Chapter Twelve – In The End – Part Two
This chapter has a slightly higher rating for language (Haymitch…language!)
I'm staring down at the frozen ground and only one thing keeps going through my mind.
Damn I could use a drink.
I quit drinking when Katniss had her daughter, and that was almost ten years ago. I figured that I hadn't managed to play any kind of role in a family for most of my life, and this was my last shot. Katniss said she was willing to let her daughter call me Grandpa if I'd keep the drinking to a minimum around her. I couldn't trust myself to be able to gauge what minimum meant, so after a lot of miserable days and nights I managed to quit.
Strange thing is that it wasn't Peeta's idea, letting their daughter call me Grandpa. Seems like such a tender thing, and I know better than anyone that Katniss has about as much tenderness in her heart as a hand grenade has butterflies. Or I thought I knew. I'll be damned if that girl didn't surprise me on a biweekly basis over the years.
I hear her coming, though just barely, her tread is still feather-light even after all these years. Not that she's ever stopped hunting…I think it would be easier for her to learn to breathe under water than to live without hunting.
Today is a day I am grateful for that.
She arrives at my side and stands straight, hands hanging, feet slightly apart. As if she is about to run.
"Kids with your mother?" I ask.
She doesn't say anything, just nods her head.
It is snowing lightly, and my feet and back ache from the cold and from standing for so long. But I told her I'd be here today, so here I am. I lean heavily into the walking stick that started out as something to steady me but if I'm honest with myself has turned into a crutch.
Getting old fucking sucks.
"Today we would have been married twenty five years," she says, her voice flat.
I say nothing but I look at her. I can tell she has been crying. She has the hollow-eyed look of someone who has been crying steadily for months. And I don't doubt that she has been crying for that long.
"I never really got a clear read when it was that you two actually got hitched. When did he ask you?"
"He didn't," she says, her voice shaking a little. "I finally asked him one night. We were sitting in the kitchen. I think I was cooking something and he was working on some papers for the bakery."
She pauses, and I can see her remembering, her eyes moving over the ground as if she is watching the events unfold in front of her.
"I burned myself on something, and suddenly he was there, placing a cold cloth on it and making a fuss. You know how he always did that…made a fuss over me?" She looks at me searchingly, her eyes wide and wet with tears.
I nod at her, and it is certainly true. I have been watching the two of them for close to thirty years.
In the beginning I had no hope for Peeta…I figured he'd go out early in the first Games, throw himself in front of her trying to protect her from something. I remember thinking that strategy would end poorly for him, since I'd have expected her to shoot him in the back for his trouble.
And then the Quarter Quell. I always have such a hard time thinking about the Quell. Most of what happened was out of my hands, but I let them both believe that I had their backs. Even if the rebellion hadn't wanted her I would have always picked Katniss…I'd lost too many kids over the years. Once I had one who was capable of surviving, I'd be damned if I let her go. But I knew that she wanted the boy to live, and I betrayed her. Worse than that, I knew he was better than both of us, a better person…and yet I still picked her. Watching him, watching her and vice versa, all through the damn Quell…I thought I'd lose my mind.
And then of course there was the tragedy of his torture, and the loss of his mind. I watched how he looked at her for a long time after that…certainly during the war, but even for the first year after we returned to Twelve. It kept me up at night to think of them together, how unguarded they were both becoming, and how he could snap at any instant.
But then things changed. I watched them save one another again and again in little ways, first through friendship and then tenderness. It took me a long time to trust Peeta again, but not nearly as long as it took Katniss.
"Are you listening Haymitch?" she asks, her voice impatient.
"Yes, sweetheart, yes…he did always make a fuss over you. So then what happened?"
Her eyes soften again as she continues,
"He was holding the cloth to my burn and murmuring something that was just…so…Peeta. And I blurted out that I wanted to be married already and be done with it."
She starts laughing and I join her.
"Very romantic, Katniss. What a touching story for my grandchildren," I say sarcastically, though not in my old biting way, but in what I have come to consider my superior, yet gently patriarchal way.
"I know, right? And he was so gracious and happy…such a gentleman about the whole thing. And I had just basically told him that I just wanted to get the damn thing over with already!"
She's laughing and crying. I put my hand on her arm and give her a squeeze. I look at her face. She is five years older than I was when I became her mentor, and yet she has changed very little. She seems to have grown more wiry and leaner as she's aged. A few lines around her eyes, long grey streaks in her hair. And of course there are the scars and burns from the war, which have faded but never left. But she remains striking with her dark coal-colored eyes that still seem to smolder sometimes with fury. Even when she laughs some of that wrath seems to leak out of her eyes. I know that it frightens her children sometimes.
