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HG: Golden Mean, Chapter Six - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
HG: Golden Mean, Chapter Six
Huh. I was going to make this two-thirds length (three acts with six chapters each), but I think it's going to be full HG length. Who knew?

Anyway, Haymitch was just poisoned by Snow, and has passed out on his office floor.

Chapter Six
The arena is the most beautiful place I have ever been--sprawling vistas to snowy mountains, green and leafy shadows, giant flowers in colors I never dreamed existed. There is something soft and perfumed in the air. It is so far from my dirty, grubby shack in District Twelve--and I am so far from my filthy, grubby self--that I think for a moment that I may already be dead, that I stepped off the platform early and was blown to bits. I have heard some of the miners singing old songs about the "promised land," where people used to believe they'd go when they died (for the miners, this belief is a source of great amusement, though they like the songs), and here, it seems real.

For an instant.

Then I see the others, our vast circle around the Cornucopia. They are still distracted. I give up ideas of paradise, and run for the weapons.

I have gotten halfway to the Cornucopia when I feel the thorns tearing at my ankles. I look down. There are wild roses pulling at me, winding around my legs, dragging me down into the earth. Maysilee Donner grabs a knife and severs my arm when I reach out to her. Beech Berryhill laughs through the hole that's been opened in his throat and throws my arm at me as I'm dragged further from them. Gilla Callan lies in pieces near the thorns. She smiles and says, "Knew you'd never last." Peeta is there, trying to put her back together, but she doesn't seem to care. Katniss is gathering arrows.

The thorns creep up over my face, stabbing me, and suddenly I am thrown downward, down into the place where the prep chambers should be. Instead, I am at the volcano, standing on a rock above the lava, watching half of the Career pack burn to death. One of them is Finnick Odair, and he grins up and says, "I'll always be hotter than you." He winks as the flames sweep through his hair. I look up and see Plutarch Heavensbee, carefully looking at his watch. "We're almost out of time," he says, then he's Katniss, and she has her mockingjay pin in her hand. She reaches out to drop it into the lava, and I scream that she can't, that it's important, that it's Maysilee's and it was supposed to... supposed to...

But I can't finish it. The idea of creating a revolution from a gold pin is absurd, and when Katniss drops it, the lava bursts up in a wave that washes over me, burying me in fire, rolling me down into a fiery mine shaft where Glen Everdeen died. He catches my arm, which has rolled over to him, and re-attaches it with a look of irritation on his face. "Can't you keep track of anything, Abernathy?" he asks bitterly.

The miner beside him is Dannel Mellark, and he glares at me, blue eyes burning from his coal-dark face. "What did you get us into, Haymitch? What did you think you could do? What did we do to my boy?" His miner's clothes disappear, and he is wearing the whites he wears in the bakery, sitting on the floor in my living room and weeping with his head in his hands. "What did we do? How did they know? I can't do this anymore! I won't!"

Glen is still there, tapping at a seam of coal beside my television. He has chiseled it into a likeness of Effie Trinket. He holds up his hand and says, "Quiet! What do you hear?"

There's a deep rushing sound, and look over, unsurprised to see that Maysilee's canary (a bird which I tried to kill in one of my finer moments of instability after the Games) is lying still in its gilded cage.

"Gas leak," Glen says, and then he becomes Katniss, wearing her costume from the tribute parade, and the fake fire ignites the gas in the room, and we are all blown up, out into the universe, and I am cold, locked out in the snow, drunk and disoriented, trying to find my way back to my house in the Seam, even though it's not there. Ruth Everdeen finds me and wraps me in a blanket, but the blanket is ice, and when I tell her that I'm sick, that there's something wrong with me, she says, "Of course there is--you're a worthless drunk, and look what you've done!" She gestures to the ground, where Katniss is lying under the ice, frozen blood pooled out around her head. Peeta is on top of the ice, but he's been cut through with a shard of glass.

"I didn't do it," I tell Ruth. "Please, I didn't..."

"Then who did?"

"I don't know, but I'm so sick, you have to help me..."

"You want help? I'll help you!" She pulls out an ice pick and stabs me in the chest, and she is Digger, of course, Digger with her burned and bloated body, screaming, "I'll help! I'll help!"

The pain slams through me and I yell, and something flickers across my vision, a rich room, a flash of the night sky, Cinna.

Then I am back on the Seam, and sinking into the ice beside Katniss, who turns her head and looks at me. The mockingjay pin is back, and it is stabbed into her throat. When she opens her mouth to speak, a fountain of blood gushes out. She grasps for the pin, pulls it out, then stabs me in the arm with it.

Another flicker of the rich room, so far from the Seam, and "Come on, Haymitch, come out of it."

