This story borrows a lot of premise from my previous Hunger Games fanfiction, Least of These. If you haven't read it, I would recommend going through that one first.
For Willing and Abel, I have adopted a different writing style, because the story is better told this way. It does pick up where Least of These left off (essentially at the end of The Hunger Games), and it should run essentially to the end of Catching Fire, although I have only planned out the first few chapters so far. We'll see where this one goes as it happens...1 We Live, This Day
A smile crossed Eagan Westfall's lips, his heart warmed by the celebration. It wasn't that his family was well-fed. As a businessman, he could provide enough for them without this party. It wasn't even seeing all of those starving kids from the Seam partake in the feast, although that was pleasing to observe.
There it was; across the plaza, a crowd constantly shifted, following the pair of victors that had returned. The pair… That was it, the reason why Eagan felt satisfied. Everything the Underground hoped from this plan had succeeded and then some, far more than they dared dream.
Eagan's son, Eagan jr., wandered with the group that followed Katniss Everdeen, everyone taking turns congratulating her time and again. His son's knowledge of the plot couldn't even be called skeletal. Both Westfall parents always made sure to keep the children separated from the action.
Willow Westfall was nearby, exchanging pleasantries with other parents from the business district. Eight-year-old Fiona had worked her way over to a dessert table with towers of sugared specials. She and her friends mined their way into a mountain-range of cake.
In the plaza, another round of dancing broke out. Eagan knew he ought to ask his wife to join him on the dance floor. There was something to be done first, though. He decided this was good a time as any. Wiping a napkin across his lips, he stood up.
The bar was unmanned, its Capitol tender gone seeking a moment before the cameras with the victors, something to brag about later on. A bottle of malt scotch was abandoned to its fate, left beside the only man sitting on a stool in the plaza.
"I've gotta hand it to you," Eagan settled onto an adjacent stool. "This isn't quite what we had in mind."
Haymitch Abernathy's fingers slid over his tumbler, leaving smudges on the glass. He didn't speak up right away, waited a few seconds for the words to find his uneasy voice. "Everything I had in mind is right here." He tilted the amber liquor into his mouth.
Eagan let his eyes roll for a blink. Haymitch was never on board. It had taken everything the Underground had to convince him to help set this up. It didn't matter. "Well, good to know you could find time for your tributes, here and there. Between the important stuff."
A tiny wince stung across the right side of Haymitch's face, but he squashed it, sloshing another shot into the tumbler. "Hey, I did my part."
And that was true. Eagan had known for years why Haymitch drank. Forty-six tributes haunted his foggy mind, on top of the ghosts of his family who paid with their lives for a stunt he pulled in the second Quarter Quell. He was a sign the Capitol posted, warning all the other victors to stay in line. Every ragged breath he took declared, 'We can take everything from you.'
That much blood would drive any man to thin it out with swill. Only the strongest could survive it. Haymitch had developed something of a symbiosis with booze. It had taken years for the Westfalls to realize that Haymitch was more trustworthy with fumes in his blood than without. Liquor loosened his soul and distracted his tongue.
Eagan had come to think of him as an unshakeable pillar in the Underground, which contrasted quite oddly with his frequent incapacity to stay on his feet. Yet, the Capitol was sure he was a broken man. They had already expended every shot in their arsenal on him, hardly giving him a thought until the recent Games. He was reliable, pessimistic… toasted.
"Everyone did their part this time," Eagan lifted the bottle to his nose and smelled the wooden scent of the expensive, Capitol spirit.
Haymitch pawed the bottle back onto the bar and dragged it away. "Speaking of our roles… How'd the Undersee girl take it?"
Eagan leaned back on his stool a few degrees. "Rough. Pretty rough. She wouldn't have done it if she had known what was on the entries."
"Better keep an eye on that," Haymitch's words slurred into the tumbler.
"Oh, I doubt it." His eyes roamed over the party until they located Madge sitting at a table by herself, watching the festivities, a vague grin on her face. "With both of them home, I think she'll put all of this behind her tonight."
"She hasn't yet, then?"
Eyes squinting in thought, Eagan replied, "No, not yet. I thought she would be alright once they were declared victors, but it still itches at her."
Haymitch nodded in understanding, saying nothing more.
Eagan leaned closer to Haymitch and whispered, "Hey, listen. There're two special Peacekeepers being brought here, investigators."
