Haymitch wakes to the sound of someone scrubbing out his brain. Without opening his eyes, he reaches for the bottle beside the couch where he lays that should be within his grasp, to drown out the sound. It is lamentably empty. Haymitch swears and tosses it away from him in disgust.
“Hey!” He hears a piercing voice in his ears which sounds suspiciously like the boy’s. “I’m trying to clean here.”
He opens his eyes slowly against the late afternoon light that stings his eyes. Haymitch focuses on the sound of the boy’s voice and sees him on his kitchen floor. His prosthetic leg is bent beneath him awkwardly as he sits on his right knee. A scrub brush is in one hand and a bottle of some cleaning agent, the smell of which makes Haymitch’s stomach roll, is in his other.
Haymitch puts an arm over his eyes to blot out as much sunlight as possible. He decides to ask the simplest question first. “Why are you here, scrubbing my floor?”
Peeta puts down the brush and bottle and extends his hand, waiting for Haymitch to help him stand. “I need to stay busy,” he says, while he waits.
Haymitch sits up, slowly, and with a grunt, moves towards him. As soon as he’s close enough to grab the kid’s elbow to help him up, Haymitch notices the dark circles under his eyes; the sallow tinge to his skin. “If you need to stay busy kid, why don’t you go bake some bread or something? Isn’t that what you do?”
At the sink, Peeta washes his hands and then pushes some rolls and cheese at Haymitch, who stumbles into a seat at his table. “I’ve baked enough bread in the last twenty-four hours to feed the entire District.” Peeta says, and turns his back to warm some tea on the stove, which Haymitch notices, is spotless.
Okay, Haymitch thinks, on to the more difficult questions. “Where’s your girl?” He asks, sipping the tea that Peeta put before him. He pats his pockets. Where is his flask? It would improve the taste.
Peeta sits across from him, staring into his own mug of tea. “I don’t know. I haven’t seen her since yesterday morning.”
Haymitch closes his eyes for a count of three, even more desperate for his flask now. He looks at the boy. “And how long has it been since you’ve slept?”
A bitter smile finds its way to Peeta’s expression as he looks his former mentor in the eye. “Not since yesterday morning.”
Wiping a hand down his face, Haymitch finally spots his flask on the counter beside the sink. He nods towards it, “Get me that flask and tell me what happened.”
Peeta’s brow furrows. “C’mon, give me a break, kid. I can’t do this sober.” Haymitch says. Peeta shrugs, acquiesces, and hands him the alcohol. Haymitch pours a dram into his tea, sighs as he takes a sip, and motions his hand towards the boy.
Peeta takes a deep breath before he begins to speak. “Early yesterday morning I woke up screaming. At least I think I did. I do know that my voice was hoarse and Katniss ran from the room.”
He swallows slowly and Haymitch can see the effort to boy is putting in to keeping it together. His cold, spiked tea is temporarily forgotten. “Go on.”
“I…I think I had a nightmare that I…that I…” Peeta stops and starts uncharacteristically, “…that I killed her,” he says in a rush, then slowly continues. “I lost it after she ran. I barely remember, but I think I threw the night table into the wall. The lamp is broken anyway and the bedroom wall has a crack in it now.”
The boy reaches across the table and grabs Haymitch’s wrists to have his undivided attention. “I don’t think I hurt her.” Peeta is practically pleading with him, “I don’t think I did.” He lets go and buries his face in his hands.
Shit. Haymitch gulps down the remainder of his tea flavored drink in one long swallow, and hauls himself up to stand behind the boy, putting his hands on Peeta’s trembling shoulders.
“Kid, I know you thought you’d put this particular beast behind you, but take it from me,” Haymitch feels the burning in his throat, which is his sign that he needs another drink. “Once that old Capitol fucks with you, you aren’t ever getting over it.”
Peeta’s hands drop from his face and he looks back at him, “Thanks for the pep talk, Haymitch,” he says dryly, with not only a touch of anger.
Haymitch lets the boy’s anger drop, and goes back to his seat. He takes a long swallow directly from his flask. “You need to know. You and the girl have to find a way to live with what the old Capitol did to you and her.” He takes another swig, “Just like I have to.” Haymitch stands. “Listen to me. You need to stay here. Clean. Drink. Sleep. Do whatever you need to do to hold on until I find our girl.” He shakes out his hair, brushes the crumbs off his pants and heads for the door.
“Haymitch?” Peeta calls and in his voice, his anger has ebbed away and has been replaced with gratitude.
“I know, kid. I know.” Haymitch closes his door behind him.
