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HG: The Narrow Path, Chapter Ten - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
HG: The Narrow Path, Chapter Ten
The rescue operation was a success, but Peeta has just tried to kill Katniss.

Part Two: Rebellion

Chapter Ten
Even as Katniss starts to gag for breath, my mind can't seem to grasp what my eyes are seeing. It tries to make it into an eager embrace, or maybe a muscle spasm... anything but what it is.

Luckily, Boggs has no preconceptions about Peeta, and he understands immediately. He rushes forward and slams his fist into Peeta's head, knocking him down in a single blow.

Katniss collapses beside him, her neck swelling up.

I stand between them uselessly, trying to understand what's happened in less than a minute. Peeta Mellark, a sweet and decent kid who loves Katniss above everything in the world, just tried to kill her. I can't make sense of it at all.

The medics scoop Katniss up onto the stretcher they just took Peeta from, and put Peeta back onto the examining table. They rush Katniss off for emergency treatment. I try to follow, but they slam the door in my face.

The next three hours are hell. Plutarch disappears with Beetee, having a conference about Capitol technology that they don't want to share with me, "until we're sure," as Beetee says. Prim is allowed to go in and care for Katniss (Ruth has been involved in a surgery since mid-afternoon, something about an farming accident), and I get bits and pieces of information about her. No serious injury. She'll be fine. She can't talk and her throat is swollen and she's in a tube to help her breathe, but she'll be fine. Boggs -- who is allowed in for some reason -- says he's seen worse trouble from military training.

Peeta is another story. He's hooked to machines that are trying to flush his system of toxins, but aren't doing well. Aside from his broken ribs, he is bleeding internally from many blows to his abdomen, and they have to operate. Several of the burns are infected. He's badly malnourished and dehydrated. They don't think the nerve damage is permanent, but it will take time to find out.

Johanna is in similar shape, with added anemia from all the blood loss through the cuts on her head and body. She somehow doesn't have any internal injuries and doesn't need surgery, so I'm able to see her for a minute. She is fighting restraints, and tells me to get the doctors from Thirteen to stop asking her if she was "abused." She has already told them that she wasn't -- at least not the way they're asking -- and she's sick of it. They try to explain that they think she's not telling them everything, and I realize that they're looking for prurient details. I end up punching one of them in the face, which gets me shut out in the waiting room alone.

Annie, at least, seems to be all right. She's finally given a sedative, and Finnick comes out for a few minutes to fill me in.

"She's a little more... distant... than usual," he says, "but they didn't torture her. Not physically, anyway. They left her naked and tried to drag her out to the studio naked -- they had a gun on her, and on Caesar, when Peeta was giving that last interview -- but Peeta made them give her a coat..." He stops. "What's wrong?"

I tell him what happened when Katniss went in.

He swears. "She says they were making him watch videos over and over. She could hear them. She didn't know what they were, other than some scenes from his Games. What happened?"

"Plutarch and Beetee are working on it," I say. "Without me."

He looks over his shoulder toward Annie's room. "Do you, um... do you need me to stay with you?"

I shake my head. "Go back to her, Finnick. You know where you need to be."

Gratefully, he ducks back into her room.

Plutarch and Beetee come back a few minutes later, looking grave, and tell me what they've put together from Peeta's condition.

"Hijacking," Beetee says. "They alter his memories with tracker jacker venom, make them seem threatening. I'm guessing he thought he was in danger from Katniss."

Plutarch gives a very depressing history of the technique, which has been used on and off since the Dark Days. A lumberjack from Seven, going after his own unit with an axe after he was held by the Capitol. A plant worker in Five blowing up generators that the rebels were using. A transport worker who disappeared for two weeks, and, when he came back, went through a passenger train, systematically killing other members of his cell.

"There are rumors of other uses," Beetee says. "Murderers in Capitol prisons who swear they don't know why they suddenly started seeing demons. But we don't know about them. It could just be a half-baked attempt at a legal defense."

"How do we fix it?" I ask.

