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Snowmelt, pt 1 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
Snowmelt, pt 1
Well, I'm still working on this, and I think it will have three parts to it. But I felt like I should post something.

March 1, 637 After Founding (Year 0 Panem Republic). Psychiatric transcription by Aurelius Gavin, subject Mellark. Private notes.
P: Am I still a prisoner in the Capitol?
A: Do you feel like a prisoner?
P: You won't clear me to leave care. Or to try it remotely, like you're doing with Katniss.
A: [laughter] I shouldn't have cleared it with Katniss. If they'd given me a choice in the matter, I wouldn't have. And if you
do go back, please tell her that I can't do her required therapy if she doesn't pick up the phone.
P: She's not picking up?
A: She's not. Is that significant to you?
P: [pause] No. I guess not. She never paid much attention to it. Maybe she ripped it out like Haymitch did. Did you try calling Haymitch?
A: Haymitch isn't a patient.
P: He's Katniss's guardian.
A: I'll consider it. But we're not here to talk about Katniss, Peeta. I shouldn't have allowed the conversation to go there. Have you thought about what we talked about? About staying here permanently, with your cousin and your grandfather?
P: They're blood, but… they're not family. I like them, but they aren't really mine. My family…
A: [long pause] Yes?
P: My family is dead. Except for Katniss and Haymitch.
A: Yes. [pause] Will you tell me about them?
P: About Katniss and Haymitch?
A: About your family, Peeta.
[The subject shifts uneasily, avoiding the topic.]
P: Not yet. Please. I can't talk about them yet. I don't really talk about them.



Snowmelt starts earlier in the Capitol than it does in District Twelve. By the end of March, the snow is gone and flowers are starting to come up, more like the end of April at home. There's a constant sound of trickling water coming down from the mountains through the arroyos, and a smell in the air of fresh soil.

It's not just the weather that's thawing, either. The schools are open. The university was largely destroyed, but professors have been holding small classes in their homes or, for art teachers, in any studio space they can find. There is quiet, almost awed, talk about opening the hiking trails on time, and maybe starting to fix up the ski slopes for next year. A ferry has been running steadily between the Capitol and District Three, over the cold waters of the lake, but now they're talking about fixing up any boats that weren't destroyed, and starting up pleasure cruises when it's really warm. The large amusement park that once stood on the lake shore was destroyed by the bombings, but people have started to build a few simple rides there again, and children are playing on re-built swing sets and slides. Construction crews are working on the larger projects, and the sounds of machinery and workers calling back and forth to each other are the constant soundtrack of the streets.

The winter of the war is coming to an end.

I breathe in deeply as I leave the little bakery where I've been spending most of my mornings and head for the bus stop. The job isn't a full time thing, or even a paid thing. I just smelled the cinnamon rolls one morning on my way home from art class, and I was completely swallowed by my memories. I collapsed onto the curb and started to cry. This hasn't been an unusual sight in the Capitol this year. For the first few weeks after Snow and Coin died, it was hard to go a block without seeing someone weeping inconsolably on a street corner, unsure of anything in the world. I'd comforted people before it happened to me, and I continued to do it pretty regularly until the shock finally tapered off.

When I was the one on the curb, the person that came out was the baker, a wiry woman with almond-shaped eyes and glossy black hair. Her name is Annona Lee, and after she recognized me, she asked if I'd like to come in and help her knead the evening's loaves. I went with her. We've never had a long and meaningful conversation about this, or anything else, but every morning when I show up, she finds something for me to do. It feels good, and normal. She has a lot of recipes that I've never heard of, and to my surprise, it's mutual. Like any business people, we're leery of sharing secrets, but the subject of trading has come up. I won't give her any of Dad's recipes, but I trade her the cheese buns I developed for a really good steamed bun with barbecued pork.

Katniss will like them.

If I go back.

I stop walking and take a few deep breaths. The idea that I might stay here, build my own bakery, go to the university, maybe even start dating again… it keeps coming up, like a little alien speaking in my head. Except that it's not. I've had alien things in my head. This isn't one of them. It's just disorienting. I still love Katniss. I always will. But so much has happened. Maybe too much. I always felt that, if I didn't make it work, I'd jitter apart at the seams, not knowing who I was. I wasn't lying when I told her on the beach that, without her, I had nothing. I'd have had the people I already had, but I wouldn't have had any reason for my life.

I'm just not sure that's true anymore. I want to be with her, and it will hurt if I've lost her, but there could be something on the other side. I would still be me.

