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Gramps - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
Gramps
So, I wondered what happened to Aurelian (and the Capitol) after the Quell arena blew.

ETA: Oops, realized some timing is off in regard to "House of Cards," but I'm going to see what kind of timing tweaks I can do to make it work.

ETA2: Fixed, and tweaked.


Appendix:
Gramps

"Aurelian Benz?"

I have been waiting so long, squeezed up against the wall of the Peacekeeper depot, that I almost don't notice when they actually call my name. The middle-aged man on my right jabs me in the side with his elbow and gives me a dirty look. He was here the last time they dropped me out here, and I think he'd already been here a while. He hasn't been able to move, though I can't imagine what privilege he imagines I'm on my way to enjoy.

It takes a little bit of effort to stand up. My joints don't want to unbend, and my left leg is asleep from about the mid-calf down, from where it was pressing against the metal bar of the bench. I limp out of the crowd until I'm clear enough of it for the Peacekeepers to grab me and drag me toward the interrogation room. I wonder if this this is the time that I won't come out of it.

This is the third time they've interrogated me since they picked me up outside the Training Center four days ago, after I forged credentials as a hairdresser to get in and check on Peeta Mellark.

I'd been crashing with a real hairdresser; they don't pay them enough for decent lodging, and he was one of about a dozen of us boarding in the attic of a row of shops. He was just taken on for District One this year, and I guess they started at the top of the list for a replacement. When they called for him, he said he was suffering too much ennui after the victors' betrayal to even come to the phone. I put on a hat and sunglasses, changed my voice a little, then went back to the phone and told them I'd be right in. Caesar Flickerman probably noticed that my identification didn't match my picture, but he didn't say anything.

It just seemed like a good way to get information, which struck me as a great idea. Tazzy can get to Effie Trinket. I haven't figured out how either of us is ever going to find the Capitol rebels to get the news to Haymitch Abernathy and Katniss Everdeen -- wherever they are -- but one step at a time, I guess.

I probably should have started with a baby step, especially since I'm on Mr. Abernathy's sponsor list, and ran an errand for him.

The one saving grace is that my name was the only one on the sponsor list. Mr. Abernathy must have realized what was going to happen, because he didn't put the other names on it, even after they insisted. The Capitol has no idea that Tazzy and Junie exist (outside of their soliciting arrests, anyway), let alone little Solly. They're free to go wherever they want to go, as long as I keep my big mouth shut.

I'm nearly dragged into someone else being pulled from another interrogation room. He's an old man, and he still has the remains a green and gold "11" painted onto his face. I've seen him playing chess in the park sometimes. He might be the guy who once gave Solly a few coins to run and buy him a paper. Someone has blacked his eye. I think we passed each other this way earlier. He's crying now, as he's shoved back into the waiting area.

My guard opens the door to interrogation room number four -- at least it's a new room this time, I guess -- and pushes me inside. He closes the door behind him to get back to the business of handling the crowded waiting area.

The woman at the table is looking at someone in the shadows, smiling brightly. She turns when I come in. "You must be Aurelian," she says pleasantly.

"Since you people already interrogated me twice, you know that."

She waves her hand. "Oh, I'm sorry about that." She looks over her shoulder. "Your grandfather's here to pick you up."

I straighten up and look at the form in the shadows, my heart sinking. Gramps is well into his sixties now, but still carries himself like a young man -- shoulders squared, a loping grace about him. I can imagine him back in the days when he was a Peacekeeper (though it's hard to imagine him on that side of the law). He has tightly curled blond hair, now about half white, and his blue eyes have a kind of calculated twinkle to them. He drops into the chair beside the interrogator. "Thanks, Millie," he says, then looks at me. "This is Milonia Vargas," he says. "She's a peach. Her aunt's an old friend of mine -- we came up together in the ranks. She was the only other Capitolite in my training group. I always knew Millie'd grow up just as pretty."

I narrow my eyes and get a good look, wondering if this is some form of aunt, but I don't think so, given his flirtatious attitude. There's not a lot I think is out of the question when it comes to Gramps, but flirting with a family member would be beyond the bounds even for him. "Why are you here?"

"I just heard you got jammed up. Sorry it took so long." He grins at the interrogator again. "You didn't really drag him down here just because he sponsored Abernathy, did you?"

"Well…"

"He's not the only sponsor. I know you haven't been dragging in the old ladies from the Grove!"

"Of course not. But, well… Aurelian was seen running errands! Abernathy did call him, Justinian."

Gramps rolls his eyes hugely. "Come on, now. Half the Capitol was wild for those two kids. Aurelian couldn't afford to sponsor by much, could he?" He looks at me.

