"The Universe is very, very big. It also loves a paradox. For example, it has some extremely strict rules.
Rule number one: Nothing lasts forever.
Not you or your family or your house or your planet or the sun. It is an absolute rule. Therefore when someone says that their love will never die, it means that their love is not real, for everything that is real dies…"
"Is my hair alright?"
"Perfect," she assures.
"And my tie, is it too crooked? Does the color look a bit…off?"
She shakes her head, slowly and with utmost certainty. "You're great..."
I scowl, "Am I really?"
She pauses, leans over, and nudges my chin, "Hey, look at me, darling," she coos. My eyes flicker and I fight to hold her gaze. "You're a...bright, shining star. Brighta' than the whole sky."
I crack a smile, "Come on..."
"It's true, darling!" She laughs as she backs up and frames me with her fingers.
"You promise?" I tap my fingers on the side of my leg nervously.
Her hands fall, but her gaze does not. "I promise wit' two cherries on top. Now stand still, honey," she chimes. Then she goes back to circling me like a jackal, eyes narrowed and fingers clenched together.
Her eyes scan the entirety of my suit, searching for any imperfections—anything that might set the people off in the slightest. It couldn't be yellow, it would have been much too bright and sunny and they would notice that. But it couldn't be anything dark like a navy or violet.
Then she tilts her head and chews on her thumbnail with such force, as if her final verdict meant the future of this entire country.
And if only it weren't true.
I took great care this morning choosing my tie, because my father once told me the color of a man's tie tells people what kind of man you really are. If you choose a tie too dark, you'll be perceived as boring and mediocre and everybody will lose interest. But if it's too light or too patterned, people will assume you're trying too hard to please. I never understood why it mattered until now.
The real trick is to wear a tie that looks like it was chosen without care; make it a bit loose, or shift it a little. People will catch on pretty quick, and one of them is bound to mention it eventually. I've learned that something as small as a crooked tie can distract people and leave an impression on them—it'll leave them guessing, wanting more. Unpredictability, I find, can serve as a deadly offense.
And that is why I chose a soft gray. It doesn't mean anything. See, the color doesn't really matter in the end, but the tie does. My father and I never seemed to agree on that.
"There," she pats my shoulders and takes a few steps back, a proud look on her exceedingly tanned face. She bites her bottom lip, "Turn around for me, honey", she shrills in that devilish accent. I sigh and slowly spin around with a small simper on my face. "You look just adorable. They're going ta' love ya', I promise." She snaps her fingers at some Avoxes.
One of them rolls in a full length, gold accentuated mirror and positions it in front of me. I can't help but admire the work of the stylists. There is not a single flaw on my face—my suit is perfectly ironed and my teeth a glistening white. My hair is combed and tousled just enough to give me the appearance of a young man who awoke this morning to a horrible nightmare, nervous and excited at the prospect of taking over his father's role as president of Panem.
My suit has false wrinkles in areas where it counts—this is, after all, a difficult period of time for a man so young. I was instructed by governing officials to appear engaging and aloof; barely aware of the laws of the Capitol, misunderstood and slightly overwhelmed. This isn't to say, of course, that I am only acting. Obviously, I am in mourning, and I certainly am very nervous. But, behind the scenes, it's important to be strong, and in a couple of weeks, I can freely show Panem this confidence and strength. I can say with utmost sincerity that I, Leon Lockhart, have never felt better.
I slowly place my palm on the mirror, just to make sure this is all real. That I am indeed the man I am, and that in a couple of minutes, I will present myself for the first time to the entire country. It's unbelievable, really. Here I am, barely twenty-one years old and ruling the entire goddamn country.
I flash myself a dazzling smirk and gently glide my fingers down the mirror's surface.
Soon, some men with large black cameras and microphones enter the room, but before they can even approach me, they are brushed off the side by several armed guards.
I get an idea to glance down upon my shined shoes with a look of insecurity for the cameras, because I need to act like I am frightened of this new role thrust upon me, no?
"I still don't know if I'm ready for this. What if they don't love me like you said? What if I say the wrong thing?" I worry.
The slightly orange woman—her name escapes me even now, massages my shoulders from behind and consoles me with a quote from what I think is a poem. It is rather strange but I pretend like it really moves me. When she's finally finished with her recital I look up and, rather regrettably, give the tanned woman an awkward hug without actually touching her. I don't want my suit to get any unwanted wrinkles, and I really didn't want to touch the woman anyway.
"Settle down, Leon. Wait until afta' the speech, mkay? Then you's can hug me all ya' want." Oh that just sounds delightful. Now I'll have to find some way to avoid her after I get back in.
It requires great effort not to roll my eyes. Something about these "stylist" people always irked me. My father used to encourage me to date a Capitol woman in the entertainment industry because that way I'd get some more publicity. I always assumed the old man was joking. I couldn't always tell. Before he passed I was something of an enigma because I was so rarely seen outside the mansion walls. It wasn't that I was advised never to show my face, it was more like I just hated being seen in public. I imagine my emergence as the nation's leader will be a shock, not so much because he died, but more because people may have forgotten I even existed.
