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HG: The Narrow Path, Chapter Four - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
HG: The Narrow Path, Chapter Four
Oh, yeah, that's why I picked a character not in every canon scene. It's hard to write canon scenes without just re-writing them! ;p

Anyway, Katniss just pulled out her earpiece.

Chapter Four
"Katniss!" I yell uselessly. "Dammit!"

"What's she doing?" Plutarch whispers urgently.

I look at the monitor, where she's climbing up the side of a building toward Baize Paylor's team of sharpshooters. "She's joining the fight." I look around quickly. "Did anyone hear me yell?"

"I don't think so, not with all this going on."

I grind my teeth. This was the only thing Katniss could have done, but if she looks out of control, her deal falls apart. They'll start by taking her cat and end up executing Peeta. "She's following orders," I say. "She's doing exactly what we want her to do. She's going right up front. Being wonderful, as Fulvia would put it."

Plutarch stares at me, then the full implications hit him. He pushes a series of buttons that give him access to everyone's earpieces. "We have engaged the Mockingjay in battle," he says, though I doubt anyone on her team is fooled. "Give her cover if you can. And fight the bombers, like she is." He turns to the microphone off and looks at me. "She can't do that again, Haymitch. You need to control her."

"I told Coin, I don't control Katniss. I talk to Katniss. She understands me. She doesn't always agree with me."

He leans forward and hisses, "This is not the arena, Haymitch. It's not 'anything goes' down there. She's not just responsible for surviving, or getting Peeta out of something. When she goes off script, it puts strategies in danger that she doesn't even know about, and it's likely to cost lives."

"I know. But Plutarch, this is her. This is your mockingjay. This is the Katniss Everdeen that people believe in. If you wanted a dress-up doll, you picked the wrong girl."

He nods.

When I look back, I see that we have a viewpoint from behind a ventilation pipe. I can see Katniss's film crew as they try to get out of each other's way. Finally, they get two clear shots on Katniss and Gale, who are shooting fire-tipped arrows at Capitol bombers. They don't do any less than the guns, but that's not saying much. Katniss hits a plane and it wobbles, and then it can't seem to turn invisible again.

"Shielding is vulnerable," Plutarch says into his microphone. "Hits to the skin will keep them where we can see them."

I start to tell Katniss she's doing a good job, but her earpiece is out. I switch to Gale. "Did you see them lose their shielding?" I ask

"Read you," Gale says. He levels his bow at another plane.

"Keep her covered," I tell him.

"Every day," he says.

After that, it would be crazy to keep talking to him in the middle of a battle. A second wave comes, and Gale and Katniss switch over to Beetee's explosive-tipped arrows. These are far beyond anything Paylor's guns are doing -- they're the equivalent of small ground-to-air missiles. Katniss takes out the lead plane, and Gale takes out another. A third wave appears, and three more planes go down. The guns manage to take out another, then the wave stops.

The silence drifts below us like smoke.

"Clear!" a voice says into everyone's ears, and Paylor repeats it to her crew. They all straighten up and look out at the wreckage.

"Did they hit the hospital?" Katniss asks.

Paylor nods. She's not miked, so I can only hear her faintly from Katniss's microphone: "Must have."

The film crew emerges from behind the air duct, and Katniss is obviously surprised by them. I doubt it occurred to her that she was being filmed.

They start down from the building.

Plutarch gets back on the broadcast. "That's it. We're getting everyone out. The medical cargo transport can pick up the" -- he grinds his teeth -- "the survivors at the emergency rendezvous point."

"Survivors?" I repeat.

"Our medics were in the hospital," he says. Something flashes and he turns a dial. "No, Cressida, it's too dangerous -- yes -- well, I -- the fires are still burning -- Snow's running it live on the Capitol feed --"

Katniss reaches street level, and her microphone picks up Cressida's side of the conversation. "I don't care, Plutarch! Just give me five more minutes!"

Upon hearing that someone else is attracting our attention, Katniss bolts off into the blown-apart streets. Gale follows her to the site of the hospital, now a burning crater. It reminds me of a poem by Abrianna Fabbri that I read in school. It was from the Catastrophe era, about the Santorini eruption: "Inferno Arriva" -- hell arrives. From above, I can see flame-ringed people struggling beneath the burning roof. They cease their struggles as I watch and fade into the raging flames.

"Gale," I say, "we have a hovercraft. Get out of there."

He can't get Katniss to move. She's transfixed by the flames, trying to understand why the Capitol would do such a thing. Gale comes up with some strategic reasons, which don't seem to settle on Katniss much more than they settle on me.

They bombed the hospital because it's what they do.

