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Repost: The Narrow Path, Chapter 20 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
Repost: The Narrow Path, Chapter 20
Some smoothing out. The major change here is that I integrated the ficlet "Sunshine" -- is it jarring?

Chapter Twenty
To my unending gratitude, Plutarch doesn't call attention to us or ask me to clarify what I need him to do. He simply signals up to a soldier that we're leaving and takes me around to the back, where Snow's fleet of cars sits largely untouched. Plutarch has apparently been given one of them as a spoil of war. He presses a button on a keypad, and a low slung, shiny blue car drives itself over. We get in. It takes a long time to make our way through the broken streets near the center of the city, but once we're clear of it, the rest of the roads seem easy. We do not talk on the way to the prison. We both know why we need to go.

The prison is nearly outside city limits, on a bleak patch of desert overlooking a non-descript wilderness. I didn't get a really good look at the approach when Gale's team came here, and it seems weirdly mundane. It doesn't look like a dungeon or a torture chamber, although it's both. On the surface, it's just a large but squat brick building, surrounded by a parking lot with charging plates for the cars. Bright white fluorescent lighting shines out through cheap clear glass doors.

Plutarch steers us onto a charging plate and we get out. I can hear the wind whistling across the desert, as if tonight were the same as any other night.

When we go inside, I see a few signs of a struggle. There's a broken window and a broken water pitcher. The guards here had to be subdued, but I guess a lot of them must have been away at the battle, because it doesn’t look like it took much.

The guards at the prison are now all from Thirteen. Peacekeepers who worked in maximum security -- at least the ones Coin didn't execute -- are in the cells, and I'm not going to waste any worry on them. These are the ones who tortured Johanna, who broke Peeta. Let them rot. I'm not shedding any tears over the ones that were killed this morning, either.

Plutarch flashes his identification and tells one of the new guards that we have orders to retrieve Euphemia Trinket, an imprisoned rebel, from Maximum Security. The kid can't be more than eighteen, and he takes the order at face value. He leads us downstairs, past the newly imprisoned former guards. As we pass their cells, they curse us and threaten us when Snow regains power.

Effie is in the bottom level of the prison, the same row of cells where Peeta, Johanna, and Annie were kept. I can still see bullet scars in the walls from the rescue. The guard keeps checking a readout on his handheld device, and finally comes to a door in the middle. He unlocks it.

I see everything in an instant: Effie Trinket, dressed in a ragged set of prison clothes, her face unpainted, her hair a nimbus of strawberry blond curls that fall, disheveled, around her ears. Her lips are dry and cracked, her eyes wide and unfocused.

I am across the cell in two steps, and I hold her as tightly as I can. She is limp and listless, but her arms come up around my neck. "Haymitch?"

I press my fingers against the back of her head, kiss her cheeks. "I'm here," I say.

She pulls away and blinks at me owlishly. "Your hair is a mess."

I pull her to me again and say, "Of course it is. You know I can't take care of my hair for anything."

Plutarch clears his throat. I try to let go of her to bring him into the conversation. There are things more important than my messy hair, or how Effie is here, really here, alive and apparently unharmed. I can't let go. I whisper into her ear, "Effie, this is really important. Whatever Plutarch and I say over the next few days is the truth. You don't argue with it. Don't embellish it. Don't do anything other than agree with every word we say. Do you understand?" I finally pull away. She looks at me blankly, then nods. I take her hands. I notice that the knuckles on one of them are scabbed. She is too skinny. She looks like she hasn't slept. But she's whole. She's not attacking me. She's still Effie. I kiss her fingers. "We're going now."

"Where?"

"Your apartment will be fine," Plutarch says. "I have a pass key to the whole city."

She looks around me, noticing Plutarch for the first time. "Mr. Heavensbee," she says, then her hands fly to her head. "Oh! My wig!"

She looks mortified. Her hair has grown out pretty -- a little messy, but pretty. Still, she doesn't like people to see it. I don't understand it and never have, but I take off my jacket and tie the arms under her chin, so she can wear it like a scarf.

