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The Soldier

Chapter Text

Even though I technically I don't have to get up until around noon whereas Katniss has to get up earlier to be prepped for our arrival in District 11, I'm still awake when I hear Effie knocking at her door. I roll over in bed, trying to get comfortable enough to fall asleep again, but no matter what I do, I'm unable to. Though I don't remember my dreams, I know they were about the Games, what I had to endure during them, and other nightmares that thankfully weren't real. Losing Katniss is a popular one. Every night I lose her in a different horrifying way: being torn to pieces by mutts, finding her dead when I awake after she left to get medicine for me at the feast, going insane from the tracker jacker venom and being unable to recognize me when I find her again. These are only the ones that show up most often, but there are a multitude of others that find their way into my subconscious each night.

Unable to lie in bed any longer, I throw the blankets back and head for the bathroom to take a shower. That's become something I do when I don't know what else to do. It's ridiculous, of course, and pointless, but I'm able to lose myself in the warm water for the first couple minutes of it before the thoughts begin to take over, reminding me of things I'd rather forget as well as bringing up other subjects I told myself I wouldn't think about. Mainly they have to do with Katniss, but today, unlike most other days, it isn't trying to figure out how I'm going to show my affection for her in the districts, while staying cool towards her the rest of the time.

Today I'm trying to figure out how we can regain some semblance of…something. Nothing romantic, of course, but perhaps friendship. I feel as though that would be alright. If she can forgive me for my recent behavior that is. I will be unsurprised if she can't, but I have to try. I've come to realize that it's far more painful to not be speaking with her than it would be if we were just friends talking with one another. It's still not what I want, not by a long shot, but I have to stop being so hurt by what happened. Frankly, I never once should have thought that anything in the Games was other than an act. She was doing what she had to in order to keep us alive and that meant pretending to be in love with me. In all actuality, I should be thankful for what she did instead of hurt and angry.

I've literally just stepped out of the shower when my prep team bursts into my compartment much as they did the day before at my house. I don't even have a towel wrapped around my waist, but I suppose that's not necessary. It isn't as though they haven't seen me naked before. Still, I feel the need to grab a towel before they begin their work on me, but I don't have time. I'm whisked away before I can even reach for one.

Apparently, I wasn't supposed to wash myself. They were, but since that ship has sailed, they're going to skip that step and do the rest, which includes making my hair look exactly as it did during my interviews and the day of the reaping last year. Instead of having my blonde hair flopping into my eyes as it normally is, they slick it to the side with some hair gel that I've had under the sink in my family's house for as long as I can remember. Once they've done that, they touch up my skin, making me look wide awake instead of tired. They remove all blemishes, though really there are none and strip my body of all my hair on my torso. Once they're done with that, Portia comes in and hands me the outfit that was sitting on my dresser.

"This is what I'm going to be wearing in the district?" I ask, feeling like this isn't up to pare with what she and Cinna usually have planned.

"No," she responds. "This is what you're going to wear until we get closer to District 11. For now, you might as well be comfortable."

It's a fair assessment. I nod once and dress before heading down to the dining area. I find Effie, Cinna, and Haymitch are already there. I sit down and begin serving myself. I haven't even finished putting everything on my plate when Portia comes in and sits down across from me. Everyone around me is talking about the food, so I join in the conversation, though the only ones in that conversation are Effie, Cinna, and now Portia. Normally, I keep to myself, but today I don't feel like being antisocial. I want to talk with everyone. The topic moves on to how well we all sleep on the train when Katniss comes into the room.

Normally, Katniss looks like her smiles and behavior is forced, but today she's not even smiling. I don't know what's put her in such a bad mood and as I try to catch her eye, I can tell she's purposefully avoiding my gaze. Several times, Cinna tries to include her in the discussion, but she doesn't let him. I'm just thinking of speaking to her myself when the train stops. An announcement over some unseen loudspeaker tells us that this isn't a fuel stop, but that one of the parts has malfunctioned and we'll be here for about an hour. Of course, Effie immediately begins to fret over how this is going to affect everything that's going on for the next few weeks. Right before she yells, I look at Katniss and know that she's just about had it with everyone. I'm about to open my mouth to comfort her, tell her that it's not worth it, but that's when she stands up and shouts, "No one cares, Effie!"

