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Challenges 4 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Challenges 4
Linden. Anything. You know I love him. If I have to come up with a scenario, I'd say shopping trip with Gale. Bonus points for ribbing by Gale's brothers. for Willow-At-Work

I have no idea why Jo wants to put me on shopping-with-Gale duty. The only reason I'm not entirely clueless about clothes is that I was married to Jack for ten years. He was her fashion buddy. He loved the stuff; the more outrageous, the better. I was the guy in tee shirts, jeans, and worn out sneakers. Most of the time, I still am.

"Yeah, but he walked you through it for when the camera crews were lurking," she says. "His 'personal assistant' had to look good."

"But I didn't care."

"Yes, you did. You still do. You show up in the right things when you do the widows' benefits."

"I'd embarrass him if I didn’t."

Jo takes this with good enough grace, though I know her belief about death doesn't allow for anyone in that state to be embarrassed. "The point is, you know how to not be embarrassing. Gale won't listen to me. So you get the job."

She turns me around firmly and marches me out the door of her house, onto the street, and to the door right beside hers, which leads into Gale's adjoining house. She raps smartly on the door.

Vick Hawthorne opens it. He's seventeen now, and has a constant, smart-ass smirk on his face. "Hey, Gale! Jo brought in the big guns!" He raises his hand and sort of slaps it across mine. "Long time, man. How ya been?"

"Not bad."

"Linden's a man of many words," Jo says, then gives me one extra prod into the house. She steps back, closes the door, and disappears.

Rory appears before Gale does. He has a carefully cultivated thoughtful look about him these days. He's dressed in a school uniform for the elite students of District Two, and is carrying a heavy looking book, every inch the university man that Gale is determined he'll be, though Jo thinks he's got something else in mind. He blinks owlishly. "Hello, Linden."

I bow formally, which makes him crack a smile. I guess the façade doesn't exactly run deep.

Vick goes to the bottom of the stairs. "GALE! You want me to call Mom and tell her you're being rude to a guest?"

From upstairs, I hear Gale puttering around. "Give me a sec!" he yells. "I have to get dressed."

"What for?" Vick says. "Is the whole point that you're ordering clothes?"

Something gets kicked upstairs, then Gale thunders down, wearing a pair of ragged cotton exercise pants and pulling on a tee shirt. There was a time not too long ago when he'd have been careful to be wearing loose fitting old clothes that covered more skin than most bio-hazard suits around me, but he's figured since then out that he has about as much effect on me as he has on Fulvia Cardew, who dressed him up in tight uniforms for the propos. He's a handsome enough kid, but he's twenty-four. I had a whole life before he got out of diapers.

He grabs Vick in a headlock and musses his hair. "Whoever told you to shop nude?" He nods to me. "I can't believe Jo dragged you out here for this."

I shrug. "Well, at least she still thinks about me. I'll take what I can get."

He rolls his eyes. "Other people have parents-in-law. I have you."

"People with in-laws are usually married," I prod.

He raises his hands over his head. "Talk to Jo about that. I'm not the problem. I'm ready to go when she is."

"It's true," Rory says. "Every day, he walks around in a tuxedo, carrying rings, with a band in tow, just in case she changes her mind."

"Very annoying," Vick says.

"The two of you can keep to yourselves, or you're moving back in with Mom and Slate."

"You don't like your stepfather?" I ask.

"He's okay," Vick says. "But the walls are too thin." He wrinkles his nose.

"You do know how Mom got four kids, don't you?" Gale asks. "I remember when Dad was alive, and her walls are thicker now." He shakes his head in frustration, then looks back at me. "Jo set up the whole connection in the study," he says. "I'm ready to shop if we have to."

"Actually, you need to get measured first. Jo said you didn't want to go to a tailor."

"We don't have a tailor in Two yet. What I don't want is to take the time to go to the Capitol to go to a tailor." He shudders as he leads the way back to his study, where Jo has, indeed, set up a connection with a wide display and a data input screen, blinking a "waiting" message. "I never thought I'd hear myself talking about that."

"That's because you're so fancy now," Vick says. "Designer clothes, gold jewelry, perfume…"

"Cologne," Gale corrects him.

"Whatever it is, it's stinky enough."

