Log in

No account? Create an account
entries friends calendar profile Previous Previous Next Next
Repost: The Narrow Path, Chapter 19 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Repost: The Narrow Path, Chapter 19
Okay, just realized that I didn't name Part 3 in the archived ones and didn't like the original posted version, so I changed that. A little change and expansion with Miss Buttery, and an explanation of how in the world Jo and Annie got there.

Part Three: Peace

Chapter Nineteen
The sound of the explosion in City Center blasts out, shattering glass, even cracking the walls of the buildings behind me. My ears start to ring horribly. I have the impression of people screaming around me, but I can't hear them. There's a line of heat above my eye, but I'm not aware of any particular pain.

I stumble over the rubble, out to the street. City Center has been obliterated, and whatever blew up, the fire burst out from there like a deadly flower. Limbs are strewn in the ashes, many of them too small, but the real horror isn't the dead. It's the survivors, the ones who were far enough from the blast not to be ripped to pieces, but who were caught in the mortal breath of the flames.

People burning like embers, crying out as they fall to the ground. A woman stumbling forward with her hair on fire. A girl burned like Digger, her face melting as she crawls. So many. I see the white tunics of District Thirteen medics as well, and something tries to connect, but my mind refuses to do it.

I have other duties. Peeta was halfway out of the alley when the blast threw him backward, toward me. He's lying face down on the cobblestones. The heavy scarf wound around his head has flames flickering at the base of it, and the sleeves are burned off.

I speed up and run to him. "Peeta! Peeta!"

I can't hear him, but I can see him trying to move. I pull off my coat and cover him with it to smother the fire. I turn him over. His eyebrows have been burned away, and a bright red burn crosses his forehead. He has more furious burns on his arms, and he is bleeding from a cut on his head. He moves his lips: "Haymitch."

"Yeah, it's me," I say, though I doubt he can hear any better than I can. "I'm here. I have you." I start to yell for a medic, then the truth hits me. It hits me before I can even start to reject it.

The medics were running into the crowd, going to take care of the wounded.

Prim was there. I saw her on the truck.

I feel Peeta seize up beside me, and his body starts to jerk, and I can't think about it now. "I have you," I say again. I can't seem to say anything else. "I have you, I have you..."

There is a blast of hot air. Overhead, a Capitol hover craft vanishes. People in the street -- people not wounded -- fire guns at it. Most of these people are Capitol citizens, whose children are now in pieces on the stones. I feel what they feel, but I can't let go of Peeta to draw my sidearm and fire. I can't afford to think of it. I can't afford to think of Prim right now, or Katniss, wherever she is. I can't do anything yet. Not until Peeta is safe.

His seizure passes, and I pick him up carefully. I know it's not safe to move someone with unknown injuries, but it's not safe to leave him here, either.

I don't know how long I carry him through the smoky streets, how many blind alleys I stumble through with him, trying to think of a safe haven. He is heavy, and my arms and shoulders scream in protest, but the idea of putting him down never occurs to me. I may stagger over the stones, my body drooping down under the weight, but I will not let him touch the ground again. I don't know why this is the most important thing in the world -- it probably wouldn't hurt him at all -- but it is.

I finally find my way to the Grove, the gracious old neighborhood where so many of my elderly sponsors live. Many of the garden walls have been knocked down for some reason, and there are a lot of broken windows. There are a few piles of rubbish out in the mall in the middle of the street, burning merrily. I see the edge of a portrait frame in one of them, but I don't have time to figure out why in the world anyone is burning portraits. I stumble from home to home, yelling for help, even though I can't hear myself. No one answers. Some of the homes look abandoned, but not all of them. People are just afraid to come out. I can't blame them.

An orange glass door opens and a small, frail woman comes out. Her blue wig is askew and the little dog at her heels is yapping.

It's Tryphaena Buttery, one of my oldest sponsors, an often silly woman who loved math for some reason, and once sent Elmer Parton a math puzzle book, to keep his mind busy while he waited for the Games. She holds out her arms to direct me to her.

