Disclaimer: The Hunger Games Trilogy and its characters belong to Suzanne Collins. I own nothing - well, there are two characters in this fic who I created, but even so, they were intended to be children of two well-known (and well-loved ?) characters.
They walk down the sandstone lane of the Theme Park, hand in hand. The girl - no, young woman - with ear-length dark brown hair. The smaller girl - just past the baby phase for she has just turned five - chattering at her big sister with ice cream all over her face and on the tip of her dark ponytail, which now sticks on her red cheeks. They look at each other lovingly and adoringly through their brown-specked gray eyes, the huge age difference not bothering them at all.
It took Johanna three long years to start feeling human again. Her games, the forced prostitution, the torture imposed on her by the capital, the loss of Finnick, the shocking aftermath of the second revolution and what happened to Katniss, they were just too much.
The first year, she just floated around Panem. Hopping on and off trains, popping in other victors' houses just for the fun of it - she even visited Enobaria once, and obviously, it didn't end up really well for both of them. She kept falling on and off morphling; speaking on national television about her live as a Victor and Snow's loan-item when she was lucid, and sitting around in her semi-abandoned house in District 7 when she was high, not knowing who she was and why she was there. It was that one ultimatum from Annie Odair - the person people thought would never be sane again after all that happened - that brought her back to her feet. Either she sobered up and started living again, or she had to stay away from her godson - Finnick and Annie's son - for good.
The thought of losing the only inkling she would have of Finnick scared her more than she should be, and the very next day, she picked up her phone and asked Haymitch Abernathy for help. The drunk, older Victor responded by sending her to Capitol for sessions with Dr. Aurelius, who apparently had done wonders with Katniss and Peeta. Johanna was skeptical about it, at first. As cynical as she was regarding love and friendship, she knew well that Katniss and Peeta kept each other sane - with their existence and their words, respectively. Without anyone to cling to in her times of desperation, Johanna doubted she would be able to get back on track, ever again. And she had relented to just let it be, to accept that she was broken beyond repair, and to be content that she would die alone, soon or later.
Well, once again, she was proven wrong. Though it wasn't immediate - one doesn't really call one and a half years immediate - the countless hours of therapies and sessions brought her back to an acceptable, lucid, morphling-free state. She never managed to be the person she was before the games again, as she sometimes wished, but all those bitterness and anger and fear from all her experiences, all slowly transformed into a more positive energy, to a desire not to let anyone experience what she had been through.
Hell, sometimes she wondered if that blond, plastic-legged, used-to-be-half-manic former prison cell neighbour of hers had rubbed his generosity and kind heart on her, all the way from District 12.
Annie was the only person who really saw her and spoke to her throughout her whole time in the Capitol hospital and later in a nearby studio apartment. The little boy - who looked and acted just like Finnick - joined her towards the end of Johanna's treatment, bringing back perspective and little bits of love into his godmother's life. The sweet little boy even didn't mind when his 'Auntie Jo' slipped up and call him 'Finnick', even though it wasn't his name. As if he knew how much his late father meant to her.
So, upon her clearance to leave Capitol, there was only one place for Johanna to go - District 4. She stayed there with Annie and the Odairs' boy, enjoying the beach life as much as she could - showers were no longer an issue for her, but baths and swims are still, until today, big issues. One day, after six months of sitting around and watching life passing by, she decided that it was time for her to start living again. That it was time for her to do something, to stop merely existing and staying sane. That she needed a purpose in life, not just awaiting death.
Two weeks later, she was on a train to District 2, a letter of assignment from the Social Department of Panem tucked in her backpack. The orphanages built just after the rebellion were overfilled, a lot of innocent children bearing the consequences of things they didn't do needed a new place. Her skills with ax and furniture-making were needed there.
It was in the half-finished orphans' house in District 2, among splinters and planks and sawdust, she was reunited with a person she didn't really give much thought about, and whom she thought she would never see again: Gale Hawthorne.