A set of new guards want authorization to remove her from prison. Plutarch acts annoyed that they dare question him (which I'm sure is not entirely an act), accuses them of insubordination, and starts to make a speech about how he needs Effie for… something. I don't follow it, or care. Something about the war effort that they finally buy. I'm mostly holding Effie and trying to get her to stop shaking. They finally let us go.

We go back to the car. I settle Effie in back. She won't let me put the seatbelt on her. I let it be. I let go of her hand long enough to run around to the other side and get in beside her. She puts her arms around me and holds on tight.

"Effie, you are a rebel," Plutarch says as we pull away. "You have been a rebel for several years."

"I--"

"Don't argue," I say. "Please, Effie, just go along."

"But I--"

"You are a tribute right now," Plutarch says. "And Haymitch is your mentor, and I'm your escort, and we are going to get you through the arena, but we can only do it if you do what we say."

She looks at me, dazed. "Haymitch, what's happening?"

"The Capitol fell yesterday," I say. "And the new government is going after anyone involved in the Games."

She puts a hand over her mouth.

Plutarch and I start weaving a story. Anything that sounds feasible. I wish Peeta were here. Peeta would make it better. He'd make it unassailable. But Effie is stuck with Plutarch and me. I can say truthfully that she passed messages. She did give me a note from Cinna once, and it absolutely contained rebel information. She also brought him a cake from Danny Mellark's bakery that had coded information with it.

"It did?" she asks. "I brought information for the rebellion?"

"You did. And you knew it, Effie. That's the important part. Do you remember that cake?"

She does. She describes it hesitantly, more concerned about the beautiful decoration than the message under it, on the lining paper. That's all right. It's detailed, and if worse comes to worse, I'm reasonably sure that, after this morning, Peeta will back me up if I say there was coded information in the design.

She frowns. "And when I found you and the others in the park. That was rebel business, wasn't it?"

I nod. "Yes. Yes, it was, and you saved us, and that's why the Capitol punished you."

"Okay," she says. "I was… " She bites her lip nervously, and says very quickly, "I was a rebel and I saved you for the rebellion."

"Very good."

"That's not why I saved you."

"It is for now." I kiss her forehead. "Effie, you need to play it this way. Please. Please. They shot Caesar."

She lets out a sob, and holds me tighter.

We have to end the conversation when we get to her apartment. I am afraid that it will still be a mess, that she'll be upset. But when we get there, we don't even need Plutarch's passkey. The door is open, and Tazzy and Solly Vole are there, sweeping the floor. Everything has been picked up and put in order. Solly is holding Sweetheart the cat, whose long white hair has gotten matted, but who otherwise looks no worse for wear. Effie takes Sweetheart and starts petting her. I thank the girls. Tazzy is a legitimate rebel with impeccable credentials, so I ask her if she remembers how Effie helped out with the war.

"Oh, sure," she says without a pause. "Effie was the one who got me into the rebellion. That night before everything went crazy. I'm pretty sure that's why the Capitol arrested her. They knew she'd told Aurelian and me how to find the rebel leaders in town. I mean, they knew I was looking for her. I told everyone and his brother that I needed to find Effie Trinket. I wanted to get to the Rebellion, and everyone knew she was connected. That's why I came over to clean up. I knew as soon as someone said you'd been to see Colonel Heavensbee that the new government was finally springing her. To thank her for everything she did."

"Thanks," I say.

"She let my sister play dress up," Tazzy says. "Solly had a really good time." For Tazzy, apparently, this is not a non-sequitur. She goes back to cleaning up, and makes a simple meal.

The girls stay for half an hour. Effie finds a silk scarf and excuses herself to the bathroom for a moment to put it on in place of my jacket.

Solly is crestfallen to give up Sweetheart, and Effie finally finds a smile, albeit a tentative one, and says, "Maybe Sweetie can stay with you a little longer, until I'm ready to take care of a cat again."

