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Repost: The Narrow Path, Chapter 16 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
Repost: The Narrow Path, Chapter 16
A little clean-up, a little expansion. Direct connection between Beckett and Coin. Nothing drastic.

Chapter Sixteen
I steer Delly into the empty observation room. "What happened? When did this happen?"

"I came down before school and they were packing him up," she says. "Just... straight from the hospital. He didn't have a test or anything. They told him last night. He didn't believe them until they actually showed up to pick him up." She flips through the notebook, hands shaking, and finds a page that had been only minimally decorated.

Over the doodles -- incorporating many of them into background elements -- Peeta has drawn a picture of the two of us in the Capitol, on the training center roof, he day we talked about whether or not they'd make them go through with the wedding. Delly rips it out and hands it to me. "He said to give that to you and tell you that he's going to try to follow your advice -- he didn't say what advice -- "

"He didn't need to," I say. "The only advice I ever really gave him was to stay alive."

Delly sinks into a chair and starts crying. "He said he was going to try and follow your advice… unless it turned out it was better not to."

Feeling numb and entirely wrong-footed, I sit down beside her and try to comfort her. I am not good at it, and when a truant officer finds her a few minutes later and sends her off to school, I think she may be better off.

I stay in the observation room, watching Peeta's empty bed. I know that the Star Squad isn't supposed to see action, but I also know that I don't trust District Thirteen, and I certainly don't trust the Capitol. They're in a war zone. They're going to fight. Katniss means to sneak off, and that might leave Peeta alone with soldiers from Thirteen who don't like or value him. And if Katniss decides, improbably, to take him with her, he could still be set off at any time. Snow will want this, not just to see Katniss dead, but to see Peeta morally broken. It was his goal all along. He thought he'd have to settle for doing it off camera, but now Coin has sent them to him, gift-wrapped.

And Coin. What's she doing? What's her game? I try to put myself into her head, the way I always could with the Gamemakers, but I don't know what she really wants. Does she want Katniss dead?

I want to reject this, but I can't. She knew, the day that she sent Katniss to Eight, that the bombings had been coming in two waves, and another one was likely. She probably knew that District Two was dangerous. She reduced her role, then put her in a combat zone. And now, she's sent the boy who has been programmed under torture to kill her.

The boy whose voice, at full strength, is as powerful as Katniss's. Snow isn't the only one who would stand to benefit from Peeta's moral center being compromised. Coin might even benefit more, since Peeta has already denounced the rebellion, albeit under duress. She'd rather he was down in the long-term care ward with Johanna, drugged into irrelevance.

I lean forward, my hands over my ears, digging into my hair. My whole life, I've waited for the rebellion. I can't keep thinking this way. I'll go crazy if I do.

But I keep thinking. I can't stop my traitor brain, except with images of the horrors that it conjures up for the kids.

Plutarch joins me after a while. I'm not sure how long it's been since Delly left.

"Sorry, Haymitch," he says. "After you left yesterday, the president decided that she wanted the propos heated up a little bit. She always wanted Peeta in them."

"They're giving him a weapon and sending him to Katniss. It'll break the narrative, you know. It'll destroy it. That story is the most dangerous thing anyone ever came up with in the arena. A hundred of Beetee's traps never did as much damage to Snow." I stand up. "I'm going back to my place."

"You're scheduled in Command."

"I'm sick. I'm going back to my place."

He doesn't follow, and no one comes to get me. I put Peeta's drawing on the wall beside the picture of Effie.

Stare at it for a long time.

I pull out Effie's pictures and go through them slowly. I remember scooping them up off of her floor, realizing that she'd been dragged off, unable to do anything about it. I think about her cat, staring at me from under the television. As far as I know, the cat was locked in the apartment to starve to death. I doubt anyone would bother rescuing it. I don't know its name.

I go to sleep. In my dreams, Peeta arrives in the Capitol, pulls out his gun, and shoots Katniss in the face. Then all of his brainwashing is lifted, and he realizes what he's done, and turns the gun on himself. I keep yelling at him to stay alive, but he says, "It's better not to," and pulls the trigger.

