Actions

Work Header

To the Victor, The Spoil

Work Text:

Like everybody else in the Capitol, Haymitch is watching when Katniss and Peeta, bloody and wild-eyed, hear the announcement that there can only be one victor after all. He sees Peeta reach for his knife, sees Katniss let the arrow fly. Sees her arrow bury itself in Peeta's chest as Peeta's hand finishes the movement, throwing the knife away, but it's too late. He dies with blood bubbling out of his chest, Katniss clutching his hand, begging him not to.

Unlike everybody else in the Capitol, Haymitch isn't surprised. This is his twenty-fifth Hunger Games and there's not much he doesn't know about how they work. How the Capitol works.

So he's finally mentored a victor. Good for him. He takes another drink.

**

He realizes halfway to the Hob that he forgot his wallet, and when he gets back to his house in the Victor's Village he finds Katniss there, a noose strung around her neck in his kitchen, just about to kick off the chair she's standing on.

A rush of terror hits him so strongly it surprises him, and he's across the room grabbing her just as she starts to fall. "Katniss," he's yelling. He hardly ever says her name, he realizes as he says it. It feels strange in his mouth. "What the fuck?"

When he gets her down, furious and terrified, he shakes her so her teeth rattle, adrenaline sharp in his limbs. "What were you thinking? They kill your family if you kill yourself, do you have a brain in your head?" She's already crying. She's not a pretty crier, goes all blotchy and swollen, snot dribbling from her nose, body heaving with phlegmy sobs.

He sits her down in a chair, and she's crying too hard to talk. Even through how angry he is, he thinks, God, she's just a kid. He can't remember the last time he cried that hard. He thinks about if he'd come home five minutes later and shudders. Collapses into the chair across from her and pours himself a drink. His hand's so unsteady some sloshes onto the table.

"And why the fuck are you doing it in my house?" he says, voice still too loud, still with that edge of panic in it. Goddammit.

She's mopping at her nose with her sleeves. Attractive. "I didn't want Prim to find my body," she mutters.

"Oh, and you wanted me to? Thanks," he says. He's still shaking all over. Fucking kid. He knocks back an angry gulp of alcohol, feels it burn going down.

"What do you care?" she says, finally looking at him, a spark of anger back in her eyes, that defeated look pushed away a little. Good. She looks more like herself when she's angry. "You don't even like me."

"Damn right I don't," he says. "I can't stand you. You're just like me." He means it as a joke, sort of, but it's truer than he'd like it to be, and that must come through in his voice because Katniss blinks. Child-killers, both of them. Survivors. People don't make it through the Games if they deserve to live, is the irony, but the Capitol doesn't give them a choice about the living afterwards. He sees it in Katniss's eyes, that recognition of likeness between them, that recognition of mutual self-loathing, sees that for a second she understands him very well. He doesn't know why that is, that they can always understand each other. They look at each other for a minute.

Finally Katniss's mouth twists, miserable, and she looks down. God, he hopes she doesn't start crying again. "I can't live with it," she says, so quietly he can barely hear her. She's staring at her hands, resting on the table in front of her. For a second he sees Peeta's face when her arrow hit him.

He sighs heavily and gets another glass, shoving it across the table to her. He thinks it's clean. As he starts to pour her some liquor he lets himself put his left hand on hers for just a second. Her hand is hot, sticky with snot and tears. "Oh, sweetheart," he says, trying to sound sarcastic, but his voice wavers. "You'd be surprised what you can live with."

**

He drinks his way through the year, like every other year, but the difference is that this time he has to go on the fucking Victory Tour. Watch Katniss look older every day, the circles under her eyes getting darker. He thought watching his tributes die every year was bad -- he didn't think watching them survive would be worse. Well, live and learn.

He was the one who told Peeta to go public with being in love with Katniss, the whole star-crossed lovers routine his strategy. It was his fuck-you to the Capitol -- see how the crowds like it, watching dopey infatuated kids have to murder each other, get murdered, the whole country watching young love with no hope. He thought maybe it could ignite something in the districts, finally something as far over the line as that, but Haymitch pays attention at every stop on the tour, Eleven to Ten to Nine to Eight, and there might be a little more unhappy murmuring than normal, but mostly it's the same weary defeat as always.

Well, it was worth a shot. His first real fuck-you to the Capitol since his own Games, since that axe came flying back up over the cliff and buried itself in that girl's head.

Funny, he can't remember her name anymore, that girl he killed. There was a time when he hadn't thought he could ever forget it.

Doesn't matter. He's getting old. Doesn't know why he bothered trying to give the Capitol another fuck-you when the first one didn't hurt anybody but himself anyway. None of these things ever go anywhere, and Katniss, the girl who was on fire, guttered out like every other spark.

**

At least at the Capitol's banquet at the end of the tour he gets to see some old friends, Chaff in from Eleven, a few other old victors. Cinna. Haymitch has big plans to get blitzed and try to forget this whole godforsaken tour -- the middle of the year is supposed to be when he doesn't have to think about the goddamn Games, for fuck's sake. The Games, the Games. When he left the arena alive he thought the Games were over -- it's hard to remember being that naive, like his sixteen-year-old self was an entirely different person. And at the time he had felt so old.

Halfway through the banquet, he sees Finnick Odair across the room, flirting shamelessly with Katniss. Finnick's wearing... well, not much. It's a little shocking anyone can get away with showing that much skin at a black-tie affair, but Finnick's Finnick. Katniss is bright red and staring fixedly somewhere above his head.

Haymitch rolls his eyes and goes over to rescue her. "Oh, Finnick, don't waste your time," he says, his voice heavy with irony. "Don't you know she lost her one true love in the arena?"

It's just meant to be a joke, but as Finnick laughs, Katniss whips her head around to look at Haymitch in shock and fury like he just killed her puppy. "Yeah, didn't we all?" Finnick says, but before he's even got the sentence all the way out Katniss is stalking off, fuming.

Oh, for fuck's sake, he didn't mean it like that. It's just, all these goddamn interviews about Katniss and Peeta's pure, doomed love all week, when he knows Katniss was playing for the cameras the whole time, he just meant -- oh, what does it matter what he meant, he's an asshole, why did he say that? He must be drunker than he thought.

Finnick watches her storm away, his eyebrows raised, but then he laughs again. "Good mentoring, Haymitch. You're a class act."

"Put on a fucking shirt, Odair," Haymitch says, rubbing his forehead. He should probably go after Katniss and apologize but he can't seem to summon up the energy.

Finnick's still looking after her, his smile fading slowly. "She's really an innocent, isn't she?" he says. "She wouldn't even look at me."

"Probably didn't want to induce vomiting," Haymitch says, taking a swig from his flask.

Finnick glances over at him and smirks, quick -- he knows exactly how beautiful he is -- but then goes back to serious again. "She's pretty, too," he says. He says it lightly, like it's of no consequence, but Haymitch knows what Finnick's saying, as obliquely as he can in public, and wishes he didn't.

"Yeah," Haymitch says. He thinks about that little sister back in District 12, all that leverage, thinks about Katniss blushing, how many dirty old men there are in the Capitol, and just, fuck. Maybe he should've chosen Peeta after all. Though... that kid was pretty too, maybe even prettier, all that blond hair, so it's not like.... Well. Nothing to be done either way. He wishes he were drunker.

"That's a shame," Finnick says, very quiet now.

"Everything's a fucking shame," Haymitch says, and goes off to find Katniss.

**

She's in a dark back hallway between the dining room and the kitchens, sitting on the floor, curled up into the smallest possible ball. Cinna put her in a pink dress and flats tonight, so she looks about twelve years old. If that.

She doesn't look up at Haymitch's footsteps, and he leans against the wall next to her, sliding down until he's sitting on the floor beside her. He takes a sip from his flask. "Sorry," he says. He hates apologizing, never really does it. He hopes she appreciates the effort he's putting in here.

"Peeta wasn't pretending, was he?" she says. Her face is still buried in her arms and she sounds like she's been crying. "I was, but he wasn't. I thought it was just a strategy you came up with, but it wasn't, he actually loved me."

