The Epilogue: Death by Death
"What to wear, what to wear," I sang as I rummaged through my clothes.
When I came back to District Nine, my house was exactly how I left it. It was a complete and utter disaster. Sometimes I had a maid come by and try to clean it up, but she would only make a dent. At this rate, I'd need an entire team of people to bring some sort of order to this home.
"What should I wear to greet the new victor?" I slurred as I tossed a sheer dress across the room.
I wanted something glamorous, yet understated. This little party wasn't about me, but I still wanted to garner some attention. I felt I deserved a little loving after all I had been through recently. I picked up a wrinkled, discarded dress and shrugged. It was pretty enough, I suppose.
As I peeled off my current layers and changed, I tried to focus on the things I had control over. I could control what I wore, how I looked, and where I went. I had control over me… At least for the time being. I kicked piles of things out of my way as I stomped over to my vanity. I began to apply heaps of makeup. I tried to brush away the fragility and sickliness I had acquired in the recent months. It was hard and took many coatings of makeup, but I eventually looked somewhat normal.
I rummaged to my left and pulled out a fuzzy object. Ever since I had lost my hair, I had been obsessed with wigs. They were these different tufts of material that Capitolians sometimes wore to switch things up. Some of them even wore them all the time. I used to find them slightly disturbing, but now I understood the allure of them. I'd rather look fake than horrible.
I adjusted the dark purple hairpiece upon my head. It was cutoff right at the base of my neck and then inclined downwards the closer it got to the front. It wasn't one of my favorites, but it did go with my dress fairly well.
I waded through the waste in my house, stumbling over bottles of beer and moisturizer. I finally reached the front door and shoved it open. Everything felt like such a battle now. As soon as I met the public air, however, I straightened myself out. I pulled back my shoulders and walked with long, confident strides. I sashayed across Victor's Village and out of the gates. As I made my way through the familiar streets, I embraced the looks I got from many. Before I used to be the bitchy Victor that you avoided. Now I was the bitchy Victor who supposedly went crazy.
"Watch out, I might snap your neck," I called out to a group of boys who were eyeing me obviously.
They scampered away like a pack of rodents. As I reached the Justice Building, my legs began to throb. All I wanted was to sit down and have a nice drink. That was a huge part of the reason I was even attending this little party. The best booze in the district for free was an offer I could never refuse. As I entered the building, I tried not to judge their mediocre décor. It was the best this district had to offer. It wasn't their fault we weren't rich like the Capitol.
I had arrived late (per usual) and the party was in full swing. Politicians babbled like buffoons as their rich daughters danced the night away. I laughed, finding it funny I used to be one of those girls. As I crossed the room towards the bar, I noticed there were far less people here than usual. Like I said, if you were invited you usually just came. It was kind of a given.
I shrugged the thought away as I ordered my first of, hopefully, many drinks. I sometimes wondered if I was an alcoholic, but I usually banished the idea of it away. I had been drinking since middle school. Alcohol was just a part of my life. Even if I was an alcoholic, I was at least a functioning one. It had been many years since I had been able to get blackout drunk.
My drink was handed to me and the liqueur spread warm shivers through my body. The Capitol had better, but I had never been able to get this kind of stuff when I was a teen. I would have killed for this beverage when I was younger.
Speaking of killing…
My eyes searched the room for the star of the evening. I found her quite quickly talking to one of the victors of this district. Charlotte seemed happy. She was smiling and laughing at whatever the two of them were talking about. It was odd. She wasn't pretty by any means, and yet she seemed to take up the entire room. She had this air about her that drew you to her. As she smiled, I knew that had to be that. Her happiness made her somewhat attractive and approachable…
No one seemed genuinely happy anymore.
The time flew by as I knocked back several drinks. I made good conversation with the bartender. They always seemed to end up being my bestest friends. We always got along so well.
I passed another glance back to the center of the room and thought about dancing. Maybe I could be one of those spoiled, rich girls again.
Right when I was about to get up, a voice chimed, "Do you have any… uhm… well, it's bubbly but not alcoholic. My mentor once told me it was used to help with stomachaches? What was it called…? Uh…"
"She wants ginger ale," I interrupted.
The bartender smiled and scurried off to retrieve some. I looked to my left, already knowing who would be sitting beside me.
"Thanks," Charlotte smiled, "I'm horrible with remembering names for certain things. Like-"
"No problem," I flicked my hand back and forth as I desperately hoped to avoid her babbling.
"Ok," she responded as she waited.
As I observed her, I felt a mixture of jealousy and anger. Here was this happy little victor who didn't have a single worry in the world. No one really cared about her. She got all the perks of being one of us but none of the drawbacks. I knew she would never have to pay the price many of us had.
"Nice speech," I commented. She snapped out of her thoughts and gave me a confused look, "I'm referring to the one where you spoke about my dead mentee."
I could hear the venom of my thoughts leaking through my words and it showed. Her expression cracked slightly at my tone.
"I'm… I'm sorry about Hawk. I… I apologize if his death has hurt you or-"
"Oh I don't care," I assured as I giggled, "I'm not one of those mentors who throw little tantrums every time their tributes die. In fact, I didn't even like the guy that much. He was always watching people… Kind of gave you the creeps."
Charlotte nodded, not sure how to respond to my drunken ramblings. Wait, I was the one rambling? Usually, I would find it in myself to care… But I didn't.
"Believe me," I continued, "I'm the last one to judge. Hell, I killed my own district partner to raise my odds in the games. There's nothing you can say or do that will 'hurt' me."
I suddenly found her compassion towards the 'pain she may have caused me' hilarious. I began giggling uncontrollably. The bartender returned with another drink for me and Charlotte's ginger ale. She wrapped both hands around the glass and sipped lightly at it.
