Thanks to everyone for the reviews, follows and favourites! Your guys are the greatest followers and that fact that you've continued to read this at all makes me incredibly thankful!
Also, I've had a sort of epiphany on all of this - so fair warning, skip ahead to the story now if you want to…
I've realized that I'm writing this story because both Gale and Johanna in the books were such closed off characters, who left me at least wondering what would be going on inside of their heads. I love writing for both of them, but I think that what makes Johanna in particular so intriguing is that through reading the books you can't pinpoint her values or emotions. For Gale we learn that his values revolve around the safety of those he loves, that maintaining their well being is the foundation for each of his actions. For Johanna it is difficult to say what drives her other than anger and vengeance. For this story's sake I wanted to explore the idea that she maybe does not have a system of ethics throughout the books, and that she floats untethered to anything to dictate her actions. I've wanted to explore how her lack of grounding and Gale's absolute beliefs coincide and how it leads to both of them exploring and questioning what they truly value.
Alright, that may not have made sense but I need to get it out there for my own sake. Also, I obviously do not own any characters from the books or how they are portrayed in them and hope to effectively work off what was offered by Suzanne Collins.
Thanks once again for reading, happy 2015(!) and ENJOY
Tiny hands grab the edge of the low table, Keidan's plump tiny bare feet push him from the floor, he looks up at me ecstatic as though it's not the hundredth time he's accomplished the feat this morning.
"How about a few steps next?"
He responds only by widening his dark eyes and tilting his head.
"Want to sit one more time and do it again?"
He lets out a sharp squeal of delight as if he actually understands my words. I can't help it, a laugh escapes my throat and I pat his down of soft black curls. "Good job, kid."
"Yep, that's me."
Thankfully, he had been saying "da" since before this whole mess happened, that he can now identify me seems like some sort of compensation for the fact he hasn't seen "da" in twelve days.
"Alright baby, up."
I scoop down and shift him into my arms.
"God you're getting fat," I rest him on my hip. "When did that happen?"
Keidan grabs a fistful of my shirt instead and shoves it into his mouth with excitement.
"Not food. Did you poop?" I hoist him up higher with slight difficulty. "When we go home you're learning how to use the toilet, I don't care if your father thinks you're going to fall in."
His chubby hands clump the already chewed piece of my shirt again and he stares at me with massive eyes as he slobbers.
"I have to go, baby, I really do."
No part of me wants to leave him again, from his rosy cherub cheeks to his fat little toes I want to hold him and adore him all day, and the glint of longing in his eyes makes it even more impossible. He misses Gale, I can tell. There's a light, a peak of excitement missing from him that I know will only be rekindled by his father, but whatever disinfectant they run through the air to keep Gale's ward clean can be detrimental to the stability of a child's immune system. I don't know what I would do with him in there anyways, he'd probably manage to wriggle from my arms and pull himself from his hands and knees on the wires and tubes keeping Gale alive.
I stroke his head, plant a kiss on his velvety forehead and feel ready to burst into tears. "I'm so sorry. I don't want to leave you. I don't want this."
Sensing my discomfort he releases my shirt. There's a ring from the apartment door, the creepy voice automated into the security system announces that it's Melaina.
She enters radiant as ever, her white-blonde hair cascading down her back, wearing a tight fitting dress that reveals she's inexplicably lost all of her baby weight already though it's been eleven days. I don't think I've ever glowed, not even when I was made up by some Capitol airheads.
"Are you okay?"
My eyes are enough to warn her she's broken the pact that forbids her to ask the question.
"Where's the baby?"
"Oliver is with my cousin," she says. She hadn't thought of a name for three days, and then out of the blue picked some name from a book she read about some weird historical event neither Archer or I understand or care about. Archer's teased that he's going to give the kid a different name and on more than one occasion he's referred to his new son as Sade.
"How much longer is she staying?"
Her cousin Celin, who happens to be married to Archer's older brother Ryder, came out here as soon as Melaina went into labour and has effectively been raising my son along with the petite blonde before me.