"Oh, it was a strategy," Haymitch says. When Katniss looks at him, disbelieving, he shrugs. "Well, it was." He offers her his flask, and after a second she takes it. When she drinks she makes a horrible face at the taste. Yeah, he really should get better, Capitol liquor while he's here, but he's kind of gotten used to the Hob stuff.

"Don't lie to me," she says, and hands the flask back to him.

"It was a strategy," he says, because it was, but then adds, "But no, Peeta wasn't pretending."

She presses the heels of her hands hard against her eyes, but she doesn't cry this time. She's a tough old bird, Katniss Everdeen. Young bird. A tough baby bird. "I don't ever want to be in love," she says, her voice rough and agonized. "It's awful. I never ever wanted to be in love, not once, not even when I was little. And I didn't want Peeta to be."

For the first time in a long time, he thinks about his own girl back in District 12, dead twenty-four years now. The one he was going home to after the Games -- Clementine, her name was -- and how there hasn't been anyone since, not anyone that's meant anything. Yeah, he and Katniss, they understand each other. He decided not to love anything a long time ago. He won't even get a dog. "Yeah," he says. "Smart girl."

"I'm not smart, I'm horrible," she says.

"Have another drink," he says, and hands her the flask.

They sit for awhile in silence, drinking slowly. His face feels flushed with the booze, and he thinks again about Finnick making Katniss blush. Finally he says, "That was your first kiss, on camera, wasn't it? With Peeta?"

Katniss looks at him like that's a weird question, or like it's critical, or something. "So?" she says.

He thought so. "I was just wondering," he says. God, the Capitol is going to eat her alive. Maybe he should've let her die in the arena, but it's too late now. She's a survivor, anyway. Even if he'd chosen Peeta he thinks Katniss might've been the one to make it out.

**

"On the seventy-fifth anniversary, as a reminder to the rebels that even the richest among them cannot overcome the power of the Capitol, the tributes will be reaped only from those who have never benefited from tesserae."

Oh, the Capitol is clever. If Haymitch had thought there was any lingering resentment against the Capitol coming out of the star-crossed lovers stunt he pulled, he knows that's all going to be forgotten by the districts now. Goodbye, impossible revolution he hadn't even known he was stupid enough to still be hoping for. The Capitol knows how to nip that in the bud, how to divide and distract.

Even Katniss looks fierce and glad over it, like justice has finally come to the Games, and he doesn't bother telling her that the Capitol's most effective weapon is making you forget who the real enemy is. Let her be glad that Prim's out of the running, that the "rich" of her own district are in. She might as well be happy about something for a change.

**

He and Katniss are both onstage when the tributes get selected, and he's not quite as drunk as last year, but he's close. The reaping's usually the worst day of the year for him, all those kids that could be chosen, their young, young faces turned up to the stage, tense and worried. Younger-looking every year.

This year the girl tribute's about fifteen, Aster Sykes, daughter of the tailor, redheaded and freckled. She looks shy and terrified and tiny, and she's not going to have a shot in the arena. The boy, Tate Undersee, is even younger, maybe thirteen, barely into puberty, and he has that blond, pale look that most merchant's kids' have. It makes him look vaguely like a younger version of Peeta, and Haymitch figures that's why Katniss goes still and horrified as he comes up on stage.

After, when the tributes are saying goodbye to their families, Haymitch says to Katniss, "You all right? That kid, Tate...." He trails off, not really wanting to say Peeta's name.

"It's okay," Katniss says, not looking at him. "I just know his cousin, that's all. Madge."

Oh. So it's not the Peeta thing after all. Just as well.

"He's going to die, isn't he?" Katniss says. "They both are." It's pretty obvious -- they're both fair, delicate, and merchant's kids never have any discernible skills anyway. Well, just once Haymitch got one who was the son of the butcher, who at least knew how to use a knife. That one made it to the final eight. But he was by far the exception, and also, he was seventeen, not one of the babies, not like these kids.

"Yep," Haymitch says, and goes to see if he has enough liquor packed on the train.

**

Their first full day in the Capitol, Haymitch gets a surprise call from Bromius Leach. Leach is old and rich -- from what Haymitch can gather he made his fortune at something vaguely shady -- and now seems to spend most of his time walking around at Hunger Games events making Haymitch's skin crawl, his face with that stretched look Capitol citizens get after too many surgeries. Haymitch has no idea why Bromius would call him -- they're not exactly friends.

After the exchange of some pleasantries, forced on Haymitch's side, overly cheerful on Leach's, Leach says, "That Katniss girl of yours," and Haymitch immediately tenses up. He doesn't doesn't like Leach saying Katniss's name, not one bit. Doesn't like him thinking about her. And there's something about the way he says it -- suddenly Haymitch has a suspicion why Leach is calling, that it might be what Finnick was implying back on the Victory Tour, and he feels sick to his stomach, desperately hopes that he's wrong. "She's got so much spirit," Leach continues. "A very appealing girl."

"I don't think I'd call her appealing," Haymitch says. "Hostile, maybe. Unlikable."

Bromius just laughs like Haymitch told a good joke. "She and the boy, out there together. They made quite a pair, all those clumsy kisses. Is she a virgin, do you think?"

Fuck. Fuck Leach. Fuck everything, this is fucking horrible, Haymitch wants grab Katniss and run away somehow. Like there's anywhere to run to. "I don't know," Haymitch says. His voice has gone cold, and he knows being unfriendly to one of Snow's cronies, to someone this influential, is just putting his tributes at risk, but he can't seem to care. God, there has to be something he can do to put a stop to this, but he's been around long enough to know there's never anything anyone can do. He'll probably end up going with his usual solution, drinking until he passes out. God, he needs a drink.

"Mmm," Leach says. "Well, either way. How much do you think Snow would want for her?"

Fuck it. Haymitch hangs up on him. He sits there in his room for awhile downing whiskey as the sun sets, the room getting darker and darker until he's sitting there drunk and alone in the blackness, until Effie calls him for dinner.

**

The next morning Katniss has been summoned to some meeting before Haymitch gets up, so he sends the kiddies off to training by himself and then settles down to eat more than is good for him. He's just considering pouring some liquor into his coffee, because these kids are doomed, so what's the point of trying not to drink before noon anyway, when Katniss appears in the doorway, white as a sheet.

"You okay?" he asks, startled.

Her eyes are wide and agonized. "I just," she says. "President Snow -- he wanted -- he says I --" She can't seem to get the words out, like they're sticking in her throat.

Haymitch remembers Bromius's call from the day before, suddenly knows exactly what that meeting was about. Fuck, fuck, he knew it was coming, but fuck, already? And this whole suite is bugged within an inch of its life. "Katniss," he says, getting up, trying to sound businesslike and cheerful, cut her off before she says it. "Let's go for a walk. You haven't seen much of the Capitol, have you?"

She looks at him like he's gone crazy. "I'm trying to tell you--" she says, but he's close enough now to grab her arm, lean in.

"Not here," he says into her ear. If she weren't so rattled, she'd know that already. Then, louder, "Why don't we go see some of the city?"

"Oh," she says, finally remembering the monitoring. She's still thrown off-balance, not playing it as well as she normally would, but she rallies. "Sure. Okay. Yeah, I'd like to see the city."

There's a crowd of photographers waiting outside as they leave the building, the whole mob of them rushing forward when they see Katniss, flashes going off. Katniss, their little tragic heroine -- fresh meat, popular after the last Games. Katniss looks at him, panicked as they swarm her, and God, she's such a baby, not even used to this yet. Welcome to life as a victor, kid. "Smile, sweetheart," he mutters to her, and takes her arm, starting to move her through the crowd of them with a practiced hand. "Just smile."

