The office of the President of Panem hadn’t changed much since Patina Paylor took office. The same ornate desk. The same overstuffed chair. The same doodads and gewgaws decorating the room.
The only real change was the occupant.
And even there, Violet thought, Paylor and Snow were remarkably similar.
It was the last which spurred Violet into her visit the day after Katniss’s trial. She had a beef with the president and after what happened with Coin, she was not about to lose another member of her family to the whims of another so-called president. Crossing her arms and staring at the president, she asked, “Why does Haymitch Abernathy have guardianship over my seventeen-year-old daughter?”
She’d gotten the news via broadsheet. The woman didn’t even have the decency to tell her herself.
Paylor blinked slowly, most likely deliberately, and stated, “Because he’ll be accompanying her back to District Twelve.”
“Then I’m going with them.” She didn’t want to go back to Twelve, but where her daughter went she was going to follow.
“No. You’re not.” The words were quiet. Even. Emotionless.
Violet’s response was anything but. “Katniss is my daughter. My only daughter! Of course I’m going! She needs me!”
“Katniss doesn’t need you. Panem does.”
Violet’s fists clenched. “How dare you say my daughter doesn’t need me? I’m her mother.” How dare this… person suggest such a thing?
An emotion that seemed almost like sympathy flashed across Paylor’s face. “Your daughter hasn’t needed you for years.”
Guilt oozed through Violet’s veins, chilling her to the bone. She couldn’t deny that Katniss had been forced to grow up far too soon and it was her fault. Everything that had happened was her fault, and she needed to make amends. Her nails pressed into the skin of her palms, just on the edge of drawing blood. “She needs me now.”
“No, she doesn’t,” Paylor said, her voice cold. “She needs someone who understands her. Understands what she went through. Someone who can pull her out of her depression and not cause her to sink further into it.”
“And you’re saying that I’ll make her worse.”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying.” Paylor shifted, leaning forward and resting her hand on one fist. “Look, I get it. I’m a mom, too. You love your kids. But at some point, you have to let them go. I’ve heard about what happened to you after your husband died, and you have my sympathies. Raising two girls on your own in the poorest district in Panem? That couldn’t have been easy. And I get you wanting to hold onto your last remaining child, keep her close, keep her safe. And some kids, that’s the best thing for them. But your daughter’s not like that. If you went with her, you’d smother her. Coddle her.” Paylor held up a hand to still Violet’s objection. “You’d feed each other’s misery. And I’ve already got a suicidal Mockingjay on my hands; I don’t need my new Chief Medical Officer for District Four going down the same path.”
Violet winced. A part of her knew Paylor was right; without the pressing need to keep Prim alive, Katniss could and would fall into depression. Mother and daughter were alike in that respect. “You’re sending me to Four?” she asked instead, veering away from the unwanted introspection.
“Four needs you. And I think you need Four.”
“But it’s so far away.” She wasn’t even sure exactly where Four was. Someplace coastal and warm. Maps were still a precious commodity and not shared except on a need-to-know basis.
“I know.” Paylor’s tone was pleased.
“I don’t know anybody there.”
“I’d have to start all over.”
“Exactly.” Paylor spread her hands on the desk. “I think putting the past behind you would be the best thing for you. It would be the best thing for Panem.”
Violet didn’t particularly care about what was best for Panem. Panem had sacrificed one of her children and destroyed the other. Panem could go hang. “What am I supposed to do as Chief Medical Officer?”
“For now, you get a clinic set up. Start caring for the sick. Train up nurses and other doctors. The Capitol took out most of the Rebellion’s medics, and I wouldn’t trust most of the remaining Capitol doctors with a steri-strip, let alone a scalpel.”
“Haymitch will look after her. The man loves her like she was his daughter. He’ll give her the space and the support she needs.”
“And when can I see her again?” If Paylor kept her from her daughter forever, Violet wasn’t sure what she would do.
“I’m not banning you from Twelve permanently, and I won’t prevent you from telephone calls. But I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to go to Twelve for a good long time.” Paylor leaned back, a pleased expression coming across her face. “Besides, you’re going to be very very busy in Four. You won’t have time to go to Twelve.”
“And if I refuse?”
A hard, cold expression settled on Paylor’s face. “I’d say you have a long walk ahead of you. I’ve given orders that no train is to transport you to District Twelve without my express say-so. I can’t stop you from going to Twelve, but I don’t have to make it easy on you.”
“You’re as bad as Snow.”
Some emotion flickered in Paylor’s eyes. “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
“No. You’re worse than Snow. At least he didn’t try to hide what he was doing underneath lies and pseudo-concern. You’re doing this because you think it’s what’s best for Panem, and you don’t take into consideration anyone’s feelings.”
“You’re right.” The emotion coalesced into righteousness. I don’t take anyone’s feelings into consideration, not even my own. But I don’t lie. Haymitch will take care of your daughter. You will be able to see her again. And I do need you in Four. But I also need you in Eight, Thirteen, Two, and Three. Given the options, I thought you could do with some sunshine and a new start, a place that holds no memories for you.” Paylor’s face stilled, her eyes growing cold. “If you want, I could send you someplace else. Three, maybe?”
Violet shook her head. Gale had told her of the bombs, and who made them. She didn’t think she could separate her feelings enough to do a good job in Three. “I don’t like you. And I don’t like how you’re doing things.”
“You’re entitled to your opinion,” Paylor said in a tone that matched her expression. “The next election will be in two years, but until then, we’re going to do things my way.”
Seeing that the conversation was over and she’d lost, Violet stalked to the door. As she opened it, she glanced over her shoulder to see Paylor watching her, her face carefully blank. “I look forward to voting against you in two years.”
The blankness fell away to reveal something akin to wistfulness. “So do I.”