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HG: Golden Mean, Chapter Three - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
HG: Golden Mean, Chapter Three
Still haven't come up with a good name for the whole piece. Any suggestions?

We left off with Haymitch seeing Katniss turning back and heading for the Verandah in District Eleven when he hears gunfire.

Chapter Three
"It's gunfire," I whisper. I look across at the screen and see nothing but static. I haven't really been watching since the first bunch raised their hands, just picking up what I could see through the door.

"Don't be ridiculous," Effie says, looking mildly curious and very confused. It's better for her to stay confused. She has any number of irritating traits and her priorities are severely skewed, but she doesn't need to be in line for interrogation if we're pulled in. She doesn't know anything, and no matter how irritating she is, she doesn't deserve to be tortured.

Cinna looks toward the door anxiously. "Katniss..."

I don't have a chance to imagine that Katniss has been assassinated, though a few more seconds would have done it. Peeta pulls her inside, saying, "We get it, all right! Come on, Katniss." Outside, I see a wall of white uniforms forming in front of the door.

Effie hurries over to Katniss and Peeta and asks them what happened. The fact that she didn't notice anything amiss after Katniss finished her speech--and the feed was definitely still on when the old man whistled--tells me that my hunch is right, that in the Capitol, the people are entirely in the dark about what's happening in the districts. They're probably in awe of the sentiment of recalling Rue, and it never crosses their minds that Rue's death made her family and friends angry.

Somehow, Katniss picks up that Effie isn't to know (another thing I probably should have mentioned to her, but I didn't expect a demonstration this soon), and tells her that there was truck backfire. The "truck" backfires twice more. I think of Seeder and Chaff, moving through the crowd outside.

I raise my voice. "Both of you. With me."

I take them upstairs, ostensibly to get them to their prep room, but I don't stop there any longer than it takes to drop their things off. Chaff has sat on the council in Eleven, and has a key to the Justice Building. When I've come here before, he's let us in. The building is mostly under surveillance, but the top of the rotunda is generally clear. It's a roundabout route through the decaying old manse and it's been six years since my last trip here, but I remember it well enough. I sometimes think my life would be a lot easier if I didn't remember as well as I do. I reach the trap door and shoo them through, then climb up after them and close it.

"What happened?" I ask them.

Most of what Peeta tells me, I saw. Apparently, he and Katniss went back because she forgot her flowers, and they saw the old man who whistled being dragged up onto the Verandah and shot. "What's going on, Haymitch?" he asks.

I need time to think. If Thirteen were ready, if Plutarch weren't stalling to make a statement during the Quell, if Beetee already had control of the airwaves, I'd tell them everything. But none of those things is true, and I can't afford for Katniss to fly off the handle any more than she already has, and, if I'm going to be honest, I'm not entirely sure where Peeta would stand, and I don't trust his family at all. His father was one of us, but he's also convinced that this is what got Peeta Reaped in the first place (possibly Prim as well, if the Capitol believed some scurrilous local rumors). His mother... the less said the better. I buy time by asking Katniss to explain everything, at least as she understands it.

It's not that I think either of them would consciously betray us. Katniss hates the Capitol as much as any Rebel, and Peeta is outraged at injustice in general. But they're young, they're idealistic, and young and idealistic people tend to make stupid mistakes that we can't afford.

Like giving a month's winnings to a rival district.

Peeta understands this at least. "Then I made things worse, too," he says as Katniss finishes. "By giving the money."

I'm about to try and make him feel better--I'm not totally heartless, I guess, at least not when it comes to these two--but then he sends a lamp across the room. He just swipes it off a table and sends it shattering to the floor. I'm too astounded to come up with anything. I've seen his father throw things, and I've seen his mother take swings at people, but somehow, it never occurred to me that steady, reliable Peeta really came from that house in any meaningful sense.

"This has to stop," he says. "Right now. This... this... game you two play, where you tell each other secrets but keep them from me like I'm too inconsequential or stupid or weak to handle them."

I rub my head. Exhibit one about young idealists. It's always about them, when it's not.

His next point, however, is more sensible--he does have family and friends in District Twelve, and even if he's not in on things, Snow will assume it and kill them just as dead as anyone else. I try to calm him down by suggesting that it's just because Katniss isn't as good as he is on camera--which is very true--but he's not buying it, and he's probably right not to buy it.

