AN: Okay. So, here's the rewritten "A Tale of Two Districts".
There has been lots of major plot changes as the idea evolved. I wanted to create a bond of friendship between Katniss and Gale despite them being from different districts in this AU, so I had to adjust the timelines and ages again. Katniss was now the 71st Victor, having won at age 15. Gale was now the 67th, having also won at age 15. Johanna won the 69th aged 16. Peeta's victory would come later in the story as part of the parallelisms. He's Katniss's age.
I've also decided to do this from first person P.O.V, for the purposes of learning and self-growth. I did "The Miner's Daughters" in third person, so I think I should experiment and to this in first person. This would be first my 'serious', 'heavy' story in first person, though, so constructive criticisms would really help. Do let me know if there are things I need to improve on. I like challenges and learning :).
The next major decision was to focus on one timeline with flashbacks, as opposed to two different timelines. The story gels better this way in my opinion. I'm still going to switch P.O.V.s between different characters (there will be six P.O.V. characters in total, four major and two minor), so we'll still hear everyone's voices and stories.
Lastly... I'm gonna ask you a favour. If you think this is good, please review. If you think this is bad and should be rewritten again, please also review. But if you think this is mediocre, then you can hold your peace. That way, I'll know what everyone thinks :).
Disclaimer: All belongs to Suzanne Collins. I'm just borrowing. Any character you don't recognise from THG is most probably an original character. In those instances, the characters belong to me.
Capitol, Year of 73rd Hunger Games
The Capitol. A place I despise yet can't escape, no matter how badly I've wanted to.
I've never thought I'd end up right in the middle of its vanity, its ignorance, and the sick minds who run the country. Neither did I know that it would be as vain, as ignorant, and as sick as it turns out to be. The realization came to be a little bit too late. A couple of days too late, to be more exact.
When I volunteered for my younger twin Primrose in the Seventy-first Hunger Games, I've never guessed that this would be the life I had afterwards. I wasn't even sure I would still have a life at the end of it. I just knew I had to go in there in order to save my sister. Prim, gentle Prim who wept as I skinned a squirrel for our dinner, wouldn't have stood a chance in this death-match between twenty four district teenagers.
It was only when the shock waned off and my iron will took over that I began wanting that victory so badly. That I began forming plans and trying hard to get myself out of the Arena alive, all by myself. I didn't trust my mentors at all. Not when the other kid chosen from my district was that boy whom their daughter loved. In my mind, I would be stupid to trust the people who surely wanted me dead.
I blatantly ignored all those advices they tried to get through to me. I rolled my eyes behind their backs when they told me that victory was just an illusion. I had to have that victory. I had to come back to my sister and that other person in the district who mattered to me.
I think all I had in my head back then in the Arena, once my district partner and ally were both gone, was "victory, victory, victory".
By the time I realized what I was up against, I was already a Victor and someone has already put a handsome bid for me. That's what I got for not listening to the mentors who obviously had my best interests at heart. I thought they were talking stuff. I thought they were duping me because they'd wanted to bring my district partner home and not me.
But the threats weren't empty, and neither Haymitch nor Maysilee had had that evil intention to let me die. They were merely speaking the truth to a petulant, arrogant child who'd thought she could do it on her own. A child who still thought their advices were geared towards her demise, even after she'd burst an eardrum and narrowly escaped the blade of a sword going against the first and most important one.
Once your name is out of the Reaping Ball, your life is really over. And in some ways, it's actually better to be one of the twenty three who come home in coffins than to be the one who comes home with a crown. At least those dead kids aren't bound to this life of duties and lovers. They don't have to worry about having their loved ones killed upon their so-called misconducts.
I've been lucky so far to still have my two family members and handful of old friends in the world with me, and to have gained more loved ones through my victory. These new loved ones I've gained haven't been as lucky.
