Disclaimer: I don't own The Hunger Games.
Summary: "Hey, pretty boy, how's construction going?" Johanna arrives at District 2 in a whirl of inappropriate comments and false cheer - too much for the Hawthorne boy so wounded by the war. GaleJohanna, post-MJ, oneshot
Okay, I've been wanting to write a post-Mockingjay fic for a while, and just couldn't come up with a plot. So. I guess here this is. This is kind of a monster of a fic, but I have had fun writing this so I hope that y'all have fun reading it! I'd love to hear your opinions and everything! Thanks so much for reading!
Build a Nation
Gale Hawthorne dives headfirst into his work.
Leaving District 12 was one of the hardest things he ever had to do, but it was also the simplest. After everything he caused, he supposed that the only smart and rational thing to do. Leave District 12 for 2 and help with the rebuilding. He's not really sure what gave him the idea to head to this place, anyway. Maybe because they asked. They had, after all. Practically begged him for some stupid reason or another.
He is actually frightened that they admired his ruthlessness. It wouldn't be farfetched for one of the Districts that attacked the Games with such gusto.
He buries himself in his work, not talking to anyone. No one talks to him, either. He thinks that it is most appropriate that way.
The only people that he finds himself having contact with are his mother and siblings, and Beetee. He doesn't mind Beetee so much. He understands what Gale is going through - and while the repercussions weren't as severe for Beetee as they were for Gale, Gale appreciates the companionship. He likes having at least one friend.
One friend, where he used to have many. Those many are in one of two categories: dead or hating him.
He tries not to think of that much, but he can't find a time in which his mind doesn't drift to the Seam or to the woods or to a pair of gray eyes, intelligent as they notch an arrow on a bow…
He knows she is one of the main reasons he can't go back to Twelve.
And yet, at night, her name whispers through his mind, soft and foreboding at the same time.
Gale smiles into the phone, finding that the gesture isn't as bitter as it usually is, "Beetee."
These calls are the norm. If there was one good thing that came out of the war, it would be his friendship with the genius himself. The only other calls he makes are the ones to his mother and siblings, and those are conducted in secret, as if just by making contact with citizens of Twelve will poison him.
"How are things?"
"Fine," he lies. He doesn't tell Beetee about his nightmares, those that involve a blonde girl with blue, blue eyes, like water, being consumed by fire that he helped create. "You?"
"You know, you don't have to lie to me, Gale," he says, his voice strangely logical over the line.
Gale laughs, "I know."
But sometimes, lying is the only control Gale has over anything.
He strikes his pickax into the dirt, breaking apart chunks of fallen concrete as easily as if it were butter. His arms have corded with muscles as of late. With the good food and the better living conditions, he has gained weight, but that has turned into nothing but muscle as he works to better Two.
Gale finds that the more he works, the more he can keep his mind off of things. It's not much, because as soon as he gets to his small apartment, the images come back to taunt him.
Bright blue eyes, smiling and adoring - and then terrified as the fire burns her.
Gray eyes, cool and calculated and soft when looking at him - and then wide, crazed, hating him as that wretched Hanging Tree song assaults his ears.
There's always fire. Fire and the images of the innocents he had a hand in killing.
They're always there, haunting him, hating him, reaching out with cold, dead fingers, eagerly awaiting the moment in which he would have his guard down and they could take him with them…
The rebels might have won the war, but he lost everything.
"Mom," a sweet girl's voice says. "Mom."
Gale can't help but look up, hearing that saccharine tone. He looks over his bare shoulder, glistening with sweat as he works, and sees the couple standing near the work site, looking at him with awed eyes.
For a moment, Gale can't breathe. The girl has blonde hair and blue eyes and the sweetest disposition… Prim? OhGodit'sPrim…How can it be Prim? It can't be Prim. It's like a knife to the chest.
But then he blinks and the girl's blonde hair melts into the color of sweet caramel and her eyes become brown instead of bluer than the sky.
Not Prim. NotPrimnotPrimnotPrim.
Gale bites the inside of his cheek so hard that he can taste the coppery tang of blood.
"Mom, isn't that the Mockingjay's cousin?"
He is, unfortunately, used to these kinds of things. He isn't, however, used to them coming from a girl whose voice sounds so much like Prim's.
The mother looks at him so apologetically that it makes him homesick. Gale gives her a smile that he hopes isn't tainted with the blood from his marred mouth. She gives him a smile that looks somewhat pitying and friendly at the same time, and that is a feat in and of itself.
