There's a full turnout of the living victors at Drake's funeral (except for the missing first Quell victor, though I guess he's probably dead, anyway). Only five others have definitely died before. The first victor, Edith Alleman from District Seven, died young from some disease she picked up in the arena, and has largely been forgotten. Twelve's only other victor, Duronda Carson, of course, died three years before my Games. Two District One victors, Divine Carew of the fifth Games and Brilliant Grey (a name which I think creates an entirely unintentional poetic tension), who won the twenty-eighth Games, died in an accident together the year before I was born. Benit Preeto of Four (eleventh Games) seems to be another in our fine association of drunks and addicts, and, according to Mags, took something that kept him awake, energetic, and completely paranoid. He didn't sleep for three weeks, wandered around Victors' Village hunting mutts, and eventually collapsed from the strain on his heart. I remember his death from the news when I was eight. They said he died defending Victors' Village from an out-District raid.
Mags shrugs when I mention this at the reception in the Justice Building, after the burial. "It's just as well. You should know the truth - you're one of us - but we don't need half of Panem trading salacious stories about dead victors."
"What about Drake?" I ask. "It was on the news…"
"Drake annoyed the wrong people to end up with fabricated nobility. Still, I expect the public to spin the story into something more dignified soon enough, and no one will correct it. No one will want to think of him as a very fallible man who had an accident."
"Do we know it was an accident?"
"You might want to talk to Brutus," she says, with no further explanation. Being from Twelve, I arrived last, and didn't have a chance to talk to anyone before the ceremony.
I drift around the room. The rebel victors are here, but no one is talking politics. Seeder stays close to me for a little while until she's sure I'm okay. Caesar Flickerman, who ran the ceremony in a manner so somber that I almost didn't recognize him, comes and tells me that he doesn't want to speak at my funeral. For the most part, it's not terribly different from gatherings at the Games. People who haven't seen each other for a while are catching up. There's quiet laughter in some places. I even find myself laughing with Chaff over things Drake did at the clubs, or about the first time I met him, and pinned him to the floor of the training center. I never thought I'd look back on that and smile.
"I knew you were a victor then," Chaff says. "You spoke victor fluently."
"Knocking him down?"
"He respected you for that. Of course, he had to keep poking at you. He'd just gotten a victor with Brutus, and I think he figured that, if he was going to have another one, he'd have to turn you into Brutus. After that, I think he tried to turn everyone into you." Chaff smiles fondly. "By the end, I think he'd even convinced himself that he mentored you."
"He did. After the Games, he was a pretty good mentor."
I've brought a basket of food, but it's apparently not a custom District Two has, because there's nowhere to put it. I wander around, looking for a kitchen (or a hungry local, maybe), but what I find is Brutus, sitting on a bench in the garden, hunched over with his head in his hands. He's not crying. He might as well have had his tear ducts removed. But he looks miserable. He's not in socializing with the others.
He notices me and glances at the basket. "What are you supposed to be?" he asks. "That wolf girl?"
"The one that goes around with a basket to see her grandmother."
"Oh." I opt not to correct him. "Just a thing from Twelve. We bring food for the families at funerals."
"Then dish it out. You and me are the only family Drake had. His victors." He takes a flask out of his pocket and drinks.
"There's no one else?"
Brutus shakes his head. "He grew up in the Community Home, same as me. After he won, he used to come in and teach us stuff. I was always good at it."
"I thought everyone got training around here."
"Usually just the ones who can scrape up enough money to do it. Drake didn't get any. He just kept yelling until he won the volunteering."
"Not every district is full of cowards. Drake saw a chance to get some money back to us. He always spent half his salary on stuff for the Community Home."
I sit down and open the picnic basket. I offer Brutus a ham sandwich, and he takes it.
"I didn't know that," I say.
"Yeah, why would you? It's not like he flaunted it." Brutus stares glumly at a fountain. "He was happy until you and your friends started playing with his head."
