A/N: The Haymitch/Katniss pairing has recently taken over all of my feelings. As a result, this incredibly long fic happened. Everything that occurred in the books applies here, save for the final epilogue, obviously, and it should be kept in mind that the physical representation of Haymitch that I use in this fic is the one portrayed in the film. Personally, I find Movie!Haymitch more attractive than Book!Haymitch. Or it could just be Woody Harrelson.
Anyway, I plan to write more of this pairing in the future and I hope you enjoy the story.
Disclaimer: I do not own The Hunger Games. The quote you see at the beginning of the fic is from the song "Glittering Clouds" by Imogen Heap.
I'm not always like this
It's something I become
A terrible weakness
In my nature, in my blood
Save me, oh save me,
Save me from myself
Before I hurt somebody else again
| Exist |
Haymitch watches her try for almost a year.
He's been proud of her since the beginning - and who couldn't be, after all she had done for Panem? - but he is never more proud of her than he is during the seasons following the assassination of Coin. His house is separated from theirs by two empty ones, the distance just small enough that Haymitch can make out a pair of bobbing heads outside every once in a while. When he's tending to his geese, he sometimes can hear Peeta laughing, the ssh-sssk of a hose over Katniss' flowers, and, when it's night time, the white moon swollen in the sky, he can hear them yelling. Her, mostly, because Peeta doesn't raise his voice. It's occasionally brief, but there are nights when the screaming goes well on into the morning, until Katniss' voice becomes croaked out and scratched, until Haymitch is sure she won't speak for a week.
Every night, when Haymitch finds himself at the bottom of another bottle, he thinks about them, about her, and how much effort she's putting in for the boy's sake. She feels responsible for every bad thing that's happened to him, Haymitch knows that, and that's why she's trying so hard. She's trying to give him something he deserves: love. A nice girl to call his own.
But Haymitch has always been able to see right through her.
On the rare occasion he has enough energy to leave his house, he visits them, and they spend an afternoon eating fresh game Katniss had earned the day before and talking about the renovations going on in District 12, the new school opening in the fall - stupid shit that he honestly doesn't care the least about, but it gives them all a sense of normalcy, a sense of boring, and with everything that's happened, it isn't so bad.
When he visits, he can tell. Katniss is always watching Peeta, gauging his next move so she can have enough time to process the most appropriate reaction. It's almost the same way she studied the other tributes in both of her Games. Wary, on edge, every movement a little too fast and sharp, like she still feels the rabid eyes of the mutts on her. She laughs too loudly at his jokes. Touches him too much. Haymitch can tell how much she wants to withdraw, to just be in silence. That's the girl she's always been, not this wife-wannabe. The charade is taking its toll on her, too; fatigue has punched purple crescents beneath her eyes. What muscle she had gained from the Games and the Revolution have shed away to leave her as little more than flesh and bone now, her body all sharp angles.
Haymitch doesn't blame Peeta. The boy is as sweet as sugar and nothing, none of this was any of his fault. He just wants to be happy, to move on, to leave behind their murky past for something better and brighter. Peeta has something extra, something that can only be god-given, in Haymitch's opinion: hope. Not just hope, but the ability to have faith in it. Peeta lost his entire family during the revolt, endured horrendous torture at the Capitol, not to mention both of the Games - and yet he still hopes. And smiles. And laughs. And loves.
Katniss does not truly laugh. Katniss does not truly smile. And she certainly doesn't love. After Prim, she probably will never genuinely love another person ever again. But she mimics her counterpart to the best of her ability. Just like she did during her first Hunger Games interviews, she puts on a good show. It's hard to tell if Peeta buys all of it - judging by the way he looks at her longingly even in front of Haymitch is enough to say he does, or is really good at convincing himself, but Haymitch knows Katniss. He knows her because he knows himself.
He watches her deteriorate one day at a time. The Games eat at her. The Revolt eats at her. Being the Mockingjay, being Peeta's, living in the wake of Prim's death; it all gnaws at her like the rabid mutts of her first Games and she has been through too much to hold herself together for a boy. She can't be what he wants, can't be what he needs.
Haymitch thinks about saying something. Talking to Peeta about it - talking to her. But words - people, really (life, really) - has never been his strong suit, so he just drinks and watches, just like he did with every tribute he mentored for twenty-four years. He watches and drinks and waits to see if she'll crash and burn (oh, the irony) or if she'll surprise him just like she has in every other aspect of her short, cruel life.
But Katniss doesn't have faith in anything. Not him, not Peeta, and definitely not in hope.
A few weeks shy of the one year anniversary of the death of Snow, Katniss stops trying. It all comes to a head with a particularly loud spell of screaming from the Everdeen-Mellark household and Katniss' resolve shatters. It isn't that she doesn't care for Peeta or that she doesn't want to be with him; she does, Haymitch is sure. It's obvious. But their past is the color of blood and Peeta wants to be happy some day and Katniss, Katniss will never be happy. Katniss can never be happy.
Just like Haymitch.
The night following the fight, Katniss walks into Haymitch's house without knocking. He barely looks away from the TV, swinging a bottle of wine back and forth between his first and middle finger. There's only one station at the moment and it's all about rebuilding Panem into a democracy and freedom and liberty and love and peace and rah rah. There's about a thousand clips of citizens all working together to rebuild roads and delivering food and salvaging absolutely anything that can be used in the future and children chasing each other and laughing and Haymitch is too drunk to fully absorb the message.
He listens as Katniss rummages through his fridge, the telltale sound of clinking glass emerging from his kitchen. His neck twists as she finally enters the living area, a clear bottle in each hand. Her hair is undone, brown curls twisting freely down her shoulders. Haymitch has never seen her in sweatpants before; they make her look really thin, and it takes Haymitch a minute to realize that she doesn't just look thin, she is thin. Disturbingly so. She was scrawny the day of her first reaping, but she had built up a lot of strength in training, even more so during her second Games. Now she looks worse than ever, her cheeks sunken and the skin of her elbows drawn so tight, he wouldn't be surprised if the bone tore right through.
Haymitch figures he doesn't look like a fucking shining star either, but he never did to begin with.
Turning back to the television, Haymitch tilts his head back and takes a swig, that familiar burn crawling down his throat. He closes his eyes and feels the liquid pool in his stomach. Comforting. Warm. Friendly, almost, the way it softens the barbed edges of his thoughts just enough to make them bearable. When he opens his eyes again, Katniss is popping a cork off, taking an inquisitive sniff, and then taking a drink as well. Her face cringes when she does, a slight cough rasping from her beaten chest.
He considers asking her. When was the last time you ate, how long has it been since you slept a full night, how many walls have you punched in the last week - but he remembers that she's almost nineteen now and she has (had?) a mother. He's not even her mentor anymore and just barely a friend. Mostly, he's simply a neighbor with booze.