"Hello, Gorgeous," she greeted him, leaning against the furniture workshop's wall. "Thanks for the zero calls and zero letters, I really appreciate it."
"Well, I didn't think you care, Mason," he acknowledged her, a serious scowl on his face. "And to be honest, I didn't have the chance to know you well enough to be worrying about you."
It wasn't much of a reunion, really, but soon, non-conversations inside furniture workshops and outside the door of the shiny-but-cold apartment building he lived in by himself were replaced with nights out at the bar and eventually meals together in her little wooden cottage. "Gorgeous" and "Mason" were replaced with "Hawthorne" and "Johanna", and eventually "Gale" and "Jo". Awkward hugs of camaraderie between two surviving victims of that monster Snow's tyranny were replaced first by arms slung comfortably around waists and shoulders, and eventually desperate, wanting kisses.
Their first time together, they had nothing to lose to one another. Both of them weren't innocent, and it happened for no reason other than for the sake of it. They just needed to vent out a lot of different feelings and emotions, a lot of hurt and pain. He tried to keep away from her the next few days, only to be pulled back by the same desperation the very next week. After the seventh cycle of push-and-pull, she finally confronted him and asked him what he really wanted.
"Look, Gale," she said, grabbing his forearm tightly as they sat down for a much-needed breakfast after an exhausting night of passion marathon. "I know that you still desperately love that brainless girl - but I heard from her drunken mentor that she's now playing house with the baker's-son-turns-baker, so you've really got to move on. I'm so sick of dancing this weird hide-and-seek dance."
He looked up from the slightly burnt omelette - she was a really lousy cook - then turned away, staring at her fireplace where some faulty logs from the workshop were burning to keep them warm in the cold winter day.
"They're assigning me a house sometime next week," he finally said, turning back to her and looking at her with a straight, emotionless face. "It'll be a huge one, one of those family houses. I told them I don't have any wife or kids, and that my folks have moved back to 12, not wanting to live here anymore, but they wouldn't have it. In case I eventually settle down, they say."
She studied him silently, stirring her cup of clumpy instant coffee, and asked, "is that a proposal?"
"Yes," he answered, turning back to his omelette and started eating.
Five days later, they stood before District 2's then-mayor, as the tall, sturdy woman joined them together in a marriage neither of them knew how to navigate. There were neither toasting nor District 7 rituals that day - they simply went back home and took their confusions out on each other's bodies, on the marital bed they'd built together over the last five days. It wasn't a work of art or love or devotion, more of a practical piece of furniture, but it was what it is: a practical piece of furniture.
The next day, Johanna sat there in the living room watching as Gale picked up the phone and called his mother in District 12. It was a matter-of-fact-conversation, that he'd met Johanna again and married her, but Johanna couldn't help but noticing the slight hint of remorse in his voice.
No precautions were taken, for he wanted children and she wanted to have loved ones again. Three months into the marriage, Johanna's monthly cycle halted. She didn't tell Gale anything, but he eventually found out, a month later as she laid bleeding on the bathroom floor, paralyzed by the near-unbearable pain radiating from her stomach.
Later that night, he held her and wiped her tears for the first time in their so-called relationship, as she laid sobbing on her hospital bed.
It was ironic and sad that it took the loss of their first pregnancy for him to open up to her, for him to let down his guard a bit and let her know that he cared. He helped her from the car to their bedroom when she was released, carrying her when it became apparent to him that she was by no means fit to walk. He fed her, made sure she had all the medications, and held her as she silently cried herself to sleep, not turning away from her as he usually did every time they laid to sleep.
The bed, the practical piece of furniture, soon gained another function: a sacred place where silent emotions could be poured over chaste hugs and kisses, where comfort and refuge were sought and found.
Two more pregnancies were lost throughout the next eighteen months - one barely there and one far enough they thought it was going to last. Johanna's strong facade never once crumbled, bar the silent tears shed as the doctors cleaned her up and set her body back on track. And Gale's stoic facade never one crumbled, too, bar the moments late at night he spent drinking himself to oblivion.
