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HG: The Narrow Path, Chapter Seven - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: The Narrow Path, Chapter Seven
Peeta has just given his "dead by morning" alarm, and Haymitch realizes what it means.


Chapter Seven
If there is such a thing as chaos in the regimented world of District Thirteen, I see it in the moments after someone finally cuts the feed, hiding the spray of blood on the tiles. No one is agitating to retrieve Peeta before they kill him. They're arguing about what he meant, what he's trying to make us do. Is it a threat? Is it a boast in front of the districts? Is he trying to provoke us into taking a foolish action, or beating another retreat? Across the room, I can see that Finnick is staring, wide-eyed, at the blank screen, probably wondering if Snow will stop with Peeta in the coming retaliation. Katniss is struggling to breathe.

Finally, I can't take it anymore, and I yell, "Shut up!" Everyone turns to look at me, some with curiosity, some with outright hostility at being interrupted by a common soldier, and a drunk to boot. I point out the obvious: Peeta has warned us that Snow means to launch an attack against Thirteen. And he is very likely paying for it with his life as we argue about whether or not to trust him.

When I call on Katniss to back me up, she can barely get out the words. The terror in her voice is obvious to everyone, even the most hardened people in Thirteen. If nothing else gets through to them, it's that. She couldn't fake her belief that he meant what he said.

"You don't know him," I tell Coin. "We do. Get your people ready."

However chaotic her people may be, Alma Coin herself seems to be perfectly calm, utterly unconcerned that a boy -- a man; I think Peeta has earned the right to be called a man -- thousands of miles away is being beaten and tortured because he tried to sound an alarm. She thinks that Snow's desire to possess District Thirteen will protect them, though she at least concedes that, given the state of the war, he may well consider it an acceptable risk. Acting like it is a great inconvenience, she declares, "We're overdue for a Level Five security drill. Let's proceed with the lockdown."

I'll give her this: Once she makes a decision, it happens. There is no dithering, no time lost on style. Within seconds of the order going out over her computer, we are in motion. Boggs steers Katniss and Finnick toward the residential bunkers. I start to follow, but Coin's guards grab Plutarch, Fulvia, and me and ushers us off in a different direction.

"I want to go with Katniss," I say. "She's in trouble."

"You'll be needed in Command," Coin tells me over her shoulder. "You know the Capitol as well as the natives." She looks at Plutarch. "Gather those beauticians and bring them to the Command bunker. If there's a bombing, we will retaliate. Any information on the Capitol may prove useful."

Plutarch goes off to follow his orders. I hope he thinks to check on Katniss while he's looking for her preps.

Fulvia seems pleased not to be going with the commoners. For a second, I hate them. All of them. I want to send them topside to be burned by the firebombs. Half of them don't believe Peeta, and the other half don't care about the price he's paying. Coin will try to parlay the whole business into heroism for herself if she manages to make a little stab at the Capitol.

I force it down. The anger hits me like white liquor on a cold night -- a burning coal of hate that spreads slowly out along my limbs. Then I think of Peeta. I think of his blood on the tiles. He's being tortured because he didn't want these people to die.

I owe it to him to keep it together now.

Our little group makes its way downward, through harshly lit hallways and dim staircases. We finally reach a large, cavernous room that must be directly beneath Command above us. The technicians rush to their stations and begin an elaborate routine that I have the impression is about disconnecting us from any topside power and communications lines. With a rush, Beetee is pushed into the room. I have no idea how they got him here in the wheelchair, unless there is a special elevator. The regular ones are shut down. It would be no good to anyone to be stuck in an elevator while the district is bombed.

Beetee surveys the techs. "Good," he says. "There's a redundant communication line. We shouldn't be cut off for long."

"But we will be for a while?"

He nods. "The main communications equipment is well-hidden and actually far from the installation here, but a serious bombing could temporarily disrupt our remote connection with it. We'll be able to establish private communication again before we can break the airways, though." He looks up at me. "Are they killing him, do you think?"