Across town they leave the photographers behind as they pay to get into the Hanging Gardens, even though Haymitch usually avoids this particular attraction -- it's a little too much like the arena he fought in, a little too ridiculously beautiful, but what the hell. Anyway, it's funny to watch Katniss's eyes get all wide, much as she tries to hide it. The same way she did when they were on the elevated monorail coming over here, looking out the windows at the shining richness of the Capitol, skyscrapers gleaming in the sunshine, everything clean and opulent. Country mouse in the big city. He guesses she didn't get to see too much of it last time.

He leads her to the Garden of the Bells, where thousands of windchimes hang among the flowers, huge deep chimes twenty feet tall, small soprano ones hanging in glittering spirals. There's no way anyone will be able to overhear them in all the racket.

"So," Haymitch mutters out of the corner of his mouth, pretending to be very interested in the light glittering off the crystal, so anyone who sees the two of them won't think they're talking about anything important. "Snow sold you to Bromius Leach, huh? When do you have to do it? Tonight?"

Katniss whips her head around to stare at him. "You knew about this?" she says. Outraged, like he sold her out somehow, like he's betrayed her.

He rolls his eyes. "Don't look at me like that. It's not like anybody asked my permission. Leach called me to brag. Fucking pervert. I hung up on him." He's been trying to be his normal self, flippant and sarcastic, but his voice is sounding tight and angry. Well, so what, he's angry.

Katniss looks a little mollified, but her gaze is still steady and accusing. "But you're not surprised."

He wishes he had put that liquor in his coffee after all. He looks away. "It happens to a lot of victors," he says. Suddenly he feels very tired, and it's too bright out here, the sun making his eyes sting, giving him a headache. He sighs. "Finnick is very popular."

"Finnick," Katniss says, taken aback. She has to take a second to process it and he can see her putting it all together, realizing why Finnick is the way he is. Yeah. After she's blinked her way through that one, she shakes it off and says, "Well, did it happen to you?"

A gust of wind comes up, raking a beautiful wave of sound out of the chimes. Haymitch can feel Katniss's angry, terrified eyes on him but he still can't look at her. "No," he says. "They killed everyone I cared about after the Games so they didn't have any leverage. Who'd they threaten, your sister?"

Out of the corner of his eye, Katniss nods miserably.

He shrugs. He figured. When he glances over at Katniss her mouth is twisting like she might cry. The fragrance of the lilies in front of them is heavy in the air, and the chimes are moving gently. Finally he says, "I'm sorry."

She shoves her hands into her pockets, hunching her shoulders. "So that's it?" she says. "I just have to do it?" She's frowning at the fountain in the middle of the garden, her hair pulled back severely from her face into that one braid of hers, and he doesn't know what she thought was going to happen.

"Well, what else can you do?" Haymitch says.

She kicks at the grass in front of her. "I don't know," she mutters. "I've never even -- I just thought you'd have a plan or something."

He really doesn't know what to say. It's not like there are any options. There are never any options.

"I just, I need to think for a second," she says, more to herself than anybody. "Just give me a second. I'm gonna --" She gestures vaguely toward the other side of the garden, like she's saying she needs to get away for awhile, be on her own.

As she starts to walk away from him, Haymitch says to her back, "Okay, I'll be here." Not like he has anything else to do today. He'd rather not be back at the training center anyway.

The fountain is an interactive one, where you can push buttons to make different spouts spray, and Haymitch stands by it for awhile, amusing himself by pushing them at random. Every once in awhile he'll see Katniss through a break in the windchimes, wandering on the other side of the garden with her forehead furrowed, or sitting on a bench with her head in her hands.

She takes a long time, walking around by herself, and he's lost track of her in the chimes and the flowers when suddenly her voice comes from right behind him, making him jump.

"Okay, so maybe I have to do it, but I'm not losing my virginity to Leach," Katniss says. When he spins to look at her, she's frowning, her arms crossed over her chest, definite and fierce. He's surprised -- he hadn't known that she and that little fake-cousin boyfriend had ever done anything.

"Oh?" he says. "Well, good."

"No," she says. "I mean, I'm not because you're going to fuck me. Today."

That's such a surprise coming out of her mouth that he laughs. But when he looks at her she's completely serious and suddenly it's not the least bit funny. "Um," he says. "No. I'm not."

"I'm not losing my virginity to him," she repeats, more insistent. "And I don't know anyone else here."

"Katniss," he says, and runs his hand through his hair. God. "I'm old enough to be your father. I was in your goddamn mother's class at school."

"So?" Katniss says. "L-Leach," she stumbles over the name, sounds like she's choking, but then rallies. "Leach is older than you."

True, but so what? He rubs at his forehead. "Sweetheart," he says. "I see where you're coming from, but wouldn't you rather... I mean, why don't we just bring that little boyfriend of yours into town instead?"

She looks confused for a second, but then says, "Gale?" in this tone of voice like he's being an idiot to call Gale her boyfriend. Like the whole district doesn't know that they sneak off into the woods together every Sunday.

"Yeah," Haymitch says. "I'll pull some strings, get him on a train. Then you two can...."

"You can't get him here by tonight," Katniss says in this scornful voice. "Anyway," she says, but now she's muttering. "I don't want Gale."

"Oh?" he says.

Katniss has gone all angry and deadly, the way she looked in the arena right before she killed the tribute from District 1, after he'd killed her little friend. She doesn't say anything for a second, face twisting. "He just wants things from me," she finally bursts out. "Him and Peeta both, they both want things -- wanted things, and I'm not -- I'm never getting married, I'm never going to be the person they want me to be, and if I slept with him he'd think -- but I can't --" She breaks off, her words getting smothered like her throat's closing up.

He understands. "Ah," he says.

Katniss swallows a few times, getting herself under control. "I just need this not to mean anything," she says, quiet and miserable.

God. Haymitch runs his hand through his hair again and doesn't know what to do. That's his specialty, sex not meaning anything. But he's not... "Look," he says finally. "Maybe there's something else we can do -- let's go see Finnick, okay? He knows about this. He might have something that'll help." Finnick has drugs for all occasions. It feels like a longshot, but maybe he has something that would make this not so bad for her, that she could take to keep her from noticing what Leach is doing to her.

And if that doesn't work, maybe she'll see Finnick and want to fuck him instead of Haymitch. After all, the girl has eyes.

**

Haymitch has to ring the bell at Finnick's three times before Finnick finally pulls the door open, yawning hugely. He's wearing a pair of shorts, thankfully, but it's obvious he just got out of bed, his hair sticking up every which way, a groggy expression on his face. Somehow even his bedhead manages to look sexy, like it's been intentionally styled that way. Haymitch doesn't know how he does it. His abs and chest are as muscular and chiseled and bronzed as always.

"Christ, Haymitch," Finnick says when he sees them. "It's the middle of the night."

"It's eleven," Haymitch says.

"Yeah," Finnick says, yawning again. "That's what I said."

There's a very pretty boy coming down the elegant sweeping stairway behind Finnick, wrapping himself in an almost sheer silk robe, and there are beer bottles and other party detritus all over the front hall. Typical. The cleaning service must not have been here yet.

"Can we come in?" Haymitch says. "Katniss needs some advice."

Finnick finally seems to notice Katniss is there -- he gives her his sexiest smile, complete with bedroom eyes, and Katniss goes bright red immediately.

"Cut it out, Finnick," Haymitch says. Yeah, it's funny, but this isn't the moment.

Finnick rolls his eyes, but lets them in the door. Katniss is staring at her shoes, like she's too embarrassed to look anywhere else. Haymitch saw her expression when she saw the boy on the stairs -- she's probably scandalized. District 12 is so provincial.

"You seen Beetee recently?" Haymitch asks. That means, has your place been swept for bugs lately?

Finnick's face goes still and interested immediately, and he drops the sleepy act, stops rubbing his eyes. Beetee sweeps Finnick's place every few weeks -- they leave most of the bugs alone, so the Capitol doesn't get suspicious, but there's always one room in the house whose bugs Beetee makes sure are mysteriously malfunctioning, so the Capitol only gets static off them. "Oh, you know Beetee," Finnick says. "He's good at keeping in touch. Why don't we go talk in the study?"

