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HG: Real Friends - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: Real Friends
Another one? I'll keep 'em coming until I run out of things I've been thinking about, I think.

So this is from Catching Fire, from the morning of the cameras' arrival to the scene where Peeta comes out and apologizes.


"I've got a piece of advice for you," Haymitch says, going to the window and looking after Katniss as she runs toward her house. Apparently, leaving through the front door wasn't showy enough. "Are you listening?"

"Don't tell me," I say. "'Stay alive.' You already gave me that advice."

"Which is why it's not what I'm telling you now. I'm telling you this because I actually like you, for some reason."

I roll my eyes. "What is it?"

"Get over it."

"What?"

He points at the window. I can see Katniss at her door now, disappearing inside. "Get over it. This thing. For someone who was willing to die for her six months ago, you don't seem real willing to actually deal with her."

I consider arguing with him. Katniss is the one not dealing with me. She was the one who lied about how she felt. But it's not worth it. Haymitch may like me. I think he might even love me a little, as much as he's capable of loving anyone. But if Haymitch were a sixteen year old girl, he'd probably be Katniss Everdeen. Which means he always thinks she's right.

I shove the bread at him across the table--I've been trying to make sure he consumes something other than white liquor--and leave without saying anything else. He can clean himself up for the cameras. I wonder if they'll send him his own prep team. Probably not. He'll likely share mine, since my prep doesn't take as long as Katniss's. Some shaving, a little polishing, and a shot. At least I assume there will be a shot. There was last time. They said it was to keep my beard from growing in. Dad guesses it has other effects, and I kind of think he's right. Then they're free to try and make something of Haymitch.

I head over to my house, walking slowly because I still haven't quite gotten the feel for the leg they wired up to my nerves. One foot feels cold like it always did; the other sends messages to my brain that it's tingling, like it's caught in a mild electrical field. It doesn't always catch the lay of the land, either, and I've taken more than one spill when I'm not on flat ground. Still, it's pretty impressive, and I don't need the cane anymore. They blended the plastic with my skin tone pretty well, and from a distance, I look like I still have a whole body. It feels, it twitches. The foot is even ticklish. I hate it.

When I get home, my brother Jonadab is there with his wife, Sarey, who is so pregnant that she's uncomfortable to look at. She has occupied herself with decorating my dining room for the cameras--her parents keep a restaurant, and she knows what people will want to see. Mom, Dad, and Edder haven't come yet, but they'll be expected to be here for the reporters. They put on a pretty good show themselves. I've seen the interviews. In fact, when I first got back, I watched the highlight reels Effie sent us almost obsessively. There's more in them than they showed us on the stage. All of the home interviews, training footage... all there. Katniss refused to have anything to do with watching it, so I saw it alone.

I saw her. I saw her take pity on me, and then I saw the way she started playing the game. It was my fault, I guess, starting it in front of the cameras.

I've stopped watching now. Instead, I paint. I pull the images out of my head and put them on canvas and try to see where my mind went so wrong that I started to believe it all.

Jonadab is arranging the canvases in my studio when I get there. He and Edder and I took the attic apart and built it into a serious art studio (Mom and Dad did the kitchen, which Dad says he's jealous of). When we took out the walls, we found a few bugs, and accidentally destroyed them. Since the Capitol doesn't admit that they bug houses in the Victors' Village, and they couldn't do anything about replacing them without sending in very conspicuous crews, the studio has been left alone. I spend most of my time in it now.

I paid for almost everything here, but when I got back from the Games, I found a wooden paint box waiting--nothing special, with just the basics in it. Mom, who watches every coin with a jealous eye, had bought it for me at the height of the Games, when everyone sane thought I was as good as dead. That was why Dad had forgiven her the thing she said at the justice building--telling me that I wouldn't win, and Katniss was the survivor. That's why I forgave her, too. It's still not easy, and we get on one another's nerves, but we're working on it. So are Mom and Dad.

"You know they'll want to see the Katniss pictures," Jonadab says, moving a canvas into a collection he's made at the front of the room. "At least some of them--how many did you paint, anyway?"

