Not buying? Yeah.
Sorry for the tardiness.
Effie's just called her first D12 tributes. The girl has been clinging to her. That ought to be enough for one's first year, but just as they're ready to go, Haymitch is pulled away by Games security for questioning in the death of his old escort, Ausonius Glass.
"Trill Morrison," the boy says, extending his hand and giving me what I think he imagines as a cocky smile.
I shake his hand. "Hello, Trill, it's nice to meet you."
"And you. You're a lot prettier than the last escort."
I bite my tongue. The Peacekeepers have forbidden me to discuss Glass's death -- they don't intend to announce it until the suspect is in custody; until then, they'll say he's "retired" -- but it's an awkward thing to think about. I decide not to think about it. "Thank you very much, Trill."
"How can you flirt with her?" Babra asks.
"Look at her. She's pretty."
"How can you flirt with anyone when we're on our way to die?"
"Because I’m not going to have many more chances?"
I shake my head. "This won't do at all. You both have to stop thinking like that. Mr. Abernathy and I will do everything we can for both of you."
"Where is he?" Trill asks.
"He had to talk to some people from the Games," I tell him. "He'll be there for you, don't worry -- "
"In case we need a drink?"
"He'll sober up for you," I say. I hope that this is true. He says it's true, and that's all I have to go on. I barely saw him last year before he lost his tributes. Babra and Trill are looking at me hungrily, seeking some kind of structure. I'd guessed that Haymitch would be talking to them most of the way. I have a lot of hours to fill. "Meanwhile," I try, "why don't we have supper and watch the rest of the reapings?"
"Are they still mandatory viewing even though we have to be there?" Babra asks.
"I'm not sure, but it might be a good idea."
"Know who we're up against," Trill says. "Right. I think I'd feel better."
I guess they both know as well as I do that we have a lot of hours to fill, because there are only a few protests. I get them to their private quarters to change out of their District clothes and into something a little more appropriate, then lead them to the dining car, where they've set out a nice luncheon. Babra seems to know her way around the silverware, but Trill just starts grabbing at things with his fingers. I'm going to have to do something about that -- it will disgust any sponsor who happens to watch candid footage -- but I decide to wait until after we watch the reapings.
Districts One and Two are the usual routine of volunteers and counter-volunteers. According to the manual Caesar gave me, there's a fairly complex procedure to follow, but he said that, in Twelve, I wasn't likely to see much use of it, so I didn't read it very carefully. I've never been able to pick it up from the airings, which only show a few people shouting "I volunteer," followed by one being brought up on stage. I know it's not that short -- the District One reaping actually begins quite early in the morning, and it's only the final stage that's shown live. In District Three, I see their victors, Beetee and Wiress, looking nervously at a pair of skinny children, both frightened, that Vitranio has just called up. In District Four, no mention is made of the fact that the mayor has called the tributes. No mention of Glass is made at all, though I can see a lot more Peacekeepers in the frame than I am used to seeing.
Last year's victor from District Five, Tanager Lowe, looks nervous in her first year as mentor, and the two District Six mentors are quite clearly under the influence of something, even moreso than Haymitch. The children are starting to look alike. By the time we get to District Twelve, most of the country will no longer be paying attention. We'll have to do something to catch their eyes again at the parade.
Trill and Babra watch all of it, wide-eyed. She repeats the names several times after each reaping. He's pale, but seems to be trying to work it out. By the time it's over, they've made their way through half the food, and are both very quiet. We sit uncomfortably in the silence for a while, then, because someone has to say something, I say, "Now, the cameras will be on you all the time, so we should learn to eat properly -- "
"Where's Haymitch?" Trill asks. "Shouldn't we be learning about strategy? What does he have to talk to them about for so long?"
"I'm not sure. But what I'm talking about is strategy, too -- "
"Oh, right, I'm sure that knowing which of these forks I'm supposed to use is going to keep me alive," Babra says.
"Maybe which knife," Trill puts in. "Knives will be more useful than forks."
"I can't stab someone!"
"You better learn, or you're going to end up dead!"
"I'm going to end up dead, anyway! Did you see that boy from Two? He looks like he could break me in half!"
