If you don't know already, this is the sixth 'chapter' in a series written by be-nice-to-nerds and I, where we basically change the events of the arena so that a different tribute wins (three of the others can be found on her profile page and the other two on mine :))
This one has been bothering me because I am returning to the first character I ever wrote, who is my version of Foxface, and it feels very strange to be writing a non-Career again ;) I'm not sure if anyone reading this has read my first story, 'A Fox's View' but both main character and backstory are taken from it. I hope Lysandra is still in character - if you read AFV then let me know...
Victory: Mind over Matter
I vaguely hear the voice calling my name but I still choose to ignore it, feeling safer lost in my own thoughts than I do when I have no choice but to let in the bright lights and deafening noise of reality.
"Lysandra!" comes the insistent and increasingly loud call.
I turn away from the window and the view that I wasn't really seeing so I can focus on my mentor, who is looking at me with an anxious expression which has become all too familiar since I returned victorious from the arena of the Seventy-fourth Hunger Games. 'Victorious', that was the word they used. And what a word to use. As if the starving, filthy and wounded creature they dragged from that nightmarish place of horrors was some kind of heroine.
'Lysa,' I say furiously to myself in my mind, 'you're losing the plot. Stop referring to yourself in the third person and get a grip.' I smile slightly at the thought of how the Capitol would respond if they knew what was going on inside the head of their latest prisoner, sorry, victor, and it is that almost crazy smile that my visitor sees.
"What is it, Marcus? Please don't tell me that Icarus has brought reporters onto the train as well. If he has then I may have to choose throwing myself to my death through the window as a more bearable alternative to yet another interview," I finish, pleased to hear some of the old dry sarcasm returning to my voice.
He seems to hear it too, because the frown that creases his forehead fades a little. "No reporters. Not yet anyway. But we're nearly there."
"Already?" He nods in response. "But I didn't think we'd been travelling that long."
"A day and a night, Lysandra. Just like last time. You haven't moved from that chair once."
When I think about it, I realise that his words are true. I haven't spoken, I haven't eaten and I certainly haven't slept. The knowledge of what I will see in my nightmares has been more than enough to see to that. I close my eyes and I'm back in the arena, hearing the screams of the dying tributes at the bloodbath, watching silently as Lucas dies, just like I watched my father die all those years ago. When my name was drawn at the reaping I told myself that I could block it out, pretend that it wasn't really happening, that it was just a crazy game that will be over soon, which I will then, alive or more likely dead, be able to forget about, but I know now that was never going to happen. It did happen to me, I was a tribute in the Hunger Games and I will never forget. When I'm awake, I can fight the memories back until they almost leave me be, but when I'm asleep I am defenceless.
"Talk to me," says Marcus, interrupting my thoughts once again. "I've been there, Lysa. I understand what you're going through, how guilty you feel because you lived and they did not."
He kneels down as if to comfort me, but I'm not ready for that yet. I push myself to my feet and shakily step away, glaring at him before I even realise what I'm doing. I feel remorse for my actions instantly, especially when I see the hurt that momentarily clouds his face, but I will not allow myself to fall apart, I will not give in to it. Not when the Capitol would find it so greatly entertaining. I think my misfortune and torment has entertained them more than enough already.
"There is nothing wrong with me. I'm fine. I can take care of myself. I've always had to in the past and now is no different. And don't call me Lysa."
I storm out of the cabin, ashamed of my words before I have even reached the door. When I reach my own cabin, I throw myself onto the bed, biting my lip until I taste blood, simply because it is the only way I can think of to hold back my tears. It doesn't take long for the wound there to reopen. Once I got into the arena, it never got much of a chance to heal.
"Lysandra Newton! Open this door right now!"
I audibly groan in response to the high-pitched, grating voice of my district's Capitol escort, before taking a deep breath and striding to the door. It looks like it's time to get this over with and I am determined to cause him as much grief as I did during the build-up to the Games. He didn't get the obedient little tribute girl he wanted then and I will not let anything change now, no matter what has happened since.