"No. No, of course not."

He turns back to Vargas. "So, he asked if he could help out some other way. Probably doing a sandwich run or something."

"An Effie run, actually," I say, truthfully enough. "He just needed me to find his escort."

"Did he say why he needed her back so badly?" Vargas asks.

"Oh, please," Gramps says. "He knew he was blowing town. Probably wanted to give her a proper goodbye. You must have heard rumors." She nods. So far, Gramps is mostly telling the truth, nothing that can't be verified. He shrugs and winks. "I'd probably give a girl like that a proper goodbye, too."

Vargas blushes. "Well, I…" She purses her lips. "For the record, Miss Trinket has also been arrested."

"Which is nothing Aurrie knows about."

She shrugs. "Fine. But that's not all. Aside from putting in quite a lot of effort a Games sponsorship, the fact remains that he forged credentials so he could sneak into a secured area and see Peeta Mellark!"

Gramps's eyes widen, then the grin comes back. "Sounds like he's got a good skill there."

"Justinian, it is a serious charge."

"So, he's a fan. Come on, Millie, you did things just as crazy. I seem to remember you pretending to have a search order for Arcadius Drew's dressing room when you first came to town."

She blushes. "Well…" She shakes her head and sighs. "It's probably not good to be quite so… over-attached to District Twelve right now."

"Aw, that's my fault," Gramps says. "I used to be stationed out there. I probably told Aurrie about a thousand stories about District Twelve when he wasn't any higher than a skeeter's knee, as they'd say out there. Right, Aurrie?"

"Yeah," I say, though this is the first I've heard about Gramps being stationed in District Twelve. He almost never talks about his days as a Peacekeeper. "I always liked the ones about the bakery. Gramps said it was the best in Panem. I remember that one you told me about getting covered in flour when their delivery crate busted up by the train tracks."

"Good times."

"That's why I wanted to meet Peeta."

"The bakery," Gramps muses. "It was good to see that place again. It's a damned shame what happened out there."

"Abernathy brought it on them," Vargas says, and I try not to strike out. They showed the bombing of District Twelve less than an hour after the arena break-out, and she's talking about it like it was a slap on the wrist.

Gramps, of course, doesn't miss a beat. "Oh, you'll have no argument from me. The Abernathys were always trouble-makers. Haymitch's father burned down their house once. I had to put his mom in the stocks once for back-talking me. She had the baby in a basket beside her the whole time. He sucked up rebellion with his mother's milk. But that's not Aurelian's problem."

"Well, I suppose…"

Gramps nods to me. "Abernathy didn't have you helping blow out the arena, did he?"

"No," I say, truthfully enough.

"And he didn't have running rebel messages?"

"No."

"You see?" he says to Vargas. "Come on, honey, you know there's nothing here. Abernathy's been a rebel for years. He's not going to suddenly need to recruit a teenage sponsor that he barely knows."

Vargas glances through my file, then sighs. "All right. I don't see anything here that's a real red flag. But you need to know that he's being watched. And don't forge any more documents! I'll let it go this time, for Justinian, but I can't very well overlook it again."

"Message received," Gramps says. "Can I take him home now?"

"I don't know…"

"You're the squad captain. You can make the call."

She sighs. "All right. Take him." She looks at me. "But stay out of trouble, will you?"

I swear that I will. While she's reading me my release statement ("The accused understands the necessity of protecting the innocent citizens of the Capitol…"), I see Gramps going through my folder. He pulls out a sheet of paper and shoves it in his pocket.

Five minutes later, we're out the door of the depot.

I stop at the top of the steep staircase. "What are you doing here, Gramps?" I ask.

"Taking you home, where you belong." He heads down the stairs to a car that's parked on the street, and opens the door. "Get in."

I get in. Gramps gets into the driver's seat and starts it up by hotwiring it.

"Whose car is this?" I ask.

"No idea. Don't start lecturing; I'm taking it back to the lot I found it in." He turns left and starts heading up into the foothills. "Are you okay? Did they rough you up?"

"I'm fine. Hungry. It's been a few days."

"We'll get lunch at the Hole. I can spring for that. Then we need to get you lost before Millie notices that she let me scam her."

I can't think of anything to say to this, so I don't say anything. Gramps was technically my legal guardian from the time my dad died when I was eleven until I turned eighteen, but he spent time in and out of jail for various scams. He mostly didn't get convicted, but I spent a lot of time visiting him while he waited for trials. I lived with various neighbors, and sometimes on my own. I know Gramps loves me -- that's never been an issue -- but he's never been much of a caretaker.

