“Rebuilding’s more work than a rebellion,” Haymitch said, taking a gulp of the white liquor Katniss had poured for him when he arrived at her house. She was only half listening, watching Peeta prepare dinner, the smooth motions, how he muttered his way through the steps. “At least I have this though!” He said, smacking his lips together in appreciation.
Katniss ducked her head as she smiled. “You really don’t change, do you,” she murmured. "Enforced sobriety and then back again." There was a flash across Haymitch’s face, an emotion she couldn’t quite interpret and then he shrugged.
“Changing is too much effort at my age,” Haymitch said, watching the liquid swirl in his cup, “Your bones protest. I celebrated too much after it ended and they protested about that too.”
Katniss made a sound of acknowledgment but her gaze was distant, staring off out a window. There were a few bright lights, but most of District 12 was dark at this hour, most of the people dust and the rest sleeping. It was late, Haymitch thought, his eyes drooping almost immediately.
“Did you ever go out in the forest when you were young?” Katniss asked. It wasn’t quite a guess, Haymitch had the same coal seam black hair and grey eyes as her and he had won his Games. Maybe if he hadn’t won, if he had never been reaped, he might had nodded to her father, as they went on their business, mouths shut if they were ever caught by the Peacekeepers.
“Once or twice,” Haymitch said and he wasn’t quite lying. It was hard to forget that you were supposed to lie when asked about something forbidden, something that could be punished with a whipping or even death depending on the mood of the person who caught you. “More of a lark than anything,” he said, “Sometimes we set traps but I was never that good, never really had to try.”
“We’ll go tomorrow. At dawn,” Katniss added, nodding at the glass in Haymitch’s hand. He smiled, curling in on himself. He fell asleep there, in that big over stuffed couch, and when he stirred in the middle of the night there was a thick woollen blanket on him.
They walked silently in the pre dawn light, their breath puffing in front of them. People hadn’t been away from District 12 for that long but the firebombing and abandonment meant the place had changed remarkably since Haymitch was last there. And then there was the rebuilding. New buildings, proper plumbing and everything but more tents than anything at first.
“They were warmer than most old District 12 homes,” Peeta had admitted to Haymitch, rubbing the back of his head, when Peeta and Katniss had first returned to 12 ah Haymitch had walked around, hardly recognizing a thing. It sounded like he was repeating other people’s words, but he had been the baker’s son. He had probably always been warm.
They had just gotten the mine up again, the main entrance had been destroyed in the firebombing and for a moment Haymitch had been glad, remembering the hacking lungs on long term miners, or bodies never brought up to the surface. It was needed and it had reopened and as they walked through the mist, ghostly miners would appear out of nowhere, nodding to them, eyes lingering on Katniss. It was hard, Haymitch supposed, for people to see her as more than an icon, the Girl on Fire. Even if most of these people would have remembered her as a child, Katniss staring down Snow would remain in their minds.
Katniss went first but at the old barrier she stopped, waiting for Peeta and Haymitch to catch up. Only when they were next to her did she step forward, her mouth in a grim line. Haymitch paused, watching Peeta and Katniss walk the boundary zone, still scarred from the firebombing, Katniss hopping over a crater, Peeta carefully skirting it. The mist was rising, the sun drawing above them, and for a moment Haymitch imagined them disappearing into the forest, no one in any of the Districts ever seeing them again.
“Haymitch?” Peeta called, squinting, his eyes in a shadow. And Haymitch shook his head, following them, walking around the crater like Peeta. Not everyone could be as young as Katniss, he thought. Peeta waited for him, while Katniss had disappeared into the edge of the tree line.
It was a different world, away from the shattered remains of District 12 and the hectic rebuilding. They even had people from other Districts, when before they just had the Peacekeepers and no one had ever counted them. The sun was distant above them, it might take hours, or even the end of the earth for the sun to reach the ground they were walking on. Katniss stalked ahead of them, laying traps, and then gestured for them to follow her to a small overhanging, branches spread around it like an embrace.
Katniss squatted, resting against the twisted roots and largish rocks while Peeta sprawled, legs akimbo. Haymitch just sat on his ass, grateful that it hadn’t rained for a few days.
Together, Katniss and Peeta were quick to prepare a small breakfast. Thick bread, “Baked just yesterday,” Peeta whispered, while Katniss just stared steadily ahead, cheese and slices of sausage. Before he had been reaped, Haymitch would have considered this a feast, judging from Katniss slow chewing, she thought so too. Peeta was quicker, he always had been, but he tore into the bread with a haste that he hadn’t had before he had been taken by Snow.
There was a soft sound, off in the distance, Katniss turned sharply but Peeta and Haymitch were slower. Katniss nodded, a small smile on her lips.
“Dinner for the Jenny and Tom,” she said, poking Peeta. She met Haymitch’s gaze. “They give us too much food, the new government,” she said, shrugging. “I tried to tell them, that there was just us not even mother, but they didn’t pay much attention,” her voice quietened toward the end, her fingers twitching slightly.
“And we can give it to the people who need it,” Peeta said softly, nudging Katniss’ boot with his own. “Not so bad, really,” he said, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he smiled at Katniss.
“It takes time to get everything sorted,” Haymitch said, shrugging. News filtered to him, eventually and he shared more of it with his geese than Peeta and Katniss. Part of that had been because he had been forbidden, people weren’t sure what knowledge Katniss should know, they didn’t know what she would do with it. She had barely wanted one rebellion, Haymitch had thought, another would have killer her one way or the other. Then it had become habit, to keep to the small things and then to what was happening to District 12.
Katniss nodded and then sighed deeply, her head tilting as she heard something that completely escaped Haymitch. “Number four didn’t work,” she said. “I got out of practice.”
They hadn’t allowed her here at first, worried that she would disappear, creating a bigger scandal for them. Peeta had eventually convinced them it would be essential, otherwise she would try and disappear. Her brow cleared here, though her eyes didn’t relax. Haymitch didn’t remember relaxing, other than at a bottom of a bottle, in the years after he had won his Games.
“Thank you for taking me,” Haymitch said, watching a bird settle on a branch, the sun filtering through the leaves, onto the bird’s feathers, a moment of brightness in the dark green and brown. “Good to get away from those geese,” he said with a wry said, shaking his head, thinking of the mess and chaos that would surely await him in District 12.
“You’re welcome,” Katniss said.