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HG: Golden Mean, Chapter Fifteen - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: Golden Mean, Chapter Fifteen
Back in the Capitol, Katniss and Peeta are being prepped, and Haymitch is called to a mentors' meeting, after which Plutarch calls in the rebel mentors, along with two stylists who are acting as liaisons to the districts whose mentors aren't rebels. They all agree to keep Katniss alive, but Haymitch has one more request.



Chapter Fifteen
When I finish talking, there isn't exactly elation around the room. Keeping Katniss alive, they can agree on, but they don't know Peeta. They don't know why their tributes should risk their lives for a boy who, to all appearances, doesn't care about defying the Capitol. It is finally Lyme, who I am beginning to like a great deal, who says, "I'm for it, and the tributes from Six will be for it. Berenice saw his paintings on television. She was crying that he would have to die, because he paints pretty things. It was her talent, too, before she fried her brain." She gives an embarrassed little shrug. "Well, we're trying to sober her up before the arena, but morphling's no laughing matter."

"So Six will help freely," Plutarch says. "Good."

"And I'll help personally," Lyme says. "However I can. Because unless you all come to your senses, those two kids are both going in blind, and I'm betting they're all wound up to die for each other, right?"

I nod.

She hisses and clenches her fists. "Since we're not telling them that there's going to be a jailbreak, they'll be acting out of desperation. Those of us not going in blind owe them something, no matter what the status of the war."

Jack Anderson snorts. "By that reasoning, we should all take special care of the Careers, too."

"They'll be trying to kill us right away," Lyme says. "Trust me, Brutus can't wait to start cutting. If we get alliances with District Twelve, hopefully we can put off any fights until we know the rescue is on the way, and keep them limited."

This is something of a flaw in the plan. Peeta will want to make allies, sure -- hell, he'll want to make actual friends -- but Katniss only allies with people who she thinks need taking care of. If she senses that they're taking care of her, she'll bolt.

The stylist from Eight, whose name turns out to be Cloelia, says, "Cecilia says that District Eight loves Peeta, because the girl last year... well, it seems weird to me, but that's what she says. I think she'll help. But Woof doesn't really know what's going on at all."

Jack, Harris, and the stylist from Three all promise to give the message to their tributes, though I can see Jack wincing at the thought of trying to convince Johanna. Blight doesn't know a thing.

The District Ten mentor assigned to Chaff and Seeder, who I finally place as Toffilis Taggart, speaks up. "My tributes are more or less mentoring me, as I'm sure you've all guessed by now. I didn't know about any of this. But they're good folk, and they told me to tell you that their game plan is to keep as many alive as possible until you get everyone out. They'll definitely help Peeta. Probably the Careers if they can. They don't see why anyone needs to die on this one."

This sounds like Chaff and Seeder, but I somehow doubt this plan is going to work well. I look at Plutarch. "What's the arena?"

He shakes his head. "If your tributes look like they're even a little bit prepared for it, we'll all get hauled in, and the whole thing falls apart. I gave Katniss a hint on the Victory Tour, but I don't think she picked it up, and that's probably just as well. I'll just tell you this -- make sure they're ready for anything. We started designing it years before I was involved in the Rebellion, and it's deadly."

Another flaw in the plan occurs to me: I may kill Plutarch before we get out of here. I really may not be able to stop myself.

I think of the gallows standing in District Twelve, remember that we're all in this together, and force myself to stop thinking about it.

Plutarch declares the meeting over, but calls me up alone. Great. He waits until the others have left, then says, "Our friends are not a matter of public knowledge, even here. Unfortunately, all of our more deeply knowledgeable members are in the arena."

"What a shame," I say, "that we don't have someone controlling the games who could keep them alive."

"I told you. Any suspicious behavior in the arena, and Snow will send in the fighters. Do you really want the arena surrounded by combat hovercraft before a rescue craft can get there?"

"Why not just station one there and fish everyone out as soon as they're clear of the mines?"

"Because the airspace is inspected before the Games to make sure no one is planning what we're planning. So are the supply hovercrafts. Speaking of which..."

"What?"

"Well, you'll need to make a show of getting sponsors -- not that you should have much trouble, given your tributes this year -- but we have, shall we say, arranged programs to make it look like you have money even if you don't. What we need to send, I'll send. Does that help?"