I yank open the door, staring intently up at him. "Didn't you hear my interview? My name is Redwood, not Newton," I snap, and I don't know if he is more shocked by the vehemence in my voice or the fact that I am neatly dressed and ready to face the inevitable crowds who are undoubtedly awaiting my return at District Five's train station. Either way, he takes a step back, his eyes wide, and I can't help but laugh at the combination of that and his painfully bright, red and orange suit. It clashes dreadfully with his now bottle green hair and his skin, which remains the pale, pea green that it was before I was sent to the arena.
It is true what I had said. The only good thing to come out of my Victor's Interview was that when Caesar had forced me into telling the audience about my childhood in the Community Home, I had told him how they had taken my name from me without thinking, and I had obviously been so convincingly pathetic that he had seen to it that 'Newton' disappeared for good, avoiding any mention of Father and his supposed treason, of course. I didn't care about that at the time and I still don't now. I got my identity back and it doesn't matter what everyone else thinks because I will always know the truth. That is the only thought that has got me through the past two days.
"It makes no difference to me, girl. We have arrived. You need to follow me." I step forwards but he stops me and looks at my relatively simple tunic and trousers, which was the closest thing I could find to what I used to wear. "Don't you think you should make more of an effort? You're a Victor now, you can afford it."
I shake my wild, flame-coloured hair, which I have left loose to cascade over my shoulders and down my back, both because I prefer it that way and because I know it will irritate him and my other mentor, Viola.
"I look like myself, and while I realise I will always be a disappointment to you, I hope you will forgive me for not caring." He stares at me open mouthed, so I continue firmly. "I thought you said we should go," I say, stepping past him and heading towards the door at the end of the corridor.
When the train doors are thrown open, I am instantly blinded by the bright light of camera flashes and, most unusually for my home district, the sun. The usual vast numbers of reporters are there though, and everywhere I look there is someone trying to attract my attention. Is this how it is going to be for the rest of my life? Subject to the Capitol's slightest whim whilst living in a gilded cage where my every move is scrutinised by the entire nation?
I take a deep breath and step down onto the platform, trying to fight back the thought that I might have been better off if I had eaten those nightlock berries while I had the chance. Icarus walks on my one side, basking in the glory of his association with the latest winner of the Hunger Games, who I am still struggling to accept as myself, and Marcus walks closely on the other, still supporting me even though we haven't spoken since I refused to confide in him earlier this morning.
"Lysandra!" shouts a voice, the second most beautiful and longed for voice I have ever heard, only surpassed by my vague memory of my father's. "Lysa!"
Cassie. I want to see her so much, but as the crowd parts to let my cousin through, I find that I don't have the strength to deal with the emotions I feel and I suddenly want nothing more than to run away.
"Hello, Cassie," I say flatly as she throws her arms around me, hugging me so hard that I struggle to breathe.
"Oh, Lysa, you did it. You came home. I knew you would."
I expected her to have changed somehow but she hasn't. When she kisses the top of my head, she is still a head taller than me, exactly as I remember. I pull away, trying not to notice the hurt and confusion in her eyes.
"I have to go. Icarus needs to give me the keys to the house."
"I will come to see you later," she says, looking like she is fighting back tears.
I walk away, following my Capitol escort and mentors without looking back. That is how it must be now. I must be strong. I must show no weakness and feel as few emotions as possible, for the arena has only confirmed to me what I have long suspected already, which is that the more you know about a person or the more you care for them, the harder it is to deal with when something bad happens and they are taken away. And they are always taken away in the end.
A few hours later I am sitting all alone in the entrance hall of a house that I can't quite believe is mine, curled up in a tight ball and leaning against the wall next to the front door, unable to make myself go further inside. I know I'm being pathetic but this place reminds me of the Capitol, probably because it was designed there and the considerable amount of furniture it contains was all made there, and as I sit staring into space, I realise that I want nothing more than to run and hide in my old room back in Laboratory Seven. I want to go back to the comforting familiarity of my work, I want to steal food from the Banquet Hall like I always used to, my own small defiance, but above all I want Cassie, and yet I pushed her away. She won't come back now, not after the way I treated her at the train station. I should go to find her, I know that, but I can't. I don't think I could bear it if she refused to see me and I can't quite swallow my pride enough to apologise.
