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HG: The Narrow Path, Chapter Three - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: The Narrow Path, Chapter Three
Haymitch just can't resist interfering in the propo shoot on the sound stage. He has just announced his presence by saying, "And that is how revolutions die." Haymitch is pretty involved in the canon action here, so lots of canon stuff.


Chapter Three
Katniss storms out of the studio as soon as she hears my voice, which doesn't endear me to anyone else. Fulvia is already furious at me for discounting her writing skills. Plutarch and the crew are annoyed at me for throwing off the schedule. Finnick, at least, doesn't much care, but that's because he's mostly been sleeping all day.

I am excused from my heavy schedule here in the production booth and sent down to talk to Beetee, who is clearly supposed to make me feel guilty for disrupting the proceedings, as he has been working on her special weaponry from his wheelchair. Beetee doesn't cooperate, if this is, in fact, the plan. He just gives me a hearty greeting. Gale Hawthorne is with him. They're working with several bow designs.

"They wanted her to say what?" Gale asks when I tell him the line.

I repeat it.

He grins. "Did she manage to resist saying it in a Capitol accent?"

"Barely," I say.

"Then she's a step ahead of me. I definitely couldn't have kept from cracking up."

"So, anyway, I managed to annoy Command on my first day out of the hospital."

"Oh, you annoyed them before you even got out," Beetee assures me. "I've had an earful about not arming you."

"What, I don't get a magical knife?"

This leads into some desultory joking about what kind of properties a magical knife might have, then Gale steers things back to Katniss. "She's about as scared as I've seen her," he says. "She has no idea what they want from her."

"They have no idea what they want from her," I point out. "I don't think there's one of them in that room that understands why people believed in Katniss in the first place. Katniss least of all."

"Maybe everyone needs a reminder," Beetee suggests.

I agree, and I make arrangements to bring in people that Command would never listen to on its own initiative -- people like Katniss's preps, or Dalton. I ask Delly Cartwright, but she's tied up with her hospital hours, and mostly thinks of Katniss in terms of her relationship with Peeta anyway. She suggests that I ask Leevy Cooley, who was Katniss's neighbor. Greasy Sae is eager to talk about her, and Finnick can't seem to stop himself from giving me a soliloquy on the spot about how she defended Peeta, and understands about Annie, and kept shooting the jabberjays long after he gave up. With some trepidation, I bring the subject up with Boggs at dinner and find him quite amenable. He says Coin will need to be in on it if we're changing strategies, and I reluctantly agree.

Unfortunately, Wall-Effie can't get everyone's schedules to mesh until lunchtime, so we spend the next morning going through the same useless motions. Plutarch and Fulvia won't let me on the floor, for fear of "upsetting" Katniss, and she's so determined to follow their every direction -- mostly to spite me today -- that she looks like a life-sized posable doll being handled by a pair of overexcited little girls.

I go to the conference room a few minutes early. No one is there. People in Thirteen don't have the luxury of wandering into places on their own time. I set up chairs and, on a whim, cue up the video they've been shooting down the hall. I don't think that will leave much of an argument, and if this were purely about changing their minds about tactics, it would be enough. I need Katniss to hear what she means to people. I need her to understand, really understand, how people feel about her. She'll never believe it if they just tell her.

And there's one other thing.

I need her to go back to being Katniss Everdeen. Wandering around a stage as a character is bad for the war, and it's bad for her. She can't just sit here in Thirteen being prodded by stylists and scriptwriters. She needs to get the fight back in her, or she's going to disappear, which is no use whatsoever to the rebellion. The Mockingjay she has been so far has never been a conscious choice. She hasn't inspired people by deciding to be inspirational.

Ruth Everdeen will most likely try to kill me over the idea I plan to sell today. Katniss might or might not like it, but she'll go along with it. She's not put together to dutifully obey the stultifying rules in Thirteen. She needs to be somewhere that she can actually act, make a difference.

