Title: "Axes and Snares"
Summary: Johanna and Gale spend time together in District 13. AU.
Pairings: Gale x Johanna, Katniss x Peeta (mentioned), Finnick x Annie (mentioned)
Length: Two parts, approx. 7,500 words
A/N: If you haven't read my other story, After the Quell, here's all you need to know: Peeta was rescued by the rebels, along with Katniss, at the end of the Quarter Quell and they got together sooner than in Mockingjay. Gale could see that it was time to give up on Katniss and he started seeing Johanna during their time in District 13. This is the story of that relationship, plus some liberties I took with Johanna's back-story.
Disclaimer: I do not own The Hunger Games.
"I've had enough for today," Johanna says, not even trying to hide her disdain. Of course she knows there is no reason to take any of her anger out on her head doctor, the only person who has really helped her since she was rescued from the Capitol, but she can't help it. She's upset and he's the only one around. She stands up and heads for the door. Today the doctor doesn't bother trying to call to her, to convince her that it would be in her best interest to stay a little longer and talk to him some more about her experience in the Capitol. Experience; that is how the doctor usually refers to it. Johanna doesn't know why he tries to sugar-coat the hideous torture that she endured. It certainly doesn't make her feel any better, and refraining from referring to the experience in graphic terms won't make her forget it. She doesn't see how the memories will ever fade at all.
Johanna reaches the hall and slams the door behind her. She lets out a sigh of relief as she briskly walks down the hallway. Her room is far from this part of District Thirteen and she is eager to get back there and find some way to distract herself from what she was just telling the doctor. She hates therapy, even though it does seem to be beneficial overall. Talking about her torture during the sessions helps her to obsess over it less when she's away from the doctor, and it seems to have helped with the nightmares a little. She still wakes up from them, but has taken to gasping or crying out rather than shrieking. She hates the nightmares worse than anything else. If she didn't have to relive the horrors of her past every night, she might be able to start recovering from them. The nightmares make her angry because she doesn't know why she can't get control over her own mind and simply stop having them. It makes her feel weak and she hates feeling weak. There's nothing worse than being weak.
But then, maybe she should be relieved that her nightmares lately have been about the torture in the Capitol. It's better than the ones about Lilla…right? Johanna almost laughs. What a predicament to find oneself in: preferring dreams in which you relive torturous physical pain to dreams about -
"Hey, watch it," says a voice.
Somehow, Johanna hears him before she realizes she's crashed right into him. She blinks a couple of times and steps back. She shouldn't be surprised, thinking about Lilla always seems to have this effect on her; it's as if the rest of the world doesn't exist when she remembers her. But now Johanna forces thoughts of her sister out of her mind and tries to focus on the person standing before her. It's surprisingly easy and she finds herself eyeing him up and down. Black hair, olive skin and gray eyes just like Katniss, but the similarities end there. While Katniss is small and thin, Gale is over six feet tall and has a sinewy build. She unknowingly licks her lips as her eyes wander over him. When they eventually travel back up to his face, it's obvious that he can tell she likes what she sees.
Gale must be used to being stared at with admiration, but he doesn't look amused or smug, like Finnick would. Instead he looks a little surprised and as if he's trying to understand what else Johanna might be thinking about, besides how attractive he is. She can't help reacting with scorn, as always.
"Well, what were you doing standing in the middle of the hall?" It's a stupid thing to ask, she knows. There are any number of reasons why he might be here. Perhaps he's waiting for someone or trying to decide where to go.
Gale starts to answer, "Katniss is -"
"Never mind, I don't care," Johanna says, cutting him off. What is it with these guys and Katniss? Johanna doesn't exactly hate Katniss anymore; the girl is decent enough, she supposes. But all Johanna really sees is a little girl with basically no personality. Granted, Katniss isn't much littler than Johanna herself, but she is quite thin, while Johanna is more curvy and a bit stronger looking. And what's with the braid? Does a more boring hairstyle exist?
Gale's not smiling exactly, but he does seem amused now, at the way she interrupted him. Johanna is just starting to wonder why she's still standing here, when she was so anxious to get back to her room, when Gale speaks.
"I hope you're not planning on wearing that to the wedding tomorrow," he says, looking down at her revealing gray undershirt and worn out gray pants, "You're not supposed to take attention away from the bride."