She knew his pain, how much he'd wanted a child, how much he wanted to redeem himself. Yet she couldn't offer him any word of consolation. She didn't have any.
A few days before the second anniversary of their non-wedding wedding, Gale turned up drunk at the furniture workshop Johanna killed her spare time at, in broad daylight, waving a plain white envelope addressed to "Gale & Johanna".
"They're getting married," he slurred, throwing the envelope on her face. "The Mockingjay and her Loverboy."
"So?" she asked, picking up the envelope and putting it on the chair she sometimes sat on when working. "Not like you don't know it's going to happen, husband."
She felt the burn from the figurative acid she threw with that one last word she said. She loved her husband.
"You still love her, don't you?!" she yelled at him, jealousy and sorrow getting the better of her. "Never get over her?! Touching me imagining it's Katniss Everdeen's body that you're touching?!"
He laughed mirthlessly at her and retorted, "the same way you imagine it's Finnick Odair touching you."
She threw the invitation - precisely, the way she usually throws stuff, on his face - and stormed out, tears flying around her face as she ran back to her house to pack.
He didn't bother showing up to stop her, and by the end of the day, she was inside Annie Odair's District 4 house, sniffling uncontrollably as the widow combed - with fingers - her spiky hair, and the fatherless son of her Finnick circled his small but strong arms around her waist.
She knew that there was a 99% chance of Gale being absent at the Everdeen-Mellark wedding, but still she was crushed and again consoled by Annie and the little Odair boy when he didn't turn up at all. There was one thing, though, that brought her a little bit of happiness in that place. Rumours had it that Katniss Mellark, nee Everdeen, was no longer exiled. Apparently, someone had discovered all the tapings and records of Coin's evil plans, and convinced the Capitol authorities that the former Mockingjay had merely been doing the right thing. Even when she was mad at him, even when she wanted to hate him for his distance, ignorance, and hurtful words, Johanna could not help feeling proud that Gale had done what should have been done long ago, that he'd stood his ground and fought hard for what he believed.
Johanna's belongings were completely unpacked into the guest bedroom, and she'd started settling into District 4 routine, when Gale finally showed up at the Odairs' front door. Annie was out that day, walking on the beach, the way she usually did when her memories troubled her. The man of the house - the five year old boy - had been disarmed, and was running around in the front yard, contentedly sucking on a lolly Gale had bribed him with.
"Oh, hi," said Johanna, after an awkward moment staring at each other on the door. "Long time no see."
"Too long," Gale corrected, pushing through her and letting himself into the house. The neon light inside illuminated the small, clear-cut scar in the middle of his forehead, right where she'd thrown the invitation on.
"Scared of the wife you don't love, huh?" she asked him, smirking. The words wrung her heart dry, but her ego said she had to say them, for they were the truth.
"Scared of the wife who crept up on me," he replied, his hardened gray eyes meeting her wide-set brown ones.
As the clock struck midnight that day, they were back in District 2, in the marital bed they built together, streaks of tears on their faces from the emotional, passionate lovemaking that eventuated earlier in the night.
That night, he got her pregnant again. They tried to be hopeful, to no avail. They knew Johanna was too physically broken. No one else had lived through the tortures Capitol had put her through. She put a brave, carefree facade when he's around, all smiles and pretend baby talks and plans. What happened as soon as he was out of the door for work, though, was another story. She would strip off her top and stand in front of the bedroom mirror, wrapping her arms around her stomach.
Gale caught her one day as he ran back into the house to pick up some paperwork he'd left on the dining table, and stood there watching as she looked at her bump with a sad smile. He ended up taking the day off and marching her - half forcefully - to the hospital, where he used his military rank and her Victor status to gain access to the best prenatal care in the whole country. They came back with vials of medicines and deep-tissue injection syringes, which he used on her dutifully every morning from the next day up until the safe, seven-months mark had passed.
Their daughter was born, small and jaundiced but otherwise perfectly healthy, a whole month before the expected due date.