"No, sweetie. Sure, that's what the Capitol fed us for the longest time, but that's Gale Hawthorne. From what I understand, he's the Mockingjay's closest friend."
And the knife twists…
"Cool! Nice to meet you, Gale Hawthorne! I'm Cahra!"
"Nice…to meet you, too…"
They walk away, leaving Gale with the strangest voice in his head, the voice that says what he knew for the longest time.
You're not the Mockingjay's friend…
Gale has some kind of celebrity status among District 2. He's not sure what to do with it, to be honest. He hates the spotlight, hates being around people who constantly ask him to relive the key moments of the war - especially the bombing of the Capitol. Ironically, if he had been given a soapbox years ago, back when Katniss had first been Reaped and everything in his life went to hell in a hand basket, he'd have taken a chance to talk about all of this animatedly, without pretense.
Now, it all just seems futile.
All he says is just, "We won the war. We can put this in history books."
And when asked about the bombing, he says, "There were other people there. I'm sure they have a better account."
Always curt, always to the point.
Somewhere along the line, they stop asking Gale about the bombing and start asking him about who he is dating.
At that point, he figures that the war hasn't changed everything.
Another day, another chance to repay to others what he could never repay to his friends.
Just as he is locking his door after leaving for work, he spots a few cases of luggage in front of the apartment across from his own. In fact, the usually graceful Hawthorne nearly looses his balance as he trips over a particularly misplaced parcel.
He chooses to ignore it and the smell of pine that wafts from the bags.
That very day - he's not sure how many days it has been since he arrived in Two, but for some reason he doesn't care - there is a commotion in front of his workplace. He was walking to work, some random lot that they were going to start building a hospital in. Just a small clinic. It took him a while to get actually get the willpower to go down there, knowing that "They're going to see if I can become a doctor, Katniss," was the memory he was going to have on repeat in his head all day.
"Aw, come on, guys! How many times do you get someone like me willing to work like this?"
He tenses, every muscle in his body locking in place as he comes to a halt. His lunchbox bangs against his thigh as he stops dead in front of the person causing such a ruckus.
All of his co-workers are standing around the one and only Johanna Mason, looking at her as if she has lost her mind.
She's arguing with someone, a cheeky and infuriating grin on her face. If Gale knew anything about Johanna, it was that she was resilient. From what he can tell, she's trying to start working with them to build the clinic.
Gale finds himself pushing through the bodies to get a closer look at her. It has been so long since he's seen someone at least vaguely familiar. Her brown hair has grown out since her time in the Capitol's hands, but she has kept it short. Her eyes are as lively as ever, but there is a strange undercurrent to them, something that Gale can't quite put his finger on. She's tall and statuesque, wearing a tanktop and a pair of shorts that reveal her long legs, an ax slung over one shoulder and an awful grin on her face.
Her eyes then land on him.
"Hey, pretty boy, how's construction going?"
His eyebrows knit and he stares at her, unable to look away. There's just something about her in this moment that he finds…interesting. It's the first time in a long time that he's felt anything other than shame and guilt and self-loathing.
"You tell me," he says, and is surprised at the tone he uses. It's…familiar. Friendly, almost.
"They haven't let me start yet." She cracks her neck. "They tell me you're the lead on this project. On every project, really."
Gale adjusts the strap of his bag on his shoulder and looks at Johanna, her tanned skin already glistening with sweat. She's looking at him with a slight edge of impatience and she shifts her weight to her left leg, "So? Can I help out with this?"
He ponders for a moment. He hadn't given Johanna a second thought since the war ended, assuming that she'd gone back to her own District to help out with their rebuilding, and here she was, plopped in the middle of his new world like some obscene beacon, reminding him of his time in the District 13 bunker, so long before everything changed.
Back when he still had Katniss.
Closing his eyes for a moment, he sighs. There is a slight charge in the air, one that is brought on by people waiting for a monumental decision. He contemplates telling her to go back home, to get away from here. Because Two is supposed to be his redemption, not hers. But then he realizes that that would be the opposite of what he is trying to do. Turning someone away was not the way to redeem himself, though he was sure that he was far past redemption in the first place.
"Fine," he says, letting his bag fall from his shoulder and onto the ground. "Johanna can help. An extra pair of hands is never a bad thing."