He doesn't ask about Peeta. He doesn't say anything, actually. He lets her be quiet but not alone, which he somehow knows is all she wants right now, and he lets her drink herself to sleep because he also knows there's nothing he can say or do to make her feel better. She dozes off sometime past two in the morning and by now Haymitch has seen every single clip a dozen times so he turns to look at her instead, curled on one end of the couch despite it being more than long enough for her to stretch out. Her mouth is slightly open and a thin stripe of hair is stuck to her forehead in the shape of a small s and even in sleep she doesn't look at rest. A deep cleft is being dug between her eyebrows and her hands, tucked fast to her chest, are curled in tight fists, the bruises on her knuckles paling.
Night is dripping into morning by the time he nods off and he's dreaming of Katniss had she been born after the Revolution, in a better, kinder world. Not a girl on fire, but a girl who shone.
For a very confusing moment, Haymitch thinks one of his geese has somehow managed to get into his house. What else could explain the strange strangling sound? His eyes peel open slowly, pupils constricting painfully against the shaft of afternoon sunlight slicing across his eyes. He raises a hand to block it out, peering blearily around the edge of his recliner toward the source of the choking noise. He's surprised to see not a wandering goose in his living room, but a crying Katniss. Her teeth are buried in the corner of one of his couch pillows in an attempt to muffle her sobs, but they're loud anyway, and her frame convulses like she's being electrocuted.
How did she get in here? Haymitch narrows his eyes in concentration, patiently waiting for his memories to emerge; he's used to this recollecting process, and soon it comes back to him, in fuzzy, non-chronological fragments. Katniss cringing at the drink, the Panem rebuilding clips, Katniss walking in without knocking - but he understands the gist of it, anyway, and manages to push himself to a stand. He wobbles, almost falls, but keeps his balance by grabbing the back of his recliner with one hand. The other fists into his honey-colored hair, a frown coiling onto his lips. Katniss' eyes are screwed shut, jaw grinding hard on the pillow, and she's screaming and screaming and Haymitch doesn't know what to do; he doesn't know comfort or compassion. He knows alcohol. He knows how to make himself forget for a few hours, to numb himself, but he doesn't know hugs or sympathy or kind words. That's what she needs. Peeta's good at that. Not him.
But she can't be with Peeta. And she's here, in Haymitch's house, and she's completely fucking losing it, and he has to do something.
So he sits by her feet and waits, and since he's already awake, she really has no reason to try and be quiet anymore, so she starts howling. Awful, terrible sobs clench her stomach and throat and at one point Haymitch thinks she might actually throw up. He's poised to get out of the way, to dash toward his mostly unused kitchen and find a bowl for her to hurl her guts in, but she stops him. With the agile speed and snap reflexes he witnessed in her Games and during the Revolution, Katniss' hand shoots out from her chest and her thin fingers clamp tightly around his forearm. He stops, hovering over the couch cushion. Katniss' face slowly turns out of the pillow, cheeks blotchy and wet, eyes swollen red. Her eyes say stay - no, plead, beg, but Haymitch closes his palm over her fingers and tries to give a reassuring look, though he doesn't have much practice and isn't sure how it comes off.
"I'm going to get you some water." He says the words slowly, eyebrows raising when he's done in a silent question; if he can do that for her. She swallows hard, nods once, and Haymitch pushes himself to a stand, holding onto her fingers until he's too far away, her hand thumping over the edge of the couch.
When he returns, Katniss is sitting up. She's still crying, but it's an eerie, silent kind of crying, where the tears are falling and moistening the brown t-shirt she's wearing but she's stoic and almost calm. Her eyes are glazed over and far away. Haymitch sits next to her again, close enough so their thighs are touching, one arm winding around her narrow, bony shoulders while the other holds the glass over her hands. Lazily, she raises them, takes the glass, and sips absently. Haymitch watches her throat bob as she swallows. A tear drips from her jaw and lands in her glass, the ripples gone before they have a chance to form.
"You tried, sweetheart." Haymitch's voice is barely a raspy whisper. The TV is on, more children laughing gleefully in the background, but all he can hear is Katniss' trapped sob as she slowly leans into him. His arm tightens around her, tucking her head beneath his chin. "You did the best you could."
"I just -" She gasps, hard and quick, squeezing the glass so hard in her hands, Haymitch fears it might shatter in her grip. "I just can't be what he wants me to be, and he, he's so good, Haymitch, you know how good he is."
"He's so good and I'm not. I'm not good. And he deserves someone good. And whole."
Haymitch frowns into her hair. "Then who do you deserve?"
Katniss makes some kind of snort-like sound that expresses her complete disregard for that question. "No one," she replies, voice cogged from crying.
He runs the flat of his palm along the length of her spine in slow strokes. "Well," he starts, pulling back far enough to find Katniss' face. She's staring down into her glass, a line of snot crawling out of her nose. Haymitch takes her chin and lifts it until her bronze eyes reluctantly find his. "You've got me. I'm not much, but you've got me."
To his surprise, she cracks something of a smile. She wipes her nose on her shirt sleeve and takes another sip from the glass he gave her before leaning over and setting it on the floor. They stare blankly at the TV for a few minutes; there's some new clips this time around, or maybe Haymitch was so drunk her forgot some of them, and now that he's not entirely out of it he can see how hard the new government is trying to keep everyone's hopes up. It's hard for the people of Panem, especially people like Katniss and Haymitch, but they'll be damned if they're not going to do their best.
"I'm sorry," Katniss speaks up eventually, picking at her fingernails in her lap.
She shrugs. "Barging in. Drinking your stuff. Snotting all over your couch."
He tilts a lopsided grin at her. "As if I ever gave a damn about that stuff, anyway. Besides, it's you." He squeezes her shoulder. "I don't mind."
Katniss smiles again. It's weak and dies off almost immediately, but Haymitch remembers it, saves it, because it could be a very long time before he sees even a hint of a genuine one from her again. Her eyes don't leave his, however, lingering long and heavy, tears still occasionally making an appearance before sliding down the slope of her cheeks. Haymitch can't bring himself to look away, because even though she looks like shit and is showing more weakness (strength?) than he's ever seen from her, she's still Katniss; pretty, sad little Katniss, and he's always found her easy to stare at.
Since she knows how to actually make food not taste like ass, Katniss cooks the two of them some wild duck and potatoes with a small glass of wine. They eat and drink and watch Panem rebuild itself on TV and they don't say much else, but the quiet is comfortable and easy, and even though his recliner is empty, he sits next to her the whole time. More than once, Katniss falls into a crying spell, and he holds her until she's gathered herself. It hurts seeing the Mockingjay fall apart so effortlessly in his arms like this, but that's because Katniss was never ready to be the symbol of the rebellion; she's just a broken little girl who everyone asked too much of, and now she's unraveling at an alarming speed.
Really, though, what did they expect?
Just as the sky is starting to darken, Katniss stands. She's not crying. She lingers awkwardly there for a moment, staring at the TV, chewing her lip. When she looks to Haymitch, he's already watching her, waiting for her words. She takes her time gathering them, glancing briefly toward the direction of the front door.
"You don't have to leave." Haymitch picks absently at a loose thread in his couch cushion. "And you don't have to stay away, either."
