it's okay to say you've got a weak spot
you don't always have to be on top
better to be hated than love-love-loved
for what you're not
you're vulnerable, you're vulnerable
you are not a robot
you're loveable, so loveable
but you're just trouble
Time has become meaningless to Haymitch. Even since—no, especially since—the Revolution, since he and Katniss returned to District 12. It isn't like time has ever been especially meaningful to him. For twenty-eight years it's suited him fine to drink away his days into evening awakenings and back into a drunken stupor by midnight; he's grown used to the near-horizontal slant of orange and red rays of setting sunlight cutting across his dirty living room floor, and if he wakes before he feels up to doing more drinking, allows himself the joy of passing right back out into rarely-sweet unconsciousness. But when the Games were still a yearly event, when President Snow flaunted his annual theme of terror and injustice to the terrified yet riveted citizens of Panem, at least Haymitch had some reference of time.
Not that it was much to brag about on his part. Having to be dragged out of bed at a certain time, having to pretend to care—or not, as vomiting or tumbling offstage in the square were also viable options—about some unfortunate kid having his or her, no, kids having his and her names pulled from the reaping balls, being around Effie Trinket for a couple of days or weeks...all of these marked a time of every year of Haymitch's life, when he served as mentor to these unluckiest of the unlucky youth, that he could count on.
Not that he misses the Games, either. He would have to just go ahead and off himself if he ever did, or ask Katniss to do it with her bow and arrow—or maybe Peeta would be so kind as to crush him under a heavy bag of flour—because it's a despicable thought to have even while he thinks of how that was the only marker of time in his life. But without the Games, or even District 13's tattoo-stamp schedules, time has no meaning anymore. Sure, recovery efforts are still being made, rebuilding is a slow process, the progress of which is shown on television every day, but it means jack shit to Haymitch, who exists only for the feel of the alcohol as it crawls its familiar path down his esophagus, saturating his poor liver that barely even survived his time in the Games, his Quarter Quell.
And maybe for the victors of District 12. Maybe even more for the girl victor, the girl who was—is? Always will be?—on fire, the Mockingjay, the assassin of President Coin, the girl who sometimes needed a push to remember who the real enemy was, but who always shoots true.
Sometimes, and he can never explain why once he finally wakes—not that he finds it completely necessary to do so—he dreams about Katniss. They'll be interspersed throughout his regular nightmares and dreams about his time in the Games, the screams and sights, or losing his loved ones, that have lost their edge but still manage to hit right in the gut or leave a dying scream on his lips upon his waking.
Then, out of nowhere, he'll dream of a moment when he'd pinned Katniss to the wall when she was being petulant—it feels like eons ago, stuff out of some old history book he'd just dreamt up, but then he remembers it was only a few years ago—and he's looking at her, taking in the way her face screws up at the smell of wine on his breath, but all he can really think about is the way she feels under his hands, strong, resolved, and warm, but still just a scared sixteen-year-old who should never have to be part of this bullshit thrust on Panem's children because of some lunatics who can't stand to be out of control for one goddamned second.
A few weeks later amidst the usual nightmares or dreamless nights thanks to alcohol, he'll dream of another instance of being too close to the girl on fire—like in the square of District 12 when he cupped her face just after Thread's whip lash landed across her cheek—when he doesn't think of the injustice of it all, but instead how much she reminds him of himself, how sometimes it's like looking in a mirror. A younger, prettier, non-alcoholic girl version of himself, but his personality, his hard, untrusting looks—all of these also belong to the Mockingjay, who gave up her life in District 12 for an arena in which she would lose so much, even when crowned victor. And it turns his stomach, more than any alcohol ever could—or maybe it is the alcohol just working its way through his system as he sleeps, but nevertheless he chalks it up to the similarities—because he never wants Katniss to become this. To drown the unspeakable horrors she has faced and all the guilt she feels in white liquor.
Then, in a rare but assuredly brief moment of sobriety and all its crushing clarity he'll remember watching her pull out those nightlock berries in the arena, and how the second she did he mumbled, "Oh, no," knowing the Capitol would reverse the revision to the revision, assuring two winners, but immediately singling out Katniss as a threat. She had unknowingly signed her own death warrant with that act of defiance, and he knew all of this because of his own act of defiance against the Capitol twenty-four years before. He can hear the buzz of the force field launching the girl's ax back at her and the sick sound of it finding its home in her skull, and quickly throws back a large portion of alcohol before he can remember what came after.
In his dreams he relives the various messages he'd sent to her in the arena, the timeliness of the gifts from sponsors and remembers the looks on her face when she figured him out, different each time but always something that made his stomach knot up. It's all because with each message—or lack thereof—she decoded, the tenuous thread that held them together strengthened, and he realized their being alike had its advantages, too. She can think like him, unravel his way of thinking from a gift or even the receiving of a gift or very obviously not getting a gift, something none of the previous tributes from 12 could do. Something Peeta can't do. Haymitch outsmarted forty-seven tributes in the year of the second Quarter Quell, outsmarted the Capitol—but he isn't sure if he can outsmart Katniss Everdeen, especially not after the Revolution.
