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HG: The Narrow Path, Chapter Two - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: The Narrow Path, Chapter Two
Haymitch is in recovery in D13. He's happy to see that Katniss has managed to hamstring Coin with her conditions, though Coin is angry enough that she has demanded that Haymitch "control" Katniss.



Chapter Two
Since I'm ambulatory, after a fashion, I’m taken to hear President Coin's announcement of Katniss's terms, during which she manages to issue a less than veiled threat if Katniss steps out of line. I stand huddled in a group of other patients. I can see Katniss fading into the crowd, but I don't try to catch her eye. Later, Finnick proudly tells me that Katniss has saved Annie. Then he goes to sleep in the visitor's chair.

Just after dinner, two doctors come in with an orderly I've only met once before -- when he slipped me an illegal detox pill to put off the shakes until the rescue crafts got back from Twelve. I don't know why he's here, and half expect him to turn me in for that pill, but instead, he smiles affably and says, "Doctors say you're ready to live out of the hospital."

"Great."

"Not by yourself," one of the doctors announces. "You are still in recovery."

"Which is where I come in," the orderly says. He extends his hand. "Luzon Dalton," he says. "I'm imported from District Ten. They reckon I've been enjoying my solitary splendor long enough, and there's room in my place."

"Much obliged," I say, though the idea of sharing housing with anyone, let alone a complete stranger, isn't my idea of freedom. "Haymitch Abernathy."

"You're expected to check in daily," the other doctor says. "It will be encoded on your schedule, and if you fail to check in, you may be re-admitted."

They begin a long list of forbidden activities. I nod a lot and try not to laugh, since behind them, Luzon Dalton is mimicking them with exaggerated expressions. Every time one of them turns enough to see him, he arranges his face in a pleasant grin.

They finally let me go, and issue me a few sets of the gray clothes everyone else wears, along with soap and a razor and an instruction to shave daily. Apparently, "rakish" is not a valid style choice is District Thirteen. There's also an envelope marked "Abernathy -- Personal Effects," though I have no idea what's in it. I wasn't even wearing any jewelry when I left the Capitol.

Dalton leads the way down one of Thirteen's bland corridors to a bland door, behind which is a bland little one-room apartment. There is a television, a pair of dressers, and two bunks. The bathroom is off to the side. Hanging on the wall, given pride of place above the television, is a large, truly awful painting of a cow in a pasture. The perspective is off, and it looks like it's about to tumble down into the room. Dalton goes to the side of the room that looks occupied and sits down at a desk, on which he's placed a white hat with a wide brim. "Reckon you'll want something of Twelve here," he says. "I could paint you a coal mine, if you tell me what one looks like."

"I don't need a coal mine," I say. I think about my home, and the beautiful painting Peeta did of me with Katniss. That's about the only piece of art I want, and it's completely out of reach. So I tip an invisible glass to the giant cow painting and say, "I'll just learn to love Ten."

"I paint during Reflection. I had to get special permits for luxury equipment, but the doctors said it's part of my recovery."

"Recovery?"

"We have a few of the same demons, as you might have guessed from the interaction we never had involving a pill that you absolutely didn't take since I never would have given it to you."

"Gotcha."

He shrugs. "You get used to it after a while. You don't stop wanting the stuff, but you learn to tell yourself that it's not coming, so you may as well get on with things."

"Thanks," I say. I put my gray clothes in the drawers of the empty dresser, then look curiously at the personal effects envelope. "What happened to my clothes?" I ask, opening the envelope.

"Oh, they take that sort of stuff down to Command, in case someone needs to go out under cover." He nods at the envelope. "Your friend Hazelle rescued that stuff from the pockets. Had herself a good eye-roll at it, too."

Curiously, I slide a stack of photographs out of the envelope. The top one shows a girl in a sparkly headdress marching in a parade. The next shows the same girl at a school ceremony, wearing a fancy hat and a dress with lit-up buttons. The next shows her standing with me (I look very drunk and very grumpy) in a room in the Viewing Center.

Effie Trinket.

