Title: Kaleidoscope Heart (1/3)
Spoilers: HG, CF, & MJ (post Mockingjay)
Summary: Two bruised and battered souls figure out how to rebuild.
Author's Note: This is for all of the lovely and amazing Jo/Gale shippers on LJ. You ladies humble and inspire me. Title and song come from Sara Bareilles' "Kaleidoscope Heart".
All the colors of the rainbow
Hidden 'neath my skin
Hearts have colors, don't we all know?
Red runs through our veins
Feel the fire burning
Up, inspire me
With red and blue and green
I have hope
Inside is not a heart
But a kaleidoscope
He does not see the bombs go off.
He is trapped inside a foreign apartment, white gloves clamped tightly around his wrists and mouth. They recognize him immediately, and he finds himself praying for a swift death that he knows will never be.
Then he hears the explosion - feels the force of it shake the flimsy apartment walls. He remembers Katniss' words in District 8 - you burn with us - and he hopes that the rebels have destroyed a target that finally brings the Capitol to its knees. He thinks it will be all right to die, so long as the rebellion lives on.
The second explosion catches him off guard. But then he remembers hastily sketched plans and late-night conversations with Beetee about tactics, and he realizes that somehow he has had a hand in this destruction. For a second, he is proud. So proud.
Then he hears a noise rise above the chaotic din outside. A gut-wrenching scream that he would recognize anywhere. A soul ripping from a body. And somehow, he knows.
He does not see the bombs go off. But his whole world explodes just the same.
It is a clean shot, right through the center of the eye. That's the first thing Gale notices. The second thing he notices is that Coin's body looks just like a bird when it falls. Her arms are outstretched, and the ends of her jacket flutter behind her like a tail as she floats down to the earth. For a moment, it is almost peaceful.
But then come the horrified wails and the bodies clawing against him. Then comes Katniss screaming his name over and over again, her voice raw as she begs desperately for the one thing he cannot give her. Because he has no weapon and he can't get a clean shot through the crowd anyway and he thinks it was foolish, so foolish, of them to make promises they couldn't keep. Because he knows now that he could never kill Katniss. Not when she is this broken.
Not even to save her.
They make a temporary prison out of the same room she used as a Tribute; the war is over, but cruelties can also be committed in times of peace, it seems.
"Can't she stay somewhere else?" Gale asks quietly.
"Katniss' accommodations are the least of her worries," Haymitch snaps wearily, running both hands through his hair. A few feet away, Johanna Mason paces back and forth like a caged lioness, pausing intermittently to glower at the uniformed guards standing on either end of the hallway.
Gale sighs. "What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to go save the girl on fire one last time," Haymitch states flatly, his voice heavy. "You stay here. Keep an eye on things." Then he turns toward Johanna, "And you -"
"Save it, Haymitch. I'm not going anywhere."
Haymitch heaves an exasperated sigh of acquiescence then abruptly turns to leave. He has almost disappeared around the hallway corner when Gale speaks suddenly.
"Can she - can she hear us out here?"
Haymitch turns back. "What?"
"Can she hear us out here?" Gale repeats, his voice low.
Johanna laughs scornfully. "You mean, can she hear you out here?"
Gale keeps his eyes trained on Haymitch. "I don't think it would help. If she knew I was here," he explains tersely.
Haymitch observes Gale with a weary, understanding look. "No," he answers finally. "These rooms are wired from the inside out. She'll never know you were here."
It's better that way, they all think.
No one says it. But no one has to.
They manage to coexist silently in the cramped hallway for exactly twenty -three minutes. Johanna watches Gale out of the corner of her eye. She doesn't know much about him, really. She knows that he saved all those people in District 12. She knows that he fought for the cause with a singleness of purpose that she found both irritating and admirable. And she knows that he is so in love with a shell of a girl that he would sit outside her room and keep watch for days on end.
You should have been the mockingjay, Katniss had said.
Johanna wonders who would sit outside of her prison cell if things had gone differently - if she had been driven to the brink by the horrors of a rebellion.
No one, a tiny voice whispers inside her head. Absolutely no one. A sudden jolt of bitter jealousy propels the words out of her mouth before she can stop them.
"So your little love triangle ended with a real bang, didn't it?"
"Shut up, Johanna."
"If it's any consolation, I would have picked you."
Gale laughs mirthlessly, scrubbing his hands over his face.
"But then again, I don't have any sisters -"
"Does hurting other people make you hurt any less?" He cuts in sharply.
Johanna stops short, annoyed that he has seen through her. "Excuse me?"
