The Narrow Path

Part One: Recovery

Chapter One
There is no time inside the delirium.

I am a child, a tribute, a mentor. I'm Effie Trinket's cruel crush, and Hazelle Hawthorne's thoughtless lover. I am Katniss's poor replacement for a father, and Finnick's fallen idol. I am drunk and sober and crazy. Katniss claws my face over and over, her eyes burning with hate. Hazelle turns her back on me. I run through Effie's apartment screaming her name while her cat stares at me from under the television. Jack Anderson falls into the arena. Johanna is dragged through the jungle below us, screaming profanities as she's pulled into a Capitol hovercraft.

The hospital walls often seem to open up into District Twelve, and I walk through the fiery streets. Ed Mellark burns in the stocks. The shops fall in. I see my mother and Lacklen and Digger in the frantic crowds, and I see their faces in the charred cobblestones outside the bakery. Effie reaches out to me, then disappears into the smoke.

Most often, I see Peeta, ripped from our grasp by the Capitol. I see him pulling back Brutus's head and cutting his throat, the blood spilling over Chaff's body. I see Peeta backing away, covered in blood, screaming, and I see him dragged up into the Capitol craft. Other things are imagined, I know, but I believe them. I see him in a cell, bloodied and beaten. I see him cursing me, and I know I deserve it.

Finally, moments start to come when I know where I am - a hospital ward in District Thirteen. Twice, they have to do something to me because of medical crises, but I don't know what they're doing or what happened to me to make them do it. Once, there is a great commotion nearby when a Capitol spy is found and arrested. I don't know what happens to him. Prim Everdeen is sometimes there, tending the cuts on my face and asking doctors if they can't do something about the shakes. Ruth is there frequently, but she doesn't talk to me. Once, I come to the surface and see Hazelle reading a book of poetry in the chair by my bed. I think she rescued it from my house for some reason. She smiles faintly at me, then the reality goes, and the ceiling is a burning firestorm above me.

Katniss never comes. I guess I don't expect her to.

The moments of sanity get longer, start to string together like a pearl necklace, and I know the worst is passing. I am off-balance and when I get up to walk to the bathroom or clean myself, I feel like I'm on a storm-tossed ship, but my mind is back. I wish it weren't.

I sleep a lot while the last of it passes, and when I finally wake up completely, I find Ed Mellark's girl, Delly Cartwright, sitting by the bed.

"You feeling better?" she asks hopefully. She is dressed in something gray and dull, and her curls have been tamed into a braid like Katniss's. All of the girls here, if their hair isn't cropped very short, wear simple, practical styles like this. It doesn't do Delly any favors. She has the sunken look of someone who's lost a fair amount of weight quickly, and her eyes have a kind of grief-haunted look to them. But she smiles. "Mrs. Everdeen thought you'd be coming around soon."

"I'm around," I say.

"Do you need anything? Other than a drink, because I can't do that."

I think about it. "Where's Katniss?" I ask. "Is she all right?"

"I hear she's getting better. She's out of the hospital and living with her family, anyway. I haven't seen her, though. She's not in school. I've just been talking to Prim."

"I didn't know you were friends."

"We made friends during the Games last year. Worrying about them together. She's been checking in on me. We're worried about Peeta now."

I close my eyes. "Me, too. Any word?"

"Not that anyone gives me," she says. "I promised Plutarch Heavensbee I'd let him know when you were in shape to talk. Are you in shape to talk to Mr. Heavensbee?"

"Very rarely," I say. "But you go ahead and get him. You don't need to look after me, Delly."

"I need to look after someone," she says. "You'll do."

But she goes off to a communication station and presses a button. I hear Plutarch's voice come back, officious and slightly prickly. "Is there news?"

"It's Delly," she says. "Haymitch Abernathy is awake."

There is a pause, then Plutarch says, "I'll be right down."

Delly gets me some water, then says, "I'm sorry about your friend Chaff. I always saw you on television with him. I just... I'm sorry he died."