I lurch over to her and she steers me to her door, guiding me inside. She is talking at me, but I still can't hear. I think I tell her that, but I can't tell what I'm saying. She shows me a notepad with a short message on it. As I read it, I notice that I'm bleeding. Bright drops fall from my face onto the paper. Before they wipe out the message, I see that it just says, "I will help."

I take Peeta to the extra bedroom she directs me to and set him down on the bed.

Then I black out.

I dream darkly. Prim Everdeen stands in the night, her breath a ghostly cloud, and when she turns to me, her eyes are flames and she starts to melt. Katniss runs at me, screaming, her claws out. Maysilee dies in agony. The disjointed images finally resolve into a dream of District Twelve in flames. I walk through it, carrying Peeta, knowing that I have to get him somewhere safe, but there is nowhere. The stage in the square is set up and Effie is there, dressed in her finery, her arms forced into the Reaping balls, now filled with a river of blood. "Ladies first!" a stranger yells, only it's not a stranger, it's me, and I dunk Effie's head into the blood, holding her under. In some other place, I try to run to her, but with Peeta in my arms, I can't get there in time. I trip on the cobblestones and start falling, falling... I am still falling, holding on to Peeta as he falls with me into darkness, when I wake up alone in a room in a sponsor's house.

A small dog with a bow in its hair is standing over me. The room is flooded with strangely bright sunset light. All of the curtains have been taken down. A mirror over the dresser is broken, and the tables in the room are much barer than I would normally expect in the Grove.

I can hear again, though my ears hurt badly. Outside, there is a lot of faraway shouting and occasional bursts of gunfire.

The dog yips twice, then jumps down and trots off importantly. A moment later, a doctor is with me -- not one of our rebel medics, but a Capitol doctor with a high tech bag of tricks.

"We stitched your cut while you were out, Mr. Abernathy," he says coolly, shining a light toward my hairline, where I can feel a certain tightness. I assume that's the cut that was bleeding.

"Peeta," I say.

The doctor sighs. "He's in worse shape. I had him taken to the hospital with the others. There are a lot of people on the burn ward right now. President Coin has ordered that rebels be given treatment first, so he's near the front of the line. The girl, Katniss Everdeen, is already in intensive care."

I wake up fully. "Katniss! What happened? Was she there when the bombs went off? Does she know about her sister? Does she --"

The doctor shakes his head. "I don't know what she knows or doesn't know. Everything I have is second or third hand, though Miss Buttery told me to get as much information as I could. She assumed you would want to know." This kindness is almost too much for me, but I don't let it show. The doctor is less than sympathetic. He checks his notes. "Everdeen was found at the edge of the blast, dressed in Capitol clothing and unconscious. Luckily for her, it was one of yours who discovered her. The rumor is that it was one of the medics who hadn't reached the blast site yet, and heard her yell something."

"She knows," I whisper. "She was yelling to her sister. There's nothing else she would have compromised her disguise for."

The doctor wrinkles his nose, and I realize that he despises me. "I suppose that makes sense." He looks out the window. "She was hit by the backdraft flames, and her burns were devastating. Worse than the Mellark boy's, and his injuries were no laughing matter. She has third degree burns over most of her back and arms. She's lucky that she was bundled up as much as she was. She'd climbed a flagpole near the blast site and was blown away from it. She fell face down, and the fire passed over her. It burned away her coat and three separate shirts before her rescuer quashed the flames."

"Is she all right?"

"She hasn't regained consciousness. The next few days will tell if she lives or dies." Something in his voice tells me that he doesn't care much which she ends up doing.

I close my eyes, then open them again. "Wait. You said President Coin gave orders at the hospital?"

He nods. "After Snow's bombs killed four hundred and thirty two Capitol children, we stormed the mansion and arrested him ourselves. Coin took him into isolation."

"Then the war is over."

"If you say so." He examines me dispassionately and says, "Your injuries were minor. Some shrapnel hit you in the head, but it's just a scalp wound. It'll heal. You have no need to be admitted to the hospital. Miss Buttery has indicated that you may stay with her, but believe me, if you take advantage of this nice lady's generosity, you'll hear about it from me and everyone else who still cares about civilization."

