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HG: House of Cards, Chapter Five - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: House of Cards, Chapter Five
Snow has figured out that Peeta lied about where the District Twelve survivors might have gone, and has installed body parts of his family in the room and threatened to bring in the body of his niece "for company" if he ever lies again.



Chapter 5
By the third day of my life in prison, I've adjusted to the videos. I know each scene now. I know exactly where they put in the pictures of Katniss that I'm not supposed to see. My rib is still painful, but I've adjusted to that as well. They've stopped hurting me directly. They ask me to do a commercial for the Capitol, telling them that I understand why the Games need to be awful and the districts need to be disciplined. I refuse to speak when the cameras come, and next door, Johanna is beaten. She screams at me the whole time to stick to whatever I'm doing or she'll never forgive me for it.

I have a feeling that she won't forgive me either way. I don't do the commercial.

I go to the vent after everyone has left and ask Johanna if she's okay.

"I can take it," she says quietly. "Keep fighting."

The next day, the Avoxes from the training center are moved in across the hall from me. A camera is installed in their cell, with a feed directly into mine. Their clothes have been taken, and, more ominously given Snow's threat to Johanna, their heads have been shaved. Lavinia is trying to cover herself. Darius tries to shield her from the camera.

Lavinia jerks back as a mist fills the room, and when it clears, I see that the floor is covered with water.

Three Peacekeepers come in, wearing heavy, rubber-soled boots. Two of them drag Darius away and set him on a bunk. He makes gestures at them, some of which I know are vulgar, others of which make no sense to me at all.

I guess they must refer to something Peacekeepers know, because one of the men laughs and says, "If you gave a damn about the Rules of Conduct, you wouldn't be here, would you? Because rule number one is that you're at the pleasure of the Capitol."

Darius holds up his hand and waves four fingers at him emphatically.

Before I can process what I'm seeing, the Peacekeeper grabs Darius's hand and cuts off his little finger. "Try quoting the rules now," he quips as Darius screams and buries his bloody hand against his side.

Darius holds up the other hand. The gesture he makes with it is not a number.

The Peacekeeper laughs and turns his back. He hits button on the wall and a hook comes down from the ceiling, the same sort of hook they hung Johanna from when Snow had her brought to my cell. They bind Lavinia's hands and hang her up from it by the chain.

"What do you know about the mockingjay?" one of them asks, casually pulling something else down. I see that it's a black cord. At the end of it is a two pronged prod. Lightning arcs between the prongs.

I go to my door and pound on it. "What are you doing? She can't answer you!"

The Peacekeeper grins over his shoulder at me. He pokes Lavinia with his finger. "Should we have some fun with you first?" he asks.

I pound on the door. I can hear Johanna doing the same. "Let her be!" I yell.

Lavinia curls up her legs and kicks him hard in the belly.

He jams the prod into her chest.

The entire cell flashes white, like the arena when Katniss blew the forcefield. There is a sound like the crack of a whip.

When the light fades, Lavinia is hanging limp from the ceiling.

One of the other Peacekeepers grabs the prod away. "You idiot! She's dead! You hit her with too much!"

Darius tries to step off the bunk, but the water on the floor still holds a charge, and he's thrown back.

The Peacekeepers take down Lavinia's body and drag it out of the cell. Darius huddles on the bunk, cradling his hand, while the water on the floor is vacuumed down a drain.

The feed from the cell breaks off, and my screen goes back to the burning of Twelve. They've already cut in a picture of Lavinia dying. It comes after Katniss drops tracker jackers on me. There are a few frames of her blowing the forcefield between them.

I pick up the cards Caesar left, and start building. The metal table doesn’t hold them as well as the wooden one in the training center did, and they have a tendency to slip. When I do manage a level or two, a blast of air inevitably breaks it. I am no longer surprised at the level of pettiness they manage to work in along with the horrors.

Caesar comes down with a camera crew the next day and starts shooting Darius's cell and Johanna's. When the head guard tells him he has to stop, he produces orders from Snow telling him to show how well everyone is being treated.