Katniss nods. Her arms cross, frail shoulders trembling. Haymitch is on his feet quickly, waiting for her to explode into tears again, but she manages to hold her composure this time.
"I want to be alone for a little bit. Pull myself together." She looks up at him, running the back of her hand across her wet cheek. "I'll be back, though. You're pretty much -" She winces, shakes her head, looks toward the dark windows. "All I've got," she finishes, sniffling.
Her eyes close. Without needing to see, she turns and slams into his open arms. He holds her, shushes her quietly in her ear, and strokes her hair until the quivering has subsided enough for her to stand on her own. She feels so fragile and tiny in his arms, like he could crush her at any moment, and it's hard to believe that she lead a rebellion last year. "I'm right here," he whispers. "Right across the street. Come over any time, sweetheart. The door is always open."
"Thank you," she says into his now damp neck. He leaves a scratchy kiss on her forehead and then she walks herself out. He wanders to the window and watches her cross the street because, well, bad luck seems to follow this girl everywhere she goes and he just wants to make sure she makes it safely to her house and, Jesus, no wonder he started drinking. Caring takes a lot of energy and feelings exhaust him.
Haymitch sinks onto his couch. His house smells like cooked meat and Katniss, a mix of something like soil and the scented soaps they sell in town. It occurs to him he's probably in desperate need of a good wash and summons the energy to do so, dragging himself to the downstairs bathroom where he strips and sits under thundering, scalding heat for nearly an hour before coming out again. He shaves, puts on clean clothes, and goes back to his front window. One light is on at Katniss'; her bedroom, and he knows that she's currently buried under her blankets screaming her throat raw.
He thinks about going over there, or at least using the phone in the kitchen that he's never touched, but he wouldn't know what to say and she doesn't need forced words right now. She needs an empty room where no one can see her fall apart.
Besides, she knows where to find him.
Two days later, Haymitch needs to shave again and Katniss is knocking on his door. He's nearly buzzed already and it's hardly noon, but he's more than used to functioning under this level of influence, so he makes it to the door just fine. "Sweetheart," he greets, a smile pulling over his lips. "I thought you had given up knocking."
Katniss doesn't reciprocate the gesture. "I need your help."
Haymitch frowns. She appears a little better today; she still looks like Haymitch could make her topple with a sneeze and the purple bags beneath her eyes are a little darker, but her face is firm and she's standing tall. He glances behind her, toward her house and the one she previously shared with Peeta. "With what?"
"I need to get my stuff out of that house and into mine." She swallows. "He's not there. He went to town. I watched him. But I don't know how long he's going to be out."
"How long do you plan on avoiding him?" Haymitch turns and walks into his kitchen, grabbing a few plastic bags from beneath his sink before coming back to the front door. Katniss hasn't moved and she doesn't look like she's ready to reply, but Haymitch doesn't push it. The sun is insultingly bright as he follows her across the street and down two empty houses before trailing behind her into the once Mellark-Everdeen home. Like the other houses in the Victors' Village, it's too big, too lavish for people like them, but the place is clean, at least, unlike Haymitch's dusty, unorganized, filthy nightmare.
He's a little confused - why can't she do this by herself? - but she answers that question for him pretty quickly as soon as they walk upstairs. Haymitch follows Katniss' strained eyes to a closed door, and it takes him a minute to realize that must be where their bedroom was. He turns back to her and she's focusing on breathing normally and staring at the floor.
"I'll get your clothes. Is there anything else in there that you need?"
She shakes her head, then, curiously, starts laughing. Her shoulders shake with chuckles and she leans against the hallway wall with her head hanging. Haymitch studies her warily, convinced that she's officially lost her damn mind. He parts his lips to ask her if she's all right when she silences him with a balled fist slamming into the wall behind her.
"I survived two Hunger Games and fought in a war and stared death in the face a hundred times and I can't go into a freaking bedroom!" She laughs again, but this time it's more tortured, more aching, and soon she's just crying, shoving the heels of her palms into her eyes and bending at the waist, threatening to fall to the floor. Haymitch is there before she can, taking her by her shoulders and letting her rest against his chest instead. He finds her ear and waits for the worst of it to pass before speaking.
"You're right. You're much stronger than this. But it's okay. You don't have to be strong all the time."
She shakes her head into his chest and mumbles something unintelligible.
Haymitch pulls back slightly. "What's that?"
Katniss sniffs and raises her head. "I said, no one's ever told me that before."
He tries to smile, but his eyes are sad - all of him is sad, because her short life has been nothing but one tragedy after another. "You don't need anyone's permission, okay? And it's not like I have friends lining up around the block that I could gossip to about it. You're safe. Now," he takes one of the plastic bags from the bundle in his hand and passes it to her. "What else do you need here?"
Katniss splits the bag and shakes it open. "Some of Prim's things. My hunting gear." Her eyes flick toward the bedroom door again, and then to Haymitch. "Thank you for helping me."
She looks so sincere that it physically hurts Haymitch to look at her. He just nods and waits for her to go downstairs before he enters the bedroom. The house in general is structured a lot like his own, but reversed. And tidier. The bed is sharply made and it smells like lemon cleaner. He lingers at the foot of the bed and tries to imagine Katniss sleeping in it with Peeta curled behind her. Katniss, in something silky - no, he thinks, she'd never wear that. She'd wear shorts, maybe, and a shirt without sleeves to sleep in. She probably sleeps with her hair down, the blankets half kicked off, patches of skin he's never seen before exposed. The small of her back, her stomach, the back of her legs -
Haymitch snaps his head away and all but stomps to the dresser. It isn't hard to distinguish which clothes are hers, and there isn't much of them. His bag is hardly half way full when all that remains is Peeta's clothes. He shuts the bedroom door behind him and descends the stairs. He wants a drink. Something inside of his chest is throbbing and it hurts and he doesn't want to think about what it is, what it means, so he's relieved to see Katniss already packed and ready by the door by the time he reaches it. She looks more composed with her bow in one hand and she doesn't say anything as they leave the house. Katniss leads the way back to hers, the bag slung over her shoulder. Haymitch stops at the door as Katniss enters, who looks back with a frown.
"What?" She raises her eyebrows. "You can come in."
Haymitch presses his lips together. "I -" He looks over his shoulder in the direction of his house. "I need a drink."
"Oh." She frowns into her house and then back to Haymitch. "Well, you can go get some and come back. If you want."
"Okay." Haymitch hands her the bag of clothes and takes off faster than necessary, really, relishing in the comforting darkness of his home once he reaches it. He promptly dives into his kitchen, grabs the first open bottle he sees and slams down as many gulps as he can before he has to breathe - which is quite a few, since he's had a lot of time for practice. He doesn't want to think about what Katniss looks like when she's sleeping. He doesn't want to think about Katniss suffering, because that reminds him of his own suffering, and he doesn't want to remember anything, ever, for the rest of his life. Remembering means feeling and feeling is something he has done his best to avoid for the past twenty-five years and Katniss does it without even trying, just by virtue of being who she is, and he feels too much all at once when it comes to her.