He walks out without any further explanation.

I get up, feeling woozy, and go out to the parlor, where Miss Buttery assures me that I may stay as long as I like. "Imagine, the gall of some people, being rude to an injured man who's worried about children in his care." She obviously wants some company, so I stay up with her. She tells me of the day's events after I arrived at her door. Other than the citizens storming the presidential mansion, Coin arrived with reinforcements and established herself as president of Panem. She charged Snow with war crimes for the bombing of City Center, which was a popular move, but no one is terribly enthusiastic about her. She has moved into the presidential mansion for the time being, along with her top advisors.

"No one knows what to expect," she says. "They say people are being arrested all over the city. Doctors at the hospital. Peacekeepers. People of means. I -- " She looks down. "I told them that I was taking care of you and Peeta when they came, so they wouldn't take my things again."


She points around the room at empty spots on the walls and tables. "The Capitol soldiers took my metal things for bullets. The rebels have been through. They burned my great-grandfather's portrait outside. They took most of the food."

"I'm sorry…"

"It's things. I keep telling myself, it's just things. The medics were nicer. They asked for the curtains, for bandages. I gave those. Stopping bleeding is more important than stopping sunlight."

"Thank you."

"They've conscripted every doctor that they decided they could trust. I didn't have a lot of options to help you, other than the ones who flatly hate the rebels. I'm sorry about that, Mr. Abernathy. But you needed someone to stitch your cut, and he is still bound to do no harm, no matter how he feels. I reminded him of that."

I look down, thinking about the soldiers firing down into the crowd of civilian refugees. "I never wanted this."

"Anyone who's ever met you knows that, dear," she says gently.

I squeeze her hands. "I have to go and find out what's going on. Thank you. For everything."

Miss Buttery smiles. "Will you come back to visit? I have so few people come to see me."

"You can place a bet on it," I say, and I mean it.

I go out into the night. Around me, much of the city is still in flames. Streets I could walk in my sleep (or in a drunken stupor) are impassable, filled with rubble or strewn with bodies and detritus from pods. I don't know how I got Peeta all the way out to the Grove. I have no memory of which streets I took. I finally find a partially cleared road and take it to the harshly lit remains of City Center. Beyond the barricades, the presidential mansion is lit up brightly. Huge crowds have gathered outside of it. Some are there to grieve, to leave tokens for the dead from the bombs. Others are just leaning against the fence, looking beaten. Some seem angry.

I don't know what they're all doing here. Maybe they don't have anywhere else to go. I find a soldier from Thirteen and ask which hospital the wounded have been taken to. He directs me to the largest, most well-appointed one in the city. There's no point in trying to find a ride. The roads are still filled with rubble anyway. I walk.

The first person I recognize when I walk into the hospital is Hazelle, who is pacing in the lobby. "Haymitch!" she calls, and runs over to me. "Oh, we've been so worried. No one knew where you were."

"The doctor who brought Peeta knew exactly where I was."

Hazelle mutters a few choice words about him, mainly to release tension as far as I can tell. "Gale's been shot," she says. "He's going to be okay. Katniss is hurt really badly. And Primrose... Haymitch, she was in the City Center when the bombs went off."

"I know," I say. "I didn't see her, but I know our medics were there. How's Ruth?"

"Working around the clock to keep from going crazy. She helped get Katniss stabilized, but once Katniss was in a holding pattern in the ICU, she just started going from patient to patient."

"Is there word on Peeta?"

"He's in the burn ward, in a medically induced coma to heal, but he'll be all right. They think the scarring might not even be bad in the end."

I nod. We go to see Gale, since he's awake. Johanna is with him. He tells us about the wild flight through the city after the landmine exploded on the street. Katniss led them through all of it with the explicit purpose of killing Snow, and they agreed to it. He is adamant on this point, because he is sure she will feel responsible for all the losses. Johanna, perched on a stool beside the bed and holding Gale's knife, announces that she will happily kill anyone who tries to blame it on Katniss.

Gale and I look at each other. The only one likely to blame Katniss is Katniss, and we both know it.

