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Repost: The Narrow Path, Chapter 21 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
Repost: The Narrow Path, Chapter 21
A little smoothing, fixed the horrible gloss on the meeting scene. Nothing major.

Chapter Twenty-One
I stumble down the hall, thumping against walls and doors, calling for her. She hasn't been particularly careful. A bit of burned hair is caught on a door hinge here, a vase left askew there. Even I can handle tracking this simple.

It doesn't take long to find her. She has buried herself in silk sheets in a closet, and she doesn't even seem to see me standing in the door, though her eyes are open. I watch until she falls asleep. She seems happy here. Who am I to argue?

I stay there a long time, looking at the singed hair on her head, the burn scars on her arms where they poke out of her cocoon.

The scars seem like they've faded too quickly. Her hair is growing again. A fluttery, nervous wave passes through me.

I have spoken to her recently. I'm sure of it. I'm not sure when. The closet sways along like a boat in my mind, tossing us on a furious, wine-dark sea. Islands of memory try to come up.

Something is wrong here. There are too many islands, and they are too far apart.

I need to talk to someone, but I can't leave Katniss alone. She needs to be watched, and I don't know where Peeta is, so somewhere in the small hours of the morning, I go to Paylor, up by the greenhouse. She promises that her people will keep a guard, then says, "Are you ready to sober up, Abernathy? Or can we look forward to a few more weeks of this?"

"Weeks?"

She sighs. "Weeks. After the first week, no one even bothered to try and rouse you. You've been up and about a little bit -- do you remember about Snow's trial?"

I try to form a memory. Sitting in command while words floated around me. Going to sit by Katniss, either in her room or at the hospital, and trying to express that Snow was going to die. It's there. Somewhere in the mist, I know those things happened. But if asked to pinpoint just when, I'd be lost. There has been no time.

I sit down, put my head in my hands. The room seems to swim around me. "I've never been out for weeks before. I didn't know. I thought it was only a few days. It's never more than a couple of days." This may not be true. There were times after the Games when it might have been weeks. But it hasn't been that way for years. And I was doing all right. I'd been dry for months.

And then you started drinking, I remind myself. You were doing fine, then you started drinking, and it's your own damned fault, because you did it to yourself, as surely as if you climbed the hanging tree. All because you didn't want to see…

I close my eyes, but it's useless. I see Prim's breath in the moonlight, the panel leaning against the wall. I think of Gale being sent away. And about the traps he made with Beetee. Especially about those.

Paylor sits down on a foot stool and makes me look up. She runs her finger back and forth in front of my eyes, then gets one of her soldiers. "Find one of the District Six medics, and Mr. Abernathy's friend, if you can find her -- the one who's been trying to get in. We might have a bigger problem than booze here."

"Katniss wanted to talk to me," I say, after the guards leave. "She needed me, and I was drunk."

"She had a chat with our friend," Paylor says, nodding toward the greenhouse. "She said she found what she was looking for."

"What was she looking for?"

"The same thing you were when you got sidetracked by the contents of Snow's cellars," she says bitterly. "The same thing I was when I got kicked out of Command. That hovercraft."

The image of the bear walking among the stars comes into my mind again. And the panel. And Delly saying that somewhere in fabrication, where they painted things, there was a room with a Capitol flag.

And Beetee's notes.

Beetee's damned notes. The traps, the tricks. Gale's hunting strategies, the ones Beetee thought were so sadistic no one would use them.

The Capitol was an arena, full of Gamemakers' tricks, but I didn't think about the last one. I couldn't.

Because it didn't make sense.

At least not for Snow. Not for the Capitol. There was no strategic sense to it at all for them.

For us, on the other hand… for my side… for my own people…

I get up, wanting to go back to my room, wanting to start drinking again. I can't think this. I can't think it or I will go crazy. I'll have no choice. I've managed to absorb a lot without cracking, but this is beyond me. This is my whole adult life. This is everything that's mattered to me since I held Maysilee Donner on that hill, as she shook and thrashed her life away. This is me screaming into the wind that I'd take them all down, that they'd pay.

And they have, haven't they? More dead children in an instant than in a decade's worth of Games.

Paylor catches me and sits me back down easily.

"You need to wait for the medic," she says.