I open my eyes and let those thoughts fly away as I feel the shift in the air around me. The dawn's breaking. That first light of the day has appeared, illuminating the sky above these tall buildings before me. Daybreak in Capitol isn't the same as the one back home in District Twelve. It would never be, without the woods, my bow, my sister and him. But until then, until I can hold them again in my arms, this would suffice. I know I won't be alone for much longer anyway. My Brothers and Sisters in Victory will soon join me here at this rooftop, once they come back from their assignments. It's one of my blessings, really: being able to live with them here in this quiet building. No one cares where we live here in Capitol, as long as we turn up for our assignments.
"Nice shoulders you have there, Catnip."
My reflexes send my body jolting. Oh, how I wish I hadn't developed those acute Victor's senses. That must have made me look like an idiot.
"Damn you, Gale!"
He laughs - snorts, for he does not laugh - at this and plops down casually next to me. I wrinkle my nose for he smells like this dizzying mixture of Capitol perfumes.
"Gale," I tell him, "you smell."
"I know," he waves me off. "Client's obsessed with perfumes. Wait till you smell her dog, you'll know what I mean."
No response for that. Which is, to say, normal.
My Victor Brother Gale and I are the twins in our little Victors' Family. Not because we share the same birthday or something like that. He has four years and some months on me - and a foot or so, height-wise. We just kind of look similar. He shares my Seam look of olive skin, dark hair, and grey eyes, despite not being a Seam. He hails from District Seven, across the country from District Twelve. Son of a tree logger, not a coal miner.
"A jacket for those shoulders?" he offers, holding up the suit jacket he has shrugged off.
"I'm good," I reject.
"Just say it smells, Catnip."
Apparently we act really similar too, according to the others. How much of it is true, I have no idea. It seems about right, though, considering he's just guessed my thought to the exact dot.
We fall into silence again, for no words are needed. Most of the times both of us are happy with just each other's company. Friendship comes so easily to us, though by no means conflict-less. He'll sometimes rub me wrong with his blind ideals and I'll drive him insane with my indecisiveness in return. But at the end, we just need each other too much to be able to hate each other. That, and the fact that there are Meddling Finn and Busybody Jo who won't let us stay mad at each other.
"Is that all?" he asks a few minutes later, glancing at my shoulders. My client of the night has left his gifts for me on them. Three scratches. Two on the left and one on the right. He's had his nails done sharp, for some reason I didn't bother asking. I've never been good at talking to clients. I don't intend to be better at it either, that I've never made the effort.
"Got a couple more under the dress," I answer him. "No big deal, though. I'll just borrow that lotion from Jo later."
"That bastard," he spits out. "Give me his name. I'll make sure I get to him somehow."
"How?" I ask him. "You still have a brother, Gale. Don't risk him."
"He might already be dead now," he says. "How am I supposed to know, if Snow keeps me here all the time?"
Well, Gale has a point. Snow - President Snow - calls him down here to the Capitol every two months or so, and makes sure he stays for at least three weeks each. That's a little worse than my deal, though still better than what the other guy in our group has. Snow once kept the poor guy here for three months straight.
"Then why are you still here?"
As if cued, the other reason of Gale's forced obedience makes her appearance a second later. Her hair is messy and her feet are bare, but she's still attractive. Johanna's one of those girls who can wear anything and still turn heads. Everything, really, with those wide-set brown eyes and that strong presence you can't ignore.
I haven't heard their full story yet. From what I've heard, though, Johanna and Gale were some kind of friends growing up, back in District Seven. When he came back Victor of the Sixty Seventh Games, she was one of the few people who would still be his friend. Soon, he began seeing her whenever he was home. Then he messed up some of his assignments, and her name came out the next reaping. Snow got her thrown into the Sixty Ninth as his punishment. It didn't work as he wished, obviously. Johanna was stronger than what she seemed to be. She ended up tricking the whole nation into believing that she was weak, before finishing up the few remaining tributes with an axe.
Snow then got both her family and Gale's killed, leaving them a brother each to keep their toes in line.
I shift a bit to make a room for Johanna as she squeezes herself between Gale and I. She looks a bit tired, but her spirit's still large like usual.
