He wakes up with an IV drip in his arm, his heart beating quickly as he tries to move against the constraints on his torso. His arms and legs start to feel heavy to the point where he can't move anymore, his head falling back onto the pillows.
I hope it's quick, he thinks, an almost smile on his face.
The second time he wakes up the IV drips gone and he can move his arms and legs. He sucks in his stomach and feels only hunger, not pain when he does so. For a moment, he wonders whether he should find someone and ask them what's going on, or whether he can go back to the sleep; whether the Capitol will wait for their victor. He decides he doesn't care and closes his eyes.
(It doesn't last long before his memory works overtime behind his eyes. His hands close into fists and he opens his eyes, staring up at the ceiling but only seeing bright, bright blue. The ceiling doesn't crack, no matter how much he wishes. The odds aren't in his favour today, he thinks bitterly.)
His escort walks in with bright red hair and he vomits all over her shoes.
There are plans and pursed lips and murmurs of his name, said in a different way to the usual victorious and ignorant Capitol way, behind closed doors and he hears everything. But he hasn't slept for days and he can't quite put it together, not yet anyway, so instead he lies on the couch and listens to his escort chatter happily and his mentor whispering I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry in a drug-induced state. Haymitch yells at him, "They're dead, they can't hear you!" once when he's drunk and he shuts up then, hands shaking in his sleep.
Later, when he stands in front of the Capitol audience, he looks down and sees the Gamemakers sitting in front, too indignant for those who have just caused the deaths of forty seven children for his liking. He notices the absence of the head Gamemaker and instinctively reaches for the knife in his pocket, stolen from the dining table.
President Snow steps in front of him, blocking his vision with a stretched smile and glint in his eye that matches that of the crown, which he places on his head with a hint of forcefulness. It's too tight and he can already feel a headache coming on.
"Aren't you a clever boy?" Snow says, his hand an inch away from his face.
"I'm here, aren't I?" he replies without missing a beat. Snow's smile doesn't falter as he turns around, the audience applauding loudly, their clapping ringing in his ears. Still, he doesn't miss the "yes, I suppose you are," that follows. He doesn't realise that he's waving until the final "goodnights" are said, and he wonders whether he was saying goodbye.
He doesn't drink on the train home but he wants too. Instead, he looks out the window, his words playing over on the TV in the background, and looks at everything that passes by, from the faces that line up on either side of the train, some angry, other subdued and curious, while most of them are tired, an almost pitying expression on their faces the moment they recognise him. He wonders if they know something he doesn't.
Finally, when it's too dark to see anything other than lights, he turns around and watches the District 12 escort and his mentor eat their dinner, both looking bored and almost lost now that the games are over. He wonders what the Capitol even does between games.
Finally, he asks, "What would you need to start a rebellion?"
He hears a gasp and the sound of a wine glass shattering, followed by, "What an awful thing to say. Why would you bring such a horrid thing up?" He focuses on his mentor and his pale, thin hands that have stopped shaking just for a moment. Their eyes meet.
"Luck," he replies quietly after a long pause. "Luck and a good cause."
He's only halfway towards the Victor's village when his mother runs out to hug him. He stands completely still, hands tense and halfway between his sides and hers, as if he doesn't know what they'll do once they get there. She smells like soot and he feels it on his skin when she cups his cheek and runs her thumb along his still prominent cheekbone.
"Look at how you've grown," is all she says before she buries her face in the crook of his neck again, and he can't tell if she's crying for him, or the tributes he killed. Finally, he takes her hand, manages not to flinch at the contact, and leads her to her – their (his) – new home. He feels two pairs of grey, Seam eyes following him all the way there.
He gives the key to his mother and turns around, looking down at a boy with messy, unruly curls, a hopeful smile on his face. Haymitch manages a nod and what he hopes looks like a smile, and soon feels thin arms wrapping around his waist, a muffled "I missed you" spoken to his stomach. He nods, still not touching him, and looks at Holland standing behind him, a sympathetic look on her face. Finally, he pushes Lexi inside and gestures for her to come in too.
"Thank you for looking after him," he says quietly, touching the side of her wrist. She nods and gives him what he supposes is a comforting smile, before walking inside. He pauses, looking out over the Seam and the rest of the town, a grey haze in the burning sun. He closes the door.
