After the highlights, Snow manages to top even his usual levels of pettiness. Instead of awarding two victors' crowns - which would have been cheaper and easier - he has had his props department re-engineer a single one so that it slides into two halves. He gives each of the kids half of a single victory.
Granted, my crown isn't exactly my most prized possession. I got it twenty-four years ago, and that night was the first and last time I wore it. I think it's somewhere in my attic, with Mimi's statue and all of my plaques. Or maybe the basement. I honestly don't know. I don't think I ever traded it for booze. It's not made of good metal, so I wouldn't be able to get much for it.
But still - it's mine. Snow can't even grant Katniss and Peeta that much dignity.
I don't comment on it. I'm pretty sure they'd both say that they don't need or want crowns, anyway.
The victory banquet goes on forever. Sponsors are lined up to get pictures with the kids. Most of them are decent people, though very few of the Daughters are in attendance. Aquila, as promised, has disappeared. Ulpia Jakes claims she's gone to the District One resort. I don't imagine that she'll come back. District One itself isn't rebellious, but it is high in the mountains, surrounded by wilderness. It's possible to get lost there, and I'm guessing that Aquila has her ways of doing so. Having gotten to know her, I imagine her scheming to build a whole new civilization around a few caves, a bird or two, and maybe a discreet ally. It's a silly idea, but I like it.
Katniss spends the evening clinging to Peeta's hand. They're mostly sitting at the banquet table, so his leg doesn't seem to bother him too much. She doesn't let him out of her sight. Once or twice, she catches my eye, and I try to smile for her. She's laughing and thanking sponsors - again, the friendly girl from the chariot - but I can see that she's high-strung and needs reassurance.
It's nearly dawn by the time the last partiers leave, and we're allowed to go back to the apartment. I see Katniss leaning in to talk to Peeta, almost certainly preparing to plan out a performance for Caesar's show, which I can't let her do. Not here. Sooner or later, I'm going to have to break the illusion for both of them - they deserve a chance to be honest with each other and see each other as they are - but I can't afford to do it now, not in a bugged Capitol apartment, and not when I need them unscripted for Caesar tomorrow. Katniss can't follow a script to save her life, and if Peeta rejects her, even a little bit, she'll break.
I send him off with Portia immediately to work on the vital question of tomorrow's shoes, and send her to her room to sleep.
Effie is sitting on the couch, rubbing her feet. She's pretty perky for four-thirty in the morning, and, looking at her closely, I'm angry - but not entirely surprised - to see the glittery, too-wide-open look in her eyes that says she's back on her "medication."
"Do you even need to sleep?" I ask her.
She giggles. "Oh, I've got another few good hours to get you ready for Caesar."
"I'm not on Caesar's show, Effie. I just need to talk to him."
"I know. Goodness, Haymitch, I'm the one who scheduled you."
I consider opening up the bar out of spite, but decide to keep going. One more day. Maybe two - they'll have cameras at another banquet when we get home the day after tomorrow. I won't drink at that one. That won't be because of Effie. That will be because when they held it for me, my mother was furious about the booze. The next morning, they'll be touring the kids' shiny new houses - hopefully not while planning to blow up the bakery or Katniss's house on the Seam - and I can be the drunken uncle next door. It'll embarrass Effie, if she's still capable of it, but that's sort of the point.
I go to my room without saying goodnight. Somewhere in the darkness, I hear the doors lock. I guess the Capitol doesn't want its shiny new victors wandering off, let alone the tarnished old one, who might go off to meet entirely inappropriate people.
I fall into a thin sleep just after six, during which my mother scolds me for wanting to drink again, and my daddy defends me, and Maysilee says I should be more interested in defying Snow's plans for me than embarrassing Effie. "Snow wants you to drink. You know he does. Toothless old Haymitch again." I look in a dream mirror and see an old man, bald and, as Maysilee suggested, toothless. Effie comes by, stoned out of her mind, and fixes me with a magic wand. She and Maysilee are arguing about this when my alarm wakes me at ten. I get up and dressed without much enthusiasm. The door has unlocked itself at some point while I slept.
