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Repost: The Golden Mean, Chapter 17 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Repost: The Golden Mean, Chapter 17
Not too much, though some things had to be adjusted when he's talking about Effie's past, since he knows much more about it than I originally thought (though not everything).

Chapter Seventeen
The elevator goes up in a reasonable time after Katniss enters the evaluation, and I let myself think for maybe a minute that everything is all right. Peeta's no hotheaded zealot, so maybe whatever he did was just messy. Katniss is a zealot (though nowhere near as hotheaded as she thinks she is), but whatever she did took a normal amount of time, and there are no Peacekeepers storming through the lounge door to take me away.

But before I can convince myself of this scenario -- and that would be a long shot, anyway -- the door from the stairs opens, and Plutarch glares at me. I start over toward him to see what he wants, but he just shakes his head, slams the door, and leaves.

"Someone's in trouble," Cecelia says, leaning over my shoulder with a grin. "I do that when I'm so angry I don't dare go near my kids." She looks at me in an evaluative way and says, "Maybe you shouldn't go near yours, either. You don't look much calmer than Heavensbee."

"I'm fine," I grumble. I go to the elevator and go upstairs. I try to keep my temper under control when I ask them what they did. I mostly manage it by remembering that I'm the one who didn't tell them they were in a minefield and needed to watch their steps. Of course, they probably should have figured that out on their own.

It turns out that Peeta decided to smack them over the head with a moral lesson about what they did to Rue McKissack, by painting a portrait of her surrounded by white flowers -- the ones that no one is supposed to know about -- on the floor of the Training Center. To hold them accountable, apparently. Bully for accountability.

Effie nearly hyperventilates at the thought that he's been thinking forbidden thoughts, and I'm distracted for a moment by a burning, white hot hatred for Capitol Dreams.

I don't have much time to spare for it, though. I'm too busy trying not to blow up at Peeta. He may not be a zealot, but self-righteous moral philosophers aren't much more welcome in Snow's Capitol, and all he's going to do is put Snow's back up about all of us.

Of course, Katniss must have realized that he did something crazy, because she decided to top it.

By hanging an effigy of Seneca Crane.

Great. The leader of the rebellion -- at least as the Capitol politicians see it -- just threatened to execute the Gamemakers. That'll be helpful. Nothing to see here.

Peeta caps the whole conversation off by saying, "And Haymitch? We decided we don't want any other allies in the arena."

For a moment that I guess I'll spend the rest of the Games regretting -- at the moment I don't care -- I am perfectly content to tell everyone to let Katniss and Peeta do whatever the hell they want, damn the consequences. "Good," I say. "Then I won't be responsible for you killing off any of my friends with your stupidity."

"That's just what we were thinking," Katniss says, and I realize that she means it, which breaks my anger. To Katniss, it's about not being forced to kill my friends.

The only problem is that, if they don't make the alliances, more people are going to die. If they're out there on their own, waiting out the Games and trying not to kill any of my friends, my friends are going to die trying to stop the Careers from hunting them down.

I sigh and sit down with them to wait for the scores.

Claudius Templesmith paints a bright target on them by awarding them perfect twelves on their evaluations. There's no way that was about the skills demonstrated. Neither painting nor noose-tying is a serious threat to anyone in the arena. The scores are nothing more than waving a red flag in front of Brutus and the rest of the Career pack. I hope Gloss has enough sense to talk him down.

I send the kids to bed. They don't even bother pretending to go to separate rooms. Whatever. At this late date in the Games, Peeta's not capable of any more mischief than finger-painting her or something. Even Effie doesn't make a scene about it.

We sit around in silence -- Cinna, Portia, Effie, and me. We all know what just happened.

"You're not really going to let them go in without allies?" Effie asks. "Everyone wants them, and if they turn people away… they'll be…"

"Targets?" I say. "Yeah. I know. I'll fix it."

I sigh. With the flare of my temper fading, I sympathize with them completely. I think we've all wanted to shove the Gamemakers' faces in what they do, and Katniss and Peeta think they're on their way to die, and they won't have another chance. I'd apologize, but I doubt they'd appreciate me interrupting the finger-painting just now.

She is still nervous from hearing Peeta's "forbidden thoughts." She gets up and paces around the living room, stopping at the window. "They're going to get themselves in so much trouble," she says. "Haymitch, they need to apologize to the Gamemakers. They can't… " Her eyelids flutter rapidly and she cups her elbows with her hands. "It's forbidden," she says again.

"How do they forbid you to think a thought?" Portia asks.

Effie looks puzzled. "What do you mean?"

"How do they forbid you to think something?"

"Well, they just... it's... it's forbidden."

"I never had to do anything myself," Cinna says. "But I remember once no one was allowed to talk to a boy who said we should have elections for a new president."

