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HG: Golden Mean, Chapter Twenty-Five - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: Golden Mean, Chapter Twenty-Five
After Effie leaves (against Haymitch's objections) to help Portia, he goes off to try and get some sleep.



Chapter Twenty-Five
Digger and I were only together -- completely together -- once. It was two days before the Reaping. She was the one who felt like her number was up, since she'd taken tesserae for a couple of other kids in the Community Home who were too sickly to survive. She snuck me out under the fence, and we went to a place she knew in the woods, a ruined city of broken, ancient houses now overrun by the forest. She picked one at the top of a rise, with one leaf-covered wall that blocked the view of people coming from town. We could look down on the lake and talk, which we did, for a long time after we found our way together. She had pulled her cut-off jeans back on, but grabbed my shirt. I was using hers as a pillow. I don't remember what it really smelled like -- I'm guessing nothing particularly magical, given that she'd been hiking through the woods in it -- but in my dream, it smells like Effie Trinket's wig.

Digger sits in there in the golden late afternoon sun, and I am glad for this dream, because she's not melting or burned. She's beautiful, silhouetted against the glimmering water. "People used to come out here before they built the fence," she says. "It was for vacations." She says the last word carefully. It's a foreign, exotic word, full of power. "Glen Everdeen's family used to own it all."

I stretch out and look toward the sole remaining building, a tiny concrete shack on the far shore. "Glen's full of crap," I say.

"Maybe. But it's what he told Ryland Headley." She sighs, and a mockingjay picks up the sound of it, sending it echoing through the woods. I shiver. "We weren't always poor, though," she says. "And this didn't belong to the Capitol. It belonged to us before the fence went up."

"Well, to Glen, anyway."

She turns and gives me that weird little smile she sometimes had, half amusement, half irritation. "Why are you such a miserable cynic, Haymitch? Maybe the fence will come down, and we could have one of these houses. And a vacation to spend in it." She sits down beside me and puts her hand on my face. "Or a life."

"You'd spend your life with a miserable cynic?"

"If he wanted me to. And if I don't end up speared into the ground at the Cornucopia."

I think about this and say, "He wants you to. But we should wait until we're both past Reaping age before we talk about it."

She nods, then I kiss and caress her, and tell her that I love her. It is the last time I will say it to another person -- the goodbyes at the Justice Building two days later will never get around to it -- but I don't know it at the time. I only know that she's my girl, and I want the afternoon to last forever. It doesn't. It is almost over already, and we only have time to take a quick swim before we have to go back. She asks me for a poem while we walk and I recite one of her favorites from memory. I don't remember which one; she always liked the ones that made her laugh. I haven't recited a poem since then, either. I wake up on my own long before we reach the fence. Somewhere in the dream, I must have pieced together that Katniss learned to swim in the lake her father pretended to have owned, because when I wake up, that, of all thoughts, is running through my head. Not the most useful dispatch I've ever gotten from my subconscious.

I lie in bed for a long time, my head pounding, wanting to drink again. I manage to chew two dry detox tablets, which take the edge off the physical craving, but do nothing about the mental desire to disappear into the bottom of the biggest shot of white liquor I can find. I want to open a bottle and smell the sharp, dizzying fumes, let them stab into my brain with a promise of more to come. Unlike most people in my life, the bottle keeps its promises.

When I go out, my speller tells me that I slept through a description of Beetee's plan, which will involve electrocuting Brutus and Enobaria using the lightning tree and Beetee's spool of wire. "Can't really explain how, though," he said. "And I don't think your tributes get it, either."

"Beetee will tell them what to do when the time comes," I say.

"What if he electrocutes them instead?" the speller says. "If he gets all of his allies holding on to that wire, then, bam. There they go. Maybe he could get Enobaria and Brutus, too, and then it's just him with Chaff. Should they be trusting him?"

I shrug. "We don't have a way to tell them not to, so I'll trust their judgment."

