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HG: The Narrow Path, Chapter Twenty-Five - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
HG: The Narrow Path, Chapter Twenty-Five
Katniss's verdict has just been handed down.

Chapter Twenty-Five
On the charge of murder, Katniss Everdeen is found not guilty. Despite Plutarch's attempts to paint her as a poor, mad girl, they actually make the finding based on "defense of others." There are a few disgruntled looking jurors, and I imagine the argument was pretty intense, but they are vastly outnumbered. They split the difference on the vigilantism charge, since they can't exactly claim that Katniss wasn't acting as a vigilante. Here, they lean on her obvious mental difficulties, and say that she needs to receive therapy. More to the point, they think she needs to be in a "known environment."

In other words, someplace far away, where they can laud her for saving their skins from Coin without worrying that next week, she'll decide to shoot someone else she decides is a threat. The "known environment" they recommend is District Twelve, where she is to be confined with her mother, receiving therapy, until such time as she is deemed to no longer be a danger to herself and others. The court will make the arrangements. She'll leave in three days. In the meantime, they will slowly introduce some antipsychotics into her regimen.

The first sign of trouble comes when Ruth is asked if she objects. She stands. Her voice is choked. She doesn't look at the judge. "I... couldn't I take her with me to Four? The hospital was destroyed. I've been helping design the new one. I'd planned to help build it."

"She'll need full time supervision, and it is the judgment of this court that she should return to her home."

"But there's no one there," Ruth says.

"My records indicate that four separate groups have filed for permission to return, and several have done so. They are living in houses in the Victors' Village. They have plans to rebuild the city."

Ruth stands there, shaking, her hands balled up into tight fists. "I... I understand," she says weakly.

I follow her out of court. She keeps her shoulders squared and looks straight ahead.

I call for a taxi. Ruth says nothing, even as I fold her into the back seat. I get in beside her and give the driver Annie's address.

Ruth just sits there, blinking, all the way. She has to be reminded to get out of the car.

I walk her upstairs and set her down on Annie's couch.

"What's wrong?" Annie asks.

"She was ordered back to District Twelve with Katniss," I say.

Ruth blinks a few times then rises dreamily to her feet. "I should... pack. My things. To go." She tries to take a step, but she can't seem to move her legs. We help her sit back down.

Annie pulls me into the kitchen. "Haymitch, there's no way she can go back to Twelve. The only thing that's keeping her going is working."

"It's her daughter who needs her."

"Her daughter who doesn't even recognize that she's in the room?"

"That's the problem. Katniss needs to be taken care of."

Annie points to Ruth, who is trying to pull herself to her feet again. "And you think she can do that? Haymitch, look at her."

I do. And for a second, I hate her. I hate that she's falling apart. I hate that she seems to think she's the only person who has ever felt pain. I hate that she's grabbed me and lectured me about hurting Katniss, when no one on Earth has ever hurt Katniss more deeply than she has.

Then I realize that she can't help it anymore than Katniss can right now.

"Let's give it some time," I say. "She'll..."

"Snap out of it?" Annie finishes. "Maybe. But I wouldn't place bets on when."

I go home. President Paylor is in the kitchen, because Effie is working on a particularly complex schedule for her.

"Is there any chance that Katniss could go to Four with her mother?" I ask her.

"I can't contradict the judge."

"But Twelve... it's dead. It's like living with corpses."

Paylor considers this, then gets out a handheld. "Let me show you something. Young Assemblyman Lewiston has been back and forth a few times." She hits a button, and the device sends up a hologram. I recognize it immediately. It's the Victors' Village. Sae is outside one of the houses that was never lived in, playing with her granddaughter. At another house, young men and women are going over crates full of supplies. Two children are playing in the park. "They aren't corpses," Paylor says. "And the crates are full of things for starting to re-build. We're going to put a medical supply factory there, so there's some industry."

"Medical supplies?"

She nods.

I try this on Ruth the next day. She manages to choke out that it seems like a fine thing. Then she goes silent.

I go to the training center. They let me up to see Katniss, for all the good it does. She is lying in her bed, staring at the ceiling. I may as well be back in District Twelve myself.

And I realize, I could be. I don't really want to be, but at the moment, Katniss is my only responsibility.