"Leos likes having Keidan since Sade - Oliver - has been stealing the attention. Dammit, why do I keep calling him that?"
"Maybe just throw one in as a middle name?"
"Maybe. I don't know what Archer does to get that name in my head, but every time I look at the baby it just pops up like a little bubble, but I'm afraid he's used to Oliver now and I don't want to change it- "
"Keidan responds as well as a deaf person when I talk to him," I say. "Your baby has no idea what's going on."
"Leos picked up on his name really quickly though and I- "
"Yes he walked at nine months and can already form a coherent sentence, I get it. Work your magic on my child, he thinks my shirt is food and that moving his ass off the ground is deserving of some sort of prize each time it happens."
Melaina takes Keidan from my arms and smiles. "We will have a great day, won't we Kei?"
My child stares at her blankly with one finger in his mouth, drool sliding down his hands.
"See? Comprehends as much as a rock."
Twelve days. Twelve. I hardly care anymore that he's as battered as a weathered stone, I can't sit here and watch him sleep any longer. I've taken to reading some of the newspapers that have been published, most with the stories extravagantly misleading. Free press. I never cared about media before this as long as they left me alone, but I find myself wishing it could be entirely controlled once again by one person. But not. That's not the free, peaceful society we live in.
If it were so peaceful and free how could anything like this even happen? Who were we all kidding thinking there could ever be calm?
About half have declared Gale dead; "why else would the President being unwilling to speak about his status?", "Will Gale Hawthorne ever wake up?", "Johanna Mason spotted making funeral arrangements.".
These wretched humans in this godforsaken city have no sense of human decency, or brain capacity. Other's are laughable; "Gale Hawthorne and Johanna Mason have been on the rocks for months, is this perhaps an elaborate ploy to escape the disastrous union?" or "Can anyone confirm they have seen either Gale Hawthorne or Johanna Mason? It is possible that they have duped us all to disappear from the prying eye of society?"
I save the best, hoping that when Gale finally wakes up we can share a good laugh at expense of these rats and move on. I've complained a few times that our walls are bare, to which he has replied with a disinterested, "then learn how to paint," - maybe I'll even frame a few cutouts. There's a great picture of me and Archer having a discussion behind a clear doorframe taken from the street; the entire image is indistinguishable a confused blurred mess. Top notch photography worthy of my home.
At around two I feel myself growing bored and my eyes weary, I fall asleep with my feet propped on the edge of Gale's bed, my left hand on his and my body folded in a slump on the chair.
It must be imagined, the slightest twitch of his hand beneath mine. My body freezes like an ice sculpture, I don't allow myself to blink should I miss a movement, to breathe should I miss the sound of his skin slide along the sheets. His forefinger moves, his palm is flat on the sheets but his finger bends ever so slightly and then relaxes just as subtly.
Words press against each other in a battle to escape my throat, my chest tightens with the struggle and all I manage is a strangled gasp.
All at once his entire hand shifts, the fingers draw in.
His name is foreign on my tongue, my mind which has screamed the name incessantly had forbidden it from spreading elsewhere. The screens muted by the translucent white of the walls have exploded into a flurry of action, I hear doctors outside before the door slide open and Finley and three others pour in.
In my chest my heart hammers almost painfully against my ribs, I can feel the escalated pulse through my body, the blood rushing past my ears.
As if I am invisible the doctors have began pressing buttons, releasing and reattaching tubes and wires, one knocks my legs off the bed acting as though he hadn't seen me there.
Finley shakes her head. "Johanna, you need to leave."
"I don't need to do anything, tell me what's going on."
She crosses from the other side of the bed and I stand to reduce my vulnerability. "He might be waking up, but he's going to be in a lot of pain, he's not going to be coherent."
"You're telling me that my husband who has been in a coma for twelve days is about to wake up, and I'm not allowed to be here?"
"Exactly, now if you can find the will to understand that I mean well that would be great. Yes, turn F6 down please," she calls to a question over her shoulder. "Are you going to waste my time with a fight or are you going to be a considerate person and do as I say?"