"Yes," Effie says, nodding. "Of course. When I was nine, I had to..." She giggles oddly. "Actually, Haymitch, it was your Quell. I said that it was mean that your friend died. I had to write out how many people died in the Dark Days, a thousand times on a blackboard in the playground, during recess. The other kids said I must like wars and want a lot of people to die. And they checked on my parents to make sure they weren't teaching me things like that." She bites her lip. "That's why they wanted me to work for Capitol Dreams. Do you remember that I was working as a runner the first time we met? He gave me an autograph on his Victory Tour," she tells Cinna.

"To the girl carrying everything," I say. "Which she still does."

She smiles at me warmly, then goes on with her story. "Anyway, when I was there, they taught me that… well, it's okay to know the Games are horrible sometimes. But it's much better than having a war. I had to do a report on the bombing of the Green Tower for school, and give it in front of the whole class."

I try to imagine little Effie Trinket, her hair in girly ringlets. She is standing in a playground while the Quell plays above her, writing on a blackboard over and over while I search through the woods for Filigree, planning to do murder. The other kids are making fun of her. The Peacekeepers descend on her home, and pack her off to listen to endless tirades at Capitol Dreams. Then, at some point after that, she has to stand up in front of everyone who'd been ridiculing her and recite the "right" way of thinking. All because she said it was "mean" that Maysilee Donner was murdered.

"Thanks," I say.

"What for?"

"Never mind. Just, thanks." I lean over and kiss her cheek. It may be the first time I've done that since they dragged her back to Capitol Dreams five years ago; I'm not sure.

She looks stunned. "Well, thank you for the kiss. But it's not going to get you out of meetings tomorrow." She shakes her finger at me playfully. "I have five sponsor meetings lined up for you. I'll take care of coaching Katniss and Peeta for their interview. I guess they'll be in prep all day the next day."

I wave it off. "Give them the day, Effie. They know how to walk in fancy clothes, and they already own the audience. Let them have a breather."

"I guess they've earned it," she says, then gets up, gathers her things, and leaves.

I talk to Portia and Cinna for a little while after she goes, mostly to distract myself from the almost certainly frustrating thought that Effie made it back from Capitol Dreams programming once, and she could do it again. Maybe it's true -- but it won't be before I'm long gone.

Cinna says that Snow has demanded that Katniss wear the winning wedding dress, but that he plans to make it more memorable than anyone anticipates. He won't tell me what he means.

"He won't even tell me," Portia says, annoyed.

"This one's on my head. Even Katniss won't know."

I don't find this reassuring.

They leave. I go to the bar, but Darius is locking up the liquor. He waggles his fingers around his head to indicate Effie's wig, then touches his mouth. Effie's orders. Which are ultimately my own orders, I guess.

Darius and Lavinia start cleaning up around the apartment. I wonder if either of them was ritually humiliated to spur right-thinking. If so, it apparently didn't take.

I dream about little Effie that night, with cramped and chalk-stained fingers, wandering through the arena and trying to find Maysilee.

In the morning, the real Effie shows up early, chirping that it's time to get ready for my first meeting. Today will be making deals, cutting agreements. They still can't give me money, but I'll have solid figures promised by the end of the day.

The breakfast meeting is with an old woman in the fashion district who is showing far too much interest in Peeta. Effie wasn't able to vet her, because she doesn’t have any real history with the Games. When I try to extract myself from the meeting, she asks me to stay with her for the day. She puts her hand on my back. I manage not to pick up a knife, though I can't quite get through a polite smile when I tell her that I'm terribly sorry, but Effie has me booked.

After that, there is a nice couple named Nova and Virgil Tannen, who I meet in a hotel conference room. They fell in love during last year's games, and want to give all of their monetary wedding presents to Katniss and Peeta, and beg me to work whatever magic I can to let them both live happily ever after. I tell them that I doubt another exception will be made, and Nova starts weeping. Virgil makes me promise to try.

I stay in the conference room for the next two meetings. One is with a serious gambler who's worked the odds and decided to put his money on Katniss. The other is with the popular boy singer who came to the victory celebration in Twelve last year and was excited to get Prim's autograph, of all things. He tells me to just let him know whatever I need. "I mean it, man. Whatever it takes to get them out of there. District Twelve can count on me. Everyone was nice to me there. Just tell me where to sign." He performs under the name Julian Day -- and apparently wrote a musical about last year's Games under that name -- but he signs the sponsor contract as Stephen Bregmen. When I ask, he shrugs and says, "My great-grandparents were from the districts, my friend. My parents won't say which, even if they did give me a district name. But Julian Day gets places that Stephen Bregman can't, you know? I guess they're both legal enough."

He shoves a pair of shades onto his face and slouches out. He's still mobbed in the hotel lobby when I leave for my next meeting ten minutes later.

This one is in a part of town I've never been, even during the days Drake and I wandered the Capitol ceaselessly, searching for new clubs. It's a residential area on the far side of the train station, nowhere that we'd have had cause to look.

