Fandom: Hunger Games Series - All Media Types, Hunger Games Trilogy - Suzanne Collins
Warnings: Graphic Depictions Of Violence, Rape/Non-Con
Characters: Johanna Mason, Blight (Hunger Games)
Additional Tags: Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms, Suicidal Thoughts, District 7, Hypothermia, Canon Compliant, Pre-Canon, Why Johanna Mason is how she is, spite is an excellent motivator, Canon-Typical Violence, canon-typical horribleness, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder - PTSD
Series: Part 2 of Please feel free to take this personally
Summary: There are always consequences.
Johanna has tried for two years to be the Victor they want. She’s lost count of the people she’s fucked, lost count of the times she’s screamed and struggled and had to be held down, the times people have provoked her, deliberately, into furious, ineffectual violence.
But nobody, before, had been dumb enough to leave a knife next to the bed. Nobody had ever hurt her like she’d been hurt in the Arena, her own blood streaming into her eye from a punch that left her dizzy.
She doesn’t remember what happened next, until she’ found herself standing with her back to the door and a knife in her hand, watching him gasp for breath through a slit throat.
And then the door had burst in and the Peacekeepers had hauled her out, shoved her into a room somewhere deep underground, and let her wait.
Still in the barely-anything they’d sent her out in, still bleeding, blood drying on her hands and smeared on her face.
As the immediate terror drained away, nausea replaced it, and dread, and guilt, and a different kind of fear, because she knew, knew, there would be consequences.
And they’d hauled her up to the President’s office, and he’d told her she was relieved of her duties, and only then did they let her clean up, head for the train in scratchy, too-big Peacekeeper training sweats.
Nobody is waiting at the station in Seven—she isn’t due in for days, yet, the post-Tour parties still going strong all through the Capitol. It doesn’t matter: she’s here with nothing at all, it’s freezing cold but she doesn’t really feel it, and it’s not that long a walk to the Victors Village.
She smells smoke before she gets through the gate, sees it rising, wants to run but feels like she’s moving through molasses until she gets to the charred, smoking ashes where her house used to be.
She screams, then, and her voice rings in her ears, and the next thing she remembers is Blight, setting her down on Ila’s old couch. They’re talking to her, but their voices are meaningless syllables, and she drinks until Ila stops her and then they lead her up to a spare bedroom and let her sleep.
She can’t sleep forever, unfortunately, Ila wakes her up with food and odd tea concoctions she doesn’t ask about. Blight comes back to ask her incomprehensible questions about her new house and she stares at him, blankly.
They take her over there, later, show her around, leave her alone finally, and it’s nice of them but it’s so damn quiet she can barely breathe. She’s been yelling at them to leave her the fuck alone for—weeks? It must be weeks by now—and now that they have she doesn’t want that either.
The fire goes out in the wood stove at some point, and Johanna can’t bring herself to get it started again, just sits while the house gets colder, wrapped in a blanket and staring at the wall, imagining ghosts in her head. Poking the finger bruises on her throat from a lifetime ago that don’t hurt much anymore but still haven’t disappeared.
Someone knocks on the door before it’s really light, sharp and insistent, and Johanna glares at the door before unfolding, stiff limbs protesting, and opening it.
Blight is standing there in a dusty coat and fur-lined boots, and glares right back at her. “Here,” he says, thrusting a box at her. “Put those on, we’re going out.”
Johanna doesn’t know what to say. Seems to have lost her voice since coming back here. But it seems harder to kick him out than to go along with whatever bullshit he has planned, so she looks into the box. Winter gear, like the stuff he’s wearing. She looks down at her flannel PJs and bare feet. Looks back at the box.
“Go change,” Blight says, his voice a little softer. “I’ll wait.”
The house is set up just like the old one. Johanna walks upstairs, mechanically, goes into what should be her room, opens the closet—and these aren’t her clothes. Of course they aren’t, hers are nothing but ashes, it should not be a surprise, and yet it is.
She smiles, sardonic, when she sees what’s inside: jeans, flannel shirts, bulky sweaters and wool socks, a couple bachelor Sevens’ idea of what she’d wear. The size at least is right, somehow, and she doesn’t actually give a shit, so she pulls things on at random, boots and coat on top of the rest of it.
