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HG: The Narrow Path, Chapter Twenty-Six - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: The Narrow Path, Chapter Twenty-Six
Haymitch has been drinking a lot since returning to District Twelve. He is surprised to wake up one afternoon and find Peeta baking bread in his kitchen.


Chapter Twenty-Six
I just stand in the kitchen door for a long time. I haven't thought of Peeta since I left the Capitol, or if I have, I don't remember it. Just one more face lost out there in the world, while I'm exiled back in Twelve.

But here he is again. His eyebrows have grown back in and he's wearing his bangs a little longer, probably to hide the slight discoloration of the skin graft on his forehead. He has some red pockmarks on his cheeks, and a large shiny patch on the back of his neck. He's thin and tired-looking.

But he's Peeta.

"When did they let you come back?" I ask.

"I got in this morning," he says. "I think I scared Katniss. I brought some primroses to plant by her house. She came out. She looked pretty bad when she came out. What have you been doing here?" He looks around. "Never mind. You've been drinking. What's Katniss been doing? It doesn't look like she's been cleaning up or brushing her hair."

"She sleeps a lot," I say.

"And you couldn't comb her hair, if she wasn't doing it?"

"I didn't think about her hair." I hear part of what he said for the first time. "Wait... she came out?"

"She hasn't been out?"

"Peeta, she's been..." But there aren't handy words for how Katniss has been.

He puts his hand to his head. "I thought she'd been getting better this whole time. Why hasn't she been getting better?"

I look out my window, more to distract myself than to really see anything, but what I see is a girl, walking toward the square, her dark braid falling down along her father's hunting jacket, a bow held casually in one hand. She's moving stiffly, but then, she hasn't moved for a while.

"What is it?" Peeta asks.

"I think she was waiting for you to come back," I say, and point.

He reaches the window as Katniss disappears down the trail to the town. "She changed," he says.

I nod. "Are you going with her?"

"No. She's hunting. It's not something she'd be doing if she wanted me there." He looks around. "Let's get you dug out of this mess."

He starts the work, but won't do it alone. I am directed to pick things up, put them away where I want them. We clean the refrigerator. We try to fix up the rugs. Behind the couch, we find the ruins of the painting he did for me, which I never even looked for. I assumed Plutarch had disposed of it.

"I didn't do that," I say. "Plutarch found it. The Capitol did it."

"I figured," he says, and shoves it into the trash bin without much thought. "I'll make you a new one."

"You will?"

"Yeah. Maybe with all three of us."

"I'd like that," I say.

We keep talking while we clean up. He has been working hard with Dr. Aurelius in the Capitol. The real reason he wasn't allowed to come back was that he was supposed to figure out who he was without defining himself by his relationship to Katniss. "Supposedly, it'll help keep those false memories under control if they're not -- you know, the most important thing in the world." He says he has at least convinced Aurelius that he's fully self-sufficient. He even lived alone in an apartment in the Capitol.

"You lived alone here for ages," I say.

"I know. But that was before my little visits with Snow." He reaches behind the stove and wipes some kind of unidentifiable glop off the wall. "Aurelius wanted me to date."

"Did you?"

"No. Maybe, if it turns out that Katniss and I can't fit things together, I will. I spent a lot of time talking to Aurelius about that. About how confusing it was, even before Snow started doing things to my head." He bites his lip. "Haymitch, do you know... I remember, on the train... But I don't remember if..."

Telling that there wasn't much he could have been doing in the train other than holding onto her for dear life is a little awkward, but he actually seems relieved. I guess that's a memory that he wouldn't have wanted anyone to tamper with, if it had been real.

At any rate, he managed to collect up some art supplies and start painting again, and spent a few weeks working for a baker in the mercantile district. He wants to open a bakery here again, eventually, especially with all the people who will be coming in soon. He won't charge more than they can stand to pay, though, since the price of ingredients isn't artificially inflated any more. "I can buy flour straight from Nine," he says. "It won't have to go through the Capitol and pick up half a dozen more taxes."

