The Man Behind the Curtain
I wake up slowly. I'm groggy and confused. I remember the Games; I remember killing Marvel, cleaving Cato's head in two. He probably was already dead, but I wanted to make sure. I remember Peeta's death. I remember Katniss and I being declared Victors, and I remember the hovercraft. I also remember some ass jabbing me with a needle. So where am I then?
I look around, finding cold gray plastic, generic looking cabinetry and some guy I never met sitting in a chair. Blonde haired, about a week's worth of stubble on his face and a suit that looks entirely too normal for him to be a Capitolite.
"Finally awake, princess?" he asks me.
"Who are you?" I demand.
"The name's Haymitch Abernathy."
The name's familiar. I think back where I could have heard it, and suddenly I have it. "I've heard of you. You won the second Quarter Quell. You're District 12's mentor; Katniss' mentor."
"Yeah, that's right."
"So what, my mentor didn't like me enough to show up herself?"
"Yeah, pretty much."
"Hmpf. Figures. So why am I here anyway? I wasn't in bad shape. And where's Katniss?"
"Easy there, princess. Just relax. It's standard shit. Every Victor gets put through a treatment, removes all the scars, blemishes and all that; make you nice and perfect. And Katniss is next door. Took a bit longer to clean her up so she isn't awake yet."
"Great! So we collect Katniss then it's just the interview, collect my crown and enjoy the good life." I grin. It's over. All that hard work finally paid off. Just glory left now. Life is good.
Haymitch shifts in his seat. "Well, let's not get too far ahead of ourselves, princess."
"Why not? And what's with calling me princess?"
"I call everyone things. You're a princess; you teamed up with a real sweetheart."
"Uh huh. So what's with the attitude? This because I made it out and your other tribute didn't?"
Haymitch puts a finger to his lips and them waves the finger in a circle. I'm sure it's supposed to have some deep and secret meaning, but I sure don't know it. "There'll be time for that later. Get dressed and we can go see if sweetheart is awake." He gestures to a table nearby where a set of clothes is neatly folded. I wait for Haymitch to leave (I'm out of the Games, I don't plan to let the whole world watch me every minute every day anymore.) and then I get dressed.
It's just the same sort of clothes they issued us going into the Games, but it'll do for now. I can worry about fashion once I get out of this hospital. I put on the rather drab outfit (seriously, they can't leave something better? This is what a tribute wears, not a Victor) and join Haymitch outside.
The sound of a door closing wakes me, but not quite all the way. I'm still a bit groggy, even though I'm with it enough to open my eyes. The first thing I see is Glimmer smiling at me and almost immediately afterwards hugging me. "We did it Katniss! We won! We're out!"
I'm not really much of a hug person, but that's certainly good enough to qualify for an exception. I wrap my arms around Glimmer, hugging her. She's right, we did make it. We're free of this Capitol horror. A bit of being interviewed and shown off and then it's all over.
"Come on, Katniss, get dressed and let's get out of here." Certainly sounds like a plan to me. Glimmer lets me go and heads out into the hallway with Haymitch, who hasn't said anything but I can still practically see the raincloud over his head. What's he got to be grumpy about? He should be happy. After all, I won; I'm safe now.
I get dressed in the almost laughably inappropriate clothes and join Glimmer and Haymitch out in the hall. Haymitch nods to elevator doors at the end of the hall and we go in that direction. It turns out this hospital is somewhere deep underground beneath the training center we lived in before the Games. We push the buttons labeled 1 and 12; Glimmer's floor and mine.
It doesn't take long to reach Glimmer's floor. The doors open and she turns to me. "I'll see you later Katniss." With a wave she steps out and the doors close. I try hard not to look at the other numbers as we go up. They may be floor numbers, but they're also so much more. Each one is two people, many of whom I knew. I close my eyes and try to block out the memories of each. I hope they'll fade over time, but I'm not sure I'll be that lucky. For the first time I start to wonder if Haymitch isn't just a disgusting drunk, but maybe he drinks to try and escape his past; a past that's all too similar to my own now.
