weather seems strange [Aya] Jun 9, 2019 23:36:35 GMT -5
Post by WT on Jun 9, 2019 23:36:35 GMT -5
"If this isn't about the train or the Opening Ceremonies, I don't want to hear it."
"Don't you worry about that, Aranica, Iairus already—"
"It's the fucking Hunger Games, I'm worrying." As always, Bellezze huffs softly at the swear; for once, you refuse to acknowledge her. "Red needs you on her side."
Because I'd like to say I'm trying, Belle, you fail not to hear in that, but I still feel bad about Ocean and that doesn't mean I—
You deliberately lengthen your stride.
"She has me!" The clack of Bellezze's shoes speeds up as she matches your pace. They don't mean anything by their chatter—shoes never do—but you wrinkle your nose to keep yourself from barking at them, too. "But I want to talk to—"
"I said I didn't want to hear it," you snap across her. "I'm not in the mood and I sure as hell don't have the time, okay?" You would never dream of using that kind of phrasing on camera, or in front of the Peacekeepers on the other side of the stage door. Bellezze could weaponize that in a breath; she'd barely have to do the work herself, only quote it to the right people and wait for someone to interpret it as even Petros doesn't think Twelve can last this year. You wouldn't say it now either, even with furious panic as the only thing holding you upright—even with the steady, focused hum of your rock unable to drown out the nonsensical and useless and frankly insulting ring of your fault your fault your fault or the echo of silence broken by wood on wood and a soft, strangled sound that fell unbidden out of your chest—if you didn't know she would never do that. Which you do, the same way that you know yourself well enough to recognize when you're using her as a convenient target, and know her well enough to not feel guilty for it. "Do your job, Bellezze." The door to the little Justice Building room you're assigned—confined to—as a temporary office creaks, more in surprise than protest, as you wrench it open with unnecessary force. "That's what you care about."
"Ara," she says, seriously enough that the lack of her usual chirp startles you into pausing. She steps forward, not quite joining you in the threshold; you tense, your hand still lingering on the doorknob, but turn toward her for the first time since you left the stage. "I care about what—who—you care about. You know that, right?" She rests a hand against your face the way she used to when you were little and crying: lightly over your cheekbone, pausing once to flick back an errant strand of hair with easy, tender familiarity. "You're the little sister I never had."
What do you know about family you never got to have? you bite back. In 55 she was young for a stylist—an adult unquestioned in your child's eyes, but one only barely in the eyes of the law, and painfully young when you reexamine your memories. After all these years she knows you in almost mortifyingly intimate detail, better in some ways than Arbor, the only other person left who has known you just as long. Bellezze never had to search for her parents' and grandparents' names, but she loves you as genuinely as she loves anyone.
She has meant every word she's ever said to you, including the blatant lies.
"What if Dru went home, Belle?" you ask, all the fire gone from your voice even as your right hand curls around the doorknob so tightly that you feel bone grind against wood. "Would you be trying to dote on Heron right now?" Your heart, impossibly, finds a piece of itself still at rest enough to hurt when it twists. (I miss her too, your rock murmurs, and you shake your head minutely because Heron is fine. She already had her turn in front of the firing squad, and she doesn't have—she's fine.) "Do you even get why I'm—" Of course she doesn't. "Would you give a single shit about any of them, if I didn't?"
She hesitates. "That's not what I said."
Always gingerly poised on the edge of self-awareness, your Bellezze. "I know you would remember me, a little," you say. "First tribute. But Arbor was never your charge. Cedar isn't." Kieran wouldn't have been. Nico, Carter. Any of dozens of names you're not even sure she remembers.
You rest your hand—the left one, half piece of you and half costume, the one that feels only the muted impression of her skin under yours—over her fingers and say, "You were always more like my mother than my sister."
She flinches physically, and she doesn't protest when you close the door in her face.---
The year after Stella won, you did what you could to subtly take heat off of her: misdirecting reporters, mostly, so that she would have time to eat or sleep or breathe once in a while, and offering her a hand with the first rounds of labyrinthine paperwork. You'd already meant to do as much for Nico this year, unsure whether he would actually want the help but remembering the whirlwind hell of your own first year too keenly to not try; now you all but bodily throw yourself in front of every microphone you can. You can't catch them all, know you probably shouldn't actually try although you would if Arbor asked—whatever you have to say about grief voyeurs behind closed doors, they're useful, dammit, and sponsorship is already shaping up to be more of a problem than usual this year—but in your helplessness to stop this, the only thing you can think to do is guard any shred of time the Capitol hasn't already stolen from Arbor and Cedar.
(That, or wring Cricket Antoinette's neck, but that would cause more problems than it solved.)
You can't think of this as an end, exactly; you never do. Anything is possible, you always say at galas and interviews, quoting your own thirty-year-old statistics to prove a point when you need to. But you know the odds, can taste them every time you say Cedar's name, every time you say Red's, every time you inhale and taste Training Center air filtered to within an inch of its life. You know how the Capitol works.
Tell me I'm wrong, Arbor murmured in your kitchen months and months ago, and all you'd been able to give him was, just as quietly, I wish I could.
All the bits of stability you've learned to depend on feel slanted this year, and you can't say how much of that is real and how much of it is just you. You hug Mace shakily, offer Teddy the warmest smile you can muster, and hope they'll understand if you seem distant this year; you don't want to act, not to them. Not to friends. Bellezze steers clear; you can't complain, don't have the energy to think about what you'll say to her when you see each other next and both of you refuse to apologize, but your face does something that makes Ambroos ask whether you're okay when he drops an umbrella off in her stead. Sometimes it almost, almost feels normal to see Cedar in these hallways again, the way it felt the first time you coincidentally crossed paths with Arbor in the middle of the day again last year, the way it still feels normal to catch yourself looking for Kieran sometimes—then your brain catches up to your eyes, and you bite your lip against that wounded sound you made at the Reaping, still bubbling somewhere down in your chest.
(Red is a good kid—determined, unashamed, dedicated to her family. You won't do her the discourtesy of failing to learn these things, or of failing to say she's got spirit, you know, and Seam kids know how to survive, as many times as someone will listen to you say it. If she dies, you will mourn her. But you can't do her the discourtesy of lying, either.
You really do still feel bad about Ocean.)
Even staring sightlessly at the corner of the city outside your bedroom window, day clothes on but arm tossed on the table, seems like less than the routine you've let it become over the years. Your rock doesn't even try to convince you to sleep, only anchors you against the waves of distant traffic noise as you lose track of time and tell yourself that counts as rest.
The knock startles both of you. Not Bellezze?
Not her knock, you confirm, not that you would have expected her anyway. I don't know—oh, yes I do. And despite everything, as you open the door to Cedar you feel the slightest tug of a smile; somewhere in the doorframe bounces a months-old reflection of another night, you blinking in bleary confusion and Arbor on your doorstep where you'd half-expected Carter or perhaps Isabel.
You can't tell Cedar to come in and pet a rabbit while you start the kettle, so you step out and hug him, automatically rising to your toes so you can wrap your arm around his shoulder properly.
When did you get so tall? you don't ask. When did all you kids grow up on us, how the hell did we get here? You don't cling, no matter how much you want to, as though holding on could leash time to this spot. As though you have ever, in your life, had the power to protect anyone.
"Do you want to come in," you ask instead as you pull back to look at him and settle back onto your heels, "or walk and talk?"
Title from "Rocks" by Loquat (the weather seems strange / the fleeting days change / I'm in an old cage [...] I'd like a guarantee).