Solly gives Effie a big hug and a kiss and runs out, the cat safely in her arms. Tazzy follows. Plutarch fabricates one more story about how he remembers Effie specifically requesting Cinna and Portia as stylists, clearly a rebellious act, then he goes as well.

I go to her room and find her a wig, but she doesn't put it on. She doesn't go to change into her fancy clothes. She just leans against me, silent and dazed. "Please don't go," she says.

I don't.

I sleep on her bedroom floor that night, because she is not in any state to make rational decisions and I don't trust myself at the moment, but she won't let me out of her sight. I don't want to be out of her sight.

I wake up in the morning to find her dressed in one of her more demure outfits, a green suit with gold buttons. The shoulders curl upward a little, but it's nothing outlandish. She's dug up one of her simpler wigs as well, a plain white one that puffs up a little bit then curls around her ears. It is askew, and I can see a wisp of her hair coming out under the edge.

She is sitting at her dressing table, holding a mascara wand to her face. Every time she tries to put it to her eyelashes, her hand shakes. I can see several dark smears on her cheeks.

"You don't need to worry about your makeup," I tell her. "Almost no one in District Thirteen wears any."

"Are you telling me to go without? Or just saying I could?"

"I'm telling you to go without," I say. "It may not be necessary, but let's make it plausible that you've just been waiting to throw off the Capitol."

She nods. "And my wig?"

"Do you really need it, Effie?"

She blinks at the mirror. "When I was sixteen, I started wearing them. It was a whim. Trying to look like the rich girls. Some boys…" She puts her hand to her head. "They tore it off. A lot of my scalp came with it. They kept coming at me until the teachers came."

"Effie…"

"They put up pictures. All over the place. I was bleeding and crying. And they laughed. They all did. Even the people I thought were my friends. That's when I decided to test out of school. I got the scars removed years ago, but… I hate having my head uncovered. Especially if someone's forcing it. They took my wigs away in jail, too." She looks up. "I just want to be Effie again. I need them."

I get up and go sit across from her. I have no idea how the wigs are held on, so I don't try to straighten it (in fact, I make a resolution to never do anything to her that might remind her of that) but I do tuck in the loose curl. "You wear them if it makes you feel safer." I take her in, ready for a day out. "Where are you planning on going?"

"Can't I go out?"

"Yeah, but... where?"

"I want to see Katniss and Peeta," she says. "And I should pay a call on poor, poor Annie. I saw on the news about Finnick this morning. And that Katniss is alive, but she's hurt. They say she might not regain consciousness." She looks at me, her odd eyes trying to focus. "Poor Haymitch. So many of your friends."

I nod and give her hand a squeeze. "That's why I'm not going to lose any of the ones I have left."

"Am I your friend, Haymitch?"

I try a joke. "Well, when you're not trying to bury me in rules and dress me up and put me on a damned schedule..."

She smiles faintly. "In other words, when I'm not actually around?"

I run my thumb over her hand. "They have a machine in District Thirteen that puts a schedule on your arm every day. Tells you when to be at lunch, and when to go to work. I named mine Effie."

This gets a better smile, then she looks at me slyly. "They wanted me to say something bad about Katniss on television when everyone was saying she and Peeta were dead. I told them I wouldn't. They said I had to. I thought to myself, 'What would Haymitch do?'" She holds up her hand with the bloody knuckles out. "I never punched anyone in the face before. I didn't know it would hurt."

"You punched someone?" I grin at the image.

"One of Claudius Templesmith's production assistants. Will that help?"

I think about it, the amusement value of imagining Effie making an ineffectual little fist fading. "It'll help," I say. "But let's tone down that it was about Katniss. Make it about not saying anything bad about the rebellion."

"But -- "

"Effie, when Katniss wakes up, which she will, you can tell her the truth. But right now, it's about the rebellion."

"Haymitch, why -- "

"Because I want you to stay alive."

"This... is what you wanted? All along?"

"No. And it's going to get fixed. But right now, short term, we have to play by the rules."