The elevator beeps as it reaches our floor, startling me out of my train of thought, thank god. Comparing myself to Haymitch isn't a line of thinking I like. I barely take a step off the elevator before Effie has me lucked tightly in a hug. "Oh Katniss! I knew you could do it! I'm so proud of you! It's such a wonderful accomplishment, both for you and for your district!"
I awkwardly hug Effie back. She's as high strung as ever, but it doesn't really bother me as it used to. Maybe because I know I'm leaving this hell, not on my way in anymore. She finally lets go and now it's Cinna in front of me. "Congratulations, Katniss." His voice is as soft and comforting as ever. He even has the decency to shake my hand. I really didn't want another hug; he always seems to know just what I need.
"Thanks you, both of you. I'm glad to be back, but um, is it ok if I get something to eat and maybe change? I really could use some real food and some clothes that don't look like they're from the Arena?"
"Yeah sure, that's fine Sweetheart." With Haymitch's permission I start rattling off what I want to eat to an avox in the dining room. I don't even really think about it, I just start naming foods I like, and after days in the Games it's not hard to come up with a lot that sounds tasty. Finally after I run out of food to ask for the avox heads to wherever it is avoxes get food from around here and I go back to my bedroom.
The closet here is huge, but huge or not, it's still a Capitol closet, which means most of what's in it is so absurd no self respecting person would be caught dead wearing it. It's surprisingly hard to find a normal pair of pants and a shirt, but eventually I find something that works. It's not exactly what I wear back home, but it's reasonably close. I'm at least starting to look like the old Katniss. I'm not sure if I'll ever actually be the same old Katniss that I was, but trying to be seems like it'll be my job for a while now. After all, Victors don't go to school or work, and we have more money than we could ever hope to spend, so I need something to fill my time, and despite the huge new house I'll get, trying to be as normal as possible sounds like a very find plan indeed.
Satisfied with my clothes, I head back to the dining room. Some of the first food is coming out now (I think Effie called them appetizers.) Whatever they are they're small little dishes that don't do a lot to fill me up, even if they are tasty. Doesn't matter though, I've got lots more coming.
I've more or less finished up the little appetizer things when the elevator dings and the doors open. Glimmer walks out with an arm full of clothes. "Uh, hi?" I greet her. "What's with the clothes?"
"Didn't much like the attitude downstairs so I was figuring I'd stay up here."
"Didn't like the attitude? What's that supposed to mean?"
"Practically the first thing out of their mouths downstairs was how I didn't win like a 'real Career'. Had to practically cheat and team up with some loser and betray my own in the process. Real welcoming stuff. Guess it's no surprise, none of them even bothered to be there when I woke up after all."
"Oh." I reply rather lamely. "I can see how that might not be good." Personally I don't really care about credit, but I guess if I'd trained all my life like she has I might feel different.
"So is it cool if I stay here?"
"Um, sure." I don't really know if it's allowed or not, but I've got no problem with her staying here.
"Great!" she smiles at me. "You eating?" Glimmer puts her clothes down on a couch and sits down at the table. "Looks like you have enough to share."
I look around the table, finally seeing how much I really ordered. It's enough to feed my family for a week, maybe more. I might have overdone it just a bit. "Um, sure. Grab a plate."
Glimmer sits down and starts eating. Not long afterwards Cinna sits down at the table with us. "Oh, Cinna, hi." I greet him. "Glimmer, this is Cinna, my stylist."
"Ah, you made the fire outfit? Cool. I'm Glimmer, glad to meet you." Glimmer shakes Cinna's hand.
"A fan of my work?" Cinna asks with a hint of a smile.
"Well, now; not so much at the time."
"Why?" I ask.
Cinna answers before Glimmer can. "There's only so much attention to go around, and attention paid to a girl who wasn't Glimmer was not what she wanted to see."