"And why are you in here?"

"Oh, we wouldn't miss it," Rory says. "Besides, someday, we may need to be just as fancy as you. It could be a valuable life lesson for us."

Gale stands in front of the data screen, casting a fuzzy shadow. I turn on a high powered light that makes it crisp and accurate.

"All right," I say. "You probably shouldn't be wearing anything that loose."

The younger boys start laughing, and Gale's jaw drops. "I… what do you mean?"

"I mean the tailors we're going to be sending measurements to don't need the shape of your gym shorts."

Gale blushes red and starts to push the shorts down. He looks at his brothers. "One word out of the two of you and you're getting pounded. They were a present."

There are no words from the boys, but there hardly need to be, given the laughter when the shorts come off. Vick actually loses his footing, trips over a footstool that he can't see because of the tears streaming down his face, and sits down hard, still laughing. It starts to taper off until he glances at his brother again. Rory has just buried his face in a pillow.

The very small briefs Gale is wearing are very, very obviously from Jo. What fabric there is, is bright lime green and covered with stylized red kisses. They barely hold what they were designed to hold.

Gale takes the laughter with an exaggerated stoic sigh. Again, I see that he's grown a lot in important ways. When I first met him, I doubt he'd have worn the things, and certainly would have dashed upstairs to hide before letting anyone see him in them if he did.

But still.

I am also blinking and trying not to laugh. "And here she said you needed fashion advice."

"Can we get the measuring part done?"

I nod, not trusting myself to say anything else. There's a tracer on the lamp, and it scans his body sharply, getting the full shape, his arms held out to the sides. I have to get the inseam by pointing a laser between his legs. Jack always cracked up at this part, as his first tailor told him that he needed to "shift the excess tissue" to make sure the measurement was accurate, and he never failed to find the description amusing. I pass this along, and it sends all three of the Hawthorne boys into spasms of laughter. It takes much longer than it should to get the measurement, because Gale keeps cracking jokes about just how much excess he needs to shift. He suggests that we might have to bring in some of the construction equipment from outside to accomplish the task. Finally we manage to get the inseam dot in the right place, then do a profile scan.

The last are round measures -- hips, waist, chest, and shoulders -- so I have to use the measuring tape and write the numbers on the data screen with a stylus. Rory and Vick decide to see whose shoulders and chest are the widest. Mine are; District Twelve kids are strong, but often in a thin, wiry sort of way. I've spent a good part of my life sawing down very large trees and carrying logs around, and Jack used to joke that I needed to wear a cape and tights. "I swear," he said once, "I don't think you were actually born. I think you just came out of a comic book written by a really insecure skinny guy."

I smile at the memory. It's getting easier to do that. The boys distract me from it by asking how much I can lift, but I draw the line at them getting out the weights, because we do have to finish. The computer analyzes the scans and the measurements and puts them into its buffer, building up a virtual Gale. I open up the catalogs, and we start trying clothes on. (Gale puts his exercise clothes back on while we do it, covering up the novelty briefs.)

Rory is determined that Gale should wear the glittery, primary color suits that are the rage of the red carpet this year, and Vick wants him to go around in the District Four-inspired mariner lines, with heavy cord sweaters. The latter actually turns out to be a good casual look for him, and I teach him how to place a proper order, rather than the off-the-rack business he's been doing. Vick is impressed with his own style sense, and actually gets serious for a while, picking out sober suits for political meetings (Gale doesn't like any of them, but tells Vick that he can get one for himself if he wants to get measured). Rory goes to the couch and takes his book out.

We finally settle down to four suits, a tuxedo, and selection of casual outfits. Gale sees the price and immediately wants to erase everything, but I talk him down. He has the money now, and he does need to look like a serious adult in his job.

He gulps a few times, takes a deep breath, and thumbs the pad to access his accounts. The order goes through.

His brothers clap sarcastically.

I start to close down the connections and get things packed away for Jo to return to the lender. About five minutes into this, I notice Gale conspicuously sorting pencils, while Vick pokes him on the shoulder.

"What?" I ask.

"We have this new stepbrother," Vick says.

"You don't like him either?"