So he downs one bottle and is nursing a second by the time he realizes that it's dark outside and it's been hours since he left Katniss under the pretense that he was going to return and he's too drunk to feel bad about it so he just lies on his back in the middle of his kitchen floor and doesn't feel a goddamn thing.
Haymitch shakes out a handful of seeds to the greedy, feathered bastards that have taken over his backyard. They swarm, honking and nipping at each other with their angry black beaks. They don't pay much attention to him, giving him a few blank stares before waddling off. Haymitch sits cross-legged in the grass - probably right in their shit but he doesn't care to check - and sweats in the sun for a little while, watching them. How blessed would it be to have the brain function of a peanut, to care only about eating seeds and flying south in the cold? Haymitch almost envies them; he wishes he could fly away.
He snorts to himself and decides that, if he's going to be having ridiculous thoughts like that, then it's late enough to start drinking. He swigs straight from the bottle and leans back on his elbows, legs straight out in front of him. A bold goose nips at his bare toes inquisitively before settling in the grass beside them, its long neck tucking under a wing.
Without consciously doing so, fuzzy, faded pictures from his Games start burning the back of his eyelids. It's happened before and sometimes not even getting smashed out of his fucking mind does anything to help, but he'd be damned if he didn't try. He guzzles a few swallows and tries staring at the sun to make the images go away, but they're there; time and years of alcohol abuse has made them not so sharp visually - he can't remember the colors of the flowers anymore or the pain that came with his intestines starting to fall out or the shade of Maysilee's eyes. But he does remember her screams as vivid as if she were still screaming right now, like she never stopped, and he remembers the shocked expression the final tribute died with when the hatchet buried itself into her head, and he remembers being carried out of the arena and wishing he were dead and begging the doctors that fixed his wounds to please, please let him die, please, and he remembers the smell of President Snow's bloody breath.
And everything that came after - his little brother and his mom and his girl - he remembers all of that and Haymitch doesn't realize he's screaming until the geese start honking and fluttering in panic at the noise.
He drowns out his screams with another long, burning drink.
He hears his name. Over and over. It's muddy and far away but sounds worried, almost panicked. Haymitch tries to lift his head off of his mattress but it's too heavy. Even though the curtains of his bedroom are drawn, it's still too bright to open his eyes, so he leaves them closed, moaning into his pillow. His head is throbbing like a mother fucker and his body feels like he fell off a building.
Again. There. His name. Haymitch struggles to remember where he is, when he is, because the dark of his eyelids becomes a projection screen for his Games, and he sees the sharp-beaked pink birds rushing to attack his former ally.
"Maysilee," he croaks. "Maysilee."
"Haymitch, where are you?"
He can't move. He's trying to run but he's sinking and he can't get his legs to do what they're supposed to. He's just watching her try to swat the birds away, screaming, crying.
He's seen her die a thousand times and he still tries to save her.
It's not Maysilee. This voice is recent and alive. It pulls him out of his nightmare, hurtling into consciousness so quickly he jumps, fingers balling in the sheets of his bed. Blinking through the thick fog of sleep, he twists toward his open door. It's coming from downstairs, and now that he's awake he can hear frantic footfalls and doors opening and closing. There's another call for him, this time edging on complete hysteria.
Haymitch scrambles out of bed. He manages to somehow get into a pair of sweatpants without toppling, God bless him, and then he's all but tripping down the stairs. His balance doesn't hold out this time - he slips on the last three, falling hard on his ass, but he doesn't linger to think about the pain it causes or the roaring in his head. He just needs to get to her, to find out what's wrong, and he's about to call out her name when she crashes into him with the power of a small missile. He grabs her by the shoulders, feels every bone in them when he does, and pulls her back to give her body a quick scan - wounds, broken bones, a knife shoved into her gut.
"Are you okay?" His voice sounds just as hyped up as hers was. He finds her eyes and she's clinging to his shirt, looking - relieved? His brows knit together.
And then she punches him. Hard, right in the shoulder. He winces, stepping back, about to ask her what the fuck that was for when she's hugging him just as suddenly. Haymitch blinks, wonders if he's still dreaming or if he drank something particularly strong the night before. He doesn't recall anything special, and this is too vivid to be a dream, so he just stands there and waits for flying elephants to circle the room because he doesn't know what the hell is going on.
"You son of a bitch," Katniss says, her grip tightening. Her face presses into his neck.
Haymitch frowns. "I'm confused."
She takes a deep breath and partially withdraws, though her arms linger around his shoulders. "I thought you were dead."
He blinks. "Because I missed my morning jog and my book club meeting?" He gestures vaguely to himself, shirtless and ruffled from another night drinking himself to sleep. "This is what I do every day."
"You were supposed to come back the other day." Her arms finally drop. The relief that had flooded her earlier is replaced with something angrier. "And then you didn't, and I came over yesterday and knocked and you didn't answer, and I thought your liver had finally given out on you."
Haymitch's frown deepens. He rubs the back of his neck and sighs loudly, hand coming to rest flat against his pulsing temple. "Sorry about that, sweetheart. I had a drink - several, actually, and ..." He shrugs. "Forgot."
Katniss' eyes narrow. She shakes her head, and the look she's giving him now makes his skin start to crawl. "That's great, Haymitch. That's fantastic." She lifts her hands and lets them slap against her sides, turning her back to him. "I tell you that you're the only person I have left and you -" She shakes her head again, almost to the door. Haymitch follows just close enough to keep her in his sight. "You forget," she finishes venomously, ripping the door open and walking out of it without shutting it behind her.
Haymitch stares at the open door, sunlight spilling into his dark and dirty house, and he thinks of Maysilee with a beak skewering her neck, reaching out for him.
It itches at him from somewhere too deep for him to scratch. His fingers twitch at his side. He wants a drink. He needs a drink. He shouldn't give a shit if Katniss is mad at him. This shouldn't bother him because no one matters to him - everyone he ever gave a damn about is dead, and everyone else is just there to annoy the hell out of him until he finally fucking dies.
He starts to turn toward his kitchen where his bottled savior waits for him, but he halts, heart pounding viciously in his ears.
He couldn't save Maysilee. Even if he somehow had gotten her away from those birds, she would have died eventually - Katniss, though, she's still alive. She's right here. And so is he.
And he does give a shit. Which is really fucking annoying, but still true.
He doesn't say her name very often and it feels strange in his mouth; she looks as surprised as he does when she turns to find him walking barefoot out of his house and onto the front, unmowed lawn. He strides right up to her, finger leveling at her chest. He's mad. Not necessarily at her, but because of her - she makes him feel and remember things that keep him up at night, and the worst part is, it's not always bad things; she makes him happier than anything ever has with her godforsaken ability to pull herself out of the ashes like a damn phoenix and her not-quite-dead-yet smile and he wants her to stay and go away all at once.
Once he's close enough to see the dark hue of her eyes, he stops. He came to yell at her, to tell her to piss off, but he can't make the words come out. He can't be mad at her up close, especially when she's staring at him like he actually means something.
