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Repost: The Golden Mean, Chapter 25 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
Repost: The Golden Mean, Chapter 25
Okay, another one with lots of tweaks in it. I thought about changing the pace to make the slide into battle not so abrupt, but you know... it would pretty much be that abrupt, so I left that alone.

Chapter Twenty-Five
I lie awake for a long time, staring up at the ceiling, thinking about nothing in particular, letting my mind drift.

Effie drifts across a lot. I want her here. This isn't entirely innocent of physical desire -- that comes over me in intense waves now that I'm on my own, and I can almost feel her smooth skin under my fingertips -- but it's just a strong undertow in a much bigger current. I don't know what I'm thinking about, really. I just let the sense of her wander through my mind, trailing the sweet, expensive perfume behind it, winding through a strange labyrinth that my mind is conjuring.

What are you trying to tell yourself, Haymitch? my mother asks.

I push it away. I don't know what I'm trying to tell myself, or let myself know. I don't even know what I'm trying to figure out. Everything is out of my hands right now. The flood is coming. I'm just trying to keep as many people afloat as I can, but I don't even know how to reach them.

Finnick and Peeta, on the beach. He's not always the most pleasant person to be around, but you can trust him.

Danny, at home. Sitting in the ruins of my childhood home and telling me that he knew I was never bringing his boy back.

District Twelve. I try to dredge up my usual share of distaste for it, try to remember Hazelle and her gang pushing me around on the Seam, but I can't do it. I'm never going back, and I can't really focus on that any more than I can focus on Effie. It's a strange, nebulous idea, and it's terrifying in ways I never expected.

For twenty-five years, I've had two lives. They've both been pretty lousy, but I've had them. Here in the Capitol, I'm a victor, a freak of nature that people fawn over for reasons I've never quite understood. I'm a mentor, and that role, I understand better. That's where I've met the best and worst of the Capitol. I know the streets and the restaurants and the clubs here, and where many of the secret lines of power lead. I have friends here, and I know it.

In District Twelve, I'm the miserable old drunk who sometimes emerges from Victors' Village to take two kids to the Capitol to die. But I'm also Haymitch, that upstart kid from the Seam, rejected by his neighbors for being uppity and most of his classmates for being dirt poor and filthy. But I'm also Danny Mellark's friend, and Hazelle's… something. I don't know what. I have my house, and now that she's got it in shape, I like it. I have Mimi's statue in my attic, holding my Victor's crown, and the books hidden beneath my floorboards, which I guess I'll never see again. I have my parents' quilt, made from old clothes, their endearments to each other written on its squares. I have everyone who has been a part of me there, generations of family with coal dust permanently embedded in their skin, gray eyes looking out from the mists of the past. I've never thought much about it, but I do now.

I should have at least brought Daddy's dictionary, with so many of their names written in it. I should have brought pictures of my friends, and the painting Peeta made of Katniss and me in District Eleven.

I couldn't very well do it.

Both of my lives are over, or will be soon -- maybe within hours, certainly within days. I've climbed the hanging tree after all. Maybe Gia wouldn't mind this one.

I realize that I'm asleep when I find myself back in Twelve, wandering around like a haunt. No one alive seems to be able to see me, but the dead are waving cheerfully enough. Mom and Lacklen are sitting on the bakery porch with Danny's parents (Danny himself is gray and hard to see, walking among them without seeing them). Maysilee is carving something on the whipping post. I know that it's "M.D. loves D12," because I saw it when I was tied up there, before Gia came to rescue me. At the thought of her, she appears, her red hair gleaming brightly, seeming to glow, the way bright things do in the gray. She is carrying a garment bag, and I know that inside of it is the red dress she's brought for me to bury Digger in.

"I like my dress."

I turn. I haven't heard this voice for a long time, at least not like this. Not normal, and soft, and good-natured. She sounds like she did when we were kids, camping in my back yard to try and keep cool in the summer.

Digger.

She's not in the red dress, though she's looking at it wistfully. She's wearing old jeans and a threadbare top, which is suddenly in my hands. She's wearing my own discarded shirt now, and we're in the ruins by the lake, still flushed and a little bit drunk on what we've finally given to each other. Her top smells like Effie's perfume, but otherwise, she's Digger -- not the grotesque thing I've been torturing myself with lately, but the real girl, the girl I loved before the Games took everything. I think I even have the exact color of her eyes right, that wild, pale gray that's almost white, and I can see what she used to tie her hair back. It's the string from a bag of tessera grain.

