Fallen from Grace (Hunger Games)

68th Hunger Games

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34. Meeting the Victors

    Getting to the Capitol was just horrid. At least she had the vague suspicion that it was. It felt long after she took her medication, or maybe it felt short. It was difficult to tell when she was numb all over.

    The second day on the train she was mentally and emotionally prepared, and she wasn’t prepared for the massive bruise on Vulture’s cheek. She ended up busting her gut laughing, but quickly calmed down when Phox scowled at her and apologized to the tribute while stifling a smile. The little girl was unresponsive. Her eyes avoided everyone and only barely raised her eyes to her plate when she ate. She was so small and skinny. Her muscles were tense and her hands trembled underneath the table. Emily couldn’t help but see herself the previous year in the child.

    And that was what scared her to death.

    The moment they arrived in the Capitol, Abir aided her to where the other mentors hung out while the tributes got ready and she socialized with a few of them, then became overwhelmed when the numbers grew too big and playful for her.

    She mostly kept to herself or Abir once she managed to pry herself away from the curious victors and watched the kids and stared at their costume when they were close enough.

    The new victor blinked sleepily with a drink in hand and stared at the colors blend in together like a rainbow pool. The medication from yesterday was still in her system, but not as obviously strong. Water was more suitable to consume, but she much rather preferred her burning alcohol in her grasp. Emily had that feeling in her gut that she was going to absolutely dread mentoring Vulture and she would much rather be ditzy and bubbling with liquor fizz in her brain than be sober and telling a verbally aggressive brat what to do.

    Emily drained down her second glass of whatever she had in her glass and shook her head as it spread through her mouth and down to her stomach, leaving a sharp sensation on her tongue.

    “Might want to slow down there, Horwitz,” a voice recommended as a familiar freckle faced woman sat across from Emily. Kella from Three. She remembered her face. "I know the first year is rough, but two in less than five minutes is a bit overboard, mm?" Kella gave the other woman a crooked smile.

    “Two kind of doesn’t feel like anything when your first tribute is an asshole,” she sighed. Emily had given up holding her tongue back on cursing and just let it fly out, there was really no point anymore and it felt far more natural than making up the occasional silly words to replace the bad slang. But, she put her glass down and kept herself from raising her hand for another glass of whatever the closest Avox had on their tray.

    “Ahh, asshole tribute. That explains it. In that case, drink away,” Kella commented with a dry laugh, taking another sip of water “Just to make sure, I'm Kella Fairbain. It's Emily, right?" Emily returned a small smile as her hands clasped together in her lap and nodded to her. She didn’t quite process it at first, but Emily had realized Ms. Fairbain was the first person to call her by her maiden name since her interview before the Games.

    And she wasn’t sure if it felt nice or dreadful.

    She had gotten so used to being called by his last name that she nearly forgot she was another name.

    “So . . . it IS as weird as it feels the first year . . .?” she asked, bringing back up the woman’s comment earlier.

    Kella stared at Emily for a little while, thinking of something before she shrugged, “Sort of. I think it’s consistently weird, but you just kind of get used to it.” Pause. “Kind of the like the clothing here, or the food.”

    The whole Capitol in general, really.

    Kella crinkled her nose at the woman, a signal of her amusement. "Not a happy analysis, sorry. But even if the situation doesn't get any better, you probably will."

    That was . . . sort of helpful? Just sort of, Emily was letting it sink in and sit in her brain to marinate. Of course it wouldn’t be that simple. She won’t get over the dread that fast and the constant curious gatherings from all the Capitolites and victors won’t calm down in the first two days. On the plus side, by the end of the Games she’d be old news and everyone would be up in the new kids’ face the following year. Maybe she’d even tolerate coming to the Capitol—

    Oh, who was she kidding? The place was a hell hole no matter how many times she went. Sure, it was pretty, but it was a brainwashed city with brainless citizens that would eat anything that was spoon fed to them and believe anything they saw on television. The place was just a hole in ground.

    "Why Kella, did you just say something vaguely optimistic?" Kella groaned as Emily blinked up at another familiar face, Trace Brun. District Four mentor. Dark hair, blue eyes, tanned skin, the average appearance for someone living in that district. The man slipped into the chair just beside Kella and had that teasing smile on his face. “I’m not hearing things am I? Maybe I’m dead?”

    “You will be if you keep being a dick,” Kella replied with a scowl. She grabbed the decorative pillow from next to her in the chair and nailed him in the face with it. “This is Trace,” Kella informed the new victor. “If you ignore him, he goes away.”

    Trace muffled some comment, something about ‘frigid bitch’, but his profanities were stifled by the pillow.

    “Hello again . . . Mr. Brun . . .?” she started hesitantly. He didn’t seem all that playfully immature when she met him at the stupid Victor Tour party in Four. Or maybe he was. The parties were such a blur she couldn’t quite remember how either behaved. She was pretty much meeting them the first time again.