Haymitch nods, and Finnick starts to escort them in that direction. But the boy he fucked last night is standing in their way, all finely polished muscles and classically beautiful face, curly hair falling artfully into his eyes. God, Haymitch hopes he's 18. "Oh, hi," Finnick says to him, all casual heartbreaker, his tone like he'd forgotten the boy was even here. He's doing it on purpose, Haymitch knows -- he sees him do this maneuver all the time. "Last night was fun. The coffee's over there, and the door's over there. See you around, huh? Stay beautiful." He pats the kid's cheek and keeps walking.

The kid's face falls, though he doesn't look like he's entirely surprised. After a long second of deliberation he frowns and grumpily heads in the direction of the coffee, apparently deciding not to make a fuss. Finnick looks at Katniss, who's staring at him like he's scum, and smiles. "Thank God," he says to her in a stage whisper as they walk to the study. "It's so tedious when they're clingy."

Katniss looks appalled again, obviously not aware that he's doing this for her benefit -- Finnick really needs to stop messing with her. It's too easy to even be any fun.

Once they're in the study, Finnick closes the door firmly behind them and goes to sprawl on the leather desk chair, somehow sex in every line of his body, in the artless way he cants his hips, his shorts barely covering him. Haymitch thinks of how different Finnick was when he was fourteen and hates the Capitol.

"So," Finnick drawls, gesturing expansively for them to sit on the couch. "Speak freely."

Katniss is red and staring at the floor as she sits down, obviously not about to volunteer anything. Haymitch sighs and sits far enough away from her that they're not even close to touching. "Bromius Leach called Snow about Katniss," he says.

Finnick's eyes go steely and hard. Bromius Leach likes the victors when they're fresh and new, unspoiled. Haymitch is pretty sure he bought Finnick's virginity too. "Fucker," Finnick mutters.

"Yeah," Haymitch says, and tries to think how to say the next part, how to ask Finnick what would help, but Katniss jumps in instead.

She's slumped sullenly back into the couch and isn't looking at either of them. "I don't want to lose my virginity to him," she says. "But Haymitch is being uncooperative."

Oh, for fuck's sake. Haymitch rolls his eyes, but Finnick's suddenly smiling, amused. "Haymitch?" he says. "Good choice. He's great in bed."

Does Finnick ever shut the fuck up? Haymitch opens his mouth to say something cutting, but then he can't think of anything. "Finnick," he says, incredibly annoyed. God. Anyway, he's pretty sure he wasn't great in bed, considering how unbelievably drunk he was at the time.

Katniss is staring at him, horrified. "Do you like men or something?" she says. She sounds like now she thinks that's why Haymitch turned her down, and like she thinks it's epically perverted. Oh, for heaven's sake. He doesn't even know what to do with her.

He rubs his forehead, trying to stave off the headache he feels coming on. "Occasionally," he says, feeling aggravated. "And I was drunk. It was Finnick. Stop being so shocked at everything, you're seventeen, not seven. Don't be such a hayseed."

That shuts her up, at least. She looks mad, though, like Haymitch not telling her every detail of his life is a betrayal. Oh, yeah, that attitude's really making him want to sleep with her.

"So what's the problem, Haymitch?" Finnick says, still infuriatingly smirky and amused. "It could be fun. I mean, when's the last time you slept with someone whose name you know?"

"Like you're one to talk," Haymitch says. "How old was that kid out in the hall, anyway?"

Finnick smiles, not even bothered a little. "Yesterday was his eighteenth birthday. I helped him celebrate."

"You're shameless," Haymitch says.

The amusement fades out of Finnick's eyes, though he keeps his lips smiling. "I try," he says. "It's a survival skill."

Oh, for fuck's sake, now Haymitch feels shitty. It's not fair of Finnick to pull that out in the middle, to make it about reality all of a sudden. Haymitch's headache is really throbbing by now and he needs a drink. "Look, Katniss," he says, trying to get this conversation back on track. "I know why you want to do this, but why don't you sleep with Finnick instead? He's an expert, and he's not twice your age."

Katniss stares at him, appalled. "I don't want to sleep with him," she says, then pulls up abruptly, like she just realized she was really insulting right to Finnick's face. "Uh, I mean," she says to Finnick, trying to recover. "No offense or anything."

Finnick's back to amused, though, not insulted at all. He grins at Haymitch. "I like her," he says.

"You would," Haymitch says. Finnick just smiles wider, suddenly looking at Haymitch with all this affection, and for a second Haymitch flashes back to that night five years ago, to Finnick underneath him, smiling up at him just like that. Fuck.

"Well," Finnick says, looking back and forth between the two of them. "I think you should do it, Haymitch. Help the girl out. I have a penthouse you can use, if you want it. Unbugged and everything. Very discreet." He swivels in his chair and starts opening desk drawers, like he's looking for a key.

"Oh, fuck you," Haymitch says, but Finnick's come up with a keycard and Katniss grabs it out of his hand before Haymitch can stop her.

"Thanks," she says, tucking it into her pocket. "Can you talk some sense into him while I use your bathroom?"

Finnick smiles at her and says, "You got it, kid. And second door on the left past the stairs."

When she's gone, the door shut behind her, Haymitch says in a warning tone, "Finnick."

"Haymitch," Finnick says right back, imitating his tone.

"For God's sake," Haymitch says. "You're not helping. I just came to ask you if you, I don't know, have a drug that'll make this easier on her."

Finnick raises one eyebrow at him like he's an idiot. "Like, a magic drug?" he says. When Haymitch makes a face at him, Finnick fixes him with a steady look and says, "When I said I thought you should sleep with her, I wasn't actually kidding, you know."

Haymitch groans. "C'mon," he says. "Honestly. Would you have wanted someone to fuck you when you were fourteen just to get it over with? Would that have really made it better?"

"Before Leach fucked me?" Finnick says, not kidding at all. "Someone like you? Yes. I would have wanted that."

"She doesn't even like me," Haymitch says.

"She trusts you," Finnick says. "Liking's easy. Trusting's harder."

Haymitch hesitates. Goddamn the Capitol, he should never have been put in this position. Finnick and Katniss shouldn't have been put in this position. Damn them all to fucking hell, miserable murderous child-fuckers, he wishes he could put an axe through all their heads.

Katniss reappears in the doorway. "So are we going to this penthouse or what?" she says, all bravado, hands in her pockets, standing like a boy in her old District 12 hunting clothes, hair in that one frumpy braid down her back, no makeup on. He can't decide if she looks older or younger than after she's been styled. She looks more like herself, anyway.

"Yeah," Finnick says, before Haymitch can answer. "Haymitch is going."

**

For Finnick, for Katniss, he tries his best. He sits on the feather bed of the appallingly luxurious penthouse, and when she kisses him clumsily, her lips dry and warm and closed, he sighs and tries to kiss her back, putting his hand on her shoulder. He slides his tongue against her lips and she startles for a second, but then she lets her mouth fall open, and God, she's barely been kissed. Fuck, he feels awful, he has to stop thinking about that.

He can't, though. He pulls back. "Katniss," he says helplessly.

"What?" she says. There's an edge of irritated hysteria to her voice, the word cracking a little, like if she has any time to think about this she's going to freak out. She's not really looking at him.

"It's just -- you're just a kid."

She makes an aggravated noise, and he can see her gearing herself up to get angry because he knows otherwise she won't be able to survive this. The afternoon sun is falling on her face, making her look as bright and shining as the city outside the window. "Stop acting like I'm some innocent little girl," she says, desperate and furious both, that flash back in her gray eyes. "I'm not. I'm a murderer. You can't corrupt me, because they already did. It wasn't even hard."

He closes his eyes and remembers being sixteen, just out of the arena, having to live with its horrible revelation about the kind of person you actually are. His mouth has gone dry.

Katniss is so angry now, losing herself to it. "So just call me sweetheart and fuck me and get it over with, okay?" She kisses him hard this time, her tongue darting against his lips, her small body pressed up against his.

