A/N: This story is a "companion" story of sorts to my previous story Rebuild and Recover. That story follows Katniss and Peeta for roughly two years after Mockingjay. This story is going to follow Gale and Johanna during that same time frame. There are about three points where the stories will overlap. If you've read Rebuild and Recover, you probably know what those three points are, and they give you some hints as to where this story is going. But the two stories aren't heavily reliant on each other, and they can each be read completely independently of each other. Nothing about Rebuild and Recover gives you a whole lot of background for this story. Just some hints.
Just like with Rebuild and Recover, this story came out of the Hunger Games 100 theme challenge. This is my fourth story for that challenge, and each chapter is centered around one of the themes. This story actually concludes the challenge for me, which I've been working on for several years. It feels amazing to be done.
Finally, I would really like to thank my amazing beta readers HungryForMore74 and Eira Lloyd who helped make this story much better than it would have been otherwise. I don't like putting author's notes unless I really need to, so just know that that thank you applies to the story as a whole.
I hope you all enjoy, and I'll shut up now and get to the story!
"It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage, that we move on to better things." - Theodore Roosevelt
"There is one consolation in being sick; and that is the possibility that you may recover to a better state than you were ever in before." - Henry David Thoreau
Chapter 1: Confusion
"The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing... not healing, not curing... that is a friend who cares." - Henri Nouwen
Gale glanced around the plain, white building. Its newness was betrayed in the fresh paint smell, if not in the overly clean look of it all. District 2 hadn't fared too well in the rebellion there at the end. It was definitely a good thing. The military could have a bit of a fresh start now with entirely new buildings as well as a more diverse make up with soldiers from all of the districts.
So far, the workforce seemed heavy with District 2 and 13 citizens, but Gale had seen people from every district since he arrived several days ago. A few even looked like they were from the Capitol with their extravagant dress, and Gale was looking forward to seeing how they reacted when their fashion was taken from them and replaced with the standard military-issued fare. That might kill them before the manual labor.
Most of the future soldiers milling about were here to be ordinary soldiers. Very few were lucky enough to have a position like Gale, who had been made a weapons specialist immediately upon entry. He wasn't high up on the military ladder in the grand scheme of things, but it was a good enough position to grant him a bit more freedom than those underneath him. One of those freedoms was his own private lodging instead of the barracks that the privates had to live in for the duration of their training and which many of them would stay in afterwards.
Even with the private room, Gale had spent a lot of his free time so far out here in one of the common areas of their housing. It was easier to observe others than be alone with his thoughts. It helped that he didn't have a lot of free time. He spent more hours working than what was required of him. Those long hours also meant he hadn't made many friends yet, and no one who was milling around on their off hours were willing to approach him either. Gale wondered if they recognized him or were just off put by his outward demeanor.
Gale was startled from his thoughts when someone plopped down in the chair next to him. He'd been so occupied with watching a rowdy group playing some sort of game that he hadn't even noticed he was being approached. Gale was startled even more when he took in the form of Johanna Mason smirking at him.
"You should close your mouth, Hawthorne. Don't want any flies to fly in."
"What are you doing here?" Gale asked before he could even take in her uniform or the specialist insignia that she wore.
"I work here, like you."
"Doing what exactly?"
Gale was completely aware of what had happened the last time Johanna had been a soldier. It hadn't ended well, and he had no idea how she'd been allowed back into a uniform. She should have been disqualified for poor mental health.
"Public relations specialist," she grumbled. "It was the only thing they'd let me do. I'm not allowed in combat, but they'll let me smile at people and give the army a good name. It's all a bit too Capitol-like for my tastes."
"Then why are you here?"
Johanna shrugged, propping her feet on the table that rested in front of them. "I don't like failing. I couldn't be a soldier once, so I was determined to try again, even if I don't see combat. It's sort of a 'fuck you' thing to the military."
Gale couldn't help a small smile. "I bet they love that."
"Plus, there's the whole fresh start thing. I never saw much of District 2 before this. Less painful memories, even if most of what I see is a military compound."
So she was in a similar situation to Gale. Maybe Gale's previous foray as a soldier had been more successful than hers, but they were both running from their home districts. Gale thought of his family and Katniss who had all returned to District 12. Did Johanna have people she was avoiding too or was it only ghosts?
Gale took a moment to really take in Johanna's appearance. It was the first time he'd seen her close up and been able to talk since District 13 when she broke down after being sprayed with water. They'd been in the Capitol together once their side won the rebellion but hadn't actually come into contact. Gale had only managed to see her from far away. She looked cleaner now, and Gale wondered if she'd begun to overcome her fears of water.
Johanna did seem very well put together. She had clearly taken the pains to present herself as such, but Gale could still see the hint of pain in her eyes and the slight twitch of her hands that hinted at hidden anxiety.
Gale had come to District 2 hoping to escape all the reminders of his past, yet here was Johanna Mason, one of the few people who could have been considered a friend of Katniss Everdeen. It seemed like a cruel irony, and it seemed even crueler that Gale was thankful for her presence. This was the closest thing to a non-work-related conversation that Gale had had in days.
Johanna's twitching increased the longer she sat next to Gale, and finally, she couldn't bear the awkward pauses any longer. She stood up abruptly and looked down at Gale with a frown.
"I need to go. Things to do." She waved awkwardly, not staying to hear Gale's goodbyes.
She managed to make it all the way back to her room without any incidents, and she slid down the door as soon as it was closed behind her. Johanna had known that Gale was in District 2, but the military compound here was massive. She'd hoped they wouldn't run into each other and she could push the reminders he brought up aside. Then she'd seen him sitting there and been unable to stop herself from approaching him. It would have been so easy to just keep walking and not speak to him, but she hadn't. She growled in frustration with herself.
Johanna tried to be brave to the outside world, but she'd given up being brave to herself a long time ago. That's why she hadn't bothered justifying such an obvious act of cowardice as moving away from District 7. The military job had seemed like a convenient excuse to others, and she took it even though she knew it would continue to hold painful memories close to her. Nothing could be as bad as District 7 or the Capitol. She hadn't known about Gale Hawthorne being here until she'd already accepted the job, but she thought she would have taken it regardless.
That didn't make looking him in the face any easier. He had a similar look to Katniss, which seemed to be the same look of the majority of people Johanna met from District 12, and Johanna often saw Katniss when she looked at him. There were few people living who could dredge up as many painful memories for Johanna as Katniss Everdeen could.
She supposed the girl shouldn't, and on a logical level, she knew she didn't have anything to blame Katniss for. In fact, she was thankful for the end to the terrible cycle of the games both in and out of arenas, and she would always be thankful for the ways Katniss helped her back in District 13. None of that meant Johanna had an easy time looking the girl in the face.
Not being able to look at Gale was even more ridiculous considering he wasn't Katniss, and Johanna could name a million differences in their appearances without searching for them. The man himself didn't bring up any terrible feelings. Johanna knew he'd designed the bomb that killed Katniss's sister, and she was smart enough to guess that that had at least a small bit to do with his decision to take the job here in District 2 instead of returning home. But none of that had really affected her as she'd been stuck back in District 13 during all of it. No, what bothered her was his similarity to Katniss, not even his former friendship with her. It all struck Johanna as rather ridiculous.
Now he knew she was here, and Johanna figured she'd be seeing more of him in the future. The thought left her with a sick feeling in her stomach. She could only hope that this made her stronger in the long run.