My increasingly morbid thoughts are suddenly interrupted by a knock at the door, which continues over and over again when I try to ignore it, showing no signs that the person is going to stop. I sigh and stand up, reaching out to open the huge, heavy door, shaking my head slightly when I think of how much even the handle alone must have cost. I wouldn't be at all surprised if it is worth more than the whole of Laboratory Seven. Not that anyone in District Five will go hungry this year anyway. At least my survival has achieved something.
"Have you got a few minutes for a short interview, Lysandra?" asks the unfamiliar and unmistakeably Capitol woman who stands on my doorstep. "My readers would love to know what you think of your new house. Maybe we could have some pictures as well," she adds, and when she does, a small, round man with a camera appears behind her as if by magic.
"I've done enough interviews today. I don't want to do anymore," I say, hating the flat monotone of my own voice despite being at a loss to know how to change it.
"Just one more won't hurt then," she says, narrowing her eyes and stepping forwards, her hand reaching for the door.
"She said no more and she meant it. Haven't you people made her suffer enough?"
I look beyond the reporter and her companion to see a very enraged-looking Cassie standing at the foot of the steps that lead to the front door, her hair wild, her eyes flashing and her face contorted with rage. She steps to the side and violently gestures away from the house with her arm. I smile slightly, the first genuine smile I remember since before the Games, when both Capitol people flee down the garden path as quickly as their feet will take them.
"Do you want to see my new hovel?" I ask my cousin, struggling to keep my face straight as I look up at the vast, impossibly grand building before turning back to face her, slipping back into my pre-arena past for a brief moment.
Cassie laughs at that before her face becomes serious once more as she strides up the stairs, past me and into the house before I can speak again. I stand in the doorway for several minutes, still reluctant to enter the house that the Capitol built, before my curiosity gets the better of me and I start walking in the direction she disappeared. I try a few doors, peering into the rooms to find only darkness, before I find her, piling wood up in the kitchen fireplace and lighting it before she pulls two chairs closer to it.
"Sit down, Lysa," she commands, nodding to one of the chairs, and I obey her, taking the steaming hot cup of milk that she holds out to me. "You survived this much, I will not let them kill you now."
She sits in the other chair, which is directly opposite mine, and stares unblinkingly at me, her dark brown eyes fixed to my amber ones as if she is trying to read my mind.
"I'm sorry, Cass. About the train station. I just couldn't let myself fall apart in front of all the cameras. I'm too proud to let them win."
"Good," she says fiercely. "You must never let them see your pain. If you do then they will have won. I understand that now. I was upset because I thought you didn't want to see me but I thought about it and now I know the truth. You're all I've got, Lysandra. We can deal with this together."
"You can't deal with this with me, Cassiopeia!" I shout, surprising myself with the force of my reaction. "You can't hear them screaming! You don't see their faces every time you close your eyes!"
I slam my cup on the table as I jump to my feet, intent on leaving the room and being alone once more, but I don't get very far as Cassie grabs my arm and pulls me back.
"I will not let you bottle it up inside you until you send yourself insane! You're not leaving this room, I won't let you! You know what nightlock berries are, Lysa. I saw you in the arena and I know what you nearly did. "
The memory of that day in the arena, the hunger, the thirst and the pain, returns to me so clearly that I could almost be back there, and I suddenly find that I can't hold my emotions inside me any longer. I sink to my knees in floods of tears, protesting weakly when Cassie drags me up again and sits down, pulling me onto her lap and holding me close as I cry.
"I had to watch them die, Cassie. I saw the bloodbath and I can hear them screaming and see them dying. Every time I sleep I can hear them. I can hear the cannons firing, I can see their pictures appearing in the sky while the Gamemakers play the stupid anthem. I can hear Katniss screaming when Peeta died. I can even hear Cato and Clove shouting for each other at the feast." My words come out in a jumbled, rushed mess and before I know it, I am telling her what is haunting my thoughts more than anything else. "Lucas died and I sat there in that tree and did nothing. I was weak and cowardly. It was like Father all over again."
