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HG: Rites of Fall, Chapter One - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: Rites of Fall, Chapter One
Hmm. I was going to start further back, during the Games, but that didn't seem to be working in this continuity. So I'm picking up Danny's point of view, covering things happening in town during Chapter 27 of "End of the World" and onward from there.


Part One: Baptism By Fire

Chapter One
The steam in the bathroom is heavily scented with sandalwood -- as much as I could get into it -- but it doesn't cover the stench of what I've just washed off of Haymitch. The pile of pillowcases I used for cloths will go into the incinerator, along with his clothes and most of mine. I'll have to borrow something of his to wear home, once I get a chance to finish washing up myself.

I have done the best I can cleaning him up. I was going to put him in the tub, but I was worried he'd drown if he didn't wake up, so I just cleaned him like this. I washed the foul smoke out of his hair and wiped away the unspeakable sludge on his skin, the remains of Indigo Hardy, a girl our age, who cooked on the fence like some insane human sacrifice. She was his girl. Over the last few weeks, she'd become my friend.

Now she hangs in the steamy air of the bathroom like an accusation: You weren't quick enough. You didn't try hard enough. You weren't watching.

We all knew Digger was out of her head worrying about Haymitch, and we all knew she liked to go out into the woods. We were supposed to be keeping an eye on her. We knew the Peacekeepers were keeping an eye on her. But she slipped the noose and made a run for Victors' Village, and they turned the fence on while she was climbing it.

Haymitch makes a retching sound in the back of his throat. He's still unconscious from whatever sedative the Peacekeepers finally got into him after I knocked him out, and I kneel down beside him to hold his head straight, so that if he throws up, he won't choke.

He doesn't throw up, but he does sob in his sleep.

I stay beside him, my hand on the back of his neck. A part of my mind processes the idea that this wouldn't look very good if anyone were to come around -- him naked in the bathroom, me with my arm around him -- but I don't care. After everything that just happened at the fence, I'm too tired to care. Haymitch never had a lot of friends, and I'm pretty much what he has left.

There's a soft knock at the door. "Danny? Are you done? I brought clothes."

"Thanks, Ruth," I say. "Just… just leave them by the door. I'll put the cloths out."

I gather up the pillow cases and open the door, letting in a blast of air that feels very cool. I think his house may actually be climate controlled. I drop them, and pick up the clothes she's left. I dress Haymitch in pajamas, figuring he should just sleep this off. He lolls like a rag doll when I move him around, and when I hoist him up, he's more or less dead weight as I get him to bed and let Ruth take over looking after him. I go back to the bathroom. I have to get the smell off of me, too, or I'll never be able to eat again.

There are some very harsh settings on Haymitch's shower, and I choose the harshest I can find -- a hot, blasting jet that might well take a layer off of my skin. I scrub my hair with a harsh shampoo, too. It probably helps, but in the end, I think the smell is buried so deep in my mind that I'll be smelling it for a long time.

Ruth has brought me some of Haymitch's clothes. They're a little small on me, but it's better than the thought of putting my own befouled clothes back on.

When I'm finished, I go to Haymitch's room, where Ruth is sitting beside him on the bed, holding a cool cloth to his face.

"It's scented with honeysuckle," she says quietly. "I hope… I hope it'll get the smell away from him for a while."

"Is it coming through the window?"

"I don't know. Maybe."

I sit down behind her and rest my chin on her shoulder, looking down at Haymitch, who is muttering incoherently in his sleep. "What are we going to do?"

There's no answer to this, nothing that can be done. In less than two months, Haymitch has gone from being poor but relatively stable to having all the money anyone could want, and no one left to share it with. First his mother and brother were killed, now Digger, the girl I think he actually intended to marry. She claimed they already were married, but I don't think staging a toasting actually works that way.

There's no fix for this. Nothing will make it all right again.

