Part One: Nightmares
There's a golden mean about drinking, somewhere between the place where it numbs you down enough to think through the nightmares and the place where you get too numb to think at all. Sometimes, I can find it for days in a row. Then the line moves without any warning, and I have to find it all over again.
And sometimes, I don't care about it. Sometimes, I don't want to think. Sometimes it's better to just be numb. I stayed sober for weeks after the last Games. It didn't make any difference, and too many things started coming into my head.
It takes a lot more liquor than it once did to make me numb, but what the hell? I can afford it.
There is not enough liquor on the planet to deal with Effie Trinket today, not the way she is now.
Frankly, if there's a good reason to drink, it's the way she is now. The bright, decent, pretty girl that came to my door almost sixteen years ago has been entirely buried under the painted up, hyperactive, strident robot that's standing there now, blinking in the morning sun and wrinkling her nose at the smell of my house. When I'm sober, I make up elaborate games of make believe, about how she's really still in there someplace, and I can still see her under the façade.
I'm a little more honest with myself drunk.
It's my fault. I know it's my fault. But that doesn't make it any easier to deal with her like this.
"Haymitch!" she screeches, pushing her way into the kitchen without asking. "Oh, no, this won't do, we can't film in here! It's a disaster!"
"I didn't invite anyone to film in here," I tell her, and reach for another bottle.
She grabs it before I can and sweeps it out of the way. "There's been quite enough of that. We'll get you sobered up and do your interviews on the train. Obviously, we can't shoot them here." Her eyebrows draw together, an action which causes her nostrils to flare in order to balance it. "Really, Haymitch, you knew the reporters were coming. You knew that. It's a Quarter Quell this year, and you're the only Quell victor we have."
"Lucky me," I mutter. "But isn't this the Victory Tour? Shouldn't the cameras all be pointing at our happy little couple next door?"
"We have to reintroduce you to the viewing public."
"Oh, they remember me. You were the one who said they'd remember me, remember?"
This causes a moment's confusion to cross her face. She has her own golden mean these days, and she's obviously been tending to it as diligently as I have.
She shakes it off. "They remember you for groping me and passing out into the audience at the Reaping."
"That's just you, sweetheart. Everyone else remembers that I mentored two tributes who both got out of the arena a few months ago. You're the one fixating on being groped."
"They remember Peeta and Katniss winning. They'd have applauded anyone who walked out on that stage with them. If you show up on television looking like you just crawled out of a gutter and are looking for a way back in, they'll forget everything else." She purses her lips, then signals to Peeta's prep team. "See what you can do with him. I'll..." She looks around my kitchen distastefully. "I'll call ahead to the train and make sure there's a lot of coffee." She walks off, her heels clicking importantly, her hips swaying sharply side to side like a very attractive metronome. I watch her walking until she actually disappears into the kitchen to start her compulsive "straightening up."
Claudia, Peeta's hair stylist, wrinkles her nose at my hair, then decisively marches us all upstairs to the bathroom, where she tells me to strip. I have not missed this about my own prep team. Walking around naked in front of judgmental strangers isn't one of the highlights of my life. I know that they're not going to let me alone, though, so I put up with it. I've spent the better part of the last twenty-five years as a public figure, but this year's going to be different. The kids are more popular than I ever was, but I'm their mentor, and that's going to mean being in front of the cameras to talk them up and tell everyone stories like I'm some irascible uncle. If Snow allows that much. It looks like Effie is assuming that he will.
The skin guy, Sergius, starts scrubbing me down. There's another woman, too, Valentine. She's a medic, and I can see that she's got a syringe in a case. I know that syringe. I guess they've decided to add it to the Victory Tour festivities since my tenure. Maybe it's because of my tenure. Anything's possible.
"Don't even think about it," I tell her.
"That shot? That's not happening. I'm not a horny seventeen year old, and no one's filming me that closely. So you can keep your hormones in their needle."
She gives me a frustrated look, and puts the case down. "Fine. It's not like you've needed it for a while. The booze seems to be working just fine for keeping you out of that kind of trouble these days."
She shrugs. "It wasn't for you, anyway. It's empty. We came straight over from Peeta's."
Sergius finally manages to brush off a layer of my skin, then dumps me unceremoniously into the bathtub. He starts fussing at my nails while Claudia washes my hair within an inch of its life.