I stand up. "That's enough," I try, forcing a smile. "Now, I know you're nervous, but Haymitch will help you later, and I'm trying to help you now, with sponsors."
"Why would sponsors care about that?" Trill asks.
"People are moved to help people who… who know the rules." I sigh. "Let's try the basics, at least…"
It takes a while, but I finally get them to commit to learning how to at least avoid outright offense at the table. I even catch Babra having a little bit of fun trying to use a fish knife, though Trill -- like boys everywhere, I suppose -- makes it a bit too much off a game of ripping out the bones. At one point, when the sun is setting bright red outside the train windows, I look up and see Haymitch standing at the door, but he's shooed past by a couple of security officers. The tributes don't notice it.
He still hasn't joined us when the schedule suggests the tributes should try to get some sleep -- they have a big day tomorrow -- so I bundle them off on my own. Babra seems much calmer now, and Trill is back to flirting with me. He asks if I'll come and tuck him in. I tell him I think he can handle that on his own.
Once they're in bed, I go up the train, looking for Haymitch. I find him in a room in the security area, but they're still questioning him. I don't know what they possibly think he could know. Ausonius Glass was murdered in District Four, and they know as well as I do that Haymitch was in District Twelve the whole time. If they don't, they can ask me; I can confirm that.
But they don't.
A guard spots me by the door and escorts me back to my quarters.
I can't sleep. At home, I'd take a pill to help, but I don't want to chance being fuzzy right now.
I've been lying awake for what seems forever -- though the clock tells me that it's only been fifty-three minutes -- when there's a knock at the door. There's no time to properly put on a wig, so I just grab a scarf to tie over my scars, pull on a robe, and go to the door of my sleeping car.
Haymitch is in the hall outside. He's dead sober, and it looks like he's been in a fight. His lip is swollen, and he has scabs on his knuckles. "You doing all right?" he asks me. "Are they?"
"They're nervous, of course," I tell him. "They want to talk to you."
"They promise I'll be able to mentor. But maybe not tomorrow. They only let me out now because they wanted to sleep." He sits down on a little plush bench against the wall. "Just try and keep them calmed down. Etiquette or something, I guess."
"We did etiquette most of the way. I can keep that up tomorrow, and get them ready for the parade."
"What are they wearing?"
"I don't know. Glass worked it out with Lepidus and Atilia before he was transferred."
"Great. He just keeps on giving."
I sit down beside him. "Why are they questioning you? They have to know that you couldn't have done it."
"Of course they do. He was way down in District Four. It happened yesterday. I doubt even they could figure out a way that I could have a conversation with you and be down on the coast three hours later, with no trains running."
"Then why? And why did they hit you?"
He shrugs. "My fault. I'm an idiot. I threw the first punch." He sighs. He looks a lot older than twenty-five at the moment. "They're trying to say it was Gia. Pelagia Pepper, my first escort. That she put a trident through him, then signed her name on the body. Why would she do anything that stupid?"
"Maybe so they wouldn't blame anyone else?" I suggest. "I heard she did kill a Peacekeeper once."
"That was in self-defense. Or, well, I guess it was. It was the night she escaped. Anyway, Snow's always figured I know where she went. I don't. She's not that dumb."
"What if she's in Four and Glass recognized her? She would have spent time with him as an escort -- Twelve and Seven were allies once…"
His glare stops me. I have heard things about Haymitch and his first escort. Medusa told me that they aren't true things, but the look on his face makes them look true.
"Sorry," I say.
"It's okay. You didn't know her." He looks miserably across the hall. "They said if I don't tell them what I don't know, they'll do a genetic dragnet on all the women in District Four."
"That sounds unpleasant."
"Unpleasant. You have a knack for understatement, Euphemia."
He doesn't say anything for a few minutes, and I can't think of anything to say. I consider the wisdom of putting a comforting hand on his shoulder, but I decide against it.
"They're not going to find her, anyway," he says out of the blue.
"If they test every woman…"
"You spend too much time with the Gamemakers. They always think they're the smartest guys in the room, and all of their little playthings are too dumb to see their tricks. But Gia's not."
"She's not in District Four?"
