With its darkness and collateral nightmares, he dreads sleep.
The act of slipping into sleep, with or without the aid of alcohol, is the most distressing thing Haymitch can imagine besides the Hunger Games. Any day or week or month now, the reaping day will be somberly acknowledged and not practiced. He plans to avoid all the commemorating pomp - if he hasn't missed the big day already. Haymitch survived the Second Quell and too many reaping days and a war, and somewhere amid all of that sleep became his personal hell. He doesn't need to remember anything; he needs to forget.
His nightmares are recreations of the memories rotting inside his subconscious, and over the years he's learned he has quite a dark imagination. Reality may be another kind of nightmare but sleep is a trap, keeping him locked in a shadowy place where his demons come out to play and all his faults are laid before him like reaping slips.
Alcohol doesn't reconcile him much. It numbs his transition into sleep, the most basic human necessity that he barely fulfills. Gone are the days where lying down, all cozy in bed long enough was sufficient to fall asleep. Now he can either drink himself into a stupor or delay sleep until daylight, though that only ensures a few erratic hours laced with the anxiety of when he'll startle awake, slashing the air with his knife.
Perhaps the problem is that he always awakens.
As long as Haymitch isn't aware of himself, his life, or the memories that torment him, he's content. Unfortunately, Haymitch is all too aware. It's been years since he dreamt of something pleasant or even contentedly nothing at all. The only solution may very well be death but he has two too many people to look after for that.
Not that he hasn't considered it - Haymitch just tries not to linger on those kinds of thoughts. Succumbing to the hardships of his life means succumbing to the Capitol, and Haymitch didn't help win a damn revolution to die that generously. Instead, he drinks until Peeta, Katniss, or Sae make him eat, bathe, talk. Instead, he drinks the entire day and into the night until he has to fall asleep.
Right now, he's very, very close to falling asleep.
But then a goose honks too close to his face, and he practically leaps over the side of the couch.
The sound familiar enough that he doesn't stab the bird, he screws his eyes shut and groans from the floor, which he has no intention of leaving and actually plans to stay there the rest of the day until he needs another drink. Maybe the uncomfortable floor will delay sleep several hours.
"Who the hell let you in?" he asks the goose, not expecting an answer. He gets one anyway.
"I did." Shifting a bag onto her shoulder, Hazelle Hawthorne adds, "Sorry. It ran in when I opened the door."
Haymitch sits up from the floor slowly, cautiously. He doesn't respond to her apology - frankly, he doesn't care when the geese get inside - but to her presence, here, in his house in a forsaken district that's been razed to ash and wreckage. She's here when she should be in Thirteen or anywhere else in Panem. Then again, Twelve is her home and maybe that was enough reason for her.
Still, she's in his house.
Groggily, Haymitch realizes Hazelle has come back to him specifically for work. The old canvas bag at her hip is full of cleaning implements: disinfectant spray, varnish, wire wool, and towel rags. Usually it hangs in his pantry beside the mop, broom, and dust pan - all of which Haymitch never bothers to use. The supply bag used to belong to his mother, and he gave it to Hazelle when he hired her, should more work open up to her once the local stigma of her son's flogging lifted. All she would've had without it was a washboard and a bucket full of more used rags and lumps of soap she'd been using as a laundress. Hazelle must have left the bag in his house; any belongings from the Seam that she didn't take with her were surely lost in the firebombing.
The woman looks around the room, and while there's obvious distaste in her gaze there's also determination Haymitch recognizes. She's done this before, and she'll do it again - even though Haymitch isn't asking.
She looks better. Living in Thirteen, where the diet is strict yet consistent, for the past year has filled out her sunken cheeks some. She's still Seam-thin, though, a sharpness to her body that denotes years in destitution. Her olive skin has paled from lack of natural light, and while it's another effect of life in Thirteen, it reminds Haymitch more of a collier's complexion.