No, three of them. They're braided together. I can see that as she puts it back on. I'd gotten my hand tangled in it earlier, and I'd sworn at it and pulled it away, catching it on her ear and generally making a complete botch of the moment. She'd started laughing, then I'd caught it, and neither of us could stop completely. How had I forgotten that? In all the years since, though I've thought of that day at the lake, I've never remembered that we were laughing -- somewhat madly -- as we made love. It seems like the sort of thing I should have remembered. The laughter has faded now that we're finished, but I still feel good. The scent of us being together is around me, and so is that other scent, the spicy, expensive scent that's the only thing reminding me that all of this is a dream.

She secures the string and finger-combs her hair around it, looking out at the lake. "People used to come out here before they built the fence," she says. "It was for vacations." She says the last word carefully. It's a foreign, exotic word, full of power. "Glen Everdeen's family used to own it all."

I stretch out and look toward the sole remaining whole building, a tiny concrete shack on the far shore. "Glen's full of crap," I say, as I really did that day, and my dreaming mind wonders how in the world the Everdeens, who were never a regular part of my life before Katniss, ended up a topic of discussion that day of all days, and why I'm remembering it so specifically. What are you telling yourself?

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

"Well, to Glen, anyway."

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

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

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

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

She nods, then I kiss her and tell her that I love her. It is the last time I will say it to another person -- the goodbyes at the Justice Building two days later will never get around to it -- but I don't know it at the time. I only know that she's my girl, and I want the afternoon to last forever. It doesn't. It is almost over already.

I don't know why I'm here, what this place has to offer. It's just more drifting, but I don't want to leave. I let myself drift with her, listen to her laugh, then walk back to the District with her. She disappears under the fence, but when I try to follow, the world turns to white fog. She looks back once, and I see her eyes clearly, then I'm alone. The boy I was then is gone, and I'm here now, in a plush bed in the mentors' lounge.

I open my eyes into the dim room. My mind pieces the message together quickly enough -- like Digger said, the lake has everything we'd need to survive if the fence comes down -- but it's a totally useless dispatch from my subconscious. I can't very well tell anyone in Twelve to get out there if the Capitol decides to retaliate. I've never given that bit of information to anyone, and I can't think who'd guess it. If I was trying to figure anything else out, it's still escaping me.

I lie in bed for a long time, my head pounding, wanting to drink again.

I manage to chew two dry detox tablets, which take the edge off the physical craving, but do nothing about the mental desire to disappear into the bottom of the biggest shot of white liquor I can find. I want to open a bottle and smell the sharp, dizzying fumes, let them stab into my brain with a promise of more to come. The bottle always keeps its promises.

I get up and dress carelessly. All I need to worry about from here on out is whether or not I can move.

Nothing seems to be happening when I get out. Philo tells me that I slept through a description of Beetee's plan, which will involve electrocuting Brutus and Enobaria using the lightning tree and Beetee's spool of wire. "Can't really explain how, though," he says. "And I don't think the rest of the alliance gets it, either."

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

"Half the audience probably figures that he's planning to electrocute them instead," Philo says. "Think about it: He gets all of his allies holding on to that wire, then, bam. There they go. Maybe he could get Enobaria and Brutus, too, and then it's just him with Chaff."

I hope Philo knows that's not really the plan, though as Beetee's mentor in this, it will make for good television if anyone asks him.

I hope Beetee knows that it's not really the plan. Everyone in our alliance is a killer, even Peeta. If Beetee starts to feel cornered, if the arena really starts getting to him, he'll start to feel vulnerable. There's not much I'd put past him if he feels cornered, and there never has been.

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

"Great," I say. "Just perfect." On screen, the alliance is climbing up toward the lightning tree, and Katniss does, in point of fact, look mutinous. "Did the bread come?" I ask Philo.

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

In other words, Plutarch's figured out that they'll be pulled out at midnight, not noon... though technically, I think that should be zero, not twenty-four. I guess it would be a little abstract to send zero rolls. That's a lot of hours left to kill.

