Pro Patria Mori
Many would be cowards if they had courage enough. - Thomas Fuller
When the Victory Tour reaches District Seven, Johanna and Blight are kept away on "Mentor business." Of all the weak excuses the Capitol has come up with, this is particularly dreadful, but she knows she can't argue. To argue would be to have them both killed.
There are uprisings.
That much, the Capitol does not want them to know. They've halted any kind of transport or communication between the Districts, save for the Tour, but Blight, surprisingly enough, is not without his sources.
They keep their heads down, and talk only in private, about what is coming, and what they will have to do when it does.
Seven will never uprise.
Not like this.
It's not because they don't hate the Capitol – they do, they all do – but they're too spread out, and they're (mostly) peaceful, and they don't want any trouble. That's the kind of attitude that has given them so few Victors.
She watches the tour alone, later, on the screen in her too-big house. There's no-one she cares about enough to watch it with, except maybe Finnick, but that's never going to happen. Instead, she contents herself with glowering at the screen, and trying not to notice the look of unbridled fear in the Girl Who Just Couldn't Keep Her Mouth Shut's eyes.
It's already started. Johanna wonders if Snow is willing to risk the star-crossed lovers of District Twelve, to feed the desires of the Capitol fetishists who would pay so much to defile the innocent little girl who saved her sister's life.
Every time, they share a look of doubt, before reading straight from their perfectly even cue cards. Hands shake, voices warble. If there's one thing that Katniss Everdeen doesn't know, it's how to act, and it's precisely because of that that she is such an effective symbol; her fire, her compassion, her survival instinct, it's all real, and that's why the Districts seem to love her.
They don't love the girl who lied her way to victory.
In the end, every Victor has laid the path for this moment. Every Victor who won the games against all odds. Every Victor who went against the Capitol's expectations without even knowing it. Every Victor who comes from a District that doesn't fellate the Capitol without question.
The Districts have realized it, and the Capitol has started to realize it too.
'On the seventy-fifth anniversary, as a reminder to the rebels that even the strongest among them cannot overcome the power of the Capitol, the male and female tributes will be reaped from their existing pool of victors.'
The glass in her hand shatters, broken.
Johanna remembers her very first kill; the boy from Nine whose name she can't even remember. On that day, a switch had been flipped. A switch that had turned her from a seventeen year old girl, to a monster.
Now, a switch flips again, and she can feel that sword being shoved into her own chest.
There are two Victors left in District Seven, and soon, there will be none.
She wonders just how the people of Seven will celebrate.
There are months to go, even to just the Reaping, where there will be a single name in each glass bowl. A few months left to make her peace with this world.
Save for Blight, there's no-one in Seven Johanna cares about. She's only been to Four a few times before; once, on her Victory tour, and a couple of other times to visit Finnick when she could get around the bureaucratic nightmare. It's hard to keep friendships going when you only see someone once, maybe twice a year.
Finnick is swimming when she arrives, and he invites her in, but she declines. She hates getting her clothes wet. It reminds her of her last days in the arena, covered in the blood of the people she had killed.
He gives her a look, but it's not a Finnick look, it's a "I want to talk to you without anyone listening in," look. So she strips to her underwear, and follows him out to where the waves are forming.
'They're uprising here,' he tells her, and Johanna is actually surprised; Four has generally come out pretty well, compared to the other Districts.
'Well I'm sure you'll have a fantastic revolution. You'll have to tell the whole story to my gravestone.'
'There's a plan,' he says, in a low whisper. They're so far out, and yet he can't run the risk of anyone hearing them. 'To get us out.'
'To get us out, or to get Twelve out?' she asks, and for once, he's the one who answers with silence.
'This is bigger than us,' he says, eventually, and Johanna snorts.
'I know it's bigger than us,' she replies. 'That doesn't mean I have to be happy about it.'
The plan comes in bits and pieces over the following months; what will happen, who to trust, and who to avoid like termites. And then the day comes where she's standing on a small, circular platform, surrounded by lapping waves.
Johanna can swim, but she doubts a lot of the other tributes have the same fortune. To her left, Beetee seems concerned, which only helps solidify that theory.
He daren't call out to her, but she knows what he needs anyway. This whole stupid plan hinges on keeping Beetee and Brainless alive. Anyone else is just good fortune.