All of us are given medical care. The cells are cleaned up. Darius is given clothes and a blanket. Caesar's people film us.

Outside my cell door, Caesar says, "Yes, that's much better. I'm sure they'll be wanting regular reports. Peeta and Johanna are very well-liked by the audience."

"You should be fixing that," the head guard says.

"You overestimate my persuasive powers." He pauses. "I need to talk to Peeta."

"Is that approved?"

I peek through the window. Caesar shuffles papers around and finally comes up with one that seems to appease the guard. The door opens.

Caesar comes in and sits down at my table. He's brought a simple chicken sandwich, which he gives me, along with a glass of water. It's possibly the best meal I've ever had.

"You're already losing weight," he says. "What have they been sending down?"

"Just water. I guess if I don't eat the bread, they think I'm not hungry." I nod toward the bread in the bakery pan, which I've put beside Mom's hand on the shelves. By now, I'm sure that it's stale enough that Mom would let us take it off the shelf and eat it ourselves.

"That was four days ago," Caesar says. I nod. He grinds his teeth. "They're supposed to be feeding you."

"That's not your fault. I told them I wouldn't do a spot for them. They beat up Johanna."

Caesar stands up abruptly and pounds on Johanna's wall. "Jo! Hang in there."

She pounds back, but more weakly than I tend to expect from Johanna. Her voice floats through the vent. "Sooner or later, I'll hang somewhere, won't I?"

"Not if I can stop it."

Johanna laughs. It's a strange, frightening, dead sound as it bounces off the walls.

Caesar looks down. We manage a few more almost-pleasantries, then he leaves.

I'm awakened the next morning by Darius's screams. I hear them in stereo, both across the hall and on my screen.

"What do you know about the mockingjay?" a guard demands.

Darius makes a prolonged, animal sound. A knife flashes, and his hand starts bleeding again. His thumb is gone.

"Have you seen the project specs?"

Darius shakes his head wildly and groans, waving his intact hand at his missing tongue.

"What do you know? What have you seen?"

The electric prod comes out, and Darius screams miserably.

The guard waves a folder in front of him. There is a picture of Katniss on it. "Have you seen this before?" he demands. "Tell me!"

Darius shakes his head again, wailing something.

The feed is cut. It isn't replaced with anything, and I can still hear Darius screaming. Johanna is up now, yelling to make them stop. My lights go out. Someone closes the blinds over the window. Darius's and Johanna's screams are the only thing in the world, punctuated by an occasional, very loud demand to know whatever Darius learned in District Twelve about "the mockingjay."

I hear a soft whisk of something coming at me, and a sharp pain behind my knees, like a bee sting. Darius's screams grow louder.

I have no way of knowing how long this goes on. It seems like forever. Screams. Demands. More screams. Finally, the screams fade away to low sobbing, and my lights come on. The window in my door opens. I look out. There are janitors in the hall outside. They are picking up red things from the floor.

Fingers and toes, I realize. Darius's fingers and toes. Something starts to totter in my head. Some of them still seem to be moving. I blink and they stop.

Darius is curled up on the floor of his cell, bleeding and crying.

I remember that he liked goat cheese tarts. This memory comes out of nowhere and goes back just as quickly.

I go back to my bunk. I am shaking. Not just a little tremor, but a serious, full-on shake, like my body is trying to jitter apart. I imagine my fingers and toes falling off. I can't seem to stop. I grasp at odd things in my head, and find there aren't many there. All I can think of are fingers and toes.

"Goat cheese tarts," I say out loud. I remember they were expensive, but I can't remember the price. I close my eyes and try to see the inside of the bakery. The ovens. The bread racks. Were they metal or wood? Other than the tarts and bread, what did we make? Cheese buns. I made cheese buns.

I pull my knees up to my chest and try to remember the ingredients. I made them almost every day for Katniss. It ought to be easy. "Water," I whisper. "Yeast. Sugar. Flour. Grated cheese. Garlic." I'm forgetting something. I say the recipe over again. "Water. Yeast. Sugar. Cheese. Garlic."

