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HG: Rites of Fall, Chapter Eight - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: Rites of Fall, Chapter Eight
Chaff has to leave at dawn on the train, but Haymitch came back in the night to teach him the code. Danny is going to continue helping, and needs to establish a break not just from the local rebellion, but from Haymitch himself, so that the Peacekeepers don't look at him closely. He says that Ruth with help with the cover.

Chapter Eight
I don't know when Chaff leaves. I'm awake in the morning, as usual, though maybe not as alert as I normally would be. I know the train is loading up, because the coal trucks are rumbling through town. I never see Chaff leave, but when I take a chance on going out to the shed for a fresh sack of flour -- I guess we'll have to pretend for a while, at least, that this is where we normally keep it -- he's gone, and Haymitch is curled up asleep in the corner, wrapped in the coat Chaff was wearing. I hope Chaff has something warm for the train.

I bend down and shake Haymitch's shoulder.

He comes up swinging a knife. I'm glad I move quickly, though he still manages to cut the side of my wrist.

He rubs his eyes. "Danny… sorry."

"It's okay. I've got two of them." I take some of the packing material and wrap it around my wrist. "You feeling better?"

He nods. "Yeah. I still think I shouldn't have gotten you into this."

"Too late," I say, and don't give him any room to argue. "I'll have Mom come out around noon and throw you out and yell at you. She won't mean it."

"I can go now…"

"Nah. May as well make it a show. And you should get some sleep."

"Okay." He shifts Chaff's coat around and pulls out a bottle of something light colored and vaguely pink. "Local rotgut from Eleven," he says. "Want to actually have a drink with me?"

I nod and take the bottle. Tip it up. The taste of the peaches from last night pours into my mouth, but a hundred times sweeter, and with a serious kick behind it. I choke on it and my eyes water. We pass it back and forth a few times.

Haymitch finally takes it back and takes a swig, then corks it. "I'll sleep then," he says.

"Stuff's going to knock me out," I mutter.

"Better go inside then. Waking up in your shed together isn't the rumor we're going for."

We look at each other and crack up. Everything seems suddenly quite funny. He lies down, and I toss Chaff's coat over him. I barely remember to grab the sack of flour.

Mom takes one whiff of my breath when I get back inside and sends me upstairs to brush my teeth. She doesn't storm out to the shed. She probably gets the concept -- Mom's pretty quick with this sort of thing -- though I have a feeling that when she does go out, yelling at Haymitch won't be an act. She'd probably give Chaff the sharp side of her tongue if he were still here.

By the time I'm ready for school, the slight buzz I got from the brandy has mostly worn off, and the only lingering sensation is a mild queasiness, which she won't do anything for.

I head out, wrapped in my heaviest coat and breathing through a woolen scarf. The temperature is dropping rapidly, and some snow that had started to melt a little bit has hardened into slick patches of ice. I'm about halfway across the square when I hear raucous laughter.

There's a crowd gathered around the Peacekeepers' headquarters, all of them wrapped up in heavy scarves like mine. Five Peacekeepers are piled up on top of each other, squirming and trying to get their footing on a smooth pool of ice that's spread around their door. The ice is unnaturally smooth. Someone must have flooded out the cobblestone apron overnight.

I run over. Cray comes skidding to the edge and pulls himself up on a hard pile of mud. He's on the far side of the apron from the crowd, but they recognize that it won't take the others long to try just heading for the edge. They scatter.

This should be it, but a gunshot breaks the morning. I look up. Lucretia Beckett has her sidearm leveled at the crowd. Many have gone still in surprise. Someone has fallen, and is clutching a wounded knee. I see red blood on the white snow. Beckett raises the pistol higher.

Everyone scatters.

I run over to the bleeding boy who was left behind.

"Leave her alone!" Beckett orders.

"She's hurt."

"Who is it?"

"I don't know."

"Pull the scarf down."

I do. It's a girl I know only vaguely. Ginger McCullough. Her parents work the mines, and she came to drama club once. She fancies herself a singer, but she's not very good. "Just a kid," I say. "Let me get her to the apothecary. They can take care of her."

"You get to school," Beckett says coldly. "You're not on the emergency response team. We'll see to her."

I hear footsteps behind me and look up to find Mr. Keyton. "I've got it from here, Danny," he says, and looks at me more sympathetically than most people in town have for weeks. "You go on. I mean it. "

I nod.

"Tell Ruth. She can look up the right treatment at school and help after classes." He checks Ginger's leg. "Looks like the left knee, hit from the outside. I'll get the bullet. There's no rush for her. I don't think it's quite as bad as it looks. It may not have hit bone."

