The 67th Hunger Games

Chapter 23

Caesar's eyes nearly pop out of his head when he sees her but she keeps her expression politely blank as her eyes pass over him and it's only as she catches sight of Cai that she allows a grin to slide onto her lips. She maintains eye-contact with the younger man as she walks towards Siprian and the Barvens.

“I love your dress!” says Daria, almost drooling.

“You can have it when I'm done with this bloody interview,” simpers Iristina before embracing her mentress. When she leans in to kiss Adolphus' cheek, she's careful to brush one scantily clad nipple across his chest. Pyrrhus had said that he wanted to do sex for her tribute interview but that dress was nothing to this one. This one is a strapless confection of transparent green silk over a tube of only slightly more opaque gold silk and she is wearing nothing underneath.

“Oh, Ares!” whispers Siprian, carrying her hand to his lips. “Oh, you look… oh, divine.” He retains her hand in both of his as he trails his eyes up and down her barely clothed form.

“Thank you,” she answers, giving him a secretive smile. “Can we get this over with, Caesar?” In the instant of turning her attention from the escort to the master-of-ceremonies, her manner has changed from that of a siren to that of a harpy. He visibly jumps and mumbles something she can't catch before bustling over to the sofas. She turns to toss a wink at her prep team and Siprian before moving over to the professionally lit seating area. One of the camera crew – an exceptionally pretty young woman with a birth-mark over one eye that she's tried to conceal with tattoos – leads her to the same sofa that Gaspar had sprawled across after his private training session and gives her some suggestions about how to drape herself upon it. Iristina thanks her with a glowing smile and then drops her head to stare at Caesar and emits a heavy sigh.

“Right,” gulps the master-of-ceremonies before gesturing at his crew.

“5… 4… 3…” She fixes an engaging and mildly provocative smile on her face. “2… 1…”

“Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. Today, I have the great pleasure of interviewing the victor of the sixty-seventh Hunger Games, Iristina Emmer. Although, you probably know her as Ares!” A pause for a wink and a gleam of Caesar's teeth. “Well, Ares, I have to say: you look incredible. That dress is magical.”

“Thank you,” she beams in response, her eyes trained on the camera that is currently hovering above his head. “I wish I could return the compliment but we've all seen that suit so many times before…” She gives the camera over his shoulder a broad smile, inviting the audience to laugh with her at a piece of light teasing. The banter continues unchecked, her every comment barbed, for several minutes before they regain a semblance of professionalism.

“Well, I would like to begin by asking you about friends and enemies – you're other tributes.” She nods and pulls one knee up to her chest, which leaves the other leg bare from the mid-thigh and presents a very revealing camera angle, if the cameraman chose to lie on the floor. Caesar, if not his audience, is temporarily derailed by this act.

“Do you want to start with my friends or with my enemies?” she demands with a forced smile and a staccato intonation. He glances down at his cards before muttering:

“Winnow and Renatus.” Her smile is slightly mocking as she waits for him to formulate a question. “Ah, yes, whose decision was it to choose those two as allies?”

“Mine. Well, I let Gaspar think it was his idea,” she adds with a smirk for the camera. “You know what men are like!” From the grins on the faces of her entourage, she's sure that the answer will play well with the audience but Caesar is shifting uncomfortably in his seat.

“Well… I think we can all agree that they were good choices,” he grins, sliding back into his usual TV persona. “Renatus was a stone-cold killer – the way he took off Canus' head!”

“Yeah,” she whispers with the ghost of an affectionate smile. “It was like he was two different people – the killer, who only came out when we really needed him, and the sweetest boy, who I…” She places the the heel of her palm to her lips to keep herself from crying.

“Yes,” he begins in a gentler voice. “It was quite touching, the way you and he… Was that the reason you wanted him as an ally?” She shakes her head, violently, and allows her hands to drop into her lap. Before answering, Iristina straightens her posture and draws her feet under her.

“No, I… I had no feelings for Rena before he took care of me after that fight with Koralia.” Caesar nods in comprehension and then prompts her to walk the audience through that fight and her growing feelings for Renatus and her deepening bond with Winnow and her tempestuous relationship with Gaspar.