“Where are we going?” she asks, as Blight leads the way out behind the Victors Village, into the forest. It’s supposed to be dangerous out here, but Johanna really doesn’t care.
“Ice fishing,” Blight says, as though it makes perfect sense.
“There’s a lake, not too far out. Me’n Henrik put up a ice fishing shack.”
Johanna has heard of this, from the winter guards at the lumber camps, but winters she’d always spent in town, working. She shuts up, concentrates on plowing her way through the knee-deep snow. Even in Blight’s footsteps it’s hard work. She’s sweating under her coat, throws the hood back. Blight’s just plodding along, like trekking through deep snow to catch fish isn’t ridiculous when they could get the damn things from the store. She’s tired, and her feet are heavy and clumsy, and she’s starting to get hungry, and just about when she’s decided she’s going to sit down and refuse to move they crest a hill and look down, and there’s the lake. Nobody’s been out here since the last snowfall, so it’s a blank expanse of pure white that even in the cloudy light is almost blinding.
Blight stops, looks back at her, smirks. “Nice, eh?”
Johanna will not give him the pleasure of agreement, so she just shrugs. “Better be something in there worth the trip.”
He laughs, deep and rumbling, and starts down the hill.
The shack is a lot nicer than Johanna expected. It’s neatly built, wood stacked against one wall, and inside it shields them from the frigid wind, warm even before Blight starts a fire in the wood stove.
There’s something completely bizarre about a fire on the fucking ice, but Johanna figures Blight knows what he’s doing, and if the thing melts its way through the ice and takes them with it, well, it’d probably be fast.
There’s chairs, lightweight things, canvas strung over wood, but Johanna grabs one of the thick wool blankets and sits on it, on the ice, wedged into a corner, knees up, arms resting crossed over them, chin on her hands. Blight is humming to himself, off-key, and digging through a cabinet for fishing line, and hooks, and dried-fish bait. He takes the cover off a hole in the middle of the room, drops the lines in, weights them, and sits back in his chair.
“That’s it?” Johanna asks.
“Yup,” Blight says, and digs into his backpack. He comes out with tinfoil packets he sets on the stove, and a thermos full of hot coffee spiked with whiskey.
The packets turn out to be sandwiches, cheese and bacon and hot and melted and Johanna has been eating mechanically when Ila makes her ever since— but these smell amazing, and her stomach rumbles.
Blight smiles a little as he hands her her plate and mug, looks satisfied when she devours the sandwich before sipping slowly at the drink.
Ila would ask her to talk, because he has some crazy idea that’s a mentor’s job, picked up from too much time watching the Twos baby their Victors, probably. Blight just watches the lines going into the ice and lets her be.
“Why’d you bring me out here?” Johanna asks, curiosity getting the better of her. If this was a bad Capitol romance they’d fuck, the rough lumberjack would have surprisingly soft hands and the sad girl would fall in love and be saved.
She’s pretty sure Blight isn’t the kind of idiot who’d try something that stupid, but that leaves the question open.
Blight waits a while before he answers, watching the stove, the hole in the ice, everything but her. He sighs. “Seemed like you might like it. Change of scenery’s always good.”
Johanna bites back her instinctive reaction. Looks at Blight, most of his face hidden by the beard he lets get mountain-man wild when he doesn’t have to trim it for the Capitol. She doesn’t remember if he ever had family—he must, that’s how biology works, but she doesn’t know anything about them and she doesn’t ask.
“Okay,” she says, because what is there to say?
They sit for a while. Blight catches a couple of trout, cleans them efficiently and tosses the entrails back down the hole. Hangs the fish outside somewhere to freeze. The air that rushes in when he opens the door is bitingly cold.
Finally Blight climbs to his feet and starts putting things away, puts out the fire in the stove, coils the fishing lines, collects the mugs and the remains of their meal and loads everything back into his pack.
“C’mon,” he says, when he’s finished, reaching down a hand. “Best we get home before dark.”
The trek back to the Village is just as long and just as exhausting and just as cold, and Johanna wouldn’t have believed it possible she’d be glad to see the house in the Village, but by the time they get there she truly is.
Blight stops at the steps up to her door. Waits as she kicks snow off her boots and opens it, and he’s probably waiting for her to thank him or some shit, and maybe she should, but she’s not going to. She steps through the doorway and looks back just in time to see him turn and head for his own house.
