Tags: canon-typical horribleness, references to forced prostitution
Series: Part 6 of Please feel free to take this personally
Summary:Rough bark and pine resin and clean cold north wind, the best escape Johanna can find.
When Johanna got picked up from the lumber camp for the Reaping, she hadn't realized it was the last time she'd see the wild parts of District 7. When the Victor train comes into the station, she still half expects to get on a hovercraft out to meet her parents, her friends, to go back to hefting a chainsaw to strip the branches from the tall straight pine trees.
She's not paying attention to the Mayor, the formalities, anything except the smell of sawdust in the air, the green of trees and the wilderness pressing in on all sides. Until her mom and dad come up on the stage and her mother wraps Johanna in her arms, clinging too tight, and Johanna can't breathe, her face mashed against Mom's shoulder.
Johanna cried when she was Reaped, but it's Mom crying now that she's home. Dad hugs her too, and he smells like sawdust and pine sap under the fancy Capitol soap they've used, and Johanna takes what feels like her first full breath in a month.
And then Ila herds them off the stage to a car. "Where are we going?" Johanna asks, and her voice sounds strange in her own ears, soft and plaintive.
"Victors’ Village," Blight says, gruff. "Your house."
Now Johanna feels stupid. Of course, she knew Victors lived in the Village, she just... Wasn't thinking about it. She thought she was going home.
The Village is on the edge of town, a single road heading out into the surrounding forest. The hedge that surrounds the town beaks for a heavy wooden gate that they drive through, the Village fading out into the wild. Supposedly there's all sorts of danger out there, bears and mountain lions and wolves and whatever Capitol mutts have made it home. But Johanna hasn't ever seen anything like that, not in 15 years of summers in lumber camps. Mostly the verdant, wild green is comforting, far away from the concrete and bright lights of the Capitol.
They drive past three other houses before they pull into the driveway of the fourth. It's white with blue shutters, lights on inside making it look warm. As they get out of the car, an old man opens the door and comes out to greet them. Henrik, District Seven’s oldest living Victor. A story from history books and Reaping days, and now her neighbor.
He shows them through the place, points out thing they've brought over from their winter house in Ely, new conveniences, and it's nice, but it's not home.
Finally the rest of them leave and Johanna is left alone with her parents and… She can't. Can't look at them the same, doesn't know what to say, how to act, so she mutters something about looking around outside and escapes out the back door.
It's not like a lumber field. It's a mixed up chaos of maples and oaks and evergreens, and Johanna walks a ways out before she finds an old pine with branches low enough for her to haul herself up. Once she's up, though, it's easy, pines always have branches like ladders, and soon she's high above the roof, looking out over the town. It's a warm day but up here she catches the breeze, and it's blowing out of the North, cool and clean, and Johanna turns her face into it and just breathes.
The Victory Tour was a hell she'd never imagined. Smiling in uncomfortable clothes, always on the train, never in one place long enough to get over the vertigo of displacement. And that was before she got to the Capitol, got invited to Snow's office, sat in a plush chair while he told her she was going to be a whore for them.
"No," she'd said, too shocked, too furious to be polite. "I won't. I can't." How dare he ask her this?
He hadn't even responded, just pressed a button and a video started playing. Peacekeepers hauling a thin woman with greying hair out of her house, a boy not quite Reaping age, a girl maybe Johanna's own age following.
The Peacekeepers forced them to their knees in the dusty backyard, and when they raised their rifles Johanna closed her eyes. 3 sharp cracks and three bodies sprawled on the ground.
Johanna looked back at the President. "That was Haymitch Abernathy's family," he said, a thin smile pulling at his lips. "Consequences, Miss Mason. I trust you understand?"
Johanna's mouth went dry and she nodded.
"Hmm?" The President tilted his head to one side, watching her.
"Yes sir," she'd said, and left to throw up in the bathroom.
It was horrible and it hurt and she drank one night until she couldn’t walk straight and Ila pulled her into a room, fed her something to make her puke and made her take some weird blue pills that made her head stop spinning. "You can't, Johanna," he said, big sad brown eyes meeting hers. "You have to be nice to them." She'd pulled away with furious tears in her eyes and stalked out, but she'd stayed sober enough.