I nod and get up. I help him gather her. She's in shock, not screaming or talking, but awake, with wide eyes.

I look at Beckett. She's smirking.

As Mr. Keyton and I turn to go off in our separate directions, she calls, "Let everyone know -- I have some new authority now."

There are a lot of people running up to the school from different directions when I get there. All the ones who left Ginger in the snow. All the ones with the big ideas.

This time, I don't talk to them.

At lunch, I go looking for Ruth, both to pass on her father's message and to get her to play along with Haymitch's scheme. She's not in the cafeteria, or in the school greenhouse. The only other place I know she likes to be is the music room, so I head up there. I'm mostly thinking about Ginger and Haymitch and Chaff and Mr. Keyton. I'm thinking about people running away and scattering when a gun went off.

I am not thinking about who else in Ruth's life might like the music room.

I hear her voice above a piano key and I open the door. "Ruthie, I ran into your -- "

I stop.

Glen Everdeen is sitting at the piano. Ruth is behind him, her arms over his, caressing his fingers as she directs them over the keyboard. Her lips are just leaving his ear as she looks up at me.

"Danny," she says. "I-- um…"

Glen stands up. "I'll just go."

I find myself unable to say anything. Everything else seems to go out of my head. He goes out around me.

I finally find my voice. "You're… with him?"

"We've been on a few dates."

"You're in love with him?"

"We've been on a few dates," she repeats. "Just walks. Singing with his family last Sunday. Scandalous, right?"

"But -- "

Ruth sighs and sits down on the piano bench. "We're broken up, Danny, and I've heard of you doing a few things way beyond playing the piano with someone since that happened."

"I--"

"Do you really think I don't hear rumors? Cast party? Mir deciding you were her personal party favor?"

"I was drunk," I say. "It was a party. I knew I shouldn't have let her, and I told her so after, and I'm sorry."

"I'm not." She gets up and comes around the piano to me. "Danny, you didn't even notice. You barely noticed when I broke up with you."

"I thought… we always… we're going to fix it… aren't we? We talked about getting married."

"You haven't even talked to me since we broke up. Not really."

"I thought you wanted a little space."

"No, Danny. You forgot about me." She takes my hand and leads me over to a pair of chairs under a hand-drawn mural of a country band playing on someone's porch. I sit under the woman playing a washboard. She sits beside a mangy-looking cat that's hiding in the grass. It looks like it's batting at the bow in her hair. "I wasn't lying when I said I'd go to my grave loving you, but… Danny, you don't even see me unless you need something."

"That's not true. Ruthie, I love you. Can we talk about this? If you want to talk, I can talk."

She shakes her head and bites her lip. "You weren't even coming here to talk in the first place. You were looking for me with a message. Weren't you? You started to say it before you saw Glen."

I blink hard. There is something. It's important. "Oh. Ginger McCullough," I say. "She was shot in the knee. Left, from the outside. Your dad says to look up the right treatment so you can help after classes."

She nods. "I know about the shooting. Thanks for the details. I'll get what I can during study period. Dad knows what he's doing with getting the bullet out in the first place. That'll take most of the school day."

"I should have said that right away. That's more important than --"

She sighs. "That's it, isn't it? Everything is always more important."

"Someone was bleeding."

"I'm not arguing, Danny. It is more important. And there's always someone who needs you more than you think I do." She laughs, but I can see tears along the bottom edge of her eyes. "You live for people to need you. That's why you always end up with Mir, any time I give you even a little space. She needs you because you're the only one who puts up with her."

"No!"

"But even she's second place, isn't she? You have someone else who's an endless vortex of need, any time you need a fix." The tears flow over, and she wipes them away. "Do you think I don't know who you were really cheating on me with?"

"That's insane."

"I don't mean you're sleeping with him. I mean…" She shrugs. "You know what I mean, Danny."

"He needs a friend, okay?"

"Yeah? Well, so did I. And you weren't there. Kay wasn't there, either, but I understand that. She lost her sister. She needed me to be there for her, not vice versa. I lost one of my best friends… and then I felt like I'd lost the other one."

I shake my head, trying to make things fall into place. I tried not to crowd her. I tried to give her space and respect what she was saying, and… and I ignored her. I ignored what she was actually saying. I close my eyes. "Tell me how to fix this."

"There's no fixing, Danny," she says. She puts her hand gently on my face, and I think of rain shadows on her skin, and her voice in the gray. "It's who you are. You need to be a hero. And I'm not going to be the hero's love interest, showing up on stage for the finale, and maybe a pick-me-up love scene at the top of act three."

I am entirely wrong-footed by this. I can't even sort out how I feel, let alone figure out how to tell her. "I didn't mean… I don't think of you that way… I'll fix it."