"You know, I used to be just like you," I pointed, "I could have done whatever I wanted. My family had the money. I didn't need to resort to crime or marriage to start my life. I could have gotten any kind of job in this entire district… I once actually considered becoming an event planner. Shocking, I know. Me have a real job? That thought seems too out there… But I could have seen myself throwing events like this one. I would have been good at it to…"
I droned on and on for some time. Charlotte could have left and I doubt I would have noticed. I was listening to myself talk more than anything else. The flowing syllables connecting together like pieces of a puzzle brought me comfort. They kept me in reality. I gloated about the kind of girl I was. I talked about my dreams and hopes… What I could have done with my life. I found myself drawing many comparisons between us. How we were rich, determined, spoiled, feisty…. The list really went on and on. Whether we were really similar, I didn't know. It was just comforting to find things in common with another human on this world.
"So what stopped you?"
Her words interrupted the ebb of my thoughts. With annoyance, I exited my own haven and processed her words.
"I mean, you can still do some of those things… Your life isn't just over. Why don't you do them?"
Her naivety sent me into hysterical laughter. My entire body shook and my cackles bounced off the walls. I could feel the tears streaming down my face as I was overcome by the humor of it all.
I finally sobered up enough to say, "Charlotte, your life is over the second your name is called out. You don't get to have choices anymore. You just get to sit, rot, and wait until you're dead."
"I don't believe that," she murmured.
With jealousy I realized, "You don't have to because it doesn't affect you. You get to live the rest of your life with the freedom to choose because they don't care what you do."
"What do you mean?"
She looked at me with the eyes of a newborn. She had no idea what I was rambling about and she never would. For some victors, like her, as long as they don't say anything downright stupid they're fine. The Capitol and the President don't really care. Sure, they want an update on how life is going every now and then, but they forget. The victors like Charlotte just don't stand out on the camera. Even if they're likable in person it doesn't matter... If you're not pretty enough, strong enough, or smart enough…. If you're just average they don't care. What a blessing that would be.
"You won't get it," I replied honestly, "We may be alike in many ways, but you're not that pretty and you're not that smart."
Before I could say anything else, she grabbed her drink and stood up.
"Oh come on," I called as she walked away, "Don't listen to me. I'm the crazy one, remember? Don't get all offended."
All eyes were on us as she turned around. Even the people who were the best at being discreet were staring at us openly.
"I really hope you find some joy, Lorie. I hope that you can have a healthy, happy life."
Her words that were meant to be encouragement served as a cruel reminder. Instead of laughing or even replying, I stood up. I swayed slightly and decided to kick off my heels. I walked across the silent room barefoot. My feet slapped across the cold ground loudly. The chatter soon began again, but by that time I was out the door. I wasn't destined to have a healthy, happy life anymore.
Those bastards in the Capitol made me sick… And if I wanted the cure that kept me alive every month, I had to do exactly what the President said. I had to go around singing praises about the very people who ruined my entire existence. Raven didn't want to wipe our memories because we were to be her examples… They strapped me to a wall, injected me full of disease for months, and then sent me off into the world never to 'rebel' again. I was now just a husk… A sick, dying husk… And the sad thing was, I apparently got off easy because I was the 'lesser' offender.
Only God knows what they did to Memory, the 'bigger' offender.
All of us stood through the square. The sun was beating down on our bodies. We waited and waited and continued to wait. The escort had already made her small speech as well as the Mayor. I squinted as I observed the families seated on raised platforms. Oceana's family was cramped on their platform. Both of her parents looked hollow while her two brothers seemed to be fidgeting nervously. Leith's family only consisted of his parents. His father looked almost identical to the strong, stoic Career while his mother was small and meek. I remembered how I was the apathetic Career… It was almost like seeing my own family up there… Except these parents seemed to care.
Soon, the doors opened and the new victor strolled into the sunlight. She was wearing a billowy blue dress with hues of purple and green. Her belt was tied tightly around her midriff, holding the dress to her. The dress honestly didn't seem to suite her. She seemed uncomfortable in the expensive outfit. As she approached the podium, she cleared her throat lightly.
"Hello District Four," she recited as she read from a card.
I didn't know whether she wrote it herself or not. During my victory tour, I was told what to say at everything, but no one thought I was charismatic enough to use my own words.
"Thank you for those who came today. I wanted to say a few words about the tributes that came from here. I never knew either of them personally, but they both still stand out in my mind."
The crowd shifted uncomfortably. Neither of the tributes this year were particularly liked back home. Leith was always so callous to everyone. He was this silent guy that barely every talked. As for Oceana… Her reputation in this district was tarnished. Everyone knew her as the girl who watched her brother die… Some say she actually killed him (although I knew that could never be true after mentoring her).
"Leith was a determined man. He was terrifying, to say the least, but he fought so hard to win. The memory that comes to mind when I think of Oceana is the days spent in training, actually. I remember every time I looked over at her she had some sort of smile on her face. She was one of the very few people who not only seemed content, but kind. Maybe this is considered a weakness, but she never tried to threaten or intimidate other people. She just went with the flow, much like the ocean that surrounds us here today."
Charlotte's words continued to float among the crowd. I could tell that the carefully crafted phrases weren't written by her. The Charlotte Panem had seen didn't have the elegance needed… But the intent and emotions were honest. She meant what she was saying, even if someone else had helped with the writing. Her speech ended and the crowd applauded politely. Although most didn't seem to care, I found myself slightly affected. Charlotte reminded me of something I had all but forgotten since the games had ended. My tributes weren't just players in the Hunger Games.
They were people too.
"Ethan, would you care to take a scenic walk?"
The question was posed by Traya as she sat casually on the railing. Her hair was flowing in the breeze as she crossed her legs.
"Atton is watching Fiora while I attend this little celebration. It would be nice to stroll by the ocean on the way there. I never get to do that anymore… But I would enjoy it so much more if someone were to join me."
Traya eyed my wife and me pointedly. She and I had always been on good terms. She had been nothing but sweet towards me since I had won. In fact, Alicia and I often baked treats for her youngest child, who was a bit of a surprise to the middle-aged couple. Still, we had never been close and certainly never spent time alone.
