I was always curious about some things Johanna mentions in Catching Fire, so this is my answer to it :) And if you've read my stuff you may recognize Vince from his appearances in chapters 7 and 8 of Cripple. Umm... yeah. That's all I have to say. Enjoy.
02.04.11: Mahdi – if you're reading this, of course you can translate. Though I would like to be told and given a link and credit if you do decide to post the translation.
"They can't hurt me. I'm not like the rest of you. There's no one left I love." – Johanna Mason, Catching Fire Page 347
Johanna is seven when the first death happens. Its news comes with a bang on the door, and a gust of wind and snow from the District Seven winter. Her aunt Aspen enters, tears half frozen on her face.
"It's the Death!" she tells Johanna's worried mother, stomping snow off her boots. "Merck, Vince, Alton. They've all got it! Only I managed to somehow stay clear."
The Death is the virus going around the District. Most people who get it die within a few days – that's why it's called Death. Johanna is too young to know, but she knows anyway. Now she wishes she doesn't. She's heard of other people dying, but so far it's been no one she knows. Now her only uncle and her two cousins have the Death, and it's not likely that any will survive.
Her parents are never home for the next few days. They're over at Uncle Merck's house, working to do the impossible. Johanna huddles with Ash by the fire for hours, knowing too much and hoping against hope that someone will make it.
When the next news comes, it's bad. Her mother's brother is dead, as is Alton, their youngest son. Vincent, the oldest of the two but still three years younger than Johanna, is still deathly sick.
Johanna huddles in her older brother's arms as they wait to see if their cousin is alive or dead. Her father leaves the house more than Mother, who is grieving for her only brother.
News about Vince waits a whole week before coming.
"He's past the worst of it," her father says after a particularly long day. "We're not one hundred percent sure, but we think he'll make it."
He does. Vince and his mother move in with them – all the rest of his family died with the Death. Johanna is happy, for a while, after she recovers from the grief. She's not old and bitter enough to be cynical, yet. That comes later.
Two down, six to go.
It's a whole two years before the next death happens. This news comes in the coldest winter Johanna can remember. Ash, with the superiority that comes from being thirteen and making it through two Reapings, says he can remember colder ones. But Johanna is certain that this is the coldest winter, and nothing that Ash says can convince her otherwise.
The news comes suddenly, too. All six of them are sitting, eating dinner, trying to stay warm with the tiny fire in the house. The price of coal and firewood's rocketed this winter, according to Ash. They can barely afford to heat the house – sometimes they couldn't, not until her father started coming home with firewood.
The mothers paled and told him not to, that this would end badly. Ash grinned and said he never knew his dad had it in him. Vincent looked at Johanna, puzzled. He just figured it would mean less food for him. She had an inkling of an idea, but said nothing. She couldn't articulate it, and anyway, she didn't see what the consequences could be.
Vince's mother is just putting the food on the table when there's a big bang on the door. Then another, and then a huge crash as the door is kicked in and a bunch of Peacekeepers storm into the room. The leader walks up to her father's chair and knocks him off onto the ground.
"You are under arrest for stealing wood from the Capitol's forests. Any attempt by any of your family to resist will result in you getting shot."
Then he kicks Johanna's father hard in the stomach. Her father groans, and Ash starts to dash forward. In one mind, she and Vince each grab an arm and hold on tight until he stops struggling.
"Calm down!" she hisses. "Do you want two dead bodies on the floor?"
Unfortunately, this grabs the attention of one of the Peacekeepers.
"Well, well, well," he leers. "What have we here? Such a cute little girl. Hey, girlie, do you want some fun?"
One hand traces down her cheek and Johanna shivers in disgust. She struggles but he holds her too tight.
"Hey!" yells Ash, launching himself at the Peacekeeper. "Leave my sister alone, you ba-"
The Peacekeeper knocks him out of the air with a wave of his hand. He lets go of Johanna to knock her brother's head against the wall, and she finds herself being pulled away by Vincent. The two of them run out of the house and into the streets of District Seven. They keep on running till they're a few streets away from the bloody scene inside the house. Even though they're out of the house, they still hear the gunshot that kills her father.