My friends are starting to disperse. Beetee has gone back to District Three to begin working on the communications systems. Gale is packing to go off to District Two, and, after some conversation, his family is going with him. Hazelle thinks it will be a great adventure. Johanna has gone to Seven to see what's left, but Gale has requested her for his staff in Two, and she's already bought a house there. The new government has taken over the refugee issue that my team was working on, and they're doing fine with it. The trial is over, and I was no use in it at all, and Plutarch hasn't asked for my help with anything. It turns out I don't need a job. The Assembly has decided to continue paying victors the agreed-upon salary (Annie abstained from the vote, since she had a conflict of interest) on the grounds that it would be dishonorable to break a contract, so in terms of money, I am as well off as I ever was.

The war is over.

I kiss Katniss's cheek -- she doesn't notice -- and go home to Effie.

"They let you in finally?" she asks. "Did Katniss see you?"

"No." I sit down on the bed and take her hands, getting her attention. "Effie..." I start.

"What?" She sits beside me. "Haymitch, what is it?"

"I think..." I don't want to say it out loud, because I know, once I do, that I really mean to do this mad thing. I force the words out. "I'm going to offer to go back to District Twelve with Katniss. Ruth can't do it."

Effie's eyes widen, and her mouth opens a little bit. "You're leaving?"

I kiss her. "Come with me, Effie. Please come with me. Please. I'm not sure I can do this by myself."

She lets go of my hands. "I... I have to think about that, Haymitch. I have to..." She stands up goes to the bedroom door, where she stops. She closes her eyes and winces. "I don't have to the think about it," she says. "I can't go to District Twelve. You know I can't go. I have a job with the President. I'm looking after the girls... there's a not even a school in Twelve!"

I do know this. I know it's not even fair to ask. But hear myself say, "I need you, Effie."

This is not a phrase I ever remember saying before, at least not when there wasn't an immediate problem to solve. I certainly never thought I'd say it to Effie Trinket.

She comes back to me and holds me, resting my head against her breast. "Why can't Ruth do it? She's Katniss's mother. You don't need to go. You can stay here with me."

"Ruth can't face it. She's breaking down just thinking about it."

"And you? Can you face it, Haymitch?"

"I don't know."

She strokes my hair for a long time. "You have to do this, don't you?" I nod. She kisses my head. "And you know I can't go."

"Yeah. Yeah, I know it."

We spend the night together, maybe the closest together we've been -- or the closest we'll get. In the morning, we say goodbye, in case I'm sent off with Katniss quickly.

I go to the training center.

Ruth is there with her valise, weeping. Peeta is trying to comfort her, but he's angry. Aurelius hasn't given him permission to leave therapy in the Capitol.

Plutarch has come along. He looks as happy as I've seen him. "I'll fly out with you," he tells her. "I need to go to District Three. But Katniss's brain waves are looking a little better. I think she'll come around on this medication. I'd love to tell her everything that's happened!"

"I can't," Ruth chokes. "I can't go. I can't go to the house. I can't see Prim's things."

I sigh and sit beside her, across from Peeta. "I'll go with Katniss," I say.

She freezes. "I... what...?"

"I'll go," I say. "You have work to do. I'll take care of Katniss."

"But they said..."

"They said she needed someone to take care of her. They called on you because you're her mother. But I never signed off my guardianship after the Quell. No one asked me to. I'm sure they'll let me."

"Why would you do that?" Ruth asks. "Why?"

"Because he's her mentor," Peeta says, looking at me. "And because he loves her."

"Pretty much," I say.

"What will I say to her?" Ruth asks. "How can I explain this?"

I don't think she'll have to explain much. I don't think Katniss expects much of her. I don't tell her this. "Why don't you write her a letter? Tell her what you need to tell her. I'll take of the rest."

"A letter?"

"Ruth, we don't even know if she'll be able to see you. If she has a letter, she can read it when she's ready."

She makes a few token protests, but I can already see her calming down, returning to herself.

I go to the judge, who is overseeing the transfer. It takes some convincing, but she's not out to punish or confine Ruth, and with a second guardian willing to take it on, she finally signs off on it, and gives me orders to return to District Twelve, rescinding Ruth's orders on the subject.

When I get back to the lounge, Ruth is writing a long letter. I sit down with Peeta. "I still have guardianship of you, too," I say. "Do you want me to push it? Make Aurelius let you come?"

He thinks about it carefully, then says, "No. I still run into too many of the nightmares. Maybe he's right. Maybe I need to get a little more healed before I risk not being here."

"Maybe we should make Aurelius come."

Peeta snorts. "Good luck with that. I already tried. Seems he has patients other than Katniss and me. Who knew he'd have time for that?"

