans. He starts working on the Mockingjay motif. He brings in Tigris, a stylist who nearly killed herself and started on modification to the point of mutilation after watching a Tribute who had been agonizingly injured thank her on camera for including a belt in the arena costume and hang himself.
They were right. The spark had caught. I looked around my workshop and felt myself smile just a little bit, even as my insides burned and chilled and twisted and trembled with too many emotions to catalogue. So much fabric and fur, so many sheafs of fringes and little pots of acetates and sizings. Oh, this place would burn, and I knew I wouldn't last long in the inferno. But I could matter in a way that I never would have as a Tribute, and I could save not one or two, but maybe all of them. I picked up two feathers, one black, one white. The mockingjay. The girl on fire. My triumph, my final signature on the death warrant of the Capitol I still loved but had come to hate. My eyes closed, then opened again on a deep breath. "I think I know just the dress."