I remember scooping a handful of pictures up off of her floor when I went to her apartment, meaning to rescue her. I didn't even look at them then, and haven't thought about them since. I wasn't thinking about anything other than her absence, and the mess they'd made of her apartment, and that she was being held by Snow's people. That I hadn't gotten there in time. I go through them more slowly, looking at her through the years. Some of the pictures I snagged are formal portraits. Others are more candid. There is one of her at the shore of the Capitol lake, holding on a long blue wig against the wind with one hand and laughing. I took this one. She was trying to prove that there was something worth seeing in the Capitol. It was the day she kissed me and I laughed at her.

I look up and find Dalton watching me, the goofy country-boy face replaced by a thoughtful and intelligent one. "Your lady?" he asks.

I shake my head. "Effie's my friend." I look through the pictures again. "I don't even like her that much. She's irritating as hell, really. I tried to get her out, but I was too late. Of course I was late. Effie's the one who keeps me on time for things. She used to say that if she wasn't with me when I died, I'd be late for my funeral. She was probably right." I put the pictures in a drawer.

Dalton takes a picture out of his own drawer and shows it to me. It's a plain woman in blue jeans and a chambray shirt. "My wife," he says. "Also irritating as hell."

"What happened to her?" I ask.

He shrugs. "Nothing, as far as I know. She finally got sick of me crawling home drunk, and kicked me out. Which prompted me to drink more, and call the feed master some nasty names. My son told me he heard in school that they had it in for me, so I slipped the fence and went on the run. After packing up the important things, of course."

"The booze?"

"Well, I couldn't very well afford the DTs out in the wilderness, could I?" He smirks, and I realize that he actually does know this song. "Three weeks out, I found melted train tracks. Followed them here. I was out of booze when I got here. There never seems to be enough, does there?"

I smile in recognition. Once you really get started, the concept of enough becomes a joke.

"Anyway," Dalton says, "I was completely raving by then."

"And they introduced you to the fascinating world of hospital janitorial services?"

"I did animal husbandry back in Ten. It's no worse than being up to my elbow in a cow's private parts." He shrugs. "They did ask me to go back into husbandry. Had me looking at about a huge genetic information bank."

"But you didn't stick with it?"

"Not when I found out it was the genetic bank of the human population here."

"What?"

"Oh, they're not trying to create a master race or anything. No one's being forced into anything. They're just trying to get up to viable levels of fertile people. I was telling your girl Katniss about it last week -- they lost a lot of their population in a viral outbreak, and a lot of the ones left are infertile. That's why they're so glad to have newcomers. As a genetic scientist, I get it. If we were talking about cattle, I'd be leading the charge. But I can't bring myself to treat people like breeding stock."

"What do they want to do?"

"It's mostly about who gets approved for married quarters, who gets to use the jugs--"

"The jugs?"

Dalton laughs. "Conjugal visit rooms. The young guys call them the jugs. I mean, come on, these apartments for non-marrieds aren't exactly conducive to fooling around, unless you happen to be fooling around with the person you bunk with, I guess. There are rooms up on the fourth level that you can sign up for, but only if there's a chance of a baby and if the people are stable enough to be parents. Though, trust me, people find ways around it."

"How do they... know?"

"You have to be on an approved list to sign up. If you want to be on the list, you get tested at the hospital to make sure everything's working like it's supposed to." He grins. "They test patients routinely. You passed, if you're interested."

"Great." I do not want to think too carefully about this subject. Something else he said snags in my mind, and I take it gratefully. "You said you talked to Katniss?"

"Yeah. She's a nice kid."

"How is she? Really?"

"She's in shock. She's had to absorb a lot, and she's worried as hell about that boy she loves. I think she thinks it's her fault what Snow did to Twelve."

"She's going to have to get in line there," I say. "There are quite a few of us ahead of her."

"Hey," Dalton says. "That line starts and ends with Snow."

I don't bother arguing. "Finnick thinks she's seriously damaged."

Dalton sighs. "I'd still have her in the hospital if it were up to me. Maybe talking to one of those head doctors. We have one who got here from the Capitol. But I don't think she's broken. I found her hiding out in a storage room when I went to get supplies."