"Don't tell me," I say. "Time for a haircut?"
"Just a little one," she says. "People like you rakish. We have to make you look like you don't bother with your hair."
"That could be accomplished by not bothering with my hair," I try.
"Not if we want to avoid turning the stomachs of the Capitol and most of the Districts. I bet they even wrinkle their noses out here."
She's not wrong, but I don't confirm her guess. I've gotten used to wrinkled noses over the years.
I give up and let the preps do their business. Valentine gets rid of the hormone syringe and comes back with some pills roughly the size of my thumbnails. "These'll get you sober enough to handle reporters," she says. "I'll see what else we can do for the rest of the tour."
"I thought they decided I couldn't have my pills without a constant doctor's supervision. Did they change that to include a medic?"
She shakes her head. "These aren't the neural blockers you used to be on. These are new, over the counter, for the party crowd. Instant de-tox. Almost instant, anyway. They absorb toxins already in your bloodstream to sober you up quickly. You could even drink with them. You just won't get drunk." She must see me looking a little disturbed, because she quickly adds, "They also have some of the same chemicals that your brain is looking for when you crave a drink, so you shouldn't go into withdrawal."
I start to argue, but decide that it might not be a terrible idea. It's been hard finding the golden mean just lately, and this isn't a great time to get loose-lipped. It could get me in trouble, which doesn't bother me that much. It could also get Katniss and Peeta in trouble, and that does. "Fine," I grumble, and chew the chalky-tasting tablets.
The bath is the longest I've had since I was a tribute myself. That first one was unpleasant. My own team scrubbed me nearly raw trying to get the coal dust out of every crevice in my body, some of it in places that weren't too comfortable for scrubbing. Later on, during interview prep, someone else took charge of my teeth, and pulled three of them, replacing them with false teeth that I still have. My mentor, Albinus Drake, looked at me like I was lower than dirt, even after the scrubbing. Of course, that year, Drake looked at everyone like dirt, though he thought Maysilee was particularly attractive dirt.
To add insult to injury, our stylist immediately decided to artfully re-apply the coal dust for the tribute parade. They've done this almost every year - Effie's first year, the only way she could rescue the kids from being completely naked was by entirely covering them in the stuff - and it's never struck me as anything other than stupid. Even in District Twelve, we've managed to master the art of washing our faces after work.
Peeta's team finally finishes with me, leaving me naked in my bathroom while they scrounge for clean underwear outside. I wish them luck.
Effie, as usual, saves the day. She has lived through fifteen of the last twenty-four Games with me - no, sixteen; seventeen if I count the year she spent on the prep team - and knows what to expect. She's probably the closest thing I have to an actual friend outside the circle of other victors, which only makes her more irritating on days like this, when it feels like someone has switched on an old subroutine that allows her to access the time when we were close, but doesn't actually let her feel it.
She goes out to the car she came in and comes back with a garment bag and box full of new underwear. She hands all of it to me without comment, though she does give a disapproving look to my expanding waistline.
"Who evaluates you, sweetheart?" I ask.
"The entire nation of Panem," she says. "I try to be prepared for it." With that, she swishes away, and I get dressed. The suit Effie brought has Cinna's label, but it's not one of his more remarkable pieces. Fits like a glove, though. I run my hands through the pockets for messages - Finnick was supposed to send him something coded with a suit order - but don't find anything.
Effie comes in to inspect me. She doesn't look pleased, exactly, but she seems satisfied. "If I leave you alone for a few minutes, will you promise not to get drunk or wreck your clothes?"
"If you promise not to send in the scrub-patrol again."
"It's a deal," she says. "I'm going to go over to Katniss's and make sure she's not running late. I know she and Cinna get to talking!"
It occurs to me to tell her to have Katniss lay it on thick with Peeta. I can trust him to sell their love for each other, even now when they've been frigid with each other for months, but she's a different story. She may need to be reminded about a few facts of life. The Capitol wants her in love with Peeta. No... they want her infatuated with him. The way Katniss actually loves people will be of little interest to them, as it tends to be very practical. She'll be safe as long as she can sell it... and not just from the political fallout. As long as her great interest to the audience is her maudlin love for Peeta Mellark, they won't tolerate either of them suddenly being seen all over the Capitol with new lovers.
