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HG: House of Cards, Chapter Seven - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: House of Cards, Chapter Seven
Peeta has been being dosed with something he doesn't understand, which causes him pain and seems to make him forget things. For a few days, he's been left alone, in anticipation of being needed. Snow and Caesar arrive to tell him that the time has come, and the bring up the video of Katniss's "If We Burn" propo.

Sorry about the delay -- stuff to do after work for two days straight.



Part Three: Victors


Chapter 7
I stare at her. She's carrying a shiny black bow. Her face has been made up carefully, but she's also covered with real ash and smeared with smoke residue. She's walking toward the camera with a limp. Her eyes are wild with fury.

They've dressed her in armor that looks like a bird costume. It's obviously one of Cinna's creations, of a piece with the parade costumes we've worn. I guess it makes sense that they'd go with a costume. She's being introduced to a new audience now, looking for new sponsors in an even deadlier game than the ones before.

"I want to tell the districts that I am alive," she says. "That I'm right here in District Eight, where the Capitol has just bombed a hospital full of unarmed men, women, and children. There will be no survivors."

Snow pauses the video. "They are using her to rally the districts to war," he says.

"Why is she a bird?" I ask, though something in my mind is trying to snag on the Victory Tour -- mockingjays, like her pin, held up on signs. The mockingjay she said the women from Eight baked into their bread. Then I see her burning up on the stage, her wedding dress falling to ashes that become feathers.

Snow doesn't answer. He just starts the video again. It shows the hospital being bombed, as Katniss said. Over it, she says, "I want to tell people that if you think for one second the Capitol will treat us fairly if there's a cease-fire, you're deluding yourself. Because you know who they are and you know what they do."

"She's talking to you, Peeta," he says as the camera comes back to her. "She saw the interview. You're the one calling for a cease-fire. She's telling the districts you're deluded."

"If I thought you were going to treat the districts fairly, I would be. Maybe I am anyway, to go along."

"You're deluded? You're not the one walking around a war zone in a chicken suit."

"It's a mockingjay," I tell him.

"Then you do know about the mockingjay."

"I've seen mockingjays. And I've seen chickens. That's not a chicken."

He smiles, then says, "Oh, here. It's my favorite part. Look who's got her back."

I don't really need to look. I don't want to look. But I look.

Katniss and Gale are together. First he is defending her from rubble after a bomb blast, shielding her with his body. Then they are on a rooftop, shooting planes out of the sky. They're dressed as a pair. Like she and I were dressed for the tribute parades. I can't get the parades out of my head.

Snow re-winds to the bomb blast, to Gale curling around her body, sheltering her. He pauses. Says nothing.

I want to say that I don't care. I want to tell him that I want Katniss and Gale to be together, since I’m going to die anyway. I can't. I stare down at my shaking hands.

Snow forces my head bad up, and the video resumes with Katniss standing outside the hospital again, shouting passionately. At the end, she says, "Fire is catching! And if we burn, you burn with us!"

Flames consume the screen, and the words "IF WE BURN, YOU BURN WITH US" appear, ignite, and burn the video away, leaving the screen black.

Snow looks at the screen thoughtfully for a long time, then sits down across from me. "She's quite effective," he says. "There were riots within minutes of the first airing in some districts. Not, of course, District Twelve, which has already burned out." He points to my mother's beckoning hand. "My latest intelligence is that seven hundred and thirty two people have died in the riots since the first airing." Snow waits for a response, which I don't give him, then looks at Caesar. "Get him ready. I think our little mockingjay deserves a response, don't you?"

Snow leaves. Caesar sits down across from me. He looks like he hasn't been sleeping much. "Peeta," he says, "you have to do this."

"No you don't!" Johanna yells. "She's got the fuse lit! Don't tamp it! It's the end for the Capitol!"

"This war could be the end for everyone," Caesar says. "Johanna, think about it. How much more death do you want?"

She doesn't answer right away, and I think she's not going to answer at all. Then she says, quietly and clearly. "I want them all dead."