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

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

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

In other words, there's nothing for anyone to watch. I am not surprised when I'm called to Caesar Flickerman's studio for a retrospective interview. There are very few things I enjoy less than recalling previous Games, my own least of all, but I figure that it's probably better than giving the Capitol a chance to analyze Beetee's plan too carefully. I have a feeling it wouldn't stand up to an electrician's examination.
On the street, I see that security is getting tight. Peacekeepers are putting on demonstrations in the city center. I guess the inability of Capitol citizens to fully back the Quell is starting to get under Snow's nerves.

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

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

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

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

"Of course."

"Do you know what really happened?" he says.

"Do you?"

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

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

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

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

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

More rubbing people's faces in it. Good.

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

"She's sent them to me every year. And I have Seeder with the dance classes she used to give in District Eleven. I think little Rue may even be in one of those from a few years ago; we'll have to double-check."

It will hurt -- I know it will hurt -- but I'm not the only one who'll feel it. I go with him, and we spend most of the afternoon talking about my late friends. There is, indeed, a picture of Rue taking a dance lesson from Seeder in an old barn. They're both smiling beautifully. Cecelia's children look happy and comfortable in their mother's arms. Earl is riding a horse with one of his grandchildren. A stunningly beautiful young Mags lounges by the sea, whispering to a friend. Both of them are in revealing two-piece swimsuits, and young men in the background are watching them appreciatively. Caesar even dredges up a picture of Duronda Carson, laughing with a master chef while she tries to teach him how to make an apple layer cake.

Now and then, he cuts to live interviews on the street. People are completely broken. They can't even seem to respond to the hovering presence of Peacekeepers, even when they're too close to stay out of the shot.

Good. It's what I wanted. I remind myself of that when a little boy, asked if he's rooting for Finnick or Peeta, sits down on the curb and starts to weep.

At around three, Caesar is instructed to close out the show immediately.

He offers me a ride back to the Viewing Center. It's walking distance, but the press is gathered in the media area like an army. As we ride, he says, "My car isn't bugged. What in the hell is going on? What's happening with the bread?"

I don't answer. I doubt that Caesar is spying for Snow, but this close to the end-game, I’m not taking chances.

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

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

"And Beetee knows his plan won't work. No one raised in a District Three school would be fooled. Or a District Five school, for that matter."

"How would you know?"

"I work with electronics all day, Haymitch."

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

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

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

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

"Yes."

Just before we turn down the street toward the Viewing Center garage, Caesar says, quietly, "I'll do what I can for who's left, Haymitch."

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

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

He unlocks the door and lets me out. I watch him drive away, then go inside. Several of the extra Peacekeepers seem to be taking a break in our lounge, drinking at the bar and watching the Games with Capitol attendants and defeated mentors.

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

Katniss laughs fondly, and I think of Effie. It's late afternoon. Effie should be back by now, with Portia or without her. How long can a hearing take?

"Hey, Harris," I say. "Have you seen Effie? Has she called?"

"Why? You lonely?" Philo teases.

"She's just supposed to be at a hearing for Portia. I didn't think it would take this long."

"The hearing's probably over," Harris says. "But it'll take her a year to sign papers. You know the Capitol and paperwork."

Jack, who's eating a late lunch out on the floor, waves a roll of District Three bread in Harris's direction, and he seems to realize what I'm worried about. He doesn't have anything else to say, though -- what can be said?

I tell myself that it's Effie, and she probably went home to get another silly wig, but I can't make myself believe it. Not after she kissed me. She'd want to get back. I try her home phone. There's no answer. I consider sending Aurelian, but that would be risky for him. If he's running an errand for me right before we break out, it'll be a huge target on his back. All I can do is wait. I put down the phone.

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

"It worked," Katniss says.

"But not the way I wanted it to."

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

I have less than eight hours now.

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

There is still no sign of Effie or Portia, or Peeta's prep team. I try to call Effie again. The courts are closed for the day. She doesn't pick up. I want to go to her apartment right now, but I can't. It's all supposed to happen at midnight, but I can't shake the feeling that something is in the process of going wrong.

I try to find an excuse to talk to Plutarch, but when I go upstairs to meet with the Gamemakers, one of his apprentices talks to me, and complains that Plutarch has been in his office all day. Apparently, he only comes out to bark orders, then disappears. I don't like the sound of it. I think again about the Peacekeepers outside.

