FernWithy (fernwithy) wrote,

HG: The Hanging Tree, Chapter Nine

Haymitch has made a deal with Snow to keep himself and his future tributes safe from Glass, and is now preparing for the Capitol leg of the Victory Tour.

Chapter Nine
I check the preps for bruises or any other marks before I let them start in with me, and I tell them to let me know if Glass touches them. I didn't think to add them to my deal with Snow, but then, I already told Glass what the deal was regarding the preps and stylists: He hurts them, I hurt him.

Igerna tells me that Lepidus needs rest -- the last few days have been stressful -- so the girls' stylist, Atilia, will be in to dress me.

"As long as she doesn't put me in high heels," I mutter.

"Well, she might try some platforms, to make you look a little taller…"

"I'll kick them off and go barefoot."

She laughs, and starts in on my nails. I really don't think I've done anything to them that requires this much attention, but I'm sort of getting used to it. I'm actually starting to like having lotion worked into my hands, and all of my hangnails carefully removed. I decide that it's probably safer not to bring that up back in Twelve.

I wonder what they're making of the spectacle on television at home. They didn't say anything to me when I got back from the Capitol last time, with comedians spoofing my every move. But this is different. I can't write this off as one binge.

I shake my head. So what? I grew up with them calling me smelly and teasing me about my teeth and my hand-me-down clothes and my patchwork house. Hell, I even put up with them talking about Dad's drinking. Dad put up with it, too. He never cared what they had to say about it, and right up until he died, he was a decent guy, no matter how drunk he was. If they have a problem, it's theirs, not mine.

In some locked up corner of my mind, I can hear Gia telling me to quit, and quit now, before the bottle turns into one more hanging tree to climb. But I won't let it get that far. I promised.

Fabiola has finished my teeth and Medusa is working on my hair when the elevator opens and Caesar Flickerman arrives. He actually asks if he can come in, like it's my place to invite him. I tell him to make himself at home.

He rearranges some chairs so he can sit across from me without interrupting Medusa, then says, "Are you all right for the interview?"

"Am I drunk?"

"It's not an unreasonable question."

"I haven't had anything today."

He nods. "Yeah. You sound sober enough. Usually, I talk to a new victor's mentor before the interview, to find out what to ask about, but I'm afraid Albinus wasn't a great source of information, other than that you're apparently a pain in the various private regions of his body, and you can't take orders."

"If he'd given me orders that weren't stupid, maybe I'd've listened."

Caesar laughs. "He also said you were the smartest… well, he used an expletive that I won't use on the show… that he ever met."

I don't know what I'm supposed to say to that, so I don't say anything. "So you want to know what to ask me?"

"What would you like to talk about? Keeping in mind that some things, of course, will never see airtime."

I nod. "I told Snow I wouldn't propagandize for the seditionists."

Caesar looks surprised. "You did?"

"He said he'd make Glass keep his hands off my tributes."

Caesar looks down. "Haymitch… you may want to be careful about deals with Coriolanus. He'll keep his word, but his methods may not be entirely to your liking."

I can't think of much that it would bother me to have done to Glass, so I just shrug.

Caesar sits back as Medusa finishes up and lets me move around a little. She asks if I need anything, and I tell her I don't. Caesar waits for her to go. "I have been arguing with Coriolanus for years to have Glass dismissed. I dislike his approach. I have a great deal of influence on the hiring of escorts and other entourage members, but so far, it's been a no-go with Glass. He's apparently a useful threat to hang over people."


"I'll keep trying. You were doing beautifully with Miss Pepper as an escort." He doesn't wait for me to answer this. "I'm interested in your motives for dealing with the president -- you're already worried about your tributes?"

"District Twelve's small. I'm going to know them all. I don't know how I'm going to talk to their parents. How do people do that?"

"You'll want to talk to Chaff and Seeder about that. I wish I could say it wasn't something you'll need to learn."

