AN: Thanks for reading, following, favouriting, subscribing, bookmarking, and giving kudos. Special thanks to my reviewers: axes tridents and snares, MiaBelles, jc52185, Guest, Tori, 123, TexasAngel8608, and Horsecrazy141 from ff, and CrazyAboutBooks from AO3. The most number of reviews I have for a chapter of this story so far. You all rock :).
This chapter is Gale in District Seven. I figured out poor Katniss and poor Peeta needed a break from all those disaster I threw at them, and that Gale and Johanna's story needed going. So here it is. Hope you enjoy!
Disclaimer: All belongs to Suzanne Collins. Just borrowing.
District Seven, Year of the 74th Hunger Games
My conscience snaps back into my head, violent and jerking. Someone's ringing us in the dark of the night. This is a first. And this can't really be good.
I throw the covers off me and scoot downstairs to get the call. We have no phone in the upstairs floor; only that one thing downstairs. Johanna and the boys need their sleeps. I'll have to get there before it wakes them up. If there's bad news coming, I'd better be the one receiving it. I'm supposed to be their protector.
That wayward nail on the staircases, which we've fixed before, somehow acts up again. It trips me through the last few staircases. I end up landing on shaky legs and some typical District Seven cusses, just in time to get the thing before it rings out.
"Gale Hawthorne speaking."
"Morning, Ol' Kid."
A glance on the clock confirms that it's two thirty AM here. Something has definitely happened.
"Maysilee?" I ask him, slow and cautious. "The kids? Katniss? Or... the new boy?"
"Sweetheart's Poor Ma, and boy's entire family," he answers me. "All gone in a night. Poor lovebirds are batshit now."
All gone in a night.
That Bastard Snow has really killed Katniss's mother and Peeta's family.
I don't normally hurt for people. Not ever since the end of Johanna's Games, after which I lost nearly everyone who mattered. I do understand them, though. Of course they'd be batshit. I remember standing in the backyard smashing bottles and screaming when the districtfolks found my mother, Vick, and Posy dead. And passing out right there afterwards, only to have another round of bottle-smashing tantrum when I woke up and realized Johanna's family was also dead. The way your brain works when you grieve is different and pretty amazing.
"I know you won't, but don't let them hurt themselves," I tell Haymitch, once the memory passes.
"Don't ya' worry, Ol' Kid," he replies. "They ain't ya or yer woman. Boy's now baking up a storm, and Sweetheart's zoned out as. Me and Maysilee and the kids are camped up here now."
"Tell them Johanna and I are sorry," I said, clenching my fists. There was nothing I wanted more than to run out of here to be there with them, but I can't afford to mess up with the kid on the way. Knowing Snow, he'll arrange an accident for Johanna and the kid in the hope that I'll drown myself in a bottle or in Morphling. That fucking bastard has never liked me; not even the slightest bit. Which is fine, because, frankly, I don't like him even the slightest bit.
"Call in a couple of days," Haymitch orders carelessly. "They'll both be talking again by then. At least, Boy will."
I sigh. I know Katniss well. She'll definitely take a couple of days - or weeks - to recover from this.
"Alright," I assure Haymitch. "You all... be alright."
He laughs humorlessly.
"Ya know no one has been alright for years, Ol' Kid," he responds. "But well, yeah, we can try to be half-alright. Or quarter-alright. Or a tenth-alright. Won't lose our nuts."
There's a pause, before he continues, "Ya' too, don't lose yer."
"I - we - won't," I speak for myself and Johanna. "Bye Haymitch."
CLICK. Not even a goodbye. But that's Haymitch, really.
I think I climb back upstairs in a thought-induced daze, for I wake up again a few hours later in the wrong bed. The one in the spare bedroom, which Johanna and I built for our... our second night as husband and wife. That wasn't where I'd slept since we went back from The Capitol. I'd always been with Johanna since then.
A check on the right room revealed that she's awake and out. I climb down the stairs, right into the sight of her sitting in the lounge. There's something in her hands, a steaming mug of something. Hopefully it's not coffee - again. I've told her a million times that she's not supposed to have that. Should've known better than to expect her to listen, but I guess I still had to try.
"It happened, didn't it?" she asks. "I heard the phone."
"Yeah," I tell her. "Poor kids."
She laughs emptily.
"We should really make a club jacket or something like that," she says. "It'll say 'I pissed off Snow, then he got me raped and killed my family'"
Heavens. That sentence stings.
