FernWithy (fernwithy) wrote,
FernWithy
fernwithy

HG: The Narrow Path, Chapter Eleven

Katniss has just left for District Two, after Peeta denounces her as a mutt. Haymitch is trying to remember the boy he was before the hijacking.


Chapter Eleven
Peeta becomes my full time business.

I work with the experts, learning their fields as well as I can in a crash course. The military torture experts are hesitant to let me know the sorts of things they're aware of Snow doing, but they have orders from Plutarch to cooperate with me. They believe these orders originate with Coin, who has at least so far not interfered with this fiction. I thought I'd known every sordid detail of Snow's Panem, but the records they dredge up from the Dark Days, and from spies and defectors who've come to them since, make what I knew before look like child's play.

In Peeta's case, they are able to piece together some of his experience by talking to Annie and Johanna, and some from his own deranged monologues. He was obviously exposed to constant psychological stressors. Jo and Annie know these included twenty-four hour videos, including his Games and the bombing of District Twelve. Caesar Flickerman, who looked after Annie after Peeta was taken from him, told her that they'd been tormenting Peeta with images of his killing of Brutus. They shaved and cut Johanna in front of him, and murdered the Avoxes in the cell Annie wound up in.

"He still lied to Snow's face," Johanna says. She smiles bitterly. "I thought he gave in and told Snow where Gale might have taken everyone. Some story about how Gale and Katniss used to walk around on the railroad tracks. I figured he just broke. But Gale says they never went down the tracks in their lives. Peeta made that up from whole cloth while Snow was torturing him and threatening to kill me. Not half bad for little Prince Charming."

From his doctors, I learn about the damage to his body, and from the psychiatrists, about the mechanisms of his mind's coping strategies. I stay up late into every night reading by the emergency lights, cramming as much into my brain as will fit. Dalton tries to get me to slow down at first, but gives up after a while, and even tries to help by attempting a geno-psychological profile based on what he can glean about the behaviors of Peeta's family over the years. Ruth Everdeen, who knew both of his parents' families well, provides him with what information she can, but she doesn't think it will do any good.

"What's wrong with that boy has nothing to do with anything that was wrong with Dannel and Mirrem," she tells me. "At least not at the moment. This has nothing to do with his genes."

I agree, but I am grateful for Dalton's desire to help.

The psychiatrists, all of them refugees from the Capitol, want Peeta to open up about his feelings. Since his feelings are exactly what's been tampered with, I'm not sure this is a good idea, but they are the experts. I let them try it for one day, and it ends with Peeta weeping and screaming that he was taken in by a mutt. After that, I have a Reflection time conference with Ruth, Prim, Delly, Greasy Sae, Hazelle, and Gale in an alcove off the Promenade. Peeta may be from the merchant class, richer than most, but he's also of District Twelve, and we aren't given to excessive sharing.

All of us agree that it would be best if he could start baking again -- it's always calmed and grounded him, and at the moment, he's not calm enough to try any kind of treatment on -- but he's not physically in shape for it yet. None of us points out that we don't want him near a fire, but I suspect we're all thinking it. Sae suggests getting him to write down recipes from the bakery. Delly seconds this enthusiastically, and after the psychiatrists spend the morning uselessly trying to explore his delusions, Delly goes to him in the afternoon.

"I was thinking," she says.

"What?" he asks nervously. "Do you want to know what Snow told me? Do you want to see the burns? Do you want to know how it feels? They keep asking how it feels."

"No. I was thinking about the soda bread your dad used to make. Do you remember what was in it?"

His hands, which have been flexing nervously, quiet themselves. His eyes stop searching the corners of the room for phantoms. "I... I think so. I made it sometimes, too."

"I'd guess flour," Delly says. "And yeast?"

"Not in soda bread. It's baking soda that makes it rise." He bites his lower lip. "I could write it down, maybe."

Delly pulls out her school notebook, rips out the pages she's used, and hands it to him, along with a pen. I'll find her more paper somewhere. Peeta bends over the notebook and starts, hesitantly, to write. His hand is still shaky, and I'd guess the writing isn't very neat, but he covers the whole first page in forty minutes, then looks up at Delly. "Could I keep this? I should write down the others. Dad only had them handwritten. He got them from my grandfather, and my great-grandmother. They were secret. I know them, though. He taught me. I remember that he taught me."

"Of course."

He turns the page and scribbles at the top for a second, then looks up at her. "Thanks. And... thanks to whoever came up with this. It's good."

"I guess I should have told you it was to occupy you."

"You can tell me when you're trying something. I believe you're trying to help me."

"Everyone is, Peeta."

"Why won't you believe me, Delly? I saw the file!"

Delly has been instructed not to engage him on this -- we can't afford to compromise her neutrality -- but I can see her fighting it. She stands up and kisses Peeta's forehead. "Everyone loves you."

