The main inspirations for this fic are Katniss's own words about Johanna: "like having an older sister who hates you", and their interactions in Mockingjay. This story happens in District Twelve, for there are more about it that we know than District Seven, and is obviously AU. I've had to make some character adjustments here and there due to the changes in their circumstances, but I don't intend any of them to be way Out of Character, so please do warn me if I've strayed too far!
Without further wishy-washy, here is the story.
Disclaimer: The Hunger Games trilogy, its world, and its characters belong to Suzanne Collins. I'm just borrowing them for the time being, to tell a story I thought they could tell really well.
Their father passed away when Johanna was thirteen and Katniss was eleven.
They had both ran out of their classrooms to grab their seven year old sister Primrose, as soon as they heard that feared explosion sireen. They had both huddled with their mother and sister, as they waited, in vain, for the father who never made it out of the mines again. They had both ran their family, becoming some twisted version of a father and a mother, as their mother's soul died alongside her husband.
"What should we wear?" Katniss asked, an hour before their late father's Medal of Valor presentation ceremony began.
Johanna looked into their meager wardrobe - or what remained of it, after they had to pawn off their nice dresses to buy food the other day. There were only two decent looking dresses left in there, one black and one red. They were both the same size - the dresses and the girls. That of a ten year old. That was what The Seam did to you.
"You wear this," she said, pulling out the one black dress they still had. "The whole district knows red looks terrible on you."
Of course, it wasn't true. Johanna loved seeing Katniss in red; it made her fiery, spunky sister looked so alive.
She walked her family of four to the Justice Building, feeling guilty for telling her sister such a hurtful lie. But as she stood on the stage in her red dress, next to her classmate Gale Hawthorne who'd also lost a father in the explosion, she realized she'd made the right decision. The disapproving looks and accusing glares, thrown at her, from the nasty district gossips, had proven that.
District Twelve couldn't get enough stories of how terrible Johanna Everdeen was as a daughter. Of how she'd already set herself for being Peacekeeper Cray's next whore for she wanted to keep living the cushy life Daddy had provided her with. Had Katniss worn the red dress, they would absolutely be talking about her. Eleven year old or not.
The gossips eventually stopped, as Twelve's residents began noticing the Everdeen girls' sunken cheeks and bonier frames, and that the two oldest girls had been out selling more clothes and household items at The Hob. Suspicions started looming that the widow had gone loony and abandoned her girls, but no one cared enough about Johanna and her little sisters to check on them. Which was great, considering that they would be put in the Community Home otherwise.
Tesserae after tesserae, Johanna attempted to feed her sisters and the shell of her mother. It became apparent, though, that any amount of grains and oils would never be able to stop their hair from falling and their brains from withering. They needed animal products. And that, they couldn't get.
Katniss came home, one day, after a futile attempt to sell some old baby clothes, to the sight of her little sister staring vacantly with her dulled blue eyes, and their big sister putting on the red dress, face smeared with their mother's cosmetics in an attempt to bring out her brown eyes.
"Where are you going?" she asked Johanna, carefully so that Prim didn't hear.
"Cray's," the older girl answered. "The brat would turn stupid unless we put some meat in her."
"Jo!" the middle sister hissed. "You're better than that!"
Johanna turned around and smacked Katniss's mouth.
"Just shut the hell up!" the brown-eyed girl hissed, staring straight into her sister's gray eyes. "Leave me alone, and make yourself useful!"
Later, as she wandered on the streets under her old umbrella, rubbing her own arm for comfort, Johanna hung her head in shame as she thought of what she'd said and done to her precious sister in a fit of rage. But she was never one to think before she acted, and she could just hope her sister would forgive her.
That same evening, Katniss wandered around a different set of streets, heading towards the Merchant's Quarter. The place where the wealthier of their district's residents lived - where their mother lived, before she married their miner father and moved to The Seam, a world away from all the luxuries. Johanna hated every single member of the merchant class, and never wanted to step a foot in this area. But Katniss wasn't as staunchly judgemental, and even if she had been, the fact that her sister was about to sell herself to the seedy, disgusting Head Peacekeeper would have been enough to make Katniss swallow her pride.
Rain bucketed down the sky, and Johanna had taken the only umbrella they had, so Katniss was soaked wet. Shivering cold, she made her way to the butcher's bin. There was the only place where she could find free meat. Her head throbbed with hunger, but she soldiered on, knowing that she could stop Johanna if she was quick enough.
Her hopes flew out of the window, when she realized the bin was empty. Heartbroken, she wandered around and reached the baker's bin, where she got nothing but a string of abuse from the baker's mean wife.
The baker's youngest son, Peeta Mellark, though, took a beating from his mother in order to throw Katniss two loaves of fruit and nut bread. Burnt, hence the beating, but still edible .
So, those under her shirt, Katniss ran home grateful and happy. This proper bread will contain a bit of milk, the animal product Prim desperately needed and Johanna was desperate to get. What greeted her when she eventually got home, though, made her heart skipped a bit. Johanna was back, and there was some meat roasting on the fireplace.
"Hey," the older girl said weakly, a smile hadn't been seen since their father died crossing her face. "You're back."
Without a word, Katniss marched - or shuffled, in reality, but in her mind, she was marching - to their kitchen table and dropped the burnt loaves on it.
