-April 17th, Year of the 73rd Hunger Games-
As the endless solar farms fade into the distance, grey factories begin to tower over us, the train silently slinking through the labyrinth of concrete. We're not too far from the train station – I'll be home soon.
These factories in all their griminess have become a symbol for me – a symbol that I'm nearly back in District 5 – nearly able to forget about the Capitol for a while. Except this year, it's not all about forgetting, because this year we're bringing someone home with us.
Annalee sits, curled up in a ball, on the sofa opposite me, her eyes lost in the world past the glass windows. Her hair is tied up with a ribbon, the touch of copper that decorates it glowing in the trainlight. She's slim and fit – seventeen years old, but she looks like a child now, huddled up, her knees pressed against her chest.
I try to think back to when I had just won – that train journey home. I'd cried, I'd longed to be somewhere else – to be someone else. But Annalee is stronger than I was – she hasn't shed a tear. Or maybe she's just better at hiding it than I was. Still, she's clearly affected – her time in the arena was traumatic and I know better than anyone that it's not something she'll be forgetting. Ever.
The train starts to slow and I know we'll be stepping out into the District soon, to be greeted by the foreign Capitol cameras and the cheering voices of our neighbours. I get up, brushing down my suit. It's dark blue with a golden tie. No longer chosen by Cassia – she moved on to bigger and better things – I think she ended her Career in District 2, a prestigious District to design for, before retiring around five years ago.
'Three minutes, my roses!' a shrill voice chirps through the carriage.
Oh yes, Cassia's absence is not the only change.
Stella Rose bursts through the door and into the carriage. She has been our escort for the last two years following Decimus' retirement. And she is a nightmare.
Golden hair streaked with fuchsia is bundled up on top of her head, held together with a large pink feather. Her dress – a strange concoction, tight around the bust and then wide and bulbous at the bottom – is candy pink, stopping just above the knees. Her makeup is painted on, the quantity reminiscent of when Tyga and I redecorated our living room, and her eyes are wild. She's a slim woman and she's young – maybe 23 or 24 – which makes it even more condescending when she-
'Now, I know it's going to be a bit scary out there with the cameras, but just smile. See? Like this!' A broad grin stretches across her face.
'Stella, we know how to smile.' Tyga says, her voice thick with irritation.
'Well, not from what I've ever seen.'
'Yes, but there's a reason no one smiles while you're around.'
Stella flicks her head away from Tyga with a 'hm' and walks over to Annalee, who gets up, wincing as her muscles unlock themselves from the position they've been sat in for the last hour.
'Now, Annalee. This is your big moment. District 5 haven't had a Victor in a very long time, so give them something to smile for, my rose.'
My rose. It's like she's some kind of celebrity who's adopted a petname for her fans.
Annalee gets to her feet and walks over to us, barely acknowledging Stella. I see her chest rising and sinking as she tries to calm herself into taking deep breaths. I smile at her and I see a little glint of confidence return.
From the adjoining carriage, Tyga comes in, wearing a short white dress. Age has treated her kindly – she looks barely a day older than when we first met, just with more maturity and grace. Her hair is still as fiery as ever, wild oranges and untamed reds, though I think her prep team has tried to make it more vivid to cover up any drooping in colour. As for me, I look young too. Whilst we never ask for them, I have a feeling our prep teams occasionally slip in Capitol treatments to cancel aging and apparently they work well – I wouldn't guess Tyga or my age at much more than 35 even though we're about ten years older than that, me being 44 and Tyga being 47.
'You look gorgeous' I say. She smiles at me – a deep sincere smile.
The train smoothly grinds to a halt and with a hiss the doors open, letting in a storm of voices. Cameras flash and people shout, everyone eager to get a glimpse at the new Victor, who stands in front of Tyga and I. Security hold back the District people whilst the Capitol's insect-like cameramen snap pictures from sidelines.
Annalee is united with her family – her fifteen year old brother and her grandmother. It seems that broken families somehow produce Victors. I ponder that for a moment before I see Annalee taken to the stage. She speaks quietly and modestly about her time in the arena and within probably thirty seconds she's done. It's not something anyone wants to prolong.