He frowns. "You... you loved my brother. Right?"

"I still do. He's just not here."

"Do you think you'd have... ended up my sister-in-law?"

She sighs and sits down. "The subject had come up a few times. He gave me a ring, but I hadn't given him an answer yet. I think... yes, maybe. Probably."

"Can we pretend, then? That we're family?"

"I'm not pretending," Delly says, and squeezes his hand. They don't talk anymore, but Peeta is calm for the rest of her visit, as he scrawls another recipe down in the notebook. The next day, Delly puts her ring back on, this time on her finger instead of on the chain.

Peeta spends the morning laboriously practicing his handwriting, forcing his hands to be still. The doctors aren't sure what to make of it, as the shaking problem is supposed to be a matter of medicine, not will. The tremors don't actually disappear, but as I watch Peeta through the observation window, I see what he's doing. He's learning to anticipate them, move the pencil from the paper, and stay as still as he can while they pass. By the time Delly arrives for her afternoon visit, he has switched to a pen and is carefully writing out another recipe, this time in an even, legible hand.

We take it as too good a sign. After three hours of calm conversation, Delly leaves for the evening, and Plutarch goes in. He brings up Katniss. Peeta's responses start getting faster and faster, until he is screaming and jabbering at the ceiling about how the real Katniss is dead, how she died a long time ago, and her brains were on the floor in front of her and he saw the picture. "They took her and made her a mutt! Like the wolves! Just like the wolves!"

"No one did that," Plutarch says. "I was there..."

"You helped them! You carried the body out!"

Security extracts Plutarch from the room while Peeta continues to rave. Guards and medics rush in to get him sedated. Once he's down, I go in. Straighten his blankets. Feel useless.

I visit Johanna. Gale is there already, taking notes about something. He closes the notebook when I come in.

This late at night, they're starting to take her down toward sleep with a heavy dose of morphling, after which, they'll wash her hair and give her a sponge bath. She can't tolerate water when she's not sedated. She blinks at me oddly when I tell her what happened, then mumbles, "Mockingjay project."

"What?"

"They asked me about it. A lot. But only when Peeta was listening. Darius, too." She yawns, then goes under.

"Sounds like this was pretty carefully planted," Gale says, as we head for dinner. "You think there are records or something you could show him to convince him?"

"If there are, we don't have any access to them." I look at his notebook. "What were you talking to Jo about?"

"Just a few things Beetee and I are working on," he says. "In her Games, she tricked people pretty well. We're trying to figure out if that's anything we can use."

"Use for... what?"

"War tactics." He sighs. "Katniss didn't much like what we were talking about, either."

"Really?" I say. "I wonder why."

Gale looks down, then changes the subject. "Plutarch says he's going to call her after dinner. Could you let me know how she's doing?"

"I'm sure they'd let you in on the call."

We reach the dining hall. "Mom says I should give her a little space," he says. "When my dad died, Mom... well, the last people she wanted to talk to were old boyfriends."

"Peeta's not dead."

"I didn't mean --"

"He's not dead, and she's not a widow, so you can stop circling like a damned vulture."

"Haymitch..."

"He is not dead." I excuse myself and go to sit with people from my hall.

After supper, I go with Plutarch to call Katniss in Two. I tell her that he's calmed down a little bit, but I can't very well be much more hopeful. Her voice is still sounding harsh, but I can't tell if it's from the injury or from crying.

For the first time since the Quell, I have a nightmare about my girl, Digger Hardy, who melted on the District Twelve fence when the Head Peacekeeper decided to turn it on while she was climbing. In my dream, Digger is lying in the hospital, in Peeta's room, while we watch through the observation mirrors. Peeta is sitting with me, making notes in Delly's notebook. Digger is thrashing as she dies, cursing me, cursing all of us.

I wake up before wall-Effie thinks I need to, and I go to the hospital. Peeta woke up for a little while during the night and asked for the notebook, but had to be sedated again.

I pick up the notebook. The first two pages of recipes are almost illegible. The third is shaky. The fourth is all right. I turn it over. On the fifth page, he's drawn Katniss, her hair in jagged feathers, her mouth cruel and predatory, her hands sharp like talons.

He's scribbled over it, but I can see it well enough, tell what he's getting at. His talent is still there, but, like the rest of him, twisted into something ugly.

He is still clutching his pencil. It's too close to his face. I go to move it gently, but when I look up, his eyes are open, and he is glaring at me. I let go of the pencil.

"I was worried that you'd hurt yourself with that," I say.

"What do you care?"

"I care."

"You lied to me."

"Yes."

"I wouldn't have left the others. They wouldn't have taken me."

"Peeta -- "

"You said you'd tell me everything. You lied."

"It was so... Peeta, you have to understand. It was -- "

"Go away. Drink yourself to death or something."

