“It won’t be like that for me,” he had always insisted when it had come up in the past. “I’ll be fine.”
That was usually enough to satisfy anyone asking the question. But not enough for her.
“I don’t even know that I qualify,” he told her. “Aren’t you being a little premature? Maybe I’m just the third, or the fourth Sexiest Man Alive.”
She fixed Chris with a look.
“Well, I could be,” he said. “You don’t know that. There could be someone in…in Finland, or Mongolia or somewhere, who’s just a little bit sexier than me.”
The look didn’t waver.
“Probably not, though,” he admitted.
“But you have the dreams,” she said. It wasn’t a question.
“Not everyone who has the dreams is chosen,” he said.
“Everyone who is chosen has had the dream,” she said. “I’m just looking out for you.”
“And I appreciate your concern,” he said, laughing. It was impossible for him to worry about something that might or might not happen when the sun was shining and she was in his arms and Adam Levine still lived. “But nothing bad’s going to happen to me.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“It hasn’t happened yet, has it?”
By September, he wasn’t feeling quite so sure about things, although he kept that to himself.
A season of blood and of bone.
This wasn’t his year. This wouldn’t be his year.
Cut his throat, take his throne.
“I have another few years in me before I’m ready to take a crack at that title,” he told reporters. “I have a feeling I could still get a little sexier.”
That was always good for a few laughs.
What we do, we do for beauty.
Privately, he asked his agent — who had seen more than a few Ceremonies — how to handle the knife. She had looked steadily in his eyes for a minute, then nodded.
“You’ll want to apply enough pressure that you sever the major arteries without cutting too deeply into his neck and risk exposing the trachea and the esophagus,” she said. “It’s messy, and it’s embarrassing, and it’s never a good sign for the year to come. You want a clean bloodletting.”
He smiled, and nodded, as if that was a normal conversation to have with your agent.
“This might not be your year, though,” she added, but neither of them believed it.
“Why do we have to kill the old one?” he’d asked once.
“Why can’t he just…retire, or go away, or…why does the new Sexiest Man Alive have to kill the old one at all?”
“Haven’t you answered your own question?”
“So just because of the stupid title, because it’s the Sexiest Man Alive? That’s why we do it? Because of tradition?”
“The tradition has been good to you. You would do well not to scoff at tradition older than your family’s name, just because you’re squeamish.”
“I’m not squeamish,” Chris said.
When the Men Without Faces came for him, he thought it was another one of his dreams. There was a voice, low and urgent by his ear, and then he was very much not dreaming, he was alone in bed (where had she gone, he thought dully to himself) and there were four or five hooded figures leaning over him, and their eyes were like what he had seen in his dreams.
“It’s going to be you, Hemsworth,” the tallest one said. He shook his head, as if he were trying to escape a particularly slow and heavy bee. He wasn’t awake. He couldn’t be awake. He still had a few more years.
“How do you know?” he asked — not Who are you, not What are you doing in my room. He wasn’t the smartest, maybe, but he knew when not to fight what was going on around him, and he wasn’t going to save himself by asking questions he already knew the answer to.
The figure lifted his hands to his cowl and pulled it down.
Chris stared, and stared shamelessly.
He knew that face — or, more accurately, he knew that absence of a face — almost as well as he knew his own.
“I know it because I have dreamed it, and because anyone who has ever born this mark” — here the man jutted his own forearm roughly against Chris’ own, and Chris saw in horror that the twisted black sign on Adam’s arm matched the one on his own.
It looked like it was still steaming, like if he reached out and touched it with his hand, he would be burned himself. There were eyes — wide and unblinking and raw-looking, but eyes — and then there was wreckage. Meat. Glossy, shiny, twisted clots of scar tissue and pulsing tendons that connected cheek to jaw, and there were teeth and there was gum — pink and exposed and angry — and a skull and Chris looked away.
“So it’s true,” he said. “You’re not all dead.”
One of the faces smiled, and Chris shuddered. This was his alternative?
“Come with us if you want to find a different way to live,” Adam said, and Chris didn’t think, just moved his entire body in the direction of Yes.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.