Fandom: The Hunger Games
Characters: Cinna. Guest appearances by Finnick.
Notes: Written for the fic prompt, and also because I wanted to explain this, too.
Summary: A twist in life and the Games changes the way Cinna sees the world forever.
The day I turned twelve, I nearly died.
My parents took me to get my first alterations done. We were a rich family even by Capitol standards, and I was the baby of the family after my brother and sister, so they spoiled me. On my twelfth birthday, when poor children in the districts would be signing up for tesserae, I went to get purple spirals tattooed on the backs of my hands. My older siblings urged me to try something more extravagant, but honestly, I didn't like most of what passed for style in the Capitol. It seemed like it missed the point somehow.
The opening ceremonies for the Hunger Games were two days before my birthday. They were a perfect example of what I hated about Capitol fashion. I could almost never stand what the tributes were forced to wear. Still, my sister was enthusiastic about it, and since I was seven she'd known she could count on me to share her taste in boys, so we played the ratings game with the male tributes. I was getting old enough that I should have been able to get into it, but with most of them, one look at what they were wearing was enough to make it impossible to be attracted to them. They looked more like toys than people.
"And that one's off the scale," my sister said, pointing at the boy from District 4.
"He's too young for you," I said.
"Not for you," she said with an affected wink.
"He's pretty," I said.
"Pretty? He's beautiful!"
I didn't think so. He could have been beautiful in his own right, maybe. But in the ridiculous gauzy sea-green fins he was draped in, he just looked like a pretty doll. I was never able to explain things like that to my siblings, though. And that was why I decided to get purple spirals on the backs of my hands for my twelfth birthday, instead of having my whole arms redone in iridescent colors, like my brother suggested, or getting little wings, like my sister suggested.
So it was that as the tattooing process started, I began to feel oddly nauseous and tingly, and I said so. The last thing I remembered was the look of alarm on the tattooist's face, and then I was waking up in the hospital, being told how lucky I was that they'd caught it in time.
"Caught what?" I asked.
The doctor seemed surprised at how calm I was. She wouldn't have been if she'd known me; I was always calm. "The poisoning," she said.
"How could I be poisoned by tattoo ink?" I asked.
She immediately went into lecture mode. "The richest shade of purple ink is extracted from the poisonous berries of Digitalis novus." She pushed a button on the diagnostic library she was holding and showed me a picture of an innocuous-looking plant with pretty purple berries. "This plant was created as a weapon during the Dark Days, but now it continues to serve us as a beauty product. Isn't that a nice change?"
"I still don't feel well," I said pointedly.
I must have been too subtle for the doctor, because she continued, "Oh, that's normal. You'll be in here for a couple weeks while we finish flushing the poison out of your system and fix the damage to your heart. You see, Digitalis novus is always detoxified before being processed into ink, but sometimes a bad batch slips through. Fortunately, it's only immediately fatal if ingested. If it gets into the bloodstream, it takes about an hour to kill. You'll be fine."
That seemed backwards to me, from what little I knew of biology, but I didn't say anything about it. Instead, I said, "Nobody told me I was being tattooed with poison."
"It's so safe these days, you hardly need to know," she said. "Now, I know you feel bad about missing all the festivities of the Games, so we're having a big television brought in here just for you. You can watch all day long while you recover!"
That was the beginning. If I hadn't watched those Games so closely, everything would have been different.
It turned out that almost everyone favored the boy from District 4. His name was Finnick Odair; I couldn't help but pick that up, even though I didn't usually like to learn tributes' names. Without that terrible costume, he was beautiful. But he was also strong and deadly with a spear. I knew this because the coverage devoted a disproportionate amount of time to him and his beauty. But moments came when other tributes took the camera as well.
One surprise this year was the girl from District 12. The boy died early, at the Cornucopia, but she grabbed a knife and fled into the woods, where she seemed at home, foraging for food and hiding from the larger and better-trained tributes. She was small--only a year older than me, I found out, even though I didn't find out her name--and fast. She seemed to know her way around the plants there. On the third day of the Games, the cameras zoomed in on her latest discovery. For once, I recognized it, because my doctor had shown it to me when I arrived in the hospital. It was Digitalis novus.
"Nightlock," she whispered at the sight of it, her eyes wide. She gathered the berries, and she carefully split one open with her knife, running the blade through the berry until it was coated in the juices. She finally had an offensive advantage. She only needed to nick someone and run, now. I felt a little sick, even though I was supposed to be getting better, but I continued to watch. I was interested in her by this point.