She takes both of my hands and raises them to her mouth. She kisses my fingers. "Oh, Danny, there's nothing to fix. There's nothing wrong with you. You're a good man. One of the best I know. But we don't fit anymore. You know that. You do, Danny."

"I don't know anything like it. I don't even know what you're talking about."

She leans forward and kisses my forehead, running her hands through my hair. I can see in her eyes that she loves me. I feel it in her touch. I don't understand any of this.

"This really is out of the blue to you, isn't it?" she asks, and pushes my hair behind my ear. "Oh, Danny. I'm sorry. But that's why… I mean, it's that you didn't know."

"How am I supposed to know what you don't tell me?"

"You'd know it about anyone else." She kisses me on the mouth, slowly. With finality. "You'll always be my first love, Danny," she says. "And I'm so…" A sob comes out of her. "I'm so grateful for that."

She lets go of my hands and runs from the room.

I lean back against the wall and take quick, shallow breaths, trying to understand how all of this happened so fast. I only meant to give her a message, ask her a quick favor. I never meant for any of this to happen.

The door opens, and I look up to see Everdeen.

He takes a step back. "Um… sorry. I... I left my books. I --" He walks quickly to the piano. He barely makes a sound, even on the wooden floor. He reaches under the bench and grabs a pile of books, then goes back to the door. He stops. "I'm really sorry."

I find my voice. "Apparently, it's my fault."

"I'm still really sorry."

I nod. "Be a good friend," I say. "I guess she really needs a good friend."

"I guess I'm the last person who ought to ask this, but… do you need anything?"

I manage a deep breath without shaking. I can't quite look at him. But I say, "Yeah. I need her to tell everyone that she broke up with me because I was drinking with Haymitch."

"What?"

"That's why I'm not allowed to spend much time with him. My parents are really angry."

"She's not going to spread something like that around. She's telling people that you're a great guy and --"

"Tell her to say what I just said. Please." I manage to lower my head and look at him.

He stands very still for a minute, then carefully raises his arm and touches the knotted string bracelet on his wrist.

I nod. "Just tell her."

"Okay. I --"

"If you say you're sorry again, I'll deck you. Don't think I can't."

It's not an idle threat. I'm not really angry at him. I'm angry at me. I missed something somehow. But it all comes down to that image of her hands over his on the piano keyboard. I'm going to hit something. Soon. It's probably better if Glen Everdeen is far out of reach when I do.

Somehow, I make it through lunch. I make it through mine safety, though I can't look at Ruth, and team up with Elmer Parton. I get through the rest of the afternoon. Mir asks if she can walk home with me, and I think of Ruth saying that she heard rumors. I turn my back on Mir before I lose my temper at her. It's not her fault, either. It's my fault.

I go to the shed. Haymitch is long gone. I fill up a flour sack with soft packing material, hang it up from a beam, and pound on it until my knuckles are raw from the burlap. When I finally go inside, I find that the liquor cabinet has not just been locked, but emptied.

My parents do not discuss this with me. They don't ask me about school, or why I've been doing violence to a flour sack. Mom just bandages my hands without comment and takes me off kneading duty until the cuts heal.

The only thing that's said is said as we go up to sleep. Dad stops me at the top of the stairs. "I went over to the apothecary to check on the girl. She'll be all right. She'll have limp, but not bad. I noticed Ruth was crying, too."

I look up. "Yeah?"

He nods. "Sleep will help. It'll make it another day."

I can't stand anymore. I sit down on the top step. Dad sits beside me and puts his arm across my shoulders. We don't talk. After a long time, I find enough strength to get back to my feet and hobble down the hall to my room.

I sleep dreamlessly, and wake up in the dark to start another day's baking.

Haymitch shows up to buy bread. Mom throws him out.

The Peacekeepers show up. Cray is still bruised from his slide on the ice, and one of the others has a long scrape on her face. Beckett is undamaged. They buy their breakfast without incident.

Mir comes over to trade lard for bread. She looks at the bandages on my hand. "Hit something?" she asks.

I shrug.

"Can I kiss it and make it better?"

"That's the last thing in the world that I need."

She holds out her hand. I give her mine. She kisses the bandaged knuckles. It doesn't become better. I promise to meet her in the rehearsal room ninth period to help her work on her audition pieces. We don't end up getting much work done and I come out of it feeling worse than I did before.

I think about laughing with Haymitch over the peach brandy. I decide that it would help the cause if I gave a little concrete support to the rumor I'm spreading. I head out to Victor's Village.