So instead of going straight to the Cornucopia, she goes to Beetee, and she bets there are more than a few people watching that think she's going to snap his neck. Instead, she hoists him onto her back, and they swim awkwardly over to the spokes that jut out from the center island. 'Wiress,' he coughs, and she realizes that he's taking in a bit of water.
'I can't carry two of you!' Johanna says, angrily. It seems to take forever, and by the time she gets to the Cornucopia, the bloodbath is already well underway.
She trips over Woof's body, and only feels slightly bad about taking the knife from his hand. The man from Ten lunges at her, and she stabs him in the thigh. He screams in pain when she rips the blade out.
There's a scream of pain from Beetee, and Johanna turns just in time to see Enobaria throw another knife at him. She dives, pushing him out of the way, and is almost expecting a sharp pain in the back, before she turns and sees Blight sparring with Enobaria.
'Come on!' she yells at Blight, once she's satisfied that Beetee has the wire. Johanna feels a knife whoosh past her ear, barely missing. When the reach the jungle, they are, mercifully, alive.
'We have to find Finnick,' she tells Blight. Beetee and Wiress are both behind her, but she ignores them. In this Games, they are a burden. In this Games, where the Capitol's goal is to kill them all as quickly and as bloodily as possible, there is little call for electrical geniuses. Were this a normal Games, she would have left them to die.
'We have to find water,' Blight tells her, in return, and Johanna can't help but roll her eyes. Even after all this time, he's still trying to mentor her.
They've been walking for hours when the rain starts. It's slow at first, but it quickly becomes torrential. So thirsty, she has her head tilted back, and when the first drop hits her tongue, she realizes.
It's not water.
It's hot, and thick, and coming down fast now, and Johanna feels like she's drowning in it. She has tasted blood before, and has no desire to do so again.
'We have to get out of the rain,' she yells, spitting blood as she speaks, but they are blinded as they claw through the jungle.
There's a loud bang, and a scream from Blight. Johanna hears herself calling out his name, and then half a second later, she hears the cannon and knows that it's too late. She takes his knife, because she knows he would want her to.
'Forcefield,' mutters Beetee, and Johanna wants to stop, to do something, but they have to get out of the rain, find water.
The rain stops, inexplicably, as though someone had simply flicked a switch. Wiress is incoherent, and Beetee is still losing blood, but they're all so covered in it that Johanna doesn't even know where to start.
If they keep moving, the thirst will probably kill them, so Johanna makes the decision to stop for the night, and neither of them argue.
'Tick tock,' Wiress says, insistently, and Johanna waves her off.
'Yeah, yeah. Tick tock. Time for bed.'
She doesn't trust either N—Wiress or Beetee to keep watch if she falls asleep. Knowing she won't be able to stay awake if she sits, she stands with her back against a tree, knife clutched tightly. She wishes it were an axe, but she hadn't taken the time to go through weapons at the bloodbath. She'd been too busy trying to make sure nobody died. She tries not to think about how hungry or thirsty she is. She tries not to think about Blight.
The first time, it had been easier.
The first time, she'd spent most of her time in the arena running on instinct and adrenaline. Now, she has to keep these two dumbass geniuses alive long enough for them to escape.
Not that she knows exactly how he's going to do that. She knows it has something to do with the wire, and the lightning, but that's about it. If she's going to trust anything, she's going to trust the fact that Haymitch Abernathy hates the Capitol just as much as she does.
By the time dawn breaks, she's barely clinging to sanity. Her lips are dry, and her tongue is swollen, and her skin is sticky, and she wants to be somewhere else. She doesn't know where she wants to be, but she doesn't know where she doesn't want to be.
Not the Capitol.
Thirteen, she's still dubious about. As a concept, it's all well and good, but it's been seventy-five years since any of the Districts have heard from them. They're either staying away because it's not safe, or they're staying away because they don't care.
Neither option really comforts her, but in lieu of any other options, she'll go along with the plan. She doesn't care how, or what, she just wants to fight back. Whatever happens, it's a blow against the Capitol.
