"You're in good hands with those two," I say, smiling a little at the anxious looking Maysilee, "Cinna and Portia have been taking care of district twelve since before you were born, and we haven't had a single coal miner costume since they started work." This year, the theme appears to be sparks. Maysilee and Jon are wearing a rippling black fabric run through with veins that flash orange, red, yellow and occasionally a very light blue, giving the impression that they are about to burst into flame. Maysilee's skirt and Jon's cape will flare behind them, as I am sure was Cinna's intention. They will be stunning, as the tributes from twelve always are.
Maysilee nods and swallows, running her hands tentatively down her dress. "Why don't you go down with Effie?" I suggest. Maysilee smiles very faintly and hops down from the table she'd been perched on, heading for the door. Effie is, I know, sat outside waiting for her. I take Maysilee's place upon the table and wait for Cinna to reappear from the only other door into the room, the wheels of his chair making a slight electric whir as he steers himself to the low table against the wall.
"How's it been this year?" I ask him.
"So-so," he replies with a shrug. He folds a strip of black cloth on the side and my eyes fix, as always, upon his left hand, where two of his fingers are missing. One is gone from his right hand as well, I know. This is only a part of price he paid for his part in my wedding, for the secret alteration he made to my dress. I loved it, and the Capitol loved it too. Flaming dresses were all the rage that year, but Cinna paid the price, of course. I was surprised it wasn't his life, but then Cinna was the example, his punishment broadcast live to the districts. Not the Capitol of course, as far as most of them know my dress was nothing more than an impressive fashion statement.
I think briefly of Plutarch Heavensbee, swinging beneath the steel gallows and close my eyes. I think of Peeta, twisting at the ring upon my finger in an attempt to keep myself in the present. I feel Cinna's hands brush against my own and I look at him. He does look old. The Capitol has allowed him to age, and the lines around his eyes make me feel old too, something I don't feel very often. Mostly, I just feel lost.
We go down to the ground floor of the remake centre together, where twelve chariots wait to parade the victors through the Capitol. I smile grimly to Finnick waiting by the district four chariot, and nod politely to Johanna Mason. She doesn't mentor the tributes officially anymore, there are younger people to do that for her, but she still comes every year. She doesn't say as much, but I think we victors might be the only friends she has.
The doors roll open and I help Maysilee up into the chariot as Jon climbs in on the other side. "Be brave," Peeta tells them both, smiling in a reassuring fashion. Gale and I remain silent as the first chariot rolls out of the remake centre.
The moment the tributes from twelve are out of the door, Capitol attendants usher the mentors into the transport that will shuttle us to the training centre so that we're there to welcome the tributes at the end of the parade. An entire wall is dedicated to a screen showing the proceedings and we are sat in a line so that we can watch and observe, keeping an eye on our tributes, their competition and the crowds.
Flashing jewels from one, whirring gears from three, trees from seven and of course the flaming pair bringing up the rear, a highly anticipated staple of every tribute parade.
Jon stares straight ahead, his jaw set and his brow furrowed. He may stand a chance with training, if he can gain enough muscle. Beside him, Maysilee's eyes are wide, accented by the very light amount of make-up Cinna has employed. She looks tiny, even beside skinny Jon who at least has some height to him. At only fourteen years old, it is hard to imagine Maysilee could qualify as a threat to anyone in these games.
I watch her eyes, fixed firmly ahead of her and suddenly I am there once more, twenty five years ago as the tributes rolled out of the training centre to fierce cries and whoops from the assembled crowd, the tributes from twelve unearthly as they stared straight ahead, Gale as imposing as it seems possible for any human to ever be and Prim… little Prim, a tiny glowing ember I imagine might be snuffed out at any second.
Pressure upon my hand brings me back to the present. I look to the side, expecting to see Peeta, but it is Finnick who squeezes my hand. I return the gesture and he nods, letting me know that he understands.
