I know going in that District Two can never be anything but a disaster, and I am right. Cato's family is neither the Greens in Eight nor Charlotte's family from Four. They may or may not see Katniss as his murderer, but they certainly behave as though he should have won. Clove's family, I can see from the steps of the Justice Building, wants blood. It may have been Thresh who killed her, but he did it in the process of stopping her from killing Katniss. They've hated her since the day of the feast. The banquet at the Justice Hall is sumptuous, but cold. No one tries to talk to Katniss and Peeta, so they use it as an excuse to play up the romance a little, dancing with one another all night. Peeta tries to express admiration for Clove and Cato's strengths, since he had allied with them, but even he is unable to sway the upper crust in District Two.
There are so many victors here that the government routinely rations the feast tickets to six a year, so I know I won't see all of them, but only three show up. Otho Magro, who won a few years ago and is generally a good kid, makes an appearance and says hello to me, but doesn't stay long enough to meet the kids after their dance. Brutus is around every year, as far as I know -- he loves the Games -- but he seems to be glued to the bar, which is enough to keep me away from it. I don't make an effort to introduce him to Katniss or Peeta. Enobaria comes in while they're playing to the cameras, stands beside me silently for a little while, then sniffs, "They do put on a good show, don't they?"
"They love each other," I say.
"Yeah. I bet. I'd love anyone who kept my backside covered, too." She wrinkles her nose at them, then leaves without saying hello to them or goodbye to me.
If anything, District One is worse. Clove's death was only tangentially related to Katniss and Cato's ended up a mercy kill, but in District One, there's no getting around it. She dropped a nest of tracker jackers on Glimmer, and shot Marvel through the throat. She doesn't attempt to bond with anyone. Gloss and Cashmere have been invited to banquet, but the mayor makes a point of telling us that they declined, though a handful of the older victors attend. We are forced on a tour of Jewelers' Row, where I catch Katniss staring at a diamond ring. When I ask her about it, she just sighs and says, "I have an idea. I need to think about it."
Their appearances in the rebellious districts have done nothing to dampen the rising fires, and they haven't failed to notice it. I want to tell them that there was never a chance, that their very presence -- particularly Katniss's presence -- made the embers flare up, and that all the displays of love in the world couldn't help, because most of the rebels never doubted that she loved him in the first place. They consider that her first rebellion.
All the public kisses, all the dances, all the maudlin staring into one another's eyes -- if anything, it feeds the rebellion, at least the more romantically inclined of us. The more cynical among us might not be inspired, but they're certainly not deterred.
There are two problems with telling the kids this. The first is that we're constantly bugged now, and I can't very well share anything about the rebellion or how the people involved in it might feel. The second is that it would throw them into a tailspin to know that they can't do anything at all to assuage Snow's anger. He set Katniss an impossible task, and will now gleefully hold her to it.
I'd hoped that a good enough show from them would at least convince Snow that they're not actively agitating, but even that might have been optimistic of me. I think now that he will just torment them into putting on ever more ridiculous displays until he finally decides to kill them. It's payback for putting him a situation that he couldn't profit from.
But we're in deep now, and as we pull into the Capitol, into the cheering crowds of fans, there's no chance to undo the damage.
We get to the training center at around ten in the morning. The kids will have prep later for an interview with Caesar, but we actually have a few minutes to rest. We go to the kitchen area, and I turn on the water to confuse the bugs. "You've done everything you can," I tell them.
"No," Katniss says, then sighs. "There's one more thing. Peeta, at the interview... you could propose. I'll say yes. Then it's all we can do."
Peeta closes his eyes and leans on the wall, pressing his fingers against his eyelids. He nods. "Yeah. Yeah, I guess that's the inevitable, isn't it? I'll..." He takes a shaky breath then opens his eyes and says, "I'll go get something written up. It'll be good." He turns and heads off to his room.
Katniss starts to follow, but I grab her arm and say, "Let him be."
She looks after him, pained. "I thought he wanted it anyway," she says.
I shake my head. "Not like this. He wanted it to be real." I turn off the water to end the conversation. I doubt it's any better for Katniss than for Peeta. She goes to her room.
I go to the bar, pour myself a drink, and palm the pills Valentine gave me. I'm not on television tonight. I have nothing at all to do but sit here and hate Snow, which is something I've gotten very good at over the years.