Under the ice, I know that there is an abyss, and Katniss and I are sinking toward it. She is--somehow--thrashing, screaming that she doesn't want to go, she wants Peeta. She is reaching up, and he is reaching down, but the ice is too thick, and then it gives, and we are falling into nothing and--

I land on my bed in the train. My chest hurts and my arm hurts and my head feels like I've been suddenly sobered up after a three week binge. Cinna is sitting in the velvet chair by the window. Valentine the medic is standing by my bed with a large syringe. She gives me a look that manages to be even colder than the one Ruth Everdeen gave me in my dream. "I don't give you pills just to have you palm them," she says.

"I didn't."

"Effie says she gave you a double dose. They should have absorbed every toxin in the Capitol's wine cellar. Yet you end up drinking yourself just about to death. You're lucky I had more serious de-toxers with me. Effie warned me that you do this."

I grimace. Effie found me close to death ten years ago after a promising tribute died (he misread one of my parachutes and decided that he was supposed to attack the Careers' heavily guarded camp in broad daylight). I'd taken some pills along with a bottle of fine whiskey. She got me out of the training center and to the hospital. She had no business talking about it to Valentine, though at least she still thinks it was an accident. In the Capitol, such accidents happen a lot.

"Will he be okay?" Cinna asks.

"He'll be fine," Valentine says, disgusted. "He'll pretend he's not, but it's just a raging headache, which he's earned. You sit up with him. Don't let him go back to sleep." She leaves.

"What happened?" I ask when the door closes.

"A couple of Capitol attendants found you passed out," he says. "They didn't say where."

I don't offer any information.

"I didn't tell the kids or Effie how bad it was. You were barely breathing. I just got Valentine."

"Thanks. I seem to be alive." This is for the benefit of Snow's bugs, and neither Cinna nor I pretends differently.

There is nothing more to say, at least not on the train.

I stare at the ceiling, trying to decide whether or not to let anyone know what happened. Cinna certainly has guessed, but isn't saying anything. I don't want the kids to know. They have enough problems. I take a deep breath (this causes a wave of nausea that I only barely beat down to keep from vomiting), then lie, "You know, I can't remember where I would've been. I was in the banquet hall talking to some woman about the Quell. I kept refilling my cup. Guess I must have refilled it more than I thought. Everything goes black after that."

Cinna raises his eyebrows, obviously not believing a word of it, but just says, "You need to cut down on the imbibing, Haymitch. I mean it. Those kids need you. Especially Katniss."

I snort, and that's not faked. I've never been the slightest use to Katniss at all. "Fine," I say. "I'm sure it's just a question of will power. That's what all the voices say when the bugs start crawling out of the walls."

"Maybe you need to ask Valentine for a good supply of those detox pills, and actually take them" Cinna says. He picks up his sketchpad and starts drawing, and the conversation is over.

I pull my covers up around me. The pills. Of course. They were in my system to absorb the toxins in the alcohol that they don't even bother to tell me not to drink anymore. They're designed to keep boozers like me from poisoning ourselves. The double-dose must have blocked enough of whatever Snow gave me to keep me alive.

Which adds a whole new nightmare to my list: I now owe Effie Trinket my life for a second time. At least she doesn't know about this one.

Cinna sits up with me, watching me warily for any relapses while he hand-stitches beads onto a dress. We talk about the districts, as though we've had a nice little vacation. He tells me he and Portia are working on a whole new fire simulation, though he doubt he'd ever use it for anyone but Katniss--that's her signature. I tell him I'd rather not think about who he'll be designing for next. There's nothing to say to this. I want something to read, and he hands me a fashion magazine. There is an article about Katniss's fake designs in the middle. Understated and dignified, and obviously influenced by her brilliant fashion mentor. A picture of Katniss and Cinna among the creations is the first magazine picture I've seen of her looking comfortable. I take a quiz about what flowers I should wear in my hair to highlight my complexion. It tells me lilacs.

I excuse myself to throw up. There is blood in it. Valentine gives me more medicine, and instructs me to drink as much water as I can tolerate.

On my way back, I pass Katniss's compartment. Peeta is there again, and neither of them seems to be dreaming badly. I successfully resist an absurd urge to go in and straighten a blanket around them. I have to be more careful. If I die, they lose a buffer between them and the Capitol. Or between them and the Rebellion, for that matter. I won't leave them to that.

I finally get to sleep again when the sun has risen. I dream of blood and poison, but it's not coherent. I wake up as we're pulling into District Twelve, feeling much better. Katniss and Peeta are up, not looking entirely comfortable, and Effie is giving us our schedule. We'll prep at the mayor's home before a banquet, then we can sleep in our own homes. Tomorrow, a party for the Harvest Festival. Then it's all over until the Reaping.

