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The Games We Play
Summary: AU. Snow proposes an alternative after Haymitch's victory. One that will save his family and damn himself to the most vile of professions: A Gamemaker.
A/N: I kind of surprised myself in being able to add to this universe.  As much as I've filled it out in my mind, it's mostly just ideas of how the characters all come together in this verse.
Disclaimer: I do not own The Hunger Games.  Image credit for the chess image (King's Move) goes to Daniel Go.

The Games We Play – The Prisoner’s Dilemma

The hob was loud and crowded, with noise coming from every direction.  It wouldn’t normally bother Haymitch – in fact he’d spent a fair share of his time in the hob before the Games – but now it was all just too much.  The sounds and movement and the dank smell and humid atmosphere triggered memories of the arena, reminding him of the horrors he had faced there.

If he closed his eyes for a second too long he’d see the bright, deadly colours of a tropical rainforest and it was like he’d never left the arena.
Conroy didn’t seem too bothered by the noise, or the crowd.  Then again, his arena had been one of those urban outfits where they were placed in some long deserted ghost town.  Silence was probably more of a bother to him than the hustle and bustle of the hob.

The two of them were seated at a makeshift table set up near Greasy Sae’s, a bowl of her famous stew set out in front of each of them.  Kyler Everdeen had been around earlier that day, so rumour had it that the mystery meat filling was rabbit, but Sae was known to use anything from dog meat to slices of protein cake.  Meat wasn’t easy to come by in District 12 and they made do with whatever was available.

Haymitch had hardly touched his dish while Conroy was already soaking up the dregs with one of the bread rolls they’d picked up from the baker on the way.  He hadn’t felt much like eating since his return from the arena, whether that be out of the habit of subsisting on the bare minimum, or the fear that, as in the arena, his food would turn out to be as deadly as everything else.

“You never really leave the arena,” his mentor said suddenly, the words corresponding with his own musings.  Conroy wore a sad smile, his expression full of understanding and pity.  “There’s only one way out of The Games.”

This was the reason why they’d come to the hob, in spite of the noise and the dankness and the way it made Haymitch’s very skin crawl.  With all the noise and movement and the precautions taken to stay under the radar of the local Peacekeeper, it was the safest place in the district to talk about Snow and the Games and the Deal that Haymitch had struck in an attempt to save his family.

“Don’t for a second think that this is anything other than what it is,” Conroy continued after a moment, his tone solemn.  He’d taken up a bottle of Ripper’s white liquor and was sipping it slowly.  Not that Conroy was a habitual drinker – the heavy conversation simply seemed to call for alcohol.  “This isn’t a reward for your cleverness or some great honour bestowed on a poor Seam boy from the lowliest of districts.

“This is punishment,” he said firmly, slamming the bottle of liquor hard on the table.  The liquid spilled out of the top of the bottle, and the sharp smell of alcohol lingered in the air.  Haymitch flinched involuntarily, the sound and smell triggering a different set of memories that had haunted him long before the Games.

“You’re luckier than some, I suppose,” Conroy continued, with a tilt of his head.  That seemed to Haymitch a subjective judgment.  As a mentor he could only be held responsible for the two children a year that were reaped from his district.  As a Gamemaker he could be blamed for every death, not just those from District Twelve.

But Conroy wasn’t finished and the life of a Victor turned out to be a whole lot grimmer than Haymitch had ever anticipated.  It wasn’t just being forced to Mentor the children of your district and having their blood stain your hands.  Snow owned you from the moment you stepped out of that arena, and the president put his toys to work in satisfying friends and enemies alike.

“You’re lucky,” Conroy repeated, although the hard expression on his face said he only meant it in this one very specific respect.  “The last thing that Snow wants is to give the impression that his Gamemakers can be bought and sold.”

Neither of them said it aloud, but they were both clearly thinking the same thought.  He was lucky that Snow didn’t like to mix up his whores with his assassins.

“That wouldn’t look very fair, would it,” Haymitch answered him bitterly.  He reached towards Conroy’s bottle, looking to share his misery with a commiserate drink, but Conroy knocked his hand away and deliberately pushed the bottle off the edge of the table.

“This is not a solution,” Conroy said sternly, his voice low and serious in the same way it was when he offered his one piece of advice for the arena: Stay Alive.  “Not with your family history.”

Haymitch scowled, more at being reminded of the man who had sired him than at being denied a stiff drink.  “And what do you suggest?” he asked, practically sneering the words.

Conroy was indifferent to the show of disrespect.  “I suggest you find a talent,” he answered, with an unhelpful shrug.  “Chess, maybe? Or perhaps whittling.
“Find something to distract yourself,” Conroy advised sagely.  “And when that doesn’t work find something to ground you.

“And when that doesn’t work?” Haymitch questioned.

Conroy smiled sadly.  “You get good at pretending it does.”

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