I go to the intensive care unit. Katniss is lying in a vat of liquid bubbles. It's really a large tube that encases her like a glass coffin. Her back is a raw, open wound with black edges, and much of the skin has been seared on her arms and legs. Machines keep her breathing. A tube is taped into her nose and mouth. Her face is untouched around it, but it looks almost pasted on to the rest of her. I want to take her hand, but she is in a sterile environment. I can't touch her.

I can't think of anything to say to her. I stay for an hour, with no one to bother me. They're monitoring her remotely through her machines while other patients get treatment. Annie comes in and sits on the other side of the coffin and whispers, "It's not your fault." There's nothing else to say about it. Instead, Annie tells me about what happened in District Thirteen when the bombs went off, when the people of the Capitol dragged Snow out of the mansion. Coin had already been on the way, apparently, because she appeared in the crowd to announce herself and arrest him.

When the transports started loading up to send in reinforcements, Annie and Johanna stole uniforms from the supply room and joined the throng. No one noticed them except for Ruth and Hazelle, and they weren't exactly in a hurry to turn them in. It turned out to be a good thing. A Peacekeeper tried taking a pot shot at Plutarch Heavensbee as he came down the ramp. Johanna tackled him and Annie bound him, and after that, there was no questioning of their presence.

Annie tells all of it in a distant, wounded voice, and when she finishes, she falls silent. I can't think of anything else to say, since she's already heard everything I know. I go. Annie stays.

I go down to the burn ward, where Peeta is sleeping. He's not in a sterile tube. He has bandages around his head and plastering his hands and arms, but he is breathing on his own. Delly is there with him. We sit with him, silent, until both of us drift off again. Sometime in the middle of the night, a doctor -- not the rude one -- wakes me up to check on my cut. He lets me go back to sleep.

The last day of the war ends.

I don't wake up feeling any freer than I did before.

It's dawn, and an alarm I've come to know well goes off. It is the sound of the schedulers in Thirteen, but projected to the whole building instead of just going off by a bunk. Delly looks up groggily.

The screen flickers to life. "Good morning, free citizens of Panem," a gray-clad woman in a chair on Caesar Flickerman's Games stage says. "I am Soldier Theodora Thornton, your new morning greeter. Welcome to our new world. Today, November the ninth, is heretofore known as Liberation Day."

"You feel liberated?" I ask Delly.

She doesn't have a chance to answer. Alma Coin sweeps into the room and looks up at the screen with satisfaction. She is accompanied by a cameraman and a doctor with a large needle. I've never seen her look quite so perky.

"Wake him," she says, nodding at Peeta.

"Hey!" I stand up. "The doctors put him in a coma to heal."

"And he'll return to it. But he should be awake to see the end of those who tormented him and publicly humiliated him." She smiles coldly. I don't know what she has up her sleeve. "After all, when a person is forced to say such awful things, things he couldn't possibly mean, then naturally, he'll want to see the people involved with it punished."

The doctor jams the needle into Peeta's side, and he comes up from his deep sleep with a confused look on his face. "Haymitch?" he says.

"You're all right," I say. "You're in the Capitol, and the war is over. President Coin wanted you to wake up."

"Yes," Coin says. "There's something you should see."

"What is this?" Delly asks.

"Oh, a little surprise." Coin looks at her, obviously not having the faintest idea who she is, or caring.

While Peeta struggles up from sleep, Delly goes to Coin and whispers urgently, "He was tortured with videos. What are you going to show him?"

Coin doesn't bother to answer her.

She situates her cameraman at the base of the bed and goes to stand beside Peeta. A moment later, she is live on screen, Peeta blinking owlishly behind her.

"I am coming to you live from the hospital where so many of those wounded in Coriolanus Snow's last brutal war crime are being treated. You see beside me Peeta Mellark, burned and damaged, but standing with us, despite being forced by the agents of the Capitol to tell lies at Snow's bidding. Today, those responsible for disseminating that hateful propaganda -- for misusing and torturing this boy, and publicly humiliating him -- will pay for their crimes." She taps an earpiece she is wearing and says, "Bring them out." The screen splits. I see Coin and Peeta here on one side, and on the other, Caesar's stage.

