I'm Not Pretending

Wake up in the morning, stumble on my life
Can't get no love without sacrifice

If you were to ask Johanna, she would tell you that she'd been a killer from day one.

It wasn't her fault that she'd come early. That it had been winter, and cold, and snowing. That there had been nothing anyone could do. That suddenly the only family her father had left was a wailing bundle in his arms. But she'd blamed it all on herself all the same.

Her father had never looked at her with anything but sadness in his eyes. She'd only ever seen one photo of her mother - a faded image sat in their living room behind a dusty sheet of glass. It was enough, however, to assure her that she looked too much like her for her own good. She knew she would never be able to fill the hole she had torn in her father's heart.

She was a breathing mess of insecurities. That was what happened when you knew your own father didn't like to look at you. She had no siblings either. No older sister to teach her how to braid her hair or make daisy chains to wear around her neck. All the other girls at school had mothers to make them look nice and pretty, to sew them little dresses from spare fabric. Johanna had no-one. Every day she would turn up with her long, uncut hair a mess, and they would laugh at her.

"I wonder how many birds there are in that nest on her head!" "She looks like she's been dragged through every bush in the district!"

She heard them talking about her, but never once did anyone talk to her. They knew she existed but pretended otherwise. It wasn't long before she purposefully began to hide in the shadows. It wasn't that it made any difference. Whether she hid or not, nobody noticed her. Nobody saw anything beyond her tattered clothes and untied hair. They'd laugh at her for a moment and then turn away. The loneliness in her eyes had only ever met itself, looking back in a mirror.

She tries to plait her hair once. She's seen the way the other girls have their hair, somehow magically twisted into something like rope so that it stays out of their eyes, and they're the ones everybody looks up to. The ones everybody respects and wants to be friends with. She thinks that maybe if she looked like them, people would like her too.

So she sits in the bathroom one morning, facing their cracked mirror, and spends an hour trying to figure out how to do it. Her fingers are clumsy. She makes some progress only to slip and watch it all unravel in her hands. The harder she tries the more frustrated she becomes.

Eventually she manages it, more or less. It's lopsided, it's already coming undone, but when she looks at her reflection, for the first time she smiles. For the first time, she feels a little bit of confidence spark inside her during her walk to school.

When she gets there, they come at her with scissors in their hands.

"Hey, hey, Mason!" one of them cackles, playfully snipping the blades she holds in her fingers. "I think you need someone to fix that awful hair of yours."

Johanna tries to run but the others cut her off. The six of them form a ring all around her, in the yard behind the schoolhouse, and then the leader pushes her to the ground. She falls hard and her palms graze the dirt.

"You think you can pull off my style?" the girl sneers. Johanna swallows nervously, because this girl's plait is the very plait she'd had in mind, but she keeps her mouth shut. Maybe if she tries hard enough to be silent she'll become invisible as well.

Instead the girl kicks her.

"Well you can't," she spits, and with the ruthlessness of a peacekeeper she grabs Johanna and hacks off her hair, chunk by chunk. Johanna's too afraid to struggle. All she can hear is the laughter of the rest of the girls as they watch her locks fall unevenly to the ground.

But then there's something else.

"Stop!" someone's yelling. "Stop it!"

The leader looks up and Johanna does too. It's another girl from school, standing with a defiant look in her eyes.

"And why should we listen to you?" the leader queries disdainfully.

"Because I know the teacher's just about to come round the corner and you don't want him seeing this."

There's a flicker of fear in their eyes, and the leader lets go of Johanna again.

"Whatever. We're done here, anyway."

She throws the scissors aside and they slink off around the other side of the building, leaving Johanna on the ground, and the blonde girl standing there, looking at her.

"Th- thanks," Johanna manages. She realises she doesn't know the girl's name. She's only ever seen her around from a distance. Like her, she doesn't seem to have many friends.

The girl doesn't respond. Instead, she steps forward, bends down, and picks up the scissors the others left behind. Johanna's heart lurches with fear, and she tries to get back up to her feet so that she can get away, but the girl gently puts a hand on her shoulder.

"Trust me," she says quietly.

Johanna doesn't know why, but she does.

She clenches her eyes shut and braces against the feeling of scissors in her hair again. This girl is gentle, though. Methodical. She snips here and there, and runs her fingers through the strands. She whispers something in Johanna's ear. Then she pauses, and Johanna doesn't sense any movement for a while so she cautiously opens her eyes again - but the girl is gone.

When she sees her reflection in the mirror that evening, she almost cries at how beautiful it is.

Her name was Evelyn, Johanna eventually found out after weeks of tailing after her at school. It took a while, it took effort, but at long last, Evelyn agreed to be friends with Johanna. She wasn't sure why she'd been so reluctant, but it didn't matter anymore, because she'd finally reached through to her.

They made a good team, she and Evelyn. When nobody else was around, they would laugh about the other girls and their silly daisy chains, and it made Johanna feel sure of herself. With Evelyn, nothing else really seemed to matter. There was an aura of carelessness around her. The girl was fearless, the girl was strong. Johanna couldn't help but idolise her.

They spent the remaining years at school together, and whenever Johanna's hair grew too long, Evelyn would be the one to cut it for her. Nobody teased her anymore. And she didn't hide behind her fringe anymore. Sometimes her father would look at her and smile a little, and with a glint in his eye he'd say "Trying to look like me, then, eh?"