Haymitch has already been drinking for a few hours, and he doesn't mind sharing. He got a case of the stuff from the Capitol on the train. We watch Caesar Flickerman interviewing Haymitch's fan club, and we drink. We watch a movie about a Capitol boy who gets superpowers when he's struck by lightning, and defeats a rebel plot. It's very stupid. We drink. We watch a sitcom about a boy who has a crush on his neighbor, and drink. We don't talk about anything, other than joking about the idiotic programming. I don't feel better, but it does all seem more distant.

The Peacekeepers gather me up at curfew and hustle me back into town, where I'm in a lot of trouble for not being at the bakery for the afternoon. Mom tells the Peacekeepers that I'm not allowed in Victor's Village. I decide to care about this tomorrow.

I go to bed expecting another dreamless night, another empty day.

Instead, just past midnight, a siren rises in the darkness. Beyond my window, I can see the flicker of fire light.

I get up -- I have a splitting headache and I'm dizzy, but the flames sober me pretty quickly -- and run to the window. The center of the Square is ablaze.

I run downstairs, willing myself not to throw up. Mom and Dad are just behind me. We go out onto the front porch.

Someone has lit the whipping post up like a candle, and the stocks and pillory are burning as well. The trees and shrubbery around the square are starting to catch, even after being soaked for days in the snow. Something is shimmering on top of the melted snow on the cobblestones.

Lamp oil.

The whole place has been drenched with it. The only place they could have gotten this much was at the mines themselves. I look around. In the shadows, I see kids with their faces wrapped in scarves. And some who are older than kids.

Someone shoves past me. The emergency crew is running in. I run in to help but Peacekeepers block the way.

"Authorized personnel only!" Cray shouts. "If you aren't trained with us, you don't belong here!"

As he shouts, a limb of the large tree near the tailors' shop goes up, and the sparks alight on the building, starting the roof going. It's not a big blaze, and the wind changes and blows the original tree limb in the ot her direction, but it's sizzling in the boiled water, and I can see smoke starting to rise. Mr. Breen runs out, carrying his daughter, Violet. Mrs. Breen is in her nightgown and slippers, swearing at the fire.

"My shop!" she yells. "Someone see to my shop!"

A few of the response team -- including Mir, I notice -- try to run over with buckets, but Beckett directs them back to the square. "Capitol property first!" she orders. "Incidental damage later."

"Let us help them!" Mom yells. "We can get that while you worry about the Capitol property."

"Restrain them!"

"Let us help!" Mom yells again.

It's taken up as a chant around the square. "Let us help, let us help…"

I make a run for the Breens', but I'm thrown backward by Cray, who's guarding the line. Trucks have come from the mines, with water tankers on them. Hoses unroll, and someone douses the whipping post.

"Buckets!" I call. "Get buckets. We can use the snow! The fire hasn't gone far."

A few people run to their shops and come out with pots and pans, but we're pushed back again.

From the corner of my eye, I see motion in the sky. People are crawling along in the trees, heading for the burning shop.

I run to the base of a tree and look up. Glen Everdeen looks down at me and makes a shushing motion. He pantomimes tossing a bucket of water.

I see him at the piano bench.

Shake it away.

I slip back through the crowd and find a large soup pot that someone has dropped. I tap Rooba Murphy's arm and signal her to get another one quietly. I pack it full of snow and go back to the tree. The whisper goes around, beneath the notice of the Peacekeepers.

I pass the bucket up to Glen. He crawls out on a tree limb and dumps the snow onto the Breens' roof. Someone else comes up behind him and dumps the next bucket.

By the time the Peacekeepers notice that we've gone quiet, the fire on the roof is out, and the boys in the trees have disappeared.

Maybe that would have been the end of it. I doubt that Beckett particularly cares whether or not the Breens' shop burns, and since no one saw the boys who put it out, she can pretend it was natural.

But someone cheers.

It starts in the back of the crowd, and moves forward in a vicious wave. It's not a triumphant cheer. It's a brutal war cry.

Beckett raises her gun skyward and fires one warning shot. The Peacekeepers form a line.

"Arrest anyone with a bucket or a pan or a pot or whatever they've been using," Beckett orders.

There's a clamor as people drop things onto the stones and try to run.

But pots and pans don't come cheap, and some people try to run away with them.

"Response team!" Beckett yells. "Riot protocol!"

The response team, mostly made up of school kids and younger adults, looks startled, but when Beckett unrolls her whip behind them, they form ranks and march forward. I catch Mir's glance. She's frightened, but as I watch, she straightens her shoulders and takes a billy club from her belt. So do the others.

I back away, kicking aside pots and pans, hoping people will find them later.