I go to the wall. "Johanna, you don't mean that."

"Don't I?" She gives a bitter laugh. "They killed your family, Peeta. Don't you listen about it being Katniss's fault. That's on Snow. He killed mine, too. Killed Haymitch's girl. And you don't even know what he's done to Finnick. You will pretty soon, though, unless he manages to make you too ugly for his little friends to want to play with. That would take some doing. You're a good looking kid. I bet they're already panting for you. Old women, old men, maybe a few young ones. Who knows? They won't care much longer that you're supposedly taken. I wonder who he'll give you to first. Unless you count the whoring around for the cameras that he's already making you do. Maybe it won't even feel so different."

"Johanna..."

"Go. Do what they tell you. Finnick says it's easier if you just close your eyes and pretend you're somewhere else."

I look at Caesar. "Is it true?"

He nods. "We have to go, Peeta."

I follow him out without speaking, surrounded by Peacekeepers. He puts me in his car. There's no room for an escort inside, and the Peacekeepers try to insist that I ride with them. Caesar tells them that he's under orders to prep me for the interview, and they shouldn't waste time.

He locks the doors. "She's right," he says as we start to pull away. "And it's time to get you out of here."

I look up. "What?"

"We'll do the interview," he says. "Get you through prep. You'll feel stronger after they give you food and get you cleaned up and in fresh clothes. And it'll be easier for you to blend in if you're in a suit. I've been getting everything in place for the last week. I've just been waiting for a chance."

"Caesar..."

"I don't know what Snow has planned for you, except that he means to use you to hurt Katniss. He's going to do that by hurting you. Johanna wasn't lying about what they've been doing to Finnick. And I think..."

"What?"

He stares straight ahead. "I think that what they did to Finnick is the best you could hope for if I don't get you out. So be ready."

We drive for a little while -- it's a longer trip to the studio from the prison than it was from the training center -- and I say, "Caesar, do you think Katniss knows about how many people have died?"

"No."

"Just that Snow bombed the hospital. And District Twelve."

"I don't have any intelligence on what she knows, Peeta. But you know Katniss. Do you think she'd want people dying in pointless riots?"

Given that she was willing to marry me -- to give up her whole life, essentially -- in order to stop the war just a few months ago, I doubt it. Then again, that was before the Quell. Before Twelve burned. "I don't know," I say.

"Really?"

"Do you know anything about Thirteen?"

"Only from Snow. He's not the most reliable source."

"What does he say?"

"That the president of Thirteen is viciously ambitious. That she has absolute control over her people."

"What does she do with it?"

"Does it matter?" He waits, then says. "Why the questions about Thirteen?"

"I just want to know who she's working for. Are they good people?"

"I can't answer that. The only people I’m sure of are Plutarch and Haymitch. Haymitch is a good person. Plutarch..." He sighs. "Plutarch has a lot of good ideas about how government should be. He's a historian. But he's not very good with the small picture."

I suppose it doesn't matter. I'm going to say what I’m going to say, no matter what. I'm going to do something to undermine her.

But it's also a chance to talk to her, probably my last chance. Nothing I say will change things in the Districts, and Snow knows it. I'll tape this, and then, unless Caesar succeeds in getting me out, I'll most likely die. I want to say something I mean, even if it is buried in what the Capitol wants me to say.

And what I want to say is that I'm worried.

The girl in the bird suit, screaming at the camera, barely looked sane. They're putting her in front of a movement, making her the face that will launch their war, and I doubt they're really going to let her know what it means. Haymitch, at least, knows how far she was willing to go to try and avert a war. Gale Hawthorne knows it as well. And if a Gamemaker is in charge, he'll know how to play her. How to make her do what he wants without thinking about the consequences she'll face. If she ever finds out that more than seven hundred people have died because she made a video, I don't think she'll forgive herself.

And I admit, I'm disturbed by the costume, the character they've made her into. They're working away at her humanity as surely as Snow is working away at mine, turning her into a mutt.

