epilogue: blood/water


Now I am the violence, I am the sickness -

Won't accept your silence, beg me for forgiveness.


So here he stands: Doctor Valentin Verduin, the Cabinet Poisoner, risen from the ashes of his victimhood at the hands of the Capitol. A rebel, nearly broken by the system his mother had given her life to defeat, but with enough life in him still to sow dissent. With enough life in him still to plan, deceive and execute the most flawless act of insurgency since the Uprising itself.

And stars, is it beautiful.

As Valentin Verduin watches the panic unfold in the Gamemakers' Room - "check the vital signs, send in hovercrafts, do whatever you can to get them out!" - "what do you mean they're gone, they can't be gone, not all three of them, search and recovery, search and recovery NOW!" - he remains utterly still, rooted to the spot in his high-backed chair, his fingers still clasped around the pen with which he'd chosen to write his final statement before execution. And he's no fool - Valentin knows he's headed for the electric chair, set to fry for what he's done. Strangely enough, the thought of dying no longer bothers him. He'd accomplished everything he set out to do: left behind a legacy that the new President will waste years trying to make reparations for, continued the mission that was left to him by his parents, all those miserable years ago. The Capitol will oust him, decry his name and paint him as a villain, but Valentin refuses to regret any of what he's done. It's unfortunate that twenty-four more children had to die in order for him to attain his revenge, but…

They were dead men walking to begin with. Well, okay, only twenty-three of them were, but what's one more corpse on top of the hundreds, nay, thousands that the Capitol's already made? Valentin feels for the poor soul that he chose to sacrifice - truly, he does - but Isabelle, Merrick and Sephtis all have a better fate in death than they would have in life.

Rebels aren't supposed to win, but pariahs even less so.

(At least this way they can finally be at peace.)

Valentin doesn't protest when he hears the sound of heavy, plated boots stomping into the room, doesn't protest when he's seized violently by his arm and hauled onto his feet, shackles wound about his wrists for the second time in the last two years. He doesn't do so much as flinch when they drag him out into the hallway and toss him to the ground, beating him bloody with batons and whips and the soles of their own shoes, with no regard whatsoever for whether or not he survives.

He doesn't even protest when he looks up to see her there, a slim, black notebook clasped between her perfectly-manicured hands, opened to the final page on which Valentin's dying words reside. As he watches her, she tears it out by the seam, crumples it up and tosses it onto the floor, the paper wad rolling over blood-spattered tile only to come to a rest beside Valentin's head - and fuck if that isn't poetic.

He looks up at Maryse and he smiles, all bared teeth and sharpness in his eyes.

You should have known this was coming. Synthesizing poisons is my specialty, so creating a highly potent, fast-acting acidic compound was practically child's play. It was always meant to be more than a one-off. That arena was my domain; you and Snow gave me a universe and made me god. I'd say it's only fair that I followed through on my role.

(Who's laughing now, sister dearest? Because it's certainly not you.)

"Take him," Maryse says, and the peacekeepers lift him up from the floor, blood still streaming from his broken nose, his split lips, his busted jaw and ruptured eardrum. Valentin keeps smiling as they drag him away, refusing to crumble before the woman who destroyed his life, refusing to give her the satisfaction of seeing him bow.

Valentin Verduin is a victor now. He bends his knee to no one.


In later years, Panem would refer to the twenty-fourth Hunger Games as the "forgotten games" - the only Games from which no victor would emerge. And much like the Games that he engineered, Valentin Verduin's fate in the wake of his machinations was a brutal and swift demise, his execution taking place before an assembly of Panem's governmental representatives and his own Gamemaker staff. Among those present were two figures so familiar to Valentin that on seeing them, a hoarse wheeze broke loose from between his parted lips, his tongueless mouth opening and closing in a facsimile of a laugh that fell on otherwise deaf ears. As the executioners strapped him down on a flat, metal gurney and primed the needle which they would insert into Verduin's carotid artery (filled with poison, of course - it was only fitting that Doctor Verduin's weapon of choice be the very same thing used to end his miserable existence), he continued to shake mirthlessly in what seemed to be a hysteric fit, thrashing and seizing with his lips parting and sealing over and over again.

Maryse Delacroix and Coriolanus Snow sat near the front of the executioner's committee, and did not leave until the coroner pronounced Verduin dead at exactly fifteen hundred hours. His open eyes stayed fixed on the pair of them long after his heart stopped beating, a maniacal grin still plastered on his dying lips. I won, his corpse seemed to say, even as the coroner proceeded to undo the leather binds holding him in place, and two other professionals hefted him up from the gurney to place him in a body bag. I won, and you lost. Fuck your Capitol, Maryse, and fuck you.