"But -- "

"Effie, for seventeen years, you told me to make nice with people, to get them to help my tributes stay alive. It's not going to be seventeen years, and we're going to have better luck. But do it."

She looks at me steadily, almost focusing on me. "Promise it's going to be fixed, Haymitch."

I kiss her. "I promise."

I have no idea how I mean to keep this promise, but I do mean to keep it. Somewhere between Snow's sadistic bread and circuses and Coin's brutal crackdown, there is a narrow path to something that will actually work. I will find it. Somehow.

I take Effie to the hospital. Gale is up and about already. The shots he took were superficial, and he has received the best care the Capitol has to offer, the sort of care victors get -- got -- to be prepared for the post-Games events only days after being pulled from the arena. There are stories circulating that he was captured by Peacekeepers and, unarmed, managed to steal two weapons and kill most of his captors before taking a single wound. He dismisses this as ridiculous. The soldiers who are now under his command point out that he had, in fact, gotten away from the Peacekeepers and was halfway to City Circle when the bombs blew, and that the wounds he took are at angles that suggest he was fighting with several soldiers. They are in awe of him. I introduce him to Effie. He tries to be polite. He isn't good at it.

Johanna, who is nearby, is much better. She's adored Effie since her own Games, when Effie lent her some kind of skirt that was in that year. She announces that they are "fashion buddies" and makes a fuss over Effie's dress. "I'm going to have to raid your closet," she says. "We're about the same size, and my whole wardrobe went up in flames in Seven."

This gets disapproving stares from workers.

Effie and I go to visit Katniss. Ruth is there, looking half dead, and Effie manages to not accidentally say anything insensitive. Annie comes. She says they are growing cells for new skin to go onto Katniss's back. There will be surgery later today, the first of several. Effie gives her condolences. Annie seems genuinely grateful.

We go down to Peeta's area. He has been allowed to come up naturally from his sleep. He's groggy, but not too groggy to recognize Effie. He smiles, then horror crosses his features. "Haymitch, she's -- "

"Effie's glad to be out of jail," I say quickly. "She wanted to see you and the rest of the rebels she's worked with as soon as she could."

He doesn't even blink. Even under the remains of sedation and the influence of whatever nightmares he's been having since yesterday, he says, "Oh, of course! Why didn't I know that? I should have realized it in District Eleven when you covered for Haymitch meeting with Chaff during the Victory Tour."

Shortly after we leave Peeta, there is a news broadcast on every screen in the city. Strato Calmenson, the District One escort, is tried and executed, along with the stylist and prep team. Tomorrow, we are assured, we will move on to District Two.

I start meeting with Command again that afternoon. I doubt Coin really wants my opinion on anything, but she seems to consider it a good idea to keep a close eye on me. She says she is investigating our claims that Effie is a rebel. Plutarch has apparently spent the night in his production booth -- his real one, with all of his Gamemaker's tools -- because he is able to present her with video evidence of Effie passing messages and even obtaining weapons. It looks very real. Coin is still skeptical.

Plutarch proposes a series of television shorts about "Heroes of the Capitol" -- Capitol rebels, like Effie or Tazzy or Fulvia or, in all modesty of course, himself -- for the sake of trying to bring the Capitol citizens on board without any counter-revolution, which, he has heard, is a going concern with all the executions.

Coin shakes her head. "I can't do that. There are still angry people in the districts. They feel the Capitol has already been given too much leeway. Until they accept their complacent role in the atrocities of the Capitol Empire, I can't have you coddling them."

"We can't have a perpetual war, either," Beetee tries.

"It will hardly be 'perpetual.' Once we have achieved justice for the districts, of course it will end. We will move the leadership from the districts here."

"But what about the native population?" I ask.

She sighs. "Obviously, they will need to learn to accept the new shape of things. I am still seeing a good deal of wastefulness here, frivolous uses of district resources. I've arranged for an adult school to open tomorrow, to teach the citizens of the Capitol about reality... a matter with which they appear to have little experience. Attendance will be mandatory for all Capitol-born civilians over the age of sixteen."

