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The Soldier

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It’s cold outside, but I don’t care. I leave my home the minute I’ve gotten over the shock of what just happened, which was surprisingly pretty fast considering I’m going to be dead before the year is out. I tromp across the yard to Haymitch’s house on the other side of mine. I don’t bother banging on the door because I already know it’s open and there’s a good chance that he’s already so drunk he won’t even notice the noise anyway.

            Sure enough, I find him sitting at the table, knife in hand, opening a bottle of liquor. Before he can bring it to his lips, I pull it away, look him square in the face and say, “I’m the one going in again. Not you.”

            He laughs. I’m not sure what I expected, but it certainly wasn’t this. Normally, this might insult me, but I don’t have time for that right now. I pull the bottle from his fingers, which brings him back to me. My expression is just as determined as it was before as I add, “Last year, you chose her, so now you owe me. You owe me whatever I want and what I want is the chance to go in again and protect her.”

            Without hesitation, he snatches the bottle out of my hands, proceeding to open it as he says, without looking at me, “How do you think that’s going to work out? You really think you can protect her? Look how well that went last time. Nearly got you killed, didn’t it?”

            These words sting, even though I know they’re only a result of what he just heard on the television only a few minutes earlier. I ignore them. “I won’t let that happen this year. I’ll be more careful. I was careless last year. I thought I could take the Careers and I was wrong. This year I’ll put all my concentration into protecting her. I’ll do everything I can to keep her alive. I’ll actually use my head this time, okay?”

            Haymitch shrugs. “I think that’s basically what you said last year,” he responds.

            Gritting my teeth, so I don’t respond harshly, I turn on my heel and stalk back towards the door. Just as I’m opening it to go out, I hear him say from the kitchen, “You know she has to win.” I don’t know what he means by that, but at the moment, I’m too angry to care. I throw open the door and am just rushing back to my house when I hear a voice calling my name. I turn around and see Prim and Mrs. Everdeen hurrying towards me. Confusion fills my features, but only for a moment. In the next, they’ve explained that Katniss ran out the door the minute she heard the announcement and they can’t find her.

            My eyes grow wide with fear and I swallow, trying to take it down with me, so I can comfort her family. Prim looks near tears and I promise her and her mother that I’ll help look for her, but, in all the time we search, we can’t find her. It isn’t until I’m back at home, lying in bed, trying to find solace in sleep that I hear the door to Haymitch’s house opening. I get up and glance out the window. Sure enough, it’s Katniss. I run my fingers through my hair and get back in bed, thankful to know she’s safe.

            I’m not sure if it’s due to my shock or the fact that I’m so exhausted from the news of the Quarter Quell, but the expected nightmares never come. I don’t wake up until midday and once I do, I lie in bed for a long time, staring at the ceiling, already coming up with plans as to how I’m going to protect Katniss against the other tributes, which have had more time observing how the Games are run and therefore have the advantage. I think I drift off again somewhere in the middle of this and when I wake, I know what I need to do. I push myself out of bed and head into town in search of Haymitch’s liquor supplier, Ripper. It’s harder to find her now that the Hob has been closed down, but find her I do. Haymitch isn’t going to like what I’m going to do, so he can’t know what I’m doing, until it’s done. Something tells me that when she went over last night, Katniss joined Haymitch in his drinking and she can’t do that, not if she’s going to win. None of us can do that. We have to have our heads.

            The minute she opens her door, I say, “If you sell Haymitch or Katniss anymore liquor, I’ll turn you in to the Peacekeepers.”

            I can tell the shock of my words has silenced her. She doesn’t know what to say and I think that’s a good thing. I pass her a handful of coins I shoved into my pocket before I headed over and add, “I’ll turn you in now if my money and threat aren’t enough.” The look on her face tells me that it is. I give her a tight lipped smile, saying, “Thank you,” and head back the way I came, this time in the direction of Haymitch’s house.

            I walk in unannounced and head upstairs without Haymitch’s notice. I find his liquor stash without difficulty, probably because he’s never had it threatened before. I put all of the bottles into an empty cardboard box, take them to the bathroom, and start emptying them into the sink. At some point during this procedure, I hear the door open downstairs and know it’s Katniss. I put the last few empty bottles back in the box and head back to the kitchen. I place the box on the table and say, “There, it’s done.”