"Well, you overestimated me," he says. "Because I really screwed up today. What do you think is going to happen to Rue's and Thresh's families? Do you think they'll get their share of our winnings? Do you think I gave them a bright future? Because I think they'll be lucky if they survive the day!" He grabs a bust of some old general, probably older than Panem, and shatters it against the wall. If he doesn't calm down, they're going to find us up here.

"He's right, Haymitch," Katniss says, and I can hear the death of the rebellion this. "We were wrong not to tell him. Even back in the Capitol."

Perfect. Just perfect. Katniss thinks she knows everything, which was the danger of her knowing anything. And now, they're re-hashing the arena. Now. Peeta could have chosen any moment in the last several months to get it off his chest that he was angry at me for not sending anything. But he chooses now. In the middle of District Eleven, surrounded by Peacekeepers and cameras.

Yeah. These are the kids we're pinning the whole rebellion on.

We're bastards.

I'm ready to remind him that he's the one who wanted all the sponsor gifts to go to Katniss, but he beats me to it. "I know you had to choose one of us, and I'd have wanted it to be her. But this is something different. People are dead out there. More will follow unless we're very good." He has a point, though I'm annoyed enough that I'm tempted to remind him that people were dead in the arena, too, some because sponsor chose to give their money to me instead of another mentor. But he surprises me again by visibly calming himself. He's still angry, but he takes a deep breath, and says something more practical than I'd have given him credit for: "We all know I'm better than Katniss in front of the cameras. No one needs to coach me on what to say. But I have to know what I'm walking into."

"From now on, you'll be fully informed," I say. This is flatly a lie--it's too dangerous for either of them to know all of what's going on--but he'll certainly know as much as Katniss does. For one thing, he's right. He's good, but he needs to know the endgame of what he's saying if it's going to turn things in the right direction. For another, she's not going to know as much as I planned on telling her.

He storms off.

Katniss stays. She crosses her arms and looks down at her pin. "Did you choose me, Haymitch?" she asks.

I shrug. "Yeah."

"Why? You like him better."

At the moment, I'm irritated with both of them, but none of it is their fault. And the whole question of who I like better seems so trivial--and frankly, weird--that I just go with it. Besides, this summer, Katniss will have to make choices of her own. Not just the one Snow is forcing her to make about her own life, but ones that the Games will force her to make about someone else's life.

"Come on," I say, when there's nothing left to be said. "We have a dinner to attend."

We go downstairs. I have a feeling I won't be able to use the rotunda again. Katniss goes to her shower, and I go to the room next door, where Peeta is supposed to be getting ready. Instead, he's peering out the window, trying to see what's happening.

"Don't yell at Katniss," I tell him.

He turns. "What?"

"It's not her fault. She's doing what I told her. Be mad at me."

"Oh, I'm mad at you."

"Good. But you know... Katniss is out on a ledge. Don't push her off it. I know you've got people, too, but she's the one Snow threatened face to face."

He looks argumentative, but finally nods. "All right. I know, all right? And don't think I don't know there's more you're not telling either one of us."

I don't say anything.

Peeta shakes his head. "Just tell me one thing, Haymitch. Is it important enough?"

"Yeah. It's important enough."

"Okay. But warn me if I'm in a minefield."

I nod and go on to my prep room. I don't get the full treatment this time--apparently "rakish" takes less work than looking young and beautiful. I just put on my suit and go out to the main sitting room. Cinna and Portia are going over Katniss and Peeta's costumes while their prep teams fret at the preliminary work. I drift by and say, "Any word?" I point vaguely at the costumes, like my question might have something to do with them. I have no idea what.

Cinna straightens the pink dress he's working on and says, "We need to take it in one inch, but I was afraid of three. One's not good, but three would be worse."

I have no idea how to code a question about what the other two gunshots did, if they didn't kill anyone, so I just look briefly at Peeta's suit and compliment Portia on her proportions. I might go on with this nonsensical conversation forever, but a door slams above, and I look up to see Effie Trinket stumbling toward a railing, rubbing her shoulder. "I'm a representative of the Capitol!" she shouts at the closed door. "You can't treat me like that!"

Welcome to District Eleven, I think, but don't say. "You all right, Effie?" I call.

She comes down the spiral staircase to where we are and says, "I just don't care for this place." Her face lights up when she sees Cinna's dress. "Oh, my, Katniss will be stunning in that! Make sure she smiles."

Cinna and Portia go to deliver the clothes.

Effie sits down, tense, on a velvet couch that was probably luxurious before the moths got to it. "I don't understand how they can treat us like this," she says. "Haymitch, you have to do something."

