An image of Katniss is on the live feed to a small screen in the wall. Peeta wouldn't have agreed to leave the production booth if he couldn't keep an eye on her. She's singing some damn thing about a bridge that's falling down. It's gone on for five verses now, and I don't think it's stopping any time soon. If Plutarch is feeding this to the court, she'll be free in a day.
Except that they're crazier than she is.
I'm not sure the rest of us are any better.
Katniss is busy trying to starve herself to death, Peeta's having long and involved conversations with himself about what's real and what's not, Haymitch is drunk (not that this is anything new), Beetee's tinkering with a wristwatch like it will make a difference to anything, and Enobaria is Enobaria, which has never been the world's best recommendation.
Ironically, the only one here other than me who seems halfway sane is Annie Cresta.
This is her house, or at least will be while we're all in the Capitol, and she's got it set up nice and calm. We all come here, except Peeta, who's been living in Plutarch's control room and listening to Katniss sing for a week. All of the victors... and about a dozen teenage prostitutes that she's taken in and fed and dressed in something other than their business clothes. She's teaching them to weave nets, and thinks they'll come down to District Four with her later and all become fishermen.
Okay, I take it back. I'm the only sane one left.
Anyway, the pros are gone for the evening. Annie believes they are actually taking food down to the shelters. And who knows? Maybe they'll stop there on the way to their actual destinations, but I guarantee they'll show up flush at the end of the night.
It's just us victors.
Haymitch bangs his bottle down on the table hard enough to startle Peeta into looking up for a second, then says, "All right. Let's get down to it." He points at the screen. "I don't much like Plutarch's plan, in case you haven't guessed. I've been trying to get in. Peeta's been trying to get in. Gale's been trying. Ruth Everdeen's been trying. He's bound and determined to make her as crazy as he can make her."
"To get her off the assassination charge," Enobaria says. "Isn't that a good thing?"
Annie nods toward the screen, where Katniss has finally finished the bridge song and moved straight on to a maudlin ballad about the plague. "Does that look like a good thing to you?"
"What else is there to do?" Beetee asks. "I certainly don't want to see her in prison."
"Justification," Peeta says vaguely, then looks back at the screen. He hums along with her.
"Johanna?" Haymitch prods.
I shrug. "She did shoot the bitch. With a few million witnesses."
"But just the six of us to say what happened before it."
"Do you think she decided to do it at the meeting?" Beetee asks.
I roll my eyes at him. "No, Beetee. She missed at point blank range and accidentally shot the wrong president. Also, she really thought her sister would love to bet on a new set of Games."
"I thought she meant it to be revenge for her sister."
"Prim spent a lot of time looking after me while Katniss was away from Thirteen. She'd come back from the dead just to slap Katniss silly for that vote. I knew something was wrong when she said it. You did, too, didn't you Haymitch?"
He nods. "I had a pretty good idea what she was up to. And if she hadn't done it, I would have. I don't know about the rest of you, but I didn't go through this whole thing just to switch from one psychopath in charge to another."
"I didn't know," Peeta says softly. "I didn't notice that at all."
"That's 'cause your brains are still pretty scrambled," I tell him.
"She's right," Annie says. "Katniss voting for the Games matched your false memories."
He nods. "I guess."
"What about you?" Annie asks me. "Were you planning a secret assassination when you voted yes, too?"
"Hell, no. I didn't really give a damn if she wanted to throw Snow's granddaughter in an arena. We all had to do it." I go on before she, Beetee, Haymitch, and Peeta all attack. "But I guess that probably wasn't the saintly thing to think."
"No one's asking you to be a saint," Haymitch says. "And I doubt they'll be making statues of me any time soon, either."
"So what are we doing here?" Enobaria asks.
"Plutarch wants to get her off on an insanity defense," Haymitch says. "But I'm with Peeta. Justification. Coin walked in the room talking about how her political enemies were lined up to be executed, and reminding Katniss that at least three of you were only alive because she'd kept her side of the deal. Then she gave us a choice between killing about a million people in the Capitol or starting the damned Games again, and made it pretty clear which side her political friends would be on."
"Which should have been a matter for the courts," Beetee says. "I would have gone home and put together a brief-"
Enobaria lets out a snort of derision. "Yeah, that would've gone over well. Do you think she'd have had you hanged or shot?"
