Title: Marginally Okay
Fandom: Hunger Games
Word Count: 1,316
Disclaimer: I don't own them.
Summary: If Johanna won't take a bath, Katniss will have to make her.
Note: Takes place during Mockingjay, but other than Johanna being dirty there are no real spoilers.
If someone had told me six weeks ago that I would end up routinely giving Johanna Mason baths I would have taken my 'mentally disoriented' bracelet off and given it to them, completely confident in the knowledge that they needed it more than I did. Yet, for the third time in my short, tumultuous life I found myself kneeling at the side of a small ceramic bathtub using one hand to draw a sudsy cloth over Johanna's naked skin while she clutched my other hand tightly.
It was madness, but it was a madness I had invited upon myself when the sight of her grimy nails and grubby skin became too much for me to handle one night while we were quizzing each other on battle strategies. After staring at her intensely for a few moments I blurted out, "If you don't take a bath I'm going to attack you in the hall outside of one of the bathrooms, drag you inside by what's left of your hair and forcefully hose you down." I expected a biting comeback after my outburst, but Johanna simply smiled sadly before she ruefully tucked her chin into her chest and murmured, "You might just have to."
I didn't have to wrestle her to the ground, but when I returned to our room the next night after my bath I did have to forcibly drag her across the hall. Once we were in the bathroom she stripped down in front of me without complaint, grinning at me brashly the whole time, but when the tub was filled her bravado left her and she started scrambling backwards towards the door, ready to bolt naked into the hallway rather than face the tub.
I had to wrap my arms around her waist and haul her back to the tub. It wasn't easy, her fear gave her thin body more strength than I'd seen from her since the arena, but I was determined too and I eventually managed to strong-arm her to the back of the room. I was wheezing due to the exertion by the time we were by the tub again, and if she'd tried to bolt again I couldn't have stopped her, but she didn't try to run. She simply stared blankly into the pool of water for a moment before suddenly reaching out to grip my hand, the force of her hold so tight that I emitted a pained hiss and winced. However, with my hand firmly ensconced in hers she placed one of her feet in the tub, and then the other, and after standing still and tense for a minute she bit down hard on her bottom lip and then lowered herself into the water.
As I scrubbed off the grime that had accumulated on her over the days since her last bath she talked incessantly, making sarcastic comments about the others in our training group and going on about what a massive waste of time it was to try and teach victors of the Hunger Games how to survive. Her voice was steady and her acerbic words were spoken with confidence, but the whole time she was in the tub her hand never stopped squeezing mine and the tremors that always started the moment she was engulfed by the water never ceased.
When her skin was rosy and pristine once more and her feet were creating dainty puddles on the stone floor, her hand released mine and the flow of words stopped as she took the regulation towel clasped in my hand from me and began to dry herself off. Out of the water, she was herself again, strong, unruffled and abrasive, and in this state I left her to her own devices and crossed the hall to our room.
She never said thank you when she returned to the room. We didn't stare into each other's eyes meaningfully, communicating without words. We simply settled onto our mattresses. Sometimes we talked about what we had learned in training until the lights were turned off, other times we just sat in silence, but once the dark came we always lay down on our beds and hoped to make it through the hours that followed without being woken by nightmares.
Johanna was often more successful at this than I was. When we first moved in together I regularly tossed and turned until I jolted myself awake. Once awake, I would usually curl into a fetal position and stare resentfully at the still slumbering figure across the room. Johanna's sleep wasn't usually peaceful, but it was continuous and that was enough to inspire my jealousy.
Things changed the night after I bathed her for the first time however. I woke up from one of my familiar night terrors that night to find Johanna kneeling next to my bed. Seeing her sent me into a new fit of agitation, but she reached out and caught my flailing hands, holding them steady as she spoke calmly to me until I came back to myself. When I had calmed, she released her hold on me and moved her hand towards my face. I thought that she was going to stroke my cheek, and I remember being mildly alarmed by the thought, but I needn't have worried because what she actually did was shove me quite roughly before irritably muttering, "Move over."
I didn't appreciate being ordered around in my own bed, but I was too exhausted to fight with her when she insisted that it was 'for my own good' and continued to shove me, until finally after a minute of harassment I shifted over on the mattress to make room for her and she squeezed onto the bed beside me.
I can't say how long we lay stiffly beside each other, but Johanna finally bit the bullet and moved to drape her arm over my waist. I resisted the overly familiar touch at first, but it felt good to feel another human body beside mine and eventually I couldn't deny the comfort the warmth of her body offered me. I sighed deeply, but my body relaxed and when it did she pulled me against her. A moment later, in a voice far gentler than I had ever heard from her before, she whispered, "Go to sleep," and despite myself and the reservations about our cozy new arrangement, that's exactly I did.
A bath and a good night's sleep didn't make us bosom buddies. We didn't start sharing our hopes and dreams with each other. Johanna didn't start braiding my hair, and we didn't cry into each others arms for comfort. We just weren't that kind of people. However, I did come to anticipate the moment she would slip into bed with me once the lights went out, and when I felt the mattress depress and her arm slip around me, a felt an enormous weight lift off of my shoulders. My mind calmed and cleared, and as her breath, steady and warm, hit the back of my neck, the anxiety constantly churning my stomach during the day would recede. When she whispered, "G'night, Brainless," my lips curved into a smile and a genuinely affectionate, "G'night, Axe-Wound," would fall from my lips. Then my eyelashes would flutter shut and the warmth of Johanna's body would begin to usher me to sleep. Secure in her arms I would begin to fall to slumber, but before I did – if only for a moment – I would find myself thinking that I might just be okay, that all of us broken, damaged, scarred, hollow people might find our way back to being at least marginally okay, as long as we had each other.
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