    One thing was for sure about the two, they tolerated each other. So, that meant that she might have to befriend one or two of the mentors around them in the next coming years whether she liked it or not.

    Trace tossed the pillow back at Kella, which bounced off her head and shot across the room, landing at the feet of a very bemused Woof. He gave Emily a million dollar smile and extended a hand. "So great to see you again, Miss Emily.”

    Kella rolled her eyes.

    “I’d ask how the Capitol is treating you thus far, but I’m sure we already know, so let’s just skip the pleasantries.”

    “You know, you interrupted—”

    “I always interrupt. It’s a habit. A necessity. If I don’t, you get to the newbies and make them unbearably gloomy about something they can’t change,” Trace explained.

    “But they can—” Kella started, her voice defiant, before Trace cut her off.

    “Kella, I’m trying to have a conversation with Miss Emily. Shut up.”

    Okay, terribly close to the point that she felt slow on their own mini argument conversation thing. If that was their idea of chatting, she wondered what bickering looked like. Or arguing.

   “No no, by all means. You guys keep on talking,” she chuckled and shook the man’s extended hand that was in desperate need of being shaken after a long awaited pause due to her fascination in their speech. “I would much rather listen to whatever this is. It’s quick and witty. Something enjoyable for once in this place,” the redhead smirked at the two.

    That and to avoid whatever promised gloominess she was promised if Kella talked.

    Kella crinkled her nose at the new victor. “I’m more interested in you; you’re the fresh meat, remember? Eyes are on you.”

    Trace rolled his eyes. “That’s Kella for ‘no, please, tell me about your struggles with fame and wealth and survivor’s guilt.’ She seems unable to grasp the concept that there are some things that people just don’t want to talk about,” Trace told Emily with an almost conspiratorial tone. “Don’t worry, I won’t force you to talk about that shit. I figure you’ve done enough of that in the last year anyway.” He grabbed a flute, filled with sparkling amber liquid, from the tray of a passing Avox and sipped at it.

    “You know, not everyone can just brush it under the rug like you,” Kella sniffed, looking aggravated. “Besides, I wasn’t asking about that. I just figured I should at least try to get to know the new girl.”

    “So you refer to her as fresh meat?”
   
    “I didn’t say I was doing a good job of it.” Kella turned to Emily, frowning. “So say something. Anything. What’s the one thing we should know about you up front?”

   She raised a brow at Kella. “Ummmm . . .” she pursed her lips as she was put on the spot of something to share. “Define something you SHOULD know about me? Like, something as small as my favorite color? Or something as deep as my second favorite color?” she tried in a joking tone. Like she was going to say anything they HAD to know about her. Took a little more than that to get her to talk.

    "Oh my god, Kella, she's offering her second favorite color!" Trace exclaimed dramatically, laughing behind his drink. Kella swatted him, looking annoyed.

    "Actually," Kella replied, keeping her focus on Emily. "I guess that you're avoidant, sarcastic, and have a tendency to deflect with humor tells me enough." Her mouth tugged upwards but her eyes weren't smiling.

    Trace rolled his eyes and looked to Emily. "Well I for one want to know your favorite color. It's more interesting than sitting here listening to Kella over analyze everything."

    Kella smiled at the girl.  "Trace also has a tendency to deflect with humor. You're in good company."

    "I wasn't joking."

    Emily pursed her lips for a moment to keep herself from frowning at the woman. It wasn't that she was wrong, but it was snarky and unsettling how she got that from what Emily said in the few minutes since Kella sat in front of her. "She can analyze why I like the colors I like," she shrugged. "I'm curious if she's spot on."

    Even if she said otherwise, Kella would know off the bat without having to acknowledge she was right. And that frightened Emily knowing someone could read her so easily. Just from a little joke? Yes, she did obviously try to avoid a serious question that had to be known about her, or something that makes her Emily. But it was still dodging a request.

    It was just colors. Not like she could say all the things wrong with her for liking certain shades like they had personality meetings of some sorts. Besides, they’re harmless little things about her. "Purple is my first," the redhead sighed. "And I've always had a bit of a soft spot for white. Or at least the absence of color."

    Kella leaned towards her, a crooked smile forming again. "Well," she started while Trace let out a melodramatic groan. "Your favorite color doesn't say much—I don't care much for purple myself—but the second favorite . . ." The woman crossed her legs.

    Trace took a sip from the champagne flute, looking bored.

    "Ordinarily, white would signify innocence, but in your case, judging on how you emphasize it as a lack of color, I would say that it's more of a yearning for innocence. I'm guessing—after all, all I know about you are your games—that your innocence was taken before you'd have preferred." She paused, "You liking white, or the absence of color in general, tells me you just want to start all over, have a clean slate. You want to be pure and innocent and naive again, but you can't."

    The woman finished, leaning back into her chair. By the look in her eyes, she loved to be challenged.

    "Any truth there?"