After a few seconds she starts kissing down his stubbled jaw, and once he catches his breath, he says, "Sweetheart, you're a real piece of work," making sure to sound as sarcastic as he can, to try to make it mean nothing, to be his old, caustic self. It shouldn't be quite this hard to pull off.

"That makes two of us," she says, and her hand lands on his crotch, where he's starting to get hard.

With anyone else that move wouldn't be surprising, but since it's her he's startled, wasn't expecting it. She strokes along his cock and he jerks into her hand, and when she smirks up at him he says, his voice embarrassingly unsteady, "Uh, where did you learn to do that?" She's clumsy and awkward but he didn't think she'd ever dare.

"I'm seventeen, not seven," she says scornfully, throwing his own words back at him. "I touch myself at night. I think about sex." She strokes him harder, and as he gasps she says, her voice hoarse, "I had a dream about you once. I never told anyone that. That I dreamed about you touching me."

He grabs her wrist, stopping her movement. "I thought we didn't lie to each other." He knows she's trying to convince him she's not some innocent, but he doesn't like her lying to him. Sets a bad precedent.

She shrugs at him. "I'm not lying," she says, twisting her wrist out of his grasp, and then pulls her shirt off in one movement, though it's too brusque and businesslike to be as seductive as she's probably trying to be.

She's skinny, wiry and muscled, with small, round breasts and pink nipples that probably no one's ever seen before. He's staring, he knows. When he finally looks at her face, she's nervous and trying to hide it, and she's so young. Her hands are shaking, in spite of how adult and knowing she's trying to act, and fuck the Capitol, how you're seventeen years old and they've made you into a person you can't stand, how the Games never end, how you can't call your life your own, your goddamn body your own.

This time when he kisses her he means it. He cups her face and kisses her, and fuck the Capitol, Bromius fucking Leach doesn't get to be her first, they're not letting them get away with it. Even if it's just this much and no further, even if this tiny thing is all they can do, even if she still has to go with Leach tonight, well, right now, fuck the Capitol.

He moves her to the middle of the bed, still kissing her, touching her gently. He palms her breast, feeling the weight of it in his hand, feeling her inhale as he does. He ghosts his thumb over her nipple, starts to roll it between his fingers, feeling it pebble up, and she says, "Oh," shakily, exhaling a sigh. She sounds surprised. The sun's still shining off her olive skin, making it golden.

He sucks his middle finger into his mouth for a second, then moves that hand down to her belly, to the waistband of her trousers, slipping it down inside her pants. She gasps as he finds her clit, spreads her folds, rubs his finger over her. She doesn't have any pubic hair, which surprises him until he remembers the prep team has been at her, that this is the style this season. It makes him feel strange, like she really is a little girl, so he thinks about her in the arena instead, deadly with that bow, the look on her face when she thought Peeta was going to kill her. Not so little, not so innocent, even if now her eyes are wide, like him touching her is a feeling she's never even imagined.

She's getting wet, slickness just starting, and he spreads it around with his finger, sliding slippery over her opening, over and over her clit. "You're all wet for me," he says, his voice dark and low, not able to help saying it. He keeps rubbing her, just on the outside, not letting his finger slip into her even though he badly wants to, to slide in where no one's touched her.

She groans and reaches out for him, arms loose and sex-stupid, fumbling at his fly. "Well, you're hard for me," she says, insolent and defensive, sounding vaguely insulted. God, she doesn't even know what dirty talk is.

"Yeah," he says. He's so hard, feeling her slick against his hand, thinking about getting his finger into her, thinking about getting his dick inside her. God, he's a dirty old man, but she's fumbling at his zipper, hands clumsy.

"C'mon, I can't get it," she says, annoyed at how her fingers won't work, and he stops moving against her so that she can focus on maneuvering, so she can get his fly down. She works his pants down his hips so his cock springs out hard against his stomach. Her eyes widen and she touches him gingerly, her fingers tentative as she runs one down the length of him, little exploring touches. The first cock she's ever felt, learning the curve of it.

She touches him gently, just the tips of her fingers ghosting over him, the teasing of it almost unbearable. "This is going to hurt, isn't it?" she says, looking down at his dick, how it's hard and red and straining. "Everyone says it hurts, the first time."

Her nervous face, her wide mouth turned down, trying to be brave. He kisses her again. "A little," he says when he pulls back, rubbing her slick folds again, letting the tip of his finger barely slip deeper, barely go inside. She shivers. "Maybe just a little. You'll be so wet it'll feel good, though. I'll make sure."

"Gee, thanks, mentor," she says, sarcastic, and she's such a little brat sometimes.

"Sweetheart, you have no idea," he says.

Once they're both naked he pushes her legs apart and spreads her open with his thumbs and he licks and sucks until she's gasping and hair's coming out of her braid in tendrils, getting stuck to her forehead with sweat. When he slips a finger into her, pushing it deep, she arches her back and says, "Oh!" She's tight and hot and sopping wet, and he slides a second finger in without a problem, even though she whimpers and gasps and says, "Oh my God, Haymitch," like it's too much, and he thinks about her feeling that stretch for the first time, feeling the pressure of him inside. She squirms around as he fucks her gently with his fingers, licking at her clit, sucking on it, her hips thrusting up into his mouth, until he finally feels her start to come, feels her shuddering around his fingers, and she's making little noises like sobs. "There you go," he murmurs, pressing his fingers deeper, finding the spot that makes her shudder. "Katniss, that's it, ride it out, that's a good girl."

She looks so surprised, and he tries to remember what that was like, the first time he had an orgasm with another person. It was with his girl, with Clementine before the reaping that year his name was called, and it was so long ago, he's tried so hard to forget it. He'd loved her so much, and when he'd come he felt so close to her, so in awe. It hurts to remember that, remember meaning something so much, loving someone so much. He's half sorry that Katniss isn't getting to have that, but the other half of him envies her, not having that memory to eat away at her.

He crawls up Katniss's body as she finishes shaking, smoothing his hand up her side, wiping his mouth, seeing her sweaty and wrung out.

"Okay," she says once she's caught her breath, all business again, though her voice is still shaking and she's flushed all down her chest. "Okay, look, great, just, put it in me and we can finish."

"You're all romance," he says.

She grimaces at him, and he realizes suddenly that she didn't look at him the whole time he was going down on her, that every time he looked up she was looking at the ceiling, looking at the view out the windows. Yeah, well. Okay.

"C'mon," she says. He's suddenly annoyed at her, treating him like he could be anybody when he's working so hard to make this good for her.

Fine. If she wants him to just stick it in, well, he can stick it in. He's not the one who wanted to do this in the first place. He makes a gruff noise in the back of his throat and rolls over on top of her irritably, weighting her down with his body, grabbing one of her wrists to hold her still. He feels how small she is, and her eyes have gone wide and scared but her legs fall open, his hips cradled between them. The tip of his cock grazes her, feels the slickness there, and oh God. He presses in before he even has time to think about it, about to shove it in, but as the tip slips inside her she winces, makes a hurt noise she tries to stifle, and oh fuck, what's he doing? He can't hurt her.

He rolls off her again, the tip of his cock popping out of her, and this time she's really annoyed. "Haymitch," she says.

"It hurt you," he says.

"It did not," she says.

He turns his head to glare at her. "Liar," he says. "We're not doing it that way." He's using his bossy mentor voice, the one he used to tell her she was hopeless in interviews, the one he used to tell her not to do archery in front of the other tributes.

"Well, how else are we supposed to do it?" she says, like he's being ridiculous. Maybe she's never heard of any position but missionary. She's a goddamn murderer but such an infant about everything else, he swears.

"Here," he says, reaching out for her arm, starting to pull her on top of him. She follows, confused, letting him move one leg over his body, letting him make her straddle him, lying on top of his chest. Her breasts are soft and full, amazing against him, all that young skin and her wide gray eyes looking down at him. He thinks about Clementine from long ago, her dark Seam hair and eyes just like Katniss's, and he kisses Katniss again -- he can't help it, his hand cupping the back of her skull, fingers weaving through her hair.

