Fallen from Grace (Hunger Games)

68th Hunger Games

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9. Interviews

    Phox wasn’t at all surprised that Emily got the hang of how to present herself like a proper girl. She already had the posture and the walk, she just had to be constantly reminded not to shrink in her shell like a turtle. And to not father her outfit in her hands when she felt uncomfortable. ‘It would wrinkle the dress’. Liam was the embodiment of how a gentleman held himself. The one thing he needed help with the most was to NOT DRAG HIS FEET. And to soften his steps, he practically sounded like he could start an earthquake.

    How they were going to answer their questions was completely up to them. Their goal was to make the Capitol like them. Simple as that. Emily just hated that the whole world would be watching them.

    Emily gently yanked at her green dress so it didn’t wrinkled around her waist and turned to the side for a better view of the backless attire. Winnow cooed at the sight of her. “I KNEW the color would look good on you. It matches your eyes AND makes them seem even brighter and more stunning,” her stylist smiled at her.

    The redhead lightly smiled and examined the makeup job on her. Winged like a bird with faded green shadow. Elegant and somehow mysterious. The faded green of her eye shadow helped her appear soft and welcoming, and the sharpness of the winged liner made her that much more interesting to know more about.

    She couldn’t deny it. She looked amazing. Beautiful in fact. And it took a lot to make her believe she was beautiful. Her hair was braided in a bun, some loose hairs have escaped to add more effect to the makeup ‘theme’.

    “Thank you . . .” she lightly smiled at Winnow, though the smile didn’t reach her eyes, and sighed nervously.

    “What’s wrong, sweetheart?”

    “It’s just . . . I don’t know how to make these people like me. Being shy and quiet isn’t really something that the crowd would like,” she said and stepped off her podium.

    “Well, you’d be surprised,” Winnow shrugged. “Some like their tributes rough and tough. Some like their tributes nice and quiet. And with your looks, it’s an added bonus. Everyone always roots for the pretty ones.”

    “There’s a lot of pretty one’s in the Career districts,” Emily muttered.

    Winnow rolled her eyes at her. “You managed to get me to like you easily. Just . . . pretend you’re talking to me. Or Liam,” she smiled at her. “You’re like a completely different person around him.”

    “That’s different. I’ve known him for ten years,” she crossed her arms.

    “Then find a balance between comfortable like you are with Liam and formally casual around me,” Winnow suggested.

    Emily let out a sigh and nodded. “Okay . . .”

***** 

    Breathe . . .

    Breathe . . .

    “Introducing Miss Horwitz of District 8!” Caesar announced with enthusiasm and Emily nearly froze in place if the lights didn’t shine on her for her to come out. 

    Emily let out a shaky sigh and walked out looking toward the crowd. They were all there. She couldn’t see them but she could hear them. And they were loud. She approached the man and shook his hand as the both of them took seats across from each other. 

    “Ah, Miss Horwitz, it is such a pleasure to finally meet you in person," the host started with a friendly smile as he examined her. "How are things faring for you so far?"

    Emily awkwardly gave him a smile and brushed a stray hair behind her ear. "I'm doing well, thank you," she answered sheepishly. Phox demanded she appear confident, which she couldn't grasp with all the lights and people watching her. Not only the people physically there, but all of Panem watching her.

    "So good to hear," Caesar mused with a light and happy tone. "Your hair looks darker than it did in your reaping . . . Did your stylist do anything to it?"

    Emily blinked at him for a couple seconds and the remembered his comment was correct. "Oh! Yeah. Sorry, I'm still getting used to the fact it's darker," she awkwardly laughed, Caesar and the crowd lightly chuckled, and she twirled some of her hair between her fingers. Bless Winnow for knowing she'd want to play with her hair more when she was that greatly nervous. "My stylist thought it would suit me better if it was darker and one solid color."

    "Fits you quite well. Very lovely, too, albeit . . . Seems to resemble the color of blood?" Caesar said with an intrigued lilt in his voice. 

    Wow really, Caesar . . .?

    "Very clever of your stylist," he went on. "What do you suppose your parents and friends might say about it? To see a new Emily sitting here, with brand new hair, perfect for the upcoming event?"

    The red head forced her lips to curl into a smile. "Um . . . I don't know really," she chuckled. "They might find it odd at first because they always saw me with reddish orange hair," Emily added with a shrug. "But, it might grow on them?" Don't even mention her parents, she'll just mix them in with her friends

    "Aw, not even a notion of how your darling mother or father might take it when you . . . perhaps, go back?" Caesar prodded with an almost childish glint in his eyes, the look of a curious baby who knew he was poking at a delicate object.