The Command staff is split fairly evenly -- Beetee and I, along with five others, want to start trying to calm things down. The other half, which unfortunately includes Coin, has prioritized punishment to serve the presumed interests of the districts. I ask who's complaining, hoping that she's making it up, but she produces videos of rabid-sounding district leaders calling for blood.

When I get back to the hospital, Effie is sitting with Annie, Peeta, and Delly while Katniss undergoes surgery. Peeta is not allowed out of his area. Cressida arrives with a film crew to ask us about Katniss. We all give glowing reports. Cressida says that she and Pollux are heading out to the districts tonight.

I go home with Effie. She lets me out of her sight enough to sleep on the couch.

The next day is the same. Katniss is in recovery. I sit with her during her morphling daze while doctors manipulate her body around the first grafts. Command meets and argues. Velatus Norman, the District Two escort, died defending a shop in the fashion district, so he can't be executed, but he is held guilty. The stylists and the prep teams die on Caesar's stage. Enobaria finally surfaces from wherever she's been hiding to comment on camera, but if she has any objections, she keeps them to herself. People flock to hear her speak, even though she doesn't say much.

I continue to stay with Effie. During the days, I try to find every reasonable person I can in Command, but none of them seem willing to denounce the executions, and one even tells me that I'm spreading sedition, but he'll overlook it, as I'm clearly not right in the head… though he strongly suggests that continuing my search would be a very bad idea.

The District Three escort and stylists have disappeared. Beetee claims to have no knowledge of this. The preps died in the fighting (one as a rebel, the other two for the Capitol), so there are no executions the next day. Katniss has another graft. Delly sits with her for a long time, trying to be cheerful.

Coin tires of going day by day, and executes the Games workers from Districts Four, Five, and Six the following day, then takes a break from the arduous task of killing beauticians to put down all the mutts in the Mutt Zoo, despite the protest of the president of the Muttation Appreciation Society. He storms into the mansion and demands to know who is responsible. I sympathize with him.

Not that I'm overly concerned about those damned squirrels, which they kept replenishing because they were a popular attraction. I'd be on board with not making any more in the twisted Capitol labs, but they weren't actually responsible for what the Gamemakers used them for, and they weren't hurting anyone anymore. There was no need for a death sentence.

Every morning, Effie heads off to Coin's mandatory adult education, and every night, she comes home with her hands shaking. She doesn't tell me much about the content, though I gather that it's largely an excoriation of Capitol history. I wonder how the Daughters are taking it. Hopefully, they're all smart enough and calm enough not to start arguing.

On the day the District Eight stylists are set to be murdered, there is no meeting at Command, probably because Coin doesn't want to hear anyone else's opinion. I decide to see for myself what's happening. After I make my ritual visit to the hospital to check on the kids, I go to meet Effie for lunch.

The classes take place in the Games Museum. I've never been there. I never wanted to be. I can tell that it used to be a pretty nice building -- at least until something blew up in the vicinity -- as soon as I walk in.

I pass through the Hall of Tributes, trying not to look at the images. It's almost impossible, especially when I reach my year, where there are so many. I turn a corner and find myself staring at… me, or at least a full color statue of me as a sixteen year old. It's life-sized and eerily accurate, like I really did die in there, and they found some taxidermist to preserve me. I have my knife partly raised, and I'm staring out into the distance, most likely at that plastic hedge, but it's hard to tell, since there's no context for the tableaux.

The statue has been defaced with the word "Traitor" (it's been scrubbed a few times, but I can still see it), and has chips where I guess Snow was letting people throw things at me for the last few months. There's a charred statue further down the hall, and I can guess who it is, but I turn off on a side corridor before I get there and go to a small information desk, where a guard sits in the place where some bored volunteer probably sat for years, handing out maps and pointing the way to the restrooms.

"Why are you here?" the guard asks when I give him my name and assignment.

"Just picking up my…" But I have no idea what to call her anymore, so I switch to, "I'm meeting Effie Trinket."

