The box under my bed sits and collects dust. I can't bring myself to touch it.
I try to avoid Haymitch...in his own house. Somehow, I just don't think that I can face him, or maybe it's that if I face him, then I'll be facing up to the truth. The truth that no matter how fucked up things were before now, how fucked up things got during the war, they're still as completely fucked up now, more so than ever before in fact.
Who was I kidding, telling myself that maybe, just maybe, I could live a normal life after all of this? Was I really that naive, that callow, to twist my remaining strands of hope around the seed of an idea that perhaps things could have gotten better, that we could have survived this bloody war? Because it's not over you know. We may have stopped fighting, physically at least, but every day its a fight just to get out of bed, to keep caring about the little things, because I know as soon as I stop caring for them, I stop caring for everything else in life as well.
I pinned my dreams on Haymitch, the lost and forgotten drunk of 12, the one they said would never, could never, love again, and I filled him with my vicarious hope, entertaining some childish notion that Haymitch would be able to start something new after the Capitol's downfall. But it's not what he could have now, it what he could never have back then. It's the past that keeps us weighed down, and no matter how many wars we fight, no matter how many people we kill, it stays with us.
Haymitch reminded me of the truth: that the past is inescapable. And that's why I can't face up to him yet, because if I allow myself to believe, to truly believe, that there is no way forward, that my past will never let me move on...
I can't bear to think about it.
The woman on the TV is droning on about the new housing redevelopment programme, a backdrop of cranes and half built structures behind her on a plane of mud.
Haymitch and I are both facing the screen, listening to the regular news bulletin that comes out of the Capitol every night at seven. I shift my head slightly so that my hair hangs down over my cheeks, but I can still feel the flicker of Haymitch's gaze pass over me from time to time.
I pretend to be intensely interested in what the woman is saying...
"...a utopia for all families, a place where everything needed for the perfect modern life will be provided for you. This is the start of a new era of growth and fidelity and friendship..."
He's still looking at me and I bend my head even further forward, trying to use my hair as a thick black curtain to cover my burning cheeks. What does he want? Surely not to talk? Fuck. What if he does want to talk. Does he know that I know, about the marriage? Does he know that I took something obviously precious to him? Why is he looking at me like that?
Finally he places the bottle onto the table next to the sofa, with slightly more force than necessary, rubs his hands together and faces me.
"What's going on sweetheart?" he asks, bending forward to knot his hands together and rest his elbows on his knees. I glance at him and avert my eyes quickly away, fiddling with a loose button on my shirt.
"What do you mean?" I mumble into my chest
"You know what I mean Katniss".
I shake my head and give my shoulders a noncommittal shrug. Haymitch lets out an exasperated sigh and mutes the TV, leaning backwards and running a hand through his floppy hair.
"Look - I'm not good - at this kind of thing. I just - it's just, well, you would tell me wouldn't you, if - if - you know?"
I let my hands fall away from my shirt and finally turn my head towards Haymitch who rubs his eyes vigorously with his knuckles, so hard in fact that I think he might skewer an eyeball.
"I don't know Haymitch, no. I haven't got a clue what you're talking about". I shoot him a quizzical expression. He squints open one eye.
"I just want to know if - if, you're feeling - you're going - um..." he splutters out and rubs the back of his neck uneasily.
"God Haymitch, spit it out"
"Are you feeling, you know -" and makes a comical slashing motion against his wrist, and looks at me with a half joking and half guilt ridden expression playing across his face.
I physically reel in shock, and I'm sure it's plain to see on my face, so I quickly bend my head and go back to playing with the button on my shirt, which is now becoming so loose that only a few thin strands of cotton hold it in place. I shake my head once slowly, and then fast.
"No, no Haymitch, it's - it's nothing like that".
He nods and looks uncomfortable, seemingly unsure about whether to push the matter further, or simple leave it lie. I might as well be a sleeping tiger right now, for all the caution that Haymitch is approaching me with. He seems to make up his mind though as he stands from the sofa and moves towards the kitchen.
"Tea?" he asks, without bothering to wait for a response. He's nearly into the kitchen when I call him, his own name coming from my mouth making his stop sharp.
