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HG: The Final Eight, Chapter Eight - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: The Final Eight, Chapter Eight
I think I want to finish this thing tomorrow. Speed writing, ftw.

ETA: Wanting to finish did not translate into finishing before I fall asleep on my keyboard.



Chapter Eight
Reporters are charging at us for comments, but the Peacekeepers actually keep them back. I wonder why--after all, surely the Capitol will want our gratitude for Peeta and Katniss's lives aired--but then I see that Mayor Undersee is trying to make his way over. Cray finally leads him through the crowd and instructs the Peacekeepers to surround us. It isn't an entirely comfortable feeling.

"I've just spoken to Haymitch on the telephone," Mayor Undersee says. "Peeta is in surgery on the hovercraft. He's lost a lot of blood."

"Will he live?" Mrs. Mellark asks. "Is my boy dying?"

Mayor Undersee doesn't answer immediately, and when he finally does, all he says is, "It's touch and go. His heart stopped on the table, but they got it going again." He signals. "We're all going back to my place. Haymitch will call there with any news."

"Is there anything on Katniss?" Prim asks softly as we start moving, trying not to let the Mellarks hear concern for anyone other than Peeta. "Is she all right?"

"Haymitch said she's not hurt physically," Mayor Undersee says gently. "But she's sleeping now."

Gale, walking beside Prim, puts his arm around her.

It takes a long time to make our way across the square, trying to march in step with the Peacekeepers who are keeping the crowd off of us. We finally hear the start of muted celebrations. Whatever happens to Peeta, District Twelve has a victor, which will make a better year for everyone. But it all seems so strange and unreal, and Peeta's heart stopped on the operating table.

We finally get to the mayor's house and the door is shut behind us. The Peacekeepers form a guard outside the door.

There is a special telephone in the mayor's office, attached to a live video feed, though nothing shows on it now. We wait together, in shocked silence. Madge comes to sit with me. Mrs. Undersee brings us water and sandwiches. She is shaking, and I wonder if she is thinking of her sister, who died the last time District Twelve had a victor.

It is more than an hour later when a soft ringing sound breaks our silence. Mayor Undersee switches on the telephone screen. It isn't Haymitch, but Effie Trinket. Her pink wig is askew and her mascara is running.

"My boy!" Mr. Mellark says without preliminaries.

"He's going to be all right," Effie says, and her voice is rough, as though she's been crying. "But his poor leg. They had to take his poor leg."

"But he's going to be all right?" Jonadab repeats.

She nods and sobs into a handkerchief. This doesn’t seem to be an artful cry. Though I would not have believed it if someone else tried to tell it to me, I think that Effie Trinket is genuinely upset. "They stopped the bleeding, and... and... got his heart going... and his vitals... strong." She stops to weep again, then finally manages, "His brain is normal. All the waves and things. They're measuring. He's still asleep. Haymitch is with him. But he'll be all right. Haymitch will call about what to do next."

We will worry about his "poor leg" later, I'm sure, but right now, "he'll be all right" is all that matters.

Mrs. Everdeen gives enough time for the relief of this to sink in, then says, "And Katniss?"

"We had to sedate her, the dear thing," Effie says. "She's very upset. She was screaming for him, and no one could get close to her. She's sleeping now. She's dehydrated and hypo... hypo... too cold. They're warming her up and getting fluid into her. And of course, she's too skinny. I could see her ribs!" In District Twelve, this is hardly noteworthy, but Effie is clearly shocked by it. "I'll go stay with her now, but you should know that they'll both be all right. They're going to fix Katniss's ear, too." She forces a smile. "And they're victors! They'll never want for anything again!" The smile breaks and she sobs. "Except for Peeta's poor, dear leg..."

Someone comes to lead her away, possibly so that she can also be sedated.

Mayor Undersee ends the call. Mr. Mellark is shaking with relief, holding on tightly to Mrs. Mellark. For the first time, Mrs. Undersee seems to notice Gale and me, and that we are neither Everdeens nor Mellarks.

"This may just be... family..."

"I'm Katniss's cousin," Gale says dryly. "Everyone in Panem knows that."

I feel like I'm about to be asked to leave, but Ed says, "And Delly's in our family." He puts his arm around me and looks around defensively, but no one challenges him.

No one seems to know what to talk about. Prim finally settles on medicine, and tells Mrs. Mellark about the amazing prosthetic limbs they can make in the Capitol, which she's been reading about in the school library. Mrs. Mellark hangs on her every word.

