5. Waylaid by the Past
A week since the arrival of all the different work teams, Haymitch figures it's time to head into Town to inspect what's been done so far under the new instruction. Hazelle's given enough information for Haymitch to assign the workers houses that she directed them into, and get a general idea of what he was working with, but now he has to actually see the district's condition for himself and go from there.
Though he still feels a little guilty shoving the responsibility onto the woman, he figured he'd make her of some actual use to him since he was used to living in his own filth but not going out and talking to people himself. With the improved work underway, Haymitch is more confident to start negotiating with not only officials and outside contacts but also citizens 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.
After Peeta visits him with bread, Haymitch joins him with plans to follow him into Town. As they deliver bread around the Village, the boy converses with the customers so warmly that Haymitch feels even more out of place than if he just went around by himself. Then again, what would 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 After that, he's even more silent and withdrawn.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 solid-built 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 grin as she inspects each loaf and finally decides on the best one. The chosen loaf looks kind of misshapen to Haymitch - from Peeta's first batch, perhaps - but apparently 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," 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 it's several trips for me 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. Not much else to do once I'm done baking, and I can always use the exercise." He smiles. "Besides, there ain't that many people outside of the workers, and I just feel like I should deliver to them. And this way I'm leaving a good impression for when the bakery opens," Peeta adds.
Haymitch chuckles, "Kiss-ass."
Shrugging, Peeta purposefully directs his attention elsewhere by waving 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 smiles, 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.
"Aren'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."
"Well, it wasn't a huge development or anything. Quite a simple system, really," says Peeta. "The train delivers any letters with everything else."
Haymitch sighs. "Yeah, I understand that." It all makes sense, it's just frustrating being so ignorant to all of it. "I'm just starting to appreciate Plutarch's liaison offer, is all." He's treading on dangerous territory, talking about his concern that has such an obvious solution that he does not - fuck, cannot - permit himself to consider. But Peeta knows this, and doesn't judge as harshly as Katniss; he had 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. At first it was solely for Peeta's recovery after the hijacking, but as the boy's mind became clearer he started noticing how truly fucked up his mentor was, desperate for Peeta's survival because failure would mean half of Haymitch's life gone, the second half following shortly after as a result. Haymitch figured talking about himself would open Peeta up. It's worked well for Peeta so Haymitch doesn't mind sharing the safe parts.
At this point, the boy may even know more about his family than the girl, though Katniss knows why they're dead. Haymitch dreads when he'll run out of 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 good-naturedly. Haymitch recognizes him as Thom, whose father Jack Chadwick had been a friend of his, though their friendship dissolved before Thom or any of his siblings were born. He was there when Gale Hawthorne was whipped two winters ago.
Peeta laughs. "Yeah, yeah, just take the bread, you scavengers." The joke isn't lost on Thom or his workmates. They all laugh, then wait as Peeta and Haymitch hold out the baskets and pass out the loaves, some still a bit warm to the touch.
Haymitch is actually greeted by several of the Capitol workers. At first he doesn't respond only because he assumes they're addressing the boy, the other workers - anyone except him. The Capitol didn't want anything to do with him for years, and then he rebelled against their tyrannical authority, and now they act as though they'd always respected him. Not just Hazelle, then, Haymitch supposes drily.
No one else from Twelve exhibits such a pretense, and Haymitch does expect that. The native workers who've been rebuilding their district without him take bread and wander off, anywhere away from him. Haymitch had showered the night before at Hazelle's request so he must reek of something fouler than alcohol, like failure and 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 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. Although he's our best Capitol contact, 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. "Anyone here in charge that can give me the rundown before and after the new volunteers?"
"Over there's the overseer," offers Rem, as Thom's chewing, nodding toward a man hunched over something beside a Three engineer.
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 was an intimidating task. Anyone willing to do that must have a love for the place.
"Yeah, he was a mining captain - Captain Carter."
By now they're walking to a tent where the group of leaders are gathered. 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 at once as dread and disgust wash over him, 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. With a few quick words to the other leaders, he steps out of the tent, closer to Haymitch, who refuses to stand still and moves closer as well. 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," growls Nathaniel, and Haymitch can discern the family resemblance despite their different lifestyles and the consequences of them. They both have trademark 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 cousins. They didn't share the same 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 wasn't going to get us far when the lot of us were whipped or hanged by that new Head."
At that, Haymitch loses a bit of his sardonic reserve toward the other man. 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. But whether they wanted to be or not, they were his family, although 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 Nathaniel's past and displeasure at Nathaniel for diverting Haymitch's original purpose.
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 now, for the sake of Twelve's reconstruction. "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."
The two men consider each other before the overseer 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's stepped back with intent to leave, Haymitch musters his courage and walks with his cousin. "Let's get to work, then."
When she finally hears a human voice instead of the insipid music, Hazelle unfolds her face from her elbow 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 what tonight entails for him.
"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 before Vick enters the laundry room.
Stuffing a pair of socks into his bag, he says, "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. Could lose a shoelace, even."
"Oh, hush," reprimands Hazelle. She turns to Vick. "Better safe than sorry, certainly."
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 towel, "and now 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's not," her son answers, "it's just 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 him and his rebellious mindset has something troubling tacked on. She's tried not to jump to conclusions about what Greasy Sae had 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, though, of course, in case it's all a misunderstanding and Sae's just misinformed.
Vick calls out a farewell 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 don't think you'll be working down at the site forever. Take advantage of all the new job opportunities. Look at your brother, the assistant to the secretary of defense in District Two!"
Rory shakes his head, admits, "I don't want to go so far away."
"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.
She doesn't notice her son's silence until she's almost finished replacing the dishes, turning to find he hasn't continued drying them but stands frowning toward her. "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 agitation.
He just shakes his head, finding his way into her neck. He has to crouch, he's gotten so tall. All of her children have had this habit 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 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 took out our medics and those kids. 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. Sighing, she glances over at 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 ain't the one living in the same district as her."
"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 if 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 isn't what we think it is. He must feel guilty if he asked you to watch out for Katniss."
"If he calls back, what'll we do?" asks Rory, his brow furrowed, already determined to fix things. Perhaps Gale had the same response to the bombings, whatever had 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!