Then I am drunk and lying in filth in my house in the Village. I am glad of this. This is where I belong. I hear a knock at the door, and then, "Haymitch! Oh, no, this won't do, we can't film in here! It's a disaster!" Effie rolls me over and gets me to the couch, where she starts to clean me up, wiping away the blood and the unspeakable sludge on my skin and tutting about how I'm never prepared, and how she has to go back to her apartment to get a few things to make me presentable. I grab her and hold onto her and kiss her and tell her not to go anywhere, that I need her with me here, that I'm always late without her.

She dissolves in my arms, and I am left alone. I understand without any particular reason for it that I am completely alone. The kids are dead. District Twelve is dead. For all I know, the Capitol is dead. The whole world is an empty arena. It's me and the edge of the cliff again, and of course, that's where I end up: In my arena, face down in the scrubby grass at the cliff's edge. Maysilee is dead beside me, covered in blood, and I am sixteen. I wander the arena miserably for hours, wanting to see someone, anyone, even someone who might kill me.

Maybe especially someone who might kill me.

A beeping sound wakes me just after lunchtime, and I sit up groggily. A light is flashing on an intercom. "Soldier Abernathy," a pleasant female voice says, "you are needed in Command."

"I'm not feeling well."

Another voice comes on. "It's Beetee, Haymitch. Why don't you come down and help Annie and me in Special Weaponry for a little while?"

I frown. "Annie's there?"

"I wanted some company," she says in the background.

And of course, that's it: she wanted to be with another victor. Johanna is out of commission and I've been hiding, so she went to Beetee.

I sometimes think Annie is the sanest one of all of us.

I straighten myself up and go down to Special Weaponry. Annie and Beetee are in the hummingbird room. Annie's gotten one of them to sit in her hand, though it flies off when I open the door to come in.

"It's so light," she says, watching it flit off to hover beside a honeysuckle blossom. "Wouldn't it be nice to be so light, and just fly away?"

"Maybe, until the first strong wind came along," I say. "What are we doing?"

"I'm playing with the birds," Annie says.

Beetee smiles at her. "I'm making notes on some theorizing Gale and I did. It seems that people had access to it and they didn't realize it was just... just..." He shakes his head. "Sometimes you just talk about things. You don't work them through to the end. So I thought maybe I'd best work them through. Explain why they can't be done."

"What do you mean?"

"He sent Peeta," Annie says, holding out her hand for another bird.

Beetee sighs. "Not deliberately."

"What do you mean, you sent him?"

He wheels back a little in his chair and says, "I'm armed, Haymitch. Just something to be aware of."

"What do you mean, you sent him?"

"I was angry when he tried to kill Katniss. I just... vented about it. Said we ought to send him to the front lines and film him there, and if..." I can't think of anything to say. Beetee jabs something at the computer. "Gale told me how badly he'd been damaged, of course, and when I really understood it, I stopped being angry at him, and went back to worrying about Snow. But I'd been recording everything. I think someone in Command must be reading the notes. They've inserted things in a few places. I didn't notice. I haven't been going back and looking at things until today."

I am furious at him for even having a thought like that, but I seriously doubt it had anything to do with Coin's decision. This isn't about her vendetta against Snow. It's her vendetta against Katniss. I force myself not to yell, or to walk out. "So now what? You're getting rid of other catty comments? Maybe you wanted to drown me in some white liquor?"

"No. I wish it was something like that." He looks at his screen. "I thought these were my private notes. Things I was going to go over before I introduced them to anyone. Most of them, I never would have. There are things in here. Things that are worse that what they did with Peeta. Things worse than what I did in the arena. Just payback things. Once you start getting angry, it's hard to think of enough payback."