I'm surprised they haven't added the Reaping to the Harvest Festival, just to make sure there's not a moment of the year when the Games aren't hovering over people. I'm not making the suggestion.

There's not much time at the train station. I notice that Peeta's oldest brother and his wife aren't there, then remember that she's pregnant and due any day, and probably not comfortable outside. There's about enough time for photographers to snap pictures of Katniss greeting Prim and Peeta straightening his dad's always crooked tie, then we are piled into a car and driven away.

We get to the Undersees' and Katniss is whisked away for prep, though I can't imagine what the preps think has gone wrong with her since yesterday. Peeta doesn't need any prep, but the mayor claps him on the shoulder and congratulates him, then Madge gives him a hug, and they fall into a conversation about shared school friends.

Cinna taps Portia's shoulder. "I have the silver dress ready for Katniss. If I'm not back, just give it to the preps. It shouldn't need any alterations."

"If it does, I can do them. Where are you going?"

He gives me a guarded look then says, in a stage whisper that probably carries to the Capitol, "I think Haymitch needs some air after last night's bender, but I want to get him to the banquet sober."

Portia, who undoubtedly knows more than she reveals, wrinkles her nose and says, "All right."

Cinna leads me outside, talking about my foolish misadventures, and how air will help the headache. I lead the way up to an informal park that the kids use--a bunch of logs that have fallen near the top of a hill, where they go to have campfires and sing, and probably do quite a few other things when we aren't looking. Even the Capitol wouldn't bother bugging it.

"All right," I say, sitting on a log. "What did you tell everyone? Other than me being drunk."

"That's pretty much it," Cinna says. "It's not exactly an unbelievable scenario." He looks around. "Effie was getting everyone gathered up, and a couple of the attendants dragged you into the kitchen. Katniss and Peeta were there. I was by then, too. I caught you. Your heartbeat was pretty faint and I couldn't rouse you. I told the kids you were just drunk--I guess they've seen you passed out before?"

"More than once."

"Yeah, well, that's lucky, because they didn't panic. Once they were on the train, I told Valentine I thought you had alcohol poisoning. Detox is detox. If it hadn't worked, I'd have had to tell them more."

"But it did."

"Yeah. I sat with them for a little while so they wouldn't suspect I was worried. Effie sent the kids to bed. She was worried, too. She said you almost killed yourself drinking before."

"I was short a couple of pills," I say. "And she had no business telling anyone about that."

"You scared her. She's a superficial, narcissistic Capitol drone, but she cares about you for some reason. And about Katniss and Peeta, so she's okay in my book. Don't scare her anymore."


"What really happened?"

I tell him briefly about meeting with Fulvia and Plutarch, and being caught in the greenhouse and dragged in front of Snow. The threats and demands to know who the Capitol spies were. The final realization that I wasn't leaving the room with a freshly brewed antidote no matter what I had to say.

Cinna nods. "I know he suspects Portia and me--how would he not? But we haven't given him anything to latch it onto. He'd never dream that his head Gamemaker is our main organizer. And the others... he's sure he has them under his thumb. The poison didn't make you say anything, did it?"

"No. I held out until I passed out."

"Good. I'll have Portia work out something to test the food when you come back to the Capitol. Make it look like salt, maybe." He sighs. "We need to--" He stops. "Someone's coming."

I turn around. There are definitely footsteps crunching in the snow, coming up the hill. When a figure appears at the end of the path, I first think it's Peeta--a tall boy with curly blond hair and broad shoulders, it's just what I've come to expect. But as the boy gets closer, I see that his face is just a little wider, his features minutely flatter. His blue eyes are more wary, and his mouth has a twist to it that hints at a level of cruelty Peeta doesn't possess.

Still, the resemblance is uncanny. It has to be one of his brothers.

"Ed Mellark?" I try.

"Good guess. My brother's back?"

"He's at the mayor's."

Ed nods. "Did you bring him back in one piece this time?"

"Two," Cinna says. "But they're the same two pieces he left in."

"You're Katniss Everdeen's stylist, right?"

"This is Cinna," I say. "Did you need something?"

He looks at me a long time, then shakes his head. "Just going around drumming up business for my new store," he says, handing me a flyer. "You should drop by." He turns, shoulders hunched, and heads down the hill.

"Doesn't have Peeta's gift of gab, does he?" Cinna asks.

I nod and glance at the flyer, meaning to toss it away. The store is--like most District Twelve businesses--not creatively named: Mellark's Hardware. He's drawn a cartoon on it, and his art isn't half bad. It shows a girl with dark curly hair building a house. The slogan is terrible though--"Raise up your savings from eight to eleven." I blink.