    Her slight smile remained, but her eyes darkened in pain. Stop it. She knew what he was trying to do. "They . . . probably wouldn't care too much." That was probably the truth. They wouldn't care what she did. She could lose a limb and they would have sworn she always had one less limb. "Don't you think they'd be a little more ecstatic that I came back alive rather than put importance in a difference in my appearance?"

    “Perhaps," Caesar smiled. "Do you think they would? . . . Rather, do you think YOU would? From what word has been floating around, the boy who volunteered with you . . . Is he maybe a sweetheart of yours? I could only imagine the loss you might feel if that rumor proves to be true." 

    The audience's mood shifted from curious to almost heavy and interested, wanting to eat up the confirmation of the possible hoax as soon as it left Emily's lips.

    But damn, he was all about serious questions, wasn't he? "First of all, no, Liam isn't my sweetheart," she shook her head with a light chuckle. "He's just a REALLY good friend." Who just so happened to have volunteered when she was reaped. "Yes . . . I'd be really sad," Emily answered. It was all she could say, she couldn't imagine losing Liam ever. And knowing that he just might die in the arena made her want to die. "He's pretty important in my life, and NOT in the romantic way," Emily added.

    The disappointment and excitement of the crowd was almost tangible when Emily's last words were uttered. She was the underdog in these Games and that made her all that more excitable. "Even so, your relationship sounds rather sweet," Caesar said. "Think we get a little snippet of how you both met, or will that question have to be saved for your, erm . . . 'Friend'?"

    Emily blinked at Casear for a moment and gave him a genuine smile. "Well . . . I got lost on my way out to work and Liam and his older brother found me, thought it would be nice to have a wee sleepover at their home since it was so late." She couldn't say anything of how harsh District Eight was or the Gamemakers and the President would go after her. She had to keep it light in a way. "To be honest, Liam really disliked me for a while," she chuckled. "He absolutely detested me."

    Caesar chuckled. "And now, he even volunteered to come be with you . . . Is that right?" he inquired with a curious cock of a brow.

    Emily swallowed the lump caught in her throat and nodded to him. "Yes . . ." The lights felt hot on her skin and all the eyes on her and Casear felt far more obvious than before. The atmosphere felt heavy to her and she felt the need to shrink with every second.

    "Really quite a shame . . . " Caesar clicked his tongue and shook his head. "But it has worked out in the past, perhaps you both will find your own way of getting through, hm? I'm sure you have supporters both here in the Capitol and back at home."

    Emily lightly smiled and looked down at her hands folded in her lap. "I wouldn't doubt we don’t have supporters. Seeing how the audience were at the edge of their seats just now listening VERY carefully on what our relationship is," she said and raised a brow at the audience.

    The crowd laughed and cooed and cheered at her gesture, soaking everything up, just as Caesar laughed and clapped his hands once. "Such a cheeky girl," he chuckled. "I'm sure with all that wit you have a trick or two up your sleeve? Care to give a little spoiler to all your adoring fans?"

    “Adoring fans?” Emily couldn't help but laugh. Didn’t think her meek personality earned her any ‘adoring fans’. "Um yes, for my adoring fans I plan to NOT die." Like she even had a plan. Besides, her answer might earn her a laugh or a giggle.

    Caesar laughed at the comment and rolled his eyes playfully at her. "That sounds like a marvelous plan, my dear!" he agreed. "Have any idea how you'll successfully accomplish that, by any chance?"

    "I do not," she shook her head and leaned back in her chair. "Maybe get a hold of a weapon, and outwit everyone?" Emily shrugged. "Sorry for the boring answer."

    "N'aw," Caesar pouted and crossed his arms over his chest. "At that rate, you'll never return home!" His tone was childish, as if he was joking around, but clearly, he wasn't. "Don't you want to get back to all your loved ones? I'm sure they're all missing their doll of a girl."

    Emily's jaw dropped for a moment and closed it shut. One thing was for sure and it would break every heart in the Capitol that was dumb enough to believe the media. "I do . . . at the same time I feel I can't go home without Liam . . ." He was her best friend and if they left together, they had to come back together. "It just wouldn't be the same without him."

    Caesar and the crowd cooed at her statement, obviously upset at the fact there was little chance of the both of them making it out alive. "Oh, the best of luck to you both, Emily," the host chimed right as the timer buzzed. "Ladies and gentlemen, Emily Horwitz of District 8."

    She let out a sigh of relief as she made way off the stage and joined the rest of the tributes whom had been interviewed before her. After Emily left the stage, Caesar called upon her district mate, Liam Aldair, and without the usual formalities, he waved for Liam to sit across from him and greeted him with a wide smile. 