I blink and look around the room, and suddenly, I realize that she's everywhere. Looking at me from my own canvases, gray eyes wide and... something. I should get rid of some of these. Let everyone see that I'm no more in love with her than she is with me. That it was all a game. "Just pick a few of the good ones," I say.

"They're all good, Peeta."

"I think they'll all get the idea that this is still going on. How stupid is that? We're sixteen. Why would anyone think it would last? Even if she did actually care about me."

Jonadab raises his eyebrow. He and Sarey have been together since they were fifteen. But he doesn't say that. Instead he says, "Peeta, you're an idiot."

"What?"

"You heard me. You're an idiot. I'm tired of this wounded routine. That girl saved your life often enough that I lost count. And anyone who saves my baby brother's life is permanently in my good books, no matter what he's trying to convince himself he doesn't feel about her."

"Thanks for the wisdom," I mutter, and look for canvases that don't have Katniss on them.

"You know they're not going to let you drop it. Even if you actually wanted to."

"I do want to."

Jonadab doesn't even bother arguing with me about this. Instead, he lines up a series of my canvases. She is in trees, in the cave, hunting, holding out the nightlock berries. There is one that isn't from the Games, an attempt I made to paint her that long-ago day in the rain, eyes like the gray clouds in the sky turning to look at me. She remembers that day because of the bread. I never thought much about the bread. But I do remember that, when she looked at me, I had a sense that she actually saw me, which, weird as it sounds, made me feel closer to her than I felt to most of the people I saw and talked to every day in school. Or at home. I felt like that girl understood me. I realize now that this was insane. She didn't know me. I still think she doesn't.

I don't think the painting is very good, but it was the best I could do. And there's something about her the eyes. They're almost right, almost what I see when I dream. Finally, Jonadab places a series of paintings I did not make from memory, but from the tapes. These will definitely be removed before Haymitch or Katniss sees them, as both of them think I'm crazy for having watched. They show her pounding on the window, screaming my name as I'm taken to surgery. I watched that a lot at first. I still don't understand it. I don't think she even knew they were filming her.

"I don't know whether she's in love with your or not, but don't you dare say she doesn't care about you."

"I think I'm a little closer to this than you are."

"And I think you lost your mind along with your leg if you don't know that this girl is your friend. Your real friend, not just one of those people you can charm for a few days and forget about later."

My mind flashes back to the arena, to chatting up Glimmer, talking sports with Marvel, even trading a quip or two with Cato. The girl from Four was Charlotte, but after a mishap with the cooking fire, we called her Char-Broil. Even Clove, once she got over the humiliation of being disarmed at the Cornucopia (well... sort of got over it), could laugh now and then. Jonadab's wrong if he thinks I forget about people.

But truthfully, if things had gone the way they usually do in the Hunger Games, they'd have kept laughing while they killed me and each other. Katniss, on the other hand, who I never saw laughing until we had some fun at Effie Trinket's expense, risked her life to find me, take care of me, get my medicine, and stay with me. There are a lot of people I get along with--I've always found that easy--but most of them come and go without any of us being changed by it. I was changed by Katniss. I'm just not sure it was for the better. And I have no idea if she changed.

I shrug. "It's not my friend she was pretending to be."

Jonadab smacks the back of my head, the way he used to when we were little, and says, "No, it's your friend she was actually being, puff-brain. So return the favor, and stop acting like Mom sniffing Dad's overcoat for imaginary perfume."

"I'm pretty sure it's not imaginary."

"She's also not your wife." Jonadab shrugs and reaches for another set of paintings. "Give her a break. I spent some time with her sister during the Games, you know--Prim says Katniss always said she was never going to have a boyfriend. Now she's got two of you, and both of you have definite ideas that she might not share, and that definitely don't match each other. So give her some space. You owe her that."

"And what does Gale owe her?"

"Gale has his own brothers to knock sense into him. He's not my business."

