Effie comes to collect me for a few more sponsor meetings while the kids are being prepped.
We see a few of our old friends from the Daughters of the Founding, though of course, after Aquila Grant's efforts on my behalf last year, the Daughters don't exist as an organization anymore. The ladies don't hold it against me, and certainly not against the kids. I get solid sums out of them without even needing to ask, then they show me pictures of their cats and dogs, and weep a little bit over Katniss and Peeta. I ask vaguely after their friends I haven't seen, and a few pick up that I'm asking about Aquila. I gather from the blank stares that a few give me that Aquila has become a forbidden subject, which doesn't surprise me. Ulpia Jakes tells me breezily that she's pretty sure "some of the girls" are off on grand adventures, as they haven't been heard from since last year. Laurentia Hoops, my first sponsor, is a bit more comforting. She tells a long and involved story about how a friend came back from the District One spa and told her how lovely it was, and how you can simply feel that you've escaped up there in the mountains.
"Sounds good," I say.
She nods. "I understand that the mockingjays sing there. They sound like friends."
Effie smiles uncomfortably, as she always does when she suspects the talk is getting political.
And, frankly, as she often does among the Daughters lately. I don't think it has anything to do with politics. I think she just sees them, old and alone (except for their fancy pets), and sees too much of her own future there.
After we leave Laurentia's, I take her out to lunch and get people to fuss over her, which perks her right up. I'd suggest that she might escape to District One's spa -- maybe Aquila could find her and get her to safety for however long the fighting lasts -- but I don't think there's time for a scheme like that. I should have gotten her out of here as soon as they announced the Quell.
"Why are you looking at me like that?" she asks over dessert.
"Like you miss me."
I shrug. "I've missed you since you went back to Capitol Dreams."
"You do hate them, don't you?" She doesn't wait for me to answer. She knows my answer. She looks away. "I haven't been there much lately," she says. "Since the Quell announcement. They were so… excited. They wanted to know if I thought you or Peeta would go in. They were asking if you could still fight, or if you'd just --"
She looks at me briefly and nods. "Not exactly a sparking conversation. Mimi never would have permitted it. I couldn't make them stop. So I stopped going to the compound."
"I told them you could fight, though. I told them you fought for me on the train that year when the raiders came. I still dream about that sometimes."
"I should have taught you to fight. I always promised, and I never did it."
"Maybe you should teach them not to attack me."
"I've found a good right hook to be a fair teacher. And if that doesn't drive the lesson home, I pick up a knife." I shrug. "That's all fighting is, Effie. Teaching them to never attack you again, because the results are always painful."
"Sounds like it could get circular pretty fast."
"Worry about that after they back off."
"Or don't poke the hornets' nest in the first place."
"The hornets always get out one way or another."
She smiles, and for a minute, I see Maysilee in her… certainly something I never saw before. I expect her to tell me that Abernathism isn't a healthy philosophical choice. Instead she just rolls her eyes at me and reaches over to take a bite of my dessert.
After lunch, the meetings are all at the Viewing Center. I meet with a few gamblers who just sign and leave, then with a disgusting old man who will get an arrow in his throat if he ever comes close to Katniss. I check the sponsor boards from home and find a small donation from the Mellarks (huge, by Danny's standards, but about the same size as what the kids at the fair gave me yesterday). Ruth is in control of Katniss's money, but tributes' personal assets are frozen while they're in the arena, supposedly to prevent disparity in available funds. If this rule existed before now, I'm pretty sure it never came into play.
The last meeting is with the Gamemakers, where they examine my sponsors to make sure I haven't done anything crooked. They sneer at Aurelian's and Danny's contributions. Not much for them to skim off the top on gifts.
Effie and I meet Katniss and Peeta back at the Training Center. They both look miserable in their wedding clothes, and Katniss says that Cinna has forbidden her to raise her arms, and that the dress is very heavy. As we walk over -- the big stage is attached to the Training Center, to stop tributes from making last minute bids for freedom -- Effie reminds them not to do or say anything crazy in the interviews.
"Have you both thought of what you're going to talk about? Because I didn't have anything to give Caesar when he asked."