"For what purpose?"

I raise my eyebrows. "Why do you care?"

"She was quite pampered in the prior system, you know. She was involved in the Games."

"Yes. As my escort. She's… well, she's a friend." That much, at least, is indisputable. "I was going to take her for a walk in the park, if that's completely all right with you."

Like most people from Thirteen, he misses the sarcasm entirely. He checks her schedule and says, "She will have thirty five minutes designated for the meal. Are you on the same schedule?"

I don't check. I just assure him that I am. I move past the guard post, pretending not to hear him timidly calling out that I really should have clearance to enter the adult education area. I open the door to what was once a theater, probably showing past games and hosting lectures.

A nervous little man, his voice shaking, is standing in a single spotlight on the stage, reading out a history of the Capitol that seems to boil down to abducting Catastrophe survivors from foreign lands, raiding and pillaging the virtuous collective that Thirteen had created in the East, and quite possibly having caused the Catastrophes in the first place, in order to bring about its own power.

The lunch break is announced with no fanfare, and barely any reaction. When the lights come up, I spot Effie in a back row. She's wearing the simple white wig and biting her nails. She's been doing this a lot. I slide in beside her and take her hand, not commenting on it.

She looks up, surprised. "Haymitch?"

"Let's go for a walk," I say. "Get a little sunshine."

She nods vaguely, her eyes glazed, and lets me lead her out of the room and out into the museum. She stops by the statue of me. "I'm sorry," she says.

"It's okay. I can live with a chipped statue."

"You were so brave. So smart. And you were nice to me."

I frown. "Let's get out of here."

I lead the way into the entrance hall. The sun is bright in the door, and I slow down long enough for her eyes to adjust. When we go outside, I see that it snowed again. The bright mountain sunlight is flooding the whole city, blinding me enough to make it difficult to see the damage. There's a long promenade leading from the Games museum to the shuttered mutt zoo and I walk her about halfway down it, then brush some snow from a bench and sit down with her. I take both of her hands and kiss them. "That's what they do every day?"

"Yeah. I had to read the casualty list from the bombing of District Eight this morning, and say that I understood about the complacency of Capitol citizens." She leans against my shoulder, and I let go of her hands to put my arms around her. Her arms slip comfortably around my waist. "Thank you for the sunshine," she says.

"I ordered it special."

This gets a ghost of a grin. "How are the children? By the time I'm done at this, visiting hours are over."

"Katniss is out from the latest surgery. The grafts are taking. But she's…" I don't know how to explain how Katniss is. I've always had the words, until now. The words I know don't seem to apply to anything anymore. "She misses her sister."

Effie nods, then starts to cry.

I pat the back of her wig, kiss her head a little bit, and mutter some kind of nonsense to her. I don't know if it means anything, or if she hears it.

Who's going to put the fires out? Prim Everdeen asks in my head.

I just hold Effie quietly for the rest of her lunch break, and walk her back to the museum afterward. She goes in for the rest of the day's session, and I go back to the apartment. I pull out a notebook and a pen, meaning to write some of this down, but I never make a mark. Instead, I make dinner. The best Capitol dishes I can think of, given what I'm able to procure for ingredients.

I don't end up sleeping on the couch.

It's not anything we decide, per se. It just happens.

While I don't think it's as meaningless as Dalton suggested it would be to our relationship -- after a decade and a half of abstaining, we are both quite aware of the addition -- but I think I understand what he really meant: It was just the last piece of the puzzle. We've known the shape it was taking for a long time. Nothing else is different in how we are with each other, or anyone else, the next day. She goes to her class, and I go to Command for a priority one meeting.

For some reason, Katniss is not talking at all. People are starting to get concerned. They want her on camera soon. Coin has been getting a great deal of communication from the districts. They want to see Katniss, to hear her speak, to tell them that they've won. They want her to kill Snow, live. Coin picks up on my suggestion back in Thirteen and declares that the Mockingjay will fire the final shot of the war. After the other colluders have been punished, Katniss will perform the final execution. This means she will have to wake up. When Coin tells her she can kill Snow, it at least seems to motivate her.