Hazelle escaped most of the war but from her tired gray eyes alone, Haymitch can tell she's seen enough. They are haunted, shattered like his own except the cracks are different. Before evacuating Twelve, she witnessed one of the worst repercussions of the rebellion, people she knew choking on smoke and burning alive, her home collapsing around her. Though it wasn't the first time she saw President Snow's extreme punishment at work, it was definitely a more devastating lesson, taught to the entire nation rather than Haymitch and whoever loved him before he won. Whereas District Twelve knew about Haymitch's family but never told, all of Panem knew about Twelve but there was no district left to tattle.
After all of that, Hazelle has returned. Haymitch is kind of annoyed that she wants to resume her job as his housekeeper. Of course, he's not heartless enough to stop her. But hiring her had been awkward before, knowing there were things meant to but couldn't be said, not then.
They should have a conversation about the war or Katniss or the past or even just how their week is going so far. Instead, Haymitch mutters, "Geese don't run, they waddle," before climbing back onto the couch. Realizing she probably wants to clean without any interference, like his snoring, panicked stirring, or even just his damn presence, he slips upstairs and locks his bedroom door behind him.
While his bed is the same and sleep is once again impervious, Haymitch feels different, unnerved.
Haymitch Abernathy looked dead when Hazelle found him sprawled out on the couch, all sallow skin and unwashed clothes hanging too baggily from his body. Nonetheless, he sounded alive, his snores practically rattling the walls of his house - as they should now but don't. Through his open mouth she could see un-brushed teeth that no doubt fester in the omnipresent alcohol fumes.
From the looks of him and his big house, Haymitch wasted no time reacquainting himself with liquor. Hazelle knows of his forced sobriety in District Thirteen from Verbena Everdeen. Rebellion orchestrator or not, Haymitch was not an exception to Thirteen's intolerance of wasting limited resources.
Hazelle remembers learning about his secret involvement in the rebellion when she was evacuated to Thirteen, and how she was glad he was still up to something all those years. He generated lots of talk, including some criticism on whether that was why he quit mentoring their tributes. Hazelle, along with anyone else who knew him and witnessed his unconventional victory in the Second Quarter Quell, should have figured he'd play an integral part. His indirect final kill wasn't even deliberately seditious, and yet the Capitol felt threatened enough to execute his family afterward. Even so, there wasn't enough force behind that rebounding axe for Haymitch to catalyze a rebellion on his own or to even overcome the Peacekeeper crackdown in Twelve following the executions - so he directed Katniss as the Mockingjay years later.
It's disappointing to know all of that about a man and then stand over him as he lives in the dregs of a bottle. But it's not pathetic. Hazelle knew him - the younger him - too well to pity him. She's been plenty tempted over the years but then she would have helped him, and it would have been dangerous to help Haymitch Abernathy.
After Gale's flogging scared off her laundry clientele, she'd been reluctant to go to Haymitch for a job. She asked Katniss to ask him, deciding that tense awkwardness can be endured for the sake of her family but also that the suggestion should come from the girl and not her.
He could have denied the offer, too, and he didn't. So now she's here to help him and pay back what she owes, and she can finally do it right.
The goose that had run - or rather, waddled into the house followed her line of sight and honked in the man's face as if to alert him of company. She doubts Haymitch trained the gaggle crowding his lawn but it was her first thought upon seeing it.
She stepped back when Haymitch sprung, gasping, from the stained cushions, remembering that he slept with a knife. His knife had skid across the floor with a throw pillow. Hazelle noticed he didn't take it with him upstairs when he left her to resume her job after a yearlong absence.
Today, like her first day almost a year and a half ago, is the most arduous. Once she disposes of the filth that's accumulated since the last time she was here, all she has to do is maintain.
There aren't many surprises cleaning his house a second time. Bottles - some broken, some half-full, many empty - litter just about every surface. The only difference is there aren't as many considering he'd been gone last summer and autumn. Also, there are goose feathers and shit everywhere. Hazelle clears out all the trash in the living room and moves onto the kitchen before noon.