Effie, as I expected, is up and running around, though she's changed her clothes and her wig to a more daytime look. She's giving the kids another hour and a half to sleep after last night. "Heaven knows, they need the rest. They're still recovering, poor dears, and it was quite a party last night. Simply everyone was there."
"Aquila Grant wasn't."
"Oh, I heard she went to the spa in District One." She inspects me. "Let me do something with your hair, Haymitch. They might catch you on camera."
"They're not trying to catch me on camera, and even if they do, I look better than I usually do."
"Still, maybe just a little styling…" She runs her fingers lightly through my hair, smoothing a curl or two down.
I take her wrist and gently move her hand away. "Effie, stop. I'm just going to do pre-interview prep with Caesar. He's probably not put together for it, either."
"Do you want me to go with you?"
"No. Get the kids to eat some breakfast, then send them off with Cinna and Portia."
"If you're sure…"
The interview will be in the sitting room in the apartment, where I trained the kids for their first interviews (not that my training ended up factoring into that). I see that they've already sent up the loveseat from the stage outside, and set up vases full of red and pink roses. Caesar isn't there yet, though. I'm meeting him at his office.
I go to the elevator, and look over my shoulder. Effie is still standing with her hand up, looking vaguely confused. I turn back to the door and don't turn around until I'm inside and it shuts behind me.
I don't think about much as I head over to the media headquarters. Caesar has another temporary secretary; he hasn't kept one for long since Peri disappeared with her husband, Martius Snow. This one is a boy in a powder blue wig who makes a great ceremony of showing me to the single chair in the waiting room while he informs Mr. Flickerman of my arrival… despite Caesar being on the way, perfectly visible through a glass wall. He spots me, gestures at me to come back, and rolls his eyes when the secretary's back is turned.
"He's trying a little too hard to impress," he explains, leading me into his inner office and closing the door. "He's a good boy, but I don't think he'll work out. They never do." He smiles. "How are our victors?"
"They're tired. Of course. A little overwhelmed."
"That's the same as every year."
"I'm surprised they don't have you at the banquet."
He laughs. "How could I make it all look spontaneous if I'd spent all night on television trying to get a laugh out of Peeta?"
"Right. Of course. Totally unscripted."
He sits down behind his desk. "I've had a few conversations with the president lately. He seems very interested in the romance, which seems incongruous, given Coriolanus."
"Well, I'm sure he just wants to make absolutely sure that the audience gets all the romance it can stand."
"Understood." He taps a pen on the desk for a few seconds and glances around. Given how circumspect he's being, I'm guessing he's decided he's bugged. Maybe Snow's even told him that he's bugged; I have no idea how that relationship works. "How would you say the best way is to get them talking?"
"Well, you already know how to get Peeta talking - "
He grins. "Give him a microphone and let him be?"
"Pretty much." I laugh. "But I think the audience wants to hear Katniss, and she's not always great at telling stories. The first interview was like pulling teeth until Cinna told her to pretend she was talking to him. She's very private. And she… doesn't always understand herself that well. And I don't think Peeta's told her about the leg yet."
Caesar doesn't need further explanation, or at least I hope he doesn't. He nods, anyway. "I'll help her if she gets stuck."
To my surprise, this is as far as the prep goes. We spend another half hour talking about the coverage that will happen when we get home. The banquet the first night. Then the holiday. The one they were having when Snow ordered my mother and brother killed by collapsing our old house around them.
I shudder. "I was trying to forget that they'd have to do that."
"Haymitch, stay sober. I'm not kidding."
"Oh, come on, the cameras will be on them. It would round out the story from the Reaping anyway, right?"
"I'm not interested in rounding out that story. Or disrespecting Rhona and Lacklen's memories."
"You're just full of old names this year, aren't you?"
"It's almost a quell year. I'd have had you on my mind regardless of your tributes' standing."
"Right. 'Cause that's quite a story."
"Because I'm worried about you."
"And no one will be peeling you off the ground at the end of the Seam on the district holiday? Or Parcel Day?"
"I don't go down there," I say. I know it doesn't answer the question he's really asking, but I don't care.
