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Repost: The Golden Mean, Chapter 3 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Repost: The Golden Mean, Chapter 3

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

"Don't be ridiculous," Effie says, looking mildly curious and very confused. It's better for her to stay confused. She has any number of irritating traits and her priorities are severely skewed, but she doesn't need to be in line for interrogation if we're pulled in. Since she's already been "re-educated," I don't want to think about what they have in mind for her next. She doesn't know anything.

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

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

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

Somehow, Katniss picks up that Effie isn't to know (another thing I probably should have mentioned to her, but I didn't expect a demonstration this soon), and tells her that there was truck backfire. The "truck" backfires twice more. I think of Seeder and Chaff, moving through the crowd outside. I don't think they'd start shooting victors yet… but eventually, it's going to come to that.

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

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

"What happened?" I ask them.

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

I need time to think. If Thirteen were ready, if Plutarch weren't stalling to make a statement during the Quell, if Beetee already had control of the airwaves, I'd tell them everything. But none of those things is true, and I can't afford for Katniss to fly off the handle any more than she already has, and, if I'm going to be honest, I'm not entirely sure where Peeta would stand. Danny is one of us, but he's also convinced that this is what got Peeta Reaped in the first place (possibly Prim as well, if the Capitol believed some scurrilous local rumors). I have no idea what he's shared with his sons. Mir... the less said the better. I buy time by asking Katniss to explain everything, at least as she understands it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We're bastards.

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

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

He storms off.

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

I shrug. "Yeah."

"Why? You like him better."

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

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

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

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

He turns. "What?"

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

"Oh, I'm mad at you."

"Good. But you know... Katniss is out on a ledge. Don't push her off it. I know you've got people, too. As it happens, I give a damn about your people, and don't you forget that. But she's the one Snow threatened face to face."

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

I don't say anything.

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

"Yeah. It's important enough."

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cinna and Portia go to deliver the clothes.

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

"Sweetheart, if a Capitol pedigree and a couple of decades in Capitol Dreams don't help you, a drunk victor from District Twelve isn't going to have much to offer."

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

"Is that your job these days?"

She nods primly, and I smile. I sometimes hate the sight of her these days, but what the hell, maybe she is still my friend, somewhere under the re-education.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What's going on?" I ask.

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

"Twin sister," Winnow clarifies. "I saw your girl mourn my brother. They tried to pass it off as her being tired, but she was mourning him. I saw it. Who else ever did that in the arena, for someone from another district? Someone who wasn't even her ally? We owed her something. Rue's dad thought so, too."

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

"Who?" I ask.

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

"And the dead man?"

"I never saw him before."

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

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

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

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

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

"Since my parents died," she says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She gets up and rushes off into the night.

"Hothead," Chaff says.

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

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

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

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

There's nothing to say to this. The class system in District Eleven makes the divide between the Seam and the town in Twelve look like child's play, and I can't even start to make sense of it. Chaff and I talk for a while, then I realize I need to get back before my absence is noted. He mutters, "See you at the Games, then," and vanishes the way Winnow went. I go back inside.

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

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

District Ten goes off without a hitch. The ranchers are polite and respectful. The food is great. Katniss and Peeta make a show of being caught trying to sneak out for a necking session. They're doing well enough that even I'm not sure whether they actually were having one. The District Ten victors aren't there, either. I have a feeling that victors are going to be in a short supply this year.

District Nine, which mills a lot of the grain grown in District Eleven as well as growing their own, couldn't be more different in personality. They're brow-beaten and miserable, and haven't had hope of a victor for years. The ones they had a couple of decades ago were vicious then, and are plain mean now. They keep to themselves even during the Games. The kids don't do anything spectacular here. No one would believe District Nine makes anyone feel romantic. I'm surprised they manage to propagate themselves here.

It's Eight I'm worried about. Eight is ready to rebel already, and angry at the world. And Peeta killed one of their tributes in the Games and used her death to secure his standing in the Careers (not that she didn't give a blessing for this before sending him on his way).

Cecelia brings fabric to Cinna, making a great show of wanting to get a sneak peak at Katniss's dresses. Inside the fabric, there's a note that there have already been minor clashes with Peacekeepers. She's been told to stay away from the banquet, and Woof is "unwell" -- he has been since he hurt his head in a fall on the ice a few years ago. There is also a note that says "East Room, Justice Hall, camera broken." Cecelia taps it when she says, "There are people here who'd sure love to meet Peeta, if you can swing it."

This surprises me. Peeta's killing of the girl from Eight wasn't shown to the whole country. I saw on my little viewing screen that she begged him to do it, and that he fought to keep from screaming when it was done. All they would have seen was him cutting her throat while she muttered crazy nonsense under her breath.

He was obsessed with her for the first couple of months back in District Twelve, and had Effie sending him things since we got home to tell him who the girl was and what she was about. I don't know much about it; I just saw packages coming to him on a regular basis. I know she was a little crazy at the end from the pain, whispering about rock-men and shushing someone who wasn't there. If they want Peeta to give them a more thorough accounting, I think they'll be disappointed. I doubt he'd have needed to go on a search for her identity if she'd told him anything comprehensible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You want to talk?"

