Disclaimer: I do not own The Hunger Games.
The next day at breakfast, she expects things to feel different or awkward, but they don't at all. Not even after Katniss gets there. Johanna and Gale talk about some of their scars and then she manages to drive everyone else away and they're alone again. "Was it something I said?" Johanna asks Gale with an ironic smile. She doesn't like how long it takes him to tear his gaze away from Katniss as she and Peeta walk away. But when he does look at Johanna, Gale looks content enough to be left alone with her so she decides to forgive him.
"Well played," Gale says, "but you know we could have just left if you wanted to be alone with me again." He leans toward her. "You have something you want to say?"
"Yeah," Johanna says, "about last night…don't expect that to happen again." But she isn't serious and he can tell.
Gale smiles a little and puts his hand on her leg. Johanna's not really sure what to make of him. Sometimes, like now, he seems completely interested in her, but other times he's so obviously thinking about Katniss that she wants to slap him. But she tries to understand. If Katniss can have feelings for Gale and Peeta, and she herself can have feelings for Finnick and Gale, then why can't Gale have feelings for her as well as Katniss? Ugh. She can't help envying Annie and Peeta, who seem to the only two of their little group who have only ever loved one person in their life. No…Finnick belongs in that category, also. He's only ever loved Annie, and Johanna knows it.
"I have to go," Gale says abruptly, "weapons detail."
"Oh," Johanna says, trying to sound nonchalant, "see you, then."
Gale looks around the room and, satisfied that no one of significance will see, kisses Johanna on the cheek before standing up and walking off with his tray.
A few nights later, Johanna is having one of her nightmares. She's running through the woods in Seven, trying to find Lilla. Then she sees her there in the distance, in her white dress. Lilla is leaning forward, with her head on a tree stump. Snow is standing over her, holding an ax. Johanna rushes toward them but it's no use. Snow throws the ax down and then there's blood everywhere; Johanna can't believe how much blood. The ax makes a kind of pounding sound that echoes, then repeats three more times…
Johanna sits up in bed, gasping for air. She realizes someone is knocking on her door, and that was the repeated sound she heard in her dream. She's glad the nightmare is over again, and is poised to thank whoever is outside her room for liberating her from that horror. She quickly hops off her bed, goes to the door and opens it. Gale.
When he sees her, his manner completely changes. She knows he had some witty, seductive line planned, but it must be obvious how upset she is. He looks at her with concern. "Are you all right?"
"Sure," Johanna says automatically. She's not exactly feeling up for company and thinks about sending him on his way. But no, she doesn't want to be alone. "Come in," she says, stepping aside.
Gale enters the room and takes a seat on her bed without hesitation. Johanna quickly joins him. She's not sure what to make of his silence, so she looks over and asks, "You did come to see me, right?"
"Of course," Gale says. He knows what she means, though. Supposedly, Johanna and Katniss both moved into this room together a few days ago, but Gale is fully aware that the latter has taken to sleeping in Peeta's room. She made it pretty obvious earlier today day when they talked, and he knows about the nightmares she has; it only makes sense that she would go to him like that.
"She leaves every night," Johanna tells him.
Gale nods and gives Johanna a look that is a mixture of warning and annoyance. "Thanks," he says curtly. Then he tries to remind himself of everything Johanna has been through in her life. He tries to be understanding of her but she makes it difficult. "You can tell me what you're upset about," he says flatly.
Johanna wonders if she should. She's never spoken about Lilla with anyone in Thirteen, other than her head doctor. She suddenly can't help thinking that her doctor would not approve of whatever she and Gale have going on. He would probably tell her she's not ready for something like this yet, after all she's been through. But Johanna doesn't really care what he would have to say. She likes Gale and he's proved to be a welcome distraction so far from every other (painful) aspect of her life. Maybe if I like him, Johanna tells herself, I should try to treat him just a little better.
Johanna bites her lower lip and looks into Gale's gray eyes. Yes, I will tell him, she decides. "I was just having a nightmare about my sister…who's dead."
Gale surprises Johanna by reaching out and taking both her hands in his larger ones. "What was she like?"
"She was four years older than me," Johanna says, "she looked like me, I guess, only taller, but not much. She got married a couple of months after I won the Games and she was so happy. She was always happier than me and took such good care of me when we were younger. I know she would have volunteered for the Games in my place, but she was too old by the time I was reaped." After this little speech, Johanna realizes just how much she needed to talk about Lilla, and all those good qualities she had.
Gale seems interested and hasn't taken his eyes off Johanna, so she continues.
"I wouldn't go along with something Snow tried to make me do," she says. Her voice has started to shake so she clears her throat and forces herself to calm down before she speaks again. "Well, it looked like an accident, but I know Snow had her killed."
"I'm sorry," Gale says sympathetically. He looks like he is sorry, but doesn't feel sorry for her. She's glad; she's never wanted anyone's pity.