After a second Katniss pulls back. "Stop it," she says in a quiet voice, and she's trying to sound angry but she mostly just sounds on the verge of tears.

"What?" he says.

"You're making it mean stuff," she says. "Don't kiss me like that. I can't..."

For a second her pulling away had actually made this empty feeling start to well up in his chest, the same emptiness he associates with thinking about Clementine, about his family, and oh fuck, that's no good. What is he doing? "Oh," he says. God, that's terrifying. That's exactly why he stopped doing this with people whose names he knew a long time ago. "Right. Sorry." He had just wanted -- well, it doesn't matter. He just forgot for a second, her body pressed against his like this.

She nods, accepting the apology, but not looking at him.

"Okay," he says, trying to get back to businesslike himself, trying to push the emptiness back. "Sit up on your knees." He puts his hand on her waist, moving her until she's straddling his hips, until his cock is lined up with her. He reaches out for it, rubs it along her slit, watches her shiver. She's still wet as anything. "You ready, sweetheart?" he says.

"Yeah," she says. "Go ahead."

"No," he says, and she looks down at him, startled. "You're going to do it. Just lower yourself down onto it -- you can set the pace this way. Go as slow as you need to."

She nods carefully, like she's listening very closely to instructions in school, and he takes her hand, moves it to his cock, so she can put it in herself. Her hand is warm and small on him, and the tip of him is still grazing her, and he's sweating at how slick she is against him, trying hard not to come. God, if he comes before he's even in her -- he's forty-goddamn-one years old, not some kid, for God's sake, this is ridiculous.

He lets go of his cock and she guides it inside her, sliding the tip into her, just barely an inch. "Oh," she says, her eyes wide again, feeling the girth of it stretching her.

"Okay?" he says.

She nods without looking at him, and then she starts working herself open on him, working herself down onto his cock. She goes slow, getting used to it, taking a little bit at a time, then easing up, then pushing down a little farther. She's got this determined expression on her face, vulnerable and flushed but resolved to get through it, and he can tell she's feeling the stretch of it, the burn. He closes his eyes and tries desperately to hold still, focusing on breathing. She's so tight.

When she's got him halfway inside she stops for a little longer, breathing hard. She's down to where his cock gets thicker, it's getting to be a lot for her. She's got her hands resting on Haymitch's stomach now, supporting herself as she moves down.

"If you need to stop," Haymitch says, trying not to pant for breath. "That's enough. You don't have to take it all."

She frowns at him. "I can do it," she says, and she pushes herself down another inch, all at once.

He gasps, can't help himself. It's taking all his energy not to flip her over and just fuck her, shove himself all the way inside her. "I know you can, sweetheart," he gets out, but the 'sweetheart' is sounding a little less sarcastic and a little more like an actual endearment, and God, that's unnerving.

She takes his cock the way he's seen her do anything difficult, by sheer willpower, her mouth red and wet, panting for breath but pushing on. Finally she's got it all inside, sitting flush against his pelvis, squirming a little, her hands hot and sweaty against his chest. Every time she moves he thinks he's going to lose it.

"Now what?" she says.

For God's sake. She's seen animals fucking, right? She knows the basic idea? He tries to breathe, to be patient, but his cock is throbbing inside her and she's like a furnace, a vise around him. "Are you used to it yet?" he asks.

She fidgets again, just little movements on him. "I don't know," she says, sounding a little tetchy. "I just, I need -- something, it's -- it kind of burns."

"Move, goddammit," he says through gritted teeth. "Fuck yourself on it."

For a second she looks shocked at his language, which is funny, being shocked at the word "fuck" when his cock is actually inside her, but she blinks it away, trying to be so grown-up, and obediently she moves, slow. Her eyes widen again as she feels it, his cock dragging out of her, and he slides his hand up to her breast again, feeling her nipple harden under his fingers. "Good girl," he says, voice ragged, and she presses down onto him again. "Find what feels good." He reaches up and tucks some of the hair that's come loose from her braid behind her ear, strokes it back.

She glances up at him and nods, and then starts fucking herself very methodically, her hands braced on his chest, leaning over him, adjusting the angle, trying long strokes, then shorter ones. He can see his cock moving in and out of her. "Am I -- " she says, and she sounds so breathless. "Is this right? Am I doing it right?"

God, he's going to come, he has to close his eyes and get ahold of himself. "You're perfect," he finally gets out, his voice sounded frayed and desperate, and then he reaches for her clit, presses his hand against it, gives her some friction there. She gasps. God, he just has to make her come, hold out just a little bit longer. He's so close.

"Oh, that's it, sweetheart," he says, touching her, and when he looks up at her she's actually watching him, actually making eye contact. It almost takes his breath away, her looking at him like that with his cock buried inside her. "That feel good?" he asks.

She nods, her eyes fixed on his, and he starts rocking his hips into her, moving in rhythm with her. "God," she gasps out at the movement, how it's harder now, and she's all flushed and sweaty, the sunlight catching in her hair. He's got one arm wrapped around her back, hand stroking her skin gently, holding her against him, and he wants to kiss her but stops himself. She's still looking at him, watching his face with her mouth open slightly, watching him like she's curious, watching how her movements affect him. She starts moving faster, making him groan, and she smirks to herself.

He can hardly handle this, her looking like she feels so powerful. He smiles at her, and she actually smiles back, and God, he's buried deep inside her, she's all slick and hot and open around him, and for just this one long moment, she's actually looking at him. "C'mon, Katniss," he murmurs, pressing harder against her clit. "C'mon, sweetheart."

He wants her to keep looking at him while she comes, but as she starts to shudder around him, she closes her eyes, looking away, still riding him as the feeling washes over her, as her body's racked with it. She keeps very quiet, just making one little desperate noise, but it's that noise that puts him over the edge, that makes him let go and finally start coming inside her. She slumps against his chest as he finishes and he holds her close to him, feeling like somebody's carving him open somehow.

They lie there like that for a long time, her on his chest, the sun warm on her skin, his arms wrapped around her. When he kisses the top of her head this time she doesn't push him away. He thinks maybe she's fallen asleep.

**

They don't talk all the way back to the training center. Katniss looks out the windows of the monorail, a quiet expression on her face he can't read. She's rebraided her hair, so it's all neat again, and you can't tell from looking at her that anything happened this afternoon. The light on her skin looks the same way it did in the penthouse.

When they get back to the suite, her prep team's there to get her ready for Bromius Leach, Cinna looking grim, and she disappears into her room with them. Haymitch tries not to feel sick to his stomach over it. Nothing else to be done. No sense dwelling on it. He can still feel the echo of her body against his, the heat of her skin.

Haymitch doesn't see her again until after dinner. He's sitting with Tate and Aster, trying to go over their interview personas with them again, when Tate's eyes go wide, and when Haymitch turns around to follow his look, Katniss is standing there. He almost doesn't recognize her -- she's wearing thick black eyeliner, dramatic and swooping, blood-red lipstick, high heels, a dress cut so low he wants to send her back to her room to change. The makeup her prep team used is making her look way sexier than usual, emphasizing the sulky curve of her mouth, the angles of her eyes, like she's a Capitol glamor girl. For a second he thinks about the girl she was this afternoon, naked on top of him, face clean and scrubbed and her hair braided, how young she'd looked when she'd come.

"Where are you going?" Tate says. He sounds in awe of her, and Haymitch doesn't blame him.

Katniss glances over at Haymitch helplessly. He tries to smile, then says, his voice thick with irony to keep any other emotions out of it, "Katniss has a date."

For a second he thinks she's going to cry, but she blinks it away, face going still again, and the girl she was this afternoon fades away behind the makeup. Instead she looks like one of the girls Finnick parties with, hair curling over her shoulders, artificial and sexy, face sullen and untouchable. She nods to him once. "Don't wait up," she says, her voice shaking with what he knows is anger, then turns to leave, shutting the door hard behind her.

