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Repost: The Narrow Path, Chapter 14 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
Repost: The Narrow Path, Chapter 14
A little tweaking to get Danny and Miri's backstory into line, plus some added stuff at the wedding (since Haymitch ended up much closer to Finnick and Johanna than I'd originally thought) and more fixes of the canon-glosses.

Chapter Fourteen
The wedding goes off without a hitch. Even I get a little misty when they wrap the net around Finnick and Annie. In a normal district, this would be when they break out the wine, but of course, in District Thirteen, it's prohibited. It's the first time I've seen a lot of the survivors from Twelve all in one place since they got off the hovercrafts, and even without wine, they seem a little drunk on the whole thing. No one is dressed up other than the bride and groom. This bothers Plutarch, but it's perfectly normal for District Twelve. Everyone is cleaned up and combed, and Prim Everdeen has braided autumn leaves into her hair.

Greasy Sae drags Gale out to dance, and soon everyone is dancing with abandon, including me. I haven't danced in a circle since before my Games, but the steps come back all right as I dance between Lizzabee Leggett and Posy Hawthorne. Delly dances a reel with Rory, and I dance with her for a second round of it. The falling autumn leaves twirl among the dancers, and Cressida raves about the visuals. "If the Capitol weren't about to fall," she says, "I think there'd be a rage for leaves at every wedding next year."

"Even if it does fall, people will still be getting married," I point out. "The world's ended a few times without changing that."

She smiles indulgently at my quaint ideas, then goes back into the crowd and joins a group of young people from Thirteen, all of them looking a little awkward as refugees from Twelve try to teach them steps to a dance they are completely unfamiliar with.

Johanna is standing at the sidelines, watching Katniss dance with Prim. Her eyes look sunken and far away. She's still too thin, too sickly. She looks a great deal like the girl she was when she first came to the Capitol, sick and weepy.

I go over to her. "Would you like to dance?"

She raises her eyebrows, surprised. "You dance?"

"I've been dancing, if you haven't noticed."

"I don't know the steps. Besides, I still kind of hurt."

"How about a slow one, then?" another voice says, and I look up to see Finnick weaving through the crowd.

"Shouldn't you be dancing with your wife?" Jo asks.

"She's dancing with Mrs. Everdeen right now."

"Dance with Haymitch," Jo says, pointing her chin at me. "Turns out he dances. Who knew?"

"I knew," Finnick tells her. "There was dancing when my Victory Tour went through Twelve. Come on, I want to dance with my family." He puts one arm over my shoulder, and the other over Jo's, and he leads us in a pretty gentle version of a circle dance. Jo still winces after a couple of minutes, so he stops. He doesn't let us let go of each other. "I love you both," he says, leaning into our little huddle. "I just… that's why I really came over. To say that. I'm glad you danced at my wedding."

"Sap," Jo says.

"It's Finnick," I say. "What do you expect?"

He knocks our heads gently together, then goes back to Annie, who is looking over the crowd for him.

When Peeta's cake comes out, wheeled by four people on as fancy a trolley as they could find, I see Katniss push through the crowd to get a look at it, her eyes huge and awed. I'm sure Plutarch will find a way to work this into the propo. I hope he does, anyway, and I hope Snow is forced to watch it several times.

It seems like the right time to tell her about Peeta, so I go to her. I put my hand on her shoulder, and feel her trembling. She doesn't seem to have any idea what to say.

"Let's you and me have a talk," I say, and lead her out into the hall, where there are no cameras.

She blinks owlishly and looks back at the cake. "What's happening to him?"

I tell her a much as I can. All put together, it sounds almost hopeful, though she's a little worried that we've been giving him free rein. I promise her that we haven't. "But I've talked to him," I tell her.

"Face to face? And he didn't go nuts?" She bites her lip. I can see her fighting against hope, trying to force cynicism, but not succeeding.

"No," I tell her. "Pretty angry with me, but for all the right reasons. Not telling him about the rebel plot and whatnot."