Cinna, who has been reading over my shoulder, frowns. "Raise up?"

"I think I need a hammer. Do we have time?"

He checks his watch. "We have an hour and a half."

This is time to find out what's going on, but not to do anything about it if it's important. Besides, the flyer says, "Come tonight! Best deals after dark!"

We go back down the hill into town. Ed is certainly tacking up flyers, but they're entirely different from the one he gave me. These are showing a sale tomorrow, and an opportunity to learn roof repair from Dorrie Gibbs, a miner I know in passing. She's fixed a few places to make an extra coin or two.

Ed waves to us as we pass him. He's sitting on the front step of the shoe store with his girl, a homely thing with curly blond hair. She may not be a great looker, but when she waves, I see that she has a brilliant smile. I wave back and tap my watch. Hopefully it looks like I'm saying I don't have time to shop. Ed nods solemnly.

Cinna and I head back to the mayor's house. Undersee, who was an occasional drinking buddy before I started exclusively drinking alone, hands me a plate of bland crackers and leads me to the sitting room, then heads upstairs. Peeta and Madge have been chatting by the window. They stop abruptly when I come in, and Madge excuses herself to go up to her room. I wonder what it's about, but doubt it's anything that would make it my business, though I've wondered since Katniss turned up with Maysilee's pin if Madge Undersee ought to be my business.

"I didn’t know you and Madge were friends," I say, then tell Cinna, "That's the mayor's daughter."

"We hang out sometimes," Peeta says, but doesn't elaborate.

The three of us make small talk for an hour until Katniss comes down with Madge. Katniss is pale and a little jumpy, but she doesn't say anything. Madge is properly introduced to Cinna, and I tell him that she is the source of the pin, and the niece of a tribute. Cinna treats her like a long lost business partner, and they are deep in dress talk by the time everyone is called down to dinner.

Undersee himself is late for the banquet, but his wife, Kaydilyn, takes over hosting duties. She sits by me. I try, and fail, not to think of Maysilee. This is what she would look like now--not in any metaphorical sense, but in an exact sense. Kaydi is her twin, and I can't see her without thinking of Maysilee, cut open by killer birds. We have avoided each other as much as is possible since I went a little crazy on coming home, and tried to rescue her from every passing pigeon, not to mention Maysilee's caged canary. That was before I discovered that I could numb things down a little.

We are cordial to each other, but she still mostly expects me to snap, and I still mostly expect her to die in agony in the arena. It makes things a little strained between us.

The Everdeens and Peeta's parents also come, and are given a fair place of honor. I hear Dannel tell Peeta that his brothers were invited, but Ed wasn't allowed to close the store, and Jonadab's wife, Sarey, is home pretty much all the time now, waiting to go into labor. Jonadab is staying with her. Peeta doesn't make a great show about this, or even look toward Katniss, who is now supposedly going to be in his family, but is involved in her own conversation with Madge (and whatever else she is thinking about) and hasn't heard a word. Other than the families, the room is full of Capitol liaisons, reporters, high-ranking Peacekeepers, and one or two of the "presentable" people who sponsored Katniss or Peeta. (This does not include any of their friends, as far as I know.)

Undersee appears about forty minutes into the meal, jovially saying that he had some mayoral business to attend to. He presents Katniss and Peeta with the last of their plaques, and claims that he's been polishing it. He also presents the stylists, the preps, and "the lovely Miss Trinket" with plaques of their own. I'm guessing he's spent some time over the last few months talking to Peeta about everyone's role, because each person's individual contributions are named. Cinna's and Portia's have tubes around them, which he says are for the fake fire, which he hopes they'll put in--he couldn't very well get the formula for it before they came.

Portia teases him that he's not getting the formula at all. Trade secrets. He pretends to be heartbroken.

Katniss leans forward, looking like she means to ask him something, then sits back and says nothing.

After we eat, Madge plays the piano for us. She's very good. I think. I really don't have anyone to compare her to.

At seven-forty-five, Effie declares that we all need to get some sleep after our long and exciting trip. The Capitol contingent has been invited to stay in the mayor's house. Katniss, Peeta, and I will go home.

Except that I have other business.

Cinna says, "Oh, come on, Effie. My work is mostly done, and I've never had a chance to explore. What say, Haymitch? Show me around?"

There are reporters still there, and I resign myself to another round of gossip about who I might be in love with. I nod, and we go back out.