"They're talking about breaking away. Katniss wanted to go this morning, but Peeta told her they should wait until the alliance is finished with District Two."

"Great," I say, sitting down and waving him off. On screen, the alliance is climbing up toward the lightning tree. "Was there bread?" I ask Philo.

"Twenty-four rolls again. I guess twenty-four is the number to bet on."

In other words, they'll be pulled out at midnight... though technically, that should be zero, not twenty-four. I guess it would be a little abstract to send zero rolls.

Katniss hunts while Beetee works on the tree. There's some discussion of whatever is inhabiting the eleven o'clock wedge, leading to Claudius breathlessly describing giant flesh-eating beetles with the appetite of schools of piranha, a fish he's apparently just learned about, and I can see his annoyance that the Gamemakers failed to put any in the water.

Chaff sleeps off his tracker jacker stings, with the poison sapped out much more quickly by the medicine. He is in the sensory deprivation wedge, but it won't be active for quite a long time. Hopefully, he'll find his way to the alliance soon.

Brutus and Enobaria are spying from the edge of the jungle, speculating on what Beetee is planning, but not doing much else.

In other words, there's nothing for anyone to watch. I am not surprised when I'm called to Caesar Flickerman's studio for a retrospective interview. There are very few things I enjoy less than recalling previous Games, my own least of all, but I figure that it's probably better than giving the Capitol a chance to analyze Beetee's plan too carefully. I have a feeling it wouldn't stand up to an electrician's examination.

Caesar greets me cheerfully in the prep room, where he's being carefully done up to look "casual." I'm allowed to take a shower, and given a change of clothes, though Peeta's preps are not here to get me ready. I bring this up to Caesar, who frowns.

"That's strange," he says. "I did send for them."

I hope that Fulvia has decided to bring them, along with Katniss's team, after all, but I can hardly say that. "What are we talking about today?" I ask.

"I wanted to talk about Cinna's creations for Katniss, but unfortunately, I've been instructed to avoid upsetting anyone by mentioning his accident."

"Of course."

"Do you know what really happened?"

"Do you?"

He shakes his head. "I'm not as connected as you think I am."

I somehow doubt this, but say, "All right."

"Instead, I thought we'd talk about Seeder and Cecilia, and some of the others you've been friends with."

"You haven't been instructed to avoid that, too?"

"I always talk about the fallen tributes. No reason not to do it this year. In fact, I have a great deal more footage than usual -- talents, interviews, victory tours. Things seem to be slow in the arena. I think we'll show them all."

More rubbing people's faces in it. Good.

"Do you have pictures of Cecelia's kids?" I ask.

"She's sent them to me every year. And I have Seeder with the dance classes she used to give in District Eleven."

It will hurt -- I know it will hurt -- but I'm not the only one who'll feel it. I go with him, and we spend most of the afternoon talking about my late friends. The silent screens around me show my alliance napping and fishing while Beetee works. Now and then, Caesar cuts to interviews on the street. People are broken.

Good.

At around three, Caesar is instructed to close out the show immediately. He offers me a ride back to the viewing center. In the car, he says, "I'm not bugged. What in the hell is going on? What's happening with the bread?"

I don't answer.

"I know how hints work in the arena, Haymitch. Even starving people don't pay as much attention to bread as your team has been paying."

"Caesar, there are things it's better you don't know."

"And Beetee knows his plan won't work. No one raised in a District Three school would be fooled."

"How would you know?"

"I work with electronics all day, Haymitch."

"How do you know what they learn in a District Three school?"

He smiles. "Haymitch, there are things it's better you don't know."

"They're going to deport Portia to District Three. If she survives jail. Effie's trying to sponsor her to keep her here."

Caesar slows the car. "Portia is in jail?"

"Yes."

Just before we turn down the street where the viewing center is located, Caesar says, quietly, "I'll do what I can for who's left, Haymitch."