"Yeah, well…" Johanna says, then lets her voice trail off. Before she even realizes what's happening, Gale's pulled her close to him and his strong arms are wrapped tightly around her. She can't resist hugging him back. It feels surprisingly nice, and somehow even more intimate than that kiss the other night. "It was her idea," Johanna says, "for me to pretend to be a weakling in the Games. It's because of her that I made it out of that arena. And it's because of me that she died." Because I wouldn't go along with being prostituted out by Snow.
"Whatever happened, it's not your fault," Gale says with complete conviction.
"You don't know -" Johanna starts, but is interrupted.
"You obviously loved her," Gale says, "I'm sure you would have done anything within reason to keep her alive. Right?"
Within reason? She's never thought about it that way before. She will feel guilty and regretful for the rest of her life about what happened, but somehow Gale has just made her feel a little better. Lilla was always so protective. If Johanna had told her what Snow had tried to make her do, Lilla probably would have forbidden it; no matter what the consequences would be. That was the kind of sister Lilla was.
How can Gale be so perceptive? It's like he knows exactly what Snow wanted her to do, and why she had to refuse. Without really even thinking about it, Johanna finds herself pulling her head away from Gale's chest, tilting her face up and pressing her lips to his. She can't help thinking that he somehow manages to understand her in a way no one else ever has, and he really has the ability to make her feel better. Finnick used to do this also, but it's different with Gale. Gale makes her feel as if it's okay to think about these bad things in her past. He not only distracts, he consoles.
After a couple of minutes of kissing, Johanna feels Gale's hand slide up her shirt and along her flat stomach. She's okay with this, but when his hand starts to move further up, she pulls it away and breaks their kiss. "Not now," she says, and adds silently to herself, Not while I'm still so upset. And not while you're still going to pretend I'm Katniss.
Gale nods, understanding. He feels guilty for a second, as if he was trying to take advantage of her in a vulnerable moment. But then he reminds himself that she was the one who kissed him first and he couldn't help the way he reacted to that. Besides, it doesn't seem like Johanna has vulnerable moments, really. "Do you want me to stay with you?"
Johanna is surprised by his offer, but quickly realizes that it sounds nice. "Would you?"
"Yes," Gale says.
Johanna manages to smile at him. "I might have another nightmare, and sometimes I thrash around in my sleep," she warns.
Gale returns the smile and replies, "I don't mind." And she actually believes him.
Gale knows he'll have to make sure to get up early, so he can be gone by the time Katniss comes back here for a change of clothes. He knows things are over between them, but somehow he still doesn't want her to see him with Johanna like this. Gale lies down on the front side of the bed, away from the wall. He sort of expects Johanna to put her head on his chest, but she doesn't. Instead, she just finds his hand and holds it in both of hers, resting it on her stomach.
The second time Gale comes to Johanna's room is the night before Squad 451 is set to leave District Thirteen. She's annoyed with him over the way he was looking at Katniss while they were at dinner. Why does he still have to be so hung up on her? Johanna has tried to understand, and tried to remind herself that after years of friendship and closeness it must be hard for him to get over Katniss. But for some reason it's just really bothering her at the moment. She's gotten over Finnick, so why can't Gale just forget about Katniss? Still, she lets him into her room and he takes a seat on her bed next to her.
"Sorry you got me again," she says, with a glance over at Katniss's bed.
Gale sighs. Even though he knows exactly what she means, he says, "What are you talking about?"
"You know!" Johanna says, "I know you wish you were with her. I know I'm your second choice." She finds herself glaring at Gale. How dare he come here, tonight of all nights? What did he expect? Did he think that because he was leaving early the next day, and might very well not come back, that things would change between them? Was he expecting some kind of special goodbye? Well, that was not going to happen.
"You're not," Gale tries to say. He reaches for her hand, but she pulls away and stands up. She crosses her arms over her chest and then goes to sit on Katniss's bed. Gale starts to feel angry but he doesn't want to leave things badly with Johanna, so he tries again to make peace. "Not second choice, just a different choice," he tells her, trying to keep his voice even.
"Except you didn't have a choice," she reminds him, "she didn't want you."
Gale begins to return Johanna's glare. "No more than Finnick wanted you," he says coldly.
"Get out!" Johanna says loudly, but without shouting outright. "Why did you come here? What were you expecting?"
"I wanted to say goodbye," Gale says. He doesn't raise his voice, but somehow manages to sound incredibly angry and in spite of herself Johanna feels a little afraid of him. She's never seen him like this, his eyes hard and fiery. "I know what you're doing," he continues, "we both know I might not be coming back and you're trying to make that easier on yourself."
"Right," Johanna says, with a callous laugh. "You have me all figured out, don't you? Just because I told you some things about my past! Well, you don't know anything about me!"
"Fine," Gale says, standing up, "and I don't want to know anymore." In seconds, he's made his way to the door, opened it and gone out, slamming it behind him.