She’s exhausted. Bone-deep physically tired, not just—not wanting to be awake, the way she’s been till now, and she’s hungry, too, and even though she knows there’s ready-to-heat soup and bread and who knows what else in her kitchen, she can’t summon the energy to eat any of it. Looks at the stairway up to the bedrooms with their mass-produced lightweight furniture and shudders, looks at the cold wood stove in the living room and finds the Capitol heater switch on the wall instead. Dad hated that thing, almost never used it even in the fiercest cold, kept the stove burning instead. Mom’d switched it on secretly most evenings last winter, and Dad had found out eventually but grudgingly allowed it was nice not to have frost forming on the quilts in the morning and let it be.
Johanna feels like a traitor flipping the switch, immediate betrayal floating on top of the vast frozen lake of guilt that’s threatening to drown her. She’s so fucking tired it barely matters, though, and so fucking cold she’s shivering in her coat, and if she can warm up just by flipping a switch then dammit, she’s doing that. There’s no sound, no obvious change, but the floor goes from icy cold through her wool socks to pleasantly warm. She curls up on the couch, pulls a blanket around her, and as soon as she stops shivering she’s asleep.
She dreams of that last client, dreams the knife in her hand, dreams what she can’t remember awake—scrambling for the knife, heart pounding and blood in her eyes, hands shoving at her, the sickening give of skin and muscle under her hand, blood pouring over her—except when she looks down the face is her father’s and she screams.
She wakes up screaming, in the deep dark of far-from-dawn, in a silent house, and curls up tighter and sobs.
After that she refuses to go back to sleep, waits anxiously for the dawn to come, frozen in place. When it’s light it feels—safer somehow, like reality won’t slip away from her as easily when she can see what’s around her. She wanders the house, restless, goes into the kitchen for something to eat and walks out feeling the ghost of Mom’s disapproval. Goes upstairs to her bedroom, bare walls and floor where her old room had had the rag rug Mom’s cousin had made. The door to the room that had been her parents’ is shut, and she can’t bring herself to open it. On the second round through the kitchen she takes the loaf of bread off the counter, tears chunks off as she walks, puts them into her mouth and chews mechanically. Goes back for a glass of water, sits finally against the wall by the stairs, sipping water and watching through the windows as snow falls outside.
A knock on the door, eventually, and it’s Ila, looking worried. He glances around, sees the cold stove, and clucks at her. “Lemme get that fire going for you,” he says, and builds it up until the house is summer-warm, and Johanna sheds the blanket she’s kept herself wrapped up in since last night.
She stops pacing, sits back down on the couch. There’s a TV on the wall, and she turns it on, flips through channels. Ila sits on the other side of the couch.
“Johanna,” he says, hesitant but trying not to be. “You know—“
“I can talk to you,” she interrupts. “I know.” She stares at him and he flinches, almost invisibly. “There really isn’t anything to say.”
Ila looks away, then looks back at her. “It’s not your fault, you know,” he says, quiet.
Johanna laughs. It hurts. Ila gives her a sharp look. “Yeah, sure,” she gasps out. “Snow told me there would be consequences if I didn’t do what I was told, I fucked up, so they died.” She takes a shaky breath. “Pretty sure that means it’s my fault.”
“He should never have—“
“Are you fucking kidding?” Johanna interrupts. “It’s just how it is. Finnick got the same orders and his family’s still alive and kicking.”
Because Finnick can pull on a Capitol persona like he’s putting on one of his stylist’s ridiculous getups, can smile and flirt and play the game like a professional—which he is, and she always tried to be but never could. She wishes she could ask for a second chance. She’d kiss the President’s feet, suck his dick if it’d do any good. Won’t though. No second chances in Panem.
Ila disappears into the kitchen and pretty soon food-smells come wafting out and remind Johanna she ought to be hungry. Ila brings her a bowl of hearty pea soup and some toast and a glass of wine for each of them.
She eats, drinks, and the alcohol shaves some of the sharpness off the edges in her mind, the ones that keep slicing into her with scraps of memory. She gets up when the wine’s done and brings back the bottle. Fills her glass, sets the bottle on the coffee table.
“I didn’t bring that so you could get drunk,” Ila says, a little testy.
