Something of Our Own
1. This Old and Empty House
Some days I can't even dress myself.
It's killing me to see you this way.
(Little Talks; Of Monsters & Men)
With darkness and the nightmares that accompany it, he dreads sleep.
The act of slipping into perilous oblivion, with or without the aid of alcohol, is the most distressing thing Haymitch can imagine. Of course, there's always the Hunger Games, which, hell, was a possibility for him a year ago with the Third Quarter Quell. But he'd already survived the Second Quell, and it was then when sleep became an issue. His nightmares are recreations from the memories rotting inside his own subconscious, and over the years he's learned he has quite the dark imagination.
Reality may be another kind of nightmare but sleep is a trap, keeping him locked in that 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 can barely tolerate. Gone are the days where lying down, all cozy in bed long enough was sufficient to fall asleep. It's either drinking himself into a stupor or not sleeping until daylight, though that only assures a few erratic hours filled with the anxiety of when he'll startle awake, screaming and slashing the air with his knife.
Yet he always awakens, and maybe that's the problem.
As long as Haymitch isn't aware of himself, his life, and the memories that torment him, he's content. Problem is, that hasn't happened yet. It's been years since he dreamt of something pleasant or even 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 helping win a damn revolution is enough evidence that he can't accept the idea. 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.
Then, a goose honks too close to his face, and he practically leaps over the side of the couch.
He will not admit to a fucking goose that he's grateful, but he is.
The sound familiar enough that he doesn't stab the bird, he instead rolls his eyes and groans from the floor, which he has no intention of rising from and actually plans to stay there the rest of the day until he needs another drink. Perhaps the uncomfortable floor could 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 stays on the floor but sits up slowly, cautiously. He doesn't respond to her apology - frankly, he doesn't care if his geese get inside - but to her presence, here, in his house in a district that's been razed to ash and debris. 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: a feather duster, disinfectant spray, varnish, and towel rags. Usually it hangs in the pantry beside the mop, broom, and dust pan - all of which Haymitch never bothered to use. The bag used to belong to his mother, and he gave it to Hazelle when he hired her. She might've needed it for other clients, should more work open up to her once the local stigma of her son's flogging faded. All she would've had without it was just a washboard and a bucket full of more used rags and lumps of soap she'd been using as a laundress. Fortunately for her, Hazelle left the bag in his house; any belongings from the Seam that she didn't take with her were lost in the bombing.
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 was 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 tells of years living in destitution, and her olive skin has paled from lack of natural light - another effect of life in Thirteen.
While she escaped most of the war, from her tired gray eyes alone, Haymitch can tell she's seen enough. They are haunted, nearly as shattered as his though 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'd seen President Snow's extreme punishment at work, it certainly had more impact on a larger scale, a lesson taught to the entire nation rather than Haymitch and those who knew him before he won.
After all of that, she has returned. It kind of annoys Haymitch that she wants to resume her job as his housekeeper. Hiring her had been awkward before, knowing there were things meant to be said but couldn't, not then. Haymitch doubts that now is any different. There is nothing either of them can say that will change anything, really.
They should have a conversation about the war or Katniss or the past or even just how their week is going so far. Not one for doing the right thing, Haymitch mutters, "Geese don't run, they waddle," before climbing back onto the couch. Realizing she'll probably want 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 thankfully impervious, he feels different, unnerved.
Haymitch 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 the 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, he'd wasted no time resuming drinking.
District Thirteen hadn't been kind to him in his forced sobriety. They had a war to win and whether Haymitch Abernathy participated in good health wasn't much of a concern.
His secret involvement generated some talk. Those who watched his victory in the Second Quell weren't too surprised that he was an integral part in the rebellion. It was almost expected that if Haymitch Abernathy won the Games, he'd win with a rebellious flair: an indirect final kill using the Gamemakers' toys instead of the ones issued to him. Obviously, the Capitol had been furious since Haymitch didn't walk away scot-free. His actions weren't even deliberately seditious, then.
Hazelle wonders whether the defiance in his teenage cunning could have inspired the nation. She supposes there were more factors that determined the impetus of the rebellion, though, one a matter of having enough support. While Katniss catalyzed the war through her own rebellious acts, Hazelle always knew the girl was only its figurehead, the symbol to rally the people. Haymitch could have filled that role but there wasn't enough force behind that backfiring axe. Looking back, Hazelle honestly doubts she would have revolted.
Haymitch, on the other hand, later did, and he succeeded.
It's disappointing to know all 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.
Even after Gale's whipping scared off all of her laundry customers, she'd been reluctant to go to Haymitch for a job. That must have been obvious, as she had asked Katniss to ask him. But humiliation and awkwardness can be endured for the sake of her family.
He could have denied the offer, too, and he didn't. So now - at last - she's here to help him. Well, in a way, she is. She'll try. Because if she can swallow her pride for work, she certainly won't let any opinions of hers get in the way of being fair, of paying back someone she owes.
The goose that had run - or rather, waddled in followed her line of sight and honked in the man's face as if to alert him of company. She highly 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 often 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 get started.
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 change is there aren't as many considering he'd been gone last summer and autumn. Also, there are goose feathers 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.
The sun is setting before she notices the new additions to the house. They don't need polishing or dusting, and they weren't here before, in the months prior to the Third Quell. She must have cleaned around them, not registering what they were since they're so ordinary anywhere except here. Lining the walls and some of the surfaces around the house are about a dozen picture frames.
Upon closer inspection, Hazelle sees that the pictures aren't of Katniss and Peeta, recent, but of his 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, and a plaque Hazelle recognizes as the Medal of Valor.
A year ago, these pictures would have been dangerous. Or at least, she assumes they were because he had hid them for so long. Maybe he just didn't want to see them, which was understandable as well as upsetting. What had changed since then? The war?
She runs her fingers along the edges of the Medal of Valor. They all look the same, fake gold paint that's not worth shit anywhere with meaningless engraved sentences, mounted on average wood. Some, like Hazelle and apparently the Abernathy family, couldn't bring themselves to break it off and burn it. Hazelle had figured temporary warmth wasn't worth the loss of a commemoration for her late husband, however insincere it was.
After Rohan died, Gale had 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 without his father for the first time, 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 hers.
A stair creaks in the foyer. Haymitch rounds the end of the banister and stops, staring at Hazelle staring at the pictures as if she's encroached on something deeply personal of his. Well, perhaps she has but he's the one that hung them, didn't he?
She holds her ground, crosses her arms, and looks at him questioningly.
"My knife," is all he says, cagily.
Reaching into her bag to retrieve it, Hazelle sees the man's eyes flash with accusation. She hurries to explain, "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 feed her family as well as fix things between them because most of their friends are dead and, well, she wants to change that.
She answers, "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 dubiously, because who is he to criticize her with his current lifestyle, she scoffs, "I was busy making sure my family would be safe and cared for. What have you done?"
"Kept two kids breathing even though that's the last thing they or I wanted to do some days." He shrugs as he says, "So almost the same as you, but not quite." With a wry smile, he finally disappears upstairs, leaving her in the foyer with her mouth agape.
One good thing about her plan is that she could give up on trying to make any amends with him and just work for him - or even go somewhere else. The problem is she still doesn't think 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.