"We like him fine, actually," Gale says. "He's a nice guy. Smart. Good personality. According to Jo, he's good looking. He's just… well, recently single…"

I look at him. "You're… setting me up?"

"Well, no. Jo is. It's really why she dragged you down here, I think." He sighs. "Jo was just going to spring him on you at dinner, but we all decided you could use some warning…"

Post-war -- what are relations/problems with the out-district people like, now the barriers around the districts are gone (or genuinely there for protection, not mainly to keep the District people in), and in principle any citizen of Panem can go anywhere? for snorkackcatcher

When I first put on a Peacekeeper uniform, the last thing I figured I'd be worrying about was out-district raiders. In training, I learned about the fierce war Snow waged on them, and if I need proof of how thorough Snow could be with his hatreds, I only need to look at the ashes of home.

Then again, eight hundred of us did get out.

Apparently, some of the raiders evaded Snow's bombings and murderous raids, because we're tracking at least three camps. They made their presence known three years ago when a caravan from District Ten started heading north, to explore the vast lands beyond District Nine. Historically it was good grazing territory, and District Ten is full of itchy feet.

Unfortunately, about two hundred miles north of the District Ten border, they were ambushed by what a survivor referred to as "devils on good horses." There was an extended argument over the comm-lines about who they were, but I think we all knew, deep down. And we knew that the little disappearances that have happened as people started to travel were, in all likelihood, not just bad luck. Ever since, we've all been assigned in pairs to do monthly sweeps outside our districts, keeping up the intelligence and taking care of potential problems, since more and more civilians have taken to wandering around outside the fences, just because they can. They've issued each of us a geo-tracker to keep our positions, so we don't end up losing our way back to our districts.

My partner is Deere Hollinger, one of our transplants. She's a small woman from Eleven who has more energy than anyone has a right to. She lost her boyfriend, too, and we've at least tentatively bonded over this, though we haven't discovered a lot else in common yet.

We find the camp about a hundred miles east of Twelve, in the ruins of an old city with a long-forgotten name. We can really only tell it's a ruin by a few of the stone buildings. They're mostly jumbled over, but here and there, a wall is standing. It's along a river, like so many of them are, and the camp is pitched in a green area surrounded by odd stone structures. One arch has fallen into scattered stones, but another has almost absurdly survived. It looks like a hollow arrowhead pointing at the sky. There are also stone statues around. These have obviously been excavated, as there are holes in the ground and the statues are half covered in dirt. They seem to be bearded men in long robes. Someone has draped them in wildflowers.

The camp itself isn't big. At first glance, I spot three horses and three bedrolls. Deere goes in, her weapon drawn (just in case) and turns over one of the blankets. There are some spare clothes.


I look up, drawing my own weapon belatedly. It's bad form, but I don't think Deere will call me on it.

The woman coming toward us is maybe in her thirties, and has a large, healing cut on her face. It's a lash mark. I've seen too many of them. She's wearing an eclectic collection of clothes, including a hat from District Ten, sparkly shoes from the Capitol, and a cape that looks like it might be made from scraps salvaged in Eight. She is holding someone else behind her.

I don't need to see to know that it's a child.

"What're you doing?" the woman yells. Her accent is as mismatched as her clothes -- a lazy Four version of "What're" -- almost, but not quite, pronounced like "war" -- but an almost parodic Capitol stress on "doing." "Youn't dare pock round my things!"

I raise my hands and put my gun back. "It's all right, ma'am, we mean you no harm. I'm Officer Delilah Cartwright, from Twelve. This is Officer Hollinger."

Deere has not put down her gun. She's looking around warily. She's better at this than I am. "Where are the rest?" she asks.

"There's nonny here," the woman says. "We'en habitate. I heard it on the television. Anyone can habitate anywhere."

I see the child peer around her skirts. It's a boy with light brown skin and exuberant black hair. He sneaks a smile at me. I smile back.

"Where's the third member of your party?" Deere asks, nodding at the bedrolls. "And who are you? Where are you really from?"

I hear the ambush from a good way away. The third party member is no Katniss Everdeen. I'm not even sure she's a Peeta Mellark, honestly. I am already turned, with my gun drawn, before she gets in range to level her knife. She's a scrawny girl, maybe in her late teens, wearing the same sort of clothes that the other woman is. I grab her and disarm her as gently as I can. She thrashes against me.