After I finish up with Caesar, I have a meeting with Plutarch in his bug-free office. Fulvia joins us, supposedly with a full prospectus on how to deal with me during next year's Quell. We all playact for the camera in the ceiling that this is what we're talking about, and at least a few of the papers Fulvia hands me really do have something to do with it. I ask Plutarch point blank if there's going to be a Quell, and he won't give me a straight answer. "We need to exercise patience, Haymitch," he says. "Our friends aren't yet sure of us."
When we leave, we all make a show of talking about next year, and Plutarch acts cross with me for not showing enough enthusiasm, since, as the sole Gamemaker who was actually involved in my Games - he was an apprentice and all around gopher - he feels that he should be directing my every move. I'm actually not sure whether or not he's acting.
I get back to the apartment just as the interview is starting. Caesar manages to be fairly gentle in letting Katniss know about Peeta's leg - though she goes quiet and buries herself against Peeta's chest for a few minutes while he talks about his recovery and thanks the doctors - and gets her through a halting description about when she realized she was in love (he picks the moment most of Panem would pick: when she called out to him from the tree). He coaxes her into telling Snow's preferred version of events with the berries. It's not going to go into the records of best post-Games interviews, but she manages to pull it off.
There's not much to gather in their rooms, though Cinna's returned the mockingjay pin, and our train is scheduled immediately. To my surprise, Effie comes with us. There've been a few escorts who've gone back over the last twenty-four years, I guess, but I don't think it's common. She got word while I was with Plutarch. Someone must think I need a chaperone. I narrow my list of suspects to Caesar Flickerman.
While Katniss goes to wash off her make-up on the train - she takes a very long time at it - I talk to Peeta and Effie in the dining car. Apparently, he found the time to ask Caesar to bring up the subject of his leg while they were setting up the lights. "I realized I couldn't just keep pretending," he says. "She had to know. I guess it freaked her out a little." He looks away, shamefaced. "Not exactly the dashing hero, I guess."
"What are you talking about?"
He shrugs and changes the subject, asking how long Effie will be staying, and if she'll let him bake her something.
Katniss comes out after a while, bare-faced and with her hair back in its customary braid. She looks weirdly stiff and awkward. Peeta is off inside his head somewhere as well. I think they're both running out of energy. They need a break from each other. Just a few more days.
We stop for fuel late in the afternoon. I judge the station to be somewhere near District Nine, judging by the unending, flat horizon, marked by long grass and wildflowers beyond the bushes planted to keep the ground under the tracks stable. The kids are allowed off the train (under heavy guard), and they walk hand in hand along the train tracks. It would seem romantic, but I can see the tense set of Katniss's shoulders even from here, and the slow, deliberate stride that Peeta is using to hide the pain in his leg.
They're apparently straying too far, because one of the guards on the train starts out after them.
"Oh, don't ruin it!" Effie tells him. "It's a beautiful shot!"
"If they go too far, they'll delay the schedule."
"I'll get them," I say. "May as well start playing the nosy neighbor."
I head out the back before he can contradict me. There's always at least a little bit of a thrill, walking around freely in the out-districts, even if the freedom is an illusion.
As I catch up to them, Peeta bends down and picks some flowers for Katniss. She takes them with a strained smile, and he frowns, glancing quickly down at his leg. I can't hear what they're saying over the engines, but I speed up a little bit. I don't want them giving in to their weariness with this quite yet.
I put my hand on Katniss's back. I speak softly, even though it's unlikely anyone can hear us. "Great job, you two," I say. "Just keep it up in the district until the cameras are gone. We should be okay." I nod back at the train, and make a motion with my hand to suggest we just give the lovebirds a little time.
I smile at them. I hope they'll get a little bit of energy back into it.
This turns out to be a bad plan. I go back to the train only a minute ahead of them, promising that they're on the way.
Unfortunately, before they move, I see Peeta take an uncertain step back. Katniss says something to him and reaches for him, but drops her hand when he doesn't take it.
He comes back to the train ahead of her, brushing by me without saying anything, and Katniss, after looking in a confused way at the flowers he gave her, comes after. He goes straight to his sleeping car.
She told him.
I realize it even as I chastise myself. I meant to let them know that they didn't need to play out a romance movie anymore. I meant that they could be themselves.
But Katniss's version of herself apparently decided that he needed to be told she was putting on a show.