With a twist of a knob, he sends images up onto screens among the birds. The Capitol in flames. People trapped and bombed. I start to see victors' strategies. A scheme to use the Capitol's power grid to send a lightning stroke through every street in the city, strong enough to kill any man, woman, or child out walking -- that would be Beetee himself. An innocuously designed nuclear bomb in a crowded place, with its ignition hidden and delayed, a Trojan horse -- Johanna. A killing forcefield set up at city limits, with an explosion to chase the people into it -- me. Breaking the mutts out of their accommodations at the Mutt Zoo... I'm guessing that was inspired by Enobaria's savage victory. Other things could only have come from Gale, hunting and trapping tricks he tried to teach us last year, while we prepared for the Quell. Injure some to draw a crowd of rescuers, then kill everyone left. Starve them, then tempt them into a dangerous area by offering the only food. All that's missing is a giant bag to haul in the game.

Nothing looks like Katniss and Peeta's victory, their sacrificial dare to the Gamemakers, the only victory that has ever really changed anything.

"I thought these were private," Beetee says again. "My own little private revenge fantasies. But they've been in my notes. Now I have to show why these won't work, before they try anything else."

I stare at these death traps that came out of the minds of my friends. I hate Snow with a bright, white hate for bringing these thoughts to people as generally decent as Beetee and Gale. And I hate Coin, much more coldly, for apparently thinking of at least one of them as a perfectly reasonable strategy.

"This one can't work," Annie says, pointing at the innocuous looking bomb, "because we're at war, and they're not stupid enough to think that something that just appears isn't a plant from the enemies."

"A bomb could be built into an existing structure," Beetee says. "Use the spies. Get them to wire some whole building with explosives. Something no one would suspect or guard -- one of the fashion houses, maybe, or a movie studio. Of course, they could only use conventional explosives."

"Yeah, they don't want to poison the whole place and risk fallout drifting to the Districts."

"No, it's that they literally can't." Beetee looks up, surprised. "You didn't figure it out?"

I frown and look at Annie, who also looks puzzled. "Figure what out?"

"The nukes are almost a century old, and no one here really knew how to take care of them for most of that time. Nukes need constant maintenance, or the components start to get wonky. That 'plague' they had... I've been looking at it. The symptoms were the same as radiation sickness. I think they must have tried a test detonation somewhere underground, and it went wrong and the radiation got into some of the living quarters. There are huge areas of the compound that are sealed off."

"Then District Thirteen doesn't have a nuclear deterrent anymore," I say, and the rest comes in a clean, neat, poisonous little package. "That's why they decided to re-introduce themselves to the other districts. Their protection is gone. It's take down the Capitol now or be run over and deal with Snow's revenge later."

Beetee looks alarmed. "I hadn't thought that far out."

"That's because you don't study politics and history," I say. I don't point out that Beetee has never been good at the psychological game. That's how Chaff and I destroyed him at chess over and over, despite his intelligence. But he knows it.

Of course, there is someone who does study politics and history: Plutarch. And if he hasn't already reached this conclusion -- maybe he reached it before he ever approached Thirteen in the first place -- then I would be extremely surprised.

The three of us spend the afternoon deconstructing Beetee's traps. The problem is, in theory, they all work. Annie finds weaknesses; Beetee explains why they can be overcome. I propose the novel solution of flat out lying, but of course, a decent strategist would just take a weakness as a challenge.

"Why not just say they're wrong?" Annie asks. She points to a net-like trap, obviously inspired by Finnick, and says, "We're not fishing. We're not trying to catch animals because we need to eat. We're not talking about self-defense. We're talking about innocent people who happen to be from the Capitol. Doesn't that make it wrong?"

"I don’t think 'wrong' is going to carry a lot of weight around here," I say.

We get back to work. I doubt it will do any good, but at least it's something productive to do.

We go up for dinner together, and Plutarch tells me that Peeta has arrived safely in the Capitol, a fact he knows because Boggs called and entirely lost his temper at the Command staff. "Apparently, he took Peeta's gun and tried to refuse him entry, but Coin overrode him personally."

"Of course she did."

Plutarch looks around carefully, then says, in a low voice, "Katniss has tried to get calls through to you. They haven't been routed. You really need to come to Command tonight."

I eat quickly and head up to the conference room. Coin and her upper level staff do not look pleased to see me, but I show them my schedule. Wall-Effie has me here until ten o'clock.

The telephone rings. A technician picks up the mobile unit. "Yes, Soldier Everdeen... at the moment, Soldier Abernathy is--"

I grab it, rather rudely, and say, "I’m right here, Sweetheart. You okay?"

