We arrive at District Thirteen late in the afternoon.
I don't know what I expected - some subterranean version of the Capitol, I guess - and I'm not sure what to make of what I see. The hangar we land in is utilitarian and featureless, and nothing I see as we are walked briskly to the hospital is any different. Gray halls, lined with gray doors. The people are dressed in gray clothes, except for the medical staff, who wear white shirts. We're separated for our examinations. I lie about who scratched my face, claiming it happened in the fight with the Peacekeepers. I doubt Katniss has anything more exotic under her fingernails than they did, at least not after being treated on the hovercraft, and they don't need their reputations built up. They examine me for other injuries from the fight and find none. I assume I'll be released.
I'm not. Another doctor comes in after and hooks electrodes up to my head. He claims to be checking my nerve responses.
"I don't have any nerve damage," I say. "I wasn't in the arena when the forcefield blew."
"As I understand it, you've found other ways to damage your neural network," he says coldly.
"My brain's fine," I grumble.
"Well, I don't see any shrinkage or lesions... yet." He scans whatever is coming out of my brain. "But there's neuroinflammation, and your dopamine uptake receptors are severely out of balance..." I tune out as he describes whatever he has decided I have wrong with me. It always boils down to the same thing: Quit drinking.
"I have a half a bottle left of detox pills," I say. "And I know, you don't like them here -"
"They are against the law, and have been confiscated. They may not impair your mental functioning, but they maintain -"
"Right, I know, they keep a lot of things active. Your guy on the ship told me. But if I don't take them, I'll get the shakes. Someone in Twelve died from a heart attack during the shakes."
"Which is why we will keep you under medical supervision as you dry out, Mr. Abernathy. You have enough in your system to linger for a few days, but after that, you will be dealing with rather severe withdrawal."
There is no opportunity to argue, and no compassion offered. I am assigned a bed, nowhere near the others. Finnick is ambulatory (though still under observation and, apparently, a suicide watch), and he comes to see me. Katniss is refusing to speak or even acknowledge anyone, except in her sleep.
"She did sleep for a little while," Finnick says. "But she woke up screaming for that pearl Peeta found for her. I got it out of that parachute she was carrying things in. She stopped talking as soon as she had it. They took the burn ointment for the hospital."
"They just took her things?" I ask.
"I doubt she'll care about the ointment. They had to make sure the spile wasn't a weapon."
"Good thing you already checked."
He smiles faintly, then sighs and puts his head in his hands. He doesn't speak until Plutarch arrives.
"Ah," Plutarch says. "I see you're both in the capable hands of our medical friends."
"When are we going to get Annie and Johanna and Peeta?" Finnick asks.
"It's not that easy. It's a large operation now that they're in custody."
"Have you heard anything about them?" I ask.
He nods. "Peeta is still at the training center. According to my sources, Caesar Flickerman has been to see him. No one knows what they talked about, but I anticipate that the Capitol media will make as much use of him as they can. He's very good on camera."
I remember that Caesar said he'd protect anyone left behind. I hope he keeps his word. I don't care if it includes Peeta being on television. He can ride around on a unicycle singing the national anthem with a performing monkey as far as I'm concerned, as long as Caesar keeps him alive. We can get him out if he's alive. "And Annie and Johanna? And Effie?"
"Effie Trinket is in a minimum security prison, living quite adequately. Annie is also in the training center, on the District Four level -"
"She can't stay there!" Finnick says. "You don't know what it's like for her, being there..."
"- and she is unharmed. As for Johanna Mason, I'm afraid she's been taken to the maximum security ward of the prison. We have a guard on staff, but she is greatly outnumbered and has no access. They've undoubtedly discerned that she does have information."
"Which they're going to torture out of her," I guess.
"In all likelihood, yes, though nothing she can tell them at this point will be of particular use to them." He sees Finnick and me straining to control our tempers and says, "Gentlemen, Johanna is a heroine. She knew what might happen. She knew that this entire operation put her at risk of this."
"So that means we're not even going to try and help?" I ask.
"At the moment, there are no resources for a mission to the Capitol." Plutarch purses his lips. "I did ask, you know. President Coin wants to do it, of course - she would have preferred we rescue Peeta in the first place - but we are not in a place to risk jeopardizing our agents." He seems to expect us to nod and acquiesce, and sounds a bit peeved when we don't. "We have been given a great deal of aid already, and there is still a war to be fought."
"I'll go back myself," Finnick says. "Give me a car and a trident."
"You'd never get in."
"I have plenty of very close friends in the Capitol."
"Absolutely not," Plutarch says. "And there is another rescue operation being planned. Haymitch, they are going to send hovercrafts to District Twelve."
"Unfortunately, the airspace is still in Capitol control, so they can't mount an extensive search. You know the area. The fence was knocked down on the west side of town, near the mines - "
"The Seam," I say.