"Hiding?"

"A perfectly sane activity sometimes, if you ask me," he says. "She's got people yakking at her from every direction. I think she just needs time to get her head straight. I saw her in her Games. She's a tough girl. Maybe not as tough as she thought, but still tough. I respect her. We talked about Thirteen. She sees it pretty clearly, which is more than I can say for some of the people who aren't considered unstable."

I consider asking who he thinks isn't seeing things clearly, then decide to have a look for myself without any preconceptions. We talk a little bit more before lights-out, then he goes to sleep. He snores like some kind of mutt engineered to shake a house down, and I stay awake for a long time after, looking up into the near absolute darkness (a set of tiny lights marks the base of the bathroom door). I try to remember my way through one of my books to keep my mind active, but once I've read the things, they become singular experiences, and all of their events seem to happen at once... meaning that it doesn't take long to remember a whole one. Finally, I fall asleep. It feels very late, since it's been dark so long, but I have a feeling it's probably still earlier than I habitually go to bed.

Dalton wakes me up at six-thirty, and teaches me to stick my arm in a contraption that tattoos the day's schedule on it. I promptly name the contraption "Effie," and stick one of the stuffy formal pictures of her under the lip of a screw that holds it to the wall. Wall-Effie tells me that after my shower and breakfast, I'm to report to Command for the next several hours, only taking a break at lunchtime for my daily check-in at the hospital. Dalton helps me figure how to get there, since I can't tell one gray hallway from another yet.

When I get to Command, I find Fulvia and Plutarch, who I expected, with Finnick, who I didn't. Commander Boggs is there as well, looking more relaxed than the last few times I've seen him. To my surprise, Gale Hawthorne is present, though he keeps checking his schedule and the clock.

"I have training," he says. "I can't stay all day. How long does prep take? They've already been down there twenty minutes!"

I laugh. "Oh, you really haven't been paying attention to the Games. They might have decided what they're going to do by now. I wouldn’t expect her to be out for a while."

"Especially with quite a lot of arena damage to repair," Fulvia says. "Her hair was damaged by the acid fog." She looks reproachfully at Plutarch. "And her skin is not in good condition."

"Her preps know what they're doing," Plutarch says. "And hopefully, they're still able to do it."

"What does that mean?" I ask.

Plutarch shakes his head and waves it off to Fulvia, who tells me that the preps were caught stealing bread and were punished for it.

"We found them chained to a wall," Gale says. "It was a little extreme. But Katniss and Plutarch took care of it."

I have no idea what to say to this. I've gotten the impression that Thirteen is strict, but chaining people to the wall over stolen bread seems, as Gale put it, extreme. I look at Plutarch. "What the hell have you been doing?"

"I didn't know about it," he says. "As soon as I found out, I did something."

"Didn't anyone check on them?" I look at Fulvia, who arranged their abduction from the Capitol. "Did you even talk to them after you got them here?"

"Plutarch and I have been involved in important war duties," she says. "I was told they had been settled. They weren't interested in talking to me."

"Katniss was pretty upset," Gale says.

"I don't doubt it."

He frowns. "I really don't understand it. They worked for the Games. Not as secret rebels like Plutarch or Cinna. They actually worked for them."

I have a feeling that Gale tried this conversation with Katniss and got an earful of things that made no sense to him. He's never been in the Games. I think about trying to explain it -- trying to express what it means that there are people there trying to help you, that they can be kind, and that kindness means everything when you think you're about to die -- but I can see that he doesn't want an argument. He wants me to say that she's obviously crazy. I remember Hazelle saying, about Effie, that she was never going to like someone who called on two kids to die every year.

I say, "Let her decide who she's going to get upset over," and leave it at that. People who haven't been there are never going to understand it, anyway.

Ten minutes later, Gale grumbles and heads off to training. Once he's gone, Plutarch and Fulvia pull up a program with renderings of the propaganda piece they mean to film today. In them, Katniss is wearing Cinna's armor and walking through a smoky battle.

