A week since the arrival of the guild workers, Haymitch figures it's time to head into Town to inspect what's been done so far under the new instruction. He had a general idea of what he'd be working with when he hired them, and Hazelle helped him assign them houses, but now Haymitch has to actually see the district's condition for himself and go from there. He still feels a little guilty shoving more responsibility onto Hazelle but she rose to the occasion pretty eagerly, even offering to meet the workers at the train station and direct them to their living quarters.
With the improved work underway, Haymitch is more confident to start negotiating with the people of his own district; he has something to show for himself now concerning reconstruction. He's been avoiding this for too long, facing the people he fought a revolution for.
Peeta visits with bread, and Haymitch joins him on his delivery, planning to follow him into Town. As they deliver bread around the Village, the boy converses with the customers so cordially that Haymitch feels even more out of place than if he just went around by himself. Then again, what could he say to them? Hey, sorry I was too drunk to do anything useful ever since we won the war but I've been nagged into planning better working conditions because what you're doing ain't enough. Nice to meet you. At least he has something to do, even if it's as simple as handing out bread.
Apparently his geese are better known to the community than himself. He's advised by a few of his neighbors to build a coop and maybe even a fence and to not leave them unsupervised so often. He replies that he'll try his best, sounding a little too earnest to be genuine. After that, he's even more silent and withdrawn. Still, he remembers names he's heard before and assigns them to the faces that glance at him warily.
They arrive at the last occupied house in the Village, the Hawthornes', where a Seam boy he knows is either Rory or Vick answers the door, a little groggy but dressed. While the kid rubs at his eyes, a little girl - Posy, Haymitch remembers - gets Peeta and Haymitch both to smile as she inspects each loaf and finally decides on the best one. The chosen loaf looks kind of misshapen to Haymitch but she affirms that it's perfect for her family.
"Thank you," Rory-Vick calls out as Haymitch and Peeta depart. Haymitch hears Posy ask something, then Rory-Vick tell her, "Yes, that's him. Now quit staring," as he's closing the door.
Not sure what to think of that, he doesn't, choosing instead to take a drink from his flask.
"Thanks for helping, by the way," Peeta says to him as they walk down the road to the site. Haymitch can hear the work sounds, and some part of him wants to turn back. For all his reasons to be a little nervous, though, his obligation to help outweighs it. "Usually I take several trips with the one basket."
"Don't worry about it," Haymitch replies, adjusting his hold on the other basket. "Why not have them come to you, though? They know where you live."
The boy shrugs. "I like the extra work. There ain't much else to do once I'm done baking, and I can always use the exercise." He smiles. "I just feel that I should deliver to them, especially the workers. Besides, this way I'm leaving a good impression for when the bakery opens."
Haymitch chuckles. "Kiss-ass. Not like you'll have competition."
"Some fancy baker from One ain't stealing my business," Peeta says, grinning. He waves to a boy Haymitch doesn't know. "Morning, Aiden. Any mail for me this week?"
Aiden, who carries a bag ostensibly filled with mail, gestures to the Village. "You'll find out when you get home!"
"What, you don't read through them beforehand?"
Aiden rolls his eyes and laughs, offering another wave as he continues up the road. Peeta either ignores or doesn't notice Haymitch's expression.
"Now that's just pathetic," Haymitch remarks.
"Ain't you trying to make friends?" counters Peeta. "If anything, you should be taking notes."
"Didn't mean you, boy."
"I didn't even know we get mail."
"It wasn't a huge development or anything," says Peeta. "The train delivers any letters with everything else."
"Yeah, I understand that." Haymitch sighs. It all makes sense, it's just frustrating being so ignorant to all of it. He doesn't say that, though; he's already beginning to tread on dangerous territory, prodding a concern that has such an obvious solution that he does not - cannot - permit himself to consider. But Peeta knows this and doesn't judge as harshly as Katniss. Hell, he waited by the door as Haymitch filled his flask in the kitchen earlier.
They've been talking together more, Peeta and Haymitch, ever since the boy's rescue. Initially, it was for Peeta's recovery after the hijacking. But as the boy's mind became clearer he noticed how truly fucked up and desperately protective his mentor was, and so he probed at Haymitch in return. Haymitch figured talking about himself would open Peeta up, and it's actually worked well for the boy so Haymitch doesn't mind sharing the safe parts.
