“What do you mean you’re sending me to Two?”
Paylor looked up from the pile of papers strewn over her desk. “I’m sending you to Two. I’m fairly certain your orders stated that explicitly.”
Placing his hands on the solid mahogany of Paylor’s desk, Gale leaned forward, casting a shadow over the woman. “Yes. But why are you sending me to Two?” he said, placing undue emphasis on the word ‘me.’
An eyebrow rose. A twitch of the lips. A flicker of amusement. “Why wouldn’t I send you to Two?”
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe because I hate Peacekeepers? Or Careers? Or people know about my plans for the Nut? To name three.”
Gale’s hands clenched into fists. “I don’t want to go to Two.”
“I hate Two.”
“That seems hypocritical, coming from you.” Paylor leaned back in her chair, seeming unperturbed by the young man looming over her.
“I’m not a hypocrite,” he said through gritted teeth.
The raised eyebrow went even higher. “You do understand, Commander Hawthorne, that the citizens of Two were just as much victims of the Capitol as the rest of Panem. That the Capitol used them. Brainwashed them. Sacrificed them. And in the end, just like Twelve and Eleven and Eight, they joined with the rebellion to rise up against their oppressors.” There was steel in Paylor’s voice. Steel and stone.
“But why me?” Gale repeated.
“Who better than the Mockingjay’s cousin?” Paylor retorted.
“You know, we’re not actually related.”
“I do. They don’t.” Paylor leaned forward and rested her elbows on her desk, cradling her face in her fingertips. Her dark eyes captured his and refused to let go. “And you’re not going to tell them.”
A silent battle of wills ensued with neither party giving ground. Gray met brown. Storm met sand. Neither giving way. Neither willing to back down.
Gale tore his gaze away, standing up and crossing his arms over his chest. “You’re right I’m not going to tell them, ‘cause I’m not going.”
A smirk. The only physical acknowledgement that Paylor knew she’d won. “Yes, you are.”
“No, I’m not, and you can’t make me!” Gale knew he sounded like a child throwing a tantrum, but he didn’t care. He wasn’t going to Two. He wasn’t!
“You see this.” She pointed to the nameplate sitting on her desk, which read ‘Patina Paylor, President of Panem.’ “This says I can.”
He glared at her. “I refuse.”
That damned eyebrow quirk was back. “Are you telling me that you resign?”
“If that’s what it takes, yes.”
“I was afraid you might say that.” She opened a desk drawer to her right and pulled out a sheaf of papers. “In that case, Citizen Hawthorne,” she plopped the stack down in front of him, “I’ll need you and your family to vacate your Capitol apartment immediately.”
Gale stared at the papers, growing horror spreading through his chest. “You can’t… you’re evicting us?”
“Your apartment is Panem property and is suitable for a member of our new government. If you’re resigning, whomever I appoint to take your position will need a place to live.” Paylor always made everything she said sound like it was the only option. Like she was being perfectly reasonable.
It was one of the things he hated about her.
“I. Am. Not Resigning,” he finally said through clenched teeth. Posy would never forgive him if she had to leave the Capitol. His ma would be disappointed. He couldn’t do that to them.
“Good.” Paylor smiled like he’d just given her a bouquet. “Then you leave for Two tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?!” First he finds out he’s being deployed to Two and now he finds out that he’s leaving tomorrow, what’s next? He’s got to pretend to be engaged to that snaggle-toothed Victor? What’s her name? Enobaria?
“Yes, tomorrow,” Paylor said in a tone which was pleasant but also brooked no argument. “I’ll have your family send the rest of your things along later. But the sooner begun, the sooner done.”
Gale grumbled underneath his breath.
“I didn’t hear that, Commander Hawthorne. Would you mind repeating what you said?”
The smirk made a reappearance. “I thought not.”
Gale turned on his heel to storm off.
“Oh, and Commander Hawthorne,” she called out before he could reach the door, “one other thing.”
“Yes?” he ground out, turning around.
The pleasant voice Paylor had been using throughout the conversation fell away and her eyes hardened. “Don’t even think of trying to sabotage this assignment. If you do, I’ll strip you of your rank, court martial you, and immediately return you to Twelve.”
Gale felt the blood drain from his face.
Paylor continued as if she didn’t note his reaction. “I’m sure the Mockingjay will welcome you with open arms. Am I clear?”
“Good.” The pleasant voice returned. “I’m glad we had this talk. I expect your first report in a week. Don’t let me down.”
Gale thought about Katniss. The coldness in her eyes, the hatred in her voice. There was no way he was going back to Twelve. Katniss would kill him. Slowly. And he’d deserve it. He shivered at the imagined torture. “I won’t, President Paylor. I won’t.”