I watch the city roll by around us. On the surface, it looks like it did the week before the Quell. People are going about their business, shops are open, sidewalk cafes are full. There's not an undue Peacekeeper presence on the streets, though there are a maybe a few more visible than I'm used to. The big public viewscreens aren't showing anything volatile. At the moment, there's a cooking show on.

But underneath it, I can tell that something is very wrong. The people buzzing around on their errands have their eyes cast down. In the cafes, people are dressed somberly. The Peacekeepers are standing on alert. We pass a bus stop near the edge of downtown, and I see a little girl crying miserably into her stuffed animal's fur, while a boy I take for her older brother -- he seems to be protecting her -- leans over and tries to get her to stop.

"What's happening?" I ask as we head up into the rich residential areas.

"We're at war," Gramps says. "You know about District Twelve --"

"Yeah. Is there anything new?"

"No. It's burned to the ground. The whole district. Most likely, no survivors. They're trapped in a damned cage up there." He pulls in a sharp breath through his teeth, and I think for a minute that I'm seeing the Gramps who lives under the charming grafter he wears like a costume. "Goddamn Snow."

I don't say anything. Gramps has never been friendly toward the government, but he usually keeps his tongue still about it. He's good at self-preservation.

"I was stationed there, you know," he says. "I liked it there. There was a woman. Ella Maginnis. Butcher's daughter. She was before your grandma, you know? She was kind of a bitch, as it turned out, but I never fell so hard for anyone, before or since."

"What happened?"

"She married someone else. Of course she did. I couldn't very well marry her, could I? I was still on the force." He sniffs. "Her husband was a jackass. I noticed the bruises on her right away. They had a daughter the first year. Rooba. I saw a bruise on the baby's arm, once, too. I assumed it was him."

I frown. "You assumed?"

"Let's say, I realized later that the poor kid didn't have much of a good example either way. I was too besotted to see it at the time, though. Anyway, the husband broke Ella's arm. I got into a fight with him. He pulled a knife. I pulled a gun."

"That's why they fired you?"

"For killing a violent townie?" He shakes his head. "No. They transferred me for that, a few months later. They said I was a distraction, since half the town was saying I murdered the bastard. By then, I was spending a lot of time at the butcher shop again, and they all said that was why I did it. And one day, I noticed that the baby still had bruises. I didn't know it was possible to fall out of love with someone so fast."

I'm not sure what to say. "Oh."

He sighs. "They fired me when I went AWOL trying to get back to Ella and the girls. At that point, mostly because I didn't want to leave them with her."

"Girls?"

"She had another," he says quietly. "Born after I left."

This sinks in. "They were yours, weren't they?"

"I'm not sure about the older one. The second one, definitely. She was born a year after the husband died. Not that the whole district didn't pretend it was just a really long pregnancy. I didn't know about it when I left. Ella wrote to me and told me about her, and that's when I tried to get back. My superiors had read the letter, and I guess I'd have been court-martialed for fraternizing and getting caught at it, anyway. I ended up doing three years breaking rocks in Two, then I got a dishonorable and came back home. Met your grandma."

I know the rest. He and Grandma cooked up one scheme after another until she died, scamming a living out of the Capitol's rich and gullible. They were always on the verge of getting caught, and sometimes, they actually did get caught. My dad used to shill for them when he was little, at least until he met my mother when they were sixteen, and when I came along, they tried to go straight. Of course, Dad was the one who ended up dying in jail -- debtors' prison. Gramps hates the lenders more than anyone else. He takes great pleasure in bankrupting them whenever he can. "Did you ever see your daughter?" I ask.

He shakes his head. "No. At least not until she showed up on television. She looked like my sister. And now she's dead."

I look away. "I'm sorry, Gramps."

He snorts and pulls into a shared parking lot in the center of a lush park. "Yeah, well. I can't do anything for her, and I can't think of much I can do for her boy up there -- "

He nods over his shoulder, toward where the Training Center rises up against the skyline, and everything falls into place. "Her… you mean Peeta Mellark, don't you? It's his mother you saw."

He nods. "Let's just say, it's a good thing they never ran a DNA scan on you to check against his. They'd have never bought the crazy fan theory if they'd noticed certain things." He parks and puts the wires back where they belong, killing the engine. "Anyway, I figured I'd get you out of jail. I could at least manage that."

"Thank you."

"You going to fight in this war?"

I nod. I think we both know that I'm not talking about joining the Peacekeepers.