"My feet are killing me from standing around all day," Alicia stated, picking up on how the invitation was extended to me, "But I'll meet you both there."
"Are you sure?" I asked as she placed a kiss on my cheek.
"Enjoy the view enough for the both of us," she smiled as she began to walk away.
Traya hopped off the railing and nudged my arm. I held it out and she looped hers through mine. We began walking down a private path out of the Victor's Village. This path led directly to the beach and was only supposed to be used by the ones that lived here. Traya kicked off her sandals and grabbed them with her other hand. We stepped onto the beach and began to walk along the ocean. The water was glass reflecting bouncing lights.
We walked in silence for a few minutes before she spoke casually, "The lovely thing about this party is that everyone's attention is drawn to it. Not a single reporter or camera will be out here. It's not like any microphone could pick up our conversation by the roaring waves anyways."
I nodded, not sure how else to respond. My gut already told me what she wanted to talk about, but my heart hoped I was wrong. I didn't know what I wanted to do anymore. I didn't know where I stood…
"According to Lavender, Ophelia is dead," Traya stated bluntly.
She let this revelation sink in. Although I wasn't especially close with the woman, I still felt some ounce of grief. She was not only a good leader, but a good friend to a lot of people.
"What about Memory?"
Traya shrugged as she dipped one foot into an approaching wave, "Apparently she hasn't seen her since the day the games ended. She's been trying to avoid the topic to keep suspicion away… Although, I don't think she has anything to worry about."
"Is she really on our side?"
She shrugged again as she said, "She's against the Capitol and their petty ways. The enemy of our enemy is our friend. She needs us and we need her. For now, we can trust her."
I shook my head, "I'm so confused. I didn't even know you were a part of this."
Traya began to say something and paused. She thought about her words carefully before she said, "That was the point. Ophelia was a very smart woman, Ethan. She knew the odds of getting caught were extremely high… She just didn't care what happened to her anymore. She knew that, if we got caught, everything would be brought down with her. She didn't want the entire rebellion to shatter."
"What did she do?"
"She made different factions," Traya stated, "She created several different groups with different leaders. There are more victors involved than you think."
"How does that help anything," I asked, "Why divide us?"
"I already told you," she responded, "If one person got caught, we all were. The way she created it was so that no one knew about the others. I had no idea you were a part of this either until the day before she was killed. She was trying to protect as many of us as she could."
I nodded in understanding. At her core, Ophelia was a mother. Her main concern was always for our safety. She cared about everyone involved, even if she didn't personally know you.
"Thanks for the information, but why are you telling me this? What's the point?"
"Lavender finally told me, Agatha, and Felix what her plan is… It's going to happen very soon and we need to be whole now. We need everyone to rally together at the right time."
"What is it?" I asked, now wanting to know what this 'plan' was that made it so important.
"I… I promised Lavender that information wouldn't leave the room. I'm not going to cross her, even if she'll never find out."
"I… I understand," I huffed in frustration.
"What I can tell you is that it affects everyone," Traya murmured, "It's starting something that has never happened before. It's going to shock, anger, and frighten everyone. Hell, many people may even be happy about it… But it's going to create unrest... More disorder than there already is."
"You're referring to the districts," I stated. Everyone knew that Charlotte hadn't visited a few… Something unheard of.
"That was our job," Traya explained, "Felix and I spread as much doubt secretly through the people as we could. In District Three, Felix managed to get almost the entire district furious. They've been mistreated and abused for so long that it wasn't difficult. District Twelve was my doing. I found a small group of the rebels and convinced them that now was the time to start fighting back. It's spreading slowly, but people are being swayed to their cause."
"And District Eight?" I asked when she didn't mention it.
"Now that wasn't our doing," Traya smiled, "They were the first to riot and it didn't even involve any of our influence. During the games, a boy attacked a Peacekeeper. He was one of the siblings of the girl from that district, Asita. It was the day after her death and apparently the Peacekeeper had made some remark to him. The man then dragged the boy to the square and gathered additional Peacekeepers…"
Traya frowned as she hissed, "They whipped him until he was dead… In front of everyone. He was just a kid. The crowd went haywire. One person started shouting and soon it spread through everyone. According to the source, some people ran away but others charged the Peacekeepers. They rioted and mauled them, killing several."
"Wow," I stated, trying to imagine that happening. Something like that… It wasn't just unheard of. It was impossible.
"So you see why we have hope now," Traya stated, "The people are done with this life. We're done with being mistreated and afraid. Now is our chance to grab onto this. If they see us, the Victors, fighting they will to. Especially if it's the ones they once thought were the Capitol's pets."
Traya smiled wide as we approached the path that led away from the beach to the Justice Building, "And then we fight as one. We fight until the Hunger Games are gone forever."
"Are you sure you should go?" Polish asked for the hundredth time.
She sat on my bed as I finished straightening my normally wavy hair into a sleek bun. The question burned into me again, but I shrugged it off. I knew this was going to happen at some point.
"It's customary for the mentors to come to the Victor's party in their own district as well as the one in the Capitol. It's a sign of good faith and no hard feelings."
"You keep saying that, but-"
"Thank you for the heads up that Father will be at the celebration," I briskly stated, "But I'm still going. The man is the head of one of the wealthiest families in District One. I can't avoid looking at him for the rest of time."
Polish fidgeted with the comforter, something very unlike her, "Just don't cause a scene. I really don't want to have to deal with father, you, and the press for the business if some commotion happens."
I knew she was referring to the explosive scene the very last time I saw my father. I threw him out of my house and told him if he ever came back I'd kill him.
"A lot of things have changed since then," I replied, "I've become a mentor and a mother. If you think I haven't learned to have some patience you're mistaken. Plus, we both know how prideful father is. He won't come up and try to talk to me. He'll just glare at me the entire evening."
"I don't know if that's true," my sister replied, "You're still his daughter, regardless."
"Regardless of the fact that I singlehandedly destroyed his reputation and his family," I finished.