For a while, the girl from District 12 hid and stalked the others, and the cameras went back to more interesting tributes. They were, as usual, on Finnick Odair the next day when he caught the girl from District 12 foraging. Anyone else caught like that by Finnick would have been dead by his spear, but she was too quick. She ducked in too close for him to use it and lunged with the knife. But her size betrayed her. He simply dropped the spear, grabbed her wrists, and overpowered her.
I watched from the edge of my bed. The Games had never been so interesting before. The girl was clever, and Finnick was strong and beautiful.
He twisted the hand that held the knife. "This is poisoned," he said. "Isn't it?"
She stared at him with wide eyes and said nothing, only tried to struggle. But it was too late. Finnick did something that, for some reason, had never occurred to me. He gripped her knife-holding hand, turned it around, and pressed the edge of the knife into the back of her other hand. Then he shoved her back hard, grabbed his spear, and fled.
Stifling whimpers, the girl grabbed her water skin and desperately poured it over the little cut, trying to rinse it out. I looked at the backs of my own hands. "That won't work," I said. "She needs to get to a hospital." My heart felt like it was battering my ribs, and I didn't think it was some kind of relapse. "She needs to get to a hospital," I repeated. "She didn't eat it. They can save her easily."
A nurse popped his head in my door. "Is something wrong," he checked the nameplate outside, "Cinna?"
I pointed at the television, which was still showing the girl from District 12. "She got Digitalis nova poisoning just like I did," I said. "She needs to be treated immediately."
He blinked at me in confusion for a moment. Then he laughed and stepped back out of my room. Even so, I could still hear him calling to another nurse, "Oh, Narda! You have to hear what this patient just said about the Games!"
For the next hour, I could barely feel myself breathe as I watched the girl from District 12 sicken and die. Just like I would have if they hadn't rushed me to the hospital. When she was dead I burrowed under the covers of my bed and refused to look at the television, but I didn't turn it off, so I could still hear the commentary.
The next day, the doctor came back to tell me that so long as I reported back to this room to take my medicines every hour on the hour, I was free to spend time in the lounge outside with other patients. I didn't want to watch the Games anymore, so I jumped at the chance.
But they had the Games playing in the lounge, of course. I watched them. I had no choice. But with every injury inflicted on the tributes, I found myself thinking of how this hospital could heal them, but wouldn't. Because they were tributes.
On the eighth day, a huge silver parachute floated down to Finnick Odair, and he unwrapped the package to find a glimmering, deadly trident. Part of me managed to detach from the horror long enough to take note that his elegance with the weapon made him more beautiful. His stylist should have gone with a theme of motion instead of draping him in gauze. Then he started killing people with the trident, and I hid under the covers of my bed again, trying not to think of him turning the knife back on the girl from District 12. He was beautiful, it was true, but I would never be attracted to him now.
On the ninth day of the Games, there was a clamor outside in the lounge. Grateful for some distraction from the carnage on the television, I stepped out to see what was going on. They were rushing a young man to surgery. I stared, disbelieving, at his wounds. There was no doubt about it. They came from a trident.
Relief flooded me. They were treating the tributes! It was over. I didn't have to stare at the television feeling guilty anymore.
"What's with the silly face, Cinna?" asked one of the nurses. Narda, who only knew me because of the hilarious thing she'd heard I'd said about the girl from District 12.
"That man," I said slowly. "His injury..."
"Oh, I know, it's so shocking," she said. "He was at an amazing viewing party, and the drink was so good, he overdid it and fell off a balcony directly onto a fence!"
"What?" I said. Reality hit me rather hard.
"So young, too!" she said. "Saving him will be hard work, but don't you worry. We'll fix him up just like we fixed you!"
I quietly went back to my room and forced myself to sleep. They released me on the eleventh day of the Games, and by the time I got home, it was over. Finnick Odair had won. All the other tributes were dead. I didn't want purple spirals on my hands anymore. For some reason, though, I looked up Digitalis novus, this nightlock, in the history records. I found an explanation there. During the war with the districts, the Capitol had designed nightlock from an existing flower, foxglove, to entice hungry rebels and then kill them on the spot. They'd made sure that it couldn't be turned against them by weakening its lethality when it was deliberately weaponized--after all, only they had the antidote. That was why, counterintuitively, it killed you instantly if you ate it but more slowly if it got into your bloodstream.