"And she'll turn here," Fulvia says, pulling up the last picture, "and she'll say our line." She smiles giddily, obviously pleased with herself.

"Line?"

"It's carefully crafted to include everything she represents -- bravery, the fight against hunger, the fight for justice, an address directly to the people. It'll be carved in stone someday."

I look at the script she hands me. The line, centered and highlighted, is People of Panem, we fight, we dare, we end our hunger for justice!

"You're kidding, right?" I say.

She bristles. "What do you mean?"

"Who would say this? When have you ever heard Katniss Everdeen talk like this?"

"I will have you know," she says, "that experts have analyzed the imagery surrounding Katniss Everdeen. They have isolated the themes that she represents to people. Those themes are the very essence of the poetry, both verbal and visual!"

I don't know which annoys me more -- that they're putting this garbage in the mouth of a seventeen-year-old who would never say it, or that Fulvia has the gall to call it poetry. I accept that we have to do propaganda. The Capitol has had seventy-five years to set up its narrative, and we have a few weeks to break it. But to call it poetry is an insult to every real poet I've ever read.

Plutarch apparently senses that I'm about to insult Fulvia, who looks on the brink of tears at my response already, and says, "Now, Haymitch, you know how it is with scripts. They always look empty until the actors are there. You'll see. It'll be amazing." He gives me a pointed sort of glare, and I close my mouth for the remainder of the presentation.

Once we've finished, I have a look around the set. Boggs comes with me. He seemed disgusted by me when I first met him, but now he's behaving normally. Maybe he's fine with me sober. Or maybe I was already starting in the paranoia before.

"You think they're right?" he asks, gesturing around the set.

"The experts certainly seem to think so," I say.

"Guess I’m no expert," Boggs tells me. "This isn't really what I had in mind when I was thinking about that mockingjay."

"What were you thinking about?"

"That little girl Rue. How Katniss sang to her." He shrugs. "I have a daughter. I just kept thinking, that child could be her. And if she had been, I'd have wanted someone like Katniss to be with her at the end. Someone who cared."

"They didn't show it, but Katniss actually covered her in flowers," I say.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. And then Peeta painted it during his evaluation to rub the judges' noses in it."

"You're worried about him, aren't you?"

"I'd be kind of crazy not to be. Snow's got him."

"Did you see his interview last night?"

"No, but I heard enough about it. You don't really think that was spontaneous, do you?"

Boggs thinks about it. "There were a lot of hints that we should think it."

"What do you mean?"

"They let him talk about how awful it was in the arena. What it's like to be a tribute, and have to kill people. He said it destroys everything you are."

"Melodramatic, but not wrong."

"The point is, if he was allowed to say something like that, he did have some freedom."

I think about it, then shake my head. "That would make it look more sincere. Which is probably why he was allowed to do it. Make it sound like he had some freedom, and suddenly the rest of it seems more real. If I had to make a guess, I'd say something like that was Caesar's idea. He's almost as good at playing a narrative out as Peeta is, and he wants to make sure the Games end."

This obviously confuses Boggs. I don't care. I am thinking about what he said, about what Katniss meant to him personally. I wonder what everyone else -- other than Fulvia's experts -- would say.

At lunchtime, I go back up to the hospital to have my blood checked so they can make sure I haven't used the last few hours to invent a still and get drunk, possibly on distilled watery oatmeal. Ruth Everdeen does the test.

"I’m sorry I snapped at you," she says coolly. "You were handy."

"It's okay."

"What are they doing with my daughter?"

"It's complicated," I tell her. "And possibly kind of stupid. But we're all there watching out for her."

She looks over her shoulder, then whispers, "What are they going to do about Peeta?"

"Well, Katniss protected from any punishment... at least from us."

"Can't they rescue him?" She bites her lip. "I don't know what to make of him with Katniss, but he's Dannel's son. He's all that's left of a man I used to love quite a lot. No one listens when I say that he's a good boy. They're all angry at him."

"I know."

"You'll do what you can for him, too, won't you?"

"Every single thing there is, plus anything else I think of."