I can't see any productive place for this conversation to go, so I change the subject. "You said you have influence on entourage members? Like… my preps?"

"Yes. I'm the producer of the official Games programming. In theory, they answer to me."

"Could you make sure Glass doesn't fire mine just because he can't get at me?"

He looks a little stunned. "Your preps? You're going to…" He grins. It's not his stage grin, which would be kind of disturbing, but an actual one. "Haymitch, you and I are definitely going to be friends."

"Then you'll do it?"

"On one condition. You'll be in the Capitol for two days, including the big party at the president's place tonight. Tomorrow, you get a little rest before we take you back. Your train leaves in the evening. If you can stay sober the whole time, I'll use my influence to keep your team safe."

I frown. "You'd do it anyway, wouldn't you?"

"Yes. But I want you to take it seriously. Will you stay sober for the next forty-eight hours? Can you?"

"Sure," I say. "I can do that."

"Good. I thought tomorrow, we might spend a little more serious time at the library, if you'd like to."

I'd guess Glass would hate it -- the "smart stuff" that doesn't sell -- but the thought of being in that building, surrounded by all of those books, and maybe having time to look at them this time… that would be about the best thing that's happened on this trip. "Yeah," I say. "That would be good."

"Good. Now, what shall we talk about for the benefit of all of Panem…?"

The interview turns out to be the least unpleasant public appearance that's occurred so far. Caesar tosses me softballs about the house, remembers Mom and Lacklen and Digger with me, and asks which bread recipes I can't wait for Danny to try. He ignores the girl whose head was in my lap, though he does make a quick joke about how I've clearly been making lots of good friends. He uses this to segue into me talking about a lot of nice people I've met, including little Jack in District Seven, the kids in the snow in District Eight, a few victors, and Calico in Eleven, all of whom seem to be from some very distant era that I once read about.

"Are you looking forward to going home?"

I shrug. "Well, I hope they don't turn me out for embarrassing them."

Caesar laughs, and brings up a live feed from Twelve. Someone has managed to scare up a handful of people to stand outside the Victors' Village gate. They razz me a little bit and then tell me that I'll just have to come back and spend a bunch of money in town to make up for my bad behavior. I allow that I just might do that. No one I'd think of as one of my friends is there -- the Donners, the Mellarks, old Sae, Merle Undersee… none of them. They did manage to find a woman named Elsie Gownken, who took over the mantle of town drunk after Dad died. The mine supervisor who liked Mom is there. Still, they seem happy enough. I look at Caesar to try and judge whether or not it's staged. He gives me that normal grin again.

If it turns out that my friends aren't there for any reason other than work or school getting in the way, I can think of a head Peacekeeper who's going to get a little bloodied for it. But I decide not to just assume malfeasance when it's just as possible that they're all tired of being seen as my friends, or that they realized they were being watched too closely to get anything done as long as they were the media's go-to group.

Glass doesn't turn up at the banquet, and I keep my promise to Caesar, mostly by spending a lot of the evening with Plutarch Heavensbee, who keeps us on water and tea. There are fountains of booze, and the smell is driving me crazy, but I see my preps and stylists in the crowd, and steel myself. It's only two days. I dance with a few people I've seen on television, including the star of Seagull Point (who is, in point of fact, much prettier than her costumes make her out to be -- in a simple dress with a plain blue wig and clean make-up, she's actually pretty stunning). Her name is Emiliana, and she actually gets a kick out of my theories about the show, though she won't confirm or deny anything.

"Having a good time?" President Snow asks as we finish a song.

"A lovely time," Emiliana says.

"And the matter we discussed earlier?"

She looks at me and smiles awkwardly. "I, um… I think I'm pretty busy after the party, actually. But you can have my donation anyway, just for a lovely party."

Snow smiles tightly and drifts away.

Emiliana bites her lip. "Don't take it personally," she says. "I just… I think dancing is enough."