No one in the Capitol is poor in a sense that District Twelve would recognize, but in Capitol terms, this is the Seam. People wear cheap imitations of Effie's fashions, live crowded into small apartments, and have to settle for second-hand technology. A lot of them are deep in debt (the Capitol actively encourages people to spend on credit, then cracks down hard if they fall behind), and I'd guess this is where a lot of the Peacekeepers who actually hail from the Capitol came from. The buildings look like Capitol buildings in the same way the clothes look like Capitol fashion -- cheap knock-offs.

There is a street fair going on. I check the address Effie gave me. It's smack in the middle of the block where booths line the street, and people are playing their own Games. At the corner, there's an archery game, where cushion-ended arrows are being shot with abandon at red bottles. A girl who has just missed a shot spots me and points, then giggles to her friend. I've seen the Capitol playing at the Games before. It's always questionable. I wonder why I'm here.

I enter the carnival.

My first thought, that this was some cheap aping of the Hunger Games themselves, isn't right. There aren't any general exhibits. It's all about District Twelve, and Katniss and Peeta.

Aside from the archery station, there's a "Paint Yourself Like Peeta" booth, where kids and adults are trying to camouflage themselves. There's a music booth, where District Twelve music is playing. There's a girl selling doll clothes that look like Katniss's dresses (I buy some, thinking Cinna will get a kick out of them, especially the ones with fake flames made from glitter), and someone has made Peeta's paintings into postcards. Blond "Prim" wigs made from yarn are a big seller, and there's a pamphlet containing all of the information on herbs that Ruth gave during the games. There's even a booth with a handmade sign that says "Mellarks' Bakery," where they're selling fresh District Twelve bread. Mockingjays are everywhere.

"Mr. Abernathy?"

I turn. A teenage boy with bleached curls is standing on the steps of one of the apartment buildings. I check, and it's the address I'm supposed to go to. "What's all this?" I ask.

"We're raising money to sponsor District Twelve," he says, and holds out his hand. "I'm Aurelian Benz."

That is the name on Effie's list. I shake his hand and say, "Haymitch Abernathy. Quite a set-up you've got here."

"I hope it's not offensive," he says. "It's just… no one has a lot of money. But we can pool what we have this way. It's all meant respectfully."

"It's a little strange," I say. He looks crestfallen, so I quickly add, "But it sure is a lot of work just to help out complete strangers."

Aurelian smiles brightly. "Come on," he says. "We're not exactly an official group. That's why I'm the only name. I'm the only one old enough to sign. But everyone wants to meet you." He shrugs nervously. "The little kids… well, excuse the… you'll see."

He leads me through the carnival, behind the "bakery," and into an alley between two buildings. He whistles Rue's tune. A window opens, and a little redheaded girl looks out and smiles. She looks at someone behind her and says, "They're here! Haymitch Abernathy is here!"

"They're excited," Aurelian says.

A door pops open, and he leads me inside. This building is obviously abandoned for some reason, and, like abandoned buildings in every place since the beginning of time, it's been taken over by local children. There are ten kids here. I have no idea who they are. They've set up a round table in a corner with no windows, and put up an old lantern.

"We never let the fire go out," a teenage girl tells me solemnly.

The little redhead curls up beside the older girl. They look nothing alike, but then, neither do Prim and Katniss. I have no doubt that they're sisters. The little one holds up a fashion doll, beaten up and dirty. It's one of the Katniss dolls released just after the Games. Currently, it's wearing the pants and boots from the arena, and the top of the yellow dress she wore for her last interview. The skirt has been hacked off around her thighs. "Yellow's my favorite color," the girl says.

"That's... nice."

"My sissy got my doll," she explains, leaning into her sister's arm. "So she could watch out for me when Tazzy's at school, just like Katniss watches out for her sissy."

"Mr. Abernathy doesn't care about that, Solly," the sister says.

"Actually," I say, "Mr. Abernathy cares a lot about that."

The older girl smiles faintly.

Aurelian tugs her hair and says, "This is Tacita Vole, and you met her sister, Solana."

The others come over and introduce themselves before they sit down. They all want handshakes. Aurelian, at eighteen, is the oldest. Solly is the youngest, at five, but she insists on telling me that she helped Tazzy make bread to sell at the bakery booth, so she is a sponsor, too. The others have participated in other booths (currently being staffed by other neighborhood kids, for the most part), and all of them are enthusiastic fans of Katniss and Peeta. Several of them have gone to the trouble to look up my Games as well, and duly express sorrow for the loss of Maysilee. One boy actually nearly cries over her, as if it happened yesterday.

Which, to him, it did. Watching something on television is pretty immediate, even if it was filmed a couple of decades ago.

My main job in these meetings is usually getting as much money out of a sponsor as I can, which requires listening to their stories, but here, they barely have enough to send in a cracker on the first day. They just need to tell their stories.