Haymitch goes to the boy’s house first, the one they share, on the off chance that Katniss returned there at some point. He wanders the house, calling her name and checks all the rooms. The kitchen table is full of covered bread. The bedroom is much like Peeta described it: the end table sits on its side, a broken lamp under it and a big dent is in the wall.
But no Katniss.
He walks across the yard to her assigned house in the Victor’s Village, the one she lived in with her mother and sister. The door is open, so he tries again, calling her name. In the kitchen, there are rolls sitting open on a plate; two of which have been torn and partially eaten. So, she was here.
“Katniss?” Haymitch calls again. His inquiry is met with silence. “Crap. Don’t tell me I have to hunt for her in the woods.” He kicks the table’s leg in frustration. He’ll need another drink if he does. Perhaps two.
“No, Haymitch. You don’t have to hunt for me at all,” Katniss says from the open door as she stands at the threshold of her house.
Haymitch drops into a chair at her table with relief, but what he says is, “Nice of you to make an appearance, sweetheart.” She looks worn, like the boy, but reasonably good. Unharmed.
She throws her game bag on the table with an audible thud, but leaves her bow and quiver leaning by the door. “The bread is probably stale now, but these squirrels are fresh, if you’re hungry.” Katniss sits across from him and pulls her knees up to her chest. A defensive posture.
“I’m not.” Haymitch says, but he is thirsty. He tries to remember if there’s a stash here. She hasn’t really lived here in quite a while. Haymitch sighs, he probably depleted it already. “Girl, you can’t keep running off like that. The boy has been crazy...” Oops, probably not the best choice of words, but he soldiers on, “with worry.”
Katniss looks up from where she was picking at a loose thread on her game bag. “Where is he? Is he alright?” Her face darkens with concern, a frown pulling at her lips.
“Alright is a relative term, but he’s at my house, cleaning and being a general nuisance.” Haymitch attempts a sneer, but Katniss sees right through him these days anyway. So does the boy. Katniss looks relieved and Haymitch adds, “Sweetheart, you need to stop running away…”
She interrupts him, “Yesterday morning, I woke up beside Peeta, who was shouting that I was dead!” Katniss’s expression changes quickly to anger. “What did you expect me to do? I was…”
This time, Haymitch interrupts her, “Scared, right?” Katniss’s eyes lose the flash of anger as quickly as it came.
She hugs her knees closer, while Haymitch continues, “He had a nightmare Katniss. A bad one, but still a nightmare. Your reaction made it worse. You know the thing he fears the most is…”
“Losing me.” Katniss completes his sentence, because they both know Peeta so well.
And each other.
“Exactly. And I know you’ve been yelling in the night, too.” Haymitch adds. “What does Peeta do then, hmm?”
Katniss is back to pulling the loose stitching on her game bag, “He wakes me up and holds me until I’m calm.” She looks up at Haymitch’s sarcastic raised eyebrow, “I know…he’s just…better at this than I am.”
“Girl…Katiniss,” Haymitch starts and waits for her to look at him, “If you love him…I mean…you do, don’t you?”
She offers him a look that says she’d rather be pulling the intestines out of those squirrels than have this conversation with him. Katniss manages a quiet, “Yes, I do.”
“Good, then you need to…wait, have you told him that?” Haymitch asks certain of her response. Right now he has an urge, outside of wanting a stiff drink, to knock both these kids’ heads together.
“No.” Katniss replies. “Not exactly.”
“Not exactly? That means no, right? Not even when you’re both…” Haymitch has to spit out the next word, “intimate?”
“Gah!” Katniss cries and puts her head in her hands. “We haven’t…I…I’m not talking to you about this!” She jumps up, grabs her game pack and takes her biggest knife from the drawer.
She probably feels better armed. Haymitch shakes his head, “You both have been living together for months!”
Katniss takes a squirrel, ready to gut it. “Put the knife down, Katniss. You are coming with me to see our boy and sort this out.” Haymitch stands, pockets the stale bread and goes to her door. He knows she’ll follow him. “No wonder the boy has been going off his rocker.” Haymitch mutters as they head back to his house.
Haymitch sits on his porch, throwing random bits of stale bread to his geese. His favorite, a fluffy one with a pink beak that he mentally names “Effie” gets just a few extra bites.
His geese squawk and peck at their treats. At least ten minutes have gone by since Haymitch looked in his kitchen window to see his kids wrapped up in one another. It was enough for him to hurry back to his porch, where his flask sits beside his chair, refilled.
He throws another big piece to Effie. “I hope to hell they finish making up back at their own house.”
Effie squawks in agreement and Haymitch openly smiles. Geese, kids, he was pretty good at taking care of both.
Haymitch swigs a celebratory drink from his flask.