"And what else could you have done?" she asks firmly in response. "Do you think you should have charged in and fought those two Careers? I'm sure you'd have prolonged the boy's life for about two minutes."
"I should have done something. He didn't deserve to die, none of them did."
"It is true that they didn't deserve to die, Lysa, but you didn't kill them, the Capitol did. You deserve to live. Don't ever forget that."
"Why did I win, Cassie?" I ask eventually in a shaky voice that I barely recognise. "Why did I live when they all died?"
"I can't tell you that, Lysa," she replies quietly as she strokes my hair back from my face. "You were so clever, so brave, but some of it was just luck, or fate or whatever you want to call it. I don't care. I watched you every second of every day when I wasn't working. I watched you get that bag from the front of the Cornucopia, I watched you spying on the Careers so you could get to the lake for water, I watched you climb that tree so those wolves chased Katniss instead of you at the end. And I watched you walk through that minefield." She pauses then and narrows her eyes at me. "Don't you think I didn't see that. What were you thinking? A minefield, Lysa!"
I lift my head up to look at her, smiling very slightly. "I was thinking that I didn't want to starve to death. But I am very sorry if I frightened you."
"You did frighten me. I thought Pleione was joking when she came to the lab to tell me what you were doing."
"I'm surprised you thought Pleione capable of joking. I didn't think she had the brain capacity," I reply, amazed by how much better I feel simply because I have begun to share my thoughts and emotions with my cousin and unable to resist sniping at her loyal but undeniably intellectually-challenged assistant.
"Lysa, don't be cruel," she replies, her voice stern but the look in her eyes betraying her relief that I am starting to sound like my old self again.
"Sorry, Cass, but she doesn't like me very much either," I retort, before another totally different thought comes to mind. I wish it hadn't. "What happened to Alecto? When did they bring him back?"
"When you were still in the Capitol. Nobody wants to see those who fell, you know that."
"Were you there? Did you see his family?"
She shakes her head. "I didn't go, Lysa. I didn't want to make it worse for his poor mother by standing there watching her light her son's funeral pyre when she knew I was waiting for them to bring you back to me. Maybe I'm a coward but I couldn't do it."
"You're not the coward. It is me who could have eased his suffering and I didn't. He asked me to take away his pain and I couldn't do it, not even out of mercy."
She pulls me back against her but doesn't speak. I don't blame her. If our roles were reversed then I don't think I'd know what to say to that either.
"At least they will have food this year," I say eventually, interrupting the long silence. "He cared for them so much, they were all he talked about."
"Do you want to see them?"
"No," I reply with a hint of bitterness. "It wouldn't change anything. They should be allowed to grieve in peace and I don't think there would be much chance of that if I turned up at their front door with my new entourage following."
"They will go away soon, for a while at least," she says, referring to the Capitol people but, to my great relief, avoiding mention of the Victory Tour.
"I was horrible to Marcus on the train. He was trying to help and I shouted at him."
"He will understand."
"I know, but I shouldn't have said what I did. I need to go and see him."
"Not tonight. In the morning."
I nod in agreement before getting up to put some more wood on the fire. She stands up as well and looks towards the door. I feel a sudden panic rise up inside me at the thought of being alone, at the thought of being without her, and my words escape in a mad rush before I can stop them.
"Cassie, please don't go. You could live here. You're related to me, they will let you. You don't have to leave."
"Lysandra Redwood, if you want me to leave then you will have to call the Peacekeepers and get them to arrest me because otherwise I'm not going anywhere. Do you really think that I would leave you on your own?"
Inside I am crying with relief at her response but I try not to let it show. "I don't know. I might cramp your style, especially now you're going to be famous," I say, teasingly making reference to the rumours that even I haven't been able to avoid hearing in the short time since I returned home, the rumours that tell me Cassiopeia Redwood is on the verge of developing something so revolutionary that she will almost certainly be the next Mercia Whitehouse, rumours that I know to be true because I had been helping her with her experiments before the Games. I shudder inside at the thought of the mother who had abandoned me as a child and gone on to achieve nationwide fame with her scientific discoveries. It's an effort to focus on my cousin's reply.