"No one's going to be left," I say. "Including you, if you don't want to be. You can't have made many friends with that little show."

He smiles oddly and pulls into the unloading area. "Haymitch, you'll kill me before you drag me to the districts. Be careful who you trust."

He unlocks the door and lets me out. I watch him drive away.

When I get back to my station, Peeta is cleaning out an oyster. He finds a pearl in it and says, in a deeply serious tone, "You know, if you put enough pressure on coal, it turns to pearls."

Katniss laughs fondly, and I think of Effie -- Effie should be back by now, with Portia or without her. How long can a hearing take? But there's no sign of her.

I tell myself that it's Effie, and she probably went home to get another silly wig, but I can't make myself believe it.

Peeta gives Katniss the peal. She accepts it like a wedding ring. Peeta does not miss the change in her expression. "The locket didn't work, did it?" he asks. "Katniss?"

"It worked," Katniss says.

"But not the way I wanted it to."

They don't say any more. Harris sends in another shipment of District Three bread. Still at twenty-four. Still on schedule for midnight. Mostly to amuse myself by making the Gamemakers jump through hoops, I have them send down some cocktail sauce for the shellfish that they're gathering. It's a hit.

I have less than eight hours now.

They go very slowly. Six o'clock passes, and Chaff makes his way backward, wending his way through the dragon's lair, and into the tracker jacker area. All is quiet. Enobaria and Brutus are tracing the edge of the arena now, working their way to the back of the wedges where the alliance is working. I have no way to get a message to Katniss to watch her back, so I hope she remembers.

There is still no sign of Effie or Portia, or Peeta's prep team. I haven't seen Katniss's preps, either. I try to find an excuse to talk to Plutarch, but when I go upstairs to meet with the Gamemakers, one of his apprentices talks to me, and complains that Plutarch has been in his office all day.

At nine, they clear off to the twelve o'clock wedge and Beetee starts wiring the lightning tree. So far, so good...

Until I realize that they mean to separate Peeta and Katniss.

"It's because she tried to run," Philo tells me. "Johanna and Beetee talked about it while you were off at Caesar's. They're afraid they'll bolt, and then they'll be harder to find."

"They'll be crazy and running all over looking for each other!"

"Do you want to send a message?"

I can't think how I would. If it were Katniss's idea, I could probably come up with something, but trying to send messages to Beetee is a useless exercise if they're not in his plan, and Johanna would ignore them.

And there's the matter of Effie.

I pick up the sponsor phone to call her, and discover that it's dead. It hasn't rung for hours, but I haven't paid any attention to it. I haven't heard anyone's phones ringing. It's a slow day in the arena. "Harris," I say, "pick up your phone."

Puzzled, he does. "It's dead," he says.

Philo checks his, stands up, and calls, "Who's having phone troubles?"

My eyes follow his motion, and that's when I see them: Peacekeepers. They've gathered quietly at the edges of the viewing center, with the mentors who stayed after their tributes were lost.

As Katniss and Johanna start to go down the hill, the Peacekeepers stand at attention, weapons at the ready. They step forward.

"What's going on?" a District Two mentor demands. "I've lost my phone. Are we under guard?"

"What would we be under guard for?" Toffilis's district partner, Mindwell, asks.

"Your own protection," a Peacekeeper says. "A hostile aircraft has been spotted. We're here to make sure all of our victors stay safe." He smiles wickedly.

On the screen, Brutus draws his knife and sits down beside a piece of taut wire.

Here, Toffilis glances at me. I look at Jack. Jack looks at the District One mentors standing against the wall.

District One victors.

What happens next has nothing to do with the Rebellion. It happens because Snow has forgotten that one simple fact: Everyone in this room, just like everyone in the arena, is a victor. Cornering victors is a universally bad idea.

Mindwell grabs the nearest Peacekeeper by his hair and brings her knee up into his face, dropping him quickly. They swarm her, but the District One mentors are on them as well, pulling them away and grabbing their weapons. Toffilis picks up his viewing table and slams into a Peacekeeper, crushing his ribcage against the wall.