"You'll be along though, right?"

"As soon as I can. As soon as I'm not dangerous."

"Work hard," I tell him.

Ruth finishes her letter, and I tuck it into my traveling bag. I'm not carrying much. Effie can send me the rest of my clothes.

I go upstairs.

Katniss is lying on the bed. She is skinny, but she's made a deep hole in the mattress. Her eyes have a bruised and sunken look. A medical technician -- unseen by her -- gives her a shot.

"We're bringing her up slowly," he tells me. "She's been gone for a while. I can't guarantee that the medication will last." He hands me a bag of pills. "She'll need to take it orally back in Twelve. Have her take it with food, twice a day. It should help with the morphling withdrawal and the... the other mental problems."

I wait with her for the afternoon, watching has her eyes start to move gradually, taking in the details of the ceiling. She doesn't move to change her view, but I can see at least some awareness. I call for the medical assistants. She will not be able to move on her own.

I stand up and lean into her field of vision. "Your trial's over," I say. "Come on. We're going home."

I want to carry her myself, but she's still a patient, and in the hands of the medical professionals. They carry her up to the roof, to the garden where I once saw her sleeping in Peeta's arms. The hover craft is waiting there, blasting many of the plants flat, blowing away the things that have happened here.

She's carried inside and strapped into a seat across from Plutarch, who looks like he's just been given a birthday present. I sit beside him. It's Plutarch's private plane, not a little one like we escaped in, but a real one, with a crew. He tells me that I'm to consider it all at my disposal.

"Katniss!" he says as we lift off. "It's good to see you out and about. You must have a million questions!"

Frankly, Katniss looks like she's struggling to continue sitting upright, despite the straps, and has no interest at all in the recap that Plutarch gives her about what's happened since she shot Coin. He gives this information in the jovial tone of someone telling a drunk about what happened at a cocktail party after she passed out. I wonder if he's been dipping into some of the pills the prep teams enjoyed so much.

The flight attendant brings me a drink. I take it without thinking. I'm on the way back to Twelve. One little drink for courage can't hurt.

By the time Plutarch disembarks in District Three to meet with Beetee, there are four glasses lined up on my tray, and I’m working on a fifth. It's Twelve I'm going to. Twelve. There is not enough booze in the world to deal with District Twelve, not alone. I know Effie would tell me to stop, but Effie didn't want to come. Effie has other things to do, things that matter to her.

Katniss has been gaining strength as we fly. I don't know if it's the medication or just getting out of captivity, but either way, she managed to have a conversation with Plutarch. I think part of it was philosophy. I call for another drink.

She looks at me vaguely. "So why are you going back to Twelve?" she asks. It's the first time she's addressed me directly since she came to me for help the night before she shot Coin.

"They can't seem to find a place for me in the Capitol, either," I say, picking up on something I think Plutarch said to her.

It takes her about two minutes to figure out the rest. No one ever accused her of being stupid. If I'm here, and I'm taking care of her, then her mother isn't coming. I take a stab at explaining. She doesn't seem even a little bit surprised. I hand her Ruth's letter. She doesn't open it. "Do you want to know who else won't be there?" I ask, thinking about the Hawthornes and Peeta.

"No. I want to be surprised." She looks out the window at the clouds. She looks a million miles away. The sharp, piercing eyes that Panem knows her for are lost somewhere inside her own inner storm cloud. I have the attendants bring her a sandwich, thinking in a foggy way that she needs to eat and it's my job to make her eat. I watch her swallow it bit by bit. I doubt she tastes it. After that, she closes her eyes. I think for a few minutes that she's actually gone to sleep, but I can see that her hands are too tense. She just doesn't want to talk. I don't blame her.

I call for another drink, but the flight attendants have cut me off. Plutarch did tell me it was all at my disposal, though, so I go back and find the bar myself. I haven't seen Ripper since the bombing, and it's possible that no one has set up a still yet. I help myself to as much as I can fit into my bag. It won't be enough. Maybe with the new government, I'll be able to just order some and have it sent.

It's very dark out when the hover craft lands on the green in Victors' Village. Someone must have called ahead, because my house and Katniss's have both been opened, and have lights on. I don't think I did this. The other four occupied houses seem to be hives of activity. They aren't occupied by single families, but by groups who've come back to rebuild. I hear a fiddle coming from one of them. I smell wood smoke from the fireplaces.

I go to pick up Katniss and realize that I'm completely off balance. I look at the line of glasses on my tray.