Gale arrives first, coming in from some kind of physical training. He's sweaty and still a little overactive. He glances at the screen where I'm watching the videos and starts to say, "Who is--" Then his eyes widen and he wrinkles his nose. "We're fixing this, right?"

"Yeah."

"I'm in. Tell me what you need me to say."

"Just tell the truth."

He nods and sits down, then gets up and goes to another chair. He doesn't settle.

Alma Coin and her little security entourage appear next, then Katniss's preps. After that, I lose track of who's coming in when. Dalton gives me a nod and asks how I'm doing, but gets swept away with the crowd before I answer. It's like being in school at class-switching time. Katniss arrives last, and doesn't look at me.

I go up to the front and try for my best Please sponsor my tribute smile. Effie has coached me on it repeatedly, and I've actually gotten pretty good at it. I hear her in my head -- "Stand up straight, but don't look like a soldier. Don't grumble. Make eye contact. And smile. No, not like you're about to eat them. Like you're actually glad they're here, which you should be." The whole ritual seems incomplete without her pursing her lips and saying, "Oh, fine, I suppose you'll do."

"Thanks for coming, everyone," I say. "A lot of you have heard that Katniss will be serving as the Mockingjay, to rally the districts. But I think we might need to re-think how we're approaching it. I'd like to show all of you what we shot this morning."

I cue up the video and watch everyone's faces register varying degrees of confusion and annoyance as it runs. Even Plutarch and Fulvia aren't deluded enough to look pleased, though I am close enough to them to hear Fulvia whisper, "It's not fair. We haven’t had a chance to rehearse."

I let it run its course, then turn it off and say, "All right. Would anyone like to argue that this of use to us in winning the war?" I don't really wait for answers. Katniss looks mortified. Everyone else just seems uncomfortable. When this has sunk in, I challenge each person to tell me one moment when Katniss moved them -- by herself, not with Peeta's help, not with Cinna's, not with Rue's. Not because of her skill with a bow, or because she's beautiful.

The first person to speak is Leevy Cooley. She brings up the first thing that everyone in Panem knew about Katniss: that she volunteered in her sister's place, assuming it was a death sentence.

I’m glad this is the first thing to come up. If there was one moment of true rebellion, it was this one. Everything else was something forced on her by circumstance. But the moment she decided to die rather than allow her sister to be killed... that was the act of a true rebel. She didn't put her own safety above all, and that, in Snow's Panem, is the most seditious act possible. If people aren't acting in their immediate self-interest, making decisions based on fear, everything else falls apart. Everything that happened later grew from this act, and she hasn't been reminded of it enough. Somewhere, she's forgotten who she is, and that, of all of her actions, is the one she needs to remember.

"Good," I say. "Excellent example." I take out a bright marker and write it down, large enough for Katniss to see across the table, though this kind of wastefulness gets me bitter looks from a few citizens of Thirteen.

I am surprised that Commander Boggs steps up next and tells the story of Rue. I knew he'd tell it, but I didn't expect him to jump right in. Octavia, the manicurist from Katniss's prep team, brings up the time she drugged Peeta so she could get his medicine. She fades back quickly, as though she expects to be punished, and I decide that Thirteen is going to need an overhaul as soon as we finish with the Capitol. Octavia's an annoying, brainless thing, but she's done nothing in her life that deserves whatever has made her terrified.

Greasy Sae talks about seeing Katniss come into the Hob to trade "when she was just barely big enough to carry the game she was bringing." I mention her holding out her hand to Chaff on the interview stage.

Finnick steps forward, getting leery looks from people who've only seen him half-crazed with worry. I don't know what he's going to bring up, since he's lately been devoted to pretty much everything she does. What he says is the last thing I would have expected, as it was an utter failure in any practical sense. "When we were in the arena," he says, "she was hurt by the acid fog. She could barely walk, let alone carry Peeta. I took Peeta, but Katniss, she did everything she could to help my friend Mags. Everything. If that fog had caught up to her, she'd have died, but she just kept going until she actually fell over." He nods to her. "She barely knew Mags. But she was willing to give up her life to try and save her."

