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Challenges: AU 3 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Challenges: AU 3
I'd love an AU where someone in Peeta's family actually lives, please. How do they react to his capture and subsequent crazy? Does he ever get something like closure? for redrikki

They let me back upstairs after four days in the cells. It's the shortest of the punishments I've gotten here.

The first one lasted two weeks. My burns were still healing. Haymitch was still detoxing. Gale Hawthorne came to explain things to me. He did it as gently as he could -- I give him credit for trying -- but there were only so many ways to tell me that District Thirteen refused to launch an operation to search for the captured victors. He tried to stop me from storming Command. He even grabbed my arm and tried to stop me from flipping over the table and cursing at President Coin.

He didn't succeed.

But Peeta is all I have left now. My parents and Ed died in the conflagration in the square. My wife and daughter suffocated in the smoke. I only lived, apparently, because I'm bigger and had higher lung capacity. I can't think about it. Gale found me on a reconnaissance mission, barely breathing, my face burned. He risked a lot to bring me to the rest of the survivors -- a few inches ahead of a Capitol sweep, as I understand it -- and I try to be grateful.

My second punishment came after Peeta's broadcasts began. I suggested that maybe he was right. That earned me eight days. It might have been longer, but Haymitch talked them out of it. He said I was under pressure and grieving. That I might not be totally right in the head. I don't know what all he came up with. Anything that they wouldn't consider treason, I guess.

This time, it was about Peeta's restraints.

They finally got him out of the Capitol -- after he saved everyone here, and risked summary execution to do it -- and he's damaged somehow. They call it hijacking. They put him in sharp restraints, and the blood to his hands was getting cut off. I tried to loosen it, and they raised their guns at me, apparently deciding that I was trying to let him go on a murder spree. I didn't react well to the guns. I grabbed one by the barrel, wrenched it away from the skinny little kid holding it, and pistol whipped him.

They took me away from my brother for four days.

This time, it's Delly Cartwright who got me out, or more likely, convinced someone else to do it. Maybe Plutarch. Probably not Haymitch -- he's in trouble, too, and I half expected to end up with a cell mate. Delly's been sitting with Peeta pretty much twenty-four hours a day, listening to him rave, and she needs rest. And he needs family.

So do I.

She looks up when I come in and puts her finger to her lips. Peeta is asleep. She comes to the door and out into the hall. She's wearing a ring on a chain around her neck. I'm pretty sure Ed gave it to her a few days before he was firebombed. I've decided to consider her family. I can't afford to be choosy about technicalities.

"He's been in and out," she says. "Prim talked them into trying some new therapy. With morphling and happier memories."

"How's it going?"

"I don't know. Prim says his heart rate didn't go up when he saw a video of Katniss."

"Does he still believe that she's a Capitol mutt?"

"Sometimes." She sighs. "I think most of the time. But sometimes, he's aware enough not to talk about it."

I nod. It's better than nothing. If he were just blaming her for the firebombing, I might have been sucked into his fantasy. It's hard to separate the thought of that arrow flying into the forcefield from the memory of Sarey and Betony choking to death on ash and smoke. I know better. But the smell of that firebombing lingers in my mind. My family, cooking in the heat. I can't let myself think about it. I can't.

I shake it off, give Delly a quick little squeeze, and send her off to bed. I go into Peeta's room.

His eyes are open warily. It's an unfamiliar expression on him. I can't reconcile it with the little brother who used to run up to me, arms open, begging me to grab him up and swing him around.
"Hey, Peeta," I say.


"Yeah, it's me. Plain old Jona." I open my coat and let him see that I'm not carrying bugs or weapons. "Delly says you were watching some videos today."

"They really want me to buy their version of her," he says, picking absently at his blankets.

"It's the true version, Peeta."

He doesn't answer this directly. "Sarey and Betony are dead, aren't they?" he asks.

I close my eyes. "Yes."

"I'm really sorry, Jonadab. If I'd died in the Seventy-Fourth Games, like Katniss -- the real Katniss -- then… you know. This wouldn't have happened."