"Doesn't surprise me." Haymitch nursed a slurry of backwash and alcohol. "Snow's furious about this."
The Underground expected that. It was terrifying that they had actually stirred up the hatred in the President's heart. "Well, here's the good news. The one who will be in charge is named Volente Covas; he's one of ours, from eleven."
That got Haymitch's attention. He turned a dogged, dizzy stare through his light hair, stubble glinting in the sunset. Constructing his syllables precariously, he inquired, "How… trustworthy... is he?"
Eagan shrugged, "Word is he's dedicated… I'll try to vet him a little before I let him know who is who in twelve."
Haymitch choked on saliva as he laughed. "Who's who." He coughed to clear the burn, "Right…"
This wasn't the road Eagan was going down with the drunk, not tonight. Haymitch had long since lost faith in most of the plan. He had lost pretty much everything. District 13 had been so apathetic toward District 12 and so cautious about the Underground plan in general, Haymitch had written them off. The only reason he had agreed to the plan for the 74th Hunger Games was that it offered a better chance to bring at least one tribute home. He wouldn't have been able to drown away the memory of letting that chance slip by.
District 12 only had a handful of people in the Underground and District 13 had advised against recruiting. Keeping a lower profile for the coal miner district was recommended, since the others would be the first to go into rebellion. Because 12 wouldn't stand a chance in a fight the Peacekeepers, there was no sense in forming a huge sea of people raring to war with them.
Haymitch grunted, "So why're they transferring this Covas guy here? Why not someone from a… more prestigious place?" Prestigious came out a smudge of ess sounds.
"Oh, some stuff happened in eleven during the Games. They're rotating in all new Peacekeepers over there. And since Covas just had a member of the Underground hung, the Capitol feels he's the perfect guy to ferret out any… rebellious passions the Seam-folk may be feeling from this year's Hunger Games."
"So, he hangs a member," Haymitch counted his two points on his fingers, "and he's really trustworthy." He released a raspy laugh. "Yeah, he sounds trustworthy."
"I've been reassured by the network. Trust me, though; that's why I'm going to vet him."
Haymitch resigned with a slumping shrug. He had whittled the bottle down by two thirds, and had just started in on the remainder when a lone camera crew wandered over, hoping to get some decent footage of the first mentor to lose no tribute. Eagan slipped away just before they arrived at the bar. Haymitch barely acknowledged their existence, finding them an annoyance.
Within moments Eagan was back at his wife's side, setting down a bunch of grapes he had snagged along the way. Even the wealthy in District 12 have trouble getting good grapes. Willow shared these with him as they whispered to each other.
"How is he?"
"Haymitch? Same old self."
Willow passed him a wry grin. "So, victory hasn't spoiled him."
"Not at all."
She adds, "Although, he always smells overripe."
"Yeah, well, he feels his record with tributes hasn't been improved all that much." Eagan picked the last of the grapes and divided them up.
"The other districts will get things started soon. Hopefully this year was the final Games."
Eagan loved his wife, even if they never quite saw the world from the same perspective. How could they? She was an agent from District 13, having lived in 12 for twenty years, and he was the son of a merchant from the business class. They really were very different.
She recruited him into 12's meager Underground and then they fell in love, despite Willow's best effort to slither out of her heartstrings. 13 had okayed their marriage and the children came. They were partners in this rebellion.
Deep down, Eagan was glad 12 wouldn't be the primary focus of the war, glad for his family's sake. Providing the spark was all the coal district could offer, and that was done.
Willow whispered in his ear, "Lorris wanted to know about the investigators."
"What'd you tell him?"
"That we're looking in on it." She gazed across the plaza where Madge hugged Katniss. The mayor's daughter held the embrace for a few seconds longer than the usual home-welcome.
"Hey, Will." Eagan's wife turns back to face him, her green eyes masked to the public by years of careful practice. He whispered to her, "You never told me about the other investigator."
Willow was Eagan's link to District 13's vast stores of knowledge. 13 was overly cautious about letting information slip into more hands, and Willow was not one to abuse their trust in her. Sometimes it bothered him that she held back a portion of those secrets from him. Most of the time, he let it go, because her heart she shared fully. She was colder than Eagan, but the love was there.