"Peeta's here," she says.

"I know. I didn't know he was coming until he was gone."

"Why did they send him? Haymitch, I can't take this!"

I grind my teeth. "Katniss, I know it's hard, I've been seeing him all the time. What they did -- "

"I don't know who he is. They think I can't shoot him if I'm standing guard. I could shoot him. He's not Peeta anymore. He's just one of Snow's mutts now. I told him I could shoot him now--"

The implications of this settle in. I take the mobile into a little alcove, pull the curtain, and drop my voice. I hope they haven't got this thing bugged. "What are you trying to do?" I ask. "Provoke him into another attack?"

"Of course not. I just want him to leave me alone!"

I try to explain to her that he can't do that, that with everything Snow did to him, she's still the complete focus of his life. And he has no idea that he's been sent there to kill her -- that, I'm sure of. If he had the slightest inkling of that, he'd have found a way to send a message. I don't know whether he's fully accepted that she's not a mutt yet, but I think he doesn't want to be responsible for killing her. I tell Katniss that she can't blame him for what the Capitol did.

"I don't!"

"You do," I tell her. It may not be entirely true -- she doesn't blame him for trying to kill her, and her wounded routine seems to come more from his occasional brattiness than his actual assaults -- but she doesn't draw a distinction. For her, there was Peeta, and now there's not-Peeta. "You're punishing him over and over for things that are out of his control. Now, I’m not saying you shouldn't have a fully loaded weapon next to you round the clock," I say, hoping she has this firmly in mind, "but I think it's time you flipped this little scene around in your head. If you'd been taken by the Capitol, and hijacked, and then tried to kill Peeta, is this the way he would be treating you?" She goes completely silent, and I realize that my little what-if scenario has hit her in a deeper place than any lecture. Real Peeta, to Katniss, is the example of what a person should be. And she's been acting as much like not-Peeta as he has. "You and me," I say, "we had a deal to try and save him. Remember? Try and remember." The line goes dead and the curtain over the alcove snaps open.

"What did you say to her?" Coin asks, glaring at me.

"I told her to be careful," I say. "And to be a little more gentle with Peeta. It was a private conversation.'

"It was a conversation using military channels, during which you advised a soldier in a key position. Command has to be aware of your words."

My mouth runs about a second ahead of my brain: "I told her that he has no idea that you sent him there to kill her."

She straightens her shoulders. "You are dismissed, Soldier Abernathy. You have no further responsibilities to the Mockingjay."

"I have responsibilities to Katniss Everdeen," I say.

She nods to her guards, who escort me out of Command.

Back at the apartment, Dalton shrugs it off. "She needs you there. No one else can really get through to Katniss Everdeen."

"She's trying to kill Katniss."

He shakes his head. "I'm sure you're wrong about that. She's power hungry and a little crazy, but she's not one for murdering teenage girls."

The next morning, I am assigned to the farm again, and I spend the day hand plowing and pulling rocks out of the soil. My hands and fingers are bleeding at the end of it, and when I go to visit Johanna, she doesn't bother pretending not to notice. "Didn't hold your tongue, did you?" she asks.
a
I shake my head.

"Be careful, or you'll end up in here with me." She looks around. "Prim's been down to switch out my meds for saline a few times. They think I'm asleep. The guards sometimes go in the back room and ignore us. I've had a look around at everyone's charts." She jerks her chin toward the bed across from her. "That guy's supposed to be suffering delusions because he said there was a nuclear accident. The one beside him is here because he thinks there are better ways to handle things, and that if they spread out from the compound, they'd have more food." She points at the girl a few beds down. "That one came in from District Eight, and said she wanted to go back, even in the middle of the war. The lady beside her came in with her, and tried to steal a truck to drive away."

"I'm surprised they aren't locked up like Katniss's preps."

"That's for criminals," Jo says. "Turns out everyone down here isn't a criminal. And once they've ruled out the idea that you're a Capitol spy, you have to just be crazy to object to the system. They try to cure us. Webb's down here every day."

