Johanna Mason. From District 7 Lumber and paper, thus the tree. She won by very convincingly portraying herself as weak and helpless so that she would be ignored. Then she demonstrated a wicked ability to murder. She ruffles up her spiky hair and rolls her wide-set brown eyes. "Isn't my costume awful? My stylist's the biggest idiot in the Capitol. Our tributes have been trees for forty years under her. Wish I'd gotten Cinna. You look fantastic."
Girl talk. That thing I've always been so bad at. Opinions on clothes, hair, makeup. So I lie. "Yeah, he's been helping me design my own clothing line. You should see what he can do with velvet." Velvet. The only fabric. I could think of off the top of my head.
"I have. On your tour. That strapless number you wore in District Two? The deep blue one with the diamonds? So gorgeous I wanted to reach through the screen and tear it right off your back," says Johanna.
For some reason, that leaves me speechless because I don't know what she meant by that, so I just make a noncommittal sound and try to smile but fail miserably.
While we wait for the elevators, Johanna unzips the rest of her tree, letting it drop to the floor, and then kicks it away in disgust. Except for her forest green slippers, she doesn't have on a stitch of clothing. "That's better."
We end up on the same elevator with her, and she spends the whole ride to the seventh floor chatting to Peeta about his paintings while the light of his still-glowing costume reflects off her bare breasts. I can't hear a word they're saying because it's taking all my strength to not fall to the ground right there and then. I'm vaguely aware of Haymitch and Peeta glancing my way, but all I can think about is Johanna standing in front of me. I'm ashamed to admit to myself that I looked at her body. Her skin is so dented. My mind is trying to find another word, but that's the one that comes to mind. In that second I see old and fading scars I assume are from her Games. And I want to know the story behind them, to touch them and feel the scarred skin between my fingers. She looks at me with a knowing smile. Did she see me looking at her? Does she know what I'm thinking? Oh no, is it written in my face? Unwillingly, I feel my face blushing and my stomach tossing and turning. Before I know it, the elevator stops, she winks at me and leaves. And all my reason goes with her. I ignore Peeta when we get to our floor and lock myself in my room. I don't know when I started shaking, but now that I'm aware of it, I can't seem to stop.
Johanna's body is etched in my memory and all I want is for this nightmare to end. I don't want to walk into that arena and fight to the death with her. I want to protect her and bring her back safely and maybe, just maybe, get to know the story behind her scars. I want to heal them. The room feels stifling and I need some air. I remember the roof, and I make my way there careful about not being seen by Peeta or Haymitch because I wouldn't know what to say to them. When I get to the roof, I welcome the breeze and take deep breaths to try and steady myself. I walk over to the small garden that's still there and lay in the grass.
But my mind is still elsewhere. I close my eyes and see her smiling at me. And now I know my mind is playing tricks on me because I swear I can see and hear her call my name. "Katniss", it sounds so soft and far away. When suddenly, it becomes clearer. "Katniss?" I open my eyes and can't believe what I see. Here she is. Standing in front of me in one of those plushy robes I found in my bathroom that I can now assume are in everyone's bathrooms. I clear my throat and struggle for something to say. But she speaks first. "I didn't know someone would be here. I needed to get away from my stylist before I ripped his head off for the stupid costume he gave me. I suppose I can't very well kill him here, I'm sure I'd get in trouble for it.", she sits down next to me and looks out onto the Capitol. I'm very aware that she's not wearing anything under her robe. I sit up and cross my legs and say, "I just needed some air, too. It's been a long day." She's sitting slightly ahead of me, so to look at me she glances over her shoulder. And that right there kills me. I don't know what it is about her way of looking at me. It's as if she knows what I'm thinking and for a second I think she thinks it too, but then it's gone and I'm left with confusing thoughts. We don't say anything for what feels like forever. We just sit there looking out the balcony and listening to the celebration sounds of the Capitol. They are more subdued than they were last year, which I suppose is expected from seeing the victors they so love and cherish ready to kill each other.
"It sucks, doesn't it?" she asks. "Yeah, it does. I didn't think I'd be back here preparing to go back to the arena." I know I shouldn't open up to another tribute, but I can't help myself. I want to reach out and touch her, or just sit shoulder to shoulder with her. But I feel rooted to my spot. As if to solve my inner battle, she moves back until our knees are practically touching. I need to remind myself to breathe in and out. "It seems like they want to punish us for having won. And I'm tired of that. I have no problem killing, but…" she stops and struggles to find words, but I can finish that for her: "You didn't think you'd have to do it again. I get it." She smiles sadly and nods. I want to comfort her, so I continue: "Maybe this time we can end the Games for good. We all know how it feels and it seems wrong that instead of helping each other with the aftermath, we need to eliminate the only people who truly understand what it feels to wake up each day seeing the faces of the other innocent kids you had to kill." I take a deep breath and put my hand on her shoulder. I feel her body tense up for a moment, but just as it came, it disappeared. I start moving my thumb up and down in what I think is a comforting fashion.