“So, tell me,” begins Caesar, leaning towards her. “How did you feel when Gaspar turned on you?” She has been rehearsing for this interview – away from the eyes of her prep team, her mentors and her lover – and her face twists into a contortion of pain without any conscious prompting.

“Betrayed,” she states, baldly, her voice steeped in pain. “And used. I hate–“ Now, her lips twitch up into a forced smile. “I am afraid Gaspar and I lied to you, Caesar. We didn't make a pact to volunteer.” He throws back his head and laughs.

"I think we had all guessed that." She grins, sheepishly. “So, how did it happen?”

“I had no idea he was going to volunteer until he did it. It was true that we had known each other for years and we did save those kids from the fire at the school like we said we did but we weren't best friends and I never told him that I intended to volunteer. So, when he stepped forward and volunteered… I was gob-smacked.” She allows her lips to twist sideways into a very grown up smile. “As soon as I could, I got him alone on the train and he told me that same sob-story about the lung disease.” Her face falls into a sad and self-reproachful expression. “I told him that I was the better fighter but I didn't want to kill him. He said… he said that he wanted to die a heroic death in front of all of Panem.” She forces a watery smile, hopefully convincing the unknown thousands that she hadn't rejoiced in his murder. “But now…”

“Now, what?” prompts Caesar and she almost rolls her eyes at his gullibility.

“Now, I wonder if he volunteered because he knew the Capitol doctors could heal him. They can work such miracles.” Her finger-tips fly to the one bundle of scar tissue left on her body and then trail down her jaw-line before sweeping up to rest over her lips.

“Well, I guess we'll never know,” beams her interviewer, slapping his knee. “So, would you categorise him as friend or enemy?” She lets her hand drop back to her lap and grins at the camera, her head slightly on one side.

“You know, I'm still not quite sure.” Caesar takes the moment to segue into discussing the Career Pack and her assessment of each one. She's marvelling at Glaucus' stupidity in murdering his ally, when there's a commotion at the elevator door and she looks up to see that President Snow has just entered. She breaks off in the middle of a comment about the boy's inability to count and raises one, perfectly hairless, arm to wave at the old man with a warm smile. In fact, her whole face lights up as though she has just caught sight of the one person in the whole world she most desires to see. The president's answering smile is amused as though he recognises her behaviour for the act it is. “Sorry,” she says, returning her attention to the camera and Caesar. She uses her left hand to push the cascade of chestnut hair behind her right ear before continuing. “President Snow just joined us.” She gives a girlish giggle. “That's one of the things about winning that I still can't quite believe – last night I was at the president's mansion and, now, he's right here! I never thought… well, now, I get to meet all of the most famous people in Panem.”

“You are one of the most famous people in Panem,” Caesar tells her with a chuckle that he directs at the camera.

“Yeah… I suppose…” She giggles and twists a lock of hair around her finger before, apparently absent-mindedly, sucking on the end.

“So, you think Glaucus killed Tadia because he thought you were all dead?”

“I think he must have done,” she answers with half a shrug that pushes the breast on that side so far up it almost pops out of her dress.

“Really?” he says as though begging for a juicy morsel of gossip. “Because I heard a rumour that he was rather friendly with young Mr Barjon.” She answers with an uncomfortable laugh and rolls her eyes up to the ceiling.

“Where did you hear that?! He did have lunch with Gaspar and me on the first day of training but… well, the Gamemakers could tell you that Gaspar was no friend of Glaucus'.” Her mentors and President Snow give her an assortment of approving smiles beneath eyes that glint with varying degrees of delight. There isn't much left to the interview – Caesar doesn't prod her re-action to Darnell's death and she wasn't involved in killing Proc but he does want to discuss Viatrix.

“Tell me,” he says, leaning in close to her. She draws back, her nose wrinkling as though she's just caught a whiff of some terrible smell. “What did you feel when you killed Viatrix?”

“It was…” Her eyes unfocus, her smile goes dreamy and she forgets about antagonising Caesar. “It was the most perfect moment of my life. When I turned around and saw her… it was like the rest of the world just fell away. It felt like it was just her and me and my knives… When that first one slammed into her leg, it was like all the angels in heaven were singing…” After a moment of rapture, she remembers herself and laughs. “Listen to me, I sound quite blood-thirsty! It wasn't like that with most of them – Viatrix was a special case.”

