Love's a Game - Electric_Bambirella - The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (2024)

Chapter 1: District 12

Chapter Text

District 12 had never changed.

It had been nine years since Lucy Gray Baird left, and nine months since she'd returned.

Lucy Gray had changed a lot. She came back a little taller, a lot thinner, and most significantly, older. She'd grown from a little girl of sixteen to a woman of twenty-five.

How grown up she'd felt at sixteen! She really was so young, she thought, remembering her teenage years. But such a lot had happened to her at such a tender age - was it unreasonable to feel like such an adult when the weight of the world was on your shoulders?

Even though Lucy Gray had changed a lot since leaving District 12, District 12 remained the same as ever. Impoverished, grey, gloomy. Skinny children and the weariest parents you'd ever seen inhabited the Seam.

In fact, the only real change Lucy Gray could put her finger on was that it seemed to have gotten worse, the poverty more severe.

She'd found out soon after she returned the cause of this degradation of District 12's condition.

"After Snow got elected, things became worse," Barb Azure had filled her in after she'd mused about how things seemed crummier than they had before she left. "They increased the amount of Peacekeepers, and they were meaner than they were before at first, although the newest lot are more mellow. There's less food coming into 12 than there used to be. They made it risky to get into the Woods, rigged it all with electric fences to keep people out - I'm surprised you managed to make your way back here."

Ah. So this had been Coriolanus' doing.

Not that she was surprised that he was the President of Panem - she'd heard whisperings from people she'd encountered during her journeys in the wilderness about a President Snow. Plus she'd always known he would go far. He was ambitious enough, ruthless enough, and charismatic enough to mask these two aforementioned traits from important people who might feel threatened by him, had they known. Of course he was capable of achieving the Presidency.

She was a little startled at just how fast he'd done it, though. It had only been a few years since he was an awkward teenager trying his best to succeed in his Hunger Games Mentorship. Now, he was keeping the whole country under his watch instead of just one small girl.

It had helped that there weren't a lot of would-be Presidential candidates left around when it was time to elect someone after Ravinstill had died - the bad bout of flu that had got him went around the upper class circles of Panem for a while, killing a great many politicians.

Lucy Gray Baird had a strong suspicion that it wasn't really flu that had killed Coriolanus' rivals. Just like the powder that was in the compact he gave her wasn't really powder. He was a little predictable in that way - poison disguised as something innocuous was almost a calling card of his, if you knew to look for it. But Lucy Gray daren't share that knowledge with anyone, not even the Covey. That would remain one of her and Coriolanus' secrets.

Something else that helped Coriolanus win the Presidency was his showiness. The Capitolites were the only ones who got a say in who became the leader of the whole country. And if there was one way to appeal to the Capitol, it was through putting on a good show.

He had charisma in spades, angelic looks, and most importantly, a dedication to polishing and perfecting the Hunger Games.

That brutal, unorganised, death trap Lucy Gray had almost died in was now a flashy, glossy death trap, one entertaining enough that people came to enjoy the barbarism in it rather than finding it distasteful.

Coriolanus had risen through the ranks of Hunger Games Mentorship quickly, becoming the Head Gamemaker after a few years, replacing the ailing Dr Gaul. And very seriously he took his job.

Lucy Gray hated being reminded of the Games, but part of her had to laugh when she heard about the changes they'd implemented in the years since she'd won, because so many of them were almost definitely influenced by her. Fancy little outfits, Tributes showing off a talent and personality instead of just fighting skills, even the tokens they were now allowed to bring to remind them of home - Coriolanus had clearly spent a lot of time reflecting on his own Victor and modelling his perfect idea of the games after her conduct.

It was now a law that everyone in the Districts had to watch the Hunger Games whether they wanted to or not. Each household had a television, and just enough electricity for it to work, at least when the Games were on - the rest of the year the power was not guaranteed to work.

Parents watched children die, children saw their friends fighting for their lives. Blood and guts and gore filled the vision of everyone in the land as little angels went to the sky.

Lucy Gray still hadn't watched a Hunger Games yet. She'd heard plenty of stories, but a Hunger Games hadn't actually been on yet since she'd returned to District 12.

She would have to see her first Hunger Games since the one she had starred in one day in the foreseeable future though, whether she wanted to or not. It was a sad inevitability.

Needless to say, she was not looking forward to having to watch the Games. Dreading it, in fact. All of the terrible memories she tried to forget would be impossible not to think about while this newest iteration of her worst experience was taking place.

Never mind about that just yet, focus on the present.

And what was Lucy Gray's present filled up with?

Work. Lots of it. Not that she minded. She had missed performing with the Covey oh so terribly while she was gone, and she was doing her darned best to make up for lost time. Her voice was still clear and bright as a bell after all these years. Her dance was fluid and graceful. Her guitar skills had been rusty from the lack of practice, but she soon got back in the swing of it - thank goodness for her muscle memory. She experienced bursts of creativity that led to new songs rather frequently. Such was the result of years of artistic repression.

The summer months brought with them lots of weddings, and weddings meant more work for the Covey. They performed multiple times a week during the summer, giving newlywed couples something to dance to together on their special day.

Weddings were the Covey's main source of income since live performances had been banned at the Hob all those years ago. And as summer was the preferred season for people to marry during, summer was the time when they were busiest. As such, it was the time when they made a significant amount of their income, earning twice as much during these months than during the rest of the year.

Thank goodness for love, Lucy Gray often thought, even though her own love affairs had been unfortunate, to say the least. Oh well. At least other people's love was keeping her and her family afloat.

Weddings weren't the only kind of work the Covey did.

Maude Ivory still kept pet goats, and the family would make butter and cheese from the milk, and spin pretty yarns out of the wool. They also grew potatoes out of peelings, and occasionally other crops every once in a blue moon when seeds managed to pop up on the black market. It would have been a romantic life, if it hadn't been one of subsistence.

Lofty things like goat husbandry and potato farming weren't the only way of living off the land the Covey participated in.

You see, out in the wilderness, Lucy Gray had learned to survive. And during her travels, she'd met other people - people who could hunt. People who could find water. People who knew what plants were safe to eat.

Which is how she acquired her bow and arrows, and the knowledge of how to use them.

It hadn't been hard - a cute girl who knows how to sing is the best entertainment anyone could find outside of civilisation. People had tripped over themselves to help her out when she encountered them, such was her charm. So she arrived home with a little bit of weaponry, and a wealth of knowledge.

There were a few weak spots in the electrical fence separating 12 from the Woods which sometimes her and another member or two of the Covey would slither under - the one by the Meadow was easiest. She had taught all of them to hunt, and how to fashion their own bows and arrows out of wood. Some picked it up faster than others. Little Maude Ivory was surprisingly naturally talented at it, taking to archery as a duck takes to water.

So their diet was supplemented by squirrels, rabbits, the occasional deer if they were lucky, fish caught in the lake, wild berries and tubers.

A typical day for Lucy Gray would be to wake up, sweep the floors, have a light breakfast of some butter or cheese on rough bread, then practice. Practice, practice, practice. Dance, sing, play guitar, sometimes pore over old and yellowed books of songs her parents had owned all those years ago. Then in the afternoon, she'd have lunch if food were abundant enough for three meals in a day instead of just two, and attend to her chores. Usually she'd help Maude Ivory take care of the pet goat, feeding it and making products out of the milk she produced, which would mostly be sold to the Merchant class, although the Covey kept a few dairy products to themselves. Occasionally she would go out on a hunt, but usually the boys and Maude Ivory would go without her, while Lucy Gray stayed at home with Barb Azure and cleaned up the house. Then in the evenings, it would be time to put dinner on - usually a meat and vegetable stew, as they could leave it to cook over a slow heat while they were out all evening and still have a hot meal when they came home, although if their schedule for the night was empty, they'd roast fish or meat instead. Then, if they had work booked, it would be time to perform.

They could often go all night long, and Lucy Gray would be too tired to do anything other than eat, help put away the dinner things and fall asleep when they got home. If there were no performances, or if she simply weren't too tired out after one, she liked to chatter with her family, read old books of poetry that were still in her family's possession, which were among their most valued belongings, or if there was enough spare money for her to buy a pot, apply cold cream to her face, or even sometimes a mask made from honey and berries if there was an abundance of them during the summer.

Life was simple. Not easy, but simple. Self-sufficiency and showmanship was a far cry from hiding away in the vast unknown, or her brief life fighting to live in the Capitol. Even life in 12 before she ran away was more complicated than it was after she came back, what with having to contend with the Mayor trying to get her killed all because his daughter had her eye on Lucy Gray's old backstabbing boyfriend. Indeed, hearing about Mayor Lipp retiring from one of the rare District 12 defectors she'd met was why she decided to give up her life of wandering the unknown and return to her family. There was nobody left to get her other than the Peacekeepers, but being punished for her defection depended on them even noticing a skinny Seam girl in the first place, and it had been so long since she'd seen the Covey and her heart ached so much, it was a chance she was willing to take.

Life was never easy for Lucy Gray Baird, but this is as easy as it could get for her. She was almost content. With the Covey at her side and an audience in front of her, happiness was palpable.

Day in, day out, during most of the time since she'd come back home, she'd repeated the same routine. Chores and performance. Chores and performance. Sometimes chores, performance, and down-time. Her life ran like clockwork.

Until one day, a man who was clearly not of this District knocked on their door and asked for Lucy Gray Baird.

Chapter 2: The Summoning


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Lucy Gray could vaguely hear a conversation Barb Azure was having with someone at the front door, but as Barb Azure chatting with the neighbours by the door was quite a common occurance, she paid it no mind and carried on with her tasks until she heard her call "Lucy Gray! Come over here, a man from the Capitol wants to talk to you!"

Lucy Gray felt icy dread fill her veins. Why did someone from the Capitol want to speak to her? Had she not managed to assimilate back into life in 12 as discreetly as she'd thought? Had the Capitol realised the forgotten, runaway Victor had resurfaced and come to punish her for her defection? Fears swirled around in Lucy Gray's head. Maybe this was the moment when everything was going to catch up with her. He was going to question her and -

Now you snap yourself out of that kind of thinking, girl.

Lucy Gray decided to push down the worries that were filling up her head, put on as calm a mask as possible, and march on over to see what exactly this Capitol man wanted.

He was perhaps in his early forties, sharply dressed, but with an air of tiredness about him, as if he needed a good, long nap.

"Ah!" he explained upon seeing her. "I take it you must be Lucy Gray?"

"Yep, that's me. Charmed to meet you," Lucy Gray said cheerfully, plastering a bright smile on her face and shaking the hand he'd extended to her.

"My name is Mercurius Allan. I'm here on special order of the Capitol - on the President's behalf, as a matter of fact."

Lucy Gray felt like a brick had dropped into her stomach. Mercurius Allan must have noticed how her face went pale and her mouth dropped open, because the next thing he said was,

"Now, now. No need to be shocked. I know President Snow and you are familiar with each other - you are his Victor, after all."

"Yes, that's right," Lucy Gray replied, still feeling dazed, but doing her best to sound pulled together. "Coriolanus and I go way back."

"First name basis with the President! That's quite the bragging right. You see, there's no need to be shy. Friends are still friends, even after time and distance separate each other."

"Now, you're probably wondering why I've been summoned here to talk to you. I'll tell you all about that. But first, may we go inside?"

"Why yes, of course! I beg your pardon, I should have asked you inside before."

"No need to apologise, Miss Baird. I know this visit must be quite the surprise."

He seems nice enough. Exactly what is Coriolanus playing at ... ? pondered Lucy Gray, as she led Mr Allan into the kitchen.

"We don't have much, but would you like anything to eat? We've got some nice fresh goat's cheese, and we have bread and butter too, and some wild strawberry jam ... Or we could just have some mint tea ... "

"That won't be necessary, Miss Baird, but thank you for your kind offer."

"Are you sure? It's really no bother ..."

"Well, make us some tea please, if you insist."

Lucy Gray busied herself with filling up the kettle and leaving it to boil until it whistled while herbs steamed away inside of it. All the while, she wondered about this perplexing change of events. Coriolanus wanted something with her? They hadn't ended things on very good terms, which didn't bode very well as to why exactly he'd sent one of his men out to talk to her. This Mr Allan was very nice though, quite mild-mannered and polite, not who she would expect a bitter Coriolanus with more power than he had any business having to send after her. How confusing of him.

Lucy Gray carried the pot of tea over to the table. She sat down, and poured Mr Allan a cup first, before pouring her own cup.

"So tell me, Mr Allan," she said after a sip of invigorating mint tea, "what exactly does President Snow want with me?"

"I'm glad you asked," replied Mr Allan. "Next year will be the Twentieth Hunger Games. As you know, so far, the Hunger Games Tributes have been mentored by Capitolites. Well, as it will be a milestone year, and as there is finally at least one Victor from each District, the plan for next year, to make the Games especially memorable, is to have the Victors become the Mentors."

"That is to say, instead of someone from the Capitol Mentoring District 12's Tributes, you will be the one to do it," Mr Allan clarified, upon seeing the mix of horror and barely dawning comprehension on Lucy Gray's face.

"Mentor the Tributes ... ? Why, I don't think I would be any good at that at all! What does a simple Seam gal like me know about Mentoring?"

"Ah ah, no buts. It's already been decided. You'll be in the Capitol for a year, but after that you'll be free to stay in District 12 with your family except for when the Games are on. You have two days to say goodbye to your loved ones before I bring you to the Capitol. The other Victors only got one day, you know, but since you're President Snow's own Victor and he's still fond of you, he decided to give you an extra day at home."

Lucy Gray Baird was not usually a quiet type, but the revelations this meeting had uncovered had her in such a state of shock that she didn't know what to say, other than, "I hope you enjoyed the tea."

"I did, thank you very much. See you in two days," said Mr Allan, leaving behind an almost full cup as he rose and bade her farewell.


Mercurius Allan - his first name is after Mercury, the messenger god, and his last name is after Mr Poe in A Series of Unfortunate Events (who is named after Edgar Allan Poe), who I envision him being similar to. He won't be too important, but it's possible he may pop up every once in a while.

Chapter 3: A Second Goodbye


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Tonight was the last night Lucy Gray Baird had before she'd be sent to the Capitol.

She had only been reunited with her family for less than a year, after almost a decade apart, and was already being torn away from them! Ripped away from them to be packed off to the Capitol for a second time, no less.

How cruel it was, after she'd finally found her way back home, after she'd finally felt at peace for once in her life, for it to be taken all away from her in just two days!

Since this was the last time she would see the Covey for a whole year, they decided to host a little going away party for her.

Nothing extravagant, but it was the finest they could muster up.

The Covey were all dressed up for the occasion - Tam Amber in a light brown waistcoat and black dress trousers, Clerk Carmine in a vibrant red button up shirt with tiny flowers embroidered on the breast, Maude Ivory in a white cotton dress with a flouncy skirt tied back with a pale pink ribbon, and a pink peony in her hair to match, and Barb Azure in a baby blue ankle length dress and a pair of colourless glass earrings hanging from her ears.

Some of their friends had showed up for the occasion - the neighbours, Barb's girlfriend Kitty, a short stout woman so-named because of her penchant for feeding the local stray cats, a couple of old ladies from the Hob the Covey did business with, a young woman around Lucy Gray's age called Sadie who also worked at the Hob, and even Maude Ivory's new boyfriend, a cheerful young man from the Seam called Conn.

Lucy Gray herself was wearing a dress that had belonged to her mother. It was light green, and of a flowy material with a skirt that spinned out when you twirled. Her wavy hair had a crown made out of daisies on it. Her fingernails had been dyed an orange-red color by crushing red petals into a paste and rubbing it in them, and her lips were the same colour, having mixed the remaining petal paste with beeswax and oil.

She had almost, for a split second, decided to come to the party bare-faced, with untamed hair and one of the scratchy plain dresses she wore when she didn't have a performance. But then she'd decided, Well, if this is the last night I'll see my family for a year, I might as well make the most of it instead of moping around. I'm going to get dressed up and have a damned good time, because who knows when the next time I have a good time will be?

So she dressed up, and she enjoyed herself as much as she could. She danced with everyone at the party, while the Covey played her most favourite songs. She sang a couple of songs herself. She enjoyed the wild strawberries and blueberries available to snack on, and even got a little drunk on strawberry wine.

She partied all night, not falling asleep till sometime very late, too tired to even take her flower crown off. The party still went on without her, the noise distantly audible from the room Lucy Gray shared with Maude Ivory.

After a while, Lucy Gray, who had only been half-asleep, was roused by the feeling of Maude Ivory clambering into bed.

Maude Ivory lay still for a moment, before rolling over and snuggling into Lucy Gray. It was going to be the last time they'd cuddle up together for a long time.

The next morning was a rush. Mr Allan wouldn't be arriving till around 11am, but the Covey arose early, to spend as much time as they possibly could with their cousin.

After a special breakfast of some coffee made from chicory roots, sweetened with condensed milk, a rare treat that was saved for particular occasions, and some strawberry jam and butter on bread, Lucy Gray checked through the few belongings she'd packed to make sure everything she needed was there. Not that there was much that she could have forgotten to pack - she'd decided to bring a few plain dresses, some underwear, a couple of pairs of shoes, a wooden comb, a small hand mirror, and a bar of lye soap. She'd figured the Capitol would provide her toiletries if they were requesting her to stay for a year, at least at first anyway while she was still finding her feet there, but just in case, she'd decided to bring the bare minimums to tide her over until she could find a way to get more.

The Covey sat inside and talked, sitting close as they spent their last morning as a whole family together. Even though they tried to be light-hearted, an air of heaviness weighed down on them.

Eventually, a knock on the door came. It was Mr Allan.

"Good morning, Miss Baird. I do hope you're well today."

"Thank you, Mr Allan. I could be better, but what can ya do?"

"I understand, of course. It's not easy to leave your loved ones behind, but I'm sure you'll come to love living in the Capitol in no time."

"I sure hope I do."

"Yes. Now, say your goodbyes, Ms Baird, and we'll be on our way."

This was it. The last time she'd see the Covey for a whole year.

Barb Azure was the first to say goodbye.

"Oh, Lucy Gray," she said with a slight tremble in her voice as she hugged the younger woman, "you be on your best behaviour, ya hear me? Don't cause any trouble or get into any scrapes, okay? Oh, I'm gonna miss you, girl.' She released Lucy Gray, starting to tear up.

Clerk Carmine was calmer, although his voice was strained. "Don't worry too much about it, Lucy. I'm sure it won't be too bad. The year will fly by, I just know it." He pulled her into a hug for a few moments, then released her, grasping her hand for a moment instead.

Tam Amber was next to give his goodbye. He wasn't much good with words, especially not when the occasion was as sombre as this one, so instead, he gathered Lucy Gray into his arms for a massive bear hug that lasted several whole minutes. When he let go of her, she could see tears were starting to silently roll down his face.

Finally, it was Maude Ivory's turn. She flung herself into Lucy Gray's arms, already starting to shiver a little.

"Promise me you'll come back," she whispered through tears.

"I promise. This time next year, you and I will be side by side, singin' and dancin' up a storm on stage. You'll see."

"I'm gonna miss you so much. So very much."

"I'll miss you too, cuz."

"Stay safe out there, ya hear?"

"I'll be safe alright. After all, I came back in one piece last time I went to the Capitol, didn't I?"

Maude finally loosened her hold on Lucy Gray and smiled up at her slightly.

"Alright everyone," Lucy Gray called out. "I'm sorry I have to go. But you can get by just fine without me, so don't worry too much about work. And don't worry too much about me either, ya hear? Everything will be just fine, I can feel it. I'll try to bring you back some souvenirs if I can, okay?"

"Okay then. Goodbye!" she waved, sounding much more cheerful than she felt, before letting Mr Allan walk her to a Peacekeeper car.

After the Peacekeeper car drove them to the station, Mr Allan led Lucy Gray to a grimy platform.

"Let me hold that for you," he offered, relieving Lucy Gray of the small trunk of belongings she was carrying. "The train to the Capitol should be along soon. Look, you can already see it in the distance," he pointed out. Indeed, Lucy Gray could make out a train making its way towards the station, its smoke rolling in their direction.

Soon, the train came to a halt in front of them.

Mr Allan led Lucy Gray stiffly by the elbow into the train car.

