FernWithy (fernwithy) wrote,

HG: The Narrow Path, Chapter Five

Ah, that's better. :D

The first propo has been wildly successful, but before Haymitch goes to sleep, the Capitol has struck back with its own propo, showing the heavy death toll in the riots it caused. Haymitch dreams badly.

ETA: I noticed a time problem in "House of Cards" -- Peeta was picked up to do his interview too soon -- so I went back in and fixed it on the AO3 version, which is what's referenced here.

Chapter Five
I'm not ready to wake up at the time District Thirteen deems appropriate for me, but I manage to drag myself out of bed, stick my arm out for Wall-Effie to give me my schedule, and stumble to the shower before I'm due in Command. There is supposed to be room for breakfast, but I’m not sure at which point in the half-asleep pitching around that was going to happen.

My head is pounding by the time I get to the nine o'clock meeting, and I can't really concentrate on the re-showing of the propo or Fulvia's new idea -- better than her last one -- of dedicating district specific propos to fallen tributes. At one point, everyone claps, and I think my head is going to explode. Coin pretends to be concerned for Katniss's safety. The whole thing grates on me. I want to sleep more. And, if I'm going to be honest, I want a drink. Something strong, with the smell of juniper and grains. I want to hole up somewhere with a bottle of it and not think about people dying in the woods and on the beach because I struck a match in our little powder keg. No one mentions the Capitol propo to Katniss, and I follow the lead for now. I'll talk to her later.

After the main part of the meeting, Gale wheels Katniss back to the hospital. I ask why she's in a wheelchair and get a curt assurance that it's just a precaution. "There are other matters to discuss," one of the command staff from Thirteen says. "New numbers on the war."

I sit back down. I don't know that I want to hear numbers, but I guess I should.

Within minutes of the first airtime assault, rioting broke out in Four, Seven, Ten, and Eleven. In Four, the naval force managed to keep the Peacekeepers under control, with the loss of only two fishing boats. We're able to reach Winnow Robinson at sea.

"It's pretty bad here," she says. "We've lost a lot of people. And they got Mr. Odair's house."

I look up, expecting Finnick to say something, but I realize he's not in the upper Command structure. I sigh and say, "The house was empty, wasn't it?"

"Yeah, but his things..." She sighs. "Now I've got things, and I get why people get annoyed about losing them."

I doubt Finnick is worried right now about his things, but Winnow's probably right. At the very least, I think his father's fishing net was on the wall. "I'll let him know. The Capitol showed a lot of casualties."

She nods solemnly. "Bobby Neill -- he's the captain of this boat? -- went ashore this morning. We're looking at a hundred lost, at least."

"And how many Peacekeepers?" Coin asks.

"We haven't gone through the bodies yet," Winnow says. "I'm not sure how many of each there are. I know we lost touch with Lora Trillo's crew in town. And I think our chief Peacekeeper was on the beach when I hit it with a firebomb." She bites her lip. "Have you heard from my people in Eleven? I couldn't reach anyone. I don't know where my grandmother is."

"Communications are down," Boggs says. "Have you managed to sweep the mines in the gulf?"

"Yeah, we got them all."

"Then maybe you could spare a boat or two to sail up the coast to Eleven. See if you can help out and get a report in."

"I'll have to run it by Bobby. But I think we should be able to. The district is pretty secure now."

She sends data on the damages, then Boggs brings up Damen Grove in Seven. He's a scared-looking kid, maybe eighteen, maybe not. He reminds me sharply of Johanna during her first few days in the arena. The fighting is still going on there, and I can hear explosions not too far away from his location. Our side alone has over a hundred confirmed deaths. A blast shakes headquarters, and Grove says, "I have a feeling that I'm joining the list pretty soon. It's bad."

"Don't you give up," I say. "What do you need?"

He laughs wildly. "Transport out of here."

"Then retreat and regroup. Do you have a rendezvous point?"

"It's burned," he says.