The house is large and extravagant, already filled with gifts from the Capitol such as a high-quality TV and a full fridge. His mother looks overjoyed and Lexi looks at him in amazement, clearly having the basic knowledge that this was because of him. He silently thanks god, the Capitol, anyone, that he doesn't quite understand death yet. He looks at his small but happy family and thinks of the forty seven other grieving families spread throughout Panem.
He nearly jumps when Holland whispers in his ear, "It's better now; you're safe." He laughs, softly and bitterly.
"Sweetheart, don't kid yourself," he says. She sighs, and he brushes her hair off her forehead. For a moment, he swears blood falls from where he's touched her. He recoils, and he wishes he knew how to make the hurt look on her face go away.
That night, he lies in bed and thinks.
He thinks of his family, his mother and brother sharing a bed in the room next to his, and Holland back in her home, extra food for the rest of her family with her. He thinks of the rest of the district; the smell of coal in the air, and the look of desperate, hungry faces.
Inevitably, he thinks of the games. He tastes blood in his mouth and his eyes flicker to knife on his table, its serrated edge shining in the moonlight. He thinks of a boy who couldn't be more than twelve, his neck snapping under his own hands, and a girl who drank the water from the stream, her body convulsing as her face turned blue, blood trickling out of her mouth.
Finally, he walks to the fridge and drinks the rest of the bottle of champagne his mother had opened in celebration. It doesn't stop the images, but it slows them down until they're mostly blurred and only the screams and cries ring clear. In the moment between sleep and consciousness, he wishes he didn't exist (and that, he supposes, is just a step away from wishing you were dead).
The next morning he finds a box filled with the finest liquor sent with love,
He pushes it under his bed and prays that no one will find it.
A gift basket of bread and selected berries is sent to him, the words We don't blame you written in neat, cursive handwriting on a white card. He feels sick when he sees it, his throat constricting and his fingers tingling. He has to go out and buy three bottles of wine and drink two and a half of them before he gets the courage to see them.
The door is opened by three tear-stained faces. One of them belongs to the dead girl. Mechanically, he says thank you and sorry, before reaching into his pocket and handing them the pin. Her father takes it from him and whispers, "Her golden pin, I-I didn't even know she'd taken it." He glances at her sister, her face paler than before and her eyes nervous. He thinks that if her collar were red she'd look exactly the same as Maysilee.
"A golden pin for a golden girl," he says. "Call me, if you need anything." They nod and he walks away, feeling unexplainably empty now that he can't feel the weight of the mockingjay in his pocket.
He goes to the butcher's next and is about to ask why he's not being served when he remembers that the butcher's son was one of the tributes. He leaves a tip in their jar and buys a bottle of whiskey from the shop over.
When he gets back his mother and brother have moved most of their things in already. His mother turns to him and smiles, putting her hands on her hips triumphantly.
"It's nice to finally have some actual food to cook with," she says. Lexi grins from atop of the kitchen counter and says,
"It tastes amazing."
"Well," he says, starting to open his whiskey bottle. "Let's hope the perks of winning don't wear off too soon, shall we? A toast." He raises his bottle in the air, taking in his mother's fallen face and his brother's confused one. He takes a long swig from his bottle and mutters something about going upstairs and not wanting dinner. The house is quieter that night and he feels emptier, listening to the only other victor from District 12 yell three houses down from him.
This time, when he hears him yell I'm sorry, he thinks he understands it.
"You look horrible," Holland says when she sees him.
"Thank you, sweetheart, I love you too," he replies dryly, the whiskey bottle still in his hand. She crosses her arms and purses her lips, grey eyes glaring at him. He grins, just because he knows that annoys her.
"You're extremely stubborn," she says finally.
"Yes, because I'm the one that only takes a miniscule amount of food when she and the rest of her family are starving," he scoffs. "Come on, I'd like someone to benefit from my various murders." She grabs the bottle from his hand and plants it firmly on the table, some of the liquid spilling over the sides. "That cost –"
"I don't care," she says. "It's stupid to kill yourself after surviving…" she trails off, her eyes suddenly losing some of their shine. If he didn't know her, he'd say she looked scared. Suddenly, he's filled with the urge to hug her and slap her for not understanding all at once. Instead, he shrugs.
"I think, at this point, sweetheart, slow suicides are what the Capitol expects," he says, his voice not as harsh as he'd expected. A sound halfway between a laugh and a scoff leaves her mouth.
"Please, if anyone could lead a rebellion against the Capitol, it would be you," she says. He runs a hand through his hair, his hands itching for the bottle to be back in his grasp.