Johanna wants to go back and help Ash, but the rest of her knows that it's a stupid idea. She'd just get herself killed or hurt if they went back to the family. She has to find somewhere warm and stay with Vincent until it's all over. Johanna is only nine, but she's already becoming a realist.
Three down, five to go.
Her mother's death happens about nine months after her father's. When she and Vince get home, shivering and shaken, well after midnight on the day of her father's death, they find the mothers in an even worse condition. Ash is still unconscious on the floor.
Over time, Vincent's mother recovers slightly but Johanna's does not. Then, about a month after the murder, they find out that Johanna's mother is pregnant. She doesn't take the news well, and withdraws even further into herself. Ash takes more Tesserae; Aspen forces herself to work longer hours in the forests. Johanna and Vincent try to manage on less food each day.
The pregnancy is not an easy one. To make matters worse, Johanna's mother does not seem to care whether she lives or dies, and refuses to take any medication. Everyone argues with her, but she will not listen. It is only years later, when she is older, that Johanna understands the pain her mother must have felt at the time.
Finally the day comes when she has to give birth. Johanna's aunt and the neighbouring midwife work constantly to try to save her, but to no avail. Her mother dies, as does her still-born half-sister.
Johanna doesn't feel as much grief as she did when her father dies, and that worries her.
Four down, four to go. Halfway there.
Almost three years pass until the next death. Johanna's aunt works harder than ever in the mines. Ash takes more Tesserae to be able to support the four of them. Johanna turns twelve and tries to take Tesserae too, but Ash doesn't let her. She and Vince run errands for people, trying to earn enough money to survive. They don't get much, but every little counts.
Ash starts working as a lumberjack too. He hates the job, but he needs the money. They manage, for a while. Then Vince's mother sprains her ankle on the way home from work. She won't be able to work for a week or so, but they need the money she earns and won't get to be able to survive.
Desperate, Ash starts mixing with the wrong crowd. He gambles, steals and borrows money, sure he'll be able to pay back the debts once they have two workers again. Johanna tries to warn him, when she finds out. He doesn't listen.
The gambling is addictive, and even after Vince's mother starts working again he plays sometimes, trying to get them more money. Unfortunately, Ash just gets them in debt as much as he gets them extra money.
One day Ash doesn't come home. Her aunt doesn't notice – she doesn't notice much, anymore, since that day Johanna's father died. She goes to work, comes home, sits and does nothing, all on autopilot. Ash and Johanna look after the family – Vince helps when he can, but he's a horrible cook and at nine is far too young to work in the forests.
Johanna doesn't think much of her brother's disappearance for a while, since she's used to him coming home at odd hours lately. But when he still isn't home in the morning, she starts to get worried.
So that day she heads out in search of Ash. Vince chases after her and demands to know where she's going. When he learns, he demands to come too.
"No way," Johanna tells him. "It's too dangerous. The kind of places he hangs out in are no place for someone your age."
"I'm only three years younger than you! Anyway, those kinds of places are no place for a twelve year old girl, either. It'd be safer with two of us."
Johanna doesn't like the emphasis he places on girl, but she knows he's right. Two is safer than one. But because she's Johanna, and he is younger than her and thus her responsibility, she argues a bit more. Her cousin is resolute, so in the end she agrees to let him come. Just to get him to shut up, not 'cause she's scared. Because she's not. Not at all.
Their progress is delayed as Vince has to greet everyone he knows and ask them to keep an eye out for Ash. This is far more than one would think – while Johanna's grown prickly and introverted over the last years, Vince's coping mechanism is exactly the opposite. Johanna is far too bitter and cynical for a twelve year old; Vincent adorns a protective cloak of naiveté and friendliness. Together, the two cousins form one normal, well adjusted person.
The first of Ash's normal hideouts is abandoned, as is the second. And the third. It's not until they get to the fourth dingy warehouse that progress is made. They don't even need to wander around a bit to find it like they did with the others – this one has a plume of smoke coming out the roof.
At the same time, the two of them break into a sprint to the building. They're too late, though. Just before they arrive, the roof falls in with an eerie creak and Ash is lost forever.
Or so Johanna thinks. Vince is more optimistic.