Plutarch announces a television show with the remaining victors in the Capitol, minus Katniss and Peeta, since they're in recovery. I expect a relatively full stage, even after everything, but it's just me, Annie, Johanna, Beetee, and Enobaria. I guess everyone else is in the districts. We're supposed to talk about how good it is that the war is over, and how the arenas will be destroyed, but he's obviously pursuing his own agenda, as he asks us about all the people in the Capitol who've helped us.

Things are calmer. People ask for autographs as we leave, and weep over Finnick and Chaff and all of the others who've left us. Whatever mob anger consumed the people who beat Aurelian, thinking he was Peeta, has dissipated, and we are now just familiar faces who are making things a little less alien.

Two weeks after Plutarch and I got Effie out of jail, Coin installs the Command staff and other prominent rebels in rooms in different parts the Presidential mansion. For our protection, of course, and because we deserve to share in the spoils of war. We are not allowed to turn this gift down. I ask if Effie can come stay with me. She can't.

I call on Tazzy and Miss Buttery to help her, but I don't know how well it works out. I am not exactly forbidden to see Effie, but I am kept busy and so is she. At first, I'm kept so busy that I don't even realize that they're playing keep-away, and when I do notice, Beetee teases me on the theme that I'm not exactly keeping track of time with my brain. After a week, even he is starting to get suspicious. I drop a meeting to go find Effie, but when I get to her, she's in the middle of a mind-numbing task involving lists of Capitol orphans needing homes. She is supposed to match them with rebel families in the districts, and families of fallen tributes. I imagine them being given away like consolation prizes. We can't talk.

Katniss continues to recover. She is moved to a regular bed in the ICU. She still won't speak, and she's assigned a psychiatrist. Plutarch insists on a man named Aurelius, who analyzed Katniss's actions during her first Games. Annie seems to know him and think well of him. He claims that Katniss is a "psychological Avox," the trauma of her sister's death forcing her into a nightmare world where she has no voice.

Another week passes.

I take to wandering around the mansion. Snow is being guarded in his private greenhouse, a concoction even more elaborate than the one I got caught in during the Victory Tour last year. Baize Paylor, of District Eight, is in charge of his guard. She is tight-lipped and angry about a great many things. She says that she wants Snow to talk to Katniss. I can't imagine why.

"Yes, you can," she says. "But you don't want to."

Peeta is moved into the mansion the next day. His burns are still very visible -- angry red marks on his face and arms -- but they are healing well. He has asked to see Katniss. They've turned him down. "I guess it makes sense," he says. "I did try to kill her. But after everything... I don't think I would."

He doesn't sound sure. Aurelius starts talking to him as well.

Gale is abruptly shipped off to District Two to lead soldiers in clearing out Peacekeepers who've holed up in the hills. I am not present when it happens, but rumors start to spread that he challenged Coin over something. It was behind closed doors.

Beetee is badly shaken after Gale's departure. He mutters about notes and traps, but he is abruptly very obedient.

I go to sleep that night thinking about what I don't want to imagine, what Gale might have challenged Coin over, why Beetee is skittish.

I think of Prim, her breath glowing, then disappearing. And I think of her looking at the unscrewed panel with the emblem of the Union of Districts and saying, "I wonder why they took that off the hovercraft."

There is something huge and horrible trying to break through my mind. I sit through a Command meeting. I don't ask any questions. I think I open my mouth a few times.

Back at my room, I find a crate of liquor from Snow's private cellars waiting for me.

I drink. There's nothing else to do.

The next several days -- I can't tell how many -- swim together, and I am lost. Whatever Snow's been keeping in his cellars makes white liquor seem like soda-pop. I seem to be back in the Victors' Village, in my house, surrounded by my mess. I wonder why Hazelle hasn't come to help me keep clean, then I remember that I'm not a licensed employer. I see Peeta, frustrated, trying to clean up around me. I tell him he should try and understand Katniss a little bit more. Somewhere, I hear that Katniss has recovered. I remember that she can't talk. I think it has something to do with the Quell.