First out are two men in technician's uniforms, and they are followed by four Peacekeepers. All have been bound and gagged. They are forced to kneel.

"Read the charges," Coin says.

Theodora Thornton holds up a handheld device and stands behind the technicians. I can see now that the screens around Caesar's stage are showing Peeta to them. They look terrified. "You are charged," Theodora says, "with constructing various torture devices used to undermine the stability of Peeta Mellark, thereby causing him to participate in vile propaganda films. You have been found guilty."

From the area where I know the audience usually sits, two soldiers come forward. Each holds a gun to a technician's head.

There is a loud, flat bang. They slump to the stage in puddles of gore. Peeta's eyes are wide mirrors, his mouth open like he's about to gag.

Theodora moves to the Peacekeepers. "You are charged with misuse of authority, torture, and inhuman cruelty against captives. Your records on this matter are clear and incontrovertible. You are guilty."

The Peacekeepers are shot. It's no great loss, and they are certainly guilty, but I see Peeta going white. "Please stop," he says.

Coin looks at him coldly, and any lingering thought I have that she really believes this is about avenging Peeta disappears. "Bring out the last," she says into her earpiece. "I'll read the charges."

From the green room, six soldiers drag out Caesar Flickerman. The feed of us disappears.

"No!" Peeta says. "No, not Caesar. Please. No. I'll say anything. Just tell me what you want. Please." He grabs at her sleeve, but she shakes him off, and nods to her cameraman, who mutters something into a microphone.

"Caesar took care of the captives," I say. "As well as he could."

"Now, why do I find that so hard to believe?" Coin asks.

"Because you don't know anything!"

"Please," Peeta begs. "Please don't do this. Please. I'll tell them anything. Just please. Not Caesar."

I make a wild grab at her microphone, thinking in a disjointed way that she can't give the order if I take it away.

The doctor pulls a gun from his waistband and points it at me. I step back, and Peeta falls silent.

Coin reappears on screen. At the moment, only her face is visible. I can't see Peeta in the shot at all. "Caesar Flickerman," she says, "you stand charged as a colluder in the crimes of Coriolanus Snow. For over three decades, you have treated the deaths of district children as an amusement. You have turned murder into entertainment. And you willfully participated in the forced lies of the propaganda machine." The screens around the stage change, though Coin is still on the split-screen broadcast. Now the stage screens show Peeta, looking like a live feed, but they've done something to his image. It's the image they had before, but they've replaced his horrified face with a satisfied smile, probably taken from one of the interviews on that very stage. They've marked it with burns and put the bandages around it.

Caesar looks up at the image, heartbroken.

A soldier puts a gun to the back of his head and fires.

Something red and unspeakable hits the camera lens. They cut to Coin's shot. "So perish the tormentors of Panem," she says. "The rest will pay -- those who have brought your children here to die. District by district, they will be brought forward to pay for their crimes." The screen goes off.

"Why would you do that?" Delly demands, looking at Peeta, who can't seem to breathe. "How could you use him like that, after all they did?"

"We had to establish that those propos were made under duress, obviously," Coin says, then looks at Peeta with a poisonous smile. "They were, weren't they?"

He looks at me, takes in the gun pointed at me. He nods, then whispers something that I can't hear.

The doctor picks up a new needle, and sends him back to sleep while Coin and the cameraman leave, their work done. The nightmares will be waiting for him, I'm sure, and he won't be able to wake up.

Delly sits down heavily in the chair beside the bed. "She did the same thing to him that Snow did," she says when the doctor finally leaves. "Why, Haymitch?"

"I don't know. I really don't know."

I think of Caesar, doing everything he could to help the tributes, making every kind gesture he knew. He was always our strongest ally. I see the smear on the camera lens.

I see it through the rest of the morning, floating in front of me, obscuring everything. Another transport comes in from Thirteen, carrying the technical experts, including Beetee. Beetee is spooked. He saw the executions, and keeps saying that it wasn't a proper legal proceeding. He's almost hysterical on this point. Since I don't want him to be the next one dragged up on stage, I tell him to shut up, and get him to the hospital to sit with Annie.