I open my mouth to tell him to find an identifiable marker to send his troops to -- one of the rare occasions when one of my tributes lasted long enough to get a group of allies, I managed to get across to him that he needed several points -- but I'm interrupted by a higher up in the military structure, a general named Donaldson, who says, "Hold your ground, son. We're right behind you."

He cuts the connection.

"We're sending backup?" Boggs asks. "I thought we didn't have troops to spare."

"We don't," Donaldson says. He glares at me. "You don't have the authority to order a retreat, Soldier Abernathy."

"They can regroup their forces if they're not dead."

"We can't afford to retreat right now. If they retreat, the Capitol will show it and portray it as cowardice. They'll tell the rest of the rebellion that we're willing to cut and run."

"Coming from a district that's been playing dead for seventy-five years --"

Plutarch kicks me under the table. "Of course. We have to keep that in mind. I'm sorry."

Boggs, who looks disgusted himself, calls up District Ten. The woman who answers identifies herself as Polly Dalton, and I realize that she's the same plain-faced woman I saw in Dalton's photograph. His wife. She speaks in the same slow, easy accent. "We're coming around," she says. "Casualties are pretty low. A lot of ways to avoid getting shot at out here. But we're lost a lot of livestock. They burned the Bates ranch. We got out Earl's son and his grandkids. My boys have them out on a spread in the hills."

"Who's in control?" Boggs asks.

"Oh, we've got enough control, I guess," Polly says. "I'm in the Peacekeepers' barracks right now. Getting a few glares from them, but that's about the sum of it."

"They're still alive?"

"They're behaving themselves." She looks over her shoulder. "You boys mean to keep behaving yourselves?"

There's some laughter that I assume is from men on her side. She swings the camera around to show about half a dozen sullen-looking Peacekeepers in handcuffs.

She gives us a few more facts and figures from the battle, then we cut things off. I am given permission to tell Dalton that his wife and children are safe, and reminded that nothing else we discuss is for the ears of anyone outside this room.

I am still scheduled in Command after the meeting, and Plutarch pulls me aside. "Production booth," he says, and nods to Beetee.

"Did you have something further to discuss?" Coin asks.

Plutarch gives her a big smile and says, "Oh, I just want to talk to Haymitch and Beetee about some tweaks to Katniss's performance. Little things."

She looks at him suspiciously and says, "Very well. But do report to me if you decide to make changes. At the moment, we have an effective campaign."

"Oh, of course! We'd be nowhere without the support of District Thirteen."

Coin gives him a once-over, then leaves for whatever duty her own schedule has given her.

Plutarch, Beetee, and I go to the production booth. Fulvia is waiting there. She holds up a gadget of some kind, then nods to Plutarch.

"Good," he says. "I thought this room was clear of bugs, but I wanted to check. Haymitch, we have to talk about Katniss disobeying orders."

"Don't give her orders she won't follow," I suggest.

"She's not always going to be in a position to know everything that's happening," Beetee says. "That's why we have aerial coverage on her."

Fulvia cuts in. "Some of the military in Thirteen noticed that her earpiece was out." She waits for this to sink in, then says, "Commander Boggs covered for her. He said that it must have come out when he covered her during the bombing, and she didn't notice. Which has led to this." She holds out a strange, cage-like device, shaped for the head, with a speaker at ear level and a microphone at mouth level. "It's supposed to make the earpiece more secure. She's not to be out of touch again."

I stare at it. "Are you joking? With Peeta already having told the districts that she's under control of a hostile force? Have they decided we should be doing Capitol propos now?"

"Another suggestion is an implant that couldn't fall out and would always be accessible," Plutarch says, holding up a little chip. "Apparently, some members of the senior staff have them. Boggs used to, but he had a reaction to it."

I can imagine Katniss's reaction to the idea of a voice living in her head. Which ought to be enough to keep her earpiece in. I take both of the devices and grab an extra earpiece from the stash under the control panel. I will have a long talk with her later.