I wanted them to have breathing room. I didn't want her to break his heart, and I especially don't want them estranged in Twelve.
She stays up with Effie and me, but spends most of the evening looking wistfully at his closed door. She goes to sleep early.
"This won't do," Effie says. "What on Earth did you say to them?"
"Maybe something I can fix," I say.
I go to Peeta's room. He doesn't want to let me in, but I lie and tell him that I can pick the lock. He opens the door.
He's stripped down to his underwear, but he's thrown on a bathrobe. There's a bottle of bourbon on the desk, but it's not opened. I throw it out the window into the slipstream.
He shrugs. "I already decided not to drink. It's a dumb thing to do."
He taps his ear and points around the room. I nod - it's definitely bugged. He grimaces. "She said she was glad we'd get separate houses," he lies. "I guess I figured we'd move in together."
"Well, it's a little soon." I sit down at the desk. "Katniss probably just wants a chance to figure out her own house."
"Come on, it's just a tiff. Everyone has them. The audience won't care, though."
He glares at me. "The audience."
"It can be a tough crowd."
He goes over to the bed, and I can see that his limp is getting worse. He sits down and stares at his foot. "Yeah, it can. I was limping again. I thought I had it."
"You think she… wants her own house because you're limping?"
"No. Of course not."
Peeta is usually a good liar - the best I've ever worked with, and that's going a distance - but he barely commits to this one. It's pointless to argue with him, too. He's tired, he's upset, and he's overreacting, imputing motives to Katniss that I doubt have even occurred to her.
"Just give them a good show for a couple of days," I tell him.
He nods, but he doesn't come out of his car until the train is pulling into District Twelve. He speaks softly to Katniss, then puts on his old smile and takes her hand. It looks like she's holding on for dear life, which works well enough on camera. Since they haven't assigned us a new Head Peacekeeper who needs to give speeches, the greeting time is short and mostly informal.
Katniss actually seems reluctant to let go of him when Ruth steps forward and declares that she's too young for a serious boyfriend - all part of the brilliant plan to give them "space," which goes over about as well as my part of it did. Peeta makes a great show of stepping away, and pretends not to see her reach out to him. She makes herself smile and throw herself into her mother's arms. She's much more enthusiastic about seeing her sister, but somewhat puzzled about the group of "cousins" she's gained. Gale Hawthorne looks likely to blow his cover, so I steer the whole crew away to get set up for the banquet.
The banquet is always fairly small. Capitol liaisons, the mayor and his family, the media, and the mine officials. The Peacekeepers are also generally invited, though some have to remain on duty. Obviously, they've pulled in baked goods from the Capitol, along with the food, but Danny stubbornly made about a dozen different pastries that Peeta likes. He and Ruth and Mir are all making a good show of getting along. Madge Undersee comes over to sit with Katniss, and grins broadly at the mockingjay pin. She plays the piano late in the evening.
Mir is in front of the cameras, so she behaves perfectly, doting on Peeta at every opportunity. She tries to dote on Katniss, but Katniss definitively rebuffs her. Instead of making a scene, she wisely withdraws.
Danny can't seem to stay more than a few feet away from Peeta, except when he thanks me. He wants to do a big toast to tell all of Panem what a great and trustworthy friend I am, or some nonsense like that, but I talk him out of it.
"You saved him, Haymitch."
"I did what I could," I say. "It's Katniss who saved him."
Peeta's brothers can't stay for long, and I don't get to talk to them. Apparently, the Capitol didn't find them terribly interesting, because the production crew doesn't even ask them to stay. One of them tries to jolly Peeta into doing something, but I can't hear what. I just see Peeta shake his head.
The only person who seems unequivocally happy is Primrose Everdeen, who dances with Peeta's brothers and even dances by herself for a little while, much to the delight of the viewing audience. ("I just love her!" a Capitol woman sighs on the live feed. Prim laughs and blows kisses in return, thanking everyone for sending her sister back to her.)
I'm afraid that they're planning to put Katniss and Peeta in adjoining houses, or inflict some other kind of domestic horror on them, but at the end of the evening, the houses are assigned normally. Peeta will live in the house directly to my right. Katniss will be two doors down to the left. The cameras follow us out so that I can point out the green to them (as if it's not completely obvious) and see them to their doors.