Snow knows this. He can't spoil their image any more than she can without fanning the idea that she was making a political statement with those berries. I hope it gives him ulcers, thinking about all the deals he can't make. And if I even suspect that he's trying to find a way out of his dilemma, I'll assassinate him. I'm not sure when I made that decision, exactly, but I'll happily toss Plutarch's negotiations and schedules in the trash if I so much as smell Snow's cronies near either one of the kids. I'm pretty sure Finnick would back me up.
The funny part about the whole charade is that I seriously doubt Katniss was making a political statement at all. She'll deny it until the end of the world these days, but I think she really did do it because there was no way on earth she was coming home without Peeta. She may not be one for mawkish displays, but if she doesn't genuinely love that boy, I'm a teetotaler.
Of course, in the arena, even the act of genuinely loving someone is subversive. It means your loyalty to the Capitol is not absolute.
I shake my head. Effie is from the Capitol and of the Capitol. As far as she's concerned, Katniss and Peeta are the love story of the century, and I doubt she'd even understand what I need to say. I'll just have to hope that Katniss remembers our conversation before the interviews. I wave it off.
Effie sighs, then gets her coat and heads over to Katniss's place.
I watch through my front window when Katniss and Peeta have their reunion. She manages to knock him into the snow, but it comes off as affectionate, and he manages to make the kiss look believable. She clings to him after she gets them up off the ground, and that actually makes it almost to sincerity.
Once it's over, Effie comes to collect me, and all of us head to the train station in a row of cars. I sit in the first car with Katniss and Peeta, but of course I can't very well talk to them with a Capitol driver only a few inches away, not to mention the bugs that they don't even bother hiding. There will probably be footage of our car trip on the airwaves before we're on the train. If so, they'll get an eyeful of Katniss clinging frantically to Peeta. She is pale and shaken, but I can't ask why. He just looks confused, but he's Peeta; he responds to confusion by comforting her.
"I can't wait to see the other districts with you," he says.
She nods enthusiastically. "Yes. I've never been anywhere. Except the Capitol. Which was wonderful, of course!"
We are spared more of her self-scripted disasters by arriving at the train station. We meet Effie, Cinna, and Portia on the platform (the preps are behind us, and won't appear on camera), and we make a great show of waving to the people in District Twelve. As it's the middle of a workday, most of the ones who show up are old, hungry, and miserable, but those tend to be the ones who love Katniss most, so they give her a warm farewell. Peeta's brothers and his mother leave their businesses long enough to wave. (Mirrem Mellark knows I will have her skin if she is ever anything less than warm and loving to Peeta from now on.) Ruth and Prim Everdeen get a lot of camera time as they say their farewells.
Then we are on the train.
I'll give the Capitol this: They know how to put on a meal. Nothing is spared, even on the commute. Katniss barely speaks while we eat, though whatever is bothering her doesn't seem to affect her appetite. Peeta speaks easily to everyone, asking them about places we're going to go, and if anyone has traveled to the districts before. I tell him what I can remember from my own tour (the parts fit for family consumption, anyway), though of course it would be stupid to mention other, less approved, trips that I've taken. The preps embellish with a number of bizarre rumors, and Effie gives facts and figures that might have crossed paths with reality at some point in the distant past.
Effie decides the kids need sleep, so she calls a halt to the conversation and shuffles them off to bed, where I'm sure they'll both lie awake for a long time, putting off the nightmares. I don't know for sure about Peeta, but I know Katniss's are terrible. Ruth Everdeen has been over any number of times looking for advice, and looks miffed when I suggest liquor and a lot of it.
I go back to my cabin, dump my suitcase, and put on something a little more friendly to sleeping than Cinna's suit. Then I set about serious drinking. Effie didn't have much out on the table for me to take, just a few bottles of incredibly sweet wine from District Eight, vile stuff that she knows I can't stand. I drink about half of one bottle, then manage to spill the rest on my shirt. I take a whiff, consider changing my shirt, then decide the fumes work as well as the wine. (Which is not very well, since all of it is fighting with the pills Valentine gave me earlier to sober me up, which work annoyingly well.) I am considering heading out to break into the bar car for something a little more serious when someone knocks on my door.