"I can't promise she'll follow orders even if she can hear them," I say. "Nothing was going to stop her from trying to defend the hospital yesterday."

"Yes, well, we're going to have to be more careful about where we send her," Plutarch says.

"She was effective." I remind him. "And she wants to fight."

"No one is arguing that she didn't perform well, and fight honorably," Plutarch says. "But she was so effective that she's now a real target. It's not just Snow's ego about the Games anymore. A dead Mockingjay is going to be as effective for the Capitol now as a live one is for the rebellion. They'll show it on every screen in Panem."

I somehow doubt that there was a time that she wasn't a real target, but I'm not sure that Plutarch knows about the personal call Snow made on her last winter. He's never underestimated her. But his military strategists might have.

They won't anymore.

"Speaking of all the screens in Panem," Beetee says, "I suppose I'm not the only one who saw the Capitol response to us last night."

"Capitol bloviating," Plutarch says dismissively. "They think if they tell rebels that people are going to die in a war, we'll stop fighting. It's not anything we didn't already know."

"Seeing actual dead bodies is different from theorizing about them," I say. "We need to remind people why we're fighting."

"Can we turn on the broadcast?" Beetee says. "Maybe they'll re-run it. We should figure out how to answer it."

"I doubt that one will run again," Fulvia says. "My Capitol sources say that Snow was displeased, and fired his information officer."

"What sources do you have?" I ask.

"Confidential ones," Plutarch tells me. "They aren't in the loop here. I want it to stay that way." He cuts off conversation of the subject by switching on the Capitol broadcast as Beetee requested. At the moment, all I see is a feature on the Mutt Zoo, part of the mid-morning news broadcast. Despite the unpopularity of the Quell, the dragon that killed Earl Bates has apparently become quite a hit. Small children toss fish to it and it leaps up to catch them.

I shake my head. "I'll talk to Katniss. I'll get her to leave her earpiece in. But she's not going to just be a figurehead. That's never going to work. She needs to -- "

I stop.

The feature on the zoo has ended, and a celebrity gossip reporter comes on. I don't care about the reporter, but projected behind her is a picture of the City Center, and in it is a mob surrounding a boy with curly blond hair.

"Peeta," Beetee whispers.

"Guess who's been seen again in the Capitol!" the reporter chirps. "Peeta Mellark was spotted today in City Center, shortly after a traffic accident involving Caesar Flickerman, with whom he seems to have been traveling." The shot goes to Caesar's car, which is crashed into a barrier. It returns to Peeta, surrounded by an adoring Capitol crowd. He looks terrified. The reporter comes back. "A few fans got a little over enthusiastic, and Peacekeepers had to rescue him from their affections!"

The "rescue" is not shown, but members of the crowd are brought in. An ecstatic girl waving a lock of Peeta's hair says, "I just love him!" Another squeals that she kissed him. A young man waves a gold button around that he claims came off of Peeta's suit.

"Plutarch, did you record that?" I ask. "Let me see him."

"It wasn't a very clear shot," Plutarch says, but winds back to the shot of Peeta in the crowd. It is blurred and fuzzy, but I can see clearly that he's too thin and his eyes are wild. He's wearing a good suit, though, and has been carefully made up.

"They've had him on camera again," I say. "What happened to him since... it was less than a week ago..."

"Less than a week ago that they showed an interview," Plutarch says. "But I think Snow's decided on a more pointed response to Katniss."

"What's he going to say?"

"No idea. Whatever Snow thinks will make her stop."

"We have to get him out of there," I say. "Look at him."

"I'm looking, Haymitch," Plutarch says. He pauses the video on the closest shot they have. Peeta looks like he did when the monkey mutts attacked him in the arena, but there's no Berenice Morrow to jump in and take the fatal blow for him. "Whatever Snow is planning, I don't think we should let Katniss know about it."

"How do you expect to do that?" I ask.

