Author's Note: I didn't really follow the directions. This is sorta hot off the presses because I just finished it tonight, but have been working on it on and off for months. It's the first EVER GalexJohanna fic and is sadly un-betaed because it's 10:39 CT and I'm too impatient to wait until morning. So, sorry if it sucks and you lose a few IQ points because of the awfulness.
A Fine Line
She was stomping around in the woods, screaming and… sobbing. She's quieted down now, but I can still hear her up there. I'd never thought she'd be one for crying. After all, she is, in her own way, like me and I rarely cry. In fact, I can only recall crying three times in my life.
The first was when I broke my leg falling out of a tree while my father was checking his traps. I was seven. The next was when he died. I shed a few tears before realizing I was now the breadwinner. I was fourteen. The last time I cried, the last time I swore I would ever cry, was when she kissed him that stormy night in a dirty derelict cave. Tears of rage, hatred, and sorrow flowed and not a single one shed was worth my time. I was eighteen and I decided that I was much too old for things like crying. Besides, I knew that if I were to win her heart now, I would have to prove that I could be strong.
And here she is, a full nine years older than I am and she had tears flowing freely. To be honest, I never would've expected her to be an emotional person. I remember when I first saw her. She had just gotten off the hovercraft and was the closest thing I'd ever seen to a soldier coming home from battle.
Her hair, which was already short before, was now completely bald in patches and at least a few inches longer than I remember it being during the Quell in others. Her large, brown eyes seemed slightly crazed as she just stared off into the distance. She was as skinny as one of the starving children from back in District 12, and her bones looked as if they'd pop through the skin and at any moment. Her hands were shaking, though I doubt she knew it.
The thing I remember most about her though was the expression she wore. Her mouth was hardened into an expression that I can't even begin to describe. It was neither a smile nor a frown, so my first assumption was indifferent. But how could one be indifferent seeing and experiencing all that? Then it hit me. She was weary, tired. This girl, this woman, had experienced horrors unlike most could ever imagine. Her relatively short life was filled with enough horrific encounters to last a life time.
On the outside, she looked like a young, albeit ailing, woman. On the inside, she was about as old as time.
Wouldn't she have learned? Wouldn't she know from those experiences that crying never solves anything? It does nothing except drain the emotions. These same emotions keep you going! They are fuel, the stuff that allows you to carry on and try to keep going… despite the fact that you feel you would've been better off quitting long ago.
As pathetic as she is acting at the moment though, I can't judge her. After all, I'm the one holed up out in the forest because I cannot bear to face someone I love more than life itself. Ever since she got back from the Quell, though, she's been so different.
I feel I lost my claim to her. She spends so much time staying in her room, just poring over old books and looking at maps or even just staring out her window. Occasionally, Haymitch drags her out to bring her down to headquarters. The trips tend to exhaust her, so afterwards she just comes back to the bunker and sleeps for a day without telling me anything.
I miss her desperately, but I would never tell anyone. Sometimes I even wish that he would just come back so she'd go back to normal. Then I wonder where that would leave me, the best friend who always seems to be nothing more than someone to talk to or a shoulder to cry on.
Doesn't she see that I've always been there for her? I always will be too. I hate him for not being here to support her. He's the reason she's gone to pieces, after all! Then again, I always remember after that if he was here, she probably wouldn't be so upset.
Suddenly, I realize that she has stopped moving. I look up, lifting my head from my hands. It takes even my trained hunter eyes a moment to spot her. But then there she is.
Lying on an upper branch of a tall willow tree, staring up through the branches, she is still breathing heavily. She's glaring at something in the distance, as usual; something I can't even imagine. The tears are still running, but the sobs seem to have subsided.
I take a deep breath. I really cannot believe I've talked myself into this. I mean, for one thing, she's one of the few people I've ever met who intimidates me. Secondly, she's one of the few people whom I feel knows more about life than I do. Finally, I get this weird feeling the pit of my stomach when she's around. I feel nervous, my palms start sweating a little and I begin to forget what it was I wanted to say. And, trust me, this is not the intimidation talking.
I walk up to a sturdy-looking birch next to the willow where she is resides. I place my arms a good distance apart on the lowest branch I can find and swing myself up. From there on, it's a cakewalk as long as I can avoid the thin and dead limbs. I spot a nice thick bough only a few feet away from her nook and precariously leap over.
I rustle the branches when I land which seems to do a good job of grabbing her attention. A look passes over her face, one that I haven't seen on her face since I last saw her on television; it's annoyance, and it's the same look she wore when Katniss irritated her during the Games.
"What do you want?" she snips indignantly, scorning my initiative. I think the effect her words had on me was different than what she intended, though. The tear trails and red puffy eyes reminds me that she was not in fact the stone-cold, pompous Victor she often pretended to be.
"Nothing, nothing. I was just wondering if you wanted to talk about it." I simper.
"No, I don't want to talk about it. Even if I did, why would I talk about it with you? I don't even know you!" She huffs, turning away.