I can tell who's been in combat from who hasn't -- those who haven't look perplexed.

Beetee steps into the awkward silence and talks about how she cleaned his wounds and bandaged him before she knew there was any reason to believe they'd all survive. Someone in back chimes in for the first time with the berries, and everyone talks about what that moment meant to them. Venia, Katniss's chief prep, stands forward and says that Katniss most moved her, "when she stood up for us, against people who wanted to hurt us." She glares defiantly at Coin, but it's lost, since Coin is fiddling with her notepad.

Through all of it, I keep my eye on Katniss as she tries to assimilate all of this, tries to recognize the girl they're all talking about.

Of course, she's only one of my audiences. After about half an hour, I hold up my hand and say, "So the question is, what do all of these have in common?"

"They were Katniss's," Gale says, looking coldly at Fulvia and Plutarch. "No one told her what to do or say."

"Unscripted, yes!" Beetee agrees, maybe a little quickly, too on point, but it gets us down to brass tacks. He pats her hand. "So we should just leave you alone, right?"

Most of the room laughs. I don't. That's exactly what I want them to do. Throw a camera on her, but leave her alone. I look at Plutarch, who seems to be piecing together what I'm saying. He should.

Fulvia, on the other hand, is not getting it at all. Willfully not getting it, I'd guess -- an unscripted Mockingjay is a Mockingjay she doesn't control. "Well, that's all very nice, but not very helpful. Unfortunately, her opportunities for being wonderful are rather limited here in Thirteen. So unless you're suggesting we toss her into the middle of combat -- "

"That's exactly what I'm suggesting," I say. "Put her out in the field and just keep the cameras rolling."

There is stunned silence, into which Gale speaks. "But people think she's pregnant."

It's a calculated statement -- he has a vested interest in breaking down Peeta's narrative -- but it's also true. A girl who voluntarily goes into combat while carrying a baby becomes less sympathetic to the general audience, especially with Peeta captured and speaking for the other side.

Plutarch chimes in, suggesting that we spread it around that she miscarried. Snow won't be fooled, and if people outside this room ever hear it, she'll be in trouble. But it's the best we can do.

Voices are raised in vehement protest. I notice that Katniss's isn't among them. In fact, when Boggs points out that they can't guarantee her safety, she makes her position clear. "I want to go," she says. "I'm no help to the rebels here."

"And if you die?" Coin asks, unconcerned.

"Make sure you get some footage," Katniss tells her. "You can use that, anyway."

It's a perfectly Katniss thing to say, and I am glad to hear it. I'm ready to start going over possibilities, start talking about where we can best place her strategically, when Coin co-opts my meeting and announces that, as long as we're doing this, she can head out to Eight this afternoon. They were bombed this morning. It should be safe by now.

I had meant to wait until she had a little bit of training, maybe one dry run. Not that she's ever had an opportunity for something like that before. It's decided before I catch my balance from the sudden usurpation. Coin asks for further ideas.

Dalton says to wash the makeup off of Katniss's face.

I decide that he's my friend.

I ask to speak to Katniss alone. It will be the first time since before the Quell that I've had a chance to do so. Gale almost doesn't let me, but I remind him that Katniss can take care of herself.

I look at her. She is glaring at me. Somewhere between us, there's a cold, empty space where Peeta belongs. I made her a promise. I broke it. I let Peeta be taken, and we both know that something is being done to him if he's spouting Capitol propaganda on television. "We're going to have to work together again," I say. "So, go ahead. Just say it."

She says it: "I can't believe you didn't rescue Peeta."

"I know," I say. I wait to see what she needs me to do. An apology hardly seems sufficient.

We stand silently. She looks at me expectantly for a long time, then finally says, "Now you say it."