"All right. The Seam. Where would people from the Seam have gone if they were able to get past the fence?"
"I don't know. Most of them don't go into the woods." I think about it. "And if they did - if they broke the fence and headed into the woods - it'd be with someone who knows them. Someone who thinks of them as a safe place."
"I assume you're thinking of Miss Everdeen's cousin?"
"I hope so." I try to imagine where he'd go, but for some reason, all I can think of is Digger. Digger in the golden sun, saying that we weren't always poor. "The lake," I say uncertainly.
I nod. That's why I thought of the lake. A safe place to go if anything happened. "They'll need water, and heavy woods for cover. And hunting. There's a lake. It's west and a little bit south. Gale would know it because Katniss knows it. It's where she learned to swim."
I hope I'm right. It would be just my luck if Katniss hadn't ever thought to take Gale to the lake her father once pretended to own. But I'd guess the hunting and fishing are good, and there's shelter under the trees, and water.
"It's a start," Plutarch says. "I'll take it to Commander Boggs."
He leaves, strutting around importantly.
"I hope they're there," Finnick says.
He sighs. "She was supposed to be safe."
"I'm sorry, Finnick. I didn't - "
"Stop it. Just stop it. I don't need you apologizing."
"What do you need me doing?"
"Just let me stay a while."
He stays until lights-out, when he goes back to the part of the hospital meant for people whose injuries aren't self-inflicted. He promises to talk to Katniss, even if she won't reply. He also means to talk to Beetee, but that will have to wait until he's out of intensive care.
I dream about Peeta. He and Caesar are in an arena that seems to be a mix of every arena I've ever seen. They fight, but there's no escape. Caesar does better than I would think, but there's too much for him.
I wake up in silence. Underground, there's no way to tell what time of day it is other than by the arbitrary lighting, but I'd guess it's still night by that. I see a nurse working at a desk at the end of my ward. I feel like my heart is beating too fast, and when I lift my hand, it's shaking. I can make it stop if I concentrate, but I know that won't last forever. The shakes are coming.
I lie awake without speaking until the nurse comes by and notices that my eyes are open. He asks if I need to use the bathroom, and offers me a bag. I tell him I can get there on my own. When I get back, he has put out a pitcher of water.
"Don't suppose you have anything to take with this?" I ask.
He gives me a stern look. "Water is what you're going to need most."
"Mr. Abernathy, you're not our first drunkard. We've had a few wander in from the districts. We know what we're doing."
"I believe you."
"Then drink some water and get some rest." He pours a glass, then speaks in a more human tone. "I know it's not going to be easy. I've watched five other people go through it. I wish there was something for it, but none of the tricks works. You just have to deal with it until you get to the other side. We won't let anything happen to you."
"The doctor said I had a couple of days."
"Before the real delirium sets in. But your mind is already anticipating it. I'll hazard a guess that this is the point where you usually start drinking again when you've tried to stop?"
"I don't usually try to stop."
He nods like this is only what he expected, and hands me a glass of water. I ask if I can go sit with Katniss and Finnick, and he says it's all right, but I'm to check in with their nurse.
When I get there, I see why. Katniss, at least, is attached to all sorts of things that would be very helpful to me right now. The ward nurse stations herself at the foot of Katniss's bed for the duration of my visit to make sure I don't take advantage of any of them. This makes me a little self-conscious about saying anything out loud, so I just sit there and hold her hand. Her eyes are slightly open, but she doesn't acknowledge me, even to pull her hand away. Finnick joins us after the daytime lights go on, and tells her a disjointed story about the fishing boat that Annie's father owned.
Just before breakfast, I see something moving along the wall at the edge of my vision. When I turn, nothing is there.
Pretty soon, I guess I'll see it full on. My guess is that it will be one of the bugs that ate Jack Anderson. Or maybe the snakes that Brutus and Enobaria ran into. Or tracker jackers. That would be sufficiently terrifying. As the Muttation Appreciation Society reminds us every year that they appear in the arena, you have to appreciate the classics.
Breakfast comes on metal trays. We each get a bowl of oatmeal, which is mushy and soggy. Finnick has more than I do, since it's been determined that I need to lose a few pounds and he needs to gain them.
"I'll give you some of mine," Finnick says, wrinkling his nose.
"No. That's okay," I say. I take a spoonful, and let it pour back into the bowl.
Looking peeved, Katniss's nurse tells us that our nutritional needs have been very carefully calculated, and we are getting what we require.
I stare at it for a while and decide that I'm just not hungry enough.
At eight-thirty, I am collected by three soldiers, who escort me up to a room full of screens. I half expect to be told to sit by a phone in case a sponsor calls. Instead, I am led to a conference table. Plutarch is there, along with a man he introduces to me as Boggs. Boggs is accompanied by a young woman named Leeg, who gives me the first real smile I've seen here. She pulls out a chair for me.
