As the train pulls into the District 5 station, I stand near the doors, staying still as the humming stylist rearranges my bangs. Just a second of holding my breath passes before the doors open, and I step out onto the platform, my Capitol attendants and my brother following me.
I don't think they normally let any of the family come along on Victory Tours. At least, they never leave the train. But the officials actually let Matt tag along after he insisted on it. He won't get to come to help me remember my speeches, but I'm still insanely glad he was able to stay with me. I know I don't deserve a speck of it, but his support keeps me from getting too abysmally low. Now that I think about it, that's probably why they let him come. Won't be a very good Victory Tour for the Capitol if the Victor kills himself before he's even made it to District 8.
Well, if I was going to kill myself, I'd rather have done it before any of this could even start. Because of course we kick things off with District 12. Have to give my speech while looking down at Raivis's father and the only son he has left. Tell them how he was such a good ally, and I sure would have loved to keep him around if I weren't too busy off daydreaming to stop him from running into that vine! Nasty part is, I haven't memorised a lick of my script, so I have to read everything straight off it. It sounds horribly fake, but it's not like I can really throw anything in, or I'll get too carried away and start getting heartfelt and teary, and who knows how many people I'd get into trouble with that.
But District 12 somehow wasn't even the worst to come, oh, no. After an unwarranted break in 11, here comes 9. Oh, 9. Funny thing, I thought it would be soul-killing to look into the eyes of Vahn's mother and father and say some things the escort wrote up that made their son sound like an object. But no, that would have great. Instead I'm there looking at his father's face, his alone. No sister, of course, since she killed herself because of what I did, but no mother, either. Because she's dead, too. Grief. Ha! Wonder why she gets to die from that. She didn't deserve it, even. I deserve to die of that ten times over, and I got plenty of grief to go around, but nope. No luck. No justice. No anything but a total crap world where the villains get life and riches and the innocents die horribly. Wonderful, wonderful. I'm not going to die unless I kill myself. And nobody's going to let that happen, oh, no, not to their precious Victor. Or brother or son.
That part's not so bad. I mean, I totally understand why Matt wouldn't want me to die. You think I didn't feel the same thing when his name was called? So I don't get what I deserve, just for the sake of my family. They're wonderful, obviously, I'd give my life for them several times over even if I didn't deserve to die, but what makes them so much better than all the families I ripped apart? They had sons and brothers, too. They loved each other. I'd bet my earnings they'd die a million times for each other, too. So why is the family of the monster left intact, while those who raised good kids, ones who didn't decide to throw away every last virtue they were ever taught, have to suffer worse than I could ever imagine?
Though it's not like any of this is my parents' fault. Oh, no, they did a great job raising me. I got my friends, and a work ethic, and if I wasn't such a violent coward, maybe I could have turned out as good as Matt. But nope. I threw it away for who knows what. Just had to kill, I guess. Too weak to fight it, to stand up for what I've been taught, for what's right. Some villains are just born, I guess. I wish I could have known earlier I was going to be one. Maybe I'd just run out to the Cornucopia to kill somebody and get a sword through the neck before I could do anything.
Too late now. It's all I can do to pretend I really believe my family's love is worth me living. I don't know. I haven't killed anyone else yet, so maybe it is worth a couple of years. And it's not like I'm ever going to be happy, so maybe this is a better punishment for me. Actually, for that, it would probably be best for the Capitol to go ahead and kill my family so I have to suffer. Of course, I'd immediately go kill everyone in the Capitol, so they'll save their own necks instead. I couldn't stand my family being dead, even if I deserve for that to happen to me. I'm worthless, so it's more important they get justice than me, anyway. And their reward for trying their hardest to make me a decent person is seeing me stay alive for a while. Even if they failed, their intentions were sure as good as they could be. They should get something for that.
I walk across the platform, my steps clunking hard on the metal, until I reach the escort car. It's a stretched-out-looking black car of some sort. Guess it's a District 5 thing. District 12 just had a normal-looking, beat-up car, while District 11 treated me like the criminal I am in a crazy-armoured van. 9 was a little less strict, but 8 was back to a secure vehicle.
Oh, District 8. Wonderful place, too. Got to tell both of Sadik's parents there how little a pawn he was. Something about my launch pad to victory. I don't remember what the cards said. I just remember the hateful stab of their eyes, watching me make a mockery of their only child and look down at them through my glasses. Oh, yep, they're the same glasses. Because of course I'd want to keep a trophy like that, so the Capitol kept them and fixed them right back up. Matt had the great idea of going to the Capitol and getting some fancy eye surgery so neither of us would need one. They helped him but then said something was a little off with my eyes, and it was too risky to try on me. Yeah. Matt and me are twins. We have the same exact freaking eyes. And I have a feeling the Capitol wouldn't be too happy if I went around squinting at everything just so the first thing I used to kill wasn't right in front of my eyes all of the time.