At nine, my team clears off to the twelve o'clock wedge and Beetee starts wiring the lightning tree. So far, so good... until I realize, a little after eleven, that they mean to separate Peeta and Katniss.

"It's because she tried to run," Philo tells me quietly. "Johanna and Beetee talked about it while you were off at Caesar's. They're afraid the two of them will bolt, and then they'll be harder to keep track of."

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

"Do you want to send a message?"

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

And there's still the matter of Effie.

I pick up the phone to call her one more time, and discover that it's dead. It hasn't rung for hours, but I haven't paid any attention to it. I haven't heard anyone else's phones ringing since around eight. "Harris," I say, "pick up your phone."

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

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

My eyes follow his motion, and that's when I see them, really see them, for the first time: Peacekeepers. They aren't on a break. They aren't catching their breath in the lounge. They are armed and wary. And they are blocking the exits.

As Katniss and Johanna start to go down the hill, one of the Peacekeepers raises a whistle, and the others stand at attention, weapons at the ready. They step forward.

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

"What would we be under guard for?" Mindwell asks, her eyes narrowing.

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

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

Here, Toffy glances at me. I look at Jack. Jack looks at the mentors in the lounge.

The victors in the lounge.

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

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

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

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

A Peacekeeper yells, "Charge!"

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

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

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

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

The feed is cut. I hear shooting above us, and something takes off with a blast of fire. Plutarch better mean that he means to meet us at the lake shore, near the statues he's flashing. I guess he's decided that he can't get away if he's taking a bunch of traitors with him.

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

No one follows.

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

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

"We have to get Effie," I say.

Philo doesn't argue. Neither does Jack. I give them directions as well as I can remember and we race through narrow streets and alleys that Philo seems to know quite well.

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

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

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

Fast isn't a problem.

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

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

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

The door is ajar.

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

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

"EFFIE!"

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

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

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

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

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

"Effie," I manage to say.

"It's too late, Haymitch."

I shake my head, but I know the truth. I know it in my bones. We didn't just miss Effie. She's not in reach. They could easily have had her from the moment she stepped into the Justice Building this morning.

I let Philo lead me out.

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

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

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

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

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

"No!" I scream.

The ladder pulls us up. I see the Peacekeepers swarm over Philo's body. One of them shouts his name into a radio, confirming that there is a victor down. I wonder if they bothered with that back at the Viewing Center. I wonder if anyone back there is left alive.

But I can't wonder about it. There's no time.

"When did he become our ally?" Plutarch asks conversationally.

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

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

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

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

"They tried to hide," Plutarch adds, "but they had to wait for midnight if Beetee was going to break the forcefield." He nods toward the wall beside me, where, of course, there is a television screen. On it, Beetee stabs wildly at the forcefield and is thrown backward by the charge. Katniss is making her way up the hill, following the broken wire. Enobaria and Johanna are fighting on the wave beach, pushing each other up toward midnight.

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

Peeta first.

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

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

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

"I'm not better than anyone."

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

He raises his knife.

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

"I -- "

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

Brutus's knife cuts nearly through Chaff's neck in one blow.

It's that quick. Every moment of my life in Chaff's circle seems to flash around me -- waking up in the hospital, chess games in the park, an embrace when he smuggled himself into Twelve because I sent him a message that I needed help. I see him joking with Seeder, and cursing the Games after Thresh died last year. I see him with Winnow in the garden during the Victory Tour. All of the images jumble on top of one another senselessly as he falls to the ground, his head hanging crookedly from a single rope of muscle. I sit down heavily.

Brutus gets up and spits on the body.

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

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

For a moment, he smiles savagely, wild and bloody in the moonlight. Peeta Mellark is gone, replaced by a capering barbarian.

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

He looks at his hands.