He puts his arm over his eyes.

I leave the room and go to observation.

We go on.

Every few days, there is a new propo from Katniss in District Two, where we are trying to get the average citizens to rally against the military installation in the old mine, the one they've taken to calling the Nut. Lyme is not letting her into any of the skirmishes, but she goes among the wounded, helping where she can, and feeds people at a soup kitchen. She's even shown hunting to get extra food for the rebels. She relates news from the other districts, all now mainly calmed down and under rebel control, and from the slow strangulation of the Capitol. She's reliable, even inspirational if you don't notice her unfocused eyes, the hesitation in her words. Other people don't seem to notice. There are interviews with people on the street who are devoted to her as much as her sponsors ever were. Lyme tells us that only the people working in the Nut and their closest allies are really fighting now.

Unfortunately, that's not a small contingent, and they have better guns.

Every day, Delly sits with Peeta. He's managed to recover most of the family recipes from his head, and is trying to draw more. He makes Delly a picture of herself with Ed, sitting on the steps of the shoe store. It's almost like the old Peeta, but it's followed by a series of monstrous drawings of Katniss. Plutarch tries to reassure her in their phone calls, but I don't. After the initial improvement, Peeta has remained very steady. He lets me in sometimes, but he doesn't let me talk to him much, and when the subject of Katniss comes up, he goes wild.

After a week of this, Prim comes up with the idea of trying to re-drug him, to re-associate his memories with good feelings. The torture experts seem to think the idea has merit. Either that, or they just want to have a whack at hijacking someone, and this seems like a good opportunity. It's hard to tell.

The doctors prepare a mild dose of morphing, and a tea made with herbs Ruth uses to help melancholy, then they cue up a video from the first Games. I go in and sit with him, and he's mellow enough to let me. They've chosen the story Katniss told him about how she bought Prim's goat.

Peeta watches it silently. It ends.

"Does she look like a mutt?" I ask. "Peeta, you saw it. It's not altered."

He blinks rapidly, opens his mouth, closes it.

For four hours, this continues, this fish-mouthed stare at the now-blank screen. I go to Prim in observation.

She shakes her head. "I don’t know, Haymitch. He's not raving, anyway. But..."

I go back in. Finally, around lunch, Peeta asks how the goat is. I tell him we don't know.

"The bombs," he says. "The goat's dead, isn't it? And don't lie to me anymore."

"We don't know," I say. "But probably. No one's seen it."

He makes a choked kind of sound.

"Do you want to try again?" I ask.

He shakes his head. "They... they gave her Katniss's memories. Obviously." There is no vitriol in this. It's more like he's trying to convince himself.

The morphling takes over, and he goes back to sleep.

He's still fairly calm the next day, and he accepts a visit from Annie Cresta. She gives him a shaky smile and says they haven't been properly introduced, which I suppose is true. I doubt Snow or the Peacekeepers were worrying about social niceties when they held a gun to her head to make him behave. She thanks him for making the Peacekeeper give her a coat.

"I don't remember that," he says.

"You did, though. They were hurting you, but you made them cover me. It was very gentlemanly."

He nods. They talk for a few more minutes. Annie leaves without incident.

I go in. Peeta's face is turned away from the door.

"That was good," I tell him. "Annie's been looking forward to saying thank you."

He doesn't say anything.

I turn to go.

From the bed, I hear, "My dad always said to be a gentleman."

I turn back. Peeta has pulled himself up, and is halfway sitting. "You were always good at it," I say.

He blinks at me a few times and says, "I want my dad, Haymitch."

I nod. "Yeah. I know you do."

"I really want my dad." He starts crying, and sinks into the pillows, holding the notebook of recipes against his chest, and not acknowledging me any further.

Later, Delly goes to visit him. She tells him stories about his father. He keeps begging for more of them, and by the time she leaves, she is exhausted and teary herself. I sit down and have a glass of water with her (about the only thing that can be consumed outside the dining hall).

"They think we need to lock him up with the crazy people," she says. "I heard them. The other doctors, the ones that aren't on the team. They don't think this is doing any good."

"I wondered about that."

"Too many resources, they say. It's all very sad after everything he did for them, but really, all there is for him is sedating him and sticking him a padded room somewhere."

"Yeah."

She looks around shiftily. "I looked at files, Haymitch. I wasn't supposed to, but I was all alone, and no one saw me. There are a lot of people in the crazy ward. Way more than there should be in a population this size."

I take a more careful look than she did, decide no one is paying attention, and say, "What are you thinking, Delly?"

"I don't know yet. But I want to find out. Before they decide to wrap Peeta up in cotton and call it a day."

I nod. "Be careful."

"Yeah." She bites her lip. "And Haymitch -- let Plutarch give them the reports about Peeta. He's more cheerful about it than you are."

I agree.