"Fucking pervert," she moans loudly, slamming her back against the wall. "Must be thinking I'm a cow or something. Couldn't stop squeezing my tits."
"You're lucky that's all of your problem, Jo," I clip her wearily. "My client had these long horrible nails."
"Figured out," she waves me off. "Saw the shoulder. Must say I'm a bit disappointed he spares your face, though. That would've been a good gossip-tabloid material."
Now, Johanna is that big sister I've never had. Sometimes it's hard for me not to think that she hates me, though, all the snark and rough-handling.
"Better than you flashing news reporters away?" I shoot back at her, just because.
She just cackles and waves me off. I roll my eyes, as I watch her nuzzling Gale's face like a dog does its master. Saying something that outrageous, then acting as if things are alright. She can really be a piece of work when she wants it.
"Jo," Gale suddenly says. I shift my gaze to him, for he sounds angry. "What's with the lips?"
Now that it's been brought to attention, I can clearly see something on Jo's lips. A bit of a swell, with a faint bruise and a small cut on the left corner of her mouth. She's taken another blow to the face, from yet another client.
I know Gale must be livid, because I am. And I'm not even her boyfriend.
"Oh, usual story," Johanna brushes off. "I said something he didn't like, then he punched me on the face."
She proceeds with pressing her lips against Gale's, but he's caught her chin and held her face up before she really got there.
"Fuck," he hisses. He releases her and slams his fist on the floor. "Fuck."
He jumps up and storms in at this, leaving me with Johanna and this awkward silence between us. Johanna turns away from me, slowly. I know how much she hates sharing her pain and weaknesses with others.
"S'okay," I tell her. "It's just me."
"Nah," she says. "I'm fine. Some lotion for those scratches? They look awful, now that I've really seen them."
Johanna and I are greeted by this silence when we get back to our apartment. Gale's locking himself up in his and Johanna's room. Our Victor Brother Finnick is still out there somewhere.
"Well," Johanna says, as she thrusts the lotion bottle into my hand. "I need to go taming the dragon, so fix yourself and go find something to do."
Looks like this is gonna be a quiet day.
I decide to catch up on some sleep. There are these rude awakenings from my usual Victor's Nightmares, but I manage to catch some decent one at the end. I only get out of bed when Johanna barges in and starts ranting about lazy people and their lazy habits. She glares at me when I point her own lazy habits out, and I'm too lazy to keep fighting I just let her be. I know she'll talk to me again by dinnertime.
Dinner is a noisy and fun affair, like it usually is whenever Finnick's around for it. Him and Johanna, they hold such good banters they fill the room. They talk enough for the four of us that Gale and I can just be our quiet selves and eat away. I can't help but feeling this pang of longing whenever I watch them talking, though. Somewhere here in Panem, there's this one other talker who'll surely belong right here.
Monday's generally not a popular day for fun, thus all four of us are free tonight. Johanna and Gale retreat early, undoubtedly catching up on those times they'd lost to their clients. That leaves me with Finnick, whom I know is also watching them with this longing feeling. He has a girl back home at District Four - pretty much like that kind, steady boy I have at District Twelve. Someone who makes it all worth it.
"How's Annie?" I ask him quietly, once we settle on that couch overlooking our large glass window.
"She's doing alright," he answers. There's now a smile in his sea-green eyes, right next to that longing I saw before. "She can go out into the ocean again nowadays, in her little boat."
The major difference between Annie and my boy is perhaps that Annie is too a Victor. She won the Seventieth Games, the year before mine. To this day, we still hear people sneering over her victory, for many thought she wasn't supposed to win. She fell apart early on in the Games when she saw her district partner beheaded, and went a bit mad inside the Arena. No one thought she was going to survive, until the Gamemakers broke that dam in the Arena when there were only a few left. That was when Annie emerged and outswimmed all the remaining tributes to Victory.
Rumour has it - in and outside the Victor Circles - that Finnick had pulled a string to get the Gamemakers to break that dam. I've never confirmed it, though. I don't think I should ever ask Finnick that.