I walk to the nearest armchair and plop down. My head turns itself towards our stagnant window as soon as I'm seated. I don't think I can look Johanna in the eyes now. Not when all I can think about is that night, and how they'd made me watch those Peacekeepers forcing their ways on her. That was the only time I wished Snow had killed me instead, I think. Dying wouldn't have hurt that much.
"Johanna," I finally say, wary and deflated. "I know I failed you, but please. Not now. I can't deal with that."
"What a defeatist," she sneers at me. "And, for hell's sake, stop that 'I failed you' campaign. We both know Snow's sick to the bones."
I don't give her an answer, for I don't have any. I still think I've completely failed her when it happened. Even afterwards, as she laid there... Hell, it took me a couple of minutes to gather myself and carry her out of there. I even left her alone that night, as I went out and got drunk with some older Victors. It wasn't until Finnick dragged me back and Maysilee Abernathy slapped me right across my face that I had the decency to actually see her.
I kiss Johanna's head, as she slides onto my lap, squeezing our unborn kid between us. We've tried our best to help each other forget, but, sometimes, the past still finds its way to our hard-earned present.
We fulfil my promise and call Katniss's house a couple of days later. To be more exact, Johanna makes that call to Katniss's house to fulfil my promise to Haymitch and put it on loudspeaker so that we both could hear.
"Everdeen residence," a female voice greets us. Straight away, I recognize her as Katniss's sister Primrose. The one she'd volunteered for three years ago.
"Hey Twinnie," Johanna replies. "How are things there?"
There's a bit of silence. I almost speak up and tell Primrose who we are, but Johanna's glare stops me. It's only then it dawns on me that what Primrose isn't sure about is what to say, not who we are.
"It's pretty bad," Primrose finally admits. "We had the funerals yesterday. We're all still sad."
"Twinnie," Johanna says, for once sounds serious and glum, "we're sorry."
I squeeze her hand, because she's just said what I'd wanted to say.
"Thanks," Primrose says across the line. "Well... I don't think Katniss and Peeta can talk now, but I'll return the call once they're ready."
"Sounds good," Johanna agrees. "You take care, Katniss's Twin."
"You too take care, Katniss's other sister and brother."
The call ends there. As we turn the speakerphone off and head back to our kitchen for some hot drinks, I can't help but thinking that even if things had turned out differently, our Seventy First Victor would still be an Everdeen girl from District Twelve.
A couple of days later, she returns the call. This time, she has Peeta Mellark, who is pretty much recovered, by her side.
"Thanks guys," he tells us, sad yet somewhat peaceful. "Your friendship means so much to us. I hope I'll get to know you guys more in the future."
"Oh, don't you worry, Blondie," Johanna replies, sure as fire. "You're sure to meet us twice a year, for at least fourteen more years to come. Now, work on that Victory Tour talent. Let me see what you can do."
There's a laughter from the other end of the line. It's a little bit of a miracle, but the boy actually appreciates Johanna's unconventional sense of humor.
"You guys wanna commission a painting?" he asks us.
"Well," Johanna answers. "I think I'll get sick staring at my own face, but you can do one of Gale and the kid when it's born."
"Just the kid," I correct her. "It'll be weird having a painting of myself on the wall."
"Hope the kid won't inherit your portrait-shyness."
I think I actually laugh at that, because I'm not even sure what the kid will turn out like. Johanna and I raising a kid. Hell, that will really be... interesting. Not that two Victors haven't raised kids before, but often at least one half of those couples are saner than Johanna and I both are now.
We hang up not long after. The boy needs his time alone, after everything. I must say his lucidity gets me somehow; I wasn't expecting him to be fully articulate and sane at this point. Whatever that guy's soul is made of, it's pretty impressive.
"That boy's a bit of a miracle," I mention to Johanna as we go to bed that night. "All of that, and still laughing. I don't quite get it."
"You do," she simply tells me. "We all do it everyday, Soldier."
"Do what?" I ask her.
She tilts her body towards me and touches my face.
"Projecting your pain into something else."
For someone so careless and crass, my girl - my wife - surely has her pieces of wisdom.
The perfect opportunity to break off this circle of devil we're all running in comes a couple of months later, when the streets are full of autumn leaves and Johanna is much bigger than I've ever seen her be.