Finally, in the late afternoon, Haymitch calls. He looks drawn and haggard. "Katniss first, because it's quicker," he says. "They're operating on her ear right now. They do it a hundred times a week, and they could do it in their sleep. She's not in any medical trouble."

No one fails to hear the qualifier there. I wonder what trouble Haymitch thinks she is in.

"I've been with Peeta all day," he says. "He's out of surgery, and he woke up for a few minutes. I haven't told him about his leg yet. Did Effie tell you?"

"She told us," Mrs. Mellark says. "Primrose says there are good prosthetics. You see that he gets the best sort."

"That'll have to wait a couple of days," Haymitch says. "It's a complicated surgery, and he needs to get back a little of his strength. But he was lucid when he woke up. He asked about Katniss. He seemed to understand where he was. Mentally, I think he's in better shape than she is, though neither of them is exactly on top of things right now. Of course, they put him back under right away. He needs rest."

"What do you mean, neither of them is on top of things?" Mrs. Everdeen asks. "What's wrong with Katniss? Effie Trinket said she was upset."

"Effie puts a good spin on things," Haymitch says. "Katniss is a little bit beyond upset, Ruth. She was raving. She thought the doctors were trying to kill Peeta. That's why they had to lock her out. It's not going to help when she finds out that she killed the leg with the tourniquet, but before anyone says anything, it absolutely saved the rest of him. Katniss won't see it that way, though."

"What do we need to do?" Mr. Mellark asks.

Haymitch thinks about it. "Keep doing what you're doing with the reporters. They're eating it up, and it'll take some pressure off of Katniss and Peeta while they're recovering. And... I don't know exactly how to say it, but... they're not going to get a lot of time off from each other. They may need a little space."

"What do you mean?" Prim asks.

"Just..." He looks around, and his gaze rests on Mrs. Undersee. "I want to try and avoid bird incidents when they get back, okay?"

She nods. "Got it."

No one knows what to say to this odd comment. Mrs. Mellark steps forward. "When Peeta wakes up, you tell him his family loves him, and we can't wait to see him."

Haymitch raises his eyebrow. Under it, his eyes are ice cold. "I'll tell him, but given that you left him thinking that you didn't care much if he died, I don't know if he'll believe me."

"I'll convince him when he gets home."

"You better. 'Cause, lady, if you ever hurt that boy again, you're going to answer to me, and I'm not a confused eleven year old kid." He pushes a button and the call ends.

Mrs. Mellark looks down at her feet. There is nothing to say to this. After a while, she looks up at Mrs. Undersee and says, "What does he mean, 'bird incidents'?"

She sits down and starts rubbing her head. "My sister Maysilee was his ally in the arena. My twin sister."

"I remember," Mrs. Mellark says. "I was only a couple of years behind you."

"He let her walk away, and she was killed by mutt birds. He came when she screamed and sat with her until she died."

"And he thought you were her when he came home," Mrs. Everdeen says. "I remember that. You finally cut and dyed your hair so he'd stop calling you Maysilee."

"Exactly. And he 'protected' me from robins, blue jays, mockingjays... pretty much anything that flew. If he saw one around me, he'd scare it off or kill it. I told him to stop, but he wouldn't. That's why my parents gave you Maysie's bird, Ruth--Haymitch tried to skewer it in its cage so it couldn't kill me. Well, Maysilee, anyway." She sighs. "Katniss is a whole lot closer to Peeta than Haymitch was to Maysilee. I think he means that if she doesn't stop protecting him, she's going to drive them both crazy. I have no idea what he means to do about it, though. They'll never let them back off the storyline now." She looks around, wild-eyed, but Mayor Undersee says, "No one's listening in here."

We wait another two hours, but there's no more news. The government will expect the bakery to be open (Jonadab and Sarey volunteer to watch it so his parents can stay here), and Ed, Gale, Prim, and I are expected to be at school tomorrow. I invite Prim to stay with me. Everyone else heads home.

Prim lies awake for a long time on a pile of pillows my mother sets out by my front window. There are still people in the square, and they are in full celebration mode now that the shock has worn off. Around midnight, she sighs and says, "Katniss isn't going to feel like celebrating, is she?"

"Probably not."

"I do. I mean, I'm worried about Peeta and stuff, but they're coming home, Delly! They're really coming home. Isn't it okay to be really happy about that?"

I sit beside her and cuddle her. "Of course it is."

She smiles, then goes distant. "Did Haymitch mean my sister's crazy?"