I still think it would be easier to make the arena "malfunction," but at least it's something. I nod and start to leave, but he stops me. I turn around. "What else?"

"You're wanted at Caesar's studio," he says. "You and the stylists are supposed to watch from there. Between being a Quell victor yourself and the mentor for last year's victors, you're quite in demand, I'm afraid."

"We have to get them ready!"

"The stylists have had all afternoon, and I doubt you need to coach them on how to stand up in a chariot."

With that, I am dismissed. A car is waiting to whisk me over to the studio, where I find Cinna and Portia, both looking annoyed, waiting for me.

"Don't look at me," I say. "I had no idea we were coming here."

"I'm glad I taught her how to work the suit," Cinna says. He grinds his teeth. "Wait until you see what Snow's demanded for the interview."

There's no way to talk about anything else, which is probably why Snow really has us showing up here. Caesar himself comes out, all smiles, and declares that Portia and Cinna are air-worthy already, but I, as usual, am a mess. He sends them up to the stage to talk costumes, then puts a hand jovially on my shoulder and leads me to the prep area. Razors are buzzing, make-up sprayers are spraying, and the environment is generally chaotic.

When I turn around, Caesar is still grinning, but his voice is low and serious. "Watch your step," he says. "You're being watched."

"I know."

He claps my shoulder and gives an avuncular laugh for no particular reason. "I like you, Haymitch. Always did. And I like your kids. I'm sorry as hell this is happening."

I smile back and nod. "You hate the games."

He laughs again and says, "You have no idea how much. But don't make a mistake here. You've played it smart so far."

"What do you mean?"

"I hate the Games. I hate Snow. But I'd no more put Panem in the hands of those crazy people rioting in the streets of the Districts than I'd leave a rabid dog on guard duty." He claps my shoulder again, like we're sharing a great joke. "Are you sure you know what you're doing?"

"Are you?"

He laughs for a long time, then says, "Yeah. Yeah, I know what I'm doing, Haymitch. I'll rub their faces in this dirty business as hard as I can. It's going to be hard to keep control after this, no matter what. But watch your step. Be careful who you trust." He gives me one more shoulder clap, then steers me toward a prep booth and leaves.

Sergius and Claudia do what they can with me, which they say is not much, and Valentine brings in a detox shot that she claims is to help control my drinking. "It's very strong," she says. "Much stronger than the pills. In case someone absolutely insists you start drinking. It should last a few days, at least, even if you can't get to your pills." I thank her.

When I get up to the stage, Cinna and Portia are involved in a deep conversation with Claudius Templesmith about how they've become the design house to imitate since last year's triumph. No details have been leaked about this year's costumes, which seems to irritate Claudius.

He spots me. "Ah, Haymitch Abernathy! Come, sit down."

I paint on a smile and take a seat beside Portia. "Claudius," I say.

"Have you seen the parade costumes?" he asks.

"Not even a sketch," I tell him. "Cinna's pretty tight-lipped."

"It's a big year for you, too," Claudius says. "Are there any plans to celebrate the anniversary of your Quell?"

Sure, I think. I thought I'd call up my friend Maysilee, and we'd have a party with the other forty-eight tributes you murdered. I just say, "Not unless you've got something up your sleeve."

This fascinating conversation goes on for ten minutes before Claudius says, "Ah! Our mystery will be solved soon!" He turns to a screen posted above his desk (undoubtedly, viewers at home will be getting this on the full screen, possibly with our reactions off in the corners). It shows the basement of the training center, where people are gathered around the chariots. Finnick is standing way too close to Katniss, though she sends him away as we watch. Peeta does not help matters when he arrives a few seconds later and is amused by her obvious discomfort. We can't hear them. The basement is not effectively bugged.

Katniss and Peeta are wearing what appear to be black jumpsuits, though their faces are made up bizarrely. As they get into the chariot, the jumpsuits light up and start to flicker.

The shot cuts over to the exit, and we see the chariots come out. There are an absurd number of illuminated costumes, and I can see Cinna trying not to laugh at some of them. District One has somewhat subtle lighting making jewels glitter, and Two has statues carrying torches. Three makes sense with electrical lights, though Beetee and Wiress look ridiculous in skin tight outfits. I want to cover my eyes on four -- Finnick has been forced into a strategically knotted net, which the cameras treat people to a long shot of. Mags is done up like a deep water fish with its own lighting. It was obviously designed with Annie in mind, and Mags looks terrible.