"Come on Jo," he says, "We can't give up the search now. Ash would kill us if it turned out he was somewhere else. D'you know where else he could be?"
After ten more places, both cousins have run out of ideas and even Vincent has to admit that Ash is gone.
Although her younger cousin is certain the fire was simply a tragic accident, Johanna knows better. Ash was too far in debt, and he was killed for not paying it back in time. The fire was simply destroying the evidence.
Five down, three to go.
When the next death comes barely a year later, Johanna isn't really that surprised anymore. The news comes in the middle of a stifling hot summer, only a few days after Vince's tenth birthday.
The whole District hears about it, this time. Any accidents which happen in the forest are announced to everyone, and the children get compensation – and sometimes a new home in the Community Centre.
As Johanna stands in the crowd and watches her cousin receive the medal on his mother's behalf – only children of the deceased allowed, no matter if the deceased in question had been living with her husband's sister's family since his death six years ago, and looking after the children – only one of them hers by blood – by herself for four years, she wonders how Vincent will be able to stay his cheerful, naïve, annoyingly optimistic self after this.
She still wonders it as they get moved into the community centre, and as the surprisingly kind lady who runs it tries and fails to separate them. Vincent and Johanna are the only members of their family still alive, and they want to stay together, thank you very much.
She's still wondering how he manages it, two years later as he turns twelve and cheerfully goes to register for the Games, as is compulsory.
And as he says goodbye to her after her name is drawn from the Reaping ball for the Sixty-Ninth Hunger Games, Johanna wonders if her cousin is putting on the ultimate act. No one can stay cheerful when they're about to be the only member of their family left alive.
But Vincent can. And as she's led onto the tribute train, over-emphasising her nervousness, she finds herself wondering yet again if he's really incredibly smart or simply very stupid.
Six down, two to go.
Only an idiot would fall in love in the Hunger Games. Funny, though. Johanna never really considered herself to be an idiot. She must be, though. Why else would she fall for Rowan when there's no way both of them will be able to leave the Arena alive?
She can't help it, though. There's something about his tousled brown hair and those matching brown eyes that makes her heart quicken. And then she laughs at herself for being an idiot. This is the Hunger Games. There's no time for love. It's taken all her energy to come up with the plan that will keep her alive. Hopefully.
Someone up there must be having a massive joke at her expense. Why else would they take away her family, one by one, and then have her fall in love with a man who's about to die. Johanna's always favoured her own life above a lot of things, perhaps even above Rowan's. Anyway, she promised Vince she'd be coming home.
Still, she's deliriously happy when he kisses her the morning before training begins. After having to act like a pathetic coward around the others, it's a relief to have someone where the mask can slide off. Ironic, coming from the girl whose only way to cope was to turn the thorny mask into a reality.
Rowan sees right through her, though. He sees through the mask, the way only her cousin has ever managed to – and he does it not because he's grown up with her and experienced the same tragedies, like Vince has, but because – well, she's not entirely sure why, but it doesn't matter. He only knows her for a few days, but she opens up to him more than she ever has before.
Their romance only lasts a few days. They kiss goodbye before they're led separately into the Arena. It's the last time Johanna sees his face in reality. The only other times are when his head is up in the sky at the death recap, and after she's won and is watching the recap of the Games.
Johanna cries herself to sleep when she sees his face in the sky. Later, it's due to him her knife meets the heart of the girl from District Four. Rowan's death gives her enough motivation to kill a girl who really is the better fighter with a weapon she only has a faint idea of how to use.
After killing the girl from Four, Johanna steals her axe and has a weapon she's good with, finally, after days - maybe weeks - of wandering about with only a knife. With the axe, Johanna proves an unexpected and unstoppable force and wins the Games.
She keeps her life, but looses Rowan. After the dust settles down she retreats into herself and it takes Vincent almost till the next Games to coax the old Johanna back.
Johanna swears never to fall in love again. Love causes too much pain, she realises. To avoid pain, she needs no more love than she already has.
Seven down, one to go.
Really, she should have expected it when the next death came. Five years was too long to go without a death in her life. Of course one would have come when it came. But five years had grown her to grow complacent. She and Vincent were happy in their house in Victors Village. He'd never taken Tesserae in his life – he'd never needed too, not since he turned twelve and his cousin won the Games.
