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The day of his first Reaping comes like a gift from a cruel god. Haymitch makes it out of the house and is quietly sick right beside the porch, heaving up spit and acid. It feels like being punched in the ribs and he has the sudden, awfully hilarious thought that he might actually miss it, right before it lets up.

He straightens up and wipes his mouth, nose and throat burning miserably, and gives himself a minute. The nausea subsides, but his stomach is still twisting knottily around itself. He’ll have his name in five times, once by default and then four for tesserae, which his brother might bitch about but won’t actually stop him from taking, but that’s not all it is. He has a statement to make.

Thank God for the Hunger Games. He starts chuckling in that nasty, sardonic way that always gets him the threat of the flat of his mother’s hand, and thinks for a second he might start puking again.

It passes. He spits a mouthful of watery bile into a clump of weeds and starts walking.

His stomach has settled all heavy with dread by the time he gets there, but starts churning again when he steps into line. He stares straight ahead at the shoulderblades of the boy in front of him, trying to pretend his face isn’t burning, trying to pretend his palms aren’t slick with nervous sweat, trying to pretend no one’s looking.

Someone reaches out and jabs a finger into his shoulder. He stands stock still and thinks rock thoughts, mine thoughts, calm and heavy. They poke him again, and then harder, and then actually grab him, at which point he whips around and glares up into an earnest round face with two earnest round eyes staring very fucking earnestly at him from under a thatch of wavy golden hair.

“I think - “

“You shouldn’t.” He turns back around and clenches his slippery fists at his sides, toes curling angrily in his shoes like maybe he can root himself. Behind him, the kid is trying to continue, but he’s keeping his hands to himself and after Haymitch continues to not even look at him, he stops talking.

They move forward in little jerks and spurts. Soon enough Haymitch can see the Peacekeeper’s helmet over the shoulders in front of him, can get glimpses of the table and rosters.

His hands tremble. His knees go weak, his bowels go watery. His breath comes in hot, shuddering bursts.

The boy in front of him reaches out to have his blood checked and his name neatly ticked off, and then Haymitch is standing there in front of the Peacekeepers, shaking from crown to toes.

The woman has to press his hand flat against the table to get the blood reader against his thumb. It feels like it takes forever, like it has to be taking longer than it did for everyone else, and then he knows it is because she’s frowning and tapping at the screen like maybe that’ll make it say what she thinks it should.

His name isn’t in their ledger yet. It’s his first year. She’s supposed to write it in, but instead she’s putting the blood reader down and yeah, she’s going to say something, she’s not going to just let him do this.

“You’re in the wrong line,” she tells him. Her tone is nearly benevolent, like she’s just full of pity for the poor kid who got so nervous and got in the wrong place. “The girls’ line is over there.”

Haymitch has suddenly gone very cold. “I know.” His voice comes out in splinters. “I’m not a girl.”

She lifts the blood reader back up, sounding a little irritated now. “I can see your information right here. Larkspur Abernathy, female, twelve years old -”

There’s a roaring in his ears that drowns out her and the entire rest of the crowd. Slowly, almost leisurely, he flips the paper around to face him, other hand reaching for the pen.

Abernathy, Haymitch, he signs, letters barely steady enough to be legible. They might very well beat him for this, string him up and whip him bloody, but right now they can’t actually undo it without holding everything up. If there’s one thing the Games demand, it’s punctuality.

His fingers leave smeary little wet spots as he turns it back, holding out the pen. “Put me down for four tesserae.” The pen draws wobbly little circles in the air. Everyone in the next line over has gone quiet, craning over to see what’s going on. She looks down at what he wrote, then at the reader, then over at her fellow Peacekeeper, who shrugs, and then takes the pen.

Silently, she puts down his five entries. It takes him a moment to remember he has to walk now. He stands with the rest of the new boys in a daze, barely seeing anything, barely aware of the speech or the customary video. Briefly, he checks in to hear the Reaping, but it’s not him or anyone he knows.

By the time he gets home, his legs have stopped shaking and his palms are mostly dry. All he gets for his trouble there is a bloody nose and sent to bed without any dinner, but even that gives him a vicious kind of satisfaction. No one can make this afternoon not have happened.

Next year, the blood reader comes up Haymitch.