Part III;

Gale has gone all but silent, electing to speak only when it is of no great consequence. Can you get the phone? Will you pass the salt? How was your day, Johanna? All were spoken as if they were an echo: frail, hollow.

Something so simple as seeing an old friend would not have done this to someone under normal circumstances. Then again, this couldn't really be called normal. Gale has been running from Katniss for so long. Over five years, and now I'm saying he's going to see her again. It's to be expected, really. For the past six weeks, we've been running. Or so it's felt like. We haven't really been thinking much of the ever-too-present past. Somehow we have managed to evade the consequences found in avoiding our pasts. Caught up in each other, nowhere else to look.

Apart from the sparse conversations pertaining to her, I'd made him forget about Katniss. Apart from his prodding about my family, I'd forgotten them. The horrible history it all. Perhaps brokenness in others is the only way to forget brokenness in oneself.

Whatever it was we had found in each other, we had found not love, not now. It was survival. A reaffirmation of worth.

And now it was me, who had helped him get away from his previous ensnarement, that was sending him back into it. Forcing him to face it head on. For the first time in five years. Katniss Everdeen, the girl he'd been trying so hard to forget.

But this was necessary. Aforementioned was that we had not found love. No. We were not in love, it was only the shadow of love. The idea that we would be if we weren't carrying around so much. The occasional Love you was thrown around, but it was only a vacant expression, holding out for was could be in its place. We knew we could not love, not yet, not with the things we were still clinging so vehemently to. And pretending would work no longer.

So Gale had to make up with Katniss. That was his baggage. In one week, we would leave for Twelve. And he had to do this, or else he would be stuck in the past always. Somewhere in the back of his head, he would still be wondering about the girl on fire.

And I want so badly to love him. Therefore, he can't be clinging to her.

And I cannot be clinging to my family. That was mine to let go.

That's why I boarded a train two days after telling him about the trip scheduled to Twelve. I had to go to Seven.

I am staying here for two days and only two. Though it was more like one full day and two half days, but really the effect is the same.

When I step off at the train station, I nearly keel over. I'd forgotten the scent of Seven, how strong it was. Or perhaps I never really noticed. The smell of evergreens permeates the air; any other smell would be lost. I take a deep breath before moving on, doing my best to fade into the crowd.

Even after being remodeled and cleaned up, District Seven feels the same as it always has. I easily find a hotel, tucked into the less busy side of town. If the woman behind the desk knows my name, she doesn't show it. For this I am grateful.

I've hardly even dropped my bags before I'm collapsing on the bed. I squeeze my eyes shut, fingers curling on the blanket. The moment passes quickly though, and soon I jump up and move to the window. I throw it up, letting in the setting sun and the fresh air. I take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Even in this tiny hotel room, I feel home. The feeling is freeing, and I haven't even been to the cemetery yet.

;x

The next day comes quickly. All too quickly and yet not quickly enough. I'm conflicted the whole walk to the grave site. More than once I debate just returning to the hotel.

I trudge on.

Somewhere along the way, I find some sort of floral shop. My hands fumble around until they land on a bouquet containing some array of blues and whites.

Jiles always did like blue.

I know the way to the cemetery well; my father's grave never went unvisited for long when I lived here. Hadn't been visited since mother and Jiles were buried, though. Not by me, anyway.

This trip is probably long overdue.

The graveyard is empty. It seems to stretch on for forever; far too long for a field for the dead. How can there be so many?

Carefully I step. Leaves crunch underfoot. Wind blows my hair into my face. The cool air bites at my skin. It doesn't, however, feel like it's me who's walking. I can practically see myself. A girl with a hacked haircut, looking like she just rolled out of bed, all but stumbling through a cemetery. I probably look like some lost mourner.

It doesn't take me long to find them, my mother and sister. Right beside Dad. Before I can even form a competent thought, I fall at his grave. My eyes are glued to his headstone, avoiding mother's and Jiles' like the plague.

"Oh, Daddy…" I breathe. "I'm so sorry." Shaking fingers drop a few flowers just before his headstone. "I suppose you can't hear me though. It doesn't work like that, does it?" The date of death imprinted into the cold stone seems to be enough answer. Finally, though despite, I whisper, "I should have taken care of them. I didn't mean to, Daddy. I didn't." I clamp my teeth down on my lower lip, eyes falling to the faded green of the grass. "The Capitol, they… they put me in the Games, and then they wanted to sell me. I couldn't do that. I didn't know what would happen." I press my fingers to my eyes, tears leaking out. "I'm sorry. It wasn't good enough, but I tried my damn best."

I bite my tongue, the words seeming to sting my tongue. I turn away from his headstone. I let out a shaky breath, knowing however that what I came here for today is a foot and a half to the left. With a knot in my stomach, I turn at last to face the newer headstones.