There's a brief period of silence. She's still as mysterious and direct as before, and I honestly don't know what else to say. She reminds me of, well, me though, when she talks that way. Before I became close to Katniss, that's what I told everyone. Although generally without the bit about not knowing them considering how small the District was.
"Why are you out here?" she asks abruptly. The expression on her face tells me that she really didn't mean to ask the question and I'm tempted to ignore her. But I realize that if I want her to talk, I might have to tell her a little about myself first.
"I like to think out here. I've always felt myself in the woods and the fresh air clears my mind." I reply quietly. She looks down for a moment before responding.
"I know how you feel," she answers, running her fingers through her short hair. "I grew up in Seven, you know. My dad was a lumberjack and my mom worked in a paper factory. Every year, in the winter, about 2 months before the Victory Tour, my dad would take me, Mischa, and Sergei out into the woods behind our house and cut down a little pine tree. I don't really know why we did it, but he said people have been doing it for a long time. But, I always loved being out there. It felt like it was just me and no one else. The closest thing I'd ever felt to freedom at the time, I reckon."
The way she said it, it seemed like she stopped short. I realize that she probably can't believe she said something like that. Probably just like how I felt when I told Katniss for the first time that sometimes I wish that it had been my mother that had died, so I wouldn't bear so much of the responsibility.
"What happened to your family?" I asked in spite of myself. It's an extremely personal question, but I am genuinely interested. After all, she wasn't at all like Finnick, who spent 16 hours a day yelling at Haymitch and Plutarch or making phone calls while trying to track down Annie and bring her to 13.
She sighed. Her eyes moved off into the distance again. A look came over her, the weary one she wore coming off the hovercraft. I wonder now if maybe it wasn't so much the Games that made her the woman sitting across from me, as it was her family.
"They're gone." She answered softly. Another tear makes its way down her face. I have the uncontrollable and slightly alarming urge to brush it away.
"Dead. At least, I think. I never knew whether or not my mother died. But, I know the rest are dead. I know where the graves are. I remember my father and Mischa's coffins. I wasn't there when they buried my brother, Sergei, though," She mutters.
I'm floored. They never mentioned anything about her family being dead. I would like to ask whether they died before or after her Games, how they died, and whether they missed them, but I had believed it would be too much information.
Looks like I wouldn't have to. She was on a roll. She just kept talking about her family. "My father went first, in a logging accident. He was trying to cut down this massive tree and the stupid apprentice helping him didn't know what side it would fall to, so he got crushed. It was a closed-casket funeral. Then my mother ran off with that bastard and left me alone with my brother and sister, not two months after my father passed away. Fate wasn't done screwing us over yet because I got Reaped in August of that year, though.
"When I came back, Alexei, my boyfriend of two years, the man I thought I was going to marry, dumped me, and my kid sister had sunk into this state… all because my brother had been killed in an alley outside our house because I killed my District partner, Oak.
"The next four years were stellar," she says, sarcastically, staring me right in the eyes. "Mentoring scrawny little things, some of whom were older than I was. None of them ever had a prayer. No one ever lasted very long – a week tops.
"The final nail in my coffin was the day Mischa volunteered. She offered to go in the place of some pathetic thirteen year-old she'd never met," she stopped for a moment, looking down at the ground and taking a deep breath before beginning again. "She was suicidal, Gale, and I didn't even know it. She slaughtered in the Bloodbath and the Victor that year went insane before he even left the Arena," she whispered.
It's not something that's easy to respond to. It's almost too unnerving to process. How could this happen to someone? The better question was, how could this happen to someone – and then how could the person it happened to keep going?
And then how did she even know my name?
"So that's how the stone-cold, indifferent, uncaring, apathetic bitch that sits before you came to be," she sighed. Her body slumped against the base of the tree as her eyes closed.
"Two things," I say as her eyes flutter open again. "One, I don't believe that you are any of those things. Even if you were, you'd have the best excuse in the world to be them. Two, how did you know my name?" I ask.
She gives out a soulful laugh, the kind you here from the elderly, the battle-weary, those who are coming to the end of a long journey. That's when it hits me- she's sort of beautiful. Not in the way I find Katniss beautiful, but in a different way - a strong, proud, and brilliant sort of beautiful.
"Believe it or not, but I have talked to Katniss since getting here. And she pointed you out. She said…" There's a hesitation in her voice, like she's not sure whether or not she could continue.
"She said that she feels sorry for you. She feels terrible that you've been such a great friend to her all these years and that now she can't even return the favor." The expression she wears now is absolutely unexplainable.
She knows me well enough to know that under no circumstances would I ever want pity, but she does seem to feel at least a little bit sorry for me. But, I don't want her to. I don't need anyone feeling sorry for me. Katniss has made it clear that she cannot pursue a romantic or even a friendly relationship during this time. And I have a grudging respect. I want her to understand that I get it.
"Don't feel sorry for me." I reply icily. "I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me. I understand where she stands on this issue and I respect that."
"It doesn't make it any easier though, does it?" she fires back.