"What do you tell him?"

"That I understand why they doused me, and I'm sure it was for my own good. They may let me out of here if I put on a good enough performance. After that, I’m breaking out. I'll head for the Capitol to get my licks in for the war, then I'm going back to Seven." She sniffs. "Though Webb says my house probably isn't even there anymore. Victors' Village was razed."

"I'm sorry, Jo."

She sighs. "Jack and Blight were gone already. I hope Linden got far away as soon as the arena blew."

I don't say anything. For all I know, the Peacekeepers had Jack's husband under surveillance during the Quell, and shot him as soon as the arena blew, since he wasn't of any further use. I don't mention this to Johanna. She knows it's possible. But I'm still holding on to the idea that maybe he got away.

"I wonder which side did it." She smiles. "Maybe I am crazy. I'm sitting here with scars all over my head from a forced haircut -- so that Peacekeepers wouldn't be bothered by the smell of my hair burning while they shocked me -- and I'm questioning whether or not I hate someone more than the Capitol. I think that might actually be a working definition of crazy."

"They sent Peeta to the front lines."

She stops talking, her mouth open, her eyes wide. "They did what?"

"You heard me."

"Peeta's way crazier than I am. Are they keeping an eye on Katniss?"

"Lots of them," I promise.

"Has she broken off to kill Snow yet?"

"Not yet."

Johanna nods. "She will. She promised to kill him. That's why she's going."

I squeeze her hand and go back upstairs. Prim and Delly are on the Promenade, ostensibly doing assignments for school, really just worrying about Katniss and Peeta. Again. When I join them, Delly is supposedly running through Prim's tests on combat medical procedures with her, but the little handheld screen with the questions has gone into dark mode.

"He's been doing much better," Delly says, taking Prim's hand and giving it a little squeeze. "He's trying very, very hard to beat this."

"I know. But he doesn't always win." She looks up. "Haymitch. Have you talked to them?"

"I talked to Katniss." I sit down. "She's not taking it well, but I think she's going to try and help him get better. She'll maybe at least stop pushing his buttons."

"I hope so," Delly says.

"What have they been saying about Katniss in school?" I ask.

Prim shrugs. "Not much. All the other kids ask about her. Little kids want me to tell them about how she used to sing to me. But the teacher just kind of glosses over it, and goes to the rescue from the Quell."

"My year, too," Delly says. "It's kind of weird."

I agree, but I'm not sure it tells me anything new -- I already knew that Coin was trying to slowly diminish Katniss's role.

I talk with them for a while about how they're feeling. Prim goes back to the hospital for another shift. Delly doesn't. "Haymitch..." she starts.

"What?"

"I'm not as good an artist as Peeta."

"Okay."

"But I do sort of know how to paint. Peeta was just starting to teach me. And after Peeta went away, they switched my assignment to fabrication. I started after school. I'm painting things. Camouflage on vehicles, things like that."

"I guess someone has to do that."

"Yeah. But there's a room there that that Command sometimes uses. I've only seen the inside for a few seconds, when the door opens, but I swear, there's a Capitol flag in there. Does that make any sense to you?"

"No."

"Me, either."

I walk her back to the apartment that she and her brother share. The door is open, and her brother is playing with one of the Cooley boys. Mrs. Cooley checks to make sure Delly is all right (apparently, she's late), then Leevy comes out into the hall and the two girls settle into actual homework.

When I get back to the apartment, I find that Dalton was right yesterday -- my reassignment is not permanent. Wall-Effie gives me the message that I'm to report to Command tomorrow morning, but tonight, I must go to President Coin's private office to issue an apology.

For a horrible minute, I have a vivid memory of Lucretia Beckett, asking boys in District Twelve if they'd like to skip their punishments by offering her a "private apology." I feel her hand on my back like a hot slug, and I don't have the slightest trouble imagining her as Coin. I saw the way her eyes trailed over Gale after the rescue operation. I think Coin's hand would feel cold, but it would be just as repulsive.

I grind my teeth. I've never heard any rumors of that sort about her. And even if I had, I'm well out of the circle of victors who have problems of that kind.

