“He looks so small,” Mena says. There’s no song in her voice. Today, she is small, sad, and scared, just like the rest of them. She looks close to tears, but she keeps them back, probably through sheer force of will. She can’t smudge her makeup. Today, her eyes are lined with thick black lines, her eyelids painted with a deep purple that matches her dress and lips. All of it is immaculate. It must have taken forever to apply.
She does the same thing every year. They go to see their Tributes, and she pretends to almost cry. Finnick has never actually seen her cry. She looks different now, though. Her sadness feels more real. Is it because she was more attached to Sebastian than any of the others? Or is it because of Cresta?
A lot of the sponsors have gotten that idea. Her stunt last night, the way she ran off, reminded them all of the real stakes of the Games. It’s not about entertainment. It’s about survival. If there’s anything the Capitol citizens hate, it’s being reminded of the pain they’re putting these people, these children, through. So as soon as she screamed, as soon as she ran from the clearing instead of fighting through it, the sponsors stopped coming to him.
They flocked to Cashmere and Gloss. They were impressed with Holiday. She showed real initiative by slaughtering her allies. Sure, it was backhanded and a little cowardly, but it shows that she knows where she is and where she wants to go. Plus, it’s fun for them. They loved watching it all go down. They loved seeing Sebastian, his Tribute, get decapitated. They loved watching Holiday cut Romana down after a few minutes of almost lazy fighting on her part.
She was waiting for the Top 7, and now she’s single-handedly brought herself into the home stretch. She got the lowest score out of the Careers, which she’d done on purpose. Watching her block Romana’s attacks with a few flicks of her wrist was nothing short of expert knowledge.
If he were a sponsor, he’d put all his money on Holiday right now. The girls from 8 and 10, Lark and Andrea, separated days ago, and Cresta ran off alone with barely any supplies. Meanwhile, Holiday has managed to regroup and set up a nice little base camp for herself.
The other three are stressed, exhausted, and hungry. Two of them are injured. Holiday will be on a train back to 1 within a few days.
Unless he can step up. Unless he can fight and charm and schmooze his way into getting some supplies to Cresta.
She might’ve gone hungry last night, if it wasn’t for Beetee.
“For Hera,” he’d said, pressing the token into Finnick’s hands. Once both Tributes from a District are dead, the mentors get one token of their choice, per day, to help another. “If it wasn’t for Annie, she wouldn’t have made it as far as she did. Hopefully this will be enough to repay her for that.”
He’d sent the note with the bread. He shouldn’t have, but he had to. No, he didn’t have to. He wanted to. He remembered when she saved him. He jumped from a cliff, hoping he would die, but he didn’t. She pulled him back to shore, barely conscious, and he remembered what she was saying to him the whole swim back.
Don’t worry. I’ve got you.
She probably doesn’t even remember it, but he does. He’ll never forget it.
He shakes his head and returns to the present. Mena is still staring down at Sebastian, laid out on the table before them. Mags is holding his hand, as if he’s sleeping, as if she’s just saying goodnight. His head has been sewed back into place with thick, ugly stitches. They do clean up the bodies, if possible. That’s one small thing he can say for them.
This boy deserved better than this. He was a year older than Finnick was when he won, but he was still a boy. Just as Finnick was. Just as Finnick is.
“We could’ve lost two Tributes yesterday,” he murmurs. Mena reaches out, like she’s going to touch his shoulder, then changes her mind.
“We didn’t,” she whispers back.
“But we could have.”
Mags smiles and takes his hand in her empty one, but he pulls away from her.
“Enough,” Mena snaps. He can’t remember ever hearing her so angry. “We’ve lost Sebastian, but Annie still needs us. She needs you. Stop throwing yourself a pity party. You didn’t kill Sebastian. If… if Annie…. That won’t be your fault.”
“Won’t it?” he asks, and the truth of that hits him for the first time. If Cresta dies, it will be his fault. It’ll be because he didn’t fight hard enough. He didn’t train her well enough. He was too concerned with her safety to actually teach her how to stay safe.
