We were doing the one trapeze routine again. I guessed it had been set up that way because Eli had thought he would be flying solo.
He was still looking at me as if he thought I was going to disappear any second. I smiled insincerely at him as we swung back and forth in the dark, before we were introduced and the spotlight danced its way up towards us.
We brought the swing to a stop just as we were illuminated and music started up, spiraling through the tent.
I felt lighter on my feet. The last of the sedatives was wearing off, and I was possessed again by the spirit of the performance.
It was only towards the end of the routine that I started to consciously control my actions again, and time seemed to slow like molasses.
Wiseacre built you well. Boltake's voice crackled in my ear, causing me to return my focus to my flip.
A few more strange moments and we were bowing, the audience roaring as usual.
The sound was muted to my ears, and I had to rub at my temples with a free hand when the spotlight was finally out of my eyes.
Eli nimbly stepped toward me and grabbed the rope on my side of the trapeze over my head, leaning casually to inspect me as if I was some kind of chronically ill patient.
"Cam, you leaving any time soon?"
"Leaving the world, maybe."
"Are you okay? You seem...different."
Different was right. When I'd been changing into my performance garb I'd found out Boltake had taken the liberty of having his surgeons slim me in places and plump me in others. I was significantly curvier and my entire face was significantly closer to model proportions.
As if he thought I could get cookie points with Wiseacre or something by getting work done. The last thing I wanted was to be eye candy for the creep.
"I'm fine Eli. Though I'm not sure you could say the same."
"I've been caught up in a lot of weird stuff lately but it's not much of an excuse for how little I've bothered to make sure you're okay, after you dabbled in something as serious as self-harm. You should get help, Elijjah."
I didn't use his full name much, but when I did it got him serious.
"Cam, don't worry about me. I'm fine. Besides, I have a hot date."
My face pulled into a grimace.
"What? Who's the victim?"
"Turns out Sandra, that fire twirler, has a cousin! She happened to be visiting AND I got her number."
Mental face palm.
"I don't know if dating someone related to Sandra is a good idea, Eli."
He laughed, starting to make his way toward the ladder.
"Come on, Cam, she is not out of my league."
"Not what I meant."
I swung to the ladder myself and made my way down after him, chuckling. After I'd been inserted with god knew how many chips and doohickeys and threatened with death Eli came off as way too naive.
It had only been a week and he had suddenly become a kid brother to me. Someone I had to keep under my wing away from the scary world. Whatever I had fleetingly felt for him was gone with the person I used to be such a short time ago.
Then, I had been weak. Wanting something as childish as a normal life, love even.
Now, I wanted survival. To be the last one standing.
To beat Wiseacre at his own game.
I had been walking back toward the dressing rooms when I had the displeasure of crossing paths with the Admiral.
"Why, Camilla dear," he smirked, "I must say, the costume designers have outdone themselves this time."
No smart replies Miss St.Croix, Boltake advised, You have to make it into his inner circle. Do what you have to do. That's an order.
Instead of scowling I smiled alluringly, resisting the urge to cover myself up.
"I'm glad you think so, Admiral. You do have impeccable tastes."
Wiseacre cocked his head to the side, studying me with the never-ending darkness in his eyes.
"Are you in good health, Camilla? I've heard you had a terrible accident."
A malicious glee emerged in his voice but I kept my cool. This was a test. I'd already passed quite a few tests.
"Yes, I'm feeling the best I have in quite some time. My time in hospital also taught me something important."
The Admiral raised an eyebrow in curiosity.
"Oh? What's that?"
Do not do anything unwise, Boltake hissed. Honestly, he was already getting annoying.
"Simple circus performers have to know their place."
Wiseacre looked pleasantly surprised.
"My, Camilla, you are an intelligent girl. It seems I won't have to have you rehabilitated after all."
He offered me his arm and I took it, walking with him down the hallway. I was generous with the compliments and quick to affirm I had changed in the conversation I shared with him, even though I was utterly recoiling on the inside.
The ends justify the means, I reminded myself. Sure, I was buttering up someone who had almost had me killed and threatened to take my life multiple times, but he wasn't the one who had a chip put in my noggin.
Boltake was right, anyways. I wasn't going to get anywhere with the whole "I'm-onto-you" routine or the whole spite shindig.
After a few minutes of amazingly boring chitchat Sandra sauntered out of a room and stared at me, open-mouthed.
"You! You little-"
Wiseacre cut her off.
"-How about you take a few days off, Sandra dear?"
She shut her mouth, shoving past me angrily.
It took a second for me to understand what she was so mad about, and the realization wasn't exactly pleasant.
I was becoming Wiseacre's plaything.
The situation only grew worse when Nix happened to catch sight of me, gawking in horror.
What choice did I have? I met her gaze evenly, and walked on.