"Sometimes people go a little crazy after something bad happens. But she's coming home, right? So you'll be able to help her, just like she always helped you."

"My mom was crazy after Daddy died. She got better." Prim nods to herself. "We better get some sleep. School."

We sleep, and in the morning, I loan Prim one of my old dresses for school. We meet up with Ed about half an hour earlier than we need to, because we know that the reporters will be all over them. They are. Prim bubbles on enthusiastically about all the things she means to do with Katniss when she gets home. Ed jokes about how he can finally stop doing Peeta's chores for him, the layabout. They ask if we know which houses they've been assigned in the Victors' Village, but we don't. They ask if we know what their talents are, or if anyone will ever hear Katniss sing, since that's what Peeta fell in love with her over (supposedly). Prim manages to divert this--after Rue, I doubt Katniss is going to be singing much--by asking if they've ever heard the famous "valley song." They haven't, and she sings it quite prettily. Madge comes to collect us, saying that we still have to go to school, which the reporters accept, and she walks the rest of the way with us.

When we come through the door, someone gives a quick signal, then everyone turns and gives us the salute that they gave Katniss when she volunteered.

Prim and Ed return it.

We go to class.

In literature, we all present our poems. I tell Mrs. Hudock that I'm not finished. She says she can't technically require anything until after the last events of the Games anyway.

Over the next three days, we get news in small bits. Peeta is strong enough to have the surgery to attach his new leg, which will be wired into his nerves and should move naturally. Katniss wakes up long enough ask if Peeta is alive. Peeta makes it through his surgery, but is going to be awkward on his new leg for a little while. Otherwise, he is recovering well. His doctors even say that he accepting having lost the leg much better than they expected. Katniss can hear perfectly, and all of her injuries have been healed. This, we hear privately. Publically, all that's being said is they are going to have their reunion live, and have been apart since Peeta went into surgery. I wonder if this is part of Haymitch's strategy to give them "space."

If so, the Capitol is not cooperating, as, from the time they rise up onto the stage together, they are thrust together, and neither of them seems to mind. If anything, Katniss seems determined to crawl as close to Peeta as it is physically possible to be, even closer than the furnishings and sets demand. They have to watch the official version of the Games together, the one that will be made available to anyone who wants to relive them. This never includes the filler material. No interviews, no visits to the Districts. Just the Games, from the Reaping through the victory. They follow a story arc for the victor--or, in this case, victors. Of course, they don't show Peeta nearly losing his mind for killing a girl, though they do show him manipulating the Career pack to keep them from immediately going after Katniss, though he wants to get close enough to her to get her the bow Glimmer took. They show Katniss with Rue, and make a very convincing show of Peeta and Katniss's feelings for each other growing. It's actually the best of these I remember seeing.

I keep working on my poem. I try it in rhyme. I try it focusing on Edder's experience with the mines. I try looking at my brother and Leevy's brother, now playing together in the square or on the Seam at all waking hours. I think about Peeta's bloody fingers, making an X on Cato's hand. I think about Gale stopping Mrs. Everdeen from hitting a reporter, and about Haymitch trying to protect Mrs. Undersee from a caged canary. Mostly, I think about Katniss, throwing herself against the glass when they took Peeta from her. Nothing I can write seems worthy of that. In comparison, it's all either trite or overwrought.

Katniss stumbles over words again in their second meeting, for an interview with Caesar Flickerman. She can't name when she fell in love with Peeta--Caesar Flickerman helps her out by pointing out when the rest of Panem noticed it, and she jumps on it. It's believable enough after everything. But the moment she convinces me is when they tell her about Peeta's leg. She buries her face against his chest for several minutes, and needs to be coaxed out. She continues clinging to his shirt for the rest of the interview, as if he might be ripped away from her at any moment. He keeps his arms protectively around her. The Gamemakers are selling this as hard as they can, but I feel like they'd do just as well if they stopped asking questions and just showed the way she can't let him out of her sight or stop touching him.

Which may be what Haymitch called a "bird incident." It doesn't look healthy, though I'm sure in the Capitol, they're transported with fabulous emotion.

We watch the train leave the Capitol on television after the interview, which marks the official end of the Hunger Games in the Capitol. Caesar and Claudius have a grand finale party, where all of the fans dance and have fun, then coverage goes back to the normal schedule. The giant screen in the square remains up for the victory festivities, but it's dormant most of the time now.