For the next four years, I walked through a world that seemed less real by the day. The people of the Capitol turned themselves into hideous baubles while I watched. The people of the districts turned on each other at our command. A plant with pretty berries could kill you in seconds or an hour, and a boy with incredible beauty could kill you faster. In a struggle to make it all make sense, I began to watch the people of the Capitol, then sketch versions of them dressed and styled in a way that made them look like people instead of strange dolls. But at the end of the day, my designs were just scraps of paper, and they meant nothing.
I tried to hide it, but after a year or so of this, my family finally started to notice my growing depression. Their response was to drag me to parties and shower me with gifts. That was the proper Capitol response to everything. It only made things worse. My birthday was inevitably the most terrible part, not just because it meant the Games had come, but also because my parents, my brother, and my sister all got together to think up the most sumptuous and outrageous gift possible.
When I turned fourteen, they got me a crystal fountain filled with wine. My brother and sister giggled over how lucky I was that they were letting me drink so much already when they'd had to wait until they were sixteen to drink more than three glasses of wine at a time. I thought the fountain was one of the most hideous things I'd ever seen.
When I turned fifteen, they got me a car (with a special Avox chauffeur) with a portable hot springs inside. My sister stole off in it with her fiance. I couldn't imagine anything more inefficient.
When I turned sixteen, they told me my present was waiting for me in my suite. I hoped it wasn't a new wardrobe, but feared that it would be. I'd been wearing more and more minimalistic clothing lately, and I knew no one in my family approved. I resigned myself to having to cut it all up and sew it back into something I could tolerate.
It wasn't a new wardrobe. It was Finnick Odair.
I didn't realize, at first, that he was dressed in nothing but loose silken undergarments and draped on my bed. All I could think was that this was the boy with the trident, and he would kill me like he had killed the other tributes in his Games. Like he had killed the girl from District 12. Why had I closed the door behind me? I would never get it open again in time. I found myself backed up against the wall, shaking. And yet some impulse I hadn't known I had forced me to meet Finnick's eyes. Searching for some point of reference that would make this scene make sense.
In an instant, I saw my own terror reflected back at me out of the eyes of the boy with the trident.
My own fear subsided, and I let out a shaken breath. Now I was curious. Why was he of all people afraid? "You're scared," I said.
"So are you," he said. Then, as if remembering something, as if putting a mask back on, he smiled faintly. It was probably supposed to be a seductive expression. "Do I overwhelm you, Cinna?"
I hated hearing my name out of his mouth. "I'm not interested in you at all," I said.
A glint of fear flickered back into his eyes, for some reason. "Don't tell me they made a mistake," he said, "and you don't like men." Men. That was right--he was a man now, even if I remembered him as a boy.
"I did once," I said. "I don't like anyone anymore. Especially not you."
He stretched out a hand. "Cinna. Come here."
I stayed stonily at the wall.
"Please," he murmured, licking his lips. The gesture repelled me. I didn't move. After a moment, he repeated the word. "Please." But this time, his voice was a whisper, and there was nothing sensual about it. He was scared again. That was how he really felt.
I slowly peeled myself off the wall, walked over to the bed, and sat down next to him. "You're an incredibly attractive man," I told him, "but I'm not interested, and I never will be."
He leaned in close, like he was going to try that awful seductive murmur routine again. Instead he whispered in my ear, "Your family is important. If I don't satisfy you, Snow will do something to my parents or my girlfriend. Hurt them."
Surreal words. How could anyone hurt someone if this man didn't want them to? I'd seen him kill. The Games he had won were burned into my memory. "You're a victor," I said. "You can do whatever you want. That includes having better taste in pajamas."
"Your sister picked this out for me," he said, subdued. "I don't like it either."
Something about the way he said it shattered the bizarre air that hung over the whole scene. This wasn't a dream, and I wasn't going to die. I was sitting in bed with Finnick Odair because my family had thought his sexual services would make a good birthday gift for me. It wasn't his fault they'd been horribly wrong. On the heels of that realization can another, more powerful one: none of it had ever been his fault. I let out a slow, steady breath. "I'm sorry," I said.
He looked at me. "For what?"
For a moment, I wasn't sure. Then I knew. "For blaming you," I said. Everything seemed much clearer now.
"I don't understand," he said. He frowned faintly. "Do you want me after all?"
"No," I said. "But I'll tell my parents you were amazing." His shoulders sagged in obvious relief. "This is what you have to do all the time," I said. Finnick didn't look scared anymore, just tired. He nodded. "You can have a break tonight," I said.