Instead of angry, bitter words, he says, "I'm sorry." He takes a deep breath, runs a hand down his face, and mumbles into his palm. "I told you I wasn't much."
Katniss levels her gaze on him. There's no wind today, and it's starting to get really hot - or maybe it's just him and the fact that everything is magnified whenever he doesn't have a drink to take the edge off. Already Haymitch wants nothing more than to retreat into the damp darkness of his house, out of the sun, away from the girl on fire.
"You're going to kill yourself," she says, seemingly out of the blue. Her eyes are worried and tight.
He doesn't know where that came from and he doesn't know what to say, so he kind of chuckles and crosses his arms. "Been trying to for twenty-five years, sweetheart." It was meant to come off sarcastically, as a joke, but even Haymitch can detect the underlining tone there, like sincerity or something, and suddenly he feels sick.
Katniss is angry again. Haymitch can probably count on one hand the amount of times they've spoken and she hasn't been angry with him.
"You're, you are -" Her hands clench at her sides.
"What?" He snorts, splaying his hands. "Selfish?" He retracts one finger. "Inhuman?" Another. "Cruel? Worthless? Hopeless? A no-good alcoholic? Murderer?" He cocks an angry grin at her. "Really, darling, I challenge you to call me something I haven't been already. You'll have a hard time."
Katniss's lips are still pressed in a frown, but her furrowed brows smooth out. She looks toward her house, then his, then back to him.
"Good," she says.
Haymitch's expression falls right off of his face. "What?"
Katniss raises her eyebrows and smiles, clearly pleased. "I thought you said I would have a hard time." She shrugs, hands tucking into the pockets of her jacket. "I said you're good. You're a good person."
"Is this some kind of reverse psychology bullshit?" Haymitch's head is aching to be numbed by as much alcohol as he can find. Good? Good for nothing, maybe.
"Nope. We don't lie to each other, remember?" She steps toward him and plants a hand on his shoulder. Her touch is warm. "Look, I'll forgive you this one time for forgetting, and by forgetting I mean drinking yourself into oblivion."
Haymitch rolls his eyes.
"But you'll have to make it up to me somehow. Like -" She considers silently, withdrawing her hand. "Going hunting with me tomorrow."
This time, he snorts so hard he almost falls over, though he's sure that has more to do with his ridiculous hangover. "Right, sweetheart. Thanks for the offer, but I'll pass." He shakes his head. "I don't hunt."
"I'll teach you."
"Haymitch, please." Something edgy is creeping into her voice, and when he looks at her, she's all but choking the front of her jacket with her hands. And then he gets it; she's looking for a distraction. She knows what his is - everyone knows what his is - and she needs something to fill up her time so she doesn't have to think about Peeta or Prim or the Games or the Revolution or anything at all.
"Why can't you do it alone?" He regrets asking as soon as it comes out of his mouth, because he can tell by the way she turns her eyes away that she's taking it exactly how he didn't intend her to. "That's not what I meant. I meant why do you - why do you want me there?"
Katniss' mouth drops open, shuts, opens again. She looks at her hands and picks at the callouses on her palms from her bow. "I don't know," she says, shoulders slumping with a shrug. Her brows knit together. "Is it that bizarre to believe that I actually enjoy your company?"
"Well, I do. So. Tomorrow morning? Nine o' clock?"
Haymitch groans at the very idea of waking up before noon. "I don't do mornings."
"You owe me, Haymitch." A wry smile crawls over her lips, and she looks almost normal, almost okay, and he can't bring himself to say no. So he nods in defeat and she walks away with her head held high, triumphant.
He curses on his way back into the house, but then he laughs, and only drinks half a bottle for the whole rest of the day. He doesn't know what that means, but he tries not to think about it.
Haymitch has done his best to forever avoid the forest that surrounds District 12; it reminds him of his Games, his arena, and the trees are too close together and the dark isn't the same as his house. It's unknown and too big and if he stares too long, he can see the glowing eyes of razor-teeth mountain lions waiting for him to slow down and the shuffle of a tribute's feet across the forest floor and -
"Why did I agree to this?" Haymitch is watching his feet, boots he's never worn crackling down on the underbrush. He's trying to keep himself sane and not completely lose his fucking mind. He shakes his head at the thought that he's supposed to be the sane one here.
Katniss laughs and looks over her shoulder. Her hair is held back in a tight braid, the tail of it flopping over the hood of her jacket. "Because you blew me off. I deserve some kind of compensation, right?"
"You deserve my boot in your ass," Haymitch grumbles, and Katniss laughs again.
It's disgustingly early. The morning is still cold enough for Haymitch's breath to billow from his mouth in puffs of steam. Birds are actually fucking chirping - he thought that was some kind of Capitol media myth - and he feels like he's pulling himself through sludge. They've been walking for not even a half an hour and he already wants to take a break - better yet, have a drink. But the boss demanded, after rousing him from bed about an hour earlier, that he not drink - it would make him clumsy and loud and he wouldn't be able to focus on the game. He's regretting allowing her to do this right about now, where a cool drink and his bed would make the greatest combination he's ever seen.
Haymitch can't deny that she's fascinating to watch, though. Katniss moves through the forest on the tips of her toes; quiet, swift, her bow pressed fast to her side as she slips in and out of the trees like a goddamn deer. Naturally, Haymtich falls behind, swearing under his breath as he tries to follow in Katniss' footsteps. This whole idea is idiotic and irritating; what business does he have here? This is Katniss' element, this is her place, and unlike him, she can distinguish this forest from her arena whereas he thinks he just saw the angry snarl of the final tribute he killed coming out of the darkness.
He doesn't say anything because, fuck, Katniss wants him here with her so badly and he's recently lost his resolve when it comes to her. Which is infuriating in and of itself.
"Effie would be impressed," he says conversationally, stepping gingerly over a loud-looking branch. "The earliest she ever got me out of bed was one."
Katniss grins over her shoulder before her expression turns thoughtful. "Did you and Effie ever ...?"
Haymitch frowns. "Ever what?" He realizes what she means before the question is fully out of his mouth, though, and he makes a loud disgusted sound in his throat. Katniss' finger flies to her closed lips but Haymitch releases his repulsion anyway. "Hell no! Jesus, I mean, she looked like a goddamn killer clown most of the time, but that girl is about as interesting as goose shit and trust me, I have a lot of experience with goose shit."
"Shh, Haymitch!" But she's laughing - almost giggling, actually, and, God damnit, it's kind of cute.
"I have standards, you know. I have a type. Effie is definitely not it."
"What is, then?"
Fuck. Haymitch mentally punches himself for walking right into that question and lifts his head to reply when he stops; Katniss has stopped walking, a hand raised to silently tell him to not move, to be silent. He peers carefully over her shoulder. He doesn't know what she's looking at, her body poised like a predator about to spring.
"Come here," she whispers out of the side of her mouth, beckoning him with a twitch of her hand. Haymitch steps as quietly as he can to her side. "Okay. Hold the bow like this. Put this hand here. Okay. Good. Here's the arrow - don't drop it, now. Okay - why are you glaring at me? Stop it. Okay. Now, see the deer?"