    "My, what a handsome boy you are," he complimented. "No wonder you have so many fans here already."

    "Yes, but you have more fans with your sense of style," he complimented him back and sat across from Caesar.

    "Ah, but I've lived here longer," Caesar reminded him with a short laugh. "So, my boy," the host began with a cock of his brows, "have you any admirers at home, perhaps, who are cheering you on as they are in the Capitol?"

    Liam raised a brow at Caesar. "If you're thinking girlfriends, no," he shook his head. "Not in that sort, that is," the young man waved off. "Just my brothers and other close friends," he answered. "I MIGHT have an ex or two that wants me dead though," he wrinkled his nose.

    Caesar chuckled and motioned to Liam. "You? Dead? I can't see it," he smiled, though the end of his phrase, his tone seemed to turn grimmer. "Speaking of which . . . Your alliance is with your district partner, Correct?"

    "Yes," he nodded. Emily kept her eyes on the man as he answered Caesar’s questions without an effort. If only the Capitol could recognize how much he hated him. How much he hated all of them. His act was so believable. "That is correct."

    Caesar pursed his lips and leaned back in his chair before crossing one leg over the other, staring at Liam with interest and . . . What? Sympathy? "Your attitude certainly changed from your younger years toward her, it appears," he noted, more to narrate for the audience than to tell Liam this. "What made you have such a change of heart?"

    Liam lightly smiled and chuckled as his eyes fell to his hands clasped in his lap. Emily knew he’d pry on that. After all, why wouldn’t he? The two were seen holding hands in the parade and it was no surprise they had a really close connection. "She was having a tough time, then," he answered. "She didn't have any friends and she was often picked on," Liam continued. He then crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back against his seat, "I don't know, after a month of spending time with loner Em and getting to know her, I just warmed up to her."

    "Aw, how sweet, don't you think?" At that, he turned his head toward the crowd to listen to their ‘aws’ and mewls of agreement. Upon turning back to Liam, Caesar said: "And now, for the time being, you're inseparable! It'd make the perfect love story: childhood friends turned into loving sweetheart thanks to the Games; too bad neither of you seem to be too interested in giving us that satisfaction." 

    "Oh my god," Liam chuckled and pressed his face in his palm in embarrassment, and all to hide how red his face was from blushing. Emily smiled at that side of Liam. He was always so embarrassed at the mere idea of them together whenever others pointed it out. Of course, the two of them always responded negatively on the thought and said it would never happen. They were practically brother and sister, it would be weird!

    Caesar laughed a bit at his own tease, and shook his head, almost as if dismissing the thought, but also half-expected Liam to maybe comment on it. "And all these other tributes here. Do you think maybe they'll stand in the way of your alliance, one way or another?" 

    Liam peeked from his hands, stifling his laughter behind his hand as he stared at Caesar. "God, I hope not," he shrugged. "My only worry, really, is the Careers. From what I've seen in past Games, they always take out the weaker tributes first and work their way up to make things more challenging and interesting for them. My only worry is where Em and I stand on that list."

    Caesar laughed as Liam flustered a bit, just catching the boy's blush. "Well, judging by how you scored, the Careers may think twice before going after you," he mused with a light smile. "What secret abilities are you hiding there, Liam?"

    "And that's the problem, Caesar," he chuckled. "They'll think twice about me, but I have someone to protect that was, unfortunately, not so lucky to get a high score," the young man answered, completely ignoring his ‘secret abilities’ question.

    "Ah, but see, with you protecting her, surely there's some way out?" Caesar insisted. "Perhaps she knows a thing or two that she didn't show to the judges . . . Think you'll get for her by saying she may have a few tricks up her sleeve? Something she denied in her interview."

    Liam pursed his lips, suppressing a smile and scratched the tip of his nose for a second, then answered: "She could wink at the Careers to death? I don't know," he laughed. Emily chuckled and looked down at her hands in her lap. "If her ability was to charm me easily back when we were kids, then sure she'll charm the Careers and convince them not to kill her," he rolled his eyes.

    Caesar chuckled and pointed at Liam, cocking his brows. "I don't doubt it, Liam, she sure charmed me pretty well," he agreed with a laugh, but then smiled at the boy. "And so, you still mean to tell me, all she is to you is a friend?—Tell me, Liam!" He quickly moved on, interested on another topic suddenly. "What is the real reason you volunteered?" 