A door opens, and a severe looking woman comes in. She seems to be all gray. Her hair, her clothes, her eyes. Even her skin seems a little gray. It's like she's been shot in black and white, while everyone else is in admittedly dingy color. She extends her hand slowly, like she thinks I might be contagious, and says, "I am Alma Coin, president of District Thirteen. Please be seated, Mr. Abernathy. Your expertise on District Twelve is needed."
"Katniss knows the woods better than I do."
"Katniss Everdeen is not in any psychological state to be of use to us."
We spend the next hour looking at maps. The lake is not properly marked on any of them, and I have to find the place from memory, though Boggs has a program that extrapolates the land forms enough to help. I am told to think of alternative destinations, in case my guess is wrong. I suggest the river that runs northeast of town. A lot of kids used to be stopped by the trestle going over it, at least until the fence started being more regularly charged and it stopped being a common bit of childish rule-breaking. If they followed the train tracks, it would get them there.
But I don't see them following the train tracks.
My hands are shaking again, and it's taking a lot more concentration to make them stop. When I suggest going with the rescue party, Boggs looks at me, disgusted, and says that he'd prefer not having medical emergencies on the way to a rescue.
I want to argue, but I can't hide that I'm starting to sweat pretty badly, and the headache is already setting in. I am taken back to the hospital, where they feed me ice water. An older man who is cleaning the floor waits until my nurse is gone, then quickly slips me a white detox tablet. I chew it gratefully, and my head clears for a little while.
Finnick comes back to see me. He doesn't have much to say, but for some reason, he seems to want to have me around. He asks if he can tell me a story.
"Since when are you a storyteller?" I ask.
"Peeta," he says. "It helped to tell a story. It makes more sense of things. Can I tell you about what Annie and I were going to do after the war?"
He does. He does better than he did this morning with Katniss. I think of Peeta. I wonder if they've shown him video of his family dying. I wonder if he realizes I knew it could happen.
Finnick finishes his story in about ten minutes. They have three children by now, and a boat like her dad's. He is teaching the children to swim. She weaves nets. She's "more herself." He never has to look at some miserable rich old woman again and pretend to find her interesting, or tease a groping old man with bad breath. "And we'll have a house," he finishes. "Maybe a dog."
"That sounds nice," I tell him, though I don't think it will ever happen. Annie's too damaged, and Finnick has too many horrors chasing him. It does sound nice, though. Maybe they can manage the dog.
Out of nowhere, I think of Effie's cat, looking up at me from under her television. I know I'm going to throw up only a second before I do. I have no idea what I'm throwing up, since I haven't eaten much. Finnick gets the pan from the table and holds my head. He tells me I'll be okay.
Plutarch comes to update us on the rescue mission. Boggs is controlling it from Thirteen; Leeg is leading it on site. They have found a sizable group of District Twelve residents in the woods by the lake. Gale Hawthorne is, indeed, leading them. Primrose and Ruth Everdeen are with them. No other names come up.
I insist on being up and about when the rescue mission returns. Plutarch objects on the grounds that I look like hell and am already starting to see non-existent bugs at the edges of my vision again. I tell him that I still have a day or so before the real problems are going to start. I can ignore the bugs and control the shakes for a little while.
He gives in. Maybe it's compassion, maybe he just doesn't feel like arguing with me. Either way, I go with him down to the hangar, where he leaves me in the control booth and goes off on his own business.
In the control booth, Boggs is in contact with the three hovercrafts that went to District Twelve. He looks at me distastefully when I come in, then goes back to a conversation with a captain. "How many? Can you fly with that many?"
"There are a lot?" I ask.
Boggs doesn't answer, but he gestures to a young soldier sitting beside him. The young solder stands at attention and studiously avoids looking at me. "Reports indicate shy of nine hundred survivors," he says. "They were at the location you suggested."
"Nine hundred?" I repeat. I want to celebrate - nine hundred? Then I realize, it's less than a tenth of the population of District Twelve. More than eight thousand people are dead - people I know, people I care about. Everything is gone.
"Take it slow," Boggs says. "These people don't need a hovercraft crash. But you should be able to fit three hundred into each. If you need to jettison cargo, do it. We can go back for anything important."
Yeah, right, I think. Anything important except for Peeta Mellark. Or Johanna Mason. Or Portia and Peeta's prep team. Or Effie Trinket.
I think again of the cat in Effie's apartment. I should have at least taken the cat. Maybe I could at least be trusted to competently rescue a cat.
My hand goes to the bandages on my face, where Katniss clawed me. If it scars, I'll leave the scars alone. I deserve them.