I'm suddenly beckoned over to a corner of the lavish marble room by an important looking bald man wearing an earpiece. It's strange having people this significant talking to you. I could have sworn I saw my father talking to this same man months before. Back then, being merely the President's elusive son, attendants and Avoxes were instructed to leave me be unless I was being delivered meals or reminders. I was never fond of being interrupted while I was studying, but I couldn't help but feel a twinge of jealousy when my father was constantly surrounded by people I've seen on television. I always wished to feel that sense of importance. And now that I have it, I think I understand now why my old man had to keep dying his hair. The stress is unbelievable.
"Sir, I'm afraid we're a bit behind on schedule. We're going to give you about five minutes out there before we need to escort you to the theater room for the viewings if you want to watch them live. Also, you have an interview with Nimbus at noon and a press conference to attend at four. As is tradition, there will be a grand feast tonight at around nine. This will, uh, give everyone a chance to get acquainted with you. Tonight, don't forget we will have a conference concerning some other important issues—we'll go over all that later."
My head is swimming as the official breathlessly goes over today's plans. One thing I am genuinely interested in though, is a subject that everyone seems to be curiously avoiding. I rub my chin and decide it best to break the ice, "And of those viewings later…they are for the Reapings, correct?"
The man hesitates, but nods affirmatively. "We felt it best if you were informed about them after the speech—things are just a bit chaotic at the moment."
"I understand," I grimace. In reality, I don't understand any of this. I should have been informed of all this earlier. Why do I suddenly feel like there's more I'm not being told? I want to say something more to the man, to ask him what's being kept secret, when I notice a rapid movement coming from the doorway, accompanied by a roaring outside that sends vibrations through the very walls of the mansion. I suddenly feel a massive weight on my shoulders.
"Mr. President, be ready. You're on in about 30 seconds," says a voice from the doorway.
Damn, I didn't expect it to be so soon. And 'Mr. President'? The name sounds odd—unfitting, and foreign. I mean…I knew this was coming one day, it was inevitable I would assume the mantle. But to be called it…that was my father's title. My head is spinning, voices from every direction pushing me towards the door—but not before my stylist reaches for my shoulder.
"Wait, darling. You'll be needin' this," she hands me a small vial of an unlabeled substance. It looks like an eyedropper. I give her an unabashed look.
"Fake tears, Leon. You's gonna need em' for the look you goin' for. Quick, now. A good two drops in each eye will make those eyes watah' in no time."
I lean my head down and drip the liquid into each eye. Upon impact into my pupil I feel a stinging sensation, and I'm momentarily blinded. I curse and knock into somebody, and I hear a few chuckles which really annoys me because nobody bothers to steer me in the right direction.
I don't even have a chance to open my eyes before I feel myself being practically shoved out the large white door onto the balcony. I stumble near the microphone, the roaring of the crowd so loud it deafens my senses until the screeching feedback from the microphone forces a perpetual silence from the thousands below.
I rub my eyes and upon opening them, the blaring rays of the sun shine right into my pupils, blinding me again, forcing me to shield my face. When my eyes finally get adjusted to the new day, my breath hitches at the sight of the crowd below. Thousands of blue camera flashes twinkle from beneath, hypnotizing me—the idea that now the entirety of Panem has its eyes on me is both a daunting and exhilarating prospect that can only be experienced in order to believe it. I swallow down, the dryness in my throat overwhelming. It's as if I shoved cotton in my mouth, and it's humiliating.
I glance back towards the doorway which is ajar several feet behind me. The blue haired official mouths a "five minutes", and I guess because I'm still looking at him he starts to freak out and gives me a multitude of hand signals. The first is five fingers, the second is a "turn around" hand signal, and finally, his hand meets his face and he retreats back inside.
I clear my throat but because I'm so close to the microphone, it's heard. I can't exactly pinpoint individual faces, but there is a sea of rainbow that hasn't moved or uttered a sound. Hopefully that's an OK sign.
When I finally speak, the first thought that comes to mind is that I need something to drink. "Water," I sort of mumble to the side, but that too gets heard and the entire crowd seems to shift.
I hear some whispers behind me before a man in a white suit scurries over to me and thrusts a small flask of sparkling water in my hand. I thankfully manage to grasp the bottle and take a long drink. The coolness that surges through my throat is a blessing. After I put the water down, with a saturated mouth and a refreshed outlook, I then mutter the only thing I know how.
"Uh…hey," I smile. And the entire crowd erupts.
To remark that this is the greatest moment in my life would be an understatement. For years I've stood within my father's shadow, naïve and innocent. I watched on as he persuaded hundreds with an iron fist. I watched him as he ordered out executions upon suspected insurgents. I realized I wanted this power for a long time. Patience was key, and my father would have wanted me to wait longer. But I always knew I'd be ready.
In the moments afterward I cannot quite recall the words that slipped through my lips. I guess it didn't matter. The people cheered either way—everything I did, whether it was itching my sweaty brow or taking another sip of the water. The important thing was that I knew I never hesitated. I played my part, and soon enough, just as the stylist had said, my eyes began to water. I hated acting like I was still broken about his death—truth is, it's the best thing that ever happened to me. I loved you dad, but this…this is good. I like this. It's so much better.