Considering that Annie is now - and might forever be - not totally right in the head.
"That... that's great," I stammer out, feeling a bit guilty that I've zoned out on Finnick. He's taken me under his wings my first year as a Victor. It was through him I became part of this little circle, where I'm loved and looked after like a little sister I've never been. I owe him a lot.
"Jo said you got a rather gross client," he says, looking at me. "You alright?"
"I'm good now," I answer him. "Jo gave me her lotion."
He shifts closer and put an arm around my shoulders at this. When this kind of thing happened early on in our friendship, I've squirmed out and swatted his arm away. But now it's fine with me. I just sit still there, not moving closer and not moving further. This is our brother to sister comfort zone.
"You're doing really well, Little Sister," he says. There's this seductive purr in his voice, which I know means nothing. He sometimes forgets to switch his client-entertaining voice off. "You've held yourself together really well. I'm proud of you."
"You say," I tell him, as I reach up to ruffle his bronze hair. As much as I love Finnick, I realize that he's sometimes full of crap. I doubt I've really held myself together as well as he made it sound to be. He thinks he can pretend to not know those bouts of debilitating depression I've had these past two years, but I'm sure as hell he knew about everything. Finnick really knows everything, including stuff you're not meant to know.
"Hey, that's my hair!"
I laugh and release him, as he frantically smooths his hair back. Finnick cares about his appearance. As in, a whole lot.
"When are you coming home?" I ask him, once his hair is perfect again. Home is the place he - well all, actually - would rather be. I know he's been dying to come back there to Annie and the ocean.
"Saturday morning," he sighs out, "if there's no change of schedule."
"They kind of can't change the schedule," I remind him. "Sunday's Reaping Day."
"Sure I won't be missed on the stage," he says, a lopsided grin on his face. "No one pays attention to the Victors anyway. They're just dying to see who volunteer this year."
District Four, where Finnick is from, is one of those so-called "Career Districts". While kids in most other districts would do anything to stay out of the Games, the kids in these "Career Districts" would fight over the right of volunteering for it. There, winning is a privilege, not a curse. Whether the Victors themselves still think about it that way past their crowning, I don't know. I know several who don't, though. Finnick's one of them.
"When are you coming home?" he mirrors, once our grins both fade.
"Day after tomorrow," I answer. "Takes a while to get back to Twelve."
It does take a long while to get back to Twelve from here on the train. It's on the other side of the country from where Capitol and Districts One, Two, Four, and Seven are.
"Lucky you," he says, happy yet wistful.
"What lucky," I snort. "Still have a client tomorrow."
A slight panic crosses his eyes, before it slowly dawns on him that we're at our own clean, de-bugged apartment.
"Watch that mouth," he then warns me, kind but stern. "Remember your boy."
I smile him this bitter smile, as I turn back to the window in front of me. Sometimes, I can't help but resenting this sacrifice I've had to make for my sister and my boy. I know I would die if anything bad happens to them, but, still, this thing is slowly killing me. I might not be as vocal about it as Gale has been, but I do want things to change.
"You sing for me?" pleads Finnick, after a minute or so of silence. "I like it when you sing."
Or, more exactly, 'I know that singing will help you forget things'. That's Finnick, always looking after us and trying to keep us sane, to the point that all our problems become his too.
"Sure," I relent.
My Tuesday client is downright disgusting.
He speaks with this sleazy, lazy voice which puts Finnick to shame, and smokes some strong-smelling leaves. I suspect it's of those 'naughty' things my friends often warn me about.
The room's full of its fume now. Everything smells like it. I don't think I mind it too much, for it makes things easier. The thing surely has an effect. It's easier to zone out and think about my own boy with it in my nostrils.
One more day, I tell myself, as I catch my own reflection in that giant mirror on the bedroom wall. One more day, Katniss, and you'll be on your way home to Peeta.
to be continued...
Thanks for reading and making it here, everyone.
Now, the big question: should I continue, or should I rewrite again?