Haymitch turns his eyes toward the forest. He sees trees and gaps of nothing, but no deer. Annoyed, he shakes his head, and then notices that Katniss is smiling - not condescendingly, just smiling, just happy to be in the middle of the forest with him.
She points a little to his left. "Right there," she whispers, and it's then he realizes how close she is to him, her breath warm on his cheek. "You can see the very tip of his ear. See it?"
Haymitch does see it, but he's much more focused on the swirled curves of Katniss' ear, and her jawline, and the stray wisps of dark hair that have unraveled from her braid. He makes an affirmative sound in his throat.
"Draw back the arrow. Focus. Are you focusing?"
"Yes," he says, breathless, which isn't a lie, since Katniss didn't specify on what he was focusing on.
"Okay. Now, breathe, here." Her hot palm finds his chest, pressing against his sternum. If Haymitch wasn't already not breathing, he certainly isn't now. His eyes turn to watch her as her fingers splay against her chest. She swallows, tilts her head toward him, but keeps her eyes on the deer. "In."
Without consciously thinking about it, he does just that, chest expanding against Katniss' hand.
"Out," she says, and Haymitch exhales, and it feels like the first real breath he's taken in twenty-five years. "Let it go when you're ready."
Haymitch takes another deep breath and releases the arrow. It doesn't surprise him that the stupid thing lodges itself into the trunk of a tree, or that the deer takes off with a panicked rustle. A curse crushes out of his lips and Katniss is giggling again, plucking her bow out of his hands and turning to face him, to say something, and the two of them are still close enough to feel the other's breath on their face. Katniss hesitates, blinks, a little surprised at the sudden closeness, but she doesn't pull away; Haymitch can't - like, he literally can't move, because she's prettier than she should be considering all of the terrible shit that's happened to her and why is he even thinking about her like that? Why would he do that to himself?
Haymitch's lips screw. It seems that he will never exhaust the punishment for the terrible things he has done.
"Not bad," Katniss says, taking a casual step back. With the distance widened, the moment passes, and Katniss trudges on with Haymitch at her heels. She lets him try a few more times - he almost hits a squirrel, but that's the closest he gets. Katniss shoots down two birds before they head out of the forest, and it's then that Haymitch remembers he was afraid of it when they arrived. He looks over his shoulder as they leave it behind and sees nothing but Katniss' playground. It's a hell of a lot less scary when he thinks of it that way.
After they've eaten both of the birds straight to the bone - which he's silently grateful for because he's certain it's the first real meal Katniss has had in weeks - they both have a drink and settle in his living room to watch some brand new clips, these ones featuring lots of reconstruction. Haymitch is in his recliner and Katniss is curled on the couch, cheeks pink from the drink that she cups in her hands. He can't remember if it's her second or third or fourth but he honestly can't find it in himself to give a shit.
Haymitch feels better now, braver with his liquid courage currently singing in his veins. "What did you mean," he ventures bravely, waving a hand slightly in the air, "when you said I was good?"
Katniss smiles. She shakes her head a couple of times, then keeps doing it, then laughs. Her eyes follow something around the room, like it's spinning. "Because you are good, Haymitch. You're full of -" she hiccups loudly, "- good. You helped me so much during the Games. I mean, you were an ass about it, but you're an ass about everything. But you're good. A different good than he is." She nods in the vague direction of Peeta's house. "Good."
Haymitch snorts. "You're drunk."
She grins and takes a dainty sip of her drink, like she's some kind of princess at a fucking tea party. "I see why you do it," she begins, twirling her glass in her hands. "Drink, I mean."
Katniss nods. She frowns over the lip of her cup and stares down into the amber liquid. "It makes everything fuzzy and warm. Not great, but okay. Tolerable." She takes a deep breath. "I'm thinking of Prim right now and it's, I'm okay. I'm okay right now."
He doesn't like where this conversation is going. He doesn't like picturing Katniss where he is now, scraping by, barely keeping his head above the water. If Katniss ends up a roaring drunk like he is, then he'll have really lived a worthless life.
But he doesn't say anything when she gets another drink and another, or when she's so out of it she can't even walk herself home. He tells her she can sleep on the couch and she's out before he can finish the sentence. Haymitch watches her while she sleeps for a little while, pretty out of it himself, that familiar buzz making everything soft and warm, just like Katniss said. He can't rightly tell her not to drink because it's bad for her. Jesus, look at him. He's been sober maybe a week collectively since his Games. What she's feeling he knows all too intimately and he also knows that need - not the want, but the overwhelming, life-consuming need - to make it go away as much as possible.
Even if it means not having a liver in the next couple years, or ever being fully conscious ever again; Haymitch has accepted those consequences.
But Katniss ... Haymitch's mouth tightens with a sigh. But Katniss.
It pisses him off that he not only gives a damn about her, but that he can't fully understand why. She's infuriatingly stubborn and a wise-ass to boot. She talks him into shit he doesn't want to do, like hunting and not drinking for the majority of a day, and she makes him feel bad when he doesn't come back like he says he will. He didn't care when Effie got mad at him for similar things, or Peeta, or anyone, because caring has done nothing but ruin him since he was a kid.
Haymitch tilts his head back and slams down a drink so big he coughs and chokes as it tries to slither into his lungs. The noise stirs Katniss, a muscle twitching in her brow. She rolls slightly on the couch, slurring something. It sounds like Haymitch's name but he isn't certain and before he can think to stop himself, he leans forwrad.
"What's that, sweetheart?"
Katniss' brow furrows, an arm craning over her head. "Said ... don't die, Haymitch."
He stares at her. Swallows. Slowly sets the bottle he was nursing to the floor. "Okay, sweetheart," he replies, even though he's certain she's long gone already.
For the second time, Haymitch is woken by strange noises in his living room. He's certain it's not a goose, though, because the last time he checked, he wasn't so gone in the head that they were starting to speak his name. He can tell it's too early for him to be awake based on how much he feels like shit - it's worse the earlier it is - and the effort it takes to trudge the muddy waters of unconsciousness into that of an alert state is almost too much. Head lolling, Haymitch struggles to open his eyes and clear his vision. Through the fog, he can make out the form of someone bent over, head in hands. The figure speaks again, his name, though it's more of a painful groan.
It slams into him all at once and suddenly he's completely alert, shoving himself out of his recliner and taking the two short steps that separate them. "Katniss?" His voice is edged with panic as he falls to one knee beside her, hands on her arms, trying to find her face. Oh, God, he thinks, he got her alcohol poisoning or something. She's going to die. She's going to die, right here in his living room, in his arms, just like Maysilee, just like his girl after Snow poisoned her and his brother and his mother after his Games. "Katniss, honey, talk to me."
She slumps onto his shoulder. "Sick," she moans. "I'm gonna - gonna be sick." Her skull knocks against his. "My head is killing me ..."