And it hits me: She assumes I blame her. I said something like that while she was clawing me. I haven't thought of it since. She has. She wants me to say it again. She needs to be blamed. She needs to feel like she had some kind of control. "I can't believe you let him out of your sight that night."

She nods solemnly. We each know the other couldn't have done anything differently. We both know that we ourselves couldn't have done anything differently. The space between us remains, but it isn't as chillingly cold. I remind her that we are still in the Game -- all of us, Peeta included -- and I am still her mentor. She needs to do as I say in combat.

I don't have much hope of this as she heads away to get ready.

I'm instructed to go back to my quarters for a change of clothes. Now, along with the normal casual outfit for Thirteen, I have a high-necked military uniform. Dalton comes in just as I finish putting it on and gives me a sarcastic salute.

"That didn't take long," he says.

I tug at the neck. "I never knew why military people wanted to strangle their soldiers."

"Discourages talking back." He flops down onto his bunk. "Is that what you wanted to do? Put her in battle?"

"Eventually," I say. "I wasn't thinking it would be this afternoon."

"Yeah, well. Alma Coin doesn't believe in procrastination."

"I noticed."

"How are you doing?"

"Booze-wise? Are you going to ask me that every time we come in?"

"Yeah. It's a condition for you being out of the hospital. So you may as well have your answer ready."

"Haven't thought about it all morning. Until you brought it up."

"So you're a downtime drinker."

"Huh?"

"You get bored, you pick up the bottle. You're busy with anything, no worries, even if it's crazed."

"Well, there's no time to get drunk when I'm busy."

"Stay busy."

I snort. "Now you sound like Effie. She's always telling me I need a hobby. She suggested wood-carving once."

He raises an eyebrow. "She's got a lot of functions in your life, doesn't she?"

"None of the ones you're thinking of."

"I wasn't thinking of any of them. But if she says you need a hobby, and I say you need a hobby, and you know you need a hobby, maybe you ought to have one."

"My hobby is overthrowing the Capitol."

"Maybe something a little less ambitious and more spare time consuming."

"I read," I say. "Fiction and poetry, mostly. Not that I have much worth reading here. Anyone have a good stash of old books?"

"Who do you like?"

"I’m not picky. Just no one who's been published by the government of Panem since the Dark Days. They don't have to actually be banned, but it's a plus."

He nods. "I'll see what I can find while you're gone. I'm afraid they'll have recycled most of the paper ones, and they have pretty tight control over the digital versions. Will you share, if I dig some up?"

"Sure." I pull uselessly at my collar again, give it up as a bad job, and leave.

I meet Plutarch and Fulvia in the lifts, and Plutarch guides us around a maze of pathways.

"I suppose this is a reasonable idea," Fulvia says bitterly. "But with Peeta saying the things he's saying, maybe we really ought to consider how we're portraying Gale."

"Don't try it," I tell her. "I mean that. The whole situation is complicated enough."

"Oh, I wouldn't force it," she says. "But if she were more associated in the public mind with a fellow rebel..."

"And if Snow decides to show that to Peeta?" I ask.

She looks confused by such minor worries, but Plutarch reminds her, again, that the audience is invested in Katniss's love for Peeta, and it would be a much bigger problem for her to seem fickle.

Fulvia apparently doesn't take this as a directive, because when we settle into the hovercraft, I can see her trying to force Gale and Katniss together. I can't hear them, but Boggs, who came down with them, manages to break the tension. Katniss smiles.

We strap in and head for Eight. On the way, Plutarch fills Katniss in on the state of the war, and brings up his crazy idea of re-instating a republic. I've read the same books he has, and the rhetoric is always soaring and uplifting. I've also read other books -- books he deems useless because they are about things that never happened to people who never existed. But these books were written by people who were there, and I know that there was never the utopia he imagines. The People -- Plutarch's fetish -- are no more reliable than any tyrant that's ever lived.

Then, just as we're landing, Plutarch pulls out a vial of purple pills, and tells Katniss to kill herself before she gets captured. There's even a little pocket on the suit for one.