Peeta emerges after about forty minutes, goes to the door, and nods to me. I follow him up to the roof, which is someplace I never thought to go. I realize now why he comes up here - the air filtration system is even better than running water. I follow him to the roof ledge, and we look out across the Capitol.
"It's pretty here," he says out of nowhere.
"For the price we pay, it better be," I say.
"I don't think she really wants to marry me."
"You're both pretty young," I suggest.
"Should I back off it, Haymitch? I mean, you're right. We're young. They can't expect us to just get married. I mean, what's next? Are we supposed to have children right away? I don't think she even wants them."
I don't know how to answer this, and Peeta doesn't seem to be waiting for an answer.
"Would they understand in the Capitol that we're really young?" He bites his lip. "Everyone says my brother Jonadab was too young to get married, and he and Sarey were twenty."
"That's pretty young."
"Well, there's a baby. They're saying it's due in March, and when it's born in January, everyone will say she's early. It might even be born by the time we get back."
"I guess getting married to save the country is a good reason to get married, too. And Jonadab and Sarey are pretty happy, actually. Do you think Katniss and I could be happy? If we try?"
This time, he does wait for an answer. He's looking at me imploringly. I wish I'd had more time to drink. "I don't know, Peeta," I say. "You're in a bad situation. That's not about you. If anyone can make Katniss happy, I think it's you."
"What about her actual boyfriend?" he asks dryly, and looks back out over the city. "Once we're clear of here, I'll tell her she doesn't have to.... I mean that I don't expect her to... that she can..." He wipes violently at his face. "I promised I'd be her friend, Haymitch. This is a lot to ask for friends."
He sighs and looks out over the Capitol. "My dad said you loved a girl when you were sixteen. He said you married her, but she died right after the Games."
My gut tightens up, and I hate Danny a little bit for sharing this particular piece of information. It doesn't belong to him.
Or maybe it does. I don't know. He scrubbed her off of me. Maybe she belongs to him, too, at least a little bit. But I doubt that's why he told Peeta. I expect it was more along the lines of, Let me explain Haymitch to you, son…
Peeta looks at me quizzically, then says, "It's true, then?"
I nod. "Yeah. It's true. Your grandfather used to send bread for the tributes in the Justice Building. My girl came and… well, she wanted to do a toasting. It wasn't legal. Just…" I shake my head. "It's not your business, or Danny's, for that matter."
"What was her name?"
I shake my head. "It was a long time ago."
"So long you forgot her name?" I don't answer him, though he stares at me for a very long time. He shakes his head. "Never mind. I'll do it. I'll propose to Katniss. Maybe it'll do some good. And I'll let her be happy however she needs to be." He takes a deep breath. "I better get back down. The preps will be here soon. Maybe Effie can find a ring for me to give her." He starts back inside, bent over heavily.
"Peeta?" I call.
"Indigo," I say. "Indigo Hardy. Everyone called her Digger. And that's the last time you're going to hear it. Are you happy?"
"Thank you, Haymitch," he says, and goes inside.
I stay on the roof.
Finish my drink.
Effie comes up to collect me an hour later, and makes me walk a line to prove I'm sober enough to sit in Caesar Flickerman's audience. She seems annoyed that I'm not wobbling, since it means she has to deal with me, and makes me freshen my breath before we go. She also feeds me more of Valentine's pills, since there will be a feast after the interview. She actually insists on a double dose, since there will be more there to drink. Great. At least whatever it is keeps the shakes from coming, but it does sort of defeat the purpose.
The interviews with Caesar are supposed to be spontaneous, so the interview subjects can't be seen with him before they go out on stage. As a general rule, though, mentors brief him on what he needs to lead them to. He's delighted to find out that there will be a proposal, and says he can work it up dramatically.
"I like those kids," he says. "You're looking after them, aren't you, Haymitch? Keeping them out of trouble?" He raises his eyebrows, and I guess he knows that Snow is gunning for them.
"I’m doing my best," I say. "And they're doing theirs."
"And I'll do mine," he concludes, then goes out on stage to introduce them.