"Just don't kill me with that thing," a random voice issues from the crowd, and Gale can see a finger pointing at the ax.
Johanna smiles, showing teeth, "Don't do anything to piss me off."
Johanna is a hard worker; Gale didn't expect anything less.
That first day, she works harder than any guy in the quarry, splitting wood for the walls, working on getting the framework put together. Her lunch break is shorter than anyone else's, lasting a mere ten minutes, and then she is back to work.
Her spiky hair sticks to her neck and cheeks, outlining the prominent cheekbones and the swoop of her neck. He notices that a lot of men stare at the way her tanktop outlines her slim body, at the way her leg muscles flex when she lifts something particularly heavy.
Gale laughs at that.
He is the last to leave that day, slinging his pack over his shoulder and his lunchbox over the other. He walks to his apartment in silence, the air getting crisp and cool as night falls around him. By the time he makes it back to his small apartment, he sees a tall figure shoving their keys into the door adjacent to his.
Gale stares at the figure for a moment, unsure, and then he hears it.
"Ah, damn it."
The figure turns and is caught in the light from an overhanging street lamp. The bright light sets deep shadows across her face, but her expression is amused. "Pretty boy."
"What are you doing?"
"They've given me a place to stay for a while," she explains. "While I help with the rebuilding."
Gale stares at her for a moment, stunned at this recent development. His new neighbor is ax-crazy Johanna Mason, Victor.
"If I didn't know better," he begins, surprised at his tone, "I'd say you were stalking me."
Johanna grins, "Brings a little excitement to your life, doesn't it?"
With that, and nothing else - not even the kitschy faux-invitation inside her place - she turns and enters her apartment.
That night, Gale dreams.
Well, not dreams per say. All the things reserved for his slumber have turned into wicked nightmares, melding together until he's half-crazed when he wakes - if he can ever stir himself from his slumber in the first place. Sometimes, he's rooted to the nightmare in horror, unable to seek comfort from waking.
There's a girl with a dark braid, standing next to a crystalline lake, throwing flowers onto its surface.
She's quickly killed - an arrow through the heart.
There's a girl with light, light hair and blue eyes, smiling as she twirls in the sun.
She's set afire - the sun burning her.
There's a Merchant boy, the boy that the dark-haired girl loves, and he tells him simply, "Look what you've done."
And then Gale is running. Images flash by him as he darts through the forest, as silent as a thief. The words of the Mellark boy ring through his head, chasing him, taunting him.
"You ruined the Mockingjay."
"You didn't deserve her."
After a while, the insults subside, and he just says her name, "Katniss."
Somehow, that's worse.
Gale runs through the woods, dodging fallen trees and brambles, ducking beneath the familiar electrified fence and escaping into the streets of his home - because, really, no matter where he decides to live, Twelve will always be his home.
The voice still taunts him with her name, constantly.
Gale doesn't wake until the morning light streams in through his curtains. He shakes his head, and comforts himself with the fact that Peeta Mellark would never say such cruel things about anyone. In fact, the only time he ever heard Peeta say a negative thing would be when he was hijacked and calling Katniss those awful names.
Gale rolls out of bed and wishes that he didn't have to sleep through all his nightmares. He had to see them through, beginning to end, until his natural clock would wake him exactly at six thirty.
He figures it's part of his punishment, having to trudge through the awful nightmares with no control over when he gets to wake up.
Gale supposes he deserves worse.
She catches him walking out the door.
"Mornin', sunshine," she greets, slinging the familiar ax over her shoulder. The muscles in her arm flex attractively.
"Do I need to expect this every morning?" he asks.
Shrugging, Johanna smiles - he wonders how resilient she must be, to be able to smile like that. Then again, when he looks, he sees the edge of something that belies the happiness of the gesture, something he can't decipher.
"Depends if I'm feeling generous or not," she says, not unkindly.
"Huh," he exhales, unsure of what to say. He's never been the most vocal, unless he was around Katniss or bagging on the Capitol way back when. And, to be honest, he isn't sure how to treat this new…closeness with Johanna. Not closeness personally, of course, but the fact that they are living in the same building and working the same construction site…
"You gonna stand there looking like a dying fish or are you going to walk with me to work?"
He has to smile at her bluntness. "Yeah," he says, "okay."
The days fly by. He swears that each and every morning, Johanna plans her exit to coincide with his own.
"On the prowl, cougar?"