"I know I’m supposed to twirl," Katniss says, and doesn't elaborate. Peeta just shrugs and says he's going to wing it.
"Any surprises this year?" Effie asks.
"Not if I tell ahead of time."
Katniss laughs nervously, and slides comfortably into the crook of his arm. It would look like a perfectly normal wedding picture if they weren't both seventeen years old and heading off to be murdered.
Effie and I are steered to the mentors' section in the audience, where cameras will be trained on us. I can see Cinna and Portia with the stylists, and I want to run over and demand that he tell me what will happen when Katniss raises her arms and twirls. Whatever it is, I have a feeling it's dangerous.
Jack Anderson is the next to be deposited in our area, and he sits down beside me. "Wedding clothes?" he says. "Cinna did that?"
"Not by choice."
"Oh. That's what Johanna thought. She's angry."
"For once, no."
Lyme arrives and sits on my other side, watching the stage nervously for her tributes from Six. "I hope they're sober," she says. "At this point, that's all I hope."
I think that, with Berenice and Paulin, this may be more than anyone could hope for, especially if she's given them any time off today. I don't say so.
There's no chance for further talk, as the studio is filling up quickly. The stage lights come on and Caesar comes out, welcoming everyone to the Seventy-Fifth Annual Hunger Games interviews.
"We know our tributes this year," he says. "They hardly need introductions! But here they are!"
He calls them out one at a time to occupy the seats spread out in their usual arc. Gloss and Cashmere get polite applause, Enobaria gets wolf whistles, Brutus gets a huge cheer. The welcome for Mags is sort of puzzled -- her Games were so long ago that she's been largely forgotten -- but Finnick's is deafening. I think a girl in the next section over from us might actually faint.
Districts Five and Six don't get great welcomes, though Berenice and Paulin don't really care. Johanna gives the audience a two handed wave and a whoop, and they whoop back at her, some waving imaginary axes. Cecilia has something of a fan base among young families. Chaff's and Seeder's Games, like Mags's, were too long ago. Then Katniss comes out in her wedding dress.
There is an audible gasp in the audience, and someone screams her name. She looks up and gives an absolutely perfect sad smile. More people scream for her. I only know Peeta has come out because a few people manage to call his name as well.
"They do love them," Effie whispers, then sighs.
Caesar gets control of the audience, then starts the interviews.
I don't know what I expected, and glancing at Jack and Lyme, I think they didn't, either. But it's obvious that there was some kind of illegal tributes' meeting, because all of them are sticking to the same storyline -- the Quell is cruel, the Quell separates the Capitol from its friends, the Quell may be (according to Beetee) entirely illegal. Finnick reads a poem to his "true love" in the Capitol, which I'm sure anyone who was with him while he mentored Annie would recognize... but that doesn't include anyone in the audience except those of us in the mentors' section, and we're not talking. Berenice manages coherence for her three minutes, though it's strained, as she talks about how the Capitol is like butterflies that fly up from the lake, and she knows everyone is a beautiful soul. Paulin isn't quite as coherent, but manages to convey that he's got friends here. Most of them are morphling dealers, but that goes unmentioned.
"Can't something be done about this?" Johanna demands when her turn comes. "Whoever created this Quell never suspected exactly how much I'd love all of you!"
"Oh," Jack says beside me, "I think they probably knew exactly how much you'd love them, Jo."
I laugh. Much of the audience is a wreck, crying, and the sound fits right in. Effie looks confused.
Cecilia uses her three minutes to talk about how much she loves her children, and how she knows that people in the Capitol understand that. Seeder and Chaff both wax eloquent about how powerful District Eleven thinks President Snow is -- why, he could just call the whole thing off, but he must not think anyone cares.
"Oh, but the Games are ordained by history," Caesar says.
"But we live now," Chaff finishes, causing someone in the audience to actually wail with pain.
Caesar moves to Katniss. I don't know if she's been involved in this, but I somehow suspect she wasn't, not the way she and Peeta have been keeping to themselves outside the training room. I don't know what she'll do or how she'll play it.