We take turns watching him, trading off between us, letting Kay Donner and Merle Undersee spend some time with him when they arrive. There are others in our little group, but Haymitch's caretaking squad mostly deteriorated to the four of us and Digger after the initial concern over his family's deaths. Normally, Sae from the Community Home would be here -- a sort of adult adjunct to our group -- but her job today is to deal with the other children, and help Digger on her way.

I am sitting with Haymitch and the sun is starting to set when I hear a low, quiet voice say, "He okay?"

I look up. It's Glen Everdeen, Digger's friend. He spent the Games hovering at the edge of our little group. I don't know him very well, but I do know he helped me carry Mrs. Abernathy to the Community Home after Haymitch was Reaped and sent off on the train. I shake my head. "He's…" I look at Haymitch and decide that I don't trust him to not be hearing me right now. I get up and signal Glen to follow me out into the hall.

"How bad is it?" he asks.

"Bad. You heard what happened to her, right?"

"I helped them take her to the Justice Building. They have to… they want to do something… with her. I didn't really follow."

"Oh. Thanks."

"She was my friend."

"Right. I'm sorry. But he's in bad shape. They're never going to let Ruth and me stay the night, and he shouldn't be alone when he wakes up. We'll be digging his grave next if he is. Will you help us get him back to town?"

"Yeah. Of course I will."

"You might want to wash up. You smell like her. Everything does."

He sniffs the air. "I don't think so. All I can smell in here is some kind of perfume thing."

"Really?"

"Yeah." He shrugs. "I think it's maybe in your head."

"Yeah. Yeah, you're probably right. It's going to be in his, too."

There's nothing else to say to someone I barely know, and I guess he's in about the same place, because he just gives me an awkward nod and goes downstairs. I hear him strike up a quiet conversation with someone -- probably Ruth; they've been trading ballads for weeks -- and tune him out. I mean to pack a bag for Haymitch, but I can't figure out where there's luggage. Maybe there isn't. Maybe every time he travels, they'll give him new clothes. I finally end up grabbing another one of the multiple pillow cases in the linen cupboard -- I can't imagine why they think he needs so many bedding sets -- and stuff in some underwear and clothes. I tie a pair of sneakers together and throw them over my shoulder.

By the time I get downstairs, there are Peacekeepers there. Not our new Head Peacekeeper, Lucretia Beckett, but a couple of the shiny new young ones she's had brought in. They aren't much older than we are.

"Can't stay the night," one of them says, coming forward.

"I know. We're taking him into town."

"Why would you do that?"

"Because we can't stay the night, he's not staying alone."

The Peacekeeper sneers. "Well, I think -- "

His partner grabs his elbow. "Beckett okayed it, Cray," she says. For some reason, she's holding a balled up shirt. "Apparently, she wants to keep a close, personal eye on the situation." They smirk at each other.

I think of bringing Haymitch inside after we finally got him sedated. He wasn't wearing his shirt. I didn't think anything of it. It's summer. It was hot. But Beckett was already here when everything happened, and his shirt was down here.

I've heard rumors about her offering ways for certain boys to make a little money. My stomach turns. Haymitch doesn't need money, but the living room window looks directly out at the fence. I wonder if she offered him Digger's life. If so, she must not have liked his answer.

"We're getting him out of here," I say. "Now."

Merle Undersee, who still has the little cart from the mines, grabs the bundle of clothes and goes out to get it ready. Ruth and Kay go around locking up windows. We all ignore the Peacekeepers. I nod to Glen and we go back upstairs to get Haymitch.

He doesn't wake up, even while we wrap him up in his blanket and hoist him up with it. I don't know if it's the sedative, or if he's just decided to stay asleep. If so, it's probably a good decision.

We're careful getting him down the stairs, trying to keep him level. It's better than when I dragged him up here alone, hoisting him up each stair, holding him upright at my side. It's easier this way.

We get him outside. The evening air is a little bit cool, but it doesn't wake him up, nor does being bundled into the back of the cart, or being jostled as Merle drives him out. Kay hops up beside him in the passenger seat.