The medic arrives five minutes later, and in his wake, Effie.

I've left her alone for weeks.

Paylor stands up and lets Effie take the stool. She grabs my hands. "Haymitch, I've been so worried! I told them you needed detox pills, but they said that you couldn't have them. That it was against the law. They wouldn't let me in to see you. I thought you were trying to hurt yourself again!"

"I'm sorry," I say, though I'm not sure which of those things I'm apologizing for. Effie stands up, leans over, kisses me. I can't look at her. I'm ashamed to look at her.

"Miss Trinket," Paylor says, "I need you to go to Haymitch's room. Get me as many of the full bottles as you can. And at least one empty. I'm sure there's one around."

Effie nods and scurries off.

The medic looks around furtively, then shoves four detox pills into my mouth. He picks up a light and shines it in my eyes, and I think about Prim Everdeen saying, "You're in shock, Haymitch. I told you to stay warm."

Prim is dead. She burned up a day after telling me that we needed to put the fires out.

She burned up in a bombing that was a trap -- a small explosion to draw the rescuers, then a big one to kill everyone.

I try to force my mind off the path. It won't leave.

There is a lot of poking and prodding and blood-drawing, but the medic seems to know what to expect. He has brought exactly what he needs for testing. It takes him less than ten minutes to discover enough morphling in my bloodstream to keep Berenice Morrow happy for a month.

"I don't take morphling," I protest.

"It just spontaneously appeared in your blood, then," the medic says dryly. "It's a medical miracle."

Of course, it isn't. Effie arrives a few minutes later with one full bottle. "The rest of it is gone," she says. "Someone must have been in to clean."

"I'm surprised they left anything," Paylor says.

Effie rolls her eyes. "I know where Haymitch stashes bottles in the Capitol. There's always one more in case I try to cut him off. This one was in the toilet tank. They must have found the one behind the heating grate."

"Give it here," the medic says. He takes the bottle and pours a little bit onto a white cloth. Then he takes out a bottle of clear liquid and puts two drops of it onto the cloth. The drops turn a deep plum color. He grimaces, hands the bottle to Paylor, and says, "Dump it. Not into anything that will go into the water supply." She takes it and goes to a side room.

"What does that mean?" I ask.

"Paulin Gibbs used to do this deliberately," he says. "But I have a feeling it was done to you. You're either lucky or so used to poisoning yourself that it doesn't faze you."

"No one did anything to me. I started drinking. It's my fault."

He shakes his head. "They laced it with liquid morphling."

"Who did?" Effie asks.

That's a question I don't need to ask. "Why would they, though? I don't know anything. I didn't ask anything. I didn't do anything. I haven't said anything to anyone."

"Would you excuse us?" Paylor says, coming back. "I need to talk to Mr. Abernathy."

The medic leads Effie out. She keeps looking over her shoulder, so I give her a signal -- a kind of nondescript wave -- that I hope she interprets as, "I'll be right along."

Paylor sighs and leans against a desk. She is dressed in ragged, ill-used clothes, her limbs bruised and scarred. Her sidearm holster is worn to nearly nothing from constant use. "There are a lot of people asking questions. Beetee is keeping his head down. Rumor has it that Gale Hawthorne demanded to know about the bombs. He said it was like an idea he'd had. Coin told him that he was being insubordinate. He made the mistake of telling her she owed him answers. Coin does not like being told what she owes. The next thing anyone knew, Hawthorne was off in District Two. He was still changing the dressings on his bullet wounds twice a day when they sent him. He's back now, but he's behaving himself. You'd gotten quiet. You were keeping an eye on Beetee. Someone took pre-emptive action."

"The bombs were ours," I manage to say.

"Officially, I don't know. Officially, there's no word. Snow swears he didn't have any reason to drop bombs on his own citizens and break his own base, but who knows? He may have made a huge blunder and is playing one last game with it. I wouldn't put it past him. Maybe Coin is just shutting up people who question her by habit."

"Has she denied it?"

"When I went to see her, she said she shouldn't have to deny it to someone who is supposed to be in her upper command structure. Take that however you want to."

"I don't want to take it at all."