Johanna shrugs. Is that supposed to matter? Ila fills his glass too, in a fairly transparent bid to keep her from drinking the whole bottle herself. She sighs, leans back, flips the TV to something stupid and corny, some movie about a sailor from Four and an ocean spirit that seduces and kills him when he gets too far from shore. The spirit-girl is tall and impossibly thin and dressed in artistic rags that are probably supposed to look like seaweed, and the boy looks like Finnick, and Johanna rolls her eyes but it’s something for her eyes and mind to settle on, at least.
She does finish the bottle of wine, with Ila’s help, and he leaves partway through the afternoon, apparently reassured that she’s managing.
Which she is, basically. She keeps the TV on all night, while she paces to keep herself awake, because every time her eyes start to slide closed she sees blood. Stays up until the next morning, when apparently it’s Henrik’s turn and he looks at her disheveled, days-old clothes and greasy hair and sends her upstairs to shower.
“We’re making some real food,” he says, gravelly-voiced and stern, “but you are a hygiene hazard, go clean up.”
It’s always easier to just do what Henrik says. She was scared of him as a little kid, he’d come to Ely for some kind of publicity thing and had been so tall and strong and fierce that she’d hid behind Mom in the square. He’s not much less intimidating now, still tall, still fierce-looking, and still wholly unimpressed by anything.
They spend the entire day baking: bread and cookies and tarts and pies, and he takes most of it with him when he leaves. “Best to keep busy,” he says, with a stern look. “Someone can always use the help.”
Johanna glares after him, goes back into the kitchen and makes a pot of strong coffee.
She falls asleep as it’s getting light despite her best efforts. Is caught in dreams she can’t quite remember and can’t quite wake up from, until there’s another knock on the door and she sits up and yells. “Go away!” she shouts, “Leave me alone!” She can almost feel whoever it is thinking, through the door and 10 feet of open air, but the knock doesn’t come again. She stomps upstairs and gets dressed, pulls on her boots and her coat, and damn him, Blight is right, it’s good to be out of the house. She doesn’t want to see him, or any of them, or anyone or anything, so she heads off in a direction away from the lake where they went last time, out into the snowy woods, walks and walks and walks until she realizes she has no idea where she is.
She ought to be terrified. It’s snowing a little, so while she can follow her footprints for a while, eventually she’s not sure if she’s seeing her footprints or some animal’s or nothing at all and her mind’s playing tricks. She’d started walking west, so she tries to keep walking east, but it’s hard to tell with the sun behind the clouds.
And it’s getting dark.
And she looks around, and really, there’s nothing stopping her from lying down right here in the snow and going to sleep, and she’s spent enough time in the wilderness in Seven to know that if she fell asleep, out here in the snow, she probably wouldn’t wake up.
That wouldn’t be so bad.
Johanna stops, leans against a tree. She’s bone-deep exhausted, her legs feel like lead, she’s going back to an empty house and an empty useless life and really, why bother?
And then she sees Snow’s lizard-smile, sick pleasure on his face, and she’d barely registered anything about that meeting but maybe her brain saved this one for her. She tilts her head back against the rough bark, looks up toward the sky.
“My dear Miss Mason,” his voice sounds so real she looks around. “I thought we understood each other?”
She doesn’t see him, because that’s impossible, but it feels real: his face in the sky like the faces in the Arena, smirking at her.
“Oh, what a shame,” he says, and the smile widens.
He’d be fucking thrilled if she gave up and died here. And who’s to say he isn’t watching, doesn’t have some kind of secret fucking cameras hidden in the trees to keep track of her, isn’t enjoying the fuck out of watching her out here, losing her mind.
She pushes away from the tree, looks around. There’s a rise off to her left, she heads up the slope as fast as she can make herself move, finds the tallest pine tree she can, and hauls herself up into the branches.
And there, from the top, she can see town in the distance, smoke rising from a thousand chimneys and the river glinting in the low sunlight.
She climbs down, changes direction.
It takes four more trees and it’s pitch dark by the time she makes it back, but she does make it back, and about 30 seconds after she turns on the lights and shuts the door and sits down right there on the floor because she suddenly can’t move, the door swings open again. Ila and Blight both, looking worried.