"Nine's behaving itself?"

"Sort of. Sometimes. But they're happy enough to get trade going again. They've gotten a handle on the worst ones, so normal people will do business with them." A shadow crosses his face for a moment, but he gets back on point. "And I can get sugar straight from Eleven. I was talking to Mr. McKissack before the Assembly broke up for the term. He says they might be able to grow actual sugarcane, instead of just sugar beets, if they can get to the islands and get the plants. Now that they can work with the sailors in Four, it's possible. Also, they're going to try some different kinds of fruits. And in Four, they're going to try growing pomegranates, to diversify what they're doing a little bit. I've never had one. And do you know, out in Two, they don't get real maple syrup? I wonder if we could start a second industry out here..."

He seems genuinely excited about these developments, and talks happily about increased access to different ingredients for most of the afternoon. I'm no more interested in baking talk from Peeta than I ever was from Dannel, but I'm glad to see him invested in something. He seems to have spent his time in the Capitol making social and business connections with half the districts as much as he has in therapy. Or maybe it was part of his therapy; I don't know. I've never been in therapy.

We are deep in a conversation about grapes, which are supposedly running wild in the out-districts between Twelve and Thirteen, when Peeta suddenly stops talking and holds up one hand. He goes to the kitchen window, which he's opened to let in the cool spring breeze while we work, and leans toward the screen. "Haymitch, do you hear that?"

I straighten up and go join him. I hear it.

Katniss.

Her windows are apparently open, too, because I can hear her screaming at the top of her lungs. "She's not coming back! She's never ever coming back here again! She's dead!"

Peeta puts his sponge into the bucket and runs out. I follow him.

By the time we get to Katniss's door, all we can hear is a kind of weak keening. Most of the people from the building crews are in town on Thom's burial detail, but the few who aren't are looking curiously out from their doors.

"Leave her alone!" I call to them. "We'll take care of her."

They duck back in. Peeta knocks on the door and calls, "Katniss?"

The keening stops. There's no answer.

He opens the door, and I follow him in. Katniss is collapsed on the living room floor, holding a pillow against her belly. Beside her, looking up imploringly and meowing at the top of his lungs, is the yellow cat whose life she blackmailed District Thirteen for.

"Buttercup," Peeta says. "When did you get him back?"

"I didn't," I tell him. "This is the first I've seen of him. You didn't bring him either, I guess?"

"No." He reaches out. "He looks pretty battered."

Buttercup swipes at him with a claw. Maybe this should have served as a warning, but I ignore it, or figure that he just thought Peeta was out to hurt him. I reach down to scoop Katniss up off the floor.

Buttercup jumps on my back, hissing and digging through my shirt, biting at me, trying to pull me away from her. I shout a few words that would not go over well on national television.

"Stay still," Peeta says. I see his feet enter my field of vision as the demon cat continues its attack, then he says, "It's okay, Buttercup. We're here to help Katniss. You can let go. We've got her."

"I'm sure it understands you," I say.

"He understands me fine," Peeta says, then, with a yank, the cat is off my back and in Peeta's arms. It's not very happy to be there and keeps reaching for Katniss, but it can't do much about the situation.

I pick Katniss up off the floor and carry her to her room, get her tucked in. Peeta sets Buttercup down beside her. Buttercup promptly starts pacing up and down her body, like a bouncer at an especially pompous Capitol nightclub.

"Weird that he came back the same day you did," I say.

"Yeah. Maybe he was out in the woods all this time, and he saw Katniss there. Followed her home." He reaches out carefully and pets Buttercup's head. "You look after her," he says, then reaches over and strokes Katniss's forehead. He leans over and kisses her cheek (this gets a nasty look from Buttercup, but the claws are kept in. "Stay with me," he whispers.

Her mouth moves, but all I can really hear is a long "s" sound.

We leave her and go downstairs. "She'll be all right," Peeta says.

"She's woken up a few times before..."