While they talk, Plutarch, horrified, flips a screen up from the command table. President Snow is claiming that the bombing of innocents was a message to the districts. Plutarch speaks to Cressida again. "Do we have enough? Can we make an answer for him quickly? I'll... I'll come up with something to say back in Thirteen. We can't leave it unanswered..."

Katniss turns away slowly, heading back for her film crew, and that's when it happens.

Cressida steps forward. Plutarch keeps asking her what she's doing, but she doesn't answer him. She just goes to Katniss and says, "President Snow has just had them air the bombing live. Then he made an appearance to say that this was his way of sending a message to the rebels. What about you? Would you like to tell the rebels anything?"

"Yes," Katniss whispers.

Then she erases any notion of what Plutarch might have written. She calls on her anger. She rejects Peeta's suggested cease-fire, "Because you know who they are and what they do."

And it's as simple as that, isn't it? All the political philosophy and bellicose posturing in the world look like child's play compared to knowing what the Capitol does. It's either fight them or let them murder you. And Katniss speaks for all of the districts, all of the bereaved, all of the broken, when she declares that it's time to fight.

"You can torture us and bomb us and burn our districts to the ground, but do you see that?" She points to the wreckage of a plane. "Fire is catching! And if we burn, you burn with us!"

There is silence in the hovercraft. I look up and see the crew standing in front of the broadcast screen, dumbfounded.

Plutarch looks at me. "Haymitch, when it comes to Katniss, I will not doubt your judgment again."

"Then get her out of there," I say, as she collapses from the wound in her leg. Plutarch gives the order (again).

I have gotten what I wanted. The Mockingjay is singing, as beautifully as I always knew she could. But at the moment, all I can see is Boggs carrying her small, limp body to the medical cargo ship.

Plutarch and I don't speak on the way back to Eight. It has been a long day, filled with too many things. When we land, I can't really process that the sun is still up.

The wounded are taken to the hospital, where the staff is reeling from the loss of the medics. Coin is going among them, promising vengeance. She ignores me altogether, which I'm glad of. I can follow Katniss as far as the treatment room, then she's swept away. A distracted doctor tells me that the wound isn't severe, and she probably just passed out from stress.

I am not prepared when something small and hard shoves me into the wall.

I turn around and find Ruth Everdeen, her hands still extended into claws. I raise my hands for defense if necessary. I don't underestimate the fingernails on Everdeen women. "She's going to be okay," I say.

"You took her into a combat zone? You said you'd take of her!"

"Ruth, she needs to do this. She needs to fight. She took down three Capitol planes --"

I'm glad I have my arms up protectively, because Ruth moves fast. She makes a sound somewhere between a scream and a snarl and I barely catch her by the wrists. I look around and find an empty exam room (even after a battle, not all the facilities are used; I remember what Dalton told me about Thirteen losing a big chunk of its population), and drag her inside. I close the door.

"Listen to me," I say.

"No! I am done listening to you, Haymitch. You got her through the arena, but the Games are over. Do you hear me? They're over, and you can't take these kinds of risks anymore! She's not your little girl!"

Katniss hasn't been anyone's "little girl" since she was eleven and had to take over the family because Ruth checked out, but I hold my tongue on saying this. Katniss has been trying, albeit inexpertly, to mend that rift. So I say, "She's about the closest thing I've got. You know that, and you know why." She doesn't argue. She was one of the people who helped me get through it when my girl, Digger Hardy, was murdered. She knows I don't attach to people lightly. "Will you listen to me?"

Ruth fumes to herself, but calms down enough to sit stiffly on an examination stool.

I pull myself up onto the exam table. "It was dangerous. I was a little worried, especially when she pulled that earpiece out."

"She did... what?"

"She cut herself off so I couldn't tell her what to do." I shake my head. That has to stop. "But she was really herself today," I tell Ruth. "None of this lurking around in closets. No refusing to speak. She was being what she needs to be."

"She's seventeen, Haymitch. It's not a place for seventeen year old."

I sigh. "Ruth, why do you let Primrose work here in the hospital?"

"That's different."

"She sees bad injuries. Gets exposed to some nasty bugs. And I don't even know what cranky old drunks with the shakes expose her to."

"It's different."

"It's different because you understand it. You were doing this when you were her age. Katniss is a fighter. Like Glen. How old was Glen when you started patching him up?"

"Sixteen," she says reluctantly. "He was a year behind us. It was right after you came back."

"Exactly. And Katniss is Glen's little girl. Always was."

She looks into a corner for a long time, apparently meditating on a cracked tile, then says, "You're a bastard sometimes, Haymitch. I hate that you just did that."

"Did what?"