She shivers, and I put my hand back on her shoulder. Her breathing is quick and shallow, and I'm not sure it's time to pass along Peeta's message. He could snap at any moment.

But I've spent enough time lying to both of them, and hiding things from them. I squeeze her shoulder and say, "He says he'd like to see you."

She sways a little bit, like she's been hit with a heavy object, and I guide her to a seat. She can't seem to talk.

"Can you do it?" I ask.

She looks up at me and nods silently.

I don't think she's ready to go just yet -- she needs time to get used to the idea -- so it's kind of a relief when Cressida asks her to go in and dance a little more. Katniss starts to lead me out, kind of absently -- I don't think she's even thinking about it -- but Cressida pushes me back a little bit.

"What's that about?" I ask as Katniss joins the circle, dancing between Gale's two brothers.

"Snow would love to have something he could spin as you being inappropriate with Katniss. His propagandists have been trying that narrative."

I roll my eyes. "People are sick."

"Yeah. But let's not give them visuals to play with."

I nod, and go back to the reception. I get a dance with Annie, who is radiant, and I spend a while talking to Dalton, who's getting a little maudlin about his own wife, and says he wants a drink. I talk him out of it, not that there was any chance of him getting one, anyway.

Finally, just before midnight, I head down to the hospital to get Peeta ready for the visit. Katniss will come down as soon as Annie has, for some reason, tossed a bouquet of flowers.

If Katniss seemed nervous, Peeta seems terrified, even though it was his idea. He instructs the techs to restrain him as well as they can, and asks if they have a way to control him if he flies off the handle. They decide on a remote-controlled dose of a tranquilizer, and give him a mild dose just to calm him down.

"Are you sure you're okay with this?" I ask him.

He bites his lip and nods. "She's just a girl, right?"

"She was always more than that to you. But yes, she's just a girl."

He nods, his eyes starting to get a little wild. "I dreamed about her today. She was in the rain. I know what she was talking about in the cave."

I have only the vaguest idea what this means, but it doesn't include the word "mutt," which is good. "She was glad to see your cake."

"Do you think she'll be glad to see me? After..." He flexes his hands like he's squeezing her throat. "You know."

I think that glad isn't the right word, but I don't say so. I think she's scared to see him -- not of what he'll do, but of what she'll feel. I don't think Peeta can process that right now, though, so I just say, "Sure. You should have seen her face when she realized you were well enough to frost a cake. It was like you were -- " I stop.

"Like I was what?"

I was going to say, Back from the dead, but I can see that Peeta is not in shape to hear that she's been acting bereaved, or that she might respond to him like he's a ghost come to haunt her. I say, "Like you were right there with her again."

Peeta frowns at me. "That's a lie, Haymitch. Why are you lying to me again?"

I sigh and tell a little more of the truth. "I think she was surprised to hear that you wanted to see her. In shock, maybe."

"Gave up on me, did she?"

"Peeta, you tried to kill her." I look at him carefully. Everything about him is coiled up tight, like he's preparing to take a huge leap. "Are you ready for this?" I ask him again. "Really ready?"

He nods tightly. "I won't hurt her."

I have heard Peeta tell a lot of lies, but this one proves to be the only hurtful one.

Katniss arrives a few minutes later and I give her the earpiece from her costume, in case I discover something that I should have told her before going in. To my annoyance, Peeta's medical crew has gathered in the observation room, even though there's no medical value to this. I try to ignore them while I set up behind the one-way mirror and think, disjointedly, that there's no purpose to hiding. Peeta knows we're here. It may as well be a two-way window.

Things go wrong before either of the kids speaks. I know it's going wrong -- Peeta is clenching his fists against the restraints, and Katniss has hidden herself behind wrapped arms, looking like she's trying to fold herself into nothing.

They look at each other and manage a mutual, artificially casual, "Hey."

"Haymitch said you wanted to talk to me," Katniss says.

"Look at you, for starters."