"You've done so much," said Gale as Johanna lied on her hospital bed minutes after the birth. He gently brushed the damp hair off her glistening, fresh-off-battle forehead and continued, "I'll leave it up to you what you would like her name to be."
"Just any name?" asked Johanna as she tried hard to focus her tired, blurring eyes on his stoic face.
"Any name," he reaffirmed, gently pushing a glass of water to her dry, bitten-down lips, subtly forcing her to drink.
She had her drink, then threw her head back onto the pillow, staring at the ceiling. She stayed like that for a good five or so minutes, before turning to him and said, "Cypress. Cypress Gail Hawthorne."
The next two weeks in their lives went away in a frenzy, as they got themselves used to Cypress' tiny but commandeering presence and the flocks of paparazzi gathering outside the hospital and outside their house to catch a glimpse of the first child to be born to a Victor since Annie Odair's son. In the brink of madness from the sleep deprivation and new parents' guilt, Gale and Johanna relented to Plutarch Heavensbee's offer of a private TV interview. Two weeks later, a special parcel of a Teddy Bear dressed in hunting attire, holding a small snared rabbit and a set of bows and arrows, arrived all the way from District 12.
Despite things happened between all of them during that first few dark months after the rebellion, their old friends still hoped that their girl grew up to be just like her father, to be his hunting companion.
In one of life's most amazing quirks, a helpless, innocent baby helped the broken man living among the ghosts of war and the broken woman living in shadow of murders and tortures and coercions. It wasn't that they had been too haunted and dysfunctional as human beings before - Johanna knew how to get her stuff together, and how to help Gale to get his together. But the world of simply getting oneself composed and reminding oneself not to sit around in self pity was quickly replaced by the world of dirty diapers, endless feedings, and happy laughters.
They saved themselves, but Cy - Cypress' nickname - pulled them further into safety.
Gale and Johanna's relationship, born through convenience and desperation, had finally grown into a form of interdependency they were sometimes scared of, with Cy tangled somewhere in between. At times the notion of family was so overwhelming that Gale distanced himself and pored over his work as a military strategist. At times, fear overtook Johanna's nights and materialized the long gone President Snow back in her dreams, in which both her husband and daughter were taken away from her in various ways. Each time, she had to remind her cold-sweating self that Snow could no longer harm her now, could no longer take everyone she loved away from her. And that her body was hers and hers alone, to share with the person of her choice, her husband.
Strong and bold and apparently shameless as she was, Johanna's mental scars from her dark days as Snow's prostitute lingered, fresh and bleeding, and was nothing but amplified as she watched her daughter grow into a little girl with wide-set eyes, identical to hers if not for the Seam gray irises.
One night, she woke up screaming from the nightmare of Snow trying to sell little Cy to the most ruthless client she'd ever had in her life, jumped off the bed and to her daughter's room, grabbed and clung to her daughter for dear life. Gale woke up to both his wife and daughter crying, Johanna from the shock of the nightmare, Cy from confusion and from sensing her mother's devastation. It took him a good ten minutes to convince Johanna that it was just a dream and get her to let go of their hysterical daughter.
He sat on the bed cradling both of them afterwards, staring at the ceiling with hardened eyes. By the time Johanna woke up the next day, he'd pulled some connections, and all the former Capitol figures who had previously paid Snow to get sexual favours from past Hunger Games Victors were already issued with a trial notice for participating in illegal prostitution. Also issued with trial notices are former Peacekeepers and Capitol's Henchmen responsible for torturing all the Victors captured after the Quarter Quell.
Gale stood beside Johanna as she made her appearance in the mass trial, bravely and boldly point at each of the accused she remembered, and recounted the horror she experienced in their hands, some of which was too much for Gale he ended up storming out of the room to punch the wall and let out the angry scream he'd held in all along.
He now knew why she sometimes bled after their moments of passion, and why she could never carry a baby full-term.