Johanna looks down at her clothes and feels embarrassed for just a second. The thin material of the tank top, combined with the fact that she isn't wearing a bra, leaves little to the imagination. But why should she feel self-conscious? Plenty of people have seen her walking around completely naked. Is there something about Gale in particular that makes her uneasy?
Everyone is issued the same boring gray clothes in Thirteen. Usually Johanna wears another shirt over this one, but today she'd felt hot for some reason and left it in her room. She crosses her arms over her chest and looks back up at Gale. She's not exactly sure if he's mocking her or complimenting her in a roundabout way. And she wishes he wouldn't have brought up the wedding. It's another thing she doesn't like thinking about, along with the traumas of her past. "I'm not going," she says.
Gale's eyebrows raise. "Why not?"
Johanna stares up at him and thinks, Why not? "Too many memories," she says honestly. She doesn't know why she feels comfortable confiding something like this in Gale, who she barely knows.
Gale nods, seemingly unsurprised. "I know the feeling," he says.
Johanna continues to stare into his eyes for another few seconds, then gives Gale a single nod and walks away. When she reaches the end of the hallway and turns to head down another one, she steals a glance back in his direction and finds that he's looking too.
Gale watches her disappear from his view and can't help wondering where she's going. He wants to talk to her again and is curious to find out why she was in such a hurry. There's something interesting about Johanna; no one could deny it. He remembers her making some unabashed remark about finding him attractive and, at the time, he joked to Katniss that he found Johanna terrifying. But he didn't mean it, really. She was hard to ignore and she certainly took some getting used to, but Gale couldn't possibly feel scared of someone so much smaller than him, or someone so pretty.
He finds himself comparing her to Katniss. One of the things he loves about Katniss is how different she is from any of the other girls he knew in District Twelve. All those girls, too many to remember, who he kissed just about anywhere and everywhere he could get them alone.
Johanna's different, too. Gale can't help being intrigued by her round, dark brown eyes. Did any of the girls he knew in Twelve have eyes that color? He doesn't think so. There were the gray-eyed Seam girls and a few fair and blue-eyed merchant girls, but none who looked anything like Johanna. After how many girls Gale has been interested in over the years, there's really only one thing that can get his attention anymore, and that's being different from the others.
The next day at lunch, everyone but Gale and Johanna rush through their meals then leave. Apparently Katniss and her little sister have plans to help Annie get ready for the wedding, and Peeta and Finnick have no interest in staying at the table once their girlfriend and fiancée, respectively, have gone. It's not surprising, really. Johanna assumes that Peeta and Gale have probably been nearly as awkward around each other lately as she and Finnick have. Johanna's tried to stay friends with Finnick and act like everything is fine between them, but he must be able to tell how she feels. Hiding the way she feels has never been a strong suit of Johanna's. Whether it's anger or unrequited fondness, she has a hard time keeping things to herself.
"So…wedding tonight," Gale says, looking over at her once they're alone at the table.
"Yep," Johanna says, annoyed, and with emphasis on the word.
Gale half-smiles at her. "If you get tired of sulking in your room, I was planning on leaving after the ceremony. I don't really need to see Katniss and Peeta together at the celebration."
Sulking in my room? Johanna is taken aback for a moment by his insensitivity. Then she realizes it sounds like something she herself might say to someone in her position, and her surprise morphs into intrigue. Still, she's provoked into reacting with spite. "It's strange that she prefers him to you," Johanna says coldly, but then she realizes that her statement, though callous, could also be taken as a compliment. She's clearly saying that she herself would prefer Gale over Peeta.
"I know," Gale says. He looks lost in thought for a moment, but quickly recovers and even smiles at her a little.
Johanna narrows her eyes and asks, "What were you planning on doing after the ceremony?"
"Sulking." Gale's smile fades. "Unless I can find some company."
"Company…to do what?"
"Anything," Gale says, "just having company would prevent what I had planned."
Johanna can't help smiling, "You're right. Sulking isn't exactly the kind of thing that can be done together." Together…she hadn't wanted to be the first one to use the word.
"Well, I might come back here after the ceremony. Just for a few minutes, see if anyone's around."
Johanna nods. "All right, I get it," she says, then she stands up and walks off, tray in hand.
Gale wonders what exactly he just did. A part of him regrets it immensely. He still loves Katniss and wishes he had firm plans to meet up with her tonight, rather than the tentative at best plan to see Johanna. But Johanna obviously knows how he feels about Katniss and doesn't seem bothered by it. Maybe because he's not her first choice either.
