It's been eight months since Johanna and I were bunking together in District Thirteen but she sleeps just the same. Fitfully, almost aggressively, twisting and turning and snapping awake every time I shift positions only to slip under again a moment later. The brief seconds where our eyes meet are terrifying; I can see the girl she must have been during her first Games, poised to strike even half asleep. There's something sick about the way I understand that.
I lie on my side and study her, cocooned in my blankets with only half her face visible. I didn't intend to get into bed with her, but the moment I tried to leave her alone she nearly dragged me beside her. Back in District Thirteen I watched her recover from months of torture and morphling addiction, but I don't think I ever saw her as desperate as I did when she asked me to stay with her while she slept.
Pink and yellow stripes crawl over the walls as the sun rises outside. Usually I would be up by now, weaving through the thickening forest surrounding Twelve. Hunting isn't really necessary anymore - New Panem has farms now, and I hear talk (mostly from Haymitch, since I don't really talk to anyone else) that they're going to build grocery stores. Like, you just go in and buy food that is almost ready to eat as soon as you get it. The concept is so alien to me, so Capitol, that part of me wants to just keep hunting for the rest of my life. But all the reasons I did it before aren't valid now that the Revolution is over; I don't need to hunt to feed my family, I don't do it to spend time away from my mom or to spend time with Gale. It's barely even a challenge anymore. I could shoot rabbits and birds and foxes all day and not miss once.
"You do it to keep busy."
The voice is so sudden that I almost rip myself out of the dream again. Rolling over slowly, I see Rue, lying on her stomach like before, the same project of flowers in her hand, except this time she's making a crown.
"It gives you something to do. You don't have to think about it, really, so it takes up your time. You really need a different hobby, Katniss." She glances at me with a grin curling one side of her mouth.
I smirk back at her. "What, exactly, would I take up? Knitting?"
Rue snorts. "Fingerpainting?"
We both laugh, loud and unashamed. She motions for me to sit up and I do, cross-legged in front of her as she holds the flower crown over my head like a halo.
"What are you going to do?" She asks, carefully easing it on top of my head.
"Johanna. The baby."
For a long moment I don't know what she's talking about. The awareness of my dreamland nearly throws me out of it, but Rue's hands root me here, now holding each of my shoulders.
"I don't know, Rue." I wave the question away, like that will make the entire situation disappear. "Not here, okay?"
She frowns but drops the subject. Falling back on her knees, Rue studies her handiwork with pride. "It looks good on you."
"Yeah?" I turn toward the pond - because of course there's a pond in a beautiful place like this, and before my eyes one materializes, shimmering and bottomless. I search for my reflection in the water and it takes me a moment to realize there isn't one. Frowning, I move my hand to the surface and watch ripples collect at my fingertips before pulsing out. I lift my head to watch them race away, climbing into waves the farther they travel. And it isn't a pond anymore, it's an ocean, and I can't see where it ends. I spin to find Rue on our little island but the person standing there isn't Rue; it's Johanna, reaching for my face.
The dream shatters like a stone through glass. My eyes fly open. Johanna's hand is already on my cheek, her face tilted so close to mine I can see the spaces between her eyelashes.
"You all right in there?" Johanna slowly withdraws her hand. I inhale sharply, as if her touch had kept my lungs still.
"Yeah." I roll on my back, rubbing a fist into my eye. "Was I talking?" I try to make the question sound nonchalant; whether it comes off that way, Johanna doesn't comment.
"No. Whimpering." Mimicking me, she rolls on her back and stares at the ceiling. Her hands fold over her stomach. "Better than screaming, I guess."
I look toward the window. The sun is fully above the white-frosted tips of the trees. The strangeness of the scenario is starting to dissipate, replaced with a familiar atmosphere. This is what it was like to wake up with Johanna on the other side of the room every day in District Thirteen. Part of me is eager to fall into the routine we had built there: breakfast, training, lunch, training. The open day ahead makes me nervous because ... what now?
"Do you have any food? Or do you feed on loneliness and self-pity?"
When I turn to her, she's grinning. I punch her lightly on the shoulder. "I missed you, you know."
I mean it. When I moved back to Twelve, everyone treated me like I was this fragile, broken little girl on the verge of falling apart. Which was probably true - and maybe still is, at least a little - but it's one thing for people to be careful around me and another entirely for them to all but sprint away when I come into town for necessities. I don't care so much about them as I do about the people who were with me since my first Games, Haymitch and Peeta and Gale, who have all, in one way or another, pulled away. I can't really say that I blame them. It's not like I'm doing much to reach out or keep anyone around, either. But it's nice, almost relaxing, to be in the presence of someone who treats me like everyone else, like I'm not damaged goods. Johanna has never been subtle or censored and I'm grateful for that.
She holds my eyes for several moments after I speak, as if searching them for deception. And then her grin broadens and seeing it touch her eyes is beautiful. "Missed you too, brainless. Now c'mon. Food. Chop chop."
