I'm not really sure how this came to mind, but when it did, I just had to begin writing it. It's AU. There are no Hunger Games, nor really totalitarian presidents (at least, not in a nation sense but business wise...). And for the sake of this story, Katniss Everdeen is now Katniss Abernathy, daughter of Haymitch. Alrighty, here's chapter one! Feedback is greatly loved and appreciated! -Jen
Chapter one: Periwinkle
He could taste the smoke as it bellowed out in thick, black clouds from the fallen remains of the factory. Police car lights flickered through the ashen scenery, nearly choked out by the immense fire that would occasionally shoot out from various places in the rubble. There had been warning signs. So many predictors that pointed to the old, worn down boilers in the basement that were at such high risk for overheating it seemed ridiculous the damned place passed the inspector's investigation. And now everyone had to pay the price for the corporation's stupidity.
He tried to push through the crowd that had gathered behind the yellow caution tape. His hand reached forward, readying to move it out of the way when an officer grabbed him by the shoulders. He swung around, eyes burning from both the smoke and anger. He had to get through. He needed to go over there. To search. To look. Just as all the other uncertain families desired.
"My wife," he coughed, trying to break free from the officer's grasp. "My wife, she works here. I have to see...I have to make sure..."
"I'm sorry, sir," the officer apologized. "But we can't allow civilians in. It's too dangerous."
"Damn your safety precautions," he hissed, elbowing the man just as two others approached and took a hold of him as well. "Damn you! Damn you all, my wife is in there. My wife..."
Haymitch's eyes shot open and within seconds, he was sitting up straight. His chest rose and fell rapidly as he looked around the room, knocking over an empty bottle of liquor from the table with his elbow as he did so. As the glass made contact with the floor and shattered, a small startled gasp caused him to look forward at the little figure who stood before him. His tense position relaxed and a breath of relief slipped past his chapped lips.
"Sweetheart," he said hoarsely. "What are you doing up this early?"
Katniss looked at her father quietly, her dark brown hair falling messily over her shoulders. In her arms, Haymitch noted the periwinkle backpack Ms. Hawthorne had purchased for her birthday last week. When he put two and two together, he nearly let the slur of curse words aimed at himself escape from his tongue. How could he have forgotten today of all days?
"It's the first day of school," he said more for his own benefit. "Kindergarten."
Katniss nodded her head slowly, "You forgot, didn't you?"
"No," he lied quickly. "Of course I didn't. Just forgot to set my alarm. Do you want me to make you some breakfast? Eggs maybe?"
"I already made myself a bowl of cereal," she said quietly.
Of course you did. Haymitch thought to himself as he slowly stood up from the kitchen table, knocking over a second empty bottle. He winced at the noise, his head still ringing from the previous night's drinking as he stepped over the broken glass, promising himself to clean it up after he dropped Katniss off at school. Exhaling in an attempt to clear his mind, he looked down to his young daughter who acted more like an adult than he did most of the time.
"Need help with your hair?"
She nodded and turned around. Haymitch reached over the kitchen counter and grabbed the hairbrush he kept meaning to return to the bathroom. Carefully, he attempted to brush through the many knots that had nested in his daughter's hair. A few times, the brush got stuck and he pulled it harder than he probably should have. But no matter how much he yanked or tore through, she never uttered a peep. She never really had talked much since the incident last year. At least, not to him.
"I've never been good at styling hair," he said, attempting to lighten the mood. "Your mother was better at this than I am."
"Mom's dead," Katniss responded.
Haymitch stiffened, his hand pausing mid-brush. After a moment, he placed the object down and turned Katniss to face him. His eyes locked with hers, and for a second, he saw his late wife staring back at him. Inhaling deeply, he closed his eyes and blinked. Katniss had returned. Her own eyes filled with an unmentioned sorrow. He sighed, pulling her into an awkward hug.
"If she were here, she'd be very proud of you right now. You know that right?" Haymitch asked. "She loved you very much, Sweetheart. I know she'd want you to have fun today and make new friends."
"Why," Katniss said pulling away. "No one wants to be my friend."
"You don't know that," Haymitch said. "What about that kid Ms. Hawthorne has? Glenn was it?"
"Gale, dad," Katniss corrected. "And he's not in kindergarten. He's going into second grade. He doesn't count."
His eyes flickered momentarily over at the clock that sat on the wall. It was nearly seven in the morning and school was said to begin exactly fifteen minutes past that. Taking the brush once more through Katniss's hair, he stood up, placing it back on its temporary spot on the counter. He took his own, faded coat off a nearby chair and looked to Katniss.
"Go grab your jacket," he told her. "We need to get going."
The ride to Panem Academy wasn't an improvement from the somber morning at home. Nearly the entire way there, Katniss did not utter a single word to her father. Haymitch watched her occasionally from the rear view mirror, nearly tempted to turn the car around and wait another year before starting her in school. She still wasn't over the death of her mother and though she chose not to openly talk about her feelings, she was far from the daughter he had a year ago. Placing his foot on the break, he slowly approached the sidewalk of the school, stopping just inches behind another car's bumper.
"I can walk myself in," Katniss told him as he went to undo his belt. "I know where to go."
He hesitated, watching her from the mirror again. "Are you sure?" He asked, a part of him thinking it best to bring her in himself anyway. "You've never seen this school before."
"I know where to go," she repeated. "Gale promised to show me."