My heart seizes with sadness for a moment at the thought that her children will be left with only her, without their gentle, brave father. That she is a good mother and that she loves them is not in question; but she wasn't meant for motherhood. There is a coldness in her that they can sense, and fortunately for them their father had enough warmth for a country. My allegiance will always be to Katniss, but I've never ceased in my belief that Peeta is the better person. Or was.
"Why wouldn't he go to the Capitol, Haymitch?" she asks, her voice low and full of anger. "Why wouldn't he just go and have the damn surgery?"
"You know why Katniss…after what they did to him during the war? Do you really think he could trust them to cut him open?"
"He just needed a new heart!" she cries, putting her hands on her chest and grabbing at herself, as if she is going to claw out her own heart.
"Yes, and in a year it would have been new lungs and then a new liver…he was never going to get better sweetheart. He told me…he didn't want to be sick anymore."
"Why does he get to make that choice? And leave me here? And those children…what am I supposed to do with them when I don't have him?" She is crying and pacing in the snow, knocking over the marker for where Peeta's headstone will be placed in the spring.
I reach out and grab her by the shoulder and she turns toward me, her eyes flashing dangerously. I stare her down. She may be younger, and I'll admit, stronger than I am at this point, but I hold my ground. I keep staring at her for as long as she'll look at me and I see so many emotions run through her eyes…all of the clichés. But the one that surprises me is her fear.
It is because of this that my grip on her shoulder lessens, that all of my admonishments about sucking it up and doing what you have to for the children dry up on my tongue like ash.
"Come here," I say, letting my damn walking stick fall to the ground.
She throws herself into my arms, almost toppling me, and it is as if she is a girl again and I am the grown up who is going to try to save her life.
"Don't count me out, sweetheart. I'll help you through this," I say. I let her cry for a long time. My feet and my back scream at me but I tell them to go to hell. After a while she starts crying less and sniffling more and I can tell that she's getting herself together. When she pulls away from the embrace, she gives me a little smile, which is about as much in the way of gratitude as I've ever received from Katniss.
"I know that you mean well Haymitch…but you're so old," she says quietly, and though I know she is thinking in practical terms, that in all likelihood I won't be around too much longer to help with the kids, I can't help but get a little snarky with her.
"Hey, watch it sweetheart…I'll have you know that I spent about twenty five years of my life drinking which means that I am somewhere around one-third pickled. I'll keep just fine. Unlike you, your children are darlings and give me no trouble. I'll make it to a hundred just to spite you."
This makes her smile a little.
"All right, all right," she says gently, while bending down to straighten the marker for Peeta's stone. She kisses her fingers and pushes them through snow and into the ground. She says something else but I can't make it out. It's none of my business anyway.
She fetches my walking stick for me and we walk back to our houses together.
I'm lying on my back with my head resting in Peeta's lap. It is a perfect August evening, the sky darkening to a deep blue with a soft, cool breeze. The first evening stars are starting to emerge. My hair is free from its braid and the loose tendrils catch in the breeze occasionally. I watch this lazily, and wish for the hundredth time this evening that I could just freeze in this moment forever.
I'm listening to Peeta read Romeo and Juliet, one of the books Dr. Aurelius sent many months ago. We've read through it several times together, but as the education we received in District Twelve was almost completely lacking in the literature department it is slow going.
"Read that part again," I say.
If I may trust the flattering truth of sleep,
My dreams presage some joyful news at hand:
My bosom's lord sits lightly in his throne;
And all this day an unaccustom'd spirit
Lifts me above the ground with cheerful thoughts.
I dreamt my lady came and found me dead-
Strange dream, that gives a dead man leave
And breathed such life with kisses in my lips,
That I revived, and was an emperor.
Ah me! how sweet is love itself possess'd,
When but love's shadows are so rich in joy!
"I don't think I would have had hope after that dream," I say. "I think I would have been expecting something bad. And it is so cruel...he thinks that everything is going to be okay, and then he's crushed in the next few lines."
"Yeah, the life of a star-crossed lover is kind of like that...you think it's all going to be fine and then the Game changes...or gets changed back if you're us."
"Now that we've read this it is kind of disturbing that we were going to use poison in the 74th," I say absentmindedly. "If I didn't know better I'd almost think they wanted it to be a double suicide...it would have fit better with the story and made for a more dramatic ending."
"How many people in the Capitol do you think really read this book Katniss? I doubt very many. Dr. Aurelius said he had a bit of trouble finding a copy."
"Well it is a sad story anyway. Let's stop here for today and let Romeo think his dreams are going to come true."
"Do you ever have good dreams?" he asks gently.
I have to think about it.