She nods and retrieves my test results. I am negative for alcohol and any other drugs they think I may have somehow found. She marks this on my chart. I ask if I get a special gold star for it. I don't, but if I get enough accumulated checkmarks, I will be qualified to live on my own. Dalton arrives in time to hear this, and pretends to be deeply offended as he gets me down to a small dining hall on our level for lunch.

He pushes his stew around. "Your stomach strong enough to handle this stuff?"

"Here's hoping," I say.

I manage to choke the whole bowl down, but I'm still feeling queasy when I get back to the studio in Command. I spend the first hour of the afternoon huddled up in the back of the production booth, trying to hold it down. At some point, Katniss is brought up from her own lunch. I go to the window and look at her. It's the first time I've seen her close up since the hovercraft, when she scratched my face and blamed me for Peeta's captivity. She is thinner than she was, and her face has taken on a hollow sort of look that makes the bird armor look somewhat alarming. They've made her up heavily, and put a bandage over the place on her arm where Johanna dug out her tracker. She's carrying a shiny black bow.

I don't know why Coin thinks she needs me to control her. She's compliant to a fault as they prod and paint her, set her up with strange lighting, set off smoke bombs around her, and pose her like shop window mannequin. Fulvia and Plutarch walk around her repeatedly, like carrion birds contemplating a particularly tasty bit of offal. She doesn't even glare at them. Coin's threat to negate their deal if she steps out of line has clearly been effective. This is the girl who dutifully memorized the Capitol's canned speech on the Victory Tour. Unfortunately, she has about the same level of passion for her performance here.

I amuse myself while they film her by trying to imagine what I'd send her if she were in the arena. Something decent to eat might perk her up, but wouldn't really get that passion out of her. What she really needs is something to direct her anger at. Getting nebulously angry isn't her style, any more than being sentimental and mawkish over her love life is. She needs something concrete.

They watch some proofs of her down on the floor. I see her staring at the odd looking creature on screen. There's no real recognition in her eyes.

When she reads her script, I see her wince at the line she'll need to say, but as they set up the cameras around her, she mutters it under her breath until she has it committed to memory. I watch the monitors around me as they turn up the smoke and flip on a fan to simulate a windy day. Fulvia and Plutarch don't come back to the booth.

Katniss stands up stiffly, pretending (per Fulvia's instructions) that she's just lost a comrade in arms. She looks nothing like Katniss Everdeen after having lost someone. For one thing, she's not trying to kill anyone or screaming or making a gesture of respect to the body, possibly because they neglected to have one on set. She just makes a face like she has a mildly upset stomach, clenches her fists, and says, "People of Panem, we fight, we dare, we end our hunger for justice!"

Fulvia holds her hands to her heart, transported with ecstasy. No one else on set looks transported by anything. The shaven-headed director looks irritated. Gale Hawthorne seems puzzled. One of the cameramen yawns and sits down.

I go to the microphone on the control panel, which I haven't been given permission to use, and turn it on. "And that, my friends," I say, "is how a revolution dies."

Katniss turns around and looks up at the booth, her face a study in shock. Apparently no one told her I was here.

And apparently, she still hates me.
15 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 29th, 2013 06:36 pm (UTC) (Link)

Nice Use of...

Dalton as our "District 13 Tour Guide." What's good for the goose definitely works for the gander.

And terrific that Haymitch gets to have a sponsor. Which wouldn't quite mean the same thing in 13 that it would in our world, because I imagine that Haymitch wouldn't fine any bars to go into, etc. -- but someone who understands what it all means will do him a world of good.

Hope you're enjoying Passover,

Sara Libby
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 30th, 2013 12:21 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Nice Use of...

I think they may have inadvertently re-invented AA here. At least in principle.