“Oh, really?” Mena crosses her arms and looks at him through too-long eyelashes dusted with glitter. “Did you start the Hunger Games, Finnick? Did you force Annie to volunteer for this? I know you care about her, but stop being so stupid about it. If you want to see her again, go fight for her. Don’t just stand here feeling bad about it.”
They stare at each other for a long moment. His eyes sting, but he can’t cry. He looks to Mags, who nods at him.
“She’s right,” she mutters, and Finnick lets her take his hand this time.
“I know she’s right,” he says.
“Then do something,” Mena says. Her mask is completely off now. She almost looks scared. “Save her. Because that girl…” She points to the little screen in the room that shows Cresta digging around the platforms that brought the Tributes into the Arena. “That girl is not going to save herself. She’s snapped.”
“She’s not a Victor—“
“I said stop.”
“—she’s barely a Tribute at this point.”
Before Mena can say another word against Cresta, he pulls his hand away from Mags and storms out of the room. He’ll get her sponsors. She has to win. She has to come home. Mena’s wrong, the whole country is wrong about her. She’s strong. She’ll fight through this and she’ll come home. He can’t think about anything else right now. There is no other possible outcome.
The sponsors seem to disagree with him, though. Gloss is on the floor tonight, accepting gifts from almost everyone who sees him. He nods at Finnick when they pass each other. Those same sponsors, when they walk away from him, turn and see Finnick, and leave after an awkward glance or a murmur to their friends. They’ve backed the Tribute they want to win. They have no other business here, and he’s making them uncomfortable. Cresta is making them uncomfortable.
She eats that night, again, because of Beetee. Finnick doesn’t write a note this time, just sends her the food. He goes back to the waiting room and watches the screens all night. He ties knots, or tries to. Three loops. Pull both ends through. End up with nothing but a pile of rope. He ties a quick noose, the first knot he learned after his Games. There are other Mentors in the room, though, so he unravels it immediately after.
When the sun rises in the arena, he shoves the rope in his pocket and walks back to the trading floor. The entire space smells like sweat and powder. The screens above the glass walls show only four people now. Holiday is prepping a backpack. She’s probably going to kill someone else today. Lark is digging through the Cornucopia for more arrows. She only has one in her quiver. Andrea is still sleeping, her injured leg propped up on a rock. Cresta, though, didn’t sleep at all. She’s inching her way down her tree, over to the dam to check the mines she planted.
The mines make him feel uneasy. He doesn’t know what she’s planning, or thinking. Well, that’s not true. He knows she’s planning to blow it, like Hera told her to. He doesn’t know what she’s thinking, and that makes him nervous. If she floods the whole Arena, she could die, too. Is that what she wants? He doesn’t know what to do, or how to help her. He wishes he could talk to her, just for a minute, just to touch base.
“You should send her what she needs,” someone says just behind him, and he has to hold back a shudder. He knows that voice. He’ll never forget that voice.
“Vera,” he says, turning to greet her. His first client. She looks exactly the same as she did five years ago. The same cold blue eyes, the same thin lips that she’s had filled out. The same small frame, all bones and angles and muscle. She’s dressed simply today, as she always is. Short black dress, tall black boots, and a string of pearls around her throat.
“Finnick,” she purrs. “It’s been too long.”
She stands on tiptoe to kiss him on each cheek.
“Always a pleasure to see you.”
“Interesting choice of words. Could we speak somewhere more private?”
He gives her a curt nod and leads the way, back through the crowd, to the waiting room. His blood has turned to cold water. His entire body is made out of porcelain now. This is always how he feels around his clients. He hates this feeling. He’s barely breathing as he walks through the other mentors, back to the District 4 quarters.
This is only the second time he’s been in the apartment in the past week or so. Has it only been a week? He’s beginning to lose track of time. The door clicks shut behind him and he turns around.
“How can I help you, Vera?”
“It’s more a matter of how I can help you, but…” She crosses the short distance between them and begins to unbutton his shirt. “I think this can be mutually beneficial, don’t you?”