I know perfectly well it's Katniss, and I know it's going to be about whatever's been bugging her. She'll be protecting everyone else from it, but she's apparently decided I don't need protection, which is kind of a relief most of the time (unlike anyone else in my life, Katniss seems to think I'm at least some variety of adult), but at the moment, I'd like to crawl into a bottle and not be disturbed.
She knocks again.
I could pretend to be passed out. She'd believe it. She might come in and dump something on me if she's desperate enough, but she'd believe it. I could pretend to be too drunk to follow whatever she wants to say. I could tell her not to bother me, for that matter.
Or I could answer the door. I feel a very unwelcome sense of sobriety falling hard on my shoulders as I pull the door open and ask her what she wants.
She swoons, probably from the wine fumes, and whispers, "I have to talk to you."
"Now? This better be good." She nods, but proceeds to say nothing at all. "Well?" I prod. As if in answer, the train shudders to a stop, most likely for re-fueling.
She glances around nervously, and I remember that one underestimates Katniss Everdeen's intelligence at one's peril. Obviously, she's evaluating the likelihood of the whole train being bugged. She is probably right. She says, "The train is so stuffy."
I sigh. If she's worrying about bugs, then it's way beyond her boy troubles or worries about the tour. We're going to need to get off the train. I make a show of stumbling toward a door at the end of the car and opening it, letting in a blast of cold air. I jump down, making sure to sway and stagger when a Capitol attendant comes running. Katniss, who is becoming an expert at playing along with other people's ruses, picks up on it right away, and says she'll take care of poor old drunken Haymitch, all we need is a little walk. And that's how we get off the train.
"What?" I say again when we reach an area behind the trains, a bit further back than I think their microphones can pick up.
"Snow was at my house this morning."
I don't know what I was expecting, but it definitely wasn't this. "Snow? As in President Snow?"
She doesn't bother making a snide comment. She just nods and starts pacing. "He says there are districts about to rebel. He says it's my fault, because of the berries. I didn't mean to make anyone rebel, Haymitch!"
I don't answer. I am more aware of the situation than she knows. Then again, apparently Snow is more aware of the situation than I knew.
She doesn't wait for an answer. "He says that he knows I was faking things with Peeta, but that I better make people believe it, because they can't think I was... I don't know! So they don't think I was trying to defy him or something. And people will die. A lot of people will die! I wasn't trying to start anything! I was so mad! It wasn't fair, what they did. If they hadn't changed the rules, I wouldn't have had to! But I said I'd convince everyone and he said I had to convince him. And he already doesn't believe me!"
I rub my head. A part of me had thought it might actually not be difficult to get Katniss to rebel. She's certainly no fan of the Capitol. But Snow has hit the right tone with her. There's no getting around it: once the uprisings start in earnest, more people will die. "All right," I say. "You just need to keep it up. You're doing fine. As long as he doesn't have any reason to doubt -"
"But he does." She rubs her head, and I realize with some wonder that she's picked the habit up from me over the last few months. I don't think I ever gave anyone else a habit before. "Haymitch, Gale Hawthorne kissed me."
"And you let him?"
"I was so surprised!"
I almost laugh. Only Katniss would be surprised by this. I can't think of anyone in District Twelve, including Gale, who didn't assume they were a couple. Judging by her face, it never occurred to Katniss. Instead I say, "How long has this been going on?"
"It was only the once. He says he loves me, but he doesn't do anything, we just hunt together. But Snow knows about it! I don't know how he knows. Has he bugged the forest?"
"I don't know," I say, though I doubt it. There are always plenty of people willing to inform. And he could easily have bugged the mines, or Gale's house. I doubt Gale would have failed to mention it to anyone.
"He said he doesn't have any compunctions about killing Gale if I don't make him believe that I love Peeta. He threatened Gale's whole family. Would he do that?"
"Oh, yeah. That and more." In my head, I see Indigo Hardy, called Digger, left to fry on the district fence behind my house. My girl. My wife, as far as she was concerned. Maybe as far as I was concerned. It's my name on her gravestone, even though they wouldn't let me bury her with my family.
There's no point in sharing this with Katniss. If Snow kills the Hawthornes, it will, without question, be poison. Possibly even nightlock, if he can find a way to do it. Just to keep the message clear.