She looks at my hand and then at me. She isn't smiling now but she looks different from all the other times I've seen her. She looks vulnerable. She puts her hand on my knee and leans towards me. "Exactly", she whispers in my ear. Then she slumps onto my shoulder and I hold her while I hear her cry.
This is by far the most shocking moment I've ever experienced in the Capitol. Johanna Mason, the Victor. The violent killer who I watched slaughter so many tributes in her Games, is crying on my shoulder. All I do is hold her in silence because I'm too stunned to think of something to say.
We stay like this for a while until I can feel her relax. She sits up and wipes her eyes with the sleeve of her robe. "Sorry for that, I don't know what came over me. I haven't slept in what feels like forever." She chuckles and turns away from me. I think she's embarrassed. "I have trouble sleeping too. Don't worry, I won't tell anyone."
The Capitol has grown quiet as the night creeps on. You can't really see stars from here, but I'm guessing it's very late. I'm not worried about going back to the apartment because I don't think they know I've left. Either way, I realize that I don't care about what happens down there, I only care about what is happening here, right now, with Johanna. I don't want her to leave.
I try to think of something to say to lighten the mood, but I'm horrible at this. "So, what did you say to your stylist before storming off?" Great question, Katniss. She laughs as she remembers something and says: "I told her that if I ever saw anything green or with leaves again, I'd strangle her with it. I think I made her cry!" We both laugh. Not because I find it particularly amusing to make someone cry, but because I see her laugh and it's disarming. But my efforts to lighten the mood fail, because she just stares out again. And suddenly, I feel like I'm intruding even though I was here first. I try to excuse myself: "Well, I'll leave you alone now, I might as well go back." She grabs my hand as I'm trying to get up. "No! Please. Don't go." I'm stuck between half rising and half sitting and I'm very aware that she's holding my hand. "Ok, I'll stay." I sit back down next to her, but she doesn't let go of my hand.
I see her entwine our fingers and rest our hands on her knee and I can't talk. I'm convinced I've lost my ability to speak and I'll never be able to untie the knot in my stomach. She's whispering something very softly as she traces our intertwined hands with her index finger. I lean closer because I want to hear what she's saying, but as I get closer to her, she stops whispering and turns to me. And in one movement, I abandon all thought and I press my lips against hers. It's unlike anything I've ever experienced before. Kissing Gale or Peeta never felt like this. Her lips are soft, they feel like liquid gold, molding into mine as we kiss slowly, trying to not make a sound to break the spell. She lets go of my hand and pulls me in by my waist. She stops to look at me and I brush off her hair, hold the back of her head and pull her to me again. This time I get braver and start to explore her lips with my tongue. My whole body tingles and I can acutely feel every inch of my body wanting her, relishing in her kiss. She leans back and pulls me closer, so now she's flat on her back and her hands travel under my shirt, softly scratching my back. I open her robe and run my fingers through her collarbone, finding that first scar I remember so clearly. The rough skin feels thinner than the rest of her skin, and if I press a little harder, I can feel a dent on her bone. I start exploring her body with my hand, mentally checking off all the other scars I remember, trying to mend them with my touch, to let her know I see them and I'll heal them eventually.
She struggles out of her robe and I help her take it off, this time kissing her battle wounds, the marks that I know run deeper than just the skin. She starts whispering my name, and I can't help but smile at how perfect it sounds coming from her. "Katniss, kiss me." I look at her smiling at me, and we kiss again. Every kiss seems different, new and exciting. It's not rough or forced, it's natural and effortless. We kiss slowly, fast, hungrily; different ways I never knew existed until now. Before I know it, we are skin on skin, touching each other with every inch of it, feeling our bodies melt into one. And even though we make love, it feels much more than just sexual. It's an unspoken bond that I can't determine as love but as something stronger. I know we're supposed to battle to the death in just a few days. But I now know I won't kill her and she won't kill me. And even if it seems impossible now, we'll find a way to leave together.
I don't know how, but we fall asleep there, in each other's arms, covered by her robe. As dawn approaches, I look at her, curled up beside me, her head resting on my chest. I smile, forgetting for an instant where we are and why we're there. She stirs and looks up at me. I kiss her forehead and stroke her arm and say good morning. But she turns around, holds my head in her hands and looks deep in my eyes, the way only she knows how. "I'm not letting you die in there." I look at her and kiss her intently and whisper "I know. Neither am I."