He does. If he suspects that there's anything not entirely sincere, it doesn't show. He gives them questions they can answer in some entertaining way that will advance the narrative. Peeta pulls a story out of the ether about playing in the snow together. It's endearing enough, though in my opinion, for once, Katniss tops it by sincerely extolling Peeta for what a great comfort he is, and what a good man he's become. Not to be outdone on Caesar's stage, Peeta gets down on his knees and pours out every good thing he feels about her, then tops it off with a marriage proposal that probably has every young woman in Panem daydreaming... and every young man in Panem shaking in his shoes.
Katniss accepts. Caesar has live cameras on several districts, and there seems to be very genuine excitement. In Four, I even see Finnick giving the thumbs up, though it might be sarcastic. The camera pans Twelve, but there aren't many people out and about. I see Peeta's middle brother and his girlfriend hooting and hollering. There are no shots of the Seam or the Victors' Village. In Eight, there is a huge crowd in the street, some holding up signs pledging their love for Peeta and Katniss, but the cameras abruptly cut away. I will have to ask Cecelia what happened. Eleven more or less considers Katniss one of its own since her alliance with Rue, and the people are delirious with joy. Katniss, watching, looks a little overwhelmed.
Apparently Effie couldn't find a ring, because one isn't presented. What is presented is President Snow, coming out in a surprise appearance to pretend to wish them well. I can't tell what he says to Katniss privately, but they joke about passing laws to make her mother let her get married before she's thirty. Katniss is surprisingly good at this particular lie, and Peeta is always good, so they get through it.
Effie tugs my hand and pulls me out of the audience, to the little stage door that goes to the work area. She flashes her escort badge at the guards, and they let us in.
Katniss has been whisked away to be changed for the party. Peeta apparently doesn't need a new costume, so he is sitting on a little overstuffed chair, looking green.
Effie goes to him, all smiles, and pinches his cheeks. "You did it! Oh, it was just wonderful! Did you see how happy everyone is for you?"
Peeta digs up a sunny smile from some closed off storage space inside him and says, "I don't need people to be happy for me... how could I be any happier?"
This undoes Effie, and she starts weeping and telling him how wonderful and sweet and good he is. For whatever reason, this seems to give Peeta something to focus on, and he fusses over Effie while we wait for Katniss to get back, giving her a hug and telling her what a great escort she's been. He invites her to the wedding and tells her she can sit with his family. Caesar gets into the act, and is also invited to sit on the Mellark side of the aisle. I doubt either one of them realizes that this is a guarantee of a very tense day.
"Where do I sit?" I ask.
"Who says you're sitting?" he says. "You better be standing up there with me, right with my brothers. Unless Katniss wants you to give her away, I guess."
Despite the fact that I know he's acting, that I know he's about as happy about this wedding as he would be about a knife in the gut, I feel absurdly touched.
I really need a drink. Apparently, I get sentimental when I'm sober for too long.
Katniss comes out in another of Cinna's creations, and we're all swept over to the evening's car. Cameras crowd the way, and Katniss and Peeta give them a kiss to film. Katniss actually seems to be in better spirits, and is putting on an unusually good show as we arrive at the presidential mansion. She smiles and waves the way she did in the chariot at the tribute parade. She is the queen of the moment, and, to all appearances, she is enjoying it. Peeta goes along with her, but he's more used to leading than following on the narrative, and I can see him trying to figure out her game.
I wish him luck. I haven't the foggiest idea what she's up to, other than getting to the food. As soon as we are inside, she pulls Peeta along to the tables and starts making up for the last week of picking at nothing.
The party is impressive even by Capitol standards. If the strikes start, it may be the last of its kind. There's food from everywhere, music played from angel platforms, fountains of every kind of drink I can imagine. I head for the liquor fountains, which are in the center of the banquet hall. I get a glass of something amber and potent. It tastes fine, but has no effect with the double dose of sober pills, which makes the whole thing kind of a waste. I don't care. I drink it down and get a second before a Capitol woman with a bright purple wig pushes past me to get some, recognizes me, and starts to ask what I think will be in the next Quell.
I've had two drinks, so I guess I should seem drunk. I say, "Well, I think the tributes will have jet packs, and the whole thing will be in the damned sky. That's why they've got the angel platforms. It's a clue." I waggle my eyebrows.
She laughs wildly. "Oh, that would be wonderful! Are you mentoring, or will Peeta mentor?"