Ah, well. Maybe she'll be able to help him forget about Katniss, at least for a little while. That's the idea, isn't it?
Johanna sits in the dimly lit dining hall, feeling foolish for coming here. The ceremony has to be over by now, so where is Gale? Maybe he decided not to come, or maybe he forgot about her, just like Finnick has. She hears a sound coming from the kitchen and feels curious, not afraid. She's never afraid anymore; no matter what happens, she's been through worse. Johanna stands up and heads toward the back of the large room, toward the door to the kitchen. She reaches it and peers through the window (knowing the door's kept locked), but no one is there. She can't help feeling a bit unnerved. The room is pretty dark and she was sure she heard something. She turns around, intending to leave and forget all about Gale.
But there he is, standing only a few feet away from her. Johanna can't help being startled. She gasps, and her hand flings up to rest on her collar bone. "Where did you come from?" How can he be so quiet?
"The hall," Gale says, then briefly glances over her head at the kitchen door. "Trying to steal food?"
"No," Johanna snaps, "I thought I heard a noise."
"Well, you know the kitchen is haunted," Gale says flatly.
"Ha ha," Johanna says, and rolls her eyes. "I was just going to leave. I didn't think you were coming."
"Here I am," Gale says, then lowers his voice, "I'm glad I didn't miss you."
Me too, Johanna thinks, eyeing him up and down. He does look rather striking tonight. "How was the wedding?"
Gale shrugs one shoulder. "Interesting, I guess. Different from the toasting ceremony we would do in Twelve. What do you do in Seven?"
Johanna opens her mouth to speak, but then she remembers the last wedding she attended back home and can't bring herself to discuss the matter. "Nothing special," she says.
Gale nods once, taking the hint. His eyes never seem to leave hers and she can't help starting to feel a bit uncomfortable, but she doesn't want to look away, that would be like… admitting defeat or something. Gale smiles, just a little, and says, "What do you want to do?"
"Well…" She pauses to actually consider the question, then says, "I'd love to get out of this hole in the ground but I know that's not going to happen."
"We could try," Gale says.
Johanna smirks. "You have a plan on how to get past the guards?"
"Yes," Gale says, his smile growing, "I do."
They go up as high as they can in the main part of Thirteen and then Gale asks Johanna to wait down the hall while he talks to a guard. She's curious to hear what he's going to say to the man, but figures he must have a reason for asking her to stay away, so she complies. It only takes a minute or so for Gale to look over at her and wave her toward him again.
They're both let out and into the cool night air outside the underground of Thirteen. They walk over to the metal fence and then go out into the nearby woods. "How did you do that?" Johanna asks, once they're well out of earshot of the guard.
"You obviously don't know the status I have here," Gale says with mock boastfulness.
"Oh, right, Soldier Hawthorne," Johanna says, with emphasis on his title. "I forgot you were responsible for saving so many citizens of District Twelve."
Gale doesn't answer.
"How did you decide which ones to get out?" she asks.
"There wasn't any deciding," Gale tells her quickly, "it was just about who was around."
"Plus Katniss's family," Johanna says, assuming that wherever Gale lived in Twelve, it was not close to the Victor's Village.
"Plus them," he agrees.
"What is it with you two, anyway?" Johanna asks.
Gale remains silent for so long that Johanna starts to think he'll never answer, but then he speaks. "We've been hunting together for years, and we're…friends, I guess."
"Have you ever been anything more than that?"
"No," Gale says, and then they're both silent again, while they continue to walk through the woods. After a minute or so, Gale asks, "What is it with you and Finnick?"
Johanna is about to yell at him that it's none of his business, but she realizes just in time that doing so would make her a hypocrite after the way she just asked about Katniss. She can't really think of a reason not to tell Gale about Finnick, but it feels odd to talk about. She's never spoken about it to anyone before. "We were close for a couple of years. I mean, he and I never saw each other outside the Capitol annually, but…" she lets her voice trail off, deciding that, though she's been incredibly vague, she's said enough about what she and Finnick once had. "It doesn't matter anymore," she continues, "but still, I didn't want to see him get married."
"I understand," Gale says.
Johanna decides they need to change the subject. "I love it out here," she says, "you're so lucky you get to come here to hunt all the time."