"No! You… I didn't mean-" she backpedaled.
I interrupted, "I know I didn't, Polish. I'm just saying what we both know he thinks."
With my makeup and hair done, I quickly put on my earrings. They were dangling strands of diamonds that sparkled every time I moved my head. One of the perks to being a victor was having whatever the Capitol had to offer, including their exquisite taste in jewelry. As much as I sometimes hated being defined by beauty, I couldn't help but love it in the objects that surrounded me. You can take the girl out of District One, but the District One vanity and selfishness is ingrained in all of us.
I stood up and unzipped the garment bag. I grabbed the shimmering black dress and sighed. Why did everything have to glitter?
"Have you been eating?"
I looked down at my body and realized how scrawny I looked. My muscles from dancing were still intact, but the rest of my body looked like skin stretched tautly across a skeleton.
"Just because I don't stuff my face doesn't mean I don't eat."
I slipped into the dress and waved my hand. Polish zipped me up and placed her chin on my shoulder. I could feel her stand up on her toes, trying to match my height in my stiletto heels.
"I'm just worried about you sometimes… That's all."
"You have nothing to worry about," I sighed, "I'm doing all I can to take care of everything. That includes you."
She stuck her tongue out, something very unlike Polish, and it made me laugh. She wrapped her arms around me and gave me a hug from behind. If you would have asked me several years ago if I could even care about my sister, I would have said no. Life really does throw some unexpected curve balls.
"Ok, go," I smiled, "You're going to be late."
Polish nodded and let go. She left the room with a rather large smile on her face. Polish, for the first time in our entire life, had some sort of boyfriend. She wouldn't divulge any information, but for the past few months I found her disappearing quite often. It was only recently I got her to admit she was seeing someone.
I grabbed my clutch and left my bedroom as well. Before I even thought about departing, I walked straight to the nursery. I pushed the door open slightly and peered in. Sitting in my rocking chair was my mother. She swayed forward and backward as she held Partridge. I found it soothing to watch both of them in this way. In the recent months, my mother had taken to watching Partridge whenever I was out or busy. Before she moved here, Polish always did a satisfactory job. She fed, bathed, and took care of her in every way. However, just like everything she did, it was in a very 'checklist' sort of way. She didn't waste time holding or interacting with Partridge on a personal level. It was all business.
Mother, however, treated Partridge just like I did. She knew my daughter was this precious treasure who always needed admiring and shining. I never realized how maternal my own mother was until recently. Right when I was about to leave, Mother looked up and saw me.
"You look beautiful," she beamed.
I tiptoed in and replied, "Thanks. Do you have everything you need?"
"Of course. Just go and enjoy yourself."
I nodded and started to retreat. However, I stopped and asked, "Why haven't you once told me to go or not to go to this party? I know you have an opinion."
"You wouldn't listen to me anyways. You're just as stubborn and headstrong as your father."
One thing I appreciated about my mother was her straightforwardness, something she had only recently acquired. Unlike Polish who always worried about offending me and usually took back things she said, my mother said exactly what she was thinking. Maybe it's because she had already lost me for so many years, but she had no fear of driving me away. She seemed to think blunt honesty was the best way to repair our strained relationship.
"I'm surprised you would say that. Comparing me to someone I despise isn't exactly the best way to make a point."
Mother shrugged as she rocked, "Your Father has many faults… So many that he has become horrible man, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have his strengths. He's determined, brilliant, and unbreakable. I'm proud to say all of my children inherited these traits in different degrees."
A question rolled of my tongue that had been bothering me for many years, "Is that why you married him? I've always wondered how anyone ended up with such a man since you two never mentioned some sort of arranged marriage."
Mother paused, but continued, "He never wanted me to talk about it because he didn't think it was appropriate. My family was… less than desirable. My dad died when I was very young and my mom sent me to the orphanage soon after."
This confession made perfect sense as to why Father thought it was 'inappropriate'. Anything less than perfect was intolerable for him and, in District One, being an orphan of any kind almost made you an outcast in the higher circles.
"She died a few years after that incident anyways, so I suppose it worked out in the end. Either way I would have ended up there. The point is when I met your father… He was the first strong figure I had ever come in contact with. Many people thought I married him for his money and he married me for my beauty. I assume that was his reasoning, but mine was slightly different. I could have cared less about his money. He promised to care for me and that's all I ever wanted… I just wanted someone to take care of me."
"You certainly used his money enough."
She smiled, taking no offense, as she laughed lightly, "You should know better than I that once you have more money than you could have ever dreamed of that you can't help but be intoxicated by it. Money does that to even the most innocent. It also seemed to help make up for the fact that my husband turned out to be less than ideal in the scheme of things."
I nodded as she continued sadly, "It was hard leaving that… Leaving the man who has taken care of and controlled everything for over half of my life."
"Do you regret it?" I couldn't help but ask.
"Some days, when I wake up alone, I do… But then I walk downstairs and see this little angel. I see my own gem taking care of her and my other treasure heading off to work and that feeling leaves immediately. This life, right here, is the life I have been searching for. Even though I sometimes worry about my decision, seeing all of this eases me."
I watched my mother look endearingly at my daughter. I felt angry with myself for ever hating her. She was always trying to be there for us. She hoped her fake joy would make up for my father's honest cruelty. She was always trying to counterbalance him in hopes we would happy. Her entire life she had been making sacrifices in her own way… All out of love.
Then, the nicest thing I had ever said to my mother left my lips, "Well thankfully you don't have to worry about him taking care of you ever again. You have me for that."
She looked over at me with wet eyes. I felt my eyes begin to sting. There were so many things we wanted to say to each other… And, in time, we would. Once all the wounds had healed, we could freely talk about everything. For now, we both breathed deeply and held it in. We blinked back our tears and went our separate ways to do our duties.
All we needed was a little time.