Katniss glances at the mirror helplessly, and I try to think of something that she could say or do, but I'm as stumped as I was when he attacked her. Peeta's been better lately. I realize that I've been lying to myself, trying for a bleak, cynical detachment. But it hasn't been true. I've been starting to believe that the real Peeta is back, that all he needed was one last push before he came back to normal. This would be it.

Instead, he stares at her avidly, picking her apart with his eyes. It's an aggressive attitude, and Katniss responds to it by shrinking back.

"You're not very big, are you?" Peeta says after a while. "Or particularly pretty?"

Katniss, tense as a wire, snaps, "Well, you've looked better."

"Knock it off," I manage to whisper as Peeta laughs brutally. "Come on, Katniss, let it go."

But she doesn't hear me over Peeta's taunt about not being nice to him, after everything he's been through. I wish he had an earpiece, too. I want to say, She's been through a little herself. Back off.

But I never thought of that. Peeta probably wouldn't have allowed it, anyway.

Katniss, quite unfortunately, is on the same wavelength, only coming from her, the reminder that she's been through a lot, too, doesn't quite come off right. "And you're the one who was known for being nice," she snipes. "Not me." She backs away. "Look, I don't feel so well. Maybe I'll drop by tomorrow."

She turns to leave, but before she gets to the door, he says, "Katniss, I remember about the bread."

She stops cold. Her eyes widen. This is it. The central memory for her. The most basic, defining one. If he says something to destroy it, everything is over. When she speaks, her voice is shaky, at best. "They showed you the tape of me talking about it."

"No. Is there a tape of you talking about it? Why didn't the Capitol use it against me?"

"It was made the day you were rescued. So what do you remember?"

Peeta takes a moment to answer, and when he does, I almost relax. Almost. He remembers it, and he doesn't destroy it. He remembers his mother hitting him, and he remembers giving her the bread. He even remembers seeing her in school the next day, and has for some reason held onto a memory of her picking a dandelion. "I must have loved you a lot," he says.

"You did."

"And did you love me?"

I will Katniss not to say the wrong thing. I try to send brainwaves at her to just tell him the truth -- the real truth, not the one she's convinced herself of. I don't dare speak into her ear, because Peeta will know if I feed her the lines about this, but I whisper them in my head: Yes. You love this boy. You've loved him for a long time.

She doesn't say it. In fact, she goes the other way entirely. "Everyone says I did. Everyone says that's why Snow had you tortured. To break me."

At the moment, I could strangle her myself.

Peeta's eyes flare. "That's not an answer."

"She should leave," I say.

"No." Plutarch shakes his head, and I wonder if he had his own fairy tale running in his head. "No, look, he's talking to her about what they did. About what he felt. She'll come around. She'll -- "

But whatever he thinks she's going to do, she doesn’t do it. The conversation has swung around to the Seventy-Fourth Games, to the tapes Peeta was shown where she tried to kill him with tracker jackers. And then to the faked kisses. I doubt Snow reminded him about the real ones.

It goes downhill from there, to the place where it had to end up, I guess. The one real thing in his doubts: Gale.

"Deny it," I whisper to Katniss, but she might as well not have her earpiece in, because instead of reassuring Peeta, she decides to choose this moment to be the heroine of some girl-power movie in which she doesn't care a whit what the boys think of her. It's not a bad stance in other circumstances (if not a true one, in her case; she cares deeply about both boys), but here, it's disastrous. Peeta takes a few more verbal swipes at her, then she runs out, pulling out her earpiece and leaving it on a table by the door. Before she disappears around the corner, I see her put her hands over her face to weep.

Peeta is staring grumpily into the corner, and I am suddenly furious at him. I don't care about the weeks in the Capitol. I don't care about his confusion, or his anger, or anything else.

I go into the room. He's staring at the tranquilizer needle in his arm.

"What the hell was that?" I ask him. "Did you want to see her so you could hurt her again? I wouldn't have brought her if I thought that was what you were after."

"She doesn't love me. I convinced myself that she did. Again. And I was wrong. Again. Why am I so stupid about her? I know better. I know what she really is."