"I don't know," I say. "I didn't think they would. Not with Katniss here. They wouldn't have him to use against her. But this? I don't know anymore, Beetee."

Beetee looks like he's struggling for something comforting to say, but there really isn't anything, and he settles for sighing and closing his eyes.

An officer runs confirms that we are tracking several airborne objects approaching Thirteen at a rapid pace.

At the table, Coin is scribbling notes for an address to Thirteen. I go to her and wait for her to look up.

"Yes?" she says.

"You tell them who warned them," I say. "You tell them that it's Peeta Mellark who gave them time to get to safety. You owe him that."

"Well, they'll certainly need some sort of explanation," she says, unconcerned.

Boggs runs in a minute later. Someone asks him if his wife and children are settled safely, and he says they are, and that he got Katniss and Finnick to the bunker as well. Plutarch arrives last with Katniss's preps, who look terrified and out of breath, just before the doors lock.

While Coin makes her announcement, one of the young techs, who identifies herself as Soldier McCanley, settles us into an adjacent ward on the far side of the command bunker from Special Weaponry. It's lined with cots, each one of which has a foot locker under it with our supplies. The local soldiers try to direct us toward specific cots, but for the most part, we ignore them. Beetee, Fulvia, Plutarch and I get the preps to some cots near the back, and take four cots in front of them, to give them a little bit of a buffer. (Fulvia does not look pleased by this, but she will almost always take her lead from Plutarch.)

Venia directs Octavia to try and get Flavius calmed down (he is all but hiding under his cot, and she seems to have picked up a few yards of guts from hanging around with the Hawthornes), then comes over and demands to know what's going on and why they've been brought in. Plutarch is doing his best to explain when the first bomb falls, stopping everyone's conversations.

I go back out to command.

The power flickers for only an instant, then the instruments start to hum. Gauges beep loudly and repeatedly. Boggs is staring into a tube that leads, as far as I can tell, into the bowels of the machines.

He looks up finally. "Conventional," he tells Coin. "There is no residual radiation."

"Thank you, Commander," Coin says. She turns the public address system back on and reassures the population of District Thirteen that the blast was merely an explosive. She doesn’t report what I'm starting to see on the screens around me -- hidden topside cameras that show great, gaping holes in the world, flames bursting from the new trenches like volcanic eruptions in the night. Maps of the underground installation flash with red lights showing the damaged areas. Most of the old housing areas are lost immediately. If people had been in bed like good citizens, instead of rushed down into the bunkers because of Peeta's warning, we would have lost half the population with the first bomb.

The first night, we all stay awake for a long time, waiting for the next bomb. It doesn't come until morning. By then, I am so tired that I don't even fight it when Boggs orders me to bed and tells me that I will be taking the night shift. He wakes me up in the late afternoon to teach me to use the radiation detector and the long range scanners. I spot the next bomb ten minutes before it arrives. It is another conventional warhead.

Coin was right about one thing: Snow is not risking the total destruction of his prize.

On the second day, Plutarch wakes me up a little earlier. Coin is taking her shift at the scanners, and he keeps looking over his shoulder at her. "Can we talk?" he asks quietly.

"Sure." I sit up and rub my eyes. "What?"

"We've managed to re-establish communication with the outside. Contacted the districts -- there'll be a briefing." He looks around nervously. "I was able to reach my other contacts. One of them is Enobaria."

I frown. "Really?"

"Yeah. She's not one of us. Don't think she is. But her brother is a Peacekeeper who works as a guard in the prison. He's heard rumors about the other victors in the Capitol, and she is one of you. She looked for my other informants."

"Who do you have, Plutarch?"

"Three of my junior Gamemakers. I guess that wasn't too hard for her to figure out. Also, the surgeon who worked on Peeta's leg. Man named Galerius."

I sit up straighter. "You've heard something about Peeta, haven't you?"

"He's alive."

"I didn't think Snow would kill him. I hoped not."

"Enobaria says that he's being kept in the maximum security wing of the prison, along with Annie and Johanna. Her brother says that Annie is in fairly decent shape, but Johanna's been put through the wringer."