After she disembarks with her camera crew and bodyguards, I pull him aside. "Suicide pills?"

"We can't afford for anyone to be captured, least of all the Mockingjay."

"If she's captured, we can rescue her. Or is the no-rescue rule for everyone?"

"Haymitch, what do you think the Capitol will do to that girl if they get their hands on her? Rescue or no rescue, they'll make her wish she was dead."

"She can wish all she wants. As long as she's alive, she can heal!"

Plutarch sighs. "Somehow, that's less than convincing from a man who's been trying to poison himself for twenty-five years. And don't tell me it's all been accidental."

"That's different."

He looks at me for a long time, then says, "She'll be okay, Haymitch. We have no reason to believe that the Capitol will get anywhere near her. She has a lot of people protecting her."

"So did Peeta."

"And do you imagine he's glad to be alive right now?"

"No. But I imagine that a day might come when he will be."

There's nothing else to say. Katniss goes to a makeshift hospital where the morning's wounded are gathered. I can tell by her voice in my ear that she's panicking, and the young woman who's commanding the troops here doesn't help when she looks down her nose at Katniss.

"That's Baize Paylor," Plutarch says. "She's been on the front lines since the uprisings started last year. Cecelia got me in to see her before the Quell. Smart girl. I wish she'd be a little more impressed with Katniss, though. It doesn't make for good footage if the local commander isn't enthusiastic."

"It doesn't help Katniss much, either," I say.

Plutarch nods. We watch nervously for the first few minutes, as Katniss takes tentative steps into the hospital. She seems stiff and nervous, and I wonder for a moment if I've done the right thing.

Then patients begin to recognize her, come to her, beg her to talk to them and touch them and prove that she's alive. She responds to it. It's nothing I've seen from her before. I expect righteous anger from her. I expect extreme grief. But this kind of reaching out to people in pain...

It's Peeta, I realize. I've seen him do exactly this in District Twelve, going among the starving. Katniss has taken this part of him into herself, made it part of her soul, and the result is remarkable. I don't coach her at all. I don't need to. Shy, defensive Katniss Everdeen is allowing complete strangers to touch her, to love her. Whatever the cameras are catching will be more subversive to Snow's reign of terror than anything they could have done in a studio.

When she leaves, Boggs and Gale both assure her she did well.

The light in the hovercraft suddenly goes red.

"Incoming bombers!" a soldier calls over the intercom. "Incoming bombers, recall surface troops!"

As he speaks, I see Boggs responding to the order, pulling Katniss and Gale along with him.

I grab my speaker and press for Command. "Do they know she's here?"

"Negative," someone in Thirteen tells me. "No chatter. It seems to be unrelated. The Capitol must have been planning a second bombing all along."

The Capitol bombers appear in formation and begin to batter the street below.

"Katniss!" I yell, then realize that my microphone is still tuned to the Command desk. I switch it."

Katniss runs, but the pressure from a nearby blast throws her into a building. Something is sticking out of her leg, but I can't see it before Boggs dives over her, shielding her from flying debris.

"We have to get her," I say.

"We can't land during the bombing," Plutarch says. "There's no safe place. I'll find a place for her to hide. You tell her to make sure no one sees her."

I gulp in air as the first wave of bombers passes, and I see Katniss get out from under Boggs.

"Katniss!" I say.

She staggers to her feet. "Yes? What? Yes, I'm here."

I try to force my voice under control. I need her to not panic. "Listen to me. We can't land during the bombing, but it's imperative that you're not spotted."

"So they don't know I'm here?" she asks, and I can hear in her voice that she's already worked out how many of the dead she will blame herself for.

"Intelligence thinks no," I tell her. "That this raid was already scheduled." Something catches in my brain. Something I can't afford to think about.

Plutarch finds a warehouse for them to hide in and orders all of them to it. Here, for the first time, I respect him. This isn't one of his woolly-headed propos. This is a leader who knows damned well what he's doing.