"Would you be? Think about it -- they know she got off the train near District Four. They can do a genetic dragnet if it suits them. So would you go to the most likely place it's possible to be, and then sign your name to a murder?" He snorts. "I bet Snow had it done himself. He's probably tired of cleaning up after his pet fanatic."
I look around. "You shouldn't talk like that, Haymitch. Someone could hear."
He laughs. "Right. I'm sure they'd all be real shocked."
"You can't talk like that," I repeat. I feel a tight band coming around my chest, squeezing at my heart. "You just can't. It's not allowed."
He looks at me for a long time, then sighs. "Yeah. I guess I could get you in trouble if I talk sedition to you. And I need you not in trouble." He looks up at the ceiling. "You heard all that, right? She's a good little Capitol Dreamer."
"You really don't like Capitol Dreams, do you?"
"I really don't. Why do you?"
"Well… they're nice there," I say. "They aren't always nice anywhere else. Sometimes in school, the other children were… unkind."
I nod. "We were in a little debt trouble. I never had nice things. I had to save up for everything I did have. It was always second-rate."
"And they let you have nice things at Capitol Dreams."
"Sometimes. Mostly, they just helped me make what I did have look good, and they never…" I block out the image of the boys in the school hallway, yanking at my wig. I'd saved for weeks for it, to try and look like the rich girls. But they knew what I really was.
Haymitch looks at me with surprising keenness. "School was bad for you," he says.
"That's why you really tested out." I nod. He rolls his eyes. "I actually know that song. Didn't know they sang it in the Capitol. Guess you could say that I tested out, too." He grins and he extra years I noticed before seem to fade a little bit. He looks like the handsome boy who won nine years ago, albeit a little thick through the middle these days.
"I guess I won't complain about how hard my fashion final was."
"It'll probably be more useful to you than what I tested out on." He rubs his head. "They're going to take me back to questioning as soon as we get to the Capitol tomorrow," he says. "In Peacekeeper headquarters. I told them I need to get back to train my tributes. They didn't seem to care. I'll need you to keep an eye on them through the parade. If Glass had anything too crazy planned with Lepidus, try to get it toned down."
"And you may need to take some sponsor meetings for me, depending on how long they keep me. I usually have lunch with the Daughters of the Founding during prep. They've been good to Twelve."
"I know the Daughters. I worked with them on a monument clean-up. I can do that."
"I'm sorry you're getting this thrown at you your first year."
"I'll handle it."
He smiles. "Remind me to thank Caesar."
"I'll put it on your schedule."
This gets a quiet laugh. "Yeah, you better. I'll forget otherwise. I always forget stuff like that. My mother would be very annoyed."
"I've got your back."
He offers his hand. "Allies?"
The word -- one I've only heard on television, among tributes -- surprises me. I shake his hand. "Sure. Allies."
I hold onto his hand a second longer than I should, and he doesn't make me let go, though I can tell he's uncomfortable. I pull my hand away. "In my capacity as ally -- do you want to know about the other reapings?"
"Yeah, I guess I better. Let's watch them."
So I go back to the dining car, this time with Haymitch, and we watch the reapings again. I half expect him to take notes, but he doesn't. He pays very close attention to the reaping in Four (a girl named Keeva Magreary and a boy named Harris Greaves, though I have the impression it's not the tributes he's watching so carefully), and gets increasingly agitated as the roster goes through. He's closed off and grumpy again by the time it's over. I go back to bed.
By the time I get up, he's already got Trill and Babra at breakfast, and is trying to get through as much as he can.
"Shouldn't we be learning to use knives?" Trill asks as I come in. "You know… to fight with?"
"You'll have physical training for that. And you can't guarantee that you'll get any special kind of weapon. I don't want you going near the Cornucopia --"
"I can handle the fight," Trill says.
"No, you can't. I'll get you what I can. But don't get into that fight."
"Where will we get weapons, though?" Babra asks. "If we can't get weapons there, then they'll just chase us down and kill us."
"Get out of there while they're too busy killing each other."
Trill frowns. "I'm not going to run away. You managed to get through the Cornucopia. You got away with a big bag."