"The Capitol has cameras everywhere, sweetheart," is all he says. She shuts up after that.
She stays the night. The space between them in the bed is uncomfortable and unbearable, and he realises that his hands have not known anything but the smooth touch of a knife or liquor bottle in days. Slowly, he reaches out a hand and runs it gently through her hair. The bed shifts and he sees her starting to turn around.
"Don't," he says, the word choked and desperate. "Just, stay still. Please." She doesn't nod, but she doesn't turn around either and he only sees the rise and fall of her chest. He's never been so grateful for something in his life (and no, that may not be strictly true but he thinks that if things were just a little less desolate than it really would be first, rather than food and water and a poison dart blowgun).
He strokes her hair before moving down her back, feeling each of her prominent vertebrae; moving over her hip and over her ribcage. He can only spend a moment on her hands before he's picturing them against his throat and he has to move back to her hair (he moves it away from her neck just to check there's no blood there, just in case).
After a while, she asks him, "Do you sleep?"
"Only when I have to," he says simply. Slowly, she takes his hand and brings it to her lips, kissing it softly, and he wonders if she tasted blood on his fingertips. After a while, he hears her fall asleep, and to his surprise he finds himself following her.
The light on his ceiling is a pale blue when he wakes up, hands wrapped around him, choking him and whispering soothing words in his ear. After a moment of scrabbling for his knife, he realises it's Holland, and that the sky in the arena was always bright blue, even at a night.
"It's ok. You're safe, you're home now," Holland says.
He supposes home is a relative term, but he buries his face in her neck anyway, feeling the beat of her pulse against his cheekbone.
"It's been a week," his mother tells him. He turns to her, blinks, and turns right back to the TV screen, bringing the whiskey bottle to his lips.
"That is what the Capitol's saying," he says. "Would you like to watch the reruns of the games with me?"
"No," she says, her voice a little shaky as she comes to sit next to him on the lounge. He shifts ever so slightly away from her. "I was wondering whether –"
" – you'd like to,"
"talk about it," she says finally. His jaw has tightened and the bottle in his hand is perilously close to shattering.
She sighs, one of those heavy ones that he hasn't heard since they were living in the Seam, too tired to fight anymore. He tries to reword the thoughts in his head so that it sounds as if he cares about her, because he does. It's just everything seems so insignificant compared to the games.
"Haymitch…" she starts.
"If you wouldn't mind, I'd prefer you leave and take your cathartic fucking experiences with you. Death doesn't change no matter how much you talk about it. Sorry, sweetheart." It's too harsh and he knows it. He hears a slight hiccup and he knows she's on the verge of tears. His gaze doesn't falter from the TV, but that doesn't change the words ringing in his head.
He finds Lexi playing with his knife when he walks into his room to get more alcohol. It's the first time he's thrown a knife in a week (it feels as if it's been at least seven months after the games yet the throw feels like second nature). It lodges itself in the wall, a sharp twang and thud resounding in the room, a different sound than when it makes contact with a body.
"What were you doing?" he says, pinning him to the wall.
"I don't know, I just thought that…seeing you," he trails off. His hands tighten on his shoulders, shaking him and pushing him further against the wall. "What about if I get reaped?" he says suddenly. Somehow, it manages to shock him – enough that he let's go of his shoulders and steps back.
"You won't," he says stupidly. Liar. Lexi rubs the back of his neck, not meeting Haymitch's gaze. A weight settles in the bottom of his stomach.
"It's just, if I did," he starts slowly, "I'd want to win. Like you."
"No," his mouth is dry, tongue thick, "you wouldn't." He turns away, taking the knife out of the wall and feeling it in his hand. "Don't touch it again. It's…dangerous," he says, glancing at Lexi, his curls falling into his eyes.
"Haymitch," he says quietly, still looking at the ground. "Thanks. For coming back."
He nods, even though he probably can't see it, and walks away. He finds a corner of the house that's completely empty and quiet and drinks himself into unconsciousness.
It's the same, over and over again: green grass, golden horns, crystal clear water, butterflies that kill and the lethal animals. Everything is too bright and it burns his eyes. There's his first kill and the feel of a knife pressed to his throat and bruising grips on his arms and wrists. There's the girl with sunlight hair and the eyes that match the sky, and he's not surprised when he finds she kills with poison, just like the arena itself – a gentle killer.