She plays straight to the audience, pretending that somehow, the great tragedy of her presumed upcoming death is that they won't be able to come to her wedding. "I'm glad you at least get to see me in my dress," she says. "Isn't it just... the most beautiful thing?"
She raises her arms and twirls.
At first, I don't recognize what's happening. There is a haze of smoke, then someone screams. A flicker of flame has come up from the skirt, and is now wrapping itself around Katniss. She looks stunned, but keeps twirling. Beyond the flame, the skirt turns black and... feathered.
I look at Cinna, who is watching with a fierce expression on his face. Beside him, Portia has her hands at her heart.
The flames engulf Katniss completely, then fade away.
The dress is black, with white patches on the drooping sleeves. Black and white wings.
The mockingjay. Live and in person.
What none of the rest of us have done, Cinna has done -- he's brought the rebellion to the stage. No one in the districts will miss the meaning of this. Snow won't miss it, either.
Caesar looks pale. He hasn't missed it, either. He carefully guides her to her chair and gives her a chance to claim surprise -- which is true -- then very deliberately calls out Cinna for it. Supposedly to receive his applause, which he does. The Capitol loves his magical clothes. But I know where Caesar's loyalty is, and what he meant to accomplish. He has made absolutely sure that the blame for this does not fall on Katniss.
I don't know whether to thank him or kill him.
He moves on to Peeta, and does not address the immolation of his bride-to-be, which would be strange in any other circumstance. Peeta himself also doesn't acknowledge it. I wonder what he makes of it, actually. The symbolism of choosing the rebellion over their supposed life together is pretty stark. He manages to steer Caesar into asking him about his reaction to the Quell, to get back to the storyline that everyone else has made. And he asks if the entire nation of Panem can keep a secret. Caesar promises that we can. Which may be true, since, as this is mandatory viewing, there will be absolutely no one to tell it to.
"We're already married," Peeta says.
I frown. Caesar looks puzzled, but he seems inclined to let Peeta spin whatever story he wants.
The story he chooses is mine.
He's convincing enough that I'd actually wonder if they went through with it -- who knows what they were up to when her foot was broken? -- but I know exactly where he got the story. I told it to him. He's replaced Digger with Katniss and me with himself, and not set it during the goodbyes before the Games (we didn't have time), but otherwise, it's what I told him about Digger's makeshift wedding, private and quick, bread held out to the fire. He sets it a little bit after the Victory Tour, but doesn’t give a lot of detail. He only has three minutes, and he's obviously headed somewhere else.
I doubt they even talked about anything like this. Given the look on Katniss's face, Peeta is making it up from whole cloth. Unlike last year, however, she manages to arrange her surprise into a sort of demure modesty, staring at the black feathers on her skirt.
I have no idea how I feel about this. I was barely willing to tell Peeta, let alone Panem. It's private, and it belongs to me.
But whatever Peeta is doing, the audience is watching him intently. He's letting himself get upset.
"I didn't know they were married," Effie says. "Oh, they should have told me, I wouldn't have put them in separate rooms!"
"Well, they didn't stay in them, did they?" I say, since I can't think of anything else.
On stage, Peeta is working himself into a fit of agony about how they never should have gotten married, a line I don't understand until Caesar says that he ought to be glad they had some time together, and he manages to top everything everyone has said so far:
"Maybe I'd think that, too, Caesar," he says, "if it weren't for the baby."
Beside me, Effie grasps and clutches at her heart. There are screams from the audience, tears and keening.
I know he's lying, but I also know he's telling a truth that everyone in the districts of Panem knows: That the Games are nothing but child sacrifice. He is driving that home to the Capitol audience in terms they understand -- the child of their darlings, a child they feel they have a stake in, is about to die. I think of him holding his niece, of the way he tried to protect her from all of this, and I know that, somewhere under the lie, Peeta is expressing his real fears... the fears shared by every adult in Panem.
And now shared by the Capitol.
I look at the shot of Katniss, half-expecting her to be furious. She isn't. She looks fiercely angry, yes, but not at Peeta. She is every inch the protective mother now.
She's definitely getting better at this.