Ruth and Glen and I stand in front of the house. I know I'm exhausted, and I'm guessing Glen is as well, since he's helped carry two bodies at dead-weight today. I'm not sure what Ruth is feeling. Since Maysilee Donner died in the arena, she's been slipping more and more frequently into some distant place where I can't reach her. She looks halfway there now.

The Peacekeepers come out. "You don't have a right to be here," the one named Cray says. "I suggest you get moving."

We don't argue. We start walking toward the gate. My arms and shoulders hurt. My feet drag. Beside me, Ruth is staring at the ground in front of her. I reach out for her hand, but she moves a few steps ahead of us.

I try to think of something to say to Glen, but I'm too tired to come up with the usual small talk I use for talking to strangers. He looks up hopefully, but frowns, apparently not coming with anything himself. After a while, he just starts humming.

By the time we get to town, Kay and Merle are trying to get Haymitch out of the cart, and not having much success. My parents can see it, but they're crowded in by the after work rush (mostly plain little breads that the miners can afford).

I half expect that Haymitch would have woken up at some point, but he's still out cold. Glen and I lift him and get him up to the porch.

"Put him in my room, Danny!" Dad calls from the counter. "He can stay as long as he wants. I'll bring him supper later."

We get him through the short hallway, and Ruth has the door open that leads to the stairs. She goes on ahead of us. Merle and Kay are behind us, ready to catch us if we fall, I guess.

"Where's your parents' room?" Glen asks.

I don't correct him. I just steer us past Mom's room and into Dad's, at the end of the hall. Ruth already has the light on and is turning down the covers.

Glen and I roll him out onto the mattress, and Ruth pulls the covers up quickly.

Haymitch doesn't stir.

"Is he okay?" Merle asks. "I mean… physically? He doesn't look too good."

"They gave him a sedative," I say. "After I punched him."

"You didn't punch him that hard," Ruth says. "He wants to stay asleep. Let him sleep. It's the best thing."

I signal everyone out to the sitting room at the front of the house, except for Merle, who decides to take the first watch on Haymitch. We don't talk about much. After a while, Kay turns on the television. There's news that the poor, tragedy-stricken victor of District Twelve has had another piece of bad luck. A reporter who clearly has never been outside the Capitol expounds on how stupid someone must be to try and climb a fence. Digger's Games interviews are duly played, particularly ones in which she came off as a little bit dotty.

I turn it off.

We try to talk about something else. Anything else. No one has to ask why they would try to make a dead girl look stupid. Before they're done, they'll try to find a way to make it seem like Haymitch's fault, too.

Merle has to return the cart to the mines, so he and Kay leave just after moonrise. Glen makes a few awkward noises, then announces that he'd best get home, too, and that he sure hopes Haymitch will be all right.

"Thanks for helping," I tell him.

He nods and heads for the door. I think he's just going to leave, but he pauses. "This isn't right. What they're doing to him. Not just…" He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. "Not just… this. But… you've seen what they're saying about him. It's not right."

"No, it's not."

"Why do we let them?"

I shake my head. "Because we've got girlfriends and families, too, I guess."

"Yeah. That's probably right. Only it's not right."

"I know."

And there's nothing else to say. He leaves.

Ruth and I look after Haymitch for the rest of the evening. He wakes up briefly and asks what's happened to Digger's body. He seems lucid. Ruth checks him for responses. Eventually, she goes home. I can't think of anything to say, so I tell him how much Digger loved him and trusted him. He doesn't really respond. I guess I don't expect him to. I go downstairs to tell Dad he can eat now.

Dad has some kind of supper ready, and takes it upstairs.

Mom sits down across the kneading table from me. "Are you all right, Danny?"

"What?"

"You heard me. You've been dragging around your friend like a breathing corpse all day. Are you all right?"

"No. But it doesn't matter."