He knows he's going to be too distracted to keep working with Tate and Aster, so he sends them off to do whatever it is they do with their free time -- anyway, it doesn't really matter, since they're going to be a mess in their interviews no matter what he says to them.

So when Cinna comes out of Katniss's room, his things all packed up, Haymitch is sitting by himself at the table, drinking. Cinna looks tired.

"Need a drink?" Haymitch says. Katniss is probably halfway to Leach's by now, and for a second he imagines her in the car over there, nervous, thinking about what's coming. His stomach turns over. He is not nearly drunk enough.

"Yes," Cinna says. "Thank you." He slumps into the chair across from Haymitch, looking more tired and beaten down than Haymitch has ever seen him, even worse than the day Katniss came out of the arena.

Haymitch slides him a glass of horrible Hob liquor mixed with orange juice and says, "It's disgusting."

Cinna's from the Capitol, so Haymitch doubts he's used to drinking anything with this aftertaste. But Cinna just says, "Good," and downs half of it in one go without wincing. Good man.

"Interesting style choices," Haymitch says idly, pouring more liquor into his own drink, thinking about Katniss in that getup. Dressed as a Capitol whore, not the virgin huntress everyone knows from the Games. "I'm not sure that's the girl Leach was looking for."

Cinna smiles a little grimly to himself, like that's exactly why he dressed her that way. "I'm no friend of Leach's," he says. "He gets what he gets."

Katniss should be arriving at Leach's house about now. Haymitch wonders involuntarily what Leach is saying to her, what the bedroom is like, if he'll kiss her, and then wishes he hadn't thought about it. His stomach is all knotted up. "Good for you," he says to Cinna, trying to push whatever's happening to Katniss right now out of his mind.

Cinna nods, turning his glass slowly in his fingers. "Yes," he says. "I'm the master of the ultimately meaningless gesture."

Haymitch sighs. "You and me both," he says. He and Cinna had had such hopes for the Games last year, Katniss and Peeta brilliant in flaming costumes, falling in love for the cameras, the audience on their side, Haymitch conspiring with Plutarch and Cinna and the sponsors, all the seditious plans they were starting to make in secret. But it came to nothing in the end, and Haymitch had sex with Katniss this afternoon to spite the Capitol but he doubts that helped anything either.

Cinna smiles wryly and says, "To impotent gestures." He bumps his glass against Haymitch's with a dull clink.

"Fuck everything," Haymitch says, and drinks.

**

The next day Katniss doesn't leave her room. "Where's Katniss?" Tate asks at dinner. He has a little crush on her. It'd be cute if Haymitch could bring himself to find anything about the tributes cute.

"I gave her the day off," Haymitch growls. "Now shut up."

That night he thinks about knocking on her door to ask if she's all right. But he already knows she's not all right, knows that he would just want to be left alone if he were her. So he leaves her alone.

**

The day after that is the opening day of the Games, and all the mentors have to go watch in the official viewing room, so the producers can get reaction shots from them to intercut with the feed. Plutarch talks excitedly to the cameras about how the arena's a clock, how clever it is. Katniss sits very straight in the chair beside Haymitch and watches stony-faced as Aster dies in the bloodbath at the Cornucopia.

He knows Katniss is stony-faced because he keeps glancing over at her, but she never looks back at him, never moves once. He hasn't seen a sign of life in her eyes since she went to Leach's, like she got murdered somewhere inside but they're making her body walk around without the rest of her.

Every time he tries to talk to her she acts like she can't hear him, but later in the day, when the action onscreen has died down some so they're allowed to walk around more, get snacks, he sees her talking to Finnick across the room.

Well, that's good, he guesses. Finnick knows what she went through. Haymitch remembers how after the arena, for awhile it was like he couldn't talk to anybody who wasn't a victor because no one else could understand; this is probably exactly like that.

For a split second he finds himself almost wishing that Snow had been able to pimp him out too so he could talk to her about it, and then pulls up short, appalled at himself. God, what the fuck? That's the stupidest thing he's ever wished -- she's not Clementine. He doesn't care about her. She's just the sullen, awkward girl who's made his life a burden to him for the past year, and he should be glad that Finnick's the one who has to deal with it. It's stupid to look across the room at the two of them and feel like he's somehow in Katniss's rearview mirror, fading into the distance -- or at least, to feel like that's a bad thing.

What is the matter with him, anyway? This is exactly why he's never gotten a dog.

**

Once the tributes are mostly asleep in the arena, the mentors get to go back to their apartments, get some rest themselves, though they'll have to be back bright and early for more reaction shots. Haymitch hates the beginning of the Games. Even being drunk doesn't quite take the sting out of them.

Katniss disappears into her room, but Haymitch doesn't think he'll be able to sleep right away, so he sits up flipping through the channels. Unfortunately, most of them are devoted to the Games, different feeds, commentators talking about the odds, talking about which tributes are left, which strategies they're using. Tate's poorly camouflaged and asleep in a tree right now, and Haymitch thinks the Careers will probably find him soon, but he doesn't need some asshole in blue makeup to tell him that. Haymitch even flips past a channel talking about Katniss, analyzing her reactions to having her first tributes in the arena. Fuck.

He finally finds an old movie, some vapid Capitol love story where no children are killed, thank God. He's mostly managing to focus on the storyline of it when he hears a door open behind him. When he turns, Katniss is there, dressed in a skimpy, glittery dress, her hair inexpertly done, the same thick black eyeliner as the other night, but this time obviously done herself, with a shaky hand. She looks like a club kid.

He blinks at her, not knowing what to make of that. "Where are you going?" he says.

Katniss shrugs, a petulant, resentful shrug like she's a teenager and he's her parent. "Nowhere," she says.

"Katniss," he says. She's genuinely rattled him -- she looks so unlike herself, and just, is Snow making her sleep with someone else? Why isn't the prep team here?

She frowns, but stops walking toward the door, shifting uncomfortably in her high heels. "Um, just," she says, and she actually sounds like herself for a second. "It's no big deal. Finnick just knows about this party. I thought I'd go."

"A party," Haymitch says.

"Yeah," Katniss says. She's not making eye contact.

"You," he says.

She rolls her eyes. "Uh, can I go, Dad, or do I have a curfew?"

God, he was just asking. Fine, whatever. He waves his hand at her. "What do I care?" he says, and she turns, almost bolting for the door.

He should go back to his movie, but he seems to end up sitting there staring at the door for awhile after it closes behind her, feeling helpless. He has a very bad feeling about this, but it's not like there's anything he can do.

**

He's woken in the middle of the night by a body climbing into bed with him, smelling of cheap perfume and sex. For a second he's confused, because he doesn't remember going to bed with anybody, but then his brain wakes more of the way up and he realizes. "Katniss?" he says, groggy. She's all pressed up against him, abnormally hot, like she's running a fever.

"Hi, Haymitch," she says, her voice slurred. High on some drug she got at the club, probably, skin burning up like that, slurring like that. "I'm back."

He shifts, trying to angle the lower part of his body away from her, and says, "Um, how was the party?"

"Terrible," she says. "Vapid. Loud. But someone gave me this paper to lick and I haven't thought about Peeta once tonight, isn't that amazing?" Her voice sounds distant and hazy, like she's not quite in her body somehow. Pleased and dopey, like all her troubles got taken away.

"Mmm," Haymitch says. Katniss has tucked her face into his neck, her breath hot and humid on his adam's apple, and he doesn't know what to do.

"I actually think I was dancing at the party tonight," she says vaguely. "Can you imagine me dancing?"

Haymitch laughs a little. He notices that his arm has come up to wrap around her back, that he's rubbing circles on the bare skin of her shoulder, above her dress. "No," he says.

"Me neither," she says. Streetlights are slatting through the blinds, striping lines of pale light on her shoulders, over her hair. She breathes for a few minutes, slow and steady, and he thinks she's fallen asleep but then she wiggles a little, getting more comfortable, and says, "I fucked some guy in the bathroom of the club." She says it very softly, but matter-of-fact, a way she could never have said it three days ago. "He was terrible. I didn't even come."