He hesitated, then made himself look me in the eyes, just as I'd done when I'd first seen him and been gripped with fear. "Why?"
Instead of undressing him like I was supposed to, I began to tell him the story of my brush with death four years ago. Of Digitalis novus and the injury that had looked like a trident wound. Of how I would never forget those Games, and not for the reason most of the people in the Capitol wouldn't, either. When I was done, he confided in me the tale of how he'd enjoyed his first two years of being a victor, but the last two had broken him. Of the threats to his loved ones. Of how President Snow passed him around like the pretty toy I'd once thought he appeared to be. I didn't think he looked like a doll anymore. He looked like a human being.
We didn't do anything but talk, but to make sure my parents would be convinced, we stripped before going to sleep. Neither of us was at all attracted to the other, so it was rather awkward, but at the same time it was comforting. I hadn't been so close to anyone who felt as real as he did in years.
In the morning, after he'd left, I told my parents that he'd been the best gift they'd ever given me, but he'd worn me out, so I didn't think I had the stamina for another night with him. I didn't want them trying to get him for me again. Too much risk that someone would find out that all we were doing was talking. Too much risk to Finnick and those he cared about.
I had resolved to let no one get hurt on my account. In this broken world, the pain of those manipulated and oppressed by the Capitol was one thing I could be sure of, and I was sure that I wanted no part in it.
But I had no way of expressing my hatred without getting someone hurt. I began to do the only thing I could do: I started turning my sketches of new fashions into a reality. They were different than the usual Capitol fare, and that was the only way I knew of to rebel. I worked as an apprentice at first, determined not to let my family's name and riches lift me up instead of my own talent. But over the next five years I crept up in esteem in the circles of fashion in the Capitol.
Until one day, I am informed that at the Seventy-fourth Hunger Games, I will be in charge of a tribute. Normally, as the newest stylist, I would automatically be assigned to District 12, but because of my family's influence, I'll have the choice of any district other than 1, 2, and 4.
I walk away from the offer, sickened by the thought of participating so directly in the Games.
A few days later, a new client summons me--an older woman, known to be rich but slightly eccentric. Harmless. I am to attend to her personally to recommend the best custom-tailored designs. It's a welcome distraction from the thought of what I am expected to do in less than a year, just before I turn twenty-two.
When I walk into her apartment, she greets me with a surprisingly genuine handshake. I only have a second to register this before I look over her shoulder and see, on the couch behind her, Finnick Odair.
"Oh, forgive me," my new client says. "I just remembered that I have to fetch more makeup. Wait for me here, won't you, darlings?" And with that, she leaves us alone. It's implausibly like five years ago in my bedroom suite, except fortunately, this time Finnick is fully dressed.
I look at him. "Can you explain to me what's going on? I'm a little bit lost."
"We could use your help," he says quietly.
"The rebellion," Finnick says.
I feel a spark of hope kindling. Suddenly, there is something I can do. I don't know what, but it's something. "No one mentioned a rebellion to me before," I say.
"Of course not," he says, a little irritably. I smile, and he relaxes. "You have influence," he says. "Your family is rich, and you'll be a full-fledged stylist next year at the Games."
"If I accept," I say. But we both know that now that there's a reason, I will accept. "But my family stays out of this."
He nods, understanding. He expected that, I realize. Because he knows what it's like to have his family threatened.
It turns out that the woman who hired me is also a rebel sympathizer; she provides opportunities for their spies to communicate information to each other. I suppose that's what I am now. One of their spies. It isn't so bad. It's better than being a toy. It's better than being a stylist for the Games, too, but I accept that position anyway, because it will let me in on more information, and I'll be of more use to the rebellion that way.
I don't think, for the rest of the year, that I could ever do anything more direct to help the rebellion. Not until I see this year's girl from District 12 rush up to take the place of her younger sister at the reaping. My own sister is married now, and she has a child. Would she sacrifice herself to save that child, or are appalling gifts the only way of showing love and loyalty that she knows? Is there a reality to the bonds between family out there that we have lost here in the Capitol?
The Head Gamemaker calls me later that day. "Cinna," Seneca Crane says impatiently, "you have to make your choice of districts now. No more stalling."
I don't need to stall any longer. I think of the poison that is the Games, and I wonder if it can be used against its wielder. I think of the girl from District 12. I think of Katniss Everdeen. And I say, "I want District 12."