The instruction from the psychiatrist is to not confront him directly about Katniss, so I don't. "I bet they would have been in to see you -- "

"They were. They were with me in the Capitol."


"They were in my cell, too."

I decide not to engage him on this, either. It's another of his phantasms, that somehow Mom and Dad and Ed were in his cell with him. He talks about long conversations he had with them. Now, apparently, Sarey and Betony were there too. When I first came in, he kept telling me that he wanted to go back for the family . As far as I know, he doesn't share this part of his delusion with anyone else. He's always kept family matters in the family. "How are you feeling? Physically."

"I hurt," he says. "My wrists. And my ribs. I have broken ribs. I don't remember how that happened. And my leg." He squeezes his eyes shut. "They fixed the broken circuits, but I remember. It was like it was on fire. They poked things in between the stump and the fake leg. Shocks."

"I should have come after you."

"By yourself?" He frowns, seeming genuinely surprised at what I said. "They'd have just killed you. They'd have made me watch. And put you in the cell."

"With Sarey and Betony."

He nods.

I shudder and look away. "I sometimes feel like that's where I should be anyway. With them."

I feel something warm and solid on my lower arm and look back to find Peeta reaching out to me. Trying to comfort me, through the mist of everything that happened to him.

I shake my head. "You don't have to comfort me, Peeta. That's what I'm here to do for you."

He doesn’t move his hand. I look at his face. Somewhere, behind the alien madness in his eyes, I see my baby brother looking back at me. My baby brother, who always reached out to help other people before worrying about himself.

It's who he is, but it's the one thing no one has asked him to be here.

What I do next isn't calculated, exactly, but it's not spontaneous either.

I let myself feel the loss of our family.

I put my hand to my head and think of them. Of Mom and her wild rages, followed by her icy moods. Of Dad's endless stories. Of Ed's off-color jokes and fights. Of Sarey's beautiful blue eyes, open in the moonlight. Of the warmth of my baby daughter in my arms.

The tears come.

Peeta holds out his arms.

I lay my head down on the bed beside him, and let him be Peeta for a while.

One where Prim isn't reaped for the 74th games? I'm curious as to how you think Peeta would've handled the games sans Katniss. for Robin

"I can build a fire," I say, "but it's not a very good idea. The Careers will be out hunting the first night. They always are."

"I'm freezing," Kersey tells me. "I'm not going to be any good if they catch us and my fingers are too numb to even hold a stick to fight with."

"You're not fighting with a stick." I rummage around in the large backpack I grabbed from the Cornucopia, and come up with a second knife. I hand it to her. "And I think the thermal blanket's big enough for both of us."

I unfold it and put half of it over my shoulders. The other half is more than big enough to wrap around my skinny new ally from District Eight, though it will hobble us if we try to move with it around us. "We should find shelter," I say.


"I don't know. Haymitch says you can use greenwood and stuff it with foliage to make a shelter, but I don't really see any likely greenwood. Maybe just deeper into the forest. We can take turns on watch."

I start to lead the way -- completely at random -- into the woods. I hope it looks confident on television.

"I figured you'd team up with your district partner," she says as we move. "From the matching costumes, and the parade… well, and the thing you said at the interviews, about how getting to know someone like her made you proud to be from District Twelve…"

"It didn't work out. I'm not even sure she made it past the Cornucopia. I think she made a dash for it, which we weren't supposed to do." I hope that Ivy Magee is out there somewhere. It's hard to stand in a Games chariot with someone -- on fire -- and not feel a connection. But she made no bones about the fact that she'd rather work alone than with a merchant, and no amount of cajoling from Haymitch made the slightest bit of difference. I think she ended up making friends with the kids from Six during training. Maybe they're all out there someplace, and we can find them and team up tomorrow. I'll have to wait for the anthem to find out, I guess.