The Peacekeepers escort me and Tyga to our house. Peacekeepers – always Peacekeepers. They seem to be everywhere recently – I never remember having this kind of security when I won. Or maybe it's not security – maybe it's control.
Instead of going directly home, we head to what has now become Pura and Tristan's house. Well, Pura, Tristan and Shay's house. Of course, it's still officially under my name or they couldn't have it, but I live with Tyga.
But yes, Shay – my old school friend – ended up with my brother. That took some getting used to. But, I've seen to much heartbreak in my life – I've learnt not to deny people happiness, even if it seems odd at first. But they are wonderful together. Beautiful – so secure – and so happy.
Pura hasn't found the right person yet, but the house is so big, and Shay and Tristan are so free spirited, that them living together is of no problem. I wipe my feet on the mat as we enter.
I hear footsteps, and a body flings itself at me. Her figure wraps around me, slim, young. Fiery hair is neatly arranged into a plait that hangs behind her head.
'Hey, sweetheart, it's alright.' I say with a light laugh, hugging her tight.
'I know, I just worry about you coming home alright.' she says, her voice muffled in my suit.
'Well, as far as I know, the Capitol trains are flawless in every way and could never even consider causing an accident.' I say mimicking Stella's speech.
'Shut up, Dad, you know what I mean.' she pulls away from me and I look at her features. A light sprinkling of freckles, deep green eyes, that flaming hair – she looks just like her mother. Except for the shape of her face – where Tyga's is round, her cheekbones are well-defined and sleek – a trait I guess I must have passed down from some long forgotten gene.
Another face appears from the living room, and is soon hurtling into Tyga. This hug is not so long and when she leans back, I can once again examine her features – features I am more than familiar with yet wish to explore endlessly. Her hair is blonde, like mine, except much more golden – she looks a lot more like me. Her eyes are blue and her lips are a soft pink. She too has freckles that scatter over a delicately crafted nose.
'Hey, Mum.' she says, letting go and letting her sister wrap Tyga in her arms. 'Hey, Dad' she says, turning to me. We don't hug much, unlike her and Tyga – we say it all through the eyes, and in her eyes I see relief and gratitude that I'm home.
These two girls are my daughters. My fourteen year old twin daughters. My salvation.
The first is Autumn. Autumn Tabatha Jedd. Even when she had just been born, her hair was vivid – orange like the leaves in autumn, and after we realised it, we couldn't ignore the association so we decided to make it permanent. And Tabatha of course, named after Tyga's sister. We try not to think of her anymore, but we still do everyday. It's hard but we manage because that's all we can do.
The second of my daughters is Alexis. Alexis Melissa Jedd. I don't really know why we chose Alexis – it just sort of fit. We saw her and she just was Alexis. I had a lot of thought over using Melissa but I decided I had to. She saved me and she kept me carrying on when life got hard. Just like Alexis.
When we married, Tyga didn't take my name, but we decided to give the children Jedd. Jedd-Redlake was a bit of a mouthful. Vice had suggested Jeddlake but we decided not to for obvious reasons. But Tyga will always be a Jedd to me.
Tristan's head pops round the corner, followed by Shay, face coated in a warm smile. And then Pura, and before I knew it we're all hugging – one big mass of relief and happiness.
The Jedds. The seven Jedds. Connor, Tyga, Autumn, Alexis, Pura, Tristan, Shay. Silently, I smile to myself. It'll always be like this, I let myself think, forever.
But forever is a long time. And no matter how hard you try, forever has to end sometime.
I just didn't know it would end so soon.
A/N: So, there we go - a fair few changes and stuff introduced in this chapter - I hope that wasn't too confusing, please let me know! So yeah for this "third section", there's kind of a reboot of the cast. The majority of the Victors will be returning in one way or another but characters like Decimus, Cassia and (at least most of) the prep team are mainly out of it now. I hope that's alright with everyone - they didn't seem too popular on the poll so I hope that's accurate. Also a few new characters are being introduced to the main "cast" - primarily Annalee, Autumn and Alexis, plus Stella. So, yeah I'd really like to know if this is working for you because obviously I want to make this transition as smooth as possible and I don't want to lose anyone along the way. So, yeah - as always, review! And I'll hopefully see you next week :)