At this point, the boy may even know more about Haymitch's family than the girl, though Katniss knows why they're dead. Haymitch dreads when he'll run out of memorable quirks and stories, when all Peeta has left to ask is, what happened? Where did these characters in your stories go?
As they near the site, the work sounds Haymitch heard down the road intensify and soon they're surrounded by the din of construction. There are stands on the outskirts by the train station for rations and supplies and the like. Further into what used to be the Town are the foundations of several buildings, all in varying degrees of progress, none of them close to completion.
A group of workers approaches them from their place inside the framework of what appears to be the new Justice Building, judging by its size and location in the center of the site.
"Ah, I was wondering when you'd get here," a young Seam man says to Peeta as he claps him on the back. Haymitch recognizes the man as Thom, whose father Jack Chadwick had been a friend of his, though their friendship dissolved before Jack settled down. Thom was there when Gale Hawthorne was whipped two winters ago.
"Yeah, yeah, just take the bread," Peeta jokes. Thom and his workmates laugh, then wait as Peeta and Haymitch hold out the baskets and pass out the warm loaves.
Haymitch is thanked and greeted by several of the new workers, even the ones from the Capitol. He doesn't quite know how to respond so he just awkwardly nods back. Politeness even amidst recognition from complete strangers is a new, odd thing that he surmises is a result of the rebellion. No one from Twelve exhibits such a pretense, and Haymitch does expect that. The native workers who've been rebuilding their district without him only take bread from Peeta. Haymitch showered the night before at Hazelle's request so he must reek of something fouler than alcohol, like failure or disappointment - pariah.
As Thom tears his loaf of bread to share with another worker, a light-haired woman from Thirteen named Rem, he asks Peeta and Haymitch what they think of the improvements.
"That's actually why I'm here," replies Haymitch. "I collaborated with Plutarch Heavensbee and several district officials on hiring skilled workers. I'm willing to provide for the district in any way I can."
Thom looks Haymitch over, wiping sweat from his forehead. "Well, I speak on behalf of the crew that we appreciate the service. So you're here to report to Heavensbee what we need?"
"I'm able to help without him; this ain't really his job. He's too busy with other projects to be involved in everything we do," Haymitch explains, hoping he didn't draw much attention to we by either mumbling or emphasizing it. "Is there someone here who can give me the rundown before and after the new workers?"
"Over there's the overseer," offers Rem, nodding toward a tent where several workers from different districts are hunched over something.
Around a mouthful of bread, Thom says, "He's had a hand in almost everything since early spring."
"Props to him," approves Haymitch. "Is he a native?" Leading cleanup and reconstruction is an intimidating task. Anyone willing to do both must have a love for the place.
"Yeah, he was a mining captain - Captain Carter."
By now they're walking toward the tent. Haymitch stops short. "Carter?" he repeats.
The overseer - a man from the Seam - is turned away from them but Haymitch notices the dark waves of hair. His stomach lurches and sinks with dread, and there's the tug of longing as well but it's for the past, not this particular ghost from it.
Upon hearing his surname, Nathaniel turns and immediately levels a cool look at Haymitch. After a few words to the others, Nathaniel steps out of the tent and up to Haymitch, who stays rooted in place with the fucking bread basket. They're close enough to embrace, Haymitch stupidly muses, knowing that there will be no such family reunion.
"Well, look who's out and about."
Haymitch bristles at the old - damn near ancient - nickname. He hates himself for wanting to pull out his flask, knowing he'll need to be as sober as possible to face one of his last surviving relatives with any kind of dignity. He clears his throat. "Just here to see how everything's going so far."
Nathaniel glances back at the other leaders in the tent. "We're doing fine, no thanks to you. How about you head back to your fancy-ass house and let us get back to work?"
Without thinking, Haymitch snaps, "You know, I sent them and I'm paying them so you can thank me for that. Don't worry; you'll still get my money in a way - and by extension so will people who actually deserve it."
"Your allowances never meant shit to me," Nathaniel growls. Haymitch can discern the family resemblance despite their different lifestyles. They both have straight, sturdy noses - Nathaniel's now slightly crooked from a past fracture - low-slung brows, and black curls - Haymitch's more so. These traits Haymitch inherited from his mother, and Nathaniel from his father, who were siblings. They don't share the Abernathy surname, and that's made one of their lives much easier.