He never realizes that time means nothing to the girl on fire anymore, either, until it's three in the morning on a day—night?—in September and she's shaking him awake on his sofa. And he's mumble-asking her what time it is, and she replies she doesn't know, but he can tell by the angle of moonbeams slicing through the open window that it's too goddamn early for him to be awake.
And he's annoyed but all he thinks of as his nose registers the smell of her shampoo—besides plotting different ways to toss her out the window—is when her arms were tight around his neck while he held her close, whispering about the trouble she was in after her stunt with the berries, hiding his words behind her hair. But the urge to throw her out the window is winning out as he hears her shuffle through his stuff all over the living room floor, and turn on the tap, filling something—
"Fuck's sake, don't pour 'nything on me, 'm awake!" he mumble-shouts, jackknifing into a sitting position, which makes the world spin. It takes a few minutes before he can focus on Katniss standing before him, hands on her hips like she expects something other than what she sees. He hears the knife he sleeps with clutched in his fist drop to the floor when he realizes he's not in danger. Old habits.
"Sweetheart, it's late, what're y—" but he's cut off by the sight of her going through the various papers and refuse littering his kitchen table-turned-catchall and frowns.
"You actually like this mess more than Hazelle's tidiness? Great way to repay all her hard work." She snorts derisively, and his brow creases as he tries to figure out what's gotten into her. His spinning vision and throbbing blood vessels in his brain aren't equipped to deal with her moodiness right now.
"And yet nobody invited you in. In fact, what you're doing is trespassing." He's vaguely aware of the slur his words take on as they leave his tongue, but he doesn't care, because it's true, and he wants nothing more than to be back asleep, not that it offers much comfort. All right, so maybe being griped at by a pretty nineteen-year-old girl—no, woman, as she's proven herself to be—isn't so bad after all. Better than dreams of Maysilee's deathbed of that goddamned arena, at the very least.
"Clever as always, Haymitch," she almost spits at him, then picks up some kind of brownish-golden object, thrusting it out toward him. What, is she going to throw it at him? What the hell even is—
"Peeta made you some bread and I told him I'd bring it over."
"At this time of night?" Haymitch rolls his eyes, fighting off the ensuing dizziness. Of course—Peeta's cheesy bread that she likes so much. Did he just make an extra, or is it hers that she didn't want? What does it matter? "Try again, sweetheart."
"I forgot until now." She fidgets, her gaze hardening even more.
"You're a horrible liar, remember?" he tries to stand but flails when he's on his feet and falls back onto the couch. "Hand me some, then. I and the alcohol could use it."
Then she does throw it at him, and it hits him hard in the chest before falling into his lap. He breaks off a piece; it's still warm inside. As he chews, she continues to stare at him, and he returns the favor. It's then that he notices a particular shininess brimming in her eyes and trails carving paths down her cheeks—so subtle that he almost doesn't see them at first, but there they are. Then he knows, because if anybody knows, Haymitch does, and he shoves some papers off the sofa, patting the cushion next to him.
"If you went to the trouble of coming all the way over here at this time of night just to bring me bread that you 'forgot' from hours before, then you might as well sit down."
When she does, he feels the sofa exhale with her own sigh. He breaks off another piece of bread and hands it to her; she turns it over and over in her fingers, and he knows she isn't hungry, but it gives her something to do other than hold a staring contest with him, when frankly, he's too drunk to hold his concentration.
He decides to try it again, his hand at this whole conversation thing. He hopes she isn't holding out for brilliance.
Not the best way of going about it, he thinks with an inward groan.
"Yeah," her voice is softer than he's heard it all night, and he tries to not think of the heat radiating off her body, her tank top leaving her bare arm to brush against his. "If I wanted to throw up later, I'd drink some of your booze. But I'm not up to it. Got anything else?"
"Narcotics are out of the question," he scoffs, taking another bite of a chunk of bread. "One Effie Trinket is enough, thanks." He mumbles through the mouthful of bread, and if he wasn't almost completely wasted, he would swear he sees a hint of a smile tug at the corner of her mouth.
"Why do you have geese, Haymitch?"
The question throws him off, and he's sure that even if he were sober he wouldn't understand where the inquiry came from. There's no logical train of thought that leads to his geese from their previous banter.
"Don't know. They just sort of wandered up one day. Guess they like alcoholics. See, even I'm not alone in this cruel world."
Katniss lets out a bark of a laugh and for a second he can't believe he heard it, but it was too real to be a drunken hallucination. The twist in his gut feels too strong.
"You'll never be alone, not really," she pushed her leg against his, his knee knocking back into hers on the rebound. "You're stuck with Peeta and me to throw out your stores of white liquor ever so often."
"Brats," he mutters.
"Why did you come here tonight, Katniss?" her name feels almost foreign on his tongue, but he likes the sound of it. "Why me?"
"Because," she begins with a heavy sigh, then after a moment says, "I guess 'because' isn't a good enough reason for you."
"You got it, sweetheart."
