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The Best Medicine

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He’s been sober eighty-seven days - nine in the hospital, sixty in treatment, and eighteen under his own roof - when his new housemate yells, “Haymitch! There’s a goose in the kitchen!”

He’s learned a lot about Effie in the last eighty-odd days; more than he ever thought he’d care to. It was a pleasant surprise, that first week in the hospital, to discover he didn’t find her constant presence as grating as he had when they’d been forced together by the Games. She’s a considerate houseguest, even if she’s almost as helpless as a child when it comes to looking after herself. She can’t cook, and doesn’t know the first thing about keeping a house. She looked askance at the washer and dryer (both veritable luxuries in their tiny district) when Peeta showed them to her. The boy had also gently broken the news to her that no, there wasn’t someone she could call to do the grocery shopping, but he assured her he would help when she started to look distressed. She screams sometimes when her nightmares wake her up, and she doesn’t like to let him see her cry. She’s adventurous even when she’s out of her element, and she prefers coffee over tea. She likes children and has no idea whether or not she likes animals. She very much dislikes the geese.

“Haymitch!” she yells again, loud enough that he can hear her clearly even though he’s stumbled into the master bathroom, trying to decide if the tremor in his hands is slight enough to chance shaving.

“Just chase it outside!” he calls back, wondering why she hasn’t thought of it herself but biting back saying something to that effect. Effie, obsessively regimented and organized from the roots of her hair all the way down to her little toenail, doesn’t do well with surprises. Everything has a time and a place, and there is never a time in her life when a goose belongs in the kitchen. Hell she’s probably frozen in shock, affronted that the dumb animal has the gall to come into the house without an invitation.

“Effie?” he yells, but there’s no reply, no noise of any kind, so he puts it out of his mind. The best way for her to learn to handle things is to actually handle them, and he’s starting to look like a mountain man. The shakes aren’t too bad today; he’s had a good night’s sleep and a cup and a half of hot, black coffee (along with his morning dose of medication), and it’s as good as time as it’s ever going to be to put a sharp object near his face.

(Effie has offered to help him, but the thought of letting anyone near him with a razor feels a little too much like an axe in the gut, no matter how much he trusts her - and he does trust her.)

He’s a little more than halfway done when an ear splitting shriek cuts the calm silence of the morning like a hot knife through butter. Everything in him freezes, seizing up in sudden terror, and the world starts to move in slow motion, because he knows that voice and he knows that scream. It’s a sound of pure terror, of fear so deep and all-consuming there’s no escaping it. He’s heard it countless times before; from his own mouth and from the mouths of dead children, from the girl when she wakes from night terrors, and from the boy when his mind strays back into the cage the Capitol built in his head. Now he’s hearing it from Effie.

His blood is ice water in his veins, his heart a heavy hammer in his chest as he stumbles from the bathroom, through the bedroom, out into the hall and down the stairs. He’s barefoot and bare chested but the straight razor is still in his hand and the trembling is gone, and when he finds whoever hurt her, whoever made a liar out of him - because he promised, they all had, that no one would care; no one would care and she’d be safe, safe like he knows she hasn’t felt since before the war ended - and when he finds whoever made her scream like that, he’s going to cut their throat.

He slams through the screen door, his eyes scanning the backyard and finding the bright yellow and green of her dress almost immediately. He’s halfway down the stairs before he slows, uncomprehending, and manages to take another few steps across the yard before he stops altogether.

Because what he sees is Effie, straddling the verge of the neat little shingled roof that tops the goose shelter, her dress up around her thighs, wearing his several-sizes-too-big galoshes. Her blonde hair is wild and curly around her face where it’s come out of the neatly coiffed chignon she now prefers, and her face is flushed from screaming. She might actually be sweating.

(Katniss had given him such grief about that roof.)

There is no mortal danger, no district citizen hellbent on revenge, no angry ex-Peacekeeper with a stolen gun; there’s just Effie, screaming her head off from the top of the goose shelter while one of the flock’s ganders does his best to look menacing, wings outstretched and beak open while he makes an awful honking noise.