There's no time to discuss brotherly duties any further, because the Victors' Village is suddenly filled with cars. A long convoy approaches Katniss's house, and a smaller one parks in front of mine. Katniss's prep team rushes into her house, looking like doctors on their way to an accident scene. I can see Cinna and Portia, hanging back by a long truck that I assume contains our costumes. My prep team is disembarking out front.

I sigh, and head downstairs to let them in. Claudia, my hair stylist, leads the way, grinning broadly. "Peeta! Oh, you wouldn't believe it..." And she launches into a tale about boys in the Capitol coming to her to get their hair done like mine. Apparently, they think she personally created every curl. "I didn't, of course, but I remember every curl, so I can give it to them. It's quite the rage!"

By the time she's finished, I've been manhandled into the bathroom and stripped down. Sergius, who seems to be in sole charge of the condition of my skin, tuts at the seam mark where the artificial leg joins the real one, and suggests getting skin grafts stretched over the whole works, but Valentine shushes him and says, "No one is going to be seeing that seam anyway. Maybe when it's warm." She examines it. "Yes, when it's warm. I can fit you in before the Quell. You'll be mentoring, won't you?"

I smile as well as I can. She doesn't mean any harm. But being a mentor in the Games isn't anyone's idea of a dream job, at least outside the Capitol. Valentine is a medic, and aside from the games, she does a lot of surgical alterations. Her job on my prep team is a lot simpler--she gives me the shot.

It's nothing much, just a quick shot in the arm, but whatever is in it keeps my beard from growing out, and has a few other effects that I guessed when I realized some things weren't happening even when I wasn't sick any more. It took a month after the Games for it to wear off completely. "Do we have to?" I ask. "I can shave."

Valentine sighs. "Peeta, you've got some tight clothes ahead of you, and I think we both know this helps avoid embarrassing shots on television. My apologies to Katniss."

I feel the blush rise in my cheeks, understanding why she thinks this will be any inconvenience whatsoever to Katniss--she's from the Capitol, not Twelve, and I doubt it's crossed her mind that Katniss has spent a single night in her own bed, let alone every night. It occurs to me to wonder if the shot might have had some impact on how I was thinking, and why I was making mistakes, so I say, "Yeah, I guess this will calm down those crazy tempers of mine, too."

Valentine shakes her head. "No, it's designed for the Games. They don't want you to lose your edge. All it does is suppress certain physical reactions. You're just naturally sweet." She pinches my cheeks, and then my artificial leg is wrapped protectively and I'm shoved into a bathtub full of moisturizers and scrubbed down.

By the time they're finished, they've managed to get rid of the paint that I thought was permanently embedded under my nails, and worked off the ugly callous that was forming at the leg seam. Sergius has created a kind of padding that will keep the spot comfortable and not cause a callous to form again. He also has a synthetic skin that he wants to spread over it, but it's not necessary right now, since today's shots will all be in the cold and Katniss and I will be covered up. I look at myself in the mirror--half-bodied, moisturized, and prettified to Capitol standards. I guess, in the end, I can't fault Katniss for her preferences. I'm the one whose cheeks you pinch, and that's pretty much it.

Portia finally comes in and, as I expected, sends my preps over to Haymitch's house, with a theatrical groan that they'll likely be there all day trying to make something of him. Effie Trinket is apparently also there, a piece of intelligence greeted with snickers from the preps.

Portia has a garment bag with her, and she hangs it from a hook on the back of the door. She looks at me, slightly troubled, and says, "How's the leg?"

"It works. Sort of. Hope it doesn't wreck your designs."

She waves this off. The expression she has in public--slightly flaky, very Capitol--disappears when we're alone. Unlike Cinna, she is generally happy to go along with Capitol fashion trends... but I discovered quickly that they're a mask on a quick mind. Cinna comes up with all the ideas, but it's Portia who usually figures out how to make the more complicated ones work. She confided in me while getting me ready for the Tribute Parade that she was born and raised in District Three, and only landed in the Capitol by winning a design contest. Cinna was one of the judges, and swept her up almost as soon as she got off the train.

