The arena is filled with bright sunlight. The flowerbeds are in bloom and fountains glitter in the morning sun. There aren't many people around this early. A few children running along the paths, laughing and playing games of tag. Some older people as well. Some are just enjoying the day, others pause and read the memorial plaques and survey the seventy-five statues set along the perimeter. One or two have laid flowers at the obelisks that list the eighteen hundred names of the dead.
I lay beneath one of the statues, my back against the pedestal, shielded from the heat of a day that promises to be a scorcher. A few people have given me a glance, but none have recognized me. Maybe I'm finally starting to look my age. Or maybe it's the blue hair.
A large, open book is in my lap. I finish reading the final page and close the book with a thud. From my pocket I pull a worn out package of pine needles and inhale deeply.
I see him before he sees me. He wanders through the paths, black-haired, olive-skinned. His resemblance to Katniss is uncanny even from this distance. I call his name and wave him over. He climbs up the lawn towards me. I pat the grass beside me and plops down as his eyes flicker over my hair.
"I don't think blue is really your color," says Gale. He pulls an orange from his pocket and slices it in half with his hunting knife. I take the offered half and shrug.
"Sometimes you have to try something new before you know if it suits you," I say.
Gale snorts. "When you said to meet you at the arena, I thought you meant the sports complex. I had to ask an old lady with three dyed dogs for directions." Gale looks around the arena in distaste. "Is that what this place really is?"
"Yeah," I say. "The arena for the first seven Hunger Games. It was a museum for a while, then an amusement park. The rebels burned it out during the invasion but the structure remained. Paylor decided to turn it into the memorial. The statues used to stand outside the Avenue of Victory, but people kept vandalizing them so she had them brought here as well. Don't look at mine. They never did manage to catch my good side."
Gale looks up at the statue we're sitting under, a young handsome man who I knew had golden hair in real life. "Who's this one?"
"Luxe St. James. The Victor of the Second Games. I met him on my Victory Tour, right before he died. Odd bloke."
Gale squints at the bronze plaque set in the pedestal. "'Remember, there are strawberries.'"
"He said that to me too."
Gale grunts. "What's that even supposed to mean?"
"I think it means that no matter how bad things get, there are always spots of happiness if you know where to look. Or if you make your own." I shrug. "Or maybe he was just a few axes short of a lumber crew. The Ones never did make much sense."
"I think he makes perfect sense," says Gale, and he leans over to kiss me. His lips taste like cinnamon. I wonder who's been baking cinnamon rolls for him.
We stare out at the memorial park for a few minutes, leaning gently against each other. A boy from District 5 is tossing a ball to a girl from the Capitol while a couple of other children from District 13 play jump rope. They're young. They're going to grow up reading about the Games in books and reciting all the names of the Victors for a gold star from their teachers.
"Are you sure you need to go?" Gale asks. "You know there's always a place for you in Two. My mother keeps asking when I'm going to make an honest woman of you and Rory especially idolizes you."
"Tell Rory there are better role models and tell Hazelle I haven't' been an honest woman since I was old enough to walk. But give her my love." I sigh and reach my arms up to the sky, stretching. "I need a vacation, and District Fourteen needs all the hands it can get. Connor is going for a while, and Beetee to help set up the power stations. Lupus and Ody and Jade are already there, and Bovina will be coming next month. It'll be good to get away for a while. I don't know when I'll come back. But I will. That's a promise."
We stand. I pick up the book and hand it to him. "Here. For when I'm gone."
He takes the heavy bound book from me and flips through the pages. "What is this?"
"The Victors Project," I say. "The story of all of us."
"And you want me to keep it safe?"
"It's a book, mosswipe. I want you to read it. Learn about us. Understand us. And then pass it along."
He looks at me with those grey eyes. "To whom?"
I smile and take his hand in mine. "To whoever needs it the most."
Together we walk from the Hunger Games Memorial Gardens, into the brightly lit Capitol, towards whatever future awaits.
Two and a half years, more than 300,000 words, hundreds of thousands of views, more than 1,400 reviews, and seventy-five Victors. The Victors Project has finally come to an end.
I really am at a loss for words. The Victor's Project has taken up so much of my life for the past 32 months. It's going to be so strange to not sit down, think about the next Victor, and move the history along bit by bit. Several times, when real life interfered, I didn't think I was going to be able to finish, but the Victors kept calling me.
I couldn't have finished without the overwhelming support of all of my readers. I fell behind answering reviews a number of months ago and still haven't caught up, but I want you to know that each and every one of you has been deeply appreciated as has been your encouragement, your praise, and your critique. Some found the story in progress, others have been with me since the very beginning. My stats page has shown me that literally thousands of people read each chapter. Knowing that is completely overwhelming. I truly thank all of you.
I hope that you'll all consider leaving a final review with your last thoughts, especially if you've been a silent follower. I'd love to hear from you.
This is the sad part where I announce that I'm stepping back from full-length Hunger Games fanfiction (perhaps a oneshot or two in the future). I've explored everything I've wanted to in Suzanne Collin's complex and fascinating world. I've had a number of people telling me they hope it won't end and I'm very sorry to disappoint, but I've begun writing my own original series and that's going to take most of my writing time from here on out. I've learned so much from this project, about what works for me (and what doesn't), and from all of you as well.
So with that, I bid you all a very fond farewell.
And may the odds be ever in your favour.