"Because you do that." She quickly says. "Because you call me sweetheart and it's sincere. I mean, at first I thought you were just condescending, and I guess you were. But now…well, it's nice to hear it. It's one of the only constants in my life. No matter how long you're around, you'll call me sweetheart." She swallows hard and fixes her gaze on his kitchen table. "I never feel like I can ask Peeta to be there for me after my nightmares. His are much worse."
"We're all fucked up," says Haymitch with a thickness in his throat he can't quite work around. "But you know what I say about him—he's too good for us. He'd be more than happy to put aside his own terrors and help you. I'm not your guy."
"I don't even want to ask him, though, that's the thing," she says impatiently. "But you, I mean all you're doing is drinking and passing out, so even if I have to dump a pail of water on your head, I know you're here."
And her hand finds his and grabs it, her fingers wrapping tightly around his. He recalls the way her arms locked around his neck as he whispered to her beneath the stage in the Capitol before adjusting her headband.
"Yeah, if you want terrible comforting, I guess I'm here," he reaches down to a half-empty bottle on the floor and takes a swig, offering it out to her once he's done. She shakes her head, though she lets her eyes linger a moment on it. "See, that's what I mean. That's all I know for dealing with all this—" he gestures wildly with his free hand, "and you don't even take it."
"But you understand everything," she says, letting go of his hand, shifting so one leg was dangling over the sofa, the other tucked in front of her, her body turned to him. He lets his gaze drift along her collarbones. "I'm like you. And that's worth more than—than secret messages in the arena, or warnings about the Capitol. I don't have to explain anything to you because you get it. Nobody else does."
Her voice holds an edge to it, and he can hear her crushing loneliness, the unfilled need she has to be understood and listened to—the desire to not be screaming in an empty room. He remembers—albeit vaguely, but still, to remember at all is quite impressive—her visit to him in the President's mansion. Listen to that. The Mockingjay found her voice…
He reaches out and takes a lock of dark hair in his hand, letting it fall through the spaces between his fingers.
"Sweetheart, I'm not the type of person you want to come to every time you have a nightmare. You'll only get more depressed."
"Don't tell me how I feel!" she suddenly shouts, standing up in one swift motion. Anger rolls off her in waves, and he feels the corners of his lips lift into a small smile. This is the Katniss he likes the most, the Katniss who set the spark for the fire of the Revolution, the Katniss who doesn't need to rehearse what she says before she stuns her audience with her ferocity, her passion.
"You have no right to tell me what to think, or how to feel about you—not anymore! When you were my mentor, it was one thing. But now, I can think for myself. It's not like it's been easy." She lets out a small, choked sob. "It never is with me. I'm not an easy person to get, and a lot of that is my own fault. But you don't even want to give me credit for what I'm telling you! I came to you for a reason, Haymitch! And it wasn't so your stomach could sop up the rest of your stupid booze with bread!"
Her eyes are brimming with fresh tears that he can see her trying to fight back; her hands are balled up into fists at her sides, her jaw is clenched, and every muscle in her body is tensed.
With much concentration on the task at hand and the distraught girl in front of him, he stands—without stumbling—and places his hands on her shoulders, strong and tense and softening under his touch.
"Then do what you came here for," he says in a low growl, and before he can prepare himself for a slap, or a shove, or anything other than what he gets, she grabs the back of his head, pulling him down to crush her mouth against his.
He stares wide into her grey eyes before she shuts them, and moves against him. He's not sure why it surprises him that despite her anger and tough exterior, she shows vulnerability and softness in the way her lips slide against his, the way her tongue lightly probes at the seam of his mouth. And then he's ghosting his hands along her back beneath her shirt, and the Capitol's medical and cosmetic teams rid her skin of most of its scars but he can still almost feel them beneath his fingers as they whisper, I know, I know what you've gone through and feel the knife's slash across your skin and feel when he pressed his fingers around your throat and I know it will never be okay, none of us are okay, none of us will ever be okay, but maybe we can be a little more okay than what we are now.
He is surprised she'll kiss him when he smells and tastes so heavily of liquor, but if this is her way of dealing instead of actually drinking the stuff, he'll take it. And maybe with time, he can learn to be like her and reach out for another person instead of for a bottle when dealing with his own demons, even if this is the most talking they ever do, this silent mapping of each other's bodies while their fingers spell out words they will never have to say. It seems Katniss has become his mentor.
With time… When he runs his hands through her hair all he can think is that maybe time has a deeper meaning to it now, because it promises something it never could before: a future. He doesn't know if that future will end in the next few minutes when the full realization of what she's doing sinks in, or in years when she still feels the way she does, but he knows one thing.
Time has begun to move forward at last.
(A/N: Firstly let me say that I'm sorry but I'm absolutely horrible at ending things. Secondly, I just finished the series two days ago and I think this is the fastest I've ever written fanfiction for a new-to-me fandom so I'm incredibly nervous and also really amazed that the books did this to me. I hope you all love Haymitch as much as I do because otherwise I'm not sure we can be friends.
Lyrics at the beginning are from Marina and the Diamonds' "I Am Not a Robot.")