A strangled noise leaves my lips without my permission. For a second, I'm not even sure it came from me.

"Jiles, hello," I choke out. "I'm sorry, Jiles. Surely you understand though." It's more of a plea than a statement. "Right? I would have never… I'm sorry, I never…. I never hated you. I thought I did, but I was wrong. Jiles, I never wanted… you to die."

Through blurred vision, I barely manage to yank a handful of flowers from the bouquet.

"I got them for you. Blue. You liked blue, right?" I tuck my legs underneath me, desperately wiping my eyes. "Sorry if your favorite color was actually pink. Honest mistake." I manage a shaky laugh.

After that, apologies fall over and over again from my lips for my little sister. Nothing here is forced. She was so young, and now she is no more. There is everything to mourn here. And once the apologies start to run out, I begin to fall silent until I'm enveloped in it.

Not wanting to but knowing I have nothing but this to do, it's to my mother's headstone I look. "Mama," I whisper, "we both messed up, and I… am sorry. It wasn't my fault. But it wasn't your fault you and Jiles became depressed either… I'm sure you must know that it wasn't my fault, but… I'm sorry I didn't care at first. I'm sorry I never grieved you, but I'm paying for that now, Mama. I never let go of you." I put my hand to my mouth, choking down a sob. I squeeze my eyes shut. "You and Jiles were all I had, and I laughed when you died. I was so wrong, and I'm so sorry. I just don't want to hear you screaming anymore…" I keel over, hands over my eyes, elbows in the dirt. Silent sobs tear through me. It's been a long time since I felt this vulnerable. Nothing I can remember measures up to this. I feel weak. "I'm sorry. I probably sucked as a daughter, huh?" I force my eyes open to stare at the stone. "But… I can't hold on forever. I don't want to forget you, but I can't do this anymore. I need… to get past this. 'Cause, Mama, I met a boy. Not really 'met,' not really a 'boy,' I suppose, but…" I force myself to a sitting position, wiping my tears onto my sleeve. "He's… wonderful. You would like him a lot. And for him, I have to let go of… of this. Please… please forgive me, you guys. I need nothing else. I never hated you. I didn't mean it… please, Mama. Jiles."

I sit there for too long a time, groveling as a peasant does before a god. I know not what else I could do, and so I sit and I wait.

When at last the sun is going down, I put my fingers to my lips and then touch each of their headstones. I stand. Then I head towards the exit.

"Dammit," I whisper, "I just spoke to some dead people."

;x

Everything around me after that feels cold. Estranged. Part of me thinks I must have encountered some ghostly entity. The larger, more rational side of me thinks it must just be from sitting out in the autumn air for so long. A miniscule part of me thinks it's something more than that, for it's a definite sort of cold. Constant.

I sigh.

The hotel is cold. The restaurant. The train.

It has to just be me. My mind.

I pull my knees to my chest as I stare listlessly beyond the window. My arms wrap around my legs and my lips press tightly together. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I wonder if my family heard me.

A few hours later, when I step off the train, I wonder if it's a good or bad thing that I feel as though I've left part of myself back in Seven. I breathe in the smells of Two, and I can practically feel myself fall back into the pace of life here.

It's painfully different.

But more of painful in the way that you long for. The pain that means you were a part of something and now you're starting something else. Forging your way into something new. The hurt that pounds against your muscles when you've just hacked through a tree trunk, but then you look up to see you've got a million more to cut through. But you know you can do it.

Good hurt.

Meaningful hurt.

I choke down the sentiment and slip through the crowd. The forest of people. As quickly as I can, I dash down the street. Snake through the doors and up to the twenty-fifth floor. Even though I have a key in my pocket, I find myself pressing down the button outside the door.

Not even five seconds later, the door slides open and Gale stands before me. Immediately my bag falls from my hand and my arms wrap tight around his waist. He weakly returns the gesture, and then I take a single step backwards. On my tip-toes, I reach up to peck him on the cheek.

Inside the apartment is warm.

;x

The television light is the only thing illuminating the dark living room. Its low, muffled volume causes the only noise. I'm curled up on the couch, head resting against Gale's leg. I'm hyperaware of his skin against mine as I drag idle patterns on the back of his hand, as his other hand fiddles absentmindedly with my hair. I wonder if he feels the same.

"Gale," I say at last, hardly above a whisper.

"Yes?"

"You're coming to Twelve, right?" The question had gone unasked since I got home a couple days ago, and seeing as how we were scheduled to leave tomorrow, it'd been gnawing at me. He could always back out, though I couldn't imagine him really doing so.

He lets out a defeated sigh. "Of course, Johanna."