We slide to a stop and disembark, reaching the doors just in time to see the first tributes roll into the building. Maysilee and Jon are both shaking when they arrive, but he seems a little elated by their journey through the Capitol. Maysilee simply seems terrified.
We ride together in an awkward silence up to the top floor, out of the lift and past the door to the roof. I look to Peeta and he reads the question in my eyes. Who will it be this year?
The avoxes stand, heads bowed, behind the table. Their eyes are fixed firmly upon the floor and even from here I can see the odd way in which they hold their jaws – a remnant of the process by which the Capitol has removed their tongues. Every year since the failed rebellion, we have been served by different, always recognisable faces.
My throat is dry as I approach them, trying my best to act as though I am paying them no attention, although of course they hold nearly all of my attention. The woman I recognise first, although I haven't seen her since the third Quell. Her name is Lavinia, and she was the very first avox I met in the Capitol. She is also the first person I failed to save.
To her right stands a tall, well-built man whom it takes me a moment to identify, but when I do recognise him I feel faint for a moment. We only really met once and we exchanged few words, but I know who he is. His name is Boggs, and he was a soldier in district thirteen – one of President Coin's best men, reduced to a servant of the Capitol, just like the rest of us.
Peeta's hand in mine keeps me upright until we reach the dinner table, where I slump down into my seat. The final day of the war is playing in my head – how we victors were forced to stay and watch as President Coin and the other notable leaders of the rebellion were publically executed. The event was broadcast across Panem, and they replayed it every few weeks in the years that followed – required viewing of course.
There is a moment in the film where the camera pans across the faces of the victors – Gale, with his face set in a scowl, Finnick and Annie determinately not looking at each other, trying not to create an association, old Mags with her arms around Annie's shaking shoulders. Haymitch wasn't with us of course. He was on the platform beside Coin, Plutarch and other people I didn't know. I shake my head in an attempt to dispel the memory, and turn my attention to the food before me. It is standard Capitol fare, which means (of course) that it is amazing. Maysilee and Jon are already digging in, and Gale is helping himself. Peeta's eyes are upon me, however, and I know he won't eat until I do. Slowly, I go through the motions of putting food upon my plate, of eating and drinking – even going so far as to attempt to join in Effie's small talk. I'm terrible at it as always, but I think she appreciates that I try.
As the main course is taken away, I excuse myself from the table, claiming a headache. Peeta rises with me and together we retreat to the only sanctuary we have here in the Capitol: the roof. We sit together, as we first did almost twenty six years ago, gazing out over the glistening Capitol. Below us, a party is in full swing across the streets. We are not expected to attend today, but tomorrow it will be a different story.
We don't talk as we sit there – Peeta and I have come to appreciate silence wherever we can find it – instead we simply hold each other. Hours pass and the party comes to a close. As the capitol residents retire, the avoxes sweep through the streets, clearing the refuse away so that the streets remain as pristine as ever.
"They can't have a little bit of rubbish stuck to their shoe now, can they?" Peeta says, grinning a little and breaking the silence between us.
"Most of it's food," I reply, my nose wrinkled in disgust. Again there is silence, but it doesn't last long.
"They train with the Capitol experts every morning," he says, "And with their mentors in the afternoon. If the two of them still want to train separately then we should give them each a chance with the three of us tomorrow, see what they're good at."
"I'll have to practise a little in the morning," I say, "It's been a long time since I held a bow."
"Gale will want to do something similar I expect," Peeta says with a nod, "They've given the mentors access to the old training room in the mornings while the tributes are in private sessions."
It's times like these I remember how incompetent I am as a mentor. Peeta has spent the day finding out the plans for the training of the tributes, while I have spent it lost in memories and nightmares of games long since passed.
"They've even given the mentors permission to train tributes from other districts," he says with a laugh, "Which could prove interesting."
"I wouldn't mind helping Finnick, or even Johanna or Enobaria," I say, "But I don't want to help anyone else."
"No. Me neither. But you never know what the arena will be. Who knows what skills they'll actually need."
"Probably nothing we can teach them in three months time."
"No, probably not."