A sharp pain goes through my head. The thought about mutts came out of nowhere. An image of the file that they waved at Darius flashes in my mind. The mockingjay project. Turning Katniss into a mutt. I think of the hallucination I had of Annie becoming Katniss, with talons for hands. The folder in my dreams with "Deceased" stamped across her face.

Caesar slams on the brakes. "Peeta! Are you all right?"

I shake my head, try to make the crazy idea go away. "I’m fine. My brain just went in a strange direction."

A Peacemaker comes up beside us on a motorcycle and taps the window. Caesar lowers it. "No approved stops," the Peacekeeper says.

"I’m sorry," Caesar says. "Peeta wasn't feeling well. We'll get moving again."

The Peacekeeper signals to the rest of the convoy, and something bumps the back of the car enough to prod Caesar into moving. He rolls up the window.

"Sorry," I say.

"No. Don't be." He frowns, staring off toward the media district ahead of us. The training center looms up beside us as we pass it. "Where did your mind go?"

I can't talk about it. I'm not sure I can even make words of it. The idea is breaking up anyway. I remember a little scrap of the thought, the idea of the folder with "deceased" on it, but it doesn't mean anything. It's a stupid thought, like thinking my mother's dead hand is beckoning me.

We get to the studio five minutes later, and we're swept off to different prep teams. I'm happy to see Sergius, my regular skin tech. He has some fading bruises, but seems all right as he tries to cover the worst of the marks from prison. I hadn't realized how many I had until he looked at me with horror and started covering them. Claudius isn't there for my hair -- Sergius says she has three broken fingers, and can't work -- but the boy Aurelian comes back. He's let his hair grow out a little, and the blond curls are now topped by reddish brown roots. He has the whole mess tied back with a leather string. Over my hair wash, he tells me that Effie is fine, but people are angry at Katniss in the street. He and Sergius both tell me to hang in there and be strong.

Once I'm cleaned, prepped, and polished, they leave me, and the door opens slowly. A Peacekeeper comes in and gives me a disgusted look. I try to get behind something. I've had enough of strangers looking at me naked.

There is a full length mirror, and I see myself for the first time in a month. The only part of me that looks familiar is the artificial leg, which is still the same size it was before. Now, it looks huge beside the other calf, and under my thighs. My ribs, still bruised, cast shadows. My skin seems loose, somehow, like a suit that needs to be sized down. . My arms are still strong, but even they show the signs of weight loss, and as I look at myself, my hands begin to tremble.

Even under the makeup, I can see that my face is a wreck. The loose skin makes me look older, and even the thick concealer doesn't cover up the dark, bruised look around my eyes. I can see the bright dots from the injections in several places, some still swollen into little mounds. My lips are treated with balm, but I can still see the cracks in them. It's my eyes, though, that seem most foreign to me. They are wide and round, and they seem to be moving a lot.

I look like I'm waiting for someone to shoot at me.

I forget this when the next person comes in. Dressed in prison grays and looking as wasted as I do, Portia is barely recognizable. She's lost a lot of weight, and her eyes are sunken.

"Hi, honey," she says, and looks me over, compassion and horror mixing on her face. "Sergius said you'd lost some weight, but--"

I throw my arms around her. "Portia! I'm so glad to see you. Are you okay? Have they hurt you?"

She shakes her head, but when she turns to pick up a garment bag, I can see pressure sores on the backs of her arms, like she's been shackled to a wall. She walks like an old, frail woman. "You look just terrible," she says, and leans on the back of a chair. "Oh, Peeta, honey, what are they doing to you?"

"They haven't done anything lately," I say. I don't tell her about the shots they give me. The shots, but they don't do any long term damage. And complaining that I've been made to watch videos doesn't seem like much when I compare it to what they've been doing to everyone else. Even the bruises on my wrists from the thing Snow did with the handcuffs are gone.

