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Repost: The Narrow Path, Chapter 25 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Repost: The Narrow Path, Chapter 25
Okay. Due to the increased weight on the relationship with Effie, I spent more time addressing it, and a little extra time on why Haymitch immediately started drinking (in addition, of course, to "He's a depressed alcoholic and there's booze"). A few cosmetic things.

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 (or, more likely, because of them), they actually make the finding based on "defense of others," though they strongly suggested that she receive help in dealing with the emotional aftermath of that defense.

There are a few disgruntled looking jurors, and I imagine the argument was pretty intense, but they are vastly outnumbered. They do decide to convict of her of the lesser charge of vigilantism, which seems to be less of a conviction than a sword to hang over our heads to force us to get her help. With expert support, they decide that 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.

The judge looks ostentatiously at a piece of paper. "My records indicate that four separate groups have filed for permission to return, and several people 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 since she lost her daughter."

"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 any more 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. It's not in my power."

"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 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 real 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. The Games are over. And I am left with nothing to do except look after Katniss and Peeta.
Peeta doesn't seem to need me much.

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 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 Solly... there's a not even a school in Twelve!"

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

This is not a phrase I ever remember saying before, at least not when there wasn't an immediate problem to solve.

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."

She cries. "They outrank us. Your tributes."

I nod.

"The thing I always loved most about you… and it's taking you away from me." She smiles a little bit. "You're a maddening human being, Haymitch Abernathy." The smile trembles, and she puts her hands over her face.

"I could…" I start to say that I could stay, but I can't. Maybe Ruth will go. Maybe she'll free me of the responsibility, and I can stay here and…

And what? Putter around Effie's apartment during the day while I wait for her to come home so I can pretend I have some use in anyone's life? At least Ruth has a reason for going to Four. The judge would be taking her away from her purpose. All I'd be taken away from is my own happiness.

And how long could I be happy, knowing that?

So, Maysilee Donner says in my head, her first contribution for a very long time, your answer to your own feelings of uselessness is to make the woman you supposedly love unhappy. That's stunning example of Abernathism. What a prince you are.

"Stop it," Effie says.

"Stop what?"

"Whatever you're saying to yourself to make sure you think you're worthless." She touches my face. "It's right for you to offer. Maybe I hope that Ruth will say no, but I don't think she will. I love you. But Katniss needs you, and the judge has decided…" She grimaces. "What a stupid decision. Or maybe not. Maybe…"

"Maybe, what?"

"Maybe the judge was right. Maybe she needs to go home. Maybe it will help her remember."

"And maybe I do, too? Maybe I should re-connect with my old self?" I try to kid her. "Am I getting underfoot or something?"

She gives this an irritated wave. "You haven't had much to do since the war ended, have you?"


"And it's okay for that to be a reason. I don't think you know that."

I start to argue, but I change my mind. "What am I supposed to do in Twelve while Katniss is busy not seeing that I'm there?"

"Well," Effie says, managing a real grin. "You could try to develop a talent, you know. It's been twenty-six years." The grin becomes a slight, timid laugh.

I roll my eyes, and answer her old joke with my own. "Sure glad I've been saving myself for you all these years, if you think I haven't been developing any talents just lately."

She reaches over and takes my hand.

We spend the night together, maybe the closest together we've been, and maybe 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. Aurelius hasn't given him permission to leave therapy in the Capitol. He's making a great show of being angry, but I've seen Peeta angry, and this isn't it. This is Peeta's interpretation of how he should be angry. He knows Aurelius is right. He needed to be with Katniss to defeat the most blatant conditioning, but if he's ever going to come back to himself completely, he needs to know who he is without her.

Plutarch is coming along with us. He looks as happy as I've seen him. "I'll fly out with you," he tells Ruth, as if it weren't perfectly obvious. "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."

Plutarch just looks confused.

I sigh and sit down beside Ruth, 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? Shouldn't I just talk to her?"

"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 notice uncharitably that she doesn't even ask how Effie feels about it, or make even a token argument about taking me out of my own life.