"Sweetheart, if a Capitol pedigree doesn't help you, a drunk victor from District Twelve isn't going to have much to offer."

"How many times do I have to tell you to stop saying nasty things about yourself?"

"That's your job?"

She nods primly, and I smile. I don't like her much, but what the hell, maybe she is my friend.

Everyone comes down a few minutes later, and Katniss wins her way back into my good books by somehow beating Peeta to the punch on calming Effie down, by treating her problem like it's the most important thing in the world. Peeta smiles at her. She smiles back tentatively.

Effie arranges us for the procession to enter. She puts herself behind the prep teams, second to least in importance, which is endearing. I thought she'd want to walk with me, right in front of Katniss and Peeta.

We sweep down what was once a grand staircase into an old hall that still maintains some of its flash. There is good food, both Capitol dishes and the unadorned folk dishes of District Eleven. They clear the tables after it for dancing. Katniss and Peeta lead the dance, and put on a good performance.

A muscular but pretty young woman in a waiter's uniform taps me on the shoulder, and I have the absurd impression that I'm going to be asked to dance, but instead, she says, "I thought you might like some air."

I frown, but she flashes her hand open. There's a piece of paper in it with Katniss's mockingjay drawn on it. We go back through the kitchens, pretending that she's flirting with me and I’m not objecting, and she casually drops the paper into an incinerator as we head for the back door.

"Think we can sneak away from the cameras, sweetheart?" I ask, keeping up the pretense by slapping her backside.

"Think we're already clear," she says, "and if you do that again, I'll rip your arm off." She smiles pleasantly.

From the shadows behind the justice building, a huge, hulking form appears.

"Chaff!" I say. "Thought I wasn't going to see you. I didn't get any word. About anything."

He jerks his head toward a shadowy grove of trees along a slow-moving creek. The girl and I follow.

In the grove, there are benches, and Chaff points to them. He sits across from us. "You didn't get any word," he says, "because we didn't have anything planned."

"You didn't," the girl says bitterly.

"And I told you and McKissack to keep it private."

"What good is private? She risked having them send another fireball at her or dry up her water just to show respect to Rue's body. On national television. We're not going to sneak around about thanking her."

Chaff stares at her for a long time, then shakes his head. "You have no idea what you're doing, Winnow. You or McKissack."

"What's going on?" I ask.

"This is Winnow Robinson," he says. "Thresh's sister."

"Twin sister," Winnow clarifies. "I saw your girl mourn my brother. They tried to pass it off as her being tired, but she was mourning him. I saw it. Who else ever did that in the arena? We owed her something. Rue's dad thought so, too."

Chaff glares at her. "What the two of you got her was one man dead on her account and two women injured."

"Who?" I ask.

"I don't know yet," Chaff says. "They were taken away before anyone identified them."

"And the dead man?"

"I never saw him before."

"We called him the Collector," Winnow says. "He was always going around talking about paying our debts to the people we owed them to, even if we never got paid what we were owed. Things like that. He goes around and preaches about it on rest days. He used to work with Thresh in the fields. They put him in the orchards when he shrank, so he knew Rue's family, too. He told both of us that we couldn't let the debt go unpaid."

Chaff grinds his teeth. "Well, he sure paid, didn't he?"

"He said everyone owes a death in the end. He said--"

I interrupt by asking Chaff, "So what you're telling me is that that whole business on the Verandah... you had nothing to do with it?"

"I told them not to do it. Winnow's been with us for a while now--"

"Since my parents died," she says.

"--and she used to be smarter than this."

"I used to have a brother to watch out for."

There's a certain absurdity to big, powerful Thresh being "watched out for," but I don't mention it. I just say, "This is no time for splits. And it's no time to put even more attention on Eleven."

"I pay my debts," Winnow says. "Same as my brother did, and same as your girl does."

I rub my head, and think again about young idealists. "And it's paid," I say. "So lie low until Chaff tells you otherwise."

"Oh, aren't we getting structured!" Winnow grumbles.

"We better get structured," Chaff tells her. "Did you see what happened out there to your Collector? They didn't care that he was old, or that he owed anyone anything. Next time, it could be your MawMaw. Or one of McKissack's other little girls. And there won't be anyone to cover her in flowers this time."

Winnow looks chastened, but still defiant. She stares out at the river, blinking back tears. "She saw it," she says. "Katniss saw it. Even if no one else ever does. She knows we're on her side."