Aurelian was in with a bad crowd last year -- like Peeta with the Careers, as he interprets it -- and seeing that it was better to be a good person and love someone, he got on a better track, and started taking care of some of the other neighborhood kids.

Tazzy and Solly's parents are in debtors' prison, and they've been begging. Tazzy doesn't say it outright, but there are only so many ways for a pretty teenage girl to make money, and I suspect that it's not school she's at when Solly needs watching. I'm guessing that she got the doll on an old fashioned five-finger discount, which I'd congratulate her for if we were acknowledging these things. She started crying when Katniss volunteered for Prim. "I just felt like I knew her! I'd do anything for Solly, too! Katniss can't die."

A twelve-year-old boy named Faxon once had to steal back his things from bullies (just like Katniss destroying the Careers' supplies, as far as he's concerned). A girl named Elysia learned how to climb trees, which got her away from Peacekeepers who had arrested her parents for debt. (It is a common theme.) A pair of brothers named Curtis and Crispin saw Peeta's fight with Cato as an inspiration to stop picking fights for fun and start fighting to defend people. "Now everyone's out to get us," Crispin says, grinning crazily, "but it's way better."

Juniper, another girl who I suspect is not spending her days in school, didn't join until this year, when the chariot went by and she saw the anger on Katniss's face. She admired it.

The group is rounded out by a couple of twelve year olds who watched the Games at school last year and realized they could be Reaped if they were in the Districts. "I don't have anyone who could volunteer for me," the girl, Minerva, says. "I'd be scared to death."

The boy, whose name is Nonnie -- he was the one who almost cried for Maysilee -- just grins and says, "Katniss is really pretty."

After all those stories, something about that last, simple statement, strikes everyone, including me, as funny. We laugh.

"Anyway," Aurelian says, "that's why we're sponsoring. Everyone in the neighborhood likes them. That's why we have the fair. But we all want to give them something, because they gave us something."

I shake my head. "You kids should keep the money. Use it to... I don't know. Stop doing whatever you're doing." I frown at Tazzy and Juniper. "You need that money more than they do."

"It's not about what we need," Juniper says. "It's like... when I saw her at the parade, and she was so mad, I felt like I could get mad. Like it was okay to get mad. And I felt like I could get out."

Tazzy nods enthusiastically. "It's not about being mad for me. It's more like... I feel like I can win. Because she won."

"Besides," Faxon says, "we got a permit for the carnival saying it was for sponsoring. It's illegal to keep it for ourselves until after the Games, if you don't use it."

I try to argue with them -- I have everything I need -- but they insist. Finally, after two hours, I relent, and let Aurelian sign the sponsorship forms. He wants it to go toward arrows.

"And bread!" Solly insists.

Aurelian takes me back upstairs and out to the carnival. "They'll be okay in there," he says. "No one ever goes in there. We have food and everything."

"You need to help those girls get off the street," I tell him. "That's what you should raise money for."

He nods. "I know. I'm trying. But you know what? Tazzy learned to bake bread. Juniper made those postcards. They're learning how to do other things. That's good, too, isn't it?"

I admit that it is, then warn him to make sure everyone keeps their heads down, thinking of Effie's school story. He laughs and tells me that they've all seen enough punishments to know what never to say.

He goes back inside. I stay at the fair a while, buying bread (not as good as Peeta's, but not bad), looking at images of Maysilee and me being sold from a closed tent. The artist -- who's quite good -- has aged us up together. The boy running the booth offers to give me one, but I turn it down.

"Oh," he says, looking down. "I thought…" He bites his lip. "I made them all old. All the tributes."

He shows me a box of pictures. I see a middle-aged Violet Breen. Nasseh Rutledge with a receding hairline. River Boldwood with a child on his broad shoulders. Elmer Parton sitting with me in a park. Ginger McCullough leaning on her cane, her hair up in a dignified bun while she corrals a pair of teenage girls.

I look up. "These could get you in a whole lot of trouble."

"Why do you think the booth's closed?"

"Close up further. Keep these safe. And be careful."

He looks at the pictures. "This is the way it should be. I started last year during the Games. I drew Katniss and Peeta with grandchildren. And I just kept going. They're all…" He doesn't finish. He doesn't have to.

I take his name, hoping I'll have a chance to slip it to Plutarch, to get him protected by whoever's left in the Capitol after the Quell. I move on, not wanting to draw attention.

I look over the herbal medicine book, tell a few stories in the square, and talk to as many of the people as will come over to me. (Fame often creates shyness in people. It's a strange, one-sided relationship, and I don't think anyone really knows how to play it face to face.) I play a few of the games -- which I'm terrible at -- and finally let a seven year old girl in the camouflage booth paint me into a rainbow before I head back to the Training Center.

"That's a good look for you," Chaff says when I get there. "Street fair?"

"Yeah. I never heard of that before. I didn't know there were surprises left in the Capitol."