Caesar makes motions of trying to get control of his audience, but he isn't trying very hard. This is what he wants. He is, as he threatened, rubbing their faces in the dirty business. With Peeta's help, he has managed to pull out the foundation on everything they want and believe.
Someone in the back finally notices and starts blaring the anthem. Katniss stands and takes Peeta's hand.
And Chaff's stump.
Chaff takes Seeder's hand. Seeder takes Earl Bates's. He takes Kate Markez's. Gloss and Cashmere join hands. Finnick and Mags are already holding hands, and reach out to Five and Three.
The victors stand across the stage, hand in hand. Some seem confused, others just caught in the moment, but many -- not just those from rebel districts -- are glaring out defiantly.
Someone cuts the feed, and the studio is thrown into utter chaos. Lights go on and off. Mentors are pulled away from escorts. I see Effie dragged away with a crowd of other Capitol citizens, then a Peacekeeper shoves me none too gently, back towards the exit into the Training Center. In the street beyond the window, I can see Capitol citizens screaming and crying. I am passing through the small open air section when an announcement goes out that the re-airing has been canceled, and people are to return to their homes and calm down. This has absolutely no effect on the crowd. The sound is cut off when I go back inside.
I can't see Katniss or Peeta, but I am pushed into Chaff, who grabs me and throws me into an elevator. We're with someone from Nine, but no one talks. At the eleventh floor, Chaff drags me out, and Seeder holds the door open with her foot.
"There's no time," he says. "They won't let us say goodbye tomorrow."
I shake my head. We're rescuing everyone.
Chaff smiles. "It's the arena, Haymitch. No guarantees. But we already won. Tonight, on that stage. We won. Did you see them outside?"
I want to say something, but I can't seem to speak. I'd trade everything I have for Peeta's silver tongue right now. But it doesn't work that way. I manage to choke out, "Thank you."
He embraces me and whispers, "Take them down."
I nod. "Right. And what you told me, when I said I wasn't sure how to keep going... you remember it, right?"
He nods. "Stay alive."
"Yeah. That. Remember it. Do it."
"Our game is keeping everyone alive," he says. "And that includes us. Hopefully. We're out of time. They'll be looking for you soon."
I am gently prodded back to the elevator, where Seeder gives me a hug. "You'll be fine," she lies.
The doors close, and I am shut off from them.
I gather myself in the short ride up to the twelfth floor. I suddenly want a drink. I want the detoxers out of my system, and I want to be completely and utterly numb. I don't want to have a war. I don't want the Games. I want to go back to my house and drink myself to death.
The thought comes easily. I don't mean numbness. I don't even mean a stupor. I want to drink until the poison shuts every single thing inside me down, and I don't have to think about anything ever again. I can even imagine how it will feel -- first the dizziness and a sick stomach, then the world slowing and going gray around the edges, then black as I slip under.
But the door opens, and Katniss and Peeta are at the far end of the hall, holding each other up. They need me. I can't climb the hanging tree. Not yet.
"It's madness out there," I tell them. "Everyone's been sent home, and they've canceled the recap of the interviews on television."
Peeta and Katniss go to the window and look down on the crowd. Peeta asks, "What are they saying? Are they asking the President to stop the Games?"
He looks so hopeful that I hate to point out the obvious, but I have to. This may be a big win in the long run -- bigger than we could get by force of arms -- but in the short term, it doesn't mean anything. These people don't even know how to oppose Snow, and even if they did, he'd hold the Games to punish them for it.
Katniss accepts this stoically. "The others went home?" she asks.
I nod. "They were ordered to. I don't know how much luck they're having getting through the mob."
"Then we'll never see Effie again," Peeta says, and he might be right -- I plan for them to live, but they'll never come back to the Capitol, and I don't know if I can ever get Effie to leave it. "You'll give her our thanks?"
Katniss nods enthusiastically. "More than that. Really make it special. It's Effie, after all. Tell her how appreciative we are, and that she was the best escort ever and tell her... tell her we send our love."