'We need to find the others,' she says, once Beetee is semi-awake. He's still bleeding, but Johanna doesn't know a damn thing about first aid, and anything in the jungle could be a Gamemaker trap. Wiress' sleep has been just as fitful; she's still muttering, but it's getting easier to block out.
She should be used to trees, but the trees here are not the good kind of trees. They're dark, and twisted, and completely wrong for wood. You'd be lucky to get a couple of planks out of some of the trees, and even then, they'd be fair too moist.
Once she finds Finnick and Mags and the two lovebirds, things will be easier, because Johanna isn't the nurturing kind. She's the "survival at all costs" kind.
They tear through the jungle, and finally – finally, they reach the beach at the same time as the tidal wave. Nuts seems to regain whatever energy she might have lost. 'Tick Tock.' The words are insistent, but Johanna isn't paying any attention, because she's just heard someone calling her name.
Never in her life has she been so happy to see Finnick Odair. He's the only person she trusts in this arena. If not for him, she probably wouldn't have gone alone with any of it.
Nuts is going crazy again, and after having to deal with it the last god knows how many hours, Johanna is sick of it. But Katniss freaking Everdeen, defender of the helpless, self-righteous messiah of the districts is there to save the day.
'What the fuck was that for?' she spits at Finnick, when he throws her over his shoulder, and dunks her in the water.
'You're going crazy,' he says, matter-of-factly.
'What do you mean "going," numbnuts?' she replies, but still, she lets him help her wash the blood off. She kind of wishes she could take the whole damn jumpsuit off, but then someone would probably start getting whiny again. In a low murmur, she adds, 'They don't know anything?' And to anyone watching, it just looks as though she and Finnick have their own, secret alliance, which isn't entirely wrong.
Still, he gives her a, "Not here," sort of look, the same kind of look that people have been giving her for a very long time. If there's one thing she's good at, it's saying things at inappropriate times. Katniss clearly doesn't trust her, which is fair enough, but no arrows have been fired in anger just yet.
They have water, and they have food, which is more than she can say for the rest of the jungle. Once she's clean, and fed, and watered, she's feeling a little saner, save maybe for the fact that she hasn't slept since she set foot in the arena.
Mags is gone, and she waits until Finnick is asleep to ask. It's the first time she's had a proper conversation with Girl on Fire, consisting of more than just her own barbs and insults. It's not a happy conversation, but then, she's not in a very happy mood. It lasts until the go to the Cornucopia, and she feels the wooden grip against each of her palms. They are the same kind of axe she had used to win her Games, and there is no doubt in her mind that they had been put there especially for her.
It's not even five minutes, before she gets to test it out, Cashmere's blood wet against the blade. She's never particularly liked Cashmere, even without the bad memories. Disgusting old men from the Capitol, who like nothing more than to watch two pretty young Victors fuck.
They keep on moving.
They have the wire, and they have Katniss, and they have Beetee. All they need now, is the wave and the lightning.
The Jabberjays come, and everything is painful and awkward for a while. Tonight, when she sleeps, she dreams of them. Always the same dream; the house is engulfed in flames, and they claw at the windows, screaming, begging for her to save them. Her mother, her father, her siblings, Finnick. Tonight, Girl on Fire is with them, and she might consider it ironic if it didn't make her want to claw her eyes out.
Tonight, the flame is put out by an enormous wave, and she drowns. Forever drowning.
In the morning, Beetee tells them about The Plan.
Not the real plan, of course, but the plan they'll use to stop the Capitol – and the lovebirds – from getting too suspicious.
When night falls, she and Girl on Fire start to roll the wire down to the water. Both Katniss and Peeta are increasingly suspicious, but there's no time for that. Soon, the forcefield will blow, and the hovercraft will come, and they'll all be out of there.
The wire snaps.
This, Johanna thinks, is probably not part of the plan, but she uses the distraction anyway, to knock out Katniss and take the tracker from her arm. She tries to pretend like it isn't satisfying to knock the kid out.
But the Mockingjay can't die, and Brutus and Enobaria will surely kill her if they find her, so Johanna gets to risk her life for the greater good again. It's kind of starting to piss her off.
She runs through the trees, heart pounding, skin bleeding with sweat. She's much faster than either Brutus or Enobaria, and has just enough time to act surprised when she happens upon Peeta standing with Chaff. Chaff, who she'd almost forgotten about.