She dresses me slowly, then calls for her pins to make some alterations. I take off the suit (they allow me to keep the underwear on), and she is guarded very heavily while she makes the changes. The whole time she's holding scissors, one of the Peacekeepers puts a gun at my head. When the suit goes back on, it fits better, but Portia cries over every change. She pets my face oddly, then sniffs and says, "We'd best style you. You'll need a tie, and a tie clip. We can't use the mockingjay, obviously. Maybe not a tie. Maybe a scarf. It would cover the skin... the way it's loose..."

She calls for Sergius, and between them, they manage to cover up the sunken look of my skin. I almost look like me.

"Looks like he's done," one of the Peacekeepers says, grabbing Portia's arm. "Time to go back."

"No!" She pulls away and throws her arms around me. "Don't let them hurt you anymore, honey," she says. "Don't you let them. Everyone loves you. Everyone! You don't let them hurt you! You--"

She is pulled away from me. I grab her hands and give them a squeeze, but even they are ripped away. The door slams between us. I can hear the Peacekeepers marching her away.

I go to the door. It's been locked. I hit it. "Portia! Portia, hold on!"

There's no answer.

I'm alone in the prep room. There is a television screen, but it's dark. I watch it warily, expecting it to come alive with my nightmares, but it doesn't.

I sit down on the couch and stare at myself in the mirror. The longer I look, the less familiar I seem to myself. I close my eyes and try to draw a picture of myself in my head. It's nothing like the image in the mirror. It's not just the weight. I just can't make the connection between us. He doesn't even look like one of my brothers. He looks like someone I saw on television once. For a scary moment, I can't remember his name, or the name of the girl he loves.

I think about the cuffs tightening on my wrists. I held on through that. I grab the sleeve of my jacket and pull it tight, pressing the cold metal buttons hard against my bone.

I am Peeta Mellark. I love Katniss Everdeen. I'm here because she's being used by a hostile force to start a war, and I'm being used by an even more hostile force to stop one.

I look in the mirror again, and recognize myself.

Caesar comes to get me, and we go upstairs to the stage. The lights are on, and there are a few crew members around. A Peacekeeper stands guard.

The cameraman stands in his usual spot and says, "You're on in five, four, three..." As usual, two and one are just signaled, in case they need to edit. They play the music, canned. They'll edit the proper version in later.

When it fades, Caesar puts on his best host smile. Behind it, I see the boy who once hid in a cave with the other tributes, getting them to tell their stories. That boy's eyes are full of anger. The host says, "Peeta, I'm always glad to have you on my stage. How are you feeling?"

For an instant, I'm afraid I won't be able to talk. But my mind doesn't betray me. I have to acknowledge that I don't look good. They'll never buy it if I pretend I'm fine. "Well, Caesar, I've been better," I say. "It's been a long few weeks."

"I know," he says kindly. "For everyone. Are you all right being here?"

I nod. "Are you?"

He grins a little. "Peeta, we -- that is to say, everyone in the Capitol has been hearing rumors about Katniss Everdeen. That she was seen in District Eight, inciting riots. You know Katniss better than anyone. What do you make of it?"

I look up. I could tell the truth here. I could say that I think Katniss means what she says. I could say that she's right, that Snow did bomb that hospital.

Or I could tell the other truth. The one that won't get someone stuck here in the Capitol killed. The one that might even give her a chance after Snow mows down the districts and takes her captive.

"They're using her, obviously," I say. "To whip up the rebels. I doubt she even really knows what's going on in the war. What's at stake."

"Is there anything you'd like to tell her?" Caesar prods.

I tell her what Snow wants me to tell her. I also tell her the truth -- that I don't trust the people she's with, and she shouldn't, either. That she should find out what's really going on before they manage to wipe the rest of the human race out.

They cut the feed.

I put my head in my hands. If Katniss saw that, she'll be gone forever, at least from me. The worst part is that it is something I want to say to her. Something I want to actually talk to her about. I want her to convince me that she's doing the right thing, that Snow's putting lies in my mouth.

But I doubt she'll speak to me again. She has Gale to talk to now, and he doesn't go on national television calling her a slave.

Caesar puts a hand on my shoulder and says, "I'll drive you back."