Haymitch can’t help himself. He knows it’s not nice, and he knows she’s afraid - very afraid, judging by the look on her face - but he’s so relieved the only thing he can do is laugh. He laughs until his eyes are streaming, until he’s bent over with his hands on his knees and his stomach hurts and he can’t breathe.

And just when he thinks he’s going to get it under control so he can be helpful, a pair of jean-clad legs and socked feet wander into his field of vision. “It’s all right, Effie,” Peeta calls to her. “He’s as scared of you as you are of him!”

Haymitch somehow doubts that - Effie is terrified. The thought is sobering, and he’s sure he’s almost done laughing, but then Peeta leans close to him and mumbles, “Does she know they can fly?” and he’s off again. Laughter fills the backyard, bouncing between the now-occupied houses and the treeline. If Katniss, no doubt wandering the woods, hadn’t heard the scream there was no way she was missing his laughter. It’s been a long time since he’s laughed so hard.

“Stop it!” Effie yells, leaning to one side as the gander starts flapping. “Horrible animal! Go away, you - Haymitch, you awful man, stop laughing and do something!”

He wants to keep laughing, but Effie is splitting her attention between him and the gander, glaring daggers at both of them, and he knows he’ll be in trouble if he doesn’t ride to her rescue. “Chase that thing off, would ya?” he asks, clapping Peeta on the shoulder and pushing him toward the offending waterfowl. The boy bites back a smile but does what’s asked of him, shooing the large bird away as Haymitch wipes the still-wet razor on his pajama pants and stows it in his pocket.

Effie deflates in obvious relief, patting down her hair as she twists to watch Peeta chase the gander back to his ladies, who are grazing quietly two backyards over.

“You know they can fly, right?” Haymitch asks, leaning his elbow against the roof and looking up at her.

Her head snaps around so fast she nearly tumbles off the roof, her mouth tight with anger. She slaps at the hand that grabs her waist to steady her, and more half-hearted blows land on his arm and chest before she reaches for his shoulders. “Those birds are awful,” she says angrily, trying to swing one leg over the verge. “And you’re awful. You deserve each other, honestly!”

“They’re fine,” Haymitch grouses, reaching for her again when she starts to slide precariously down the steeply slanted roof. It’s not very far off the ground but - “How did you even get up here?”

“I climbed,” she snaps. “Obviously.”

“Obviously,” he echoes, biting back more laughter and pretending not to notice that she’s trying to pull the skirt of her dress back over her knees. She’s not having much success, and he’s guiltily grateful for that because the sight of her designer dress and the white silk slip hiding underneath it, her smooth, pale legs and his stupid, over-sized, worn-out galoshes does something wonderful to him he doesn’t want to examine too closely.

While he’s not examining it, or the freckles hiding in her cleavage that have started to appear as she spends more time in the sunlight, Effie loses her balance and slides toward him. She squeals when her feet find nothing but air beneath, and before he can blink he’s laughing again. One of her arms manages to make it around his neck as she falls, and then all her weight barrels into him. He gets an arm around her waist, still laughing as she scowls, but then one of her knees connects firmly with his groin, and all the air leaves his lungs as they topple backwards together to land in the grass and hay and dirt.

There’s a long, frozen moment where all he can see is Effie’s wide blue eyes. She stares down at him, her mouth hanging open, her panting gasps pressing her breasts into him as she straddles one of his thighs. She licks her lips, and his eyes follow the movement. His other hand, somehow, has made it to her knee, and he squeezes, his thumb pressing into the flesh of her inner thigh. He thinks the flush on her face now might have less to do with fear.

It hits him like a lightning strike when he realizes he wants to kiss her. With the way her eyelashes are fluttering and she’s leaning into him, he thinks she’s going to let him.

Then the geese take off, and Effie screams in his ear as she buries her face in his neck.

He’s a mean, awful man, and he knows he shouldn’t, he knows she’s going to be mad, but he just can’t help himself.

So he presses a kiss into her hair, holds her tight, and laughs.