Darius screams across the hall, and the lights flicker. There is a sound like a whip.

The shaking increases. I can't remember what I was listing ingredients for.

Glass cases in the bakery. A new pretend cake for the front window in each season, frosted onto a wooden box Dad made for it. The last one I made was spring before the Games, with flowers and bees and mountain grasses.

"Forget-me-nots," I say. "The flowers were forget-me-nots."

The lights go out again, other than the ones on my mother's hand, and the unidentifiable bits of my brother and father. I think the foot is Ed's. His feet were bigger than Dad's.

"Ed hated baking," I say to no one.

"What are you talking about?" Johanna asks through the vent.

"Nothing."

"Then stop, and get some sleep."

"What color are forget-me-nots?" I ask.

There is a long time before she says, "Yellow? I think we had them in fields. I don't remember."

I try to picture my last cake. I don't think it was yellow. I can't remember forget-me-nots.

I finally go to sleep when Darius stops screaming and goes back to whimpering. I dream of the bakery, but it is blurry, and parts of it disappear when I look directly at them. My mother's engagement ring is melted all over her hand. She slaps me, and it stings. I bleed into the bread dough, and start to apologize for ruining the batch, but Mom tells me it's brilliant, and Dad is already selling loaves one after another. We have to make more. She holds out my hands and pours my blood into the bowl.

It is raining outside, and Katniss is there, sitting in the mud, starving. I want to give her some of the bread we're baking, but Mom says we can't afford to give away our livelihood to beggars. I feed it all to the pigs. One of them bites me, and my head is full of agony. The world wavers. The bakery collapses in flames behind me. Darius, in his Peacekeeper uniform, is dragged out of the fire.

Beside me, one of Darius's guards also tosses in his own treat for the pigs. Katniss's fingers and toes. Her nails are painted like they were for her first interview with Caesar -- a flame motif to go with her dress. She lies dead in the mud while another guard demands that she tell him about the mockingjay project.

I run to her, knowing she's dead, but wanting it not to be true. I hold her. Stroke her hair.

Her feathers.

I look down. Her hair has turned to shiny feathers. Her clothes are goose down. She's grown new fingers, and they're talons. They seem queerly bright in the gray daylight.

"Katniss, no," I whisper.

She opens her eyes and raises one of her talons to my throat, and I feel it cutting into my skin, squeezing...

I open my eyes and find a doctor hovering over me with a syringe. My cell is gone. I am in a hospital room, though I am cuffed to the bed by both wrists and tight restraints cover my ankles.

On the ceiling, bright snakes crawl in and out of the lighting fixtures, and black feathers fall around me like coal-blackened snow.

I hear voices from beyond the door.

"I'm going in and I'm going to see him!"

I think it is Haymitch at first, Haymitch come to find me like he did after the Games, when he told me that my leg was gone. But it's not Haymitch's voice, and someone tells him he doesn't have clearance.

I look down at my legs and scream. The artificial leg is gone, replaced by a grinning lizard with sharp teeth that clamp down around my knee. Its tail swishes back and forth

Someone bursts through the door, and I think it's my father, but my father never had hair this shade of--

"Blue!" I yell. "They're blue! Forget-me-nots. They're blue."

Everything comes into place. The hospital room is sterile -- no snakes on the ceiling. My artificial leg is there as it has been since they wired it up to my nerves, though it's pretty badly chafed. There are no feathers falling, and Caesar Flickerman is standing by my bed, glaring murderously at a guard. His hair is no longer the color of forget-me-nots, but violets. For a moment, I see him with a knife in his hand, but when I blink again, it's just a covered tray.

He sits down beside me and uncovers the tray. There is a bowl of soup, and he feeds it to me without speaking.

"Forget-me-nots are blue," I tell him. "Dandelions are yellow. You have to tell Johanna. It's dandelions that are yellow."

Caesar looks at me, horrified. "What's your name?" he asks gently.

I open my mouth to answer, but nothing comes out.

"You know this. What's your name?"

"Peeta?" I try. It seems right. I remember a voice saying, Oh, Peeta.