"I didn't know anything else was on the table."

"Well, I… last year… Brutus… we had a… thing."

"Oh. But he wasn't as embarrassing as I am."

"Actually, it's because I didn't like him as much. He was a toy. You're… I like you all right."

She ducks away and goes to dance with one of her co-stars. I think about Brutus insisting that it was all an urban legend. I wonder if he's that stupid, or if he's just a willing participant. I kind of suspect the latter.

No one else seems to take a particularly strong interest in me, other than autograph seekers. I guess throwing up on a girl's head didn't do wonders for my sex appeal. Maybe I should have done it sooner.

I spend a little time signing autographs for little kids, which is mostly a non-threatening activity. Some of the parents watch me warily. Most don't care. And frankly, there are too many kids around for the number of adults I see in the vicinity. I can't imagine Mom letting me in a place like this alone, but apparently, in the Capitol, it's not a terribly big deal.

Why would it be? They're entertained by watching kids die. I can't imagine a mother with Mom's sense of protectiveness being entertained by the Games, anyway.

Some of the kids might even be working the banquet somehow. One little girl is called away and scolded for dereliction before she gets to me, and laden down with trays of hors d'oeuvres to distribute. She looks so heartbroken that I grab a napkin and sign it for her -- to "the girl carrying everything," since I don't know her name -- even though I have to chase her down to give it to her. The smile is worth the trouble.

I go back to Plutarch after that, and we spend the rest of the night harmlessly enough, playing a crazy computer game at which I beat him soundly several times.

"Where's Glass, anyway?" I ask him as we leave the party.

"He got mugged."


"I was at the Gamemakers' lounge when the call came. Something about getting jumped in the fashion district. It happens. He had to go to the hospital."

I think about what Caesar said about Snow's methods. I'm still not all that upset.

Plutarch goes to the library with Caesar and me the next day, and it proves to be the only unmitigated good day I've had in months. Caesar has found a stock of history books about the area that became District Twelve. We look up information on Scotland, and a group called the Scots-Irish, who apparently settled most of the region, leaving a wake of Scottish names on a group that Caesar said has undoubtedly mixed a lot since, given that it was a highly trafficked area for hundreds of years before the Catastrophes.

Still, I find myself fonder of the books on Scotland than I was before, if only because Caesar took such trouble to find them and have them brought out for me. I find a pattern of plaid in blues and greens and reds that's supposed to be especially for Abernathys. Plutarch says the tartans were made up really late in the game and I shouldn't take it seriously, but I like it. I decide to have a few ties or vests made of it. Plutarch rolls his eyes.

They present me with a collection of ten antique books as a gift. Plutarch's three are all historical books. He opens one of them (a dry tome on the history of the English language, written in an English that I barely recognize) and inside the flap is a truly ancient pamphlet on yellowing paper. The title is "Common Sense Addressed to the Inhabitants of America." He winks and passes it to me. Caesar gives me four novels, and three old mythology books. All of these are placed in an ornate chest. I am looking forward to getting home and reading them, though I suspect that Plutarch's pamphlet will have to be hidden somewhere as soon as I'm done with it.

Late in the afternoon, we go back to the train. I can see through the windows that Glass is back -- he's sitting in the dining car -- but I don't let it spoil things.

Caesar looks at his watch. "You did it, Haymitch. You made it all the way through. Two days."

"Told you I could."

"Now, do two more."

"You're changing the deal?"

"No. Deal's done. I'll take care of your team. I'm just worried about you. Can you do two more days?"

"If I wanted to, I could."

He sighs. "You might need help, Haymitch. Don't hesitate to ask for it."

Plutarch and I board the train. Glass doesn't stand up when we go into the dining car. Both of his forearms are in heavy casts, and every one of his fingers is splinted. He looks at me coldly.

I don't flinch, and I don't say anything. I stare back at him until he sniffs disdainfully and goes back to something he's watching on a small screen in front of him. An attendant offers him a drink and holds it while he sips through a straw.