"We'll have to count on some luck."

"We're not overflowing with that," Beetee says.

I shake my head. "And she should know what's happening. Especially about Peeta."

"Haymitch, what do you think will happen if she sees him like this?" Fulvia asks. "She spent a month in the hospital screaming for a pearl. If she sees what's happening to the boy who gave it to her, she'll go as crazy as Annie Cresta. We need her stable."

"If knowing the truth is enough to send her over the edge, then she's not as stable as you're pretending."

"Just wait, Haymitch," Plutarch says. "We'll see what Snow's got up his sleeve with Peeta, and then we'll decide what to do with Katniss about it."

"But -- "

"Among other things," he reminds me, "if she stops performing, he loses whatever protection he has."

"He shouldn't need protection from our side," Beetee says.

Fulvia takes the image from the screen with the flick of a switch and says, "But he does."

There is nothing more to be said. I gather up the various earpiece devices and head up to the hospital. I've already managed to miss lunch along with breakfast.

When I get to Katniss's bed, Prim is there, taking readings and marking them down on a chart. She's on duty and wearing a bracelet with call lights. She smiles at me. "Hi, Haymitch..." Her eyebrows go up as she notices the cage-shaped earpiece. "What's that?"

"Incentive," I say. "How is she?"

"She's okay." Prim smoothes back Katniss's hair. "They had to give her some anesthesia to take out the shrapnel yesterday, and she's a little queasy from it, I think. I guess they had her in a wheelchair this morning."

"Yeah. I wondered why."

"Nothing serious."

I nod, then point to my head. "How is she... up here?"

Prim shrugs. "She's tired. She misses Peeta a lot." She sighs. "I miss all of them, Haymitch. Even Mrs. Mellark. She was kind of a witch and she hated me, but I'd be happy to be hated if she was alive to do it. Mr. Mellark snuck me a few cookies here and there. Ed offered to walk me home during the Games last year when it got late. Jonadab let me hold the baby during the tribute parade this time. I miss Madge Undersee, too. And my teachers. The school." She shakes her head. "I actually miss the school. There's something wrong with me."

"No, there isn't."

"And I keep thinking about the mines," she goes on, not paying attention to me. "We learned about seam fires that burned for decades. One in Asia went for more than a century. There's so much coal down there. How long is it going to burn? We could all be dead and buried before it burns out. And was anyone down there? It was midnight. The shifts were over. But there could have been. Sometimes they made people work crazy hours."

I know this. Both of my parents were miners, and my brother Lacklen and I were alone overnight more than once. "I wish I had an answer for you," I say.

"I guess it doesn't matter. They're no more dead than anyone else. I just can't get it out of my head, the way it's just going to keep burning." She shakes it off. "Sorry, Haymitch. Is everything okay in Command?"

"It's fine," I lie. "Don't worry about it. How do you like school here? Learning anything interesting?"

"It's all very different. I'm way behind in history, because history's different here. Who knew history could be different just because you live somewhere new?" A light flashes on her bracelet and she says, "Well, I better go. Other patients. You can stay."

"Unsupervised?" I ask.

"They're not giving her anything you can get high on," she says in a rather frank tone. "Unless you've got a thing for anti-nausea pills these days."

"Well, I guess that's good, then," I say.

She nods and disappears down the ward.

I take a seat by Katniss's bed. She's a little banged up, but I've seen her in worse shape. She's just sleeping off anesthesia now. I settle myself in the chair and watch over her for a long time. I'm bored and I want a drink. Or someone to talk to. Or something to read. I think this isn't the way I'm supposed to feel. If I can't force worry about Katniss, I ought to have my whole mind wrapped up around Peeta and his situation.

