*This is just an updated version, as I was rereading last night and found an annoying typo that threw the story off for me. But hey. While I'm at it, I'm also thinking about extending this one-shot another chapter at least, through the interviews for instance. If you'd like to see it, tell me so in the reviews and I'll be much more likely to deliver :P but seriously..
AN: I know this scene didn't happen in the movie, but this is basically a Hayniss-inspired rewrite of Chapter 26 of The Hunger Games. No spoilers per se, but includes allusions to Haymitch info from Catching Fire, FYI. Also, SO to my roommate for having The Hunger Games in her "to read" pile. SNATCHED THAT SHIT to expound detail.
Disclaimer: Totally and completely placed in Suzanne's Collins' scene, with her characters, her dialogue, my thoughts in Haymitch's head. Just to reiterate, all the dialogue is hers, directly from the book. I own nada.
So all that, and if you have thoughts in your head (good or bad) after reading this, I'd love to hear!
Keep It Together.
She thought like him. She was clever, and she was a survivor. They understood each other. He liked that about her. It made getting her through her Games a piece of cake. More or less. Because she'd read his messages. Sometimes took her a while, but she sure did get them all right. She'd performed perfectly. He thought he understood her, could read her perfectly.
But really, he'd underestimated her.
Maybe it was from so many years living as detached from his Tributes as possible. Maybe he shouldn't have overlooked how this year, they both ganged up on him on the first train to the Capitol. How it had taken both of them to convince him he had some tributes worth sobering for.
They'd changed him. He cared this time around, maybe a little too much, and that made him return to his former self. His sixteen-year-old self that had used his wit to outsmart the Capitol. Because that was the only way he knew how to survive.
Surviving. He and she, that's what they were both good for. But now, he may have ruined her chances at that just by being associated with her. The Capitol, they might draw some delusional connection between his Games and hers, and with the talk he'd been hearing around the place already, he couldn't afford to take any more chances. He had to warn her.
So he slips past the makeshift wall underneath the interview stage where Flickerman is undoubtedly flicking his blue ponytail for the audience already. Haymitch slides in behind her as the Girl on Fire waits, fidgeting, for her final interview. Her victor's interview.
Her last act.
Her hair is down, and she's wearing a light, shimmering yellow dress. The style seems almost childish to him but she looks… pretty.
He reaches out a hand and finds her bare shoulder, not surprised when she leaps away in response. If she'd had a knife on her it'd probably be in his throat right now. Tribute reflexes - he knew them well.
"Easy," he laughs lightly, feeling as if he's calming a spooked horse. "Just me. Let's have a look at you." She spins, arms out, and the soft shimmer melts into a glow when she does it. He hopes she can't see the shimmering in his own eyes when he responds, "Good enough."
But she knows him too well. Knows he's holding something back.
He takes in a breath, lets it out. Loosens his obnoxious bowtie as an excuse to let his eyes scan the room. He can't say anything here, not directly, not with that new wall just rebuilt that could be hiding who knows what, the smell of sawdust and fresh paint still lingering, so instead he says, "But nothing. How about a hug for luck?" It's completely out of character. He hopes she goes with it anyway.
In fact, she slides her arms around his neck, making the gesture more intimate than he'd intended, but also making his job easier as he leans his face towards hers in the embrace. He should've learned by now never to doubt her ability to get him.
But when he nestles his lips close to her ear and the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end, he wonders how much she actually gets him. With no time to waste on how this incredibly brave, incredibly beautiful, incredibly stupid sixteen-year-old girl is reacting to his closeness, Haymitch starts whispering with the gravest urgency.
She's in danger. That stunt she pulled with the berries had forced her hand upon the Capitol. And Haymitch didn't say it, but he'd been in her position before. It did not end well. Her life, Peeta's life, and the life of everyone she loved was in grave danger.
She tosses her head back to laugh, and only Haymitch knows what the laugh really means. Fear.
"So what?" Her lips are not shadowed like his are. That laugh was also a cover, a defense mechanism. They both know that, but no one else has to.
She had better pull off this star-crossed lovers act, and do it well.
He stands back now. To linger nearer if for only a moment, he reaches out to adjust her yellow headband.
"Got it, sweetheart?" Haymitch is unusually great masking emotion, and can only hope he's doing it successfully this time. Because, for the first time in the last twenty-four years, Haymitch realizes he has something to lose. And he wasn't so sure the alcohol would be content with its role as crutch this time around. Hell, he wasn't sure he'd want it to.
"Got it," she says. It's a loaded two words. Maybe a stray trace of fear, of uncertainty, but more than anything, it is acknowledgement. Understanding. And acceptance of a burden. A big one.
Haymitch couldn't waste time worrying after a response like that. Hell, if she could pull off the Peeta thing just like she was pulling off ease and nonchalance here, she was golden.
Then she's speaking again. "Did you tell Peeta this?"
At her words, his heart does this strange kind of thumping, swirling pattern where he's semi-aware that he could be having a heart attack until he realizes. What these words mean is that the girl doesn't love the boy with the bread. His heart has registered its chance. But he's too old, too austere, too constantly drunk to let his mind even consider it. Besides, she needs to love the boy. It'd be best for everyone if she did, because Haymitch doesn't know how long such a charade can be played out. So he responds to her disguisedly innocent questions, barely noticing his words or hers as her fingertips rise up to his neck, straightening his obnoxiously red bowtie.
He wants to trap her in his arms again and never let go, but he simply proceeds. Lives on like he should as her coach, her mentor, who she never really listens to but pays attention to when it counts. Besides, she knows how to act. To mask emotion, at least. What if all of this was just in his head? Somehow he was certain that it was. Because she was young. She was on fire. And had to love the boy, had to light the crowd on fire tonight.
"This is your night, sweetheart," he says, letting the fondness creep into his voice just this once. "Enjoy it." He takes the last moment he can spare to lean over and kiss her on the forehead before vanishing down the hall en route to his own platform. His fingers fly to his bow tie unconsciously, wanting to loosen it, but he stops once they grip the fabric. She'd wanted him to look nice. He wasn't going to mess that up.
And then the buzzer sounds, and he emerges onto the stage in front of the Capitol crazies, bowing his head under the harsh lights, glad for once he isn't drunk out of his mind or else he'd've fallen off the stage already.
Because this time, he's got to keep it together. For them.