I play chess with Plutarch for most of the night, mainly because I'm jumpy and wish I could have a drink to help me get to sleep, but I'm not going to convince Caesar that I can handle things if I can't even make it two more days. I keep checking my watch for how many hours are left.

On television, they're replaying Districts Two and One, since my Capitol appearance was apparently not entertaining enough for people. I'm shown briefly signing autographs, and a few insinuations are made about why I was spending so much time with Plutarch, but they can't seem to spin it.

I guess it's a little too late to rehabilitate my reputation.

For some reason, late at night, when Plutarch is fighting to stay awake, I actually start crying, thinking about what Mom would say. Plutarch awkwardly pats my back and tells me everything's fine. He gets my knife for me, and I hold onto it and finally fall asleep. I dream I'm in the arena again, but I'm drunk out of my skull and every time I swing my knife, it hits someone I don't mean to hit. Mom. Lacklen. Digger. Maysilee. Gia. Weirdly, Glass. I'm covered in their blood, and dizzy from the smell. I force myself to wake up. One more night of this, and then I will drink something before bed, so if I do dream things like that -- and I have a feeling that this is not a new dream -- I won't remember it in the morning.

We get into District Twelve at noon. I am nervous. I'm not sure why -- they won't do anything they haven't done for years. But as I'm unloaded and pulled around for the big arrival scene, I suddenly find myself wanting to get back on the train, go to the bar car, and curl up in a corner with a bottle of the good stuff. I don't, of course. I don't need to. It's just a weird image that comes into my head. I'm tired. I guess that's it. I didn't sleep enough.

Of course, work is canceled for the day (probably without pay), and the square is crowded. There's polite applause (any disapproval will wait for the cameras to leave, I guess), and I give a speech that sounds tired and bored even to my ears. The Capitol has gone all-out on the end of the tour. There's a heated pavilion set up in the square, with a high-quality stage and sound system set up. There are singers and bands that everyone knows, playing songs that have been stuck in everyone's heads for weeks. They found a couple of respectable old comedians who haven't been making their living off of me lately, and people laugh at their antics. Beckett gets on stage and preens about how well District Twelve has been "cleaned up" in her tenure.

It all seems like the rest of the tour, really. There's something strange, but I can't put my finger on it. But as the afternoon wears on, a funny sense seems to come over everything. Sounds are just a little bit louder than they should be, and they have a strange echo to them. I decide to just ride it out. It's going to be strange. Of course it is.

Danny is produced from somewhere, and I present him with his recipes (and the seaweed from Four) in front of the cameras. When they finally back off to report a little bit on the rustic charm of District Twelve, we sit down at one of the picnic tables.

"Looked from here like you had quite a trip," he says, grinning.

"They took Gia away."

His face softens a little. "I know. I'm sorry. Is she… um, alive?"

I nod. "She disappeared off the train." I have no idea how much of the pavilion is bugged, so I assume it all is. "I think they'd have made sure to tell me if they'd killed her." I spill some sugar on the table and quickly make the symbol for "escape," so Danny knows I'm not lying to him out of spite.

He nods, then goes back to the original subject, which is probably safer. "They've sure been making it look like you've been meeting some friendly people.

"Maybe one or two," I admit.

"What's it like, just being out of here?"

"It's very big out there," I say. "You should see where everything gets flat. You can see forever, I swear…"

I start telling him about the places I've seen, and it all seems less dangerous and more interesting in the re-telling. A part of me is actually hungry to see some places again, or to see more new places. I try not to let on, since Danny's never going to get a chance to go -- unless he's reaped, and wins, I guess, and I'm not wishing that for him. I think about the open car in the back of the train. The land flying past us almost soundlessly. The moonlight on River Bay, and the green of Gia's eyes.

I make myself come back. "So, what's been going on here? Is it as… exciting… as it was when I left?"