"You scared the hell out of her," I say.

She gets up and rushes off into the night.

"Hothead," Chaff says.

"Dangerous," I agree. "I'm surprised they hired her to work the dinner."

"They didn't. I got her the uniform to sneak her in. She's a hothead, but she's one of us. If I don't keep her busy, she'll find some other trouble to get into."

"And they didn't notice that someone they didn't hire was out there? The sister of one of the tributes?"

Chaff gives me a bitter smile. "What do you expect, Haymitch? They can't be expected to tell one of us from another. Fine people like the mayor aren't going to be looking at a bunch of field hands and tree squirrels very closely, anyway, are they?"

There's nothing to say to this. The class system in District Eleven makes the divide between the Seam and the town in Twelve look like child's play. Chaff and I talk for a while, then I realize I need to get back before my absence is noted. He mutters, "See you at the Games, then," and vanishes the way Winnow went. I go back inside.

There are drinks to be had, and I have them, but Valentine's sobriety pills are still working, and whatever alcohol is in them gets absorbed. I pretend to be drunk anyway, in case anyone saw me sneak away. I can act like I was just imbibing the private store I wish I'd thought to bring.

We get back to the train before eleven, and Katniss and Peeta drop their feigned joy before they even sit down. Effie has a wire from the Capitol with an official speech that they're meant to give at every venue. There are even helpful stage directions. They are not to deviate from it or improvise in any way. They set about memorizing it.

District Ten goes off without a hitch. The ranchers are polite and respectful. The food is great. Katniss and Peeta make a show of being caught trying to sneak out for a necking session. They're doing well enough that even I'm not sure whether they actually were having one.

District Nine, which mills a lot of the grain grown in District Eleven, couldn't be more different in personality. They're brow-beaten and miserable, and haven't had hope of a victor for years. The kids don't do anything spectacular here. No one would believe District Nine makes anyone feel romantic. I'm surprised they manage to propagate themselves there.

It's Eight I'm worried about. Cecilia brings fabric to Cinna, making a great show of wanting to get a sneak peak at Katniss's dresses. Inside the fabric, there's a note that there have already been minor clashes with Peacekeepers. There is also a note that says "East Room, Justice Hall, camera broken." Cecilia taps it when she says, "There are people here who'd sure love to meet Peeta, if you can swing it."

This surprises me, since Peeta killed one of their tributes in the Games and used her death to secure his standing in the Careers (not that she didn't give a blessing for this before sending him on his way). He has been obsessed with this, and had Effie sending him things since we got home to tell him who the girl was and what she was about. I don't know much about it. I know she was a little crazy at the end from the pain, muttering about rock-men and shushing someone who wasn't there. If they want Peeta to give them a more thorough accounting, I think they'll be disappointed. I doubt he'd have needed to go on a search for her identity if she'd told him anything comprehensible.

I consider denying it, or pretending not to know what Cecilia means, but in the end, I don't feel like this is something I have a right to hide from him. While Katniss is going through one of her longer pre-dinner preps (apparently, her body hair has started to grow back in, causing panic in the ranks of stylists and beauticians), I tell him that there may be someone in the East Room for him. Sure enough, when we get there, there is a woman with curly red hair, a bearded man, and a skinny young boy with glasses.

The man stands up and holds his hand out to Peeta. "I'm Foulard Green," he says. "This is my wife, Heddle. You... you... "

Peeta looks stricken. "I killed your daughter Kersey," he says, his eyes filling up. He gets to his knees in front of Green. "I'm so sorry. I wish I could have done anything else."

I wait for the explosion, and get ready to guard Peeta, or drag him out of here.

Green puts his hand gently on Peeta's head. "You couldn't have. Do you remember what she whispered at the end, when you touched her with the knife?"

"Something about rocks," he says, his voice thick. "I'm sorry, I didn't understand what she said!"

Green smiles softly and urges Peeta onto one of the couches, then pulls a chair close to sit across from him. "She wasn't talking to you. She was using an old language. I won't say which. She was speaking to us. She said 'merciful.' She knew the Capitol wouldn't understand and wouldn't cut it out. She was telling us that you were acting out of mercy."

"I still wish I could have saved her. I found out everything." He looks at the boy. "Are you Jakob?"

He nods. "She was my girlfriend. And you couldn't have done anything. That's why we wanted to meet you. So you know we understand. Cato and that girl really killed her. You just stopped her suffering."