"What she..." I shake my head. "She's a girl who's saved your damned life more times than I can count. She's a girl who's spent the last several weeks going crazy worrying over you. Who bullied the president of this district into promising not to hurt you. Who you already tried to kill once."

"Haymitch, I -- "

"Yeah. Yeah, I know. You got tortured. You got pumped through with toxins. And I would give anything -- my life included -- to go back and time and make sure that never happened. But you're not the only person who's ever been hurt, and trying to give as good as you got isn't helping anyone, least of all you."

"I didn't mean to."

I shake my head. "If that's not an excuse for me, then it's not an excuse for you, either."

He leans back into the pillows and says, "I tried."

"Like hell you did." I leave.

The next day, when I go to observation, I see that he's trying to sell Delly on how cruel Katniss and I are. She's not buying. "You listen to me, Peeta," she says, "if your brothers were here, they'd knock some sense into you. I can't. But I'm not going to sit here and listen to you tell lies to yourself. You need to stop it."

After lunch, Prim comes on for her shift. She's noticeably cooler toward Peeta. "All my sister could talk about last night, after we found her sleeping in the laundry room, was getting to the Capitol and killing Snow. Well, that and what a terrible person she is, and how even Peeta knows that now. She's going to end up back in crisis care if this keeps up."

"Crisis care?"

"The emergency mental health system. As opposed to the long term. I doubt they'd put her in long term when they still need her, but they can shoot her full of medicines to calm her down for a few days."

Luckily, Katniss manages to calm herself down a little bit over the next two days without help, and Peeta pulls himself out of his sullen spiral. Neither expresses the slightest desire to see the other again and try to fix the damage. Peeta draws her on that long ago day in the rain. It's not an angry picture by any stretch, but it's about the saddest thing I've ever seen. He spends a lot of time staring at it.

I go to Command meetings more often. They're starting to plan the invasion of the Capitol. Some troops will leave almost immediately, but others are still training. I check to see when Katniss is scheduled to leave. Her name doesn't appear on the list.

"Soldier Everdeen is not properly trained," Coin says. "She is not fit to serve in a fighting unit."

"She's living to fight Snow!"

"She's been doing so. But she has not trained to do so as a soldier."

I break it to Katniss as gently as I can. She storms out of her hospital room.

Johanna shrugs. "Don't look at me. My name's not on the list, either. Don't make the mistake of thinking I'm not going."

"Good luck with that," I tell her. "I'm sure they'll let you bring the morphling." I go down to observation.

Peeta asks to see the film of Katniss talking about the bread. I sit with him while he watches it several times, tries to absorb what she's saying. My anger at him has largely drained away, but I'm still impatient and not as understanding as I should be. He seems to get this, and doesn't push.

I go back to the observation room, and he starts drawing again. His parents this time. They are in the bakery, with their backs to each other, conducting separate business transactions while the boys do their chores in the background. When I decide to go back in, he is rather obsessively filling in the price list.

Frustrated, he puts it down. "Haymitch, how much did we charge for the hermit cookies? I've been trying to remember, and it's just gone."

"I don't know. I never bought hermit cookies. Those were the ones with the raisins, right?"

"Right. Why don't I remember that?" He frowns. "They were expensive, I think."

"Why do you need to remember it?"

"Because I can't." He throws the notebook away from him. It skids on the floor past my feet and goes under the radiator.

I pick it up and clean off a few dust kitties it picked up, and put it on his nightstand. "What's going on in your head today?"

"I can't remember how much the hermit cookies were. That's all. It was hard to get raisins, so they cost a lot."

"What started you thinking about it?"

"I was just thinking about my parents. Because of the bread. Because she was talking about how Mom yelled at her for stealing from the garbage. I remember Dad wanted to drop prices and get more customers. Mom said we wouldn't get enough more customers to make up the difference, unless we dropped too low to cover the ingredients, and we still had taxes to pay." He sighs. "Everyone thought we were so rich. Katniss thought we got to eat the bakery food."

"You had more than one room. On the Seam, that's rich."