He turns, like a naughty schoolboy caught in the act, except his act is getting away from this entirely uncomfortable situation in which we've both just found ourselves in.
"I'm sorry", I say.
"Sweetheart, we've already been over this, I know you're sorry so let's just -"
"No", I interrupt him, "It's not that. It's just, I'm sorry...that you have to put up with me, you know. I know you didn't want this. You didn't even kill anyone in the war". I turn my eyes away from him to watch as the muted woman on TV talks and smiles silently. "You could have had a life", I whisper, "and I took that away from you, didn't I?"
Haymitch sways unsteadily on his feet, as if unsure of whether to stay or move forward, but eventually he comes towards me and sits at the edge of the sofa arm, facing me and hovering slightly forward, so that he's only inches away from where I sit in my armchair.
"You don't have to lie to me Haymitch." I say, training my eyes on a spot on the floor where the carpet has become so threadbare you can see the floorboards underneath, "why would you want to be stuck here with me? Hell, I don't even like myself, so why should anyone else?'
"Well maybe that's the problem then, isn't it sweetheart".
I whip my head and narrow my eyes at him, silently quizzing him on his response.
"Katniss, you have to stop this whole, 'I'm worthless, I'm shit' thing you've got going on. It's not doing anyone any good. And besides, it's not worth it, it's not worth it even in the slightest little bit"
"Haymitch I killed people. People died in a war because of me. I as good as killed my baby sister. I drove my mother away. I drove my best friend away, and I gave up my rock in Peeta to the bloody Capitol. How can you say that I have to like myself, when I hate myself even more than I hated the Capitol?"
Haymitch shakes his head and to my surprise reaches out a hand to grasp at my own. It's warm and clammy against my cold skin, but it feels...nice. My self-loathing is momentarily distracted in the suddenness of human contact. I can't help but stare at our two hands, his hand grasped over mine, his thumb resting on the delicate groove where thumb meets wrist.
"Katniss, look at me" he says. I move my head up to meet his gaze, but the way his grey eyes are penetrating my own, exactly like how they stared up out of the photograph at me, it's too much, and I quickly avert my eyes away.
His hand moves from my own, leaving a gust of emptiness where it had been. I miss it the moment it's gone, but then suddenly it's back, this time catching hold of my chin and forcing me to look at him. I can feel the calluses on his fingers as they touch my jawline with a gentle strength, the heat from his own body radiating into mine, so that it rushes through my entire skull, until my ears hum and my eyes are wide.
"The Capitol killed Prim, not you. You only killed those that it was necessary to kill. Ah-". I go to speak but he cuts me off, raising a finger to my lips. "Let me finish. There were people that suffered in the rebellion, but they suffered because they believed that what they were fighting for was right, and honorable, and just. They died fighting for what they believed in. And now they're safe. They can feel no more pain. They're at rest.
Don't you see Katniss, don't you see that you didn't kill them, you gave them the strength to stand up and believe in something different, to believe in something that mattered, so that at least when they went down fighting, they went down as men, as women, as fathers and mothers, not simply as cattle for the Capitol to do with what they wished. You did that Katniss. You saved them".
He drops his hand from my chin but his gray eyes, sharp like glass, cut deeply into my own.
"Please promise me, promise me that you won't think this way of yourself anymore".
It takes me a time to find my voice, but when I do it sounds small and trembling.
"Okay...just so long as you do to". Haymitch raises an eyebrow.
"What do you mean?"
"If I promise, then you have to promise too"
"That you won't see yourself as worthless either!"
Haymitch snorts and leans back, scratching at the stubble on his jaw. "Sweetheart I'm long gone, I'm a helpless case".
"No, no you're not. You're not worthless. You - you took me, in, you helped me, through everything, and you tried to help Peeta too, I know you did, and you looked after us in the first games, and, and-"
"Shhhh", Haymitch cuts me off, "okay, shhh. I promise too". His eyes are gentle and he's looking at me strangely, gently, as if he's never seen me before, as if he's trying to work out some confusing puzzle.
"For real?" I manage to whisper before my voice cracks in my throat and breaks.
He nods. "Yes, for real".
There's a weird silence where neither of us speaks speaks, but our bodies stay close together, separated only by a few feet of electric air. But then he coughs and moves away.