She searches my face for any sign that I'm just exaggerating, and must not find it, because she takes a deep, shaky breath. "I do love him, Haymitch. Maybe not that way, but I can't let anyone kill him. And it's not just that. It's everyone. People will die if I fail!"
My last fantasy of introducing Katniss to Chaff and Finnick and the others - or letting Cinna start dressing her like a rebel - flies off into the snow. Oh, I could do it, and she'd probably go along with it. I think she's angry. But she's not ready, and I find that the only thing I want to do is keep her as safe as I possibly can. Maybe it's not the best thing for the rebellion. Okay, it's definitely not the best thing for the rebellion. They want to rally around her.
But she rubs her head like I do, and she comes to me when she has a problem she can't handle alone. I am annoyed at myself that these things matter to me, but they do. Katniss Everdeen, who feels responsible for every human being in her vicinity, trusts me to take care of her.
I don't think she's going to much like the way I have to do it. Neither will the rest of the underground team, but they'll understand. At least Finnick will. He can convince the others. With a trident, if necessary.
Because if the uprisings can't find something to rally around, there will be no revolution, and if there's no revolution, then Katniss will have to have a defense against Snow's intentions for her. Peeta is that defense, just as she's his.
"Then you can't fail," I say.
"If you could just help me get through this trip -"
I shake my head. This will keep her safe, but it will destroy her. "No, Katniss, it's not just this trip."
"What do you mean?"
I tell her. I hate the way she pales, and seems to shrink with every word. But she has to know. She has to understand that Snow will never let her out of his sight. He will never decide she can just choose her own life. If she's ever going to be safe, she needs to understand that she has to stay with Peeta. For good.
We walk back to the train together. I can almost see the knowledge settling onto her like a physical weight, pushing her shoulders down, making her steps sink deeper into the snow. As we get to her compartment, I pat her shoulder, and, unable to think of anything else to say, tell her, "You could do a lot worse, you know."
It's weak, and she doesn't bother to pretend otherwise. She knows Peeta is a good man, and if she's going to be trapped into a life with someone, at least it's someone she loves. As far as I'm concerned, the most damnable thing about it is that, left to her own devices, she'd have picked him anyway. But now he'll never be anything but a prison for her.
She goes into her room, where I doubt she'll sleep. I go to mine. I grab my knife and go to bed. I realize that nothing I can kill with a knife is going to come after me these days, but it sometimes helps with the nightmares.
This isn't one of those times.
I find myself back by the mines, by the little shack (it was only very generously called a house by any standard) where I lived with my mother and brother. Dad died from miner's cough, and Mom was on her way to it when the house collapsed on her. In my dream, she is coughing blood into an old pillow. Her face is streaked with coal dust. My brother Lacklen is squinting at me from the shadows. He had bad eyes, and I almost tell him that, now that I'm rich, I can get him glasses, better ones than Caesar sent him during the Games. But of course, he's been dead for going on twenty-five years. I don't think he cares.
The shack collapses around me, and Mom and Lacklen crumble to dust inside. The cloud of it rises around me, and swirls into Digger Hardy, who is dressed in Katniss's pajamas.
"I was just thinking about you," I say.
"Been a while, hasn't it?" she asks acidly. It's a tone unlike any she ever used with me in life, where she was generally patient with me. Sometimes exasperated, I guess, but patient. Kind.
Now, she seems to be insane. Maybe I would be insane, too, if my finger had come off of my hand like the wing from a well-cooked chicken. Maybe I am insane, having been the one to accidentally pull it off. I look down at my hand and see it there.
"I don't like thinking about what happened," I say.
"I've been right here. Waiting for you like always."
"I'll always be right here." Her skin starts to blacken and melt, her hair to burn. When we took her off the fence, we had to cut the wires because she had melted around them. She reaches out with a smoking hand, missing its little finger. "I'm right here, Haymitch! You can't do anything about it. Right here! Right -"
I wake up with a start, my knife clattering to the floor. There's a gray dawn outside the train window, and the snow has turned to a depressing rain. I can hear Katniss's prep team grumbling as Effie pulls them out of bed. I pull the shade and crawl back under the covers.
I don't sleep again.