"Yeah. But it's ok now. So no hard feelings." Glimmer smiles at Cinna.
"Of course, I'm quite satisfied with the course events took." Seems like a bit of an odd way to put it, but Cinna's from the Capitol, so some weirdness is par for the course.
Eventually the food is all gone. I don't think I've ever eaten that much in my entire life. I can definitely get used to this sort of thing. Cinna spent the entire time watching Glimmer and I eat with this odd thoughtful look on his face. Seems like a lot of people here are like that, thinking things and saying nothing. I like Cinna, but I still miss how much more straightforward District 12 is.
"I wonder, have you girls seen the roof? It's a bit windy, but there's a very nice garden there." Cinna asks.
"The roof?" I ask.
"Yes." Cinna confirms. "Come on, I'll show you two around." Glimmer and I look at each other and shrug. Well, not like I have anything else to do. We get up and follow Cinna to the stairs. Just before we get there he stops and looks over to the living room. Apparently Haymitch has been there nursing a drink all along. "Haymitch, would you like to come? The fresh air may do you some good."
"Yes, I do believe I could use some air." Haymitch agrees and gets up. What the heck is that supposed to mean? He wants air? What's he think this place is filled with? With Gale we know what the other person is thinking even without words, but here they talk and still I have no idea what they're thinking.
It turns out there's a staircase to the roof, and just like Cinna said, there's a garden on the roof. I never actually explored much of this place when I was here last time, now I wish I had. It's really pretty impressive, not just flowers and bushes, but actual big trees too. Why is this even here? There can't be many people who ever see this. What, just someone thought it would be a cool thing to have so it's here? That sort of fits Capitol thinking from what I've seen. No thought to need or practicality, just following whims.
It may be impractical, but it really is beautiful, and Cinna seems to know it well. He leads us through the gardens to a pair of benches under a tree. It's secluded, but like he said, windy and with the wind chimes all around, not very quiet.
Cinna motions for Glimmer and I to sit on a bench and he and Haymitch sit on the bench facing us. Haymitch leans in towards us. "All right, this is a safe place, so now we need to talk."
"Safe? What the heck is that supposed to mean? Neither of you two are making any sense. Heck, you've been acting weird ever since we got out of the games. What's going on here?" I ask.
"Easy sweetheart, keep your voice down. We're safe here, but if you start shouting they'll hear us."
"Safe? From what? And who will hear us?"
"Them. The Capitol. Snow. This whole thing is a setup to keep the Districts in line. Haven't you figured that out yet?"
"Gale goes on like that, it doesn't make it true though."
"No, but the fact it's true does."
"So why tell us this?" Glimmer asks.
"Because you two just graduated to a shitload of trouble." Haymitch answers bluntly. "Hate to be the one to break this to you, but your lives aren't any safer than they were a few days ago, and if you don't want people around you to drop dead you better get with the program, fast."
"Uh, you want to start from the beginning?" I ask. suddenly very afraid.
"All right." Haymitch starts. "The Games didn't go down how they liked. At first your little alliance was a novel thing, but it lasted too long; they don't want people to get ideas that the Districts can team up."
"Why not?" I ask.
"Because that can lead to rebellion." Haymitch states simply. "Now as I was saying, they didn't like it, so they planned to break you up. That's why they had that team rule right before you met bread boy. It was supposed to tear you apart, and failing that at the end they were going to change the rule to only one winner and then you get the royal fuck job."
"But that didn't happen." I say.
"Well it was supposed to." Haymitch rebuts.
"That's why there was so long a delay." Glimmer says, almost to herself, but she has my attention. I look at her, waiting for her to continue. "After Peeta died, they had his cannon, and right after that it should have ended. Either declare both of us winners or change the rule back. But neither happened; there was this long pause instead."
"That's right." Haymitch answers. "They were going to fuck you two over, but the crowd got ugly."
"Ugly?" Glimmer asks.