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

"You going to talk to her about it?"

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

I nod. "Sure."

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

I don't see the spindle again.

We move on.
9 comments or Leave a comment
vesta_aurelia From: vesta_aurelia Date: January 25th, 2015 03:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
The Greens (and the boy Jacob) each touch
Jacob or Jakob? You use both spellings within a few paragraphs of each other.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 26th, 2015 03:29 am (UTC) (Link)

I think I'll keep Jakob (they seem to like more simplified spellings in Panem), but man, that was kind of boneheaded of me.
vesta_aurelia From: vesta_aurelia Date: January 26th, 2015 04:07 am (UTC) (Link)
That's why you're posting, yeah? So it's good. Don't beat yourself up.

I feel kind of bad--I just reply to make a niggly comment like that. But you said you wanted edits...?

Anyway, I can crawl inside your Haymitch's head any time and, though he might not enjoy it, I do. His particular flavors of despair and self-destruction are literary catnip to me.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 26th, 2015 04:25 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I definitely want edits! Don't feel bad for pointing out when I do something like that. This story's pretty old now, and some of it was written much faster than it should have been in the first place (it was just busting out of my brain at the time, about as fast as I could type it), so it probably has a lot of silly things like that, where I just made a snap choice in one paragraph and the opposite one in the next.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 27th, 2015 12:01 am (UTC) (Link)
I think one of the more interesting throw-aways in this series of stories is your bit about the Collector. I love the way you incorporate religion in general, and this specifically is wonderful to see how the South moved into Panem.

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 27th, 2015 03:38 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't know the South well enough to go into it in detail (I'm a damnyankee for the entire family history that I know), but that kind of itinerant preaching seemed true to what I do know.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 28th, 2015 03:52 am (UTC) (Link)
And I think you're exactly right: I've lived in the deep south for most of my life and it's a beautiful projection forward of the strongest elements of preaching nowadays.
From: queen_bellatrix Date: January 27th, 2015 05:45 am (UTC) (Link)
Only things I found this chapter were a few typos.:)

traits and her priorities Think maybe you're missing a comma after traits?

that there was truck backfire Think maybe you're missing a few words; should this maybe be something like that there was a truck that backfired, or that a truck backfired?

of the rebellion this Just missing an in before this.

because sponsor chos Just missing an a before sponsor.

killed you daughter Just need to change the you to your.

think you have much use Should you be you'll?

less said the better Am thinking you probably didn't include a comma after said for sentence flow purposes, but just wanted to mention in case I was wrong.

In all my rereadings, I never realized: That conversation in the prep room is what put Snow on high alert, isn't it? In the chapter where Plutarch comes to Twelve, I remember him asking Haymitch if he realized at all how closely he was being watched; I know part of that may be a continuity thing, because in TLT you have him definitely realizing how close a watch Snow is keeping. But, while Snow probably suspected Haymitch was planning something, that conversation with Peeta gave him everything he needed; I read: "Is it important enough?" and just started figuratively banging my head going: "Bugs, Peeta, bugs!" But, what a brilliant move, to embed it this early in the story.

Chaff! And Cecelia! Every time I see victors from the Quell in this, I want the Games to be a different scenario. Admittedly, that would have been just as horrible in its way, but you've devoted so many hundreds of words to these people and their relationships with Haymitch; reading the arena chapters is going to be hell; oddly fitting, since living them was. Chaff was awesome, per usual; I love how much like brothers he and Haymitch are, even though neither of them would outright say anything of the kind.

Though, I am curious; I kept meaning to ask this since Rites, and then kept forgetting. Why does Eleven have a council? I mean, I know for plot purposes, it's the only reasonable way for Chaff to give Haymitch a key to the building; but in the overall political scheme, was it to keep such a large District relatively pacified; the fence as the stick, and an ostensible, if essentially powerless, voice in the decisions of the District the carrot?

Loved the awful mess Haymitch is in; he has a very valid point about "young idealists" and Plutarch/the rebellion is moving so fast, there's no way to bring them in slowly and teach them the ropes.

The entire sequence in Eight was as brilliant as the first time I read it; the Greens really were a wonderful family. I would hope that, if my child perished in something that awful, I could show the compassion they did. And I think I'll go research drop spindles now; they seem interesting.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 27th, 2015 07:28 am (UTC) (Link)
Eleven... it was an early installment weirdness. I think I originally intended every district to have a sort of figurehead rubber-stamp council, but it didn't end up working that way. We'll say it's because of the sheer size of Eleven. They have reps from all the little settlements who come together to get orders from the Capitol and take them back where they came from to be implemented, since the communication system can be hit and miss. Chaff's the rep from the main town.

That very well could be when Snow got what he needed. I think Peeta's less aware of the bugs than Katniss is, even though he's better with the hidden cameras in the arenas. I think Haymitch is upset at this point (he's not sure if Chaff and Seeder were shot), and that's why he's not thinking quite as clearly as he thinks he is.

I'll get the typos tomorrow.
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