What I know for sure is that, after Ivy made herself quite clear, Haymitch told me to find some ally. "You've got the audience right now," he said. "And I'm going to do everything I can to get you through. But if you want to keep them, you need to keep the cameras on you, and I think your best bet is to have someone to talk to. They loved the way you helped Rue up when she fell in training."

I wanted allies, anyway. The idea of spending the last few weeks of my life alone and rambling around a forest waiting to be murdered doesn't appeal to me.

"Maybe we can look for Rue tomorrow," I suggest. "She'd be a good ally, too."

Kersey laughs. "You have very interesting thoughts on allies. Me and Rue. If you were anyone else, I think you were planning a double-cross."

"Having known me a total of three days, how do you know I'm not?"

"I just do."

"Well, you're right." I grin. "Anyway, I just always liked being around pretty girls."

"You're planning to spend the Hunger Games flirting?"

"Why not? I don't see a lot of future opportunities for it."

She rolls her eyes and rubs her arms for warmth. "Do you have a girl back home?"

"Nah." I consider telling her about Katniss Everdeen, the girl who once looked at me through the cold rain, the one who saw me there in my mother's shadow. I'd liked her for years, ever since I first heard her sing, but that day…

Mom saw Katniss scrounging for food in the trash bins and screamed at her. I was ashamed. I looked across the pigpen at her, sitting there in the rain, and she looked back at me. She was dying. But she didn't look at me with hate or envy. She looked at me like I was another real person.

I needed to help her. It took me a minute or so to figure out how. I dropped two loaves of harvest bread into the fire. Mom hit me -- I guess I should have expected that for two whole loaves of bread -- then forced me outside to feed the remainder to the pigs. Katniss was still there. I waited until Mom went away, then took a chance and tossed the bread in Katniss's direction. I didn't risk looking back.

I saw her in school the next day and she looked at me again, that flash of gray eyes. It was only for a second, and she didn't talk to me, but again, I felt like she saw me, better than the people I was standing with, better than my family.

It was the first time I defied my mother to do what I knew was right. It wasn't the last. And every time the question has come up, it's those eyes I've flashed on, looking straight into me. Seeing me as something other than a rich town kid who never worries about money. I still see her sometimes in the shadows, looking over at me. I never did figure out how to tell her that it meant something. Or anything else.

I was extremely surprised when she showed up in the study in the Justice Building before I left, after they took my family away. She stood there awkwardly, not saying anything, the same as it is in school. Finally, she straightened up, looked me in the eye, and whispered, "Thank you for the bread." She reached out and touched my face -- it was only hours later that I realized it was the spot where I'd had a bruise that day -- then pulled her hand away like she'd been burned. Then she ran off before I could say anything.

I'm pretty good at explaining things, but I can't think how I'd tell a stranger (let alone a national audience) how it felt to be seen, or that a girl I've never properly spoken to is the one I plan to die thinking of.

I switch the subject around. "Do you have a guy?"

Kersey smiles. "Yeah. His name's Jakob. We were friends, and then… more than friends." She bites her lip. "I kind of love him. I didn't say it before I left, though."

"You said it now, and there's a pretty good chance of it making it back to Eight."

"You think so?"

It's just gut instinct, and I have no evidence for it, but I say, "Absolutely. I think you should tell me all about him."

"Let's settle someplace first," she says.

We go a little further into the woods and finally find a decently protected little copse, with a small, clear pool in the middle of it. I work on drawing out her story. After a few minutes, a parachute comes down from Haymitch, with an extra blanket to get us through the night.

Haymitch as a rebellious Gamemaker (either in the sense of involved with the canonical Rebellion or not) and involved with Effie (married or not, aware of Haymitch's rebellious sympathies and/or activities or not)? for anon

I guess I got used to living on the top floor of a tall building, because I didn't bother looking for anything lower when I came to the Capitol to stay. I have my Gamemaker's salary and my victor's salary. I guess I could buy the whole damned building if I felt like it. Instead, I just got the top floor and the roof. From up here in my garden, I have a view of the mountains and the lake. In terms of square footage, it's bigger than my house in Victors' Village in Twelve, but it's lacking in the "hiding spots" for most of my books. Nasseh's taking care of them now. He promised to read them.