The music floated around me. I glided across the floor as a man's arm held my waist tightly. He spun me around and the world followed my lead. Our movements matched the tune and our bodies rejoiced to the sound. In these moments, when I was dancing, everything felt ok in Panem. All I felt was joy as I lost myself in the beautiful notes. With one final chord, I pulled myself to the man and raised one leg high. The song ended and applause filled the room. Some was for the musicians while others were for our performance. I pulled away and laughed. The man, Fredrick, was from the Capitol. His fashion, while different, seemed bubbly and happy. He bowed and I followed suit. We shook hands and thanked each other.
As I stepped away from the dance floor, my eyes unwillingly met my father's for the countless time. We glared at each other before moving on to our next activity. He had always hated my dancing. Although the Capitol had many different styles, he viewed almost all of them as frivolous and unladylike. Another opinion of his that meant nothing to me.
I sat down at a table with Copper and Clinton. They were both drinking and talking casually. Although I adored Copper, Clinton had always been less than ideal company. No matter what the situation, his wandering eye always put me off kilter. I glanced to a nearby table and sighed. However, it was either here with him or over with there with Agatha.
Ever since she practically admitted she was a rebel, I had avoided all contact with her. I didn't hate her… But I had to do it. If something were to happen I couldn't be connected. I wouldn't let anything happen to my family because of the decisions she had made. I refused to let that happen.
I tuned out Clinton's sexist dialogue as I grabbed a fruity drink from a wandering tray. This party had been better than mine last year. It wasn't that they had done anything more or less; it was just that I could actually enjoy myself. I didn't have to travel around the room and make small talk with every person here. I could dance, drink, and talk as much as I wanted to with whoever I wanted to. It made everything far more entertaining.
Charlotte was somewhere in the room, but I had no real interest in meeting her. I didn't dislike the girl, but I had a feeling we wouldn't get along. She was warm and kind, whereas I was icy and distant. Our conversation would be short and awkward. Not to mention she did technically kill Camilla. Although honestly it was a mixture of several tributes in the arena, the kill was credited to her. I doubt she felt guilty, though. I wouldn't have after how Camilla had treated her and her ally. Her speech to our District was heartfelt, but very short. She didn't know Stark and didn't like Camilla. She made both politely clear, while still being apologetic to the families.
Stark's family didn't attend this party, but a large reason had to do with his little brother. He was very publically upset during the speech and, most likely, the Mayor made it clear that they shouldn't attend if they couldn't keep it together. Camilla's family seemed… dysfunctional. Her sister was upset, but her brother almost appeared to be bored. As for her father, he just seemed pissed off. I suppose that could be considered a normal reaction, but something seemed off. It didn't appear to be directed at Charlotte.
I looked around the room, trying to spot them. I found them seated at their reserved table. Camilla's brother was talking lightheartedly with a waitress while her sister sat nervously in her seat. I couldn't figure out why until I spotted the glasses littered around the private table. Her father was slumped slightly with his fists scrunched up. He was knocking back another drink and his face was a bright red. For some reason, I couldn't take my eyes off them even when I could faintly hear Copper asking me a question. My gaze was transfixed. This was Camilla's family?
The girl lightly grabbed her father's arm, attempting to keep him from breaking a glass. He violently jolted and grabbed her wrist. The room was too loud to hear anything but I could tell from the way her mouth cringed she was in pain. I didn't know if it was the small amount of booze or the conversation with my mother or seeing my father. I was suddenly filled with this sudden fury that I had managed to keep under control for over a year. I stood up and began to wade through the crowd to them. As I approached, I could see him practically spitting in her face as his grip tightened.
Was this how Camilla was treated? Is this man the very reason why she was so venomous and violent? I was so tired of fathers, who were supposed to love their children, treat them horribly. Whether they treated them like a killing machine or a doll to be married, it all led down the same path. It led to the children being forever angry; angry at the world, their family, and life itself. I was done just standing by and watching this.
I was finally close enough to hear the girl pleading, "Dad, let me go! You can't do this here! People are watching."
As she pleaded, the father gnashed his teeth and said, "I am your father and I can have another damn drink if I want! It's not like I'm going to be able to do this anymore! Your fucking sister failed to bring back our money so now we get to scrounge around, just like always. God, you're such a disappointment. What the hell are you useful for, you no-good rat. First you kill my wife and then-"
He didn't get to finish his sentence. By then, my diamond nails raked deeply into the side of his face. He immediately let go of his daughter and yelled in agony. He kicked the chair out from under him as he tried to grab my wrist. For good measure, I dug them in ever deeper as he fell to the floor. I felt someone grab me roughly from behind, most likely the son, but I shrugged him off easily. I finally let go as he screamed out curses. The music had stopped and everyone was looking over at us. For once, I didn't care if the attention was on me or not. I didn't care if I was making a scene. This had to be stopped now.
"Do not ever lay another finger on this girl again. Do you understand me?"
"You bitch!" he spat as blood seeped through his closed fingers.
I wiped the blood off my fingers coolly on his suit as I repeated, "Do you understand?"
His eyes widened as I gripped his tie tightly. He nodded, but his eyes held nothing but pure hatred.
"If you do, I will know. Then as soon as I hear about it, I will make sure that day is your last one."
I could hear several people cough uncomfortably. Someone began to shuffle drinks and the music quietly began again. As if time had stopped and now resumed, everyone went back to their conversations. I glanced at the girl and she looked terrified. I couldn't tell if it was because of me or what she thought her father might do to her later. If it was the latter, she didn't need to be afraid. I didn't make threats. I stated facts.
"You wouldn't get away with it," he muttered spitefully as he stood up and began to collect his things.
"I'm Rouge Lockett," I specified, "You obviously forgot who I am."
In that moment, I was unstoppable. I was the old, blazing Rouge Lockett.
