The dark-haired victor was drifting in the colorless void of infinite space, removed from any sensation but the comforting rhythm of her steady breathing. She was only detachedly aware of her body's great thirst, of the cold steel pressed against her reddened wrists, of the shadow her slender frame cast on the painted wall of her little room. Hope and fear, passion and sorrow, were mere fading memories. An odd little smile graced her cracked lips. Time was her truest ally. Death was the only great mystery she now craved to explore.
Death would reunite her with her Aster; or it simply wouldn't matter.
Cross legged on the mahogany bed, Mercury lifted her eyes to the opening door. For the first time in three days, Coriolanus Snow entered her cozy cell.
Vengeance was discarded as swiftly as it came to her mind. The chains were too short and she was less strong than she had been on the first day. They hadn't broken then, they wouldn't break now.
A distant feeling of disappointment caused Mercury's smile to wane. The man's voice crashed around her, like shallow waves on old reef. She could see his lips moving but didn't attempt to focus on his words.
Her small smile was back as the President's paper white skin flushed with impotent rage. He had thought hitting her might provoke a reaction on his last visit and Mercury's lips twitched further as she brought two fingers to her unblemished cheek. She had been healed within the hour; it seemed Snow had actually felt ashamed of his loss of control.
Loss of control.
Death had accompanied Mercury everywhere she had walked; in a thousand disguises during a dozen Games, curbing the victors' necks with its powerful skeletal hand and lurking in the eyes of the loved ones of the children whose lives the arenas had claimed. Death now sat beside her in companionable silence, waiting for Time to give its assent.
The unsuppressed fury shaking the President's whole body had a mesmerizing potency to it. It was amusing, to see how the balance of power had shifted and him so helpless to spark her anger or even fear.
Like an anchor thrown by a drifting vessel, the name jarred Mercury back to reality. Snow had doubtless repeatedly threatened every person dear to her in the last twelve days, but his tone was different this time.
Snow's voice was trembling with barely controlled rage as he resorted to bargaining with her. "Enobaria is still in custody, unharmed. I will grant the two of you a moment and let her return to Two if you cooperate."
Neither Finder, Grace nor the golden-toothed Career would heal her shredded heart, but just as they would have fought for her, they deserved more than a terse distress signal to remember her by.
Her voice felt raw from thirst and disuse. "You are the spider at the heart of a web of lies and control," she began, "a web so intricate it would stun even the most brilliant minds. Yet now that the web is consumed by the flames. Who will remember, Snow? The Districts barely suspect the extent of the lies. The Capitol fares little better and the victors, those who had the best understanding, are almost all dead. Who will remember the power you wielded when they could only ever see fragments of a hidden picture?" Mercury smiled at the tense little man. "That is why I am here, isn't it? I may be the one person still alive that saw all the strands. You are more afraid of being forgotten than you are of death."
Snow looked stunned for a moment, as if he hadn't expected her to speak. He sat on the chair next to the door, a wistful cast to his face. "How did this happen, perceptive little bird?"
It is much too late for doubts, Snow. Alea jacta est. Panem will never be the same again.
"Last year, to rebel openly was to shoot your own children and condemn your loving wife to a terrible death. Few are that idealistic and brave. Now there is but one angry voice, a fierce vengeful mass that will crush the Capitol no matter the cost." A resilient spark of anger infused Mercury's calm voice. "There were no beggars before your rule in Three, no starving children sleeping in the classrooms. Oppressed people don't act only if the alternative is worse. You made sure the odds were in Plutarch's favor."
"You must be thrilled."
Mercury didn't smile. "We are of the same species Snow, a soon to be extinct species."
Snow glowered. "I will be remembered!"
"Your name will, but who will truly remember you? The man who flawlessly blamed Zephyr's murder on rebels, who single-handedly made the Districts bow for over a decade."
Angles and lies. Who would truly remember her? Why, Aster? Why did their story have to end here, so close to the rebirth?
"Who studies history anymore?" Mercury pursued, absently tracing her wolf tattoo with a dirty finger. "The bans have been in place for so long…. Even in Three few people have the curiosity. Freeing Enobaria can only help your cause."
Snow arched a thick eyebrow. "Pray tell."
His posture failed to conceal his inner turmoil. His agitation was quite at odds with Mercury's eerie calm.
"Her teeth and mere presence is a physical reminder of the Games and therefore the Capitol. People will want to forget. She will force them to remember everything they destroyed, to remember the times they were helpless and scared, to remember you."
Many would try to kill the former Career. Mercury shut her eyes briefly, hoping her friend would find her place in a Panem in which victors would be obsolete.
Snow nodded slowly and stood up. It was odd, to see him there, stripped of all pretense, a fierce hunger for recognition burning in his dark eyes.
Mercury hissed out of instinct when a short needle went in her arm.