Maybe she makes him smile a bit more than he would like.
"Hey! Mr. Hawthorne!"
He winces, remembering his father, and then turns to the sound of the voice.
It's Cahra, the little girl from who-knows-how-long-ago. She's holding a lunchbox and staring at him with too large eyes - eyes that he imagines are blue, yet again, before they morph into the kind, chocolate color they are naturally. The ache of everything Prim settles in his chest.
To make things worse, she's wearing her hair in a braid, hanging over one shoulder.
"Hey, Cahra," he greets, forcing his voice to stay steady. "How are you today?"
"'m fine!" she chirps. "This is gonna be a hospital?"
Gale nods, "A clinic, yeah."
She appraises the fledgling frame of the building - they just got the framework of the walls up - and smiles. Something stabs him in the chest, burning and freezing at the same time. "That's good! Our other one got destroyed in the war!"
Gale raises his hammer and starts to gently tap on a nail, "That's what they tell me."
"Do you care if I sit here and eat my lunch?" she asks, out of the blue.
He blinks for a moment, not expecting this course of action. He then looks at the position of the sun. Funny, he hadn't even noticed it was lunch time. "Mind if I join you?"
Cahra blushes and nods.
As he sits down to eat with the small girl, he notices Johanna staring at them and motions her over. She sighs and reluctantly puts down the boards she was carrying. Gale shakes his head; he is sure that Johanna wouldn't eat until she went home if he didn't monitor her.
Gale finds himself unsure about the concept of group lunch at first, but as he sits down, sandwiched between the young girl who screams Primrose and the workaholic Victor, he feels that his chest has become a bit lighter.
"How's it going, Hawthorne?" one of his work friends says, smiling in an odd way as Gale scratches the back of his head with the handle of the hammer he had been using.
Gale turns to him, cocks his head, "Fine…why?"
His co-worker nods his head in the direction of one very noticeable distraction. Johanna wipes sweat from her brow, a stretch of flat, toned stomach visible as she does so. Her tanned cheeks are flushed from the heat and the exertion being put forth on her part. Gale finds himself staring for a moment and then saying, "What?"
His friend sighs and runs a hand through his unruly hair, "You and Johanna. I guess I have no chance, right? She's crazy as hell, but that's kind of hot, you know - "
Gale chokes on his own saliva, "What?" And for some reason, his heart is thundering. He's not used to that. "Me and Johanna? No, no…I…"
He'd never been good with expressing himself, his relationship with Katniss was one prime example, and he supposes that some things never change, no matter what a person has gone through.
"But you two walk to work together every day, man."
"That doesn't mean anything - I mean, she lives across the hall from me - " And he's not used to fighting for an explanation, either.
His friend quirks a curious eyebrow, a searching one, tinged with implications.
Gale sighs, "Look, you ask her out if you want to. But just make sure she doesn't have that ax in her hands while you do so. I've heard your pickup lines and they are likely to get your arm chopped off."
An apple hits him squarely in the chest.
Gale lets out a harsh breath and catches the fruit before it falls to the dirty ground. He looks up and meets the intense gaze of Johanna Mason.
"I should shove the damn thing down your throat."
Gale, unperturbed, takes a bite. The sweetness of the apple is still a rare treat for him. The crunch and the taste and the way it tingles his taste buds was something he never even imagined while in Twelve, and he still can't get over it. "Why?"
"Telling your buddy to ask me out. That it was okay. Like you're my keeper."
"He's not a bad guy." Gale steers away from her feminist train of thoughts.
"He used the worst line on me. He almost lost his junk."
"I told him not to talk to you while you had the ax on you."
Then, something strange happens. Something strange and marvelous and unexpected all at the same time.
Gale laughs - loud and happy and boisterous. He clutches his sides and the apple falls into the dirt and he tilts back on his heels and just allows himself to be in the moment.
The feather-light feeling comes into his bones again, and somehow that intensifies as Johanna starts to laugh with him.
He dreams again - nightmares, still.
He's running from those damned lizard creatures - the ones who smell of roses and are whispering Katniss' name.
Prim? What is she doing in this place? The whole thing is too real, too vivid and plausible. Yes, it would be just like her to put herself in danger, just like her to be able to maneuver herself into a position in which he couldn't save her.
All he wants to do is save her.
One of the lizards roars and slinks its way to lovely little Primrose. Gale screams and launches himself to block the assault -
And there's blood - Prim's blood. No, no, no.