There is a momentary pause as the victors and the Peacekeepers look at one another.

Philo casually grabs a knife he'd been using to eat his supper at the table. Jack takes off his tie and wraps the ends around his fists. Harris flexes his muscles. I look for anything I can use. All I have is a pocket handkerchief.

A Peacekeeper yells, "Charge!"

Someone cuts the lights, leaving only the eerie glow of the millions of screens. I pick up a chair and throw it into the biggest screen, where Johanna is throwing Katniss to the ground, cutting her arm. It explodes in a rain of fire, sending down shards of hard plastic. I pick one up and wrap the end in my handkerchief just in time to put the sharp end through the neck of a Peacekeeper.

"We have to get out of here!" Jack says, coming up beside me. Across the room, I see Toffilis fall, a red blossom growing on his chest. Philo slashes someone with his knife and runs to us. "Come on! I have a car!"

"We have to get to the roof!" Harris yells, but is cut off by a shot to the back. He falls in front of me, grasping at his neck.

Philo shakes his head and points at one of the auxiliary screens. Shots of Brutus and Enobaria are intercut with pictures of the lake shore.

The feed is cut. I hear shooting above us, and something takes off with a blast of fire. Plutarch better mean that he means to meet us at the lake shore.

Philo grabs my shoulder and pushes me toward the door. A Peacekeeper follows us, but Jack garrotes him and throws him over a railing. "Come with us!" I shout.

No one follows.

As we reach the bottom of the stairs, an alarm starts blaring, throwing red light everywhere. A body comes rolling down the stairs. Mindwell. On the first floor screen, Katniss is lying on the ground, bleeding from her head and her arm.

We make it out the door just before the building goes into lockdown, and Philo won't let us slow down. He pushes us into his car and slams down on the accelerator. He doesn't even try for the real garage exit, instead crashing through a decorative wooden gate and over a garden.

"We have to get Effie," I say.

Philo doesn't argue. Neither does Jack. I give them directions as well as I can remember -- I've only been to Effie's place falling down drunk, though I know the address -- and we race through narrow streets and alleys that Philo seems to know quite well.

"They'll come after us," Jack says.

"I know." Philo makes a quick turn into a tunnel that runs beneath the city. "But I can make it hard for them to find us."

"They'll be waiting at Effie's if we don't get there fast. They know Haymitch will come for her."

Fast isn't a problem.

Philo speeds through the tunnels, barely missing workers, setting off a trap at one point that opens a hole in the street. We bump over it before it can even really become a threat.

We burst up onto the surface at a parking garage just outside of Effie's delicate, pink-glass neighborhood on the lake shore. A man walking a tiny dog screams and runs. Philo roars onto the quiet streets.

Effie's building looks like all of the others. She has a doorman. Jack grabs him and holds him at bay with his tie while Philo unlocks the elevator from his security stand. We go up to Effie's apartment.

The door is ajar.

"Effie! Effie!" I go inside, yelling. Her sofa has been overturned, and the fluffy pink throw rug that defines her living room is wrinkled and askew, like something -- or someone -- has been dragged over it.

"Haymitch, she's already gone," Philo says. "We have to get out of here."

"EFFIE!"

I storm into her bedroom, somehow expecting that she's missed all of this commotion and is just taking a nap. Her closet doors are open, her precious clothes strewn around. Her wig stands stare blankly at me. Drawers have been pulled out of her dresser and dressing table. I see pictures of her through the years, many of them marked by heavy boot prints. Her dressing table mirror is shattered. A photo she has on the wall, taken her first year as the District Twelve escort, has had its glass smashed. I am standing beside her, sneering at her. I take it and throw it across the room.

"Haymitch, we have to go!" Philo shouts.