"There was one for Rue last year," Chaff says. "You were a little busy. Where was yours?"

I tell him. His was on the other side of town, by the power stations. Apparently, it's the only way the poorer parts of town can think about sponsoring. I wonder if they'd be allies, but thinking about it, I realize none of them were inspired to overthrow the government (except maybe the artist). They were just personally inspired to be better people. Which, in Snow's world, may be more revolutionary than a gunshot, but isn't really a war strategy.

I go up to the District Twelve apartment and don't find anyone there. I guess that the kids are on the roof, and discover that I'm right when I open the door a crack. They are sitting by the remains of a picnic. Katniss is asleep with her head on Peeta's lap, and he is stroking her hair, completely focused on her. I could probably slam the door without being noticed, but I don't.

Darius is back in the apartment when I get there, and I tell him to make sure people leave Katniss and Peeta alone. He grins lecherously and nods, then holds up four fingers and points at the floor. I nod, but decide to clean the rainbow off my face before I go downstairs to the District Four apartment.

It's never been forbidden to visit other floors in the Training Center, though of course, we only have the keys to our own floors, which makes it almost impossible to do. I have no idea exactly how I'm supposed to get there, so I head down to the lounge level, where I find Johanna also wandering.

"Any thoughts?" she asks.

I shake my head.

"What about that alliance?"

I wince. The last thing I want to tell Johanna Mason is that she's been rejected by a girl she claims she can't stand the sight of. "Well," I say, "you know they have to have conditions."


I think about it. "Yeah. Well -- you have to make sure Beetee and Wiress get to them."

She stares at me. "You're kidding. She wants me in charge of Nuts and Volts? What's she punishing me for?"

"Stripping in front of her fiancé?" I suggest.

"Oh. Right." She sighs dramatically, as if burdened with the entire world (though as far as I know, she's only mildly irritated by Wiress and knows perfectly well that Beetee's in the inner circles of the Rebellion). "Fine. I'll bring them with bells on."

The elevator comes down and Finnick beckons us onto it, scooting us up to District Four, Johanna complaining all the way about "Katniss"'s requirements for an alliance. When the door opens, Finnick crooks his arm at Harris Greaves and says, "Your turn!" Mags shakes her head and manages to hobble over to the elevator before Harris gets there. Finnick rolls his eyes. "She loves the elevator. The view."

About half of the victors are here, not all from rebel districts, along with several stylists and preps. Gloss is dancing on the coffee table with Cecelia. Enobaria is pouring drinks. Chaff is entertaining several people by describing my make-up from earlier. Cashmere, whose talent as a singer never did light the world on fire, nevertheless managed to make friends with a lot of people in the industry, and she's playing music that hasn't been released yet.

"I guess everyone's done with their arduous interview practice," Johanna says. She takes off her shirt, going down to some kind of fancy bra, and climbs up on the table to dance with Gloss and Cecelia.

I wait until our entrance has passed beyond notice, then tell Finnick, "We need to talk."

He frowns. "Somewhere quieter?"

"No. Best not anywhere quiet."


I look around to make sure no one is looking. "I lied to Johanna," I say. "I don't know why, but I did. Katniss doesn't want allies. Peeta's going along with her."

Finnick swears under his breath for a minute, then says, "Now what?"

"You're Katniss's ally," I say.

"Am I?"

"Would it help if I told you she hanged an effigy of Seneca Crane during her evaluation?"

"I'm her permanent ally, in that case," Finnick says, smiling. "Until the end of time."

"Good. Because you're going to have to prove it to her." I take off the bracelet Cinna gave me. "I'm pretty sure she saw me wearing this, so congratulations, you now have a District token."

"From someone else's District, no less."

"She still might not go for it. She doesn't want to make friends that she thinks she'll have to kill."

"That's crazy," Finnick says dryly. "Who wouldn't want that?"

"Keep Peeta alive. As long as she sees you're doing that, she'll tolerate an alliance."

"You're assuming that there's going to be something to save him from right away."

"With a twelve, and the Capitol gunning for both of them? I don't think you'll have to wait long."

He nods and takes the bracelet, putting it on absently. It's the most I can do for the arena.

I spend the evening with my friends, knowing that tomorrow, most of them will be stuck in long prep sessions for Caesar's interviews, and after that --

There may not be an after that. I try not to think of that, but it keeps coming back, every time one of them walks away from me: This could be the end. I may never be near this person again.

I sit down with Cecelia. She's been drinking and is now weepy and miserable and wants her husband and her babies. I listen to stories about all of them. I play a game of chess with Chaff, and lose. I dance with Seeder, and thank her for bringing Chaff to the hospital after my Games, which I realize I never actually said in so many words. I let Berenice paint me for the second time today, this time with a row of flowers over my cheeks.

The Capitol attendants finally realize what's going on and demand that everyone return to the proper apartments. Beetee's argument that there is no law against fraternization in the Training Center falls on deaf ears.