In the days following Valentin's execution, his sister would find herself wandering about his office, not in search of blackmail material or samples from his collection of fatalistic antiquities, but in a procession of nostalgia. She sat in the chair behind the mahogany desk that Valentin kept so meticulously organized, with her legs crossed and her shoulders squared, and tried to imagine what must have been going through his head when she'd first approached him as the Secretary, all those months ago. Maryse is no fool; she knows that when her brother passed, he went to the grave hating her, cursing her name as an enemy rather than mourning it in kinship. She may have been his flesh and blood, but she hadn't been his sister for a long time; their paths diverged the moment their father was dragged away to prison. Reconciliation between the pair of them was never a possibility.

Still, as Maryse thumbs through one of Valentin's photo albums, bearing pictures of their parents (how had Mom and Dad ever been that young? How had she?) and the pair of them together, side-by-side in that dull little house they'd kept when their mother was Head Peacekeeper in Six, she wonders (not for the first time) if there was a possibility that things could have been different. Valentin's fruitless efforts at rebellion were the product of his parents' legacy and his sister's neglect - perhaps if she had been more nurturing, more… instructive, when the pair of them were young and lost and had nothing in the world save each other… perhaps if she had tried to bring him into the fold instead of caring only for herself, accumulating status for only herself, her brother could have been saved. He did not need to rebel, did not need to die in the name of a worthless cause, so frivolously and foolishly that it pained Maryse to even think of him. She had no love for her brother, menace and demagogue that he was, but in another time, and another world, perhaps she could have loved him, and if she had, perhaps her story, too, would not have ended in tragedy.

But that's all conjecture, isn't it? Anguishing over what ifs and possibilities and perhapses brings nothing but further strife to those who dare let their memories consume them. Maryse Delacroix damned her brother by allying with the Capitol, and she damned herself by allying with Coriolanus Snow, whether she knew it or not.


"Madam Secretary."

"Vice President."

From behind Valentin's over-large desk, Maryse Delacroix eyes her long-time ally over the edge of her metal-framed reading glasses, closing the folder she'd been previously perusing. Snow strides forward and casually sits in one of the vacant leather chairs across from her, the high back providing sufficient cover from any prying eyes outside the doorway. Maryse nods to one of the peacekeepers stationed just outside, and the door closes, lock clicking into place only a second later. She folds her hands atop the desk, sits forward in her chair.

"What can I do for you?"

"I believe you know quite well what you can do for me, Miss Delacroix," Snow says simply, all thin-smiles and suave words. Maryse raises an eyebrow, and the vice president folds his arms, looking far too amused when she continues to say silent, even as an unspoken question lingers in the space between them. Snow sighs, tutting as he spots the words at the top of the manila folder beneath her arms before shaking his head.

"I'm not a fan of lies, Miss Delacroix, nor am I a fan of unnecessary mysterium, so let's cut to the chase. I know about Varsen Santana."

"I haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about, sir." Maryse responds, her voice even, not a single crack in her imperious facade. "Varsen Santana died during the chaos of the Games, just as every other tribute who went into the arena six months ago. My brother saw to that, as you well know."

"I would like to believe you, Maryse,." Snow says, his wan smile not dissipating even a trace. "I think of us as friends, after all - we have been through quite a lot together, with Valentin and Oriana and all that unpleasant business Ellis subjected us to. But in light of recent events…"

He reaches upward to tap a button on the communicator affixed to his ear. "Send them in."

"Coriolanus, I'm not sure this is the proper time -"

"There is no proper time for this sort of thing. That's the beauty of politics."

The door unlatches, before slowly creaking open once more. Two figures shuffle in from beyond the archway, the dim light of the hall still bright enough to cast their shadows over the light wood of the floor as they step inside the late doctor's office, their footsteps halting almost immediately. The door shuts. Maryse purses her lips.

"I haven't -"

"Choose your next words wisely, Miss Delacroix."

Silence. Snow crosses his legs, leaning back once more in his seat, his visage thoroughly unimpressed. After a time, Maryse swallows, but remains entirely speechless, no longer willing to waste words on what she knows to be a lost cause. Snow's eyes bore into hers, and eventually she looks away, unable to maintain her composure under the sheer vitriol of his gaze.

"Miss Velasquez," Snow speaks finally, not turning his head or moving an inch. "Who authorized the order to remove Varsen Santana from the arena?"

"Secretary Delacroix, sir." Tal speaks dispassionately, and Snow stretches a hand out beyond the chair's barriers, motioning her forward.

"And who was it, Miss Velasquez," he continues, "who ordered the transfer of files regarding the health and security of President Newmahr to be transferred from the records vault in the Department of National Security to their office in the State approximately seven months back?"

Maryse can see Tal's lips curling upward into a smirk as she steps closer to Snow's side.

