Semper Mine (Chapter Two: Katya, page 1 of 4)

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Everyone dies around my birthday. I lost my mother a week before I turned nine and one of my brothers three days after my twenty-fifth birthday this year. I don't think I'll ever get over either of the two times in my life where I've seen my strong father cry.

I get lost in my head a lot, unable to close the door on these memories the way I ache to. I've been tempted to take down the pictures in my bedroom with my two brothers, hoping that helps me move on, but can't bring myself to do it. If I take down Mikael's picture, I'm afraid he'll disappear forever. It's silly, the same thought I experienced after my mother's death, because I know they're already gone.

But if I keep the pictures up, it's like they're still around somewhere, maybe just outside my room, and I can pretend all I have to do is open the door and they'll be there waiting.

A hard smack of flesh on metal snaps me out of the melancholy thinking.

My surviving brother, Petr, is playing with his prosthetic leg like he's a five-year-old who got the best birthday present of his life. It doesn't look like a real limb and kind of weirds me out, which is why I'm grateful he's in jeans this time and not boxers. It's made of some sort of resilient, lightweight metal and reminds me of the robot troopers in the latest round of Star Wars movies. The design is purely out of some science fiction magazine or comic book. If I hadn't seen him run on it, I never would've believed it'd hold his body weight.

"You're going to knock your leg off," I snap at him. "The doctor said not to mess with it!"

Petr rolls his eyes. "This thing is cemented to my bone. It's not coming off." He slaps his new leg harder, and I flinch.

It just doesn't look sturdy.

"Your meds," I say and hold them out. He's been avoiding them, I think because they make him a little less … hyper. He's been insisting for days he's ready to return to duty, while the medical staff wants him to wait another month before letting the military decide what he can and cannot do, if they let him back in at all.

At a little over six feet tall, he's got my father's heavy features, a nose that's been broken more than once, and a lopsided grin that makes him charmingly roguish in appearance. His hair has grown out some since he came home four months ago, but there's no way he resembles anything other than the soldier he is.

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