This thought hasn't actually occurred to me. There's no reason Peeta can't mentor the boy from Twelve this year. Except that I can't see him teaching a tribute to kill when the Games get brutal. He'll spend all his time hoping for a miracle like he got. "I guess we'll flip for it," I tell the woman, and fill my glass again.
"Going a little heavy on that, aren't you?" someone says behind me.
I glance over my shoulder and am not surprised to see Plutarch Heavensbee. "No danger," I say. "Magic dust from the medics."
"Let's not trust it," he says, leading me away. We go outside to the rose garden.
His partner, Fulvia Cardew, is standing beside a small greenhouse. She looks at me like I'm a particularly disgusting lab specimen. She leads us to a little greenhouse that's locked with a padlock.
"This is one of President Snow's private greenhouses," Plutarch gushes. "Who knows what secret things are talked about in here?"
In other words, Snow doesn't bug his own sanctuaries.
Fulvia pulls out a key and opens the lock. We go in.
"You sure?" I ask.
"Oh, yeah," Plutarch says. "Fulvia and I have met with several people here. There's no monitoring at all. Is Katniss ready?"
I sigh. "No. Not even close. We need to get her trust, and we can't just jump into asking her to pull off a performance. She's been doing one for the last two weeks, and she's exhausted."
"She seems chipper enough to me," Fulvia says coolly. "But you haven't even brought the subject up, have you? Do I need to remind you how important it is to create a symbol for people to rally around?"
"They have the mockingjay."
"A gold pin doesn't have a voice," Plutarch says dismissively. "Katniss Everdeen does. She is our mockingjay."
"She's a scared sixteen-year-old girl. She doesn't have any more reason to trust the rebellion than she has to trust Snow."
Fulvia hisses unpleasantly at a file folder in her arms.
"Look, lady," I say, "I may not be a Capitol expert in psychological warfare, but I know Katniss, which is more than either of you can say."
"Is your loyalty to the rebellion?" Fulvia asks. "Or are you going to break if someone threatens the girl?"
"The girl has been threatened a lot," I say. "And the girl, and the boy, and all the rest of the tributes are why I'm loyal. That doesn't mean I'm just going to hand her over to you people."
Fulvia starts to argue, but Plutarch touches her shoulder and says, "No, Haymitch is right. Katniss will need to know us if she's going to help us. If he thinks our plan to introduce her into the rebellion is premature, then we will trust his judgment."
"But, Plutarch - "
"If she's not in, though," he says regretfully, "then she needs to be out until she's ready."
"I know," I grumble. "So, she gets nothing until I think she's ready for everything."
"Well, maybe we can start getting her to trust us," Fulvia says. "Just little things, so that when she does come in, we don't have to convince her every time."
"What do you suggest?" Plutarch asks.
"She'll be a mentor," Fulvia says. "Slip her a hint about the arena."
"What is the arena?" I ask.
Plutarch shakes his finger playfully and says, "Now, now, it's not your trust I need to gain. But I'll tell you this: We're nearly out of time."
With this, he scurries out. Fulvia follows. I am left alone in Snow's greenhouse.
I wander it for a few minutes, drowning in the strong smell of his roses. There doesn't seem to be anything in here that would be useful to anyone. I can't see why he'd bother keeping it locked, unless he's worried that someone will stab him with his pruning shears. This idea has its merits.
"How did you get in here?"
I look up. Two Capitol attendants are standing at the door of the greenhouse. I make a show of smelling a rose, then slur, "I just came in. The flowers are so pretty."
"The door was locked, Mr. Abernathy."
"It wasn't when I came in!" I say indignantly. This is, technically, true, since Fulvia unlocked it.
"Come with us."
"I'm supposed to be at the party," I say. "My tributes are in there."
"They'll survive without you."
A cold finger of fear touches the base of my spine. "We have to leave by one. Effie will be upset."
"Oh, we'll have you back to Momma before bedtime," one of the attendants says, his eyes twinkling. "But for now, you'll come with us."
I debate grabbing the pruning shears and making a run for it. There's not a bad chance of getting away if they're surprised. Open the scissors, slice across the throat of the one on the right, and stab the other while he's still in shock.
At which point, they'd notice that two Capitol attendants are dead and the District Twelve mentor is missing. Katniss and Peeta would be dragged in for questioning. Probably Effie as well.
I sigh and let them cuff me. As Chaff put it when he started sneaking me into District Eleven, If I die, I'm dead. There will still be people left.