I pause for a moment, stare at her incredulously. "I'm obviously staying right here!"
Finley rolls her eyes and gestures to the door. "At least stand over there. We can't help him with you over our shoulders."
There's nothing for me to do but what she says and I position myself away from the action when the symphony of agony begins. I suspect they've removed him from whatever breathing system he had been on because his breaths are audible, fast and heavy through his nose, through a crack between doctors I see his hand clenching into a fist. The breathing is broken by animal groans ripping from deep within his chest, low like growl of a predator before striking it's prey. They become quick and sharp, punctuated by gasps and the doctors say his name, but to no avail. The charts on the walls spike and subside in flashes, but after a few moments the anguished moans relent.
"What was that?"
"His body processing the shock. I suspect this will happen a few more times before he is coherent and conscious." Finley excuses the other doctors as they scribble down a few statistics and retract one or two machines back into the wall.
"That was it? He's asleep?"
Finley nods. "Yes, but not for long. We've lowered the dosage of painkillers to prevent them from keeping him under and he is breathing on his own."
The anticipation and anxiety have passed as quickly as they arrived and I'm back beside his bed. His olive skin is the same pallid tone, but as I touch his hand I pull away quickly at the heat. and then I check his forehead. "He's burning up."
"The poison in the blood stream gets agitated as his heart rate rises. We've been weaning him off of it to limit his body's dependency on it, but the little bit that remains will do this."
"And this is an advancement?" I ask bewildered.
"Yes of course," Finley regards me as though I've suggested we try to drown a fish in the sea.
"Him writhing in pain is advancement?"
"It means he can feel something, Johanna. It means he's aware."
Studying the drips attached to Gale's left arm I wonder which is morphling, which brings the sweet silvery mist of numbness and calm.
It's been seven years since I've had any, but time hasn't diminished the memories - or lack of. Part of me longs for the thrill of doing something so destructive, but more of me screams to keep away, to keep Gale away from it, to destroy any trace of it just to eliminate the risk of thinking of it.
I weave in and out of his room for the next twelve hours, at moments he wakes as he did earlier, doctors come in, check on his vitals and leave once more. With him dancing on the brink of consciousness while riddled with pain today quickly becomes more nightmarish than the past days combined, but for some reason I cannot bring myself to leave, I convince myself that he will wake, though my gut screams that he will not.
The call I receive at six in the morning is reminiscent of that on the day of the raid, the once announcement the commencement of this ludicrous chaos. Paylor's commanding voice is on the other end, Keidan is crying for food on my end. I have to ask her to repeat her words, half because I cannot hear them over the wailing of my child and half because I cannot bring myself to believe them.
A rumbling waves builds in my stomach and threatens to force itself from my throat; anxiety, anticipation, desperation. It does not pass, and I suspect that it will not until I witness his eyes open for myself.
Feeding Keidan is futile, but I tell myself that if I try before I flash off to Gale that I am a better mother for it, but after thirty seconds of preparing myself I hand off my son once more to Melaina and bolt to the sixteenth floor of the hospital.
"You stupid, traitorous, bastard!"
He's awake - he's really awake! Gale is there, in the bed surrounded by doctors who have propped him up with pillows. His eyes are shut, but with my greeting wearily open and I am reminded why their grey has become my favourite colour.
Remembering that his spine has been obliterated I stop myself at the last moment from throwing my body onto his, and my muscles override my emotions and my hands fall on either side of his face, fingertips entrenched in the beard he's grown. I kiss him through a storm of tears, spit and snot, and this time his chapped lips offer something back. One of my hands falls to him and it is of his own will that his fingers interlock in mine, warm and somewhat strong. I push the hair from his forehead with my other hand, revealed as the doctors take their cue and exit. There's a rush through my body, a chilly striking rush which steals the breath from my lungs just as it did the first moment I saw him in the Capitol all those years ago. Relief is too weak of a word to use, but a heaviness lifts from my body and I'm suddenly unbearably light, the only solution to remain grounded lays before me in the form of Gale's tired body.