    Trace rolled his eyes. "And you think MY palm reading is stupid. You, Miss Fairbain, are full of crap." Kella waved him off, still looking at Emily with a clinical gaze. And merely just stared at the woman with a sinking feeling in her belly . . .

    She was spot on . . .

    Every word the woman said was like a hammer hitting a nail to the board. Hearing the truth was difficult to swallow, it didn’t help that her body reacted otherwise like her throat swelling up. The redhead blinked away tears that threatened to escape rubbed a circle on the back of her hand uncomfortably in her lap.

    Her want to be innocent again, her wants to start over again, too true and too hurtful to hear . . .

    Emily gave the woman a slight smile, though the pain in her eyes remained. “Right on the mark . . .” she sighed. “Then again, who doesn’t?” With everything they had to do in the arena, she couldn’t be the only one that wanted to go back to a time when everything seemed great. When their hands weren’t sullied with blood.

    The new victor supposed she was done socializing with people now.

    "True enough," Kella conceded, reaching for her water bottle. Her eyes watched the redhead carefully. "I suppose I could have guessed that of anyone."

    Trace smiled cheerfully, clearly trying to compensate for the tension clouding the air. "Well. That's Kella. Always right." He leaned towards Emily again, pretending to lower his voice. "I know it’s a bit obnoxious, and, well, frankly terrifying. You get used to it, trust me." He pushed his fingers through his hair. "Calder Troy—he won way back- and I have this theory that she's actually a cyborg designed by District Three which is why she doesn't fee—" He was cut off when Kella swatted him, nailing him in the gut.

    "Idiot." Kella made a face. "Stop giving the newbie weird ideas."

   Emily smirked at the two of them when they spoke to her and kept quiet. At least with them she didn’t have to talk a lot, they did enough of that to keep anyone out until asking questions or making comments to the third party.

    "Says the girl who just got all 'crazy, analytical bitch' on her," the man retorted. Kella scowled at him and stood up.

    Her eyes moved to Emily. "It was nice talking to you. I should check on my kids." Trace rolled his eyes at her dramaticism, watching as she retreated.  

    She nodded to Kella as she left and let out a heavy sigh as she raised a hand to an Avox. The tongueless girl walked over to her and offered Emily a drink, which she drained the first one in one go then took another. “You’re right about her always being right. It’s terrifying,” she said to Trace and dabbed the corner of her eye, feeling a dab of wetness on the tip of her finger. “How long did it take you to get used to her?”

    "Fairly quickly, but I had three years to get my bearings as a victor before she was thrown into the equation" Trace replied, trying not to stare. "She didn't mean anything by it, you know. She doesn't . . ." he paused, choosing his words carefully. "She doesn't get boundaries. She just says whatever pops into her head." Trace gave her a slight smile. "Don't take it personally. In fact, I would be more worried if she gave you the silent treatment. If she talks to you, she's at least of the opinion you have something worth saying." Trace shrugged. "So really, it's not worth getting upset over . . ."

    Emily shook it off and sipped her drink. “It’s fine. I . . . challenged her,” she shrugged. “And I’ve learned not to do that anymore,” the girl tried a tiny smile. “So, um, you do palm readings?” she raised a brow. Just get the topic off of her for the time being. It was too soon to slip away and it would be too rude if she did. Just maybe stick around another fifteen minutes or whatever and then disappear to drink some more. “That was your talent for your Victor Tour after you won?”

    Trace shook his head, laughing. “No, no,” he assured. “That’s more of a hobby, really. My mom was into that stuff when I was a kid, and it stuck. It’s interesting.” Trace downed the rest of his drink and set the empty glass on the table. His leg had been shaking since she asked him about his palm reading, clearly his fidgeting was a sign of discomfort.

    Apparently Emily wasn’t the only one whom hated having questions asked about her life. Suppose talking about your personal life after the Games still stuck no matter how much older you get.

    “It’s really simple to learn, too,” he offered indirectly and half-heartedly.

    “Maybe another time,” the redhead shrugged. “Like . . . after I get my bearings as a victor.” However long that would be. For Trace, as he said, was three years. Kella won half a decade ago, so she had some time too.

   Maybe she just needed another year.

   That, and the man was still a stranger to her. Hanging around to learn a hobby of his sounded too long and that was a toe out of her comfort zone for her. For the time being.

   “Thanks though,” she weakly smiled and scratched the back of her hand, her discomfort slowly crawling under her skin. The parade was good and over and she probably had to go and check on her own kids. Well, ride on Abir and Phox to do the mentoring while she sat back and absorbed what they normally did to lecture their new batch of possibilities. “I should go and check on the tributes. It was nice meeting you again, Mr. Brun,” Emily said and pushed herself off her chair.

    She really didn’t need to check on her tributes, she was just done socializing with the other victors. It was practically overwhelming. Emily let out a quiet sigh and walked toward the elevators up to the Eighth floor.

    So that was her life from then on . . .

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