Danny doesn't pretend not to know that I'm asking what the Peacekeepers have been up to. He sighs. "Well, you know -- it's the same. A few accidents. Mr. Keyton had to put the… accident victims… inside to protect them from the elements. Ruthie's there helping out now. And Everdeen's one of them. He'd have been here. We did some work on your house together."

"What kind of work?"

"Well, I meant to brick up those windows, but I guess Gia already took care of that. So we put in bookshelves." He smooths out the sugar on the table and puts in the symbol for "hidden."

"I'm surprised you and Everdeen are talking."

He shrugs and looks down. I don't know a lot about what happened among Danny, his old girlfriend Ruth, and Glen Everdeen, a Seam boy who appeared out of nowhere and was suddenly standing between them. I know that he came to my place and got very drunk with me, and the last I knew, he felt like his entire life had been ruined, which would not lead me to think they'd be building bookshelves together. This all seems like a movie I saw a long time ago. Danny doesn't look like he wants to discuss the matter. He smooths out the sugar again and starts drawing a complicated looking vine with curly leaves. "What the hell?" he says. "So I'm single. Maybe you can give me a few pointers on meeting friendly people."

"Since when have you needed pointers?"

"You've clearly been doing better than me lately."

"Well, maybe Lepidus can lend you a few killer outfits."

He laughs. I follow suit, though it doesn’t feel real, and we joke about my bizarre reputation. District Twelve seems like as much a stop on the tour as any of the others. I find myself trying to remember which Games he won, then I remember that he was my friend before the Games. The idea that something existed before the Games also seems unreal.

We have moved on to a conversation about an even more unreal topic -- school -- when I realize that I'm barely keeping track of it -- that I am, in point of fact, deeply terrified. I don't know where I am. Nothing seems familiar. It's not that I don't know what it's supposed to be, but I feel like someone has painted images of District Twelve over some anonymous boxes, and hired a pretty decent lookalike to play my friend Danny. The script is off, though. I'm saying the wrong lines. I know that this is crazy, but I can't shake it.

I want a drink now.

"Haymitch?" Danny says, his face suddenly losing its good humor and going sharp with concern. "Haymitch, man, what's wrong?"

I realize that I'm just staring at him, blinking. "I --"


"Don't yell. They'll come with cameras if you yell."

"Okay, no yelling. What is it?"

The words that come out of my mouth are completely insane, but I can't stop them. "Where's my mom, Danny? Where's Digger? If I'm in District Twelve, where's my girl? She's mad, isn't she…?"

"I think you need to rest, Haymitch. You know…" His voice trails off. "You do know…"

"I know. But, how is this home?"

Danny looks around quickly, then grabs a cup of cold coffee from the next table over. He throws it on me. "Whoa!" he says loudly, jovially. "Didn't mean to do that! Better get you to your preps before half of Panem sees that!"

He takes me by the elbow and pulls me up. He's real enough, then. He leads me through the crowd to the mayor's house, to the room where I'm supposed to go to prep in two hours.

Glass appears at the doorway, his casted arms snug in a double sling. "What are you doing inside?" he asks.

"He needs rest," Danny says and dumps me down on the bed.

"And who are you?" I stare at him in astonishment. Danny has been on television a lot -- including just a few minutes ago with the recipes -- but Glass absolutely doesn't recognize him. He's a non-entity.

"I'm no one," Danny tells him. "I think his stylist might need to get him a new shirt, though. I spilled some coffee."

"You clumsy brat," Glass says. I'm glad his hands are hurt, because I didn't think to include my friends at home in my deal. "Very well. I'll get Lepidus."

He goes.

Danny grabs a blanket from the end of the bed and throws it over my shoulders.

I lean forward with my head in my hands. "Am I home?" I ask him.

"Yeah, Haymitch," he says, rubbing my shoulders vigorously. "Yeah, you're home."

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