Oh, Christ, he thinks with relief. She's not dying. She's hungover. He forgets that people still sometimes have this reaction to excessively drinking - he hasn't thrown up in years thanks to the resistance he's built up. Nodding, he bends at his knees and scoops her up bridal-style. She resists, mumbles something about being able to walk, but Haymitch doesn't listen to her, carrying her with too much effort to the downstairs bathroom. He sets her in front of the toilet and notes the sickly shade of green staining her face.
"You look like shit," he tells her, voice still thick with sleep.
Katniss rolls her eyes and tries to look as annoyed as she can given her current situation. "Thanks, I -" She stops, body rolling forward.
"Just let it out, sweetheart. You'll feel a lot better."
Katniss shakes her head. She's so stubborn she's trying to fight her body's natural instinct to get that stuff out of her - Haymitch knows from experience that that gets easier to do, until that instinct is wiped out. He's almost happy that she's sick. It might scare her away from drinking ever again.
"Haymitch," she groans, grabbing the toilet with both hands and heaving herself over. Her body convulses and her mouth parts, a distinct degree of shaking making her bones tremble.
"It's okay," he says, kneeling beside her and starting to smooth back her hair. "Trust me on this one. Let it out."
Katniss' eyes squeeze shut. Holding her hair in one hand and the other resting on her back, Haymitch frowns as she starts puking - great, ugly heaves that make her skin clammy and hot. Halfway through she starts crying, eyes puffy and red, and she's trying to apologize, but Haymitch just shushes her and rubs her spine. He doesn't think of the smell or the fact that his knees are getting sore or that he's still dead-tired; Katniss is his focus, and when she's finally finished, he pulls her into his chest and leans against the outside of the bathtub. Surprisingly, she doesn't object, breathing quietly as Haymitch runs his fingers through her hair.
"Do you feel better?" It's a genuinely concerned question, something that is so rare coming from him, even Katniss tilts her head up to look at him, as if to make sure he was the same person.
"A little," she manages, swallowing thickly.
"I'll get you some water," he says, shifting her far enough away so he can move to his feet. "Stay here. I'll be right back."
The request seems a little unneeded, considering Katniss looks about as ready to get up and move as the toilet does. After a little searching, Haymitch returns a minute later with a cup of cool water in one hand and two pills in the other.
Katniss is immediately suspicious. "What's that?"
"Medicine." He sits beside her again and passes the water to her, but Katniss doesn't reach for the pills. Haymitch sighs. "They're from the Capitol. They drank pretty heavy stuff and they took these the morning after to get rid of their hangovers. They passed them out like candy at the parties during the Games. Works like fucking magic." He takes her wrist and waits for her palm to open before allowing the white capsules to fall into it.
Apparently reassured by his explanation, Katniss takes the two pills and drowns them with a huge gulp of water. "Do you take these?"
He shrugs. "I only ever took them the night before the Reaping so I'd be somewhat lucid the next day." He gives a wry smile, remembering Katniss' first Reaping, how he fell off the stage in a stupor. "'Somewhat' being the key word here. And I'd take them once the Games started so I could try to get sponsors for the tributes. No one wants to give gifts to a bumbling drunk."
Katniss frowns and nods, occupying herself with drinking the rest of her water. The green is gone from her face, replaced with a ghostly pale. Curls of hair are plastered to her forehead in dark swirls.
Haymitch indicates the tub behind her with his chin. "Want to shower?"
"I can do it at my house."
There's something in her tone and the way she averts her eyes that causes Haymitch to frown. "You don't have to leave," he tells her, voice low. He can't look her in the eyes, focusing instead on a hole in his pants. "I don't mind if you stay here."
"It's just that -" She twirls her empty cup and shakes her head, shrugs, shakes her head again, and rubs her forehead. "I can't even look at Peeta's house and I can feel Prim in mine and I keep thinking I'm hearing her and that stupid cat keeps bringing dead birds into the kitchen and I thought I wanted to be alone but I don't and you're the only other person I trust and I feel like I'm being nothing but a burden to you which I have since the very beginning and I don't want you to be annoyed or hate me or -"
"Jesus, sweetheart, stop talking before you hurt yourself."
She looks at him. Her eyes are glossy with tears and it really shouldn't hurt him this much to see her cry.
"First of all, I told you the door is always open. Did you think I was lying?" He waits for her to shake her head before continuing. "I also told you I don't mind if you're here. I actually - Jesus," he mentally groans and tries to keep his face straight, though his eyes can't seem to hold hers. "I actually like having you here, even if you do drag me out on stupid hunting trips and drink all of my booze. And lastly, I could never -" he stops, rubbing the back of his neck and focusing his eyes on the ceiling above the shower. "I could never hate you, sweetheart." Slowly, and with as much courage (courage? Like he has to be brave to talk to a sick girl on his bathroom floor, Jesus) he can muster, he meets her eyes. "Okay?"
Katniss sniffs and tries to smile, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. "Haymitch Abernathy, being all sentimental." This time, she grins, and it touches her eyes.
"Don't get used to it," he grunts, pulling himself to his feet. "The towels are under the sink. I'll go grab you one of my shirts."
He leaves her and the sound of water thundering at the bottom of the tub meet his ears when he returns from his bedroom with one of the few clean shirts he could find. He sets it on the bathroom sink as quickly and as quietly as he can, though his gaze does linger on Katniss' clothes pooled behind the door.
Haymitch finds himself tidying up while she showers, followed closely by the sound of Katniss gargling mouthwash. He's in the midst of tossing a heap of dirty clothes into an empty basket when he hears the bathroom door open. Reflexively, he turns to look at her, planning on teasing her about using all of his hot water or something equally as stupid, but he forgets how to use his tongue upon seeing her. Having seen her after Cinna and his team have spent a few hours on her, one might find it difficult to say that Katniss has ever or will ever look as beautiful. Haymitch would be inclined to disagree, because right now, with her hair unbrushed and soaking the shoulders of his black t-shirt, her cheeks a faint pink from the heat of the water and her eyes the same brown as the soil they had walked on the day before and steam rolling out behind her like a great fog machine entrance, she's more beautiful than she's ever been. Not just in that, though, but the way she stares back at him like he's so important to her, like she's so grateful for him being there.
And all Haymitch can think is, God damnit.
"I need a drink." Spinning on his heel, he marches straight to the kitchen.
Haymitch shakes his head. Ducks into the frige and rips off the cork of the first bottle he grabs. It releases with a loud pop and he spits the cork on the floor before guzzling down two large swallows that make his throat hurt. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and presses it on the closed refrigerator door, the other squeezing the neck of the bottle so hard his knuckles pale.
"Haymitch." She's demanding his attention now, her tone assertive and he knows if he were to turn and look at her, her hands would probably be on her hips or something and she'd have a stern line where a smile should be.
He closes his eyes and hopes she leaves without having to ask her to.
Her approach is silent. He's so startled by her sudden appearance at his side he drops the wine. The glass shatters with a great crash but neither of them look at it, fierce gazes locked tightly together. The looks of killers, of fighters, of Hunger Games survivors. Sharp sprinkles ignite galaxies across the kitchen floor, glittering against the shafts of sunlight slanting through the window above his very neglected sink.