"Shot," Peeta says suddenly. "She had people shot. Caesar Flickerman's brain landed on the camera lens. She woke me up to watch it." He blinks, the clarity fading away, and looks at the screen again. Katniss's plague ballad has reached a place where the lone survivor is standing in the ruins of someplace called Adelaide, and sees the transport waiting to fly him away. Peeta had been doing better before Katniss shot Coin, but I guess watching her murder someone made him start questioning her angelic nature again.
"So," Haymitch says into the uncomfortable silence that follows this, "here's what I propose: We all agreed on it."
"What?" Beetee asks, and I seriously think that his mind has not even processed what Haymitch said. "Agreed on what?"
"Killing Coin," Enobaria says. "She left, and we all looked at each other and said, 'Let's kill her.' And Katniss was just the one who ended up with the arrow. Is that about it, Haymitch?"
"Not real," Peeta says. "I wish it had been real."
"You?" I ask.
"Yeah. I shouldn't have left her out there alone."
"You didn't," I tell him. "You were the only one who ran up there and kept her from offing herself." I don't add that she is probably not thankful for this right now. She was, after all, screaming for Gale to shoot her, and he's pretty sure she meant it. He was going to do it, too. He told me so. He just couldn't, when it came to it. I was somewhat less than shocked by this development.
Beetee is tapping his small screwdriver on the table. "I don't like this, Haymitch. You're talking about perjury. And I would not have been in on a plan to assassinate President Coin."
"Perjury?" Enobaria repeats. "I saw you fry four people deliberately on national television, and you're going to scruple at perjury?"
"We're not in the arena anymore. Isn't that the point here? That the arenas are gone?"
"Annie?" Haymitch says.
She sighs. "Finnick would do it in an instant. But... I would argue. Plutarch's plan to get her free is more likely to work, and it doesn't involve perjury. Besides, it might end up getting that poor girl some help."
"And we wouldn't have to tell the world what Coin was up to," Beetee adds.
"That's the point!" Haymitch thunders. "To tell people."
"You need to sober up," Beetee says. "We just finished a war. If we start running around agitating against our own side, the whole thing will start up again. Baize Paylor isn't going on with Coin's policies, and she'll need a relatively calm populace if she's going to get a decent footing. If we start trying the leader of the Rebellion for war crimes just to keep Katniss safe..." He gestures with one hand to indicate that the conclusion is obvious.
I shake my head. "Paylor'd be for it. She's had Gale going through Coin's papers. We only knew a little of what she was up to. Paylor wishes she'd issued arrest orders herself. Which I have no way of knowing, since it's all classified, by the way."
"Exactly," Beetee says. "Arrest orders."
Annie takes a deep breath, and covers her ears. I think this is just a habit now; she doesn't seem to be listening to anyone not present. I figured losing Finnick would leave her broken, the way losing her left him. But she's pregnant, and I guess she's decided that it's time to toughen up. Of course, I've heard her say it's because Finnick's with her all the time now, so I may be overstating her mental health. "We don't have to decide tonight," she says. "Let's all think about it."
"It won't work if we're not all in," Haymitch growls. "And I want to get her out of that room." He points at the screen. Katniss is now singing some kind of children's song about monkeys and weasels. Between that and screaming for Gale to shoot her, I'm sure that she'll make a fine example of modern sanity in Panem.
"Can we agree not to talk about it with anyone else?" Enobaria suggests.
This is a given. Matters among victors have never been for public discussion.
We agree to meet tomorrow night. Haymitch gets Peeta's coat and leads him out, back to the production booth, where he'll watch the girl he loves get conspicuously crazier by the day, unless she succeeds in her clear intention to kill herself. Beetee tells Annie, "You know this is wrong, right?" then leaves when she doesn't answer.
"That leaves just us girls," Enobaria says, turning up the volume on Katniss. "Shall we have a sleepover? We've already got a soundtrack for it."
"Go home, Enobaria," Annie says.
I start to follow, but Annie stops me. "Wait. I want to talk to you."
"No. I think we all need to think about it on our own. Or with a friend who's an exception to the no talking rule," she says, raising her eyebrow at me.
I ignore this. "What then?"
"Do you have room to take in some of the children?"
"The... wait, you mean the... ?" I gesture at some of the questionable clothes her houseguests have left around.