We haven't even gotten back to the house, and already, I've let her down again.

I shake her awake -- well, into not pretending she's asleep, anyway -- and ask if she can walk. Maybe it will even be good for her. She manages it, though I see on her face that she can smell the liquor on me and is disgusted. I hold her steady as we go to her house. Someone has lit a fire in the kitchen, and set up a rocker in front of it. Katniss sits down.

I look at her. "Well... see you tomorrow," I say.

She doesn't say anything. I wonder if I've disappeared for her already.

"I'll see too her tonight," someone whispers

I look over my shoulder. Greasy Sae is standing in the kitchen doorway.

"Thanks," I say. I hand her Katniss's bag of pills. "She should take another one with food tonight, and one tomorrow morning."

Sae looks at me with large, sad eyes, then says, "Go home, Abernathy. Try and sober up."

I go home and set my bag down. The bottles clink against each other. Something inside me says to empty them, to just pour them down the sink and deal with whatever comes of it. The rest of me responds to this absurdity with indignation. I can handle having a few bottles around, just in case.

In case of what?

Just... in case.

In my befuddled state, I go halfway with this. I take the bag down to my cellar and cleverly hide it from myself. This would work better, I'm sure, if I actually walked away from it, but I don't. I take out another bottle and continue drinking. I hear the phone ringing upstairs, and I don't care.

It is morning when I'm aware of things again. I don't actually know whether or not it's the next morning, or if I've skipped one. My head is pounding. I check the liquor bottles and am relieved to see that I only drank half of the one in my hand, and the others are still untouched.

I stand up. My stomach gives a lurch, and I throw up on the floor. There will be no Hazelle to clean it up. I look around groggily and find an old towel, which I drop onto the steaming puddle to soak it up. I'll finish cleaning later. I stumble up the cellar stairs, get as far as my couch, and pass out.

The days go by. I am not always drunk. For a week and a half I manage to leave my stash of full bottles alone in their cellar hiding place. I check in on Katniss every day while she's sleeping. I'd guess after our disastrous trip home, she doesn't want to talk to me. I ask Sae to keep taking care of her.

"You're the one who's supposed to be doing that!"

"Best way I can do it is to ask you to do it. I'm no good to her."

Delly Cartwright comes back to town. She moves in with one of the rebuilding crews. She comes to visit me, and the next thing I know, she's summoned Dalton and his lectures. Dalton has brought a bottle of detox pills and makes me take them. I consider telling him where my stash is, but decide not to. He hasn't lived with the stuff for a decade. He'd probably drink it down to the bottom without even stopping. I don't have enough to share, and I can keep it under control if they'd give me a chance and drop the babysitters. I take my pills and wait for him to go back to District Ten, where he's making an effort to reconcile with his sons. Once he's gone, I determine to start drinking again just to spite him, but something puts me off. Probably the pills.

Effie calls me every few days and asks how I am. I lie and say that I'm fine. She should concentrate on her job. How are the girls? She always has stories about the girls, and about life as Paylor's assistant. I talk about the re-building crews as though I have something to do with them, and about going to see Katniss every day as though I don't wait until she's asleep for it. Effie tells me I'm doing fine. She says she misses me. Once, I am drunk on the phone. Her voice goes thin and suspicious. I lie and tell her that I'm just tired. She tells me to detox immediately. I tell her to come here and force the issue. She hangs up. The next call, I'm sober, and we act like that one never happened.

Thom Lewiston takes one of the other houses to serve as his house and his Assembly office, now that the first legislative session is over. The official call is that they will meet for one month in the Capitol, twice a year, and otherwise live in their districts to stay in touch with their needs. He starts to organize crews to go to the old town site and look for bodies. They'll build a memorial in the meadow.

The Cooley family arrives from District Thirteen, and Delly moves back in with them. Leevy brings Katniss's things from her room, not that there's much. Just the parachute with the spile and he locket, and her father's hunting jacket. I remember sitting with Prim and looking at them. Apparently, Gale also rescued a few of her bows out in the woods, and instructed Leevy to get them from the house by the lake. She brings them over to Katniss's house -- Katniss is sleeping again; she sleeps a lot when she's not actually eating -- and leaves them in the parlor.

"She should go out," I tell Sae. "It's starting to get warmer."

Sae promises to do her best, but after she gives Katniss dinner, she comes over and says that there was no progress, other than Katniss putting on Glen's jacket. "It's too bad," she says. "I think the spring air would do her good. It's like she's waiting for something before she'll move."