Leave the room, he tells himself. Leave your body. Get out.
“Well, how can you help me?”
She yanks his shirt off and places his hands on her waist. She reaches up to wrap her hands around the back of his neck.
“Your girl is dying out there, we both know that. Her plan is a good one, though.” She plants kisses along his collarbone. “Blowing the dam would wipe the rest of them out, and fast. Holiday is terrified of water, and I don’t think there’s a lot of opportunity to go swimming in Eight or Ten. Unzip my dress.”
He does. She shrugs out of it and it crumples to the ground.
“What’s your point?” He doesn’t move. This is part of the game for Vera. He doesn’t move while she uses him as she likes. His other clients expect him to do other things, move certain ways, make certain noises. They like to think it’s real. Vera’s never been one for pretending she’s something she’s not, though.
“My point,” she murmurs against his chest. “Annie clearly doesn’t know what she wants to do beyond blowing up the dam. Depending on what she does or doesn’t do, we could have no Victor this year. And we both know how much Snow will like that.”
“Exactly.” She slips out of her lingerie. “Now. We both know she could win this, or I wouldn’t be here. I think the best way to help her now would be to send her things she needs.”
Her fingers brush along the waistband of his pants.
“A fuse. Some matches. I’d be happy to provide those things, plus food and water for the remainder of the Games of course.”
“You have a price, though,” he says. She pushes him into a seated position on the couch.
“Luckily, you already know what it is.”
She kisses him, and he kisses her back. She tastes like mint and smoke, and he quickly pushes her away.
“Why back her? Well, like I said, she could win. And I’d rather have her in my bed than that red head or the monster that Cashmere has this year.”
He freezes. He can feel each slow heartbeat in his chest.
“No,” he says through gritted teeth. Careful, he tells himself. You know what she’s capable of. You know what she’s done. And then he knows his angle.
“No?” She laughs. “Finnick, I don’t think I need to remind you of the position you’re in.”
She bends down to kiss him again, and he shoves her off his lap, onto the floor. He pulls his pants up from around his ankles and buttons them up.
“I said no,” he tells her.
“I guess you don’t want her to win then. I guess you don’t want a District Four victory.”
He remembers Sebastian saying that on the train. He remembers Cresta saying it when she volunteered.
“I do,” he says, as calmly as possible. “You’re still going to help me.”
She stands up, laughing again, and crosses her arms across her naked torso.
“Why would I do that? You’ve refused the price. You know as well as I do that I’ll go make the same offer to Cashmere, and—“
“I thought you wouldn’t want Holiday. I thought she was a monster.”
She purses her lips and pulls her underwear back on. She has no problem with it, despite her boots.
“Okay,” she says. “I’ll bite. You obviously have a counter proposal.”
“You still back her,” he says. “Or I’ll tell President Snow.”
She barks out a laugh.
“Tell him what?” she asks.
“Everything,” he answers, and the smile slides off her face.
“I would. I think he’d be really interested to learn some of the things you planned for him. If I’m not mistaken, most of those plans could be carried out at any time. And, of course, there’s always your poor husband. Wasn’t he a childhood friend of Snow’s? He might be very interested to learn how he actually died.”
“Enough,” she snaps. They stare at each other for a long moment. She’s angry. She could kill him right here and now. Or she could try, he tells himself. Her eyes are tracing over his body, remembering, for once, all the things he did in the Arena. She almost looks afraid.
“Do we have a deal?” he asks.
She picks her dress up off the ground and pulls it over her head.
“Fine,” she spits. “Yes. Meet me on the trading floor in ten minutes. I’ll have the right tokens for you.”
She slinks back to the door. Finnick wants to pick up his shirt and put it back on. He wants to sink down and be alone with his anxiety. He doesn’t move, though. He crosses his arms and stares her down.
“I should have killed you after I told you those things,” she says at the door.
“Yeah,” he says. “You should’ve.”
She slams the door behind her. Finnick sits back down on the couch and lets himself cry, just this once.