At least they decided I didn't need Eston's glasses, ha. Of course, they don't say his death was my fault, anyway. Just Vahn's. Because the Nine obviously would have driven a pickaxe through his forehead if I hadn't led him straight to the guy. I'm about as at-fault as I can get there. Somehow Eston's mom didn't quite think so. The security wasn't so tight in 7, so she actually talked to me a little bit. Thanked me for making Eston's last days a little better for him. Yeah. Your son's dead because of me, ma'am. That seems to have left your mind. She tried to have her husband say something to me, but all he did was look away and mutter how even the smartest people can do the stupidest things. At least he knew being around me is a bad idea, even though he acts like Eston had a choice. I didn't give him much of one. Come with me, or lose every bit of protection you have out here. If only I had thought of that before I decided revenge was more necessary than keeping what I still had. If only, if only. If only Matt was an only child.
But he's not. He still has to deal with me, nudging me out of the way a little so he has enough room in the car's sideways seats. He starts up some conversation with my stylist about the different kinds of cars we've encountered and tries to include me, though I just paste a smile to my face and turn the conversation back to Matt. He's always trying to make me feel better, even though he's admitted himself that I've done this sort of things no one should even think of. But he has to take care of me because we're brothers, and that's what we do. Not that we've been acting much like brothers lately. We got into another debate about me and the virtues I supposedly have, a couple of weeks ago. At some point, I got desperate and yelled that if I were such a hero, I would have actually saved someone. He screamed at me for implying he didn't count and ran into our room and slammed the door.
We never used to fight. Well, physically, plenty, but nothing like that. Now it's all of the time. We're hardly brothers. It's just me, whatever I am, and him trying to convince me that I'm still a human being. Not because I am, because we're blood and it's his responsibility. He won't admit it, but it's the only reason. He's too great a guy to keep ties with scum like me on any other grounds.
The car drives on. The road's a lot bumpier here than it was in District 6. Wonder why. The geography's different or something, maybe. Not that I would know. I was just in District 6, and I don't know where it is. I didn't even know it was Fronce's district until a while after the Games. Yeah, some friend I am. Don't know where you're from, don't know your last name, don't know your hair's so freaking long it can hide a cut. Oh, but no, no, no, his death's not my fault too; I never wanted to hurt him, and I used all of the disinfectant on him instead of me and blah blah blah. Yes, I used all of the disinfectant on one wound and left the lethal one untouched. How can you argue that that's not my fault?
They try their hardest, though. If I believed everything they said, I wouldn't think I was guilty of anything! I shoved my own glasses into Sadik's throat, but that wasn't entirely evil because I thought I was protecting my friends. And then Raivis running obviously isn't my fault because he runs at everything, which I apparently didn't know by then. I led Eston straight into Vahn's pickaxe, but that's not really my fault because I didn't think he would die when I went after Vahn. I sure did some terrible things to Vahn, but I wasn't in my right mind, so I can't be blamed for that, either. I never even met Natalya, so there's no way I'm completely responsible for her death. I tried my hardest to make sure Fronce wouldn't get an infection, so he's off the list. And I only let Igris die because I'm such an amazing hero that I couldn't bring that pain on my family.
Oh, yeah. This is Igris's district. Now I get to face his family, too. Wonder if his mom died of grief. And then his little brother. I have no idea what his name is. But I have to track him down and smack him for breaking Igris's CD. I don't know why I'm going to bother with this. Haven't I hurt him enough already? The kid must want me dead and gutted. I can't imagine him letting me hit him, unless he just wanted to carry out his brother's last request. Well, he probably would want that. I guess I'd better go ahead, then, huh?
The car reaches its destination, and within a minute I'm at the back of the stage alone, waiting as the mayor gives his little speech. I can't help glancing over at the families' platforms. I don't know anyone on the girl's side, but it's pretty plain to see Igris's brother opposite. The two could be twins, minus the age gap and eye colour. It's like I'll be talking straight to Igris.
A little round of applause finishes the mayor's portion, and then I'm up. I read my script for them carefully, trying to avoid eye contact with the ones I'm supposed to be talking to. Script, script, script. Didn't know Perdita, but she went out too soon. Igris was a good ally and all that. I probably would have killed myself right then and there if he hadn't made friends with me...
No, no, nope, you are not crying right now. You've been working on this act for months, now make it pay off. Just remember that you killing yourself would have been a good thing, okay? Even if he did save you, even if he—
Script, script, script! I can't think too hard or I'll mess it up! You know how bad I am at multitasking, haha!
I take a breath and go on with what the cards say. Great ally in the fight with Careers, kept me from eating my weight in his rations—this gets a laugh—and so brave to put his life on the line for my sake. I finish up and wave at the audience, flashing them a big grin before stepping away from the podium. Some of the escorts walk towards me, but I tell them to give me a second. They know what I'm planning, so they back off.