    Liam blinked at the host for a second and took in an uncomfortable breath. "The real reason is . . .” he paused for a second to take in a breath. He looked nervous. Hurt, even. What was he thinking? “I know she wouldn't get out alive on her own . . ." he answered solemnly. "And I can't bring myself to trust whoever would have been her district partner if I didn't volunteer . . ." 

    Emily couldn’t help but sadly smile. Couldn’t trust anyone else with her. He just HAD to stay her friend until their very last breath. And that hurt her more than it should.

    Caesar sighed, seemingly distressed but one could always just take it as a sign of mockery. As Liam's statement ended, the timer went off to announce the ending of Liam's interview, and all the host could do was dismiss him with one last wish of good luck.

    The interviews went on forever and then it ended, dismissing the tributes to go back to bed. Big day tomorrow . . .

    Liam and Emily quietly went up to their floor. The air was heavy, as it should be. They only had that night to live. Emily began to remove the accessories from her hair when the elevator doors opened. The two walked out slowly and toward each other’s room when Emily looked toward Liam. “Umm . . .” he paused and looked toward her. “Is it alright if I sleep in your room . . .?” she didn’t want to be alone.

    He didn’t give a verbal answer, only a nod. 

    Emily pulled her hair out from its braided bun, slipped out of her dress, and went to shower off the makeup and sweat off. Could she just stay in the shower forever? At least the hot water was comforting and safe. If only time could stop then and there. Eternal safety was all she hoped for . . .

    The redhead put on a nightdress and walked over to Liam’s room. He paced around the room nervously when his eyes went up to Emily’s. “I think the Capitol really liked you,” she chuckled.

    Liam mused and ran his hand through his hair. “Well, I did have you to work off of,” he said and plopped on his back to the bed. 

    “Yeah, seriously those questions?” she lightly smiled and hopped next to him and hugged a pillow to her chest.

    He pursed his lips and pressed his palms to his eyes. “I know . . .” Emily laid beside him and Liam peeked toward her. “So you don’t want to come out of this alive . . .”

    Emily stayed silent for a moment and nodded. “I’m scared . . . there’s no denying it . . .” she muttered. “But I do mean what I said . . .”

    He shifted his weight and turned to her. “Em . . .” She looked toward him. “Promise me you’ll get out of this alive . . .”

    She stared at him with fear in her eyes and shook her head. “I can’t promise—”

    “PROMISE me . . .”

    All she could do was stare at him and read what was on his mind. How could he ask her to make such a promise when she didn’t have the capability to keep it? “Are you scared . . .?” she asked.

    “Of course I am . . .” he mumbled. “But it’s not me I’m worried about.”

    Emily pried her eyes away from his. Of course his first thought was her. It was like being selfish was foreign to him. “The reason you volunteered in the first place is because you know I wouldn’t be able to survive on my own . . .” she said. “You tell me to promise you to get out alive, but you know for a fact I can’t—”

    “I love you . . .”

    She kept her eyes to the ceiling for two long minutes before she turned to him. It wasn’t like he never said he loved her. They said it to each other all the time. But it sounded different. It wasn’t a brotherly love he felt for a sister figure or said in a joking tone, it sounded . . . loving . . .

    They could only look at each other. Emily was absolutely confused and Liam looked terrified. Like he was afraid of her reaction. “I—” she began but choked on a lump in her throat. “Why—how long . . .?”

    The man pursed his lips and looked away from her, his body radiated heat and Emily could have sworn it was the hottest he ever felt. “Since I was thirteen . . .” he answered.

    Five years . . .

    “So . . . why would you volunteer if—”

    “I love you that much . . . okay?” he sighed. “Just . . . the thought of watching you die when I could have done something to stop it was too—” he stopped.

    “So dying in my place sounded better . . .?” Emily choked and tears escaped without warning.

    “As long as you got to live!” he argued and turned back to her. “Em, you’ve done all you could for me and you deserve to live another year more than anyone—”

    Emily interrupted him with a kiss. Her heart was filled with so much sorrow and love she didn’t how to handle it. Liam responded quickly and gently took her face between his hands and kissed her back desperately. He always wanted her and she felt that in his kiss. Emily moved closer to him and rolled on top of him as his hands slid down her face and wrapped his arms around her waist. She separated their lips first and looked down at him with the saddest eyes he had ever seen. “I don’t want to live another year if you’re not there with me . . .” she cried quietly.

    Her body trembled as she sank closer to him and nuzzled her head to his chest. She muttered that she couldn’t. That there was no she could live without him by her side. He was always there for her and the thought of him not walking beside her tore her heart in two. It wasn’t fair . . .

    “You have to . . .” he muttered and hugged her tightly. “Please . . . live . . .”

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