"Giants can be good, witches can be right; you decide what's good, you decide what's right."

Aurelian Rosenstein, President of Panem

"Thank you, Mr. President. That will be all."

The door swings shut, leaving a thick silence behind. I usually despise silence, but today it's like a melody. Anything is better than a chat with Llori.

I make my way through the office, pulling out my desk chair. The room isn't much, really, just a desk and chair and my small computer. I'd never really cared about adornment or organization, so it probably looks a mess, but no one really comes in here anyway. And it isn't as though I could successfully color-code anything.

The tips of my fingers gloss over the newest document a servant must've brought in, but I don't catch any of the words. I'm too exhausted, and my fingers are too light to detect the intricate formations that make up Braille. Even if I had read it, even if I'd approved or rejected it, nobody would care. Everyone knows the president doesn't have much say anymore.

Does it bother me? Does it scare me?

I don't know if I care enough about what they think to let it affect me. But then again, I have to care, don't I? I have to care or I won't be able to change anything.

I did approve Llori's idea for the Arena. But it was really only because I knew if I vetoed it, it wouldn't make a difference. It would be a scandal, a shock. I'd be considered a weakling in the eyes of the nation.

But didn't they understand? Didn't they realize they were sending children to die every year?

It doesn't matter if they're criminals, if they're rebels. The ones who actually committed the crime are long gone, and now nothing but the punishment remains. And even so, even if they deserve it, nobody should feel the pain of losing a child. Nobody should have to live every day with this ache in their chest, the pain that I know all too well.

Even though I'm supposedly the leader of the country, there is nothing I can do but sit helpless in my office, drowned out by the merciless voices of Panem. It's killing us. It's killing me.

Breath seems scarce today. I never think of myself as very claustrophobic, especially since the office has so much space from wall to wall, but I still feel like I'm being crushed, blocked in.

And what can I do to prevent it? How can I stop this senseless stealing of innocent lives every year? Don't they see how much damage they're doing, how their efforts to stop rebellion is only encouraging it?

I almost laugh at the irony of it. Yes, I'm physically blind, but I see far clearer than they seem to.

Or am I wrong? Am I really what they say I am? A coward, someone bent on destroying Panem? I was strong at first, or perhaps I was weak. I supported the Games with all I had. They called me a hero, a miracle. They sang my praises.

But I've watched too many lives being taken to believe their compliments. I've grown older. I'm not the fiery-eyed young dictator I was years ago.

Does that mean I'm losing my touch? Withering away?

I don't know. I don't know who I am anymore.

I once thought that being a Capitolite meant that you were safe. You were superior, almost immortal. I could thank my lucky stars that I was born fortunate, that I wasn't from one of those wretched, miserable outlying Districts.

But now I've realized. Nobody is safe. We're all just lost souls, willing to do anything to find our way back to the light.

It's a harsh world, isn't it? Assistive technology for the visually impaired didn't exist before I became president. But as soon as I happened to be lucky, favored by Panem, everyone wanted to invent it.

"In the name of our dear president," they said. "But we don't have enough money to give these to the outer Districts. Who even cares about them anyway; am I right, Mr. President?"

If I hadn't risen to power, nobody would've known. Never mind that there were likely thousands of outer district kids who had disabilities and were never given proper adaptation—no, it's only me that gets cutting-edge technology and perfectly manufactured Braille documents.

And that's when the guilt comes in; whenever I think of it. I know I should be grateful for everything they've done for me, but I still can't get rid of the shame. If those suffering in Six or Twelve don't deserve it, why should I?

It's torturous, the way the guilt strangles me, the way I'm wishing life could change with no way to change it. I've never been confident enough to command a room; something that's essential if you want to be a leader, as Llori Rosethorne has shown me. On top of that, the world doesn't change in a minute. It takes years to become something new. It takes cunning and care. And I'm not sure I have any of those things.

The silence was nice before, but it haunts me now. Just me in an office full of thoughts, struggling with a decision: continue to let Llori and the others live my life for me and take advantage of my position—maybe they really do know best, maybe I'm a fool—or try to eliminate the Hunger Games and make the Capitol aware of poverty and disability in the Districts; a seemingly impossible task. Both options scare me. I don't want to make things worse. But I also don't want to witness them worsen while I read from my digital Braille novel and let everyone step on my toes. I've spent my whole life trying to be independent, to advocate for myself. Advocating for a country shouldn't be daunting, especially since I'm technically the most powerful person in Panem right now.

But saving a country is easier said than done. And I'm not sure if I have what it takes to do it without getting myself or others in serious trouble.

I wander out of my room, into the hallway, muscle memory bringing me back to the greenhouse. The sweet fragrance of roses rises up to greet me, the only thing left of the late Coriolanus Snow, who had worked so hard to build an empire but ultimately failed.

I feel the soft petals of a rose. They bloom nearly year-round now; new technology has extended their life cycles so that these will likely remain bright until winter.

I clench my fist around the thorns. My resolve strengthens.

"I'd rather die," I whisper. The words surprise me, even as they come from my own mouth. "I'd rather die than sit back and watch a country crumble."

By the time the roses wither, the Games will come to an end.


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