            “What’s done?” Haymitch asks. He’s so drunk that he can barely focus.

            “I’ve poured all the liquor down the drain,” I say, readying myself for the storm that’s inevitably going to follow this statement.

            Now, I’ve Haymitch’s full attention. He pulls the box over and digs through it, beginning a futile search to find one I missed. “You what?” he asked, disbelief filling his slurred voice.

            “I tossed the lot,” I respond.

            “He’ll just buy more,” Katniss says.

            “No, he won’t,” I say. “I tracked down Ripper this morning and told her I’d turn her in the second she sold to either of you. I paid her off, too, just for good measure, but I don’t think she’s eager to be back in the Peacekeeper’s custody.”

            This makes Haymitch get up and try to knick me with his knife, but I block him easily. “What business is it of yours what he does?” I hear Katniss ask.

            “It’s completely my business,” I respond, turning to her. “However it falls out, two of us are going to be in the arena again with the other as mentor. We can’t afford any drunkards on this team. Especially, not you Katniss.” I add the last part when I remember what I Haymitch said the night before, though I still don’t know what it means.

            “What?” she splutters, clearly hungover, confirming my suspicions about her drinking last night, even before she adds, “Last night’s the only time I’ve ever been drunk.”

            “Yeah, and look at the shape you’re in,” I retort.

            There is surprise and anger on her face. I can tell this isn’t what she was expecting for our first meeting after the announcement of the Quarter Quell, but I don’t care. Though I’m not normally this way, I know that, this once, I must be harsh, otherwise she won’t believe I’m serious about what I’m saying. Neither of them will.

            “Don’t worry,” Katniss says, “I’ll get you more liquor.”

            “Then I’ll turn you both in,” I respond, allowing my tone and my features to express my seriousness. “Let you sober up in the stocks.”

            “What’s the point to this?” Haymitch finally asks.

            “The point is that two of us are coming home from the Capitol,” I say, my attention turning back to him. “One mentor and one victor. Effie’s sending me recordings of all the living victors. We’re going to watch their Games and learn everything we can about how they fight. We’re going to put on weight and get strong. We’re going to start acting like Careers. And one of us is going to be victor again whether you two like it or not!” My temper starting to get the better of me, I hurry out of the house, heading back to mine to call Effie about the tapes.

            Though they’re hesitant at first, Katniss and Haymitch eventually do agree to my plan. We watch the recaps every night. When Katniss comments on how we never met any of the victors, Haymitch explains what I already suspected: it wouldn’t be a good idea for a country on the verge of rebellion to see us befriending them. It saddens me that we’re going to be against these people. Some are too old for the Games and I want nothing more than for them not to be chosen, but I have no control over that. Since thinking about this hurts my heart too much, I focus on our training. The only one who might be more dedicated is Katniss, though I know the reason she’s working so hard is for the same reason I am: to forget.

            Gale comes to help us with snares after our exercises and weapons training. I don’t like being in his presence, but I know being unkind to him is not going to make Katniss happy, so I tolerate his visits, just as I’m sure he tolerates me being in the same vicinity as him.

            The day of the reaping comes and I’ve already planned what I’m going to say to my family. I’m going to stand up to my mother and tell my father to do with my brothers what he could never do with me: protect them. However, I’m never given the chance. After I volunteer to take Haymitch’s place and we’re taken into the Justice Building, we’re greeted by Head Peacekeeper Thread, who informs us there’s a new procedure this year. Our goodbyes are denied and we’re rushed to the station. There are no cameras waiting for us, no people we can wave goodbye to. This is so different from the year before, it’s unnerving.

            The three of us stand by the window as the doors of the train close and District 12 begins to disappear behind us. I watch it for as long as I can because I know I’m never going to be coming back. I memorized everything about it in the days leading up to the reaping and now I’m memorizing the skyline I’ve rarely been given the chance to see. Though it isn’t the best place in Panem to live, District 12 is still my home and, in all honesty, I wish it was here I could die instead of in an arena, killed by a stranger.