"What do you think this is? The Everdeen bed and breakfast suite?"
"It goddamn better be after I rode the train all the way here."
I make a face at her that she mirrors. Rolling my eyes, I climb out of bed and grab my cardigan from the doorknob. I look back at her as I leave the room, getting comfortable in my blankets, and the image makes me smile at her. Even if the circumstances are less than pleasant, I'm glad she feels safe here. It's all anyone is truly looking for.
I cook eggs Haymitch brought me the other day and start frying potatoes on the stove. Hunting has always been the better of my skills, not so much cooking, but living alone for months forces you to either get better at it or eat terrible meals. I toss some bread in the toaster and start a fresh pot of coffee. The motions are relaxing and domestic, almost surreal. I am acutely aware of the peace New Panem is in outside my house. There are families out there doing the same things I am now, preparing for another day without going hungry or being afraid. This can be - this is the new normal now.
After setting the table I climb the stairs again, calling out for Johanna to get her lazy ass downstairs when I hear a terrible retching sound coming from the bathroom. I move so fast I trip on the last stair, slamming my elbow against the bare floor. Hissing, I hold it as I walk swiftly to the bathroom door and press my ear to it. "Johanna?"
"I'm okay," she says, promptly followed by another round of puking. I try to open the door but Johanna kicks it shut in my face. "Go," she croaks. "I'll be down in a minute."
I linger just long enough to hear her dry-heaving before finally walking away, back down the stairs and into the kitchen. I sit in front of my plate with a forgotten appetite.
Johanna showing up in the middle of the night crying is weird enough, but I guess after everything we've been through, it's not entirely out there. But the baby ... that's something that would have never crossed my mind. I try to imagine it - Johanna carrying a baby on her hip while wielding an axe or swearing up a storm or doing whatever Johanna does in her free time, and I just can't. It's like trying to picture me with a child of my own. The idea doesn't even compute.
I'm not even sure what her options are. Pregnancy is so far above my head; what little I do know is from what I can vaguely recall of when my mother was pregnant with Prim. There isn't much to remember since I was so young then, but I do have memories of Mom soaking her feet in a small tub of hot water every night and my father praying over her swollen abdomen.
I don't realize my eyes are pricking with tears until I hear footsteps coming down the stairs. I wipe them away with the cuff of my sleeve and focus my attention on Johanna as she emerges into view. Her hair is wild from sleep and her face is ghostly with a thin sheet of sweat. She collapses in the chair across from me, eyes on the plate of food. One hand quickly moves to cover her mouth. I start to stand, ready to bolt to the kitchen for a bowl, but she shakes her head and uses the same hand to motion me back down. I sit on the edge of the seat and watch her in silence, unsure of how to broach the subject. Because we can't just go about the day as if everything about this is normal when it's so blatantly obvious that it's not.
I wish we were back in bed. It was easier to pretend that it was.
"What are your options?" It seems as good a start as any. I take a fork and beginning cutting into my fried potatoes.
Johanna doesn't answer for a long time. She pushes the plate aside with an apologetic look my way before leaning until her chin is on the table. "I'm twelve weeks in," she finally says, her shoulders rising and falling with a hard, heavy sigh. "I didn't even notice that I missed my period. I went to the health center because I kept throwing up in the morning. The nurse was like, have you been sexually active? And then I knew. I knew before they even ran the test." Johanna sniffles, running her nose along her sleeve. "I had gone out with a friend of mine from the lumber yards. I just wanted to have fun, you know? I was tired of being all sad and shit. So I got wasted because, fuck it, I'm entitled to get wasted, and I hooked up with a guy. Some random twat I had never met before. I don't even know what his name was."
I haven't taken a bite yet, I just keep cutting my potatoes. I set the fork down and look at her. She's staring over my shoulder, out the window. Her dark eyes are dry but her lower lip is trembling.
"I can terminate." Johanna meets my eyes and waits, as if hoping for my permission.
"Johanna." Without thinking, I reach across the table. I'm surprised at how eager she is to take my hand. Her grip is nearly bone-crushing. "Whatever you want to do, I'm going to support you. Okay? I'm here for whatever you decide."
"Will you come with me?" Her breath catches in a hiccup.
I squeeze her hand. "Of course."
We eat. She doesn't let go of my hand. When I stand to take away the dishes she does, too, but even as our hands fall apart she stays close to me, following at my heels to the kitchen sink. Once her hands are free she throws them around my neck and crushes me to her chest. Paralyzed, I do little but stand there for several seconds.
"Didn't know you were the hugging type," I say into her ear, my breath coming out of me a little more unsteadily than I would have hoped.
She shakes with a chuckle. "Shut up. Just hug me, smartass."
I grin and I do.
A/N: Holy shit I updated within a month of posting. It's a goddamn miracle.
I know the start is slow, but starting next chapter (which is already 1/3 of the way written! I'm on a fucking roll) action does start to happen. Thank you for the reviews! You guys are great.