"I want to kill you, but I'm so - I'm so - " now the tears and snot breach the levee and my body collapses onto his chest, I feel the gown separating his skin from mine grow wet with my utter abandonment of resolve. The sobs tear from my lungs, and my fits grip the edged of his gown sleeves and I tremble like a dog before a storm. I feel the effort he exerts to move a hand onto my back, to slide it up and down in a familiar gesture of comfort, to move his other arm to cradle me head. He seizes with the movement and I pull away to see his teeth gritted against the ache.
I have to wipe everything off my face with my sleeve, but I hardly care, he's seen much worse from me.
"I like your beard," I laugh through a rush of fluid in my throat.
"Been growing it for a while," he manages in a croak.
"You should do this more often. Sorry about your shirt."
Gale's lips turn up into a smile and he shakes with a moment of laughter, but immediately winces again.
My hand rests over his chest where his heart thuds in a strong, consistent rhythm, so unlike the first few days. The sensation is suddenly the most beautiful thing.
"I'm sorry." His voice is thick with guilt, dry as a desert. I don't know what he remembers, but not is not the time to ask.
"Gale," my voice is softer than it's ever been. I have to wipe my nose again. "Gale, it' alright."
The words are true, I realize. It's fine, my anger, my fear, it can go now, because he's here and he's alright. I want to let go of them entirely, be wholeheartedly grateful that he is awake and alive right here, right now, but there's an edge of betrayal and hurt, which linger beneath it all.
His eyes shut in response, but his grip on my hand does not weaken with sleep.
"Keidan?" He breathes.
Unsure how or what he is comprehending currently, I pause. "He can't come in right now. But he's being taken care of."
Gale's chest rises and falls slowly like a calm tide washing ashore. "Jo?"
"Why am I here?"
It's too much to explain even if I wanted to, it's difficult to fully comprehend it myself, not to mention that the President has made me swear on my family's life not to tell him anything before she did - the contract that I signed saying I was unauthorized to speak about any of it was not enough assurance for her.
The tears are caught in my throat again, I swallow them back with great difficulty, Gale's words are thick with pain and despair. "I can't say," the words come out warbled by the attempt to keep from crying again. "I don't know what to say."
You left me! You left me when you promised not to and you died! My teeth latch to my bottom lip to keep the words from bursting out.
I saw his dead body when they brought him in, the body that was overrun with poison to keep it alive. He was blue, his lips were blue, his eyelids were black and his body was sleek with black crusted blood. It wasn't the gore that set me off, no I've dealt and had my fair share of that, but that he had joined the gallery of corpses that were stored in the back of my mind. And I can't shake that image, even with him alive here I know how he looks when the life has fled from his body, I know that he is human and can be slaughtered along with the rest of us. Gale - my Gale who has always overcome anything thrown at him - my Gale who wears more scars than anyone I've ever met, who wears them to remind himself that we are all mortal, that things he had done and had done to him cause agony and death. Gale who had been immortal to me, who I had subconsciously believed could live forever on a stretcher, even ounce of blood shed from his body, bled out like a sheep for slaughter.
Thinking about it, seeing the image that I have repressed these last days doesn't help in maintaining my resolve and I'm bleating out cries like same dying sheep, clutching his right hand between my own and holding it to my forehead as the tears explode from my eyes, my body rattling. Gale grips my hand tightly, fingers stroke the back of my hand.
I can't say that I've ever done this before, spewing with unhindered eruptions of emotion, feel the waves overcome my entire body down to my toes. Perhaps I did for my brother, I was fourteen and naive, unscathed until that moment by the realities of society.
"Did I fuck up?" I have to laugh at his language, but his words are fully serious and he's staring at the ceiling. As they move back to me I nod.
"Yeah. Yeah, you really did."
Sorry it was a bit short, but I didn't want to overdo anything on the last bit and thought it best to leave it simple. Let me know any thoughts you have on it, they are all much appreciated.