"The brain had its own food on which it battened, and the imagination, made grotesque by terror, twisted and distorted as a living thing by pain, danced like some foul puppet on a stand and grinned through moving masks."
-Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
It's the barely-morning after Haymitch pointed out the barges to Katniss, but it took him almost this long to fall asleep because he wasn't thinking about how he pointed barges out to her and showed the difference between passenger and cargo barges. Instead he's thinking about how he kissed her. No, how she kissed him first—but oh, he'd certainly kissed her back—and then they'd had words, and then kissed again, so really the technicalities aren't important, but the fact that he couldn't shut his mind off about them until midnight is, especially when he heard Katniss's breathing slow and even out not half an hour after they returned from their walk. Now it's just after two and Haymitch is dreaming. He wanted to act a little better for Katniss's mother, which only means he didn't have as much alcohol. As a result, his dreams start out as twisting shapes in the dark and murmured phrases of moments passed, but slowly shift and morph to become unusually vivid, something he has worked for years to avoid.
He is in his arena, but on the run and without Maysilee. Then, he hears it—a distant sound, almost like a hurt animal. He's not really hungry, but he could use the food; he realises it may be a trap, but there's also the possibility that it's not. And that's what makes him go. The sound grows louder as he creeps closer to what he assumes is the source, but the landscape is shifting; it's becoming woodsier and thicker and he hears a light humming behind him and glances to see the electric fence that ran along District 12's edge to the woods. He pushes through dense brush, but he knows he's close, so close he can feel the heat from whatever is making the noise, and he sees where it is. He lets his eyes dart around for any traps or snares, because maybe this is a hallucination, a trick played by Gamemakers to keep the program interesting for the viewers—but he sees none. And so, gripping his knife, he pushes aside thick foliage that leads to the sound, louder than the anthem played at night—and what he sees makes him reel backward.
Katniss is lying on her side, her knees curled up to her chest, her hands over her ears as she whimpers. She is the source of the sound, and the source of the way the breath goes out of Haymitch's lungs, and the twist in his gut and the terror crashing through his veins and how he's frozen with fear of what to do. He shakes her but she stays in the position, and keeps whimpering, and whimpering, until a cannon goes off and—
And Haymitch is sitting up on the extra mattress Mrs. Everdeen bought specifically for his accompanying stay with Katniss, and it's dark but a candle is burning its last few inches of wax on the small table in the room they're in, and there's enough light to see Katniss and it's almost worse than the dream. Because here, in real life, she is three-dimensional, and she's three-dimensionally sitting up with her knees tucked to her chest, her three-dimensional hands three-dimensionally over her ears, but her eyes aren't closed; no, her eyes are filled with tears and she's staring right at Haymitch—no, again, right through Haymitch, as though she wants him but doesn't see him, doesn't realise he's there. And he knows exactly what's going through her mind as a crash of thunder rattles the windows around them because he dreamed it, and it takes half a second for him to register the sound of rain with the thunder but he's not thinking about it as he gets up and stumbles over to the bed.
The sinking of the mattress on the right side of her seems to alert her to his presence, and she looks at him—three-dimensionally, really looks at him—and she swallows hard but he shakes his head and tucks a lock of hair behind her ear before placing his hand on her three-dimensional knee, rubbing small circles on the inside of it, making sure she holds his gaze. He's still got a buzz from the earlier wine so he's sure he appears at least a little unfocused, but maybe not because her trembling seems to become less noticeable, at least. He figures less noticeable is better than constant, and when she moves her head a certain way he knows what she's asking. He moves up to sit next to her, and she curls into him and he can't help but think about how natural it is for his arm to go around her shoulders, and how it always has been, which is just the weirdest goddamn thing because he'd been alone for twenty-four years. He can't even remember the colour of his girl's eyes, or remember what he said the last time he saw her. She's only two-dimensional now, and she's faded over the years.
