The Victory Tour had been every bit as nightmarish as Nicholas had anticipated it being.

It was an unholy amalgamation of all of the things that he seemed to dislike the most: Public speaking, the Hunger Games, and being away from home. Zeta had tried to assist him by giving him little scripts to read at every District, but Dante had promptly revoked those scripts and revised them to be more "appropriate". Zeta had never really been the most eloquent or the most subtle. Nicholas still appreciated the effort and was relieved that Dante had made them more acceptable for public reading. He was certain that without his Mentors, there was no way that he would've survived the tremendous discomfort brought about by being dragged from District to District, pretending like he hadn't become every bit as monstrous as those from the Career Academies.

Nicholas had hated District One and District Eleven most of all. It was hard enough to fathom the thought that he had killed a single person, let alone two. It was made even more unbearable by having to stand on a stage in front of an entire District population and the families of the people that he'd killed, just to talk about how great his victims had been and how they were the pride of their District. There was something especially awful about how early his stop at District Eleven had arrived… And something even worse about how the entire tour ended with District One. It was like some sort of cruel joke that things had played out the way they did, forcing his journey to begin and end with confronting the horrible things he'd done. The emotional anguish that accompanied the Victory Tour was something he hadn't properly accounted for.

Perhaps what Nicholas anticipated the least, though, was attending the afterparty that followed the Victory Tour and being taken under the wind of President Kallista Silverhorn.

Never in a million years did Nicholas Carrillo think he'd ever find himself in the company of the President of Panem. He'd known that the Victory Tour ended with a get-together at the Presidential Estate, where there would be plenty of drinks and food and pleasantries. What he didn't expect, however, was being in attendance at the Victory Tour afterparty and getting pulled aside by the President, herself. Kallista Silverhorn had plucked him away from the safety of his Mentors and taken him inside of the estate in order to have a word with him.

Now, he stood in the middle of the President's personal office. Despite the fact that he was dressed to the nines and had been to the Capitol before, he didn't feel right standing there. The room was so clean and orderly. It felt like his presence was enough to disrupt the perfect harmony that President Silverhorn had worked so hard to maintain—like he was muddying her tranquil workspace. Nicholas almost felt like he was going to end up dirtying the room just by being in it. The tall bookshelves that were built into the walls and spanned up to the high ceiling were painted a stark white, lined with a vast assortment of novels and trinkets. The carpet flooring looked as if it was cleaned on the daily and the large windows behind President Silverhorn's desk were utterly spotless, providing a crystal clear view of the festivities taking place in the garden.

Nicholas was only allowed a short time to peer outside, as President Silverhorn promptly drew the curtains over the windows and pointed to one of the seats in front of her desk. The District Six boy awkwardly hesitated before stepping forward and settling into the rightmost seat. It was a comfortable armchair, one that made him feel like if he relaxed too much, he might sink all the way down into the floor. He sat stiffly to avoid doing such a thing, his hands clutching the arms on either side of him as he watched the President sit down in her office chair. The woman clasped her hands and smiled at Nicholas, much like she had on the night of his crowning. That radiant, effortlessly beautiful smile that chilled him to his very core and perplexed him to no end.

"Are you having a good time?" She wanted to know.

He opened his mouth, as if intending to say something, but closed it in favor of nodding in response to her question. Nicholas couldn't shake the feeling that he was in trouble, that he'd done something wrong. Was it common for the President of Panem to invite people into her office for a private conversation? Dante and Zeta had never mentioned anything like this. His heart was beating frantically in his chest as he watched the President retrieve a bottle from one of the drawers on her desk. She withdrew a glass as well, setting it down and filling it halfway with an amber-colored liquid. After raising it to her lips and taking a long sip, she looked at Nicholas again.

"You're not in any trouble, Mister Carrillo." She said, as if she'd read his mind, "In fact, quite the opposite. I was wondering if you would be open to a very unique opportunity."

Somehow, Nicholas doubted that he would have much say in the matter. The President extending him an offer came with certain terms and conditions that were left unspoken, but not unacknowledged. Dante and Zeta had stressed the importance of complying with the Capitol's wishes to Nicholas ever since he'd come back from the Games. It was an unfortunate part of his life now—a grim reality that he would be facing for the rest of his years. So, he cleared his throat softly and tried to feign interest, though he'd never been much of an actor.

"W-What kind of opportunity?"

"With the upcoming Quell, I think it's only appropriate that we go above and beyond in terms of presentation. I want to make it something worth remembering, so I'm working with a few of my Gamemakers to ensure that everything is as memorable as it can be. I was wondering if you would be interested in announcing the twist to everyone in Panem." President Silverhorn answered.

Announcing the Quell twist to everyone in Panem? Nicholas' stomach churned at the thought. Though he'd never personally witnessed a Quell before, he'd learned about them plenty in school. The Quell twist announcements were often some of the most devastating pieces of news to sweep through the nation. In the past, there had been outrages over the twists and then some. Nicholas had heard many stories of people being executed for their responses to the announcements. It was hard to accept the idea that he would potentially have to be the one to deliver soul-crushing news to several thousand people throughout Panem, if not everyone except the Capitolites.

"So, what do you think? Is that something you would be interested in?" The President urged, "If not, I can always seek out someone else."

Please seek out someone else.

Nicholas shifted in his seat, unsure of how to respond. It seemed like she was expecting him to say yes—like he was her first choice. The District Six boy wanted to get up and walk out of the office altogether, but he knew that doing so would likely displease her and would have consequences. Nicholas had never seen the President punish someone for not following her orders, nor had he heard about any instance of her doing so… But she was a Capitolite. There was no way he was going to put such things past her.

"I, um… I can do the announcement, if you want." Came his response.

That same smile made itself known on the President's face as she rose from her seat and said, "Marvelous. I can assure you, you won't regret this decision."

There was no denying the sincerity behind her words. However, Nicholas couldn't shake the feeling that this decision was one that he would inevitably come to regret.

It would only be a matter of time.

A/N: hello, everyone! thank you so much for reading this far. i can't believe that Vying has finally ended and that this wild journey (or, at least, this part of it) has drawn to a close. this has been such a great and nostalgia-filled experience for me. i feel like i made the right decision by rejoining this fandom and diving headfirst into the world of the Hunger Games all over again. the people i have met through creating this story have been absolutely amazing and i'd like to thank all of them for constantly encouraging me, supporting me, and gassing me up throughout the course of this story and beyond. i want to thank everyone who submitted characters to this story and made it a possibility. the hard work that each and every single one of you put in has not gone unrecognized and i am infinitely grateful that you all took the time and effort to contribute to my little project on the internet. i am still floored by the love and support that i was shown over the course of this endeavor and i have made memories that will last a lifetime in embarking on this journey with you all. this may be the last chapter of Vying, but Asphyxia has only just begun. i cannot wait to see what lies in store for us in the sequel to this installment in my verse and i hope that all of you will join me to find out! thank you again! i appreciate you all more than you will ever know!

- love, dirt wolf