During those months between the District Twelve tragedies and today, I've actually done plenty of researches and written down plenty of drafts. What Panem actually looks like; how many percent of land is actually the districts and how many other is the Capitol's land. Where all the Arenas approximately are, based on some old geography books and my memories of the things. What were actually done to mutts, and how to best tackle it. Where District Thirteen has actually been, and what exactly happened during the dark days. Things some other Victors have gathered throughout the years, of how the Capitol is run and what is likely to ruin all of them. Which districts are likely to rebel; and which will be either too scared or too ignorant to. How to break the Arena force field; what sort of competing forces you can use to free yourself out or break someone else free.
I keep all those drafts and plans in several secret stashes around the house, at places the Peacekeepers won't bother searching in case Snow wants to raid our house.
At this point, I'm still pretty much alone in this crusade. There are Haymitch, Volts, and Finnick; but not many more. Four districts out of twelve, against that behemoth called The Capitol. We can win, but the odds are clearly not in our favour.
We have two potential new allies in Eight and Eleven, who are restless as after what happened to their tributes during Peeta's Games. Who is going to be in charge for Eight, though, is still undecided. Eleven will be alright with Chaff, but the Victors in Eight are either elderly or still having some responsibilities of some children. Apparently Cecelia promised to try to find someone fitting for this purposes, although so far there's no strong candidate among them garment factory workers.
There's also District Six, actually, but with their morphling addiction, they won't be much of use. They are one of the many reasons many younger Victors are still morphling-free, actually. Our mentors just have to parade them before our eyes to show us what the thing can do to you - or to what is left of you after the Games and everything else.
That makes it all seven districts, if you count Eight, Eleven, and Six. Which is a majority, out of the twelve districts. Combining resources and forces, though, the five districts which aren't yet in this are still much stronger. If they're still standing for the Capitol, the behemoth might still be able to crush all seven of the rebelling districts. It managed to crush thirteen districts seventy four years ago, although it's arguable how coordinated they had been back then.
Hell, I don't know what our already shitty life would be should we rebel and fail. And it does scare me, for I know Johanna, our kid, and our brothers will be among the first ones Snow guns down should that happen. But to not rebel means bowing down to every single thing Snow wants, and I'm fully sick of it.
He starved all of us as kids. Him and his sick Capitol made all of us kill just to survive and get back to our loved ones. He loaned us out like we were his properties. He killed our loved ones, if we dared to question him.
He made some people rape my girl, while some others held me down right there on the scene. The way he'd done it to Maysilee and Haymitch before; and repeated on Peeta and Katniss afterwards.
And I know he's already well on his way to make sure all our kids get reaped when their time comes.
I'd rather die than go through life terrorized by that fucking bastard.
Thus I plan and plan, and draft and draft. Until one day, when I arrive back home from a quick walk to the markets to find the little brothers sitting at our kitchen table, with some of my drafts scattered on it.
"What the fuck are you guys doing?" I demand them, as I stride over to grab those drafts from them.
"Found them by accident," Rory shrugs out. "Look interesting, but I didn't understand a dime. Thus I took it to the Brainiac here."
Sven looks up. There's something unusual in him, though, this time. This boy is one to feel guilt, hard and fast like the sensible person he is. But, alas, he's not guilty. He's staunch. As if, he's finally found something to stand for.
"Gale," he tells me, quiet yet firm. "Most Peacekeepers are actually from District Two."
What? Where did he get that from?
"Who told you that?" I demand.
"You know drinks and women always do that, Gale," he explains. "Give a bit to a Peacekeeper, and he'll tell you anything and everything you wanna know. It's more about the money than the patriotism for them anyway."
Heavens. I think I don't actually know who this boy is.
"You're not the only one who wants to rebel, Big Brother," Rory barges in. He leans forward on his seat, bringing his face closer to me. "Sven and I have been involved with... things, for a couple of years now."
These stupid boys.
"I DID EVERYTHING TO KEEP YOU GUYS ALIVE!"
A brief ringing. Then, silence. They don't even respond to that.
The anger in my chest keeps burning, hard and fast. I feel fire in my blood now, coursing through my veins. These stupid boys are out here risking their heads, whilst Johanna and I whored ourselves out just so that they could live. Let all the fuck descend upon them, for all their fucking stupidity and ungratefulness.
I turn around and head for the backyard, for nothing else would do at the moment. Someone follows me. Rory. I push him back, just so that he stops. The pest should see how annoying he currently is to me.
"Gale," he says - pleads -, "let us explain."
"No need," I throw him back. "I know everything. I know everything in your mind."
"You don't," he says firmly. "Come back in. We need to discuss this."
I exhale and close my eyes, just to calm myself down a bit.