Teams of medics and soldiers are assembling in the hangar, and I go to join them, feeling out of place among the grim ranks of citizens of Thirteen. While we wait for the hovercrafts, I help them set up several identical triage areas. A few minutes before the hovercrafts arrive, Alma Coin appears on a catwalk above the hangar, flanked by Plutarch and Fulvia. Someone sets up a sound system for her.
The soldiers and medics and I clear the floor as the hovercrafts enter, landing softly on their launch pads. These are huge cargo crafts, and the exits are meant for large vehicles and equipment. There are no ladders with handy electric cling on them. These have large ramps, which lower from the cargo bays to the floor.
It seems like a long time before people start to come out, but when they do, it's a flood. The survivors of Twelve are dirty and frightened, and many are injured. It's hard to tell who's who. Almost everyone seems to be from the Seam.
I look up at the voice. Prim Everdeen limps out of the crowd and throws her arms around me. "Sweetheart, are you all right?" I say.
"Katniss," she says.
"She's in the hospital. She took a shock. But she'll be okay. They're looking after her. Your mom?"
"We're okay," she says cautiously, looking over her shoulder. "We were watching at the Hawthornes' house. Gale got everyone out. Or... everyone he could..." She starts shaking. Not crying, just shaking wildly. "Haymitch, the Mellarks were in town. They didn't get out. Ed was in the stocks for hitting Thread."
"Why did he hit Thread?"
"One of the Peacekeepers hit Delly Cartwright."
"Oh. Delly's dead, too?"
"No. She's actually here. She and her brother were with the Cooleys. Ed made her leave. She's been trying to keep people's spirits up."
"Yeah. I think it's the only way she can deal with what happened to Ed."
There is a feedback whine from above, and everyone looks up at President Coin. She waits until the hum of conversation fades, then says, "I am President Alma Coin, and I welcome our friends from District Twelve. Like you, we in Thirteen have suffered at the hands of the Capitol, and like you, we have survived. Like you, we are angry. Like you, we want to take the power of the Capitol, and put Panem back in the hands of its people!"
This gets a cheer, but it is mostly from the workers in Thirteen. The survivors from Twelve still look tired and beaten, and like they'd rather have a hot meal and a bath than a war.
"Together, we are strong! We have allied with other districts who are fighting as we speak, and the days of the Capitol are numbered! With the voice of the mockingjay, we will rally Panem together, and with the strength of arms, we will overthrow the tyrant who murders our children. Welcome, my friends. Welcome home."
She spreads her arms expansively, but there is nothing generous about her. No wonder she needs a mouthpiece to spread the word. Even her own people aren't especially inspired, and she can't read the crowd at all. I can't help but think of Peeta - how he would make everyone feel safe, how he would be going among the survivors, speaking softly to them - and again I see him in my mind, pulling back Brutus's head, slitting his throat, then screaming... screaming until the Capitol took him...
Prim touches my hand. "Haymitch, what is it?"
"We lost Peeta," I tell her. "The Capitol got to him first."
She presses her hand to her mouth. "Oh, no. Does Katniss know?"
I nod, and lift up my bandages. "She wasn't happy with me."
"It's not your fault," Prim says. "None of this is your fault."
I have a feeling that this will not be a majority opinion. Someone calls for Prim and she waves. A moment later, the crowd parts. Ruth Everdeen comes forward, looking as absent as she did after Glen died. Prim guides her to a chair and sits her down. Behind her, Gale Hawthorne, his arm in a makeshift splint, is leading Posy, who is clinging to him. Vick and Rory, looking as cut up as they'd be after an arena knife fight, are flanking him. Hazelle comes up slowly beside them. Her eyes seem sunken, and her arms are folded across her chest.
I reach out, and she flinches away.
"Hazelle, I - "
"It's all gone, Haymitch," she says. "Everything's gone." She looks at me blankly, then turns and walks away.
Gale shakes his head. "You did what had to be done," he says. "What Snow did is on his head."
There is a commotion, and a sharp looking young soldier appears and salutes Gale, who doesn't seem to have the slightest idea of how to respond to it.
"Soldier Hawthorne," he says. "President Coin has been told of your leadership. She would like to meet with you."
"Can I clean up first and get my family settled?" Gale asks, handing Posy to Rory.
"Facilities will be provided for everyone. Please come with me."
Bemused, Gale follows him away. Rory and Vick take Posy to follow Hazelle.
I sit between Prim and Ruth Everdeen. A girl with a huge gash on her head is brought into our triage area.
Ruth blinks slowly, then says, almost too softly to hear, "I can help with that." She moves out of her seat like a woman in a dream, kneels beside the girl, and starts cleaning the wound. "Primrose," she says. "See where we're needed."
Prim squeezes my hand, then goes off to seek out the wounded.
I stand uselessly in the strangely silent chaos, watching the remains of my people wandering, shell-shocked and numb, strangers in a strange land.
They leave me alone, waiting to lose my mind.