I'm already getting resentful. I have to stop. I force it away and 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 it's safer for me to be 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's 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 as 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 hovercraft 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 after the Quell, 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 briefly if he's re-discovered the wonders of Pherolen, but he obviously hasn't. He's too clear. He's just… Plutarch.

Katniss's eyes just pass over me several times. It's not as though she doesn't see me. She just doesn't care that I'm here. I should have stayed in the Capitol. Katniss doesn’t need me any more than anyone else does. I was kidding myself to think otherwise.

The flight attendant brings me a drink. I take it without thinking. I'm on the way back to Twelve, I realize. And I'm leaving Effie behind, so I can be a guardian to a sullen, half-crazy girl who despises me. 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. I was bored and underfoot and she didn't have time to take care of me.

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 before he left. 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 hovercraft 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, but not surprised. I guess she doesn't expect much more of me than she does of Ruth. 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 to 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 through 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's 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, or at least pretending to. 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.

I think vaguely of Effie's apartment, about the view out across the lake, about the rich perfume in her sheets, and about a little scar she has just under one ear. It's from the time they pulled her wig off her head, she told me. I don't know how the doctors missed it, or if it was just too close to the ear to do anything about it. I kissed that scar quite a few times, traced it with my finger while she slept.

And you're not there doing it now because you just had to believe that you, of all people, were necessary to Katniss Everdeen, a voice snipes at me. It sounds like Mir, but I refuse to believe that I've let her join the crowd in my skull. You just had to come out here. And you know the real reason now, don't you? It's because Effie wouldn't have let you drink, and here, no one stops you. You had to return to your true self.

On the last, the voice of my memory changes, and I know exactly who it is: Ausonius Glass. My true self. The one who puked on a strange girl's head on my Victory Tour. I stare at a bottle in my hand and think, I'm making Glass right. I think about old Saffron Abatty in Two, telling me that I needed to stop.

And about Chaff. And Seeder. And Drake. And Finnick.

Finnick's bloody trident.

I think of his severed hand, still holding it.

I start drinking again.

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 just as if she had the slightest idea I'd been there. 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, if she actually gives a damn about it. She hangs up. The next call, I'm sober, and we act like that one never happened.

There are too many people now for the houses. Peeta has offered his, but no one takes it, as it belongs to Peeta. I offer to share mine, but no one takes it, as it stinks to high heaven and has somehow become buried in muck and grime. No one offers Katniss's house. No one would take it. It would be like living with a ghost.

Instead, the Capitol ships out old shipping cars, which are derailed and placed along the road as temporary housing while we rebuild. On my more sober days, I help shore up the holes in the cars. They won't be any good come winter, but we're hoping to have some quick modular housing up by then. We're up to nearly two hundred people now.

Beetee and the techs in Three are working on the design of the houses, and a kind of easy assembly mechanism. Twelve isn't the only district short on housing. The main town in Seven got hit hard, and everyone's scattered out to whichever of the logging camps didn't get destroyed. They're overcrowded. Eight is shattered, with the tenements in ruins. They have space in Victors' Village, which was untouched, as ours was, but they have a lot more people to house. They've had to really accelerate production. Beetee is very excited about the project when he calls.

Thom Lewiston takes one of the train cars to serve as 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 invites them into the communal home in one of our victor homes. Leevy brings Katniss's things from her room in Thirteen, not that there's much. Just the parachute with the spile and the 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, amid my usual 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."
6 comments or Leave a comment
From: (Anonymous) Date: February 5th, 2016 01:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
Great installment, but Haymitch falling back into his negative self talk is almost as horrible to read as him falling back into the bottle! It had been gone so long, I forgot how bad it was. ~Karen
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 9th, 2016 02:30 am (UTC) (Link)
It really is hard to see, but inevitable. He almost had his life together. Almost..
From: (Anonymous) Date: February 6th, 2016 12:41 am (UTC) (Link)
I love it
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 9th, 2016 02:30 am (UTC) (Link)
From: (Anonymous) Date: February 6th, 2016 07:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
I like all the extra details added in this time around.

There's a 't' missing in "the locket"
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 9th, 2016 02:30 am (UTC) (Link)
Grabbed that one!
6 comments or Leave a comment