"Has the doctor seen him?

"Not since the bombing started," Plutarch says. "But he was called to examine the leg before the interview. The circuits have been shorted out. He wasn't able to stand."

"What else?"

Plutarch shakes his head. "Galerius wasn't given time for a full examination, but he said Peeta seemed confused. Paranoid. He was in the hospital before for some kind of injection that he had a bad reaction to. We don't know what it was."

"If they kill him -- "

"I know. You'll kill them all. I believe you."

I don't know if that was what I meant to say or not. I don't know what I would do if Peeta died right now. He's one of the few completely decent people I know. He's more subversive than I ever dreamed of being, and he doesn't even try.

Ten minutes later, Coin calls a Command briefing. She has been in touch with rebel leaders in all of the Districts. Except for Two, where the Capitol is part of a long-standing culture, everyone has redoubled the war effort.

"It seems Snow miscalculated in showing the bombing," she says. "Instead of terrifying them, it's reminded them what will happen if we lose. In District Seven, he even lost a squad of his own Peacekeepers. It appears they've been there long enough that they've gone native. They turned on their own compatriots."

"District One actually rebelled?" Beetee asks, surprised.

"We did a different sort of 'We Remember' spot there," Fulvia says. "I took footage of their young kids in interviews, then showed what they'd been turned into by the Games culture, even when they won. Gloss and Cashmere's parents wanted Snow's blood already, and they led the charge." She smiles. "It appears that their children came by their talents naturally enough."

Winnow Robinson has sailed up the coast and managed to make contact with Eleven. Their communications equipment is down, but the rebels have regained control. Six is in complete control of the transportation, and they've gotten back-up to Eight and Nine. Ten has disarmed the Peacekeepers and sent their weapons to Five. District Four is preparing to send troops to District One to help get control.

"How far are we from control in Five, Eight, and Nine?" Boggs asks.

"The fighting is still too intense for estimates," Coin says. "Seven, as well, even with the rogue Peacekeepers."

She gives us casualty numbers. These are dry, factual statements. There are a lot of numbers. Thousands dead on our side. I ask about the Capitol forces. She seems confused by the question.

A tech reports a new bomb coming in, and we brace for it. This takes out a backup generator, and we lose power for a few seconds before another one picks up. Apparently, it also takes out a poultry farm, but I can't see any evidence of it from the cameras.

Later, I see Coin and Boggs questioning Katniss's prep team, with a map of the Capitol projected in front of them. Venia is refusing to participate, but Flavius is eager to please and Octavia is actually enthusiastic. Apparently, being bombed has not endeared the Capitol to her.

The second day passes.

A bomb falls on the morning of the third day, while I'm at the monitoring station. It hits close to the justice building, and leaves some kind of whitish residue behind. We can't identify it, but it doesn't set off any of the toxicity alarms.

There are no casualties in Thirteen. The reports from the Districts are getting anxious about this. Is the Mockingjay alive? Did Snow manage to silence her?

"I wonder what they would do if we said she'd been killed," Coin muses.

"I don't think that would be a wise experiment," Boggs says. "She's unified them. Her death might galvanize them, but it also might fragment them again, and demoralize them. They love her."

Coin reluctantly agrees, and decides to wait until we've gone twenty-four hours without a bombing, then immediately establish that Katniss is alive and defiant. Fulvia gets to work writing a short line. Reports from the residential bunker don't suggest that Katniss is in any place to give an extended performance after what happened to Peeta. Beetee is tasked with re-establishing our connection to the main airwaves in Panem.

I sleep, and dream of Peeta, unable to walk, while they do something to him that shorted out the circuits in a piece of equipment designed to withstand quite a lot.

I wake up unrested the next morning to find the Command staff setting up a morning meeting. Boggs is gone, and I realize, for the first time, that the bunker door is open.

The bombing is over.

Plutarch is standing over a pot of what smells like very strong coffee, breathing it in like incense. Coin looks at it distastefully.