I guess I didn't have to buy the big apartment. It would probably have looked better in the districts if I'd moved to some squalid little tenement to protest being moved to the Capitol, to make it clear that it's against my will.

There are two problems with that.

The first is that it's been made very clear that I'm to treat it as an honor -- having been asked for by the Gamemakers, and being given the great privilege of living in the Capitol, where I can make use of my talents and even ask Effie to marry me with some expectation of it happening, though if the arrangements get much more complicated, we'll both be dead before it actually happens. I am at no point to look resentful, let alone embarrassed to be working for the Games. ("Gamemakers tend to 'disappear' more frequently than victors," Plutarch reminded me two days after I arrived, "and we need you here. It was the rebellion that pushed for it. Don't waste it by ending up dead in a maximum security cell.")

The second problem is that it's not against my will.

Moving to the Capitol, going to college, getting an wonderfully useless degree in pre-Catastrophic literature of North America? Waking up in the morning beside a woman I love, and taking her back to bed at night? Being allowed to actually have a life? I'm a citizen. I have all the rights that I wanted for everyone, and -- unknown to Snow (I hope), I'm working to make sure that everyone gets these opportunities, and doing so much more effectively than I could from Twelve. I can even have a family that won't end up getting reaped (unless they catch me at my less-than-approved activities, I guess). The truth is, there's a huge part of me that loves this city, and it often overrides the part that hates it.

Being a Gamemaker is certainly against my will, though it turns out that I get along with most of them, and the job has my brain firing on all cylinders for once. But I don't let myself forget that that the little chess piece blips we use in simulations aren't going to be digital creations when the arenas are active. I can't forget that, having been one of them. I once looked up the sims of my Games. The blip labeled 12M2 generally died at the volcano. They assure me that the blip assignments are random, only used to test scenarios, but I'm still kind of offended by it. It's too easy to imagine Snow having some simulation running still, back in his office, with Blip 12M2 being reprogrammed to match me (as the blips will be once the reapings occur), and led toward some unknown trap that's still waiting out there for me. Taking their "offer" is dangerous in a lot of ways, and wouldn't be my choice of how to get here. That doesn't change the fact, if I had a choice, this is probably where I'd be.

My handheld beeps, and a picture of Plutarch's irritated face flashes on it.

"Okay, fine," I mutter. I look back at his current simulation -- which I've already spent most of the day toying with -- and run the blips from Twelve through stress test about the lack of potable water. Unless we make water extremely cheap for the mentors to send this year, we're going to have tributes giving up and dying of dehydration. I note it and suggest by message -- again -- installing some freshwater springs on the fake island. At least four of them.

Naturally, Hortensia Norman takes this and runs with the idea that, if we had a single spring, it would "a natural point of conflict." I point out that it's so natural that we'd run through the field in a day, and up my suggestion to six different springs. I suggest some vines to make ropes, too, and a few better shelter spots where the tributes will be able to talk. I catch myself and say that this is for the production value, but I suspect at least half of them suspect my real motive: Maybe it will keep them alive longer.

It's my second year, and maybe someday, I'll accept that keeping them alive longer isn't a goal, and isn't going to end up keeping them alive in the end, but I hope not. I hope that person isn't actually anywhere in my head.

And I hope that the crews I have out agitating may finally get something done this year. Maybe we can break the arena long enough to overthrow Snow and cancel the Games. I allow myself a brief fantasy of just turning the damned arena off and fishing all the kids out, while the Capitol rebels point and laugh at a captive Snow.

The roof door opens and Effie comes out. She's taken off her wig, which for some reason is a big deal to her -- she never takes it off outside -- and her hair is a cloud of pretty ringlets. She's put a satin ribbon into it to hold it back from her face, which has been scrubbed clean. I've never asked her to do this when she comes home, but I love that she does.