The second wave of bombers comes in, and our craft has to engage in evasive maneuvers to avoid being detected. I can't see for a minute, and when I do, all I can glimpse is Gale Hawthorne's back as he shelters Katniss from another series of explosions.

When it dies down, Gale asks if she's alright, and she answers that no one has seen her and no one is following, which doesn't answer the question.

"They've targeted something else," Gale says.

"I know," Katniss says. "But there's nothing back there but -- "

They look at each other. I look at Plutarch.

The only thing to bomb is the hospital.

Plutarch doesn't need any explanation of human behavior this time. He just needs to short-circuit it. "Not your problem," he says. "Get to the bunker."

"But there's nothing there but the wounded!" Katniss cries.

I know what she means to do. I know it because there's nothing else she can do, not as long as she really is Katniss Everdeen. "Katniss," I say. "Don’t you even think about--"

And that's when she rips out her earpiece, leaving me alone with a screeching whistle in my ear.
8 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 1st, 2013 08:03 am (UTC) (Link)
A testament to your writing skill: When I read your stuff, a lot of the time, I completely forget it's fanfiction. That last paragraph had me going, "Nooooo, Fern!!! Oh my god, what happens next?!?!" And then I remembered that I totally know... because I have the books... And I've read them.

- Kobe
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 1st, 2013 07:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Heh, thanks! It's good to know I can make a cliffhanger when you know the answer!
torturedbabycow From: torturedbabycow Date: April 1st, 2013 08:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
I missed Haymitch! He's got such a clear view of all the crazy agendas and plots and schemes going on, it's great to read. And I don't think I managed to comment earlier - Wall-Effie just absolutely made my day.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 1st, 2013 10:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's good to be back in his head. I'm struggling a little with the pacing in MJ, but it's good to get the sort of out-of-patience frustration of Haymitch again.
rosaxx50 From: rosaxx50 Date: April 5th, 2013 11:06 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh I love this chapter, one of my favourites of all the HG fic I've read.

It was great to see the thought processes behind Haymitch's coaching. It seems less calculated in the books -- but that's solely from Katniss's POV. We never see a lot of the strategy and planning that goes into the battle she fights in, but Haymitch does, and I love seeing how you write the effort he puts into it.

Wall!Effie makes me sigh for Haymitch. He was so isolated for so long that he will hold onto even this small part of one of his few friends.

though this kind of wastefulness gets me bitter looks from a few citizens of Thirteen.

^this makes me laugh.

I love everything we get on war in this chapter. There is a drawn difference between combatants and non-combatants, even though they want the same thing.

Yes to the look at propaganda. I think it's very on-point that in the chapter where they're scheming and brainstorming to make Katniss's appeal get through, Haymitch ruminates on how imperfect the republic really was.

And this line was my favourite:

"And do you imagine he's glad to be alive right now?"

"No. But I imagine that a day might come when he will be."


That is, like, the story of all these people in Mockingjay, Katniss in particular, from the book to the epilogue. She's not happy to be alive during the book, not particularly. But one day she will be.

(Also, my inner Katniss/Peeta shipper is doing cartwheels. Before re-reading the books, I would have laughed at my feelings now.)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 6th, 2013 01:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
Haymitch really is isolated. He doesn't seem to fit in Twelve, and obviously he doesn't fit in the Capitol. The only people he seems really emotionally invested in are the other victors, and at the moment, the only one he can reach is Katniss and he knows at least three others are in Capitol hands. And of course, there's Effie.

It does seem to be the ultimate message of Mockingjay that these awfully damaged people can find their way back to a decent -- if not perfect -- life.
shortysc22 From: shortysc22 Date: April 6th, 2013 12:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm glad you're continuing with Haymitch's perspective. I really enjoyed reading his perspective last time and can't wait for more.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 6th, 2013 01:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
I do like his voice. It feels good in my head, and I think he'd have interesting things to say about what happens in MJ. At least I hope he will!
8 comments or Leave a comment