Boggs returns with Katniss, Gale, and Finnick in tow. Gale doesn't look any the worse for wear. Finnick looks shaken. Katniss looks like she's walking through a nightmare. Her fingers are swollen red for some reason. So are Finnick's.

I try to catch Katniss's eye, but she doesn't really seem to be registering anyone's presence.

She suits up as the Mockingjay after a brief strategy meeting, and we all go topside to film. She seems jittery and out there. I glance at Boggs and he nods. We put on a little pantomime about how much Peeta helped -- a true story, but one we're performing for her benefit -- and that seems to calm her a little bit.

Cressida decides to film at the Justice Building, to mock the supposed Capitol news reports. Even from a distance, I can see the whitish residue left by the final bomb, but it's not until we actually get there that I see what it is: Dozens upon dozens of white and pink roses. The same sort of thing that littered Caesar Flickerman's set during Katniss and Peeta's last interview after their first Games.

Katniss recognizes it immediately and falls back, gagging at the stench, but she manages to rally. Cressida tries to press her to say something defiant. Anything. No one bothers trying to get her to follow Fulvia's script. They try Q-and-A. They try word-by-word recording.

But with each take, it gets worse. She keeps glancing at the roses. Her face gets paler. Her hands are shaking.

"What's wrong with her?" Plutarch asks.

Finnick turns to him. "She's figured out how Snow's using Peeta."

I close my eyes. It never occurred to me that she hadn't known. But now, she does.

Everyone reaches out to her, but suddenly, she holds out her arms to me and whimpers, "Haymitch..."

Suddenly, everything inside me seems too large for my chest. No one has ever reached out to me like that, not even my little brother before he died. No one has ever needed me for anything other than an occasional snide comment or a handy weapon in the arena. But Katniss Everdeen -- tough, hard-edged Katniss, is reaching for me, saying my name.

I go to her and I put my arms around her, and I understand everything, everything I've ever heard people say about their children. I have been willing to kill for Katniss before, but this is a different thing. All I want to do is hold onto her and not let anything hurt her ever again. I lead her to a fallen pillar, a little bit away from everyone else, and hold her while she cries.

"I can't do this anymore," she says.

"I know."

"All I can think of is... what's he going to do to Peeta... because I'm the Mockingjay!"

"I know," I say again. It doesn't seem enough. I feel like I should be able to give her some kind of advice. But all I can say is that I understand.

"Did you see? How weird he acted? What are they... doing to him?" She bursts into fresh tears. "It's my fault!" Something between a cry and a scream comes from her, and she pitches forward, tearing at her hair. "It's my fault, they're breaking him and it's because of me, because he loved me, because I need him and he's gone and Snow's hurting him..."

I try to hold her still before she hurts herself. "Katniss..."

"I need him. I need Peeta, I can't do this. I can't keep..." She stops talking because she's hyperventilating.

"Hold her still," someone says, and then she is limp in my arms, asleep, as a needle pulls away from us.

I gather her up and carry her to the tunnel that leads back down into Thirteen. Gale helps me balance her as we go down the ladder. The elevators are back in service ten levels down, and we manage to get her to the hospital. Finnick has trailed behind us, not speaking. I think he's all right when he tucks her into her hospital bed, but then Plutarch suggests that he go back topside to do a propo alone.

Plutarch lands in a heap across the room.

I don't know who finally manages to drug him, but whoever it was might have done well in the arena.

Once he is sedated and in his bed, Boggs looks at everyone and says, "Meeting."

"I'm not leaving," I say.

"Fine. We'll have it here." He gets on his communicuff and calls for Coin and other members of Command. They arrive within minutes.

"What has happened?" Coin asks, looking furiously at Katniss and Finnick. "Was there an attack on the surface?"

Boggs quickly explains the situation. "There's no way she can keep performing," he finishes. "Odair, either."