I sign off from the sim before Plutrach has a chance to demand another run with a spring. It can be done tomorrow. I hold out my hand to Effie, and we walk to the parapet, where we can look out over the city toward the blackness of the lake.

She slips her arms around my waist and leans against me. "I just got off the phone with Nasseh. He really wants a new stylist this year."

"I don't think anyone's quitting, and no one's doing anything so outrageous that we have to ask them to leave."

"I know, Haymitch. I had this conversation with other Gamemakers when you were the mentor."

"They probably didn't agree with the mentor. I do." I turn her around and hold her. There are a thousand little luxuries I have here, but this is the only one that actually counts. I kiss her head. "I’m trying to at least get some limits on the parade. They think it's silly District Twelve prudery, but at least they haven't totally shut me down."

"Maybe you could suggest a theme," she says. "Then you wouldn't have to say that you're limiting what they're allowed to do; you can just make it so that sending them down in coal dust won't fit the theme. I thought of it a few times, but Gamemakers don't pay all that much attention to escorts."

"You have my ear, anyway. And pretty much any other part of me you want."

She laughs, then sighs, her fingernails skimming over the back of my shirt in electric trails. "I think there a lot of parts of you that I don't have."

"I don't think you want them."

"I do, though. I want all of them."

"Maybe someday," I say, but I don't know. It's not safe for her to know everything, even the things I'm sure she suspects.

If we win.

I'll tell her everything if we win, and they can't use her against me anymore.

For now, it doesn't matter. For now, I'm not a rebel or a Gamemaker. I'm just me, in the only place that's ever been allowed.
15 comments or Leave a comment
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 16th, 2014 01:32 am (UTC) (Link)
I worked a twelve hour day and at the end found out we weren't getting a Christmas bonus. So thank you! I needed this and it was wonderful. Of course now I'm completely curious to how the Peeta and Kersey's games would end. But that's because it was awesome. So thanks again!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 16th, 2014 02:07 am (UTC) (Link)
Glad to be of service. :D

Hmm, how it ends. I think that he does ally with Kersey and Rue, but tragically loses them in a Gamemaker inspired bit of violence to get him to fight Cato. This time, he does it later on when he's a little more battle hardened, and wins. He goes home a victor, and finds that Katniss has spent most of the Games trying to puzzle out her emotional situation with the Boy With The Bread, and ultimately, they befriend each other. Until she gets reaped for the Quell.
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 16th, 2014 02:41 am (UTC) (Link)

Oooh, oooh...

Is she just random Reaped or what was the Quell theme that year?

Sara Libby
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 16th, 2014 03:39 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Oooh, oooh...

"To remind the Districts that both the Capitol and the rebels lost loved ones in the rebellion, tributes will be selected from a Victor's twelve-to eighteen-year-old family members, friends, and lovers. Only when nobody in a District meets those qualifications will Reaping be done in the regular way."

Hey, it's a good plan. There's a 23/24 chance it would leave Peeta broken-hearted and humbled. Of course, there's a 1/24 chance that Snow would wind up with two D12 Victors who've already hooked up -- and in this AU, Peeta won't be seen as merely "Mr. Everdeen."

-- Tom
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 17th, 2014 01:26 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Oooh, oooh...

Works for me. :D
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 16th, 2014 01:41 am (UTC) (Link)

Lots of Awesomeness...

In small packages, as usual. My favorite one was Peeta and Kersey -- so nice to see them together without him killing her. And no wonder Ceasar "came out" to Peeta, given that it's super clear how much of a mindset they have in common, about making Tributes interesting to the audience and playing to their strengths. Also love seeing Haymitch's "reward" system in action. :oD

Nice that Naaseh survived in this AU as well. Does Haymitch have to spend some of the year in 12, or is he obligated to always be in the Capitol?

Sara Libby
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 16th, 2014 02:09 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Lots of Awesomeness...

Yeah, Peeta is definitely Caesar's mini-me in that.