She found herself, thanks to Evelyn. She found that she had a sense of humour, that she too had a bit of a mean streak, that her mind was impressively quick to deflect insults when it wasn't busy being afraid. It wasn't just that the others didn't laugh at her anymore - some of them, some of them even respected her and her sharp tongue.

Johanna was attached to Evelyn like she'd never been to anyone else. She meant the world to her. She grew dependent on seeing her bright eyes every day, that jaunty smile.

She felt she owed everything to this beautiful girl.

If anything should happen, I guess I wish you well
A little bit of heaven, but a little bit of hell

"You're always looking at that carpenter's son," Johanna notes the summer after the 70th Games. They're out in the forest, each with their axe, and they've been working under the glare of the sun all day.

"What are you suggesting, Miss Mason?" Evelyn chuckles dismissively.

"I think you know very well what I'm suggesting. I just hope for your sake that it's not true."

Evelyn runs a hand through her hair and looks away. "Would it be so bad?"

Johanna can't believe she's hearing these words fall from her friend's mouth. "Isn't that the principle we've been working with for all this time?" she questions. "It's worked out pretty well for us so far, wouldn't you say?"

The words are lost on her. "What principle?" Evelyn asks, and she sounds genuinely confused.

The brunette stares at her, silent with surprise. Then she takes a breath and quickly says, "Never mind. I think the heat's getting to me."

She pretends the conversation never happened, but it's all too soon that Tristan comes along and ruins everything. It's just like she predicted.

He's charming and he's muscular, and he takes Evelyn away from her. Johanna, who had finally learned to stand up straight as long as Evelyn was there to stand beside her, suddenly finds herself toppling back to the floor again. She's alone. There's nothing she can do to change the way Evelyn looks so longingly at him.

"You're such a damn hypocrite," Johanna snarls when she catches sight of her one day. They haven't talked for months. Apparently Evelyn has no room in her life for her anymore.

Evelyn shrugs. "I still don't get what it is you're so bitter about."

The girl's lucky Johanna doesn't have her axe with her right now. "Don't you remember?" she demands. "When you - when you were cutting my hair, the first time. You said something." She says each word forcefully, as if somehow that will help Evelyn remember, as if it will somehow shake the memories out again. But it doesn't.

"Johanna, that was a hell of a long time ago," is all that she says.

"So what? That's not what I call an explanation for forgetting."

"People change!" Evelyn snaps, and Johanna flinches.

"Yeah," she says quietly. "Yeah they do."

She lets her hair grow long again, and once more she hides. Once more she isolates herself, steering clear of everyone and anyone.

It's no longer fear that fuels her though. It's anger. She feels herself burn with the disappointment of someone who's placed all their hopes in something only to be let down. Someone who raised a person on a pedestal only to see that, beyond the exterior, they were really just the same as everyone else. She was mistaken. She let herself be deceived, in the same way that every person in the whole of Panem lets themselves be deceived.

If anything, she's furious with herself.

On the day of the next Reaping, Johanna hears her name being called out across the square. Her body doesn't seem to know how to react. She's forgotten how to move her feet, and it takes two peacekeepers to practically carry her onto the stage.

She realises how feeble she must look after that display and so she forces herself to look out at the crowd and the cameras with as defiant a look as she can muster. Her eyes betray her, though. Through whatever means, her gaze ends up on her, and naturally, standing next to her, him.

They're not even looking. They're not paying any attention. They're lost in each other, whispering and hand-holding, and it's all it really takes to break her.

This is what she gets for ever falling so hard, for ever putting so much faith in someone. She was weak then and she's weak now, as she stands there trembling before a sea of faces.

But somewhere, somewhere in the very back of her mind, that one sentence echoes.

Johanna's an expert at hiding in the shadows. Nobody pays attention to her, not even her mentors.

They all mistake her perpetual shaking for fear. They all act like she's already died in the bloodbath, that her body's already lying broken in the Cornucopia. As far as they're concerned, there's only one tribute from District 7 this year.

Meanwhile, she times herself.

She makes a fool of herself in the Training Arena. She scrapes a three for her score. She hears the other tributes laugh at her occasionally, but times have moved on, and the sound now puts a sly smile on her face.

She's seventeen by now, but in her interview she acts with all the naivety of a ten year old. She pretends she's never held an axe before, that she helped in the paper industry and not with the woodcutting. She even sheds a tear or two before the cameras, and Caesar wishes her the best of luck but she knows he doesn't think she has a chance. Nobody does.

After the gong rings she doesn't think twice about hightailing it away from the Cornucopia. She wonders how much screen time the gamemakers bother to dedicate to her as she bides her time at the edges of the arena, scavenging for food, and stumbling upon the abandoned camps and equipment of fallen tributes. She wonders how many of the remaining ones recall that she's still here.

When there are only five of them left still standing, that's when she reveals herself. She takes out a knife and slices it through her hair, once, twice, until it's shorter than when Evelyn first cut it. Until there's nothing at all to hide the fire in her eyes. It's the last thing that they see.

As the sound of the final cannon echoes, Johanna stands straight, axe in hand, and blood trickles warm through her fingers.

"I remember now."

It's the first time they've seen each other since Johanna's return. They're alone.

"Yeah?" the victor says after a moment.

"Yeah," Evelyn says, and Johanna waits for it. "I told you that everyone cares about appearances too damn much."

This is the way you left me
I'm not pretending



AN: I've always loved reading backstories so I thought, why not give it a shot? The storyline kind of ran off with a mind of its own, so I'm not sure how in character this has ended up. Loosely (but not really) inspired by Mika's Happy Ending. Constructive crit is welcome.