I make my way to the Kirklands straining to keep myself together. It's okay. All I have to do is bop him a little bit and run off before I can see how much I hurt him inside.
I only have to push through a few metres of dispersing crowd before I'm at their platform. The parents regard me, the mother tearful from the speech, the father watching with guarded eyes. The too-young brother looks up at me with watery eyes.
"Hey," I start with a friendly sort of smile. "Nothing against you personally, but you know your brother asked for it..."
He nods, sniffling, and I have to swallow hard to calm myself down before I reach over and flick him on the forehead. Okay, it's done. Let's get out of here.
I pull my arm back and get ready to walk away. But before I can take a step, the brother is suddenly hugging me.
"Ah... Hey..." I start, not sure how to respond. Before I quite have to make a decision about that, he cranes his neck up, not letting go, and chokes out a thank you amidst the tears he's given up trying to hold back.
He's awfully excited about this, coming from the thing that killed his brother.
"Ah, well, he asked for it," I say dismissively, pulling away without much success. The brother's still hugging me.
...What's wrong with you? I know the last request thing's probably a big deal, but you shouldn't be treating me like this just for that.
"A-and thank you for the rest," he starts, sniffing again. "I-I hate that he had to die, but at least you made his last days not so b-bad..."
"Hey." I take a breath and decide to knock him out of this right now. "It doesn't matter what I did his last days, okay? They wouldn't have been his last days if it weren't for me! You're not supposed to thank me—I killed your brother!"
"You did no such thing!" He continues to cling, probably just to keep me from escaping. "I know they edited the footage, all right? But I saw it right the first time. You couldn't have killed him if you tried."
"Sure good at killing him without trying, then," I mutter, just about ready to pry his arms away from my stomach.
"You didn't kill him, he killed him! He put the poison in the cup, he convinced you to go along with his plan, and he drank it. You never told him to, you never made him do any of that!"
"You're right," I agree. He just doesn't get it. If I had just had the guts to kill myself, his brother would undoubtedly be alive right now. "Now I kind of have to get going—"
"I'm not done yet!" he interrupts, not letting go still. "I still have to thank you for being his friend."
"It's not that big a deal, okay? I wasn't exactly the best friend to him, anyway."
"Maybe it wasn't a big deal to you, you have friends at home! Igris never had any friend but Fronce. When he died... I don't think Igris could have gone on without you there."
"Your brother's tougher than that," I respond.
"He still had feelings! Amer... I know you don't feel like you've done anything good, but you have to listen to me! He wouldn't show it, because he's Igris, but you know you meant the world to him. Just being his friend, being willing to die for him, I don't know, annoying him! He hated being alone, that's why he allied with people from the start! If you weren't there for him, I don't know what he would have done. You made him happy, okay? Without you there, he wouldn't have made it, anyway. You've done so much more than you give yourself credit for. Please, for my sake, for Igris's sake, just please realise the difference you made to him."
He meets my eye stubbornly, waiting for a response.
"I... I know we were friends," I start. "But, compared to his life... I mean, life without friendship isn't any good, but... What I'm trying to say is... What am I trying to say?"
I try to take a minute to sort out my thoughts. "I mean... Maybe that was nice, but... I still killed him. Or let him die, or whatever you want to call it."
"Amer," the brother says sternly before smiling weakly as his tears stream. "I just lost my big brother, watched him die right in front of you. If I thought it was even a little bit your fault, I would hate you. But I don't. The Capitol killed him, Amer. You didn't. If you're going to believe that from anyone, it should be from me."
"O-okay?" I try to put together my argument against that, but I'm drawing a blank. It can't be right, it can't, but... I can't figure out how it's wrong... I did everything he said. He's supposed to hate me, he would, if I killed Igris. But... I didn't...?
"I'll," the brother starts, loosening his grip, "let you go now, if you really have to leave. Just... Just know I'm so, so grateful for you. I'll still be crying for Igris every day, but at least he lost to a hero like you."
Just before he's completely let go of me, I catch him in a hug myself.
He smiles at me before turning back to his parents, who give me a nod before going on their way.
So after everything I did... Somehow something went right. I'll never forgive myself for the deaths I caused, but somehow I left one family intact. Somehow I made someone happy before his brother died. Somehow I made someone happy before he drank the poison.
...Somehow I made someone happy before he died of infection. Somehow I made someone happy before he faithfully followed me where he shouldn't have. Somehow I made someone happy before he got caught in thorny vines...
Somehow I still did something right... Just by being a friend... It can't erase what I've done to these people, but maybe... Maybe I did make a good difference to them... Maybe I'm a little... little, tiny bit... of a hero, after all.