They had their little celebratory drink when all her rapists - and also all Finnick's rapists and Cashmere's rapists and other Victors' rapists - were locked in. When he made love to her later that night, it was gentle, and she cried from the surge of emotions from the realization of her husband's love for her.
Gale had another surprise lined up for her the next morning. On her dresser was a proposal for a non-profit organization providing counselling and support and legal services for victims of sexual abuse, rape, and forced prostitution in Panem.
She had never thought much about why they'd stayed together through all the years, despite the frequent bickering and occasional indifference. But, as she stared at the wood burning in their fireplace that winter morning, she knew why.
She was the wood to his fire, and him the fire to her wood. She kept him burning, slow and steady, and he lit up all the potentials in her, drawing out the shine in her, once more.
The final step cementing Gale and Johanna's relationship occurred fifteen years after their post-war reunion. During that period, Gale had raised numerous time across the military ranks, up to the point that he was seventh in command of the Panem Army. With Gale's careful plan and silent support, Johanna had grown her little non-profit club into the largest, most-discussed organization in Panem. Despite her objections, everyone insisted on calling it "The Johanna Foundation" after her. She thought it was pretty conceited, but Gale insisted that she deserved it, and after years of togetherness and a child together he just knew how to get her to agree.
Cypress was by then twelve - still an only child, for they lost all their subsequent seven pregnancies before they even realized. She had inherited a perfect mix of their physical features: dark brown hair, wide-set, brown-flecked gray eyes, lithe but tall figure, tan skin. She had inherited, too, the stubbornness innate of both her parents, and Gale's fire amplified by Johanna's feistiness. She knew bits and pieces about the games and the rebellion, from school and from the media, but they had not yet told her the detailed, unsaid stories. They were saving it for after her sixteenth birthday, when she would have a better perspective of why things happened. They hadn't yet decided who would tell her about specific parts of it: how Snow had sold Johanna after she won her games, how Johanna was captured and tortured in Capitol, how Gale led the evacuation of what he could safe from his district as the old Capitol bombed it to ground, how Gale participated in designing the parachute bomb which played part in buying the rebels victory - over blood and tears of innocent children and bystanders caught in the bombing. They would figure it out, though, and they've made a pact with each other not to run away from telling their daughter the truth; Cypress deserved to know it.
A few weeks before what would be the reaping day for the 93rd Hunger Games, had all the Star-Crossed Lovers stuff and Mockingjay rebellion not happen, Johanna received a letter from the Capitol. They would like to invite all the surviving Victors to the Capitol for a string of memorial event - with a memorial ceremony for the Tributes, Victors, and Rebel Soldiers who were no longer with them today as the peak and final one.
"Do you want to go?" asked Gale, looking at Johanna with an almost-scowl - to the letter, not to her, of course.
"Well, sooner or later, I would have to go back up there in my Victor's glory," she answered, looking up from her perfectly cooked eggs perfected with years of practice. "They just love Johanna, don't they?"
"Is that a yes?" asked Gale again, staring intently at her.
"Yes," she answers, looking back down to her eggs.
They arrived in Capitol a day before Reaping Day holiday, without Cy who chose to spend her holiday in a wilderness survival camp with a bunch of her friends. The Victors and their plus ones were housed in a fancy new hotel for the week, and Johanna was secretly thankful they didn't try and use the old Tributes' Building. That place alone was bad memory for everyone. Especially for her brainless friend Katniss who got imprisoned for weeks there after the rebellion for shooting that cold dictator Coin who became the president.
Thanks to Gale's military background and penchant of being overly disciplined with time, they were the first ones among the Victors-and-plus-ones to arrive. And that meant, the first ones spotted and crowded by the overly eager TV and newspapers and magazines reporters gathering at the hotel's courtyard and lobby. Johanna didn't really mind though - not when she couldn't care less about what she said and when Gale's practiced smoothness got them out of there and into their assigned room in less than ten minutes.
As he settled down and enjoyed the lavish room facilities, including the bedazzling, over-the-top shower system, she perched herself on the windowsill, watching the other Victors arriving, alone or with their loved ones, at the building.