"That's right. Peeta Mellark. You're a baker's son, from District Twelve. Do you remember your girlfriend's name?"

"Katniss," I tell him immediately.

He nods. "Okay. Good. You haven't been answering for a few days."

"My mother's ring is melted," I say.

"Yes. Do you remember why?"

"The bakery burned down?"

Caesar nods. "Yes." He pushes my hair back from my forehead and doesn't make me talk anymore. He just sits there while things come back to me. My name. My father's name. Then my brothers and my sister-in-law and my niece.

The burning of District Twelve.

This takes most of the afternoon and evening. When I finally feel myself again, I ask, "What happened, Caesar?"

"I don't know. Snow won't tell me."

I suddenly remember something else. "Darius!"

Caesar shakes his head. "I'm sorry, Peeta. Darius died two days ago, while you were... out."

"Johanna?"

"Still there," he says bitterly. "I'm sorry I'm not a better ally."

"What do they want? Did they ask me something? I remember they were asking Darius about the Mockingjay Project. I don't know what that is."

"I don't, either."

There's nothing more to talk about. Caesar stays until I fall into a normal sleep. I dream I am in the arena. The redheaded girl Finch, who Katniss called Foxface, is with me, and so is Kersey Green, the girl I killed after Cato and Glimmer left her gutted in the woods. Theirs were the only names in my kill column. They are trying to build me a shelter. Kersey has the drop spindle that her parents gave me to remember her by. She is quickly spinning something out of threads she takes from my head. The thing Finch is building looks like a house of cards. Kersey keeps secreting things away in the catacombs. I ask her not to, but she ignores me.

Over the next two days, I get some of the story of what happened. Caesar came to see me on the day Darius died and found me muttering in bed, reciting recipes and talking about pigs. I was swollen and breathing shallowly.

"Johanna said you started screaming during the blackout," Caesar tells me. "You were lucid for a few minutes, but then you started muttering. She started calling for me after a day of it. She wouldn’t shut up until the guards promised to get me."

"Did they hurt her for it?"

"I don't know. She won't tell me."

They gave me some kind of serum, probably to try and force me to tell the truth, but I had an allergic reaction to it. I almost died.

I am allowed out of my hospital room. Guards take me to the roof, and I realize it's the training center hospital. Further down, I see more guards surrounding a beautiful woman with long brown hair. She smiles at me heartbreakingly.

"Annie Cresta?" I ask my guards.

They don't answer, but I know. I watched her Games. I saw her interviews after them, when Finnick Odair was practically holding her up on stage. She goes to the edge of the roof and looks out. The wind tosses her hair and pulls her thin dress against her body. For a moment, I see Katniss there -- Katniss in her wedding dress, the dress that burned up to feathers on Caesar's stage. Her hands are talons.

I blink, and she is Annie Cresta again, a pretty woman with a sweet, mad smile.

My guards take me back to my room.

I have a visit from a woman named Terena Blake, who is head of Snow's intelligence forces. They have lost their eyes and ears in Thirteen, and want me to somehow guess what Haymitch and Plutarch are planning. When I fail to give them so much as a reasonable theory, I am left in my restraints, sitting in a hard chair, for five hours until a doctor demands that my guards let me out.

Caesar is sent in the next day to see if he can coax anything out of me. He brings food, and we go up to the roof. Annie is not here today.

"I still have no idea," I tell him. "I didn't even know Haymitch was planning to break us out."

"I think they know you have no idea," he says. "There's no reason you would."

"Then why do they keep asking me?" But of course, the answer is simple: "It's just so they can keep hurting me, like they did with Darius."

Caesar nods. "I don't know what Snow's planning, but I don't like this."

I look around. The roof is as it always was, with the noisy air filtration systems, but I can't imagine why they'd let Caesar talk to me here, if it's still safe. I frown at him. "Caesar, are you pretending to be on my side, so I'll answer questions and trust you?"

"I'm not pretending to be on your side," he says. "I am on your side. That said, I'm with Snow on one thing -- I want to stop this war before it kills anyone else."