Nasseh surviving, I figure, was the catalyst for the last one. No one was able to make a good argument for making Haymitch a gamemaker when he was the only mentor in his district, but once he was, they were able to hang their hats on Nasseh for that job, and convince Snow that it would be easier to keep an eye on Haymitch if he actually served in the Capitol.
redrikki From: redrikki Date: December 16th, 2014 03:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
I loved my story. I liked it both for the fact that having someone to take care of seems to be helping Peeta and the fact that Jona is so clearly damaged by what happened to him and his family. Not in the sense that I want him damaged, but in the sense that it seems both realistic and plausible. Thanks.

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 17th, 2014 01:27 am (UTC) (Link)
Sometimes, just letting the natural self get some air can help a lot.
sonetka From: sonetka Date: December 16th, 2014 06:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
All awesome. I wonder what Peeta's mother's parting words were in the AU where Prim wasn't reaped? Any chance she said the same thing but actually meant it for him?
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 16th, 2014 07:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
I figure she didn't show. She said, "Somebody has to run the bakery, you know," and left the Square after the Reaping. But just like in canon, Peeta got passive-aggressive payback on national television.

-- Tom
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 17th, 2014 01:27 am (UTC) (Link)
Eh, she probably came. Appearances. She probably didn't say anything about a winner, though.
sonetka From: sonetka Date: December 17th, 2014 02:38 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, if she didn't show in this AU it would mean she showed for Peeta in canon purely to let him know that D12 would have a winner that wasn't him, so in your face, unsatisfactory third child! Even for Mirrem, that's a little much. Besides, she's a good actress. People know to varying degrees that all is not peaceful in House Mellark but not going to see your son before he's shipped off to what's likely his death looks really bad.
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 20th, 2014 06:17 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm the anon who asked for the last of these, and I love it--thank you so much! (I'm sorry to be late in commenting; real life has been a bit frantic lately.)

It's fascinating to me that this Gamemaker!Haymitch doesn't sound to me quite like your Haymitch usually does, and I'm really struggling to pin down exactly why that is. It certainly isn't anything as obvious as "selling out", but a slight frustration of our expectations from your canonical Haymitch and a slight diffusion of the intensity that we usually see in both his mentor's role and his relationship with Effie. An ever-so-slight lessening of your Haymitch's cynicism, an ever-so-slight repositioning of himself with regard to the Games and the Gamesmakers, the fact that he needs to suppress even to his conscious self just how much he wants and needs to work against their plans and goals? Maybe it's a reflection of his broadening his focus--his sense of self--beyond the single-minded need to keep the kids alive as long as he can and blot out the fact that he can't keep them alive for the rest of the year, combined with the need to keep parts of himself hidden from Effie in ways that he really didn't need to in your canon, at least before her reprogramming? As much as anything, it might be a shift in the narrative focus that doesn't take us quite as far into the places in Haymitch's brain that we've come to know--almost as if the AU character were blocking us out along with his own sense of unease or redirecting our attention along with the Gamemakers' and the Capitol's.

tl;dr: a fascinating way to think about how this shift in the rules of the AU causes subtle but perceptible changes in Haymitch's character and mentality. Again, thank you!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 21st, 2014 12:53 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

I think there's a lot of cognitive dissonance in there, or it felt like it when writing. He knows it's wrong, but he's also, for the first time in many years, happy. But he recognizes the cost of the happiness, and hates himself for feeling it, but...

All in all, it's like he unplugs just enough to deal with the conflict.

There's also the matter of his boredom being cured. He has a constant intellectual plaything in the Games, not just during the high emotional state he was in as a mentor. The distraction factor of the Capitol in his case is really pushing a lot out of his head. He's both aware and not aware of it. Anyone looking from the outside would probably see that his rebellion dreams have become pipe dreams, but he's not outside his head, and he's still trying to tell himself that he's not really one of them, even as he is clearly in their world. If Snow had a good strategic brain, that's what he would have done to all of the victors -- not exploited them, but actually given them everything they could possibly want, including the illusion of control.
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