"No," I say, resigning myself to the fact that she obviously can empathize with what I'm feeling. "It doesn't. But I understand that he's a priority, a high one, for her right now."
"Do you hate him?" she asks hesitantly. Probably because she's another one of those people that has inexplicably fallen in love with him.
I have to break the eye contact I've been maintaining with her. This question always throws me.
Do I hate Peeta Mellark?
It's a very fine line. On the one hand, I feel like it's only natural that I should. The instinctive, primal part of me tells me I should. Then my more logical side tells me that I shouldn't. After all, he's possibly the hardest person in the world to hate considering how he looks like a saint in comparison to… well, pretty much everyone.
Not that I ever plan on telling anyone, but ever since the Games, I've been combating similar feelings towards Katniss. On the one hand, I really want to hate her for falling for him.
There, I admit it. Deep, deep down, I know she loves him. Whether it's the same way she loves me, with the same passion, I don't know. I just know that she has feelings for him that run deeper than I had originally thought.
But, I love her for that too. Not for falling for Peeta. Definitely not for that fact, but for being so oblivious to the effect she can have on others. I love how when she chooses to let someone in, they are almost always in for life. Her loyalty, her compassion, her drive for life. Conversely, all those attributes landed all of us in the mess that we're currently in. Ironic, much?
I'm torn from my reverie and look back at her. I stare straight into her large, dark brown eyes. Honestly, it feels as if I'm gazing into her soul, her irises have so much depth.
"I do not hate Peeta Mellark. I resent him, on some levels, for falling in love with her, but I can't blame him for it, considering that the same thing happened to me. Besides, how can I hate someone who might be dead?" I reply candidly.
She seems to be turning my words over in her mind, analyzing them and trying to figure out how to respond. After all, this was the deepest I'd gotten since we started this conversation.
"I understand," she answers gently. "There's a fine line between loving and hating someone, you know. It's been scientifically proven. They say it's because they are the two most passionate emotions we possess."
I laugh. It seems to all make sense now, how I can possibly love and desperately want to hate someone at the same time. She gives a small and uncharacteristically feminine giggle. I watch as flips her head to the side in an attempt to get her slightly shaggy bangs, the longest part of her hair, out of her eyes.
We both look back at the ground, far below, as the laughing subsides. The world seems so different now that we're in the middle of the war. Laughing, even out here, seems wrong, so disrespectful. After all, people are dying, and homes and families are being ripped apart.
Yet, it seems as if life goes on, too. I continue to spend too much time thinking about trivial things. People still get married. In fact, Brimmer, one of the soldiers from D13, has just gotten married. I found out that a man on my crew back in the mines is now a father. Even though horrors and terror had been hanging over their heads and chaos had been reigning for three long years, it seems as if some things never changed.
Deep, deep, deep down, I know that we humans will continue to push forward. Otherwise, how would we have had the strength to keep going after the last Rebellion? And so I know that I will continue to move forward, too.
Love is riddled with fine lines. There's a fine, but distinct, difference between loving someone as a member as your family, and really, truly loving them, like, in the romantic way. I fear that sitting here with Johanna Mason, I'm realizing that sometimes those lines shift ever so slightly.
After all, I was convinced I loved Katniss. I knew I loved her. Why else would I have fought so hard to keep her? Not because I felt as if she was my sister, that's for sure. But, could it be that I did and still do? Is that why I feel the need to protect her?
She clears her throat, and her big, brown eyes start to dart around. She's getting nervous, I think. I try to think of something to say, but she beats me to it.
"Gale?" she asks.
"Yes?" I reply nervously.
"Who do you think I am?" she presses.
"What do you mean? You know who you are- you're the Victor of the 63rd Hunger Games and member of the Rebellion. You've had your heart broken, and you are possibly the strongest person I know." I say, not making eye contact.
She doesn't respond. I don't really care. I think it was supposed to be a rhetorical question anyway. We sit for another moment, neither of us moving or speaking. I have a feeling that with anyone else, it would've been awkward. Not with her, though.
"Thanks," she murmurs, as she starts to step down
"For listening." She replies as she begins to make her way back down the tree.
I don't reply. I have a feeling that there's not much else to say. I know that I don't have anything else left on my mind.
I watch as she gracefully lands on the forest floor and follows the path back to the compound. She walks slowly, but purposefully. Before long, though, she's disappeared among the trees.
I sit back, letting the realization of what just happen dawn on me. It seems almost unreal that someone like her would be able to open up like that. Someone like her…
Finally, I understand what her question meant. Really, we're almost two different people. Who everyone thinks that we are, and what we know that we are. It's another one of those fine lines, but it's there. And, I think that I may like the real her. In fact, the real her is someone that is surprisingly similar to someone else I know – me.
I climb back down the tree, seeing as I will eventually be missed. My exit isn't nearly as graceful as hers, but I think that she's had more experience than I have climbing trees. I grab my pack near the log where I had originally taken up rest and make my way back towards the old brick building. I jog all the way back and make it in time to see her smile at me before slipping through the door.