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Hail, Caesar

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Present Day

Katniss prowls the hallways of the mansion. Some days she’s just looking for a place to hide, other days it’s out of sheer boredom, but today she’s simply restless. This time, she finds herself in a corner of the East Wing that she’s never fully explored before. Ever since Paylor let her go in to see Snow, the guards have allowed her to roam wherever she pleases, so when she finds a door with a solitary guard on it she barely glances at her before going straight in. She assumes that the room is intended as a cell, but it appears to be a comfortable one. Its occupant looks up from his book and smiles.

“Greetings, Katniss. This is an unexpected pleasure; I wasn’t aware that I was permitted visitors.” The voice is unmistakable, which is good because Katniss isn’t sure that she would have recognized Caesar Flickerman with his hair a mousy brown, his face free of make-up, and his clothes plain and simple.

“Hello, Caesar. To be honest, I didn’t even know you were here, but after I paid a visit to Snow, they gave up on trying to stop me from going wherever the hell I want.”

“And how is our beloved president?” He spits out the last two words with undisguised venom.

“Still scheming away. He certainly doesn’t act like someone who’s waiting for his execution, it’s as if he still thinks he’s somehow going to slither his way out of here. He even tried to convince me that he wasn’t responsible for… for what happened to Prim.” She blinks rapidly, fighting back the tears.

“I’m so sorry abut your sister. She was such a lovely girl.” Katniss is confused by this, until she realizes that Caesar would have interviewed her family during the games. “However, I fear that as much as I despise the man, Snow may be telling he truth. He did many evil things, but never without a reason, not without some benefit to him. If he had access to a hovercraft, why did he not simply use it to save is own skin?” He shakes his head. “Removing Snow is truly a great service to Panem, but what if his replacement is just as ruthless and power-hungry?”

If this tallies a little too closely with Katniss’ own feelings about Coin, she chooses not to show it. “If you hate Snow so much, why did work for him all these years?”

Caesar sighs. “Surely by now you’ve learned what happened to people who dared to defy Snow. Or, rather, what happened to their families.”

The Thirty-Fifth Hunger Games

Caesar bolted awake, his heart racing. Beside him, Cornelia stirred, then pulled him into her arms. “The nightmares again?” she asked. Not trusting his voice, he simply nodded against her chest. “You can’t go on like this. You can’t blame yourself for every death.”

He laughed hollowly. “Why not? I’m the one preparing them for the slaughter.”

“If not you, then someone else. There’s nothing you can do to save them, short of overthrowing the government.”

“Not something I can attempt on my own.”

“I would help you, of course; but seriously, love, if you can’t save the tributes then at least save yourself. Give up this job, let someone else take on the burden.”

“I’m not sure it’s that easy, my position is a Presidential appointment.”

“And we have a new President. Perhaps he’ll want to put his own man in the job? There’s no harm in asking.”

“I suppose you’re right.”

“I’m your wife. I’m always right.”

It took a few days, but the following week Caesar was granted an audience with the newly sworn-in Coriolanus Snow. He hadn’t been in the Presidential office since Snow’s predecessor had given him the job a few years previously, but the new resident didn’t appear to have changed anything yet.

“Caesar, so nice to see you.”

“It’s an honor, Mr. President.”

“To what do I owe this pleasure?”

“Now that this year’s games are over, I’d like to offer my resignation. I’m sure you’ll want to make your mark by appointing a fresh face.”

“Now, why would I want to do that? You’ve only being doing this for, what? Four, five years? Already seems like you’ve been doing it longer than Marius or Sulla did. No, I think that Caesar Flickerman is now an essential part of the Hunger Games.”

“Please, Sir, I no longer want the job.”

“Nonsense! The job is yours for as long as I want. The people would be very disappointed if I replaced you.”

“You can’t…”

“Yes,” Snow cut him off, sudden steel in his voice, “I can.” He smiled; it wasn’t a pretty sight. “Why don’t you take a few days to think about it?” He gestured a dismissal, and Caesar quickly took the hint.

Three days later, after an evening out to celebrate their anniversary, Cornelia fell inexplicably ill. Caesar rushed her to the hospital, but there was little the doctors could do. They suspected some sort of food poisoning, but long before they could identify what, she was gone.