This time, I head straight for Mellark's Hardware. Ed hasn't put an address on the flyer--no one in District Twelve really needs to--but he has said that it used to be Fisher's Hardware. I did some business with old man Fisher when I first fixed up my house (that didn't last long), and I know the way. It's up a hill behind the square, about a block from the bakery. Ed's got it fixed up nice, I'll give him that. It's got a fresh coat of white paint, and he's put a wood stove on the front porch, by a checkerboard. A couple of old miners are out warming up and playing a game. They raise their hands to me, and give Cinna the side-eye, no matter how subtle his Capitol fashions are.

We go in. Ed is behind the counter. His girl is on a ladder, hanging up saws.

"Hey," I say. "I hear you've got some good deals."

"Glad you could drop by. I just got a shipment this morning. All kinds of new things. They're down in the basement. Delly, you want to watch the counter for a few minutes?"

"Sure!" she says chirpily and climbs down. Close up, her smile is even more pleasant. "Why don't you take a sandwich?" She rolls her eyes. "He gets hungry in about two seconds." She goes to a little refrigerator and takes out a sandwich wrapped in a cloth, which she hands to him.

He takes it, but doesn't move to eat it.

Cinna and I look at each other.

Ed leads the way down to the basement.

"Got a big crate this morning, just ahead of your train," he says. "I found some of Dad's old shipping contacts, and I figured maybe we could all do business."

He picks up an oil lamp--the electricity apparently isn't good in the basement, and heads to the far side of the room, where a large wooden crate is sitting under the window. There are three holes drilled in it, near the top. Ed goes to it, then ignores it completely and flashes his lamp at the base of the root cellar door.

It opens.

Winnow Robinson comes out.
13 comments or Leave a comment
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 4th, 2013 12:37 pm (UTC) (Link)

I was going to guess

that Haymitch's sobriety pills were what saved him. I'm frankly a little surprised that he drank anything Snow handed to him, although I appreciate that the situation wasn't really his to control.

So... "8 to 11"... do we get to see some more old friends?

Looking forward,

Sara Libby
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 4th, 2013 02:58 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: I was going to guess

I think Finnick hasn't told him about the little poison tolerance trick yet, and an alcoholic (who isn't trying to stay sober) handed a drink is likely to drink it. I'm thinking Snow knows that.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 4th, 2013 03:12 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: I was going to guess

Very true, very true.

I wonder how many other people whom Snow has poisoned over the years have "disappointed" him and lived to fight another day. There can't be very many.

Oh, as always, your dream/hallucination sequences are very creepy and very moving.

Sara Libby
dipsas From: dipsas Date: January 4th, 2013 04:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm really excited to see this develop - and amazed at the following coincidence: I was late to read HG, and just as I finished, there you were, posting HG ficlets -- just as you were just starting on Shifts when I finally started reading HP fic for real. :)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 4th, 2013 08:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
Glad to be here!
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 4th, 2013 05:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
I wish I could come up with something to say besides another great chapter but oh well. Another excellent chapter. Best I can do today I guess. I really enjoyed your dream sequence. And as odd as this is going to sound, I really enjoy what you've named all the characters. I think they're interesting and appropriate without being weird. I've seen some weird names in other people's stories to say the least. I'm looking forward to what happens next, I was totally not expecting Winnow despite the clue you left. Can't wait to read more of your Haymitch and I hope you don't stop the story anytime soon.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 4th, 2013 08:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks! I'm actually glad you noticed the names. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the naming patterns. (District Three is still defeating me.)
shortysc22 From: shortysc22 Date: January 5th, 2013 01:59 am (UTC) (Link)
What a twist at the end!! I loved Haymitch's hallucination in the beginning. I also thought it was good to throw in one suicide attempt because I couldn't see Haymitch not trying it as a way to drown everything out. I really love this story!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 5th, 2013 02:36 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, it definitely seems like Haymitch thing to do. It was an interesting observation from Katniss when he offered to get her sedated that he's spent his whole adult life trying to sedate himself. Death is kind of the ultimate sedation.
vytresna From: vytresna Date: January 6th, 2013 12:40 am (UTC) (Link)
Now you've got me curious as to how Effie gets brought into the fold...
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 6th, 2013 01:18 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't think she ever was--I think Plutarch and Haymitch just saved her from the lunatics because, well... they like her.
rosaxx50 From: rosaxx50 Date: January 14th, 2013 08:25 am (UTC) (Link)
This is excellent. Victor stories are my favourite things. I love everything you've done with Haymitch and all the glimpses of the other victors. I particularly like his relationship with Effie, where there's something like affection, despite everything.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 14th, 2013 06:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks! I just figure, they've spent so many stressful times together, either there's some affection or they'd have killed each other.
13 comments or Leave a comment