He narrows his eyes. "Well, then I guess we must have been rich. Everything money can buy, right? And it made them so happy." He starts to throw his pencil, but instead puts it down carefully beside the notebook. "They were miserable together," he says. "My parents. I don't understand them."

"You said that the other day," I say. "Is that on your mind?"

He nods. "I always figured I'd... figure it out eventually. Figure them out. But I can't. Dad loved Mrs. Everdeen. Mom loved... Mom."

"This is really important to you, isn't it?"

"I keep thinking about it, anyway. It's not fair that they're dead. I never figured it out. I can't ask them. I don't know why Dad stayed with Mom. I don't know why Mom stayed with Dad. I don't know why she lost her temper sometimes. I don't know why he didn't." His eyes twitch up to my face, then down at the covers. "I don't know why I act like Mom sometimes. I don't want to."

"I wish I had answers for you. I don't. Danny was my friend, but…"

"But you hated my mother."

"It was mutual."

"I know." He smiles bitterly. "Once when she was screaming at him, she asked if he was sleeping with you. I was eight. I had no idea what that meant."

I raise my eyebrows. "Me and Danny? Well, that would have made way too much sense for either one of us to think of it." I smile at Peeta.

He freezes, then manages to smile back. Then, to my complete surprise, he laughs. It's a startled, haunted house kind of laugh, but it's real enough. He looks at me, and then starts laughing again. After a few seconds, I join him.

He asks me to stay a little while longer after the laughing passes, and I answer what I can for him, but I can't change the fact that I stayed as far out of the way of Danny's marriage as I could. All I can do is confirm what he suspected about the timing of the toasting and his oldest brother's birth. I tell him that it all happened right after his grandparents died, but that doesn't really sort things out for him. I sit with him until Delly comes for the afternoon.

The next day, Katniss somehow convinces Command to let her prove her combat worthiness by going into training, and to let Johanna train with her. In the middle of the first day, she comes back to the hospital with a note for some kind of treatment on her ribs, which leaves her in agony. Johanna, stripped of her morphling for twenty-four hours, is suffering from the shakes and swearing. They go back out the next day. I can almost hear Claudius Templesmith -- "An alliance is forming among the remaining tributes..." I am not surprised when, at the end of their second day, Johanna decides it's time to leave the hospital -- a place of weakness -- and Katniss supports her to the point of offering to be her roommate.

Ruth tells me about a doctors' meeting to discuss this proposal. They are leaning against it when I go in, uninvited, to back Katniss up. Ruth offers to keep an eye on them from across the hall.

"Soldier Everdeen," one of the doctors says, "you already have responsibility for your own daughter, and -- "

"Daughters," Ruth corrects them. "Whether you like it or not, I have two, and I am responsible for both. And if Johanna Mason needs to be in that circle as well, then she is. End of story."

I finally win the argument by pointing out that getting Johanna away from her morphling supply can only be a good thing, though they exact a promise that she'll see her psychiatrist every day. Since I didn't know she was seeing one at all, this comes as a surprise. They've been cutting down her morphling supply steadily, so they don't anticipate any major physical withdrawal issues.

Katniss and Johanna move to the apartment across from Ruth and Prim. Over the next few days, I watch them training together on a screen in the observation room. Johanna is having trouble with the mental part of the morphling withdrawal, and Katniss is in pain from whatever they did to her ribs, but they fight through it. They've both fought through worse.

Plutarch gets footage of them training, which he eagerly hands over to Beetee for airtime assaults. "My Capitol sources say that seeing the victors training with us is inspiring a lot of confusion among the people," he says. "They're still wondering where Peeta is."

Peeta is physically as well as can be expected of someone who has been tortured for weeks and then confined to a bed. On his own, he's been doing exercises -- push-ups that get increasingly more vigorous every day, running in place, lifting whatever heavy objects he can find. He does some balance exercises for his leg. "I want to get out of here," he says.

"They're not going to let you live in an apartment," I tell him. "Not on your own. And I'm under sobriety watch, so they won't let you move out with me." I don't mention the fact that he's proven himself dangerous. I think he knows that.