"Me, too," I say. "I'm sorry about Ed. I wish I'd known him better."

"Thank you. I miss him a lot."

"I should've told him not to pass messages. He wouldn't have been in the stocks. I-"

She shakes her head. "Ed was in the stocks because Rhea Squires slapped me across the face. Which she did because I told her to lay off Madge Undersee. And Madge was in trouble for throwing rocks again. Which was because... you know. It just keeps going. Ed punched Squires in the face because of me. That's what ended him up in the stocks. But it's not my fault, either. I think it was Thread's. And President Snow's."

"I think you're right, there."

There's nothing more to say on the subject. She gets me a cool cloth to wash my face, and we don't say anything until Plutarch arrives. He sends Delly away. She gives me a little parting smile as she leaves.

"Is there news about Peeta?" I ask. "Delly said she doesn't know."

"I can't imagine why she would."

"She was his brother's girl. They were friends."

Plutarch doesn't bother trying to process this. "The news isn't good," he says. "We know Peeta was taken to a studio attached to the presidential mansion the day after we destroyed the arena, but nothing has aired yet. The next morning, he was taken from the training center. We believe he's in a maximum security wing of the prison, along with Johanna Mason, but no one has been able to get in to see them. Well, none of ours. Apparently, Caesar Flickerman has been there several times."

"Caesar said he'd look after anyone left behind."

Plutarch looks up sharply. "You... discussed the matter with Caesar Flickerman?" he asks.

"No. Caesar guessed something was going on, and promised without any prompting."

Plutarch swears under his breath, then goes on. "At any rate, we don't know what's happening to Peeta. He was in the hospital for a few days, and he was seen on the roof of the training center - again, in Flickerman's company - and then he disappeared." He shakes his head, bothered by this line of conversation. "It's Katniss Everdeen I need to talk to you about. She's refusing to act as the mockingjay."

"Did you show her Cinna's designs?"

"Cinna was adamant in his will - a document he put in my care before the final interviews - that she not be shown anything until she agreed to do it without knowing he was involved. Apparently, he didn't want her to feel pressured." Plutarch wrinkles his nose. "If she doesn't get in line soon, I may have to disregard his wishes. There's a lot of pressure on Fulvia and me to get the propaganda shorts filming. Thirteen took a lot of risks to rescue her, and it was on our say-so. They would have preferred to rescue Peeta. They don't realize what an impact Katniss's image has in the districts."

I frown. "Why, exactly, is Katniss not cooperating?"

He waves his hand impatiently. "She's still upset, of course, but you'd think that with Peeta in Capitol hands, she'd want to be doing everything she can!"

"Upset? How do you mean, upset?" I hear my voice getting louder. "Do you mean she's still like she was when we first got here, and you're pressuring her to shoot propos?"

"She's much better than she was. She's talking. She spends time with her friend Gale. She'd still be in the hospital if she wasn't better!" He waits, at least having the decency to look somewhat ashamed of this fairly blatant lie. Finally, he sighs. "She demanded to be allowed to go to District Twelve and see it for herself," he says. "They're out there now. She's got hovercrafts covering her from every angle. It's a huge expense, as I'm reminded on an hourly basis, and she still hasn't given us any promises. I need to get through to her."

"Good luck with that."

"You know how to reach her. You could talk to her."

I point to the healing scratches on my face. "I think she made it pretty clear what she thinks of me these days. I can't blame her."

"Then what could I say? Or Gale?"

"Gale's in on this?"

"He's assigned to Command. President Coin is impressed with him. But he says we can't pressure Katniss, too."

"There's a conspiracy talking about getting Katniss to do something, and Gale is in on it." I shake my head. "Here's hoping she's more forgiving of Gale's conspiracy than mine."

"What can we say to her?"

"Not a damned thing. She has all the facts. She'll make the call when she's ready to make it."

"Haymitch, we no longer have the luxury of waiting until you decide she's ready! The war is happening. We need a rallying point."

