The Peacekeeper leads us through a labyrinth of hallways and doors; I'm long past the point of having any idea where we are or how to escape it. After who knows how long the Peacekeeper stops and gestures to a door. I guess we're here. Glimmer and I exchange a look and then open the door and go inside.
The rather common looking door leads to an office that's surprisingly ordinary. It's certainly nice, pretty wood furniture, a plush looking carpet, but nothing here is extraordinary or over the top. It's not a room that looks like it belongs in the Capitol at all. Everything here is quality, but it's the sort of quality that could be seen almost anywhere. I'm sure even some of the richer merchants in District 12 could have furniture like this in their homes. Despite being warmly lit, the room is cold; colder than anyone should find comfortable, but President Snow seems fine.
Snow sits at the desk with his elbows on the table, fingers interlaced, resting his chin on top. He looks at us with those cold, dead eyes and the frigid room seems even colder. "Miss Aurum, Miss Everdeen. Please sit." he states. We obey (of course) and he simple sits and watches us for a bit before continuing. "It was a rather eventful Games for the two of you; several extremely unusual happenings in fact. Your alliance in fact is a first I believe; Districts 1 and 12 simply do not cooperate in such a manner. So I am curious, how did this come about?"
"It's like we said in the interview. It was just a spontaneous thing. I thought I had a better chance to win with her than in the pack." Glimmer answers.
I nod. "And obviously going with her was better than taking my chances in a tree."
"And yet you stayed together, even outside the Games. In fact Miss Aurum even moved up to the 12th floor of the Training Center, did you not?"
Glimmer nods. "Yes, I did."
"And why is that?"
"I didn't like the people on my floor." Glimmer answers simply. Snow stares at her, the silence drawing out. Finally Glimmer blinks first. "They didn't think much of how I won and wouldn't be quiet about it. I was going to either get in a fight and try to kill someone or leave. So I chose to leave."
"Yes, how people get along is important, particularly to me, as you can imagine. And in that regard the two of you have become rather troublesome."
"I don't understand." I say.
"Hmm, I expect not." I'm not sure what that means, but I don't like how it sounds. "Your… antics in the Games have given rise to some rather disruptive reactions in the Districts, particularly 5 and 11. And since these disruptions are a direct result of your actions, responsibility for them rests on you both."
"But we don't even know what these effects are." I try to protest.
"Nor will you. Your understanding is not relevant; your compliance is. And to that end you will both do two things: First, in public, particularly on the Victory Tour you will be happy and supportive of Panem, the Capitol and myself in every way. Second, you are both expected to participate in appointments when requested to do so."
"What's an appointment?" Glimmer asks.
"Ah, I'm delighted you asked my dear. An appointment is a private meeting with certain Capitol citizens. Now you need not concern yourself with who these citizens are or how they are selected, what you should concern yourself with is how you are to conduct yourselves at these appointments. Simply put, you are expected to 'entertain' them."
"You can't be serious." Glimmer gasps.
"I am completely serious." He replies, the calm in his voice never wavering.
"You expect us to sleep with them? Absolutely not!" There's no way I'll do this, I don't care who gets one of these appointments!
"You are of course completely free to decline these appointments, but like everything in life, there are consequences. For instance if Miss Aurum were to refuse, well, District 1 is safe, but still, crime exists. Who knows, something may happen to one of her parents one night. It would be truly tragic if a place such as that, so beautiful was to be sullied with death. And you Miss Everdeen, I believe your mother's health is not the best. And your dear young sister, well, District 12 is not known for its long life expectancy; disease can be a constant threat. Of course I believe you also have a friend due to be a miner soon; such a dangerous profession. But as I said, the choice is yours."
I don't believe it. I do not believe it. In a matter of seconds he threatened everyone I love and made me a Capitol whore. After all I did to save Prim it still isn't enough. Sex on command with total strangers or else. No, worse than strangers; at least normally strangers are people. These are Capitol freaks. I've seen the regular citizens here; what sort of abomination do you have to be to enjoy forcing girls to have sex with you?
And the most amazing part is the man delivered this without the tiniest hint of emotion of any sort. He isn't angry that we caused whatever trouble it is we caused, he isn't gloating that has us like puppets on his string, he doesn't show a thing. He doesn't even most a muscle besides the absolute minimum needed. The entire time his posture has been perfectly straight, the muscles to move his jaw barely twitch when he speaks, just enough to form words, even his eyes are perfectly efficient; his gaze never strays or wanders, it's always on his target; I don't think he even blinks without planning it. I have never before encountered such a perfectly controlled predator.
"But it would be cruel to expect an answer now." He continues. "Please, by all means, take your time, think it over, consider everything I have said carefully. In six month's time the Victory Tour will begin, and you will each have an opportunity to speak at every District. It is a rare privilege to speak to all the citizens of Panem; I suggest you not waste it. Afterwards you will be welcomed here in the Capitol for a celebration of your achievements in the Games, the reading of the card for the Quarter Quell and that night the celebrations will culminate with your first opportunity to take advantage of an appointment. So do give it your full consideration, and enjoy all the fruits of your victory, and of course. please have a pleasant trip home."