"Yes. This place is getting full."
"Finnick was helping them. He sent them food when he could. He... he was one of them. That's why they came to me."
"Yeah-they figured you were an easy mark, same as he was."
"If you think Finnick was easily conned, you never knew him."
I grind my teeth. "I knew him."
"Johanna, it helps to care about something. It really does."
"Yeah, I can see how much it's helping Katniss." I nod at the screen.
"She's getting better."
"She's remembering who she is. That's what I had to do. And I have to remember who Finnick was, too, for the baby. That's why I'm helping these kids."
"I don't know what you think I can do."
"Well, maybe when Gale heads for Two, he could find work for them. Real work."
This is a turn of conversation I am not interested in. Annie has her tragic love story. Katniss and Peeta have their ongoing melodrama. I am not interested in joining the ranks of the victors' circle of saccharine. I prefer my relationships to border on farce, which is exactly what my friendship with Gale is. It was mostly forged when Haymitch told me to make myself useful by getting Gale to stop pacing around the burn ward and getting under Mrs. Everdeen's feet, which he started doing the minute he was released from his own hospital ward. "I'm not bringing Gale into this, and even if I did, I doubt he'd care what I thought about bringing a pack of pros out to Two. And didn't we start this asking if I had room? I have an apartment!"
"What's its address?" Annie asks innocently.
I give her the street number and the apartment number, and, for good measure, tell her that I sleep in the middle bedroom. For now.
Annie smiles serenely.
And go straight to Gale's. Not to ask about prostitutes.
He's taken a big house that his whole family lives in without running into each other much. Hazelle says it's too much house for them, but Gale is proud of providing it. Rory and Vick chase each other up and down the stairs. Posy is playing princess in the living room when I let myself in. She runs up and says, "Jo-jo! Be the queen!"
No one has called me "Jo-jo" and lived since my parents died, but I suppose I can put up with it from Posy, who sometimes gets me to call her Po-po, so we rhyme. I tell her, "No, I need to talk to your brother. Is he upstairs?"
"Well, much as I've been thinking I need a heart to heart with Vick, I think I'll settle for Gale today."
"He's in the study," Posy says, with an exaggerated groan.
"Right there with you," I say, and head upstairs.
As I expected, Gale is at his huge desk-really more of a strategic planning table, littered with maps and files-hands buried in his hair, elbows planted carefully among the papers. He looks like he has a killer headache. Which is probably exacerbated by the screen above his mostly unused bar, which is currently broadcasting the musical stylings of Katniss Everdeen, the Girl on Fire, the Mockingjay, who is doing her most brilliant rendition of the alphabet song.
I go over and turn it off.
Gale looks up. "Hey!"
"Haymitch and Peeta should be back in the control room by now. They'll let you know if there's a change."
Irritated, he comes over and turns the screen back on, but doesn't argue when I mute the sound.
I don't dance around. I point at the screen and say, "Is she crazy?"
"You've spent as much time with her as I have in the last year," he says. "You tell me. Does that girl look like Katniss to you?"
I can't say that she does. Then again, I didn't look much like me after they doused me on my individual exam, either. Curling up in the fetal position and screaming my head off for three hours did nothing for my complexion. Neither did stinking up every room I was in because I was afraid of the shower. Now, thanks to intensive therapy, I can get my hair washed without heavy sedation, and I look much more natural.
But that's not really the question. "I mean, is that why she did it?"
"Oh, yeah," he says, without hesitation. "Doesn't mean she was wrong, but she was definitely crazy." He glares at the files on his desk. "That woman sent Prim on purpose. She was told that getting trained as a doctor depended on how well she did."
"Do the papers say why?"
"No. They don't need to." He nods toward another folder. "That one's her file of enemies. She was keeping a list of everything Katniss did. She was going to have her executed the second she stepped out of line. She had a file on you, too. Morphling thefts, insubordination, and apparently, you threatened to steal a hovercraft."
"It's true. I did. The hospital was bugged?"
"You don't sound surprised."
"Should I be?"
"I can't believe I followed her. I can't believe I defended her. I should have handed Katniss enough arrows to shoot all of us."
"Yeah. I'm sure she'd be a lot happier now if she'd shot her best friend."