I keep track of things. Peeta continues to work out, to ask if he can go outside. I talk to Soldier York, who is training Katniss and Johanna, and she says it would do him good to get exercise, though she's concerned about his mental state if he's thrown into something military. She doesn't give a go ahead for it yet.

Four days after Katniss and Johanna move out of the hospital, it's determined (after many requests) that Peeta may have a meal with the general population, as long as he's cuffed and guarded and doesn't disturb anyone. I am unfortunately scheduled with Plutarch when he goes, helping pick out fierce looking shots of Johanna, and happy-looking ones of Annie. I would have recommended that they send Peeta for any lunch shift other than the one with Katniss and Gale. The guards apparently just saw Delly's name and figured she'd control him.

She doesn't. I don't know all of what happens there, though Finnick is still angry the next day and Delly apparently let loose and yelled at Peeta. Whatever it was, it's sent Peeta into a tailspin. He doesn't go back to his bed. When I arrive, he is sitting in the corner of his room, knees pulled up to his chest, his forehead pressed against them, and muttering to himself.

"It's not as big a setback as it looks," Hiram Campbell says. "He's not going on about mutts and he's not threatening anyone. It looks like he just wound himself up too tight, and was determined to prove that he doesn't love her any more than she loves him. Typical teenage romance drama, in other words, which is almost a good sign. Except for what happened after."

"And the business with Annie and Finnick?"

"He feels very protective of Annie. I don't know when he got it in his head that Finnick was an enemy, though. That's new."

I go in and pull up a chair in front of him. "Peeta, are you going to sit here and talk to yourself all day?"

"... she didn't love me... I know she didn't, but she's not terrible... she lies..."

I reach across and gently push his head up so that he looks at me. "Peeta, are you in there?"

He nods. "I did that wrong. At the dining hall."

"That's putting it mildly."

"I just... it was like I was watching myself say things. And I couldn’t stop." He looks around shiftily.

"Sure you could," I say. "You just didn't."

"Did you yell at her?"

"What was I supposed to yell at Katniss for? She was eating her stew in peace, as I understand it."

"You always liked her better."

I laugh. "She says the same thing about you. You're both nuts. You know that, right?" I hold out my hand. "Come on. Get off the floor."

I manage to get him back to the bed. He sighs. "I can't take it back."

"No."

"Who am I, Haymitch?"

"You're Peeta Mellark. Baker's son. Pain in my ass. One of the best men I know."

He looks up at the last, surprised. "I don't feel much like a man at the moment."

"If it's only at the moment, you're ahead of most of us."

"Sometimes I feel like I'm still eleven years old. Standing there in the rain, watching her starve while Mom screams at her. I was..." He looks down. "I was embarrassed. She treats it like it was some big, selfless hero thing. But I was just so embarrassed that Mom would do that, that she'd be like that. I had to do something."

"It's what you decided to do that made it a big, selfless hero thing."

"I can't think of what else I could have done."

"And that's what makes you Peeta Mellark." I pull the chair over and sit down beside the bed. "You could have just gone inside and hidden. You could have decided your mother was right. You could have demanded that the city do something. You could have asked your father to help her -- "

"Why didn't he?"

"What?"

"Why didn't Dad help Mrs. Everdeen? It wasn't like he hated her. Why didn’t he go and help when she didn't show up in town, or when the girls were starving?"

"I don't know." I sigh. "You really need to know these things, don't you?" He nods. "The only person I can think of who could even start to answer is Ruth Everdeen. But if I ask her to come down, are you going to start in on Katniss again?"

"No."

I don't believe him. I tell him I'll think about it. The next morning, Plutarch starts taking him out to morning workouts, in order to film him training. I don't know how he managed to convince Soldier York. Peeta starts assembling guns. I know he sees Katniss there, and I know Plutarch is in a hurry to get them to talk, but they don't. I talk to York and she tells me that she doesn't think he's in fit shape physically to join them on the range, but she hasn't seen any of his breakdowns, even when Katniss is nearby.