My only response is a quiet, "Thank you."

"What for?"

"For doing this for me, for you." A pause. "For Katniss."

"It's not that big a deal."

I let him think that.

Sometime I must have fallen asleep because when I next wake up, I'm in my own bed. The clock reads four-thirty-two. Sleep doesn't seem to want to return to me, so after about twenty minutes, I roll out of bed. Lethargically I make my way over to the door and open it slowly. I shuffle down the hallway but then stop. I turn and head to Gale's room. I rest my hand on the knob and debate turning it for a good ten minutes. Finally I do, and I slip in.

The first thing I become aware of is that he is awake.

"Johanna?" he asks slowly, almost confusedly. Sleepily, Gale props himself up on his elbows.

"Oh good. You're awake," I mumble. I make my way over to the bed and then sit cross-legged beside him.

"What are you doing up?" he questions, sinking back down. His eyes focus blankly on the ceiling, flicking slightly over to me.

"I could ask the same to you. But nothing. I just woke up and decided to come in here," I say softly, fiddling with the blanket.

"I see. I just never fell asleep."

Immediately my face snaps to his. "Gale…"

He merely shrugs. "Couldn't sleep."

I cast him a sympathetic look before sinking down beside him. Intently I study his face; the way the muscles in his arms look when his hands are tucked behind his head; the worry etched in his forehead. I reach over with one hand to cup it against the side of his face farthest from me. I turn his face to mine.

"God, you're such a worrier."

That gets a small smile from him.

My other hand goes to the other side of his face, and then I lean over to kiss him. He kisses back fervently, as a small child who has lost something of great importance.

"What if she hates me, Johanna?" he whispers, pulling back slightly after a moment.

My eyes open to meet his, and I reply under my breath, "How could she?"

"I hated her."

"Well, that's different. You don't anymore, anyway," I answer lamely. "And come on… I've talked to her, you idiot."

He just gives a weak, airy laugh. Hardly even a laugh. More like an amused exhale. "Right. And if she… throws me out?"

"Then… then that's closure. And that's all we want," I whisper, the pain evident in my voice. If that were to happen, I think I would shut down. I would have to knock some sense into that girl myself. Not that it would happen. Could happen. The very idea of it, however, is sickening.

"I guess you're right," he concedes.

I nod ever so slightly and then my eyes dart towards the clock. Ending that topic, I say, "We've got four hours until we have to leave. Maybe you should sleep until then. Can't have you cranky. God, I hate it when you're cranky…"

Gale cracks a smile, a real smile. Then he asks lightly, "Stay with me?"

I breathe, "Yeah."

Then I drop slowly down to the covers, curling up in them. Somewhere underneath, his fingers knot with mine. Not ten minutes later, he's asleep with me following suit soon after.

;x

"Rise and shine, Sleeping Beauty," I exclaim, clapping in his ear.

He jerks up, groaning. His hands go to his face, rubbing his eyes. Gale mumbles a few incoherent words before asking, "What time is it?"

"Seven in the morning. Now get up." I drag him towards the end of the bed before he pulls out of my grip, responding a few mumbled words about how he can get out himself. I nod, heading for the door. "I made you coffee. So hurry up. Before it gets cold."

I then step out of the room, and I drag my suitcase to the front door to join Gale's. I give a satisfied nod before entering the kitchen. I jump up on the counter and grab a box of cereal from the cabinet. Not bothering with a bowl, I eat it right out of the box.

Gale walks in a few minutes later, shuffling around blindly. He's gotten dressed, though it does nothing to make him look more awake.

"Didn't sleep?" I ask flatly.

"Quiet, you."

I offer a small smile. "We leave soon."

"I'm aware."

"Excited?"

"I don't… know if that's the right word. Necessarily. But for all intensive purposes, sure. Why not?" He takes a sip of his drink, sinking down at the table.

"Excellent," I chirp, shortly nodding.

He nods in return, bringing the mug to his lips again. We fall into silence until he finishes. Then he rises lethargically and drops the cup into the sink. He turns to me, unreadable look in his eyes, and says, "Well, we should get going."


Thank you all for your lovely reviews! I love you all. Also, I thought I'd put my playlist for writing this out there. Because I enjoy it. So. Angel in Disguise by Cinema Bizarre; Awake by Secondhand Serenade; Be My Escape by Relient K. Decipher Reflections from Reality by playradioplay!; Down on You by Tokio Hotel; Fix You by Coldplay; In Our Bedroom After the War by Stars (Heh, you may recognize a line from this); Overdone by Ludo; Problematique by Hot Chelle Rae; Rebel Love Song by Black Veil Brides; Rescue Me by Hawthorne Heights; Savior by Black Veil Brides.