This train was much more comfortable than the freight train she had rode to the Capitol all those years ago. There were comfortable seats, and Lucy Gray got to rest in a sleeping car instead of on the hard floor. She was fed too - real coffee with cream, a glass of orange juice, fresh fruit, a yoghurt, and a choice of cereal, pastries, or toast for breakfast, a selection of sandwiches with fillings like mozzarella and tomato, or smoked salmon and cream cheese along with a mixed salad for lunch, and dinner would change daily - chicken with mushroom sauce and broccoli with a side of noodles on one day, scallops and shrimp with rice on another day, braised beef with roast potatoes and a medley of vegetables the next day, and seared salmon with creamy, buttery, herbed mashed potatoes the day after that. There would even be a small dessert afterwards - a tart with a custard filling and berries on top, a mango panna cotta, a passion fruit mousse, a slice of pistachio cheesecake. All of it was served on elegant white china, with shiny silver utensils - a far cry from the rough crockery Lucy Gray used at home. Yes, this was how the Capitolites got to travel, in comfort and luxury, not at all like how District people had to travel on the very rare occasions one was permitted to.

Some of these fancy meals Lucy Gray was already familiar with, in some cases having vague memories of trying them as a very little girl, or more often, having heard the older members of the Covey reminisce on these foods occasionally, remarking on the better times before the Dark Days when they themselves were a little younger than Lucy Gray was now and had the opportunity to try fancy foods on their travels around the country. For most of the foodstuffs, however, Lucy Gray had to enlist Mr Allan to explain to her what each thing was, which he gladly did, volunteering information on how it was made and where it came from.

Aside from the food, the trip was rather boring - miserable even, as Lucy Gray had a lot of free time to reflect on her latest misfortunes.

Lucy Gray, who had done such a good job of keeping herself together when she was bidding her family goodbye, was spending much of her time furiously focusing on watching the countryside pass by in an effort to avoid Mr Allan noticing her damp eyes. Fortunately, Mr Allan was mostly engrossed in alternating between reading and leafing through his briefcase, only occasionally addressing Lucy Gray other than when they would chat at mealtimes.

The train ride took days and days. District 12 was already quite far from the Capitol, and the voyage was further slowed down by the electricity shortages that sometimes affected the train, although these waned the closer they got towards the Capitol.

Finally, the train pulled into the Capitol train station.

Almost as soon as she stepped off of the train and onto the platform, a person that had been waiting for them stood up to greet Lucy Gray and Mr Allan. She was a woman, a little short, but carrying herself way in a way that made her seem taller than she really was, with short black hair. She was wearing an all white outfit of a rather formal shirt and slacks.

"Good evening, Mercurius," the woman greeted.

"Good evening, Abelia," Mr Allan replied, clearly familiar with this person.

"I take it you must be Lucy Gray Baird?" the woman asked, now directing her words towards Lucy Gray.

"That's me alright. Charmed to meet you," Lucy Gray answered.

"Excellent! I'm Abelia, and I'm here to take care of you. Mercurius brought you here, and I'll be taking you off his hands - although I'm sure you two will see each other occasionally. Now, have you got everything you took with you? Not that I expect you'll need much of it - the Capitol will be providing for your needs."

Lucy Gray had her small bundle of belongings in her hand, gripping it tightly. It was her last link to home.

"Now, if you're ready, please say goodbye to Mercurius and follow me."

"Bye, Mr Allan," bid Lucy Gray, turning to look up at the middle aged man. "Thank you for looking after me, you made the journey feel easier."

"Don't thank me Lucy Gray, thank yourself, for being such a pleasant young lady. You made my job much easier. Now, see you again in the future, and go with Abelia. Bye-bye!"

"Bye, Sir," were Lucy Gray's last words to her chaperone for the forseeable future.

Abelia had walked Lucy Gray out of the train station and into a large black car, and they were now driving through a maze of city streets. Lucy Gray peered out of the window.

At home, the electricity often didn't work well. Here, windows were lit on every floor of every building she could see, and the people on the streets below were illuminated by the yellow glow of streetlights.

The roads were also much busier than back home, full of cars, motorcycles, buses, even trucks. She had encountered all of these at some point in her life, but never so many of them at once. She might have been slightly afraid of the sound of cars screeching and trucks rumbling in her already wary state, if it weren't for the fact that she had experienced something much worse than noisy vehicles last time she visited the Capitol.

Eventually, they pulled onto a broad avenue, and Abelia showed Lucy Gray to a tall apartment building.

"This is where you'll be staying. Now, let's go inside, shall we?"


I'd wanted to post this chapter a couple of days ago, but every time I tried to write, I ended up getting distracted. But today I think I finally managed to finish this goodbye/travel segment of the story.

My headcanons for the Covey are that:

- Barb would be the Team Mom, the head of the household, who might be a little fussy at times, but from a place of pure love and concern

- Tam Amber would be a sweet type, who can maybe intimidate people without meaning to just because his quietness could be seen as rude or even unnerving, but really he'd be a total softie.

- Clerk Carmine would be a steady, stable type, quietly intelligent, not fond of confrontation but willing to step up if needs be. An introvert, but much more talkative than Tam Amber.

- Maude Ivory would be like Prim, sweet and supportive and cheerful. More of an extravert though, in my mind, quite peppy if she's in a good mood.

I've been steering clear of adding
too much dialogue, as I haven't read the novel since it came out, and want to avoid writing entire conversations that end up sounding OOC. I'm re-reading the book now though, so once I'm familiar with everyone again, I may go back to previous chapters and extend some dialogue, and add in new dialogue.

You may have noticed that I've been going heavy on the descriptions of food and clothing. This is partially because I really like food and fashion, so it's easy to focus on them, but partially as an homage to the original trilogy, and its lavish descriptions of food and outfits.

Hope you enjoyed!

Chapter 4: A New Home


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Abelia led Lucy Gray inside the lift.

"We're going all the way to the top floor," she informed her, pressing some buttons.

The elevator started moving, and Lucy Gray started slightly at the sudden feeling of pressure.

"Now calm down, Miss Baird," said Abelia, a twinge of amusem*nt in her voice. "I take it you were never in a lift back in 12? Well, that feeling is normal, nothing to worry about."

"Oh, I was just a little startled, is all. But really I'm fine ..."

Lucy Gray really did not enjoy this sensation, and it lasted for several minutes. She gripped the elevator's railing the entire ride.

They stepped out of the lift, finally. They had arrived on the topmost floor.

There was only one apartment on it, which had a white wooden door with a golden handle.

Abelia fished around in her pocket for a few moments, before pulling out a bunch of keys and turning one in the keyhole.

The door opened, and ...

Lucy Gray stared in wonder for several moments, before exclaiming, "My goodness! Why, it's beautiful!"

The living room walls were covered in a delicate light green wallpaper with a pattern of roses on it. The windows were wide and framed by pale gold satin curtains. There were paintings depicting quaint scenes, like a boulevard lined with trees that bloomed pink, and a ring of mushrooms in a verdant green field on the walls. There was a plush carpet underfoot. When Lucy Gray sat down, the couch felt soft and she sank down right in it.

"Yes, Miss Baird," Abelia said, smiling at the girl's awe, "it's such a pretty little place, isn't it? You know, the President himself wanted you to have this unit - it's the nicest one in the whole building. Fully decorated, lots of space, great view - wait until you see the rest of it! You're a lucky lady."

Coriolanus had decided she'd stay in this apartment specifically? Did this mean he'd gotten over the acrimonious end of their relationship and wanted to show her that he bore no ill-will with such a nice flat? Or was there something suspicious afoot with the apartment that she had yet to discover? Was she being spied on? She had already considered the likelihood that wherever she'd end up would be bugged somehow, and had resolved to never vocalize the unflattering thoughts she had about Coriolanus.

But now worries were racing through her mind.

Could Lucy Gray ever fully relax in this beautiful building, knowing that at any time,something could be watching or listening to her?

She didn't have much time to ponder these unsettling possibilities though. She had the rest of the apartment to explore.

Next was the kitchen, which wasn't really a kitchen. It had all the kitchen things in it, like an oven and a stove, but as Lucy Gray found out, these were for show only.

"Of course, if you really want to use them, I suppose we can have an electrician reconnect them to the mains, but as you're not from here and don't know how to use Capitol appliances, we didn't want to risk you burning yourself. There's no point in you cooking anyway; you can just call room service when you want to eat."

The idea of a kitchen you couldn't cook in seemed silly to Lucy Gray, but she supposed she didn't mind not having to cook all that much. Goodness knows she'd already cooked enough throughout the years.

The kitchen did have a working fridge for Lucy Gray to keep any snacks she brought from outside, and a working microwave too. It also had a long dining table of mahogany wood with matching chairs and a spectacular floral display in the middle, marble countertops, and like the living room, there were paintings on the wall, except this time they portrayed things like a bowl of fresh fruit and a woman picking strawberries.

Then there was the bathroom. It was very large, and very luxurious. Lucy Gray couldn't have imagined a bathroom more different than the one they had back home. In the Seam, her bathroom was whatever room was empty and a tin bathtub that she had to carry bucket after bucket of boiled water to if she wanted a hot bath.

Here, the bathroom had blue and white marble walls, with a sink also of blue and white marble jutting out from it. It smelled calm and fresh, due to the sea salt scented diffusers and potted plants inside of it. The towels were thick and fluffy, and were in colours like baby blue, pale green, creamy white, and lavender. There was a vanity with soft pink-ish lights which lit up Lucy Gray's face so that it seemed very beautiful, and a velvet stool in front of it for her to sit on while she brushed her hair or applied her make-up. The bathtub was absolutely huge, and unusually, Lucy Gray thought, was built into the floor. But she supposed that just made bathing easier, as she could just walk into the bathtub instead of climbing into it. One side of the bathroom sink had a crystal dish which held a soft pink, oval-shaped cake of soap which looked much nicer than the big, rough, yellow hunks of lye they used at home, and there was a dispenser bottle filled with light-pink rose scented hand cream on the other side of the sink. The bathroom had its own sound system, in case she ever wanted to relax to some soothing symphony music, or enjoy the sounds of nature while she was bathing herself. Even the toilet paper was scented and patterned here.

And after that was a room Abelia called the study, which consisted of shelves and shelves of books, which seemed to range from anything to illustrated books of fairytales with gilded edges and richly decorated covers, to rather dull looking tomes on historical events. There was a comfy armchair and a desk with pretty stationary inside its drawers. Did the writing equipment mean she would be allowed to write letters home?

There was art equipment in this room as well - pencils, papers, pigments in rich colors. But most excitingly, there was music. A beautiful piano, a rich brown violin made of some exotic wood, a silver flute, a cream-colored acoustic guitar with silver flowers inlaid, and lots and lots of sheet music.

"I don't know if you can play all of those instruments? I know you're a musician."

"Guitar, yes, and fiddle, a little bit, but not the other two, no."

"Well, two instruments is still very impressive! And I know you're a wonderful singer. But if you ever want lessons in any other instruments, I'm sure that can be arranged."

This room had a sound system too. Abelia gave Lucy Gray a little silvery device, which when you clicked a few buttons, could play one of a great deal of songs. Lucy Gray didn't know most of the music popular in the Capitol, but settled on something that was jaunty and jazzy, letting it permeate throughout the room as she looked around.

Before showing Lucy Gray her bedroom, Abelia decided they'd head back to the kitchen to eat, as it was getting late. She hit a button on the wall, and out of a dispenser came a slip of paper with the night's menu choices on it. Then, after pressing another button and waiting for a few minutes, two plates of sea bass with lemon butter caper sauce and a side of lemony potatoes, plus two mugs of jasmine green tea each were delivered by a man who politely knocked on the apartment door.

After dinner, Abelia decided it was time for her to leave to her own quarters, as it was already night-time at this point, but not before pointing Lucy Gray towards the direction of her bedroom.

And what a spectacular room it was.

One wall was painted in shades of pale green and violet, resembling a sunrise, and the wall opposing it was painted in vibrant oranges and pinks, a soft sunset. Another wall was bright blue with fluffy white clouds, and the last wall was steely blue with a heavy rainfall painted on.

But the ceiling was the true star of the show. It was a shade of inky blue, almost black, and had a map of the constellations painted on it in silver. The most incredible thing was, the stars seemed to move and wink and sparkle. The curtains matched the ceiling, made of deep blue velvet and with golden suns and silver moons embroidered on in delicate thread.

There were vast closets made of light oak in the room, which had some vanilla scented sachets inside - Lucy Gray guessed this was to keep her clothes smelling nice. She remembered when she was very small, her dear Mama had done something similar - kept bundles of lavender and rosemary in her closet so that her clothes smelled pretty. Mama had been a very glamorous lady, and took care of her finery as best as she could, a trait that had stayed with Lucy Gray despite not getting to know her for very long.

Lucy Gray definitely did not have enough clothes to fill up even a tenth of this wardrobe, a fact which made her a little sad, even though owning a lot of clothes was of course, not very important. She felt a little guilty for resenting her limited clothing options, but could it be helped when she knew she was going to be confronted with it everytime she opened these massive doors just to see her same couple of old drab outfits hiding in the corner each time?

The very large, ornate mirror against the wall only seemed to hammer in this unfortunate fact.

Lucy Gray decided to turn her attention to other aspects of the room instead of lingering on her meagre fashion options. The shelves on the walls were filled with little glass figurines and trinkets, and there were fluffy fur rugs on the floor. The room was bathed in soft lighting from frilled sconces, and the room smelled sweet because of the lavender candle burning on top of the bedside table.

Finally, Lucy Gray reached the bed itself. It was huge, about wide enough to hold four of her, and covered with a soft satin sheet and soft floral duvet. On top of the bed was a neatly folded pair of silvery-blue silk pyjamas, which Lucy Gray figured was for her to change into. So after casting off her stiff homemade dress and taking a few moments to enjoy the smoothness of the silk caressing her skin, Lucy Gray flopped onto the bed. But instead of sleeping, she rolled around on it. It was very soft, and quite springy, not like the hard, rather old mattress with a few broken springs which she shared with Maude Ivory.

When Lucy Gray had enough of this childish little game, she turned the light off and decided to try and rest, even though she wasn't sleepy yet. Her head had just hit the pillow, when she felt something fresh and soft brush up against her face. Switching the light on again, she noticed something she had missed the first time, while she was too consumed with diving onto the bed like a little kid to pay attention to the pillows.

A pristine, stark-white rose had been left on one of her pillows.

Her excitement suddenly dissipated, replaced with panic.

What she was so certain would be a night of calm, tranquil sleep, ended up being one of unease and anxiety.


Originally I was planning for this chapter to be much longer - I was going to cover Lucy Gray not just moving into the penthouse, but also going out with Abelia and enjoying the sights of the Capitol a bit before she begins her Mentor training proper. However, since I've been having a writer's block and have been neglecting this fic, I decided to just write about the apartment and make the planned second part of this chapter into its own chapter. I hope this isn't too disappointing, and thanks for your patience.

Chapter 5: In the Capitol


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

"Abelia," exclaimed Lucy Gray, "this drink hurts!"

Abelia laughed softly. "It's just soda. Come on now, the more you drink of it, the more you'll get to like it."

But Lucy Gray did not want to try any more of this crazy new drink, which despite looking bright and appealing, felt like an electric shock in her mouth. Lucy Gray ignored the drink, and paid attention only to the bowl of ice-cream in front of her. She had tried a lot of delicious foods in the short time since she'd started her journey to the Capitol, but the ice-cream had to have been the best yet.

Lucy Gray had only been in the Capitol a couple of days. The first day was spent settling into her apartment. Today was a tour of the Capitol with Abelia as her guide.

The Capitol seemed like some kind of fairytale land to Lucy Gray. It couldn't have been more different than the city she'd seen the first time she'd travelled there. Granted, her previous visit here had mostly been spent held captive inside the Capitol Zoo, but what little she had seen of the Capitol back then had felt dilapidated and rather grim. Still much nicer than the Seam or anywhere else in 12 for that matter, but even a District girl like herself could tell that it was in need of some repair.

Now though, the Capitol looked magnificent and shiny. The spotless apartments, large buildings, and beautiful boulevards were the polar opposite of the crumbling homes, neglected public buildings, and dusty roads back in 12. The buildings seemed much taller than the ones back home too, and Abelia resorted to taking Lucy Gray's hand at one point, fearful that her charge would get lost because of how she kept looking up at the huge city surrounding her.

The people here seemed so clean and well-dressed too. Back home, most people wore practical clothing and it wasn't uncommon to see men wandering around with soot on their faces, too tired after their work shifts in the coal mines to bathe. Here, none of these fancy people would be caught dead with even a speck of dirt on their faces. As for their clothing, there were plenty of creative cuts and bright colours - some even dyed their hair in crazy colours too. Even the less flashily dressed were still dressed well - the garments were made of fine fabrics, and flattered their figures well. Nobody here was wearing hand-me-downs.

They had walked around a large, well-maintained park planted with magnificent trees and bright blooms in the morning, Abelia giving brief explanations about the people portrayed in the statues that decorated the place (they were all people who had been important in the Capitol in times past, but the only one Lucy Gray recognised was the deceased President Ravinstill, leader of the country for most of Lucy Gray's life). Then in the afternoon, they did more walking, but this time in an art gallery, which seemed to host all kinds of paintings, from hyper-realistic scenes of nature, to delicate pastel watercolours of fantasy-like scenarios, to paintings which seemed to be nothing more than bright splashes of colour hapharzardly thrown at a canvas. Then it was onto a hearty meal seated outside at a restaurant, before Abelia showed her some famous sites, like the Panem Television and Radio Tower, an extremely high structure which Lucy Gray learned was the tallest construction in all of Panem, and the Capitol Grand Fountain, which was made of marble and spouted water coloured in what seemed like every hue imaginable. Everything seemed to have been designed to show off the Capitol's might, from the sheer largeness of the buildings, to the marble and gold used in construction, to the banners everywhere that said things like: "The Capitol: Heart of Panem." Even the fact that the city was so well-lit, with every building still being bright after the sun set, seemed as though it was meant to be a sign of the Capitol's superiority. Back in District 12, the only building that consistently had electricity was the Peacekeepers Quarters. Even the Justice Building didn't reliably have electricity, although most of the time it could be counted on to have power. Here in the Capitol though, even mere restaurants had enough electricity to be able to put up neon signs.

At one point, Abelia pointed out a building that was very large and very grand, the most impressive building they had passed by so far. "That's the Presidential Palace," Abelia informed Lucy Gray, unbeknownst to her making the District girl's blood run cold. Oh god ... the Presidential Palace? Did this mean that Coriolanus was a mere few feet away from her, somewhere in the building that laid behind the vast manicured garden in front of her feet?

Luckily, they didn't go inside, even though Abelia mentioned it was possible to tour some parts of the building. They moved onto the final part of the day's itinerary before they'd go home for the night - a two hour long boat ride along the crystalline river that flowed through the Capitol, and ice-cream and drinks at a quaint café on the riverbank.

Then it was home, to a warm bath that had already been drawn, and a fresh pair of silk pyjamas, this time in duck-egg green.
The following few days were just as exciting, even though Lucy Gray was slowly being reminded that she was here not to sightsee, but to work. She had to take lessons now - each morning, a middle aged woman called Mrs Larins arrived at the penthouse to teach Lucy Gray how to speak "properly." And what "properly" really meant was "like a Capitolite." Even though Lucy Gray's voice was considered pleasant back home, she supposed here that it must seem rough. The accents here were refined and clipped, more polite and gentle than the more guttural, stronger manner of speech used in District 12. Then in the afternoons, a different middle aged woman called Ms Green would visit, who was more of a generalised teacher. Although Lucy Gray had gone to school, she had missed quite a bit of it at times, skipping classes whenever there was an important performance for the Covey during school hours. So even though it made Lucy Gray feel like a child, she supposed it wasn't a bad thing to start her education over.

Instead of using coal as units of measurements, cute things like cakes and apples were used as units for mathematics problems. The geography lessons were about things like the formation of waterfalls, rather than the formation of coal. The history lessons were propaganda about how great the Capitol and its historical victories were, and how awful the districts were - same as how this particular subject was taught back in 12, except without any information provided on the coal mines that had been operating in 12 for hundreds of years. In fact, there was a conspicuous lack of coal on the Capitol's curriculum, which made sense, as no coal was mined in the Capitol. But Lucy Gray still couldn't help but feel there was something odd about not hearing about coal in class, when the curriculum she had grown up with was so focused around coal and the production of it. In District 12, every subject was served with a side of coal-mining knowledge.

Her days felt very busy with these two tutors dropping by daily, and Abelia informed her they would only get busier - soon, it would be time to start taking classes in knowledge she would need for her Mentorship.