The entire car goes silent as well all turn our gaze to her. She glances around and when I tear my eyes from her for only a second, I see that Haymitch is looking at her as well. This is surprising, since he and Effie never really get along, which I guess is why Katniss adds before turning on her heel and heading out of the dining car, "Well, no one does!"

I watch her go, unable to do anything other than stare at the place where she used to be for several moments. It's Haymitch's voice that brings me back into reality with a start as he tells me that I should go speak with her, try to make her feel better. I'm opening my mouth to tell him that now probably isn't a good time, but then an alarm goes off somewhere and I know she's left the train. With the way she's currently feeling, there's a good chance she might just sit at the edge of the tracks and watch it go by before following the rails back to District 12. As much as I think that's the best thing for her personally, I know that it really isn't. Besides, now would be the perfect time to talk to her, tell her what I was thinking about in the shower this morning.

It isn't hard to find the door that Katniss exited the train from. It's the only one open down the long hallway towards our personal compartments. Unlike she probably did, I slowly lower myself to the ground. I'm not entirely sure what would happen if I just jumped out. I have an artificial leg now and something bad could happen. I don't want to think about what that could be, so I look left and right trying to find where she vanished off to. I see her a little ways down the tracks and I head in that direction.

When I'm about ten feet away from her, she says, "I'm not in the mood for a lecture."

I allow a small smile to cross my lips. She probably thought I was Haymitch, which isn't surprising, since he probably would come to chew her out about what just happened. In fact, as the thought crosses my mind, I don't know why he hasn't. Probably because he's hung over. It's not hard to tell when he is.

"I'll try to keep it brief," I respond, sitting gingerly down next to her.

"I thought you were Haymitch," she says.

This time I hide my smile as I adjust my artificial leg and tell her, "No, he's still working on that muffin." Once I feel comfortable enough, I stare at the tracks, still unable to make eye contact with her, as I say, "Bad day, huh?"

"It's nothing," she says.

I know now is the time to tell her what I've been thinking about for the past several hours. In preparation for the speech I've mentally prepared, I take a deep breath and turn to her. "Look, Katniss, I've been wanting to talk to you about the way I acted on the train. I mean, the last train. The one that brought us home. I knew you had something with Gale. I was jealous of him before I even officially met you. And it wasn't fair to hold you to anything that happened in the Games. I'm sorry."

It's clear I've surprised her with my apology and I suppose it's easy to see why. Only a day ago, I was avoiding her gaze, speaking to her coolly, and refusing to fully acknowledge her existence. Frankly, I feel that this is a long time coming and I have no excuse for my behavior up until this point. Even if she doesn't accept my apology, at least I'll have tried to make amends and, for now, that can be enough.

"I'm sorry, too," she replies, though I don't know why. Maybe she really is sorry that all of her actions were false and she feels bad for having hurt me the way she did. She's not a cruel person, this I know, so this is a strong possibility.

"There's nothing for you to be sorry about," I reassure her. "You were just keeping us alive. But I don't want us to go on like this, ignoring each other in real life and falling into the snow every time there's a camera around. So I thought if I stopped being so, you know, wounded, we could take a shot at just being friends."

She hesitates before she says, "Okay," and at first I think this is because she really doesn't want to be friends with me, but when I look into her eyes, even though she averts them, I can tell that isn't the reason at all. There's something else going on, something I'm not aware of and perhaps something she won't let me be aware of. I have no right to press her on the matter, but I still want to help her feel better, even if it's only slightly.

"So, what's wrong?" I ask.

She doesn't say anything and I know now is not the time.