Today's outfit didn't require any of her more technical skills--pants, a sweater, a wool overcoat for later. "It's alpaca," she tells me, quietly putting the last outside the steamy bathroom. The pants are black, the sweater a greenish blue that I know without asking will match whatever Cinna is giving Katniss next door. Outside, I hear my parents and Edder finally arrive. The bathroom door is somewhat ajar, and Mom gives Portia an odd look. She's not used to grown women staring at me naked, apparently. Portia closes the door and gets me into my clothes. While she's arranging the sweater, she accidentally turns on the bathwater, and as she leans over, she whispers, "Peeta, change nothing. Nothing at all. Cinna thinks there's trouble." She turns off the water, and when she comes up, she's re-adopted her flaky expression. She opens the bathroom door and says, "Oh, Peeta, I wish you'd let us pierce something!"

"Over my dead body," Mom says, giving Portia a decidedly dangerous smile.

I baked most of last night, and as the camera crews arrive, I see them digging into plates of cookies and cupcakes I made for them. They seem impressed. They interview Dad about the bakery, and ask if they can film there after the train leaves. Mom says they can, but the baked goods there aren't free. This gets a good-natured laugh.

We go up to my studio, and they film my paintings. I talk about them, about using them to try and understand the Games. They linger on the picture of Katniss in the rain, and I feel compelled to lie and say it was from the cave. They don't need to know about her starving, at least unless she wants to tell them. There's also a lot of talk about the picture of Clove with her knives, and a little back and forth about my teaming up with the Careers. I try to find something good to say about each of them, since their families will have to watch this. Marvel was clever; Glimmer, beautiful. Cato and Clove, I have trouble with, but come up with "determined." Charlotte from District Four spoke highly of her father.

"Did you paint the girl from..." A cameraman scratches his head. "Eight, wasn't it? The one you killed?"

For a long moment, I'm afraid I won't be able to speak. The question is like being knifed in the gut, just like she was. In truth, I did paint her once--I painted exactly what she looked like, lying there bleeding with half her guts outside her body, so I could ask Mrs. Everdeen if I could have done anything else. After all, Katniss saved me when I was as good as dead, but what had I done? I'd just opened up a girl's carotid artery and watched her bleed out. Mrs. Everdeen told me that the best surgeons in the Capitol couldn't have done anything for her with those injuries, but I’m not sure I believe her. I'm sure she knows about the nightmares, and she might have just been trying to stop mine. I didn't tell her that, in my nightmares, it's Katniss lying there. She doesn't need to have that image in her head. I wish I didn't.

I blink, and find my voice. "No," I say. "I didn't. And her name was Kersey Green." I don't say more. They wouldn't air it anyway. But I asked Effie to get me everything she could. Kersey had worked after school dyeing cloth, and had entertained herself by learning to use an old drop spindle. She led a sports league for children to play stickball in the streets. She had a boyfriend named Jakob Kann. I know her parents' names, and her grandmother's name, and that she dearly wanted to learn to play the harp. It was the first thing she wanted to buy if she had won the Games. Effie apparently told Haymitch about my request, because he pulled himself away from his liquor long enough to tell me not to think about it anymore.

After this, they leave me alone and just go around filming the canvases. I look across at the picture of the girl in the rain, of Katniss's eyes. Like the storm looking out at me and seeing me.

I wonder what she saw. I wonder what she sees now. I’m guessing it doesn't measure up.

I go downstairs, where they're interviewing my family. Dad is charming them with kid stories, while Edder makes disgusted faces in the background. They ask Sarey if she means to name the baby after her famous brother-in-law, and she says that it's a girl, and Peeta would be a silly name for a girl. Jonadab runs with it, and says he wants to make sure the baby isn't lost among the thousands of Peetas inevitably being born right now around Panem, anyway.

I hope that this joke will discourage anyone who's actually thinking about it by making them think it's already passé.

My telephone rings into the middle of this. I've only used it a few times, mostly to call Effie when I've needed things. In fact, she's the only person I've talked to on it, and this stays true--she's calling from Katniss's house, and it's time to go. I'm to come out with Portia and the preps, who are on their way over from Haymitch's. The cameras are set up. Isn't it exciting?