For now, though, she had enough free time to wander around the Capitol, acquainting herself with the different sites and activities available in the nation's centre. Strangely enough, she never seemed to be alone for these trips. Abelia was usually in her apartment in the evenings, ostensibly to eat dinner with her so that she wouldn't be lonely, and also to plan Lucy Gray's schedule for the next day for her, even though there wasn't very much to plan and she didn't need to physically be in the apartment to do that anyway. If she managed to give Abelia the slip, the older woman would always catch up to her before she could actually leave somehow. And even during the couple of times a week Abelia was off and assumably spending her evenings with her own family, Lucy Gray still wasn't successful in going out by her lonesome. The electricity would seem to suddenly go out even though it was always otherwise strong and stable, and on the handful of occasions she tried walking down the vast amount of stairs leading to the ground floor, some staff member would inevitably pop up to talk her ear off so that she couldn't get away. Abelia was ostensibly meant to help her fit into the Capitol and learn its ways, but Lucy Gray reckoned the true purpose of her job was to keep an eye on the Covey girl.

On the days where Lucy Gray wanted to be alone but was yet again unsuccessful in doing it in fresh air, she would watch television on one of the multiple big, clear, vibrantly colourful screens throughout the penthouse. She learned about all kinds of things, from the lives of the fascinating creatures who inhabited the ocean floor, to the lives of the Capitolites who seemed to never be lucky in love. Or she would run her fingers down the piano in the study, not really understanding how to play it, but managing to recreate some simple snippets of songs she knew on it. Or she would just read the books in the study. She liked the tomes of poetry based on nature, and the leather-bound, idealistic love stories about young women being saved from towers and maids being rescued from their lives of drudgery by dashing men that were much more optimistic and fantastical than love in real life seemed.

Her freedom was limited here, but perhaps she could learn to like it? After all, the food was good, and it was nice being able to do things like go to museums and spend her nights reading instead of doing chores. Although ... it would be highly inaccurate to suggest she didn't prefer those nights she'd spent performing with the Covey over the activities the Capitol had to offer.

Still, I'm not going to be here for long ... Might as well make the most of it.


It took about a month for the previous chapter to go up, so in apology, here's a new one, published just two days afterwards! Hopefully I'm over my writers block for good, or at least for long enough to get a chunk of this written in a timely manner.

Chapter Text

To Barb Azure, Tam Amber, Clerk Carmine, and Maude Ivory,

How are you doing? For me, life has been going nicely. I went to a museum yesterday. It was very interesting, but the exhibits were all of stuffed dead animals, so it was also quite tragic (they call it "taxidermy"). I still felt I learned a lot though. There were exhibits on every type of animal you could imagine, from big bears to exotic birds to tiny insects. And the museum had a garden! Which was VERY beautiful. I'm not much of an artist, but I wish I'd thought to bring a sketchbook and pencils with me. I could have sent you a drawing of the prettiest flowers and trees I saw.

I think the most exciting thing that has happened so far is getting to buy new clothes! As it turns out, I have my own stylist. Who I wasn't really intended to meet until later on, but since my minder Abelia isn't too keen on fashion, and if I'm going to live in the Capitol and be seen in public here instead of hiding inside all day, they decided to have us meet earlier than intended.

My stylist is called Mimi. I think it's short for something, but I never asked what. I want to say she's maybe about 35? Give or take a few years. She's very short, with a head of very long, thick, curly hair - I think her hair would be almost be as long as her entire body if you straightened it.

Mimi is who went shopping with me. It was such a dizzying experience! You know how in 12, there's only one tailor's shop, and it's small, and the clothes all kind of seem the same? Well, here, there are multiple different "boutiques," and they're all very big, and the clothes are all so beautiful! I tried on a lot of them, and looked at myself wearing them in mirrors, Mimi suggesting things and praising this and helping me into that all the while, and after that paying for it all! Well, she didn't pay for it with her own money of course. I have my own allowance. But I'm still bad at figuring out how to pay for things here! Instead of trading or just using cash like in 12, there's a type of electronic display that you scan a special type of chip on to pay for things. People here do it like it's nothing, but it all seems so confusing to me! Oh well, I've barely been here two weeks, I suppose I still have plenty of time to catch up.

I felt so tired after all that time walking around and trying on things, but so giddy and happy too! Everything nice I had before were either Mama's old dresses, which are just too precious to wear at anything other than special occasions, or my performance dresses, which I only wear at work. And everything else I had before was chosen for practicality, not prettiness, and always end up looking a state because of getting worn down and mended and the colours fading after being washed one too many times, etc. So it was such a wonderful thing to buy pretty clothes I can wear everyday without feeling guilty! Some of the clothes, like the outfit I'm wearing right now (which is a simple sweetheart cotton dress with a pattern of blue hydrangeas and a satin blue bow on the collar, along with a light blue cardigan, creamy white stockings, and a pair of black shoes in a style they call "Mary Jane," quite appropriate for a day like today, where it's mostly sunny with some occasional cool breezes. It looks very "Maude," which I think is what drew me to it), I was able to take home with me right away, but most of them, I had to have packed up and delivered. I think they will all come soon, but it's so hard to just wait and wait.

Not that I really have any time just to sit around waiting. Every day I have these lessons, they're so hard! Not in a way where my brain can't comprehend the things I'm learning, but what I mean is, they're trying to train me out of my old Covey ways and teach me Capitol ones in their place. I think my elocution teacher is fed up with me; I've been trying to mask my accent while she's around, I swear! But it's hard to unlearn a whole lifetime of talking the way I do in just a couple of weeks!

My other teacher, as well as the usual things like history and geography and English, has been teaching me how to eat properly. Can you believe it? Learning how to eat? I didn't think I was that much of a slob! Although in all fairness, eating is a more complicated ritual here than it is back home. In 12, you just need your knife, fork, spoon, and you're all set. But here? There's what seems to be a million kinds of spoons in different sizes alone, and you have to use them to eat different things. Did you know that there's even a special way you have to eat grapes? You're not meant to just pull a couple off the stalk, you have to break off a small branch from the bunch with a pair of special scissors meant specifically for grape-eating, and you can't put more than one grape in your mouth at a time, or spit out the seeds, you have to politely extract them from your mouth after swallowing the flesh. I never could have imagined that eating grapes could be so complicated! But when in the Capitol ... I shall have to give you a grape-eating demonstration when I go back home, if grapes are available.
I'm about to be even busier with my schooling soon ... They're going to teach me things I'll need to mentor the kids next Hunger Games, like about what plants you can and can't eat, combat training, stuff like that. I'm trying not to be, but I can't help but feel nervous about it. Mostly because me learning these things is important to someone's safety, so I'll have to pay as much attention as possible. But I'm also nervous about the short-term problem of having to go to this big building and study with the other Mentors! Usually I'm not shy about meeting new people, but well, Hunger Games Victors are not your usual type of people. Me, I got lucky. But I have a feeling that most of these people knew what they were doing in that Arena. Oh well! I will act as strong as I can. I may be a small woman, but I'm a Victor too!

Do take care of yourselves, alright? I hope work, chores, etc, are all going smoothly. And don't worry about me, I'm doing just fine.

Lots of Love, Lucy Gray Baird XX

This was Lucy Gray's third attempt at writing a letter home. Third time was the charm, right? She wondered if she'd really said all she could, but she knew that if she decided to try again, she'd end up being at her desk writing and balling up letters all day, so she decided that yes, this would be the one she'd post. It was better to send an imperfect letter than to send no letter at all because she used up all her stationary without ever writing anything that fully satisfied her, right?

Her apartment building had its own letterbox on the ground floor, so Lucy Gray took the lift downstairs, going down floor after floor. She still didn't like the elevator, but she was used to it enough that it wasn't a terrifying thought to have to use it alone.

After dropping her letter inside the letterbox, she had to wonder if it would ever even reach its intended destination. After all, you couldn't travel from the Capitol to the Districts without special permission and a very good reason, so maybe sending mail was the same. That postbox was more than likely only ever intended for Capitolites to send mail to other Capitolites, but she supposed it couldn't hurt to at least try. Who knew, perhaps one day she'd receive a letter back.

There were more pressing things on Lucy Gray's mind than the letters though, namely her Mentor training.

Not long after sending her letter, the first day of Mentor training arrived, and she was driven to a large building. She went up a few floors in the elevator, until she arrived at Room 101.

Even though Lucy Gray had come right on time, the large classroom she'd arrived at was already almost full. The front rows were fully occupied.

She took a seat next to a boy with silky black hair, who seemed maybe three or four years younger than her.

"Good morning," she greeted, remembering her manners after she was settled at her desk.

"Good morning," the young man replied, mumbling a little.

"I'm Lucy Gray Baird, and I live in District 12. Pleasure to meet you."

"I'm Cody Bell, and I'm from 3. Pleasure to meet you too."

He was very polite, but also very reserved, only speaking when she directly addressed him. Maybe he wasn't really much of the talking type.

In any case, they didn't have much time to get to know each other, because after one last person arrived, the lecturer stood at the top of the room began to speak.

"Good morning to all of you," a booming voice began. "As you know, a change will be taking place to Panem's annual Hunger Games - a change which you will all be an imperative part of. The Mentor programme has existed for almost a decade, but until now each Mentor was a Capitolite. However, in the spirit of the Hunger Games being very much centred around the Districts, it was decided it was fitting that the Mentors will be from the Districts from now on. And who better than previous Victors to mentor the new Tributes?"

"As it's the first day, we won't be doing anything too difficult. I think you should all introduce yourselves to each other, since you'll be spending a lot of time together. Hopefully you can all become friends - being in competition with each other during the Games doesn't mean you have to be unkind to each other the rest of the year, you know!"

"Getting to know each other" was just the lecturer, a middle aged ex-military man called Tiberius, making everybody in the room introduce themselves - by explaining how they'd won the Hunger Games.

The older ones, who had competed in the Games before Lucy Gray had, didn't have particularly exciting stories to tell. Glass from District 1, the first ever winner of the Hunger Games, had simply beaten the last remaining competitor in his Games to death with his bare hands, after managing to hold out for a couple of days while everyone else was picking each other off or dehydrating to death.

Esmauraulda, also from District 1, had done the same thing, but instead of engaging in hand-to-hand combat, had slit someone's throat with a knife.

Clay from District 2 was more creative. He was a strong, stocky man, who had managed to carry some heavy rocks up a tree with him in the dead of night, which he had dropped on the heads of his last batch of opponents while they were asleep. Some died instantly, and the ones who didn't were injured enough that it was easy for him to finish them off with their own weapons.

Nell from District 2 was also a tad more creative than the District 1 champions. She had created a large fire by rubbing together some stones that were lying around, setting it dangerously close to her own friends she had made in the Games, who had entrusted her to keep watch for danger during the night. After her allies caught fire and fried to death, it was only a matter of picking off a couple of kids who were weaker than her and were only alive as long as they long as they were because they found good hiding places.

Murfee from 4 had just gotten lucky. A dam had burst near the stadium the Arena was in, suddenly flooding it. But he could swim very well, and made it out of the Arena still breathing, while the others got pulled under the water's murky depths.

Georgette from 8 had gotten lucky as well. She had just hidden in a tunnel for as long as possible. She was there for so long that nobody was sure if she was still alive by the end of her Games, or if she had also succumbed to starvation, like the other remaining competitor who had starved to death while trying to find her and finish her off, until one day she emerged from the underground, hoping to find some food supplies in her weakened state.

Maisie from 9 and Angus from 10 had both killed with knives, except Angus had knocked out some of his kills with his heavy arms before plunging the knife in.

And Blossom from 11, who had won the year before Lucy Gray did, recounted a tale that was similar to Lucy Gray's own. She had used poison too, except hers was legitimate - she had misled people into thinking that poisonous plants were safe to eat, leaving them around places she had camped out along with a couple of safe to eat plants, making it look as if she had merely dropped them. Her knowledge of the trees and flowers kept her fed, while many of her hungry opponents were reduced to scavenging, or just taking their chances on any plant they saw.

And those were the very earliest winners of the Hunger Games, before they had their big revamp following Lucy Gray's Games.

The Victors after Lucy Gray's edition of the Games had to contend with much more exciting ways to fight for survival. Mags, a girl with light-brown curly hair from District 4, the Victor directly after Lucy Gray's Games, arguably had an advantage during her Games. The Arena, instead of being a mere sports stadium, was a vast underwater labrynth, with weapons and food supplies hidden in deep caverns. Mags had both breath control and diving abilities that most Tributes didn't share, but what really helped her was knowing how to use the tridents available as weapons, having grown up using them. She only had to treat the fellow humans on the end of her three-pronged spear as fish, like the ones she'd caught regularly at home.

Maren, also from District 4, didn't get to use her sea-faring knowledge to her advantage in her Games. The Arena that year had been a sprawling desert city, full of crumbling ruined buildings and poisonous snakes. She was a girl after Lucy Gray's own heart, really - although the majority of Tributes had simply dehydrated, and some died in a sandstorm, Maren had finished off the last couple of Tributes by bravely turning snakes into her weapon of choice, inflicting deadly bites on her adversaries.

Rubean from District 1, who had auburn hair and olive green eyes, had delivered his winning kill with an icicle which he had snapped from the roof of a cave in his frozen tundra Arena. He had very good luck - avalanches and hypothermia had finished off most of the Tributes in his edition, so he didn't have to get his hands too dirty.

Cody, the boy sat next to Lucy Gray who was from District 3, had competed in an Arena made to look like a bank vault. The very centre of the bank vault had held a safe full of supplies, which the Tributes had to go through a series of maze-like corridors to access. Cody was very smart, and very light and gentle-footed, which helped him avoid the motion sensors in the bank which made it easier for the other Tributes to find him, and figure out the combination codes for the smaller safes dotted around the labrynth which held clues on how to reach the main vault. He didn't seem like he had it in him, but he had famously killed an alliance of 5 people from 1, 2, and 4 respectively, all at once, by managing to lock them in a vault which was booby-trapped, causing them to die from the gas emitted when you stayed in one vault for too long.

Dottie, who like Cody was from 3, had been very sneaky during her Games - she had formed an alliance with the boy from her District, but was secretly poisoning him with dangerous berries the whole time, which was easy to do in her jungle-themed Arena.

Petra from 2 had lured her last remaining opponent into a volcanic crater, letting her boil to death without ever even looking her in the eye.

Curran from 5 was the youngest Victor thus far, winning his Games at only 15 years old. He was very young, and very short, and very slight, traits which usually would not bode well for Hunger Games survival. In most years, he would have been one of the first to die. But in his case it had been a big advantage, as being such a small boy had made it easier for him to dodge the network of light beam lasers that had been set up in his Game's Arena.

District 6's Muta had survived a stormy thunder-filled Arena. That year was unusual in that while the weapons used were the usual axes, knives, swords, and spears, each weapon was electrically charged. Muta had turned out to be a dab-hand with a spear, and had delivered electric shock after electric shock into the hearts of her enemies.

District 7's Miller was somewhat notorious for the very bloody method he employed to end his rivals. He would spin around, large axe in his hands, until he built up a formidable speed, and then chop his opponents' heads clean off, blood spraying everywhere.

And then there was Lucy Gray. What was she supposed to answer when her turn came to explain how she had won her Games? Exactly how much did people know about her year to begin with? The Games before the 11th edition hadn't been very popular. Did people ever talk about the oldest editions of the Hunger Games, the ones that predated the flashier editions people were now accustomed to?

Fortunately, Lucy Gray got an idea of how much people knew about her treachery when the lecturer addressed her.

"Now, Miss Baird here will surely be an interesting one," he said. "The master tape of the 10th Hunger Games is lost, so many of the details of that year have been lost. There have been many rumours flying about regarding the 10th Games, some of them contradictory, especially concerning the Victor and how she won. Perhaps now we can finally get some clarity?"

Lucy Gray was relieved.

"Well, Sir, truth be told, I didn't have to do much. I mostly just hid. My Mentor sent me enough food to keep going, so it was just a matter of finding the right moment to retrieve my rations while staying hidden the rest of the time."

"Ah. So what about all these theories about poison and snakes? Are they just figments of the general's public imagination? Or is there a seed of truth to any of these stories?"

"Oh, well I suppose there's a little bit of truth to them. Neither of them are very important, see. What saved me was staying hidden for as long as I could. But I suppose I did poison someone. It was like how Blossom confused people into eating the wrong kind of plant. And as for the snakes, well that was like Maren. I was always good with snakes back home, they like me. So I wasn't afraid when I saw one and I just grabbed it and shoved it down this person's shirt and the snake did the rest for me. But I don't know if I'd describe either of those as how I won the Games ..."

"Hm ... Well, that settles that, then," the lecturer responded, sounding a little disappointed. Lucy Gray was just grateful he'd believed her little white lies. She didn't know if she could still get into trouble for revealing the truth of what happened with the snakes and poison or not. Even though she had been found out by the people involved in the running of the Games all those years ago, she wasn't aware of exactly how widely known her cheating had been. And if it had never been known to the public at large, letting people know what happened now could get her into a lot of trouble. She didn't reckon Snow would take too kindly to a cheating scandal being attached to his name, and she wasn't going to risk his wrath.

That was all that happened on the first day. After that, each new Mentor received a timetable:

Mondays: Survival Skills

Tuesdays: Combat Skills

Wednesdays: Communications and Media Training

Thursdays: Strategies and Tactics

Fridays: Camouflage and Stealth

On the lift to the ground floor, Lucy Gray heard someone addressing her.

"Talk to me, girlie. What's this I hear about you and the President?"

It was Maren from District 4. She had a silky voice, with light-brown hair the colour of sand, and glass-green eyes. Her lips were full and coral-coloured.

"Why, there's not much to say. President Snow was my Mentor. He tried his hardest to help me win, and it worked. He was very kind to me," is all Lucy Gray wanted to offer, not wanting to linger on this upsetting chapter of her life.

But this was not enough for Maren. "Oh, are you sure? It's just that, well, there have been some whisperings. You see, there's a rumour that you and the President ... Well ..."

"Well, what?"

"Well, that you were ... How do I put this ... ? Intimate."

"Oh, leave her alone, Maren," said another girl, who Lucy Gray recognised as being Maren's District-mate, Mags.

"I'm just asking a question! I'm curious to know where she stands with the President. No point in making all of the effort that Mentoring will take if I'm destined to lose because District 12 are being given advantages."

"Maren, pipe dow-"

Lucy Gray cut off the girl who was coming to her defense.

"Look, I was never intimate with Coriolanus."


"I was only 16 when he Mentored me. We never did anything like that together. We kissed a couple of times, but that was truly it. And besides, I haven't seen him in nine years anyway. He was barely an adult when he knew me, I'm sure he's moved on from the fling he had with me as a teenager.

And besides. If Coriolanus really wanted to give me an advantage? He wouldn't have sent me here in the first place. The biggest advantage anyone could give me is letting me stay home with my family."


Name meanings for my Victors:

District 1: Rubean - derived from "Ruby." A reference to Rubeus from Sailor Moon.
Glass - a type of material that's used in making jewellery and watches (I think in retrospect Glass might work better as a District 4 name, as glass is made from sand and sea glass often washes up on beaches, but oh well).
Esmauraulda - derived from Emerald, and this name is a reference to Esmeraude from Sailor Moon.

District 2: Clay - A mineral formed from rocks which is used in construction and ceramic-making.
Nell - comes from panelling, it's another building related name.
Petra - it's Greek and means "rock, stone."

District 3: Cody Bell - his first name is derived from the word "code," and his last name is after Alexander Graham Bell.
Dottie - comes from "dotcom."

District 4: Murfee - a phonetic (and very wrong looking spelling) of the Irish surname Murphy. Murphy means "sea warrior," and since District 4 seems to have some Irish influence, this is the name I chose. Murphy is actually an already anglicised spelling of the Irish Murchú, so it's an anglicisation of an anglicisation.
Maren - it means "sea" in Latin.

District 5: Curran - derived from "current," as in an electric current.

District 6: Muta - taken from "commute."

District 7: Miller - as in, someone who works in a sawmill

District 8: Georgette - it's the name of a crepe silk fabric

District 9: Maisie - it sounds like "Maize."

District 10: Angus - named after the breed of cow

District 11: Blossom - a type of flower which usually grow into stone fruits.

And Room 101 is of course, named after Room 101 from 1984.

I'm really bad at naming things, but I hope my choices aren't too terrible.

Chapter 7: Tricked


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text


Even though she dreaded having to one day use the knowledge she'd learned from her Mentor training to become a pawn in the game that almost killed her, Lucy Gray had to admit to herself that her classes were fascinating.