Johanna realizes she's gritting her teeth and tries to stop. She storms back over to her bed, rips the covers down and throws herself onto it.
The next time Johanna and Gale see each other after this is in Snow's mansion. They've both been given a room to stay in. The whole Capitol is in an uproar over Katniss's assassination of Coin, and both Johanna and Gale have heard enough talk about the whole situation and have returned to the mansion for the night. Johanna can't sleep and finds herself wandering into an upstairs living room near her bedroom. She's already several steps in the door when she sees Gale, standing by a huge window that overlooks the Capitol. He sees her enter the room out of the corner of his eye and turns to face her. Gale's hard stare and silence make it clear that he's still angry over their argument.
Johanna wishes he would say something. She knows she was wrong, but still wants him to be the one to try to make amends. It would prove that he does care about her, in spite of his feelings for Katniss. But he won't say a word and she can't stand the silence any longer.
"Hi," Johanna says.
He seems to hesitate, then his face softens, just slightly, and he says, "Hi." She slowly walks further into the room and stands next to him at the window.
I'm sorry, she wants to say, I'm sorry I was so cruel, and you were right about what I was doing. I couldn't stand the thought of losing someone else who I care about so much. Yes, I really care about you, and now that we're both here and you're still alive somehow, I can finally admit that to myself for real. This is just how I am…every time I love someone, I lose them. It's become so hard for me to love and I thought I never would again, but you make me want to try.
But she can't say all that, no matter how true it is. Instead, she just says the first part, "I'm sorry," and she hopes it will be enough and that the rest will be implied by her apology.
Gale opens his mouth to speak, but then closes it again as he continues to stare at Johanna. He seems to be trying to force his hard expression to soften and eventually it does. He tentatively opens his arms and she goes to him without hesitation. It feels wonderful to be close to him like this again and she hates herself for what she's done and only hopes it's not too late. It wasn't until he left Thirteen that she realized how important he had become to her. She can't believe how much she's missed him.
Now, having received some encouragement, Johanna adds, "You were right."
Gale still doesn't say anything, but after a few seconds, she feels his hand under her chin and she pulls her head away from his chest. He tilts her face up toward his, so that their eyes can't avoid meeting. She almost expects him to kiss her, but he doesn't.
"I know it's too much to expect that you won't do something like that again," Gale says, "so I won't ask you to promise that now. But will you at least try?"
"Yes," she says, the moment he's done talking, "I want to try…I will. I promise to try."
It's now that he kisses her, on her forehead, and then wraps his arms around her again, tighter than before. He's still not recovered completely from their fight, but that's okay. She can be patient with him, too. It's worth it. He's worth it.
"I'm going to District Two," Gale says, his voice perfectly even.
"For good?" Johanna asks.
"Maybe," Gale tells her, "for now, at least. There's a job I plan to take there."
Johanna waits to hear more and tries not to feel disheartened yet over the way he said 'I'm going.' But Gale seems to be done speaking. She doesn't want to ask outright what his intentions are with her, so she just says, "And?"
"I'd like you to come with me," he says.
"Even after everything…"
"Even after everything," he confirms.
Johanna can hardly believe this. She never imagined that things with Gale would progress to this point; it seems too good to be true. He must really care for her if he wants to take her with him so they can start their new lives together. She pulls back enough to look up at him again, and reaches up to touch his face. He gives her that little smile of his. She knows things will be different now. It almost seems like too much to hope for, but there is a seemingly rational voice inside of her that is telling her it's okay to be happy again. That she can be with Gale and nothing will happen to him. He won't be taken away from her, unless she does something to push him away. She surprised at how easy things with him have been, with the exception of that one night. She's not used to anything being easy.
"Yes," she says, suddenly desperate to get the words out, "I would love to come with you." Love…she hadn't wanted to be the first one to use that word, either.
Now Gale smiles for real, and Johanna can't help smiling back. Strangely, Johanna finds herself thinking of the last time she and Gale were both in the Capitol. She was incredibly damaged from her torture so her memories of this are vague at best, but she somehow remembers Gale being there, with some others, and helping to get her out of the place where she was imprisoned. A thought occurs to her. "Thank you," she says.
Gale looks quizzical. "Your welcome…for what?"
Johanna smiles. "For getting me out of this place before."
Gale nods. "Oh, that. Do you even remember it?"
"Not really, but that's not the point," Johanna says.
"Well," Gale says, "I was only following orders, really." He pauses to place his hand on the side of her neck, so his thumb can stroke her jaw, then adds, "I never imagined I'd get anything out of it, personally."
"I wish I remembered it better," Johanna says, "just the part where you got there, I mean."
"Not much to remember," Gale tells her.
Still, she thinks, it was the first time I saw you and I want to remember it. She decides that she will make a point of remembering everything, relating to Gale, from here on out. Maybe…just maybe, if she can make enough good memories to focus on, the bad ones won't seem quite so bad anymore. It's worth a try, at least.
A/N: Thanks for reading!