I think about Darius, and his fingers and toes scattered in the hall. "Maybe it's time for a war," I say. "Maybe they should win it."

Caesar looks at me steadily, then sighs. "They're not listening, if you're trying to be defiant. I told them I couldn't interview you with an audience."

"I'm not trying to be defiant. I really think that." He doesn't say anything. "Come on," I say. "You help us. You said you were born in District Five. You can't think this is right."

For a very long time, Caesar doesn't say anything. When he does, it's the last thing I expected. "I was born ten years after the Dark Days," he tells me. "It was still pretty grim everywhere when I was a kid. My name was Flynn then. Charlie Flynn. District Five is power. Believe me, the Capitol kept a close eye on us."

"I'll bet."

"My parents worked for the Capitol."

I frown, not knowing where he's going with this. "Peacekeepers?" I guess, though this is obviously wrong -- Peacekeepers wouldn't be married with a child.

"No. Commerce liaisons. It was the only work they could get after the war. They had a shop when my older brother was little, but no one would shop there."

"Why not?"

"Why do you think?" He looks out the window at the mountains. "Before the war, they'd been pretty vocal about not going to war. They were pacifists. My father was on the District Council, and he was always trying to fix the problems from inside."

"Problems?" I think about the fences, the Games, the constant spying, the stocks and gallows in District Twelve.

He shakes his head. "It wasn't always like that. I'm not saying it was great, but before the Dark Days, people could travel between districts, and own land outside the fences. The Capitol took a lot of the production from the districts, but some stayed there. My father always argued that more should, and that the District Council should be elected instead of appointed. Things like that. A great talker, my dad. He died when I was nine."

"I'm sorry."

"Yeah, me too. They found him drowned under the hydro-plant." Caesar thinks about this. "Maybe it was an accident, like they said. I don't know. All I know is that the other kids in school said he got what was coming to him. People like him lost the war."

"I--"

"Mom died two years later. That was definitely not an accident. She left a note. Said she couldn't stand what the district was becoming. My brother had joined the Peacekeepers, so I couldn't stay with him. I went to the Community Home. The other kids were more like the ones in school."

"And you hated them?"

He turns, surprised. "No, I didn't. Would you? Did you hate the kids from the Seam?"

"No, of course not."

"And I didn't hate the other kids in the Home. Or the adults who made sure they got birthday presents and harvest meals, while they habitually forgot about me. Actually, I guessed they must be right. The Capitol was pretty harsh. My parents must have been wrong. I actually got very vocal about it -- how I understood now. How I realized that we should have won the war. I refused to see my own brother when he got a furlough and came back to town."

"Did they other kids let up?" I ask.

"Depends what you mean by it." He shrugs. "I started getting birthday gifts and harvest meals, at any rate. They loved having me get up and tell them how right they were." He smiles faintly. "I guess you know how that feels now."

"Yeah, I do. Except I didn’t decide to do it. Snow's making me do it."

"True enough. And I guess I thought, at the time, that I'd really made it. That they really believed I was one of them. I believed that right up until they voted me into the Quarter Quell arena."
24 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
danel4d From: danel4d Date: March 5th, 2013 06:58 am (UTC) (Link)
...Yeah. That'll do it.

Sorry I've not been commenting as constantly as I've been reading this thing. It's just fantastic. Your stuff has always been great, and your Hunger Games fic is spectacular.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 5th, 2013 07:25 am (UTC) (Link)
That Quell... such a horrible idea.

I'm glad you like the stuff!
sonetka From: sonetka Date: March 5th, 2013 07:08 am (UTC) (Link)
*Speechless*
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 5th, 2013 07:26 am (UTC) (Link)
I think this may be the most chapters I've ever managed to keep an unsuspected secret through (conversation with Effie), without anyone even saying, "Hmm, I wonder what's up with that."
dragonzair From: dragonzair Date: March 5th, 2013 09:06 am (UTC) (Link)
JesUS CHRIST.