I walked out onto one of the secluded balconies. I finally let myself breathe as the cool, night air surrounded me. I felt powerful, yet breakable at the same time. What if the President heard and didn't like it? What if she heard and did something? What if…
I shook my head. She wouldn't care about some abusive, poor District One resident. When it came to the lowlifes, I'm assuming she didn't waste the time or effort. I was in the clear and, more importantly, I did what I thought was right. Could I have handled it better? Obviously. Violence at the new Victor's celebration wasn't something that should slide easily. However, I couldn't help but feel justified. He wouldn't touch her again. That man was filled with fear… And Mother was right. Just like my father, I was unbreakable. When I said I'd do something of that nature, I meant it… And everyone was able to tell.
I leaned against the balcony, finally catching my breath. After several minutes, something clinked lightly and I jumped. I looked to my left to see a man. I had thought I was alone out here, but somehow I had missed him. I didn't know how, either, seeing as he was massive. I was a tall girl and he was at least a head taller than me, maybe even more. What caught my eye most wasn't his height or quietness, but his face. His dark, curly hair was cut unevenly and the entire right side of his face was covered in scars. They were long, clean, vertical cuts. His marred face was something nonexistent in District One. Everyone appeared so perfect and fragile, whereas this man was disfigured and huge.
"I'm sorry. I didn't realize anyone was out here," I commented.
The man didn't respond to my question, instead stating, "I saw what you did to that guy in there."
"Everyone did," I replied, taken aback by his forwardness.
"Why did you do that?"
"He was hurting his child for no good reason."
He nodded, taking my reasoning into consideration. I moved closer, expecting him to possibly agree or change the subject. Instead, he continued, "How do you know he wasn't doing it out of love?"
I scoffed as I replied, "You don't hurt the people you love."
"If you truly love others, you're willing to hurt yourself for their benefit. What hurts more than harming your own flesh and blood?"
His reasoning was not only extremely warped, but flawed as I argued, "Of course you're willing to sacrifice things for those you love, but you can't sacrifice someone else's happiness or health! It's not yours to take. That isn't love. That's control."
He nodded again as he replied, "You said he didn't have a reason, so I was giving you one to think about. Not saying that you should believe it or not."
For the third time, I was taken aback. He was just supplying a reason that he didn't even believe? How… odd. Still, I found that I was worked up over everything. I felt like I had no control over my thoughts or body.
I couldn't stop the question, "Is the reason you're so concerned about his face is because now he'll look like you?"
I expected him to become extremely offended. He would possibly send me a dirty look before walking away. However, he didn't seem offended even in the slightest bit as he replied, "I'm not concerned for him. I was just curious as to why you did what you did. I like to know how people tick."
His honesty and forwardness, although shocking, was refreshing. I hadn't known anyone in District One like this except my mother, whom only had starting showing this side very recently. I was suddenly very curious about this man with the scars. A curiosity I haven't had for another person since I met Link.
"Zavij!" someone called out.
We both turned around to see a Peacekeeper. She was tall and I vaguely recognized her. Her hair was as dark as midnight, but her eyes were a piercing ice blue (much like mine). She marched forward and then I placed her. She was the new Head Peacekeeper. I realized, stupidly. of course she would be here… and she would have seen exactly what I did.
I looked to my right, shocked for two reasons. One, that this large man was still young enough to heed to his mother's call and, two, that the left side of his face was not marred in any way. It was pale and smooth, the exact opposite to his other half.
"The party is ending and we need to make sure Charlotte Fern makes it to the train safely. I'm entrusting this task to one of my subordinates, but I would like it if you tagged along. Security is as important as ever."
She turned to me and bowed slightly, "Good evening, Miss Lockett. I hope my son didn't cause you any trouble."
"Of course not. He was keeping me company and, most likely, preventing me from getting into any more," I replied casually, searching for an answer.
Our eyes met and I knew I was in the clear. The days of possibly getting in trouble were far behind me in District One. As she was quickly picking up, in this district you picked your friends and enemies carefully. One of the newer victors was not to be trifled with.
She nodded to both of us. As he began to leave, she nudged him lightly. He turned around and said, "It was a pleasure talking to you, Miss Lockett."
As they left I replied, "Like wise. I'll be seeing you around."
And the funny thing was I actually meant it.
This past week and a half had been the most emotionally draining time of my life. The Hunger Games were physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding. It required you to give everything you had just so you could survive another day. The Victory Tour, however, didn't let you give anything. All it did was take. It sapped every emotion I had spent months avoiding out of me and forced me to confront them. Then, while dealing with these weak moments, I had to act like everything in life was perfect. It was back to smiling, nodding, and obeying except I wasn't numb anymore.
I felt everything.
"Tomorrow you will be rushed out of here and into preparation. You have to look your best for your Victory Interview. Afterwards, you'll change and retire to the President's Mansion for the Victory Dinner-"
Muffy trailed on and on excitedly. As the tour continued, Muffy's forced bubbliness seemed to turn real. At first, I thought it was because we were nearing her home, but that didn't seem to affect her. It was as if she was anticipating something.
"Thank you, Muffy," I said earnestly as I plopped down onto the bed, "I wouldn't have been able to get through this without you."
Muffy stopped mid-gasp and smiled. She stepped forward, as if to join me, but stopped herself, "I always dreamed that a Victor would say that to me… I always wanted to know that I did something to help change one of your lives, even if it was just in the slightest."
I ignored the exclusionary comment and beamed, "Well you did just that."
She nodded and began to leave the room. Right at the door, she paused and glanced back. Before shutting the door, she stated, "Things are changing, Charlotte. Hopefully for the good."
The door clicked behind her and my entire composure changed. My body relaxed and my ribcage expanded. I finally breathed deeply instead of inhaling and exhaling the small gusts of air. Even my bones seemed to shift. All the tension left them and I realized how stiff I was. I slowly stood up from my old bed and walked to the nearby window.
Seeing all the families left behind was so difficult. Even when I didn't know the tributes, it broke my heart to know that this mother could have been mine. Some of the families were upset and it took all of my power to not flat out apologize. For the most part, I had nothing to apologize for… Except for the glaring fact that I was alive and their loved one wasn't.