And screams.
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Comments
From: (Anonymous) Date: July 23rd, 2015 11:05 am (UTC) (Link)

Liam: Perfect

Perfect but sad chapterchapter. when chaff died itwas So powerful
And I can imagine haymitch feeling guilty about the"on your mentors orders part". Will you be editing other stories after this or continuing the big empty ?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 26th, 2015 09:15 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Liam: Perfect

I'm not sure. Editing is easier, because I know where I'm going and what I'm doing, but that story at the end, in the Capitol -- the end of the war. It's poking at my head.
redrikki From: redrikki Date: July 23rd, 2015 06:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
I liked the abruptness of the battle of at the Viewing Center and the way you intercut bits of the Games with the action there. I can't remember if you did that in the original version, but it was a very neat touch.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 26th, 2015 09:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
It was, but thanks. I learned battles from Star Wars.
From: queen_bellatrix Date: July 30th, 2015 05:38 am (UTC) (Link)

A Few Catches/Disjointed Feedback

fence but when I try Just missing a comma before but.

explain how, though," he said Think that said just needs to be says?

try to drudge up Think you maybe mean dredge here?

vulnerable position, if the arena This sentence construction feels really odd, especially that last clause. I'm wondering if maybe you intended to split it up with semicolons or periods instead of so many commas?

friendly outfit -- Think you may need a comma after the dashes, since a comma would normally go after the bit just before what they were setting off, though I may be misremembering about continuing normal rules even with dashes. :)

drudge up a picture Think you may've also meant dredge here?

Gaaah, Fern, gaaah. I keep trying to find some coherency around this chapter, but it's just such a forceful gut-punch that I'm reduced to flailing and snarling in equal measure. That dream sequence, especially with all your additions, was so freaking gorgeous I was just about breathless. And I am so glad that Haymitch was finally, even for a little while, to conjure Digger without all the demons she'd come to represent for him. It makes you so nostalgic for the beginning of EOTW, and is probably my favorite, both in content and execution, of your full-circle moments so far. It brings home the toll of what being a victor's meant to this man so completely and viscerally in just a few lines, but none of it would've worked without the groundwork you've laid so well before.

Oh, all his recollections about Twelve; that complicated mix of love and loathing, and the fact that when the chips are down, love absolutely wins out. The bombing of Twelve is going to break me again, softened only slightly by the fact that at least all Haymitch's posessions survive. How you've made a dictionary and quilt have the emotional impact they do in these stories floors me, but they feel as precious and valuable in their own way as the people he's lost, and I'm inordinently glad he at least won't lose them, too.

And tonally, it sets the stage for the rest of this chapter flawlessly; everything descends into retrospection and grief like an inevitable avalanche; the chapter was fabulous in the original, but it's taken on so much more power in this edit.

Everything with Effie's pictures and the cat...Snow's death wasn't nearly brutal enough to make up for what he does to these people. And Chaff; we're not even going to talk about Chaff because I will cry. You've done such an incredible job in fleshing out this man whose barely a name in cannon so that I never get enough of him and can completely see why he's Haymitch's closest friend among the victors. You've avoided so many of the stereotypes I've seen in this fandom; he's not a buffoon, but instead such an articulate and intelligent man, leavened with just enough humor that he pulls Haymitch out of his screwed up headspace when he needs it most.

As if this chapter didn't hurt enough, I can't help but come back to Haymitch's admission that he never said I love you again. Because with all the prequel stuff, it has so much more of a sucker punch. I kept thinking that that had to be wrong; that somewhere, be it at his Mom's bedside, or in D6/D4 with Gia, or Mimi, or Effie...that somewhere he had to say it. And then I went back and looked, and realized it was all just under the surface implication; I now just want to curl up and pet kittens.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 30th, 2015 09:34 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: A Few Catches/Disjointed Feedback

Yup, I mixed up dredge/drudge. It's a weird mistake I make when talking, too.

That Beetee line needed a total overhaul.

This may be the closest I've come to an actual ghost appearance, though ultimately I think it's just a real memory that's finally managed to break through the morass of Haymitch's mind. This Digger is the real thing, and he needed to see her and understand what he'd lost before he could move on.

I have a complicated relationship to my hometown, too. I was miserable there, but the longer I'm away, the more I understand all the ways it turned me into myself, all the weird little ties. I wouldn't want it wiped off the map. Heck, I'm not even sure how I feel about some strange gentrification that's going on there. (They have a microbrewery now. A microbrewery. What's next? A hipster glasses shop? ;p)

The sad part with Haymitch's inability to say that he loves anyone -- and I was careful about that -- is that the only person on earth that it fools is Haymitch. His friends and his enemies are perfectly aware that striking Effie, or Danny, or Mimi, or Gia, or District 12 as a whole would be a completely effective way of getting at him, because they can see perfectly well that he loves them, and loves them a lot. So he's denying himself happiness for no reason at all.
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