I nod. I think Effie will appreciate that, if I see her again. I'm suddenly not sure I will. I expect fully to be pulled in for questioning tonight after Cinna's little art project, and "questioning" in the Capitol frequently ends in disappearances. I won't tell the kids about this. They don't need to know. Once they're in the arena, contact will come from remote communications, and they won't know whether it's me or not. One of the other rebel mentors will volunteer for them.
Even if I'm not dragged in for questioning, their doors will be locked, and so will mine.
"I guess this is where we say our good-byes as well," I tell them.
Peeta looks up, first surprised, then realizing that it's true. "Any last words of advice?" he asks.
I know what they expect, and I say it: "Stay alive."
There's something to be said for ritual. They both find smiles somewhere, and I tell them to go to bed.
They just stand there. I just stand there. Any one of the three of us -- or all of us -- could be dead in twenty-four hours. Katniss bites her lip and looks at Peeta, who says, "You take care, Haymitch."
I hear his voice in my mind this morning, saying Katniss and I both love you a lot. I want to say that I love them, too -- that I've been more alive in the last year than I've been since the arena -- but there doesn't seem to be any hook to hang that on, and in the end, I can't do it. I haven't said that to anyone for so long, it doesn't even feel like a language I know. I just hug each of them. I'm not sure they know how rare that is for me. They turn to go to their room, to spend their last night together before going into the arena alone.
"Katniss!" I call.
I feel a lot of things I want to say, but the words don't come. What I say is, "When you're in the arena..." I fight for words. I want to tell her everything. But we're bugged here, and there is no way.
"What?" she asks.
I settle for, "You just remember who the enemy is. That's all. Now go on. Get out of here."
I watch them disappear into her room, and as soon as the shower starts, I hear the door lock.
I don't go to my room. I wait in the living room for the Peacekeepers, and let them in quietly when they arrive just past midnight. I don't want them making noise and disturbing the kids.
I go with them without protest.
The car takes us away from the Training Center, to a dingy blue and white building in a dirty part of the Capitol. There are no windows. Inside, I'm guided through a labyrinth of halls to a small room with a single table and harsh lighting. Cinna is already there.
He looks up when I'm pushed inside. "Guess I got their attention," he says. "Sorry I didn't tell you anything. I guess it was a huge surprise." He looks at me meaningfully. We are bugged.
I nod. "Yeah. Guess you shouldn't have spoiled the president's favorite dress. Matches her pin, though."
He frowns. "Haymitch..."
"I figure the way it's been popping up all over the Capitol... great way to speak to the trend. Turn her into her own district token... it's clever. And the fire again."
"Haymitch, they know--"
I sigh in frustration. "Okay, they probably picked up that you think she's too young to get married. But they beat you to it."
He blinks at me dully, and he seems annoyed, which I understand -- he made a huge stand for the rebellion on that stage tonight, and I'm turning it into fashion mixed with a little personal concern. But we are not going to be better off if he ends up thrown in jail.
"It was... a lot of work," he says.
"And all just to show how much you care about Katniss. She's grateful for it, even if you were a little late on the marriage business."
He stiffens in fury, then finally relents. "Well, I still think she's too young. But I guess I missed that protest by a few months."
"She'll probably want a present now that you know. Baby present, too. Burning bunting or something."
"I'll make that baby anything it asks for."
Now that we're on the same page, there's no point for the eavesdroppers to keep listening in. We beat them. So they come in and ask intrusive questions for three hours. One of them implies that Cinna has done more with Katniss than dress her, and that he and I might "pass her around," and proceeds to ask a lot of explicit questions about it.
I grab him and shove him into the wall. "If you ever say anything like that again--" I start.
"You'll what?" someone says at the door.
I look over my shoulder to see Snow himself, smiling unpleasantly.
He comes into the room. "I'm very curious, Mr. Abernathy. What will you do to Officer Jordan?"
I let him go and say, "Maybe have a nice, quiet drink with him."
Snow laughs. "Maybe we should all dispense with the fiction," he says. "It would hardly do for me to have either of you disappear at the moment. District Twelve will need its mentor, and I'm sure Miss Everdeen would be utterly bereft without her stylist tomorrow morning."