“Shit,” Blight says, when he sees her, and Johanna can barely feel her fingers and her face feels scraped raw and she laughs, a little hysterical. Blight just shakes his head and disappears upstairs. She hears water running in the bathroom.
“Come on,” Ila says, holding out a hand, taking her wrist and hauling her upright. She crashes unsteadily into his arms. He pulls off her hat, pushes her hood back, strokes her hair. “Come on, Johanna,” he says, shifting to put an arm around her shoulders. “We gotta get you warmed up.” She nods, dully, and he half-carries her up to the bathroom.
She ought to be embarrassed about two old men stripping her out of her wet clothes, but that would take energy. It’s easier just to let them, since her fingers are stiff and swollen from the cold. She hisses when she puts a foot into the tub, it burns, but Blight just puts his hand in again to check and nods at Ila.
“It’s okay, kid,” Ila says, gruff. “It just feels hot because you’re so cold.”
It hurts, a lot, and somehow that’s what convinces her to do it. If it felt good she’d make them fuck off, but as long as it hurts it’s probably right. There’s logic there, she’s sure of it, even if she can’t find it right now.
“The fuck were you thinking?” Blight hisses, once she’s managed to get her whole body into the warm water.
“Blight,” Ila warns, and Blight snaps his mouth shut to a thin line.
“I wasn’t,” Johanna says, and they both look at her, hard stares. “Obviously.”
She looks back up at the ceiling. “That’s kind of the point,” she adds.
Blight snorts. Ila’s silent, and Johanna can guess he’d have his sad-concerned face on, and she doesn’t want to see that so she closes her eyes and submerges her entire face under the water.
Comes up for air when she has to, and when she opens her eyes, Blight looks amused and Ila, yep, she was right. Sad-concerned with a side of confusion.
“Okay,” Ila says, “Come on, you need to sleep.”
Johanna wants to tell him that’s the last thing she needs, that she can’t carry spiteful stubbornness into her goddamn dreams, but she’s too tired. So she lets them help her up, towels off and puts on the warm sweats they bring her, wraps the wool blanket around herself. They guide her to her actual bedroom, not the couch downstairs, and she protests, weakly. “I can’t sleep here,” she hears herself say, in a small voice. Blight and Ila trade looks and Blight sighs, digs in his pocket and pulls out a bottle of sleep syrup.
“We’re not gonna make this a habit, y’hear?” Ila says, but he twists the cap off the bottle, pours a shot of the stuff into a glass, and hands it to her.
Johanna wonders if it’ll keep her from dreaming. It’s worth a try. She downs the stuff and the two men tuck her in, fussing like mother hens. She doesn’t remember falling asleep.
Johanna wakes up in the morning fuzzy-headed and confused but her dreams are vaguely unsettling rather than sharply terrifying, so she’ll call it a win. Every single muscle in her body hurts. She’s still lying there wondering how long she can not move when she hears the door open, and shut. Henrik comes in a little later, with hot coffee and scones. He sits down next to the bed and waits while she struggles to sit up. Once she’s mostly upright he hands her the plate and the mug.
“That was really stupid,” he growls. “You know better.”
Johanna just glares at him.
“You can’t just disappear,” he continues, “if you want to arrange an accident you’ll have to try harder than that.”
Johanna almost chokes on her coffee. “That’s not—“ she pauses. “What do you mean?”
“Victors off themselves, there’s consequences,” Henrik says, watching her, assessing.
Johanna flinches at the word. There’s always consequences.
“How do you know?” she demands.
Henrik looks her in the eye. “You know I’m not the first Victor from Seven,” he says. Johanna nods. They read the list at the Reaping, after all.
“He killed himself,” Henrik says. “Couple years after he won.” He pauses, waits for Johanna to meet his eyes. “There was a fire at the sawmill in his hometown. Shift change, in winter, killed a hundred people.”
Johanna just stares. “You think he’s done everything he can? You think there’s nothing more he can do to you?” Henrik laughs. It’s not funny at all. “There’s always something more he can do.”
He stands up. “You might not give a fuck, because you’d be dead, but know this: you get more people in this District killed because you can’t deal with being a Victor, you better hope there’s no afterlife, because if there is I will come and I will find you, and all the hells there may be will be a fucking sauna compared to what I will do to you.”
Johanna is still staring as he walks out the door, silent.