"Five minutes," I tell him. "Five minutes, then I'll go get a drink or something."
He nods, so it's all sealed. We settle back on the dining table, on our usual chairs.
"Jo," Sven mentions quietly. "She's upstairs. I'll go get her."
"No need to get your sister," I emphasize to him. "It's between us three."
"But this is about her too."
"I said no, Sven."
He looks agonized for a second, then lets it go. Seriously. This kid is becoming really unpredictable.
"Okay, let's start," Rory decides, after a quick glance at the ticking clock. "Basically, we think that the Games is fucked, it killed kids unfairly, and that it's fucked up with your brains. Thus we want it to end."
"That explains nothing, Rory," Sven interjects patiently. "So, Gale. Rory's been feeling guilty since you volunteered for him. And I've been feeling angry since we all saw Elaine dying. We both know that everyone else was..."
He trails on a bit at this, before taking a deep breath.
"... that everyone else in the family was murdered, for one or another reason. And that no one is able to escape justice for those, except if it is Snow or someone he knows."
Lord. These boys are becoming way smarter than I think. What they've actually been doing all these times I was in The Capitol?
"There's this small group of rebels having bi-weekly meeting at that tavern under the hill," Rory blabbers in, with his usual snarky verbal diarrhea. "We've been going there since... since forever, I think."
"Since you were legal," Sven corrects. "They don't mind patrons bringing youths, as long as an adult is supervising. So, yes, Rory supervised me."
More like Sven supervising Rory, really, judging how those kids are. And judging who's more drunk at the end of each of their mystery drinking trips.
"Whatever," Rory elbows him out. "Bottomline is, we're ready to fight. We can work together to make the rebellion happen."
"Guys," I tell them, running my hand tiredly on my hair. "You're untrained."
"And you?" Rory challenges me. "I haven't seen you training a single day since you came home with a crown, Gale. You're no fitter to rebel than we are."
Fuck. My little brother's right. I might have done the couple of odd trips to the woods and exercises, but there's no way I'm going to be a soldier this way. My shooting might have even gotten a bit rusty. I haven't shot anything since the Training Center.
"We can all be rebels together," Sven offers a peaceful solution. "Gale can watch us, and we can help him. How does it sound?"
"He doesn't need to watch us," Rory disagrees. "But yes, we can help him."
I look at them, for there's nothing else I can do now. These kids are in too deep. Hell, I don't even know what kind of group they're mingling with. They might already paved their own way to death now.
"Take me to your group," I demand them. "I need to know what these are all about."
Sven throws a glance at Rory. Then, Rory throws him back a glance, completing the cycle of signals. I don't know what is this thing that they know that they don't want to share.
Ah, yes. District Thirteen. Rumour says it's not actually dead, though so far I'm yet to prove it's actually still alive. Haymitch and the others often mentioned it; both as the plan to break the cycle and in the context of where on earth Margaret 'Madge' Abernathy is.
"Is it truly there?" I probe Sven.
"It is," Rory barges in. "We've been in touch with some people from there."
I look at my brother, and my wife's foster brother who is mine as much as Rory is, and take a deep breath.
"Take me to them," I order. "I need to know."
Communication with District Thirteen turns out to be somewhat of a luxury, thus I have to wait a bit for it to happen. When it happens, though, some short days into the winter, it's no joke. They even know where the Arena for next year's Hunger Games is, and have pictures of it being built.
"Fuck, it's really small," Johanna groans, as I show her my quick hand-copy of the statistics. "What's the Quell theme?"
Every twenty five years, they'll have this thing called Quarter Quell, which is basically the same old Games with twists in the reapings.
"No data yet," I tell Johanna. Thirteen hasn't yet heard of what it would be. What The Capitol always say about the Quarter Quells being pre-designed by the founders of Panem is full of shit. It's usually designed by the President and some Gamemakers and some other Capitolites, right before the 'Quarter Quell announcement'.
"Let's hope they're not throwing seventy two children inside that Arena," Johanna comments desperately. "That would be like trying to fit..."
She gasps, all of a sudden.
"Jo?" I ask her, tentative for I know what might be happening.
"Been having these all day," she brushes it off. "It'll usually bugger off in a bit. That one's just a little more painful than the previous."
Lord. This is it.
"You know you might be in labor, don't you?" I ask her, trying to be gentle while I run my hand on my hair.
"Indeed," she answers sharply. "I just... fuck this, Gale. I can't have this kid. I'll just keep it in."
"You know it's not that easy, Jo," I tell her. "It's ought to be born one day."