Five has fake lightning over the costumes. In Six, there are train headlights placed in highly unfortunate places, though Berenice and Paulin don't seem to realize it, and are waving vaguely to the audience. Johanna and Blight are at least not lit up, though Johanna looks as happy as I'd expect her to look dressed up as a tree for the second time in her life. Cecilia is in a dress that's only half-woven, but Woof is happily completely covered. (The stylists had enough warning of who their tributes would be that they planned appropriately.) The poor District Nine tributes have wheat-shaped hats on with lightbulbs for the grains. District Ten... has flaming belts on cow suits. (Cinna takes a sudden gulp of water and coughs.) Chaff and Seeder are forced into skimpy field-hand costumes, with straw hats and grain stalks in their teeth. The only saving grace is that they aren't on fire.

When Katniss and Peeta come out, there is an audible gasp from the crowd. Cinna has turned them into embers, burning in the twilight. They are holding hands and ignoring everyone around them. They are inhuman -- beautiful and terrible.

Last year, people threw kisses and screamed their names. This year, I see more than one person in the parade audience burst into tears and sink to the pavement in despair. A cut to Snow shows his jaw clenched shut, his eyes frozen in fury.

In the studio, Claudius looks taken aback. He glances at Cinna and asks about the technology, trying to direct attention to anything other than the angry, vengeful gods in the chariot below. Cinna gives very brief answers, and lets the silence draw itself out as Claudius struggles for the next distraction. He tries Portia, but she (ridiculously) claims that Cinna's the one with all of the information.

Finally, the speeches take over the programming, and the three of us are released. We go down to the training center basement, where all of the other mentors are waiting. I take the opportunity to talk to Lyme, though we can't say anything of significance. She won the Thirty-First Games, it turns out, and stepped down as mentor as soon as someone "more appropriate" could be found. She shrugs. "Turns out that I didn't fit the mold of a victor. I wanted a job. I worked in the quarries for a while until they made rules about it."

"A guy in Twelve I've met seems to know you," I say. "Romulus Thread?"

She laughs. "Yeah. Oh, I know Romulus well. He's my cousin. He got Reaped two years after I won, but someone out-volunteered him. He's never gotten over the disappointment."

I somehow doubt it's that simple. Thread didn't strike me as anything but frighteningly sincere. But family is family, and there's no point pushing for more answers. If all goes as planned, I'm not going to be seeing Romulus Thread again any time soon.

I go over to Finnick's chariot as soon as it pulls in. "Nice outfit," I say, and wave over him. "Hey, Mags."

Mags mumbles something, but since her stroke, I haven't been able to understand much.

Finnick snorts. "This is probably the least of me my sponsors have seen since my Games. I don't have a single date all week. It's like a vacation if I ignore the death and destruction part."

"Saw you harassing my tribute earlier."

"Had to do it. After that whole thing with putting a backpack over her boyfriend last year." He laughs. "I think she got redder than her suit, though it was hard to tell under the makeup."

I have no doubt about it. She's gotten a little less squeamish about bodies over the last few months -- too many of them on her kitchen tables -- but as far as people she allows to get physically close to her, the list starts with her sister, sometimes snags on Gale and Cinna, and ends at Peeta. I don't think she counts her preps. "You didn't help yourself if you want her for an ally," I say, hoping that anyone from the Games will just think I'm talking about the usual arena partnerships.

"Ah, she'll love me once she knows me. Everyone does. Besides, we have to make her feel like part of the gang, don't we?" He gives his best television grin as the District Six chariot pulls in. Berenice jumps out (wobbling as she lands) and watches avidly for the rest.

Johanna barely waits for her chariot to stop before getting out and coming over. "I hate you, Abernathy," she says by way of greeting. "How did you score Cinna, anyway?"

"My old stylist retired," I say. "Luck of the draw."

This is complete nonsense. Stylists can bid for districts whenever there's an opening, and Cinna was very much in demand when he signed on to replace a departing one. He chose Twelve when he could have any district. I guess it's because he could find a reason to set us on fire. Somehow, trees and fabric and trains don't lend themselves to revolutionary imagery quite as well.