“Yes, of course,” beams Caesar. “She killed the boy you loved.” Iristina decides to take the opening and, for the first time in the entire interview, looks her lover straight in the eye.

“Yes, she did.”

Caesar wraps up the interview and then the red lights atop the various cameras go out. Iristina stands up abruptly, so that his eyes are on a level with her sternum and there's barely an inch between their bodies.

“Thanks,” she says to him with a flat intonation and the least smile she can muster. While he's still swallowing hard and trying to formulate a response, she's walking past him and around the end of the sofa to accept the praise of her entourage. She makes her way through them as swiftly as is polite and eventually washes up in front of President Snow. She smiles at him, tremulous and breathless with her attitude entirely girlish and her dress looking like it might slip to the floor at any moment. He's surveying her with his arms crossed and his weight leaning away from her. She can hardly say she's sorry that he's not attracted to her but this would be easier if he was taken in by her. “Gaius!” she calls out, still breathless and girlish.

“Yeah, dearie?” the old man asks, hobbling up.

“Is there somewhere the president and I can talk? Private, like.” Old man Thell looks between her and Snow and she notices that his nod of assent only comes after he's received one from the statesman. He leads the way to the bedroom corridor and is half-way down it before he realises that there is a silent battle of wills occurring between the pair who are meant to be following him. It started innocuously enough – President Snow had gestured for her to proceed him and she shook her head with a polite smile and non-verbally insisted that he go first. She's certain that he wants her to go first for the same reason she wants him to proceed her – she doesn't trust him at her back.

“Yer a-coming, dearie?” calls Gaius and her head jerks up. She clocks his observant stance and then casts a look across the rest of the assembly to ensure that they're not paying this piece of burlesque too much attention. She concedes the point with as much grace as possible and saunters past the president to join her eldest victor. “This'n my room. Has a desk, chairs, whole shebang.”

“Ta very much,” she says, darting in to kiss the elderly victor on the cheek. The old man flushes crimson and leaves them to it.

“Should I be worried about you seducing me?” asks President Snow, once he has shut the door. With her back still to him, Iristina rolls her eyes.

“You are the one who just locked us in, should I not be the one questioning your intentions?” She turns to him, her mask dropped and her arms crossed.

“I think we'll make this whole situation a lot simpler by agreeing not to lie to each other.”

“I have no intention of lying to you,” she answers with an equal amount of prevarication and evasion. He chuckles and leans back against the closed door, she suppresses another eye-roll and allows her weight to fall back against the wardrobe.

“It has been quite some time since I met a victor who understood how the Games are played.”

“While I thank you for the compliment, I doubt that's why I'm here.”

“You need not speak with the Capitol speech patterns–“

“I always do,” she informs him, flatly. “I hadn't used the gutter-talk of District 9 for five years before I came here and met Gaius Thell. He had an unfortunate effect on the accents of both myself and my district-partner.” He steps away from the door and her spine snaps to attention in response.

“Can a man not cross the room without you wishing to run from it?”

“My apologies, Mr President. It is as you said last night – I'm not quite out of the arena yet.” He tuts at her.

“You promised not to lie to me.”

“It's not a lie,” she answers with a half-smile and he smirks at her.

“Tell me, how are relations between you and our Mr Flickerman?” he inquires, picking over the ornaments on the desk. She considers him, carefully, and decides to risk a little circumlocution.

“Do you know why I volunteered?”

“They tell me you want to live in the Capitol, Miss Emmer.” She hates that name but she's not going to let Snow see that, certainly not at that moment. “Yet, you claimed to love District 9 so much.”

“And I claimed that Gaspar Barjon was my best friend when he was, in fact, my greatest bully,” she replies with a sardonically raised eyebrow.

“Your greatest bully?” he inquires, looking up from the notes in front of him. “Not the only one?”

“I was a street urchin, a beggar; a lot of kids bullied me.”

“Yet, you do not look like an urchin.”

“Not now,” she agrees with a sigh. “But it's not because some nice family took me in.”