Haymitch feigns mock concern. "I was never notified of your cancellation."
"We stopped receiving them after Thread came."
"Again, not a word from any of you."
Though he's several years younger, Nathaniel shows his age more than Haymitch does; the lines carved into his face crease deeply as he glowers at Haymitch. "It didn't matter by that point. Money wouldn't have done shit when the lot of us were flogged or hanged by that new Head or blown up later."
At that, Haymitch loses a bit of his sardonic reserve toward his cousin. He didn't know that, they gave him no reason to know that, about anything in their lives. They were just silent recipients of his monthly allowances, and while legally they were his kin, he was no longer considered theirs.
"That was out of any of our control," Haymitch hears Peeta say behind him. The boy steps closer and takes Haymitch by the elbow. "We need to focus," he says, his face a mix of confusion toward Haymitch and displeasure at Nathaniel.
Given time to collect himself, Haymitch nods. "He's right. I really am here to help, Nathan."
Nathaniel breathes through his nose, slow and heavy, acquiescing for the sake of Twelve. "So you're something of a liaison, and anything we need, we tell you and you'll get it for us?"
"More or less, and within reason."
They consider each other for a moment before Nathaniel nods back toward the tent, where the others have continued discussion. "We're comparing the blueprints Thirteen originally gave us with what Seven brought."
With a glance at Peeta, who relieves him of the basket and steps back with intent to leave, Haymitch musters his courage and joins his cousin inside. "Let's get to work, then."
When she finally hears a human voice instead of the insipid music, Hazelle lifts her forehead from her arm that's braced against the wall and stands straighter. "Yes," she answers hurriedly. "Uh, Hazelle Hawthorne - trying to reach my s - Gale Hawthorne."
She's told by the receptionist - or his own personal secretary? - that Mister Hawthorne is unavailable at the moment. Would she like her to leave a note?
"Yes, please." Hazelle feels herself deflate; she'd been on hold for ten minutes, and she thought that somehow meant he was there or else they wouldn't keep her so long. She recites, for the third time that week, her message to her son: Please call me back when you have time. We need to talk. When Hazelle hangs up the phone, she sighs and turns back to the stresses of her other children.
Rory's washing the dishes, Posy's watching television and probably falling asleep, and Vick is flitting around the house with his bag and a wide smile that barely lessens as he jabbers on about his plans for tonight.
"Still busy?" Rory asks her.
"Yes, but he'll call back as soon as he can. The load in the dryer should be done," Hazelle calls as Vick enters the laundry room. He comes out with a pair of socks that he stuffs into his bag.
"I probably won't need them but you never know."
"Yeah," Rory deadpans, his focus on the sink, "that walk across the street is pretty perilous. You could lose a shoelace."
"Oh, hush," reprimands Hazelle. She turns to Vick. "Better safe than sorry."
Vick nods and digs around his bag, assessing its contents. "I should pack the flashlight, shouldn't I?" No one answers because he's already as good as decided. He scampers upstairs.
Rory scoffs under his breath.
"Knock it off," Hazelle warns him. "You know he ain't usually included in this kind of stuff."
"He and Aiden weren't even friends before Thirteen," Rory says, drying a plate with a rag, "and it's just because there's no one else around here their age."
Hazelle crosses her arms. "I don't understand why that's a problem."
"It ain't," her son answers. "But it's annoying how few of us there are."
"Is that an official complaint to return to Thirteen?"
"No, it's a plea for the others there to come back already. We can't repopulate the district by waiting for it to be completely built by a bunch of Capitol workers." The way he says Capitol, Hazelle is reminded of her oldest son, always a revolutionary, but the thought of Gale and his rebellious mindset has something troubling tacked on. Hazelle has tried not to jump to conclusions about what Greasy Sae meant about him, but after a week of unanswered calls, her imagination has spun up rather irrational theories. She hasn't said a word to anyone, of course, in case it's all a misunderstanding or Sae's just misinformed.
Vick calls out from the entry and, after promising Hazelle he'll be careful, leaves for the Grants' to spend the night. Considering Posy doesn't hurry through the house to kiss him goodbye, Hazelle assumes she's fast asleep.
"Well," continues Hazelle, upon the front door closing, "we need people who know what they're doing. As much as our people have worked to clean up, building the Town again requires some professional skill. We're getting help from other districts, too, not just from the Capitol. It's different now."