"I'm sure that's your greatest concern," Cinna says.
"Oh, but her feelings are of the utmost importance to me. I wouldn't dream of not having you there with her before her launch." He turns to me. "And Mr. Abernathy -- there are so many people depending on you. Cinna here, of course, and his partner. The lovely Miss Trinket. The equally lovely Mrs. Hawthorne." He smiles unpleasantly. "Oh, yes, Mr. Abernathy, I'm well aware of why she was removed from your employ. And it would be a terrible shame if someone were to look to closely at your young tribute's brother. Or father. So I'm quite sure that you'll restrict any statements you might be inclined to make to Miss Everdeen's personal life, which of course, as you said, that unfortunate incident with the dress was all about." He turns to Cinna. "You are certainly expressive. I can't imagine anyone who saw that show tonight didn't understand exactly how you feel about Miss Everdeen's choices."
Cinna and I look at each other. There would be a time to die to make a statement, but this isn't it. Not with District Thirteen and war only days away.
"I see you understand your position," Snow says. He looks at the Peacekeeper. "See to it that Cinna is brought to his tribute at the appointed time, which is... goodness, how time flies. Twenty minutes. Take him now."
The Peacekeeper frowns. "But sir--" He looks at me.
"Oh, Mr. Abernathy and I are capable of a civilized conversation, then I will return him to the Viewing Center."
There is no arguing with a direct order, so the Peacekeeper leads Cinna out. He looks once over his shoulder at me, then is gone.
"Tell me, Abernathy," he says when they've disappeared. "What's happening here?"
"I could spare one of the children. Order Plutarch Heavensbee to protect one of them in the arena. The public would love it if it were Katniss, of course, especially in her delicate condition, but you could even choose which. I'm sure there are any number of young women in the Capitol who would be happy to ease Peeta's pain."
"Like they ease Finnick's?"
"Well, Finnick will hardly be available, will he? Though I do have women lined up who want his DNA harvested for them."
"You're a piece of work."
He leans over. "You will stress that Cinna's art school design project was exactly what you've said here. Katniss is a loyal citizen of Panem, and that little stunt was just about her personal life. If it seems to be anything else, there are any number of dangers in this year's arena, no matter how many of your friends you've gotten to protect her."
He doesn't answer this directly, and doesn't really have to. I saw what happened to my family and to Digger. "Now, we have a deal on the table. Tell me what's going on. Tell me where my leaks are. And I will give you the life of one of your tributes. Whichever one you want."
I know this isn't an option -- I’m getting them both out -- but I hate him for thinking of it, anyway, for thinking that I would choose to sacrifice either one of them, along with Johanna and Finnick and Chaff and all of the others, just to ensure that the other survived. I hate him for thinking I'd betray everything that's left of me to do it.
I stand up.
"What's going on is the Quarter Quell," I say. "You're planning to murder my friends and my kids in your arena. As to your leaks? Ask your damned plumber. I have no idea."
"As you wish," he says and sweeps out, locking the door behind him.
Four hours later, Peacekeepers come and lock me into the back of a car. They drive me to the Viewing Center and escort me upstairs. Effie is waiting there. She looks confused. I don't offer her information.
"Katniss and Peeta wanted me to tell you goodbye," I say. "And that they love you."
She bursts into tears, and I comfort her until the other mentors start to arrive. We each sit by our district phones, to contact sponsors as we need to.
The anthem plays, and the camera, as it traditionally does, switches to the point of view of one of the tributes. This year, they've picked Faraday Sykes. She rises up, and the screen is filled with glare. The arena is full of water.
Each tribute is shown as the clock winds down. Peeta, who can't swim as far as I know, just stares at the water around him. Johanna rolls her eyes. Finnick and Mags look pleased.
The camera goes to Katniss. Her eyes are wide and her hands are shaking, and she looks like she can't catch her breath.
The phone beside me rings. I pick it up. A woman is weeping on the other end.
"Haymitch! Haymitch, it's Portia."
"Portia! What is it?"
"There's been... there's been an accident."
"Haymitch... Cinna's dead."