"Oh, yeah. Happy adults are known for hitting on sixteen-year-old girls."
"He was just goofing around. Then he started in with you and Chaff and Seeder and that freak from Three. Started asking questions. And they made him miserable."
"What kind of questions?"
"The kind that made him wonder if anything he did meant anything. He brought money and honor to his district, he helped the Home, but he…" Brutus sighs. "He was never right again after your Games. Never like himself. I thought when he stopped coming and seeing you and the rest of them that he'd straighten up, but he didn't. He just kept drinking. Going hiking up in the mountains for hours. Sometimes he'd be gone for days. He couldn't square it in his head."
"Square what, exactly?"
"The Games. Winning. Being a victor."
"What's to square? We managed to survive."
"Is that really all it means to you?"
"What's it supposed to mean?"
Brutus looks at me like I'm crazy, then looks away again. I follow his gaze up to the white peaks of the mountains. I wonder if I'm staring toward the place where Drake died. "He always liked you better," Brutus says. "And this is what comes of it. Three days face down in a half-frozen creek. The fish got at him."
I have been nibbling at a piece of bread from Danny's bakery, and I put it down. "How do you figure that's my fault?"
"He gave me all his plaques," Brutus says. "From his victory tour. And he gave Cinnamon Calabray his music collection. Did he send you anything?"
"I'm surprised. Maybe he didn't think anything he had would be good enough for you."
"What are you talking about?"
"What do you think,,, genius?" He spits the last word out.
I don't say anything. Brutus's implication is clear enough. I sit with him, picking at the food for a little while longer, then leave him the basket.
I have to stay a little while in District Two, because they're making a memorial program to Drake, and the people who knew him are expected to do interviews, so there will be a running commentary. Saffron Abatty insists that I stay with her, and I'm kept dry, with some pilfered medication from the Capitol. She tells me I need to finish a course of it and then not start drinking again. Drinking again will just start my brain going back off on its weird alcohol-drenched pathways. I don't care. Saffron says that if my funeral ends up having anything to do with drinking, she won't come to it.
There are Capitol stylists in. Two of my original preps have moved on. Igerna has her own nail salon. Fabiola works in a hospital now. Medusa is still with me, and she gossips as much as ever. Atilia's team - the girls' team, which I never got to know much better than I know Igerna and Fabiola's replacements - is being shaken up again. The hair man, Galba, demanded to be moved to a better district - "And of course, with that miraculous thing he did with Bluet's hair for the interviews, he could ask anything he wanted, though I personally think he'll be sorry to have left your team!" - and Caesar is looking at style schools to find a new one. Medusa is scandalized to know that her counterpart will barely be out of school, and probably won't know a brush from a comb. I assure her that it will be all right. She doesn't seem sure. She also fills me in on her old friends, and Lepidus's new line, and his retirement plans ("Can you imagine?"). It's a shame about Mr. Drake, though. Weren't we friends after the start?
I take the train back two weeks after the funeral. I'm not usually sitting in the heated part when I go this direction. I watch the Great Plains roll by until we reach the river. I wonder if Brutus is right, if Drake finally did end up climbing his hanging tree because he was asking questions, and if it was my fault that he was asking them.
I wait until we cross the Mississippi before I go to sleep. I always find a way to peek out at it. It always makes me think of Gia, though I can't seem to remember exactly what she looked like anymore, or what it was she said about rafts. My only completely clear memory of her is the promise she forced out of me. I miss her, though, and I like to have that moment, however short, where I look out at the river and think that once, there was someone who told me about it.
When I wake up, my face is wet with tears, but I have no memory of whatever dream caused them. I'm only aware of a terrible, empty feeling. I can't remember Gia. Digger seems like a ghost I saw once in a book. I can't grab hold of what it felt like to have my mother's hand in my hair, to feel my brother beside me in one last moment of peace. I can't bring up the name that Emiliana Meadowbrook let me call her, back when I knew her somewhere other than my television screen, and I can't remember the taste of her skin.