This time when Johanna comes home her parents’ smiles are hesitant, careful and confused, and they hug her like she's a stranger. She takes just enough time inside to change into flannel-lined jeans, a warm coat and gloves before she's fleeing outside and through the deep snow to the tree. She scrambles up, dumping snow down on the branches below as she goes. The wind blows right through her clothes, sharp as knives in the back of her throat, and she doesn't bother trying to hide from it. She stays there until her fingers start going numb, climbs down relishing the pressure-pain every time she grips a branch.
"Why do you keep doing this?" Dad asks, maneuvering the car carefully through rain-drenched streets away from the train station. He doesn't sound mad this time, just sad and confused, which is somehow worse.
"Why do you keep watching those shitty Capitol channels?" Johanna shoots back. She's antsy and annoyed and hung over and exhausted, and they just care way too much.
Dad shakes his head. They ride in silence for a bit. "I just miss my girl," he says as they approach the Victors’ Village.
Johanna bites her tongue to keep her teeth from grinding. "Dad..." she starts, stops. What's she supposed to say to that?
They pull up to the house and Dad stops the car. Johanna glances over at him. He's watching her with so much worry, she can't fix it, can't make it better, can't stop. "I miss her too," Johanna says under her breath, swings the door open and races out to the trees. Leaves her shoes at the bottom and climbs to the top, ignoring the branches tearing at her, snagging on her train clothes, ignores her spinning head, the tears streaming down her face until she gets to the top, wraps her arms around the trunk and sobs.
She doesn't climb when she gets home from the Victory Tour for the 68th. Comes home to still-warm ashes, sheets covering two charred bodies in the front yard, and she freezes, shock and horror and disbelief, screams loud enough to bring Blight and Ila racing out. Blight gets to her first, as she's walking toward the smoking ruin of her house, wraps his arms around her and she claws at him, yelling for Mom and Dad. Ila arrives a half minute later, mutters under his breath to Blight, and they herd her toward Ila's house.
Blight sits her on the couch, Ila brings her a glass of whiskey, and she stares straight ahead while they explain. An accident. A burst gas tank. Two bodies found. They weren't expecting her back yet.
"Snow," Johanna says, her voice echoing in the sudden blankness in her head. "He said I was relieved of my responsibilities."
Blight hisses out a long breath. Johanna can't speak. Downs the glass, feeling it burn, stares into the fireplace.
"We're getting a new house ready," Ila says. "Meanwhile you can stay with me."
Johanna nods. It's her fault. They're dead and everything she owned is gone, and it's her fault. She holds her glass out to Ila, who fills it, and she downs it again. This time he shakes his head when she holds it out. "No, Jo," he says. And that's it. They leave her, staring into the flames, and time passes, and eventually she sleeps, and dreams of fire.
She sleeps most of the next few days. There doesn't seem to be much point in getting out of bed, really, so she doesn't unless Ila makes her come downstairs to eat.
Finally they tell her her house is ready and she walks over, Ila and Blight and Henrik hovering like broody hens, showing her everything they've set up for her. She nods and says thank you, mechanically, and when they leave she shudders and heads out back.
The path to her tree is different, but the tree is still there, a few overhanging branches singed from heat. It's brutally cold, just like after her own Tour, and she cares even less. Stays up there till she's shivering so hard she's worried she'll fall. Not that falling would be so bad, really, but she shouldn't do that to Ila after he worked to get her a new house.
She strips in the bathroom and runs herself a hot bath, stays in it till it goes from painful to comforting to lukewarm and chilly. Wraps herself in the robe that's waiting for her, goes into her bedroom.
And then comes right back out, because the bed's Capitol made, cheap and light and easy to ship, not the headboard Dad carved whorls of vines and leaves into last winter, happy to have good wood and free time. That's gone, burned up with him, and Johanna chokes, grabs a blanket and races down the stairs to sleep on the couch.