I can tell by the way they look at each other that there is no reason to believe it can be fixed. Peeta has been broken and destroyed.

If there is a highpoint to the night, it comes a few minutes later, when we are finally allowed to see Katniss and thirteen-year-old Primrose Everdeen flatly bullies Plutarch into letting her stay. If my mind weren't occupied with losing Peeta, I'd probably cheer. But things turn serious quickly when we explain things to Katniss. Plutarch, seeing that we're losing her, makes a valiant effort to pretend that he believes we can fix things, but when Katniss glances at me -- she still can't talk, but I know what she wants -- I don't try to lie to her.

Plutarch tries to cheer her up by telling her that at least Peeta's not dead like Portia and the prep team. Unsurprisingly, this doesn't go over well. Katniss starts breathing hard, struggling for air through her swollen throat, and they have to sedate her again. Plutarch, Beetee, and I sit with her for a little bit while Prim takes a short nap, but there's nothing to say. The lights start coming up for dawn.

We are graciously given time to sleep before we're expected back at Command. I'm so tired that I can't make myself wake up from nightmares where the dead accuse me. Peeta's father weeps over his broken body, over the good heart that's been ripped from it. Portia screams at me that I failed. The bullet wound in her face gapes open. I watch Chaff and Seeder die, over and over. I see my oldest friends torn and broken in Plutarch's clever arena. I dream of Effie, alone in a cell, waiting to be murdered. Of children and old women shot in the street because I convinced them to give, and give generously, to those star-crossed lovers from District Twelve.

I am grateful when a loud, repetitive sound awakens me at one o'clock.

The meeting in Command is about Peeta. It may have originally had some other purpose, but Plutarch, who I am actually beginning to respect, has co-opted it entirely. I get there late, and I can tell that some people's ideas have already been shot down, because they are sitting sullenly, like reprimanded children, while Plutarch gives a very involved explanation of hijacking.

He has brought along several doctors, including one I saw working on Peeta earlier, who introduces himself as Hiram Campbell. When Plutarch calls on him, he goes to the podium, and brings up an abstract representation of a human body, with all of Peeta's injuries marked on it. I hear an audible gasp somewhere behind me.

Campbell addresses the president. "What happened to Peeta Mellark for the sake of the citizens of District Thirteen is an obscenity. It would be unthinkable to not expend every available resource trying to heal him."

"As I understand it," Coin says, flipping through a folder in front of her, "all available resources aren't likely to be effective. There is no known process of reversal."

"What's your idea?" I ask her.

She looks at me coldly. "My recommendation is that we house him with other citizens who have been mentally traumatized, or who have ailments of that nature. There is a particular hospital wing, far from the general population, where they are treated gently and with appropriate medications."

"You isolate them and trank them?" I ask.

"We treat them with respect as patients who have incurable diseases. Perhaps you think they should have the run of the facility, but still be prisoners of their delusions?"

"I think we need to help him."

"And what was the general approach to such things in District Twelve?"

I can't answer that. The usual approach to people in Twelve who started behaving oddly was to live and let live. Sometimes, that worked reasonably well. Old eccentrics who heard voices were just treated as local oddities, and included in the general life of the district. Other times, people like Ruth Everdeen were left to die of their emotional wounds, and possibly starve their children to death in the process. "I didn't say Twelve would have handled it better," I tell her. "I just think we can."

"Which brings me back to my point," Dr. Campbell says. "We are slowly working the tracker jacker venom out of his system. Once that's done, we can start to evaluate the permanent damage to his mind from the temporary hallucinatory state. He was awake for a few minutes twice this morning, and it was amply clear the first time that he is suffering from toxin induced psychosis right now."

"How was it clear?" Boggs asks.

"Among other things," Campbell says, "he asked us to make the feathers stop falling from the ceiling, and indicated that he could see his family members around us. He asked us to save them since they were on fire." This is met with stunned silence. Campbell goes on. "A little later, when more of the tracker jacker venom had worked its way out of him, he no longer seemed to be suffering from the hallucinations, though he seems to have forgotten that his family is dead, and is asking for his father."