Some of the lessons, like Survival Strategies, were about things she already knew about, but not in precise detail or eloquent words. For example, she knew to do things like purifying water by boiling it over the fire first instead of just drinking it straight out of the pond so that the bacteria wouldn't make her tummy twist and turn. She didn't know about purifying water by adding iodine to it and waiting until the majority of Giardia cysts had been killed. Not that iodine, in either crystal or liquid form, had been available to her in the wilderness beyond 12. But in the new, revamped Hunger Games, apparently, iodine was available as an item one might be able to grab from the Cornucopia. Put some in your water, leave it for half an hour, and hydrate yourself without running the risk of diarrhea - or worse, like getting a nasty infection from germs in the water, or using the old-fashioned method of boiling water Lucy Gray used and getting yourself killed because other tributes saw the smoke from the fire you set rising.

Combat Training was somewhat familiar to Lucy Gray. She knew how to build and use a bow and arrows, set up snares and traps, and was handy with a knife. She didn't know how to throw a spear, swing an axe, use a slingshot, or fight in hand-to-hand combat. Surprisingly, there was a practical in each one of these, even though the Mentors themselves would not be physically training their tributes. "You won't understand it fully just from listening to me talk," was the lecturer's reasoning. "You have to actually do it."

Camouflage and Stealth wasn't so familiar to her, unless hiding behind large rocks and up leafy trees counted as being stealthy. But it was something that would have been useful to her. Things like using mud to blend into the surroundings, or developing covert signals to communicate with allies without attracting attention, were valuable information.

Then there was Strategies and Tactics, which was about building alliances and outsmarting the opponent, and Communications and Media Training, which encompassed how to come across as charming in interviews, and how to attract sponsors - and use their gifts most effectively.

Lucy Gray wasn't necessarily the best student - she often drifted off when her tutors were trying to teach her fancy Capitol ways, or get her second level education up to scratch. But she did at least try during her Mentor training. After all, a pair of kids somewhere back in 12 would need her someday. And she didn't want them to be thrust into the Arena with little guidance like she had been. She'd been a kid with zero knowledge of wilderness survival or weaponry. It was only because of cheating and sheer dumb luck that she had survived. This time, cheating was out of the question, and a stroke of luck seemed slim. So paid attention she did, scribbling down notes on a satin-covered notebook.

Some of the other Victors took down notes too. Cody, who had sat next to her the first day, clacked away on a laptop. His District mate, Dottie, had a pink notebook covered in stickers shaped like hearts and white bunny rabbits, which she wrote on with different colored glitter pens she pulled out of her fluffy pink pencil-case. Mags wrote in a gingham notebook with a rollerball pen. The other District 4 Victors, Maren and Murfee, didn't keep things as simple, having different colored binders for each subject, and exchanging notes not only with each other, but with the Victors from 1 and 2, who they seemed to be becoming fast friends with.

Blossom from 11 occasionally took down notes in her green floral print notebook, while Angus from 10 simply scrawled on a pad of paper, and Curran from 5 used the same type of exercise book Lucy Gray had used in school in 12.

Some of the Victors, meanwhile, didn't annotate their lessons, but just listened. And a couple like Miller from 7 and Georgette from 8 didn't seem to be paying much attention at all, apparently apathetic about the whole affair.

Weeks went on. Lucy Gray had made a couple of friends - Mags, who had been kind to her on that first day, Blossom, who was a little bit older than her, pleasant and steady, Georgette, who despite not seeming to care much about her Mentor duties did treat her classmates with kindness, and Dottie, who was bright and bubbly. Cody had warmed up to her a bit, although she didn't know if she could call him a friend, exactly. They did greet each other and occasionally made conversation, Lucy Gray carrying it while Cody somewhat awkwardly tried his best to contribute.

But she had made a couple of rivals too. Maren was still mean, and her friends went along with her.

One day, Rubean from 1, who Maren had her eye on, and who had hair the color of a redwood tree and sea-glass green eyes, had taken a seat next to Lucy Gray's, and was surprisingly polite to her considering he was a friend of Maren's. He chatted to her during their break, about his family in District 1 and his friends and his three dogs, and seemed genuinely interested in Lucy Gray's tales about the Covey.

Later that day, when it was time to go home, Maren caught up with Lucy Gray in the corridor and said:

"Don't you even think about getting your coal-stained hands on Rubean. He's mine. And he's out of your league anyway. When was the last time a man even looked at you? Oh yeah, when you were playing with Snow's heart. A long, loooong, long time ago." And then she went merrily on her way, before Lucy Gray even had a chance to respond.

At least Lucy Gray wouldn't have to see her for much longer, at least for a couple of weeks anyway. It was almost winter break. Abelia had told her that in winter, she'd have time off.

On their last day of classes, after their lecturer congratulated them for getting through the coursework, Mags asked, "So what are your plans, Lucy Gray, for when you go home? If you're going home, that is. I know some people have gotten permission to stay in the Capitol for a few months longer. Like Maren. She's going to be in a movie. She's going to play a mermaid, who washes up on shore and falls in love with a fisherman. I don't know anything more about it than that, she won't tell anything.

Me, though, I'm just going home. I miss my mom and sister. As nice as the Capitol is, there's just no place like home."

"I missed home too," chimed in Blossom. "So much. I miss my baby. I'm glad for the friends I've made here though - we should have a day out together when we see each other for the Games next year."

"What do you mean by 'next year'?" Lucy Gray inquired. "Aren't we going to see each other after the break is over?"

"Goodness, no. Nearly everyone is heading home now that the Mentor training is over. So next year will be the next time we all see each other."

"I'm gonna miss you all," said Dottie, glossy lips trembling slightly. "Oh - give me a hug!" she cried, taking each of her new friends into her arms.

Lucy Gray's mind was racing while she was in Dottie's embrace. She had been under the impression the training was for an entire year! But here were her classmates, who were making it clear the course was over and done with after just a couple of months.

"See you next year," she said glumly, unsure of whether she would be going home too, or if she had to stay in the Capitol for a whole year doing who knows what?

"Do settle down, Lucy Gray," Abelia said chidingly. "Nobody lied to you. You were told that you'd be in the Capitol for a year, not that you'd be learning how to Mentor for the entire year. There's a difference. And besides, you're not the only one who's staying in the Capitol for a while longer. There's a girl from 4 who's staying on to act. And one of the Victors from 1 is going to study at the Panem University of Fine Arts."

"And what am I meant to do all year? Stay trapped inside this apartment unless I'm being chaperoned around like a child?"

"No, you're meant to sing. A lot of people remember the fan favorite from the 10th Hunger Games, you know. People want to hear you sing again.

Speaking of which, you have a busy few weeks ahead after your break is over. Appointments with your stylist. And some sessions with your beauty team. You won't feel bored at all, I promise."

"What's all this for, then?"

"For your big moment on TV, obviously. You've been booked for the biggest honor a singer in Panem could dream of - you'll be singing for the President on President's Day."


I'm so sorry for the long wait! Life has been chaotic lately. I catfished the guy I'd been talking to for months accidentally (long story), who was always so kind, and sweet, and polite, and respectful, who always asked how my day was, and tried to comfort me if I was feeling down, who I'd just started making plans to meet up with irl, and he started thinking my alt account was his buddy and admitted to doing some things that are, let's just say, illegal. So that was scary and I was mentally disturbed for a while.

I also adopted a black kitten over the summer, have read several books (usually I read maybe 12 pages in a whole month), started writing poetry, and I just returned to education out of being out of it for a few years. So busy days for me.

Thanks to everyone who's still interested in this story despite the lack of updates. I promise Coriolanus will appear soon, and I'll try to post the next chapter sooner than this one was published.

Chapter 8: Stripped


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

"Gem of Panem ...."

Lucy Gray's clear voice seemed to bounce off the walls.

She'd already practiced for the big event earlier that day with an orchestra at a fancy school somewhere, as she'd done everyday for the last fortnight, but she was practising again now that she'd arrived home. She'd never felt so nervous about an upcoming performance. Not even when she was a little kid.

It wasn't the fact that she'd be performing in the Capitol instead of her usual District 12 that made her anxious. Or that the crowd was going to be the biggest one of her entire life. Or that she'd have TV cameras in her face the whole time.

How many people have ever had to perform a song in honor of someone who almost killed them?

What do you want, Coriolanus?

There had to be a reason he picked her, right? It wasn't as if there were a shortage of fine singers in the Capitol. There was a whole school of classically trained singers a few blocks away from the Presidential Mansion, and more throughout the city.

Was this a punishment? Did he want to make an example of her, punishing her for her departure from Panem so that other prospective defectors would think twice?

But he wouldn't want to taint President's Day, a day of celebrating Presidents past, by executing the newly returned 10th Victor, would he? And wouldn't it be better to keep her defection under wraps, just in case someone got ideas from it?

Whatever reason he had for choosing her couldn't have been good, if the constant queasiness in the pit of her stomach since finding out about her new engagement was anything to go by.

Lucy Gray stood shivering, dressed in nothing but her underwear. Her beauty team, a group of three Capitol women with brightly colored hair, hastened to complete their tasks so that she would be ready to put on her new dress.

Two days before they'd scrubbed her body and then waxed all the hair off. Yesterday, all they did was paint her nails.

This morning was a busy one. They styled her hair in an elaborate updo with flowers dotted throughout, then patted thick powder to her face with a powder puff and dabbed rosy circles of rouge on her cheeks.

"This much makeup is actually horrible for your skin, did you know? But it looks fantastic on camera, and as long as you don't wear this much often, you should be fine," one of the beauticians piped up.

After they applied some finishing touches, the women got to work on getting her ready for her gown. They slipped her into a tight-fitting bodice, then sheathed her legs in a pair of gold-embroidered stockings woven from pale, shimmery silk.

"Great! You're ready," exclaimed Mimi the stylist, who'd been waiting all morning for Lucy Gray to be ready to wear her newest creation.

They'd had dress fittings before, but this was the first time the outfit would be fully complete with hair and makeup.

Mimi and the beauticians manoeuvred to help Lucy Gray put on a weighty, sweeping gown made from lamé and silk.

The top was lavishly decorated with intricate beadwork and silk appliqué flowers, matching the wildflowers in her hair. The skirt was made of billowing layers of silk in rich jewel-toned hues, each layer trimmed with cloth-of-gold. A pair of high satin slippers, with a rainbow of glimmering jewels set in an intricate pattern that sparkled with each step, completed the look.

It was an upgraded version of the multicoloured dress she had worn to her reaping years ago.

"We want you to be recognisable to the general public," Mimi said, "and what better way is there to do that than to put you in a homage to the rainbow dress you wore back then?"

Apparently, even though her Games were lost, the interviews she'd done before them weren't, and her old dress, despite not being nearly as elaborate as the clothing worn by the Tributes who came after her, was known among style enthusiasts as being the "first time fashion came to the Hunger Games."

Of course, as a hotly anticipated performer at a big event in a Capitol that was much more prosperous than it had been a decade prior, her original dress, a hand-me-down with fading colors, wasn't going to cut it anymore. Her new dress was a shiny, Capitolian take on the dress that had belonged to her mother. It was weighty, made to be seen in rather than perform in. But she would only be wearing it for a few hours anyway.

Even though it was uncomfortable, and meant for a performance that she dreaded, Lucy Gray still couldn't help but be excited about getting to wear it. She loved pretty dresses, scarce though they were in District 12. And this was the prettiest dress she would ever wear.

It was almost time for her to sing in front of the entire country.

The day had been a blur of celebration. Exhibits of works representing the labor and resources of each District as a reminder of their positions as servants of the Capitol, a documentary about the benevolence of the Capitol made by some award-winning filmmaker Lucy Gray had never heard of, but who apparently quite famous, a military parade, with Peacekeepers in different uniforms to their usual ones marching in front of grand tanks, and another documentary by a different famous director Lucy Gray had never heard of, which was about the former Presidents of Panem and their achievements.

Now there was only Lucy Gray left. Then, the President's Speech.

She heard her own voice booming from in front of the stage. An interview had been recorded with Lucky Flickerman ahead of time, in order to give the audience a refresher on who she was before she went on.

As she waited in the wings, she felt like the whole weight of the world was pressing down on her. Singing in front of a crowd was usually easy for her, no more difficult than walking or eating.

But this time, she had to search within herself for the strength to perform.

He was going to be in the audience, right at the front. And his eyes would be fixed on her.

She got her cue to go on stage.

Alright. This is it. Give em a performance they'll never forget.

She walked out on stage, head raised high, shoulders back, rainbow colored dress billowing out behind her. Camera lights were already flashing.

She didn't try to look at the audience, knowing if she caught a glimpse of him, she might shut down completely.

Instead, after the host introduced her, and the music from the orchestra began swelling, she concentrated on looking into the correct cameras. At times where she would have had to look at the crowd, she used the age old trick of picking a random spot at the back and gazing at that instead of the audience.

"Gem of Panem

Mighty city

Through the ages you shine anew ... "

The crowd was so silent, you could hear a pin drop. Lucy Gray's crystal clear voice rang out like a bell.

Lucy Gray heard her own voice in amazement at the stability and evenness it possessed. She had practiced the national anthem any number of times since she was first announced as a performer for President's Day, which must have paid off.

Because despite the fact that her mind had shut down completely, she sang the song without any nervousness or mistakes.

Were people in the Districts watching this too? Could the Covey see her right now? Wearing a beautiful dress, singing for the cameras?

Admittedly, the song wasn't one that would usually appeal to the Covey. Not lively, lovelorn, or tragic, it wasn't the type of song that could usually be found in the Covey's repertoire. And it was questionable how much patriotic pride it inspired in them, considering the Covey had always felt outside Panem, wanderers alienated from mainstream society wherever they found themselves.

But she knew her family would be happy to see her face flash up on the television. And she knew they would be happy to find out that she was not only safe, but getting to perform, like she loved to do.

Something that only just occurred to Lucy Gray was that, as long as she was public, she was safe. If he wanted to make his songbird sing one last time, and demean her by making her swansong a tune about the might of the Capitol before dragging her off to some private room to pay for her decision to run away, well, he wouldn't be able to without kicking up a fuss. Everyone would notice if District 12's only Victor had made her big comeback to the public eye just to mysteriously disappear once again.

"Protect our land

With armored hand

Our Capitol

Our life"

Her voice came to a stop as the swelling symphony music wound down.

It was over.

The silence of the audience exploded into cheers and applause. She took her bow, cherry ice-cream lips curled into a wide smile. Even though she still felt underlying anxiety knowing that his eyes were without a doubt on her right now, part of her couldn't help but be elated at the energy that the crowd gave her.

With one last smile for the cameras, she walked calmly back into the wings, like her heart wasn't about to pound out of her chest.

"Citizens of Panem,

May this President's Day have been an inspiring one. Despite the name, President's Day is not just a day for myself, but for every citizen of our great nation.

Not so long ago, we faced the Dark Days, a time of turmoil and tragedy. But as I look around me, I see a grand city, stronger and more prosperous than ever before. As President, I am beyond proud that I have gotten to participate in and witness the rebuilding of our beloved Capitol, from a city reduced to ashes, to the pride of Panem. And all of you should be proud too. Every citizen helps make the Capitol what it is.

Some wonder if we should slow down our progress. I will tell you, if you want the Capitol to remain magnificent, it's not possible. We must increase our progress as much as possible. Slowing down means falling off of the top. If a hovercraft stops flying, if the engines are turned off mid-air and it ceases to hover, it crashes to the ground.

Those who fall, get beaten. We don't want to be beaten. We refuse to be beaten.

The Capitol was almost beaten once, due to military deficiency, political deficiency, agricultural deficiency, and industrial deficiency. It was almost beaten because it could be done with impunity. You are slow, you are weak, therefore you are wrong, and can be beaten and enslaved.

If you are mighty, therefore you are right. Hence, we must be wary of you.

Do you want the Capitol to be beaten and to lose its independence? If you don't, you'll want the Capitol to progress as much as possible as quickly as possible. Progression is power.

We have assumed power. Now let's master science, let's master technology, and we'll have a power that can never be overthrown."

Corialanus Snow's silky voice pierced through Lucy Gray like a silver dagger. He had taken the stage now, and she was backstage again, watching his face loom down from a screen. A face that looked normal, almost innocent, but was a regular subject of her nightmares. She couldn't physically see him, hidden behind the iron curtain separating her from the audience, but she knew he was only mere feet away from her. Dread swept over her.

What was going to happen after his speech was over? Would he want to interrogate her? Would he gloat at her before having her thrown in prison?

She hoped he would just leave her be, but that seemed unlikely.

Between the lie about the Mentor training course that she'd been led to believe was a year long just for it to end after a couple of months, and the fact that she was chosen to sing at such a big event he would be in attendance at, he had to want her around for something, right?

Snow's speech sounded like it was beginning to wind down. While Lucy Gray had been wondering about what was going to happen to her after it was over, he was on the talking-about-presidents part of President's Day. Everyone else standing backstage seemed enraptured. Abelia, accompanying Lucy Gray as always, gazed up at the screen, eyes slightly widened. Lucy Gray found the speech rather boring, but was glad for the delay in finding out what would become of her. She tuned in again just when he was praising his predecessor, President Ravinstill, for "solving a number of Panem's greatest difficulties."

"May the Capitol forever shine, and stand as an unwavering symbol of progress."

This was the end. The churning in her stomach started moving at warp speed.

"And thank you to everyone who made today possible. To the Panem Peacekeeper Corps, Director Stephanus Black for his inspiring film about Capitol generosity, and Director Linus Anderson, for his informative documentary on Panem's past presidents, singer and Hunger Games Victor Lucy Gray Baird ..."

What that just her, or did his voice linger on her name for a moment?

"... For her rousing rendition of the National Anthem, and most of all, to every citizen of Panem. May your hearts swell with pride as we remember the past of our great nation."

The screen turned to an advertisem*nt as Snow apparently left the stage. Then Lucky Flickerman was on the screen, in a studio somewhere, saying "Wow! What a powerful speech to end the President's Day event! Here today is our historical expert, Corinna Caglieri. Now Corinna, what did you think of Anderson's take on ..."

"Wow! You were incredible out there!" exclaimed Abelia. "I bet you're going to be the talk of the town tonight!"

"Why, thank you. I sure did try my best!"

"And getting thanked, by name, by President Snow! I know you met before, but still! It must feel like a dream, now that he's President and all."

"It feels like a dream, alright. I can hardly believe it happened!"

It was true. Lucy Gray had felt like she was half in a trance for much of the day. There was a small part of her that wondered if this wasn't just a particularly vivid nightmare.

"Say, Abelia?"


"Where is President Snow? Isn't he coming backstage, like everyone else who was onstage?"

"No, no. I'd expect he's in a car right now, halfway to the Presidential Mansion. He's quite a busy man, you know - I doubt he has any spare time to hang around here with us.

Speaking of being in cars, we should get a move on. Big, big day today, I bet you're tired. Better get some dinner and a long sleep."

She didn't have to see Snow! All the pressure that had been gathered into a pit in the bottom of her stomach seemed to dissipate. Now she felt elated.

She'd been sure she was going to be punished in some way, but instead, she got to return to her pretty little apartment! And she didn't even have to physically see Coriolanus. She'd gotten to wear a beautiful dress and give the biggest performance of her life, with no interrogation or imprisonment afterwards.

During the ride home, she thought of her little family back in 12. Had the Covey seen her on TV? They tended not to turn on the television - no point, seeing as the power in 12 was usually off, and when it was on, they preferred using it for more practical reasons. Perhaps this was one of those televised events they'd talked about that were mandatory to watch? She didn't have a way to know right now, although she was sure she'd find out in a few months.

Would Maude Ivory be proud of her vocal performance? What would Clerk Carmine think about the orchestral arrangement? Would Barb Azure admire her dress? Maybe good-natured Tam Amber would twirl her around, pretending she was still wearing the rainbow gown?

Engrossed in these thoughts, Lucy Gray didn't notice the car had stopped until Abelia shook her shoulder.

That day, she had felt many emotions she would have preferred not to feel - anxiety, fear, worry, even nausea at one point - but she hadn't felt tired.

That is, until she stepped inside her apartment. All of the heaviness of the day started feeling like it was weighing down on her, and she could have fallen asleep right there in the hallway with how weary she felt.

Instead, she took her high-heeled shoes off, shook her hair out of its updo, leaving flowers strewn on the floor, and dragged herself to the kitchen. There was already a hot meal and a pot of tea on the table - she figured the Avoxes that worked in the apartment building must have known she would be returning from her big event around now and arranged to have dinner ready for her arrival.