I walk aimlessly through the hospital once he's settled. Spend time by Katniss's bed. Try to talk to Ruth, who hasn't slept since yesterday. I talk to Gale, who doesn't understand about Caesar any more than he understood about Katniss's preps. Johanna follows me out of his room. She says he's refusing to see anything that's wrong, but she's sure it's the shock. She knows that Peeta wasn't smiling when Caesar died. Every victor knows that. Even Enobaria probably knows it, wherever she's holed up. I nod a lot. There doesn't seem to be anything else to do.

By lunchtime, I know I can't stay any longer. The people from Thirteen try to herd everyone into cafeterias to eat some prepared gruel that they call a meal, but this is an utter failure. I hear a few soldiers muttering that they suppose it will take people time to learn the new way. I don't know why they feel a need to attack Capitol food. Maybe it's just an insult. My father once said that the surest way to insult a person was to insult the food he grew up on. But that makes no sense, unless they want the Capitol to keep fighting.

I wander out into the snow. It is blanketing the carnage in City Center now, making tiny hillocks of the debris strewn around. I am careful to keep a good distance from it. I don't want to step on some child's severed arm.

I am going to get a drink. There is a bar nearby, and if it's been closed, there are liquor stores, and if they're closed, I can steal it. If it's been removed, I may try to find a morphling dealer. They won't be out of business, not in the middle of all of this horror, not with people being shot on television, not with bits of their brains sliding down the camera lens.

Not with the promise to keep going with it. To punish the people who led district children to their deaths.

District by district.

The need for a drink is blown away suddenly by something much bigger, an awful, spreading fire of dread inside my mind. I have reached the bar, but I turn away, start running, ignoring the barricades and the soldiers and the piles of memorial gifts. I run all the way to the presidential mansion. My lungs feel like they're exploding, but I can't stop, not until I fix this.

There is a soldier from Thirteen on guard at the gate and I introduce myself to her. She scans my fingerprints, then lets me in. I'm stopped again at a desk that's been hastily installed in the grand hall -- an ugly, beat up thing that looks like it belongs in Thirteen, not in the middle of the opulence of the mansion.

"Soldier Haymitch Abernathy," I say.

"What is your business here?"

"My... I'm on the Command staff."

"Your name isn't on the list."

"Then I need to see Plutarch Heavensbee. Don't tell me his name isn't on the list."

The soldier at the desk doesn't have time to look, because Plutarch is coming down from an upper balcony. "Haymitch," he says, grabbing me by the arm and pulling me around the desk. "I'm so glad you made it through. I got word from Hazelle Hawthorne, of course, but she was under the impression that you wouldn't want to be disturbed. I'm so sorry about Finnick. And I will make sure that Katniss and Peeta both get the best care --"

"Plutarch, shut up," I whisper, and pull him aside, pull him away from the earshot of anyone from Thirteen. "Just shut up. It's not over."

"I know..."

"You saw what she did to Caesar."

He looks over his shoulder, then says, quickly, "Yes, I did. And we'll need to do something about it. We'll need to institute reforms. We need to push for a constitution, something that will prevent the government from ever doing something like that again. I've been talking with Baize Paylor from Eight. Her unit is in charge of guarding Snow, and she thinks -- "

"Just stop. Now," I say. "Plutarch, did you hear what she said after? About the people who sent children to die?"

"Yes. But our spies --"

I grab him by the arms and shove him into the wall. "EFFIE!"

He goes pale and sags. I let go of him. "Oh, no..."

"Plutarch," I say, trying to keep my voice steady, to keep it from carrying to the new maniacs in charge. "No more messing around. No more worrying about what's coming tomorrow. We have to get Effie. Right now."
2 comments or Leave a comment
vytresna From: vytresna Date: December 29th, 2015 08:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
I did not remember this sequence as step one in Coin's Reign of Terror. Way to spring that on me early, memory.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 30th, 2015 05:17 am (UTC) (Link)
Oops, yes. Memory needs to send out warnings. :D
2 comments or Leave a comment