Is the me I am here the one who counts? I don't know. Every time I think, I could make a life here, I remember her holding me tight and begging me not to let Snow take me away from her. I remember her kiss, when we came back up from the sewers after Finnick died. All of the false things rose up in my mind then, clamoring for my attention, but she didn't let me go. And I found some deep center of myself that was me underneath them all. It was the first time in months that I'd really found something solid to hold on to, and I will always love her for knowing it was there, in spite of everything I'd done.

But all of the false things are wrapped around her, too. Can I ever really sort out what's real if we're together? Dr. Aurelius thinks it's a bad idea for me to go back to her until I have a very firm grip on my own reality as a separate person. ”And, Peeta, you have to let that separate person become who he needs to be. Even if it's without her."

I shake it off and start moving again, turning the corner to the bus stop. I could afford a car and Plutarch taught me to drive one day, but there's no point to it. The buses are running fine, and I don't mind walking the distance between stops. I even run a little bit now.

"Morning, Peeta," the bus driver says when I board.

"Hey, Portunes. Right on time."

"Have to keep up my reputation." He nods toward the back. "Your cousin's been riding around waiting for you."

I look up. Aurelian Benz waves to me awkwardly. My cousin. A quick genetic scan proved it, but I still have a hard time feeling him as family, and I think he feels the same. He suggested that I use his nickname, Aurrie, since his real name sounds too much like my doctor's, but it still feels forced, especially since there's only one other person in the world who calls him that.

It's even worse with our shared grandfather Justinian, who I can't make myself call "Gramps," no matter how hard he tries. This may be because the first time I met him, Aurrie and I were bailing him out of the lower security wing of the same prison I spent weeks in as Snow's special guest. The usual city prisons were mostly destroyed during the war. I didn't mention that to Haymitch or Ruth. They were testy enough with him already. The Peacekeepers had picked him up for running an illegal dice game in the park. ("At least they don't know the game," Aurrie said later on, as we sat on my apartment balcony, eating pasta and looking out over the lake at sunset. "So they missed that the dice were loaded.")

I didn't know he was my grandfather before we left that day. I just went along because Aurrie was mortified to have been called away from a refugee charity center for business like that, and I wanted him to know that no one hated him. Also, because I doubted he had taxi fare, and the buses don't run all the way out to that prison. He was looking away, brick red, for half the trip, then he said, "Peeta, there's something you should probably know about Gramps."

In the month since then, Justinian has told me his stories, and I've told him mine (from a distance; I can't seem to talk about them up close). He doesn't remind me of Mom at all, and is heartbroken to learn about her less than kind streak. I like him, though. He's a nice old man, in his way. He reminds me a little bit of Ed, I guess: physically imposing, a little touchy, but trying to muddle through a sense of "being good" that doesn’t always come naturally to him. He's trying to straighten out, working for the government to help them spot other old cons, but Aurrie has warned me not to get my hopes up.

I pass a few of the other morning regulars and we smile at each other, but no one says anything. I finally reach Aurrie and sit down beside him. "You could just come into Annona's place," I say. "You don't have to just ride the bus until I get on."

"I don't have money for baked goods."

"You can just say you're coming to meet me. It's okay."

"I might have, um… stolen some food from her once. When I was ten."

I roll my eyes. "I'll smooth it over. What's going on? Is… is he in jail again?"

"Nah. He's still being a good boy. I was just wondering… never mind."

"What?"

He closes his eyes. "Can I crash at your place? My landlord decided that there were too many of us living in that attic."

"There are lots of apartments…"

"I can't even afford the cheap ones, and I don't want to live with Gramps. He's just got one room. Tazzy said I could stay over at their place, but that's… awkward. She dumped me. I mean, she's not mad, but it's weird."

"She dumped you?"

He holds his hands up helplessly. "The accusation was along the lines of me thinking she's doing very well, for an ex-prostitute."

"What?"

"Beats me. I think she's embarrassed that I know how she used to make a living. I'd think that would be one awkward thing out of the way." He sighs. "What do I know?"

I smile. "Well, you know you've got a cousin with an apartment that has an extra room. That's a start."

"Thanks. It'll just be until I find some job that pays better than sweeping the restaurant."

"You can have the place if I go back to Twelve."

"You don't need to give me stuff."

"I don't need to sell it, either, and it's already paid for." I shrug. "Come on. I don't feel like I earned what they pay me as a victor. Let me spend it, at least."

"I think you earned it a few times over."

I don't argue. It's kind of pointless. Other people have long since decided that they know what I deserve and don't deserve. They don't all agree about it, which is one of the reasons I keep a low profile. I save more than half of each month's salary, in case the government abruptly decides I need to start paying it back.