"Me, either," Paylor admits. "I think -- "

But what she thinks, I don't find out that night, because I am summoned abruptly to Command, practically frog marched by one of Coin's assistants. I pass Effie on the way. She is being led off as well, and the people doing it better hope that they're not taking her anywhere I don't approve of.

The Command staff is around the table, in varying states of wakefulness. Beetee seems most normal. I'd wager he was up working on something and didn't even realize what time it had become. Gale looks like he's fighting to keep his eyes open. Others are asking for coffee. Plutarch has brewed a pot of it, but he's keeping it for himself and constantly refilling his cup.

Coin herself looks quite perky, happier than I've seen her. Apparently, executing beauticians puts quite a spring in her step.

"Well," she says, "I understand our mockingjay is talking again."

"She's still pretty shaken up," I say.

"And her mentor has managed to crawl out of a bottle, how delightful." She gives me a disgusted look, then continues. "As you know, I've been waiting for Soldier Everdeen to recover enough to perform the execution of Coriolanus Snow. Once that's done, everything left is clean-up. That will be the final Games-based execution. The trials of Capitol liaisons in the districts have been completed. We will allow the districts to choose their own modes of punishment. I want to have the Mockingjay prepared for the execution by noon. Heavensbee, you see to it that the filming and broadcast are impeccable. There are people all over Panem waiting for this. I get word every day that people are looking forward to seeing the Mockingjay kill Snow." This must gall her, but she limits herself to a patronizing little smile. "Soldier Abernathy, you and Miss Trinket, as always, will get her ready. Miss Trinket is being taken to prep as we speak, and we are retrieving Soldier Everdeen's team from District Thirteen as well. They have been granted pardons for their service to the Rebellion."

"Don't you think it's a little soon?" Gale asks. "If she just started talking today..."

"I believe this has been delayed quite long enough. If she has broken through her self-imposed muteness, then the rest can certainly be handled medically." She looks at Dr. Aurelius, who glares, but nods. "Very well, then. Beetee, Hawthorne, prepare the Mockingjay's weapons. Everyone else, you are assigned to making sure that every citizen of the Capitol is there in the square to watch the execution. They will cheer." She gets up and straightens her papers, then says she has "further district business" and dismisses us. I go to Katniss's suite of rooms and sit there, smelling the high stink of the burn ointment that has permeated the whole place.

Coin does not want to give her time to recover any further. Paylor's guards find me and tell me that Katniss has woken up and they are bringing her here. I draw her a bath. I don't know which of the many things in here she likes, so I just toss in some honeysuckle scented bubbles. I assume she'll want a bath, and even if she doesn't, her prep team will insist on it. There is a white rose in her bathroom, opening in the steam. It's one of Snow's, I'm sure. I don't know why she has it. Aurelius comes by with pills for both of us -- more detoxers that he slips me quietly, then a handful of stimulants and mood stabilizers for Katniss. There's also a tray of food.

When the guards bring her, they leave her with me. "Katniss," I say. "I'm sorry. About yesterday. I--"

She sees me now. She knows I'm here, which is a step up from last night in her closet. But she looks away quite deliberately. I don't blame her.

"Talk to me, Katniss. Call me names. Do whatever you need to."

She doesn't do anything.

"You need to take your pills," I say. She obediently takes them, still not looking at me. "Katniss..." No response. I shake my head. I deserve it. "Go take a bath."

She pads off without argument, and a minute later, I hear the splash of the water as she steps in.

I wait for any other sound. I'm not sure what. I feel like she should have supervision in a tub deep enough to drown in, but I'm not going to go in.

Effie solves the problem. She arrives a few minutes later with Venia, Octavia, and Flavius, and we send them into the bathroom. Effie herself has been done up in her usual Games fashion. She is wearing a heavy gold wig, shiny shoes, and a smart black dress with oversized golden buttons. She's even managed to get her makeup on properly. Either that or Katniss's preps did it.

"It feels good to be in nice things again," she says vaguely, and I wonder if they've discovered the wonders of chemistry in controlling her as well.

I reach out and touch her face and she looks at me fondly, but without any of last night's concern, let alone anything of the days we spent in her apartment after we pulled her out of prison. "I'm sorry I disappeared, Effie," I say.