"That's understandable," I say. "Maybe it's just the venom, and the shock."

"One of my nurses asked if he'd like to see Katniss. He flew into a rage and had to be sedated again. The venom has definitely been used to alter his perception of her."

"What's your recommendation?" Plutarch prods.

"I've had a team of doctors and torture experts working on it all morning. While there is no known cure for hijacking, per se, a gentle easing into reality, re-connecting with his past, is certain to be helpful. We recommend staying away from the subject of Katniss Everdeen, as that was clearly the focus of the hijacking, but once he's completely clear of the venom, we should probably send in friends of his from Twelve, whichever ones have survived and aren't associated with Katniss. Let them talk to him, start to remind him of who he is."

"Most of Peeta's friends are dead," I say. "He was a merchant."

The others look at me blankly.

I sigh. "Twelve was a little divided. Peeta came from town. Most of the survivors came from the Seam, like Katniss. Except for Delly Cartwright, he's likely to associate all of them with her."

Coin nods. "Enlist Soldier Cartwright immediately -- "

"I don't think he'll be ready immediately," Campbell says.

"-- to help create a team, and screen for anyone else among the survivors of Twelve who could be useful."

"I'll talk to Delly," I say. "She worked with us back in Twelve. I don't think Peeta knows that."

They seem perfectly happy to let me take the lead in this. I don't know whether to be glad of that, or angry that they're not taking it seriously enough to question putting a drunk Peeta is angry at in charge of his well-being.

After the meeting, I go back to the hospital. I let Katniss know that they're working the tracker jacker venom out of Peeta. Johanna is awake, but with the adrenaline of the escape gone, she's in almost constant seizure from the electrical assault on her nerves. They're giving her morphling through a drip, and she's incoherent. Annie is on pure observation status. She and Finnick are weaving a dream about going back to Four and starting a family. They graciously invite me to join them and be the grandfather to their children, but I can tell that they'd prefer to be alone. I also have another place to be.

Peeta has been installed in a secure private room, once an operating theater, with an observation booth high up behind a one-way mirror. He is still unconscious. Delly is sitting by his bed, looking drawn.

I sit down across from her. Between us, Peeta breathes quietly on.

"They told me," she said. "They told me that he's crazy."

"Snow made him crazy," I say. "And you're going to help make him right again."

We don't talk here, because I think we both know that a person who appears to be sleeping can absorb quite a bit, but we both stay for a little while, each holding one of his hands. His fingers still twitch now and then, and I think -- insanely, given everything else that's wrong with him -- that I'll never forgive Snow if he's made it impossible for Peeta to paint again.

Of course, the chances of my forgiving Snow for anything have never been very high.

The nurses come in to wash Peeta and change his bandages, and Delly and I take that as a cue to leave. We go to the Promenade and sit down at the chess table, though we don't bother faking a game this time.

"How am I going to help?" she asks. "And don't give me some kind of make work assignment this time, Haymitch."

"It's not make work," I tell her, and explain the doctor's plan.

She sighs. "I'll keep him talking. I'll need them to clear my schedule a little bit. But as soon as he's lucid, we can start."

"What about anyone else?"

She thinks about it. "There may be a few people from school. Maybe one of the boys from the wrestling team survived. I think I heard that. I don't know if he'd trip anything about Katniss, though. I can help interview him."

"That's good. Who else is there? From town?" I wince. "I'm sorry, Delly."

"No, you had to ask. I try not to think about it. But I guess I have to. Someone said that there were less than dozen of us. Off the top of my head, there's Sam and me -- Sam's my brother -- and Lizzabee Leggett, from the apothecary shop. She was bringing something down to the Fishers on the Seam when everything happened. I don't think Peeta ever knew her very well, though. One of the Breens, I heard." She shakes her head. "No one else our age, though. All the school kids are gone. They all lived near the Square. Most of them were getting ready for bed, just waiting for mandatory viewing to end. Sam and I would have been if we hadn't been over at Leevy's."

"Can you make a list of anyone you can think of?"