"I was lucky. Do you get that at all? I ended up really near a bag, and everyone else was just a few steps too slow at coming to their senses. If I'd gone into the fight, you'd probably have a loaner from District Two as a mentor right now. Good morning, Effie. Euphemia."
I wave it off. I haven't had anything to help me wake up yet, and I don't have the energy to police what name anyone is using.
I eat my breakfast while Haymitch continues to argue with Trill about the Cornucopia. Babra comes and sits by me, and asks me what I think they'll put her in for the parade. I don't have an answer, but I do offer to do her hair help her put on makeup for her arrival in the Capitol. There are almost always cameras at the trains, and, while the clothes she's picked out are quite pretty (she has a good eye), her unadorned face and the cloth headband she's wearing mark her as country.
Besides, it takes up the time, and seems to make her feel better. While I work, she tells me about the little grocery her parents own.
As soon as we pull into the Capitol, security leads Haymitch off the far side of the train, where the cameras won't catch him being taken to the Peacekeepers. I go out with the tributes, and ride with them to the Remake Center, where we meet Atilia and Lepidus. They're sent off to prep. I have to fight an urge to go with them and start fixing their hair. There's a new girl for that this year. Her name is Venia. I haven't met her yet.
"What are you doing with them?" I ask the stylists. "I know you worked it out with Glass…"
"The Naked Truth," Lepidus intones, putting his hands up and peering through a box he makes with his fingers, like he's seeing it on a screen. "Life is hard and unadorned in Twelve. So we thought we'd show how lean and tough it --"
"You're sending them down naked?" I ask. "Are you crazy?"
"It was Glass's plan. And a lot of the teams are doing it this year. Did you read Chic last month? It's all about body honesty this season."
"Yes, and Fashion Gab said that was ridiculous. So did Capitol View. No one is seriously going to be running around naked."
"But we don't have any costumes for them," Atilia says. "That would have had to be started weeks ago. Parade day can only be for fitting costumes and doing the alterations. We can't design a whole costume while they're in prep."
The panicked tightening in my chest comes back. If they go down naked, Haymitch will think I let them, and I have the distinct impression that he wouldn't like it. "What about old costumes?" I ask. "Can we get them out of the tribute museum?"
"That's prohibited," Lepidus says. "We can't disturb historical artifacts."
"It'll be very artistic," Atilia assures me. "Handprints in coal dust to show the work of the district and --"
"Coal dust… we have coal dust."
"A lot of it?"
"Good. Use it as body paint. There was a picture… oh, fifty years ago, maybe? I saw it in fashion history. woman was naked, and they painted her with cosmetics enough that she looked like she was wearing clothes."
"Just do it." I shake my head. "And give them something to cover themselves until they're well inside the chariot."
I see them give each other a look of long-suffering forbearance, but I don't have a chance to argue any further (and besides, I'm the escort -- they should just do it). A runner from Capitol Dreams who looks vaguely familiar from other events rushes over and tells me that the Daughters of the Founding have invited Haymitch to their yearly luncheon.
He obviously can't go, so I take five minutes to clean up, and go in his stead. They seem disappointed not to have him. From the sound of it, he charms their socks off every year, and they adore him. But after a little while, they seem happy enough to make a fuss over me instead. They show me pictures of their pets and their houses. None of them are married or have children. I talk to them about all the monuments they sponsor. "And speaking of sponsorships," I say, earning a fond smile at the awkward segue, "can I tell you a little bit about our tributes, Trill and Babra…?"
They give their usual amounts, and urge me to give Haymitch their best.
"You would just be adorable for him, dear," Ulpia Jakes tells me. "He's such a lonely young man. A nice girl like you would do him a world of good."
"We're only professionally involved," I say. "I'm a little young for him."
"That just needs a little nudge, dear."
I finish up and get back to the Remake Center just as the kids are getting out . They've been smeared with a good deal of coal dust, but I can still tell that they're naked. Babra is nearly in tears, crouched on the chariot with her arms covering everything she can get them to cover. Trill is stalking around, carrying a clipboard over the relevant bits, though they're in full view from the back.
"Is this real?" he asks me.
"I'm sorry. I hoped the dust would cover more."