The Peacekeeper in the studio gets on her personal comm, and by the time Caesar and I reach the garage, our honor guard is there. They don't look as tense as they did on the way here. Of course not. I'm compliant. Caesar's compliant. No danger here.

Caesar gets behind the wheel and I strap myself into the passenger seat. Once the doors are closed, he says, "Strap in tight. It's going to get bumpy fast."

"Where are we going?"

"I'm not going anywhere. You're going to the train station. I have friends in more places than Snow thinks. They'll get you to Eight in a shipment of ammo. You have friends in Eight. Cecelia's husband will meet the train. He has friends in the rebellion. They'll get you to Thirteen."

"What about you? Snow will kill you."

"So will the rebels. I have a better chance with Snow."

We pull slowly out of the garage, our escort tight around us.

"I'll help with the rebels..."

"You'll have a hard enough time convincing them that you're not a traitor." He glances over. "Wash off the makeup before you get to Eight. Let them see all the marks on you."

"Caesar, I can't just--"

Suddenly, we are next to the city center and Caesar steers hard to the left, knocking away two of our guards. One of the motorcycles goes up in flames. The other skids into traffic.

"Hold on!" Caesar yells.

The car spins into the city center, knocking down vending booths and lights. We slide under the shadow of the government tower, and the next thing I know, we're speeding through some dark, cramped tunnel. Workers scatter. Something shoots out from the wall, but all I hear is a clank on the side of the car.

Caesar takes a sharp right, going down further to a wide street that mimics the streets above. "Keep your head down," he says. "I don't know what they're going to shoot at us."

"Stop it!"

"It's too late." He jams on the accelerator, and we speed up a side tunnel, back out into the sunlight. We're on the far side of the city center now, coming up around the training center. With a deliberate jolt, he crashes through a wooden fence and skids to a stop. "Unbuckle," he says. "We're getting less obvious transportation."

I fumble with the latch on the seatbelt, my shaking hands betraying me. Caesar comes around and pulls me out with a jerk. We run into the shadows beneath a statue. Caesar watches intently.

"What are waiting for?" I ask.

"A friend."

In the distance, I hear the hum of motorcycles. I look up at the training center, at the roof, and I want to be there, in the day Katniss promised I could live in forever.

A flutter of green cloth catches my eye.

"Annie Cresta," I whisper.

"What about her?"

"Caesar, if I disappear, what happens to her? Or Johanna? Or my preps and Portia? What happens to you?"

"I'll do what I can for them, Peeta, but if you stay here, they're going to break you. I won't let that happen."

"I can't let them die. We have to get them!"

"I'll try, but--"

"No! Caesar, the second I disappear, they'll kill Johanna. They'll make it as bad as they can. And they have Portia in jail. They can get to her any time. And Effie!"

Caesar looks at me, shaking his head. "Peeta, you can't go back. You can't. He won't just kill you. He'll make you wish he had."

"I'm a few steps ahead of him there," I say. "Caesar, thank you. And I'm sorry."

"Sorry? What are you sorry for?"

I stand up and grab him by the lapels of his jacket, throwing him out into traffic. I hear brakes screeching around him.

I run out into the Capitol.
18 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
dragonzair From: dragonzair Date: March 11th, 2013 06:18 am (UTC) (Link)
Jesus Christ, Peeta. I'm pulling a Haymitch here. Don't know whether to thank him or kill him. I'm curious to see where you're going with the hijacking business. I like that everything he's done so far had nothing to do with him being hijacked. It doesn't feel forced either- he's right that they're using Katniss.

Also, what fate you have for Effie, Portia and the prep team. So far Effie's bring treated fine, but I'm also not looking forward to see what you have in store for her to explain her 'vacant expression'. Hope it isn't too bad.

I'm really enjoying your storytelling! Thanks for sharing them with us!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 11th, 2013 07:23 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks! Some of that will wait for Haymitch's story to pick back up -- Effie in particular, I think, will come into play more there.