"Got lucky at the bakers', I see?" Johanna asked. Her attempt to look indifferent clearly failed, for Katniss saw her sister's eye lighting up when she saw the bread.
Prim was nowhere to be seen, so Katniss assumed her little sister had gone to bed, hungry and sad. So, she stood tall in front of Johanna, and prepared herself for a spit-out with her bizarre, endearing, foolish older sister.
"And you got lucky at Cray's?!" she hissed.
In retrospect, Katniss realized she knew better. Johanna didn't look broken or bruised. She walked normally, something those girls who went to Cray's never did right after their ordeals. But still, she needed to ask. She wanted to hear it out of Johanna's mouth, wanted her sister to confirm it.
Johanna stare past her.
"I never made it there," the older girl admitted, sounding so much like an adult their mother failed to be when she said that. "Bumped into Hawthorne."
"You sold yourself to Gale Hawthorne?!" Katniss hissed again. She remembered the boy from school - he'd always teased Johanna when they were younger, once earning a well-deserved punch on the face from the eldest Everdeen girl.
"Nope," Johanna answered sarcastically. "To his little brother. Hell, Kitty, Gale's the oldest, and he's only thirteen. There was no way I'd have sold myself to any Hawthorne in this hell-hole called District Twelve. Any living one, anyway."
"And you're only thirteen, too," Katniss replied tiredly. Her vision started blurring, so she plopped herself down on one of their crooked, rocky chairs. "What exactly happened?"
Johanna let out a huff and plopped down on the chair next to Katniss's.
"We ran into each other halfway through," she said. She yanked the old towel draped at the back of the chair and started patting her dark brown hair, already out of her braid, dry. "He only needed one look to know where I was going, that smart-arse. And he flipped like the busybody he is. Said the same thing you said earlier."
"You are, Joey," Katniss remarked sadly, tilting her head to look at her beautiful, strong sister.
"Trying to feed my sisters isn't at all beyond me," Johanna answered, sounding somber and sweet for the first time in a while. She was always an angry girl, blazing with so much anger that their Pa had to take her to the woods every few days to let her toss an old family ax around just to vent out. Katniss, while fiery, was more level-headed and sensible.
"Anyway," the older girl continued, "I had a spit out with the idealistic and virtuous Gale Hawthorne. Threw in a couple of punches, for good measures - though there's hardly any power in them, these days. And hell, that boy's a brick. Needless to say, I lost badly. Turned out he wasn't that virtuous, after all. See that rabbit on the spit? He gave it to me for free."
The last two sentences was spoken so quietly it sounded like a hiss.
"Is he...?" Katniss asked, letting her question hanging.
"A hunter," Johanna answered. "Like Pa. Now, stop asking questions about him. Just remember we're indebted to him, got it? And to the baker, or whomever gave you those loaves."
"Peeta," Katniss said quietly. "The youngest son."
Johanna clicked her fingers and grinned victoriously, as if she'd just found out something interesting.
"Of course," she muttered under her breath. "Who else?"
"What?" Katniss asked.
"Oh, none of your business, Kitty Kat," Johanna dismissed her sister with a wave. "Now, let's get dinner ready and feed the brat."
Prim was weak, so weak Katniss had to carry her down the stairs, but her little face lit up when she saw the roasted rabbit sandwiches her sisters had prepared. As they watched their beloved little sister devouring the proper meal they'd had in months, Johanna and Katniss knew that every trouble they'd been through earlier was worth it.
Little Primmy's innocent smile worth a thousand lifetimes for them.
Peeta Mellark looked at Katniss, the next day, as their class walked home from school. Katniss averted his gaze, and looked down at the soil.
(Fifty years on, as the Everdeen sisters' life story made it to the big screen, what she saw on the ground would become a crucial part of the story. But now, let's just say it was a dandelion.)
And our fiery yet quiet middle girl reached some kind of epiphany.
She walked home as fast as her short, skinny legs could take her. She pulled down her tatty school skirt and put on a pair of equally tatty pants. No one were home, except for her vacant, absent mother, so no questions were asked when she slipped out their door clad in her father's old hunting jacket.
Later on, after she'd slid under the dead, un-buzzing district fencing and headed towards where her father had stored his hunting supplied, she would notice that the old family ax, passed down from her paternal grandmother's family before the rebellion, had disappeared. And that would only mean that Johanna was also in the woods, somewhere.
Her resolve almost broke, when she thought of how Prim would be left alone with their mentally ill mother should Johanna and her both perish here. But Johanna's words, spoken to her in a fit of anger the previous day, propelled herself further into the woods instead of back to their crumbling house.
"Make yourself useful."
She didn't bump into Johanna that day, but her older sister found out where she'd been, anyway, when she came home with a couple of kills she'd shot with her bow and arrows.
"You're such a brainless danger magnet, don't you know that?" the brown-eyed girl hissed in Katniss's ear, later that night as they cleaned up after dinner.
"And you're one, too," Katniss answered, plain and honest.
Johanna threw her rag onto the table and started pacing back and forth in the kitchen, hands on her hips.
"Okay," she finally said, looking dejected. "Looks like I'm back to babysitting you, from now on. Hunting partners?"
The way she stuck out a hand for Katniss to shake made it all look like a business deal.
"Deal," Katniss said, shaking her sister's hand, feeling much much older than her eleven years.
to be continued...
Thanks for reading! And as usual, constructive criticism is always welcomed :)