"Yeah, but..."

"But you're here now?" I grin.

"Partly," he says. "But I don't give myself that much credit. You know when Aurelius really let me come home?"

"When?"

"When I told him who was in the cell with me in the Capitol."

I frown. "What?"

"Snow brought my family's bodies. They were in there with me. And Brutus's."

"Peeta..."

"I didn't say anything about it. I couldn't think about it. But I finally said it. I finally told him about looking at my niece's body. My brothers. My parents. Not that there was much of my parents and Ed left." He shudders. "That really happened. He helped me find where the bodies were stashed in cold storage. I guess Snow figured he might be able to use them again. I sent Brutus back to Two. Gale's taking care of him. And my family is on the way here. They'll be buried with everyone else."

"Peeta, I'm so sorry."

"Yeah." He looks up the stairs toward Katniss's room. "I think that was what happened this morning. She said Prim was dead. She told the cat. That was who she was yelling to."

"You think she didn't know?"

"Not exactly. I knew my family was dead. I even knew that they'd been in there with me. But I never said it. I couldn't find words. It was caught between real and not real. Once you know something is real, once you say it, it's different. You can find some place for it to fit and move on." He's quiet for a long time, then says, firmly but without any fanfare, "I still love Katniss." He smiles. "See? I wasn't sure about that. But it's still there. It's still real."

I'm not sure how to answer that, so I say, "Should we stay until she wakes up?"

He thinks about it. "She'll be all right. Those guys up in House Six invited me over for dinner. Picnic. Let's go."

"You go ahead. I'll -- "

"No. You won't." He frowns. "The drinking's done, Haymitch. I promised Effie before I left. Mrs. Everdeen says we'll need to get you off of it slowly, so tomorrow, we're progressively watering down what's left."

"Why is this your business?"

"Because you didn't even comb her hair. How could you not even comb her hair?"

I feel my cheeks go red. "I don't need you playing booze police."

"Yes, you do." He rolls his eyes. "Come on, Haymitch. You know you've gone off the ledge. And you haven't talked to anyone!"

"I never talked to them before, either."

"And it did you so much good."

So we end up going to the far side of the green, to one of the houses that was empty before. None of them are now. I didn't notice them filling up over the last month or so. The people in House Six have a fire pit in the back yard, and they're grilling some fresh-caught birds. There's a new shipment in. It came on the same train as Peeta. They've sent collapsible housing to put up until we get real houses built. That will be tomorrow's project. Everyone is singing and dancing and eating. Many are drinking as much as I ever did, but no one passes me anything. It's District Twelve -- they're not going to make a production of it, but apparently, they've decided they don't need a town drunk.

I dance for a while with Delly, then with Lizzabee Leggett. Everyone is full of plans, even the ones who are covered with the ashes of their neighbors and the mud of their graves.

The next day, Peeta spends the morning with Katniss (and, he tells me, Buttercup), then he comes over and searches my house for liquor bottles empty and full. He makes me help him water them, starting with a quarter, then a half, then three quarters, and then it might as well be water. We line up the bottles. There are forty. Peeta arranges them from strongest to weakest, then gives me a letter from Ruth Everdeen, with instructions on how to dry out safely, and a lecture about how I was supposed to be taking care of Katniss. I am tempted to respond that at least I was here to check on her while she was sleeping and hire Sae, but I don't.

A crew of farmers from Eleven shows up later that week to show us how to plant and tend our brand new farms. We will be growing potatoes and radishes and corn and tomatoes, for the most part, nothing that will need a lot of processing. Along with the large tracts of farmland on what was once the Seam, most people plan to have individual gardens. Some people plan to keep chickens, and Dalton's older son, Marsena, has decided to relocate. He finds some clear land near the lake and means to raise dairy cows. Peeta plans his bakery, though it will be a while before the town can support it. Katniss is still struggling to find herself at all. I walk out into the woods with her one day and she finds a nest of geese. I decide to raise them. Everyone else seems to be raising something. I always liked watching geese fly.