Then, she went to the bathroom, easing herself out of the Capitol's elaborate version of her rainbow dress, throwing the bodice underneath on the floor. It felt like a crime to throw such beautiful garments haphazardly on the bathroom floor - but she hadn't realised how stifled and restricted she felt in them until she had arrived in the flat. She was tired to the bone, too exhausted to care about folding garments or hanging them up.

She sank into the already drawn bath, tense muscles beginning to relax.

And now, her big day had finally came to an end. In soft pyjamas, she retreated to her bedroom, looking forward to sinking into her big bed and drifting off into much needed sleep.

When she reached her bed, instead of relaxing, she grew heavy again. For there, nestled between downy pillows, was an envelope bearing her name.

She opened the envelope, which had a faint floral scent. A pristine, perfectly pressed, white rose fell out.

Feeling weak, she began to read the letter in her trembling hands:

To Lucy Gray Baird,

It has been several years since you were last in the Capitol, and soon the rose bushes will give birth to a new generation of buds. New flowers that grow where previous ones have withered remind us of death and rebirth. I hope that this one will serve as a reminder of the beauty and fragility of life.

We have much to talk about. Let's not delay in meeting each other.

Yours truly,

Coriolanus Snow.


I wrote most of this at almost 4am on a Monday when I had to be up at 7. Gotta take advantage of the writing bug while I have it, right?

If Snow's speech seems familiar, it's because I lifted parts of it from Stalin's "Either perish, or overtake" speech. Stalin's aim was to overtake and outstrip other countries rapidly after Russia being in a weak position recently in history. Snow's aim is similar here, except the Capitol has already overtaken the Districts despite being in poor position not all that long ago. He just wants to keep it on top, with as much space between the top and bottom as possible.

I imagine the Capitol would have multiple of these kinds of events per year, which would all come down to the same thing (displays of Capitol might and propaganda) but with a slightly different flair depending on the name, e.g President's Day, Victory Day, Veterans Day, etc. Some of them would just be a parade of Peacekeepers marching for an hour, and some would be an entire day with different events, but they'd all share one common theme - showing off Capitol supremacy.

We're finally getting into the Lucy/Coryo/Livia storyline! Yay! Next chapter will be quite Coryo-heavy. Hopefully it will be up by Sunday.

Chapter 9: Tear of Blood


Content warning for slight grossness: there's a description of a pig giving birth in this chapter, starting from "a few days ago, the youngest Everdeen boy, Joey ... "

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text


She waited.

And Waited.

And Waited.

A day passed by. Then two. Today made three.


There had been no word from Snow since she had found the letter on her bed. Why was he leaving her to wait around? Did he even want to meet her after all? Perhaps he'd changed his mind.

Or maybe he'd just gotten busy.

She supposed she couldn't complain about the delay. She had no desire to see him. But waiting felt like slow torture.

Still. She'd endured worse.

Something happened on the third day of waiting to distract her from her misery.

She'd received another letter.

When she'd checked the box with her number on it that morning, as she did every morning, awaiting mail that never arrived, she felt a flurry of nerves flutter up inside her stomach upon actually finding a letter, for once. Taking it out of the box with hands slightly shaking, she read her own name, written in what looked like charcoal on the brown envelope that had been stamped many times.

Charcoal is an odd thing to write on an envelope with. You'd think the Capitol would have used ink from one of their fancy printers ...

It hit her that the handwriting seemed familiar. Could this be ... ?

Opening the envelope, she noticed that the letter inside was dated to a month and a half ago.

Dearest Lucy Gray,

It's been a month since you had to leave us. A month! But it feels like a year. I still have this terrible sadness inside of me, but I just tell myself that by this time next year, you'll be back home. We're glad to read that you arrived safely in the Capitol, and hope that you're having a grand old time. The stuffed animal museum sounds very interesting! Morbid, but interesting. The garden sounds lovely - I'm sure Tam Amber would love it. He replanted a few maypops he found along the roadside a couple of weeks ago, which brighten up the outside of our house nicely. The fruits are edible too, so we've been making preserves for the winter.

We sheared Tulip recently, and spun some yarn out of her wool. We had some dye we got in the Hob a while ago, which we used to color some of the yarn in blue, red, and green. The rest of it, we left white.

Yesterday, Maude Ivory and I went to Jan, the tailor. How we haggled! Jan offered low. We wanted high. We argued. She argued back. On and on it went. We kept on, because we knew we would win in the end – Tulip has the finest wool in the Seam, after all. The finest wool in all of 12, if you ask me! We were both happy in the end, Jan with her yarn, and us with the coins that jangled in my pocket.

As we left the tailor shop, we saw some Peacekeepers in their white uniforms standing nearby. Even though we hadn’t done anything wrong, I couldn’t help but feel like we were in trouble somehow, I don’t know why. But as we started down the stone street, past the cobbler’s, the baker’s, and the apothecary, they just nodded and then went back to standing still.

On our way home, we saw a lady with a cart hitched to the back of a donkey. Her hair was gray, but her face still looked youthful and smooth. “What would you like to buy today?” she asked. She took a blanket off the back of the cart, showing us heaps of pots and pans; bracelets and charms; bundles of ribbons and lace; books; even paints and brushes.

The coins felt heavy in my pocket. It’s been such a long time since we bought anything fun, and now that we had some extra money, it wouldn’t do any harm to buy some treats, would it? Maude Ivory got two pretty ribbons for her hair, one white, one blue, and I got a beaded bracelet. For Clerk Carmine, we got a book of poetry, and for Tam Amber, we got some new paints. I decided to get a new cooking pot too, seeing as ours is burnt and scratched. "You drive a hard bargain," the lady said. Even though we'd practically bought half her cart! After this, we will guard the rest of the coins.

A few days ago, the youngest Everdeen boy, Joey, knocked on our door. “Our sow is having trouble with her piglets,” he said. “Can you come?” I hurried to their house, a block and five houses away from ours.

The pig lay on her side on some straw, too weak to move. She had been laboring for five hours. Con, the eldest, and I tied a rope around the sow’s legs so that she wouldn’t kick. Then I rolled up my sleeve, and stuck my arm up to the shoulder in the sow’s hind parts. How she complained!

I worked to turn the piglet who had been stuck inside. Then at last, I withdrew my arm and waited. The sow heaved as if she was taking a heavy breath. Then water gushed out of her, and a small snout emerged from her hind parts in a milky sac. Shoulders and forelegs appeared after another heave. Then finally, the piglet slid out. Then another. And another. Until 10 little piglets were born.

The sow forgot her complaints and sniffed her piglets all over. The strongest piglets were already making a move to suckle on her teats. The Everdeens paid me with 2 sacks of barley flour.

Tam Amber got himself a girlfriend. She's the opposite of him in what seems like every way. He's tall; she's short. He doesn't talk much at all; she gabs all the time. They do say that opposites attract - maybe it's a perfect match?

Clerk Carmine is trying to teach himself about electronics from library books. I don't know why, seeing as we don't have any, unless you count the television, the oven, and the stove. I think he must have read every book about computers and technology at the library (which, in all fairness, is probably easy, seeing as it's just a tiny building with a tinier technology section. Why, I wouldn't be surprised if he's read most of the books in there over the years). He says that it's always good to keep up-to-date with the latest technological goings on, but I'm doubtful of how successful he'll be on that front, seeing as I don't think that library has gotten a new book since the Dark Days ended.

That's all that's been going on here lately. I'm sure that the Capitol is much more interesting than what we get up to here in the Seam. Are you planning on visiting more museums? Or buying any more clothes? How are your lessons going? You must have started the Mentor thingy by now, right?

Please write back soon! We all miss you very much and can't wait to hear from you!

Lots of love,

Barb Azure,

Lucy Gray kept reading the letter over and over again, taking in each word over and over again, gripping the paper in her hands as if trying to make sure it was real.

She thought she was never going to receive a reply to the letter she'd sent all those weeks ago. She still clung to a slim hope that maybe, just maybe, she'd get a surprise in her mailbox, but she'd been doubtful she would ever get one. After all, she had sent that initial letter so long ago. She'd figured it must have been forbidden to write to people in other parts of Panem.

But here a letter from 12 was, in her hand, as real as the birds chirping in the trees or the grass growing in the garden.

What was the hold-up? The letter from Barb Azure was dated to ages ago. Maybe that was just how long it took for mail from District 12 to reach the Capitol. They were on opposite sides of the country, after all.

But part of her worried ...

What if it was intercepted?

How many prying eyes potentially saw the contents of Barb Azure's letter? Sure, it didn't look like it had been tampered with. But maybe the Capitol knew how to open and reseal an envelope without making it look obvious.

She figured she'd have to be very careful about what she wrote about in her next letter. Could she write about things she didn't like about the Capitol? For example, how she felt they were trapping her in this apartment? How the pretty manicured gardens in the Capitol had nothing on the untamed nature in the Meadow? Mentioning Snow wants to talk to me is definitely out, she thought.

Speaking of Snow, she thought about him less and less since receiving the letter. It was the distraction she needed. Who has time to think about their awful ex-boyfriend 24/7 when they've just gotten word from their family from the first time in months?

Not that her thoughts of Snow went away completely. Sometimes she remembered his note to her like a sudden jolt of electricity. She would be sleeping, or reading a book, or drinking tea, when suddenly -

We have much to talk about. Let's not delay in meeting each other.

- flashed through her mind.

Thinking about Coriolanus was something she normally preferred not to do. Goodness knows that after getting over the initial shock of what happened that day in the woods, she'd tried her best to put him out of her mind. He'd floated into her head every once in a while, just like Billy Taupe did. Doesn't everyone remember the existence of their exes sometimes?

Usually, Lucy Gray would put these memories out of her head almost as soon as she'd thought of them. But this time she was forced to think.



Things came to a head almost a full week after receiving Snow's note.

One morning, Abelia said, "Get dressed. Wear something nice. Something very exciting is happening today!"

Lucy Gray's stomach felt like someone had dropped a brick into it. Ah, so this is it.

What else could be happening to her that was so exciting she had to dress up nice and go out somewhere except for meeting Snow? She doubted another performance was on the cards, or that she'd been invited to Maren's movie premiere or anything like that.

This could only be the meeting with Snow.

One outfit change - into a knee-length black dress with embroidered vines and flowers - later, and she was being bundled into an official-looking black car.

The ride was only about 20 minutes, but it felt long and tense.

The car rolled to a stop. She got out of the car, where a man in a suit greeted her and led her through a garden thick with leafy green trees.

After a few minutes, they arrived at the Presidential Mansion. But they weren't at the front.

She could still recognise it as the Presidential Mansion from the huge, white, marble magnificence of it. And where else would she be meeting Snow anyway?

She supposed that he or anyone else official that worked there must take the back entrance to avoid prying eyes. After all, civilians did use the front entrance when they were going inside for tours.

"This way, Ma'am," said the man in the suit, leading her inside, then directing her to one of several mahogany doors along the corridor.

"Good morning, Lucy Gray."

The first thing she noticed was that he looked sallow. The second thing she noticed were the bags under his eyes. His hair was still blond and silky, his teeth were straight and white, and he was dressed well - he even had a white rose in his lapel, like the first time she saw him.

Well, I may have a lot of choice words to say about him, but I can't fault him on his attention to detail.

But his pallor seemed noticeable, despite his other features being the same. It wasn't noticeable that day when she saw him on the screen, but she supposed he'd been caked in makeup that day to look perfect for the cameras like she'd been. In person though, one could definitely tell that he felt fatigued.

"It's been such a long time since we've seen each other. You look just as beautiful as I remember. Please sit down, have some tea," he said, pouring her a cup from a beautiful but delicate looking teapot. "How have you been?" he continued, his voice sounding livelier than his appearance made him seem.

"Oh, I've been just fine, Coriolanus. Not up to much really. I'm sure your life has been more interesting than mine."

"Hmm, are you sure about that?"

"Well, obviously getting to sing on President's Day was very exciting. Congratulations, by the way. But I'd say other than that, things have been normal. It's fine though. I think the older I get, the more I prefer the quiet life."

"Really? But you know, Lucy Gray, you've always led such an exciting and colorful life. I'm sure you must have gotten up to something interesting in the years since we last saw each other."

"How do you mean?" she asked, feeling like something bad was about to happen.

"Let's just agree to be honest with each other. I think it would make things easier, don't you?"

"S'pose it would."

"So what were you doing when you left 12 for all those years?"

Damn. So he knew.

He started by having her talk about people she'd encountered in the wilderness, which was tricky. She didn't want to name names, so tried to be as vague as possible. He made her estimate how far she'd ventured from 12, and draw a map of the world beyond Panem, which was hard, because it had been trees and foliage as far as the eye could see. There weren't any specific markers anywhere. He asked about housing and shelter people built, almost like he expected a whole town of people who dropped out of society to exist in the middle of nowhere.

"Are you sure that's all?"

"I promise, I truly didn't see anything else."

"Alright. I believe you."

"So can I leave now? I've answered all your questions."

"Hmmmm. No. I tried to be as gentle as possible, but I know it must have been stressful for you - it could've been worse though. You know, I was advised to let a Peacekeeper handle it, but I wanted to ask you myself. They can be a little ... rough, with alleged criminals. And I think you'd be more honest with me. After all, we go way back ... " He drifted off for a moment.

"We go way back alright. Don't you think I don't remember way back when you tried to kill me."

She was aware when those words left her mouth that she was playing with fire. For the duration of the meeting, she'd done her best to tread carefully. But she'd be darned if she was going to sit there and let that murderer reminisce on their past like everything was fine.

The room, which had already been tense while Corialanus was playing 20 questions with her, now felt like the inside of a pressure cooker.

His face seemed to go through multiple different emotions at once. Then a pause, before he said:

"I'm sorry."

"Really? Is that all you have to say, Coriolanus Snow? You almost murdered me and all you have to say is "I'm sorry?"

"I mean it. I really am sorry. Look, I was really mad at you at the time, I thought you'd tricked me with the snake ... Then I found out it came out because of the rain, but I was still mad ... But then, after a while, I started regretting it. I regret how things ended, I truly do. And I hoped you lived, I really did.

The truth is ... you're the only person who ever made me feel anything. I never felt drawn to anyone else the way I was to you. Which made it easy to swear off love. You were my first love, and my last love.

You know, they destroyed all the recordings of your Games after it ended up being such a disaster. Except for one, the master tape. After Dr Gaul passed, it came into my possession.

At first, I resisted the temptation to watch it. But every day the urge became stronger, until I couldn't stop myself, and all the old feelings came flooding back. I had to see you again."

His light eyes were shining like diamonds now. He almost looked like the kid with a crush on her again, who'd brought her little gifts and tried to take care of her.

For just one moment, Lucy Gray felt moved by this declaration of undying love. She was a romantic at heart, after all.

But she came to her senses almost immediately afterwards. It didn't matter how much he said he missed her or regretted what he did.

"Sorry Coriolanus, but there's just no going back. The things you did aren't things I can move past. I need to go back to my life in 12, and you need to take care of your life here. We're better off apart."

"No, you're better off with me. I get it, I know I made a massive mistake. But I've learned my lesson. I regret it everyday. I promise I will never lay a finger on you again. I'll give you anything you want. With me, you'll always be safe. And I'll make sure your family are safe too."

She noted he put a slight emphasis on the word family, which just made her anxiety even stronger. Was he merely trying to charm her? Or was this a subtle threat to try and cajole her into accepting his confession?

"Thanks. But no thanks," she said.

"I thought you were going to say that. Oh well. A Snow is always ready to take on a challenge."

He took her hand, which had been resting on the table between them.

"I'll let you go now. Thank you for your time."

He had slipped something into her hand when he placed his own hand on it. When she arrived back to the penthouse, after sitting down for a few minutes to regain her composure, she started inspecting this mystery item. She peered inside the small pouch it was in, and saw that it was only a tiny box. A very fancy tiny box - wrapped in pale gold paper with the name of a fancy jewellery store embossed on it and tied up in a red satin ribbon.

What could be in a box this small? The only thing she could think of was a ring, but that seemed ludicrously forward, even for a man shameless enough to confess love to his attempted murder victim.

She opened it, and found a jewel. It was a ruby, about the size of a peach pit. The sun shining through the window sparkled on it, making it gleam. She thought it looked like a giant drop of blood.


I wanted the meeting between Snow and Lucy Gray to slightly mirror the scene in Catching Fire when Snow shows up at Katniss' house and she's worrying about being in big trouble but it's not as big trouble as she thought, because instead of having her executed he just tells her she has to do something very stressful. It's lower stakes here, as unlike Katniss, Lucy Gray isn't being asked to act in front of the entire nation in an attempt to quell pro-Rebel sentiment.

Sorry for the delay (at least it wasn't three months again, I guess) and thanks for 200+ kudos, holy crap! Thanks for leaving comments too! I'll try to reply to the ones I've gotten sometime soon. It's nice to hear feedback, especially because this is my first time writing something that isn't one-shot fluff/smut, so actually planning out chapters and a plot is new and uncharted territory to me.

I might go back and re-edit this chapter at some point. This is another 4am write, motivated by my guilt at promising a new chapter six days ago and not delivering. I think some of the word choices may be weak and I'm worried about OOC.

Chapter 10: The Play


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text


To Barb Azure,

You wouldn't believe how happy I was to receive your letter! I thought the letter I sent must have gotten lost. I guess it just took a while to get delivered because 12 is so far away from the Capitol. Goodness knows when you'll get this letter, hopefully it won't take quite as long as last time.

I'm so happy to hear about Tam Amber and his girlfriend! I hope things are going well for them. You know, I think opposites do attract, so that bodes well for them, if you ask me.

You reminded me when you mentioned CC and the library, I must remember to bring some books back with me when I return to 12. They've got all sorts of books here, including up-to-date technology books. Up-to-date books about any subject you can imagine, really. I probably won't even be able to carry my bags with the amount of books I'm going to bring back!

The biggest thing that happened to me lately was that I saw a friend of mine who I haven't seen in a while. I almost felt like I was in a daze; as if I was in a dream of being in a meadow with softly falling snow. I didn't know what to expect because it had been a long time, but I think it went well. Things were said that made my cheeks blush rose. My heart was racing.

Apart from that, the most interesting thing that happened to me was finding out I'm famous! I went out the other day to get some fresh air, and what should I see but my own face looking at me! The kiosks were selling magazines with my face on them. It was such a shock, for a few minutes I thought I'd gone mad! I guess people must have liked my President Day's performance a lot.

I flipped through one, and it was interesting, to say the least. They know I wasn't born in 12 - I guess some old interview footage mentioning it from my Games must be still kicking about somewhere - but their guesses about my place of birth are a bit more glamorous than where it probably was. Get this - they're saying I was born on the peak of Mount Aventine, under a bright star, to a mother who was an opera singer and a father who was a concert pianist, who toured around the country together with me in tow before unfortunately becoming stranded in 12 after the Dark Days shut down travel between the Districts, never to return to their real home in the Capitol ever again. Well, at least they got the part about our family getting stuck in 12 right, if nothing else.

I still have my tutors visiting each day. I'm starting to find their subjects a bit boring, to be honest. But I missed a lot of schooling - my knowledge feels like a textbook that's been nibbled at by mice - so I suppose I could do with the lessons making up for what I missed in school. The lessons on Capitol manners and affectations and all that feel useless though. It's easy to act lighthearted and charming, but I'll never need them outside of the Capitol, and I'm only going to be here once a year, so there's not much of a point to them, if you ask me. I'd rather take piano lessons or something - d'you reckon they'd let me bring a keyboard back with me?

I'm not sure when I'll be back, hopefully it will be soon. Really missing you and the Covey. The Capitol is nice, but home is where the heart is, after all.

Who knows? Perhaps I'll be back before this letter arrives!

Send my love to Maude Ivory, Clerk Carmine, and Tam Amber - although I'm sure they'll read this anyway. I miss you all so much!

Lots of love,

Lucy Gray Baird

She sealed the letter into its envelope. Yes, she supposed life had once again changed for her in a short amount of time, but she didn't feel the change this time. It was hard to feel famous when she was holed up inside half the time. One moment she was a newly famous Capitol starlet, the next she was stuck inside, with as much attention on her as she'd had before the performance - none at all.

Technically, she could leave the penthouse whenever she wanted, but having a minder breathing down her neck was so stifling it had reached a point where she'd rather just stay in her room.

If Coriolanus really wants to make it up to me, he should start by not caging me in all day unless I'm being watched over like a child.

If he was so proud of her talent that he trotted her out on stage for the whole country to see, then why was he making her choose between either rotting inside all day or being guided around by someone intent on shielding her from human interaction anyway?