At noon, Hazelle leaves for lunch as well as to check on the kids, then returns. She doesn't like cleaning but she finds she can lose herself in the work, focusing on dishes and laundry rather than fretting over things that won't pay her.
She doesn't notice the new additions to the house until she's spraying disinfectant everywhere, the clutter she removed leaving another mess behind. The dozen or so picture frames that line the walls and some of the surfaces around the house don't need polishing or dusting or any cleaning at all.
Upon closer inspection, Hazelle sees that the pictures aren't of Katniss or Peeta, recent, but of Haymitch's actual family. Decoratively scattered around are a picture of his parents' wedding day, both their miner portraits as well as his uncle's, random photos of Haymitch and Cory together, and a plaque Hazelle recognizes as the Medal of Valor.
A year ago, these pictures would have been dangerous - or at least, Hazelle assumes they were because Haymitch hid them for so long; they definitely weren't here in the months prior to the Third Quell. Maybe he just didn't want to see them, which is both understandable and upsetting. Hazelle wonders what has changed since then.
Anxiously avoiding the pictures, Hazelle runs her fingers along the edge of the Medal of Valor. They all look the same, fake gold that's not worth shit anywhere with meaningless engraved sentences, mounted on average wood. Some, like Hazelle and evidently the Abernathy family, couldn't bring themselves to break it off and burn it. Hazelle figured temporary warmth wasn't worth the loss of a commemoration for her late husband, however insincere it was. It ended up burning anyway.
After Rohan died, Gale grasped their own plaque like he knew by accepting it he was taking on half the responsibility of providing for his family. Hazelle caught him sneaking out the next morning with a kitchen knife and a few strands of shoelaces tied together for snares. After many promises to Hazelle, Gale crossed the fence into the woods and returned with a sickly rabbit.
Around the time Haymitch accepted this plaque, he, his mother, and Cory were moving into his uncle Sear's house, next door to Hazelle's childhood home.
A stair creaks in the foyer. Haymitch rounds the end of the banister and stops, staring at Hazelle staring at the Medal of Valor as if she's encroached on something deeply personal of his. Well, maybe she has - but he's the one that openly displayed these memories.
She crosses her arms and looks at him questioningly.
"My knife," is all he says.
Reaching into her bag to retrieve it, Hazelle sees the man's eyes flash with accusation and explains, "Didn't want to leave it lying around. I was going to put it on the table before I left." She also didn't want him tearing up the house she's still cleaning to search for it.
She hands it to him, and he grasps the hilt, mindful of her fingers. He nods a little in thanks. Then, he's gone.
Or he would be, except he stops halfway up the stairway to ask, "Why are you, uh, doing this?"
Technically, there are two answers but they have to interconnect or else it would have been foolish of her to return. Hazelle's here to clean his house for money so she can support her family and to finally fix things between them because she can now.
With the completely true answer in her mind, she says, "The kids wanted to come back, and I knew where to find work. We had to wait for some reconstruction to be sure there'd be other company." Her tone is light, almost friendly, but from the way he grimaces Haymitch doesn't receive it as such.
"You could have helped."
Looking around indignantly, because who is he to criticize her with his current lifestyle, Hazelle scoffs, "I was busy making sure my family was safe and cared for. What have you done?"
"Kept two kids breathing even though that was the last thing they or I wanted to do some days." Haymitch shrugs. "So almost the same as you, but not quite." With a wry smile, he disappears upstairs, leaving her in the foyer with her mouth agape.
One good thing about her plan is that she can give up on trying to make any amends with him and just work for him - or even go somewhere else. The problem is she doubts she will.
Well, she has a lot of work to do, then.
AN: I have passively shipped these two for too long, and now I'm attempting to write them. The rating will change to M in the future but I'll mention that a few chapters in advance. Thanks so much to my wonderful beta, Estoma! I own nothing.