"No one's going to hurt you," I say. "We're not like Peacekeepers were before the war!"

"I saw both kinds!" she says. Her accent is more even, like a Capitol accent, that's gotten lazy. "They wiped out my first camp when I was little. I ran. Then Goodrunner got me, and then the 'new' Peacekeepers came, and killed just about as many!"

"Was it this Goodrunner who attacked the caravan from Ten?" Deere asks.

"Itint their land," the first woman says. "Everyone knows that the out-districts are ours."

"They weren't going to squat on anyone's camp," I say. "They were looking for someplace empty. There's plenty of empty up there." I sigh and say, "Come on. Let's sit down. We'll talk."

It takes a lot of arguing, most of it repetitive and nasty, but I finally get them to calm down. The woman was born in Four, but she's been with the raiders since she was seven years old. Her name is Alleen, and the boy is called Carbry, for her father. She doesn't remember their surname. Her accent starts to even out as she realizes that she's not in danger from us. The girl is raider-born, and says she's been called Grasscrawler since she was found. If she has another name, she doesn't share it. Her parents were from the Capitol ("My mother was murderess," she announces proudly, "and my father was a thief"), and so were most of the people in her second camp.

"So what are you doing out here, and where is your camp?" Deere asks.

Alleen and Grasscrawler look at each other. "Who says they're not here?" Grasscrawler asks. "Maybe we're just scouting, like you two."

"We're not scouting. People are moving out of the districts now. We're making sure that they won't get hurt."

"I'd like to make sure you haven't been hurt," I say. "You are in our jurisdiction now."

"I'll believe that when I see it," Alleen sniffs.

"You're seeing it now," Deere says.

"All I've seen so far is you upending our camp."

"I moved one blanket."

"It wasn’t yours to move," Grasscrawler says. "No one gave you permission to rifle our things."

"And no one gave you permission to raid the caravan from Ten," Deere shoos back.

"Why are you out here?" I ask them. "Why aren't you with your group?"

"Who says we're…"

Deere cuts her off. "Don't bother. If they were here, they'd have attacked already."

Neither woman says anything.

Carbry, who's come out from behind Alleen's skirts and has been playing happily with a handmade ball-and-cup toy on his bedroll, says, "Mama said it was bad what they did. Goodrunner didn't like it."

"You hush," Alleen says.

"You were exiled," I guess, looking at the lash mark.

"He'll rethink it. He always does." She waves this off, as if it's the least important thing in the world. "He'll want the boy back eventually, and he knows I won't just leave him."

"I'm supposed to have the lead horse someday," Carbry says. "And I'll ride and have a gun and everything. Goodrunner said I could have his long red coat someday." He goes back to his peaceful play.

Grasscrawler snorts. "He'll make some other kid and forget about you. He's done it before." She looks at me tentatively. "I think he had an idea of where to start. He sent my guy on the first raid. Where they get shot a lot."

"I'm sorry," I say. "I lost my… my guy, too. His name was Ed."

Carbry laughs. "That's a funny-sounding name."

I swallow hard and decide that Ed wouldn't want me to miss a chance to make things right. He liked it when I tried to make things right. "Yeah," I say. "He thought it sounded funny, too. He had a brother named Jonadab. How's that? And another named Peeta."

I see Grasscrawler look up sharply, and I guess she's watched some television in the last ten years, but she doesn’t say anything about it. "Mine -- my guy -- they called him Haresbane. He'd always catch the rabbits when we hunted."

"Rabbits and hares aren't the same thing," Deere points out.

"Well, yeah, but Rabbitsbane would sound pretty stupid," Grasscrawler says. She looks at. "We're near Twelve, aren't we?"

"You passed Twelve, about a hundred miles back. Were you headed there?"

She shrugs unconvincingly. "Nah. We just. You know, it seemed like a thing to see. We used to steer clear because… well, lots of hunters up that way, and there are easier targets. Hear they're building the whole town and everything. They build a fence again?"

I nod. "It's not electric, and it's got a bunch of gates. It's just to keep the predators out."

"Delly," Deere hisses. "Security?"