The next day, I'm scheduled at Command for the first time since Peeta got back. We are studying the problem of the Nut, or "Capitol Strategic Command," as Coin calls it. Katniss is rallying District Two nicely, and keeping the other districts at high energy, but none of it will do any good if we can't break the back of the Capitol's military holdings.

"I don't think we can work this without the District Two leaders," Beetee says. "We should send in some of our strategists."

"They can work from here perfectly well," Coin says.

I shake my head. "No, it makes a difference to be there. Boots on the ground. Get a feel for the place."

One of her colonels, named Cochrane, agrees. "We ought to send a few of the young folks. They're fast thinkers."

"Gale Hawthorne," Beetee says. "He should go, certainly."

"Soldier Hawthorne has duties here," Coin says.

"But he would be more useful there."

She sighs. "Very well. Hawthorne will go. Maybe Colonel Cochrane here. Soldier Bruce has also been showing a good deal of potential, and she hasn't had an opportunity to test it in the field..."

In the end, they choose a handful to go, and they are put into a quick training schedule about District Two.

I go back to the hospital.

Finnick and Annie join us in observation now. Peeta has broken through the tears for his father, but is developing a peculiarly sullen attitude. He claims that no one is listening to him, everyone thinks he's crazy. They're all crazy. He's not. He doesn't consent to another test with the morphling.

I join Plutarch for his call to Katniss. He tries to be positive, as usual. I tell her about Prim's idea, and how it worked out. She doesn't sound hopeful. Maybe it's because I don't sound hopeful. I tell her that Command is sending out some of the brains to help out with the Nut. It doesn't occur to me until after I hang up that I haven't mentioned that Gale will be among them, but I somehow doubt she'll be surprised. Gale is in his element here, doing what he always wanted to do -- overthrow the Capitol. I guess Katniss will be expecting him no matter what I forget to say.

I visit Johanna. She is recuperating, and hasn't had a seizure for days. They've lowered her dose of morphling.

"I wish they wouldn't do that," she says. "I still hurt. My arms. They hung me by my arms, and my shoulders hurt. I need the medicine. Will you tell them that?"

I frown. I recognize the tone in her voice. I've heard it from Berenice Morrow and Paulin Gibbs from Six.

Hell, I've heard it from myself.

It's not the sound of someone who's not getting enough medicine. It's the sound of someone who will never, ever get enough.

"Haymitch?"

"Johanna, I think they're pretty careful about that kind of thing."

"I need it."

"I know you do. Trust me, I know."

She gives me a disgusted sounding snort and rolls over, moaning dramatically.

The next morning when I go to visit her, Gale is there, saying goodbye before he leaves.

"You just keep fighting," he says. "You'll be fine."

"I don't know how to do anything else," she says. "Well, that's not true. Maybe someday I'll show you my other skills."

He rolls his eyes hugely, gives her a smart wave, and leaves.

"You know he's in love with Katniss," I say.

"I know he thinks he is. He told me so on our last go 'round about it. Notice that he came back." She presses down on the needle in her arm. "Come on, give me another drop..."

I ask the doctors if they could give her a little increase. They promptly test me to see if I've been taking it from her.

I go and sit with Peeta. He's still angry with me, but he's not explosive about it. He just doesn't talk to me.

I talk into the silence. I tell him about the rebellion, about how angry victors started to meet clandestinely during the Games. About how we learned we had an ally among the Gamemakers, and made a pact in the back alleys. I tell him about my mother and brother, and Digger.

"I know it's weird to think of me ever loving anyone," I say. "But I did. I guess I did, anyway. I never was any good at it." No response. "I wonder sometimes what it might been like if she hadn't died. If we'd have had kids. Maybe I wouldn't have been drunk so much. Maybe..." I sigh. "But it didn't happen. Everything I did after that was about paying the Capitol back for what they did. Everything until you two came along, anyway." I have learned not to say Katniss's name. He can cope with the obvious thought of her without flying off the handle, but her name will send him over the edge. "After that, I might have given it all up if I thought it would help you. But I didn't think that. I thought the best thing for you was for us to win the war."

He gives me a guarded look. "Yeah?"

"Yeah. We're making it up as we go along. I wish we weren't. I wish I had a grand plan. I wish I'd let you in on it. I was afraid of what would happen to you if you knew."

He snorts. "Good job with the protection," he says.

"I know. I screwed up."

"That's an understatement." He picks at his blankets listlessly. "Are we going to win?"

"I think so."

"Will it matter?"

"What do you mean?"

He shrugs. "My family will still be dead. Your family will still be dead. District Twelve will still be dead. Does it matter who's in charge of the ashes?"

"Maybe not to us."

He looks away. "You spent too long in the Games, Haymitch. You think like a Gamemaker."

There is no more conversation. I stay until he sleeps.
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