She nods. "I just don’t know how many there'll be. Everyone liked Peeta. Everyone thought they knew him. Not many actually did." She looks down at the chess board and traces the edges of the squares.

"How are you holding up?" I ask.

She smiles. "Well enough that you don't need to add me to your list of people worry about. It's long enough, Haymitch. I have Leevy's family to take care of me. And I'll be doing a lot better when I can start helping Peeta. Is Katniss going to be in the loop?"

"I don't know. She's pretty shaken up."

I talk to Delly a little longer, because she seems to need to talk, but there's nothing else of substance. I go back to the hospital, and she goes off to do her homework.

Gale is in recovery from his shoulder wound. No one has told him what happened.

"I need to see Katniss," he says immediately.

The doctor, who is there checking his chart, says, "You need to rest before you tear out your stitches, Soldier Hawthorne, and she doesn’t need any further upsets."

Gale waits for him to leave. "How bad is she?" he asks.

"It'll heal."

"I don't mean the choking."

"She's... " I consider lying, then don't. I'm tired of telling lies. "I've never seen her like this. And I've seen her pretty bad. She's really hurting, Gale."

He leans back onto his pillows and closes his eyes, then punches the mattress repeatedly. Finally, he looks at me and says, "She thinks she deserves it, you know."

This thought hasn't occurred to me before, and I berate myself for that. Of course it's true. I heard the story she told about the bread. The good, kind boy who reached down and saved her, who thought she was worth loving... now hates her. She didn't feel like she deserved him in the first place, but he doggedly tried to convince her otherwise. Maybe he'd succeeded a little bit. Now, that's undone.

"However we kill Snow," I say, "is not going to be painful enough."

Gale doesn't argue.

I go to visit Katniss, who is still not allowed to talk, and hold her hand and try to be as positive as I can. She probably knows it's an act, but she doesn't pull her hand away. I think about telling her that I love her, but I somehow doubt it would matter right now. I'm not the one she needs to love her.

I join Finnick and Annie for dinner in her room, then go to sit with Johanna, then with Peeta again.

That's my life for the next two days. I am scheduled in the hospital, ostensibly to work with Delly, but mostly just shifting around among the kids. I talk to Plutarch. I talk to the doctors. I talk to Ruth and Prim while I'm visiting Katniss, and Hazelle while I'm visiting Gale. Peeta regains consciousness and refuses to allow me into his room, so I sit up in the observation booth, listening to Delly and the doctors screen people from Twelve. Johanna's seizures slow down, and she's able to get up and move around a little bit. I walk around the ward with her. She goes to see Gale, and I introduce them formally, which seems a little redundant after her carried her out of prison on his back. Then again, she didn't recognize him when he came, and he only knew her from her Games. He tells her, with what I think is honest admiration, that she's an amazing fighter. She tells him he is as well, and adds, after a long glance at him, that he ought to go shirtless more often. He blushes. I take her back to her room.

At night, I go back to my apartment, and try not to think about drinking. Dalton doesn't beat around the bush about it this time. He sits me down and makes me talk about it. I don't think it helps to talk about drinking when I'm trying not to imagine doing it. After half an hour of this, he gets the picture, and tries to distract me by teaching me about bovine genetics. I don't have enough basic grounding in the subject to follow most of his more advanced conversation, but it gets me through until lights out. I sleep and dream badly, and wake up sure that I will go downstairs, and Plutarch will pull me aside and tell me, in hushed tones, that Effie Trinket is dead, and it was on television, and he'll ask if I want to watch her die.

Nothing of the kind happens. He finally gets word from one of his uncompromised sources that she has been moved to maximum security, but is being largely left alone for now. As I am less than useless in Thirteen, I suggest that I sneak in and try to retrieve her, but Plutarch talks me out of it, pretending that I have some kind of importance in helping Peeta.