I carefully ask him how it is to see Katniss. He says it's fine. He hasn't done anything. It's good to be outside and moving around again, and she happens to be there, too. Will I ask Ruth to talk to him?

I still hesitate, but Prim is in the observation room, and that night, Ruth comes to my apartment and tells me that she's heard about Peeta's request. "I'm not sure I have much comforting to tell him," she says. "But I'll answer his questions."

It prompts another anxiety attack on Peeta's part when I tell him, and he insists on being restrained again, though he thinks he can go into it without any pills to calm him down. By the time Ruth gets there after her hospital shift, he has managed to force himself to be still. He tries smiling at her, but it doesn't work quite properly. I start to go, but he asks me to stay. Just in case.

Ruth sits down warily. "I'm told you have some questions."

"My parents," Peeta says.

"What about them?"

"I need to know."

"What?"

He takes a deep breath. "Everything."

"That's a whole lot," Ruth says. "And you're not going to like it all."

"Please," he says. "Please tell me. If you ever loved my dad, please tell me."

She nods. "I did love Danny," she says. "He was my friend. Long before we started dating. We used to go on adventures together. He could turn a summer afternoon in the park into a daring battle with pirates and brigands. And he'd play with anyone -- town, Seam... he even played with the Capitol liaison's kids. Everyone was always the same to him. He was a good boy, and he grew into a good man. If I could change the past, I'd find some way to not break his heart."

"And my mother? Did you know her?"

Ruth nods. "Everyone knew everyone, Peeta. You know that."

"Were my parents ever friends?"

"Yes. Danny was probably Mir's only friend. She was a year behind us. They used to do plays together. Do you remember me telling you that?"

"I think so."

"She was quite a brilliant actress, actually. You get that from her. The way you are on camera. The way you just make people believe you."

"When I lie?"

"It takes talent to make people believe the truth as much as a lie," Ruth says. She sighs. "Anyway, Danny always tried to invite her to things, but she -- I have to go backward a little. About rumors and unpleasant things. Things I know because I was told. I wasn't alive for them. And one of them may be really unpleasant for you."

Peeta looks at her steadily. "Okay."

"Mir's mother was the butcher's daughter. She fell in love with a Peacekeeper. Her father wasn't very happy about it, and he arranged for her to marry someone else. One of the Murphy boys. That was your mom's maiden name. Murphy. Your aunt Rooba was born about a year after the wedding. I guess things were all right at first. That was the story anyway. Then she got flighty -- your grandmother, I mean. Suddenly, she was with her Peacekeeper again, and then her husband ended up shot in a fight with him. He started going around the butcher's place again for a few months, but you know how people got. They say it was murder -- about her husband -- but who knows? It could have just been a fight. But no one was obeying him. He was a liability. So he was transferred away."

"And Mom was born after that."

Ruth nods soberly. "Almost a year after her mother's husband died."

"Her father was the Peacekeeper," Peeta says. "My grandfather."

"Yes. I'm sorry."

"So... my grandmother didn't like my mother?" Peeta guesses.

"Quite the opposite. It was Rooba she didn't like. Rooba who ended up with the bruises." I see Peeta flinch, and so does Ruth, but he nods for her to go on. "Your grandmother raised Mirrem to believe that she had 'better' blood, that she was going places, that someday, she'd get in touch with her father and get away from all the local hicks. Mirrem believed it, and repeated it frequently. She didn't have a lot of friends."

"But my dad liked her. Why?"

"I asked him that once. He said it was because she was going to get her heart broken, and he felt bad for her. He was right. She used to haunt the Peacekeeper barracks, trying to get a letter out to her father. That was about the time that Haymitch won the Quell and we got a witch of a head Peacekeeper, who recruited a bunch just like her. I've always thought it was some kind of deliberate cruelty that Mirrem finally got word from her father, and it was that he wasn't about to claim any bastard child who could belong to any one of a dozen men, as far as he knew. She started crying and the Peacekeepers tormented her. Danny and I just happened to be around. He was picking up tessera grain -- he used to take it to help out -- and we saw it. Danny decked a Peacekeeper and got me to pull Mirrem out. He got twenty-five lashes for that stunt. Did you ever see the scars?"