I realized my time was running up. I also realized I had nothing much else to say, and as I fumbled over sentences in my head, when it became so quiet that you could have heard a pin drop in the crowd, the greatest thing happened. It was a high pitched voice, loud and clear, definitely a kid. "Mr. President, I think your tie is crooked!"
The plan worked better than I had thought. Not only did the kid notice at the perfect time, the audience went nuts. It took a little while for them to calm down, but throughout that long period of applause, I managed to think out the perfect response. I smiled, as genuinely as I could muster, and clumsily straightened my soft grey tie.
"Huh, I think you're right. Is it better now?"
I knew my tie was crooked all along, and as you may have remembered, once the boy pointed it out, everyone else noticed it too. Once they realized my error, they joined in on the fun, laughing along with the boy at the young President's clumsiness.
'How could the man be so clumsy?'
'Give the guy a break, he just lost his dad.'
Those are the reactions I wanted to elicit. Hopefully, if I keep the tie thing going, it will become a part of my…character, if you will. See father, you never understood my argument. You were distracted by color and design—blinded by order and structure. All it takes is an error or a mishap to get these people talking about you. I'm sure people are talking about it already. And the more they talk, the more they start to love you. And I think these people will definitely love me. They will adore me. Some already do.
After a few moments, my microphone gets cut off. I was a little upset, because I wanted to talk about my father's legacy, just to show everyone that I still cared.
Being the President of Panem has its benefits—surely that's a given. But I think the best thing about it all is that I'm important now. People are going to recognize me as a powerful figure, not the same obscure, shaggy-haired kid scrounging around within the mansion walls. Now I've become a franchise—a global phenomenon. From now on until the day I die, whatever decision I make will largely impact the lives of those below me. I hold the future and lives of millions in the palm of my hand. Isn't that something? You don't really get a chance to think about those things until later when you're lying in bed, to be alone with your thoughts.
Thing is, I have been thinking about those things. I've been thinking about them for as long as I could remember.
When I was younger, my father used to tell me about the feelings associated with being the leader of an entire nation. He related it to feeling like "being on top of the world". I nodded at the time because I never really understood it. The idea was foreign to me. As a kid, I was keen on the idea of truths and facts. Impossibility was something too difficult for me to comprehend.
My way of thinking was that if I couldn't experience something, then surely it was implausible, right? How could somebody feel like being on top of the world? To be on top of the world, even figuratively, would be the equivalent of having ultimate control over everyone and everything. It would be implying that one is a god. But gods don't exist. Not in this century.
And so I nodded, because that's all I ever did. I agreed on the outside, but on the inside I knew it was bollocks. As I grew older, my father talked about it more and more, about power and responsibility, about control and courage. I just assumed he needed to get these things off his chest. And so I listened, and I nodded.
He talked a lot about that "feeling", and I started to wish I had it, even though I knew it was impossible. Ironically, one of the last conversations my father had with me was about that feeling too. It wasn't meant to be prophetic, because I didn't think about it much then either.
But standing here now, with the thousands of lights twinkling in the distance, my face glowing under the radiance of the sun and my voice being heard through millions of television sets, is this it?
On top of the world?
A/N: Welcome to Radiance guys, I hope you enjoyed the preface as much as I enjoyed writing it. I decided to release this on Halloween...well, just because. I thought the date would make for a somewhat decent debut. This story is the product of nearly a years worth of brainstorming. It all began in February with a question as I re-read the Hunger Games: What if everyone's favorite villain, Coriolanus Snow...wasn't the President during the events of the original story? It was at first, a feeble thought. But after some pondering I decided instead of creating a story with a random president in an insignificant Games, what if I just added in a new President after the 74th Hunger Games? How would the characters from the original story react? How would the entire timeline of the original story be effected as a result? If Coriolanus Snow isn't the President, then what happened to him? Will Effie Trinkett still be as annoying as she was in the original? Well, my dear readers, have no fear, because all these questions and more will be answered in the story.
Well, you might be asking to yourself, then who is this guy we're reading about? The name of the president in this story and for the immediate future, is President Lockhart, and if you haven't guessed already, he's a bit younger than one might expect. While I can't talk about this too much yet, I can say more of this will be discussed later in the story.
This story was not intended to be an SYOT, and every character you're about to see, including their names and personalities, all come from my imagination. Any beared resemblance to characters not of my own or even to those in real life is purely coincidental. I've taken inspiration from various outlets, but hopefully you'll find these people are interesting to read about. And yes, at some point, we are going to see the appearance of Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark. As a matter of fact, the Mentors will be all the characters who starred in Catching Fire. So, to all you Finnick lovers, he will indeed be appearing shortly.
I plan to create a trilogy, and I've already made a promise to myself that even if this project never comes to light, I will at least complete this story. Reviews are appreciated, as well as any criticism. I don't usually respond to reviews, but I do read each and every one, and it means a bunch. If the review is detailed and long, I will indeed respond and address any questions you may have.
Now buckle up, we're taking a trip to the stars.