“No, it's because you killed a bear.” She had known that would come up when they went to interview people in the district.

“Yes, although the money from that would have only lasted a few months.” He gives her a look that instructs her to continue. “There are people in the Capitol who enjoy the thrill, the glamour of sleeping with a victor.” He neither confirms nor denies this, so she doesn't try to draw the parallel to her current relationship with Caesar Flickerman. “Well, in District 9, there was a man who liked the glamour of sleeping with The Bear Girl.”

"Krill," he comments and her heart skips a beat.

“Y-you know? The whole Capitol knows?” She staggers and catches one of the bedposts to stop herself from collapsing to the floor.

“I did not know,” he raps out harshly at her and, at once, she's on the alert again, spinning to fight him.

“I may look like a child to your eyes but I'm not.” She straightens and looks him in the eye. “President Snow, I am a very good whore and I have been for many years.”

“That was your arrangement with Krill?”

“It was very simple: he gave me food, a home, clothes and, in return, I gave him sex. It was rather like a marriage, except I never dared to defy him for fear he might throw me back onto the streets.”

“So, volunteering for the Hunger Games was an act of defiance.”

“No!” she assures him, vehemently. “I wanted– want a better life, a life in the Capitol, and winning the Hunger Games seemed like the only way to get it. If you let me live in the Capitol, you will be able to sell me all year round,” she added in a rush.

“Does a life in the Capitol mean so much to you that you would do anything to get it?”

“It has all the beauty, art, clothes, food and music that I could desire. That's going to be my talent, by the way, music and composition, which are not things I can learn out in District 9." She levels her gaze with his and drops her voice in pitch. "I've just killed four children and assisted in the murders of a further four in the hope of living in the Capitol, so sleeping with people for the reality of it…”

“And how do you see Caesar Flickerman fitting into these plans?”

“I don't,” she answers, not bothering to dress it up. “Our arrangement was much less clear-cut than that I had with Krill. However, I only gave him what he wanted so that he would be 'on my side' during the Hunger Games and would be partial to me in his commentary. He doesn't know that, though.” President Snow perches on the edge of the desk and considers her.

“Do you know, Miss Emmer, I have never met a victor – especially, a female victor – who is so relaxed or so mercenary about human relations?”

“I'm not surprised,” she answers in a hollow voice, suddenly feeling immeasurably tired. “I have been selling my body for over five years.” That makes him sit up and take notice.”


“No, he didn't take possession of me until I killed that bear when I was 16. No, I started by selling myself for a warm meal or a bed on a stormy summer night.” She rubs at her eyes. “I have done a lot that I'm not proud of and my actions in the arena were not the worst of it.”

“So, you truly understand what it means to say that you will do anything to live in the Capitol?” She nods. “Very well. You may live in the Capitol… but not until after your Victory Tour. For this next year, you must remain in District 9.”

“OK, sir.” She drops her head and almost falls on her knees to kiss his shoes. “Thank you.”

“Good day, Miss Emmer," he continues, drawing his coat more tightly around him. "The odds have, indeed, been in your favour.”

“Thank you, Mr President," she replies, lifting her head and blasting him with her perfect masking smile. He answers it with an amused smirk that she can now see is no more real than the expression currently on her own face. The president leads the way across to the door, unlocks it and gestures for her to leave first. “Your turn, don't you think?” He chuckles, claps her on a bare shoulder and proceeds her on their way to rejoin the others. She waits until he's in the corridor before releasing the shiver that had built up in her skin at his touch. He is taking his leave of those important enough to warrant his attention when she emerges into the seating-area but, masking smile firmly in place, she walks straight into Siprian's arms. “Take me to bed,” she breathes against his ear. He looks at her in surprised horror but then catches the soul-deep weariness in her eyes.

“Oh, OK. But we have to be on the train–“

“Then, take me to the train,” she groans. “Rian, I can't stand any longer.” He nods and turns to give orders for their departure, using his one free arm to gesticulate wildly. As he pulls it from her grasp, she staggers and almost falls to the ground but a pair of truly strong arms lock around her.

“I've got you. You're safe.” She closes her eyes and allows Cai's voice and scent to fill her whole world.

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