He's a myriad of mistakes, each one as blatant as if carved onto his skin.
Gale walks to work in the rain the next day.
There is something cleansing about it. Cleansing and yet dirty at the same time. He arrives at work to find everyone there except one conspicuous absence.
He should've noticed it when she didn't meet him at his door that morning.
Johanna's not there.
Always sharp, he found himself wondering what on earth had caused Johanna to miss work. He picked up his hammer and belt of various tools, as well as a box of nails, and started to pick up pieces of damp wood and move them into the proper position. He finds himself actually missing her inappropriate comments and her cheer, which is a new feeling altogether.
Johanna never let anything get in her way; she had been surprisingly adamant on going to work. Skipping lunch breaks to continue working. Always the last to leave, walking with him to the apartment complex they shared…
Rain…she couldn't let that get in the way, right? It's just a little water…
And it clicks.
"They soaked her with water, Gale. Soaked her and used electric shocks…her test to get into our unit was supposed to ferret out a soldier's potential weakness…they flooded the street and she had to be put back under sedation…that's why she isn't here, Gale…"
Katniss' words, explaining calmly and coolly and with an undertone of desperation. He remembers how it was back then, remembers that she and Johanna had formed a sort of camaraderie…
Gale drops his equipment and hurries back through the wet and muck to his apartment, without even giving an explanation to the other workers.
He's not sure why he's so worried. But he is. His heart is thrumming away in his chest, a foreign and strange feeling - he'd thought his heart was a lead weight, never beating in true emotion, just to keep the blood pumping and continue his unwanted existence, but now…
Things were different.
He hurries back to the apartment, practically sprinting the whole way as soon as he realizes just how concerned he is. This is a strange thing for him. Concern. He hasn't felt it in so long. There was just the numb feeling of being hated, of being the one person that could never return to what they had known because of a mistake, of being the one that killed so many…the one that couldn't save anyone - not Prim, not Katniss, not even Peeta or his own family…
He's soaked through, shivering lightly, when he arrives at her door and bangs furiously on it.
She doesn't answer.
Panic sets in. He's just feeling a whole slew of foreign emotions today, ones that he thought he was long gone, blocked off from. Guilt and self-hatred had been the norm, and now this…
"Johanna!" he finds himself shouting. "Johanna!"
He wants to tear down the door, wants to force himself inside the place, wants to make sure she's okay.
You're not supposed to care this much, a voice in his head whispers. The people you care for always die - or worse.
But he doesn't care. He keeps on slamming his fist against the door, trying to drown out the rain, thinking of just how terrible she must feel, just how awful the realization was when she woke up this morning to the thunder and lightning and rain.
"Johanna - "
His hand moves down to the doorknob and he finds that the door is unlocked. In his desperation - so very odd - he pushes the door open so hard that the knob bangs into the inside wall.
No lights are on in the place, the only thing keeping the place from complete darkness being the television, flashing like a beacon. The curtains are drawn tightly, not even a hint of the cloudy weather seeping through.
Johanna sits on the bed, her knees drawn up to her chest, arms clasped around her calves, and looking frighteningly vulnerable and small.
She snaps her head to him in that instant, "Someone doesn't answer the door, assume they don't want company."
Her voice is rough, cracked, as if she hadn't drank anything. Her eyes are wide and enormous looking in her head, they reflect the television's glow like mirrors. Gale finds the urge to reach out and comfort her to be greater than anything he'd experienced since arriving in Two.
Don't touch her. You can't touch her. You'll ruin her, too.
You ruin everything, Gale.
"I was…" he trails off. He was what? Worried? Yes. Yes, he was. He can't say that. He can never say that. Not anymore.
"I'm fine, pretty boy," she says, her eyes now focused on the television. "I know you know what happened to me in the Capitol, and I don't want your pity."
"I'm not - "
"I've gotten better, you know. I used to couldn't even hear the sound of water without wanting to scream." She picks at a loose thread on her comforter. Boxes are still around her apartment, some unpacked, others not. The place is a mess. "I bathe. I'm sure Katniss realized that I was having trouble with that. It just takes me…longer than others. I have to…pump myself up for it. And even then, I don't stay in long."
"Johanna - "
"Don't." She raises a finger before focusing her wide brown eyes on him. "Don't say my name like that." Her eyes send chills through him. A woman who has seen far too much. "I'm fine. Days like this are the exception. When it sneaks up on me. I'm fine."