Effie and I close out the evening standing in front of my house. She's leaning on me, probably to avoid tipping over in the high heels she's got on, which have never worked particularly well in District Twelve. She tells the audience that she and they will both have to wait for tomorrow to get a peek. "They've had a very long day!" she says. "They deserve a little bit of rest in their well-earned new homes."
Ruth and Primrose move in with Katniss. The Mellarks all leave before curfew - Peeta's brothers are too old to live in Victors' Village with him, and he tells his parents that they need to keep the bakery open. He can take care of himself. Danny hugs him goodnight. Mir starts to, but something in Peeta's posture must warn her not to push it, because she settles for squeezing his arm and smiling angelically. He returns the gesture, then disappears into the house. Danny waves to me as he's driven away. I wave back.
Effie remains at my side, leaning on me, until the cameras are gone. She sighs finally. "They're all right, aren't they?" she asks. "They're safe now."
"As safe as any of us."
She turns to me, her eyes vague and glassy. I don't know if it's medication or lack of sleep. "Are you safe, Haymitch?"
"You're a terrible liar."
"No, I'm not." I turn her around to look at me. "I'm okay, Effie. Cameras on me everywhere." We look at each other a little bit too long. I'm very aware that I'm about ten yards from my front door, and there's not a soul who would look askance if she came in for a nightcap. Or a night. No one would care. "Do you need a ride back into town?" I ask. "I think the lighting team has a car. You better grab them before they leave."
She nods. "Right. My things are at the inn."
"I think Peeta's oldest brother lives there now."
"Really? I'll have to talk to him," she says. She bites her lip, then leaves.
I shake my head. She's probably still high, anyway. I go inside. I look at the bar. One day more. Maybe two. I'll just keep it up until the cameras leave.
Someone has been in to clean, probably at the instruction of the production crew, in case they need to interview me. I pull off my shirt and throw it on the floor, just to spite them, then go to bed.
They make me pick up the "mess" when they come in the next day and ask me how it will be to have neighbors. It doesn't even make the broadcast. The kids have to show off houses that they've barely had a chance to look at. Peeta does well. He says he wants to set up a painting studio in the attic, and the Gamemakers, who technically control the houses, give him permission on the spot to do the renovations. Katniss is a lost cause and so is Ruth, but luckily, Prim picks up the slack, talking about all the exciting things she's found since last night. If she gets any more popular, I may have to come up with an arena strategy for her after all. (Effie swears the reapings aren't rigged, but even if I believed her, in a Quell year, all bets will be off.)
The audience is loving their visit to "rustic District Twelve," so the producers decide to spread out the festivities, putting off my drinking for another week before the victory holiday. I'm getting a very bad headache, and I'm grumpy with everyone, but I make it. I snap at Effie several times, but she's medicated and seems not to care. The holiday is loud and festive, and I think everyone actually enjoys it. No one's house comes down, anyway, and a teenage singer from the Capitol runs around crowing about getting Prim's autograph. Katniss and Peeta continue their charade in public, but as far as I know, they haven't even seen each other's houses.
The production crews finally leave. I stay sober for a few more weeks, out of habit at this point. The kids are doing their own thing, and not having picnics with me out on the green, though they do generally stop by the house at least once a day. They don't say anything important. Katniss and I numbly watch Capitol television for several hours one day. Peeta gives my kitchen a thorough cleaning, and invites me to dinner a few times. Ruth comes by more often, worried sick about Katniss's nightmares. I don't lie or pretend that they'll pass, but I do tell her that, sooner or later, Katniss will find a way to live with them. This doesn't seem to comfort her.
I try to send a message to Chaff through the bakery, but Danny tells me that they've suspended his shipping license. He says something about too much traffic coming in after the Games. "Apparently, I was 'over-shipping.' Abusing the license." He smiles bitterly.
"Are you okay?"
One Sunday, for no particular reason, I start drinking again. I don't drink myself into a stupor, but I do get numb. The filth in my house starts to spread. I stop showering. The kids keep coming to see me, but they're obviously disgusted with me. I tell them to leave me alone, but they don't. When Peeta misses a day, I go over to his place. He seems surprised, and tells me that he was just painting and forgot. He won't show me his paintings. He makes me dinner.