"I won't be famous, Lysa. Even if I can work out the theory then I still couldn't make it work in practice."
"Could you get back into my old bedroom in Laboratory Seven?" I ask, suddenly remembering what I should have told her before I had left for the Capitol but never quite managed to.
"Why?" she asks, looking at me curiously.
I close the distance between us and whisper into her ear, just in case there is anyone listening. "Because if you can look underneath the loose floorboard under the bed then I have some notes on an idea that might help you with that," I say, before raising my voice to a normal volume and continuing. "Because my clothes are still in there."
"Really?" she whispers, her eyes lighting up at the thought of being able to make her beloved theory into a reality. For as long as I can remember, she has always called it her 'Escape Theory', because she sees it as her only way to get away from her virtual prison in Laboratory Seven, and I know she still dreams of it.
"Really," I reply. "I'm sure I could be a better assistant than Pleione. I could help you. We could work together. After all, the Capitol do say that I have to have a talent now that I am a Victor."
"I think they imagine a Victor's talent to be something like creative writing or flower arranging, Lysa, not highly experimental genetic engineering," she replies, but I can tell from the smile on her face that she is only teasing me.
"It would work, Cass, I'm sure of it," I say, determined not to let her talk either me or herself out of the idea now I've decided what I want to do. If I can help her to do this then she will never live in fear or as a prisoner again, and that will mean that I have achieved something, something that will go a small way towards justifying the fact that I lived and the other twenty-three who went into the arena with me did not. Besides, I need to keep my mind occupied, it is the only way to move on from what has happened, and this is the perfect way to do just that.
"I'm sure it will," she replies, smiling as she walks over and hugs me again. "It's been a long day. We should both go to bed, especially as it may take a couple of hours to find the bedrooms in this place."
I laugh and let her lead me from the room. "Cassie, you sound like the mother I never had. Please don't say you are going to start nagging me all the time."
"Maybe not all of the time, just when I think you need telling."
The light streaming through the curtains that I hadn't thought to close is what wakes me, and when I sit up and turn around I see Cassie lying beside me, stirring in response to my movement. For a minute I am confused but then she opens her eyes and I remember. I remember the nightmares, the flashbacks to the arena, Alecto begging me to end his suffering, Lucas begging me to help him in a way that he never did in reality, the pain and total despair that I felt as I raised the nightlock berries to my lips, intending to end my own suffering before I realised that I didn't have the courage to go through with it. I must have screamed or cried out in my sleep, because the next thing I knew, Cassie was by my side and I was crying all over again. I had asked her not to leave me and I can see now that she didn't.
"I'm sorry," I say quietly as I climb off the huge Capitol-made bed. "You should've just left me. I will get over it soon."
"You don't have to apologise," she replies immediately. "I didn't expect you to be the same as you were before this happened."
"I feel so weak, Cassie. Every time I sleep I dream that I am being chased by the Capitol's monsters. It could have been me they killed and I am so pathetic that I can't forget it. If I hadn't climbed that tree then it would have been me instead of Katniss."
"That's probably true, Lysa, but it wasn't you because you did climb the tree. You didn't die from accidentally eating poisonous berries like the boy from Twelve did because you knew what they were, you didn't get one of Clove's knives in your back at the feast because you thought of something that she didn't and got there first. I'm sure you remember the number of times you've been told you're too smart for your own good." I nod and smile slightly in response. "Well, maybe you are, but your intelligence saved you in the end and don't you ever forget it!"
I stare at her, knowing the truth of her words and yet still struggling to comprehend both them and what has happened to me over the past month.
"It will get easier, I'm sure of it," she says, her voice softer this time. "And I'm not going anywhere."
She laughs with surprise when I jump back onto the bed and into her arms, clearly unused to such an obvious display of affection. I laugh with her when I realise I am as surprised by my reaction to her words as she is.