"Ugly." Haymitch confirms. "Actually past ugly. They were going to riot. An honest to god break shit, set things on fire and trash the town riot; and not some little shit riot either. There were a hundred thousand people in the crowd. No way there's enough Peacekeepers in the Capitol to handle that. Hell, even calling in all the Peacekeepers on Panem might not have been enough."
"I've never heard of anything like that in the Capitol before." I say.
"That's because it's never happened. But this year the crowd got all into the whole Team Glimmer or Team Peeta shit. Someone made t-shirts and banners and all kinds of crap like that. It popped up overnight; somebody made a damned fortune. And then everyone was so amped up at the end a few people started shouting that the team rule wasn't going to last and bam! Instant riot. Well, it would have been. That's why they kept the rule. No damned choice."
"Wow, lucky for us." I muse.
"Yes." Cinna says with a funny little smile. "Lucky indeed."
We all stop and look at Cinna in unison. "What the hell's that supposed to mean?" Haymitch asks.
"I'm sure you knew that rule was meant to be temporary as soon as you heard it, Haymitch. Surely you must not have thought you were the only one?" Cinna asks. "I grew up here, remember; I've seen the Games and Capitol politics all my life, and that means I see a side of the Games you don't. Yes, as you said they work to control the Districts, that's the side you see. But they are also to dazzle and amuse the Capitol citizens, and that is what I understand that you do not. So I realized if that rule was to last, it would have to be so popular that revoking it was impossible."
"You made all those t-shirts and shit!" Haymitch says, almost in awe.
"Well not all me personally. But through various friends and connections, yes; I was the guiding force. And as you guessed, yes, there were considerable profits, but that wasn't the point. The point was to make the Capitol fall in love with Katniss, Glimmer and Peeta, and more specifically make the Capitol fall in love with the two possible pairings. In effect to make them fall in love with the ideas of Katniss and Glimmer or Katniss and Peeta. It worked as well as I hoped, and soon the Capitol was divided into two teams. Once Peeta died I knew the rule would soon follow, so a few people in the crowd made sure to shout the right things and soon it was picked up and echoed."
"Aren't you worried those angry shouts or whatever they were could be traced back to you?" I ask.
"Not at all. That's the wonderful thing about mobs, once you have a mob it's like the individual ceases to exists. No one knows who did what first, or even if they did it at all."
"How did you even learn this?" Glimmer wonders.
"I'm a stylist. Controlling and directing a crowd is what I do, what I've spent all my life learning. As hard as you worked in the Academy to master weapons, to perfect your body and get ready for the Games I worked just as hard learning my craft."
"Son of a bitch." Haymitch says, with genuine surprise and awe. "Had no idea you were such a sneaky bastard."
"Um, well I appreciate all that, Cinna, I really really do, where's the part about us not being able to talk come in? And what danger are we in?" I ask.
"There's bug everywhere. Bugs as in little listening devices, like microphones and shit. The Capitol has them basically everywhere." Haymitch explains.
"What, so we can't even talk without someone listening in?" I ask.
"Relax, Katniss." Glimmer starts in. "Few days and we'll both be home, living in fancy new mansions and we can talk on the phone. Not a huge deal."
Haymitch clears his throat awkwardly. "Actually, those are bugged too. They don't have secure phone lines in there either, so you shouldn't think you can talk on those either."
"What?" I explode. "Are you serious? Well then how do I get one of those secured phone line things?"
"It's not that simple, sweetheart. Secured phone lines aren't legal you know! You can't just call the phone company and order one!"
"Well you know about them somehow." Glimmer points out.
"That's right!" I add. "You know about them, so you must know how we can get one!"
"Look, maybe we can find some way to get you two a secure line, but you're missing the point." Haymitch tries to calm me down. It isn't working.
"So make it happen." I demand.
"Fine, fine, whatever." Haymitch rolls his eyes. "But you two need to pay attention to what matters here; you two are symbols of shit Snow doesn't like, and that could cost you."
"Cost us what?" Glimmer asks guardedly.