"You do know they're to eat, right?" she asks while we set up something like a henhouse for them.

I have one of the goslings in my hand, and I pull it away from her. "Don't listen to her," I say. "You guys are here for eggs. And maybe some feathers."

She laughs at me. It's a good laugh. Not as strong as it might have been once -- not that she ever laughed a lot -- but real.

The modular, temporary housing starts to disappear as people build real houses. There are now four hundred odd of us here. House building is a community thing. There's a lot of assistance for the supplies, but the building is all done by our own hands. Most of the houses look quite a bit alike. Peeta has asked Beetee for books on wiring, and is getting very good at it. Delly does plumbing. Katniss is not quite engaged enough to be involved, but I've seen her watching it all with some interest. For myself, I've gotten good at floors. None of these new houses are as luxurious as the ones in the Victors' Village, but people want them more than they want to stay out there in Capitol-built ease, albeit increasingly crowded ease.

May arrives, and Katniss turns eighteen. I get a letter informing me that she no longer needs a guardian. I throw it out. Peeta turns eighteen a few weeks later.

The liquor starts to run out, even the heavily watered stuff. I keep talking to Effie on the phone. I tell her about my geese. I've named the biggest gosling Plutarch, because he struts around importantly and makes a lot of noise, but otherwise doesn't do much. It's late May when Katniss comes up with the idea to make a book of memories. Peeta is as devoted to the project as she is. I watch them work together, crying over the dead as they memorialize them. Katniss seems to get stronger with every page. They want me to be part of it, but I'm not them. I never let myself get close to any of the dead, other than Finnick, and they have done a very beautiful page for him already.

It is the beginning of June when Effie comes to District Twelve, and I realize with a start that it's Reaping Day. No one is in the square. No one except Effie even notices. She has brought the Reaping Balls.

I stare at them in shock. "Effie, what the hell are those things doing here?"

She drags a heavy box into my house. In it, there is a sledgehammer.

I call Katniss and Peeta, and the three of us take the Reaping Balls into the center of what was once the Square and smash them into pieces no bigger than marbles. Thom orders the pieces cleaned up and buried under a memorial to the tributes of District Twelve.

I ask Effie to say for the night. She doesn't. She has a train to catch. She asks if I'll come with her, since the kids seem to be fine and are now legally adults. I can't.

I stay up and drink watered-down whiskey from my last bottle. It doesn't do any good.

I look out at the green, at the children playing happily on Reaping night, none of them missing.

I go to a closet in the back of an unused room. There is a safe at the back. I don't know what I was supposed to use it for, but it's only had one real purpose. I open it and pull out a stack of photographs, kids dressed as miners, kids dressed in ridiculous finery on Caesar's stage, kids in their official Games' shots, the ones flashed on television with their scores, and of course, when they died. I spend the night looking at them. Remembering them.

I take them over to Katniss's place the next day and put the stack down beside their book. They both look at me curiously.

I take the first two. "The girl is Ginger McCullough," I say. "She was fifteen. All the way to the Capitol, she tried to calm herself down by singing commercials she'd been hearing. The boy was Elmer Parton. He was always the best in his math class. We all knew each other before I was Reaped."

Katniss takes the pictures and affixes them to a sheet of parchment without saying anything. She writes down what I've said. I tell them about Bessie Park and Stuie Chalfant, who were cousins -- real ones -- and tried to help each other out during training, but were lost before they could reach each other at the Cornucopia bloodbath. Mickey McKinley, so sure he could win, dead on the second day. Violet Breen, who sewed my shirt the night before she died. She was seventeen and I was all of nineteen, and I'd taken her on a few dates the winter before she was Reaped. It never went anywhere, and I have nearly forgotten about it over the years, but it happened. It was real, as Peeta would put it.