Katniss starts missing Sundays, because she's hunting (though I'm somehow not supposed to know this), but she still comes in for our surreal non-conversations on the other days of the week. She seems to have decided that she owes me a debt and treats her visits as installment payments. Now and then, she'll pick something up or fix something that doesn't really need fixing. I'm annoyed when she comes, and annoyed when she leaves. If she doesn't show up, I check to see where she's been.
She falls asleep while we're watching television one afternoon and wakes up screaming. I get her calmed down and feel quite accomplished as a pseudo-parental figure. She goes home, and shows up the next day with broth, which we eat while I read a book and she sharpens her knife. I don't ask about her nightmares, and she doesn't offer any information.
Peeta's visits shorten considerably when I start drinking, and he makes no secret of being furious, but he does bring me fresh bread almost every morning (sometimes before I'm awake) and he sits with me patiently while I eat. He fills me in on town gossip, which he actually makes interesting. He seems to be trying harder to re-integrate into his life than any other victor I've met. He even works in the bakery now and then, though the Gamemakers won't let him do it permanently. Wouldn't want him doing anything useful, after all.
As far as I know, Katniss doesn't go to Peeta's house, and he doesn't go to hers, at least not very often. I know I need to do something about this. I figured it would blow over, but it seems to be deepening. I can't think of what to do, though. Even sober, I'm no one's idea of a matchmaker.
The rains start that fall around mid-September, and they're still constant and miserable at the end of the month, on the day I get the idea to find my victor's crown.
I don't know what really put the thought in my head. I've seen both of the kids' half-crowns over the last few months (Ruth has Katniss's on the mantel; Peeta's is hanging from a coat hook in his closet), and not that day. There's no dream. Just a strange urge to hold the thing in my hands. At first, I dismiss it, but of course, I start drinking, and by the bottom of the first bottle, I'm up in the attic, pawing through boxes of useless old junk. Most of it doesn't even have sentimental value. The things that mean anything are mostly downstairs (though I've carefully hidden my parents' quilt, in case Snow takes it in his mind to destroy something important). Old decorations, hundreds of empty-headed paperback books from the Capitol, broken appliances, clothes that no longer fit, and of course, my Games memorabilia. I finally find a cracked old trunk under a pile of old jackets, beside of the pile of plaques from my Victory Tour. I pop the latch.
There's not a lot in here, and it's not all from my own Games. I have a few presents that sponsors have given me over the years, the chess set I tried to make from coal slag once (it was an abysmal failure), and a highly forbidden, off-color poster of the Gamemakers that went around during the sixty-eighth Games. I also have a few pieces of jewelry that Gia Pepper accidentally left when she stayed with me, and a wig Effie left at the inn one year and never asked for. I don't know why I kept any of these things.
My crown has settled to the bottom of the box. It's been covered up, so it's not dusty, and the metal is strong. It hasn't bent out of shape. I take it out. I don't put it on. I just sit down on the pile of plaques and look at it. Now that I have it, I don't know what I wanted it for. The boy whose head this was placed on is long gone.
I don't let go of it. Evening is coming in, and shadows are stretching across my attic, bleeding through the mess like phantoms, reaching for me. I catch sight of Mimi Meadowbrook's statue, the little boy dancing in the rain. I can still make out the word "Reaped." I don't know, if I were to show it to anyone else, if they'd see. But I see it. I'll always see it. I remember staring at it downstairs on the day it came to me, a scream building up in the back of my throat. It was fury and horror then. Now, it's just an emptiness that I could name if I wanted to, but there's no real point to it, so I don't. When I'm sober, I'll talk myself out of it, anyway.
I reach out to touch the statue, and close my eyes.
Something thumps downstairs.
I open my eyes, but I don't answer.
"Where are you?" She doesn't sound worried or angry. She's just coming to make a payment on her perceived debt. We'll most likely pass a few awkward words and sit around in the same room for a while, thinking our own thoughts until she decides to go back to her place. "Are you home?"
"I'm here!" I call. "I'll be right down, sweetheart."
I take a deep breath and hang my crown on one of the statue's upturned hands, then get up and head downstairs.