I figured someone should initiate Haymitch into the world of grown-ups in Thirteen, which Katniss didn't see. And I'd guess it's no better than kid-world in Thirteen.
sonetka From: sonetka Date: March 29th, 2013 07:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
Very nice -- I like how the scheduling thing is named "Effie" :). Also how Gale et al just can't comprehend the relationship they have with their stylists -- how could they? And I am immensely curious about the backstory between Ruth and Dannel. Or not so much that, but rather, how Dannel ended up with Mirrem in the end.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 30th, 2013 12:22 am (UTC) (Link)
If I get to that, it'll be in part 3 (at the moment, I'm planning part three to cover two chapters of canon -- 26 and 27 -- with some focus on what's going on around the trial, which might well include a conversation between Ruth and Peeta that Haymitch could be around for).
dragonzair From: dragonzair Date: March 30th, 2013 07:31 am (UTC) (Link)
Holy... So much going on in the chapter! I really need to reread MJ because the whole marriage quarters thing threw me off a bit as I forgot.

I love that you don't shy away from how horrid the rebellion, at least part of them, had been. A lot of the fics seem to make them out to be heroes, more often than not? But I think that's what I enjoyed so much about MJ, how grey everything really is, same as real life? Many wanted a much more... ideal story but I really think that would have been unfair to the characters. I like so much that you stick to the in your stories and expand on them.

Also, thank you for that bit with Wall-Effie. A good laugh was needed to get through the sad that this fic could potentially be.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 30th, 2013 06:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think the horrid-ness of some of the rebels is a big part of the point of the story. After everything the Capitol put these people through, Thirteen turned around and used them. Katniss doesn't realize how thoroughly she's being used until the end, but the reader can see it in the way her thinking changes.

The married quarters thing is made up from my end. I was looking at what see of living quarters in Thirteen -- Katniss, Prim, and Mrs. Everdeen all living in one room with two bunks, and Katniss sleeping on the floor -- and I thought that it wasn't conducive to their goal of increasing the population. There had to be some other kind arrangement.
tree_and_leaf From: tree_and_leaf Date: March 30th, 2013 02:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
I really do like your Haymitch voice. And Dalton is very engaging.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 30th, 2013 06:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
It feels comfortable to get back into Haymitch's head. And I thought he needed an actual friend. :D
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 30th, 2013 04:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm someone who thinks even with the games Katniss & Peeta were meant to be, but damn, Gale REALLY lost her when she went to the Arena. He will really, truly never get where she is coming from or what's going on in her head.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 30th, 2013 06:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
I agree on both counts. Katniss had obviously been trying for years to work up the courage to talk to Peeta, and Peeta seemed to have been doing the same. Eventually, they'd have figured things out, and they fit together very nicely. And Gale... God bless him, but he's not the most empathetic human being in the world, is he?
redlily From: redlily Date: March 31st, 2013 01:57 am (UTC) (Link)
I just wondered for the first time how Gale would've done in the Games. Well, I imagine. And it would've twisted him in a much worse way than it warped Peeta or Katniss.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 31st, 2013 02:12 am (UTC) (Link)
That's a good point. He certainly had the skills he'd have needed, and if he managed not to engage in fights with the career kids, he easily could have won. The fact that he's so sure of his own righteousness really could have made him a nightmare of a victor.
shortysc22 From: shortysc22 Date: March 31st, 2013 12:41 am (UTC) (Link)
I like the introduction of Dalton and think he'll be another great perspective on the rest of Panem. I love Haymitch's perspective, always and how he rationalizes everything out with Gale and Hazelle, knowing what he wants to say and what he really says.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 31st, 2013 01:11 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks!

Haymitch may be underestimating them in the long run (a Gale challenged on his views by someone other than Katniss might well have realized he's running along a precipice covered with ice), but at the moment, I think he's probably right that Gale was not in the least bit prepared for anything more than total agreement.
rosaxx50 From: rosaxx50 Date: April 5th, 2013 09:21 am (UTC) (Link)
I was wondering who Dalton was.

"Your friend Hazelle rescued that stuff from the pockets. Had herself a good eye-roll at it, too."

Lol I bet Hazelle loved that.

Again, I like the shades of grey you bring into the Capitol. District Thirteen, the rebels, Hazelle, see it as much more black and white (and not without reason, of course), but individual people? A lot more complicated. Something that District Thirteen's regimental lifestyle doesn't take into account.

I'd forgotten how quickly this part of the book moved.
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