"Look, you two are symbols of a possible rebellion; districts that should hate each other working together. And not just together, together basically against the Capitol. Hell, you as good as shelled the Capitol in the Games. And that means you two are going to be under a microscope. Anything you do that Snow doesn't like is going to have a price. And that's on top of the shit he's already going to do."
"And what's all that mean?" Glimmer demands. "What cost and what's Snow already going to do?"
"Look, I don't exactly know everything. And even if I did I wouldn't tell you right now. Snow's going to talk to you two sometime before you go home, and when he does if it looks like you know what's coming it's going to be seriously bad shit. So be patient, be surprised and don't get fucked over harder than you have to be."
I don't like that answer at all. But Haymitch says it with a real finality, the sort of tone I'm not used to hearing from the drunk. I guess for now I'll have to let it go. No wonder everyone was acting weird.
Haymitch gets up. "Look, congratulations on winning and all that shit. But sorry, you still gotta watch your cute little asses. Just how it is, so be careful."
"Yeah, thanks." Glimmer says flatly. "Better to know what you're in for I suppose."
"Even if it sucks." I add. "Guess we'll live with it. Not really any choice. But I still want that secure phone thing."
"Christ sweetheart, relax about the fucking phone. We'll make it happen somehow or other. It's not a huge deal in 12, but there aren't exactly a lot of people in 1 who can do illegal shit like that. But fine, be patient and it'll happen." Haymitch starts walking back to the stairs down. "I swear, girls and the damned phone. Gonna bitch my ear off."
I sigh deeply (and not about Haymitch). "So it's really that bad?"
"I'm afraid so." Cinna confirms. "But you can get through it. You're strong, both of you. Just take it a step at a time and I promise, things will get better, eventually."
"Listen, Cinna… Thank you for all this. I mean it. You saved, well, one of our lives. Saved us from having to kill each other. I'm not really sure how to thank you for that." Glimmer doesn't do thanks very well. But then, I don't either. I hate having to owe someone, and there's no doubt I owe Cinna a lot.
"You're quite welcome Glimmer. It was my pleasure."
"But why Cinna? Don't get me wrong, I really appreciate it too, but I don't understand why you'd go that far." I ask.
"I told you, Katniss. I'm your stylist, and it's my job to help you in any way I can, and that's what I did." He says it like it's nothing. "For now you two should just be careful not to say anything against the Capitol, play the proud happy Victors and you'll be fine." He smiles at us both and then heads back downstairs.
Glimmer and I sit in silence for a while. "Not exactly the glory I expected." Glimmer sighs.
"Regretting teaming up?" I ask.
"No. I actually like you; I haven't had someone I can just talk to like you. It's nice to have a friend, and you're really my only one. Besides, it's a bit late for regrets now."
"So what now? I don't do well with blind threats."
"I don't know." Glimmer sighs. "Us versus the world is getting kind of familiar, difference now is, we don't know who will come at us or how."
"So what, all we can do is what Cinna said, just smile and play along?"
"Seems like it."
"Not how you thought you'd go into your big day, is it?" I ask.
"No, not at all. I dreamed of being crowned Victor for so many years; it was going to be the high point of my life; proof all my work, all that time was well spent; proof I was the best, not just because I said so, but I was for real. And, well, ok, that's still true. You and I are the best, nobody can argue that. It was a lot harder than I ever imagined, but it's still true. I thought once I was crowned it would be over though, not the start of a new game."
"Well for now I'd be happy if the game left us alone and we got to just live whatever sort of normal life we're supposed to."
Glimmer nods. There's not really much else to say. Just talking all night in circles won't help; if something happens, it happens. Haymitch has made it a lot of years, so have other Victors; Glimmer and I will figure it out too. And along the way I'll actually be able to watch my sister eat her fill every meal of every day, never wear clothes that don't fit again, never be too hot or too cold, never be sick and worry if I can afford medicine or not. I went through hell for my family, if I have to do it again I will, but they can enjoy the benefits along the way this time.