A/N: This is a story inspired by a prompt for the Girl on Fire Ficathon ( . ?thread=1423204#t1423204 ). This is unbeta'd, and I just jumped back into writing, so any concrit and/or reviews are appreciated. Enjoy!
Caesar Flickerman's world was one made of fake smiles and real tears.
The Capitol's people never really valued life. Just valuable life. The life of people they knew and liked. Lives of the poor? Of the people they didn't know? Worthless. Their best service was in their Districts, and their chance for notoriety was only in the Games. Therefore, being a tribute for the Games were considered an honor, one that only Districts One, Two, and sometimes Four appreciated. Only bleeding hearts thought differently.
He had that same attitude when he first started his job as the interviewer.
It was easier to deal with then, to be sure. He was disgusted by the children who cried. Applauded the ones who looked forward to their fate. Tripped up the ones he didn't like with questions aimed towards their weaknesses, ultimately causing their death in the arena. His job was simple and life was good.
Then she came on his stage. Dixie Hayes.
She was a tribute from District Eight, so already she had a disadvantage. She was fourteen years old with little to no muscle and absolutely no combat talent. She'd be dead within the first two days.
Yet she didn't act like a fourteen year old. She didn't act like any tribute he had met so far. She was 'slow', he was told.
She had the most blindly trusting smile he had ever seen, and he had to keep his questions simple. Her stylist had braided flowers in her hair and sewn sparkles in her dress, likely to make her happy for her final days. Nothing a stylist could do would salvage her.
He would always remember the way she kept on looking down at her dress and playing with the hem, running her fingers along the fabric. "I never wore something so pretty before! And never so soft!"
Caesar had never seen someone so enchanted with something as simple as a dress.
"Isn't it so pretty? I can't work in the factories at home, so I don't get to see too many pretty clothes. Mama brings home a lot of scraps, though. Says I gotta gift with sewing. Maybe I'll make something this pretty if I practice a lot."
She, unlike everyone else, seemed blissfully unaware of what the Hunger Games actually meant. She finally looked up from her dress, looking at Caesar in the eye, and smiled at him like they were lifelong friends. "What about you, Mr. Flickerman? Do you have a gift with something?"
The question had caught him off guard. No one asked the interviewer questions. The crowd playfully called for him to answer, which he did. Just to see what would happen.
"Well, I like to think I have a gift with talking to people, Dixie," he had said kindly, already fond of the girl. She reminded him of a very small child. "That's why I like to talk to all you Tributes."
Her smile turned into a toothy grin, then she bobbed her head up and down. "I think you're good at that too! You have a gift." She tapped her temple, eyes sparkling. "Mama says everyone has a gift."
The conversation continued like that—keyword being conversation. That was how she treated it. Like they were two people meant to have the give and take of regular talk, instead of the one-sided interaction interviews were meant to be. She asked him questions, which he tried to turn back towards her to be professional, but she was genuinely curious and usually came back with another question.
Before he knew it, their time was up. He stood, gesturing her to sit down to applause (although it wasn't exactly roaring—the crowd had felt excluded by her insistence on conversing instead of pandering to the, so she hadn't really won herself favors), but she didn't leave without one last parting comment.
"And your hair's really pretty too, Mr. Flickerman!"
Of course. He supposed that purple hair slicked up would be strange to a girl from the District. It was endearing, really.
He had practically forgotten her by the end of the day. That is, until she had seen him pass by in the building where Tributes were staying while on other business. She had tackled him with a hug.
He hadn't had the slightest clue how to respond to that, so he did what came naturally. He awkwardly rested his hands on her shoulders and asked how she was doing.
"Good, Mr. Flickerman! Everyone's so nice to me here, and the food's so good and they're teaching me things to help me out in the Games!"
She had been the only Tribute he had ever met who was neither focused nor scared. Once more, she insisted on conversation. Once more, she was the only Tribute to ask him questions. What was the harm in answering them, right?
And in the course of two days, this Tribute of District Eight knew more about Caesar Flickerman than all the rest of Panem.
She knew that he had had two sisters and a brother—Aeliana, Constantina, and Faustus. That his father had been a doctor and that his mother had stayed at home. That Caesar had considered being a doctor himself, but he hadn't had the patience to go through with the schooling. That he had two nieces from Faustus and three nephews from Aeliana. That he was content without having any children of his own and instead spoiling the children of his brother and sister. That he had a weakness for Tiramisu—he had had to explain what that was to the girl—and, in fact, he had an insatiable sweet tooth. His favorite flower was pansy and he didn't have a favorite color.