"Thank you, Cassie. I mean it."
"We're family, Lysa. What else would I do? Now get off me and go away so I can sleep. Have you any idea how early it is?" she replies, before turning back over and going back to sleep. My cousin has never been a morning person.
I turn to leave, dragging all of the blankets off the bed as I go and laughing to myself at the curses that follow me as I close the bedroom door. A few seconds later I push it open again.
"Cassie," I say, starting at a whisper but with my voice getting louder as she doesn't respond. "Cassie!"
"What is it, Lysa?" she says sleepily.
"I have somewhere I have to go. I'll be back before you have to go to work."
"You need to eat something," she says, lifting her head from the pillow slightly as she turns to look at me.
"Yes, Mother," I reply dryly, unable to completely suppress my smile as I pull the first coat I find from the vast wardrobe and leave the room before I change my mind.
It might have been sunny when I had arrived home yesterday but when I push open the front door today, I am immediately hit by an enormous gust of wind that almost blows me back inside. I cannot help thinking it is going to be another typical day in District Five as I look up at the stormy grey sky, mentally berating myself for half believing that everything around me would have changed as much as I feel that I have.
I walk quickly across the grassy square that lies in the middle of what the Capitol calls 'Victor's Village', both because I am in a rush to escape the cold and also because I want to reach my destination before I change my mind and turn back. The house I approach looks identical to mine with the exception of the bright hanging baskets full of flowers that are on either side of the door. I ring the bell quickly and then occupy my mind by staring up at them.
"Poppy put them there. She said the place looked morbid and depressing," says a familiar voice, and I turn to see Marcus standing in the now open doorway, clearly already up and dressed despite the early hour. It seems that sleep proves illusive to other Victors too, and I don't know whether to be reassured by that or horrified. "Don't just stand there, Lysandra. Come in."
I do as he says, feeling relieved that he seems to be making this easy for me, but he has barely closed the door before I can bear the silence no longer. "Marcus, I'm sorry. I know you were trying to help. I just… I find it difficult to talk about what happened."
"You don't have to apologise," he says firmly as he ushers me into a huge kitchen that also looks virtually identical to mine. I have scanned the room for windows and doors, plotting an escape route before I abruptly remember that there is no need. Then I wonder if the arena will ever leave me. "I understand, Lysandra. I only said what I said because I do know what it feels like. You have no idea how much I still wish that my name had never been pulled from that reaping ball."
"They say in the labs that the Hunger Games kills twenty-four people every year, not twenty-three. I'm starting to believe they are right."
"No, Lysandra, they aren't right. You are alive. And I want to know where the girl I mentored has gone. She wouldn't be giving them the satisfaction of allowing them to defeat her."
"Maybe that girl died in the arena," I say, sounding and feeling at least four times my age.
"I refuse to believe that and so does your cousin."
"What do you know of Cassie?" I ask, my curiosity abruptly reasserting its natural control over virtually every other emotion.
"Nothing really," he replies with a broad grin. "We've never actually met, but you should have seen the Capitol reporters run from her at the train station when they tried to interview her after you left. She didn't even have to speak."
"She's formidable when she's angry despite how harmless she looks normally. She proves that appearances can be deceptive. You should have seen the reporter she sent away from the house last night," I say, smiling at the memory of how she had defended me. "I think the woman will be in therapy for a month when she gets back to the Capitol."
We sit in silence for several minutes then as Marcus makes us some coffee, but it's a comfortable silence and the earlier tension that was between us seems to have faded away.
"Icarus wants to know what you are going to do now you are back home. Claudius suggested you could try fashion design. I believe his words were 'as she was so opinionated when it came to her own outfits'."
I laugh at both his imitation of my stylist's extreme Capitol accent and the original suggestion as I remember my protest against what they tried to make me wear to my Victory Ceremony. "I'm going to help Cassie with her experiment," I reply flatly. "And unless the Capitol is intending to start dressing itself respectably and in colours that don't clash then it would do well not to argue."