Ettis Carroll and Patsy Darby. Cora Gallentine, who only wanted to win so she could show her talent for dancing (Cornucopia; most of them died at the Cornucopia). Nemiah Blythe, who made it further than anyone else before Katniss and Peeta, finishing in fifth place only because of a landslide. Trill Morrison and Babra Kennedy, the tributes I had the year after my old escort retired and a silly seventeen-year-old girl who was still trying to bill herself as Euphemia Trinket came on board. Trill spent most of his training time teasing Effie something awful, but she was determined that her job was to make them as comfortable and happy as possible in the last days before the Games. It was a big change from Ausonius Glass, who had been the District Twelve escort since escorts were first assigned. He thought his job was to remind tributes why they were about to die and tell them that they deserved to.

There are forty-six names. I got to know some better than others, but I can think of something about all of them. I remember Treeza Murphy, a thirteen-year-old merchant girl who was my tribute in Finnick's year. She was all a-flutter about him during training. (So were most of the other girls, including ones who were considerably older than he was.) At least he didn't kill Treeza. Like most of my tributes, she didn't listen about the Cornucopia -- or maybe believed she was the exception to the rule -- and was dead long before Finnick's trident arrived. The same couldn't be said for the other tribute, Chicory King. Finnick got him in a net trap. I'm pretty sure all of Finnick's nightmares involved children trapped in nets.

By the time we get to people like Forest Collett and Plonia Fisher and Teasel Hughes and Marigold Smore, Peeta, at least, knows them as well as I ever did, and is able to give memories of them from school. Even Katniss, a loner long before the Games, manages to stir up memories of Goldie, who she had classes with. They cry. I don't. If I start crying about my tributes, I will be breaking into someone's house to find booze.

Katniss still sleeps more than she should, and she is tired when we finish, so Peeta leaves with me. It's a nice, warm late afternoon, and neither of us especially feels like going inside. My geese spot us and run out to the green, and we sit down on a bench and start tossing them some day old bread that Peeta's taken to carrying around for them. ("The geese eat better than I used to," he mutters.)

We talk a little bit about the book, and the re-building, and what we've heard about the impending arrival of Finnick and Annie's child, which is due next month. Peeta tells me that he's finished my painting of the three of us, then, out of nowhere, says, "What are you doing here, Haymitch?"

"I live here."

"You should go home."

"Don't know if you noticed, but I actually am from District Twelve."

"But Effie's there."

I shake my head. "No. You're reading things into that. They aren't there. They aren't real, if you like that better. Effie and I left each other with no fuss."

"You were happy in the Capitol. Everything was a mess, but you were happy with her."

"I'm not in love with Effie."

"Why would you say that?"

"It's... it's a thing that happened, Peeta. And yeah, I was happy. I admit that. But it's just... it's just Effie and me. We help each other out when we're not ready to kill each other."

"What are you waiting for?" he asks, dumbfounded.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, are you waiting for Caesar's orchestra to play something dramatic? Do you need a close up shot of her looking shocked, that experts will analyze all over Panem?"

"Hey..."

"Seriously, Haymitch, what are you waiting for? You were happy. And the whole narrative thing? It's crap. Trust me, I know. I made it up from whole cloth. The real stuff is what happens when the drama stops."

"You want me to leave?"

"Not permanently," he says. "I told you a long time ago. Katniss and I love you a lot. We're always going to want you around when you can be. But I think you should be where you need to be."

I grab a hunk of bread and toss it to Plutarch the gosling. He runs off after it. "Yeah," I say. "Thanks for the advice, but you're not the mentor around here."

We talk about other things for a while, until Delly's brother Sam (and his friend, Leevy Cooley's brother) grab Peeta to go toss a ball around with them. I watch for a few minutes, then go back to my place. Call Effie. She's not home, since it's still the middle of the afternoon in the Capitol, but she calls back that night. We talk for a long time. I tell her about Katniss's memory book, and about adding all the tributes. She asks if I can have Katniss add a line about how Ronka Blaney -- the girl in the Sixty-Sixth Games -- wanted to try on all of her wigs. I tell her that I'll see if Katniss has room for it on the page. I think she'll probably make room. It's the sort of thing she wants in that book, the sort of thing that the history books never remember.