But her hands are shaking, and he knows that she is putting on a brave face.
But he'll allow her to keep her brave face - he has a feeling that she's allowed him to keep his.
"Care if I join you?"
"If it's because you feel sorry for me, then yes."
Gale sighs and then lets out a feeble-sounding chuckle, "Friends hang out and watch TV when there's nothing else to do."
"We're friends?" her reply is skeptical.
"What else would you call it?"
Her trembling hands clench into fists, a gesture that he pretends he doesn't see. "Come on in, then."
And he does.
They watch television and he makes bad jokes. Sometimes she laughs and joins in with the insults and sometimes she doesn't. But he understands. How could he not?
Maybe they're more alike than he originally thought.
He wakes up to the sun shining through parted curtains and a searing pain in his back.
Gale puts the pieces together rather quickly. He came over to Johanna's, they watched random television programs until the early morning hours, and he ended up falling asleep with his back propped against the side of the mattress, with the Victor herself on the bed above him.
"Wait until I tell everyone at work that you spent the night at my place." Returning along with the sun is Johanna's good humor. However, there are dark circles underneath her eyes, and he can tell that she hasn't slept at all.
Gale rubs a hand across his eyes, desperately needing a shower. Johanna offers to let him use hers, but he dismisses her with a joke, something about her just wanting him naked and in her apartment to use to her advantage. She laughs, but there is a slight tinge of disappointment in her eyes as he makes his way back to his own apartment.
Minutes later, while he is scrubbing shampoo into his hair and reveling in the strange sense of feeling completely rested, he realizes it.
For the first time in such a long, long time, the burning sisters did not plague his dreams.
"Good morning, Mr. Hawthorne!"
Gale cringes again, and finally says, "Call me Gale, Cahra. It's okay. I won't bite."
She blinks her enormous blue - no, no, brown - eyes and gives him a smile. "Can I eat lunch with you again today?"
The ground is still damp from yesterday's rain, and they sit on a dirt-caked beam of wood. The framework is up for the clinic and today is devoted to hammering up the walls. Gale feels something is missing, so he looks up and finds that Johanna is still working, "Johanna! Lunch!"
Johanna doesn't protest, only sighs and grabs the sack lunch she brought with her. She doesn't eat much, he notices, only a sandwich and a piece of fruit - usually an apple. She sits on his right side while Cahra takes up the left.
And everything feels like it's coming together, whatever that is supposed to mean.
Gale stiffens, looks up from where he is working, "Beetee?"
Beetee looks at him, runs a hair through his messy-genius hair and smiles. The light from the sun glints off his glasses. "Been a while."
"Yeah," he replies. "Yeah."
"Beetee!" Johanna exclaims from where she had been hammering up dry wall. "How are you, you crafty bastard?"
Beetee laughs and then looks at Gale while whispering, "I can see why you haven't called in a while."
Beetee helps with a lot of things. Gale is smart in his own way, but Beetee is an absolute genius in another. He helps with various things. Coordinating this and fixing that. It's a big help, one that Gale realizes he was missing for the longest time. Sure, he and Johanna have slowly become friends, and Cahra is always around on way or another, but Beetee was there for him when everything went to hell after the war.
Beetee is tapping away on some calculator-looking device when Gale comes up to him.
"It's almost lunchtime - "
Gale turns and sees Cahra, blonde - brown hair, he corrects himself, tied in a braid as usual. He wonders idly if she picked up the style from Katniss -
He finds himself looking at her longer than usual, musing, and Beetee is staring at him strangely.
"Lunch, Gale?" she asks, holding out something vaguely resembling a piece of cake. "I helped my mom bake it this morning!"
Gale finds himself smiling at her, "Sure."
He goes to turn to call Johanna over, but finds that she is already making her way over there, paper bag lunch in her hands.
"Join us, Beetee?"
Beetee takes in the situation once more, his calculating eyes looking for something that Gale himself doesn't even see. Can't see. He shrugs his thin, bony shoulders and nods. "Why not?"
"Where are you staying, anyway, Volts?"
Beetee looks at Johanna over his cup of soup. This is their third lunch together, and somehow it feels natural, even though Beetee has only been here a short amount of time.
"Some little hotel. I'm actually - ah - looking for a more permanent residence."
"You could always stay with handsome over here," Johanna nods in Gale's direction. "I live across from him in that apartment complex across town."