"It's all right," she says, and wanders over to Katniss's window. "Everything's very strange, isn't it? I don't really understand it all. But they told me Katniss needs me to be normal. Am I normal, Haymitch?"

"Yeah," I say. "Yeah, sure you are."

She nods and watches the snow melt, then says, "Oh, dear, I almost forgot. You're to report to the ground floor. There's a staging area near the balcony. You need to be prepped."

"What do I need prep for?"

She turns and smiles. "Well, you can't very well show up on camera in clothes you've slept in, and they'll need to make you up a little bit, at least. You're practically yellow."

She doesn't offer further conversation, and I leave to go down to the staging area. Some of the production workers are there. They give me a military uniform, but tell me to wait to put it on until I've been prepped. At least it's not as extensive as a Games prep. They just give me a shave, comb my hair, and dust me with something that presumably makes me look less sallow. I am just finishing getting dressed when Peeta comes in, already in a uniform, looking confused. He still has an angry burn mark on his forehead, and they haven't tried to cover it up. His eyebrows are singed off, but I can see a few brave hairs trying to re-grow already.

"Haymitch, what is this?" he asks as we're herded into a conference room, where a small, shiny table sits in a bar of pale winter sunlight.

I don't know. Technically, we do both hold a rank in the army, as does Johanna, who appears after us, and Beetee, who is wheeled in. But Annie Odair was certainly never military, and as far as I know, she can't inherit Finnick's rank. And when Enobaria saunters in wearing a rebel uniform, my confusion is complete. She might not even have been on our side.

"Looks like a little reunion," she says. "Who's missing?"

"Who isn't?" Johanna asks, and puts herself protectively in front of Annie. Annie actually seems relatively serene.

"Katniss isn't here," Peeta says.

Beetee pulls himself up to the table. "She's coming. She's in prep."

"Well, then, that's everyone," Enobaria says. She looks around at the rest of us. "Didn't you know? We're the last seven victors."

"In the Capitol?" Beetee asks.

"Anywhere," Enobaria says, smiling tightly. "Makes me feel lucky just thinking about it."

I close my eyes. Like Beetee, I'd really convinced myself that Plutarch's little show before Coin locked us up in the mansion was just the handful of us who happened to be in the Capitol. It wasn't.

"This is really it?" Peeta asks.

"Yeah," Enobaria tells him. "Between the arena and the fight at the Viewing Center, we lost thirty before the war started. Of course, Finnick" -- Peeta winces -- "and Lyme, in District Two. I always liked her. Others in the war. Both sides. After that? Executions. Plain old murders. Vengeance." She says this dispassionately, then looks out the window. "So, yeah. Fifty-two down. Seven left."

"They killed Caesar, too," Peeta says. No one quite knows what to make of that non-sequitur. "Why aren't we dead?"

Johanna shrugs and sits down. "You're not dead because Haymitch dragged you through a war zone to a sponsor's house. Haymitch isn't dead because he's too ornery to die. Katniss isn't dead because there was no way in hell they were going to let her die. The rest of us? Who knows?"

"I know," Annie says. "I'm alive because I need to be." She doesn't elaborate.

The door opens and Katniss comes in, dressed as the Mockingjay. In the past, this has looked rather fearsome. Today, she looks like a small child playing dress-up. Her preps have done some kind of magic on her hair and covered most of her scars. She's carrying a glass of water with the white rose in it.

We have the same conversation again -- about being the last of the victors -- and Beetee elaborates on the targeting. I guess he's been working on this. When he points out that the rebels have been targeting Capitol sympathizers, Johanna wrinkles her nose at Enobaria and says, "So what's she doing here?"

Alma Coin chooses this point to come in. "She is protected under what we call the Mockingjay Deal. Wherein Katniss Everdeen agreed to support the rebels in exchange for captured victors' immunity. Katniss has upheld her side of the bargain, and so shall we." She gives Katniss a rather smug look at this, probably a reminder that the deal is still in effect on both sides. Katniss doesn't notice the implied threat, as she is distracted by Johanna's subsequent promise that she will personally kill Enobaria. This is old news. Johanna and Enobaria aren't exactly friends, but this kind of thing is their version of a friendly conversation.

Coin loftily calls the meeting to order, as if we'd been just waiting for her to arrive before daring to talk about anything.