She nods, expecting nothing else, and tells me to start cleaning the mixing bowls for tomorrow morning. She gets started on the ingredients, and when Dad comes down, carrying a still mostly-full tray, he moves today's things to the day-old racks for tomorrow.

It's an old routine. A comfortable routine. We don't talk much.

My parents swear that they love each other, but we never talk much. They haven't shared a room ever, or at least that I remember, except for odd nights like this when we have guests. They must have been close at some point, because I'm here, but as far as I can tell, at the moment, they're well-matched roommates. I know they got married because Dad's family owned the bakery, but it's Mom who likes to bake (Dad's competent and has all the old family recipes, but it's the business part he really enjoys). They're very upfront about that. They insist that it doesn't make them any less fond of each other.

I hope I never end up with a life that boils down to being very fond of my business partner. I need more. More passion, more… everything. I love them, but I don't want to be like them. Ruth laughs at me for this (at least when she's in a mental place where she can laugh). She says my parents are perfectly happy, and I need to stop trying to make them into what I want to be.

We get everything set up for morning, then Dad does the first different thing. He ushers Mom and me ahead through the door to the stairway, then he pulls out his keys and locks the door behind us. I start to ask why, then I understand: the kitchen is full of things Haymitch could use as weapons against himself.

He doesn't comment on this, or on slipping into the sitting room and locking the small liquor cabinet, which he hasn't done since Haymitch and I stole a bottle on a lark two years ago. He takes both keys to Mom's room and sets them down on the table beside her bed.

None of us is ready to sleep, so we go to the sitting room.

"I think," Dad says quietly, "that, if we get Haymitch through this, President Snow is going to be one sorry bastard."

I look up. My father doesn't talk much at all, not to anyone, and I don't remember ever hearing him swear.

"Let's get him through it before we worry about that," Mom says.

"Will he be okay?" I ask. It's what everyone's been asking me all day, and I've managed to avoid answering it, because I don't know. "I mean… will he still be Haymitch?"

"Depends on what you mean by that," Dad says. "I imagine he'll always have a shadow on him, on top of the one that was already there. He's never going to not have these experiences. But he's a strong-minded kid. I think there's a part of him that's holding on for dear life. And I think it's going to win."

"Should someone sleep in there with him?"

Dad shakes his head. "I took out anything he could hurt himself with, at least without making enough noise to wake us up before he could do anything. Let's let him sleep."

We go to bed early, like always, since we have to be up before the sun. I lie awake in my bed, staring at the ceiling, until sleep forces itself on me. I dream about the Games -- about sitting there with Digger and Kay and Ruth, watching the big screen glowing above us. We clung to each other this summer, willing our friends to survive as long as they could.

Digger's eyes are wide and solemn as she watches Haymitch move through the forest. I ask if she's okay, and her skin starts to go gray. Smoke comes from under her hair.

I make myself wake up. I can't sleep. I hope Haymitch is doped up enough that he's not forced to stay in dreams like that. I still have an hour before we start the breads. I spend it making lists.

This is something I've always done, though I can't think of anyone who taught me to do it. Whenever things are bad, I find whatever scrap of paper I can (the insides of sugar bags are best, and I have a collection of them) and I write down all the things I hope for. I try to keep them reasonable, so that I'll be able to say that it's worthwhile to hope. And I must wish for things for at least two other people before I wish for something for myself. I made this rule for myself when I was eleven, when Maysilee called me selfish because I saved my allowance to buy myself sweets when people were starving. Her father lit into her for that, because all of us would go out of business if no one bought anything, but it hit me pretty hard.

My pen hovers for a long time before anything comes out. I let my hands doodle absently for a little while, making abstract patterns of swirls and lines. Finally, I write,

1 - Haymitch will wake up. He will grieve. But he will wake up.
2 - Ruth will come back to herself, and be able to laugh again.
3 -


I stare at the pen. I can't think of anything reasonable. Usually, I'd write something about passing a test, or getting a part in drama club, or having a decent life, or getting married someday, but none of that seems to matter in the face of what happened to Digger today. I want to write something I hope for her, but that seems even more pointless. I've read books that talk about life after death, and there are old songs about it, but she doesn't seem to be alive. She's ceased to be.