Just like that it's over and we're dismissed. It's every bit the horror Haymitch hinted it would be. I knew the Capitol was bad, but never anything like this. Glimmer and I get up and leave the office. Haymitch is waiting for us outside. He simply looks at us and heads off motioning to follow. I want to yell at him, to scream. How could he let us walk into that? How could anyone let Panem exist if it's really like this? I want to repeat every rant Gale has ever gone on. But I don't; I somehow just can't form the words to start. I can't form any words at all. None of us can. So we walk in silence.
We finally exit onto the street, just a few blocks from the train station. Now that we're out in the sun, Haymitch finally breaks the silence. "Look, I know that sucked. I know you're probably pissed at me, feeling blindsided and all that shit. But if I'd told you in advance your reactions wouldn't have been genuine, and Snow would notice that. If that happened you'd be in much deeper shit than you are now."
"Oh, so we should be glad we're Capitol whores?" Glimmer snaps.
"No, you shouldn't. But Snow threatened. He could have demonstrated."
"So what are we supposed to do?" I ask.
"Nothing." He responds.
"Nothing?" I repeat.
"Yes, nothing. There's nothing you can do. I know, shit sucks, but there's no alternative right now."
"So we just spread our legs on command?" Glimmer says it faster and more colorfully than I can.
"Unless you're willing to live with the consequences, then yeah princess, that's exactly what you do. But don't think for a second he's bluffing or will hesitate. He'll kill the fuck out of people and not even blink an eye."
I'd love to hear Haymitch come up with some exception or weird strategy to get out of this; I'd love Glimmer to charm her way out of this; I'd love to just find some way to run away from all our problems, but none of that happens. Instead we reach the train station and the two trains, waiting to take Glimmer and I back to our homes. Next to one of them is Cashmere, making a show of looking impatient.
I swear I see Glimmer tense at the sight of her mentor for a fraction of a second before turning to me. "Well looks like this is goodbye, for a while at least."
"Yeah." I agree.
Glimmer hugs me. "Seem like we're a team longer than either of us expected. We won the Games, we'll get through this too."
"Yeah, as long as we aren't alone we'll survive somehow." I don't really believe it; I don't think Glimmer does either. There's no reason for hope; no reason to believe it'll be ok. But it's not the time or the place to say it. "I'm glad we met and became friends, Glimmer. I really am."
"Yeah, me too." she agrees. "You take care of yourself in 12. I'll call as soon as it's safe, ok?"
I nod and with a final embrace we part ways, Glimmer to her mentor and train, Haymitch and I to our train. I stop at the door to our train and take one last look back. I see Glimmer and Cashmere talking. They're too far for me to make out anything said, but I can read body language. Whatever it is, it's not nice; Glimmer's entire body is tense, and the way her fist clenches I know she's holding back from starting a fight on the spot. Glimmer's a Victor and not a girl to be trifled with, but all mentors are Victors as well. Glimmer manages to hold her temper, but if she had a knife I don't think restraint would have carried the day.
"Hey, sweetheart!" Haymitch calls from inside the train. "You coming?"
"Yeah, I'm coming." I take one last glance at the train to 1 and see Glimmer looking back at me. We trade final waves and then climb aboard our respective trains. Within moments the train pulls out of the station and accelerates towards home. I don't bother to look out any windows. All I'd see is the Capitol in the distance, and even though I know I won't get my way, I never want to see that place again.
I make my way to the dining car; no need to go hungry after all, not now, not ever again. That at least is one positive out of all of this: my family will be better off than they ever have been before. They can be happy, healthy, and in blissful ignorance of the constant threat to their lives; that's something I'll handle alone.
By the time I reach the dining car the train is underground, passing through the tunnel under the mountains protecting the Capitol. I try not to let it show, but Haymitch picks up on my discomfort. "What's the matter, sweetheart? You're going home. You should be happier."
"I don't like being underground." I answer simply, picking food from the menu.
"Ah, that's right. Your dad wasn't it?" I simply nod.
We don't really talk the rest of the trip; Haymitch is more interested in drinking and I don't much want to talk anyway. The train ride home seems to take far longer than it did to get to the Capitol. It's funny, I didn't want to get there so of course it flew by, but now I actually want this ride over so it refuses to cooperate. But no matter how slow it seems, eventually the scenery blurring by out the window changes to the familiar forest near District 12.
The train pulls into the station in District 12 and I step onto the platform. A crowd is waiting for me and applauds, like so many others have these past several days. But unlike those other crowds this one actually has people I know. My mother, Madge, Gale, the Hawthornes, and running to huge me, my dear sister Prim. I bend down and wrap my arms around her.
"Katniss… You really did it. You made it home!" she weeps into my shoulder.
"Of course, little duck. I promised, didn't I?"
I stand back up, still keeping one arm around Prim and right away Gale is there, hugging me firmly. "Welcome home, Catnip." He's right. I am home.
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