Haymitch closes his eyes, feeling so overwhelmingly sad, feeling the wave of it wash over him. She's small and strong against him; he can feel the muscles of her arm, the calluses from her bow. Deadly in the arena but it doesn't matter here. "Oh, Katniss," he says.

"No," she says, protesting, pushing herself up a little bit so she can see his face. Her eyes are very dark in the dim room, and her hands are hot on his chest, her sinewy-strong body draped over his. "Haymitch, that's the thing," she says, very earnest and very drugged out, talking like she's found the secret to life, like she's found the secret to everything. "See? I figured it out. The more people I fuck the less it matters, because really, nothing matters. I fucked Leach, I fucked you, I fucked what's-his-name, but it's okay, because nothing matters."

He rubs his thumb against her shoulder, trying to be soothing. "I know it doesn't," he says.

She drops her head down to his chest again, like it's too heavy for her to hold up. "We could fuck again now," she says, her voice muffled in his shirt. "It's hard to think about anything else while you're fucking. You want to?"

Her hand is moving down his body, going for his cock, but he reaches for her wrist and stops her. "That's okay," he says. "You should go to sleep."

"Don't wanna," Katniss says, but she's been fading this whole time, and as he moves her hand back up, tucking her against his body, he feels her relax even more, start to cave. And sure enough in less than a minute, she's passed out, heavy and still on top of him.

He lies awake for a long time, listening to her breathing, thinking about how badly he wants a drink.

**

He really doesn't have room to talk about anyone else's coping mechanisms, what with how he's been sober for about eight days of the last twenty-five years, but it's still pretty depressing when Katniss's first party turns into a second, then a third, night after night. She stumbles back to the training center at six in the morning drunk or high, laughing, her eyes still dilated, unsteady on her feet, clothes rumpled or torn, eyeliner smeared. Snow sells her to somebody else and after that it's even worse, the frantic pace of it, how she's never sober, spends all her nights out doing who knows what to who knows who. Then she'll crawl into Haymitch's bed in the early morning hours and pass out, because if she drinks enough to pass out, if she sleeps in a bed with someone else, she doesn't have nightmares. He's familiar with that strategy himself. He keeps a basin by the bed in case she needs to throw up, and it's weird not to be the one who has to use it.

So the Games go by. During the day they watch children die one by one as the arena's clock ticks on, and at night Katniss disappears into Capitol decadence and he should've known this would happen to her. He watched it happen to Finnick ten years ago, exactly the same.

She's in all the tabloids. What she's wearing and who saw her with what actor in the VIP room of what club, rumors about whether or not she and Finnick are an item. Some days Haymitch thinks she's singlehandedly fueling the celebrity gossip industry; he swears he can see the hosts of those shows salivating at just the sound of her name. Paparazzi get pictures of her kissing Johanna Mason in the back of a cab, Johanna's hand going up her skirt. It's a mild scandal. Haymitch doesn't think Katniss notices.

The night Tate dies, drowning in the blood rain in the one o'clock wedge of the arena, a camera crew wakes Haymitch up to get his reaction. They want to interview Katniss too, but she's not there. She probably doesn't even know about it yet. Lucky her.

Haymitch has just gone back to bed, lying there staring at the ceiling and willing himself to fall back asleep, not to visualize Tate covered in blood, choking in it, when someone starts pounding on the door again. When he answers it, fully planning on telling the camera crew to fuck off, Finnick's there carrying Katniss, who's passed out in his arms. She's got puke all down her front. Finnick looks pretty out of it himself.

Oh, motherfuck. "What happened?" Haymitch says, immediately moving to take Katniss away from him, hoping to God she hasn't overdosed. Fucking Finnick. He knows it's irrational to blame him for all this, since it's not like Finnick's the one pimping her out, but still, Finnick's the one taking her to all these parties, and Haymitch is pretty sure that Finnick's sleeping with her on top of that. Fucking goddamn Finnick, as usual not helping one bit.

Finnick rubs the back of his neck as the door shuts behind him, following Haymitch into the apartment. "We were at this club," he says, sounding uncharacteristically subdued. "They were playing videos on the back wall, and I guess they switched it to the Games, and Katniss saw Tate --"

"You were at a club that was doing what?!" Haymitch says, furious. He would like to punch Finnick in the face, but he's holding Katniss. She's so light in his arms, like she's made of nothing at all. Such a little girl.

Finnick isn't looking him in the eye. "Um," he says, still very quiet. "I guess it was supposed to be ironic or something." At Haymitch's look he actually cowers back a step. "I wasn't paying attention," he says, a note of pleading in his voice. "I wouldn't have -- if I'd known they were going to --"

"You're a fucking idiot," Haymitch says, starting to carry Katniss toward the bathroom. "You and your fucking hipster clubs. What did she take? Should I call a doctor?"

"She was just drinking," Finnick says. "She's -- she's not dying or anything. She's just fucked up."

Haymitch flips the shower on, and starts to move Katniss under it, try to wake her up, get some of the vomit off. Finnick hovers in the doorway, useless as always.

"Get out," Haymitch says. If Finnick weren't so high, he'd probably protest, try to stay and help, but right now he looks terrified of Haymitch, terrified and guilty, and so he turns on his heel and disappears. It's not even 4 am yet, so knowing him he's probably off to find someone to fuck to take the edge off.

Haymitch starts rinsing Katniss off very gently, making sure the water's the right degree of warm, and when she starts to come to, starting to retch again, he holds her head while she does, keeping her steady, rinsing the sick carefully down the drain.

He vaguely remembers being this drunk himself a year ago on the train, remembers Peeta and Katniss doing this for him before they went into the arena, when they were just kids. Such stupid, fucking heartbreakingly good kids.

"Haymitch?" Katniss says woozily, blinking water out of her eyes.

"I'm here," he says. He leans her back out of the spray, smoothing her hair back behind her ears. A lot of her makeup has already washed off, so she looks more like herself again, young skin coming clean.

"You and me again," she says. She's drunk and out of it, her eyes half closed, and he's trying to get the puke off her dress without touching her breasts, which is not working very well.

"Yeah, always you and me," he says over the noise of the shower pouring down onto the tile. "The District Twelve victors. We'll be together forever."

"My first kiss was for you too," she says, a nonsequitur he understands nonetheless. "Remember? You gave me a pot of broth for a kiss."

Fuck. He'd almost forgotten about the broth, how he's as shitty as the Capitol. God, he can't think about it. Instead he says, trying to keep his voice light, "Somehow you always knew what I wanted you to do." He takes a washcloth and rubs it over her stomach, scrubbing the vomit off the material, watching it wash down the drain.

"First kiss. First fuck," she says. She goes into a deep imitation of Caesar Flickerman's voice. "Haymitch Abernathy, how does it feel to get it all?"

He swallows, feeling sick. It's the smell of the puke, how it's making him want to retch too. Her black dress is soaked through, sticking to her skin. "Horrible," he says.

It takes him a second to realize she's started crying, her tears mixing with the shower, crying so quietly it's almost not noticeable. "Katniss," he says, feeling helpless.

"Tell me it'll get better," she says. Her voice is raw from throwing up and drinking and crying, and she sounds so anguished. "Please, please tell me everything will be okay."

He thinks about Finnick, about Annie, about all the victors on morphling, everyone circling the drain in their own ways. About all the dead kids in the arena they left behind, about Peeta. About how badly he wants a drink right now, how only having her around has kept him from being the one getting puke washed off him in the shower in the middle of the night, and he wishes so much that he could bring himself to lie to her.

Instead he steps into the spray and wraps his arms around her as she starts shaking with sobs. "Shhh," he says, warm water and soap and the smell of her hair, vomit faint underneath the shampoo. She butts her head against his chest and fists her hand in his shirt, and her body against him is more familiar than it should be after just the one time.

As the water beats down on them, flattening his hair to his forehead, he finally tells her the one truth he knows. "You'll survive," he says, and holds her tighter.

**
END