I find that I actually am excited--leaving District Twelve without thinking I'll die before I come back is, at least, different. But I'm not thrilled at the idea of seeing Kersey's family, or any of the others whose children died while Katniss and I lived. This never seems to occur to the Capitol people.

I say goodbye to my family, telling Sarey's baby to wait to be born until I get back. (Sarey shakes her finger at her belly and says, "Don't listen to Uncle Peeta. He's crazy.") Then I bundle up in my black alpaca overcoat and go out into the snow. My balance is off again, so I'm mostly looking at my feet when Claudia calls out, "There she is!"

I look up and see Katniss coming out with Cinna, Effie, and her preps. She's wearing a white fur coat, and her hair seems dark against it. She suddenly breaks away from her group and runs toward us. I barely have time to brace myself before she runs into me, and bracing myself hasn't helped--her momentum carries us down into the snow, and she's kissing me. It's the same kind of empty kiss she gave me in the arena, but I still respond to it. She's still beautiful, still...

Trembling.

I put my hand on the back of her neck to steady us, and I can feel her buzzing like the fence around the district. I chance opening my eyes, and see that hers are also open, and they look as wide and terrified as they did that day in the rain, when she was starving to death.

I pull her closer and kiss her again, and I feel her relax a little bit. She pulls away and brushes my hair out of my eyes, then stands up and offers her hand to help me. Once I'm up, she links her arm companionably through mine and leans on me, and I am confused again. Not about whether or not she's putting on an act for the cameras--she is--but about why she's so scared. I think about what Portia said, about trouble. But it's not really her fear that confuses me. It's the way she relaxed when I touched her. The way she is holding tightly to my arm, and looking up with what I'm sure she means to be adoration, but is coming off more as relief. Like it matters to her whether or not I kiss her.

I keep her steady as we walk to the train. There isn't a chance to talk during a long, delicious meal (Katniss eats like she will never see another) with Haymitch, Effie, and the stylists, after which we're all whisked off to our sleeping cars. Portia doesn't bother trying to get me to sleep in anything other than workout pants and a tee shirt. I lie awake for a long time, finally going to sleep in the small hours. Kersey Green walks me through the arena in my dreams, trying to help me find Katniss, who is in a lot of trouble. I wake up when the train stops for refueling, but I don't think I’m really conscious. I look out the window and see Katniss talking to Haymitch, and both of them look very serious. I feel I should go out and ask what they're planning, but then Kersey is in my head again, and I am pulled back into the nightmare. We see Katniss, finally, trapped in the net that killed Rue, and Kersey tells her, "You could do worse, you know." She reaches over to me and rips my heart out of my chest, and says, "Really, it's perfectly good. Why not take it?"

Katniss screams "No" and flails to cut herself free, and for some reason, I can't seem to help her. I wake up, biting my arm to keep from screaming, and roam the train until just before dawn, when I see Katniss's preps drag themselves out of their compartment and duck back into my own. I fall asleep, and this time, I'm alone, and I can't find Katniss anywhere.

It's lunchtime when I get up, and I join the stylists, Effie, and Haymitch. My prep team isn't up yet, and Katniss's is apparently still involved in a major make-over. She finally makes her way in, looking worn down and sick, and I think about what Jonadab said, about her actually being my friend.

And maybe about me actually being hers.

I try to engage her in conversation, but for some reason, she won't even look at me. It's like school all over again, trying to catch her eye in the hall. She has a bowl of broth, but she's barely touching it, which isn't like her at all. I look at Haymitch, who looks back rather blankly. I know he knows something, which, as usual, he's not telling. Everyone goes on with the conversation as if nothing is wrong. I lie about how easy it is to sleep on the train. Everyone else seems to be telling the truth about it. Katniss stares at her soup.