Beetee contemplates that for a moment, "Hm. You bring up an interesting point. Are there any other rooms available?"
Gale starts laughing.
All the damaged people in the same place - someone up there must be laughing as well.
Beetee ends up moving in the floor above Gale and Johanna. Somehow, Gale finds comfort in this. People who have all been through similar experiences as him, all in the same place. He could talk to them when he wanted, which he probably wouldn't. He never was a man of words - he didn't even confess how he felt to Katniss until Peeta was an actual threat…
But, nonetheless, all of this makes Gale content. And that contentedness was probably what brought on his nightmare.
The blonde woman caresses his name, her soft voice seeming to make it have syllables that it doesn't. But this isn't the blonde girl he so dreams about often. This isn't the blonde, burning and burning and dying -
Not, it is another blonde, but one that died in the same manner.
But she isn't all fire and brimstone and burning, like he remembers her. She is nothing but blonde and white and angelic, staring at him with all the patience of a saint.
He doesn't realize he's said her name until her pretty Merchant features twist into a smile, sad and somber and bitter. She's wearing the same dress that she wore on the day of the Reaping so long ago, and it really is a pretty dress. He wasn't lying when he told her that.
"You weren't expecting me," she says. "I can see it on your face."
And even though it is a dream, it feels like his heart is rending out of his chest, the pain so real, so vivid, that he thinks a metal claw of a hand has shattered through the bone of his chest and taken hold.
"I'm sorry," he whispers. "I could have saved you."
Madge smiles sadly, "No, you couldn't have. You know that. You tried, though, and I appreciate that."
Her voice is heavenly; it sounds so true to her own voice that he almost wants to reach out and touch her.
The sad smile continues. He hasn't dreamt of Madge in a long time - all his dreams had been consumed with Prim and Katniss and fire, fire, fire. The mayor's daughter had gotten lost in the shuffle, and he feels suddenly guilty.
"I'm not here to haunt you, Gale. I know you've had enough of that. I'm here to tell you something that needs to be said, something that you need to hear, despite what you think you deserve."
Gale waits and wonders and watches. The air around her shimmers, and her blonde hair looks almost white in its brightness.
And she is ripped from him as quickly as she appeared, leaving him panting and clutching his chest as he lies still in his bed, the morning sun peering through his window.
Gale rises earlier than Johanna for once, rapping on the door with cracked and dry knuckles.
He hears her stir from the other side of the door, her light tread moving toward him. The doorknob turns and she opens the door, staring at him with tired eyes. Her short hair is messy and spun around her face like a cobweb. "Ah, hell, Hawthorne. What?"
"Let's get to work."
Sighing, she moves over to let him in. "Fine. Let me get dressed."
He walks inside and tries not to stare as she takes her shirt off. He sees the pattern of scars on her back and finds his eyes wandering over them, wondering the story behind him and actually wanting to know.. She doesn't turn to face him, only moves to the bathroom and shuts the door behind her. Typical Johanna. Not caring if anyone sees her, not even the "pretty boy."
She emerges from the bathroom minutes later, in her typical shorts and tanktop. Johanna stares at him, quirking a brow, "Why are you looking at me like that?"
Gale tenses. He hadn't even realized a particular look was on his face, let alone that it was directed at Johanna. But her comment makes his heart race and he thinks that maybe her comment means more than he thought.
Johanna scoffs, and they head to work.
The work on the clinic goes by quicker than he thought.
They are putting the shingles on the roof one evening, late and as the sun sinks below the horizon, when Cahra comes up and smiles at Gale.
"Is it almost done?"
Gale stares at her, sees blonde for a moment before it morphs into brown.
"Move on." Madge's words echo through his mind.
He shakes his head and smiles, "Yeah. Just a few more days, I think, and then we find some people help decorate the inside."
Cahra lets out a girlish squeal of laughter, "That makes me so happy!"
Gale smiles at her, "Why?"
"I want to be a doctor one day, you know," she says with all the bluntness of a child. "You help people, and I want to, too."
The image of Primrose Everdeen is superimposed over her once again, and Gale feels his hands begin to shake.
He is in a meadow this time, a calm and serene place. It vaguely resembles his forest, and he almost has the urge to set a few snares.
The voice prevents him. Kind and sweet and so achingly familiar, he can't move because of it. His Seam gray eyes move to glance at what he knows he is going to see, and his heart prepares itself. Preparing himself for the complete and utter razing of his guilt-clouded mind, he finds her eyes - blue, so blue - and breathes.