He nods back, looking out the front window, across the valley toward the lake. The view is pretty amazing for a parking lot. "War's ugly, Aurrie. This one's going to be uglier than Snow is expecting, I think. You're not going to be the only kid in the Capitol fighting. Snow overplayed his hand. A lot of people are angry."

"I know."

"Do you know where to go?" He looks over. "If you don't, I know some people who could help you."

This honestly surprises me. "Are you fighting?"

"I was trained for it," he says. "And I guess I'm motivated enough."

"You're also sixty-five."

"So, I probably won't be brawling, though I don't rule it out." He thinks about it. "I've got a few marks to hit. I can empty some bank accounts before they can get to mischief. I know some good rebels who can hide it then."

"Gramps, you're not the only con man in the Capitol. Snow will have people out in force pretending to be rebels -- "

"And real rebels from half a dozen of our local rebellions will be out, too, all grinding their favorite axes." He thinks about it. "We're going to have to get the local rebellions on the same page, too."

"But what if the ones you know -- "

" -- are Snow's plants?" Gramps shrugs. "If so, they're pretty long-term plants, and they haven't turned anyone in yet."

"Who are we talking about?"

He raises an eyebrow, then says, "I guess if you've already gotten to point of running errands for Abernathy and forging your own papers, you're big enough to know. You remember the Sixty-Fifth Games? Odair's Games? You came with me to one of those parties."

I remember. The party was in the basement of a club. I was eight, and I remember walking through the park wearing a Finnick tee shirt. The Games were still on, but everyone just assumed he'd win. There were teenage girls swearing their undying love to him. I'd never been to a Games party before, but my parents were in jail and Gramps was taking care of me, and he had business. The man he was meeting was at the party. There were sparklers out front, and Finnick posters on the wall, and lots of little booths where you could pretend to be standing in the chariot with Finnick and have your picture taken. I wanted to do this (I desperately wanted Finnick to be my best friend then), but Gramps pulled me inside. I remember being surprised that we went right through the rowdy bar area and into the back room, where I spent two hours utterly bored, while Gramps was talking quietly to a bunch of rough-looking men at a table. An Avox came over to me for a little while, and I finally ended up spending the rest of the afternoon figuring out a system of signs to communicate.

"Those were rebels, weren't they?" I ask.

He nods. "The real deal, at least as far as the victors' rebellion is concerned. They passed Abernathy's poems like scriptures."

"Poems?"

"Poems. That's how they identified each other." His eyebrows knit together. "Don't you look like it's crazy boy. Everything sounds crazy from a distance."

"Okay. Are they, like, really good poems?"

He shrugs. "As good as you could expect them to be from an angry, untrained sixteen year old." He looks out the side window. "We need to get out of here. Someone around here's going to notice that we don't belong in this car."

"Gramps…"

"Don't look for mockingjays. That's what Snow will use to lure people. Look for a brick -- "

"A brick," I repeat. "Really?"

" -- with a straw and a twig crossed on it. It's a story Abernathy told during his Games. They love using him as a symbol. That was… after he found the forcefield -- and this has never been public knowledge; I just know because I was tanked for a few weeks at the time -- the debtors rushed the prison forcefields. A lot of them ended up rebels after the crackdown." He sighs. "And here…" He takes my hand, pulls out a pen, and makes a long series of slash marks across my palm. "Show that." I must look skeptical, because he says, "I'm not scamming you, Aurrie. I want you to get under their protection as fast as you can, because you're already on the government's radar."

"Aren't you going, too?"

"I'll be fighting, but I'm going in close first. I don't want you around if I get pinched." He nods to himself. "If I get away with it, I'll go underground. So…" He looks at me for a minute, then looks away. "So I guess this could be it. We'll have a good day."

The last is an order. I know the tone.

We get out of the car and try to look at home in the posh neighborhood as we walk back toward the city. A few people give us dirty looks, but it's not technically against the law for us to walk around up here in their rarified air, at least not yet. I want to get back to Tazzy and Junie. I have no idea where they've hidden, or how they're dealing with all of this. But I can't very well just say, "Thanks for picking me up" and leave Gramps standing alone on the sidewalk.

As we walk, we talk about things other than the war, and in that matter, we're no different from anyone else on the street. I hear a lot of people talking business and fashion as we pass by them. We talk about movies and sports (other than the Hunger Games, of course), and he asks after my friends, whose names he barely remembers. It's after four when we finally get to Hole, a cheap little greasy spoon diner that we both like. One of the waitresses, whose hair is dyed black -- and it looks like she very recently hacked a braid off at the base -- is in the back corner, crying quietly while one of the others tries to get her to calm down. A third one is distracted while she seats us and takes our orders.