His interviews seem lucid, and he's not going nuts about her, so yeah, I think he was probably not hijacked at that point. And he's not wrong.
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 11th, 2013 11:03 am (UTC) (Link)

About Effie

Given what we know about her background (how she feels naked without her wig and how she was "disciplined" as a child for making quasi anti-Hunger Game statements) I think that she's suffering more mentally than anyone might think at first. Not enough for a "blank look" maybe, but it must be constant torture to be without her wig.

Sara Libby
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 11th, 2013 06:14 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: About Effie

I agree about this. I don't know that Effie needs to have anything extreme happen -- she's been jailed by the system she's part of, and when the rebels take over, apparently Plutarch and Haymitch have to seriously go to the mat to keep them from executing her. How many of her fellow escorts and Games workers do die?
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 11th, 2013 06:28 am (UTC) (Link)
Peeta's a bit like Hermione in his utter, incorruptible goodness. And also in his ability to oversimplify a moral situation and probably get other people (as in those not immediately around him) killed. I can't be mad at him for doing what's right and saving Effie, Johanna, Annie, and the rest of the characters closer to him. But Caesar seems to know that he's one of Snow's greatest weapons, and many more people will be saved by disarming the tyrant.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 11th, 2013 07:24 am (UTC) (Link)
And it never even occurs to Peeta what a powerful weapon he could be.
sonetka From: sonetka Date: March 11th, 2013 06:43 am (UTC) (Link)
Argh! So close! I'm loving the story but doing the mental equivalent of reading between closed fingers because I know where it'll end up, at least for a while. Am I right in guessing that the hijacking starts right after the interview where he warns them about attack? I can see that as the tipping point for Snow, and after that he orders a full-one mental assault.

I am extremely concerned about Caesar's ultimate fate.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 11th, 2013 07:25 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, it's already started to an extent -- he's been getting dosed with tracker jacker venom. But yes, I think after an escape attempt, followed by his outburst to D13, Snow will decide to break him once and for all.
rosaxx50 From: rosaxx50 Date: March 11th, 2013 09:50 am (UTC) (Link)
I really admire how you've done Peeta's interviews. It's under duress, but it really is Peeta, and yet still sympathetic. The other side of the story.

The emotional torture he's been undergoing sends chills up my spine.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 11th, 2013 06:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, one notable thing about Peeta's interviews, to me, was that nothing he said was wrong. Heck, Boggs says the same things, minus the cease-fire, a day later, and Katniss calls him on it.
tree_and_leaf From: tree_and_leaf Date: March 11th, 2013 10:44 am (UTC) (Link)
Aaargh, Peeta! This seems so him.

I liked the moment where he has the brief hallucination, and we can see how the hijacking is beginning, even though he dismisses it.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 11th, 2013 06:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
And everything the rebellion is doing with "the Mockingjay" is inadvertently feeding into it.
tree_and_leaf From: tree_and_leaf Date: March 11th, 2013 08:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes. It's heartbreaking!
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 11th, 2013 04:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh Peeta! He and Katniss are perfect for each other with their tendencies to self sacrifice. I hate knowing that it's going to get worse for him. I really like how you're taking his mental digression though. And I really loved the why is she a bird question. I'm really glad you're writing some of this from Peeta's perspective because I've never seen him handled this well. I can't wait to see more!
Robin
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 11th, 2013 06:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks!

I think the costume could look fairly ridiculous to anyone who hadn't already bought into the mythos.
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 11th, 2013 06:42 pm (UTC) (Link)

I Did Love

The exchange between Peeta and Snow about the "chicken suit."

Yes, Peeta can certainly tell the difference between a chicken (costume) and a mockingjay (costume).

Almost makes me wonder if Snow has ever seen a chicken. (Not because of the dig about Katniss, but just because of his Capitol background.)

Sara Libby
shortysc22 From: shortysc22 Date: March 11th, 2013 11:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
I liked this chapter and that Johanna's still all there. Glad to see Portia again.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 12th, 2013 02:14 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, Johanna's as all there as ever, anyway...
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