I thought the hardest district would be Nine. I thought for sure I would see Hawk's family and they would, rightfully so, be filled with hatred. When I walked out of the Justice Building, I looked at them first almost eager to get what I deserved. When I saw them, however, they didn't look at me with hate. They seemed almost understanding, which was far worse than I could have imagined. I could see it in their eyes that they knew life was filled with hardships. Losing their brother and son was theirs and being the one who killed him was mine. Instead of easing my guilt and punishing me, they let me deal with it by myself.
After crying all night, I thought the worst had passed. I hadn't single handedly killed anyone else. The rest would be a breeze compared to District Nine… Sadly, I was horribly wrong again. When I reached District Six, I somehow still managed to fool myself. I thought of all the great times Adam and I had, per usual. I focused on the positive things and hoped to possibly talk to his family… Maybe say something to cheer them up.
When I got on that stage, I was blindsided again. Instead of seeing a downtrodden, saddened family I just saw a group of people who happened to share the same blood. His father seemed annoyed while both his mother and eldest brother seemed bored. I remembered talking very little about his family, but I thought it was because we had an unspoken alliance. I missed mine terribly and I assumed he felt the same… Standing on that stage, I couldn't have been more wrong. The only two who seemed to show any interest were his two other siblings. His other brother smiled at me sadly, while his sister looked at me expectantly. It was a mixture of hope and distance, if the two can even be combined. It was as if she was expressing that if anyone else survived she was glad it was me… I had the family and friends to go home to… Adam only had this broken, screwed up household.
Suddenly, the happy memories of our times together disappeared. I was frozen, completely taken over by guilt. Instead of talking about how wonderful he was, all I wanted to do was cry. I couldn't get the words out. Just like Adam's family, he and my memories of him weren't all joyous and perfect. It was wrong of me to turn Adam into this feel-good drug that I took a hit from every time I was feeling down. I couldn't just take the good things and leave out the painful and bad. I couldn't dishonor his memory by not acknowledging his death.
My speech that both Miranda and Muffy helped write was never spoken. Instead, I uttered sad excuses and found myself barely able to mention him. After that moment, the rest of the day became one of the darkest in my life… And I had to act completely fine.
As I stared out at the crystal city, my tears slapped against the tiled floor. How was I supposed to do this? If I acknowledged the dead tributes, I felt like I was being crushed. If I ignored their deaths, I was a terrible person. How was I going to deal with this all alone?
I wiped the tears away, trying to push back my dark thoughts. There was only a couple more days until I was back home. I didn't have to deal with this alone. I was blessed to have a support system. I had numerous people I could talk to: my family, my friends, and my fellow victors. I didn't have to bear the weight of this by myself. I knew there were others who were going to stand beside, holding up the sky when I couldn't.
I wasn't going to be crushed.
"You did magnificent," my stylist smiled as he helped me out of my ruffled dress.
My Victory Interview went just as I thought it would (something that seemed to be uncommon as of late). Just like when I had won, Europa and I made small talk and banter. She asked me lighthearted questions that reflected only the happy things in life. We spoke about my family as well as my flower garden. We talked about only the most pristine, perfect, prettiest things. I wondered if that was supposed to placate everyone.
Was my forced optimism supposed to magically stop the acts of rebellion that were happening in the three districts I couldn't visit? Was this pretty package meant to soothe the Capitol and help chase away their fears?
"Thank you," I replied promptly as he washed away my makeup.
He started with a fresh palette and began to create art. Since the tour, I had to admit that the stylists could be very talented. Mine took boring, average Charlotte and turned her into something else every day. Some days I was this subtle petunia while others he turned me into a vibrant rose. I was always impressed and found that it did help me with keeping appearances. If I looked confident and joyous, it was much easier to act like it.
Soon, we moved on to the dress. It was a sweeping, dramatic yellow dress. It flowed to the floor and blossomed around my feet. The fabric was so heavy and expandable that he pulled it tightly across my waist and tied a bow in the back. My hair was beat into submission and swirled down one side of my head. He inserted a gem headband into my hair to help keep control.
"Topaz," he smiled, "It's said to bring beauty to women."
You need it
I pushed away my thought and just smiled. After tonight, I got to head home. I could start healing again, as well as working through my feelings for the dead tributes healthily. None of this would matter and I could get back to focusing on what was important.
Just one more night of pretending to be perfect.
The party was intimidating compared to what I attended in the different districts. Capitolians filled the mansion as well as the streets. It seemed as if the entire city was either attending the party or very close by. Those not inside filled a plaza outside the mansion. They passed around drinks, food, and different lights as they died just to get a glimpse of the glamour. Perhaps they were hoping to one day be rich or important enough to be invited to one of these parties.
Entering the mansion was overwhelming. Tables and tables of succulent food filled the room. Many people glided by them, snatching morsels that many would kill for. A full orchestra was playing beautiful music and a dance floor was set up in the middle of the room. It seemed to me that mostly Capitolians danced, but I spotted a few victors. One was District One's Rouge Lockett who seemed to float across the ground. After what happened only two days ago, I couldn't help but be slightly frightened of her. I knew she had killed so many people, but I never thought victors (or even people for that matter) publically attacked others. In District Ten, those kinds of things didn't happen. As I traveled across Panem, I quickly realized how much violence and crime truly filled it.
As the party progressed, everyone complimented me. They loved my dress, my hair, my shoes, and, most of all, me. I thanked them and returned the compliments, but never took them to heart. I knew their adoration was fleeting. It didn't mean anything because it wasn't real.
I danced clumsily with different men. Most of them laughed with me as we practically flailed about. Wolf saved me from several dances, thankfully, and always dragged me to the food. I ate so much I thought I might explode, but I couldn't help myself. No other time like this in the Capitol had I been treated with this much luxury and quality. I never thought their food, things, or technology could get any better but they proved me wrong again. This was the highest of the high quality; only the best for the party of the year.