When Caesar was summoned to the Presidential mansion two days later, he got a sick feeling in his stomach. “Caesar, so sorry to hear about your wife,” Snow greeted him, without a hint of sincerity. “Now that you’re the sole provider for your daughter, I’m sure you see how important it is that you keep your job. You wouldn’t want anything to happen to her, too.” The threat in his voice was crystal clear.

“Of course, Mister President.”

“Good man,” said Snow, clapping him on the shoulder jovially. It was all Caesar could do not to shudder at the touch.

Present Day

“I’m sorry,” says Katniss, “I had no idea.”

“For almost half a century, I lived with his threats hanging over my head. First my daughter Julia, and then her children as well. Now I’m free of that, but I’ve no idea if they’re still alive.”

“Why are you even here?”

“Oh, Katniss, surely you’re not that naïve. Snow isn’t the only person in this mansion awaiting execution. I was the public face of the Hunger Games; for forty-four years I sent the districts’ children to their deaths. That’s not something a revolutionary government is going to forget.”

“You’re not responsible for the games. You were just a cog in the machine; a big shiny cog, yes, but it’s not like you could have done anything to stop it. Snow would have murdered your daughter and replaced you with someone more compliant. Probably someone who didn’t care about the tributes, someone who didn’t go out of his way to help them get the crowd on their side. Ask any of the other victors, I bet they’d tell you the same thing.”

He inclines his head. “Paylor did mention that it was Beetee who asked that I had these comfortable accommodations rather than being locked in a cell somewhere.”

“Besides, it doesn’t sound like you had much of a choice.”

“There’s always a choice, Katniss. History is full of terrible deeds committed by people who said ‘I was only following orders.’ Besides, once upon a time I did choose to take the job.”

“How exactly did that happen?”

The Thirty-Second Hunger Games

It was going to be Caesar’s eighth year as an escort, and his second with the prestigious District One. Still, he was surprised when three days before the reaping he was called to the mansion. “Ah, Caesar,” President Scaurus greeted him. “I’m sad to say that Sulla passed away last night. Rather inconvenient timing; it means that we need someone to take his place at very short notice. I was hoping that you would accept the job.”

Caesar’s eyes lit up. This was the career fast-track he’d always dreamed of. “It would be an honor, Mister President.”

Present Day

“Yes, but why did you want to get involved with the games in the first place?” asks Katniss.

“You could say that it was something of a family tradition.”

The First Hunger Games

Gaius Flickerman sat his fidgety son down in front of the television screen. “Come on, Caesar, it’s time to watch the opening ceremony. Don’t you want to see all the costumes your mother has been working on?” Reluctantly, the five-year-old child calmed down. A few moments later, a fanfare sounded and the chariots began to roll out.

The young boy watched, transfixed. It was a spectacle quite unlike anything he’d seen before. The garish costumes delighted him, and the general pageantry enthralled him. He tried to guess which of the outfits his mother had made, and decided that it must have been his favorites. Eventually, once the show was over, he turned to his father. “I want to be like mommy when I grow up! I want to help make that!”

The Eighth Hunger Games

It was long past midnight when Aurelia Flickerman got home from the interview show after-party. That year she was the stylist for District Four, and her designs had been the toast of the night. She wasn’t surprised to find her son was still awake and waiting for her. After Gaius passed away the previous year, Caesar had become utterly devoted to her.

“Hello, mother. I loved your designs tonight. I really don’t know why the other stylists even bother to try any more.”

She laughed. “You’re too kind. Still planning on taking over when I retire?”

“No, I’ve changed my mind. It’s not your job I’m after any more, it’s Marius’, to do the interviews.”

“Oh, really?” She was intrigued, “and why is that?”

“He’s become self-indulgent, and he doesn’t even try to hide his disdain for the higher-numbered districts any more. His job should be about making each and every one of the tributes shine, not himself.”

Aurelia looked at him, the pride shining in her eyes. “You know, I believe that you just might do it.”

Present Day

“So you were following in your mother’s footsteps?”