"Let's start with something more basic," I say, knowing my last words were too forward. "Isn't it strange that I know you'd risk your life to save mine…but I don't know what your favorite color is?"

When she smiles, I know I've asked the right question.

"Green," she responds. "What's yours?"

"Orange," I say without hesitation.

"Orange?" she asks. "Like Effie's hair."

"A bit more muted," I clarify. "More like…sunset."

It's strange how then I think of every sunset I've ever seen with Katniss. There aren't that many, I suppose, but it's more than I've seen with anyone else. The only sunset that truly stands out in my mind is when we were lying on top of the Cornucopia during the end of the Games, trying to sleep despite the awful noises being made beneath us. I was dying, bleeding to death, but I still managed to comfort Katniss. She kept me alive, really, by putting a tourniquet on my leg as well as keeping me conscious during that night. I can never repay her for all that she's done for me and realizing this, I feel awful for how I've treated her recently.

"You know, everyone's always raving about your paintings. I feel bad I haven't seen them," she tells me.

"Well, I've got a whole train car full," I respond, pushing myself up. I hold out my hand, adding, "Come on."

I can't stop myself from smiling when my fingers entwine with hers. It's a wonderful feeling, even if it is only one of friendship. I lead her back to the train, help her inside. I'm about to head in the direction of the car Portia told me was full of my paintings – I still don't know why we were supposed to bring along our talents – but she says, pulling away, "I've got to apologize to Effie first."

"Don't be afraid to lay it on thick," I say, only half joking.

While I'm waiting, I lean against the wall, my hands behind my back, and stare out the window at the grass waving in the wind. She's gone for only slightly longer than I thought she would be. I'm sure she spent ten minutes apologizing and the other fifteen were Effie accepting her apology as well as reprimanding her for saying what she did. The thought of Effie telling Katniss to mind her manners, makes me smile. We all know that isn't one of her strong suits and telling her to do something he's practically incapable of achieving is amusing to me. I'm sure that whoever else is in the dining car with them is thinking the same thing.

The minute she comes back, I take her hand and lead her down a few cars. When we finally come to the one containing my paintings, I'm beginning to think it might have been a bad idea to show her these, considering that Portia not only loaded the ones that I showed the cameras, but the others as well, the ones that were clearly from the Games.

There is undeniable shock and fear on Katniss' face when we enter the car. I watch as she goes through the paintings, observing some of the ones I think I did the best on as well as the ones I wish she wouldn't see. I notice she lingers nearest the ones that don't depict her or anything that's obviously from the Games. The one she stays nearest the longest is the one that shows the water dripping into our cave from outside. I don't know what intrigues her so much about this one, but I can see awe in her eyes. She's surprised at how well I can paint and, frankly, the more I think about it, so am I.

"What do you think?" I ask.

"I hate them," she says without hesitation. Really, it's the reaction I should have expected, but it still sends a pang through my chest. I've worked hard on every single one of these works and she hates them. However, her next words clarify her previous statement and the hurt lessens. "All I do is go around trying to forget the arena and you've brought it back to life. How do you remember these things so exactly?"

"I see them every night," I say, avoiding her eyes.

She knows what I mean. I'm sure of it. Nightmares. I'd be surprised if she doesn't have them too. Every night I'm back in the arena, trying to protect her and almost always I fail. There are other times when I'm taken back to the awful hallucinations I experienced after the attack from the tracker jackers. But it doesn't really matter what the nightmare is. It's always awful and I always wake up, paralyzed with fear, covered in cold sweat, afraid to move. Eventually I do, of course, but it takes a while.

"Me, too," she responds. "Does it help? To paint them out?"

"I don't know," I say, honestly. "I think I'm a little less afraid of going to sleep at night, or I tell myself I am. But they haven't gone anywhere."

"Maybe they won't," she says. "Haymitch's haven't."