I sit and think, trying to imagine what Katniss is waiting for. My mind is a little cloudy. I had something to drink earlier. The bottle is still open. I pour more.

I fall asleep in my living room, which has somehow descended into its usual state of chaos. I dream that I'm in my arena. The water there is poisoned and I know it, but I drink it anyway. I don't care. Maysilee keeps telling me to stop. I tell her that she's dead and can't tell me what to do. She straightens her wig and tells me that I need to detox immediately. Then the birds are there, and she can't say anything else. She also stops being Maysilee as she dies.

I wake up in the middle of the afternoon to a smell I don't even recognize at first -- a smell totally incongruous in my disaster of a home, a smell I've almost forgotten.

Someone is baking bread in my kitchen.

I sit up slowly and get to my feet. Stumble to the kitchen door.

Peeta looks up from the table and smiles faintly. "Hey," he says. "I'm back."
10 comments or Leave a comment
dragonzair From: dragonzair Date: May 24th, 2013 07:21 am (UTC) (Link)

I knew it was coming, but I just want them all happy. If it's sort of leading into Four Decisions, I'm keeping my hopes up for Haymitch. At the end of MJ, he was who I was most worried for.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 24th, 2013 07:27 am (UTC) (Link)
There are obviously a few things with the Effie storyline that Katniss, um, didn't mention in "Four Decisions," but for the most part, it's the same continuity.
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 24th, 2013 04:15 pm (UTC) (Link)

What's Your Take...

On the state of Dalton's sobriety, long term? Since obviously, Haymitch cannot form an unbiased opinion on that score.

For that matter, unless you've already included mention of him in your epilogue, what does happen to Dalton?

Sara Libby
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 24th, 2013 07:44 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: What's Your Take...

The difference between Haymitch and Dalton, as I see it, is that Dalton is a recovering alcoholic, and Haymitch is a dry drunk (mostly, at the moment). So, while I think Dalton may have some serious problems with the re-introduction of temptation, he is devoted to staying sober and will make more of an attempt than Haymitch gives him credit for. (As long as he doesn't actually take that first drink.) Dalton knows he has a problem. Haymitch is occasionally faced with the fact that he has a problem, but he still doesn't think of it as a serious thing. Some part of him must know that it isn't normal to black out days at a time, or to drink a full bottle of booze because he neglects to stop. But he doesn't really recognize it as a serious and life threatening illness, so whenever the opportunity presents itself again, bam, he's drinking. The morphling-lacing made his last blackout worse in terms of symptoms, but he's the yutz who just kept on pouring the stuff down his throat.

Dalton is more likely to stay sober because he actually has acknowledged that the drinking is serious. On the plane here, he'd have known that going with the thought, "I'll need something to get me through this" is... not a sign of a healthy thought process. So he's more likely to not start. If he does start, though, I think it would be worse than Haymitch.

Future? In "Four Decisions," he officiates Katniss and Peeta's wedding, but I haven't thought much further than that.
shortysc22 From: shortysc22 Date: May 24th, 2013 11:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Another amazing chapter. I liked that Peeta was able to come back at the end and how Haymitch reasoned he needed to be the one to take care of Katniss. I love the direction the story is going in and now the times are finally a bit on the happier side than the rest of the story has been.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 25th, 2013 12:40 am (UTC) (Link)
It is finally getting a mood upswing, though it's rocky.
patita_fea From: patita_fea Date: May 25th, 2013 01:40 am (UTC) (Link)
I sit and think, trying to imagine what Katniss is waiting for.

Oh, Haymitch. Is it that hard?

Must be the liquor fuzzing his brain.

Fernwithy, I'm really loving this. I've swallowed your entire Hunger Games universe whole in the past week or so, and now I'm caught up and eagerly awaiting every new chapter of this fic. Thank you so much for sharing!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 25th, 2013 02:41 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, when you actually manage to forget that someone pretty important to her hasn't come back yet, it's serious liquor fuzz.

Glad you've been enjoying!
hymnia From: hymnia Date: May 25th, 2013 07:15 am (UTC) (Link)
Love the way you ended this installment, with Peeta's return and the smell of baking bread.

Things are looking up (finally).
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 25th, 2013 02:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes. FINALLY. These people have been put through the wringer, and it's about time they got a little reprieve! (That's how I felt at the end of MJ, when Katniss finally started to wake up.)
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