The bus glides around the corner and into my neighborhood. It's neither the candy-colored lakeside neighborhood where Effie lives nor the foothills where houses like Gale's Capitol place command stunning views across the city. It's not far from the neighborhood Haymitch calls the Grove, the place he brought me when I was injured. I visit with our old sponsors as often as I can. They're nice ladies, and they seem to appreciate a friendly face now and then. I repainted the portraits of Miss Buttery's ancestors that the soldiers destroyed, and I plan to make one of her as well.

I don't sleep much.

My apartment is the top two floors of a narrow stone building that looks out on a well-tended Capitol park. Beetee says it's the park where he and Haymitch and Chaff used to play chess with the little old men, who've come tentatively back out to feed the birds. The bus pauses at a stop light near a group of them, and one recognizes me and waves. I wave back before it moves on to my actual stop. Aurrie and I get off, passing a few words with Portunes on the way. As the bus moves on, we go up the steps, and I thumb the lock pad. The door opens. We take the small, gilt elevator upstairs.

"Where's your stuff?" I ask Aurrie as we go into the apartment. The entrance way goes up both stories to a skylight, and it's actually very pleasant.

"It's at Gramps's place. Is it okay for him to bring it over later?"

I roll my eyes. "As of ten minutes ago, you live here. You don't need to ask."

He goes to the phone and calls our grandfather, and I make lunch for all three of us. I put on a potato based soup I made to simmer and put a fresh loaf of bread in the oven. It was rising while I worked this morning. I was afraid it might have been out too long, but from the look of it, it should be fine. When I get it baking, I go back out to the entryway. Aurrie is looking around at my canvases from class, limping from one to another. (He's joked that he's still just a wannabe, even mimicking my limp, but the truth is, I've adjusted to my artificial leg better than he's adjusted to his injured one.)

"What are you going to paint next?" he asks me.

"I don't know," I say. "My professor made me scrape my last canvas. He says I'm still doing figurative art."

"Meaning…?"

"Meaning he thinks I'm trying to hide portraits and illustrations in my abstracts."

"And that's bad because…?"

I shrug. "He's not a snob about it. He just thinks I already know that kind of painting, and he wants me to stretch and do something different, so I have some new tools. It's not a bad thing."

"Oh."

I can't think of anything else to say, so I fall back on the old standby: School. "What have you got going on in class?"

"I have to do a presentation on the detonation of nuclear devices in the upper atmosphere."

"Why did anybody think that was a good idea?"

"To keep the bombs from landing on cities," he says. "They were detonated before they hit their targets. They decided to risk likely damage to the atmosphere to avoid definite destruction on the ground. A couple of countries just kept doing it over and over. The weird part is, the bombs weren't even flying at them. They were trying to stop them from hitting other people."

"So… if someone aimed a gun at you and I knocked it away, you'd think I was weird?"

"That's pretty much why everyone does think you're weird."

"As opposed to you, of course." I grin. "You'd just pretend to be a target and try to get them shoot you instead."

"And then I'd get Haymitch to lie and say I was really dead. Again."

I laugh a little bit, though it's still kind of a ghost-house in my head. While we were making our way across town to kill Snow, we saw the report of Aurrie's "death" on television. I recognized him, and I knew he'd done it deliberately to distract people from where I really was, and I felt terrible about it. I only found out later that he was alive. The rebellion managed to pull that lie off pretty well. It was Haymitch's doing, like most of the things that actually worked properly. He wanted to make the mobs in the Capitol realize how far overboard they had gone, and they did. By the time we were making the final push through the city, not one person came after me at all, even though I'm pretty sure I was recognized a few times. One kid about my age asked if I needed a place to hide. I didn't take him up on it, of course. I decided that, if I couldn't be martyr as a distraction for Katniss's scheme, maybe I could find a soldier to shoot at me near the mansion.

I try now to remember how that felt, the desire to cease to be, but I can't bring it back in any more than an academic way. I'd finally found myself again, and I was deeply ashamed at everything I'd done. I was afraid that the hijacking would never go away, and I might hurt Katniss, so it would be better for me to die. But almost dying seems to have cured me entirely, not of the false memories, but of any desire to give in to them.

And maybe you can do something other than be a martyr for Katniss.

The thought comes again, in one of its many forms. Do I want to stay here? Do I want to try a life not tied to hers?