"Secretary Delacroix, sir."

"The witness' testimony proves accurate," Snow says. "In light of this, the office of the President has found evidence enough to accused Secretary Maryse Delacroix of treason in the highest degree -"

"You would dare -"

" - conspiracy to overthrow the Panemian Central Government, abuse of power due to her position in that same Government - "

"I would never -!"

" - and collusion with enemies of the state, most notably her late brother Valentin Verduin -"

"Snow," Maryse protests, rising to her feet. "You cannot disavow me of my position. After everything I've done for you, after everything we've been through together -"

"On the contrary, Madam Secretary, I can, I will, and I shall, immediately following this meeting."

"You snake, you bloods-damned cur, I'll see you dead for this, Coriolanus, imprisoned or not -"

"The punishment for treason is execution, Maryse, I'm afraid you won't have the chance."

In an act borne entirely of desperation, and so unlike the composed, stoic, immovable Secretary that everyone has come to know over the years, Maryse Delacroix reaches into the top drawer of her brother's desk and pulls out a gun, leveling it directly at Snow's head.

"Very well. But if I'm going to die, I'm taking you with me."


Nobody will ever be entirely sure what occurred in the moments before Coriolamus Snow was carried out of Valentin Verduin's office on a stretcher, only mere moments before Maryse Delacroix was found slumped across her brother's desk, still bleeding from the bullet hole in the center of her chest. What they do know is that when Maryse was found, her hand was clenched tight around a still-smoking gun and a sheaf of papers was crushed beneath her corpse littered with an impossible variety of state secrets, many of which her own position would not have been afforded access. She was pronounced dead the second she arrived at hospital, the misfortune of her last moments carried with her to the grave.

The common theory that arose in the days following her demise was that, in a final act of rebellion against the laws of her country's governance, former Secretary Maryse Delacroix committed suicide after recognizing the unquestionable assumptions of guilt she would have faced for her meeting with Snow. That the Vice President survived her attack was a miracle of sheer luck; if the bullet had been only a few centimeters lower, she would have hit his heart, rather than his clavicle.

As it was, however, Vice President Snow was very much alive, and for the second time since he'd held a seat in political office, the young Coriolanus was confined to a hospital bed with extensive injuries that would take nearly ten months to heal. During the period of his recovery, he would be visited no less than eight times by Master of Ceremonies Tal Velasquez, and her charming husband Mister Oberon Lavellan, the latter of which was in line to succeed Maryse and Valentin in the position of Head Gamemaker for the Twenty-Fifth Games.

(On occasion, the two would be accompanied by a young individual with curly hair and an impeccable sense of style, who Tal would claim as her younger sibling, Senn Velasquez, when asked about their identity by the press. As it was said that Snow had taken a liking to the family following his pardon of Oriana Elissir, the presence of another Velasquez sibling at his bedside was never questioned. They were the Capitol's darlings and, for the first year after Maryse's unseating as Secretary it seemed, could do no wrong.)

Snow returned to office shortly before the Hunger Games of the next year could begin, in spite of the two assassination attempts he'd endured in just three years' time. Those who knew the young man described him as a hard-worker, an immaculate mind, and a voice of supreme loyalty who lived to uphold the laws of the country he served. He was well-liked for a politician, lauded by the people of the Capitol for his achievements and boundless dedication to the Panemian people.

Few (if any) were privy to witnessing his darker machinations, let alone the true malice of the manipulations he'd engaged in to secure his post.

Only one was made aware of his plans for maintaining his office after Delacroix's death - plans that would endear Snow to the Districts just as much as the Capitol, and plans that could squash any remaining traces of rebellion underfoot before they even came to fruition.

...

"We had a deal, Snow! You promised not to kill them, you gave me your word, so please -"

"Relax, Tal. I have no intention of killing Mr. Santana." Snow speaks calmly. "Actually, I was rather hoping the two of us could come to an agreement. Would you give us a moment, dear?"

Reluctantly, Tal loosens her grip on Varsen's arm, only moving to the door after her assumed sibling nods, unbothered by Snow's request. They take a seat in her vacant chair, a playful smile affixed to their lips as they look over the man in the hospital bed, unabashed in every possible way.

"I have to say, I thought I'd never get you alone," Varsen quips, and Snow chuckles, shaking his head.

"There will be plenty of clandestine meetings ahead - should you accept my offer."

"Color me intrigued, Mister Vice." Varsen's grin widens. Snow awards the response with a small smile of his own.

"It's come to my attention that you're quite the skilled actor. In fact, you're skilled enough that I believe I could make use of your talents in a manner befitting your survivor's status."

"Oh?"

Snow beckons Varsen closer, leaning in once the youth's lowered their ear.