After three days and nights, Katniss and Gale are both released, taking two points off of my wandering map of the hospital. I think Annie is just there now because they don't want to move her in with a stranger, don't want her to live alone, and haven’t made arrangements for Finnick to have new housing yet. Johanna has a grand mal seizure mid-morning, but comes out of it safely. The doctors tell me that she may always have to deal with seizures. The repeated electrocutions have damaged her nervous system. They are reasonably hopeful that, as time passes, the frequency of the seizures will diminish.

Around noon, I'm brought to the room next door to Peeta's, which is larger than the observation room. It also has a one-way glass, and they've installed audio equipment. Delly is there, looking nervous. Most of the doctors who've been looking after Peeta, along with a good collection of military torture experts who are observing the case closely, hoping it will yield permanent procedures in case of this sort of thing happening again.

Dr. Campbell gestures me in. "We've just gotten Peeta's blood tests back today," he says. "He's clear of the tracker jacker venom, so we're going to send Delly in. We still haven't found any back-up for her, so she's permanently assigned here."

"Good," I say.

He turns to Delly. "Rules, again. I know it's repetitive, but we have to make sure you know them flat."

"Stay off the subject of Katniss," she says. "Don't talk about his family dying, except broadly. Safer to stay away from the subject of Ed." Her face twists miserably. "I really can't talk about Ed?"

"Stay innocuous. Be his friend, not his would-be sister-in-law."

Delly nods. Slowly, she takes a chain off from around her neck. On it is a small ring set with a red stone. She puts it in her pocket.

"I think Katniss should be here," I say. "Not in the room, obviously. But she'll want to know what's going on."

"Get her, then," Campbell says. "Delly, you don't know Katniss, do you?"

"Not very well."

"Then practice on her before you go in."

I'm not sure how I feel about this, but I think it's probably more important for Delly to get practice than for Katniss to get to know Delly particularly well.

I find Katniss in Special Defense, where she's been with Beetee and Gale. She looks completely miserable, but perks up when I tell her that we're trying something to help Peeta. She's happy to come along with me.

When we get there, Delly gives her a bright, genuine smile, and they talk about life in Thirteen. Delly almost cries when Katniss asks her how she's doing, but rallies with a series of innocuous praises of life in Thirteen.

"Delly's known Peeta for a long time," Plutarch says.

Katniss doesn't treat this like information she already had (if she had any idea who Peeta's friends were, that idea clearly did not include Delly), so I feel a little more secure in the idea that Delly won't trigger any thoughts of Katniss.

"Oh, yes!" Delly says. "We played together when we were little. I used to tell people he was my brother."

I look at Katniss, who seems not to know what to say. "What do you think?" I ask. "Anything that might trigger memories of you?"

"We were all in the same class. But we never overlapped much."

Delly looks at Katniss, seeing the dull hurt in her eyes, and says, "Katniss was always so amazing. I never dreamed she would notice me. The way she could hunt and go in the Hob and everything. Everyone admired her so."

Katniss looks at me, stunned by this outburst. I can't say it sounds much like the District Twelve I knew, either. But Delly tries to see the best in everyone, as Katniss points out, and I guess she decided Katniss needed to hear something good about herself. If that was her point, it's wasted, since Katniss doesn't believe her.

Katniss puts her hand on her forehead. "Wait! In the Capitol. When I lied about recognizing the Avox girl, Peeta covered for me and said she looked like Delly."

I remember this, as, from the moment I met Delly, I thought it had to be one of Peeta's more hilarious lies. No one ever looked less like anyone than our tall, thin, redheaded Avox girl looked like plain-faced, short, blond Delly Cartwright. I don't think it will be an issue.

Delly squares her shoulders, fixes her smile determinedly, and goes in.

For a second, Peeta doesn't recognize her and I think the worst, but apparently, it's just the drab uniform of Thirteen and her changed hairstyle, because he does come around, and seems genuinely glad to have her there. It seems to be all he remembers, because he can't wrap his mind around why we aren't in Twelve.

She tries. She tries as hard as she can, but it would have been expecting too much to think that Peeta wouldn't ask why he's in a district he's never known was here, and why his family wasn't there to see him (though I note the latter question doesn't come up until Delly's first round of reassurances has passed... why he's in Thirteen is a much bigger mystery to him than why his family isn't).