"A partial antidote to this poison will be in your every meal. Stop eating and you will painlessly die in less than six hours. I can still send two dozen hovercrafts on a suicide mission on Three's spires if you abuse that privilege. I won't hesitate, even if it would hasten my defeat. I believe we have a deal, Mercury."
"I believe history matters, Mr. President, even when unpleasant," the woman replied with a ghost of a smile, "people shouldn't forget."
"You look healthy, old friend."
Enobaria's full lips bloomed into a smile. She tightly grasped the other victor's hands. "Hello, Mercury. You've now convinced me staying in the Capitol was a great idea."
"You stayed in their custody willingly?" Mercury said, curiosity evident in her blue eyes.
"I wasn't mistreated. The success of the rebellion doesn't depend on me." A belligerent ring entered the muscled woman's voice. "I gave my whole life to the Capitol, first training, then as a victor. I deserve to have a chance at life. It is time for the others to fight."
"So you will wait until Two is finally secured by the rebels and then join the Mockingjay."
Enobaria nodded, evidently having expected Mercury to disapprove of her attitude.
Mercury smiled instead. "Live, find love, have children. You have nothing to prove to anyone."
"Why aren't you fighting anymore? You were among the most resilient of us." Pain creased the Career's features. "I don't want to start over alone. And don't you dare tell me to bond with Beetee."
Mercury's hold on her friend tightened. "I'm sorry," she whispered, "I have a trigger in my veins. I am done here, no matter the outcome."
"Willingly!" Enobaria growled. "Why? You were never a coward."
Mercury caught a tear on the woman's thick eyelashes. "I'm not a mop," she said waspishly, referring to their very first conversation; back when they'd both been stubborn teenagers thrown in a world of unbelievable cruelty.
A dry chuckle escaped Enobaria's lips. "Stop deflecting, damn it."
The younger victor's blue eyes glistened as she pulled the other in a tight embrace.
She had dreamed so long of a free Panem and now wept for the price still to be paid. She had been the Capitol's since the day she had been reaped and the Capitol would claim her ashes.
"Aster was my cause and my passion, my rock and my hopes. He made me real for he saw through the lies and pretense. I have nothing left to give, old friend. Maybe I wasn't so strong after all…."
Enobaria stared at her for what seemed the longest time; the fire in her eyes so at odds with the other's resigned sadness. "I can't imagine letting go now we finally have a real chance at life. At least I'll get to meet Finder," she added with a tight smile.
"He'll be thrilled, truly. Please tell him the truth, I never had the chance. I trust that I can convince Snow to let me send him and Grace a last letter but some things cannot be explained in writing. He knew the girl, you knew the victor. I am so glad you were there."
"Oh stop acting like this is our last conversation," Enobaria snapped, baring her teeth in helpless fury.
Mercury childishly struck her tongue out.
The other glared before stifling a sob. "I could call my first son Hermes."
A smile split the orphan's lips at the convoluted homage. "Very District Two. Different enough from Mercury not to give him issues. I am honored, but only if it doesn't cause you more pain."
"I can handle pain. I don't want to forget you. I'll miss you."
"Be well. Don't let everyone dictate your choices ever again."
Enobaria gently raised her hand to Mercury's head and pressed her lips to the other's forehead.
"Say hello to Aster and Dante from me. He's the only Capitolite I ever saw naked."
A small giggle escaped Mercury's lips at the memory. "Be happy, Enobaria."
Hazel eyes burned into hers, a frightening in their intensity. Enobaria's lips crashed against hers, capturing her mouth in an embrace as passionate as it was brief.
"See, I can kiss. I'll do my best," the Career said with a tight smile. She spun on her heels and regally exited the room.
Mercury blinked, slowly recovering her senses. She was confident her friend was exclusively attracted to men. Trust Enobaria to be so theatrical.
The chained victor now wondered if she was the other's first kiss.
I'm so sorry, Enobaria.
Mercury folded her hands on her lap. "Why didn't you ever demand that I conceive a child?"
Snow actually chuckled. "You truly believe me a heartless monster don't you?"
"Surprise me, then."
"You saved the life of one of the few individuals I esteem. The hassle would not have been worth it."
Mercury cocked an eyebrow, unimpressed. This was supposed to convince her that Snow was capable of compassion? The fact that he had enough children to slaughter already without needing to alienate one of his greatest supporters?
A flash of sorrow darkened her face. Were any of those sweet children still alive?
"Do you regret not having brought something of Aster's into this world? Leaving no legacy in a soon to be orphan? It would've been rather poetic."
Mercury smiled mirthlessly. "Mesmer was better at this than you are. Maybe because, back then, I actually cared. If you want tears, you shall be disappointed."
Snow's blood red lips twisted into a sinister smirk. "Why shouldn't I bargain with Finder? The codes to Thirteen's central system in exchange for your life?"
Mercury's gaze was condescending. "He wouldn't be my best friend if he was such a coward and you have no idea as to how to contact him. A District-wide broadcast would make sure people would arrest him before he could even consider it."
