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HG: Golden Mean, Chapter Sixteen - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: Golden Mean, Chapter Sixteen
In the Capitol, the tribute parade is over, and the District Twelve group has found an unpleasant surprise in their apartment: Darius is their Avox.



Chapter Sixteen
Dinner is awkward, to say the least. Katniss is staring at Darius like he's a hallucination that will disappear if she concentrates hard enough. Effie corrects her for it, especially when she tries to help him clean up a spill (surely a pretext for some kind of forbidden contact). She goes to bed, and, though I see Peeta knocking on her door, she sleeps alone, and so does he.

I am not surprised to find him up early the next morning, picking at breakfast and looking miserable. I sit down by him, and my bracelet clanks on the table. It pinches, and I hate that sound.

"One of you going to tell me what happened?" I ask, pouring a little champagne into some orange juice. Or maybe pouring a little orange juice into some champagne.

"Finnick teased her. Then Chaff kissed her. Then Johanna stripped in the elevator." He blushes. "She was pretty much down to her shoes."

"That's Johanna."

"Yeah, well. I laughed. It was funny, how shocked she was. I like that she's like that. It's just Katniss. It's funny. But you know... maybe I shouldn't have laughed. Katniss was already mad before we saw Darius." He looks around wildly, then shakes his head. "I guess it doesn't matter if they hear. Obviously, someone knows we know him."

I nod. "Caution is still not a bad idea."

"I guess." He picks at his eggs. "And of course, I had nightmares. I thought they grabbed her and made her into an Avox, too. And I reached out and she wasn't there, which was how the whole nightmare started, and... well, I didn't sleep much."

It occurs to me that Katniss has no idea that Peeta actually needs her. I think she believes he's there to comfort her.

Which is something I haven't the slightest desire to get into with either one of them. "What do you think of your fellow tributes?" I ask. "Finnick and Johanna and Chaff made you laugh, anyway."

"How does that matter?"

"Allies," I say bluntly. "You need allies."

"She won't take them. And I don't want them. Last year..." He shakes his head. "It was weird. It was like having friends, except that we all knew the plan was to end up killing each other. That's sick."

"How did you get in, anyway? I requested, like you said, but the answer was no."

"You saw. I threw a couple kids out of the way, grabbed a knife, and grabbed Clove. I figured I could lie them away from Katniss, but get them close enough to get that bow to her."

"How did you not get killed? I told you to get away from the Cornucopia."

He laughs humorlessly. "Dumb luck. Cato missed."

"Did you talk to them during training?"

"Sure. I talked to everyone. Figured it was my last chance to meet anyone."

"I want you to talk to people during training today. Get to know them."

"No."

I expected to have to fight with Katniss over this, but Peeta should be a pushover. Unlike Katniss, he actually likes people. I rub my head. "Peeta, you don't stand a chance if you don't have allies. And neither does she, since I'm guessing that matters more to you."

"We're both pretty strong, and she knows survival. I can take on whatever gets thrown at me."

"And let's say you do both make it to the end. Then what?"

"It's easier for me to cut my throat than for her to shoot herself."

"Oh, well, as long as your strategy is so impeccable..."

"Why do you want us to have allies? Won't that just end up with us killing your friends at the end?"

Not if I can help it, I think, but don't say. "Peeta, think about it. Team up with stronger players that you get along with. Try to stay alive as long as you can. Where's the downside?"

"The downside's when it comes to killing them," he says. "If I'd gotten to the end with the Careers, they'd have killed me fast, because I liked them all -- sort of -- and didn't want them dead."

"You know they'd have killed you without thinking twice and you liked them too much to... " I roll my eyes. "I'm not even going to try and make that make sense. But you're stronger with allies. You know that. You watched all the Games. Finnick's the only one who won without allies in the arena, and that's because his allies were his sponsors." I look at my watch. It's nine o'clock. "Where's Katniss?"

He shrugs. "Sleeping, probably."

"She better get down here soon. You're due at training at ten."

We eat together for a while, and I manage to get him to entertain the idea of alliances, and possibly even help me convince Katniss, though he's not in a hurry to say anything else to get on her bad side. He won't commit to anything without her. She still isn't down at nine-thirty, and I go up and pound on her door. She tells me she'll be right down, but manages to dawdle for another five minutes.