"There was a fire," Peeta says, and I can see his memories clicking into place. His memories, and something beyond them.

"Yes," Delly says, giving up.

"Twelve burned down, didn't it Because of her. Because of Katniss!"

I look over. Katniss has paled. Tears have come up to the edge of her eyes, but not fallen yet.

"Oh, no, Peeta," Delly says. "It wasn't her fault."

"Did she tell you that?"

"Get her out of there!" Plutarch orders. Someone he has in the hall opens the door to Peeta's room.

"She didn't have to," Delly says. "I was--"

"Because she's lying! She's a liar! You can't believe anything she says! She's come kind of mutt the Capitol created to use against the rest of us!"

I step back. This is beyond a fear response. This is something deliberately introduced into his mind, some deep, horrible delusion. It's not just that he believes Katniss is indirectly responsible for Snow's war crimes. He believes she is one of Snow's war crimes.

Katniss is barely breathing. She needs to get away. I don't argue with her. I can't imagine that she'll be able to function, let alone lead anything, if she has to see this every day.

She asks to be sent someplace she can be useful. The only place is Two.

She leaves the next morning. I go to Command and place a call to the rebel leaders there, and am not sure what to make of one of them being Lyme, a victor I worked with during the last Games. For the rebellion, I'm glad. For Katniss, I'm not sure another reminder of the Games is going to be helpful. I tell her to keep it to herself unless Katniss recognizes her. She agrees.

I cut off the connection and go back to the hospital, where Delly has returned to Peeta's room.

He is raving about how the Capitol executed the real Katniss Everdeen over a year ago, and we're all dupes to believe this new monster they sent in to replace her.

I think of the boy who once came to my house in a blizzard, covered me with a blanket, and lit my fireplace for me. The boy who brought me fresh bread every morning because he wanted to make sure I had something in my system other than white liquor. The boy who just wanted to have a snowball fight with his girlfriend sometime before the wedding dresses came out.

I put my head in my hands, and try not to hear him.
10 comments or Leave a comment
shortysc22 From: shortysc22 Date: April 21st, 2013 05:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
Still loving this through Haymitch's perspective. Looking forward to more.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 21st, 2013 06:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm on my weekend now, so more should be coming soon.
beceh From: beceh Date: April 21st, 2013 09:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
That was great. Poor Peeta. Poor Haymitch. Hell, poor everyone.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 21st, 2013 10:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
It was definitely a truly heinous thing Snow did.
redrikki From: redrikki Date: April 21st, 2013 09:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
And this is the reason why Haymitch is a drunk. He spends way too much time trying to help/fix everyone he can and always has the deck stacked far too high against him for it to ever work the way he hopes. Sucks to be him.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 21st, 2013 10:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Scratch a cynic, find a disappointed idealist.
barbara_the_w From: barbara_the_w Date: April 22nd, 2013 01:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
Seeing this part of the book through Haymitch's eyes makes it even more terrible. Sometimes I don't know what is true and what is Katniss' perception...what you choose to make true from Haymitch's POV makes it sink in even further.

Snow's death isn't bad enough, Fern. Neither is Coin's.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 22nd, 2013 05:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
Until Prim's death, I suspect that what Katniss actually sees is accurate enough, though her interpretations are, erm, questionable. After Prim's death, all bets are off. Sometimes she knows her perspective is off (like when she talks about chatting with her father in the hospital). Other times, who knows?

I did come across this, which helps me somewhat in remembering that Snow and Coin both have worse coming to them... ;p

Edited at 2013-04-22 05:25 pm (UTC)
beceh From: beceh Date: April 22nd, 2013 06:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
Bahahahahahaha those cartoons are hilarious.
Janet Lingel Aldrich From: Janet Lingel Aldrich Date: March 8th, 2017 05:35 pm (UTC) (Link)

What about the leaves?

Could the leaves Rue gave Katniss for the trackerjacker venom have been used to help Peeta?
10 comments or Leave a comment