I grab a handful of Effie's pictures from the floor, shove them in my pocket, and go back to the living room. On her television, I see Chaff and Brutus fighting at the edge of the jungle. Under the television, a little long-haired white cat is shivering, looking up with huge blue eyes. I didn't know she had a cat. I don't know why I didn't know that.

I don't know how long I stand there, staring at Effie's cat. I make a grab for it, thinking I can at least take it outside, where it won't be locked in to starve to death, but it hisses at me and runs to hide under the couch.

"No time," Philo says. "We have to get out. I mean it."

"Effie," I manage to say.

"It's too late, Haymitch."

I nod.

We don't try the elevator to get down. It's too easy to trap us there. We take the emergency stairs, setting off about half a dozen alarms. Jack doesn't look surprised to see us when we get there. He knocks out the doorman (which will be better for him if the Peacekeepers find out we got by him), then we go outside.

Peacekeepers surround Philo's car. One of them raises a bullhorn. "Surrender immediately in the name of Panem."

I don't expect them to let us surrender, and I'm bracing myself for a gunshot when the world is suddenly flooded with white light. There is a hissing sound, and the Peacekeepers grasp at their throats. I look up and see a hovercraft. It's lowering its ladder.

Fulvia Cardew leans out of the hatch. "Get in now, Abernathy. You've wasted enough time."

I go. I'm halfway up the ladder when the stabilizers grab me, far enough that they're able to get Jack as well. A second ladder descends for Philo, but as he's running for it, a bullet catches him in the neck. Blood sprays out from under his ear, and he falls into the crowd of Peacekeepers.

"No!" I scream.

The ladder pulls us up.

"Since when was he our ally?" Plutarch asks conversationally.

If I weren't still held in the trap of the ladder's stabilizing field, I might knock his head off for that tone.

Fulvia closes the hatch and slaps my face. "You were told not to come here." She stalks off and sits beside Plutarch in the co-pilot's seat as Jack and I are released, weak, to the floor of the craft, which is already accelerating. I can see missiles flying up at us, but Plutarch doesn't seem concerned about them.

"What happened?" Jack asks. "Did someone break?"

"The rescue craft was spotted," Fulvia says. "It's that simple. A piece of bad luck. One of the staffers on the supply craft called in to say that he thought he'd seen a reflection of metal in the sky when he went for a stroll on the deck. The light hit it just wrong."

"They tried to hide," Plutarch adds, but they had to wait for midnight if Beetee was going to break the forcefield."

"Break the--"

"Of course." He nods toward the wall beside me, where, of course, there is a television screen. On it, Beetee stabs wildly at the forcefield and is thrown backward by the charge. Katniss is making her way up the hill, following the broken wire. Enobaria and Johanna are fighting on the wave beach, pushing each other up toward midnight.

Peeta -- as I expected -- has gone searching for Katniss, calling for her. She yells his name as well, and their game of trying to pull attention to themselves is going to get both of them killed.

Peeta first.

Brutus breaks off his fight with Chaff when he sees Peeta, kicking Chaff away like an elderly dog. "Look who's here," he says softly.

Peeta turns and draws his knife. "I don't care about you right now, Brutus."

"I'm crushed," Brutus says. "I must be the only person in all of Panem you don't care about. Saintly little Peeta Mellark. So much better than the rest of us."

"I'm not better than anyone."

"Then it's just that the rest of us are worse, not spending our time crying over all the little broken hearts." Brutus moves in closer, a long knife held out in front of him. "You make me sick. You and your sniveling and whining. You'd have been dead at the Cornucopia if the world was fair. But you played your little games with the audience. All the sentimental little old ladies. And they bent the rules for you. Your girlfriend won fair and square, but you're a cheat. You're nothing. You wouldn't survive a day without her, and you don't deserve to."

He raises his knife.

Chaff runs at him out of nowhere, knocking him to the ground. "Get out of here, Peeta! Get back to your team!"