"Because I know you're not as big of a bitch and you'd like everyone to believe." Gale continues, his eyes challenging. Then he presses his back up against the wall, and lets his body slide down until he is sitting on one edge of the doorway.
Johanna scoffs. "Oh yeah? Why's that?"
"Because you're here - still protecting Katniss. Same as me. So just give it a rest, okay?"
Then Gale closes his eyes and lets his held fall back against the wall, leaving Johanna to gape furiously at him. She opens her mouth to speak, then stops as she stares down at the man in front of her. There is a jagged red scar on his neck, purple bruises under his eyes, and a deep weariness about him that she knows sleep will never heal. But his face still looks young, so young, and Johanna feels (not for the first time) that they are all just a bunch of children playacting a war that someone else started.
So she sighs resignedly, and sits down on the other edge of the doorway with a grunt. The door is between them, and Johanna thinks that they must look like two bitter, demented gargoyles keeping watch over the fragile, shattered little bird inside. Gale cocks his head toward her, and raises an eyebrow as if to say, is that all you got?
Johanna just shrugs. The war is over, after all.
"Don't you have a very important government meeting to attend, or something?" She asks the next day. They are facing each other across the hallway, their legs stretched out.
Gale shakes his head. "They forced me to take a leave of absence after…everything." Johanna watches his lips twist into a bitter smirk. "They thought I might 'need some time to recover from the emotional trauma that I had suffered'."
"How long did they give you?"
She barks out a sharp laugh. "Twelve weeks, eh? Good luck with that, Hawthorne."
He chuckles softly. "Yeah…"
"You should get yourself a therapist. Mine's done wonders," she drawls out sarcastically.
Gale raises an eyebrow. "Oh yeah. You're the picture of mental health."
"Yeah…" she echoes with a smirk.
Johanna lifts her head to stare up at the ceiling. She wonders for a moment how she keeps ending up in this godforsaken Training Center - wonders if her life is on some sort of wretched loop that will always bring her back to this place. She remembers the last time she was here - remembers hushed plots and plans. Remembers the tight little circle of Victors that promised to keep the girl from District 12 safe at all costs.
"Tell me how Finnick died," she says after a long time.
Gale's shoulders tense. "You don't want to hear about it."
"I asked, didn't I?"
Gale rubs his temples with his fingertips, and sighs heavily. "Well maybe I don't want to talk about it."
"Too bad -"
"What was between you and Finnick, anyway?" Gale cuts in.
Johanna can tell that he's trying to change the subject, and it makes her so angry that she begins to see red. "None of your fucking business," she snarls.
They glare at each other tensely. Johanna hates him, for a moment. Hates that he has this information she wants. Hates that she wasn't there to see it herself. Hates that she had to lie powerless in a hospital bed on the other side of the country while everyone else brought down the Capitol.
Johanna Mason is not powerless, she thinks, suddenly feeling the need to prove it.
"Sometimes Finnick and I just needed to…" Her voice is hard; her eyes challenging. "…forget. You can understand that, I'm sure."
Gale shifts his gaze to the floor.
Johanna shakes her head in mock disbelief. "You mean you and Katniss never -"
"That's none of your business," he cuts in gruffly.
She laughs cruelly, hating the way it sounds, but unable to stop herself. "All this…" she says, her voice laced with acidity, "…for a girl you never even fucked?"
"Shut the hell up," Gale growls through clenched teeth. Then he moves to stand up, but Johanna is too quick. She traps him to the floor with her body, placing her hands against the wall on either side of his face.
She leans in slowly, her eyes boring into his. "You should try it sometime…" she whispers, her lips mere millimeters away from his, "…forgetting. It just might be the thing you need to get over your precious mockingjay."
Then she stands up, and stalks away without another word.
Hours later, he raps on her door sharply. When she doesn't respond immediately, he makes three more quick strokes with his knuckle.
Johanna finally throws open the door with a huff, clearly irritated. "What -"
"Finnick was killed in the Capitol's underground sewer system by a pack of mutts - terrible, scaly white lizard mutts. I've never seen anything so awful in my whole life. We tried to fight them off but there were just too many. Finnick made sure we all escaped before him - told us he could handle the pack. I tried to help him, but it was too late. They were clawing at him - tearing him apart, but he never screamed. Never cried out. He realized it was a lost cause and he just…he just closed his eyes..." Gale pauses, the mental image so vivid that it takes his breath away.
Johanna is silent for a long time as she takes in his words.
"Why -" she begins finally.
"I realized that I'd want to know too. If it had been Katniss…I'd want to know every detail." Gale answers honestly. "And just because you act horribly, it doesn't mean I have to," he adds pointedly. Then he turns around to leave. He is halfway down the hall when she calls out after him.
