AN: Okay kids, this is where the literal plot gets a little non-cannon. Just a little, for my own [plot] devices. Otherwise, I'm still following the general structure of the book, and the italicized quotes are from Suzanne Collins's pen per Catching Fire. As for THG the series, I own nothing. I just like writing around them.
It was summer. Or at least, the beautiful time of the year in which I have a reprieve from any duties having to do with the Games and mentoring and the Capitol and all the other shit I'm forced to deal with as Victor. Usually it's even more beautiful than it is right now though, because usually it's longer. This year my holiday is cut short. I have to take my new fellow Victors on a damn Victory Tour, you know. But this year, my vacation's been less-than-rosy for another reason, and, of course, it has to do with the Games. Even more than that, it has to do with Katniss Everdeen. Or rather, the lack of her.
Because I lost her the day she lost the boy.
So the Tour, it's creeping up on me slowly, and I can feel it coming on not only from the increase of calls from that damn Trinket, but from a kind of tension building up inside me. As it nears, I just keep getting this bad feeling. Anxiety over taking some rebellious, high-risk teenagers all around the country, maybe. Teenagers who haven't talked to me or each other since our arrival here.
I guess that isn't entirely true, though.
I mean, I've seen them around. Katniss in the Hob, usually glaring in my direction as I frequent Ripper's stand or sit eating a bowl of stew at Sae's. Peeta coming by weekly to bring me bread, grudgingly at first, still holding against me the fact that I didn't include him in my Katniss Mentoring techniques. He got over that pretty quick though. He's too nice of guy to hold a grudge I suppose.
But Katniss, damn. Sure, she came by every once in a while with some game for me – not on any kind of schedule like Peeta had – but she barely ever said a word to me. Just gave me the silent treatment for my sins. I can't blame her for that. Figure I deserve it. I just hope we can get everything back to some semblance of normal before the cameras start rolling again.
…there's the Quarter Quell announcement.
It's the first time in a while that bread boy and I really sit down and talk. It's really quite painful, and I keep trying to drink my way out of it, but he starts getting physical in his protests to that.
He's just so in love with her. It breaks my heart to see this kid ready to die for somebody out of puppy love. I end up pacifying him and pushing him out my door, wanting time alone to settle into a nice, hazy mis-reality with my booze. I'm just about there when my door bangs open a second time.
Well, it didn't bang open the first time, but the banging part tells me who it is.
Of course. Now she comes to see me.
"Ah, there she is. All tuckered out. Finally did the math, did you, sweetheart? Worked out you won't be going in alone? And now you're here to ask me... what?" I'm laying it on thick. I'm pissed, so fucking angry with the Capitol for punishing her in this way, so mad at her for punishing herself equally, so pissed that she hasn't said a word to me for months. I knew she'd come to ask for something just like the boy did, but even after I give her the chance, she's not able to admit to what she wants. She's having a hard time bringing herself to do what she feels she must, for a debt or for honor's purpose, because it's just so hard to come to terms with dying for someone else when you don't even love them.
Speak, Katniss, speak.
But she doesn't, so I go on.
"I'll admit, it was easier for the boy. He was here before I could snap the seal on a bottle. Begging me for another chance to go in. But what can you say?" I mimic her voice, I'm that drunk. "Take his place, Haymitch, because all things being equal, I'd rather Peeta had a crack at the rest of his life than you?"
I hardly even know what I'm saying, all I know is that I'm talking at her, talking, wanting her to say something, and I can't stop. But when I say that, and her face screws up, I realize it's not just words anymore, that I've actually said something that is, to some extent, true. This is what she must think. The look on her face tells me so.
But she still won't admit to anything. All she says is, "I came for a drink."
Well that catches me off guard. So I throw my head back and laugh at her, pushing the bottle across the table in her direction where she grabs it up and puts it to her lips, taking a big long sip. Until she comes up sputtering.
I didn't even think about it, but this is the stuff that tastes like fire if you drink it straight up sober, so while she's choking on it I'm wondering if maybe it was a bad move adding fire to her flame like this. But she looks up at me, flames in her eyes, and I see it's only made her feistier. Well… good.
"Maybe it should be you. You hate life anyway," she spits out, pulling up a chair and plunking fiercely down into it. I eye her warily; drunkenly.
"Very true. And since last time I tried to keep you alive... seems like I'm obligated to save the boy this time." Yeah, well, obligation never meant much to me. But she goes with it.
"That's another good point." She drinks again, and I feel like this is wrong, like I should stop her, but who am I to do that? Besides, it's kinda nice having a drinking buddy for once, even if it is a prickly Katniss. So I take a deep breath, tell her like it is:
"Peeta's argument is that since I chose you, now I owe him. Anything he wants. And what he wants is the chance to go in again to protect you."
It's true, every word. She winces, knowing it has to be. Her face is turning pink around the edges. She's feeling it, that feeling you get when you're in someone's debt and they've got this hold over you and you can't say no… But Peeta's not a bad guy. We both know that. It's just that none of us in 12 are worthy of him.
"You could live a hundred lifetimes and not deserve him, you know." I say it as comfort, but obviously I'm not very good in that department so she probably thinks I'm just trying to make her mad.
"Yeah, yeah. No question he's the superior one in this trio." She waves it away. Getting down to business, she turns it back to me. "So what are you going to do?"
This is where I have to drink more. But I don't, knowing it won't hit me fast enough to answer, so I let out this big breath I didn't know I'd been holding, working the bridge of my nose between my fingers as I lean over the table to my right.