"I've asked you here to settle a debate," she says. "Today, we will execute Snow. In the previous weeks, hundreds of his accomplices in the oppression of Panem have been tried and now await their own deaths."

This takes a minute to sink in with me. I've been paying attention to the Capitol, to the executions of Games workers. It never occurred to me that she's been doing this all over the country. I wonder if those hundreds of people really are still alive, or if they've already disappeared somewhere.

Coin catches my look, and I carefully rearrange my face, before she decides to force feed me some new drug. "However," she continues, "the suffering in the districts has been so extreme that these measures appear insufficient to the victims. In fact, many are calling for a complete annihilation of those who held Capitol citizenship."

Genocide. She is talking about genocide. I don't know who in the hell she's been debating with. I know it's not me. Judging by the look on Beetee's face, this is the first he's heard of it as well.

It must be her cabal from Thirteen. And maybe some of the lunatics who've been executing victors in their own districts. The leaders of Panem.

Of my side.

She assures us that this would make it impossible to keep up a viable gene pool, so of course, we don't want to do it. No other reasons for abstaining come up.

"So, an alternative has been placed on the table. Since my colleagues and I can come to no consensus it has been agreed that we will let the victors decide. A majority of four will approve the plan. No one may abstain from the vote."

I sit up straighter, on alert. There's no reason to consult victors in particular unless it has something to do with the Games, and nothing is supposed to have to do with the damned Games anymore.

Katniss is staring at her rose. Peeta is staring at Katniss. Johanna doesn't seem to care what's going on, and neither does Enobaria. But Annie and Beetee are alert as well. Whatever Coin has in mind, I doubt she's worried about a consensus. She never has been before. Whatever she is planning to do, it's bad, and she means to blame the remaining victors for it.

"What has been proposed is that, in lieu of eliminating the entire Capitol population, we have a final, symbolic Hunger Games, using the children directly related to those who held the most power."

This gets everyone's attention. Johanna says, "What?"

Coin repeats herself, as if Jo were really asking for clarification.

Peeta looks lost. "Are you joking?"

"No. I should also tell you that if we do hold the Games, it will be known it was done with your approval, although the individual breakdown of your votes will be kept secret for your own security."

This has a horribly familiar ring. A Gamemaker's ring. I close my eyes. "Was this Plutarch's idea?"

I am grateful when she tells me that it wasn't. It was hers. "It seemed to balance the need for vengeance with the least loss of life. You may cast your votes."

I don't really listen to the votes. Peeta is furious. That's not a surprise. I wonder if he realizes that voting against the Games is voting for genocide. She hasn't given an option in which she does nothing. She has turned the whole thing into a debate on whether or not to hold the Games, and if we vote no, she will say, "What a shame. The victors decided to kill a million people instead of just twenty-three." If we vote yes, she will declare that we -- the people who risked everything to stop the Games -- have decided to hold them again in retaliation. Sooner or later, we'll be held responsible for the outcome, and that will take us out of her power equation. I imagine her sighing with her fake regret, saying, "I'm sorry to lose them, of course, but the people are demanding their blood, after what they did. There's just no choice." Maybe she'll even choose to hold another "symbolic" Games to get us to do her dirty work for her.

Either way, that's how it will end. It's just a question of which crime we want her to commit on our supposed behalf.

Coin herself obviously wants the Games. She is practically salivating at the thought of holding her very own version of them.

I wish I could believe that Johanna and Enobaria vote yes to stop an even bigger crime, but they're both pretty clear. They want a little payback. Jo even recommends Snow's granddaughter. I doubt that, if she saw the pretty little nine-year-old girl with her long black ringlets, she'd stick to it... at least I hope she wouldn't. Enobaria just plain doesn't care.

Beetee and Annie and Peeta are adamant that we not start the Games again. They don't address the issue of the mass murders that are the alternative. Maybe they think she won't go through with it, despite the escalating scale of executions.

The vote comes to Katniss.

I look at her.

She is staring at Coin, and I know she's seeing a bigger picture than any of the others. She's heard the whole question, or at least most of it. She knows that we are being thrown into the fire again, sacrificial offerings to keep the flames raging. She knows that Coin will not stop at one Hunger Games. How can she, when the Games have always been as addictive as morphling, dangling hope in front of people like a shiny apple, even if they know, somewhere in their minds, that the apple is poisoned? But here is Coin, the wicked witch of every fairy tale, ready to hold it out again.