"I guess," Gale says, looking around at the trees, "it does remind me of home."
"Me too," Johanna says. They stop walking after a while, when they come upon a large boulder. "Did you know this was here?"
Gale nods. "Katniss found it."
I don't want to hear about her anymore! Johanna wants to scream at him. But she realizes how ridiculous that would be. How can she be so jealous already? There's nothing between her and Gale.
"Give me a boost," Johanna says, wanting to sit on the huge rock. Gale interlaces his hands together and she steps into them, then climbs up onto the rock and sits cross-legged. With surprising ease and dexterity, Gale hoists himself up and sits in front of her on the boulder, so their knees almost touch.
Gale starts to think of what is likely going on at the wedding celebration. He can't help picturing Katniss with Peeta and feeling annoyed and bitter. It must be obvious, because Johanna asks, "Something wrong?" in a very suspicious voice.
Gale forces himself to stop thinking about it and tries to focus on the pretty girl sitting in front of him. She's wearing the black cloche hat that she wears every day. He remembers that her head was shaved in the Capitol. "You have brown hair, right?" he asks.
Johanna smiles sardonically. "If memory serves. It's dark, but with some gold in it."
"Sounds good," Gale says.
"I've kept it short for the last couple of years, but now I miss it so much I'm thinking of letting it grow out again."
"You should," Gale says unabashedly, "long hair is nice." Like Katniss's, they're both thinking.
"I don't know what I'm going to do with it," Johanna says defiantly. She isn't about to let some guy try to tell her how to wear her hair. Gale doesn't seem bothered by her lack of interest in his opinion. In fact, he smiles his small smile again and then reaches out, placing a warm hand on her knee. Johanna looks up at him questioningly. Never before has she known someone who seems to react positively to her affronting and evasive attitudes. There must be something wrong with him…
Gale's eyes, which were on his own hand as he positioned it on her leg, now raise to Johanna's again. She's really very pretty, he thinks. The closer up he sees her, the more he can tell.
Johanna realizes that she doesn't know very much about Gale at all, and suddenly she wants to know. There's something about the way he's looking at her that she likes very much. "When did you start poaching in the woods outside Twelve?" she asks
"Poaching?" Gale says, one side of his mouth raising in a smirk.
"Hunting illegally," Johanna says quickly.
"I know what it means." Gale shakes his head at her implication. "I'm not sure exactly," he continues, considering her question. "My father taught me some things about snares when I was very young and I took an interest in them, but I never had to take hunting too seriously until he died, when I was thirteen. That's when I started going to the woods more often and then I would take the meat and trade it for things for my family."
Johanna recalls that he has a mother and three younger siblings in Thirteen, and she feels her eyes widen. "You must have had to do a lot of hunting and trading in order to provide for a family of five."
"I guess," Gale says casually, "my mother worked, so it wasn't just me who took care of us."
"Still," Johanna says. She can't help sympathizing with him. She knows far worse things can happen to a young teenager (such as being reaped for the Games) but finds herself wishing this hadn't happened to Gale. It must have been hard, all of that pressure. She's never had to take care of anyone and would hate to have that kind of burden. In fact, she doesn't think she could stand being forced to think of others as much as Gale must have. It seems so stressful.
"I had it better than most," he assures her. He likes the way she's looking at him though, as if she wants to comfort him. They're both silent for a bit, before he speaks again. "Why don't you tell me about Seven?" he asks.
"I don't really like talking about it." Too many memories…
"What about in the arena, then?" he says boldly, "I was pretty impressed by the way you handled those axes during the Quell."
"I don't like talking about the Games, either," Johanna tells him.
Gale smiles just a little and raises his eyebrows. "You're not easy, are you?"
"No," she says. Might as well tell it to him straight…
"How about if, just for tonight, you do your innocent little girl act again?" he suggests.
Johanna smirks, but can't help being flattered that he remembers her strategy in winning the Games years ago. "Just for tonight?" she asks, raising her voice a little and looking at him with big, wide eyes.
Gale reaches out his free hand, the one that's not squeezing her leg, and slides it around the back of her neck. "I like that," he says with a wry smile as he leans toward her.
"You do not!" Johanna says, and can't help laughing. But at the last second, she closes her mouth so his lips meet hers.
Though Gale has already kissed too many girls to even remember, he can't help thinking that this girl is going to be one who he will remember.