“Yes. She believed that it was her duty as a stylist to make her tributes look their best; to help them find sponsors, and to give them the confidence to face what was coming.”

“Like Cinna did for me.”

“Indeed, but what he did went so much further. He gave confidence not just to you, but to an entire rebellion – even though he must have known what the price would be. That’s something I never had the courage for.”

“But for you, it wasn’t just your own life at stake, was it?” Katniss points out.

Caesar looks at her sadly. “That’s small consolation, and a poor excuse.” He pauses. “Did you know that two thousand years ago, there was a great empire called Rome on the other side of the world whose leaders took the name ‘Caesar?’”

“I remember Plutarch saying something about it. Bread and Circuses, where the name Panem came from.”

“Exactly. The gladiators who fought in those games would traditionally say something to the emperor: ‘Ave Caesar, nos morituri te salutamus,’ which translates as ‘Hail, Caesar, we who are about to die salute you.’ I heard that echoing in the back of my mind at every Hunger Games since I was first an escort. I’ve sent one thousand and seventy tributes into the arenas, some of you twice. Fewer than fifty made it out alive; that’s a lot of deaths to have on my conscience.”

“I know something about that,” whispers Katniss. “I’ve lost count of how many lives my actions have cost, how many people would still be alive if I’d just eaten those damned berries!”

“Alive as slaves, until they were killed in the games or starved in the districts. No revolution comes without bloodshed; if you hadn’t lit the spark, sooner or later someone else would have.”

“Yes, but then it wouldn’t have been my fault, and maybe Prim… maybe Prim would still be alive.” Caesar has no answer to that, and a long silence stretches between them before he finally speaks.

“There’s nothing I, or anyone else, can say which will take away the pain that you’re feeling. All I can tell you is this: if you’re going to take the blame for the consequences of your actions, then you must also take the credit. Thanks to you, the people of the districts need no longer fear the Reaping. Thanks to you, they have the chance to live without hunger as their constant companion. Thanks to you, they are free.”

“America, the nation from whose ashes Panem was born, was a place which valued freedom above all else. Wars were fought, and millions of people died, all in defense of that freedom. As one of their early leaders said: ‘The tree of liberty must be refreshed for time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.’ The people whose deaths you blame yourself for are those patriots; without their sacrifice, willing or not, the districts would remain under the boot of the Peacekeepers, their people enslaved.”

“Perhaps,” admits Katniss, “but it’s one thing to understand that here,” she taps her temple, “and something completely different to feel it here,” she places a hand on her chest.

“You’re a good person, Katniss, even if you sometimes hide it well. That’s why you’re feeling his way. Do you think President Snow shed a single tear, or lost a minute’s sleep over any of his victims?” He shakes his head. “You don’t deserve this, I just hope that with time you’ll find a way to deal with it.”

“Thanks, Caesar. For what it’s worth, I don’t think you deserve this.” She gestures at his cell. “I may not exactly be in Coin’s inner circle, but if there’s anything I can do for you, I will.”

The Seventy-Fourth Hunger Games

Caesar knew what was coming, of course; they’d been thoroughly briefed by the Gamemakers the night before. It was only thanks to their decades-long working relationship that he could detect the hint of reluctance in Claudius Templesmith’s voice as he announced that, sadly, there could be only one Victor after all. He schooled his face into a mask of surprise and sorrow then, like the rest of Panem, he sat forward, watching intently to see what would happen next, how the tale of the star-crossed lovers from District Twelve would end.

When Katniss pulled out the berries, he didn’t need to fake his shock. The undercurrent of admiration, however, he did hide. Clever girl, he thought, imagining the consternation amongst the Gamemakers, they have to have their Victor… He was expecting it, then, when Seneca Crane burst into the room and gestured wildly at Claudius. The smile and nod he gave as the joint Victors were announced was a silent salute to the Girl on Fire.

Present Day

It’s just over a week before Caesar receives another visitor. “President Coin,” he greets her, unruffled, “to what do I owe this honor?”

“It seems that Panem has need of your services one last time, Caesar. The surviving victors have voted to have a final Hunger Games, to commemorate the overthrow of Snow’s corrupt regime.”

“Even Katniss?”