"Are you all right?" she asks.

"Yeah," I say. It's on the tip of my tongue to ask her about going back. I even know how I mean to bridge to it -- Say, speaking of having room, I wonder if you still have room for me? -- but I never do it. I just ask her about how things are going in the Capitol, with all the re-building. Things are, apparently, going fine.

I get a call from Johanna a week later. Plutarch has decided to make the destruction of the arenas a filmed event. She and Gale are heading up the demolition team ("Tell me that's not an appropriate use of talents"), and she wants me to join them. Enobaria may come along for some demolitions, but Beetee doesn't travel well at any time, and Annie is "as big as a house" and will be occupied with a baby very soon. Katniss is still not cleared to leave District Twelve and Peeta certainly won't go on an extended trip without her. Jo wants another victor/mentor around.

I pack my things. Leave on the next train with Thom Lewiston, who's going back to the Capitol for the second legislative session.

Effie meets me at the Capitol station.
15 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 26th, 2013 07:33 pm (UTC) (Link)

Very Nice

That's all that needs to be said.

Sara Libby
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 26th, 2013 08:51 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Very Nice

Thanks.
mirandabeth From: mirandabeth Date: May 26th, 2013 09:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
You just made me sob uncontrollably. That was amazing.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 27th, 2013 02:51 am (UTC) (Link)
Glad you liked(?) it!
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 27th, 2013 12:20 am (UTC) (Link)
The worst thing about this story is how incredibly sad I'm going to be when it's over.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 27th, 2013 02:51 am (UTC) (Link)
Well... hopefully it will end on a nice note?
dragonzair From: dragonzair Date: May 27th, 2013 03:49 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh,Fern!I DON'T KNOW WHAT MY FEELINGS ARE DOING.

Haymitch only being able to function when he has someone to take care of. It's almost like he feels Effie doesn't need him, every time she says it's 'fine'. Then going to Jo the moment she says she needs him.

And the memory book, oh gawd.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 27th, 2013 04:31 am (UTC) (Link)
I think that's exactly it about Haymitch. I was reading something earlier about how it's not realistic that Haymitch could control his drinking during the first games, but I disagree (to some extent) -- when he has people who need him to do it, he can put his hand over the glass and not start. He may be physically addicted to booze, but what he really joneses for is being needed, and yup, as soon as Jo says the magic words, he's off. It's way more useful than Peeta's speech about how he has a right to be happy.
valerie_valerah From: valerie_valerah Date: May 27th, 2013 06:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
Finally something happy and hopeful :). I love this, Fern, thank you!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 27th, 2013 08:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
It feels good for things to be looking up again.
dragonzair From: dragonzair Date: May 28th, 2013 12:07 am (UTC) (Link)
omg, Fern, I just saw the Star-Crossed appendix you added to The Golden Mean!
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 28th, 2013 12:13 am (UTC) (Link)
Can you post a link to it?

Sara Libby
dragonzair From: dragonzair Date: May 28th, 2013 12:30 am (UTC) (Link)
http://archiveofourown.org/works/687937/chapters/1553714

I love it! Pearl playing Effie in her school production is hilarioussss.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 28th, 2013 12:40 am (UTC) (Link)
I did that here on the blog a while ago and just decided it would be fun to toss onto AO3, too.
shortysc22 From: shortysc22 Date: May 28th, 2013 01:29 am (UTC) (Link)
Once again another great chapter. I liked Peeta's explanation of why he was finally let back in tow Distrcit 12 and how excited he got over the prospect of being able to order directly from the supplier for baked goods. Loved the destruction of the Reaping Balls by Katniss, Peeta, Effie and Haymitch.

I'm also happy to see Haymitch going back to Effie and I can't wait how that will turn out. Loved Johanna's description of everyone at the end of the chapter.
15 comments or Leave a comment