I don't have the slightest desire to apologize to her, but I summon up an image of real Effie, trying to get me to fix things with sponsors I'd inadvertently offended. "I don't care if you want to go, Haymitch," she says in my head. "It's not about you. It's about your tributes. They're counting on you to get this right."

And of course, it's still true. I'm not doing Katniss or Peeta any good breaking my back on the farm. They need me in Command, where I can at least talk to them.

I go to Coin's office.

She gives herself no indulgences. Her office is a back room with a battered metal desk in it. She is filling out forms, and tucks them into a drawer as I come in. "Soldier Abernathy," she says. She looks up at me with distinct distaste.

"Madam President."

"You made a serious accusation against this government yesterday."

No, lady, I think, I made a serious accusation against you yesterday. I say, "Yes, I'm sorry. I was upset at Peeta Mellark being sent to the front lines. I suppose I'd been building up a little anger all day."

"It's not to happen again. Such rumors tend to spread, no matter how absurd they are. I am not planning to kill Soldier Everdeen. You're aware of that, aren't you?"

I try to think of something that will put off her plans for Katniss long enough to get help. "I know," I say, then am struck with an idea. "You need her to fire the last arrow of the war. Symbolically. When she kills Snow."

Of course, Coin has nothing of the sort in mind, but she latches onto it. "Yes. Yes, of course that's what she's needed for."

"Suited up as the mockingjay one last time. One arrow, straight to his heart, and then the war is over."

"And peacetime can begin. Yes." She presses her lips together until they all but disappear. "Soldier Abernathy, further rumor mongering will result in permanent expulsion."

"From Command?"

"From District Thirteen. Winter is not a good time to be wandering in the woods."

"Yes, Ma'am."

"We will have to find a way to see to it that you remember this." She palms a button and two guards come in. "Take Mr. Abernathy to the classroom," she says.

They flank me and march me out into the hall, then down a few steps to an innocuous looking door. They open it. The room is tiny and, of course, windowless this far down. There isn't room to properly sit, and the ceiling is too low to properly stand.

I am locked in for three hours.

I say nothing when they let me out. I can't walk properly, and have to forcibly straighten my legs when I lie down on the bed. Dalton fumes.

I report to Command in the morning as though nothing has happened. We are watching the pointless propo shots from yesterday, with Finnick and Katniss attacking dangerous colored glass. I stay quiet as she talks about how they will now integrate Peeta, who is shooting with them today. I say nothing after lunch, while we see the first shots come in from a shoot on a booby-trapped block.

We are settling into a conversation about how Peeta should be used when the phone rings. Ten minutes after the last video sent to us came in, a landmine blew up under Commander Boggs's feet. Squad 451 has been cut off from communication.

An hour after that, they are dead.
4 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
vytresna From: vytresna Date: December 11th, 2015 01:21 am (UTC) (Link)
Commenting as the one person who hasn't reread this (or Mockingjay) since the first time around: out of all this, I only remembered Prim spotting the flag. Not the mental ward, nothing. I couldn't even say whether the plague explanation is you or Collins talking. But anyway the motive analysis here is brilliant and the whole thing is giving me chills.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 22nd, 2015 05:24 am (UTC) (Link)
As far as I know, the plague is me, but it fits the facts on the ground, so it may be what she meant.
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 11th, 2015 09:29 am (UTC) (Link)

Great story

Just wanted to say great story (since it doesn't look like your update your fanfiction.net hub anymore). Great series, really. I am read it about a year ago and could not put it down

One comment I wanted to make...I think you've been inconsistent in terms of the casualties in the Green Tower. In one of the series, Glass mentions that more children had died in that bombing than had in all the games up to that point. But in another story (I think the one in Peeta's POV), Snow says something about the Green Tower having as many deaths as 20 years worth of games.

One question I had for you....what happened to Gia Pepper? Did I just miss it?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 22nd, 2015 05:24 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Great story

For some reason, this got caught in "suspcious comments."

I am updating these stories at ffn; putting this chapter up now. They go up here first for corrections.

Gia is Finnick's mother.
4 comments or Leave a comment