Snow reddened in anger. He exhaled slowly. "I want you to write to him."
"And here I was, thinking you'd never ask."
"How can you be certain he'll do what you say?" Snow said, struggling to overlook her insolence.
"If you are forgotten, the victors and the tributes will fall into oblivion. Talking of the Games gives my life meaning as much as it does yours. Finder will make sure the information is spread and the files never destroyed. I trust him."
Drake, Yolo, Mesmer, Harrow, Rosemary, Georgie... She had a duty to all of them. Panem couldn't forget.
"I will narrate you my life story. I want you to write it and ask any question that comes to your mind. I want this compulsory schooling, at the very least in Three, for the thousand years to come. Convince him this is the only way to avoid another Hunger Games. Have him make you a martyr if necessary."
Poor megalomaniac losing the big rebellion. History is important, Snow, it's not just about you and me.
"You have my word Mr. President. You should hurry," she added with a mirthless smirk,"Two is rebelling. We may not even have a month."
The files are an accurate report of Capitol activity in the last decades. They need to be taught. Letting the past slip into oblivion will not change history, nor will it change people. This is not about Coriolanus Snow's ego but about Panem as a civilization. Truth cannot be censored in order to protect the sensibilities of crowds. The younger generations will need to know how the rebellion came to be to hope to understand their parents' nightmares and understand where they come from. Please make sure the files are not destroyed.
You, Grace and Enobaria are the only people I truly leave behind. I am proud of what I have achieved these last years. Remember the dead but fight on for the living.
Fulgora is an amazing wife; don't you dare neglect her to honor my last requests. Don't traumatize the kids with tales of my valor either. Even sugar coated, please don't go beyond "I lost a 'insert a string of superlative flattering adjectives' friend" before they turn at least ten. Get drunk with Enobaria if you feel like reminiscing. I know it will be hard. I am sorry my love for you is not enough for me to move past Aster's death. You were always there, even when I had little to offer. I cannot express how much I love and owe you, Finder.
Maybe I should start from the distress signal I sent six weeks ago…
Mercury programmed a delay of twelve-four hours before pressing the send button.
Dear Grace, she began typing.
I'm dying of a broken heart. Of all the ways to go...
You were right; I'm appallingly dependent on 'that abrasive arrogant man who barely deigns to be fond of a beautiful woman who is a saint with him.'
Don't ever change.
Her fingers were trembling as she finished the second letter.
She was the symbol of the old rule, spoils of a silent war waged for threescore years between the Capitol and the Districts. A new era was rising. The wind carried whispered promises of justice but she would never see the phoenix rise from the Capitol's ashes.
Instead of a meal, the key opening her chains had been delivered by an elderly avox on a golden plate, along with a note from Snow.
Thirteen is coming. The Mockingjay is a naive fool. All this because of her sacrifice for her sweet innocent sister, yet the rebels don't seem to care. How tragic. Choose the room where you wish to die.
Mercury didn't even blink. She had outlasted her usefulness to Snow and made peace with her impeding death.
The corridors of the mansion's west-wing were silent and empty, already a monument to a decadent and depraved civilization that would soon be a mere memory. The poison agent was slowly paralyzing her muscles. She sat on a windowsill when her stiff legs failed to sustain her weight.
A single hovercraft blocking the winter sun cast a dark shadow on the large mansion. She could see rebels rushing towards the snowy barricade, and children, Capitol children. Her breath hitched; her lungs were turning to lead. She had minutes to live. She pressed her forehead against the window, squinting.
Snow's message took a whole new meaning.
Mercury's eyes misted with tears she wouldn't have thought still capable of shedding as she feverishly sought the frail blond Seam child whose reaping had changed Panem's history.
Wide smiles drew themselves on the faces of the fearful children as sponsor parachutes fell from the hovercraft. Mercury frowned, unable to conceive that either the Capitol or the rebels would be so generous. With production running so low, this was a tactical insanity.
A package floated past her window. Mercury couldn't breathe.
No, not supplies. Explosives.
The victor closed her tearful eyes.
A cleansing fire, but at how high a price?
Deafening explosions shattered her tenuous hold on reality.
Death bowed from the waist and offered her an outstretched hand.
The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.
Marcus Tulius Cicero (103 - 46 BC)
Thank you to all who have read, followed and favorited this story, and especially to all of you who have brightened my days and made me grow as a writer with your reviews.
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I will edit this chapter to answer any explicit questions from guest reviewers and add new people to the Hall of Fame (or any forgotten ones, do make yourself noticed, I profusely apologize in advance). As usual I answer all my signed reviews through PM.
This story is complete unless you readers lobby for an epilogue (probably told from Finder's, Grace's or Enobaria's POV. Or all three^^. I've had President Paylor suggested to echo the prologue). Please mention what you'd like to see since I don't have a definite idea yet (07/2013: I haven't given up the idea of an epilogue).
Please review. I won't be bugging you anymore after this. ;D