When I get back, I can hear Katniss and Peeta talking softly in their room -- well, technically, her room -- and I don't go in, though I really want to spend time with them, after talking to Cecelia. I'm not really their dad, and they aren't really my kids (probably just as well, given that two kids with the same father probably shouldn't act the way they do), and they need to be ready for what's coming. They help each other more than I help either one of them. I go to my room, stare at the phone, and wish Hazelle had one I could call her on. Instead, I call Effie, who's gone home for the night, and let her annoy me to sleep with tales about parties and fashion and restaurants and clubs. I try to imagine the world that's coming, where none of those things will really exist, and it fills me with a kind of unfocused regret. There's a lot of harmless nonsense out there that's about to be destroyed.

And Effie is part of it.

For the first time, I realize dimly that I want to bring her with me when I go. Brainwashed or not, she doesn't deserve to be here when the Capitol falls.

I dream about the kids from the street fair. They're all in the arena, and I scream at Plutarch that he can't do that. They're Capitol kids, and they should at least be safe from that, if nothing else. Tazzy keeps telling Katniss, "You can't die, my sissy loves you," only Katniss is just a life-sized version of the doll Solly was carrying, dressed in pants and a chopped up yellow dress. Aurelian tries to fool people into thinking he's Peeta, and Enobaria kills him, screaming that he doesn't deserve a twelve.

I wake up and I have to see the kids, know they're okay. Katniss is already in prep, but Peeta has a little more time to linger over his breakfast.

"They're putting me in a tuxedo for the interviews," he says, baffled. "Why?"

I sigh. "They're putting Katniss in the wedding dress the Capitol voted for."

He pushes his plate away, looking green. "Can't you make them stop?"

I snort. "Yeah. Sure. Right about the time I can make them hand out second place ribbons after the Games."

"Right. Yeah." He takes a shaky breath. "She wasn't even trying to do anything wrong."

"I know."

"I should've died."

"No. You shouldn't have. You don't know what you mean to people. Not just Katniss." I tell him about the boys at the fair, the ones who see him as someone to emulate.

"I'm no one to copy," he says. "I wrecked Katniss's life."

"You saved it. And I can think of a whole lot of people out there it would be worse to copy." I shrug. "I told Katniss once that she could live a million lives and not deserve you -- "


"I could live a trillion and not even come close."

He stops and stares at his hands, which are resting on the table. "My mom used to say I was completely worthless."

"Don't get me started on your mother."

"Right. Please don't. She bought me my paints. I think she doesn't think I'm worthless now." He pulls his plate back, mostly to start pushing his food around aimlessly as far as I can tell. Finally, he says, "Katniss and I both love you a lot, Haymitch. After all this -- can you please stop poisoning yourself so you can remember that? I don't want you to kill yourself."

"I'll try," I say.

"Try hard." He gets up.

I stand up and grab him, hug him tight. I wait for him to return it, then say, as quietly as I can, "Trust Finnick. Finnick's one of my other kids. Trust him."

Peeta pulls away from me and nods.

His preps come in to get him, and I am alone.
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sonetka From: sonetka Date: May 9th, 2015 06:41 am (UTC) (Link)
Really good, just as much the second time around (really it's more like the fourth, I read the whole series on AO3 a few times). Were Aurelian's pictures in there originally? I can't remember them but they struck me so hard this time -- not sure if the story has changed or I have.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 9th, 2015 06:44 am (UTC) (Link)
The artist isn't Aurelian (I considered it, but Peeta's talent for drawing comes from the other side), but I did expand on the pictures. They used to just be odd photomanips of Haymitch and Maysilee. I added the conversation with the artist and expanded it into an actual rebellious act of exactly the sort Haymitch would understand.
redrikki From: redrikki Date: May 9th, 2015 03:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
The whole street fair scene was bit was so amazing. I got a little teary-eyed with the aged-up pictures of dead tributes. And again with Peeta and Haymitch's little moment. The books focus so much on the Katniss-Haymitch relationship that it was nice to see the two of them.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 12th, 2015 03:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
The disadvantage of canon alt-POVs is that so much of what's genuinely important to the story (like the relationship with Katniss) kind of gets sacrificed to "I'm not re-writing that scene word for word," but it's nice, too, because you do get a chance to focus on other things.
may_child From: may_child Date: May 10th, 2015 10:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
I know this has nothing to do with your post, but I wanted to ask your opinion as a fellow Stephen King fan.

The first King book I ever read was "Pet Sematary," back when I was in junior high. I've reread it a few times since then. In one of the paperback editions, King wrote a foreword in which he talked about the events that inspired the novel -- he and his family had moved to a rural area in Maine, the house they lived in was by a road where 18-wheelers regularly drove by, very fast. There was an elderly neighbor who befriended King and told him about local lore. There was even a pet cemetery, complete with misspelled handwritten sign.