First there was Beetee, alone and frail-looking, but nevertheless happy and smiling. The media spared him much of the hassle, probably due to either pity or unpopularity - he didn't really belong in the group of popular Victors. If only they knew how instrumental he was in everything.
Next came Annie, closely guarded by her son, who looked exactly like Finnick at that age - seventeen years old. The boy had grown about an inch since Johanna last visited District 4, which was around three months before that day, and had also grown up a lot during that period. Johanna's heart swelled a bit with pride as she watched her godson shielding his mother from the uber-evasive media, remaining steady and charming under the blinding flashes of the cameras. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, fondly thinking about Finnick and how proud he would have been of his son had he been here today. It was at this point that Johanna realized that Finnick hadn't been in her mind that way for a long, long time. Inches by inches, her husband had claimed her heart, soul, and love, leaving no space in that part of her for any other men, dead or alive.
She couldn't help the evil snort escaping her nose as the sea of journalists parted open to let Enobaria in. The crazy woman had come alone, having scared off all her potential suitors and friends with the gleaming flash of her smile. It was a common knowledge that the maniacal District 2 Victor was the last person anyone would want as dinner guest - especially after the installation of that new, full-metal set of teeth.
There was a long pause after that, and when a sleek, black car rolled in and the media crowd went wild, she knew they were here. Haymitch Abernathy, looking slightly more sober than usual, climbed out the front seat of the car, giving the crowd of reporters a grumpy, gritted-teeth smile. And, tailing close behind him, here they were: the former Star-Crossed Lovers turned Golden Couple from District 12. He had her hand in his, smiling at cameras and answering questions when she tried her best to smile and kept to herself, clinging to the ear-muffed toddler sleeping oblivious on his shoulder.
Johanna turned around and prepared herself to call her husband over, when she realized that he had been standing beside her all for quite a while, leaning against the wall-papered wall of the room. It was ridiculous, but after all these years, his hunter's threads still managed to fool her all the times.
"They look much better than when I last saw them," he told her, eyes trained on the glowing couple on the courtyard.
"Said the jilted boy who claimed he didn't care about them anymore," she retorted, half playfully and half seriously.
"Well, I do care about them," Gale answered, tearing his eyes from the commotion downstairs and looking at Johanna. "They were my friends."
There was something funny in the way he looked at her, that she stood still for a while and looked at him.
"What's wrong with you today?" she asked him, raising her eyebrow.
He bent down and kissed her. It was both sweet and passionate, both reassuring and needing, both hopeful and desperate.
It was then she realized that it was his way of saying that Katniss was not more than a distant memory of a friend for him. That he hadn't been thinking of the Mockingjay that way in a long, long time, that Johanna had taken all the space in his heart and weaved into his being.
They fell back into the floor, side-by-side. The world stopped in time when he pulled her on top of him, and exploded as they kissed on and on.
They spent the rest of the evening tangled together on the suite's floor, the plush hotel bathrobe and Johanna's carefully-styled arrival attires strewn all over the living room. It was only when their stylist - the Memorial Committee literally forced them to have one - knocked on their door they reluctantly got up and got dressed to an acceptable way, not bothering to conceal what had just happened.
The young stylist just smirked and shrugged upon seeing the crime scene, getting straight away into work primping them for the Welcome Reception. He did let out a sigh of frustration, though, upon seeing the tiny bruises and red marks all over their necks and Johanna's collarbones, discreetly instructing the make-up artist to brush and hide them up.
Two hours later, they were down at the hotel's ballroom, Gale in a stylish but timeless suit and Johanna in a form-fitting cocktail gown with plunging V neckline, an embroidered sheer material concealing the exposed skin between her breasts. It wasn't the most comfortable of dresses - not with the tight-pulling waist cincher they made her wear - but it indeed made her look pretty and thus she decided not to complain. Besides, all her attention was now on her aching feet - the well-meaning stylist had put her on six inch heels to help the significant height difference between her and Gale.