"Better finish making that tea", he says and heads into the kitchen.
The faint grumbling snores that reverberate around the living room are oddly comforting, and I find myself subconsciously sinking my own breathing to his. In and out. In and out.
My feet are drawn up beneath my in my armchair and I lean a head against it's side, closing my eyes and concentrating.
In and out. In and out.
There's a half finished cup of tea on the floor next to me, a pasty anaemic shade of beige, that as usual Haymitch had put too much milk in and not enough sugar. Of course, with tea not being his choice drink, I guess I can understand his lack of skill in brewing, but chugging down even half of the lukewarm tepid tea was enough for me.
I open my eyes and stare down glumly at it. Sleep just doesn't want to claim me tonight. My chair is delightfully warm, but my neck is starting to get a crick which I try and massage out with my own hands, pushing my fingers deep into the muscles of my back to try and work out the knot that's formed there. The pain is almost pleasurable.
As it often is though, I move just slightly and am unable to get back into the same position, and I'm left with no choice but to unfurl my self completely, like some snake loosening itself from it's coil. My back pops as I stretch my arms above my head and inflate my lungs with the stale air.
The noise seems strangely loud in the deathly silence of the house, and I shoot a glance at Haymitch in case it might have woken him, but he remains in his deep slumber, ignorant to the world in front of his closed eyelids.
The rhythmic rise and fall of his chest is like hypnotism to me, and I simply watch it for a while. In and out. In and out. There's just something so reassuring in the breathes, that it makes my own chest warm and full. Perhaps it's the fact that the gentle whistle of breath is evidence enough that I'm not alone here. Perhaps it's just the fact that he's alive.
Something has changed between us. It's not something that I can't put my finger on. It's not even one thing, but there's definitely been a shift in the energy between since, since we made our promises to each other. It's not at all unpleasant, but it is a difference from the norm. There is no better way to describe it, other than to say I am now acutely aware of Haymitch. His presence. No longer are we simply two people sitting in the same room, but rather something...more. More what though, I couldn't say.
Haymitch moves in his sleep and one of his arms falls limply away from the side of his body so that his fingertips just brush the floor. My own hand tingles in response, remembering how he had taken it earlier, and if I close my eyes I can almost feel it ghosting over my skin, my hairs rising in response.
The reverberations through Haymitch's throat are cut-off and then he chokes out another snore, like an old car only just managing to get going. I sigh. The moon is bright outside the window, but my eyes refuse to fall shut, no matter how hard I will them too. I expel an event bigger gust of a sigh and push myself up, feeling the cold draft of the floorboards on my bare feet.
With a quick backwards glance at the sleeping man on the sofa I tiptoe up to bed, taking care to step carefully over the fourth step, and the fifth floorboard on the landing...the ones that creak. I keep the blinds pulled open as I climb between the cold sheets and stare out at the moon. It's so bright that I can make out the dark shadowy craters on it's surface and if I bring my thumb close to my face to block out it's face, the light looks like it's radiating from my own fingertip.
Scrunching my eyes together I turn onto my side, and try desperately to fall asleep, but to no avail. I try pushing myself over onto my other side, and then flipping onto my back, but still sleep seems a million miles off, my brain a hum of activity. I expel a breathe of air through pursued lips so that it comes out as half a whistle. Agh, why can't I sleep?
I feel the ghostly touch on my hand again, and although I'm sure it's just a lone draft making it's way through the old bricks, it makes me shiver, goosebumps rising on my flesh. But it's pleasant though, and I don't want it to stop, to let go. I can almost feel the pressure on my skin from the grasp of fingers, and a wave of raised gooseflesh trails up my arms as I feel the ghosting touch brush up my forearm. A deeper shiver runs through me and I snuggle down further between the sheets.
I touch my arm and it's hot, and I can't help but feel slightly aroused, never knowing how my skin could feel so sensitive to my own touch. I close my eyes and drag my nails lightly across my hand, delighting in the feeling of it. My own touch moves further up my arm and my breathe rustles and catches in my throat as I brush over the soft skin upon which my now healed scars adorn.