Prim stands before him in the dress of the day of her first Reaping. Her arms are folded behind her and she leans forward on her tiptoes, smiling at him.
"Hey," she says.
It's such a simple greeting that he finds himself grinning, "Hey, yourself."
She looks around, the sun gleaming down on her fair hair, "Ya know, Gale, she isn't me."
His heart has frosted over, "What?"
"Cahra. Your friend." She cocks her head to the side, like a curious bird. "We're not the same."
Gale inhales shakily. Her words are true, so true that he almost wants to run from them.
Her eyes dart to a crystal clear lake beside them, the color of her eyes, "Will you teach me to swim, Gale?"
Such an innocent request, he has no choice but to acquiesce.
The sun shines brightly through his window and he wakes, a strange feeling in his chest.
There's a knocking on his door and he opens it to see it's Johanna, looking smugly at him.
"I didn't wake you, did I?" But her tone makes him think that she wanted to get him back from before.
He eats lunch with Johanna and Beetee and Cahra.
This one thing of normality, this one constant in his life…it is the only thing, he thinks, that keeps him somewhat grounded, especially when his dreams are so emotionally draining.
They finish lunch and move to work on finishing the shingles atop the clinic. Cahra waits and watches and smiles, making random comments and Gale finds himself feeling lighter, as if the weight of the world has been lifted from his muscled shoulders.
Maybe there are other things keeping him grounded, as well.
Gale finds himself staring at Johanna.
He's reminded viciously of her first day on the job, in which all of his workers were gazing at her as if she were a particularly delicious looking piece of meat.
He watches her as she works. Watches as her muscles bunch as she fastens shingles. Gazes at the movement of her slender throat as she drinks water. Stares as she runs a hand through chestnut brown locks.
His heart is thudding, and he feels guiltier than ever.
The trio of dreams comes to a screeching halt when she appears, beautiful and wild and his again. But there is a strange undercurrent to the visit, something that he just doesn't feel anymore. Sure, the guilt is there. Sure, he hates himself for ruining her. But he feels only friendship, the fading thing that he wanted to keep in bold print throughout his life.
He failed at that, too.
Unlike the previous two visitors, Katniss Everdeen wears her hunting gear, her hair in the messy braid down her back, her feet covered by her father's worn boots. This is the Katniss he fell in love with, not the fiery Victor that captivated the whole of Panem.
She says nothing, only lets his name lie in the air between them like a broken promise. She's like him in that aspect, never saying anything that wasn't necessary. She communicates with him via her eyes, gray as the ashes of Twelve. One of those crooked smiles, awkward and endearing at the same time, finally twitches her lips and she steps forward, pressing her hand against his shoulder before moving into the throng of trees and disappearing.
He knows not to follow, but somehow…he feels better than if he had.
He pauses before knocking on her door.
But then, his knuckles are rapping and his heart is pounding and his brain is screaming at him that this probably isn't a good idea.
But then she opens the door, looking well-slept and frustrated. "Yes - "
She barely gets her retort out before his lips are on hers.
The kiss is intense, building, and he presses his lips to her frantically, as if trying to fuse them together. Her posture is tense, and he thinks in amusement that he might have just caught the Johanna Mason off guard. Soon, she relaxes and returns the kiss, weaving her fingers through his hair and chuckling against his mouth.
She parts from him first and quirks a brow at him, giving him a truly Johanna-like response.
"'Bout damn time, is what I say."
And she kisses him again.
The hospital is finished in record time. Everything in place, everything looking just as perfect as Gale had imagined it, maybe even more so, thanks to Beetee.
Time moves on at its own pace. There are things about Gale's fledgling relationship with Johanna that he doesn't quite get - he really hasn't been in a romantic relationship before, and this is quite new to him, after all. But he doesn't mind. He figures that finding out new things with her isn't so bad, especially since it makes him feel more human than he had in the longest time.
He now looks at Cahra and sees Cahra, not the lovely, wilted Primrose.
He looks at Beetee and sees a true friend.
He looks at District 2 and sees a new beginning.
As they watch the mayor of Two cut the ribbon in front of the new clinic, he twines his fingers with those of Johanna Mason, and she feels like home.
"Move on," an old friend had told him.
Gale Hawthorne finally thinks he is.