Plutarch is trying to run a revolution. I am trying to deal with a teenage girl having a mood.

I remind myself that she has no idea what's going on and neither does Peeta, and now that we're here and being watched, it's too late to change my mind about that. But I guess it's still in my voice when I tell her she's late, because she looks like I've just gutted her when she says she's been having nightmares about severed tongues.

She is not excited at the prospect of alliances. She claims not to trust any of the other tributes except Peeta. She outright hates Finnick, which is a big problem, seeing that he's kind of a keystone in the arena, one of the few who knows everything. Unfortunately, Johanna and Chaff are the other two, and apparently, they've already managed to get permanent bad marks on their records. I'm frustrated with Katniss, and with them. They should have waited for me to introduce them. She'd have trusted them if they'd just waited. If I can't get her to come around, I'll have to do something desperate.

Effie comes in at five minutes to ten, looking excited. "Oh, it's training! I'll get you down there right on time!"

"Effie, come on," I say. "None of the others have chaperones. Let's not saddle them with that."

She looks wounded. "But I'm their escort!"

"And you're really good at it," Peeta says. "I'd never find my way around here without you. But, you know, Haymitch is right about the Games. It's better if they don't treat us like kids."

"Oh. Of course." She arranges a few of his curls to her liking, tightens Katniss's braid, and insists on walking them to the elevators.

I wait for her to come back. "Sorry, Effie," I say. "They've got some disadvantages going in here."

"Oh, I know," she says, and sits down on the couch. "I just want to spend some time with them. Before..." She sniffs and takes a long, shaky breath, then forces her cheerful face back on -- I am immediately suspicious. "Now, while they're training, there's Quell business to attend to. If you weren't mentoring, I'm sure they'd have you go to your arena to walk us through it -- "

"What?"

"It's a very popular destination. It's so lovely, and they've taken out the poison things and the mutts." She sighs. "I suppose you wouldn't want to go, anyway."

"Not in the least," I say, and I know I'll have nightmares tonight that they mean to drag me in there, anyway. A little accident, maybe, a drunken fall off the edge of my cliff.

Effie doesn't push it. "As it is, Caesar just wants to go over your Games with you at the studio, with footage."

"Live?"

"No. I think he just wants to get the details straight and get some voiceovers for a special re-airing of the highlights. He'll interview you tomorrow about what you've done with your life since the Games." She bites her lip. "What, uh... what are you going to tell him?"

"Why, sweetheart? Do you want me to cover up our passionate affair?"

This earns me flared nostrils, pursed lips, and drawn-together eyebrows. "I think he'd just like to know where to take it. You're not mentoring yourself, so you can't talk to him about the interview beforehand. I'll be doing that. You didn't give me much to work with on the phone. What do you do in District Twelve?"

"I drink a lot and grope visiting escorts." She looks like she's about to have steam come out of her ears, so relent a little. "Come on, Effie. You know what my life is like. I mentor once a year. I help out where I can these days. I bother Katniss and Peeta. And my house is finally clean. Is anyone going to be interested in that?"

"They might be interested in why your house is clean. The lovely lady...?"

I shake my head. "Hazelle's off the table, Effie. She's my housekeeper," I say for the bugs. "And an actual lady."

She raises her eyebrows, and I'm fairly sure that she's deduced more than I want her to. I roll my eyes at her. She grins, and hands me my schedule for the day.

I don't need prepping for Caesar, since we're working off camera. He's not prepped, either, though it's hard to tell, since his hair and eyebrows are dyed lavender and he's had so much work done on his face that I have no idea how old he really is. He'd already been hosting my whole life the first time I met him.

He is wearing jeans and an old shirt, and a pair of beaten-up sneakers. We will be inhabiting a dingy little production room in the studio basement. It's dark except for the flickering screens (currently showing the crowded stage from interview night with the sound off), and Caesar has spread out a less-than-fancy spread of food.

He looks up when I come in, the dimness making his lavender accents look a little less strange. He smiles -- not the big television host smile the country knows, but a regular greeting. "Haymitch!" he says. "I was just watching our interview. You really got the crowd that night. A hundred percent as stupid as usual." He laughs. "It wasn't true, you know. They weren't stupid. You've just always been too smart for your own good."

