Nickel's face scrunched up at the horrid smell. No matter how many times he entered Haymitch's house it always managed to catch him off guard. It was as if the smell of alcohol had permeated every single area of the house, even the smallest of crevices. It was a smell that Nickel hoped he was never used to.
The boy had been sent over to check on Haymitch as it had been a few days since he'd last been seen. When Nickel was younger, he'd have never been allowed into the house alone unless his parents knew Haymitch was awake. If he'd stumbled upon an asleep Haymitch and accidently awoke him things could have been bad. A few years ago though, Haymitch had finally begun to sleep without his usual knife. Something that his parents had seemed overjoyed to discover. Now that his awakenings were less violent, Nickel and Dani were often sent to do the deed. Nickel thought it had something to do with Haymitch being easier on them than he was their parents. He really did have a soft spot for them, even if he wouldn't admit it.
"Haymitch," Nickel called into the house that was as eerily quiet as usual. As he'd expected, there was no answer, and Nickel was left to wander through the house to search for its sole occupant. Without bothering to look into the TV room that had sat empty since before Nickel's birth, the boy went straight for the kitchen: the room with the alcohol and Haymitch's favorite room by default.
Sure enough, the aged man was slumpt over in his usual seat, but in an odd change to routine, the drunken man was awake. Nickel was about to ask why Haymitch hadn't answered him earlier, when the boy really took in the scene before him. Although Haymitch had appeared to be awake at first glance, Nickel began to wonder if the man had learned how to sleep with his eyes open. Either that or Haymitch was lost in his own head because no one found a bottle of alcohol that interesting, not even a drunk.
It was with great trepidation that Nickel made his way towards Haymitch's kitchen table. He was just a few steps away when Haymitch's eyes suddenly found him. Startled, Nickel jumped back quickly before regaining his composure and sitting in the seat opposite Haymitch who now seemed as focused on Nickel as he had been on the bottle just a moment ago.
Nickel sat in discomfort while Haymitch studied him for what felt like hours. Finally, the old man began to speak. "You ever wonder why I drink so much, boy?"
In all honesty, Nickel had wondered about it once or twice, but he couldn't say it was something that had occupied more than a minute or two of his thoughts at any given time. Haymitch just drank. Nickel had never thought of it as weird seeing as it was the only way he'd ever known the man. Before Nickel could answer, Haymitch continued, "Alcohol is a powerful thing. I used to tell myself I was better than the morphlings, but I don't really believe that anymore." Nickel never got a chance to ask what Haymitch meant by "morphlings." "You're the first person I've ever said this to, but I'm a weak person, boy. Sure, I've done a lot of brave things, but I'm weak. It's to be expected of course. I'm human, even if I've done some very inhumane things. We're all weak, and I didn't have someone to rely on like your parents did. I suppose I'm lucky I didn't kill myself."
Nickel was beginning to get a little freaked out. He had no idea where this was coming from or what Haymitch even meant. None of it made sense to the young boy. Maybe the alcohol had made Haymitch entirely crazy.
"I don't know why I'm telling you this," Haymitch finally began to answer one of Nickel's unspoken questions. "You're too young for this, yet I think that's why I chose to unload it on to you. Not fair really. Not even ethical. But since when have I been fair and ethical? There's a reason I'm a victor."
Haymitch's words meant next-to-nothing to the young boy, as Nickel sat in rapt attention. He tried to decipher every sentence, but his limited knowledge wasn't allowing him to figure much out. Nickel was still trying to figure out what "ethical" meant as Haymitch suddenly fell silent again.
Haymitch's thoughts seemed to be continuing down the same path that he had just been voicing outloud to Nickel. Nickel wondered if he should run for one of his parents. They'd understand what Haymitch was ranting about, and they'd probably have a better chance at making him feel better. His parents always made everything better.
Nickel had barely made it out of his seat when Haymitch stopped him with a grumble. "Where are you going, boy?" Nickel looked sheepishly at Haymitch, unsure of how to respond.
"To get my parents," he murmered quietly.
"Boy, your parents can't help me." Nickel thought he detected a bit of humor in Haymitch's eyes.
Nickel was a little shook up at the words. The young boy silently sat back down in his seat, unsure of what to do now or how to act in Haymitch's presence.
"There are some things that just can't be fixed," Haymitch muttered so softly that Nickel was sure he hadn't been meant to hear it.
The boy was becoming even more uncomfortable as the silence continued. Nickel had no idea what he should do or if he should do anything at all. Time passed, and Nickel began considering just leaving and letting Haymitch deal with everything on his own. Nickel had begun pushing back his chair when he thought better of it. Glancing up, Nickel watched Haymitch as he took another swig of alcohol. The drunk was now looking towards the window placed over the sink.
Nickel stayed and sat with Haymitch in silence for quite a while, but it wasn't until years later that he fully understood what Haymitch had meant. Some wounds were harder to heal than others, and people used different methods to heal, some of which worked better than others. Haymitch could drink all the alcohol in the world, but he'd never be healed. Haymitch would never heal. He'd suffer through the rest of his life pretending to be healed by masking his problems with alcohol, but the wounds would still be there underneath it all. After knowing Haymitch his whole life, Nickel only fully grasped just how sad Haymitch's life was many years later.