AN: So I was really happy with the way the last chapter ended as I love a tender Haymitch, but I can't let the broken bits go unmended! I spent some time on this story this week and have this update for you. Shoutout to the readers and reviewers, the stats and reviews keep me hoping you're interested and want to read more, and that drives me to write. Just for you!
Haymitch snaps awake with a start. He doubles over a split-second later, cringing and wanting to cover his ears, but he rips off his tangled bed sheets and stumbles out of their clutches and into the hallway towards the living room where he left Katniss. Because she's screaming bloody murder, he's practically at a run when he rounds the corner into the room to find her – sleeping. And screaming like a banshee. He tries to nudge her awake, a couple sharp jolts to her side, but it's not working and his ears are taking a beating. He knows if she keeps it up he'll be getting a massive hangover headache, but besides that, her screams might wake up the boy next door. And that is the last thing he wants. So he ends up gripping her by the shoulders and physically shaking her awake, calling her name into her face until her eyes snap open and she takes in a sharp, gaspy breath. Then she practically turns to jelly under his grip.
He was on the verge of cussing her out, right up until she did that. But now she looks so beat down, so listless that he rethinks his plan of attack.
"Is this how it is every night, sweetheart?" he asks, hoping his voice is somewhat soft. Not that he ever carries that out very well.
She just looks up at him, guilt shining in her eyes. Don't hate me; don't leave me here, they seem to say, and she doesn't need to speak. He understands. So he sits back, shakes his head back and forth slowly, running a hand through his mess of hair.
He looks back down at her, controlling his expression when he says, "I think you better go home."
Because he gets it now. This is why she needs the boy around, why she convinces herself to stay with him even when living the lie wounds her in its own way. He knew it'd been like this after her first Games, but he'd never considered the nightmares sticking around. He guessed everybody had their haunts. God knew he had his.
She shakes her head at the word home. "Don't call it that." There is a sadness in her voice, one that makes her sound like an eighty-year-old woman rather than the eighteen-year-old Girl on Fire she's supposed to be. And seeing her like this is really starting to tear him up.
He can't handle these kinds of things, she should know that.
"Then go to your own house," he spits out, not thinking, just reacting, and immediately regretting it. She'd moved into Peeta's after the war because, frankly, the boy had no other family left to fill it with. Haymitch imagined it also had to do with her not being able to sleep down the hall from her dead sister's empty room, a fact that that came at Haymitch especially hard right now. He looked back at her, pleading forgiveness for his last outburst.
Her eyes were watering up.
"Shit, sweetheart, I didn't…" Haymitch harrumphed, running a hand through the hair hanging over his face and palming it down over his sorry features. "Listen," he said, trying again. If you need a place to crash for a couple of days, just to detox or whatever the hell you wanna do, you can stay here. But this screaming thing… Hell, sweetheart, isn't that what Peeta's for?"
And that's when the tears spill over, her eyes turning all puffy and red, and she mops a sleeve over her face to sop it all up. He reaches out an arm to stop her from the mopping, looking at her hard.
"I can't keep him around for me," she sniffles between tears, obviously embarrassed at her leaking eyes but unable to stop them once they'd started. Damn, she's broken up. "I'm turning him back into the Peeta from the hijacking, just by being around and – And I'm afraid that I need him too much. But I know I'm using him. Now more than ever. And we're not fooling anyone this time, Haymitch. It's like we're falling apart at the seams, and I need him to stitch me back up, but I'm his seam ripper. It just doesn't work anymore."
Haymitch realizes at the end of the speech just how far removed Katniss is from the old Girl on Fire, the hasty, sometimes thoughtless sixteen-year-old that he'd mentored through her Games. She was different now. She had lived through so much in such a small window, she couldn't be only eighteen. She had suffered so much, and she was still insistent on sacrificing herself for others. He had to commend her, as usual. But Haymitch didn't know what to say to all that. I'm proud of you, even after all this? You're too young to be this broken up? Chin up, Sweetheart? No. So instead, he squeezes her forearm – he just notices he's still holding onto it – and mumbles, "Go back to sleep, Mockingjay."
She blinks her eyes heavily before letting herself sink a little further into the couch. She seems to be taking his advice.
"I prefer Sweetheart," she mumbles before dozing off into oblivion.
A little smile threatens to show itself on Haymitch's lips as he watches her doze off, and, after he's content that she's in a place where the nightmares can't get to her, he recedes to his stuffing-spewing easy chair on the other side of the room. This will be his bed for the rest of the night.
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