I take the chair next to him, moving aside some food wrappers. "What do you need?"

"Just some voiceovers," he says. "You know it's going to come to Maysilee." He looks over. "I remember she was wearing a pin the night of her interview. They took it away before she went into the arena."

"Now you're getting too smart for your own good," I say.

"Think we should remind people?" he asks, edging the video backward to Maysilee's interview, where the mockingjay pin is visible, if indistinct in the glaring lights.

"I'm surprised you remember."

"I remember all of them. Maybe not their names, but..." He shrugs. "I remember them."

"You remember the first Quell winner? Maybe he should be doing voiceovers."

"Charlie? He was a few years before I got this gig."


"It's hard to believe."

He laughs. "I'm sure it was hard for everyone else to believe that anyone could replace Candria Light when I took over. She'd been doing it for thirty-one years. She actually could name them all."

"Why do you do it?" I ask. "You're the face of something you hate."

He pauses the video on a shot of Maysilee laughing nervously. "She was talking about her parents' sweet shop," he says. "Got herself all tangled up. Remember?"

"Yeah. You got her untangled."

He nods. "That's why I do it. To help them get untangled, if they need help. To get stories from them that count. That, maybe, people will remember later. I always hate it when mentors tell me to ask them about their strategy so they can intimidate the others. The audience doesn't remember that. Do you remember a word Clove said last year? But they remember Peeta talking about showers -- he made them laugh, then he made them love him and Katniss. If Katniss hadn't forced Seneca's hand when she did, if she'd just put down her bow and refused to kill Peeta or let him kill himself, the public would have forced it. His original idea, that the audience would find it very entertaining to watch them kill each other after everything they went through together, never would have flown. Peeta'd created a narrative that made it impossible for them to accept that. I helped him do it."

I give a noncommittal grunt and watch forty-nine dead kids make silent small talk. I don't like Plutarch's plans, but at least he has them.

"These are the last Games, Haymitch," Caesar says. "One way or another. Can't you feel it?"

I look at him to see if he is joking or if he looks suspicious. Neither seems to be the case. I don't dare agree or disagree, so I say, "What do you want me to talk about?"

He guides me through my Games, stopping at various points to ask what was going through my head. I realize that most of the questions are about the other tributes.

Narrative.

For memory.

I answer his questions as well as I can.

This business takes through lunch, which we eat together while going through footage. A small screen at the top of the stack shows the training room, where Katniss and Peeta are eating at a large table with the others. Peeta has thrown himself into making friends (which I expected he would once he met them), and Katniss doesn't seem to be overtly hostile. I can't hear anything, but Chaff seems to be joking with them. Caesar says that they seem to be doing fine.

I finish up around three in the afternoon. A few of the tributes are not bothering with training, and I have a drink or two with Blight. He says there's no point in training; he's not in shape and couldn't even beat his district partner. "So, since I'm going to die anyway, I think I'll enjoy life for a few days instead." I consider this a fine line of reasoning.

Effie finds me around six and checks to see if I'm drunk -- a habit she's had too long to break, no matter how many detoxers she knows are in my system -- then grabs my arm and says, "Haymitch, you need to see this!"

"More sponsors?" I ask.

"Even better. Look!" She reaches into her purse and pulls out a handful of paper forms.

"Alliance requests?"

"From District Four, and Johanna and Cecilia and Faraday Sykes. And Earl Bates, and... oh, Haymitch, half the tributes going in want to partner with Katniss! Even Districts One and Two have asked for her!"

"And Peeta?"

"Well, of course he goes with her. She's not going to leave him behind. That's already been stipulated."

We reach the training center and go inside. Katniss and Peeta are both relaxing in the apartment, waiting for dinner. Peeta says that she's a star because everyone saw her shoot. "I'm about to put in a formal request myself."

"You're that good?" I ask. I've heard she's good, but none of the shots I've seen her make has been extraordinary. "So good that Brutus wants you?"

"But I don't want Brutus," Katniss says, then raises herself up in my estimation by many degrees by saying, "I want Mags and District Three."