I remember holding Maysilee under the blanket in the arena, though. I remember it like I was just there, like I might still be there. I remember the scent of the flowers, and the ring of fire above the volcano, and the way the ash stung my eyes, even far away from the eruption. I remember years in the Viewing Center, the world alive around me. I remember watching fourteen children die, and talking to their bereaved families. I remember the weight of the arena knife in my hand, and how it felt to take lives with it.
I remember my cliff, and the way the blanket burned up against the force field.
Is that all it really means to you? Brutus asks in my head.
And it is.
That's all it means. I survived it, and now it's all I have.
The train gets in before dawn, and I can't stand the thought of going back to my house in the Village, so I go into the square. I see the lights on in the bakery. Danny is up and about already, of course. Bakery work is early work.
I go inside.
I discover quickly that Danny's third child has been born. To everyone's surprise, it's another boy, this one named for old Grandy Peet, the first of the three named after someone on Danny's side.
"He was going to be named after Mir's mother," Danny says, running around the kitchen with the baby in a sling on his back. "But that didn't quite work as planned."
"I take it she's unhappy?"
Danny shrugs, then undoes the straps on the sling and hands me the baby. "She's always a little depressed after they're born. She'll snap out of it. She's still on bed rest, though. The other two are still sleeping, but I figured Peeta would start crying if I didn't pick him up and get him fed."
I move the baby around awkwardly. I have never really gotten it straight what I'm supposed to do, and this one is incredibly tiny. I finally manage to settle him down around my elbow. He grabs at my hand.
"Here," Danny says, shoving a bowl of warm milk over. He tosses some bread dough onto the table and starts kneading. "It's warm, and it's got some honey in it. Put some on your finger. Mir… I guess she's not making enough milk, or something. Ruth said we'd have to improvise."
"Yeah. That. It was a hard birth. I had to call Ruth up to help. So, I'm watching her little girl in the living room, with Jona and Eddie, while she's trying to get things straightened out with Mir and Peeta in back. You can imagine how well that went over. And then the babies were just crying at each other. It was pretty loud." He grins at Peeta and makes a funny face. "You have to wonder what they were saying. Probably, 'It's cold out here!' and 'Don't worry, you'll get used to it.'"
I smile, and dip my finger into the milk bowl. Peeta grabs at my hand and starts sucking my finger. "Maybe it was, 'I'm hungry,'" I suggest.
"Yeah, that, too. He's a good, strong boy, though." Danny reaches over and strokes the baby's head, then lets out a frustrated breath. "Haymitch, I hate to do this to you, but could you feed him for a while? I have to get the inventory out before we open."
"You're going to trust me with a baby? I don't have a great track record with other people's kids, Danny."
"Just feed him, Haymitch."
I'm not given a lot of leeway in the matter. I pick up the bowl with my free hand and go out to the back porch, where a pair of wooden chairs looks out on the trash bins and a pigpen that now graces most of the back yard. I set the bowl down on the other chair and dip my finger again. I think the chair I'm sitting in is the same rocking chair that Grandy Peet used to sit in while he told stories out front.
"So, I got you a book," I say.
Peeta is far more interested in eating than in other possible presents.
"It's still back at my place. I didn't know you'd be here when I came. It'd be a little hard to read without my hands, anyway, I guess. But it's fairy tales. You want to hear one?"
He doesn't make his wishes known on the subject. I get a little more milk on my finger for him.
"Okay, then. How about a classic? Once upon a time - that's how the good ones start, you'll find that out pretty quick - there was a woodcutter who lived at the edge of a forest. He had great kids - a boy and a girl named Hansel and Gretel… those are funny names, right? But he married a complete… a lady who wasn't very nice. And one day, the lady said that they had to send the kids out into the woods to starve, or all four of them would…"
I follow Hansel and Gretel out into the woods, and tell Peeta about the breadcrumb trail, and the colored stones, then about the candy house in the woods.