She'd spotted all the other Victors and Annie's son - the latter wearing a do-not-give-me-a-drink bracelet due to his age. All carefully styled, carefully made-up to show nothing but valor, glory, and allure. Even Haymitch looked sharp - if only he wasn't arguing with the drink waitress who refused to serve him more drink due to his known alcoholic status.
She turned around the source of the voice, knowing all along that it could only belong to one particular Victor.
"Hello to you too, brainless."
Cameras flashed all around - damned journalists - as the two brainless embraced each other in a sisterly, I-know-what-you've-been-through hug. When they pulled apart, Johanna noticed that Katniss was unmistakably glowing, and that there was a slight bulge under her empire-cut, cap-sleeved dress. Her suspicion was confirmed true when she saw the drink in the younger woman's hand - water.
"Better not be another knock-up scam like that one before the Quell," Johanna blurted, winking at her brainless friend's husband who stood awkwardly next to them, alongside her own husband.
"Yes," Peeta answered, sheepishly but proudly. "This is baby number two."
"I know," Johanna responded, grinning at the Golden Couple. "The media went totally insane when they realized you had one without telling them - very realistic people, they are, I must say. Where is she now?"
"Back in our suite upstairs," Katniss answered softly, her eyes vigilantly scanning the crowd around them, "Effie is babysitting. She's not up for party these days. Said she's feeling old and stuff - Old Capitol's pretty funny about aging, you remember. Where's your daughter?"
"In a wilderness camp," Johanna answered. "I must say I can't be more relieved that she's not joining us here - might be better if she doesn't hear second-hand that her mother was an ax-murderer and a call girl for a while."
At this point, Gale moved closer to her and circled an arm around her waist for support. Another realization of the day dawned on Johanna: her husband knew her well, too well to see straight through her abrasiveness.
"Oh, hi Gale," Katniss awkwardly greeted, forcing a smile. "Been a while, isn't it?"
"Been a while, Catnip," he acknowledged her, forcing a similar smile. "Look where we are now."
"Thanks," Katniss said, trembling a bit, "for getting me un-exiled."
Before everyone else could process, Katniss and Gale had fallen into a brother-sisterly embrace, apologizing to each other about the lost years. Sometimes, a spouse's influence could do wonder, even to the most stubborn of people.
Two other hugs of camaraderie were shared: Gale and Peeta, Johanna and Peeta. A few minutes later, they've stood together at the bar, sharing stories and laughing, like the old friends they were.
The activities and events of the next few days were bittersweet and painful. There were exclusive interviews with the Victors - and their plus ones - about life after rebellion. There were visits to various places and institutions - most of which involved victims of violences and patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. There was a full day of press conferences - during which they unveiled the dark sides of the rebellion and The Hunger Games to the press, really carefully to make sure the correct words made it to the whole nation. That day was the hardest of all, and at the end of it, all the Victors - except Enobaria, who obviously didn't share the same sentiment - plus Gale, gathered in Gale and Johanna's suite, drinking and eating sweets and reciting to each other good stories of their lives. It was then Gale revealed a non-secret which was considered a sin by everyone in District 12.
"Johanna and I, we have never toasted," he carelessly said in between shots of heaven-knew-what.
"What?!" Katniss, the only sober person in the room aside of Annie, spat out.
"Gale, Mate," Peeta responded, slapping Gale's back. "You've got to make a honest woman out of her. Let's do it now."
The hotel staff looked at them funny when they summoned him and asked for the fireplace to be prepared and lit - it was right in the middle of summer, and the hotel air conditioner was even on at full blast. Being Victors definitely had its advantage, though, for the man was too scared to say no to them that he gathered some firewood and picked up a box of matches and two pokers anyway. Peeta disappeared into the kitchen, and came back with District 7 bread, to "celebrate Gale and Johanna".