Cecilia and Woof come next, and Cecilia runs for her purse, where she has pictures of her kids. One is learning to play the harp, and another is running for sport. The littlest one seems to occupy his time by covering his face with a great deal of food. They're a little more distinguishable from one another than babies are, but I probably couldn't pick them out of a crowd. I tell her they're growing just like little weeds, and the girl looks just like her.

By the time we're done with this, Chaff and Seeder are pulling in. I go over to their chariot to check on them. "You meet Toffilis?" Chaff asks.

"Yup."

"Nice guy. Hasn't been around since his tribute decided that jumping off a high cliff was a good way out of the arena." He reaches up with his good arm to help Seeder down, and shakes his head at her field hand costume. "Capitol's known us for years," he says. "They could have used our talents. I'd have made a good chess knight, don't you think? And we could have dressed Seeder up in her best ballet dress." He wrinkles his nose. "Hell, I'd have settled for being a damned ear of corn."

Seeder sighs. "It's over, Chaff. Let it go."

"Like hell I will." He looks up as the door opens and Katniss and Peeta come in, still smoldering. "Now, that was genius," he says. "You have a long talk with her yet?"

I shake my head. "Finnick thinks we should make her one of the gang."

"And the boy?" Seeder asks.

"Peeta's part of whatever gang takes him in."

"Then let's make sure he's in ours."

The doors close and Katniss looks over to me. I wave to let her know I saw her -- like she can be missed at the moment -- and lead Chaff and Seeder over. I know they've wanted to meet Katniss, ever since she allied with Rue. They weren't allowed at the victory events, to avoid the appearance of a permanent alliance between the districts, but now that they're all fellow tributes under orders to kill each other, it should be fine.

Seeder embraces Katniss as soon as she sees her, and, to my shock, Katniss doesn't even try to pull away. Instead, she asks, "The families?"

It takes me a minute to sort it out, then I remember that she hasn't been getting updates. She has no idea who died in Eleven other than the old man who whistled. I could have told her that at any time, but for some reason, it never came up. I'd have found a way to tell her that. I just forgot.

Seeder says, "They're alive," and Katniss relaxes and pulls away.

I realize what Chaff means to do only a second before he does it -- he grabs her and plants a kiss on her mouth. It's the exact same thing he did to Johanna her first year as a mentor. She told him she'd have to kiss everyone else and get back to him before she could give him a review. She proceeded to go around the room kissing all of the other mentors, including me. She declared Mags the best kisser.

Come to think of it, I think he did it to Finnick, too, though that's less amusing given what was happening to him outside the training center. None of us knew about that at the time, though. I didn't find out until five years ago, when he refused a date during the Games and his tribute -- that was Annie's year -- was set upon by mutts until he changed his mind.

Katniss pulls away, her face twisted up like she's just been force fed a rotten lemon. Chaff laughs so genuinely that I can't help laughing along, though I'm sure Katniss will make me pay for it later.

This is too much fun for the Capitol to tolerate, and attendants come in to sweep us off to the elevators. Johanna rushes by us to get in with Peeta and Katniss, and I don't even want to know what she has planned for a hello.

I go up with Chaff and Seeder in the car furthest from the kids, and we're joined by Toffilis, but it would be stupid to talk about anything on the training center elevators, so we just compliment Cinna's costumes. Chaff tells Toffilis, "If neither of us is around to mentor Eleven next year, get us a new stylist. I don't care who it is."

They get off on the eleventh floor, and I ride alone up to the top. Effie is waiting for me, looking like she's been given a room full of birthday presents. "They were wonderful!" she says, clasping her hands together. Over her shoulder, I can see them near their elevator, where Peeta is looking humorously contrite and Katniss looks furious. "Everyone loves them so! I already have people lined up to talk to you for sponsorships. It's even better than last year!"

She hands me a handheld screen. Some of the richest sponsors in the Capitol are begging to see me about them, though they can't officially give me money until the Games begin. I'll be able to hand them anything they need without using Plutarch's favors. I don't know why this pleases me inordinately, but it does.

We go to join them. Katniss is definitely in a temper, and I wonder what Johanna did. My guess is that she kissed Peeta, but since no cannons have gone off and there doesn't seem to be any blood on Katniss's hands, I may be wrong about that. Whatever it was, Peeta's amusement at it just seems to make her angrier.