Haymitch sighed in defeat, his head was throbbing too much to argue with the child. What would his late wife think if she saw the man he had become? Drunk. Practically deadbeat. Their daughter far beyond her years in maturity. And he knew the moment he returned home, he'd open a new bottle of whiskey to drown away his misery until it was time to retrieve Katniss.
"Alright," he said finally. "I'll be here to pick you up at three, okay? I-"
But Katniss was already slamming the car door closed. He waited until he saw that she was safely inside the school before he pulled away from the curb and began to drive back in the direction of his home. The ancient car rattled and groaned with each pothole it hit on the poorly paved road as he eventually pulled up into the driveway and got out, leaving the keys sitting in the ignition. It wasn't like there were many thieves in the area who were desperate enough to want to possess something as junky as this.
Stumbling inside, he flipped on the dim light of the kitchen and looked around the mess for an unopened bottle. Finding one, he uncorked the top and collapsed into his rickety chair that doubled as a sleeping place most nights. He took a large plug, feeling the liquid burn as it spread throughout his body causing a false sense of warmth and comfort. He breathed through his nose, placing the bottle down momentarily when Buttercup leaped up onto the table, its matted fur and raunchy appearance fitting in perfectly with the setting behind him.
"Hey," he mumbled, scratching the old, flea bitten cat behind its scarred ear. "Tough day for you too?"
Buttercup purred, licking Haymitch's callused hand with his rough tongue. He made a face, questioning how this cat was still alive after so many years before grabbing his bottle again and taking another sip. His eyes shifted back to the clock, watching as the hands rhythmically ticked around the face. The sound soothing and almost hypnotizing with each motion. Lulling him slowly back into slumber.
"What...what the hell do you mean there was nothing you could do?" Haymitch stared wide-eyed at the doctor before him. "Pump her with some more medication. Save her!"
The doctor looked at him sadly, sorrow nearly masking the exhaustion in the man's face. This wasn't the first family he had to break the news about the factory casualties too, and certainty it was not his last. Haymitch's hands trembled violently, the urge to either break down or beat the living hell out of this man battling within him. There was no way she could be dead. He just had seen her this morning. Watched as she kissed their daughter goodbye before departing. She couldn't be gone. She couldn't leave them alone.
"What am I supposed to tell my daughter?!" He hissed, shoving a finger to the doctor's chest. "Did you think about that after you called time of death? Tell me how I'm supposed to tell my little girl that she'll never see her mother again!"
"I'm sorry, sir," the doctor repeated. "We tried everything but your wife's body couldn't handle anymore stress. The factory is willing to compensate you for all medical expenses-"
"I don't want the damn money," Haymitch's voice broke. "I want you to save my wife. Please. I'll do anything. Pay anything! Just save her."
Something wet sloshed across Haymitch's face and he opened his eyes just in time to see an animal leap off the table and scamper away. Groaning, he sat up and saw exactly what it was he felt. His whiskey. Silently cursing Buttercup, he sat the bottle up properly when the telephone rang. He froze, waiting to see if it rang again or if he had just had too much liquor to drink. No one ever called the house. At least, not unless it was a wrong number.
The phone rang a second time. Then a third. Finally, Haymitch found it in himself to stand from his chair and answer to see what the fuss was about. Holding the phone to the dry side of his face, he absentmindedly wiped away the whiskey from the other using his sleeve.
"Hello," he answered dryly.
"Oh! Why hello," an unusually enthusiastic voice chirped. "Is this the Abernathy residence?"
"Yes," Haymitch mumbled. "But we're not interested in what you're selling if you're one of those telemarketers."
"I'm your daughter's teacher, Ms. Trinket," the woman responded. "Your daughter is Katniss, correct?"
Suddenly concern replaced annoyance at the mention of his child. "Yeah, she's my kid," Haymitch said. "Why, is everything alright? Is she okay?"
"Oh, more than fine," Ms. Trinket answered. "I was just calling to see if you were indeed planning on retrieving her from school today."
Now concern was replaced by confusion. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, of course I was. What kind of question is that? I was planning to get her at three o'clock."
"It would be four o'clock now, Mr. Abernathy," Ms. Trinket said. "The school day ended an hour ago."
He whipped around to look at the clock, his heart nearly stopping when he had. Sure enough, it read four o'clock in the afternoon. He had inadvertently fallen asleep for the entire period Katniss had been in class. Frantic, he quickly grabbed his coat, still gripping on tightly to the phone as he searched for his keys. After a good two minutes of looking, he finally remembered he had left them in the ignition. Flustered, he quickly slipped on his jacket and, after dropping the phone a few times, was ready to head out the door.
"Shit," he hissed. "Dammit. I'm really sorry. I lost track of time." How could he have forgotten something this important for a second time today? Katniss would never forgive him. "Look, I'll be right over there in ten minutes. Okay? Just tell Katniss to hold on."
Haymitch didn't even bother to say goodbye much less thank Ms. Trinket for her troubles as he slammed the phone down into the holder. He half jogged, half ran out of the house and into his car before starting the engine. He would have a hell of a time making this up to Katniss. He wouldn't even be surprised if she never spoke to him again. Partly asleep, partly intoxicated, and greatly stressed out, the man sped down the road and towards the elementary school to greet whatever perils awaited him there. Unknowing that their lives would soon change forever.