The 67th Hunger Games

Chapter 20

She's asleep when the hovercraft lands on the Training Centre roof and an attendant has to wake her. She smiles up at the young man as she waits for her eyes to refocus.

“Thank you,” she whispers, her tongue sensually caressing her top lip. The attendant licks his lips, nervously, and she tosses him a wink and a smirk as she stands up. Siprian catches for her when she staggers after the current in the ladder releases her. “I'm fine, Rian. I'm just very… very tired and I need water. Didn't have enough water and so hot…” He's still holding her and she lets her head rest against his shoulder. “Don't let them take my scars. I'm a… I'm a warrior. I want everyone to…” She gestures feebly at the side of her head with the bundle of scar tissue.

“Oh, let's get you inside,” he hums and she nods as best she can. She never can remember the journey from the roof to the bedroom with the lilac walls. Her prep team are there, waiting for her.

“Not them,” she growls.

“Poor girl doesn't know what she's saying,” twitters Philo.

“Siprian,” she says in a firmer voice than she's used since leaving the arena. “If you don't get rid of them, I might just have to kill them.” The words could be taken as a joke but her tone gives the lie to that assumption. “Find me a prep team that knows what they're doing or I will murder them.” The escort swallows hard and looks her straight in the eye.

“Oh, get out, get out!” he trills, waving the clashing trio away and attempting to laugh. “I'll send an Avox with something to drink–“

“Watered wine would be fantastic,” she comments, dropping onto the edge of the bed.

“Oh, right! Yes, of course! I'll go get… one of the other teams. I think Calidia's might still–“

“That would be perfect, Rian,” she assures him, her voice low and sultry. He bobs a bow and scuttles out behind the dismissed prep team. She strips off the revolting, standard-issue outfit she's being wearing for over a week and then lays herself down on top of the bedclothes. When the Avox comes in with a pint-glass of pink liquid, his eyes go wide at the sight of her but she barely registers his shock. All she cares about is the glass on his tray and she comes to retrieve it. She notices that he's staring fixedly at the wall behind her and she chuckles, softly. “It's nothing that the whole of Panem hasn't seen before.” She picks up the glass and begins to take very small sips. When he's still stood there – still staring determinedly past her – after several minutes, she recollects herself. “You can go. Oh! Can you take… those with you?” He looks down at the discarded clothing and nods before tucking his tray under one arm. He crouches down, scoops up the rags and leaves with as much speed as dignity allows.

When Siprian opens the door half an hour later, she has finished the watered wine and is asleep.

“Oh, uh, Ares. Sorry, we'll–“

“Rian,” she groans, opening her eyes. “I've been awake from the moment you walked through the door. I just cannae be a-bothered ta move.”

“Are you alright, child?” asks one of the trio behind Siprian. Her voice is deep and plummy, pleasantly reminiscent of the wine she shared with Gaspar last night. Iristina's answering chuckle rumbles deep in her throat.

“I've spent almost two weeks running on adrenaline in extreme temperatures with too little to drink. No, I'm not alright.” The woman – dressed in a skirt suit of deep purple velvet that appeals to Iristina's taste – crosses swiftly to her bedside and sits down next to her. The girl closes her eyes and breathes in deeply; this woman does not smell of beer but soap and flowers. “Who are you?” she asks with a simple smile. This woman with her good suit, clean scent and modicum of facial alterations puts her in mind of the mayor's sister – the sort of woman she's always wanted to be, the sort of mother she's always wanted to have. She shakes her head to try to clear it of this fog of fancies and then pushes herself up into a sitting position.

“My name is Clodia,” smiles the violet lips in the pale face, surrounded by maroon curls, floating above the plum velvet and… She feels herself crash back down onto the pillow and she can hear voices and see purple, blue, red and green figures move around the room. However, the physical strain of being in the arena has finally caught up with her and she no longer has the energy to reach the outside world. Feeling herself to be in good hands, she lets go of consciousness and allows oblivion to claim her.

She jerks up with a sob and crams a fist into her mouth in a futile attempt to keep the tears back. She had hoped that the arena would fill her with worse night terrors than these. Surely, Viatrix trying to rise up from under the lava is worse than some hog slapping her ass while his prick is inside it? Fighting Koralia was definitely scarier, she tells herself. To her surprise and mild annoyance, cataloguing the atrocities of the arena in her mind, actually calms her. Once she is calm enough to take in her surroundings, she notices a pile of clothing at the foot of the bed. She reaches for it but stops short when she notices the hand is unmarked, apart from the indents from her teeth. Her other hand flies to her left temple and she is re-assured to feel the bundle of scars under her finger-tips. So, they've heeded her wishes; she will carry one physical reminder of her Games with her forever. She smiles to herself and then tugs the clothes towards her. It's a fresh set of that same standard-issue outfit she wore throughout the Hunger Games. With a sigh, Iristina drags herself from bed – mildly surprised to find her legs steadier than the morning after her fever – and dresses in the dismal clothing. Once fully clothed, she walks over to the point where she vaguely remembers the door being. She's been waiting only a few moments when the section of wall to her left slides open. Smiling at her error, she puts her head out the door and looks both ways. When she sees Siprian and the victors of District 9 – her fellow victors, she reminds herself – her self-deprecating smile blossoms into a full-face grin and starts walking towards them.

“You were terrific!” bubbles Daria, pulling her into a hug.