But no matter how many ways I look at it, there's nothing I can do for him, and she doesn't need anything except a lecture about her earpiece. My brain can't make much work from either situation. It refuses to turn itself off -- a trick I've wished I could do sober more than once -- and occupies itself thinking about coal fires and dead friends and scared kids ordered not to retreat. Annoyed and hungry, I eat Katniss's lunch. By the time she wakes up, I'm frustrated and irritable, and the lecture I give her may well not be one of my great moments of empathy or kindness. I threaten her with head cage and the implant, and she humbly promises to never pull out her earpiece again.

I go back to my apartment, bark at Dalton that his wife and kids are fine and I'm not allowed to tell him anything else, then try to sleep when he goes to his afternoon assignment. Every time I start to drift off, I see Peeta's face, too thin, too scared. I doubt he was accidentally left wandering. Caesar's car was involved. All I can think of is that there was some kind of half-baked escape attempt, and that means he's going to be punished. Maybe Caesar as well. I decide that sleeping is a bad idea.

I check my schedule, but it still has me at Command, from which I have definitely been dismissed. I have no idea what people here do during downtime. I try looking through Effie's pictures, but they just make me think of the people I have in the Capitol, waiting to be punished. The pretty young woman grinning demurely at a fashion award she's won is most likely in prison clothes, forced out of the wigs that give her security, and all I can do is hope that's all they've done.

They'd best hope it's all they've done.

Finally, I ask Wall-Effie to see if she can coordinate some time for me to talk to Hazelle. She can't find a good spot, but does inform me that Hazelle is currently scheduled on Level Four. She gives me her location.

I follow it up to a level I barely recognize as being in District Thirteen. It's ugly, but not in the usual, sparse way. Instead, it's actively tacky, like house decorated by someone who's never actually seen a decorated house. There is a large, circular room surrounded balconies lined with doors, like a hotel. Hazelle is behind a desk here, frowning at a computer.

"Hey," I say.

She raises her eyebrows. "I don't think you're scheduled here," she says.

"Nah, I'm in Command, can't you tell?"

She rolls her eyes. "Fine. Who are you supposed to be meeting?"


"Well, someone has to have reserved a room. I know it wasn't me."

"I just came up to say hello to you."

She looks at me a minute, then laughs. "You really have no idea where you are, do you?"

I shake my head. "Wall-Ef... the scheduler said you were here."

"These are the conjugal visit rooms. The jugs?"

"You... work in conjugal visits?"

"I schedule them." She shakes her head. "I could schedule us one if you want. Turns out I'm still qualified."

"Qualif..." I remember what Dalton said about how one "qualified" for the jugs. The idea of having a baby with Hazelle, or anyone else, does not appeal to me. I am not qualified to be anyone's father, and if I forget that, all I have to do is think about Peeta, captured by the Capitol. "Oh," I say. "I think, um..."

"Yeah, right there." She smiles. "I'm not exactly at an age when I get pregnant by looking at a naked man anymore -- I swear, for a while, that's all it took -- but I don't want to take any more chances. Besides, if I'm going to have another baby, it'll be with someone who rushes through a battle to get pictures of me, not Effie Trinket. I'll leave that kind of drama to my offspring."

I feel my face go hot. This is not a subject Hazelle and I ever discussed (though I guess we should have, given that she said "any more chances"), and I'd rather not discuss it now. "I'll, um..."

She laughs again and pushes out an extra chair. "Sit down, Haymitch. I promise, I won't use the 'p' word again. What did you need?"

I take the chair and sit far down the desk from her. "I guess I just wanted someone to talk to. Sorry I didn't... well, that I was a little out of line in the hospital before..."

She waves it off. "I've seen you try to dry out before," she says. "And I haven't got so many friends around here that I'm going to hold a grudge over a snit."

"Thanks," I mutter.

"What did you want to talk about?"

"Anything," I say. "Seriously, anything but..." I gesture at the doors above us. Now that I know what they are, I imagine I can hear people behind them. I shake my head. "How are your kids? That should take a while."