Covas was willing to execute Underground members... He must be frozen inside, Eagan thought. On the other hand, the man who was hanged in District 11 tried to take the rebellion into his own hands. The Underground wouldn't tell him anything about the plans, and finally he snapped. Now District 11 was worse off than ever.
Willow combed her fingers through her hair, tucking the straight, dark-brown strands behind an ear. She had a gentle look, a softness in her face that truly made her a natural Underground member. The kindness of her perfected smile concealed the firebrand heart pushing icy blood through her veins.
In some ways, Eagan had always envied her. He was rather plain looking; thin lipped, hair graying early, eyes no more remarkable than spots on a goat. He found it easy to blend in to a crowd, but difficult to pull off a lie when Peacekeepers stared him in the face.
"His name's Abel Broadmark." She plucked the last grape and turned it over in her fingertips. "He was something of a star at the Academy. Top marks and utterly ruthless."
The first thing that went through Eagan's mind was, 'why didn't you tell me this sooner?' but Willow bit the grape in half and added, "He's a flawless example of dedication to the Capitol."
Eagan drew a long breath and sighed through his nose. The camera crew had given up trying to get Haymitch to say or do anything. He had passed out onto his wrists and the crew was wandering around, catching shots of the celebration in general. Eagan waited until they were a little further away before he muttered, "Great, just great."
Willow frowned, "It's better this way."
"With the Capitol's hotshot put on our trail?"
"It keeps him out of the other districts." Willow always looked at the whole picture. No one from District 13 was concerned about the small scale. Every move on the chessboard was considered for the eventual checkmate. That meant the pawns might be sacrificed at some point, if necessary.
Eagan and Willow had discussed what 12's role would be after the rigged reaping. Running distraction and working the victor into a symbol for rebellion. Haymitch needed to keep Katniss in order, and of course Peeta would be himself. Tack on Cinna's creative efforts and the Mockingjay symbols would soon unite the districts in opposition to the Capitol. Haymitch would need some prodding…
But the other districts were going to start the rebellion. 12 would be on standby, so hiding the Underground from Broadmark should be easier. And if he were to take down anyone, better to have it in the unimportant coal-mining town.
That was one of the reasons why 12 had been selected; it would distract Snow's hunters while the Underground moved into place elsewhere in Panem. The other reason was Katniss and Peeta. They were the best option. Sure a few other kids with fleeting crushes had been noted. However, 13 put a lot of time and consideration into the rigging.
They knew that Peeta genuinely loved Katniss. Eagan junior had mentioned it several times, though Peeta never came out and said so openly to anyone. They knew Katniss hunted and had a reputation as a marksman with her bow. Whether she would volunteer for her sister was in question for some months leading up to the Reaping, but the risk was taken.
Eagan watched the victors dance, smiled when Eagan junior and another boy danced around them, entertaining the crowd. Plutarch had pulled it off somehow. He had nudged Seneca Crane into the rule change, and then Katniss had forced him to let the rule stand. "How did we manage it?"
Willow stayed silent. Everyone played their part, even the two tributes who didn't know they had parts to play, except maybe for the girl. She came across as a little awkward. Frankly, Eagan thought that worked better. Everyone from 13 wanted perfect acting and even Willow was disappointed at Katniss' lackluster response to Peeta's authentic passion. Eagan had to point out that she was being genuine as well, that it helped boost the dual image of the Mockingjay.
Katniss Everdeen the Mockingjay; strong, confident, assertive, capable of overruling the government's dictates. Katniss Everdeen the girl; compassionate, loyal, precious, caring, and oppressed. As powerful as Peeta Mellark's sacrifice was, it wouldn't have amounted to much without the unique qualities of the girl he loved.
"We'll need to keep Broadmark busy so the focus stays here as long as possible." Willow tapped a finger against her chin. "Between us and Covas, we can probably keep him confused long enough."
"To get things going elsewhere."
She nodded, "To keep Snow looking in the wrong spot."
"Broadmark is one thing. Snow is going to be something else."
Sensing that the conversation was over for now, more people were drifting over from the buffets, Eagan stood up and reached a hand out to his wife. "My dear, would you like to dance?" He knew she was not a fan. People from 13 were utilitarian and didn't understand things like dancing. But Willow had played this part for two decades; born, lived, and would die inside the fence that hemmed in the coal miners.
She smiled and took his hand, stepping as the music played.