"She made a promise," Coin hisses. "She was given --"

I grab her shoulders and push her down into a chair. "You listen to me," I say. "This girl has done everything you could ask for, and more. And the boy -- the man -- she loves is paying for it in the Capitol. And what did he do? He saved half of your damned district, lady. You want your mockingjay back? You recover Peeta Mellark. It's not about a trade-off of services anymore. She's going to fall apart without him."

Coin squares her shoulders. "A mission to the Capitol is not a minor matter -- "

"It can be done," Boggs says. "I've been talking to Cressida and Messalla, and the cameraman -- well, the one who's not an Avox. They know exactly where the high security prison wing is. We can get Peeta Mellark and Annie Cresta. Plutarch? We have a Peacekeeper, don't we?"

"We have more than one," Plutarch says. "And two of my junior Gamemakers have been doing their studies in security. They have to know it to keep the arena secure. They'll be able to help with the break-in. We also have a doctor."

"That's a lot of covers blown," Coin says. "We're not ready for a full scale assault."

"It's not an assault," Boggs says. "It's just an extraction. We get the prisoners out. A small strike team would do it."

"I volunteer," Gale says. He is holding Katniss's hand. He looks up fiercely. "I volunteer, and if you don't send the rest of the team, I'll go alone."

"That's hardly necessary," Coin says coolly. "Very well. A strike team and an extraction of Peeta Mellark and Annie Cresta." She stands up. "And since we were unable to get usable footage this morning, Beetee, see to it that the strike team is wired for video. We'll watch it here, and when they get back, we'll show them infiltrating the deepest part of the Capitol."

"They'll retaliate against all the prisoners they have left," I say. "Peeta's preps. Portia. Effie Trinket. Caesar Flickerman. And Johanna Mason. I have no idea what they'll do to Johanna."

"We do not have the resources to save everyone," Coin says. "I wish we did."

I somehow doubt that. She may not wish them any ill, but I don't think she cares in the least if any of them die, as long as she can get Katniss back to her performance.

"We can't order anyone into this," Boggs says. "I want volunteers."

"I volunteer," I say.

Boggs shakes his head. "Sorry, Haymitch. But you haven't had any training that works for a coordinated strike team."

"I've survived the arena."

"This isn't the arena, and you can't get out of it by outsmarting it. You'll stay here. Help in Command, just like you would for Katniss's mockingjay shoots." He looks at me with something approaching respect. "And I think Katniss will need you here when she wakes up. I don't think anyone else will be able to get across to her what's happening. And remember -- Gale will be in the thick of it as well."

This is the end of the meeting. Boggs and Gale go off to recruit more volunteers, and Beetee to set up their video equipment. Coin goes off to whatever she means to do. Plutarch sits with me for a while. "I'll run the op," he says. "I'm breaking my contacts' covers. I know they'll go along with it."

"What about the rest?" I ask. "Effie. Portia. Caesar."

Plutarch looks over his shoulder. "Once they're in the Capitol, I'm sure... let's say, that opportunities may present themselves. I'm sure no one would object if part of the team did find a way to get into the minimum security wing for Effie and Portia and the preps while the other part went to maximum for Peeta and Annie. And Johanna, who is also there."

"They'll mind."

"All right, yes. But they won't be able to do a thing about it."

He gives me an earpiece, just like the one I lectured Katniss about, and leaves for Command. I sit between Katniss and Finnick, waiting for them to come back to life.
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Comments
dragonzair From: dragonzair Date: April 14th, 2013 07:42 am (UTC) (Link)
There's a bit that confused me- "Plutarch lands in a heap across the room." Did you mean Finnick?

Other than that, holy crap. This had me on the edge off my seat!
snorkackcatcher From: snorkackcatcher Date: April 14th, 2013 11:03 am (UTC) (Link)
Finnick loses it completely, throws Plutarch across the room, and has to be sedated, I think. I'll admit that confused me on first reading too!