"I -- "

"I'm speaking for your mentor! Get out of--"

Brutus's knife cuts nearly through Chaff's neck in one blow. He gets up and spits on the body.

Peeta yells Chaff's name and runs at Brutus, knocking him down to his knees. "Is this the way you want it played?" he hisses.

He grabs Brutus by the hair, pulls his head back, then slits his throat.

For a moment, he smiles savagely, wild and bloody in the moonlight.

Then the keening sound begins. It starts before the smile even leaves his face -- a high-pitched, lost sound. He drops his knife and takes a step backward, losing his balance on his artificial leg.

He looks at his hands.

And screams.
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Comments
From: (Anonymous) Date: February 14th, 2013 04:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
Happy Valentine's Day to you, too, Fern. :)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 14th, 2013 05:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
What, it doesn't say red roses and chocolates to you? ;p
From: (Anonymous) Date: February 15th, 2013 04:57 am (UTC) (Link)

Wow.

Well, nothing says 'Happy Valentine's Day' quite like peer-throat-slitting, I guess.

And now, for a non sequitur: Just for the heck of it, I took a gander at the links on the right to check out your AO3 fics, and my faulty mouse led me to the SugarQuill site instead. Talk about a trip down memory lane! Do you realize that by the time late summer rolls around, there will be people -- myself being included in that number -- who have followed your work for a decade? Like, damn.

Cheers,
(the user formerly known as) Kobe Grace
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 15th, 2013 05:31 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Wow.

I've had that in mind lately. I got sent over here to LJ from someone at SQ, and the subheading I see every day is "Spewing out too many words since November 2003."

Boy, am I grateful for the people who've stuck around so long!
From: (Anonymous) Date: February 14th, 2013 07:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
So are you thinking that Peeta's first real kill was enough to start him on the insane path, with hijacking a major help along the way?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 14th, 2013 08:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm thinking it will destabilize him quite a lot. If he'd been rescued by his friends instead of his enemies, they probably could have helped him.
From: (Anonymous) Date: February 14th, 2013 11:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
That was intense! You had me on the edge of my seat even though I had a good idea about what was coming. I'm sad about Philo. I really liked him. And I can't wait to read about what's coming next. Thanks!
Robin
From: (Anonymous) Date: February 15th, 2013 12:10 am (UTC) (Link)

Yeah...

Victors vs Peacekeepers...

Peacekeepers have actual weapons.

But victors can make weapons out of anything...

Definitely very intense.

Sara Libby
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 15th, 2013 01:54 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yeah...

Yeah... I wouldn't mess with a victor. Ever. Snow is very stupid in this way.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 15th, 2013 01:54 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks! I liked Philo, too. About halfway through creating Haymitch's cast of supporting mentor characters, I realized I have to kill all of them eventually. Boo.
torturedbabycow From: torturedbabycow Date: February 15th, 2013 01:08 am (UTC) (Link)
*flail*
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 15th, 2013 01:54 am (UTC) (Link)
:me, too:
beceh From: beceh Date: February 15th, 2013 01:55 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm loving these so much. Sad to realise we're almost at the end of Catching Fire :( Are you going to stop when the book does? Or keep going?

You do Haymitch so very well.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 15th, 2013 03:36 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks!

My plan right now is to do another nine-chapter bit, an interquel, from Peeta's point of view in the Capitol, then follow it with Haymitch doing Mockingjay. I was originally going to do all of Mockingjay from Peeta's POV, but just like this one, I decided it would be way too many re-caps of canon scenes once he got out of the Capitol. Haymitch is at a nice distance.
shortysc22 From: shortysc22 Date: February 15th, 2013 03:24 am (UTC) (Link)
You're certainly on a roll this week. A great chapter describing the escape and I can't wait to see Haymitch's perspective once he reaches District 13 and understands exactly what they've done to 12.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 15th, 2013 03:36 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm feeling excited to be near the end. Almost done with my first full-length HG!
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