Rory frowns down at the sink. "But I'll never get to actually help now. I'll be the human pack mule forever."
Hazelle wraps an arm around his shoulders and squeezes, kissing his brow. "I doubt you'll be working down at the site forever. Take advantage of all the new opportunities. Look at your brother, the assistant to the secretary of defense in District Two!"
Grimacing, Rory admits, "I don't want to go so far away."
"Good." She ruffles his hair with a smile. "There are going to be a lot of jobs needed around here, too. You can always learn how to hunt from Katniss," Hazelle suggests as she begins to put away the dried dishes. She doesn't care for the way the kitchen cabinets are organized - evidently the railroad workers who had occupied the house before them didn't think to redecorate the hastily thrown together furnishings - and plans to reorganize when she has more time. She thinks of Haymitch's kitchen, how everything seems to be in its natural place because she constructed the order herself when she was first working there. Perhaps she'll just imitate that system.
Hazelle doesn't notice her son's quiet distress until she replaces the dishes and turns around to find that he hasn't dried any more. "What is it?" she asks.
"Momma," Rory croaks, which sends her over to him immediately. "I can't."
"Rory, what's the matter?" asks Hazelle, both worried and incredulous at his sudden distress. He's an emotional teenager, sure, but he rarely gets this upset.
Rory just shakes his head, finding his way into her neck. He has to crouch, he's gotten so tall. All of her children have done this since infancy, and it only bothers her when it's to hide from something. She has a niggling feeling she knows what her son is hiding from.
"I don't want to see Katniss. I can't. Gale wants me to watch out for her but he - they-"
Hazelle lightly pushes Rory away from her to caress and study his face. "What happened?"
When Rory mumbles that he can't tell her, that he promised Gale, anger flares up in Hazelle at both of them - Gale, for pitting Rory against his conscience, and Rory, for being so loyal to his brother that he'll keep secrets from his own mother.
"Rory Hawthorne," she says through clenched teeth, and it's enough.
"Gale thinks he killed Prim." At that, Hazelle detaches herself from her son completely, as if his words have burned her. But Rory continues speaking to the floor, "He was involved in those parachute bombs in the Capitol - the ones that went off twice. That was us - or, well, Thirteen - not the Capitol. He said that's why Katniss killed President Coin and why she didn't get executed. And, I don't know, he told me to make sure she was okay but I can't just see her after I know all that, right? I mean, I won't stalk her or anything but I don't want to have to talk to her when she knows about what Gale did."
As he starts to apologize, Hazelle shushes him. "You didn't do anything wrong," she assures him. "How long have you known about this?"
"The first night we got here, when Gale called."
Hazelle grimaces, all the pieces fitting into place in the puzzle of her mind and forming an unpleasant picture. She glances over to the living room to make sure Posy hasn't woken up before turning to Rory again. Her voice soft, she says, "You don't worry about Katniss. I'll talk to Gale and tell him they have to work it out themselves. He shouldn't have dragged you into this."
"But," Rory starts, then bites his lip. After a breath, he persists, "What's this mean for Gale? Is he… bad?"
Honestly, Hazelle isn't certain about her oldest son's intentions. Gale thrived in wartime, using his dormant intelligence, insight, and passion to help the rebel cause. Yet how far had he gone to expedite the war? While he spares her the details of his work in Two since it would sound like a jumbled mess to Hazelle, she wonders whether he's kept anything else from her. Minutes ago Hazelle wanted to talk to him about what Sae could possibly have meant, and now she just wants to make sure his soul is still intact.
For now, though, she tells Rory what she does know: "Your brother's grown up a lot these past few years, and he's had to make some decisions that we'll likely never face. I trust that whatever he was thinking at the time ain't what we think it is. He must feel guilty if he asked you to check on Katniss."
"If he calls back, what'll we do?" asks Rory, his brow furrowed, already determined to fix things. Maybe Gale had the same response to the bombings, whatever happened there - staring the future consequences in the face with a mind already at work.
It must run in the family.
"I'll take care of it."
AN: Thanks again to my betas, Estoma and Deathmallow! Hope you all enjoyed this chapter. I apologize for the slow updates, even more so now that I've signed up for two Christmas fic exchanges. Expect a couple updates from me this month, but none for this story. I'll work hard to get the next installment out as soon as possible. As always, I appreciate any feedback!