"Tried to make me choose between my daughter's safety and my husband's memory."

"I wasn't trying to make you do anything. There's nothing you need to do. Katniss already agreed to this."

"Because you told her to!"

I laugh. "Right. Because she always does what I tell her."

"Do you really think I haven't seen the way she goes to you when she has a problem? She doesn’t come to me. She goes to you the same way she'd have gone to her father. That she's angry at you doesn't change that. And she will always do what she thinks will please you. She'll make up reasons to do it for herself, but --"

"That's not even close to true," I say.

"It's exactly true." Ruth sighs and leans forward, the fight going out of her. "She trusts you. Maybe not with the truth, but with her life. She hasn't trusted me for years. And you used that to throw her into combat."

"It wasn't supposed to be combat. Not today."

"Of course it was. I've read the reports from the other districts, at least the ones they put in the daily news here. There's always a second bombing run. All they were talking about here before it hit was whether or not our staff would get out in time."

"I didn't know that. They didn't give me any news while I was out, and they didn't brief me on that." This doesn't change the fact that my intent was to send Katniss into combat -- eventually -- and I don't try to argue otherwise. "But you've seen her, Ruth. You've seen the way she's been since they took Peeta. She wasn't like that today. She was herself."

Ruth stands up and crosses her arms over her chest. "Who's told you about the way she's been? You've been out of commission."

"Who hasn't told me?" I ask. "Everyone's seen it."

She closes her yes. "Fine. Not that it makes a difference whether I say it's fine or not. You'll keep doing what you do. But fine. I'll let Katniss be Katniss. And it gets her killed, I will never forgive you."

"I wouldn't forgive myself, either."

"But that's not going to stop you, is it?" She sighs, then opens her eyes and heads back out into the hospital, where grief-dazed doctors, missing their colleagues, are swearing revenge on the Capitol as they patch up the wounded.

I wait a few minutes, then leave as well. Katniss is still in treatment for the shrapnel in her leg, and there's no good waiting area, so I decide to do my daily check-in to prove I'm not drunk. While I’m waiting for the results, I spot a huddled form in a chair far back in the nurses' lounge -- a blond girl, tired-looking, not terribly pretty, her shoulders hunched down, her hands over her eyes.

I frown. "Delly?"

She looks up and creates a smile out of thin air. "Haymitch! I'm glad you're all right. I've been hearing about the battle."

"I was never on the ground. Katniss took some shrapnel."

"Is she okay?"

"Yeah, it's not serious. At least that's what I've heard."


I lean over the counter. "What about you? You don't look very good."

"I'm supposed to be cheering people up," she says. "But we all saw the bombing. My head keeps going back to District Twelve. I saw the people burning." She takes a shaky breath. "I keep thinking about my folks and Ed."

"You should get out of here. Go someplace, have a cry. Or whatever you need to do."

"They won't let me out. It's my job." She shrugs. "Anyway, if I start with that, I won't stop." She forces another smile. "So, I do my job. Do you need anything?"

I can't think of a thing I need that Delly Cartwright could help with. A couple of months ago, I'd have found messages for her to carry, or maybe a spy to hide. She and Ed helped hide Winnow Robinson last winter. But now, she's outside the structure of the rebellion, and I can't think of anything she can do. I just shake my head.

"Well, give me a holler if that changes," she says, as the nurse comes back with my negative result for the day. "I’m generally around here somewhere." She smiles brightly at the nurse.

The nurse glowers back and says, "Thanks, Soldier Cartwright, but the only thing that's going to cheer me up is seeing Coriolanus Snow hung from a yardarm for the birds to eat."

"Okay," Delly says. She waves to me as I leave. "See you, Haymitch."

"That's Soldier Abernathy," the nurse hisses.

"Not to my old friends," I say. "I'll see you around, Delly."

I check my schedule and discover that I'm meant to be at dinner. I go to the dining hall and consider joining Hazelle and her kids (minus Gale), but decide that she's surrounded by too many other people. It's probably not permitted to sit away from my assigned spot, anyway, which happens to be with Dalton and a few of the people who live down the hall from us, I guess. Dalton introduces the woman he's talking to as Harriet Peale. She and her sister Letitia live across the hall from us. Letitia is on duty in the hospital. There are four men named Felix Bonnet, Harold James, Walter Bass, and Hector Grimm, but I don't learn which is which. Two more women arrive during the meal, late from their assignments, and introduce themselves as Soldiers Miller and Kinney. The others have a joke of trying to learn their first names, and they play along. Today's guesses seem to be "Rosalind" (for Miller) and "Prudence" (for Kinney). There's an elaborate game of some kind in which it's determined that these names aren't right, but everyone still calls them Rosie and Pru until we head back to our hall.

