26 March 2012 @ 06:15 pm
the thing with feathers that perches in the soul  
Title: the thing with feathers that perches in the soul
Author: [info]lilithilien
Fandom/Characters: The Hunger Games, Haymitch and other District 12 tributes
Word Count: 1200 words
Rating: Gen
Summary: Haymitch Abernathy thought winning the 50th Hunger Games was the hardest thing he would ever have to do. He was wrong.
Disclaimer: The Hunger Games do not belong to me. If they did, my cats would be eating the fancy catfood.
A/N: Endless thanks to my beta, [info]amo_amas_amat, for holding my hand as I dip my toes in this new fandom and making the ending a thousand times better. The title is from Emily Dickinson: Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tunes without the words and never stops at all.

the thing with feathers that perches in the soul

Haymitch Abernathy thought winning the 50th Hunger Games was the hardest thing he would ever have to do.

He was wrong.

He certainly hadn't expected to be treated as a hero, not like in the Capitol, far be it. He'd just hoped life in the Seam could go back to normal. But he'd forgotten that nobody ever acts the same way around a killer. Conversations would still when he walked in a room, and eyes would drop, and he could smell it, just like he had in the Arena, the fear that seeped through the air and crawled into the back of his throat and scraped it raw like he'd just vomited. Or else backs would straighten and fists would clench, like they had to take the measure of him. Like he wasn't a 15-year-old kid who, just a month before, had wanted the same things the rest of them did: a little house to keep out the cold and his girl waiting when he came home from the mines.

They weren't all like that, of course. His mother nearly knocked a Peacekeeper down in her rush to drag him off the train; meanwhile Clyde attached his full eight-year-old weight to Haymitch's legs, completely immobilising him. For a flash of a second, Haymitch panicked, the feeling of being trapped and vulnerable almost suffocating. And then, over his mother's shoulder, he'd seen Aster. Standing there in her best dress and a crimson boucle hat, she looked so much prettier than any of the made-up dolls in the Capitol. She smiled at him like she was glad he was home and he knew things were going to be all right.

They weren't, though.

By the time Haymitch's Victory Tour started, he'd already learned that white liquor, consumed in sufficient quantity, could dull the pain of losing them. Nobody in District 12 seemed to notice that their victor would disappear for days, or that when he eventually ventured out for more drink, his sunken cheeks and unwashed hair made him look far older than his fifteen years. He was happy enough to escape the Seam and they were happy enough to be rid of him. Once on the train, it didn't take long to acquire a taste for the nicer stuff the Capitol supplied. His handlers apparently didn't mind whether he was sober for his public appearances; in fact, the less coherent he was, the better they liked it. And Haymitch didn't care if he couldn't remember the sea that ran the length of District 4 or the forested slopes as they crossed District 7, or any of the blank faces staring up at him. He'd stopped caring about anything.

The Reaping for the 51st Hunger Games arrived with a knock on his door – no one ever knocked on his door – and a flurry of stylists determined to turn this waste of a human being into something the camera could love. It was a futile cause, every bit as futile as the tributes fielded by District 12 that year. Blane Culver was a sickly boy whose coughs drowned out the announcement of his name; Catesby Monroe was just a wisp of a girl who'd been in the same grade as Haymitch, back when he'd gone to school. Haymitch vowed to stay sober during the Games, mostly for Catesby's sake, and he made a good show of it up until the starting blast. Then she was dead and Haymitch was just a terrified kid responsible for another terrified kid, and no sponsor was going to buy the idea of Black-Lung Blane as a future victor. Sobriety just didn't seem worth the effort.

The following years were much the same. A few stood out, like the time his cousin Allster's name was drawn and the entire Abernathy clan expected Haymitch to somehow save him. Or the 60th Hunger Games when pre-Game scores were introduced and Ellis Campane surprised everyone with a 10. For the first time, Haymitch pondered what it might be like if he wasn't so alone, if he had someone to share the mantle of his so-called victory. It seemed the sponsors were of the same mind; suddenly they were throwing favours at him like they'd forgotten he was a pariah. Not that any of it helped. Food and weaponry only go so far when the Arena starts spitting acidic rain.

District 12 smouldered for a time after that. But a new Head Peacekeeper arrived, as did food shortages, more extreme than usual, and soon enough the rebellion was extinguished. Not that Haymitch really noticed. For the most part, his life had settled into what might be called a comfortable routine: eleven months of stupor followed by one month of watching his neighbours' kids get slaughtered. And since the booze supplied in that month was of far superior quality to the rotgut from the Seam's stills, it seemed a decent trade-off. Among the other victors he even found friends, if you could call them that. They didn't call him a hero for outliving 47 other people, nor did they stare at him like a traitor for letting down his district's young people, and that was better than most.

The 74th Hunger Games didn't look to be any different, as far as Haymitch could see. Just some overly earnest merchant kid and a girl who was, quite frankly, a bitch – not traits that would help either of them in the arena. And yet...

Haymitch couldn't recollect the exact events of the Reaping, of course. They were clouded in the fog of a particularly potent bottle he'd picked up at the Hob, special for the occasion. He'd fallen off the stage, he recalled, but that was hardly new; certainly not worthy of Effie's tittering, more maniacal than usual. She was calling what happened extraordinary, and if he hadn't been struck by hearing all six syllables of that word pronounced, he might have asked her what she meant.

Instead he'd lumbered back to his berth on the train with a full bottle of scotch for company. Just out of curiosity, he switched on the video screen and selected the replay of his district's Reaping. He knew what Effie had seen now; he might have even thought she was right... but no. Haymitch shook his head to chase away the unwelcome thoughts. It'd never been any use to imagine what might be, of sharing a life with Aster or keeping his mother safe or watching little Clyde grow up to be a man. The world didn't change, it never would; people like Ellis and Catesby and Allster were all proof of that. Too many kids flickered with life, he'd seen it happen so many times, before their flames were snuffed out.

And yet...

He set down his glass and rewound the video again, pausing it when Katniss Everdeen stepped from the crowd and took her sister's place as tribute. A senseless act, maybe, but one that displayed more balls than he'd seen in twenty-three years of Hunger Games. If he didn't watch himself, he just might get attached to this one.

Haymitch Abernathy had thought winning the 50th Hunger Games was the hardest thing he'd ever have to do.

He was wrong. It wasn't nearly as hard as stifling his hope.

~~~The End~~~