"Yeah, well… it doesn't. I'm going to be standing there on national television flapping in the breeze."
"I'm sorry --"
He shakes his head. "I know it's not your fault. But can't you do something?"
I go back to Lepidus, who's trying to anoint the chariot itself with coal dust, much to the annoyance of the production assistant charged with keeping it sparkling.
"Coal comes in bags, doesn't it?" I ask.
"Couldn't you… grab a coal sack and cut a couple of holes in it? Make it a tunic? You could say it represents… ingenuity. The ingenuity born of necessity. Right?"
"I am not sending them out there dressed in burlap sacks."
"You're sending them out naked. It doesn't exactly show off your skill as a stylist."
"Style and fashion are related, my dear, but they aren't the same thing. They look stylish now, with or without clothes…"
"Their parents are watching."
"So are their potential sponsors," Atilia cuts in. "And I think their parents wouldn't want you risking sponsorships by sending them out looking like a bad joke about abject poverty."
I can't argue with that. It's true. I go to them.
"I'm sorry," I say. "There's nothing more we can do at this point. Just… stand close to the front of the chariot and… keep your legs together."
I get them arranged as modestly as I can in the chariot, then tell the skin crew to give them one more coat of dust. I spread Babra's pretty blonde hair down over her breasts. It's the best I can do. But I think I will start looking for a new stylist team. They never should have let Glass talk them into this.
Thinking of Glass, I glance over at the District Four team. Neither of their mentors is here. I'm guessing that they're in the same sort of meetings Haymitch is in. I recognize a very young man I knew from Capitol Dreams tentatively making suggestions to the stylists. Luckily, their old escort didn't leave them with a disaster. They're wearing costumes made of shells. The girl looks like she actually likes it. The boy looks bored with everything.
Runners come through and instruct everyone to get lined up. I try to convince Trill and Babra to smile and be friendly, but I think I'll be lucky if either one of them even looks up to meet the camera's view.
Atilia is right about the sponsors, but I can't help thinking that the parents in District Twelve are going to be furious, and that the first person they'll blame for it is me.
The parade has already started when Haymitch runs into the Remake Center. He looks up at the screen with horror when he sees his tributes, but at least he doesn't fume at me.
After the parade, I give both kids long smocks from the hairdressing stations, and we all go to the Training Center together. They go to their rooms, and come back wearing clothes that cover them from ankle to chin. We watch the parade recaps. They did make a splash. The body painting with coal dust is praised to the rafters as "daring" and "provocative." Word on the street about it is somewhat less cerebral, but still complimentary.
They both look ashamed, and head off to bed without eating much of the dinner that's been set out for them.
Haymitch continues to be pulled away at inconvenient times throughout the training. I meet with a lot of sponsors, and work most of Haymitch's usual alliances. Chaff Leary from Eleven fumes about the investigation, and what he calls the deliberate targeting of Pelagia Pepper's beloved districts (Twelve, Four, and Seven… Blight isn't present for most of training, either). "They want to smoke her out," he theorizes. "That's all this is about."
If that's the plan, it doesn't work. She doesn't surface, and by the end of training, the Peacekeepers have apparently run out of things to question the mentors about, as they all return to work. Either that, or Caesar, who's been fuming all over Games Headquarters, finally got his way.
The kids are able to get modestly decent scores -- Babra gets a seven, and Trill a six -- and Haymitch and I spend the next day prepping them for interviews. I help them learn to move around fully clothed and in decent shoes; he goes over their interview strategies. They've both gotten sullen at the lack of time for mentoring, and I spend as much time as I can cheering them up.
Lepidus managed to re-think the interview costumes, which were originally sheer to the point of non-existence. Now, the original dress for Babra is just a diaphanous robe over a sparkly black jumpsuit, and Trill is wearing a perfectly normal suit.
Games workers sweep them toward the stage, and Haymitch and I are herded down to the Games personnel area. We sit together, but we don't talk. He's gone as sullen as they have.
The lights on the audience go down, and the Games fanfare begins.
"Ladies and gentlemen," an announcer calls out jovially, "give a big hand to your host for the Fifty-Ninth Annual Hunger Games, CAESAR FLICKERMAN!"