There's a scream as someone is grabbed, and then there's chaos. People are running everywhere. Someone grabs Violet Breen by the hair and drags her toward the square. Mir sees me in the crowd and throws me behind a tree. I crawl over to help Kay Donner, who's been thrown hard into the smoking pillory.

In the dark, someone whistles.

Someone else answers.

There is a thunder of footsteps, and I see them all, running up from the Seam, all together. Glen, his face uncovered now, is at the front. Behind him is Forrest Hickman. Clay Hawthorne, who used to come to Maysilee's group, is there as well.

They descend on the Peacekeepers.

Gunfire goes off wildly in the night, but they are moving targets in the dark, and no one goes down in the first volley. A girl rushes into the circle. One of the Peacekeepers has a direct shot and raises her weapon.

Forrest tackles her from the side and grabs her weapon.

There is a flat bang in the night.

The Peacekeeper falls, blood blossoming on the front of her white uniform.

Everything stops.

There is a long, pregnant pause.

Then Lucretia Beckett says, "Get a rope."

There is no gallows set up yet, but it only takes the remaining Peacekeepers -- the ones not holding guns on the rest of us, anyway -- seventeen minutes to hang Forrest Hickman from the sturdiest branch they can find.

I fade back into the crowd and find myself standing beside Ruth. Glen is on her other side.

I can't think of anything less important right now.
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Comments
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 11th, 2013 10:40 am (UTC) (Link)

Oh my gosh.

I am so horrified and fascinated. This is killing me. I have no constructive comments, just awe.

"Between the responders and"

"The descend on the Peacekeepers."


This is killing my soul--such good distraction during finals week.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 11th, 2013 05:25 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Oh my gosh.

Aagh, The/They... it will go on my tombstone.

Thanks!
redrikki From: redrikki Date: December 11th, 2013 02:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
I love how you switch back and forth between the political tensions in the district and Danny's teenage drama. It feels so real that he would find his tragic love life so important until the riot puts things in perspective. Is the Violet Breen of the tailor's shop the same one who gets Reaped in the 51st? Is this why?

Someone else already caught the spelling errors I noticed.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 11th, 2013 05:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
53rd, actually... and maybe.

I think that one of the problems Ruth has, though she doesn't say it outright, is that he can't seem to balance the two important things, and their life as a couple suffered for it. Glen's in the rebellion, too (though only the local one at present), and he still manages to have her over for a family sing-along.
From: queen_bellatrix Date: December 11th, 2013 10:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Unfortunately, even though he says it never went anywhere, I imagine that the dates Haymitch mentioned in Narrow Path didn't help the poor girl much, either.
From: queen_bellatrix Date: December 11th, 2013 09:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
Dear gods. I still feel completely shell-shocked, and that's after giving myself an hour after reading to try and gain some coherence for this comment; utterly powerful, visceral writing.

The way the ending escalated, and was escalated by Beckett, was perfect. There're probably lots of character development moments in there (the seam and merchants helping one another the way Maysilee wanted, and Meer's shock at the brutality of the Capitol come to mind), but it's still too fresh for me to really parse it. And Forest. I thought he was such a brat in EOTW, but he died so well here, saving someone else; I really liked the bit of chivalry you gave him.

The way Ruth and Danny ended put me in mind of what might have happened if Dora and Remus had been the same age, and had met before Remus had somewhat learned to balance his hero/martyr complex. It does seem like Danny learned to balance it somewhat, because he was such a good Dad, and I feel bad for him that it couldn't have happened earlier, so he wouldn't have ended up in the horrible mess he got himself in. But I love the way there's no one in the wrong with this break-up; it feels sad, naturally, but somehow inevitable with their personalities, and neither of them are vilified. The way you've handled their relationship throughout is the best I've seen in HG fandom.

Just as a small side note before I stop, I loved the repetition of We drank. in Haymitch and Danny's scene; very, very effective.

The one typo I noticed was Danny's dad saying: "She'll have limp.

Just an utterly phenomenal chapter.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 12th, 2013 03:31 am (UTC) (Link)
Got the "the."

To some extent, the Remus/Dora situation is there, but I think that one major difference is that Danny does assume he deserves to be loved... and therefore isn't making a huge effort for it. That may change now.
sreya From: sreya Date: December 12th, 2013 12:38 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm not caught up on the fic so I can't comment on this section of it, but I wanted to ask if you'd seen the Sesame Street parodies, "The Hungry Games." I just watched one of them and almost died laughing, and thought you'd really enjoy it.

Edited at 2013-12-12 12:38 am (UTC)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 12th, 2013 12:41 am (UTC) (Link)
I'll have to check on them.
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