Circling a lone finger up my arm, I pass over the bend of my elbow and curve on my shoulder, until I reach my collarbone. As I cross the hollow of my throat I allow my imagination to take hold, pretending that the light touch of my own self is somebody else's lips tracing along my skin. It's an almost involuntary movement when my hand clutches at the round curve of my breast through the thin material of my pajamas. I can't suppress even the lightest moan from my mouth as I feel my nipple turn hard beneath my own touch.
The warm sensation which I feel along my naval begins to burn and tingle. I've felt a similar sensation before, once with Gale when he pressed his lips hard on to my own and pulled me close with a hand on the small of my back. But this is something different, something...bigger. Something expectant.
I don't want it to stop.
Listening quietly for any noises from downstairs I begin to twist the buttons from the front of my pajamas from the nooses that hold them in place. One by one they fall open, until I'm left looking at my white skin, translucent like tracing paper in the moonlight. I study the curve of my breasts silhouetted in the night, looking curiously at my own brown nipples that adorn their tips. It's like I've never seen them before tonight.
I wonder whether any one could ever want me. Truly want me. I'm damaged goods, physically and emotionally. Perhaps I was always destined to grow old alone. I brush my hand across my stomach, feeling the ridges of the scars adorning the skin. Who could ever want this? But still, the touch from Haymitch earlier sparked something in me, a want, a need, for human contact. Just the very idea of closeness from another being causes my nerve fibers to stand on end. I feel awake, properly awake for the first time in a long time, and my body craves the attention.
Still listening for any noise I reach my finger inside my mouth, swirling it around on my tongue and pulling it out, glistening with saliva. I close my eyes tightly shut and bring the wet finger back to my breast, brushing it across my nipple, lightly at first, but then with more intensity. My imagination is working overtime as I imagine my own wet touch as a darting tongue, flicking across my firm breasts. Taking a breathe I give one a squeeze, imaginary teeth nipping and biting.
The darkness of my vision clears and suddenly it's Haymitch whose invading my mind, it's Haymitch taking my breast in his mouth, tracking wet kisses along the gentle slope of my chest. I'm shocked and my brain is shouting at me to clear the mental image, to push it away, to stop, but I'm too caught up in the heat of the moment, too riveted by this erotic Haymitch.
I grasp both breasts in my hands, massaging them vigorously, imagining that it's Haymitch's and not my own hand which light a trail of fire along my skin and causes the burning in my naval to grow stronger with each passing second. I start to pick up the intensity and my head clouds with visions of this fake Haymitch pulling at my nipples with his teeth and then suddenly I let myself go, a groan of ecstasy spilling out of my throat as my back arches and my toes clench.
It's all I can do to lie still, panting short sharp breathes between the now hot sheets. My cheeks are flushed and become even more so when an icy grip of fear makes my heart beat fast.
What have I done?
Did I really - did I really think about...Haymitch.
In that way?
Oh God. I don't know why he popped into my head, and the deliciousness of the moment was simply too much to stop from but...Oh God.
I button back up my shirt with fumbling fingers and draw the covers over my head, listening to my own strained breathing in the muggy air between the covers. I feel sick to my stomach. Why? Why? Why?
Why did I think about Haymitch? Not Peeta, not Gale. Haymitch. My mentor whose nearly twice my age, the guy who drinks himself to sleep every night. It must have been our talk from earlier and the photo that I found. The caring Haymitch I've never experienced before. That's it, I'm sure of it. He is the only person left in 12 that I know now...it's perfectly natural for me to feel an - affection - towards him, after all, he's the only one that shows any back to me.
But still, I've never even considered Haymitch in that way before. Ever. So what does this mean? Could I fancy him?
I entertain the idea in my head for a moment, pushing the covers off me and walking downstairs to where he lies dead to the world on the sofa, pushing my clothes off and forcing myself onto him.
No! No, no, no!
The idea sends shivers of disgust through me.
So why did it feel so good when it was him lying there, causing me to convulse with forbidden pleasure?
I'm shaking and my mouth is parched, but I can't bring myself to move, instead all I can do is draw my knees into my chest and will my brain to forget about what just happened, what I just did.
I really am fucked up after all.
After a long hiatus I have decided to post this chapter which has been on my computer for a while! Hope you all like...reviews much appreciated!