It does. I've seen Gale, of course, but we haven't talked about the littler ones. Posy is doing best, making a lot of friends in school. She tried to paint herself green with soap after she met Octavia. "Posy thinks that woman is the be-all, end-all of beauty, if you can believe it. She's nice in her way, though. She did Posy's hair up special for her."

I agree that Octavia is a nice woman.

Rory is not at all fond of his life here, and wants to get into the war. He stays up late writing down everything he remembers about District Twelve in the course of each day, and wants to take down a bomber or two like Katniss and Gale did. Mostly, he occupies himself with the idea of rebuilding Twelve. He's reading construction books and books on wiring and plumbing and farming and planting trees. He and Prim are on the same page about the burning mines, and he's been trying to figure out how to put out the fire. Vick has been getting into fights with other people from Twelve, because he's somehow decided it's our own fault for getting bombed. Hazelle doesn't know what to do with him.

We're interrupted here by the arrival of a young couple in gray, who are very matter-of-fact about signing into their room. A few minutes after they go up, another door opens. It spits out Cressida's assistant, Messalla, and a young soldier named Leeg. He chats with me casually while they return the keys. She checks her schedule and says she needs to report to waste disposal. Someone a few levels up makes a particularly loud noise, which we all pretend not to hear, then Messalla says, "Oh, the new propo's ready. We're airing it over dinner tonight. Edited this one myself." He gives me a friendly smile, then leaves.

Hazelle is scheduled through the dinner hour, and asks to have my meal sent up here as well. The kitchen worker who brings it looks at us askance, and I guess it'll pass for a rumor among the District Thirteen set. Hazelle turns on the television to watch Katniss's propo, this one based on "You know who they are and what they do." It's very effective, and I try not to think about who will be dead in an hour because of it.

"She's certainly very good," Hazelle says, reaching for the dial. Her hand stops. "Haymitch..."

I look at the screen. I'd almost managed to forget the news report earlier -- Peeta in City Center, running from an accident. But here he is on Caesar's set (or something close to it; it seems a little off to me somehow), wearing the same suit, made up heavily. It doesn't hide the strain he's been under. His hands are shaking. He is sweating.

Hazelle puts her hand to her mouth. "Haymitch, he's been hurt..."

"You think?" I put my hand up as an apology for the sarcasm before it can turn into a conversation. She takes my hand in both of hers and holds it tightly. I'm glad of the comfort.

The interview is brief. It's addressed directly to Katniss, and no matter how badly Peeta is hurt, I can't shake the sense that, on some level, he really is trying to speak to her, to warn her that she's being turned into a weapon as much as he is.

Maybe more to the point -- more dangerously for him -- he goes directly for the war effort. "Ask yourself," he says. "Do you really trust the people you're working with? Do you really know what's going on? And if you don't... find out."

The screen goes black. I reach out and turn it off before anything else can air.

"Are you all right?" Hazelle asks me.

"I don't know," I say.

But that's not true. I know. I know I'm far from all right. I think about Octavia, trembling in the meeting yesterday. I think about Venia trying fruitlessly to defy Coin. I think about orders not to tell Katniss about Peeta, and about the cage they want to put on her head. I think of them holding the lives of people she loves over her head if she makes a mistake.

I don't trust the people I'm working with. Not any further than I can throw them.

But I have nowhere else to go.

  • So, "The End of the World" is getting an audio treatment...

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    Harris, Mags, Finnick and the other Four victors in the afterlife, discussing the changes in Four, etc. for Anon 1 Okay. They're Catholic, so I…

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  • So, "The End of the World" is getting an audio treatment...

    I had an email asking about doing, and it's kind of fun to listen to a podfic. I don't know how often they plan to update, but if you're into it,…

  • Dia challenge 4

    Harris, Mags, Finnick and the other Four victors in the afterlife, discussing the changes in Four, etc. for Anon 1 Okay. They're Catholic, so I…

  • Dia challenge 3

    Chicharrón being forgotten is what really made me bawl and he was snatched away before we got to know him so maybe a friendship piece between him…