Suddenly, the train comes to a stop. A server comes in and tells us that we will be at least an hour out. Effie goes pale (which is hard to see under her make-up) and grabs the schedule, scrambling to figure out how we're going to get everything in. I feel like I should try to calm her down--she's been very good to me since the Games ended--but I can see Katniss getting more and more tense with every schedule adjustment. She looks like she's going to start screaming at any moment. Or crying.

What she finally does is snap "No one cares, Effie!" She looks around defiantly. I don't think anyone quite knows what to say. "Well, no one does!" She looks around at us again, then storms out of the dining car. A moment later, an alarm goes off.

"She's gone off the train," Cinna says, looking perplexed.

Effie is staring at her schedule again, trying not to cry.

Haymitch is watching after Katniss. "She's not going anywhere," he says. "Let her get the steam out of her head."

Effie grimaces. "Haymitch, you know she's not allowed to wander out here alone. It's not permitted!"

He sighs and rubs his head. "Fine. I'll get her."

I stand up. "No," I say. "I will. I think we need to talk anyway."

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Comments
ohginnyfan From: ohginnyfan Date: November 15th, 2012 01:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
I loved it - I haven't read much fan fiction lately, but this one caught my eye. I loved the HG trilogy, and this is so well-written and poignant from Peeta's point of view. Well done.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 15th, 2012 03:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks. I was taken with the apology scene in CF, especially since it was the last thing in the world Katniss had been expecting, as she'd been blaming herself for everything that was wrong and confusing.
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 15th, 2012 03:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've been following your writing for a few years now, and I don't comment much, but I just wanted to let you know how much I am enjoying your Hunger Games fics. You consistently put out a quality product, and I love how you have fleshed out Peeta's background. Thank you for sharing your work!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 15th, 2012 08:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks! I think every now and then, I just need to switch up and get a fresh voice.
marycontraria From: marycontraria Date: November 15th, 2012 04:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've been loving all of these. But I think - no actually I know - what I love most, most, is that you have given the other Tributes names. Charlotte, and Kersey, and I know you will for the others too... because honestly, the thing that rankled me so much about the movie (which was otherwise a very responsible adaptation) was that the minor-character Tributes were never moved out of Katniss's POV into the movie-POV. And you're doing that. Thank you.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 15th, 2012 08:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
The movie really was pretty well done. I expect they were deliberately trying to keep the sense of being in Katniss's point of view (and I'm glad they did it without introducing narration), but there were plenty of opportunities to give the audience Easter eggs without breaking POV--all the boards and graphics they showed gave plenty of space for names, and Suzanne Collins was on the writing team, so she could have just made canon names for everyone. And last names! It feels like only the Capitol and Districts 12 and 13 have surnames.

But I just had a feeling that Peeta would be the sort of person who'd be good with names, and if he didn't know them, he'd learn them.
honorh From: honorh Date: November 15th, 2012 06:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
This is great. I think you inhabit Peeta's mind well. It's terribly annoying, but endearingly realistic, that a teenage boy would be all, "You mean you were just pretending when we were doing our pretend love story that was all my idea?" You want to give him a ding around the ear, but, given how intense everything was in the arena, it's no wonder he lost the plot. The fact that he realized he was being unjust and apologized to her says a lot about him, and you show that thought process beautifully here.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 15th, 2012 08:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, bless them, they can be a little silly.

If the "running away" scene was where Gale lost me--that little temper tantrum he throws--it was the apology scene where Peeta won me over. I liked him before then (he's nice, kind, etc), but at that point, I realized that he was also actually paying attention to Katniss's life and able to step back enough to realize that his crazed hormones were not an excuse to be a jackass to someone who'd saved his life.
shortysc22 From: shortysc22 Date: November 16th, 2012 02:24 am (UTC) (Link)
Ah, I'm loving your little dive into the Hunger Games world! Each one is better than the last and this one is no exception. I love how you're writing Peeta.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 16th, 2012 04:04 am (UTC) (Link)
I find that I'm actually really enjoying Peeta. We get him through the Katniss filter, which is almost as idealized a view of him as his is of her, which is, to me, very sweet. But beneath that idealization is a really good guy, I think.
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