In turn, she told him her story, in much fuller detail than he could ever get into in an interview. She was an only child. Her mother doted on her, but her father ignored her for the most part. When she wandered around the district, people would often give her scraps of food and cloth, and though she was often hungry and the food was appreciated, she preferred getting the cloth. She wanted to have children, but her mother often warned her away from the concept, telling her point-blank that she wouldn't be able to take care of a child the way it would have to be. She had had little candies before, but the Capitol was the first place where she got a real taste of what sugar could be, and she liked it. Her favorite flower was daffodil and her favorite color was yellow.
Finally, her mentor, a man named Flux, came along, grumbling about her wandering off constantly (giving Caesar a glare while he was at it, as if expecting that the interviewer was making fun of her), and practically dragged her away. As she left, she waved, eyes still sparkling.
"Bye, Mr. Flickerman! I'm glad we're friends!"
Just like that, he realized her life was valuable, even by his standards. He liked her.
And she was going to die.
The concept made his stomach churn. She was a real person. A real person, happy with her life, as hard as it may be, and it was being taken from her for the entertainment of the Capitol.
She would have no chance at defending herself.
The Games started too soon. It was set on a giant mountain. Dixie listened to her mentor's advice and ran from the Cornucopia, which was at the very foot of the mountain. While Careers slaughtered other Tributes, she hiked.
She didn't know how to survive. She mistook some plants for edible, and though they weren't poisonous, she made herself sick. She made the mistake twice before her fear of getting sick again made her avoid plants entirely. After two days, she collapsed from dehydration, and it was by sheer luck that she was close to a brook made by snow melt from further up the mountain.
It was pathetic.
For once, Caesar didn't want to watch the Games. No matter how much action occurred with the other Tributes, he couldn't help but think of the poor girl from District Eight.
When, on the fourth day, she curled up by the brook and started to cry, holding her stomach as it begged for food she couldn't give it, he had had enough.
He poured an ample amount of his fortune into sponsoring the girl. Flux always glared cagily at Caesar when he offered money, but he took it. Soon, Dixie was getting little parachutes every morning with enough food to get her through each day. With that, she was able to continue hiking up the mountain, eventually rising to the snowcaps.
She must have remembered something from her survival training, because she burrowed into the snow for warmth and camouflage, giving her adequate (if uncomfortable) shelter. She was able to survive. She survived for two more days.
Then Careers came across her. The District One girl, Flare, decided to make it exciting for the audience. Dixie was curled up, crying, continually asking them why they were hurting her, when Flare grabbed her by the hair and started dragging her, screaming, towards the brook that had so recently saved Dixie's life.
Flare laughed while she held the other girl's head underwater. Laughed harder when she brought her head up again, letting her get a breath, cough, and cry for her mother in, then dunked her head back under. Four dunks.
And then Dixie Hayes was dead.
That night, Caesar was genuinely sick for the first time in his life. Even after his stomach was empty, he was wracked with dry heaves. It was a good thing he was in the privacy of his own home.
The rest of the Games ended quickly. The girl from District Two ended up winning.
Caesar did his job. He did the interviews. He congratulated her.
Before everyone returned to the districts, Flux caught him in the studio. He shouldn't have been there since he was the mentor for a dead Tribute, but he didn't cause trouble. He just shoved a lumpy envelope into Caesar's hands.
"I wasn't going to give this to you, but you were her only sponsor."
Flux left without further comment. No one even bothered asking what it was about, wrapped up as they were with the Games recap. Caesar wisely waited until he was home before he actually looked at the envelope.
'To my frend, mister Flikerman'
Inside was a handkerchief, clumsily but earnestly embroidered with pansies and daffodils.
Ever since, he was secretly one of those 'bleeding hearts' who hated the Games. He started using his job to provide any help to the Tributes that he could.
When he saw them ripped apart by each other, he saw it for what it was. Children forced to kill children.
He remembered all of their names.
He kept the handkerchief tucked in the pocket of his midnight blue jacket.
And he saw that all the smiles in the Games were fake, and all the tears were real.