"No."

"They were there. After that, Mirrem fixated on Danny instead of her father. She was determined that, if she couldn't have the fairy tale life her mother promised, she'd at least marry her personal knight and make him into some kind of royalty. It bothered me. Danny... sort of liked the idea that someone thought he could be one of his silly heroes. It was probably our first fight." She twists her wedding ring on her finger. "After Danny and I split, he went to Mirrem. He always did when we split. After your grandparents died, she helped him get on his feet. The next thing anyone knew, she turned up pregnant."

"Jonadab. Haymitch told me that."

"Yeah. The thing was, Mirrem had just won a scholarship to go study acting in the Capitol. The only one that year in all the districts to get it, and she couldn't take it. She came to me to see if we had a way to... well, to end it. We did. There are always ways. But she backed out at the last minute. I wish I could say why, but I don't know what went through her head. Instead, she told Dannel that they were getting married. He went through with it. He always figured he'd wrecked her life. She didn't disabuse him of the notion."

"So they already hated each other by the time they were married."

"It's more complicated than that. No one can really see inside someone else's marriage, but from what I could see, Danny never stopped wanting to be that hero for her again. And all of those suspicions she had -- you know the ones I'm talking about -- they were because she felt like she wasn't measuring up. And then there were the money problems, and everything else that goes with life in the real world. Neither of them was very good at the real world, when it came down to it. Danny was drinking almost as much as Haymitch for a while, and I'll give Mirrem her due: She got him out of the bottle. And she never stopped thinking up schemes to get rich that never worked."

"She always hated it when she thought we were losing money. Even in the garbage."

"She never lost the idea that she was supposed to be rich."

"She hit me sometimes," Peeta says. "Not all the time, but sometimes. She said I was just like dad."

"I know," Ruth says carefully. "And I can't explain that. I can't begin to get inside her head and figure out what would make her do that. What would make any mother do that. Danny almost left her over it. A lot. He did leave her once, for a few weeks, but he went back."

"Why?"

"Because you boys begged him to. And because he assumed it was his fault."

"Why didn't Dad help you? After Mr. Everdeen died? I don't understand that."

"Things between your dad and me were complicated, Peeta. I was a mess. If he'd come to the house, I might have kicked him out anyway, and he probably knew it." She thinks about it. "If I knew he was there at all. For all I know, he was. Half the time, I didn't even recognize that the girls were there. I honestly didn't see them. Maybe Danny came and I didn't know." She bites her lip. "Does that help at all? I can't think how it would."

"It does, though. I don't know why, but it does."

They sit quietly for a while, then Ruth says, again, "I loved Danny. He was a good man. And he would be proud of how hard you're fighting this."

Peeta looks up, but doesn’t say anything.

I walk Ruth home.

Things go on.
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Comments
redrikki From: redrikki Date: November 28th, 2015 03:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
Man, the bit where they're laughing over the homoerotic subtext between Haymitch and Danny was great. That's new right?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 28th, 2015 03:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, it's new. I figured I should probably acknowledge that the vibe was there. :D
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 5th, 2015 06:11 am (UTC) (Link)
Okay, so I love the scene you enhanced a few chapters back when Haymitch comforts Katniss and you go further into his head about his protective feelings for her. In this one, he gets to be a father-figure to Peeta. In all this craziness that Peeta is going through, getting a scolding by Haymitch is a slice or normalcy that is lacking. Haymitch's agony and frustration at watching two kids he loves so much is well done.
The bit with Haymitch, Johanna, and Finnick at the wedding was bittersweet. I miss Finnick. The conversation with Ruth and Peeta was hard. I thought the parallels between Rooba and Peeta were an interesting addition.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 7th, 2015 06:05 am (UTC) (Link)
I think Peeta needed a scolding, just to feel normal again. Having people walk on eggshells around him must have been nerveracking.
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