His daughter's cat was killed by one of said trucks, and his youngest son (Owen, who's now grown and an author himself) was ALMOST killed by another.

He talks about how the gruesome "what if" nagged at him. What if he had not been able to reach his kid in time to grab him and pull him out of the road? What if the boy had actually been hit by that truck?

Obviously, that "what if" became the subject of the book: the Creeds' toddler son is in fact killed by a truck. The absolute devastation that the family goes through is certainly realistically written. Almost lovingly written, in fact. I have to wonder, since King is and always has been of a morbid mind, if those chapters were his way of not just living out but wallowing in the horrific loss that he and his family, fortunately, did NOT have to face. A kind of "grief porn," for lack of a better term.

Your thoughts?
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 10th, 2015 11:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
You didn't ask for anyone else to reply, but I am replying to your post. (Yes, Effie, I know that's rude.)

_Pet Sematary_ was one of two works that deeply affected me when I read them (the other was Ira Levin's _The Stepford Wives_).

In _Pet Sematary_, the family cat is run over by a truck, when the rest of the family isn't around, and Louis Creed buries the cat in the pet cemetery. What Louis hopes for is a resurrected cat and his daughter Ellie never suspecting that the cat died. What Louis gets instead is an evil zombie cat.

But then his son Gage gets killed by a truck, and Louis, KNOWING that the process doesn't work, succumbs to temptation to short-cut his grief: Louis exhumes his conventionally-buried son and then buries his son in the pet cemetery. Then they all lived unhappily ever after, this being Stephen King.

Why did reading this story affect me so? Because my mother died unexpectedly when I was seventeen -- at breakfasttime, she was alive, but by suppertime she was dead. I read King's book when I was thirty, but I FELT THE TEMPTATION THAT LOUIS CREED FELT, even thirteen years later. If there had been a zombiefying cemetery available when my mother had died, I can't say that at seventeen I would have made the wise choice.

Usually, when I read a book, there is an emotional distance between the hero and me. The hero might be angry, or afraid, or foolishly hopeful, or tempted, but I the reader don't feel that emotion. But that was not the case with _Pet Semetary_ -- I felt tempted by Louis Creed's temptation.

-- Tom
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 11th, 2015 03:23 am (UTC) (Link)
I think, to some extent, that it's that, but I wouldn't go to the "grief porn" level, because porn is a kind of exploitative and generally false thing. I think what PS did was the kind of "I dare you" moment -- can I really imagine that this horrible thing ACTUALLY HAPPENED? It's the same kind of thing he did in The Shining -- he admitted that sometimes, he wasn't feeling all-wise and all-kind toward his kids, and he said, "What if...?"

My problem with what I call "emo-porn" is largely that it's fake and cheap. Generally, the central character is more or less saintly and just put upon by these horrible things that happen, and the writer seems to revel in just how much he or she can turn the thumbscrews, and how much saltwater will be spilled over it. The reactions are very rarely outside what people would expect them to be. It's predictable and not real.

King's mantra is, "Fiction is the truth inside the lie." One of the things that makes reading King interesting is that he tells the truth. As Tom mentions, you can feel the temptation.

The characters are generally not plaster saints. Louis Creed is grieving wildly and turns to something he knows perfectly well is going to bring a lot of evil. It slowly drives him crazy. In The Shining (not the Kubrick movie; it played the character wrong), you first meet Jack deeply shamed by his accidental harming of Danny, and trying to get his life together. He does have his prideful side, but it isn't at the forefront. And King also talks there about the choice to make Jack not hate his own abusive father, but actually to love him and remember good things as well as the beatings, and slowly it all starts to build up as Jack deteriorates under the influence of the hotel. Even Danny Torrance himself has his bratty moments, and as an adult in Doctor Sleep, has dealt with a lot of the same demons Jack did.

A lot of people seem to have read his small town stuff as being somehow hateful about the small towns he knows so well, but until recently (his writing has changed a bit), I always actually got a lot of love out of the stories -- just love without blinders on. He talks in 'Salem's Lot about how the townspeople shut the blinds because there's something worse than the unknown: To look the Gorgon in the face. Over the years, he's looked at a lot of Gorgons, most of them (including Creed) in the mirror.

"Grief porn" for me, would be more along the lines of opening the book with the death of Gage Creed and then spending the next two hundred pages with his saintly parents setting up shrines to saintly Gage, waxing philosophical, and basically demanding that the reader see them as paragons of virtue for having suffered a loss. It tells the reader what to feel. That's how I feel about a lot of the treacly crap on Lifetime movies. It's beyond fake. PS struck me as more realistic -- more truthful -- and that's a book that includes vicious zombie cats.

I think for me that's the difference between porn and literature. Porn is a lie, even when it's marketed as nonfiction. Literature tells the truth. If there's one thing I decided about writing based on King, it's to tell the truth (at least as I perceive it), rather than leaning on set-dressing to get to a pre-determined effect.