"Get Peeta back for her. That's the only thing that will make a difference."

But this is a dead end. I have been urging everyone who sees me to send a party to the Capitol to collect Peeta - along with Johanna Mason and Annie Cresta - since we got here. At the height of the delirium, I offered to go myself, since I could see them right through my walls and it wouldn't take but a minute. Thirteen's command structure has decreed a mission too costly. When I snapped that it wouldn't be so costly if they hadn't bungled the rescue in the first place, I was met with less than an enthusiastic agreement.

So I'm not surprised when Plutarch says, "That's out of the question. We'd hoped that reconnecting with Gale would fill that need for her - "

"Do you think it's just about having some boy around? That's not Katniss. She's worried about Peeta. She loves the boy."

"I realize that," Plutarch says. "If I hadn't realized it before, I certainly realized it when she continually woke up in the hospital crying for the pearl he gave her. The doctors here think she's fixating on it. They're considering taking it from her for her own good."

I narrow my eyes. "If they take that away from Katniss, I will personally -"

"Cut their damned throats?" Plutarch says wearily. "Or maybe bash in their heads? Your threats aren't making you any friends here."

"Who've I been threatening other than you and those doctors?"

"Everyone." He shakes his head. "Haymitch, you've been raving. People are under instructions not to talk about you, but they're talking anyway. You've been screaming at people not to hurt Peeta. Telling them that if Katniss doesn't get better, you'll kill them."

I don't remember doing any of this. It must have been during the height of the delirium. "That was the lack of booze talking," I tell him. "But I'm better now. And I do mean it about the pearl."

"Well, your threats are unnecessary. Finnick Odair threatened them over it, too, and they've already capitulated." He shakes his head. "You victors really need to find another way to relate to people."

"But you Gamemakers trained us so well," I say.

Plutarch looks down. "Fine, all right. That's fair. But you're not in the arena anymore."

"Then why do I feel like I'm staring at the Cornucopia?"

"Because you're drying out and it's doing nothing for your mental state," Plutarch says. He goes back to pressing for some idea to reach Katniss that doesn't involve an assault on a maximum security prison in the heart of the Capitol, and I don't have one to give him. They're just going to have to wait. Katniss is a seventeen year old girl, not a machine to be turned on and off at will.

"They don't think like that here," Plutarch says. "Most seventeen-year-olds have work assignments after school. Katniss is doing neither."

"So what was Delly doing here?"

"This is her work assignment. She helps cheer up patients."

With that, he heads out, muttering to himself about trying to run a psy-op without a trigger.

Half an hour after he leaves, Ruth Everdeen comes to check on me. She's cool and clinical, but in much better shape than she was when she first arrived. I ask her about Katniss. She tells me to mind my business. The Games are over, and so are my responsibilities to her daughter. She leaves it unsaid, but perfectly plain, that she considers those responsibilities to have been neglected.

During the rest of the afternoon, I get visits from various other people in Command, which is apparently my assignment once I get out of the hospital. I'll be working with Plutarch and Fulvia on the propaganda pieces, and I need to be brought up to speed. Fulvia proudly presents her scripts, and takes personal offense when I start editing them. Finnick comes to see me, and promptly falls asleep in the visitor's chair, though he manages to tell me more about Katniss's state of mind - severely damaged - than anyone else who's been in. He looks worse than when he got here. We need to get Annie, before he ends up in worse shape than she's in.

My pool of visitors dries up before supper, and it is strangely quiet for a long time. From another ward, I can hear the faint sounds of televisions, but they don't have one in my room, having deemed peace and quiet an important part of the recovery of drunks. I lie awake listening to the hum of it for a long time, wishing I had my books if I can't have a drink (both would be ideal). The lights fade slightly, a sign that I've learned means we're supposed to be slowing down and getting ready to sleep. I don't pay any attention to it.

There is a soft knock at the side of the door. I look up.