I drink more. I look at the ceiling and I see a white bear moving among thirteen stars. I hear Prim ask her question. I tell her that it doesn't matter. How could it matter?

Images swirl into each other. I have lost my balance entirely. No one comes to take the booze away, or if they do, someone else comes and replaces it. I want to stay drunk. I want my mind to not make any more connections. I let the bear walk through the stars. My mind is much blanker than it usually is.

I start to see the bear, even when my eyes are closed. I start to dream of it. I see Beetee riding it, pulling back uselessly on the reins. I see Gale feeding it.

I drink more. I need the bear to vanish. I start sleeping with a knife again.

My mind slips back comfortably into an older time. I am at my house. Next door, Peeta is painting at all hours of the night. He isn't bringing me bread anymore. I'm not sure why. I hear that Katniss is pouting, not talking to anyone. I decide drunkenly that it must be about Gale and Peeta. The whole rebellion counting on her -- Plutarch visits me all the time and says they need her -- and she won't even talk. I figure she'll come to me. She always comes to me with problems. I don't know why.

So I am not surprised when something touches my leg, reaches me in the alcohol-induced stupor. This isn't enough. A moment later I am doused in cold water, and I open my eyes. Katniss is standing above me. She says, "Haymitch."

"Oh," I say. "You."

Her voice is shaky, but it's there. Her eyes are wide. Something in my mind says that I've forgotten something, but I can't get hold of it. "Haymitch," she says again.

"Listen to that," I say. "The Mockingjay found her voice." I laugh. "Plutarch's going to be happy." I reach for a bottle. I am shivering, and I can feel the real world lurking far too close to me. "Why am I soaking wet?"

"I need your help," she says.

Of course she does. "What is it, sweetheart? More boy trouble?"

Suddenly, her face goes pale and she makes an awful, wounded, choking sound. Everything comes back.

Everything.

The bombs.

Prim.

The bear and the stars.

She doesn't have boy troubles. She has almost been killed in an explosion that killed the one person she admits to loving. "Okay," I say, and I hear the slur in my voice. I am disgusted. So is she. She runs for the door. "Not funny. Come back!"

But she's gone.

I try to stumble from my bed, but I am tangled in the sheets and disoriented and ashamed.

I sit on the floor, in the midst of a forest of empty bottles, and I pick up my knife.

I look at the knife for a long time.

Then I put it carefully down on the dresser, change my clothes, and go out to look for Katniss.
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Comments
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 2nd, 2016 07:28 am (UTC) (Link)
I didn't get a rally good look at the approach when Gale's team came here, and it seems weirdly mundane. Really

Effie is in the bottom level of the prison, the same row of cells where Peeta, Johanna, and Annie were kept. I can still see bullet scars in the walls from the rescue. The guard keeps checking a readout on his handheld device, and finally comes to a door in the middle. He unlocks it.
The guard here seems to appear out of no where, maybe introduce him, or call him the guard from 13? I expected more pushback to get to her in the first place, even if Haymitch does have Plutarch with him.

Adding in Sunshine wasn't exactly jarring, but I think it may flow a little better with some of the descriptive cut (for example, describing the damage to the building. It was needed in the standalone, but seems extraneous here since we've heard so much about the damage earlier in this chapter and earlier ones). I do like the idea of putting in more about how evil 13 is, but perhaps get the essence of the original ficlet without using the whole thing.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 2nd, 2016 08:12 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, I think you're right about the descriptive stuff. (Rule one: Kill your darlings. :D)

I imagined the guard as one of them from 13 (as mentioned), but again, right -- I never specified that someone accompanied them, or that Plutarch fabricated orders.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 4th, 2016 05:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
Don't get me wrong, I happen to like your darlings (s'the whole reason I keep reading!). Maybe they can survive in the standalone?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 4th, 2016 05:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
They did. But I cut them here. :D
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