Everyone watched and laughed as the former rebel soldier from District 12 and the District 7 Victor clumsily toasted each other and made half-drunken promises to each other, which involved both serious things such as love and commitment and silly, nonsensical things such as who gets to read the newspaper first and not venturing to the now non-existent slag heap ever again.
The sad, depressing day, ended up in a magical note, and as they stood side by side in the memorial ceremony the following day, Gale and Johanna Hawthorne knew that they were forever cemented, that there were no way back or out. And they didn't, even the slightest, regret it.
They came back from the Capitol with an additional person, which they didn't find out until two months later, didn't meet until five more months later, and didn't take home until one and a half more months afterwards.
"She's so small, Father, Mother," Cypress quietly whispered, as she stood between her parents around her little sister's cot.
"She is," Gale admitted. "She's strong, though. Other babies born as early as she did, they would have still been in hospital by now."
"Strong like you two," Cypress commented, a smile brightened her normally serious teenaged face.
"More like your Mother," Gale answered, smiling. He threw a loving glance to Johanna, who stood across the cot. "She's the stronger one."
Cypress just shrugged and looked back at her little sister, with gentle, loving eyes her parents once had for their respective little siblings, before Snow and Coin and everyone else took everything away.
"Have you chosen her name, Father?" she asked.
"He has. Finally," Johanna answered for Gale, a sarcastic hint in her voice. "He took very little time, only two months."
Gale just rolled his eyes and ignored his wife's remark.
"Juniper Joan Hawthorne," he told his elder daughter, as he gently stroked the baby's cheek.
"Good choice," Cypress commented. "She looks like Mother - no offense, Father, but she's only got your coloring."
No one disagreed to the statement, as it was the truth.
Cy's next statement, however, caused a slight panic for both Gale and Johanna.
"I have a feeling that she'll end up with Katniss and Peeta's son. They were born the same day, right?"
There were no more pregnancies afterwards, as they were forbidden under doctors' order. Cy and June, thirteen years apart and similar yet different, were their only two daughters. They accepted it happily, knowing that they'd been given the happiness they deserved, and that they would not have it any other way, even if "any other way" meant being spared from all their childhood and early adulthood experiences, too.
And today, Gale and Johanna Hawthorne stood together on the sandstone of that theme park's lane, watching their adult daughter Cypress throwing a dart precisely at the center of the target, winning her baby sister Juniper a human-sized teddy bear from the bemused keeper of the dart-throwing stall.
"Thanks, Cy-Cy," the little girl said sweetly, as her beaming sister handed her the bear, "you're the best sister ever."
"Your one and only sister, June," the big girl - the young woman - replied, gently ruffling her sister's dark hair. "Wanna go to the archery stall so that you can win me something?"
As they promised each other, the Hawthornes finally told their firstborn about the darkest stories of the games and the rebellion when she turned sixteen. Cypress first reaction, so wrong and inappropriate yet so right at the same time, was one of Johanna's fondest memories of her stubborn, strong-willed daughter.
"Father, Mother, if Snow and Coin aren't dead already, I'll go and punch them on their faces myself."
They still had to go through the same process with Juniper - the sweeter, more sensitive child. Making sure she was ready to hear something she might not want to hear at all, making sure that she would be able to look at life the same way afterwards. They had another eleven years to worry about it, though. Right now, they should worry about some more pressing matters in their hand.
Such as how to get the girls out of the way early tonight so that they could spend some time together on the bed they'd built in that five days leading up to their Justice Building wedding, the only marital bed they'd known in their life.
Author's note: My first attempt on Hunger Games fic. Thanks for reading and following this far. Critiques are very much welcomed and appreciated, especially regarding my writing, characterising, and plot-making skills (which I feel need lots and lots of improvements).
I understand that Gale/Johanna is not a very popular pairing - and perhaps one of the hardest one to write about, her attitude and his dark side and all. I've read several really good fics revolving around this pairing, and I feel that what I've done here doesn't really measure to what those good authors did. Still, I'm keen on giving it a try - especially seeing that this story is a precursor to something else I'm writing at the moment :).