The main shadow hanging over everything was the President herself. For a majority of it, she sat up high in her own little overhang. She observed all of us much like someone would a pack of mice. It was unnerving, especially since it felt like every time I glanced at her she felt it. Our eyes would always connect and I would shift my gaze somewhere else. This was one of those times, except we didn't break contact. Her eyes pierced me, sending chills throughout my entire body.
"Charlotte!" someone squealed.
I spun around to see Lorie charging towards me. With drink in hand, she wrapped both arms around my neck. Surprised, I hugged her lightly back. After our conversation in District Nine, I thought it was established we weren't really friends… At least on her end. Maybe being a bitch was just how she communicated with everyone, including people she liked.
Her pure white wig was sloped a little too far to the left and I subtly adjusted it.
"Isn't this the shit? Every year I make it a point to come to this party simply because of how amazing the atmosphere is. When you add in the alcohol and food, I'm in one hundred percent."
I nodded as I peered back up. Suddenly, President Raven was gone. She had disappeared right into thin air. I turned back to Lorie as she babbled on about something else. Before I could get in a word, someone tapped my shoulder.
I felt Wolf's body behind me as he pointed to our left. An intimidating Peacekeeper had grabbed a microphone and ordered, "Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for attending the Victory Dinner. As you know, this party usually lasts late until the morning. This will still be the case; however, the President has a very important announcement to make. If you would please allow us to escort you out, we will be able to return to this party as soon as possible."
As soon as he stopped talking, the chatter resumed with a vengeance. Their prattle sounded like the clicks of excited insects. They were thrilled at the prospect of there being some sort of fresh exciting news. I realized quickly this was how these citizens lived their lives. While they partied and gossiped, they also waited for the next big proclamation. Their lives revolved around whatever the President ordered or declared next. It was quite sad, in all actuality.
As the three of us began to follow the crowd, a rather small Peacekeeper intercepted us. He directed us to the left and we followed. We ascended the grand staircase and I noticed all the other victors were being corralled to the same place. We marched forward in line much like an army as we trekked down the hallway. We traversed the massive maze until we finally reached a balcony. I stepped onto it and tried to step to the side.
However, one of the Peacekeepers grabbed my arm roughly and dragged me to the front. I gripped the railing to keep from tripping and tried not to glare at the man. As he backed away, they continued to arrange us like dolls. Rouge Lockett was placed to my right while Ethan Rowe was on my left. I looked behind me to see Streak and Bethy both practically hidden by our bodies.
I stared out at the sea of people. Each one was like a colorful candy in a dish. They all looked unique, but you knew they were the same underneath the wrapper. All of them were contemplating what the news would be… But, then again, so were we. I couldn't remember the President ever making some sort of announcement during the Victory Tour. That time was solely devoted to the new Victor.
Before I could continue to think, a hush fell over the crowd. You could still hear their soft murmurs as President Raven stepped out on a different balcony. It was higher than ours and in the center of the mansion. She stood strong and gazed out over her people. Her lips were taut and no amusement crossed over her face.
"Hello Panem," she spoke into the microphone. Several cameras floated through the air, catching every word. One landed right in front of me and I jumped slightly. All of Panem was seeing my face right now.
"As many of you know, this year has been one to remember. The 226th Hunger Game is one that will stand firm for centuries to come. It was filled with drama, action, and suspense."
The crowd whispered their agreement as they gossiped among themselves.
"However, I think we all need to take a moment and remember what the Hunger Games are really about. This annual event was created to not only punish those who threated our country but to preserve a memory. The memory that life comes with a price."
Her words were spoken harshly and firmly. My heart beat faster as I knew exactly who she was speaking to.
"This lesson seems to have been forgotten by everyone. The lack of obedience and order this year has been astounding. Which is why, for this year only, there will be a new twist to the next Hunger Games."
The crowd became invigorated by her words. My stomach knotted with disgust. They were excited for whatever new rule was to be added to their death games. They were never satisfied with the fact that so many children died every year for their entertainment. They wanted more and more novelty ideas.
The President opened an envelope and pulled out a card, "For the 227th Hunger Games, to remind the citizens of Panem that unlawful actions come with consequences, six additional tributes will be reaped."
Clapping and cheers broke out. I felt like I couldn't breathe. My entire body tensed as I struggled to stand still. Six additional tributes were to be added to the Hunger Games, something that had never happened. My mind automatically did the math. Three districts had been the first to try to revolt in different degrees. It had to be them… Then my mind went to a darker place. The victors had been arranged up here for all of Panem to see. What if… What if we were the ones destined to be the additional tributes. What if… What if… I couldn't go back there!
I wanted to throw myself off the balcony at the very thought of returning to that death trap. I began to fall. I would have collapsed if someone hadn't placed their entire arm behind my waist. I looked to my left to see Ethan holding me up. I gathered my wits and forced myself to stand strong. My mind was jumping to conclusions.
"The pool for these tributes," The President barked loudly over the crowd. She waited until the Capitolians had quieted enough for her to speak normally. She glared at the crowd before staring directly into a floating camera.
"The pool for these tributes will be children from the age of twelve through eighteen. These six children will be residents of the Capitol."
Her words bounced through the hollow air. Everyone took one collective gasp as they sank in. The Capitol was going to be a part of the Hunger Games? The shock was evident as no one moved or spoke. Even my mind was completely frozen.
"You never bite the hand that feeds you," President Raven hissed as she walked off the balcony. Not a single sound was emitted through the crowd.
For the first time in history, the Capitol was completely silent.
And yes, my darlings, that is the end of the 226th Hunger Games. Lavender's plan was executed. She wanted to Capitol to suffer and now they will.
This has been a long journey and I sadly change this story to complete. Thank you to everyone who has read and supported me. I am truly grateful for all the time you put into this story. The 227th Hunger Games are posted and I will be accepting tributes. As for how the Capitol tributes will be organized, that will all be explained in the first chapter of my last SYOT. I hope to see many of you there and I hope you join me for our last journey through my universe.
Thank you all,