I'm marched across the garden into an old part of the mansion that's not used for social occasions. A rich red carpet silences our footsteps as we cross between dark, wood-paneled walls to an ornate set of double doors. One of the attendants knocks.
From the other side of the doors, someone says, "Come."
I know that voice.
The doors open, and I see Snow. He is sitting across the table from a little girl of nine years or so. She is wearing a party dress, and has her hair in a wild spill of ringlets. They are building a tower of blocks, and they both seem calm and happy, like any other family. It seems like a very strange thing to see Snow do.
"Sir," the attendant says, "we found Mr. Abernathy in your private greenhouse. He claims the door was unlocked."
"Ah, interesting," Snow says. "I always lock that greenhouse." He looks at the little girl, then at the attendants. "Please let me speak to Mr. Abernathy alone," he says. "If you wouldn't mind, I think my granddaughter might enjoy the party. Perhaps you could even give her a glimpse of our guests of honor. Would you like that, Prisca? Would you like to see the Girl on Fire?"
The girl shakes her head and rolls her eyes hugely. "Gampy, the boy was on fire, too."
"So he was, so he was. Why don't you go with Balbus and Hadrian? Gampy needs to have a conversation with Mr. Abernathy."
The attendants lead Prisca away and close the door behind them.
"My granddaughter," Snow says. "I intend for her to live in a stable world."
"Then maybe you should shut down the arenas. Life's not real secure when kids can get thrown into a killing pit."
"Ah, but it's so much less bloodshed than the war caused. Do you know how many tributes have died since the games began, Mr. Abernathy?"
"Seventeen-hundred and twenty-five," I tell him quickly. I've done this math in my head. Seventy two years of twenty-three kids dying, twenty-two in last year's, and of course, forty-seven in my year. "I can name the last twenty-four years' worth, if you want."
"That won't be necessary. I have any number of records. Seventeen-hundred and twenty-five. Less than one tenth of one percent the number that died during the uprisings."
"It's not really comparable."
He sits down behind his desk and examines me over steepled fingers. "Your school records were impressive," he says. "As were the tests on your intelligence that we ran after your Games. Quite off the charts. What a pity you've chosen to pickle your brain in alcohol and sedition. Speaking of which" -- he pulls out a crystal decanter of whiskey and pours two glasses -- "would you care for a drink?"
I take the glass, but wait to see if he drinks his first.
He smiles faintly and takes a good, large swallow. "Who let you into my greenhouse, Mr. Abernathy?"
"No one. It was open."
"I have traitors even here in the Capitol. We've found traces of their activities."
He takes another swallow of his drink, and still seems fine. "Oh, no, I don't think you'll be checking back with your friends to tell them where to be careful." He gives me a frustrated look and says, "Oh, please, Mr. Abernathy, if you don't trust the drink I gave you, take mine." He grabs the glass out of my hand and puts his own in it. Then he takes a long drink.
I drink. I know I shouldn’t, but the smell of it... this is the good stuff.
"Now, tell me, who let you in?"
I blink my eyes. The room is getting suddenly watery. I take another drink. "I told you. It was open."
"I don't believe you. And I think you'll find it in your interest to answer me truthfully."
I finish off the drink. There is something gritty at the bottom of the cup. I look up. "What...?"
Snow pulls out a vial of something clear. "I suggest you answer me, Mr. Abernathy. The poison in the cup isn't quite as quick as the berries your young friends had, but if you don't get an antidote soon... well, it would be unfortunate."
So this is it. He must have taken the antidote himself.
There is no antidote. He won't let you live to report on this.
The room spins. "Door was open," I say again.
"I know it wasn't Miss Everdeen. She's in plain view."
"Katniss doesn't know anything. Neither does Peeta, before you ask." My gorge starts to rise, and the pattern on Snow's carpet starts writhing beneath my feet.
"Then who does? Who opened the door, Mr. Abernathy?"
The room is now spinning, the lights turning into jagged pinwheels in the air. "It was open," I say.
"Very well," Snow says. "A pity. I'll send my attendants to find you when it's time to leave. It's such a shame, the toll too much drinking can take on the body."
I fall out of the chair and onto the floor, my body a boat in storm-tossed seas strangling in the floral carpet.
Snow steps over me.
I black out before he even leaves the room.