"Of course you do," I say. I do my best not to convey any delight at this, as I can't think of a quicker way to make her mistrust her instincts than having me confirm them. Now, I just need her to take to Finnick and Johanna. Seeder will make sure she and Chaff get into that group. "I'll tell everybody you're still making up your mind."

We have dinner together, and Peeta gives a recap of Katniss's shooting exhibition so lively that I feel like I was there. For the first time in ages, she seems to be entirely pleased by his admiration. She tells me how good he was at getting the other tributes to eat with them, and how he made it easy for even her to get along with them. They are both flushed and wide-eyed, and Effie insists that we all stay downstairs together and watch something insipid on television. By the time it's over, Katniss is drowsy and Peeta has to be woken up to go to his room.

Chaff skips training the next day and we play chess in the park with a few old men until we start being recognized by kids coming home from school. I am pressed for autographs, and begged to give good wishes to Katniss and Peeta. Chaff is given good wishes for himself, once they realize how that sounds. A few girls hand me kisses that I'm supposed to pass on to Peeta. I tell them that I'd prefer not to get an arrow in the head, which makes them laugh. Two of them have fake braids clipped to their hair, and all of them are wearing mockingjays. A few little boys on the playground are playing at the Games, which annoys me, but one of them has buried himself in the sandbox and is waiting to be rescued by the girl he's playing with. I watch this for a while, thinking about what Caesar said about the Capitol audience not forgetting the story. Unlike the others, those playing at being Katniss and Peeta seem intent on rescuing one another as the highest level of Game play.

Around two, I go to Caesar's studio for prep, and talk him into letting Chaff come on with me. We do a puff piece about my life in District Twelve, most of which focuses on the kids, since the rest of my life is not really fit for public consumption. He asks -- probably out of habit -- if there's anyone special in my life, and I consider giving a carefully veiled hello to Hazelle, but if I did that, half of District Twelve would start speculating on who I was talking about, and a good number of them would pick the wrong person. I tell him that I'm saving myself for Effie Trinket, a longstanding joke in the Capitol that I know Effie doesn't mind me telling. I hope Hazelle doesn't.

Chaff goes through the Quell from his point of view as a mentor, trying to find sponsors for so many kids. "Even the favorites didn't have much to work with that year," he says. "And District Twelve barely had anything at all."

"Was there anything?"

"Well, Maysilee got some crackers before she ran into you."

"I'll try to contain my jealousy."

He laughs. "Well, you didn't seem to need much. After I lost my tributes, I kept an eye on you."

"Yes," Caesar says. "It was you and your district mentoring partner who were there with Haymitch in recovery, wasn't it?"

"It sure was. Seeder thought he'd need someone a little friendlier than the mentor he'd been given. And we both liked him, no matter how unlikeable he tried to be."

"I am unlikeable," I growl.

"Yup, you're a pill, that's for sure. Don't know what we were thinking." He grins.

After the interview, Caesar airs scenes from the Quell, with the commentary I did yesterday. Reporters are in the street waiting to get reactions from Capitol citizens. Most are dazed, many expressing in various ways that they'd forgotten how many of us there were. Kaydilyn Undersee is interviewed back in Twelve, and kindly interprets my crazy behavior toward her when I got home as a gallant remembrance of her sister. A photo is shown of the two of them and their best friends, then Caesar pretends to be surprised to see Ruth Everdeen in it. He freezes on the photo and says, "And here we see it -- the ongoing legacy of the Games in District Twelve." Maysilee is faded out, and Ruth's face morphs into Katniss's and cuts to her live in the training center, where Peeta, Berenice, and Paulin are painting her into a field of wildflowers. As we watch, she also disappears.

It is a nearly perfect cut, and one of the people on the street, now appearing for an interview, is too choked up to tell the reporter why he thinks Quells are such special events.

After the show, I go back to the training center for dinner with my weird approximation of a family, then head out to find Finnick, who is making no progress at all with Katniss. Johanna is with him on the recreation level of the training center, and isn't even trying to make progress. "You set it up," she says. "I’m not going to play kiss-kiss with a soppy teenager. You're the one who wants us to be allies. You make it happen."

"I'm not the one who put in a formal request," I remind her.

"Well... she can shoot. I wouldn't mind being her ally. As long as I don't have to be her friend."