Like Maysilee Donner.

I can't think of anything I want for myself that doesn't sound petty when it's compared to anything happening around me. I put the pen down on the paper again, then write, quickly,

3 - I will care about petty things again someday.

Maybe it's not the most inspirational idea that's ever come around, but I decide it's the best I can do. I hear the sound of my parents stirring down the hall, talking to each other as if there's nothing unusual about sharing a bed after so many years. When they get out, they're already talking business.

We've been at work with the bread dough and the doughnuts for about an hour when we spot Haymitch trying to sneak out. Mom releases me from work immediately, and I run after him.

He doesn't try to lose me, but he doesn't acknowledge me all the way out to his house in Victors' Village. I don't know what he wants here, though I try to get the curtains closed so he doesn’t need to look out on the garden. There's a harsh ringing. It takes me a minute to realize that it's his telephone.

Haymitch doesn't recognize it right away, either, but finally fumbles into the study and presses the speaker button.

"Hello? Hello?" a woman's voice says.

Haymitch himself doesn’t answer, so I say, "He's here. He's, um…"

"I'm here," Haymitch says.

On the other end of the line, the high voice goes on. "Sweetheart, it's Gia. I saw the news. I've been trying to reach you since yesterday. Oh, honey."

I blink. "Gia?"

It takes a second, but I realize that "Gia" must be Pelagia Pepper, the Capitol escort. Haymitch seems fond of her, but I'm reserving judgment. "Miss Pepper?" I say. "I don't know if he's good for the phone."

"Of course not. Is there anything I can do? Anything?"

I look to Haymitch for an answer, but he doesn’t offer one, at least until I'm about to answer for him, at which point he asks Miss Pepper to bring Digger a red dress. If this sounds as crazy to her as it does to me, she doesn’t show it. She tells him she's headed up here. I've never seen an escort in the districts except during the Games. Maybe Haymitch is right to like her.

Haymitch goes quiet after this, and doesn't offer a goodbye. "Miss Pepper?" I say.

"It's Gia, honey. You're Haymitch's friend."

"Dannel Mellark," I tell her. "He's staying with my family at night. We're all staying with him during the day. But if your train gets in at night, or early in the morning, he's at the bakery. It's right on the square. You can see it from where the platform is during Reapings."

"Thank you. You take good care of him. And I'll be out soon to help. He's a good boy."

Haymitch doesn't respond to this at all. I nod. "Okay. I think he's done talking."

Miss Pepper and I say goodbye.

Haymitch wanders around for a little while, looking at the things in his house, none of which would be familiar to him. They haven't even given him a photograph of his family. Finally, I see him standing at the bottom of the stairs, trying to work up the will to climb them. I give him a hand, and he heads straight for his bed. I get him into it and throw a blanket over him, then close the curtains on the windows that overlook the gardens. "We'll get those bricked," I say.

He nods and says nothing, then rolls away. I think he goes right back to sleep.

Ruth shows up half an hour later -- she must have stopped by the bakery -- then old Sae comes an hour after that. She offers to stay with him for the rest of the afternoon, though Kay and Merle have offered to take the evening shift.

"Don't you need to be back at the Home?" I ask stupidly.

She gives me a bitter smile. "It seems I've been derelict, whatever that means, letting the kids run around willy-nilly. I'm supposed to find some other place to make a living. They put one of those Capitol liaisons in charge."

"I'm sorry."

"Yeah, well. I should've kept a better eye on her, shouldn't I? She's dead."

"Not your fault," Ruth says.

"Hmm."

Ruth and I check on Haymitch one more time -- he's sleeping again -- then head back to town. She fumes about Sae losing her job.

"You should come to the sweet shop," she says when I start to turn off toward home.