She still had the ruby he'd given her. She wasn't sure what to do with it. Most of the time, she just kept it in its box, stored at the bottom of a press. She didn't feel comfortable with a gift from Snow and thought it was best for it to be out of sight, out of mind.

But sometimes, she would somehow feel drawn to the ruby, and even though it reminded her of someone she hated, she couldn't help but gaze at it. She'd hold it up near the window, watching it sparkle in the sunlight, noting how clear and pristine it was, admiring the blazing redness of it.

She didn't know all that much about fine jewels, but even she could tell this was a ruby of the highest calibre. And it was quite large too. A ruby like this must have been rare. It must have cost a fortune. He must have really wanted to impress her.

Coriolanus, if you think you can buy my affection ... you're sorely mistaken!

And with that thought, she'd always end up putting the jewel back in its box and putting it back in its hiding place.

"I want to know when I can go home. I've finished the training course. I sang on President's Day. I spoke to the President. There's nothing else for me to do here. I don't know why I have to stay here for a year doing nothing all day long. I want to see my family. I have to go back to my job. I need to go back to 12."

"It's not that easy," Abelia sighed. "I have no control over inter-Panem travel; my job is just to keep you safe here in the Capitol.

There are a lot of hoops you'd have to jump through anyway. You're not allowed to leave the Capitol without official authorisation. Loads of paperwork and special documents needed."

"I was under the belief I'd be able to go back to 12 after fulfilling my duties here. I've done them, much faster than I was told they'd take. And instead of holding up your end of the deal, you're telling me I have to stay here, bored and miserable, either trapped inside all day or with you watching me like a hawk if I want to so much as take a walk?"

"Look, Miss Baird. I understand why you're frustrated. I do. I've got a family too you know. I wouldn't want to be away from mine for too long either. But I can't do anything for you. The most I can do is get you an application for inter-district travel from the Ministry of Domestic Affairs. You can fill it out, and hopefully you'll get the answer you want. They have no reason to say no."

"Alright," said Lucy Gray. "Get me one of these applications."

Lucy Gray was feeling confined and cramped by this life in the Capitol, no matter how luxurious it was. She felt like a prisoner in paradise on Earth. The only thing that had been keeping her polite and cheerful was the belief that she'd be able to return to her family after doing everything that was asked of her, but a week had passed since she'd met with Snow, the final thing she'd been informed she had to do, and no word had been given to her about going back to 12 yet. How long were they going to keep her around here? Were they really going to keep her in the Capitol for a year, like she was told the Mentor training course would be before it ended up only taking a couple of months? Her bags, which she'd already packed with as many things like books and clothes and fancy soaps from the penthouse as she could fit, were starting to gather dust.

She paced around the manicured atrium garden in the apartment building, deciding walking around it in a circle for the umpteenth time was better than being inside all day.

She remembered all the trips to the Meadow with the Covey she had taken as a girl. It had been overgrown and isolated, but that made it all the more charming. Wildflowers dotted the grass like stars and the mockingjays in the sky sounded just as good as any orchestra.

She walked quickly away from the garden, suddenly sad.

When she arrived back in the penthouse, there was a paper on the table that hadn't been there before. Getting a closer look, she saw that printed on top of it in large letters was Panem Ministry of Domestic Affairs.

Abelia must have gotten her a travel application form like she'd said. Lucy Gray was honestly surprised. She'd thought Abelia had just told her about the form to placate her. Her hopes of actually receiving one had been low.

But here it was.

The document was multiple pages long, and there was a long list of different questions. Some of them were difficult to answer - she didn't know what to put down as her place of birth, so she just wrote Panem. And was leaving blank the part about disclosing any previous criminal activity a wise choice, even though she'd never been convicted for her defection? She knew the Capitol was aware of it, even though they'd chosen to turn a blind eye.

There was a part asking for references who could vouch for her character and purpose of travel. After a long time spent deliberating, she filled in the box with Coriolanus Snow..

It was a long shot. But she didn't know anyone else who she could put down as a reference, apart from Abelia, who worked for her. Snow had seemed apologetic during their meeting, and apparently wanted to make amends, so perhaps he would be willing to tell whoever was in charge of inter-Panem travel that she should be allowed to go back to 12. They couldn't ignore the President's opinion, right?

If he even sees this, that is.

Two days later, she received a letter in the mail.

She opened the letter, expecting a response to her application - probably a rejection letter.

Instead, there was a neatly typed up note on a piece of paper monagrammed with the Capitol coat of arms.

Dearest Lucy Gray,

I hope this note finds you in good health and high spirits.

I would be honored if you would do me the honor of meeting me at the Capitol Grand Theatre on Friday at 7pm. I will be in the private box on the second level.

Yours sincerely,
Coriolanus Snow.

Friday came, and once again she was inside a big black car, clothed in a suede green dress and a jacket with dark green rhinestone leaves on it, her hair in a pretty knotted hairstyle.

What did he want this time? Whatever it was, she wasn't leaving without talking to him about sending her back to 12.

After the car stopped, she was ushered into a side entrance of the theatre and led into a box separate from the main auditorium. It was small, but the view of the stage was excellent.

Sitting in a plush red chair was Snow, idly fiddling with the white rose in his lapel.

"Ah! Lucy Gray! Good evening, I'm so glad you could make it. You look lovely. " he greeted her.

"Thanks for the invite," she replied, sounding more curt than she intended.

"I was wondering if you'd even come. I know you're still upset with me."

"Didn't reckon I had much of a choice."

"Touché. You know I would never force you to come, though. "

Lucy Gray had to stop herself from rolling her eyes. Everything about her stay in the Capitol was by force.

"Why'd you invite me here? I thought we had no more business together after the last time we saw each other."

"Well, after you performed for the President's Day event, I thought it would be nice to invite you to watch a performance. It's just polite to say thank you, isn't it? Especially to an old friend."

"That's thoughtful of ya. Been a long time since I've been to a show that's not one of my own."

"Well, you enjoy yourself. May I offer you a drink?"

"No thanks," she declined, not usually one to refuse a drink or two on a special evening, but not trusting a drink Snow gave her to be safe, even though she knew the idea of the President poisoning his own Victor inside a full theatre was ludicrous.

"You can answer a question for me, though."


"When will I be going back to 12? I've outstayed my welcome here in the Capitol; finished everything I was told I had to do."

"You're always welcome in the Capitol. But to answer your question: I don't know. Travel arrangements aren't something I handle. The Ministry of Domestic Affairs takes care of that kind of thing."

"I sent in an application to them, they haven't gotten back to me yet."

"These things take time, Lucy Gray. It could take months for your application to be processed. Although I hope you choose to stay in the Capitol. You're better off here anyway."

"Months? I don't want to be away from the Covey for anymore months than I already have been. I don't want months more of not being able to go outside without a babysitter. What is months more of this going to accomp - "

"Do settle down, Lucy Gray. The show is starting."

Distracted by this interruption, Lucy Gray realised an orchestral overture had just started up.

The curtains began to rise, and in spite of herself, Lucy Gray felt her heart thump with excitement. She watched with fascination as a lady in a fluffy white dress and a handsome man danced to hauntingly beautiful music, telling the story of a poor woman cursed to turn into a swan each night and a charming prince who was in love with her. By the time the curtains fell, she was leaning forward in her seat, so entranced she'd almost forgotten who she was watching with.

"Did you enjoy it?" she heard Snow ask, bringing her back down to reality.

"Yeah, I did," she admitted. "It was beautiful."

"Good," he replied. "That was one of a series of performances from Dances of the Old Capitol. I was a bit worried it would be too tragic for you. Glad to hear you liked it."

"I just wish Maude Ivory was here. She's such a romantic, she would have loved it."

" ... You really miss them, don't you?"

"Of course I do. They're my family."

He sighed softly.

"The Covey are good people. I don't want to make any promises, but you'll see them again.

I don't want to keep you hanging around all night. It's late. But before I let you go, close your eyes."

She felt his hand touch her head for a few moments, fixing something into her dark hair.

"Thank you for the wonderful night," he said before taking his leave. "You're a pleasure to go to the theatre with."

When she got home, one of the first things she did was remove whatever it was he had placed on her head. It turned out to be an intricate ornamental comb. It was silver, a half-circle shape adorned with showy flowers made from mother-of-pearl.

She put it in the drawer with the ruby.


I'm sorry, this chapter was basically filler, which is annoying considering it came after nearly two weeks. I was originally going to write some actual plot, but then I realised what I had planned for this chapter wouldn't make sense with the timeline I have planned for this fic. Basically I was going to write something that would feel really rushed if it happened at this stage. I didn't want to not update at all while tweaking things though, so I published this chapter.

- Mount Aventine is named after Aventine Hill, one of the Seven Hills upon which Rome was built

- The tabloid story about Lucy Gray's parents being a travelling concert pianist and opera singer is inspired by the publicity which surrounded Theda Bara, Hollywood's first ever Vamp. According to Hollywood PR, Theda was "born in Egypt, under the shadow of the Sphinx" to a French actress mother and an Italian sculptor father, her name was an anagram for "Arab Death," she had been trained as an actress in Paris by Sarah Bernhardt, and Isadora Duncan had taught her how to walk in a "serpentine fashion." In reality, she came from a middle class Jewish family in Cincinnati, her name was a mixture of her nickname and a surname on her mother's side, and she had never stepped foot in either Egypt or France. I've always found it to be such an interesting story - very glamorous and wholly invented, but despite how ludicrously over the top it was, the media pushed it and a lot of the general public believed it, or at least wanted to believe it. (Article here about this for anyone who like me, is intrigued by Old Hollywood and its sensationalised media campaigns

- The details of Lucy Gray's dress and how she became famous but didn't feel famous due to isolation comes from Mackenzie Phillips' memoir. I know a 70s sitcom star/Disney Channel mom is an incredibly random source of inspiration, but I read her book last month and oh my god??? It's just gut punch after gut punch. And it definitely made an impression on me. Even if you don't know who Mackenzie is (I didn't before reading it tbh, I just saw the book recommended in a r/fauxmoi comment section after her brother in law Danny Masterson was jailed and I happen to love a good biography), I would totally recommend it if you're interested in learning about the seedy underbelly of Hollywood or about drug addiction. It's eye opening.

I've gone off-topic, so I will leave it here, and hope you enjoyed!

Chapter 11: Winter


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text


In the days that followed after her trip to the theatre, something odd happened.

Lucy Gray was left alone.

Well, not all alone. The two middle aged ladies respectively still turned up to teach her things like how to sit with good posture and how the Capitol had revolutionized the Intranet. But apart from that, she was alone.

At first she'd wondered if she'd misremembered Abelia's day off. Then she thought she must have gotten sick or something.

She took her chances and decided to head out alone, despite her hopes of making it outside alone being low. And to her surprise, the elevator still worked. The fire escape wasn't blocked off. The security guards didn't try to stop her from leaving. The receptionist didn't pay attention to her when she passed by the front desk and exited the building.

What was going on? Usually, everyone interfered whenever she tried to go out alone. But now, it seemed that her chaperone had gone missing and the apartment building staff were apathetic to Lucy Gray and her whereabouts.

She was curious about what could have brought on this sudden change in circ*mstances, but didn't question it. She just went outside.

She went to a great many places by herself. She strolled around the local park alone. She spent time reading in the library, even though there were plenty of books in the apartment. She took to visiting music shops and running her fingers across the grand pianos and harps. Occasionally she was recognised by people, despite being dressed very plainly compared to her television appearance. A few people even asked for her autograph, which she gave gladly.

One day, she visited an art museum, and was surprised to run into a familiar face.

"That's not you, is it, Lucy Gray?"

The green eyes of Rubean, the Victor from 1 who had been surprisingly nice to her, were squinting at her, like he couldn't quite tell if it were her or not.

"Yeah, it's me. Nice to see ya. Surprised you're still in the Capitol - the course ended a while ago."

" I got permission to stay on and study at a university here. I'm studying Mixed Media Art. Y'know, my grandpa and great-grandpa were both artists. Pretty good ones too - there are a couple of their works in this gallery, as a matter of fact."

"Really? That's mighty interesting! You oughta show me their paintings sometime."

"But anyway, why are you here? I thought you would have gone back to 12?"

"Well, I thought I was going back to 12. But apparently my paperwork hasn't been filed or something like that ... So I'm here until its all sorted out. It's silly though, cuz I was able to come here without needing to fuss about all these documents, but now I have to have all of this carry-on with the government if I want to go back?"

"Weird. When I came here, the guy from the Capitol that traveled with me was the one who sorted out all the paperwork, I think. He had all these papers in a briefcase and every few stops he'd pull one out, leave the carriage for a bit, then come back with the paper stamped. I guess those are the documents you need to travel? Of course, I'm sure there are lots more you need just to get to the train station in the first place, but that shouldn't be your job. They should have it sorted out without you having to stress about it. I mean, it's their job, right? They were able to do it before, so why not now?"

"I haven't a clue," Lucy Gray replied, which wasn't strictly true. She was starting to believe more and more that she was deliberately being kept in the Capitol, but obviously she couldn't tell Rubean that she believed she'd been practically kidnapped. "Could be that my travel documents got lost in the mail or something. Or it could be an issue with not being sure of my exact place of birth. Although they overlooked it when I was coming here, so I don't know why they don't just do it again instead of complicating everything. What does the Capitol want with a girl from 12 hanging around anyway?"

"Ah, but you're not just a girl from 12 though, are you? I mean, you had that whole performance in front of the whole Capitol, right? It was really good, by the way."

"Why, thank you. I'll admit I was nervous up on that stage in front of all the cameras, and normally I don't feel jittery while performing. I did try my best to put on a good show though."

"And it worked! You're basically a celebrity now - the fashion students at my school seem to love you anyway. A lot of rainbow themed projects suddenly popped up after your show. I even saw a few carrying that one fashion magazine that did a spread on your outfit around for inspiration."

"That's awfully flattering. Little ol' me, having my dress used by fashion students for inspiration! Y'know, most of my nice dresses back home were hand-me-downs from my mama, and most of my new dresses were made for wear, not looks. I never would have imagined a dress of mine would end up in a magazine, or that fashion students would be using my dress as inspiration for their own designs."

"You'd better believe it! Honestly, if they never sort out your travel arrangements you should try applying to my school. Then you'll see what I mean. I'm telling ya Lucy Gray, at this point you might as well be a fashion icon. They need to put that dress in a museum or something."

"Oh Rubean," she laughed, "you and I both know that ain't true. I appreciate your enthusiasm for my outfit though - you've sure got good taste!"

"Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a little bit. But who wouldn't be excited over a poofy rainbow dress with embroidery and shoes with literal gemstones? I sure am! Maybe it's just in my DNA though - I am from 1 y'know. We've got an eye for these things. Speaking of which ... Should I show you those paintings by my relatives? They're beautiful, I promise. One of them even has a rainbow in it."

Now that Lucy Gray had a friend in the Capitol, she felt much better. Sitting alone in the apartment with her big TV and shelves of books was all very well at first, but got boring and stifling after a couple of weeks when the novelty had worn off. Finally being able to go out undisturbed, and having a friend to do it with lifted her spirits immensely.

Rubean seemed to know all the best places in the Capitol too. It seemed his freedoms had not been as limited as hers for the months he'd been living there, so he had more opportunities to explore. He showed her all kinds of places. They went to the cinema, which Lucy Gray hadn't been to since she was very little, and visited an arcade, trying and failing to win each other toys from the crane machine. The rides in the amusem*nt park made Lucy Gray's stomach churn, but the simple activity of trying to paint each other's portraits over coffee brought her joy, even if her painting was way worse than Rubean's.

The downside of befriending Rubean is that an unpleasant character now occasionally reappeared in her life - Maren.

Maren was mostly busy with filming her movie, so she only turned up at Lucy Gray and Rubean's excursions sporadically. But when she did, it felt as though the fun had disappeared, like a deflating balloon.

"Who invited you?" she'd asked the first time she joined them on an outing.

"Who do you think? Rubean did! He's my friend too, ya know."

"Maren is Maren. But she's not a bad person," Rubean had told her after the first day she'd tagged along. "She reckons you're going to have an easier time when the Games roll around because Snow was your Mentor. Thinks you're going to get privileges that the rest of us won't. She'll probably settle down when summer comes around and District 12 aren't automatically declared the Victor as soon as the Games begin because of who their Mentor is."

These days spent with Maren were tense, but mostly uneventful apart from the occasional subtle dig Maren threw her way. Lucy Gray reckoned she was being tame for Rubean's sake. But it seemed clear that Maren still didn't like her. Maren was nothing compared to some of the people she'd had to deal with throughout the years, but it still felt annoying being made to feel like she was a third wheel on her own days out with her friend.

Luckily, Maren was a movie star, or almost one anyway. So these intrusions were rare. Maren was a busy woman; she spent most days filming from morning to evening, or so she said. The long hours were fine, she said, because it meant her film would come out sooner. Movies in the new improved Capitol took months instead of years, like they had in the not-so-distant past. Technological advancements meant that special effects could be added rapidly and that footage could be edited in real-time, along with a bunch of other film-making improvements Lucy Gray couldn't really remember, cutting the film-making process down from years to months. These techniques had first been developed for use in Capitol propaganda during the Dark Days, but had been rolled out for use by the public a couple of years prior to Maren's movie being announced. Indeed, it seemed the Capitol had been churning out movies. There were constantly new ones being advertised; new starlets on the covers of magazines. Rubean said Maren had an advantage over the rest because of her Victor status. The others were Capitol born and bred, mostly from cushy backgrounds. Maren already had interest from the public and was a recognizable face, so she didn't have to compete with the clonelike Capitol actresses to try and stand out. She simply already did. So the movie bigwigs had been eager to snatch her up. As a matter of fact, the movie seemed like it was made just for her - she played a mermaid, so she got to show off her District 4 swimming skills. Apparently her character also had a bunch of fantasy-like traits too, like being able to talk to sea creatures and control the ocean weather with her emotions - calm when she was content, rough and choppy when she was mad or upset. The main conflict of the story was something like having to resolve an issue concerning her relationship with her love interest, played by some male model, and the seas returning to a sweet, still, stable state after everything gets sorted and they live happily ever after.

The days turned colder and darker as fall rolled into winter. Two things happened during this time, one welcome and one unwanted.

The good news was that at long last, Lucy Gray had received a letter from the Panem Ministry of Domestic Affairs, which shockingly, instead of a rejection letter, was a letter informing her that her application had been approved and she was allowed to return to District 12. She had not at all been expecting this news. Truthfully, she thought she was going to be trapped in the Capitol indefinitely. Which is why she was completely over the moon and as giddy as a small child. She started packing her bags with random things from the apartment that might be useful to the Covey, like fluffy towels and orange blossom scented candles, and she went out and bought gifts too, like warm winter coats and boxes of marzipan treats. She was so excited that at one point she danced around the apartment in joy, her skirt spinning out.

Her excitement was tempered a few days later when she got another letter in the mail. This letter informed her that she'd been booked to perform at an event at the Presidential Mansion for Remembrance Day, always celebrated in mid-winter. So she had to stay here until the holiday was over. She was bitterly disappointed, but she supposed she had to get through it. She'd already been waiting for all these months - what difference did another few weeks make, really?

For the performance, she was required to play not on her own, but with a pianist and a violinist. The pianist was a guy called Marius, who was slightly bumbling, but very precise on the piano. The violinist was a woman about Lucy Gray's age called Lavinia, who was calm, composed, and elegant. In the weeks leading up to the performance, they met up to practice a roster of traditional winter songs.

In the lead up to the big day, the Capitol was transformed into a world of light and color, bustling with activity. Stalls were set up on the streets, selling trinkets and toys one could give to their families as gifts, and the scent of spiced desserts and rich hot chocolate wafted out of café doors. The citizens of the Capitol could commonly be seen wearing lined coats which almost swept the ground, and laced up boots fitting tightly around their ankles. On their heads they wore caps of jewel colored velvet or brocade, and around their necks were scarves made from warm wool or cashmere dyed in a rainbow of different colors. District 12, by comparison, always seemed plain and gray at this time of year, but the merry atmosphere existed inside people's homes, albeit in a simpler form. Candles and wooden toys and cuddling up under a warm blanket were joyful too, even if it was less extravagant that what the Capitol was doing at this time of year.

The day of the performance arrived, and once again Lucy Gray was shuffled off to the Presidential Mansion. Here, her stylist Mimi, was waiting in one of the many rooms inside the vast building. Lavinia was there too, already dressed in a deep emerald green dress with gold embroidery. Lucy Gray was put in a dress which was almost the same, except a shade of deep burgundy instead of green.