"I don't think she thinks I'm her friend anymore." He sighs. "I'm pretty sure it was us. The bomb."
This conversation goes in circles once it starts. Everyone but Gale just accepts that it was ours now. There's nothing to be done about it. It's not like he was the one who actually dropped the parachutes. He was underground headed for an assassination attempt when the order went out. Pointing out that designing it didn't mean he meant for Prim Everdeen to be caught in it does no good, since he always counters with the fact that someone's sister was meant to be caught in it. He's going to get crazier than Katniss dreams of being if he's not diverted from this topic.
So I say, "Annie wants to know if you'd like some prostitutes for Two."
It has the desired effect. First, he looks confused, which breaks him out of his circular thinking, then he says, "I don't think there's a shortage. But I'm guessing that's not exactly what Annie said."
"Yeah, well. Seems she's decided that Finnick wants her to get them out of the business. You know, because of what Snow made him do."
Gale nods, then frowns. "Johanna, um... you're very attractive and... uh..."
"Did Snow sell me to the highest bidder?" I finish. There has been much speculation on this, and I figured Gale would ask me eventually.
He nods, then says, "Sorry. I guess that's none of my business."
I shrug. "It's okay. No."
"Really?" He looks perplexed. "I'd just think that you... I mean, being so... you. And they always talked about you during the Games, all the boyfriends... I figured he'd think you were valuable."
"He did," I say. "He always waits-well, waited-until there was a new victor before really starting to mess with the old one. That way, it's not on camera. Anyway, I was very glad to be alive when I got out of the arena. I had a boyfriend. Daniel. I let him know how glad I was to be alive. It messed up a deal that Snow had made with a donor who wasn't interested in used goods. Daniel had a little accident in the paper mill a month later. After that, Snow didn't have any leverage on me. As to the Games, I didn't lack for company. For a while, I was jumping on everything that moved, just to spite him."
"Oh. But you're not still...?"
He's blushing so furiously at this turn of conversation that I can't help it. I slip into my best Finnick voice and purr, "Why? Are you feeling jumpy, gorgeous?"
This earns me a laugh, and he says, "Not at the moment, no."
"A lot later." He looks back at the screen, where Katniss is doing some kind of little dance to whatever she's singing. "I'm really worried about her, Jo."
I know this. I'm worried about her, too. In the time since my Games, Katniss is the only person who ever spontaneously offered to help me, let alone gave me a gift (the pine needles are losing their scent, but I still keep the sachet in my drawer). But worry isn't going to accomplish anything, so I say, "What should I tell Annie about her pros?"
"If she's got anyone who doesn't mind housework, I could hire a live-in helper. Mom's working her fingers raw trying to keep this place up. I'll have to check with Two about what's available there. With the Nut gone, they're a little short on industry."
There's nothing more to say. I don't feel like going yet, so I sit down on the couch and read a particularly bad adventure novel while he goes back to compiling disturbing facts about the late Alma Coin. He turns the sound on the screen back on. Katniss's voice is getting better, though she's moved on to an obnoxious love song about lovers who were promised to each other as babies-very healthy, I'm sure-finding one another too late.
As long as we don't actually look at her, it's not an unpleasant background.
I leave around eleven at night, when Hazelle gets back from some kind of meeting. She doesn't disapprove of me (in fact, she offers me pie and a toothbrush if I want to stay the night), but it seems as good a cue as any, and she does seem a bit relieved when I tell her that we're not in a toothbrush place. I go back to my apartment, but find that I miss listening to Katniss sing, so I head over to the production booth (which is really a fairly comfortable room around Plutarch's recording equipment) and crash on a sofa across from Peeta, who's awake, and Haymitch, who's passed out.
Plutarch wakes us all the next morning, grumbling about needing to put in extra furniture if we get any more victors sleeping here. "It's one thing when it's Peeta, but don't the two of you have anywhere to be?" he asks Haymitch and me.
On screen, Katniss is getting her breakfast, which she ignores. She's singing a good morning song.
"I should send her dandelions with her lunch," Peeta says.
"First of all," Plutarch says, "it's still winter; there aren't any around. Second, no. And third, it's Katniss we're trying to prove is crazy, not you. You're going to send the love of your life a bunch of weeds?"
Peeta doesn't answer, but he does grab a piece of paper and start drawing dandelions all over it.