Hazelle Hawthorne is standing there, looking over her shoulder toward the rest of the hospital.

"Hazelle?"

She comes in quickly and sits on the side of my bed. "Someone ought to tell you," she says. "Since you aren't getting the news. I think I ought to tell you, instead of someone from Thirteen."

I frown. "Tell me what?"

"Haymitch, it's Peeta."

Panic twists through me like a wire. "What about him? Have they killed him? Is Peeta dead?"

She shakes her head. "No, Haymitch. He's... he was just on television."

"Yeah?"

"Calling a for a cease-fire. Spouting Capitol propaganda. They're calling him a traitor."

"He's a captive," I say. "We have to assume that anything he says -"

"He looks to be in good shape."

"He's still a captive."

"I know," Hazelle says, and looks over her shoulder again. "I think all of us from Twelve know. Gale says he's probably under duress, and Katniss is just glad he's alive. But not everyone is saying that. Some people are saying he should have died instead of spouting Snow's lines. That he's a traitor for not fighting."

I sit up straight. "Who in the hell is saying that? What do they know about what Snow does to people?"

"People, Haymitch." Hazelle shakes her head. "I wanted to make sure you heard it from someone who doesn't believe it before you heard it from someone who does."

I ball my hands into fists and squeeze, trying not to let anger out at Hazelle, since none of this is on her. "Thank you," I say. "For warning me."

"He may be safer if they don't rescue him."

"I somehow doubt that."

She nods and bites her lip. "There's something else. He... " She looks down. "He said he doesn't know you and was wrong to trust you."

"Bet Katniss cheered for that," I mutter.

Hazelle shakes her head. "She's still not right, Haymitch. When she is, she'll see you did what you had to do. I did."

I chance a glance up. Hazelle hasn't talked to me, really, since the burning of Twelve. When she got here, she turned her back on me in the hangar. I saw a lot of blame in her eyes first. "Yeah?"

"Yeah. I'm sorry about what I did. Back when we first got here. It's not your fault. You even tried to warn me. I just couldn't handle it. I'm handling things better now."

We sit quietly for a while, then I say, "You said Peeta looked in decent shape?"

She nods. "Physically. He did go off the wall a few times. Attacked Caesar Flickerman for suggesting that Katniss had anything to do with the break out. And he gave a rambling history lesson about the cost of war."

"But he seemed healthy."

"Yes."

"Good," I say. "I don't care if he's fetching Snow's slippers, if he's healthy enough to do it. We'll fix any other damage. It can be done once we rescue him."

"Haymitch, they're not going to launch a rescue after that."

"Like hell they won't."

"With more than half the district calling him a traitor, he'll be lucky if they don't shoot him on sight."

"Leaving the path free for Gale?" I ask.

"That's not fair, Haymitch," she says. "I'm not rooting for anything bad to happen to that boy! He's a nice kid."

I know it's not fair. I know Hazelle doesn't wish Peeta harm. I know I shouldn't lash out at her. "Sure is convenient for your son, though, isn't it?" I say.

She stands up and goes to the door, but stops before leaving. "For your information," she says, "Gale has been fighting with Command every day to get them to launch a rescue." She leaves.

"Hazelle!" I call. "Come on, I'm sorry!"

She doesn't come back.

I stare pointlessly at the door for a long time, then try to get to sleep. No luck. I page for a nurse and ask for a book.

"What kind of book?"

"I honestly don't care," I tell him. "If it's got words on the page and I can read them, it's fine."

He comes back a few minutes later with his gross anatomy textbook. "Finished my assignments anyway," he says. "Enjoy your light reading."

I choose a chapter on the brain and read until they turn the lights out and I can't see the page anymore. I put it on my night stand and lean back onto the pillows. Sleep doesn't come for a long time, and when it does, it's haunted by images of Peeta Mellark in the Capitol. I don't wake up rested.

Breakfast comes and goes. I find I can deal with District Thirteen food better if I don't pay attention to it. I read about the spinal cord and the respiratory system.