I dream about the mine again, only this time, I can see Katniss on the other side of the glass, screaming madly. Ed is trying to pick the lock on the door of Peeta's room. The girls who guard him are watching with mild interest. I look down and see that I have a bow and arrow in my hands, but I've never even tried to shoot, and I don't know what I'm supposed to shoot at. Black coal dust seeps out under the door like spreading blood.

I wake up early, throw away all the attempts I've made at my poem, and start over. I'm sure that Mrs. Hudock will recognize the images from the Games, which she forbade, but it's the most truth I've come to... Katniss is not the eulogized lover. She is the poet's voice--screaming, inchoate, and full of love for the dying man she can't reach, the dying man whose black blood has always been our lifeline, whose veins in the earth have always been our sustenance. He has no chance. His heart has stopped. But he has a will to live, to be himself, and somehow, as she screams, he opens his eyes and looks at her.

I fall at last to the earth, I write.
into the gentle embrace of trees and soil,
under the blanket of the sky,
and cling close to my love,
who, dying, breaks
and who, broken, lives.


Mrs. Hudock does not mark me down for using the imagery. Ed reads the poem then says, "Delly, I'm going to ask once, and then I promise not to ask again. This... you and me. Is it really because of Peeta? Are you--?"

I roll my eyes. "Give me a break, Ed. It's about them, not about... that. Peeta's my friend."

"You're sure?" He shakes his head. "No, wait, that's twice, and I promised to only ask once. I'm not going to turn into my mother. I believe you. Do you want to come to the platform with us? I'm pretty sure the Hawthornes are coming with the Everdeens."

I go. There is not time for any sort of real ceremony. I barely recognize my oldest friend when he steps off the train at Katniss's side--he is thin and pale and limping badly. Mrs. Everdeen jumps in quickly and tells Katniss how her cousins can't wait to see her, pointing at Gale. She manages to hide any surprise she might feel at the sudden expansion of her family, and goes to greet them, while Peeta greets us. He smiles, and that's at least something that hasn't changed. A reporter asks Mrs. Everdeen how she feels about Katniss's boyfriend and she very firmly plays the role Haymitch assigned: She says Katniss is too young for a boyfriend. Peeta makes a great show of moving away from her. I see her hand move toward him, then she quickly draws it away and laughs nervously while a reporter says, "Someone's in trouble!"

I do not qualify for an invitation to the formal banquet at the mayor's house, where only Peeta and Katniss's immediate families go to dine with important members of the District government (liaisons to the Capitol, mostly, and Cray, and the reporters). The Hawthornes don't qualify, either, which I hear about from little Vick Hawthorne, who has joined my brother and Leevy's for their soldier game on the square. "Gale's real mad," he says, between bursts of invisible gunfire. He falls down, thrashing dramatically, when Sam hits him from a sniper's nest under the willow. He asks me to give a token (a dry leaf he's found on the ground) to his true love, Dianner Teets. Dianner herself, a pretty little girl whose mother teaches at the elementary school, rushes in, saying that she's a special doctor from the Capitol who can fix anything, and Vick lives to see another pretend fight.

Ed gets out of the banquet at around eight and tells me I didn't miss anything, and he practically fell asleep at the table. He says he has a friend with a band that's playing at Murphy's tonight, and asks if I'd like to go. I say yes, and we have a lovely time. It is our first date. He says he invited Peeta and Katniss to double, but there are still cameras following them around and they have to make nice with the important people. "Also, there's something weird there," he says, then orders us hamburgers. Murphy's is about the only place that kids in District Twelve can afford to go on a date, and even that's sometimes a stretch. It doubles as a rough miners' bar, which gives it a very strange vibe sometimes.

As we walk home, Ed says, "I haven't told Peeta about you and me. I think it might weird him out."

"Okay."

"I plan to, when things are, you know, more settled."

"Sure."

"You're not mad?"

"Am I supposed to be?"

"Mom would be mad at Dad." He looks around. "And I think Peeta would be mad at Katniss. I think he is mad at her about something. Whatever Haymitch did for space must have been a doozy."

If Peeta is angry at Katniss, it is not in evidence as they kiss for any number of cameras over the next week, but I take Ed's advice and avoid "the K word" when we see each other, which is actually pretty often, considering Peeta's schedule.

He is assigned a house in the Victors' Village three houses down from hers, and my family helps the Mellarks get him moved in. We are going to clear out the walls in the attic to create a huge art studio for Peeta, and I am getting some measurements in a little side room for Ed when I hear Peeta and Mrs. Mellark come in. I assume they're just working, and that they know I’m there, and I don't make my presence known.

"What a fine, big house," Mrs. Mellark says.