Before I can get to my apartment for any grilling Dalton is obliged to give me about my drinking, I'm interrupted by a breathless messenger who has obviously been running for quite a long way. "Soldier Abernathy," he manages, "you're needed in Command."

"It's a half past seven," I say. "Who needs me?"

"Orders from Colonel Heavensbee, sir. You're to report to production."

"Tell them to give you a rank," Kinney says, grinning. "If they're going to pull you around like that off-schedule, you should be an officer."

I have a feeling that they're going to force a rank onto me one way or another eventually, but I'm certainly not going to ask for one. I just roll my eyes and start down toward Command, hoping I don't manage to get myself lost.

It's close to seven-forty-five when I get to the booth, where Plutarch is huddled with Katniss's director, Cressida, and her assistant, Messalla. Fulvia is sitting in a corner in a large chair, scribbling something in her notebook. There are several screens lit up around them, all with different images of Katniss from this afternoon. A moment after I arrive, Alma Coin comes in, without her usual entourage.

"We have the first propo cut," Plutarch says. "Cressida's brilliant. Wait until you see it."

"You could do it that quickly?" I ask. "We've only back a couple of hours."

"She gave us everything we need to work with," Cressida says. "It was just a question of picking the best shots. I'm using Fulvia's idea for the very end, but with Katniss's new line instead of the old one. We had the special effects ready."

"Her new line?" Coin asks.

"'If we burn, you burn with us,'" Plutarch says. "Simple. To the point. And it tells Snow that every horror he tries to inflict is going to be answered. No more fear in the districts. He can't keep power without that."

Coin presses her lips together. "If that line airs, then she's committed us to a policy."

"Wasn't that the policy anyway?" I ask. "To fight Snow instead of bending to him?"

"Yes, but I prefer to state my policies myself. We may not be able to respond to every attack."

"People understand that," Cressida says. "If we win, then everyone will be avenged, whether any given slight is answered or not." She shakes her head. "It's a propo. It's good. And even if Snow guesses that you can't answer every bombing, he doesn’t know which ones you're going to answer. So it'll put a little fear in him. Personally, after all these years, I think 'scared' is a good look for him."

"Very well," Coin says. "Show me what you have."

With as much of a flourish as he can put into pressing a button, Plutarch cues up his propo. It opens with a blank screen, then he grins and says, "I borrowed a little something from the Games."

Claudius Templesmith's voice comes up as flames etch out an image of Katniss's pin: "Katniss Everdeen, the girl who was on fire, burns on."

Coin smiles faintly. "Good choice."

"It'll make Claudius crazy, at any rate," Cressida says. "That's a plus."

Katniss, bloodied and dirty on the broken streets of District Eight, replaces the image of the pin and begins the speech she gave this afternoon. As she talks about the bombing of the hospital, Plutarch has inserted pictures of her talking to the patients earlier in the afternoon. "This is what they do!" she cries. "And we must fight back!" After it, Cressida and Plutarch have created a montage of the battle, showing her in action, showing the planes going down. She delivers her line, then flames burn up the image and the words appear:


The flames then consume them as well, and the screen is black again.

"I'm convinced," Coin says, without much emotion. "I believe this will rally the districts, at any rate. A voice of one of their own, reminding them of what they all know. It's quite striking." She presses a button on the console. "Soldier Bannerjay, are you prepared?"

I have no idea who she's talking to until I hear Beetee's voice. I don't think I've actually heard his surname aloud for years. "Just about, if Plutarch is."

"Ready to go here," Plutarch tells him.

"We can really do this?" I ask. "Right now?"

"You would prefer to wait?" Coin asks.

"No. It all just seems to be moving very quickly."

"Haven't we been taking it slow long enough?" Plutarch says. "I seem to recall a District Twelve mentor this spring being a little annoyed with me for taking things too slowly." He smiles. "Shall we do it?"

"Maybe we should wake Katniss up for it."

"There's no need," Coin says. "She'll see it when she's been healed from her injury. She's done her part."

For about ten minutes, Beetee and Plutarch do some kind of technical dance that I don't entirely understand, then, at eight o'clock sharp, they manage to cut into the feeds of every district in Panem -- though not the Capitol -- with our propo.

It airs here in Thirteen as well, and when I go out into the halls, I find people fiercely happy, chanting anti-Capitol slogans. A young man in a public area sees me and gives me a sharp military salute. There are even cheers, of a regimented sort. I promise to pass them on to Katniss, though I really don't have much intention of doing so. That's a sponsor promise. If she seems to need it, I'll tell her, but I have a feeling it would disturb her.