He stops, and turns to face her.
"I -" She looks like she is searching for the right words. "I say the wrong things sometimes…"
It's not an I'm sorry, but somehow it feels like one. He knows it's the closest thing he'll get to one, anyway. So he shakes his head and decides that maybe he's just too tired to fight anymore.
"It's okay. So do I," Gale shrugs.
He sees a ghost of a weary smile pass over her lips. For a second, he thinks that it suits her.
It happens on the third day. They are sitting on either side of the door, legs stretched out across the length of the hallway. He can tell that Johanna is trying to be nice to him after their late-night conversation. How did you sleep last night?, she had asked, her voice strangely polite. Would you like any coffee? It is completely ridiculous, and he figures there has to be some middle ground between this Johanna and the one that hurled poison-tipped insults at him yesterday. But at least she's trying.
Then it happens.
Katniss begins to sing.
Her voice sounds hollow and weak - like something from beyond the grave, almost. It is not the voice of the girl he once knew. It is the voice of someone lost; someone irreparably damaged. Damaged by him.
The hallway suddenly feels unbearably cramped. Gale lifts himself up off the floor, the need to escape almost overwhelming. He begins to run, not looking back.
He doesn't know exactly what he's looking for, but he finds it in an overstuffed pantry off of the kitchen: a bottle of dark brown liquor hidden behind a rotted loaf of bread. It smells sickeningly sweet and burns his throat, but the sensation is not unwelcome. Gale has just started to think that maybe Haymitch is on to something, when he takes one swig too many and the darkness descends with bitter, mocking precision.
You killed Primrose Everdeen.
Real or not real?
He hurls the bottle against the wall and watches the glass explode like a bomb.
That is how Johanna finds him - lost in a stupor of alcohol and regret amongst the shattered glass.
"It only makes things worse," she tells him flatly, a silhouette against the darkened doorway. When he doesn't answer, she steps carefully into the cramped pantry like a shadow and begins to methodically pick up the broken pieces. Her fingers catch on some of the sharp edges and her blood begins to mix with the remnants of brown liquor, but she continues her work silently, piling the fragments on a shelf. It's almost beautiful - the tiny, jagged mountain she creates - and he hazily thinks that somehow she fits among the broken pieces.
She reaches out to sift the last tiny shard from his dark hair, and Gale finally looks up at her.
"Why are you doing this?" He breathes out, his voice thick.
"Maybe I just like not being the craziest one around anymore."
He hangs his head and groans pitifully. "You're not funny, Johanna."
"Yes I am. Now quit wallowing and come to bed, Hawthorne." She pulls him up off the floor and wraps an arm around his torso to steady him. Gale is surprised by how soft her body feels against his. How delicate. He had half-imagined her to be like the mountain of glass sitting on the shelf above him - a cold mess of sharp, jagged edges.
But she is soft and warm, and it occurs to him suddenly that everything he thinks he knows about Johanna Mason might just be wrong.
He's dead weight and he reeks of liquor. She almost gives up a few times, thinking it might just be easier to let him pass out on the floor. But she doesn't. He has one hand wrapped around her waist, and somehow his fingers have managed to sneak their way under the hem of her shirt. Her skin tingles at the contact, and she tells herself that it's only because it's been so damn long since anyone touched her.
When they finally make it to his room, Johanna dumps him on the edge of the bed. "You're going to want water later," she tells him as she untangles herself from his heavy arms. Then she hesitates for a moment. When Gale doesn't look up from the floor, she turns to leave.
He catches her wrist in his fingers at the last moment. "Johanna…"
Her name sounds like a prayer, and she knows what's coming before he says it.
"I…I want to forget…" Gale whispers, lifting his eyes to hers. The implications of his words hang in the air.
"You're drunk," Johanna says quietly, but she does not pull away.
Slowly, ever so slowly, he begins to pull her toward him. "Sometimes it feels like we're the only ones left standing," Gale murmurs.
"Hawthorne…" Her voice is soft. Unsteady. She can feel his warm legs brushing against her thighs as he pulls her closer still.
"We could forget together…" He moves his hands to her hips, and presses his fingers into her flesh tentatively. Johanna sighs, and lets herself lean into his touch almost imperceptibly. "Please…" he begs, tilting his face up to hers.
Johanna stares at him for a long time. She's been with a lot of men in her life. Most she despised. One she loved. Gale Hawthorne, so full of palpable sorrow and stoic desperation, is somewhere in between and Johanna thinks maybe that's just what she needs right now. So she closes her eyes, and lowers her lips to his.