The night before the Reaping for the 75th Games, Johanna doesn't sleep.
It's not suspense. She's going into the Arena and they're going to pull Katniss Everdeen to turn her into a symbol for revolution.
Johanna doesn't believe in symbols, really, isn't interested in saving this girl just to shove her into whatever nonsense Plutarch is cooking up. But she's not the one making the calls, and Mags and Beetee and Plutarch believe Haymitch when he says she can do it.
So Johanna’ll play along. Sacrifice her own life, such as it is, if necessary.
She makes a fire in the fireplace, feeds wood in just to watch it burn.
When the sky starts getting light, she goes outside. Walks slowly through the woods, trailing fingers over the tree trunks, climbs carefully up to watch the sun rising over the hills in the distance.
She's not sure what she's feeling, not really. But whatever happens, this is her last Reaping. Either they'll end the Games, or Johanna will be dead.
Johanna wakes up in the hospital, confused and frightened and alone. There's drugs flooding her system, dulling the panic, and it's comforting for a moment until she pulls her memory together.
The Block. The water, rushing her off her feet and out of her mind. Slamming into the side of a building, huddling there and struggling to breathe. Someone yelling, and then — black. They drugged her, must've hauled her back here.
Which means she fucked up, again, no surprises there.
And then Finnick comes in, looking… concerned. Worry lines his eyes as he comes to sit next to the bed, leans back in the chair and looks at the wall across from them.
Doesn't look at her. She's glad.
"So," he says, after a bit. "You're not going in this time."
She looks at him, eyebrows raised, and he gives her a fuck-you smile she hasn't seen since interviews in the Capitol, a lifetime ago. "The 76th Hunger Games," he says, in a Capitol accent. Then he sighs, runs a hand through his hair. Drops the act and the accent. "Whole damn Capitol's an Arena. Mutts and traps and who the fuck knows."
Johanna sighs. The drugs are still dulling everything, so the fury and terror just tease at the edges of her mind. She laughs, in the end, because fuck it all, and Finnick looks at her and cracks up too. When she finally winds down she has to brush tears from her cheeks.
She looks at Finnick. "Come back," she says.
He bites his lip. Nods.
"Get out, Odair," she says a moment later. "Go talk to your wife."
Finnick breaks into a startled smile at the word, and fuck, he’s exhausted and worried and even still, he looks more alive than she’s ever seen him. He gets up, leans over and gives her an awkward hug.
Looks like he's thinking of something to say so she shakes her head. "See you soon," she says, like a wish, like a promise.
"Yeah," he says, and his voice is taut. “Take care of yourself.”
Johanna snorts, but he's watching her, so she nods. He nods back, turns around, and walks out.
And then Katniss shows up. With something wrapped in a white bandage.
"What's that?" Johanna asks, and it sounds way too sincere but she's so damn tired.
"I made it for you. Something to put in your drawer." Katniss crosses the room, hands it to her. "Smell it."
Johanna raises it to her face, inhales and almost chokes. Pine needles, fresh and resiny and just sweet enough. "Smells like home,” she says, trying to blink back tears.
"That's what I was hoping. You being from Seven and all.” Katniss pauses. “Remember when we met? You were a tree. Well, briefly."
Johanna's barely registering the words. She grabs Katniss's wrist—she should know better than to trap a Victor like that, and Katniss flinches—but this is important. "You have to kill him, Katniss."
"Don't worry." Katniss's dark eyes meet Johanna's, hold there.
"Swear it. On something you care about," Johanna hisses.
"I swear it. On my life."
Not good enough, Johanna thinks. Not between Victors. "On your family's life.”
"On my family's life," Katniss repeats, solemn. Johanna lets her go.
Katniss looks away for a second, and when she looks back she's smiling a little. "Why do you think I'm going, anyway, brainless?"
"I just needed to hear it." If Johanna can't put an ax in that fucker's head, someone else needs to. And she already got a different promise from Finnick.
She presses the bundle of pine needles to her nose and closes her eyes. When she opens them again, Katniss is gone.