Great. She's singing nonsense songs, he's drawing nonsense pictures. I look at Haymitch, who gives me an indifferent shrug.
I go back to my apartment to get dressed, and by the time I get back to the booth, someone has brought Peeta a real sketchpad. He has lost the vague look he's had, and is studiously drawing Haymitch. I watch for a while. Annie arrives around noon, Beetee in tow, with one of her boys carrying a large picnic basket. She invites him to stay, but he says he has work to do, and promises her that it involves ladling soup. I wonder who has a soup kink. No one is particularly surprised when Enobaria shows up, though no one is particularly pleased, either. Plutarch is still finding the best crazy footage of Katniss to cut into his show for the jury, so we don't mention the fact that we're all early and in the wrong place for our meeting. Peeta has finished his drawing of Haymitch and moved on to an obviously more familiar subject-Katniss, singing in the window. Only instead of the window frame, he draws two dandelions arching toward each other, framing the view outside.
I briefly consider asking, but decide not to.
Instead, I watch Katniss wander through her room, looking weak and too thin, singing without any visible sign that she has the slightest idea what the song is (at the moment, it's a ballad about a man who lost his legs, which Peeta seems not to notice). I think about Gale and his piles of papers, and his bitterness about Coin, and how he'd followed her. I think about Annie, just trying to find some stable world for kids who'd never seen one. And I think about a white bandage, filled with pine needles, put into my hands so that I would have something to hold onto.
I told Katniss once that she was no longer the girl who volunteered for her sister at the Reaping. She didn't argue. But I wonder now, I wonder if this singing girl is finding her way back to the real Katniss Everdeen, the one whose single act of courage changed so much. And I wonder if it's possible for me to remember for myself.
It's probably better if I don't sing trying to do it, though. I'd scare off everyone in a ten mile radius.
Plutarch finally leaves to go to afternoon testimony (the morning was tied up, he said, by closed-door motions that no one would care about), and Annie says, "We may as well talk now."
I get up and lock the door so we won't be disturbed.
Haymitch says, "If Plutarch doesn't get her out of there by this time next week, I'm breaking her out."
"All in favor?" I ask, raising my hand. Everyone else's hand goes up. I doubt we will actually do anything, but at least we all agree on that much.
No one brings up the question Haymitch raised.
Peeta stops drawing for a minute, then says, "She needs to talk to someone."
"When we get her out, she will," Haymitch says. "And last I knew, Dr. Aurelius still said you weren't allowed."
Peeta makes a rude suggestion about Dr. Aurelius's private life, but says he's working on getting better, and can almost always tell the fake memories now. He thinks he can talk to Katniss without trying to kill her.
"Well, that's always a good start," Enobaria says. "Anyway, I've been thinking. Everything's calmed down. Beetee was right. If we open this can of worms right now, the guns are coming out again. They're not put very far away. Mine's in my purse right now."
Given that she's known for having ripped someone's throat out with her teeth, I am not unduly frightened by her having a gun. It's not like it makes her any more deadly than she already was.
"What about the truth?" Haymitch asks.
"We can let out the truth when people are ready to hear it," Beetee says. "I know Gale is anxious to tell everything, but I can keep him from doing it. Paylor understands. She wants to give Katniss a pardon, but she'd have another rebellion on her hands if she did."
He talks longer. I don't really know what he says. More about the peace and welfare of Panem, I guess, on the altar of which Katniss Everdeen has already laid down everything. So have the rest of us. Personally, I don't think it's worth it.
But Katniss is.
Annie said I needed to care about something. It might as well be Katniss.
When Haymitch looks to me for a vote, I say, "I don't give a damn about the truth, and I definitely don't give a damn about what's best for Panem. Panem can rot."
"So what's your vote?"
"Let Plutarch do it his way." They look at me, shocked. I am shocked at myself. I mutter, "So Katniss will get the help she needs." I sit down, expecting to be shot or knifed or strangled or bitten-all possibilities with this bunch-but mostly, there's silence, broken only by Katniss's singing.
Peeta's hand goes up. "I vote to help her," he says.
Annie's goes up. Beetee's goes up. Enobaria doesn't care, but she'll go with the majority. Haymitch is left standing alone, then he sighs, and his hand goes up as well.
The question of justification is not raised at Katniss Everdeen's trial.