"No. But for me, it's better to wake up with a paintbrush than a knife in my hand," I tell her. We've always known why Haymitch sleeps with a knife and it wasn't until we were in the Games ourselves that we understood why he drinks so much. I'm only thankful that I haven't turned to that. I have paints and canvases and images in my head that I can bring to life. I suppose it is easier to bring it to life than bury it. I know it'll only come back later.

"So you really hate them?" I ask, not feeling as wounded as I did before.

"Yes. But they're extraordinary. Really," she says. I know what she means. She means they're well painted. She just doesn't like the content. I wish I could paint something other than this, but I've yet to figure out how to do that.

"Want to see my talent? Cinna did a great job on it," she says.

I laugh. Though she claimed otherwise, everyone knows that Katniss has a talent. She can sing more beautifully than anyone any of us know. However, when Effie was suggesting talents for us and she said that, Katniss vehemently refused, so after she sent her a whole list of things she could take up – none of which she was particularly good at – she ended up speaking with Cinna, who decided to make a talent for her. I heard very little about it after that, but what I did know was that he created a bunch of dresses for her to show off to the cameras when they came before the Tour.

"Later," I assure her as the train lurches forward, propelling us closer to District 11. "Come on. We're almost to District 11. Let's go take a look at it."

The last seats on the train have a retractable roof that allows us to feel as though we're riding outside instead of inside when used. There are comfortable couches and chairs to sit on as well and we sit next to one another as we watch the world fly by. Unlike District 12, this part of the world is full of fields. There are animals dotted throughout the landscape, grazing on the grass, looking up in confusion as we pass. I'm just becoming comfortable with the land around us when things begin changing. First the train slows and I think we're stopping for fuel, but then I see a fence that goes thirty-five feet in the air. At the top are barbed wire coils, and as I think back to the fence in District 12, I know it's nothing like this one. It's not as vicious and deadly. At the base of the fence are metal plates that prevent any kind of escape if the guards in the towers spaced evenly throughout the district, surrounded by wildflowers, didn't see them first.

"That's something different," I say for lack of better words.

The only people I ever knew of from District 11 were Thresh and Rue and I thought that their lives were exactly like ours. District 12 is the poorest district in Panem and I'd always gotten the feeling that every other district was better off than us. Seeing what I am now, I know I was wrong. We're a paradise compared to this, which is little more than a living hell.

Now there are crops going by us. Intermixed are people, men, women and children, picking them, getting everything they can for the harvest. I'd never thought that any district was this big and I wonder how many children there actually are in this district. Not all of them can possibly fit into the square on reaping day. After we get through the crops, we're passing by the houses that are little more than shacks. I think about the houses I've seen in the Seam and they seem a lot more lavish.

"How many people do you think live here?" I ask, turning to Katniss, but she only shakes her head. No one except those who live here can possibly know the exact population.

I'm only beginning to try to take in all of the sights around me, but that's the moment when Effie whisks us off to get dressed. My prep team does my hair and makeup, but Portia is the one that puts me in my outfit. Almost as though she knows what Katniss and I were talking about early, she puts me in a white button up shirt, with a soft orange jacket and a matching pair of pants. My shoes are black and they seem out of place with the rest of my outfit.

Once Katniss and I are together, I can see that, as usual, our outfits match. Effie is going over the events for the day with us, but I'm not really listening. All I can focus on is how beautiful Katniss looks in her dress. Besides, Effie has gone over this so much that I could recite it in my sleep.

As we pull up into the station I can see that, though there are a multitude of people in this district, the place is rundown. My thoughts that this place wouldn't be a nice one to live in are only confirmed when we're ushered into the back of an armored van by a group of Peacekeepers the minute we exit the train. Of course Effie is appalled, but I don't say anything. After seeing everything I did on the train ride here, I don't know what else I could have expected.