"Kind of. What happens is I'll start dreaming and it will be nice...spending time with Prim or my mother. Sometimes I dream of you," I say, and I feel my cheeks get hot. It seems so intimate to admit to dreaming about someone, though I imagine that I am very silly in my embarrassment. I suppose I will never completely stop feeling exposed. "Anyway, the dream starts out good, some kind of memory, or some nice moment that never happened but that I want to see happen. But then that part ends and something bad creeps in. Funny thing is I can always tell a moment or two before it happens...I get this sick feeling in my stomach and I feel like I'm falling a bit, like things are coming out of sync."
He is listening to me, contemplating what I'm saying.
"Do you ever have good dreams?" I ask.
He smiles kind of sadly and his lips form a line. He shakes his head a little.
I let it drop, but this makes me incredibly sad, that this man who is so kind and gentle has something broken in his mind that will forever be fractured, and won't allow him true peace when he sleeps.
"At least the watching days don't seem to be happening to me anymore."
I reach up my hand and place it on his cheek. He turns his mouth to my palm and kisses it, exhaling as he does. The sensation of his breath on my skin, even in this innocent way is very affecting, and I experience the competing feelings of desire and apprehension. "I'm going to get dinner on the fire," I murmur.
"Okay. Do you want help?"
"No," I say, shaking my head. He trails his hand down my back when I stand, and the sensation sends a shudder through me.
I prepare dinner quickly. Root vegetables and rabbit. We sit across from one another on a blanket on the ground, our food between us. We eat in silence, though I catch him staring at me a few times. He catches me staring at him twice. The second time he smiles at me.
"What?" he asks.
"Nothing…it's just…sometimes it seems like I'm looking at you for the first time. You know how you sometimes have that feeling like you've done something before?"
"Like deja vu?"
"Yeah, but this is the opposite. I look at you and it is almost like I've never seen you before, like you are someone completely new to me. Does that ever happen to you?"
"No, not really. I mean you surprise me sometimes…you'll do something that I don't expect, but it is never like you are someone new to me. I feel like I've known you forever. But I think that is probably because I actually have been paying attention to you since we were five."
"Ah, when you say that it always makes my heart break a little bit," I say.
"Stuff about being in love with me since you were five…I feel so…ill-equipped."
"Well, when did you know?"
"That you loved me?"
I turn and look into his eyes. I think for a moment before responding.
"I asked Finnick once how he knew he loved Annie, and he said she snuck up on him. I think it has been the same for me. I mean when we were Reaped and the whole thing started I felt like you were thrust upon me...sorry, I know that sounds awful. But over time little things just started to stack up. I think that this must say something very bad about me, but it was the moments when I thought I was going to lose you that I felt it the strongest. But it's not like that anymore," I say quickly. "I definitely feel love for you now as a part of who I am, and it doesn't have to be in jeopardy for me to be aware of it."
He nods at me seriously before narrowing his eyes a little.
"So no one moment?"
I think hard trying to pick something out of the thousands of moments.
"Okay, if I was going to pick one, I think it was the day when we were walking into town to get your paints and we got into that fight about my not wanting to be married or have children."
A smirk settles on his lips.
"You realized that you loved me when we were having a fight?"
"Yes," I say, feeling a bit defensive. "What's wrong with that?"
"Nothing," he says neutrally, the smile still on his mouth. "Leave it to you to fall in love with me during a moment of adversity."
I return the smile, because in a way he is right, but I want to make sure that he understands something.
"It was you. I didn't want you to live a life without love. And I couldn't imagine my life without you in it. I guess that was the first time I realized that I was going to have to figure out how to do this. Does that make sense?"
"Yes, for you that make perfect sense. It also explains the panic attack."
We both chuckle a little over that.
"Even if it makes me feel kind of bad I like your story better anyway…that you fell in love with me when we were five. I wonder what it would have taken for us to be together if we hadn't been Reaped."
A wide grin lights up his face.
"So let me tell you about my plans to win your heart before we were taken for the Games."
And he starts telling me stories, some of which are sweet and some of which make me laugh, and none of which, I feel certain, would have worked. So for this much I am grateful to the Games, because with everything that was taken from me, at least they gave me this person to love.
AN: And so this is the end. I hope that you enjoyed reading and thank you so much to all of the people who set alerts and reviewed my story. I would love it if you reviewed at the end to let me know what you think, especially regarding the change in POV to Haymitch at the beginning of the chapter. I feel that there is a story to be written about Haymitch in my future…but we will have to see.
A very special thank you to LittlePlasticCastle for all of her help and support throughout the writing of this story. She also has a lovely HG one-shot that is amazing, so as soon as you are done writing your review for this ;-) please pop on over and read her story.