They were led into a large room, with employees in velvet bow-ties arranging plates of canapés on tables and bearing large silver trays on their heads. Marius was sitting behind a grand piano which faced a table in the center of the room, shuffling through some sheet music. None of the guests were here yet. Lucy Gray figured they'd be fancy Capitol people. Maybe politicians, since they were in the Presidential Mansion, after all. She didn't think just anyone would get invited to a party here.

Lavinia, Lucy Gray, and Marius quickly ran through the songs they'd be performing one last time. Then finally, not long after the last delicately embroidered silk napkin wrapped in a ring made from mother-of-pearl was laid down, guests in suits and formal dresses started filtering in.

Lucy Gray peered from her station with the other musicians at the guests walking in. She knew that seeing Snow again was just going to sicken her, but she couldn't help but watch out for him even though she knew she should just ignore him, get on with her job, then get ready to go back to 12. She did like admiring the details of the ladies dresses and jewellery, which was a handy distraction. At one point, she saw a big burly man in a sharp suit enter who she thought she recognized, but obviously she couldn't have known him.

Presently, the man she'd been dreading walked in, in a tailored suit, bright blond hair standing out even from where Lucy Gray was standing across the room. She watched him take a seat at the table that was closest to where the trio of musicians were, next to the tall man Lucy Gray had seen walk in earlier. A dark-haired woman, who like the man also somehow seemed familiar, took the seat on his other side. Lucy Gray quickly sat next to Marius on the piano bench, purposely obscuring her view of Snow.

"What's wrong, dear? You seem flustered all of a sudden," Lavinia asked.

"Oh, I'm fine, thanks. Just a bit nervous. Usually I'm not, but ..."

"Is it because you're performing in the Presidential Mansion? Well, it will be okay. Once you start singing, it will just feel like performing anywhere else. You won't even notice the surroundings. If it's really bad, just look at a spot over someone's shoulder instead of directly looking at the audience. Age-old stage fright tip."

"Thank you, I'll make sure to keep that in mind."

"It will be over before you know it," Marius chimed in. "Believe me, if I can do it, then you can for sure. It won't last long anyway, they'll want to get us out of the way before serving dinner."

Once all of the 30 or 40 guests had arrived, seated at their tables and picking at finger foods, Snow got up and stood behind a podium.

"Ladies and Gentlemen,

As we gather on this Remembrance Day, let's take a moment to remember and honor those who sacrificed so much to pave the way for the peace and safety we experience in the Capitol. Let their memory be an inspiration, reminding us to cherish and appreciate the comforts we often take for granted. As we share laughter and gifts with our loved ones, may we keep the memories of the fallen in our minds. Let's think of Remembrance Day not as a day of gloom, but a day to honor those who gave their lives for the Capitol to thrive. Let's enjoy the gift we have received from them, and think of this time as a time to be merry and appreciative of those who you hold dearest.

Thank you, and may the spirit of peace be with you this winter."

He returned to his chair, and a few minutes later, Lucy Gray, Lavinia, and Marius received their cue to begin playing.

They struck up some some lively, jolly tunes, before going into a couple of more solemn ones, then back into cheerful songs to finish it off. Lavinia played a serene solo song called The Swan, which evoked an image of a swan gliding over water. Marius got his own time to shine when he played a song called Anastasia on the piano, which he said was about a princess who lived long ago. For most of the performance though, Lucy Gray was the main focus. She felt nauseous at first, but soon, she was engrossed in lyrics about fresh snowfall and togetherness with family.

There was polite clapping after the performance ended, and then the trio headed to a table in the corner of the room.

The dinner table was beautiful. There was a velvet cloth embroidered with silver thread laid out on the table. The table was decked out with caviar, cheeses, salads, fluffy bread rolls, and soups. A drink that was a mix of cranberry juice with sparkling water was served in a carved crystal pitcher.

"You did so well, dear," said Lavinia, picking a tiny mushroom tartlet off a six-legged silver stand. "See, I told you it would go smoothly."

"You were right! I didn't feel a bit nervous once I started singing. You and Marius were so good, by the way."

"Thank you, dear. Helps that we've played most of these songs a hundred times before, of course. Tell me, is the traditional music played in 12 at this time of year quite the same as it is here? I've heard that there are different customs in the Districts."

Lavinia talked a great deal about regional variations of music - Lucy Gray was surprised to find out that genres that had originated in the Districts were popular in some circles in the Capitol. Marius talked a great deal about the food. The canapés and the conversation were so pleasant that she almost forgot where she was and who was just across the room from her, until one of the waiters approached their table.

"Excuse me, Ma'am," he said to Lucy Gray. "There's been a mistake. I've been instructed to seat you over here."

To her horror, the seat he led her to was at Snow's table, right across from Snow.

"Good afternoon, Lucy Gray. Thanks for performing today."

"Thanks for the gig," she replied, rather glumly.

"How's my favorite Victor doing?"

He seemed slightly wine-drunk, his pale skin slightly flushed, looking like lilies and roses rather than just plain pallid.

"I'm doing fine. Looking forward to going home soon, it's been too long."

"Yeah? See, I told you the travel documents would get sorted out eventually. If you have a valid reason to travel, it's easy. Festus here travels to 7 on business at least once a month. You should consider staying here though - we all loved you, don't you know? You could have such a more successful career here than you do in 12."

"Well, I play because I like performing more than for fame, and it's more fun with family. But thanks," Lucy Gray said a little pointedly.

"That's right," the woman sitting next to Snow added. "I'm sure 12 is the right place for you," she said, with an undertone of contempt in her voice.

The woman was probably the most beautifully dressed one in the room. She wore a navy blue floor length gown with elbow length white gloves. There was a dazzling necklace on her neck, and a large diamond to match on her ring finger.

Her beautiful outfit made her face more of a shock. The fine garment didn't match the sullen, sour expression of this woman, who looked as if she'd just smelled something bad. It struck Lucy Gray as being like seeing the face of a bulldog on the body of a gazelle.

"Oh, I reckon she could fit into the Capitol if she stuck around long enough," the man next to Snow said. "Don't I remember you mentioning she was born here, Coriolanus?"

"Yes, that's right. Her family used to travel around a lot and got stuck in 12 during the travel ban. Poor thing."

"Actually, I'm not exactly sure where I was born. Could've been anywhere. We just know it wasn't in 12. But I grew up there, and it's where my family live, so I say that 12 is where I'm from."

"It was probably the Capitol, though, I'm sure of it. I remember being in 12, and you're not a bit like them. Or like the other District people, for that matter. You're ... " he trailed off, seemingly lost in his own thoughts.

"I'm what?" She was playing with fire, she knew, talking to him in that tone. Somehow, though, she didn't feel afraid. Maybe it was because Snow was slightly tipsy and seemed to be in a good mood, but she wasn't completely terrified about behaving as disrespectfully as she usually wanted to be when talking to him. She felt quite affronted at this implication that there was something wrong with District people, something negative about them that made him feel a need to theorise she was a Capitolite instead of admitting he'd once loved a District girl.

"You're still his favorite Tribute, and perhaps even his favorite person in general," piped up another woman sat at the table.

"Oh, Tigris," he said, rolling his eyes jokingly, "Well of course my own Victor is my favorite Tribute. What kind of Mentor would I have been if I wasn't still proud of my Victor? Her win was my win, after all."

"Tigris?" This was Snow's cousin? Lucy Gray had only met her once, but she thought she would have remembered Tigris, whose appearance seemed to be quite altered since the last time they'd met.

"Well, perhaps it is fair to have a favorite Tribute, but I think your favorite person in general should be your wife," the sour-faced woman cut in before Tigris could reply, outstretching the arm on which the huge diamond ring was on, observing how it glinted in the chandelier-light.

" ... You've got a wife???"


Omg it's been sooo long! I promise I'm not abandoning this fic.

Facts about this chapter that nobody will really care about: Marius is named after Marius from Les Mis. I don't know if I will use him again, but his personality would be influenced by Marius from Les Mis if I do. The song he plays on the piano is based on Yes Anastasia by Tori Amos, but without the vocal parts. It's one of my favorite songs to listen to in winter (also Tori Amos is one of my inspirations for Lucy Gray as a songwriter!)

The song Lavinia plays is Le Cygne by Camille Saint-Saens, another favorite winter song of mine which is totally beautiful.

I wasn't sure at first about whether to have Snow drink or have him be a teetotaller. On one hand he's very straight edge and probably wouldn't do anything that could cause him to lose his senses, but on the other hand, he's a young man and I think a man in his 20s would like to have fun sometimes even if he is a dictator. So I went in the middle and decided to have him drink just a little bit - enough to get a bit of a buzz, but not enough to get properly drunk.

This is another chapter I wrote in a rush because I felt guilty. I had the part with Rubean written ages ago, then didn't come back to write the second part till now. So I probably need to come back to it later. But I hope you liked it anyway!

Also tomorrow my friend and I are seeing the TBOSAS movie! I'm so interested in seeing how they'll manage to portray Panem in a way that's futuristic to us but still seems retro compared to the main series. And the cast looks perfect - Rachel Zegler was one of my top face claims for Lucy Gray when I read the book and she's a fantastic singer so I think she was a great choice (one of my biggest fears for this film was that they'd cast someone with mediocre vocals as Lucy Gray). I just hope the film won't completely invalidate my headcanons about what the Covey's personalities are like 😅

Chapter 12: The Mice, the Birds, and the Honeybees


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

"It's not what you think it is -"

"Then what is it, Coriolanus?"

Lucy Gray had excused herself from the table and tried to leave the Presidential Mansion, but had been brought to a room by some guards instead. And about twenty minutes later, Coriolanus had joined her, trying to assuage her anger.

"I heard her loud and clear. You have a wife. Well, I don't want any part in this. Just send me home already and let's agree to forget all about each other."

"I'm not doing that. Look, Livia is my wife in name only, I never actually loved her ..."

"Then why did you marry her, Coriolanus? Tell me, why would you marry a woman if you don't love her?"

"Because ... After how things ended with us, I never wanted to love again. I felt like being in love made me weak.

But I knew I had to marry to carry on the legacy of the House of Snow. And Livia was the best choice.

She comes from a good family. Bankers.

But more importantly, she's absolutely horrible. I've never heard anyone say a good word about her. I feel miserable around her. So she was the perfect choice - not only does she have a good name, but there was no possible way she'd distact me from my goals because I didn't like her to begin with."

"So you're using her. Coriolanus, you really are lower than a snake's belly. That poor girl thought she was marrying a man who she thought would love her, just to be used as - "

" - No, she didn't. The dislike is mutual. If anything, she's always hated me more than I hate her. She only agreed to marry me for the glory of being the First Lady, and because her family encouraged her to. There was never any love, feelings, or even attraction involved at any point."

"Listen to me, Coriolanus. It doesn't matter how you try to justify it. You're married. And I don't want to be the third-wheel in your marriage. It doesn't matter how mean she is, or if the marriage was dead from the start. I've been the girlfriend wondering when her boyfriend's going to shape up and why he acts the way he does, just to find out he was with another woman. It broke my heart. And I'll be darned if I do it to another woman, no matter what excuses you give me.

Besides, I find it hard to believe neither of you had feelings for each other at any point. She was obviously upset when you decided to parade me in front of her at the dinner table. If she only married you to be the First Lady, why would she care?"

"She cares because she has a need to be the centre of attention at all times. She always needs to be the best dressed, the best married, the most envied. You're more interesting than her so everyone at the table was focusing on you, that's why she got mad."

"Even if that's true, what good would dragging me into this do anyway? Shouldn't you be trying to make it look like you and your mean wife are a loving couple if it's about politics? Shouldn't you be putting on a united front to make it seem like the country has a strong First Couple? Involving me in this is silly. I thought you were a more calculated man than this, Coriolanus."

"Oh, Lucy Gray," he half-laughed. "You've got a lot to learn. Maybe in 12 it would be scandalous if the Mayor had an affair. Here? Everyone in the Capitol knows that upper-class marriages are often loveless and for political or financial benefit. It's so common for people to look outside their marriages for emotional fulfilment. If anything, you living in 12 would probably more shocking than you not being my wife. Not that it should matter, seeing as you're not even originally from 12 anyway.

Livia's just being petty out of spite because she doesn't like me and because she thinks you stole her thunder. She's probably plotting an affair of her own this very moment."

"An affair of her own? So you think she wants to get back at you for having an affair? Do I need to remind you the last time we were lovers was a decade ago? We're not having an affair and never will be. That bridge burned a long time ago."

"Oh, I'm sure I can change your mind. Not that you have much of a choice - not that I would ever force you to. It would feel hollow if your feelings weren't genuine. But I think I need to remind you who you're talking to. You're my Victor. Not my equal. It doesn't matter how long ago it was, you'll still always be known as President Snow's Victor. Tributes do what their Mentors tell them to, and for good reason - do you think you'd be here to be difficult right now without me?"

"No," she answered truthfully. "No I don't. I would have been toast if it weren't for you. And when you pulled the stunt with the compact and snakes, I knew you must have really liked me."

"I did. I do."

"I wouldn't be alive without you, and even after it all went south, deep down, part of me was still grateful to you for getting me out of that Arena.

"But I think the time you shot me cancels it out. So we're even, and I don't have to go along with what you want out of gratitude."

He almost sighed. "Lucy Gray, listen to me. I will try to explain." He was trying to reason with Lucy Gray like he had the first time she'd been brought to the Presidential Mansion. What made him think she would change her mind hearing the same speech a second time?

"I know you haven't forgiven me. I know you still fear me ... " he was gazing intently at her, studying her face. Lucy Gray met his stare.

"Like I said before, I hate myself for the incident. I was mad, I wrongly thought I'd been tricked, and I lost control. There's no denying it. I failed not just as a lover, but as a person. But I promise it will never happen again. As long as you're with me, I'll make sure to keep you safe, and healthy, and cared for. I'll make sure your family will be in no danger too."

"My family? Why would the Covey be in danger?" she had heard him out, figuring if she continued to interrupt him he'd keep going anyway and it would have no effect other than to prolong the time she'd have to spend here with him. But when her family were suddenly brought up, she had to cut in.

"Well, there are a few reasons. The only reason the Peacekeepers didn't punish them for housing a defector was because I told the Head Peacekeeper in 12 to let it slide. So you see, I protected them for your sake. And there are plenty of people in 12 who get in trouble for growing food without declaring it to proper authorities, but a blind eye can be and has been turned to the Covey doing so. And I'm sure there are certain people in 12 who wouldn't be exactly pleased by knowing one of the Covey has been performing on the Government's request in the Capitol, but nobody will think it's worth giving them grief if they have Peacekeeper protection on their side. So you see, your family has a lot to gain if you'll let bygones be bygones.

And if you don't? Well ... I would never deliberately send harm their way, but I also have no reason to protect them if you don't want anything to do with me. Who are they to me if I don't have you? And I have no business bothering myself with the affairs of a random family in District 12. I have much more important things to attend to, you know."

"Do you understand?" he added, sweetly.

She understood, alright. Frame it as an act of kindness towards the family of his love as he might, she understood that what he'd really been saying was a veiled threat. He must have been losing patience at yet another rejection by Lucy Gray, so using her family against her was how he was trying to cajole her into being his lover after the jewellery, singing gigs, and pretty words weren't enough to win her back.

And this time, it actually worked. Not enough to make her love him again, but enough to say, after a long pause and despite the fact that underneath she wanted to scream at him what a scumbag he was:

"I understand."

"Then kiss me."

He bent down and offered his cheek. It felt very smooth. Lucy Gray thought that up close he smelled a bit perplexing. The smell of roses was familiar; a sweet scent that had comforted her once upon a time. But this time, it seemed oddly metallic somehow.

"What did you think of the cheese soufflés, dear?" he said innocently, like nothing had happened and the Remembrance Day dinner had been the only significant part of the day. "I suppose one can't go wrong with a soufflé, but I do wonder if the caterers are too repetitive in deciding to serve them, they'reserved a lot at these kinds of functions ... "

Lucy Gray hastily threw on a warm winter coat before stuffing a couple of last items from the penthouse into one of several leather duffel bags at her feet. She was going home with a lot more bags than she'd arrived with. She stuffed a large wad of cash inside her pocket before walking to the door, an employee following behind her carrying her bags.

It would be the last time she'd be in this apartment, at least for the time being. Truth be told, she had no idea how long she would be spending in District 12. But seeing as the year she'd been informed she'd be in the Capitol for wasn't even halfway over, she knew it would be temporary.

She felt despair over what seemed to be her fate, having to spend the rest of her days being with her family only to be taken away the next time Snow felt like trying to fill the void left by his loveless marriage. And yet, at this point, after months of being stranded in the Capitol with no idea about whether she'd even see the Covey again or not, she just had to feel relief that she'd been given permission to return to 12 at all.

She was driven to the train station, where Mercurius Allan, who had accompanied her when she'd journeyed to the Capitol all those months ago, was waiting, briefcase in hand.

"Good morning, Miss Baird. How nice to see you again!" Mr Allan said.

"You too, Mr Allan. You really have no idea how happy I am to see you again!" replied Lucy Gray. Well, it wasn't a lie. Mr Allan being there to accompany her on the train made it feel like her return to 12 was real, rather than a distant dream.

"How has the Capitol been treating you?" he asked.

"I tried a lot of food here. Had a lot of free time to read and walk around and stuff as well. It will be nice to get back to work and my family though."

"Understandable, of course. There can be too much of a good thing sometimes. Anyway, the train will be along in a few minutes, so not to worry, you'll be on the way home soon."

The train arrived in a timely manner like Mr Allan said, its smoke rolling downwards in a manner reminiscent of a snake shedding its skin. An employee from the train station loaded Lucy Gray's bags onto the train, while Mr Allan and Lucy Gray stepped inside the vehicle.

The journey home was very similar to the journey to the Capitol, except this time Lucy Gray had a book to keep herself occupied with rather than spending days looking out of the train window. The carriage she was in was still plush, Mr Allan was still fiddling with papers in his briefcase, occasionally getting them stamped when they stopped briefly in different districts, and the meals were still good. Just as Lucy Gray knew she was approaching the Capitol when the train had been continuously moving fast and smooth for a while the first time around, she knew they were beginning to get close to 12 when electricity shortages were frequently slowing down the train.

At long last, they arrived to their final destination. Lucy Gray and Mr Allan shuffled off of the train, onto a platform dusty with soot. The train station felt practically dead compared to the bustling one in the Capitol, which got plenty of use from people who commuted to work, or who simply wanted to spend the day in a different part of the huge city with different shops and attractions. Here in 12 on the other hand, the train station was a ghost town, apart from the handful of employees who loaded coal on freight trains a couple of times a day, and a few street children who hung around hoping today would be one of the infrequent occasions an official person, like someone who worked for the Mayor or one of the fancy Capitol businessmen with a stake in the coal-mining industry, would use the train station and take pity on them, more often than not being driven away by the Peacekeepers.

Today was a good day for them. A pair of siblings, a girl of around 10 and a boy that was maybe 6, were seated on a bench on the same platform as the two arrivals, and looked at Lucy Gray and Mr Allan with wide-eyed curiosity.

"Excuse me ... Ma'am ... " said the girl timidly, almost afraid.

"You don't need to call me 'Ma'am', darlin'. My name is Lucy Gray Baird. And what's yours?"

"Nora ... and this is Asher. We were just wondering ... if you could help us. We haven't - "

"Now, Miss Baird, we need to get you home. The chauffeur has been waiting all day for your arrival," Mr Allan interrupted.

"I'll only be a minute," said Lucy Gray. "Now, of course I can help you dear. I can see you're a good big sister. Keep on being good, alright?"

She was wearing the same winter coat she'd left the Capitol penthouse in, which made it easy to retrieve the wad of cash she'd stuffed into it before her departure. She had meant to give it to the Covey, but she had plenty more where that came from in her bags anyway - Coriolanus must have told whoever was in charge of her finances to give her money like sweets.

So as her own family would be comfortable on what she had left, naturally, she gave the little girl the entire stack of money.

The girl's jaw dropped open in disbelief, while her brother's eyes went big as saucers.

"Now don't you go bragging about this, I don't want you ending up mugged. And Happy Holidays."

"They're happy now! Thank you Ma'am! I can't believe it, all this money ... " her eyes had lit up, aglow with joy, once she'd processed the shock of seeing so much money at once.

"I can scarcely believe it either, but there it is. Put it to good use," Lucy Gray said, walking to the car waiting for her.