"What's the matter with you? You were just holding my hair back not fifteen minutes ago and everything was fine. What did I do, get water on your hardwood floor or something? Because, I mean, God, I can wipe it up or whatever -"
He didn't mean to shout, and he regrets it immediately because the outburst makes Katniss recoil. It doesn't soothe the sizzling burn of his anger, though (or is it the effect of being so close to the girl on fire?) and he steps toward her until the kitchen wall meets her back. Closed fists slam against the wall on either side of her head. She's staring up at him, one arm crossed in front of her, preparing to strike him if she feels she has to. And he knows she will. God, he hopes she does.
"How can you - why do you -" He squeezes his eyes shut and shakes his head, a fist lifting slightly from the wall only to punch it again, a grunt escaping him. "Why are you trying so hard to make me happy? Teaching me how to shoot a bow and cooking in my kitchen and sleeping on my couch - I don't understand. I'm not - I'm not Peeta. I don't know how to fix you -"
"I don't want to be fixed!" Katniss' balled hands shove hard into Haymitch's ribs and push him back with surprising strength, considering how thin she's gotten. Haymitch stumbles back, his socked feet crunching on the glass. He's sure he's bleeding, but whatever sharp pain the glass might be causing him is well dulled out with Katniss glaring at him, hot and angry, just like she did in the arena. "My father is dead, my sister is dead, thousands of people are dead that shouldn't be and I'm responsible!" Her finger presses hard into her sternum, drying strands of her hair lifting in crazy swoops around her enraged face. "I came to you because you understand that. You know what it's like to lose your family and feel like it's your fault. Right? That's why you drink so much, isn't it?" She slaps her hands against her sides, panting, like she just ran laps.
And Haymitch feels like he watched her do it, because now he feels dizzy.
He also wants to kiss her more than anything he has ever wanted and, fuck, that's wrong on so many levels. But she's so pretty, even when she's mad - especially when she's mad, and she talks about him like he's simple, like she just gets it, and God damnit. God damnit.
"You're a real piece of work," he whispers hoarsely.
Katniss swallows thickly. He hadn't realized just how close to tears she was. "I didn't come to you to be fixed. I came to you so I know it's okay to be messed up."
He doesn't think about laughing; it happens unconsciously. It starts as a chuckle and slowly builds into a full on guffaw. He bends at the waist and laughs at the glass circling his feet. "This," he breathes, straightening again, and the humor leaves his face so quickly it'd be worthy of an award. "Is. Not. Okay."
Her eyes are wide, unreadable, or maybe Haymitch is just so completely tortured by the thought that Katniss could end up just like him one day that he literally cannot see anything else. She cannot become him. She cannot follow his example. Then he'll only be responsible for the ruin of more lives and he's barely living as it is.
Haymitch will not be able to survive knowing he brought Katniss down with him.
"I know," she finally says, stepping forward. For a moment, his anger blips out, replaced with the concern that only she brings out in him. He's worried about her bare feet on the glass and infections and pain and Katniss being hurt which he can't even stand the thought of and he's reaching out to tell her to stop, to stay still, but she's anything if not stubborn as hell. "I know," she repeats. "I know this -" she spreads her hands, " - is not okay. The drinking, I mean. Hiding in your house. But ..." Her hands clench in and out of fists, looking away as if the answers are hiding somewhere in the sunshine behind him. "But I will never be okay again. I will never be whole like I used to be. Prim will always be dead. I will always be messed up." She meets his eyes, finally, and even though it frightens him, he holds them. "And you show me that I can still exist that way."
"I don't live." Haymitch runs a heavy hand down his face. "I'm not a living person."
The statement is so matter-of-fact that he can't help but peek out at her. She swallows again and blinks and there are fat tears on her face. He wants them to disappear and he's moving forward to do just that, ignoring the sharp sting of glass embedding into his feet as he does. He cups her face and uses his thumbs to wipe them away, head bowing so their foreheads kiss.
"And maybe I won't ever - I won't ever - " Her eyes squeeze shut. Haymitch feels something inside of his chest tear and give way and he has to physically bite his lip to keep himself from, Jesus Christ, from sobbing. "Live, like, really live again, because, I might deserve that after everything? I don't know. All I can do is try. For Prim. Because she would have wanted me to. But I can't be okay like Peeta will be. I'm so glad he will be. I'm so jealous of that." She opens her eyes again, brown irises flooded out. She shakes her head between Haymitch's hand and melts forward, clings to his shirt. Her sobs fill the kitchen for a good minute before she can speak again, voice muffled and lost in his chest. "So maybe I can just exist with you? Maybe that'll be enough?"
"Oh, sweetheart." He kisses her damp hair and stands on his bleeding, throbbing feet in the middle of his filthy kitchen and he's crying for the first time since his Games and he thinks about Katniss teaching him how to shoot an arrow and watching her sleep and the way she looks at him like he matters. "You are more than enough," he decides, lips finding her temple. He kisses that, too, and her cheek, and he holds her until the pool of blood on the floor starts to worry him.
Haymitch doesn't kiss her then. Or during their next argument, or the one following that. He doesn't want their first kiss to be when she's angry. So many things have happened to her in the heat of anger, and she deserves something cool and soft for once.
It's almost winter when he kisses her the first time. They're watching the last of his geese take off. It isn't snowing yet but there's a promising chill in the air that makes the hairs on his arms stand up. Katniss is wearing a sweatshirt her mother made her and mailed over a few weeks before and she's put on some weight. Her face has filled out and when she sleeps at night, she doesn't shiver as much.
Haymitch isn't drunk. He drank a little bit yesterday, and maybe a few days from now he'll have a little more, but for now he's completely in his own mind and as much as that used to unsettle him, it's easier when Katniss is waving at his geese in the sky beside him.
"Hey," he says in way of capturing her attention. Half smiling, she turns to perk her brows at him, to ask what he needs, and he answers the unspoken question with his thumb and forefinger taking her chin and guiding his mouth to hers. Katniss' lips are chapped and cold and for a few seconds she doesn't move at all, and a brief moment passes where he wonders if he's fabricated every long look she's ever given him, every night he's woken up to her on the other side of his bed, the casual way she finds his hand when they hunt early in the mornings.
But then he tastes a smile on her mouth and he knows.
Peeta moves out of the Victor's Village and it's just him and Katniss left to simply be in Haymitch's considerably more tidy house. Some nights, Katniss goes to be alone in the empty house across the street, to be more messed up than usual, but more often than not, the two of them watch Panem rebuild itself on TV or hunt or talk or map out each other's bodies at night, in the sun, outside, sometimes too loudly and sometimes without a single sound. Haymitch learns her naked, learns her sleeping, and he's smarter than he's ever been.
They don't talk about love. They don't pretend that they're ever going to be okay. Some days they just exist, hollow and scooped out and separate and drinking and screaming and crying.
But sometimes, Katniss laughs, and Haymitch has a glass of water, and they live.