From the van we are ushered into the Justice Building from the back. It smells like it's been sitting out in the rain for far too long. However, we're not given much time to look around before we're being pushed out onto the front steps of the building, which Effie refers to as the verandah, the anthem echoing in our ears as well as the mayor's words. The minute we're out in the sunlight, I glance to my left and right, seeing the families of Rue and Thresh. Where Rue has several brothers as sisters as well as two parents, Thresh only has a tall muscular girl, whom I can only assume is his sister and a hunchbacked old woman I assume is his grandmother.

After the mayor's finished talking, we are given a bouquet of exquisite flowers by two nicely dressed little girls. That's when I go up and speak the words that Effie wrote down on a notecard for me to say. Katniss finishes the speech and before I forget, I take a deep breath and begin the speech I prepared especially for Rue and Thresh.

"I never knew Rue and Thresh very well, but I do know that they made it down to the final eight and they both protected Katniss as much as they possibly could. Rue helped her after she was attacked by tracker jackers. She got her back on her feet and kept her alive. And Thresh…I can never thank him enough for sparing her life at the feast because she took such good care of Rue. If neither of them had kept Katniss alive, I would not be alive now, so I owe them my lives as much as she does." There's one last thing I want to say. I've been thinking about it ever since the beginning of the tour, but I never thought that I would actually say it. Still, I hesitate before I finally speak the words. "It can in no way replace your losses, but as a token of our thanks we'd like for each of the tributes' families from District 11 to receive one month of our winnings every year for the duration of our lives."

The shock of the crowd is clear. I know what this will do for them. This place is very poor and it is clear that these families are poor as well, but this will help them. This will perhaps help them go on, despite the loss of their children. When Katniss looks at me, I give her a sad smile, one that comes from the pain of knowing that there is nothing I can actually do to help these families, these people that are living in a world that can only destroy them. Still, when Katniss kisses me, I'm happy because I know she is happy, glad for what I am doing for the two people that she cared for the most in the arena.

The mayor comes up to us and gives us plaques so large that we have to set down our bouquets. The ceremony is ending, I'm turning to go back into the Justice Building, when Katniss shouts, "Wait! Wait, please." I turn to her, startled by her outburst, until she starts speaking. "I want to give my thanks to the tributes of District Eleven. I only ever spoke to Thresh one time. Just long enough for him to spare my life. I didn't know him, but I always respected him. For his power. For his refusal to play the Games on anyone's terms but his own. The Careers wanted him to team up with them from the beginning, but he wouldn't do it. I respected him for that."

She pauses and in that moment, I turn to Thresh's family. His grandmother is smiling. The crowd is silent. She turns to Rue's family then.

"But I feel as if I did know Rue, and she'll always be with me. Everything beautiful brings her to mind. I see her in the yellow flowers that grow in the Meadow by my house. I see her in the mockingjays that sing in the trees. But most of all, I see her in my sister Prim." Her voice is soft now, barely audible even with the assistance of the microphone attached to the front of her dress. "Thank you for your children. And thank you all for the bread."

The entire square is silent for several moments before in the back an old man whistles. I only ever heard the whistle once, but I know it's origin because Katniss told me our last day in the arena when we were sitting near the Cornucopia, waiting for the nightmare to end.

It's Rue's four-note tune.

Then, almost as if it were rehearsed, every person in the square presses their three middle fingers of their left hand to their lips, before raising them in Katniss' direction. How they know of this tradition that is something we use in District 12, I do not know, but I have to hold back my tears. They are as thankful for her as I am.

Our microphones cut off then and we're heading back inside. However, something in her expression tells me that she's uncomfortable and, with a concerned look on my face, I ask softly, "Are you alright?"

"Just dizzy," she responds, though I don't believe it at all. "The sun was so bright." She glances towards my bouquet and then adds, "I forgot my flowers."

"I'll get them," I offer.

"I can," she responds.

If she hadn't forgotten them, we would be inside by now and we would see nothing of what happens next. We would be safe from the horror that truly is District 11. But we aren't inside. We're still on the verandah and because of this we see it all. The old man being dragged to the stage, forced to his knees, and shot in the head.