"But Hansel was clever," I say. "He tricked the witch by pretending that he wasn't eating. And Gretel was brave, and they killed the witch and got away together, and somehow, they made it back to the nice woodcutter, with lots of candy to spare for everyone. And then the woodcutter's drunk friend, who once fought with the witch, too, told them silly stories for a while, and fed them milk off his finger. How's that? I'll skip the part about how the drunk friend's drunk friend slipped on the ice and took a cold swim for three days."
Peeta does not seem to object to this omission. He just keeps drinking milk off my finger. I rock for a while and let him eat, and after a while, I guess he gets his fill, because he falls asleep. I keep rocking. There's something peaceful about being back here, even with the stink of the pigpen and the nagging knowledge that the reaping is coming again all too soon. I fall asleep, too. I dream I am running through the arena, only now, instead of my weapons, I have the baby in one arm and a bowl of milk cradled in the other. I come to the candy house, which stands in the meadow where the little Cornucopia fountain stood. It's a tiny scale model of the Capitol, with its candy-colored glass buildings now made of spun sugar. It's breathtakingly beautiful. Through the window, I see Snow tending the cannibal's oven. Brutus runs by and grabs a tower, claiming it's for honor and glory and the District Two Community Home. It grows back as soon as he's gone. Now, I can see that Drake is trapped inside it, like a bug in amber.
The baby reaches out for one of the shiny baubles and I try to stop him, but I can't, and Snow is on us and -
I wake up with a start, waking the baby, who starts to cry. An annoyed Mir storms out and takes him away from me.
Inside, Danny asks Mir to take the counter for a while at opening, if she's up to it, and she grudgingly allows that she is. She puts the baby in a cradle and starts rocking it without any apparent interest.
Danny walks me out to the square. "Did it help?" he asks.
"It always helps me to hold them for a while. Reminds me what it's about."
"I guess there are worse things to do," I admit.
"I'm sorry about your friend."
"Are you going to be okay?"
"Why wouldn't I be?"
"Have you seen yourself? They can comb you and clean you up as much as they want. You still look like hell."
"Great. Analysis from someone with such a perfect life on all fronts."
"There's no such thing as perfect," Danny says. "And I'm just saying it as your friend, Haymitch. I'm still your friend. And you know that, or you wouldn't have been at my place before going to yours."
I stop by the old willow tree and take a deep breath. "I just… Drake always said he was me six years down the line. Where do you think I'll be in six years, Danny? There are no mountains to fall off of. No fish to eat my face. But where will I be? I burned Duronda's tree. But they grow fast."
Danny puts his arms around me. There are miners going to work, and they look at us quickly, then look away. I want to cry. I want to let my friend comfort me. But I can't do it. Instead, I pull away and say nothing. Danny doesn't say anything, either. He just turns around and goes back to his less-than-perfect life.
I've barely had time to get drunk again when the reaping comes. Glass calls a fourteen-year-old boy named Siggy Pickens and a seventeen-year-old girl named Sassafras Lake. I don't know either of them, for once.
Glass is in a high dudgeon when we get to the Capitol because Caesar appointed someone to the girls' team other than the person he recommended. As this has happened with every opening we've had on the team, I can't see why he bothers to be surprised by it.
I don't really get a peek at the new girl until just before the parade, when I see her carefully arranging a spill of very pretty curls over Sassafras's shoulder. The girls are about the same age, by the looks of it, and the hair girl hands Sassafras a piece of gum or candy. They point at a boy in the District Seven chariot and giggle. Medusa sighs at this, like the burden of all existence has come down on her shoulders.
The outfits this year are the usual miners' uniforms, though they bow to this year's fashion trend in the Capitol by being constructed of large, hexagonal panels of metallic material ("the beehive look," as the magazines put it). Siggy manages to tear one of the fragile seams, and this crisis takes up the entire time that we're waiting to leave.
The new girl drops something in the rush - a little flash of white that my eye catches from a distance. I pick it up. It's a cocktail napkin, of all things.