I suppress a desire to hug her, because I think she's probably had her space invaded one time too many tonight, but I like this temper tantrum she's having. It's far from her maudlin moods at home, and not tied to death or self-sacrifice. She's just a teenage girl having a snit. I wish she'd have them more often.

We go to the main door, Peeta barely suppressing a laugh, Effie in high spirits, Katniss on her high horse. It opens, and it takes a minute to process what I see.

There are two Avoxes waiting inside. One is the girl from last year that Katniss obviously knew from somewhere.

The other is Darius.

"Looks like they've got you a matched set this year!" Effie says brightly, and it takes a lot of strength to remember that she has no idea what she sounds like, that she's a decent person in her way.

I grab Katniss's hand before she can say anything that will be taken out on the Avoxes, but there's no need. She's just standing, gape-mouthed, apparently unable to say anything at all. She twists her arm away from me and runs to her room.

"My goodness," Effie says. "What's gotten into her?"

Peeta's lingering amusement has disappeared. "She'll be all right," he says, and looks directly at Darius. He knows better than to say anything or reach out, but I see their eyes meet. Darius looks down.

"Could you get us some..." I try to think of something. "Water?"

Darius nods, thankful to be sent away. The girl goes with him. I wonder what her name was, and whose whipping she interfered with.

"Now what was that all about?" Effie asks. "She has the strangest way with Avoxes."

"We're not used to them in Twelve," Peeta says quietly. "It's not our custom."

"Oh, of course. I suppose it takes time to get used to a new place, and you haven't had much time here." Effie goes off to start getting ready for supper.

I look at Peeta, who is staring after the Avoxes. He turns around to face me. "I never want to get used to this place," he says.

"I know," I tell him.

"But I will, won't I? I'll come every year, and there they'll be. Slaves. And I'll just know what to say."

I shake my head. "You always know what to say, Peeta. That doesn't mean you believe it."

He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, lets it out in a sigh, then opens his eyes and says, "I want to get this makeup off."

He goes.

I sit down alone until Darius brings me a pitcher of ice water. The ice cube in the middle is shaped like the mockingjay pin.

I look up.

He gives me a solemn nod.

The Games are on.
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Comments
torturedbabycow From: torturedbabycow Date: January 24th, 2013 07:04 am (UTC) (Link)
Ohhhh snaaaaap.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 24th, 2013 03:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
It just struck me that Darius might be a little ticked off at the government that cut off his tongue for trying to protect the people that he's supposed to protect and serve.
shortysc22 From: shortysc22 Date: January 25th, 2013 12:28 am (UTC) (Link)
I love this chapter. I liked seeing Haymitch's reaction to seeing Darius as an Avox for the first time and the touch of mockingjay.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 25th, 2013 03:36 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks. That one was just so... sadistic... of Snow. It's not like Darius was the dearest person in the world to all of them, but Snow could hurt him, and then use him to hurt them, so he did it. For no reason other than to inflict pain.
tree_and_leaf From: tree_and_leaf Date: January 25th, 2013 12:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I like what you've done with Darius here.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 25th, 2013 03:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks. I liked that it took him less than a day to rebel against Thread, no matter how unfortunate the consequence.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 25th, 2013 03:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Just wanted to note how much fun I'm having with these! I began reading Shifts and Co. back in high school. I've since graduated from college and am now teaching English in a rural area of Asia, and your stories are still making my school-nights more fun. So pleased you're enjoying the Hunger Games-- thanks for sharing.

On a more specific note, I love Haymitch's rounded-out perspective of the victors, particularly Lyme, Johanna, and Mags. Can't wait to hear everyone's reactions to the wonder duo during training.

And oh, Darius.

- forgot what my liveournal handle used to be.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 26th, 2013 03:18 am (UTC) (Link)
Hey! Nice to see an old friend drop by. Glad you're still reading after all this time. :D
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 26th, 2013 05:20 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm enjoying your attention to detail tremendously! Katniss was only marginally observant of fun points like outfits and people who aren't named characters, and you are rectifying the problem admirably.

I'm also very much looking forward to hearing what everybody else said during the interview with Caesar Flickerman. I'm sure some of the other Tributes had fun things to say about being Reaped again.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 26th, 2013 06:34 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks! Katniss had a lot on her mind. Haymitch does, too, but it includes all his friends.
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