"Is there a lot of that crying?" I ask quietly, thinking about the real hairdresser whose place I took, and his debilitating "ennui."

Gramps nods. "Ever since the arena blew. No one knows what to make of it. They feel pretty betrayed by Everdeen girl."

"And Peeta?"

"They're saying that young Mr. Mellark didn't know anything about it. He was taken in for his own protection." He gives me a sharp look, and I know not to push for details. I don't really need them. People taken in by Snow's forces aren't exactly being protected, and I don't know anyone who thinks so.

Then I remember that Peeta Mellark is my cousin, and I'm suddenly not hungry, no matter how long it's been since I've eaten.

"Have anything you want," Gramps says. "I'm good for it."

I order a burger and fries. He gets ham and pea soup. Once I start eating, my body reminds me that it does need nourishment. We talk about racecar drivers, and he interrogates me about my mostly non-existent love life. It's nothing important. I think he just wants to know.

We stay until the dinner crowd starts coming in, and we walk out into the summer night. As the sun goes down, the change in the city is more apparent. The clubs are open, but there is no pounding music coming from them. There are drunks in the street, but they aren't coming from boisterous parties; they're sullen and withdrawn. The Capitol is never silent, but it's as close as I've ever seen it. I see a few of the regular prostitutes, but Tazzy isn't with them. They don't look like business has been good, and a few of them seem to have been in recent fights. One girl, who's wearing a dress with a hastily covered-up flame pattern, is sitting on the curb with her head resting listlessly on her bony knees.

We finally stop at City Center, where there is still bunting up from the parade last week, though the pictures of the victors have been torn down. Gramps looks up at the blank spot where the District Twelve pictures were. "I sponsored them last year."

"Because of your daughter."

"Yeah. A few people asked me why. Trust me; I lied."

I smile. From anyone but Gramps, that would be an odd thing to hear. "This is it, then?"

He nods. "I'm not going to say where I'm going, and don't you dare tell me where you are. We'll find each other again when it's over."

"We always do," I say.

I start to leave, but Gramps puts his arms around me and hugs me tightly, like I'm eight instead of eighteen. "You're a good boy, Aurrie," he says. "You always were, and you always deserved better than me. I gave you my best, but my best is crap."

I'm not sure what I'm supposed to say to this. We both know that as a guardian, he was abysmal. But unlike a lot of my friends, I never felt unloved. There was that, at least. So what I finally say is, "I love you, too, Gramps."

He pulls away from me and pats my shoulder, then disappears into the shadows of the park, going off toward the media district, where he'll no doubt find the "marks" he was talking about.

I turn and head out into the Capitol, not knowing where I'll end up.

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Comments
twentyfourhours From: twentyfourhours Date: May 18th, 2015 07:32 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh my gosh, Mir's father??? amazing!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 18th, 2015 05:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yup, that's him.
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 18th, 2015 07:37 am (UTC) (Link)

Justinian

I liked this story. A lot.

Some things about Justinian (your OC character; he's not in canon) I've forgotten, but here's what I remember: He got a D12 girl pregnant, but did not marry her or acknowledge the daughter whom she bore. That daughter grew up to be Peeta's mother. So Justinian is Peeta's grandfather, and Aurelian and Peeta are first cousins. (This explains why Aurelian with dyed-blond hair looks like Peeta.)

What else about Justinian have I forgotten?

-- Tom
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 18th, 2015 05:40 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Justinian

A good bit of misinformation from "Rites of Fall" (which I did know was misinformation) -- as far as D12 was concerned, he went off and got a promotion (in fact, as he says, he got fired and court-martialed). Mir wrote to him frequently and got a very nasty letter back (which was actually written by Cray) claiming that he wasn't her father, which caused a kerfluffle that ended up with Danny taking lashes. Oh, and Chaff introduced the idea that it was a non-consensual affair, which it wasn't... it was just all kind of tawdry. And as far as the killing of her husband went, D12's version has devolved to, "The Peacekeeper she was having an affair with shot her husband." I think Justinian would be very angry.
redrikki From: redrikki Date: May 18th, 2015 04:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
I loved this look at what's happening in the capitol in the early days of the war. I like all the subtle and non-subtle hints about all the things that are very, very wrong.

I also really dig the grandfather and the whole family's genetic predisposition to lying. I'd love to see something about his war and whether or not he survived it.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 18th, 2015 05:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
Maybe as I'm finishing up the revisions on "Narrow Path." I'm going to add this as an appendix to "Golden Mean," I think.
6 comments or Leave a comment