For a couple of days, it's not so bad. There's the end of the arena and there's food and water and maybe even some safety, too. It doesn't last long and then he's holding the hand of the girl he couldn't save and trying to tell her it's ok. Her pin still shines in the sun and he puts it in his pocket, thinking that maybe it will give him luck or at least a fuck you to the Capitol. There's the axe and the cliff. The more he thinks about it, the harder it becomes to place where it really started going downhill.
The Capitol comes next in the form of twisted faces, painted in red and candy pink and blue and yellow. The crown digs into his skull and makes his head bleed and he tastes poison in the back of his throat. Somewhere, a mockingjay sings.
He wakes up and wonders how long it will take for the Capitol to remember him.
His mother cooks and Lexi sometimes plays with the other boys from the Seam and gives them bread and Holland will come round and sometimes they'll pass the liquor bottle between them and other times they'll kiss, slowly and softly and not really touching anywhere else, and other times he tries to push her away just to see if he can.
"You know," she says one time, drunk and her eyes not at all focused. "If I got reaped, you'd have to mentor me.
"Thank you, sweetheart, for that lovely piece of information," he snarls. "I'd have to ride home with your coffin, too." She laughs, the sound clear but fragile and defensive too.
"Don't think you're the only one that could win, Abernathy," she says. He wonders how she can hold her liquor so much better than he can. "I've dated you, after all." He thinks that, really, if he could love anyone at all, it would be her.
Twelve days after the Hunger Games, she stays over and they're drunk again. He wonders just how badly the games affected her, too, and how long they can pretend to be strong for each other before they both crack.
They're sitting on the floor and he's letting her softly trace of the scars that have once again appeared on his hands from broken glass and fights with tables and when he's reached for his knife and missed, trying to get used to the feel of her skin on his. Slowly, he lifts her head up, taking her in: her grey eyes and the cheeks that have progressively been getting fuller over the last week. She looks older than she is and he supposes he does too; that everyone who grows up in the Seam does. It makes sense, really, when it's possible that you won't live past the age of twelve.
He kisses her and he doesn't think of the arena or taste blood and if she'll stop him from becoming insane like almost all of the other victors he's seen; depressed and guilt-ridden and lonely. Then he's kissing her neck and she has her hands in his hair and he's fucking her, knowing it's less than she deserves but thinking it's a start, even as he bites her collarbone and tastes blood.
Afterwards, when they're lying next to each other, not quite touching but being able to hear each other's breaths and almost feel each other's pulses, she tells him,
"Don't leave me, sweetheart." He nods and gets up, kissing her cheek. Late at night, when she's gone, he draws a mockingjay with his finger in the condensation that's formed on the window, and wonders if that's enough, the beat of a dying pulse thrumming in his head.
Sometimes, compared to the arena, he thinks it's not so bad.
There's no water in District 12 one day. The taps and the wells stop working, and the Peacekeepers explain that there's just been a slight problem with one of the other districts and it's stopping some of the supplies from getting through, but the issue should be solved soon and your patience is appreciated. To Haymitch, it's just a good excuse to go and get a drink.
He's mostly drunk when he gets home, and he can't tell whether it's the ringing in his ears that's blocking out the noise, or whether it's just quiet. Even the victor just a couple of houses down from him seems unusually subdued. Three steps into his house and he smells blood. Six more steps into the lounge room and sees Holland, Lexi and his mother deathly pale, dried blood on their lips.
In the middle, sitting on the table, is the box he pushed under his bed two weeks ago, opened. He looks at the bottle on the floor, smashed and dry of all its contents, reading, simply: water. Bitterly, he thinks that they drained the stream in the arena. Just for him.
He vomits then, acid burning his throat and tears leaking out of his eyes, slow and hot as they slide down his face.
He spends the rest of the night drinking every single bottle in the rest of the box, though there was only one with water in it. The rest are the finest wines and whiskeys from the Capitol. No matter how hard he tries, his fingers still feel slick and sticky with blood, and the faces of all of those he couldn't save flash behind his eyes.
When the sun rises in the morning, he finds out that only one of the bottles was poisoned.
A/N: That wasn't supposed to be so long. Yes, I agree, it's extremely OOC. And no, no you don't love Haymitch's unnamed-mentioned-once-girlfriend as much as I do. You really, really don't. Comment if you wish. I apologise for the crappiness, it's 1.30am (I was going to go to bed at 11pm because, as I said, this was supposed to be about 1500 words and now it's nearly 4000 I mean come on really).