"How would you feel if I told you I could make you into the Capitol's most valuable asset, one who could single-handedly turn the tides of rebellion crippling our nation?"

"I'd feel skeptical," Varsen says. "What's in it for me?"

"A chance to expand your influence, grow your knowledge, and kill without repercussion - yes, I know you found a taste for blood in the Games, Varsen. There's no need for you to hide your desires from me. We can be friends, you and I - and this could be your way of repaying me for sparing your life."

"Part opportunity, part blackmail," Varsen hums, resting their chin on their hand. "You're my kinda guy, Mister Vice."

"Should I take that to mean you accept?"

Varsen pauses, seeming to mull the idea over.

"What the hell," they say after a moment. "You've got yourself a deal, Snow."

Yes, Snow thinks, I most certainly do.

...

The spoils of war belong to the Victors.

Like the twenty-fourth Hunger Games and the centrifuge of death which it wrought, Maryse Delacroix's name would be forgotten to history, just as Valentin Verduin's, each of their livelihoods meriting no more than a footnote in Panem's textbooks. The only victory earned in the forgotten games was that of a young man so full of ambition and aspirations that his desire to achieve glory would eventually lead to the rise of true tyranny throughout his shambled country.

It was Coriolanus Snow who would see success where others only saw failure. It was Coriolanus Snow whose guile and cunning allowed him to rid himself of multiple political opponents in just under two years, and it was Coriolanus Snow who would take the helm of President by popular vote, succeeding the defunct President Newmahr after just twenty-six months in office.

(And if there was suspicion about the circumstances of his death… suspicions that young Snow may have been the one who orchestrated his heart attack, suspicions that he had been poisoned instead of dying merely of natural causes… well, so be it. Nobody could tie Snow to Newmahr's passing, just as nobody could tie him to Valentin Verduin's actions at the end of the Twenty-Fourth. Certainly, people were prone to speculation, and many wondered at how the embittered firebrand could have gained power enough to execute such well-planned treason to begin with. The obvious answer was that his scheme succeeded because of Maryse Delacroix, although with the former secretary also deceased…)

(But that's merely conjecture. Conspiracy theories and hearsay. Both have little bearing on the broader scope of public opinion. President Snow was the beacon of light sent to provide hope to the Capitol through one of their most trying times, and as a survivor of not only one, but two assassination attempts made by sinister renegades, the young man was also widely beloved.)

(If anyone had a chance at righting the wrongs done by the Verduin family, it was Coriolanus. That much went without question.)

Panem would recover from the tragedy of the Twenty-Fourth, and they would move forward exactly as they always have: as a united people, defined by their trials and tribulations, carried forth into a new age by the young leader at their helm… the true Victor of the Capitol's political schemes, and the one who had ultimately orchestrated the Underground's ending.

And so the story goes: the world moves forward, and Coriolanus Snow places himself one step closer to the marble throne on which his country's dreams have been sent to perish.

(Panem, today. Panem, tomorrow. Panem, forever.)


A/N: Blood/Water by grandson.

And here we are at the penultimate chapter of Centrifuge! I want to give a huge thank you first to Dawn, who has faithfully beta'd my chapters and served as a voice of reason during my long-winded tangents about this story - you're an absolute queen and I couldn't have gotten here without you. I'm so grateful for your friendship and advice, and I couldn't have asked for a better consultant as I was working on this fic. Stan you forever queen! (And thank you so much for Cel!)

A huge shout-out and thank you to Goldie, who let me drop spoilers on her and hyped me up while I was working on the fic - you're such a queen and I appreciate you letting me ramble to you!

Another extraordinary thank you to Momo, both for submitting Varsen and for being a voice of encouragement as I brought this story to its end. You've been instrumental in helping me shape my verse, Queen, even if you weren't aware of it, and I'm so glad to have had you to bounce ideas off of for the last year!

Thank you to DD and Opti for being such wonderfully thoughtful readers and for following along with this story despite not having tributes in the cast; I'm incredibly grateful for your support and cannot tell you just how much I appreciate all that you do as readers! Your comments always brighten my day.

Thank you to Thorne, Linds, Dyl, Para, Olive, Ali, Claire, Logan, Silver and Tyler for both submitting and for leaving such kind comments and lovely reviews y'all have left along the way! It means the world to me, and I'm so thankful to have y'all in my corner as a writer. I appreciate your trust in me and your kind feedback - it's made me cry more than once! Additionally, thank you to Corey, Shiro and Z for submitting your children to me and gifting me with the opportunity to work with them; I'm glad I had the chance to write their stories.

Thank you to any other readers I have who may be lurking or following along silently, I truly appreciate your interest in the verse and these fics which have taken up so much of my thought for the last ten months.

I love you all, and I'm excited to move on to the next project - to Syzygy - and beyond. :)