My handwriting is on it:
To the girl carrying everything -
You're doing great! Thanks for helping out tonight.
I've signed a few thousand autographs over the last eight years, and this one doesn't ring a bell (well, maybe a light little chime; I associate it with a fancy party, though that doesn't narrow it down much). I hand it back to her. She gives me a sheepish kind of smile and goes back to work.
Neither Sassafras nor Siggy makes much of an impression at the parade or in the interviews. I tell them every day of training to run for the woods (if there are any), to not try and fight the Careers, to stay safe at least long enough to make a real stand later on.
They both run for the Cornucopia as soon as the gong sounds. Neither one of them even makes it there.
None of my friends loses both tributes at the bloodbath this year, and I go back to the Training Center alone. I open up the bar and start drinking as soon as I've made the calls to the families. The families are resigned. Accepting. I did my best. That's the way the Games work.
It sticks in my head as I drink - that beaten, collapsed look. The way the kids practically committed suicide. The way they never listen. I will sit between their coffins at the end of the Games and I will tell them that they did their best, but they didn't. They rushed where they weren't supposed to rush, and they were wiped out of existence, because that's the way the Games work.
I throw a bottle of gin across the room. It should shatter. There should be a loud noise of some kind, anyway. But it just sort of thuds and starts to spill.
I don't bother picking it up. This is the Capitol. There's always more.
I don't know how long I've been up here alone - aside from the bottle on the floor, there is one empty bottle up on the bar, and I seem to be about halfway through a second - when the elevator door opens. I half expect it to be President Snow, asking me where Gia is, or if I know what kind of treason someone is planning.
Instead, it's the girl from Atilia's team, the new hair girl. She's pushing a cart full of prep supplies.
"What do you want?" I ask her.
She waits for the elevator door to close. "I, um… I heard that Mr. Glass means to put you on television tonight," she says.
"He said you were drunk."
"Usually a good guess."
"He said they were going to ask you about what the Games mean."
"Games mean shit," I say.
"You can't say that!" She looks around furtively and sticks some pills in my hand. "You have to sober up. Mr. Glass means to make you look foolish, I think."
"It's his hobby. Who am I to deny a man his hobby?"
Her eyebrows draw in and her nose flares. "I think you're better than that," she says. "I don't think anyone ought to be making fun of you on television."
"Why? 'Cause I signed a napkin for you once?"
"Because you were nice about it," she says firmly. She starts at me with a comb.
I back up. "I'm going to be nice now, then. If you cross Glass, he'll hound you off the team. He won't fire you - he's not allowed - but he'll make your life miserable until you decide to leave."
She smiles faintly. She has wide, pale blue eyes, and she makes herself up ridiculously. "Well, then, I guess you better not tell him."
I frown at her.
She guides me to a chair with a low back, then goes to her cart and starts looking for things.
"Why would you do this?" I ask. "And don't tell me it's because I was nice. I'm not that nice."
She finally finds something she's looking for - a packet of smelling salts, which she breaks open and waves under my nose until she's satisfied with my level of alertness. "I don't think anyone should treat anyone that way," she says. "It'll only get you in trouble. Sassafras said you help out in your district - "
"Yeah, I'm a real saint."
"- and that everyone's family speaks well of you. I especially didn't think they'd like to see you in trouble."
I can't argue there. The two families I just called do not need to be worrying about me. And they don't need to hear someone goad me into saying that I'm angry at their dead children.
I sigh. "Fine. Do what you have to."
"I was going to, anyway." She comes over with a comb and some styling gel, then takes a good whiff of me. "You should change your clothes, you know. You smell like gin."
"Anything else that needs fixing?"
"You could stand a bath, but I guess it can wait until later. All the mentors are starting to stink a little, and they can't see that on television. I have some cologne for you to cover it up."
"Great. Who are you, anyway?"
"My name is Euphemia Trinket," she says, then smiles at me. "Let's see if we can't smarten you up a little."
I resist for a minute - maybe less - then put myself in her hands.