"I want to be her friend," Finnick says. "I like her. I like Peeta, too. It's amazing how much time they managed to spend with Haymitch without becoming nearly as insufferable."

This could turn into a serious conversation, but Finnick is high on the idea of a few days to himself, and he grabs Johanna and swings her into a dance. They've been friends since she started mentoring, which was the same year Finnick mentored Annie. They treat me as an irascible older relative... pretty much the same way Peeta and Katniss do, when I think about it. More members of my big, weird family.

I don't mind it.

I get reports back from other mentors that the kids are doing well in training, getting along as well as possible with everyone else (Johanna excepted). I ride in an elevator with Gloss and he compliments Katniss on her composure, of all things. Brutus demands that I confirm an alliance, and at that point I feel comfortable telling him that Katniss would rather swallow mutated worms than ally with him. He's distinctly cool after that. Enobaria makes a point of telling me that she finds it hilarious that Brutus is throwing a temper tantrum about this, but she's withdrawing her request for an alliance. "I think I'll make do with the real contenders," she says snidely.

On the day of individual evaluations, I assume Katniss will shoot at targets. They'll certainly provide her with some. Peeta knows to show them all his strength, and maybe do some camouflage. They don't need coaching the second time around. I hear the others muttering about what they'll show the Gamemakers that they haven't already seen. Some tributes, including Beetee and Wiress, go straight back their quarters. Others drift to the lounge where the mentors are waiting. We can see the dining hall emptying out as the tributes go in.

Finnick doesn't tell me what he did when he comes out after his, and when Mags comes out next, looking rested, he translates what she says as, "I took a nap." He laughs and says she knows that they're going to give her a low score anyway.

"What'd you do?" Finnick asks Johanna as she comes out.

"I thought I'd tap dance, but they didn't have the shoes for it, so I threw some axes instead." She throws herself down on a sofa. Jack Anderson tells her that she shouldn't talk about her talents, and she makes an unfriendly gesture at him. "Give me a break. We've all seen each other's Games, right?"

Cecilia made a strong garrote out of plant material, the same thing she did for her night-hunting expeditions in her games, and Seeder built a shelter. Chaff says he stared at them for fifteen minutes to prove he could intimidate anyone. "They were shaking by the end, I promise."

"So Peeta's in there now?" I ask.

"Should be."

I wait to either have him show up in the lounge or to see the elevator go up, but after twenty minutes, neither thing has happened. Finally, the elevator goes up past us. I look to the screen, expecting to see Katniss go in. Instead, she wanders around the dining room by herself for what seems like forever.

"I'm intrigued," Seeder says. "What does he know how to do that takes that long to clean up?"

I am suddenly pulled back to the car full of paintings of the Games, to Peeta with his paint-stained hands bringing me bread, to the light in his studio at all hours.

And I have a sinking feeling that maybe I should have mentored my tributes this morning after all.
6 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 26th, 2013 03:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
I LOVE your Caesar. I love all your characters, but I especially love your Caesar.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 26th, 2013 08:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks. I like Caesar, too. He's a little odd, sure, but look how much he lets the tributes get away with, right under Snow's nose.
shortysc22 From: shortysc22 Date: January 26th, 2013 03:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
I loved this chapter and Haymitch's comments about dealing with a moody Katniss and how he thought Peeta would be the pushover. It's interesting to see the Games from the perspective of a mentor and can't wait for more, as always.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 26th, 2013 08:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
It looks like the mentors have quite a lot that they need to do.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 26th, 2013 07:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
What a lovely chapter. I have always enjoyed Caesar, so it was good to see him in this chapter as I really enjoy your take on him. I can't wait to read Haymitch's perspective on what Katniss and Peeta did during their evaluations. That's definitely when them not knowing what's going on is not a good thing. But my favorite part of this chapter was showing how upset the capital citizens are about the quell. Snow must hate that. I can't wait until their final interview.
Thanks!
Robin
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 26th, 2013 08:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Like trying to deal with the grown-ups in Order of the Phoenix, I'm finding that the plot makes a little less sense when you're trying to explain why in the world that extremely BAD decision was made from the point of view of the people making it. For plot purposes from Katniss's POV, it totally works. Standing back a few feet, you've got to say, "Holy bad ideas, Batman!"
6 comments or Leave a comment