Peeta sighs. "It's nice. Thanks for helping with the kitchen."

"I think your dad might try to move into your kitchen."

"He's welcome to. It's a big place to rattle around in alone."

Mrs. Mellark pauses a moment, then says, "Peeta, I got you something while you were gone." She picks up the wooden paint box that has been in his room. "It's not much, only what I could get here in the district. I got it when you were hurt. I got it while you were... while you were in the mud. I got it to give to you when you made it home." She pushes the box at him.

He takes it and opens it slowly, then puts it down. For the first time that I ever remember, Peeta embraces his mother. Neither of them says anything, though I think Mrs. Mellark is crying. I stay hidden until they go back to the kitchen, as I think I've just seen something I wasn't supposed to see, and I pretend I didn't see anything at all when I go downstairs.

As my family and I head back to town, I glance over at Katniss's house. She is standing in her front door, looking over at Peeta's place. As I watch, Prim calls her back in, nearly dancing in her excitement at having her sister back.

There's a big celebration the next day in the square, with fine foods brought in from the Capitol (Peeta introduces his father to about a dozen pastries that he wants to learn how to bake) and bands and singers we've seen on television, who don't seem quite real even when they're sitting across the table and talking about the charms of the great outdoors. A popular boy singer asks for Prim Everdeen's autograph and crows when he gets it. Prim blushes and hides behind the Hawthornes.

Everyone is dancing except for Peeta. I ask if he'd like to, and he grumbles something about his leg, then tells me to go ahead. Instead, I sit with him and tell him how awful Izzarel was in the play. I tell him maybe he could take up acting as a talent. He mutters, "I'm not the actor around here," but doesn't explain himself. I finally go off to dance with Ed. The cameras are back when the song ends, which means Peeta and Katniss are all over each other, and I stay away, hoping they'll take the opportunity to work out whatever the issue is.

The cameras finally leave after Parcel Day, when the first shipment of regular food for everyone in District Twelve comes. Everyone is happy. Then the cameras are gone, and everything goes back to normal.

Ed graduates from school. He has been speaking unhappily about not having anything to do, but Peeta gives him a small package. Inside of it is a key. The key goes to Fisher's Hardware.

"That's too much," Ed says.

"Nah. I'm going to keep working on my studio, and it's a pain to special order every nail. We need a hardware store. Didn't you say you were thinking about it?"

"Still--"

"I've got to spend it somewhere."

"Dad'll need me in the bakery."

"You hate baking."

"Yeah, but you're not working there."

"Who says? I don't have to work, but that doesn’t mean I can't."

So we all go over to the old place, which is filled with old furniture that smells like old pipe smoke. Mr. Fisher died without any heirs two years ago, and all of his things are still there, along with most of his inventory. The rooms above the shop are fusty and stodgy. Peeta grins and says that now we can all invade Ed's place.

But Peeta doesn't invade anyone's place. He buries himself in his house, painting and baking. He's friendly when I come to visit, and he's completely ecstatic that the family is, more or less, getting along. "I should have died sooner," he says. "Well, almost died. Who knew that's all it would take?"

I don't let him see how horrified I am at this particular comment. Instead, I coach him through his unfinished geometry proof. He wants to finish his education, even though he thinks school itself would be a bad idea. He says goodbye when I leave, and that he's glad to see me, but he never seeks me out. I look out my window at night sometimes, toward his old window, expecting somehow to see the flickering flash light code we made up. It never comes.
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Comments
shortysc22 From: shortysc22 Date: December 12th, 2012 02:11 am (UTC) (Link)
OMG only one more left? Love love love this chapter!! I love how after the Games Gale and Delly are just assumed family and no one argues. It's also interesting to see Delly's reaction to how Peeta and Katniss are now reacting towards each other. I thought the bird incident was a nice little touch of history too. Can't wait to see how you'll end this.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 12th, 2012 02:23 am (UTC) (Link)
I figured I'd do her three equal-act structure, as long as I was doing the style. :D

The thing I found odd in the book was Haymitch simply assuming that Katniss was still playing a game. If he'd let her go out there, given the way she was behaving throughout, chances are she'd have just been clinging to Peeta exactly as she did when she was doing it on purpose. She's been fiercely attached to him. So Haymitch's actions had the effect of putting distance where there probably wouldn't have been any, which should have been the opposite of what he wanted.

Being Haymitch, though, I figure he's playing a pretty deep game with it. It was never going to be anything other than desperate clinging if he didn't get her out of the Games mindset.
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