Dr. Aurelius thinks I need to, if I'm really going to find myself. He told me to start dating again. There's a girl form District Three in my art class, the daughter of a sound engineer who moved her after the war. She's very beautiful. Her name is Wenna, and we've laughed about some of the more ridiculous propaganda art the our professor has shown us. She's made it clear that she's interested in me, and she knows more about paintbrushes than she does about the Hunger Games.

It would be a relief. Just do it.

"Peeta?"

I look up. Aurrie is watching me with some concern, and I realize that I'm leaning forward, holding onto the back of a chair. I don't know how long I've been like this. "Sorry," I say.

"I didn't mean to…"

I wave it off. "Don't worry about it."

Justinian arrives a few minutes later, and we all have a pleasant enough lunch together. It's hard to think of these two people being related to Mom. It would be easier to believe it if they were related to Dad.

After lunch, Justinian goes home, and Aurrie gets to work on his presentation about nukes. It's due on Monday, and he's only got the paper part of it done. There was a good computer terminal in this apartment when I bought it and I get him settled on it to work on his visual aids, then I get started on my painting for the afternoon. I can't think of anything abstract for class, so I work on my portrait of Miss Buttery. It's sketched out by the time I lose the natural light. I have decent full-spectrum artificial lighting here (I plan to install it in my studio in Twelve… if I go back), but it seems like as good a time as any to set it aside.

The first episode of the re-created soap opera, Seagull Point, is on tonight. It opens up in the same big mansion where it was centered while Snow was in charge, and Valerian Vale's character is standing with his back to the camera, looking out over the city. A portrait of Mimi Meadowbrook's character hangs beside him. I painted it from his old pictures, and from watching two seasons during sleepless nights las month. He was a sponsor. It seemed like the least I could do. Another one of the old characters is talking in the background.

"I just don't understand how anything works anymore, Caius," he says. "All the rules are different. All the things we knew are gone. Everything's changed."

Valerian turns to the camera and says, "Maybe not everything."

He grins broadly, and the credits come up. They look remarkably similar to the old credits, though there are now a great many shots of vans bringing in furniture as the new, presumably district-native characters move into their upscale Capitol homes. These are mixed in with the usual shots of the skyline, the lake, and characters taking their clothes off.

Aurrie comes out, and after the show, we talk about what should be on. He wants science fiction. I want sports.

"You do?" he asks. "I mean… I wouldn't think you'd want games."

"I mean real sports. The kind where there's a silver medal. And a bronze one."

"What?"

"You know, the kind where people who don't win get to go home and try again next year."

"Imagine that."

We continue in this vein for a while, trying to figure out what kind of sports would work, and how to set them up when so many of the districts are smashed to rubble. Neither one of us points it out, but I think we both know that if Plutarch hasn't come up with some fairly large spectacle by summer, people will start feeling antsy without the Games.

Aurelian goes to bed a little after midnight. I try to, but I toss and turn for forty minutes and end up back in my studio. I fall asleep at some point in the small hours, but I'm up around dawn, as always. Annona will expect me at work.
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Comments
From: (Anonymous) Date: February 24th, 2016 11:10 am (UTC) (Link)

I'm confused what you think is wrong with it

Okay, there is no shooting or stabbing or Angst, but it's hardly just Peeta shopping for groceries. Just in this chapter, I see Peeta healing.

Two things I'd like to see in later chapters:

1) Peeta gets Aurrie and Tazzy back together.

2) Peeta goes on a date with the D03 girl. Directly or indirectly, this date helps Peeta realize he wants to be with Katniss.

-- Tom
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 25th, 2016 06:57 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: I'm confused what you think is wrong with it

Well, he says he didn't date... but hey, it's Peeta. Lying is not out of the question. ;p

I like what's here, but the problem on my end is that it isn't coalescing into anything at the moment.
From: (Anonymous) Date: February 24th, 2016 12:33 pm (UTC) (Link)

You're Being...

Your own worst critic. I thought this was great. You do interiority very well and Peeta's gradual mental recovery comes across very well too.

Sara Libby
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 25th, 2016 06:58 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: You're Being...

It's not that I don't like it. I actually do. I just... it doesn't seem to be heading anywhere!
vesta_aurelia From: vesta_aurelia Date: February 25th, 2016 05:45 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: You're Being...

Healing the interior doesn't have a trajectory. Peeta may never be able to give you a plot for this--it's just his "dust pile" as Valancy Snaith might say.
From: (Anonymous) Date: February 25th, 2016 07:32 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: You're Being...

OMG! I don't think I have ever seen someone reference "The Blue Castle" before! That's one of my favorite books!

Sara Libby
Tracy Wood From: Tracy Wood Date: February 27th, 2016 04:14 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: You're Being...