And it is only right that they release both Effie and Caesar pictures today
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 5th, 2013 03:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
I saw those! Cool.
torturedbabycow From: torturedbabycow Date: March 6th, 2013 02:03 am (UTC) (Link)
I DID NOT EVEN REMEMBER THAT. You are magical.

(Also, I only realized a week or two ago the naming scheme in the Capitol, what with Coriolanus and Caesar and Plutarch and Aurelian, so maybe I am not so observant anyway.)

This is still fabulously horrible, and I should probably stop reading it right before bed whenever I see that you've posted, but I just can't help myself...
hymnia From: hymnia Date: March 6th, 2013 09:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, well-played. Very well-played. As Haymitch said, people disappearing is a fact of life in Panem, right? Of course no one noticed anything odd there.


(Deleted comment)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 5th, 2013 03:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
:D
tree_and_leaf From: tree_and_leaf Date: March 5th, 2013 09:53 am (UTC) (Link)
Wow. I didn't see that coming at all!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 5th, 2013 03:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Now, here's hoping it works...
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 5th, 2013 01:11 pm (UTC) (Link)

Caesar!

I had wondered how Caesar managed to "get it" so well. A fascinating twist.


TSS, who has been even more of a flake than usual about commenting but is reading faithfully
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 5th, 2013 03:10 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Caesar!

I wondered that myself, and then just... random answer in my head!
sueatducksfoot From: sueatducksfoot Date: March 5th, 2013 09:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
Poor Peeta. Snow is horrible and you've captured him so well. I don't have any trouble seeing him leave body parts with Peeta.

Great twist with Caesar. I'm looking forward to seeing where you are going with this.

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 6th, 2013 01:26 am (UTC) (Link)
I hate Coin so much that I sometimes have to remind myself that while she may be more evil in the macro sense, he's more utterly vile in the personal one.
snorkackcatcher From: snorkackcatcher Date: March 5th, 2013 11:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wow. What a twist and I did not see that coming!

Takes it into canon-stretching rather than canon-expounding territory a bit maybe, but I can see no reason why he couldn't have been the Quell winner. :) Was he given a plastic surgery makeover to reappear as Caesar after his and Snow's kids ran off together maybe?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 6th, 2013 01:25 am (UTC) (Link)
Nah, he was already doing it. He'd been doing it for all of Haymitch's life before the Quell. Plastic surgery's pretty common in the Capitol and he has crazed fashion choices. It would be pretty simple to cover something like that up.
sonetka From: sonetka Date: March 6th, 2013 04:58 am (UTC) (Link)
Plus, if he went into the arena as, say, a fourteen-year-old and began doing commentaries ten years later, there's a lot of change in that decade between the mid-teens and mid-twenties anyway even if you haven't got the Capitol plastic surgeons helping you out.
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 6th, 2013 02:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
The only thing I have to say is that my jaw actually dropped. This is perfect!
Robin
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 7th, 2013 02:32 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks! It may be a bit of a canon-stretch, but I hope it works.
shortysc22 From: shortysc22 Date: March 7th, 2013 12:30 am (UTC) (Link)
Another interesting chapter. Is it bad that I really just want to move on to the Mockingjay bits so that there's no more torture?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 7th, 2013 02:34 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, the next chapter is at least half just talking to Caesar (granted, about his Games, which aren't nonviolent). Alas, right up until two days before they rescue him, Peeta doesn't seem to be having a fabulous vacation in the Capitol, and I'm only going to take this up to the point where he breaks. (Not a good narrator once he's totally crazy.) Then Haymitch will be back.
rosaxx50 From: rosaxx50 Date: March 7th, 2013 10:06 am (UTC) (Link)
!!!!

!!!!

This twist is incredible. I can't...

I think this chapter might be one of my favourites of everything you've written. We see Peeta lose his clarity little by little, as his transition really starts to accelerate. That glimpse of Annie on the roof was haunting. What happens to Darius and Lavina is utterly horrifying, but of course Snow would take the chance not long after to go with propaganda. And Caesar, wow. Just.... it suddenly becomes clear.
24 comments or Leave a comment