"I have to work."

"Your dad's manning the counter. Your mom's at the sweet shop. They told me to tell you, but I couldn't very well do it in Haymitch's house. Come on."

I frown. I can't imagine what they think they're doing.

Ruth leads the way through the narrower streets just off the square, past the apothecary (Ruth's mom is manning the counter alone), past the stationery shop (to my shock, actually closed), then to the sweet shop. We go straight past the counter, where Kaydilyn is sitting with a furious look on her face, then down into the cellar.

At least one person from most of the shops in town is here.

Mr. Donner -- Maysilee's dad -- stands up when he sees me. "I think that's everyone," he says. "Now… let's talk about what we're going to do about this."
11 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
torturedbabycow From: torturedbabycow Date: November 1st, 2013 05:37 am (UTC) (Link)
OMG YOU SPOIL US.

(Haven't read it yet, but SOON. Being very unproductive all day sure makes 10:30pm a less relaxing time than it should be...)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 1st, 2013 01:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hope you like it when you do!
torturedbabycow From: torturedbabycow Date: November 1st, 2013 11:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
It was fabulous! "...why they would make a dead girl look stupid." Scariest part about scary fiction is how real it is...
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 2nd, 2013 04:26 am (UTC) (Link)
As Stephen King puts it, "Fiction is the truth inside the lie."
redrikki From: redrikki Date: November 1st, 2013 01:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
Interesting start. I was struck by Danny's musings on his parents' relationship and what he wants for himself. Apparently, you're not satisfied with the utter tragedy that is life in 12 and though you'd up it with cruel irony and crushed romantic dreams.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 1st, 2013 02:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'd kind of like to look at what went wrong, ending everyone up where they ended up.
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 1st, 2013 07:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
Heartbreaking, of course, but I loved this glimpse of Danny and Ruth. They're very sweet together. Reminiscent of Katniss and Peeta. Glen has that sense of justice that's strong in both Katniss and Gale.
I'll be interested in your reasoning behind Danny's parents. Is one of them gay, both? I imagine homosexuality would be more frowned upon in a time where the population is so dangerously small.
The grown-ups are involved too? Can't wait to see what this leads too.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 1st, 2013 08:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think, if anything, they're asexual. Mostly, it's just not a big and important part of their lives, which is incomprehensible to their hormonal sixteen year old. (If you asked them, they'd probably say it was a snoring issue.)

(Yes, though -- I'm sure that anything not producing children, at least in the districts, would be deeply frowned upon culturally. I'm not sure I even believe Katniss that just living single would have been accepted after that big a population hit. Though Panem doesn't seem to be as up front about that as D13.)

Edited at 2013-11-01 08:18 pm (UTC)
sonetka From: sonetka Date: November 2nd, 2013 12:28 am (UTC) (Link)
Ruth and Glenn talking about ballads reminds me of the bit in "Murther And Walking Spirits" where two characters are described as "brought together by music, that siren who has made so many bad matches." Not that I'd describe the Everdeen match as bad, but Danny might be forgiven for thinking so!

I wondered about his parents as well, but more along the lines of poor health and comparatively low vitality. Bakers don't exactly lead low-stress lives. They might have just gotten more rest sleeping apart :).
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 2nd, 2013 04:26 am (UTC) (Link)
There's that, too. Just needing a little bit of sleep when you have to be up before dawn every day might well crimp the style.
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 7th, 2013 06:15 pm (UTC) (Link)

New story!

Oh great. Now I am sucked in by the first one of your Hunger Games fics that is only just beginning! I'll have to endure the suspense of waiting for new chapters, rather than have the entire story laid out in full waiting to be read. I hope your Muse is kind and we don't have too long to wait between chapters. I just finished "End of the World" on Archive and loved it, and was so excited to see this next chapter.

I already like Dannell(Peeta had to get his kindness somewhere)and I can't wait to see your take on his back-story.

~madame en
11 comments or Leave a comment