"What is Cassie researching?" he asks curiously after he eventually stops laughing.
"Her way out of the drudgery of life in Laboratory Seven. The ultimate dream of the average citizen of the Capitol, otherwise known as cosmetic surgery without actual surgery. It's all to do with a form of genetic engineering," I clarify in response to his confused expression, knowing that despite his obvious intelligence, my mentor's background and upbringing bears more resemblance to my late district partner's than to my own.
"Icarus said he would phone you later," he says, choosing not to interrogate me further. "Try to be nice, Lysandra. Try to play the game. It will be easier for you if you do."
"I won't be their pet, Marcus. I wouldn't be me if I didn't protest when they try to make me change."
He smiles sympathetically but still shakes his head. "You are far from stupid, Lysandra. You know how it works. You will go on your Victory Tour and you will be mentoring next year and there is nothing you can do about it."
"That doesn't mean I have to like it," I reply, shrugging my shoulders and smiling back to make up for my petulant tone of voice.
"We'll get through it together," he replies earnestly, sounding so genuine that any sarcastic comeback that springs to mind dies before it reaches my lips.
"How can I mentor, Marcus? How am I supposed to look the poor unfortunates who are sent to the Capitol next year in the eye and tell them they're going to live when we both know how little chance they have?"
"A mentor must do what he or she has to," he says. "Until the world changes, that's the way things are. And anyway, would you rather our tributes see you or Viola?"
"I think they'd rather see you," I reply flatly, acknowledging that while my intelligence is unquestionable, my ability to deal with the extreme emotion that the Hunger Games is always going to cause is not such a certainty.
"Fine," he says, unable to hide his laughter despite my seriousness. "I'll deal with the emotional side of the Games and you can plan the strategy. Together we might fill a few more houses in the Victor's Village. What do you say?" He smiles and extends his hand to me. "I was proud to come from District Five when those trumpets sounded."
I rise to my feet and shake his hand, a strangely formal gesture that still somehow seems appropriate. "Don't get all emotional on me, Marcus, I can't cope," I tease, allowing him to guide me back to the front door.
I open it just slightly, disappointed but unsurprised to hear the high-pitched babble and clicking of cameras that I have come to associate with the Capitol reporters who now seem to follow me everywhere. I shut the door again quickly.
"They must be absolutely desperate for a story. Honestly, can you believe them? I'm not there so they take pictures of a house that's been there for over fifty years. And to think that Capitol people claim to be superior to those from the districts…" I finish dryly.
"Lysandra," he says warningly, but I can see the amusement in his eyes.
I take a deep breath and reach for the handle, my desire to see Cassie again before she leaves for work suddenly greater than my need to avoid becoming national news simply because I have walked across the street. I feel Marcus's hand on my shoulder and I turn back to look at him.
"I think it's about time I met the famous Cassiopeia Redwood," he says, and I smile back, taking his suggestion for what it is, which is a reason to accompany me so I don't have to deal with the mob alone.
"Just one thing," I reply.
"Don't ever call her 'Cassiopeia'."
He sighs melodramatically. "I can't win with you Redwood women, can I? I get threatened with violence if I shorten your name but get the same if I don't shorten your cousin's…"
I roll my eyes and push the door open, looking at the floor to avoid being blinded by the inevitable camera flashes, and Marcus and I step forwards and out of the house.
"It's a bit early for visiting, isn't it, Lysandra?" shouts one of the reporters.
"It's never too early to plan next year's strategy," I reply with far more confidence than I feel inside. "This place has been far too empty for far too long."
Marcus nods almost imperceptibly but I notice the gesture and return it just as subtly, knowing without his recognition that I had said the right thing, that I had followed the required script. I had thought that the game would end when I left the Capitol but I know now that I was wrong, that it has only just begun. I said to myself before the arena that no matter what happens, I would not let them defeat me, and for a short time I had forgotten my promise, but now I remember, now it is time for the game to begin once again. The Capitol may have the power to subjugate my life entirely but it will only have my mind if I let it, and I am determined that the Capitol will never win.