"Not. Today," she spits out - at me. "Not when Snow's alive. That bastard's gonna kill my kid."
Snow. Always, Snow.
That familiar fire burns in my chest again, as I look up at my wide-eyed, terrified lover.
"He won't," I tell her. "As long as I'm alive, that bastard's not gonna touch our kid."
She shoots me a glare and opens her mouth to say something, only to end up hissing in pain a millisecond later.
"It's getting worse," she says, looking at me through what might be teary eyes. "I think the water broke this morning after you went out. There was this puddle of water around my feet."
"Fuck," I mutter, realizing how advanced this has gone. "Hang in here. I'll get the boys to get the midwife."
"No," she tells me firmly, through gritted teeth and teary eyes. "I don't want the midwife. Or anyone else."
"People did die in childbirth, Johanna!" I desperately chide her, as I move closer to her. "Neither of us know how to do this! We might end up killing you!"
"Yes, Captain Obvious," she mocks me. "I know. I'm just taking the risk here."
At that, she sets her big, brown eyes on me. And I just can't say no.
Us, the two of us, Gale and Johanna, go through it all together. I let her lean against me and do anything I can do to help, crushed ice and damp cloth and all. She swears, crushes my hand, and cries. Not openly. It's that kind of silent cry, which actually wrung your heart even dryer.
"Listen!" she barks at me at one point, as the new day breaks outside our window. "This... is... all... pain... now. And... there..."
That never gets finished, for she's yelped and started pushing. Now, childbirth is never an area of interest for me, and I've never read about it. I really don't know what to do now.
"Pressure," she explains to me, once she stops pushing. "I... just... have... to."
Another yelp. Shit.
"Jo," I tell her finally, knowing that this is the only thing I can do. "I'll have to move over down there. Will you be alright?"
"Just... fucking... do... it!" she barks out.
The next minutes passes in this numb, slow motions, as things happen. It starts with a crown. Then a head. Then, a baby.
A squirming, alive, male baby in my hands, screaming into the morning air as his mother lets out this agonized cry and some sobs.
"Ssh," I say, though I'm not sure who I'm sush-ing here. "Ssh. You're alright."
"Deal with him quick," Johanna croaks, looking at us with her somewhat-disoriented, brimming eyes. "There's something else we'll need to get out."
The nearest clean thing I can get is a clean towel laying on the bed. One of us must have thought of shower last night, before all these chaos happened. I use it to pat the baby - Lord, this is my kid - and wrap him, before handing him to his shaking, now openly crying mother.
"Cord," Johanna instructs. She heaves up the bugger to her bare chest - we took off her clothes at midnight, for they were all drenched - and looks up at me. "We can't keep him attached to whatever thing it is which is still inside."
There are these few little things she's prepared on the dresser, most probably when I was away. She did know she was in labor, after all. There are some scissors, some kind of clamps, some suturing kit, and a large bottle of Vodka. I use the Vodka to sterilize the things, then walk back over to work.
The next minutes pass with Johanna telling me what to do, and me doing things on the cord, the baby, the afterbirth, and her. For once, I actually listen to all she says. I actually take her orders.
When it's all done, we have a baby, some soiled sheets, and a bucket full of gross looking stuff with us.
"Fuck," Johanna groans, as she takes in the sight in front of her. "This room's gonna stink for weeks."
"Well," I tell her, feeling something I've never felt before. "That's the best we could've got, really."
We both laugh - and cry - upon the realization that everything is indeed alright, and that the little bugger is here now. He doesn't do much except crying, staring blankly at some distance, and, uhm, suckling. And it's still too early to tell whether he favours Jo - his Ma - or me - his Old Man. But he's our kid. I didn't think this was possible before, but I can actually feel it. He's my kid. Mine and Johanna's kid. We made him. By accident, but still. We created this little person here.
And as long as I live, nothing bad would ever happen to him. Or to his Ma, for that matter.
A couple of hours later, as we've all calmed down, things - and people - have all been cleaned, and the two new uncles have had their chances holding the kid, I make the necessary phone calls. Or unnecessary, really, but I don't care. Don't think I've ever been this drunk before. And hell, there's not even alcohol in my system.
"Hey," I say, to the other person at the other end. "I've just delivered my kid."
next: Katniss - The Victory Tour, Year of the 75th Hunger Games
Thanks for reading! Hope you like the chapter.
Will try to update sometime within the next 7 days, but travel has been crazy thus I can't really guarantee. Stay tuned though!