It's one of my favorites too.
From: (Anonymous) Date: February 24th, 2016 01:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
"Is the me I am here the one who counts?"
That sentence looks a bit awkward.

Other than that, things are looking really good so far. Really like seeing both the recovery of Peeta and the Capitol, as well as the former interactions with Aurelian.
Will have a more detailed review when it's up on AO3.

-- FFR
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 25th, 2016 06:58 am (UTC) (Link)
That sentence is a little weird, definitely.
From: (Anonymous) Date: February 24th, 2016 04:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
YAY, I'm excited!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 25th, 2016 06:59 am (UTC) (Link)
Glad to hear it!
redrikki From: redrikki Date: February 24th, 2016 06:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
We'll, it's certainly not high drama, but I don't think it needs to be. It's just a damaged kid getting his head on straight with a little help from near strangers trying to be friend.

A couple of typos though: the daughter of a sound engineer who moved her after the war

watching two seasons during sleepless nights las month
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 25th, 2016 06:59 am (UTC) (Link)
Um... maybe the sound engineer just picked her up and moved her? ;p

Just kidding, got it.
From: (Anonymous) Date: February 25th, 2016 05:59 am (UTC) (Link)
Okay, come to think of it, I have a slight in-universe quibble:
Why did the third parties detonate the nukes instead of simply shooting them down? Because if you destroy or even slightly damage a nuclear bomb, the device is rendered useless due to the process needed to actually set off a nuclear reaction; the material needed for the reaction itself is so small that any radiation released would be negligible.
... Unless that third party was desperate enough to fire nukes to destroy the nukes. ... Comprehensible, though absolutely foolish on their part.

-- FFR
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 25th, 2016 07:02 am (UTC) (Link)
Given the facts on the ground in canon, people were making horrible decisions. The whole human race being reduced to the population of Panem, the atmosphere so damaged that planes can't fly... it sounds like the whole planet lost its damned mind for a while.

It would be much saner to just disable the nukes, and would have made the most sense to send in strike teams and disable the launching devices. Alas, it doesn't account for the situation, so someone must have done something monumentally stupid.
sonetka From: sonetka Date: February 25th, 2016 09:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
I really enjoyed it -- maybe it meanders a little but I prefer to think of it as taking the scenic route :). Mentally this has to be by far the best thing for Peeta as well.

And he's right about Plutarch needing to come up with some sort of Games substitute. Really, having the Games cease to exist is bit like wiping Christmas off the calendar, in terms of the buildup and general excitement. If you don't put something new and good in there, people will get restless and start improvising their own entertainments.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 26th, 2016 06:15 am (UTC) (Link)
It's definitely the scenic route, but I'm having a hard time feeling where it ends as a story, other than "on the way back to 12."

I just looked at Panem and thought, man, the total centrality of the Games to the culture, even in the districts who hated them, would make a serious vacuum when they ended. Seems like an ideal time to re-start the Olympics and/or make serious summer blockbusters. Or maybe they need to implement a big, lavish holiday around that time of year, something that would mimic the cultural function of the Games (a patriot thing with a lot of pageantry) but that doesn't lead to a lot of kids dying. They could have district fairs, where a king and queen of the fair are crowned (in lieu of tributes), and a great deal could be made of the festivities. It could be the Freedom Fair or something. Of course, centuries later, when it's an ingrained tradition that means something to everyone, scholars would then sneer that it was "merely" a sop to replace the Hunger Games.
sonetka From: sonetka Date: February 26th, 2016 06:33 am (UTC) (Link)
Cue all the seasonal articles about how the new holiday isn't "authentic" and that it was merely an artificial construct designed to push out the organic, authentic Hunger Games, which, while they may have led to a regrettable loss of life, nonetheless arose from real emotion and ritualism and weren't fueled by -- gasp -- commercial interests and greeting card companies! (Conveniently forgetting the tie-in merchandising and the tons of money made off of gifts etc).
Tracy Wood From: Tracy Wood Date: February 27th, 2016 04:13 am (UTC) (Link)
It seemed like the whole economy of the Capital was based on the games. It kind of makes you wonder how that would recover.
From: (Anonymous) Date: February 27th, 2016 04:56 am (UTC) (Link)
I think this is great. Peta had an incredible amount of healing to do after everything. The only thing he was holding onto was Katniss, in both good ways and bad. I really like the idea of him finding his way without her, and in doing so, finding his way back to her. Finding that...stability and sense of self would be so important to him remembering who he was and incorporating that into the man he is becoming.
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