How could they have known he'd be picked for the Seventy-Fourth Annual Hunger Games? The odds were most certainly against it. But then again, the Games never spared anyone. If they could pick innocent twelve year olds, of course they could pick the seventeen year old sole relative of a recent Victor.
Someone up there really hates Johanna.
To his credit, Vincent doesn't flinch at all up on the stage. He even manages a weak smile, and his worry is for Johanna as much as for him. Of course he's not going to win. Two Victors from one family? That only ever happens in the Career Districts.
They don't even let Johanna see him after the Reaping.
"I'm his cousin!" she protests. "I'm his only living family! I'm allowed to go see my cousin aren't I?"
"Sorry, Miss Mason," the idiot Peacekeeper on guard duty says, "Mentors not allowed to see the tributes before they get on the train. No exceptions."
"No exceptions. Now I request that you leave."
Furious, Johanna storms off to talk to Bastin.
"I'm mentoring this year," she tells him the second she sees him. "No, I don't care that it's Willow's turn. That's my cousin up there on the stage, and I'm being his mentor."
"Very well," Bastin says. "Highly irregular, of course, but I suppose it is possible. You'll have to talk to Willow first, or course."
Johanna nods and leaves the room at a run, not even bothering to say thank you.
"Change of plans," she says to Willow after reaching the tribute train at a run. "I'm mentoring this year. You go off and enjoy yourself, whatever. And we're changing gender order. Equal opportunities and all that. We don't want to doom the boys just because Blight is a drunken idiot."
"Look, Johanna," Willow says gently, "I know it's your cousin out there, but are you sure you want to do this? Normal mentoring is hard enough."
Poor Willow is blessed with a highly empathetic nature as well as an uncanny knack for poisons. She managed to single handily lace half her Arena with poison, burn all stocks of antidote except the ones she carried and sit back and cry as she watched the consequences. Somehow, she managed to stay her kind caring self despite being in her thirties and seeing most of the tributes she mentored die.
Johanna doesn't like the sympathy, and she stays far enough away from the other mentors to not get attached to them. When she gets attached, people die. Still, she has a dangerously soft spot for Willow in her mind. Willow is one of those people everyone can't help but like. Just like Vincent. Which is why Johanna already knows he will most likely die.
After evaluating the competition, Johanna's hopes drop even more. Trust Haymitch and Chaff to finally get halfway decent tributes the one year she really cares about the fate of hers. As for the others, the Career Districts have promising tributes as usual, and there are a few smart looking ones among the rabble. Even the boy from Three who gets the same low training score she got seems halfway promising – she wonders why for a while until noticing the way he gets that same look in his eye Volts does, sometimes.
Vince doesn't stand a chance. He's good with an axe – almost as good as she is – and in good enough physical condition. But he's the kind of optimistic, overconfident idiot who'd run to the Cornucopia thinking that the Careers won't notice him.
He's friendly with the other tributes, hoping that if they all get to know him they'd find him harder to kill. He has a point, but the Games don't work like that. In the Games you loose who you are and think only to how many kills before you can get out of there alive. Anyway, the ones he has to worry about are the Careers and she somehow can't see Cato and Vincent having a nice, friendly chat.
It pains her to say it, but Johanna knows she's about to loose the only person she cares for in the world. She must have been really horrible in a previous life.
True enough, Vince is killed on the first day of the Games. She hates District Two for killing him – though she shares most of the non-Career Districts disgust for the Careers anyway. She hates the cripple and the midget – despite the fact that Vince was as close to friends as you can get in the Games with at least one of them – for lasting longer than he did despite all odds. Especially, she hates the stupid Girl On Fire for doing what she never could for a love that is just an elaborate trick of Haymitch's, and for winning the same Games that her cousin lost.
Eight down, none to go.
She's heard the rumours for a while – since before she lost Vince to the Games, even. He always wanted to act on them and now she will, instead. The Capitol has taken far too much away from her. It deserves everything it's getting.
Anyway, she has nothing to lose. She doesn't even fear for her own life, anymore.
"Bastin? I know you're up to something. Some rebellion against the Capitol. I want in. Do you hear me? I. Want. In."