"What?" Alleen asks. "It's not like we wouldn't figure that much out on a quick reconnaissance." She looks at me defensively. "We weren't planning to go up there, if you're thinking it. There's plenty to live on out here without stealing from you."

"Do you want to come back with us?" I ask.

"Hell, no," Grasscrawler says immediately. "I'm not made for town."

"Nor I," Alleen says.

"It'll get lonely out here," I say. "Just the three of you."

"And if you head back to your camp, you're going to get picked up with the rest of them," Deere adds. "And jail's worse than town."

Alleen goes cold again at this, and I make a frustrated face at Deere.

In the end, I can't convince them to come back, though they let us stay the night with them, and we share our rations for breakfast. Alleen wants to keep going east, as she'd like to have a look at the Cold Ocean, and doesn't think we're far. ("Never did make it that far. No one to trade with.") I give her my geo-tracker, and tell her to follow it back to Twelve if she gets lonely.

I don't have any idea if they'll come.


16 comments or Leave a comment
sonetka From: sonetka Date: August 13th, 2015 07:44 am (UTC) (Link)
The first one is so sweet (love Gale wearing baggy clothes until he gets to understand the situation a little better). The second suggests a lot of possibilities, most of them depressing. I liked seeing Delly between where she is in the books and her ultimately becoming the mayor. Do Alleen et al ever come to Twelve?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 14th, 2015 05:41 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't know. It would certainly get lonely out there with just the three of them. It may occur to them that it's safer to be with other people, and they definitely don't actually want to be found by their old group.
redrikki From: redrikki Date: August 13th, 2015 01:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
I like the comedy stylings of the Hawthorn boys. The really felt and sounded like brothers.

Interesting to make Delly the Peacekeeper in the second one. I liked the strange sort of culture you created amongst the out-District folk, especially their naming conventions. Rabbitsbane would have sounded dumb.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 14th, 2015 05:44 am (UTC) (Link)
I hoped they'd sound like brothers. I just was reading instructions on how to do tailors' measurements and came across the phrase "accessory tissue" (I changed it to excess) and imagined that it would cause a few snorts.

Naming conventions are fun, but I couldn't come up with any more of those if I tried, unfortunately.
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 13th, 2015 07:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
Delly the Peacekeeper! They've definitely changed workplace culture if she succeeds there.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 14th, 2015 05:44 am (UTC) (Link)
I would think that changing the culture of the law enforcement agency would be a primary goal when they're trying to make people feel like they're not under a dictatorship anymore.
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 13th, 2015 11:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
Delly and her partner make a really great team, actually -- you always need a good cop and a bad cop. And the way Delly can't help but reach out to people. It makes total sense that she eventually becomes mayor.

Sara Libby
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 14th, 2015 05:45 am (UTC) (Link)
It's just kind of what she does, I think. In canon, when she just blurted out how she admired Katniss and how everyone thought she was wonderful... talk about trying to reach the unreachable, and that's before she started with Peeta.
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 13th, 2015 11:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
It was nice to see Gale cheerful and happy. I don't know how much is "in the moment" or if he's managed to push the guilt of the bombs where they belong.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 14th, 2015 05:47 am (UTC) (Link)
I think that, if he's not with Katniss, it's probably better for both of them. He was right that it would always be there between them -- and that he shouldn't forget what he's capable of; the Nut came before the bombings -- but he is capable, I think, of moving on.
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 14th, 2015 03:15 am (UTC) (Link)
I read these yesterday, and the Gale one is still making me smile to myself this morning. The Hawthornes feel like such a real group of brothers.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 14th, 2015 05:49 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm glad to hear that. I wanted to try something that I'd probably never be allowed to eavesdrop on.
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 14th, 2015 04:36 am (UTC) (Link)

Mayor Delly?

Could you give me a link to whichever challenge-story(-ies) has Delly Cartwright as D12's mayor?

-- Tom
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 14th, 2015 05:50 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Mayor Delly?

It's an early one, here.
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 16th, 2015 04:42 am (UTC) (Link)
Hownfar along are you on The Big Empty? I think you left on a cliff hanger.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 18th, 2015 03:15 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm still cooking it in my head. I know how it ends now.
16 comments or Leave a comment