When I get back to my apartment, Dalton has the television on under the giant cow. It's the only light in the place, and it casts flickering shadows over everything. I sit down on my bunk, next to the picture of Effie that I've put on the scheduler.

"They're going to show it again," Dalton says. "I can't wait. I love it. She's great."

Beetee may or may not be able to break in again. For now, programming has gone back to the regularly scheduled silliness of Capitol-approved television. It's currently running a series about a too-cute-to-be-believed little orphan boy who's been informally adopted by a squadron of Peacekeepers, who of course are always and forever being recruited to find lost dogs and rescue kids from dire circumstances. In this episode, the squadron commander is trying to arrange for a popular young dancer to come and entertain the troops. The little boy is involved in a crazy scheme to help get around the red tape. He has just, for some reason, dressed up as a high society schoolboy, when the screen goes black and a high whistle signals a break-in broadcast.

"Here she is," Dalton says.

But it's not Katniss's propo.

Instead, an image of a forest at sunset appears. Peacekeepers rush through the trees, guns drawn. Lumberjacks run at them with axes. As the camera draws back, it shows bodies strewn across the ground. Some are rebels, some are Peacekeepers. The screen splits, and shows another battle, this one seemingly in District Ten, where a few horses are among the dead. (Dalton draws back in horror.) A third split shows the shoreline in District Four. I can actually see Winnow Robinson on a boat in the harbor, firing at the beach. Peacekeepers and fishermen lie dead together in the sand.

Claudius Templesmith's voice comes over the images. "Violent riots have erupted in several districts. Our brave Peacekeepers are trying to restore order, but current reports indicate up to one hundred deaths so far. No estimate can yet be made on the destruction of property, both Capitol and District owned."

The cameras linger heavily on the bodies, then the screen fills with choking black smoke. Words appear in white:


The screen goes black, then returns to the ridiculous show. Dalton turns it off.

I go to bed, looking at my picture of Effie, thinking of Peeta, of Johanna, of Winnow.

I dream of death.
10 comments or Leave a comment
dragonzair From: dragonzair Date: April 6th, 2013 08:30 am (UTC) (Link)
I really shouldn't read these before I go to bed. I end up thinking too much, and start getting rather sad. That cliffhanger is probably the most painful one I've read from you. I really hope you give Haymitch a well deserved hug at the end or something. Hugs for everyone D:
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 6th, 2013 01:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'll try to give him a little bit of comfort at the end.

I don't know how well Snow will like that Capitol propo -- showing the Capitol LOSING people? -- but it would be very effective against certain combatants. Now, I have to figure out why Katniss wasn't told about it. Well, we know they like to not tell her things in Thirteen, so that's not a huge stretch, I guess.
dragonzair From: dragonzair Date: April 7th, 2013 12:38 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, I think it's believable enough that things were just too hectic to remember to mention it to Katniss. Much in the same way she didn't manage to tell anyone in the arena about Cinna, maybe?
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 7th, 2013 09:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
I thought that was because they were being recorded all the time in the arena. Though maybe that was why initially, but afterwards things got so crazy that she forgot.
shortysc22 From: shortysc22 Date: April 6th, 2013 01:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
I loved this chapter! I really liked the conversation between Ruth and Haymitch about Katniss and how similar she is to her father.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 6th, 2013 01:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
She's definitely Daddy's little girl, isn't she?
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 7th, 2013 09:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
This is totally not a re-hash of a canon scene! There's so much fleshing out of characters and action happening elsewhere. This really shows how limited Katniss's viewpoint is.

Btw I am normally not a fluffy-lovey reader, but the line when Gale says, "every day" really hit me. In the middle of a battle, simple and intense, instant response. It made me take his love for her seriously.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 8th, 2013 03:03 am (UTC) (Link)
It's sometimes awkward to get around the stuff that the POV character is there for, and that he has a stake in, while concentrating on something else. I'm looking forward to the part that he's not quite as deeply involved in during the book!

It's too bad that it took as much as it did for Gale to start listening to his better angels.
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 7th, 2013 10:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm really loving this story so far. (I'm recovering from knee surgery so it was a nice surprise to see the HP story too. I've always loved your Dudley.) You're making me hate Plutarch less in this story though so I don't know how to feel about that. I don't even want him to get punched after reading this chapter. But I'm really getting excited about some of the events that are coming up in this story. Hope to see more soon!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 8th, 2013 03:03 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, hope your knee is getting better!

By the end, Plutarch and Haymitch are working together to save Effie, so I think at some point, Plutarch gets a big dose of living in reality, as opposed to reality television.
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