The ride from the train station to her home felt different than it had last time. It seemed normal until they reached the Town Square, but after that, instead of heading in the direction of the Seam, they went about half a mile in a different direction. Was this some new and improved route that would take her to the Seam quicker? In the Capitol, she remembered a bus route had once been changed to improve efficiency.

The car stopped somewhere Lucy Gray didn't recognise. It was a vast gated community, with about a dozen huge houses arranged in a semi-circle around a lush green.

"This ain't where I live," said Lucy Gray.

"It is now," said Mr Allan. "This is the Victor's Village. It was built in recent years as part of the reward for winning the Games. Perhaps it's a little retroactive, but you've been assigned a house here. Let me show you."

This house was ginormous, easily ten times the size of the home she shared with the Covey. Even her luxurious apartment in the Capitol with its multiple large rooms was probably only a fifth of the size of this building. The ceilings felt 20 feet tall, and the moldings had hand-painted fleur-de-lis. There were large windows which overlooked the manicured garden, full of neatly organised rows of rose bushes.

"Why, this house is as big as a whale. Beautiful, too. But what about my family?"

"They'll be allowed to live here as long as you're here."

"Please bring me to 'em, Mr Allan."

Lucy Gray stepped towards the ramshackle house she'd grown up in. Its tiled roof was sprinkled with snow, which would have been picturesque if it hadn't felt so desolate.

She knocked on the door. At long last, she would be reunited with the Covey!

After what felt like several long moments, but was really just a few seconds, the door opened.

"Lucy Gray! Oh my, I can't believe it's really you!" Barb Azure exclaimed, instantly sweeping Lucy Gray into a hug.

"It's me alright! See, I told ya I'd be back. How are things around here?"

"Better, now that you're back. Come inside darlin', it's freezing out," Barb Azure said, releasing her from the hug and taking Lucy Gray's coat off for her.

"What's all the commotion?" she heard someone ask distantly from inside. She saw wheat-colored hair peek out into the hall, before seeing Clerk Carmine's face fully, changing from mildly annoyed to elated in an instant.

"Lucy Gray! Why, it's really you!"

"Nice to see ya, cuz. Hope you weren't too lost without me and my fantastic stage presence. "

"You've been home a minute and you're already teasin' me? Come on, get out of the cold. Maude Ivory! Tam Amber! Get down here!"

Clerk Carmine and Barb Azure ushered her inside the tiny living room. She heard footsteps plodding down the stairs, before:

"Oh, goodness, Lucy Gray!" Maude Ivory exclaimed, flinging herself onto her older cousin. "We've missed you so much! So incredibly much, you have no idea - "

"Yes, Darlin'," Barb Azure chimed in, "we've missed you so much around here. It's been awfully quiet without you."

"Quiet, indeed!" Clerk Carmine concurred. "You know Lucy Gray, I didn't realise exactly how much of a chatterbox you are until you left, and then suddenly things here got all silent."

"Oh, you stop that, CC," Lucy Gray said in a faux-offended voice. "I haven't even been back a day, and you're already makin' fun of me?"

"I'm not making fun of ya, gal. It's true. Before you left, there was so much talking going on in this household. But after you left, everything felt so much more quiet. In fact, I think it was so quiet without you talking over everyone, that even a field mouse could have heard us talking in here! Or a small mockingjay could have heard us whispering. Why, perhaps even a little honeybee could have flown outside the window and been able to listen in on our private thoughts, that's how quiet things were without you!"

His voice sounded bright and merry, although with a slight awkward tinge (which was quite normal for Clerk Carmine even at the best of times), but Lucy Gray could see that his smile was a bit strained and his jaw seemed clenched.

Goodness ... Were my family spied on while I was away?"

Clever Clerk Carmine, so young, but so smart ... even though out of all her cousins, the one who was closest in age to her was naturally the one who she got into the most petty fights and pointless arguments with, she would always be grateful to have him on her side. Such an intelligent young man, the type who read everything he could, both books and people, still remembered things like the square root of 64 being 8 and the stapes being the smallest bone in the human body, wrote down Covey song and legends just in case, denied everything and confirmed nothing without evidence. Yes, he was clever alright ... what a good smart young thing he was, to find a way to give her the message that their home was not secure, and to do it in a way that just seemed like cousinly teasing, rather than a warning to her to shut up about anything potentially sensitive. Really, he was so smart ... it was almost a shame that her poor tributes wouldn't have him as a mentor instead of her, he would surely have the know-how to get one of them out of that Arena safely ...

A slight awkwardness had descended on the room after Clerk said his bit, Maude Ivory feeling a little tense in Lucy Gray's arms, Barb Azure's smile looking a bit flattened, Tam Amber looking at Clerk Carmine with consternation.

"Well, don't you worry, cuz," Lucy Gray piped up in the midst of this sudden tension filling the air, "it won't be quiet around here for much longer. I have so much to tell you about. Lots of nice, lovely things I saw in the Capitol! I'm going to make you jealous with all the tasty foods and pretty buildings and other happy things I experienced while I was away!

Did you know they gave me a house by the way? A bit far from here, but they said you can all live with me in it. Electricity actually works in there too so we won't have to keep the stove going all night to keep warm. Nice of 'em, isn't it?"

Lucy Gray was trying to send her own coded message - that is, that she had gotten his message, and would only talk about the most positive parts of her Capitol experience. No complaints, no gossiping, especially no moaning about the President. Only things that flattered the Capitol. Lucy Gray had heard Clerk Carmine's message loud and clear - be quiet, for even the mice, birds, and honeybees can hear you whispering.

Clerk Carmine gave a small nod, which Lucy Gray took to mean he'd understood her coded message.

Lucy Gray couldn't help but wonder exactly how Clerk Carmine had realised their drafty little home was being spied on in some way. Maybe it was just an assumption, or even a precaution, and he was just being better safe than sorry, as after all, just being related to Lucy Gray Baird probably inherently meant there was a non-zero chance of having his conversations eavesdropped on.

But what if Clerk Carmine had based his warning on solid proof? What if a member of the Covey, or one of their friends, had said something wrong, and gotten punished for it while she was gone? Perhaps something awful had happened to them because of her, and they could never bring it up, even to be mad at her, in case having the wrong type of discussion got them into trouble again.

"Tam Amber, you should show her your Weepy Ladies," Maude Ivory said.

Tam Amber left the room for a few minutes and came back with some paintings of willowy figures in shades of blue, violet, and green.

"He quit paintin' his Happy Ladies after you left, and began painting the Weepy Ladies instead," Barb Azure explained. Tam Amber's Happy Ladies were quite similar to his Weepy Ladies, except they were shades of yellow, orange, and gold, and had a cheerful air about them rather than a forlorn one.

"Aw, they're lovely! Although they look a little sad. Y'know, we could hang up your paintings in the new house, loads of big walls there, plenty of room for pictures."

"Good idea," said Barb Azure, "but first, you should eat something. How does rabbit stew sound?"


Aaaand I'm back! I've been out of college sick for a few days so I had a lot of spare time to ... actually update in a timely fashion.

I saw the movie and it was great! Viola Davis was amazing, I really wanted to hate Dr Gaul but she made it so hard to. All of the actors were perfect honestly, they did an amazing job with the casting!!

I feel like Clemmie got done so dirty though, she was so nice in the book but was just another mean classmate in the movie. I would have loved to see the aftermath of the snake attack but I understand why it was left out.

And everyone was so good-looking omg? Ngl in my imagination most of the students were kind of average looking unless it was otherwise stated in the text (like Clemensia), but the actors were all so beautiful!! Arachne especially was a trip to me because when I was reading the book I imagined her as having a resemblance to ... Jewel from American Dad (but less exaggeratedly unattractive). And obviously the actress is gorgeous.

And I actually liked that we don't hear Snow's internal monologue in the movie because we get to see how his peers viewed him, why Lucy Gray fell in love with him and why Sejanus thought of him as a best friend. It's nice that we're now able to witness both perspectives, the false kind persona that everyone else saw and his true bitch in sheep's clothing personality as portrayed in the novel.

And what Tigris said at the end ... chills.

Chapter 13: Back to 12


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

"Can you believe we have pipes carrying in water instead of having to bring in well-water?"

Maude Ivory had taken her first bath inside the large bathroom in their new house.

"Better than lugging buckets around, for sure," said Barb Azure. "Nice that it warms itself up too instead of having to heat it over the stove."

"Was it like this in the Capitol?" asked Maude Ivory.

"It was similar," Lucy Gray answered. "Just as big. My bathroom in the Capitol had houseplants in it though. It was a far cry from bathin' in the wash tub in whatever room is empty. Or freezin' our asses off in the lake, d'you remember that?"

Long ago, when Lucy Gray was still a girl and the Covey were struggling to get on their feet in 12, they had bathed in the lake in the woods, as well as washing laundry and dishes in it.

Lucy Gray had spent many long days floating in a wash tub on the lake, watching the clouds slowly drifting across the sky. The blue sky had looked like a vast ocean to her childish eyes. She wondered if she could make her body drift with the clouds, if she could float away in the sea and reach a land she had never known. Were there even any lands beyond Panem?

She had heard about places that existed long ago, before the great war that had put the Capitol on top of the hierarchy, and before disasters had wiped out much of the planet. Countries with names like jewels, like China and Russia and America, the latter of which was where Panem was built on the ruins of. But those lands were as far away as the fairytale lands her parents had told her about when she was very small.

She had heard whisperings about a place in the North, both from some rebels when she was younger, and from people she'd met when she was hiding out beyond 12, but she couldn't say for sure whether it really existed or not. She knew there had been another District in the North years ago - the Covey had been up North long ago, before the Dark Days ended - but as to whether it had been bombed to smithereens like the history books said, or if it still existed, she couldn't say for sure. Part of her had almost wanted to just keep walking north until she reached this mysterious non-Panem land. But the part of her that thought it would be silly to expose herself to colder weather, unfamiliar terrain, and who knows what kinds of fearsome creatures in search of a place that would likely turn out to be a nuclear waste site won out. Plus, even though she knew it wouldn't be safe to slip back into 12 to try to see them, she still felt comforted by at least being geographically close to the Covey.

The closest she'd gotten to another district was when she almost reached the strip of land that separated 12 from 8. She'd figured she was very near to 8 when everyone she met in the woods started being a District 8 runaway, although she dared not try to see 8 for herself, and turned right around just in case some Peacekeeper from 8 that wasn't as apathetic as the ones in 12 would be patrolling wherever lay at the end of the most westernmost part of the woods.

Other defectors were few and far between, but the story of this fabled Northern District was known to at least a handful of people in other districts. There were people who either believed in it strongly enough or were desperate enough for it to be real that they risked it all to find it.

The only other places beyond Panem she'd heard of people going to were the No Man's Lands that formed the borders between each District, but she couldn't be certain about whether people had truly escaped to those either. On one hand, she'd met people who'd met people who'd stumbled onto secret villages - which were really just a family or two who had built tiny houses which were camouflaged by trees, or in some rare cases, built underground. They lived off the land and their only entertainment was storytelling, but even that hard and dull life was better than staying in their districts of origin, because at least they could say what they wanted and worked for themselves, instead of a country that gave them little in return for their labor.

On the other hand, other defectors said it was impossible to live between borders. They were too heavily patrolled, and hovercrafts frequently flew overhead, not to mention the Capitol would sometimes use these uninhabited areas to test certain technologies they were developing. They said they'd only managed to make it to 12 by the skin of their teeth, and that staying in one place in the buffer-zones between districts forever just wasn't possible.

Still. it was nice to imagine that somewhere out there, was a place full of endless opportunities, where people could live their lives freely and go to bed with food in their bellies.

The Covey's lives seemed to change overnight. They had rapidly gone from struggling in the poorest part of the Seam to living better than merchants. They could buy white bread from Mellark's Bakery, instead of making rough bread out of their ration grain. They could buy fatty beef and lamb from the butcher instead of poaching squirrels in the woods. Water was already in their house instead of having to be carried in buckets from the well and it could be warmed up by turning a knob instead of heating it over the stove. They were even able to give money to the beggars on the streets, rather than having to walk past because they had nothing to give.

In other ways, however, their lives felt the same. They still played music - how could they not? They still kept Tulip the goat, but she grazed on the verdant green in the Victor's Village instead of the Meadow. They still hung around in their old neighborhood in the Seam, too.

Something interesting happened in the Seam the week Lucy Gray returned to 12. A cat had a litter of kittens.

There were five in all, two smokey gray, one all black, one black and white, and a ginger.

"The ginger one looks just like an orange tom I've seen sneakin' around here," said Barb Azure's ladyfriend Kitty, who took responsibility for the local cats, to the disdain of many people who couldn't believe she'd share her meagre rations with animals who didn't produce anything she could sell.

"Can we keep the black one with white paws?" asked Maude Ivory.

"I don't see why not," said Barb Azure. "It's not like we don't have the room for it."

"They need to nurse from their mama for a few weeks first," said Kitty. "But it would be fantastic if you took one of them, poor sweet things."

Cats were not the only animals Lucy Gray saw during her return to 12.

One day Maude Ivory took Lucy Gray to the home of her sweetheart, Conn Everdeen, whose pigs Barb Azure had mentioned she'd help birth in the letter she'd sent all those months ago.

"They were so tiny when they were born. You should have seen them. But they're already getting huge! And to think, they're still only babies." Maude Ivory said.

"I heard the birth was troublesome. Barb Azure wrote to me about it. Poor mama pig," Lucy Gray responded.

"It was tough alright," Conn Everdeen said. "But Mama said that labor pains help to awaken motherly love."

Maude Ivory made a face. "I'm sure I would love my babies without labor pains! Don't you think so, Conn?"

Was that a hint of a blush Lucy Gray detected on Conn Everdeen's face after Maude Ivory said this? Lucy Gray couldn't help but laugh as he stuttered out a "Y-Yes ..."

Maude Ivory and Conn's relationship seemed to be going as strong as it was before Lucy Gray left. Not long after visiting the Everdeens, Conn was invited for dinner at the Covey's new house. He had already started mining when Lucy Gray first met him, so she was used to seeing him in clothes dirtied by coal. It was a surprise to Lucy Gray when he arrived for dinner wearing dark linen pants, a starchy white shirt, and with a spot of dried blood on his chin from where he had shaved. His features shone more brightly in the change of outfit, steely gray eyes standing out against his olive skin.

Maude Ivory asked question after question about his day, barely giving him time to swallow between answers. Working in the mines was hard, but even the tiring and dirty work didn't seem to have an effect on his cheerful disposition. Conn Everdeen laughed a lot, a laugh that rolled from deep within his belly.

Conn was as prideful as he was merry. Even though the Covey had money now - too much of it - and would have been glad to help the Everdeen family out with their expensives, they steadfastly refused to take it. Indeed, many of their old neighbors in the Seam seemed to hate anything that smacked of charity.

"Why should I live for charity food just to give me enough strength to go back for more charity? I wanna live for something," someone once said.

There was still always someone desperate enough to accept help though, and the Covey's pockets always felt lighter after walking through the Seam, where there would inevitably be someone too old, too young, or too weak to be able to work in the mines begging for help. At least until one day, a pair of Peacekeepers arrived at their door and gave them a telling off.

"It's my money. Why can't I spend it on what I want?" Lucy Gray demanded to know.

"Because it's not allowed," said one of the Peacekeepers.

"And why isn't it allowed? Why is it a crime to help people who need it?"

"Look, gal, we don't make the rules. Just count yourself lucky we talked to you before you got your account frozen for misuse of funds. That happened to a Victor in the District I was in before 12, you know. It would be a waste to go through all that to win the Games just to lose all your winnings, wouldn't it?"

"If I lost my winnings by giving them to people who need 'em, it would be worth winning the Games."

"Goodness, it's a miracle you won the Games with that soft heart of yours," one of the Peacekeepers said, rolling his eyes, before he and his colleague walked away.

Although it was much harder to directly give money to people now that Peacekeeper eyes were watching, the Covey did their best to help those less fortunate than them in other ways. They made it a point to buy goods at the Hob, their money helping the vendors to live a little better. And sometimes, Lucy Gray would just happen to drop a few coins when she was walking past someone begging on the streets.

"We basically have our own apartments," Maude Ivory joked one day, commenting on the multiple large bedrooms in their new house. But in spite of being able to claim a bedroom for herself, Maude Ivory went back to sleeping in Lucy Gray's bed as usual within a few days.

Lucy Gray didn't mind. She liked staying up late with Maude Ivory and chatting about all manner of things - new songs they'd written, the new foreman in the mines that ignored the complaints of miners who said the water in their chamber was knee-deep and ended up thrown into it, the latest couples that were married and babies that were born, and many more such topics.

Even though Lucy Gray tended to toss and turn a lot, suffering from troubled dreams, Maude Ivory never got fed up and decided to sleep in her own room. Instead, she cuddled Lucy Gray, whispering soothing words, her body feeling pleasantly light and springy against her cousin's.

Life mostly went smoothly now that Lucy Gray was back in 12, the only major bump being the Peacekeepers confronting the Covey over their charitable activities. They made music together. Maude Ivory chatted and giggled with her at any time she could, Barb Azure cared for her like a mother, Clerk Carmine light-heartedly teased her, and Tam Amber hugged her and gave her little gifts. In many ways, it was similar to how life was for them before she'd been thrust into the Hunger Games or to the fancy parts of the Capitol, except having money made everything seem much easier. Everyone was happier with a full belly and a warm roof over their heads, which they hadn't had a lot of the time before.

The Winter Solstice was approaching, which Lucy Gray regarded with a mixture of excitement and dread. Excitement, because it was one of the few holidays celebrated in 12 and was always a fun time, and dread, because she had been granted permission to return to 12 so she could spend the holiday with her family and would have to go back to the Capitol after it was over.

"Can you believe the Solstice is almost here?" asked Maude Ivory one night, as if reading Lucy Gray's mind.

While Lucy Gray's feelings were conflicted about the holidays, Maude Ivory's were unambiguously enthusiastic.

"This time in a few days, we'll still be up and eating spice cake," she said, practically salivating at the thought.

"I can hardly wait," replied Lucy Gray, trying and failing to get in a comfortable position in bed before falling asleep uneasily.


Sorry for the long, long, wait everyone! I accidentally deleted the first part of this so I had to rewrite it, which was annoying!! Then school and my work placement was kicking my ass, unfortunately. I had a lot of this written before Christmas, but slacked off on finishing it because life got busy.

What do you think the deal is with Panem and what exists beyond it? I've been so curious about it for years. We know at least that there was a secret district up north that the government lied about. Do you think other countries still exist and panem is in some kind of North Korea situation where nobody can leave and other countries don't intervene because they have nukes? I do feel like Russia, China, and maybe even some random places that happen to be very isolated could survive the nuclear war that was implied to have been what destroyed the world after climate change damaged it. But then again, wouldn't 13 have tried to ally with other nations if they still existed? But if there were no other nations left, why the Capitol have been building nukes before 13 declared independence? They surely wouldn't nuke their own country ... Or do you think there are maybe pockets of survivors in far flung corners of the world, but not enough to bother making contact or making the journey to bring their citizens to Panem to increase the population? (They could be in a North Sentinel Island situation, low populations on smaller landmasses living a Bronze Age lifestyle). Or maybe 13 really was the only place the government made hidden knowledge, Panem is all that's left, and the world stops after 13 does (a truly depressing thought). Who knows? Lucy Gray certainly doesn't, but a girl can dream about what's out there.

Not a lot happened in this chapter, I know. Since we're finally back in 12, I wanted to focus on worldbuilding a bit. In the prequel, it seems that 12 isn't as badly off as it is by Katniss' time. For example, people have money to spend on musicians, but it's hard to imagine the Covey making enough to live on from music alone if they'd been in the main trilogy. It comes across more like a small town in the late 19th or early 20th century than it does a rural village in North Korea. It seems like things degraded overtime, maybe 12 got worse after Snow became president? You kind of get the sense that part of the reason he hated 12 so much was because of his experiences there and Lucy Gray, but in this AU he's not bitter about her or his time in 12, so less reason to be so hard on the district. I think he just wouldn't particularly care about it.

And related to world building, I feel like the Districts would celebrate nature based holidays, such as the Winter Solstice. Everyone likes to celebrate occasionally, humans have been coming up with days to celebrate for a long time. In Panem, religion seems not to exist, so there wouldn't be days like Christmas, Hanukkah, etc. But nature still exists. On the other hand, I think in the Capitol the Winter Solstice would be nothing more than a fun fact and a source of mild annoyance because of how short the amount of daylight is.

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Introduction: My name is Barbera Armstrong, I am a lovely, delightful, cooperative, funny, enchanting, vivacious, tender person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.