For a long time, Katniss just stares. She doesn't look at me, but I feel everything in what she says is aimed at me: "I vote yes. For Prim."

This is met with utter silence. The vote is tied. I don't know what the others are thinking, but I look at Katniss. I look at her face, unreadable to most people. Her eyes are cast down at the table. She has shut everyone out.

"Haymitch," Coin says, "it's up to you."

I know it is. And I know what it will mean.

Because I know what Katniss means to do. I know it with absolute certainty. She could have just said yes. But she didn't. She voted for it for Prim. She knows what happened, and she knows what Coin is. And she needs me to know that she knows.

Prim's last wish -- at least the last wish that anyone knew about -- was to put out this fire, not spread it. Katniss might not have been there to hear it, but she knew her sister. Her vote is for Prim.

But not in the way that Coin will hear it.

Coin has just heard the one thing she has wanted from the start: an obedient Mockingjay. She will now assume Katniss is on her side permanently. She will be compliant. She will not be careful. She has tamed her mockingjay after all. She will have nothing to fear.

I can feel her waiting for my vote.

If I vote no, I doubt it will change what Katniss means to do. She'll just feel completely alone when she does it. Worse, it will put Coin back in a temper, maybe make her more careful than she would be otherwise. Peeta is haranguing me, begging me to vote no, to keep my soul.

It's too late for that.

"I'm with the Mockingjay," I say.

Katniss and I don't look at each other as Coin cheerfully jumps to her feet and declares that it's time to take our places for the execution. Wouldn't want to miss our cues, after all. Katniss is pulled away by producers. I even catch a glimpse of Effie, though I want to make sure I'm not near her right now.

"How could you?" Peeta asks. "Haymitch, after everything, how could you -- "

I turn on him, wait until the bustle of the room covers everything I say. "Listen, Peeta. There was never a choice. Do you understand me? There wasn't a choice."

"There's always a choice!"

"There is now. Katniss is going to create a choice." I look around. "Get toward the front. She's going to need you there."

"She just voted for -- "

"Peeta. Think. Use your brain, and think."

He goes still. Suddenly, he grabs the wrists of his uniform and pulls them harshly down against his skin, some of it still burned. He gasps at the pain. I try to touch him, but he pulls away.

Finally, he stops. He looks up, his eyes looking even wider than usual without his eyebrows to frame them. "Haymitch," he whispers. "Oh, Haymitch, they'll kill her..."

"I think that's her plan. She's not going to get her way. I'm going to take care of them," I say, nodding toward the guards. "You take care of her."

He nods, and weaves his way up toward the balcony doors. Crazily, someone asks for his autograph. He smiles and gives it before I turn away.

I head for the back of a cleared area, where an honor guard has assembled in an arc. They aren't just decorative. They're present to make sure no one tries to defend Snow. Their guns are at the ready. Each has a shiny knife in his belt.

Coin appears on the terrace in front of the mansion, and the crowd, apparently well-trained after a few weeks of re-education, cheers wildly. Katniss comes next, showing herself in profile with the bow raised. Her image is all over the screens that surround us in the shattered ruins of City Center. Finally, they bring out Snow and secure him to a post, just in front of Coin. He is a little bit slumped, and she stands on a podium so that she is above him.

Katniss raises her arrow. It looks like she really does mean to shoot Snow. She stares at him. On the screens, I can see that he smiles back wickedly, blood dripping from his mouth.

Katniss straightens her shoulders.

Raises the arrow only the smallest bit higher.

She fires.

Coin falls.

Snow laughs.

Everything falls into chaos.
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Comments
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 19th, 2016 11:53 am (UTC) (Link)
I can honestly say that I missed a lot of Coin's little manipulations on my first read of Mockingjay, but it's so much clearer and well reasoned from Haymitch's mind.

A few pick-ups:

"the scar seem like they've faded too quickly"
-needs the plural scars

"I get up, wanting to go back to my room, wanting to start drinking again. I can't think this."
-possibly should be think like this, I'm not sure.

-Maraudercat
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