Heddle Green comes forward and pulls something from her purse. It looks like a top. "This belonged to Kersey," she says. "It's drop spindle. I don't think you have much use for it, but it was a hobby of hers. Spinning yarn. I'd like you to have it, so you remember. Remember that you did her the last kindness anyone could."

Peeta is crying freely, and his hands are shaking, but he reaches out and takes it reverently. "Thank you, Mrs. Green," he says. "And I'm so sorry about Kersey."

Cecilia comes in. "I'm sorry," she says. "But you have to leave. I kept the Peacekeepers busy as long as I could."

The Greens (and the boy Jacob) each touch Peeta's head once, then slip out through a side entrance and head down a rickety fire escape.

Peeta pulls his knees up and holds the spindle tight. I don't think he even sees Cecilia. I wave her off.

I sit in the chair Foulard Green evacuated and say, "Are you going to be all right?"

"Guess I have to be," he says. "It's almost show time."

"You want to talk?"

He shakes his head. "What's to talk about? I don't want to talk. I want to go find Katniss."

"You going to talk to her about it?"

"No. This one's mine. I'll handle it. I just... I want Katniss, okay?"

I nod. "Sure."

He goes away, and I stay in the East Room, wondering if Cecilia will come back. She doesn't, but a Peacekeeper finds me and impatiently herds me back to the main rooms, where I get dressed and go down to dinner. Peeta clings to Katniss that night, and I doubt he's given her the slightest idea that it's anything more than their usual act. Pictures are broadcast around Panem.

I don't see the spindle again.

We move on.
11 comments or Leave a comment
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 28th, 2012 12:48 pm (UTC) (Link)

So Awesome

Your writing is so awesome.

Funnily enough, I haven't actually read any of the "Hunger Games," only the passages available on Amazon and the Wikipedia entries. I wasn't interested enough for the whole enchilada. But I love your writing. Always have.

Sara Libby
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 29th, 2012 01:13 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: So Awesome

I wasn't all that hot on it at first, but it made me ask questions. And questions make me look for answers. And... well.

Also, I want my very own Peeta, in an age appropriate form.

Edited at 2012-12-29 01:14 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 28th, 2012 01:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
I haven't had a chance to tell you yet how much I'm enjoying your HG writing. As always to spin the minor details into a fully fleshed and completely believable world that becomes indistinguishable from the book Canon.

I'm currently writing a Wiress (and of course Beetee) story and I can't wait to see what you do with them.

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 29th, 2012 01:15 am (UTC) (Link)
I think they'll be in Chapter 5 (Delly's story was three chapters per act; I think I'm giong for five this time).
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 28th, 2012 04:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wow. You made me cry with this one. I'm so glad I checked your profile the other day. I was thrilled to see you writing hunger games fandom. This is shaping up to be a beautiful story. I love your Haymitch pov, especially his reluctance to get Katniss too involved with the resistance. It's just so believable. Now if only you'd write a song of ice and fire fics. I'd be on cloud 9.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 29th, 2012 01:15 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm glad you checked, too! My fandoms are pretty idiosyncratic, as far when I fall in and out.
hymnia From: hymnia Date: December 29th, 2012 07:48 am (UTC) (Link)
Haymitch makes an interesting narrator on so many levels. Like Katniss, he has that sort of detached empathy that allows the reader to feel for the characters without being overwhelmed by the drama. He's edgier than Katniss, though.

I love what you did with Peeta at the end, with his clinging to Katniss for comfort--and she has no idea. So beautifully heartbreaking.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 29th, 2012 02:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
There were a lot of places in the narrative where I thought that Katniss really sold herself short. She's totally convinced that she doesn't deserve Peeta's love (it's notable that when he gets hijacked, she just assumes he's finally "seen the truth" about her and naturally doesn't love her anymore). She always interprets their interactions as how she's taking comfort from him and he just keeps giving and giving. I'd guess it looks very different from Peeta's eyes, and to other people (like Haymitch).
redlily From: redlily Date: December 31st, 2012 04:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
As for a title recommendation, since it's their victory tour, what popped into my head was "Strange Victory," from the Sara Teasdale poem.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 13th, 2013 04:09 pm (UTC) (Link)

Kersey and Peeta

Don't know if you actually wrote it in a challenge call or in a fic, but what DID Kersey say to Peeta, in her language? What language was it, or, if it doesn't exist, what language was it based on, if any?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 13th, 2013 06:40 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Kersey and Peeta

She said "Merciful" in Hebrew.
11 comments or Leave a comment