“Very well done,” adds Adolphus, clapping the girl on the back.

“Thank you,” she gasps out, tears threatening her once more.

“You did well, girl,” offers Amina, her face pinched. Iristina straightens her shoulders and holds out a hand which the older woman takes. She's taken completely off-guard when Gaius hugs her from behind, lifting her off the ground. He swings her through 180 degrees, while she giggles, and then sets her down with a slight shove towards the man standing there.

“Cai.” She freezes and the laughter dies from her face.

“Ares,” he answers with a poor attempt at a smile. Internally, she's swearing up a storm; she's been so focussed on getting out of that bloody arena alive and starting her myth that she hasn't considered how to handle her pre-existing Capitol lovers. He steps towards her and she can see he's aiming for a kiss. Wincing in sympathy, she closes the distance between them and folds him into a tight hug. He still plants a kiss on her neck and a wave of warmth floods through her.

“I've missed you,” she whispers against his ear, only just realising it.

“Ares,” purrs another voice and she pulls away from Cai and looks past Pyrrhus to see Flickerman's beaming gold visage.

Caesar.” She drags his name out with a susurrous edge and relaxes her posture, so that her hips swing free. She's more than a little annoyed to see that his midnight-blue suit has survived their last encounter with no structural damage. He holds out a hand to her, which she takes, and pulls her to him. She forces a laugh, which he soon silences with a possessive kiss. “I have to go get ready. I have a date with the whole of Panem.” She pushes him away gently, a triumphant smile on her lips, and he laughs.

“I, too, have to get ready for my close-up. Do you think the victor of the Hunger Games will be impressed?”

“No,” she answers and the moment of truth, however fleeting, feels wonderful. “You're wearing far too many clothes.” He laughs again, kisses her hand and departs. As soon as he's turned his back, she shivers and wipes her hand on her trousers. She does not, however, have the chance to see whether Cai got her message as Pyrrhus is pulling her away towards the elevator. To her surprise, they travel up to the Training Centre; she had thought they were on a special victor's floor but, apparently, she's been mistaken. He leads her across to the tribute elevator, their echoing footsteps sending a shiver up her spine. Although she knows, logically, that she's out of the arena and safe from the other tributes, she doesn't feel comfortable being so exposed and in the company of a fool she can't trust to even dress her correctly. She winces as an after-image of the little boy from District 8 pops into her mind as they enter the elevator and resolutely turns to make conversation with her stylist. “So, what are they saying about the Games in the Capitol?”

“I hear… people are not… very happy…”

“Why not?” she queries, once she's sure that he's actually finished talking.

“Because… how short… the Games were.”

“Well, I apologise for not taking longer about it,” she drawls and an incongruously angelic smile appears on Pyrrhus' face.

“They don't… blame… you. There are… lot of whispers… the Gamemakers… should never… have exploded… the volcano… They say… the Gamemakers only… did it… to show off.” Despite the limited amount of gossip that she has gleaned from her stylist, the exchange finishes just as the doors open onto the familiar amber and black décor of the ninth floor. Her new prep team are hovering in the entrance to the dining area but Pyrrhus beckons them over. “Clodia… Livius… Atia.” The dignified lady in purple velvet is the first to come forward and greet her; next is a man with hair styled the same way as Pyrrhus', who is dressed in all the colours of sunset and looks good in them; finally, there's a wisp of a girl with an improbably small waist and disproportionate chest wearing an almost translucent yellow dress. After their effusive greetings, they pull her up to the dining table. Once there, Livius takes it upon himself to fill her plate and she can't find it within herself to argue. She doesn't even have the patience to ask Pyrrhus what sort of an atrocity he's dreamed up for her interview.

“I see they left the scars from that rock when they did the full body polish on you,” burbles Atia as they strip Iristina.

“Yes, I wanted them to leave it.”

“Oh, I know! I was at Whisgars with Junius and Venia and everyone. And, when you said all that about Renatus and almost dying and everything, hot damn but Junius got down and proposed to Venia. It was so romantic!” Iristina smiles; she feels like she's sinking into the fabric of the Capitol, a warm sea of gossip and fashion. The three move around her in an effortless choreography of cleansing, accentuating and concealing. They tend to every crevice of her body – both visible and, hopefully, hidden – with the deft dexterity that the previous trio lacked. When Pyrrhus hangs up her dress for the evening, she's speechless with horror. It's strapless, has a cinched waist and hugs her hips – all of which is fine and fashionable – but the padded breast-coverings have four ruffles a-piece and the floor-length skirt looks like a fish-tail.

“Um… err… Clodia!” she squeaks out.

“You have got to be kidding me! She's not the queen of District Four,” booms the elegant lady in the purple suit.

“We could cut away the skirt,” begins Livius, hesitantly.

“But… the, uh…” Iristina is gesturing, helplessly, at the dress' bust.

“Black always goes well with gold,” comments the girlish figure in yellow. “We could cut some circles out of black silk…”

“And a belt,” suggests the human sunset.

“But… this is… my design,” complains Pyrrhus, vaguely.

“And it's terrible!” declaims Clodia. “How they ever let you past District 12, I will never know. Now, get out!” She and Livius chase the stylist out, while Atia takes a pair of nail-scissors to the stitching that attaches the hideous skirt. Iristina feels a deep and lasting affection forming for these three.

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