“I’m not at liberty to discuss individual votes,” she says, nonetheless inclining her head in a small nod.

“And what could possibly induce me to take part in that?” He shrugs. “You already have me scheduled for execution.”

“We’ve located your family,” Coin remarks off-handedly.

Caesar freezes. “Is that a threat, or a potential reward?” he asks at length.

“Why, Mr Flickerman, it’s both. If you refuse to play your role in the games, then it’s entirely possible that your grandchildren’s names will find their way into the reaping bowls. If, however, you agree, then they will be safe, and you can spend the duration of the games in the bosom of your family.”

“I see. Not really much of a choice, then, is it?” He sighs. “Very well, I shall lend my voice to your games.”

Coin gives him a thin smile. “Excellent. I knew you’d see things my way.”

“Congratulations on winning this mansion, by the way.”

Coin either fails to detect the sarcasm in his tone, or chooses to ignore it. “Thank-you, but the credit for that victory is shared among all of us who fought against the Capitol. And as for who succeeds President Snow, why, that’s for the electorate to decide.”

“Oh, I’m sure you’ll fit right in,” Caesar tells her, without a hint of irony.

The Third Quarter Quell

When Snow stepped up to read the card, Caesar carefully schooled his face. It was sure to be something awful, and he didn’t want an ‘inappropriate’ reaction to be caught on whatever camera might be pointed at him. At the words, “…reaped from their existing pool of Victors,” he clenched his jaw. He knew at once that this wasn’t random chance; the special rule for this Quell had been deliberately chosen to target the single female victor from District Twelve.

Of course, it wasn’t just Katniss. That year, every Tribute was going to be someone he already knew, and many of them would be people he considered friends. Most of the Victors returned to the Capitol for each Hunger Games, even if they weren’t acting as mentors, and many of those Caesar had interviewed felt that he’d in some way helped them. He didn’t have the heart to tell them the truth: he couldn’t help any of them, not really. If he’d helped one Tribute gain the sponsors that helped them to victory, that came at the expense of one who might otherwise have lived. No matter what he did, each year twenty-four tributes entered the arena, and only one left.

Until last year.

Present Day

When a month passes without further word, Caesar begins to wonder what’s going on. He sees no-one but the guards who bring his food, and they appear to have strict instructions not to tell him anything. When a second Presidential visit is announced, therefore, he’s quite unprepared to find that it’s not Coin, or even Snow, but Paylor.

“Hello, Caesar,” she greets him warmly. “I apologize this has taken so long; things have been rather hectic lately.”

“Of course, Madam President. I remember how much effort goes into organizing the Games.”

“Coin’s barbaric idea? Thanks to the Mockingjay, she never had the chance to announce it. We fought this war to end the Hunger Games, not to hold one of our own.”

“My deal…” begins Caesar, but half-heartedly – if there are no Games, then his grandchildren are safe, regardless.

“…is no longer necessary. We’re only seeking to prosecute those who were willingly complicit in Snow’s atrocities, not people who were simply acting to protect their families. Besides, with several of the surviving Victors having spoken on your behalf, public opinion is very much on your side.” Paylor smiles. “You are free to go… but first, you have some visitors.” She exits the room, leaving the door open behind her.

Moments later, a middle-aged woman steps hesitantly into the room. “Papa?”

“Julia?” His voice falters as she pulls him into a fierce embrace, and he weeps unashamedly as three teenagers come into the room behind her. “I’m so glad you’re all okay.”

“We were worried about you, Grandpa,” says the youngest of the teens. “It was on the news that you were one of the people who was going to be punished.”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen now,” Caesar reassures her.

“Nope! President Paylor said you were coming home with us. I like her – not like Snow or that woman Katniss shot.”

He looks to Julia for confirmation. “Katniss shot President Coin?”

She nods. “They said it was due to trauma from the war.”

Caesar snorts. “More likely due to blaming Coin for the death of her sister – something I can well believe after meeting the woman; she was no better than Snow. So, what else did I miss?”

Julia puts an arm around her father. “Come on, we’ll tell you all the news once we’re safely home.”

Home hasn’t felt safe in a long time, Caesar thinks to himself, then smiles. Perhaps now it finally will.