But Katniss...Katniss is very alive. Especially when he hasn't visited for a while and she comes over to his house, barging in without knocking and shouting at him to clean up the place, and he endures it because, bless her sweet soul, she usually times it so the alcohol isn't quite rebelling against him yet and her voice isn't an unbelievably loud thing that makes his head pound—not at that point. It's then he sees her passion redirected, her frustrations with the gentleness and the goodness of Peeta, and it's like she has to have a dose of Haymitch to calm her, to make her feel not so alone in the world, to make her feel a little better because if anything she's not him, and—
And Haymitch wonders why she kissed him again, other than the need for human contact.
He's stroking her hair and he feels tiny grains of sand still between his fingers but she smells like wine and the sand and the waves and salty skin, and he can't think of anything but those things as she lets him hold her and how very vulnerable she is in this moment and letting him see her that way, but she's never had that problem, has she? He's always been the one she lets see her like that, because she knows he has no room to judge, nor any care to. He's got other things to worry about, like how much alcohol he can steal or legally obtain and stow away that day. Important things like that. But was her kiss vulnerability or strength? Were the two intertwined like one of Finnick's complicated knots? Why is it so hard for him to accept as something she would willingly seek from Haymitch Abernathy, of all people?
Because he, above all others, knows what a shitty person he can be.
"Thanks." Her voice is so soft, so close to the silence she exhibited in the Capitol, that he wonders if he imagined it. But her eyes are open again and she's looking up at him, and she lowers her right hand from her ear and reaches over to entwine her fingers with his hand against her upper arm. Her left hand is still covering her ear—the same one she'd injured in her first Games from the mine explosion. He wonders if she can still hear better out of it.
"It took me five years to be able to sleep through a thunderstorm," he says. "And that was with alcohol."
"Only five?" He knows the undertone of that seemingly harmless question is, I feel like I'll never get over the sound of thunder.
"Yeah, well, sometimes I have my moments, too, sweetheart."
She still winces with the next thunderclap but he just tightens his arm around her and squeezes her hand and she shifts her head so he can feel her breath on his neck and it sends shivers down his spine, his skin breaking out in gooseflesh; he swallows hard as he wonders just how much of that is related to booze still pushed along in his bloodstream.
Then he feels her lips brush against his neck and when he looks down at her she moves up to capture his mouth with hers and his right hand slides up the outside of her left leg, fingertips brushing at the hem of her shorts and he can't think of much else but how soft her skin is and how he can barely taste any wine on her tongue but a little bit of saltiness and he wonders how many tears she cried while she stared at him, willing him to wake up but never coming over to him. Thunder rumbles far off but she doesn't jerk or stiffen; you're making progress, sweetheart, he thinks. Then her other hand has left her ear finally and she's dragging both her hands through his hair, and his fingers are now drifting across her stomach, the muscles of which flutter and shift beneath them. And her skin is so warm and he wonders if it will taste as salty as it smells but that thought—above all—pulls him out of the fog of the moment and he pulls back, resting his forehead against hers.
"We should try to sleep."
She bristles with what he assumes is going to be a protest, but she must realise he's right because she lets herself sigh before giving a small, soft kiss on the corner of his mouth.
"Yeah, I think you're right. Stay with me? Until I fall asleep?
"You don't even have to ask, sweetheart."
They shift around until she's lying with his chest against her back, his arm draped over her side, and as much as he thinks about how the warmth of another body as he sleeps would be fucking amazing, he slowly and carefully detaches himself after her breathing's slow and steady again and goes back to his now-cold mattress, and as he draws the covers up, he's a little sad to be leaving the beach but glad in his own way to be returning to District 12 with her tomorrow—no, later today. Because this place does remind him of Finnick, and of his own family, long-dead, but he still can't really conjure the way his girl back then smiled at him.
Katniss fills his mind now—she has ever since he saw her volunteer for Prim, really, filled everyone's mind when she sparked the fires of discontent and spread her wings as the Mockingjay but he can't resist the pull of his eyelids down as sleep overtakes him, and he hopes with his last conscious thought of the night that Katniss doesn't dream of cannons again.
(A/N: Okay, so I decided to, indeed, make this a short-chaptered fic, kind of a chapter trilogy. The next one will be the last of this story (and probably bump the rating up to M). I hope you enjoyed this even though it's a little shorter than the last. Katniss's characterization is still really tough for me, but I hope it's not too bad! Thanks for reading—as always.)