Edited at 2015-05-11 03:32 am (UTC)
may_child From: may_child Date: May 11th, 2015 03:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes, I recall an interview with him given circa Y2K in which he talked about the incident that inspired the scene in "The Shining" where Jack breaks Danny's arm: his oldest son had scribbled "I Love You Daddy" in crayon all over some papers he was grading, and his first thought was, "I could just KILL him!"

I've never been a parent, but I've been around enough people with kids to know that it most certainly isn't all sunshine and rainbows; sometimes a parent can have downright violent feelings toward a child, though hopefully they don't act on them.

Louis Creed is definitely a very flawed character; after Gage's death he lets his family just swim in grief when they need him most. Rachel at one point reflects on her anger and frustration with Louis for not only refusing to comfort her, but refusing to let her give the comfort to him that she needed to give. She, of course, was too wrapped up in her own grief to tend much to their daughter, who I daresay needed comfort most of all.

I think in PS there's a similar sort of theme to "'Salem's Lot," in that the evil is there, but the people have to welcome it into their lives/homes, whether consciously or unconsciously. Whatever malign power emanates from the Micmac burial ground made things happen -- first the death of the cat, then Gage's death -- but it was Louis who made the choice to try and resurrect the boy, even though he knew it would have hideous consequences.
From: queen_bellatrix Date: May 11th, 2015 05:50 am (UTC) (Link)
Will try and actually come back tomorrow with substantive thoughts about the edits for the last couple of chapters, but from what I can see, you haven't archived the last couple yet, so just a few catches I spotted from both for the moment.:)

From sixteen:
if helps you to Just need an it before helps.

stage from interview Think you may be missing a my before interview.

turned her a tart Just need an into before a, I think?

And from this one:
go the elevator Just need a to before the.

at Peeta Just missing a period.

working as runner Just missing an a before runner.

sh has to stand Just think that first word should be she?

bad), looking at Think you may need an and before looking?

Just in case I don't get back in a timely manner, I loved everything you did with Blight last chapter! You've had this theme running through a lot of your challenge fics--at least if I'm not reading them totally off--that the lack of closure was his main problem; not that that in any way mitigated how strong his feelings for Gia were, just that those feelings could have been moved on from if it had been more of a traditional breakup, or if things with Doolin hadn't started so fast and he'd had some reflection room. And hearing his comment about his last chance at that vanishing twenty-five years before, and thinking of how many people Haymitch has reached out to form meaningful relationships with in that time--though admittedly not as much as time passed--just solidified it for me. Which makes him even more awesome for calling Haymitch on the fact that he's an idiot, because he knows how much Haymitch is missing/denying himself.:d When Blight, who you haven't been in contact with for a long damn time is calling you on it, Haymitch, you really really should notice the obvious. And now I want to curl up in a ball because you've now added Blight to the list of people I want to see live and be happy and make up for lost time/opportunities; I need an AU where all the victors have happy, healthy relationships with other people, and Finnick sees his son grow up, and Haymitch has more than just K/P to celebrate when his daughter is born, and they all just shoot the breeze while frolicking with bunnies and kittens, damn it.

Also in that scene: I forget how...self-deprecating isn't the right word, because that implies it's at all healthy, and it's not, but it's the only one that's coming to mind, Haymitch can be; how his failures make him downplay his successes horribly, and then you hit me with: We smuggled her out right under the noses of the guard, and I headdesk and go: No, honey you did that while Blight was all the way back in Seven; I completely get what he means, because it was Blight's warning that put them on edge, but the way he phrased it was so typically Haymitch.

And Finn; I know you said that Blight tells him about his Mom at some point, and he didn't know as of last year, so I imagine his head is in a great place right about now; going into the arena right after learning seriously awkward parental back-story; the perfect way not to die.

And in this installment, I especially adored the expansion of the street-fair; the way Haymitch interacts with kids never fails to produce the biggest grin. And the portraits of the Tributes; damn, that was good, both as a rebellious act and a powerful piece of writing. Also, completely brilliant and spot-on observations about people's relationship with fame!

And: not an edit, but I could seriously read novels of just your Haymitch interacting with K/P; that hug between he and Peeta gets me every time, and Peeta telling him they love him a lot.:d:d
P.S.: And complete word on everything you said about porn vs. lit in the King discussion in the comments above!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 12th, 2015 03:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'll grab the oopses.

Yes -- Haymitch when Blight is giving you relationship advice, you know you have to be missing something! I think at the moment, he's desperately trying to tell himself that the thing with Hazelle was more than it was (mostly because he doesn't want to think of having treated someone he actually likes the same way he's treated groupies in the past), but deep down, he knows better.

He truly believes that he's accomplished nothing, even though the Capitol rebels often count his poetry as the start of their rebellion, and the rebel victors think of him as their leader.

I still like the street fair scene, too. I could spend a long time with Aurelian and Tazzy.
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