Thanks for taking a brave look into my story, friendly fan-fiction reader. Hope you like it, and please report any screw-ups you may run into. Much love from Frick to you all.


"Seneca."

The dark-haired man standing in the door responded, his dry voice sounding full of sand. "Sir?"

"Please, come in."

He obliged, his throat constricting uncomfortably. How absurd that he, the man responsible for the death of so many, would be so afraid of anyone. And how high was his kill count now anyway? A brief calculation told him sixty-eight. It should have been sixty-nine, and he was sure that little mistake was why he was now sitting down across from a less-than-impressed president.

"I'm sure I don't need to explain my disappointment in you, Seneca." The white-haired man's eyebrows raised only slightly, only enough to reveal his interest in a quick answer.

"No sir. No you don't." Seneca couldn't maintain eye contact, and felt like a coward because of it.

"Good. Then there is little else I have to say to you." Snow straightened in his chair. "Because you have been nothing but a model citizen of this country, and an excellent Head Gamemaker, I have decided that for now you will be permitted to live." He raised a hand to still the thanks about to escape Crane's mouth. "You will no longer be Head Gamemaker, and your salary will be cut accordingly. However, you will be the new Head's leading advisor, a job that I expect you to take very seriously."

The younger man's heart was beating rapidly, feeling overwhelmed with this new chance at a life he was sure was near over. "Absolutely, sir. I will do my absolute best."

The president leaned forward, eyes hard and cold. "Yes, you will. Because no matter what the citizens of the Capitol believe about those two tributes and their survival, some of the Districts see it as an act of rebellion, not of love. And defiance is a very big problem." He returned to a straight posture, straightening the rose on his lapel. "You will make these next Games unforgettable, and the Quarter Quell the following year even more so. The Seventy-third annual Hunger Games will be lost in the fabric of history, and the defiant act of Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark with it. Understand me now, I will not repeat myself; in one year we must both be sitting here, looking back on the best Hunger Games in history. Your life depends on that fact, Seneca." He rose, and the ex-Head Gamemaker followed immediately.

"I would dream of nothing else, sir. I'll make sure that the next Games will blow this year's out of the water." His voice had regained its strength since the beginning of their short meeting. He felt hope building in his chest, as well as a fierce desire to pour everything he had into the next year's preparations.

"Good. You are now expected a meeting with Plutarch Heavensbee, without further delay. You are dismissed to join him."


A dozen screens in a circular display surrounded the two Gamemakers three days later. Images, simulations, notes, charts, and many things they didn't completely understand took their places before them as they spoke, faces grim, about their task.

"Do you think he'll go for it?" Plutarch asked his companion.

Seneca's experienced eyes scanned the monitors one last time, a slow nod answering the older man's question. "If it's presented right, I think so."

"Then I think we should call for an audience with him." The large man stood, stretching achy limbs.

Seneca continued staring at a single line on the fourth screen. A rule change. Even surrounded by all of the other extras he and the new Head Gamemaker were planning to incorporate, the handful of words stood out.

He heard Plutarch's voice on the phone behind him, but it faded into the background as his stress level rose. Their arena would require extra work to make up for the shorter time slot, a feat not made easier by the additional surprises they had planned.

Still, none of those difficulties held a candle to that little blip. If the rule passed, it would change everything for Seneca Crane. And if it didn't work out, there would be no more Seneca Crane.

Plutarch hung up, facing his fellow Gamemaker. He said nothing, but a curt nod answered every unasked question.

Seneca already found himself forgetting his worries as he and the big man continued to work. Sixty-eight tributes, he thought. And how many more?