"I don't know, go back in with you maybe, if I can." Because I really do plan on that. I just know that it's not my decision to make. Whoever's name comes out of that reaping ball, the other one will volunteer for him. That's the way it's going to be. So I tell her so. We sit in silence for a while while I'm trying to keep a flood of memories and images at bay, so I try to focus on the girl sitting across from me, holding the bottle, want to drown myself in it. No, not yet, some voice whispers at me from my own head. You gotta stay strong for her. Get her through this one last time. Keep her alive. Well I know that.
"It'd be bad for you in the arena, wouldn't it?" she finally breaks the silence. "Knowing all the others?"
I look her in the face, then, and shake my head. "Oh, I think we can count on it being unbearable wherever I am." The thought makes my head spin. Katniss, along with one of us, back in the arena again. With so many lethal killers, experienced Victors. Not just kids anymore. I needed more drink.
"Can I have that back now?" I nod at the bottle.
"No." She hugs the thing into her like a small, greedy child. A thought about prying it from her passes through my head, but I just shrug and pull the seal off another nearby bottle. I tip it to her in a toast before tipping it to my lips. I think we're about to hurdle headlong into another of those silences, but after a few breaths she takes in a big one and starts talking.
Asking me what she's been working up the courage all night to do.
She wants to keep him alive.
And I'd been dancing around the conclusion for about year now, but it only hits me when she forces me to face it head-on: Him, or her? But truth is, as long as I have anything to do with it, there is no way she is not coming out of that arena alive. I will always choose her over the boy.
I know I'm frowning, staring into my bottle as she talks, as if I can climb inside and not have to answer her, answer her with a lie, with what she wants to hear, but I've done the lying before and she trusts me – why does she trust me like this? – and I know she'll take my word for it. She wants me to keep the boy alive, even if it means her life?
"All right," I lie.
She relaxes visibly.
"Thanks," is all she says. It's only then that we settle into another long silence, interrupted by a stare-down as we both try to outlast each other chugging from our respective bottles. I win, though I'm pretty sure she drained hers dry before she was ready to quit. She looks down at the bottle, and I sense movement in her, and she's pushing herself up, from the table, stumbling a little as the alcohol catches up with her, stumbles over to where I'm sitting. And I know it's probably a bad idea considering how gone she already is, but I hold the bottle out to her anyway, barely noticing when she brushes it to the side since I'm pretty tipsy myself for once in a long while (the occasion has warranted it) and my reflexes are so slow that I just can't pull away when her lips land suddenly on mine and she's kissing me.
Bloody hell she's kissing me.
And a fire shoots through me that's more than just liquor-soaked tongues when I open my mouth to her, and I know shouldn't, shouldn't let myself because, shit –
But I do, and she leans in, her hands on my shirt, and slips one of her hot little hands underneath the fabric.
And that's when the alarms start going off in my head so loud I can't ignore them any longer. I put my hand over hers, intending to extract it from my shirt, but it just sits there.
"Katniss," I say, voice rasping, and I sound desperate, so desperate and alone and aching for human contact, but this is me warning her.
"It's okay," she says, voice raspy too, and unsteady, but that's when I push her hand away from me because I know I must, that one of us has got to stop this madness and if it isn't going to be her, it had better be me, the forty-year-old mentor.
"No," I say then.
"It doesn't matter," she starts, trying to hide the hysterics creeping into the edges of her voice. "I'll be dead by the end of the Games anyway."
So that's how it was, then. She saw herself as a corpse, a corpse that – what, wanted to kiss me? That she could do whatever the hell she wanted without repercussions because she'd be dead by the Games? But that would mean she'd wanted to kiss me in the first place. That was just absurd. Some flower of light began to burst out of my stomach at the thought, and I ignore it, but I can't help myself when I put my rough hand to her face and spit out, "Well it matters to me."
She pulls back, anger filling her features, and regards me for a minute before brushing her sleeve over her face that may have just leaked a few tears. She sits back on my lap and I suddenly realize she's still drunk, and put a hand to her back and grip her leg to steady her. My head is buzzing, from much more than just the alcohol.
A few more tears spill out from her eyes, and I get the urge to wipe them dry, but I don't, I stop myself, only then noticing that I'm moving my thumb up and down, like I'm consoling her or something, on her back with the hand I've put there.
"I can't stay here," she finally tells the floor. Her voice sounds more desperate than anything I've ever heard, and my heart is breaking because all I want to do is pull her back into me and kiss her into a deep sleep where Snow and his minions will never get to her, but I know there is no way any of that will ever happen.
And so I answer, like a smart-ass, "Well you shouldn't." And it goes unspoken, but I want you to.
She shuffles off my lap, nearly falling over, and then we just stand there, wavering slightly, staring each other down, one challenging the other to remember this, to bring this up in the morning.
"Need me to walk you?" I ask at last, not looking her in the eye, letting the sarcasm cover everything I don't want to admit to her.
"No," she says a bit coldly, then turns and disappears out the door where she came. She's got a bottle in her spare hand.
Taking her cue, I grab up the bottle still sitting half full on the table. I press it to my lips, staring at the door, daring the alcohol to burn away the taste of her. But I doubt even I could pull that one off.
I'm gonna have to keep it together on a whole new level if I'm gonna make it through the next round of these Games.
AN: Notice: I'm not sure how much more of this story I can write, so this may be all for a while. Then again, I thought that about the last chapter, and viola! country music radio inspires THIS. (alone with you by jake owen, anyone?) So I derailed from cannon... how do you feel about it? (This is where I beg for reviews.) :)?