Great stuff as usual. Especially loved this:

Suddenly, everything inside me seems too large for my chest. No one has ever reached out to me like that, not even my little brother before he died. No one has ever needed me for anything other than an occasional snide comment or a handy weapon in the arena. But Katniss Everdeen -- tough, hard-edged Katniss, is reaching for me, saying my name.
dragonzair From: dragonzair Date: April 14th, 2013 03:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oooh, gotcha! I haven't read the book in a while now!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 14th, 2013 06:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
For Katniss, that move seemed natural, because Haymitch is the only other person there who really loves Peeta (the others barely know him, if they know him at all). But for Haymitch, who's been isolated and bitter and alone for so long, it had to mean a lot more.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 14th, 2013 06:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks! snorkackcatcher got the Plutarch thing, but I'll see what I can do about clearing it up.
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 14th, 2013 05:57 pm (UTC) (Link)

So happy to read these

I admit I wanted to find out what else you'd written after reading this story (and your others) on ff.net, so I googled your name and now I'm overjoyed to see chapters earlier than they're posted on fanfiction. (Although I always re-read them there.) I really loved your HG and Catching Fire fics, especially the chapters that completely omitted Katniss's perspective. She's such an unreliable narrator with a really limited POV, so it's good to hear from a voice like Haymitch's, since he--weirdly--has so much more emotional depth, not to mention an actual active part in the rebellion. As a reader it irritates me when characters make the exact same observations as Katniss does in the book, since really what are the odds?

I *loved* your OC victor/mentor characters, as well as learning more about Peeta's family. I'm interested in Winnow too. I hope you'll continue to staff this fic with plenty of OC characters and actions that aren't in any way affected by Katniss's POV. That's what made the other fics so interesting to me :)

Thanks for writing!!
Kate
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 14th, 2013 06:30 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: So happy to read these

I picked Haymitch instead of Peeta (my original MJ choice) specifically because he's not in as many canon scenes -- it's a chance to look at everything else happening. Right now, the plan is for Part Three to be entirely in the Capitol, after Coin's death, which only takes up one chapter of MJ, so I think there's plenty of room for OCs and new stuff there. :D

Katniss is a very realistic seventeen-year-old, with strong focus on, well, herself. That's developmentally appropriate. But Haymitch gets a bit of a wider view of things, and his life has been so odd and isolated that he gets to experience life as a connected human being almost for the first time.
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 14th, 2013 07:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
Good for Gale! You're winning me over to him. And to Plutarch.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 14th, 2013 08:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think Gale has very serious flaws, but he does try to be a good friend to Katniss, even after he starts to realize that she's not faking being in love with Peeta. He's a kid, and he tries to fight it, but he doesn't get weirdly possessive or threaten Peeta (except when Peeta himself thinks he ought to die). And when he viscerally understands the consequences of his snare idea, he doesn't shrug it off. He's very clearly horrified by what happened with the parachutes. That says a lot of good things about him.

As to Plutarch? There's a sort of person who is socially inept in every way, but when hit in the face by reality, can actually adjust to it and accept it.
shortysc22 From: shortysc22 Date: April 15th, 2013 12:50 am (UTC) (Link)
Loved this chapter and as always I can't wait to see how Haymitch will react when he sees how Johanna, Peeta, and Annie really are.
chickwith_stick From: chickwith_stick Date: April 27th, 2013 07:34 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm a longtime lurker, but I had to comment because this chapter included one of my favorite scenes in cannon. I love how stunned Haymitch is that Katniss is reaching out to him. Moreover, I love how much depth you have given this character, who was already my favorite from the start.

On another note entirely, because I can't come to your journal without thinking about it: I just did my fourth read of Shifts. Oh, how I love it so! I wanted to do an entire reread of your verse, but the Teddy stories make me so bittersweet when I read them back to back with Shades/Shifts. I don't think I've ever commented before telling you how much I adore your Remus, and how I basically believe that your Tonks is cannon. And since I've been reading your fic off and on for 5 years, I'm beyond overdue.

Thank you for sharing your lovely, lovely writing. Of course, you have spoiled me and I can't read any other Remus/Tonks fics now. ;)

Sorry this comment is so incredibly long and all over the place. I probably should have posted my HP thoughts on another post, but I got carried away.
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