Ruth Everdeen comes in to check my vitals just before noon. She seems to be clenching her teeth against saying something. I grab her wrist before she leaves, and we look at each other for a long time.

Finally, she says, "Katniss is going to do what you people want," she says. "I hope you're happy." She pulls away and leaves.

I am not surprised to get a visit from Command an hour later. I am surprised to see that it includes Alma Coin, the president of District Thirteen, and she does not look pleased. Not that I've ever actually seen her look pleased, but she looks more displeased than usual.

"I heard Katniss agreed to be the mockingjay," I say.

One of her staff, a commander named Boggs, raises an eyebrow. "Word travels fast."

Coin, her lips pressed together firmly and her arms crossed, steps forward, "The Mockingjay is meant to support the rebellion."

"What does that mean?" I ask.

"She's given... conditions."

"Seems fair," I say.

"Does it." Coin sits down in the visitor's chair. "Tell me, Soldier Abernathy, after everything that's been done for her, how you consider it fair that she adds conditions for paying it back."

"First, I'm no one's soldier," I tell her. "Second, Katniss never asked for any of things that have been done for her. She doesn't even know most of them. You never did anything for her. You did it for the Rebellion. The Rebellion is grateful. Katniss doesn't have any reason to be."

"She's demanding concessions be made publicly."

"Makes sense."

I can almost hear Coin's teeth grinding as she struggles not to say something that she'll regret. "Soldier Abernathy," she says, "we cannot afford a Mockingjay who thinks she's negotiating a job contract. If she isn't devoted to the cause-"

"She's devoted to the cause," I say. "I doubt there's anyone in Panem who wants to overthrow the Capitol more than Katniss does."

"There is more to winning a war than hating Coriolanus Snow."

"Maybe so. But it helps."

"We need her under control. That's why you'll be present when she starts filming the propaganda pieces. No one else has been able to control her."

"I haven't controlled her, either."

"You were her mentor in the arena. You got her to do what she needed to do to win. Plutarch Heavensbee is certainly under the impression that you were able to convey to her the need to drug the Mellark boy -"

"She was looking for a way to save him, and I suggested one." I sit up and turn around so I'm sitting on the edge of my bed and facing her. "Katniss understands what I tell her. That's all there is to it. We speak the same language."

"Then speak it, Soldier Abernathy."

"She's not listening to me anymore."

"Find a way to make her listen." Coin leans forward. "People are putting their lives on the line to get the districts of Panem out of the clutches of the Capitol. We can't afford for soldiers to put their personal interests ahead of the interests of the war effort. And it is not helpful to anyone for me to capitulate to the whims of a teenage girl."

"Making an honest deal with someone who has something you want isn't capitulating," I tell her. "It's paying a fair price. What's she asking for, anyway?"

"Among other things, she wants to control our law enforcement."

"She wants amnesty for Peeta Mellark," Boggs explains. "He did a propo-"

"I've heard about it. You know that was under duress."

"It doesn't matter," Coin says. "The damage he could do is immeasurable. People will not be happy with a decision not to punish him. But she's holding the war effort hostage on his behalf."

"And the others," Boggs says. "If they're forced to participate."

"She shouldn't have had to force that issue," I say. "If we'd pulled Peeta out earlier - " A sharp look from Coin tells me that this will not be a useful approach. "Try telling people that you want to be fair to a kid who's being tortured by Snow."

"I don't need your advice on dealing with my own people," Coin says, standing up. "Just get her to behave. I have a speech to prepare." She starts to leave, beckoning Boggs, but stops at the end of my bed. "I think I have these memorized. These are the great issues that your Mockingjay is holding over us."

She throws a sheet of paper to me, on which someone has typed out Katniss's demands.

Amnesty for the captured victors. Hunting time with Gale.

And a home for her family's cat.

"That's my girl," I say, folding the paper up. "Nice job, sweetheart."