Brutus comes flying into their midst, and Chaff reacts quickly, but not quickly enough. She likes Chaff – or liked him, at least. He gurgles for breath, and the cannon fires.
Bread Boy is screaming his girlfriend's name, and Johanna knows she can't exactly knock him out for being a freaking idiot, so she tries to ignore it.
'Hey, asshole,' she yells, which, maybe not the best idea, but it gets Brutus's attention away from Peeta. He knows that she's a bigger threat than the kid that had only won the Games by default.
'Get back to the tree,' she snarls at Peeta, and doesn't wait to see if he listens to her. She's lost an axe, but one is still enough to hack Brutus into pieces, given enough time. His spear isn't much use at short range, but he's got enough experience at hand-to-hand combat that he doesn't need it, and he outweighs her by a lot.
He dodges her axe blow, and grabs her by the throat. The axe falls from her grip.
It would be a fitting end.
Before he can choke her to death, though, Bread Boy comes out of nowhere and shoves his knife into Brutus's neck. Johanna falls to the ground, wheezing for breath. She knows she needs to get to Peeta, so she can get his tracker out, but then she hears Enobaria's footsteps crashing through the jungle, so she crouches low. Enobaria keeps on going, and Johanna's not quite sure why, until she hears the sound of Finnick's voice, yelling something.
'Get down,' she tells the kid. He's still holding his knife, dripping with blood, and a cannon must have gone off at some point, because Brutus's eyes are wide open, and his neck is a mess.
'I know you know what's going on,' he says and at that moment, there's a horrifying explosion in the sky, and it's the most beautiful sound that Johanna's ever heard.
Not because it means that Beetee's plan – Beetee's real plan – has worked, but because it means that for two years running, The Hunger Games has blown up in the Capitol's face, pun absolutely intended.
'Give me your arm,' she hisses in reply, because if she doesn't get his tracker out, then she might as well just hand them over to the Capitol now. Finnick was supposed to have done it, but not everything has gone exactly the way it's supposed to today.
For one thing, Brutus and Enobaria weren't supposed to try and kill them, but that's not something that could have been helped.
Peeta is resistant, and she's starting to find him just as insufferable as she does the other one. Because if it's anyone that can lead the revolution, it's a couple of oblivious kids from Twelve that haven't been around long enough to know what kind of horrors the Capitol is really capable of inflicting. She's kind of tired of them not trusting her, so she punches him so hard he falls over, and it feels really good.
Johanna has pinned him to the ground, and for a moment she's reminded of that last, horrible death in the arena four years ago. Peeta even looks like the boy – what was he from? One? Two? Four? She can't remember names now, only faces. His hair had been sandy, his face weather-beaten. Where Peeta's eyes are bright, and full of puppy love, the other boy's had been dark, save for those last few seconds, when they had been wide with fear.
The first she notices of the hovercraft is the shining, white light as the knife enters her side.
'I'm trying to help you!' she yells at Peeta, rolling out of the way to grab her axe. At the very least, she can knock him out, carry him to the tree where Finnick is waiting for her. She's grappling with Bread Boy, when the claw grabs them both.
She's hoping beyond all reason that it's the rebel hovercraft, but she knows that their goal had been to pick up the Girl on Fire – anyone else is a secondary consideration.
Her fears are confirmed when she sees the Peacekeepers waiting for them. The moment the claw releases them, Johanna lets fly with her axe.
If she's dead, then they can't torture her.
If she's dead, they can't break her.
They have batons, rather than guns, which tells her that they have no kill orders. It doesn't stop her from killing at least one, maybe two, before they bring her to her knees, and shove a needle into her neck.
If they have Peeta, then she's fucked it all up. There's no way Girl on Fire will agree to be the face of the rebellion if lover boy is dead.
When she wakes, she's in a hospital bed, and all she can feel is pain.
They've stitched up her wounds, cleaned the blood, and the dirt, and the sweat from her body. The first time, they'd had her hooked up to morphling for the first few hours, at least. Now, she doesn't even have that. There's a needle hooked up to her wrist, but nothing is going in.
They want her to feel everything.
She tries to stand, but finds both herself strapped down at the wrists and ankles.
For a long time, no one comes. Then, the door opens, and President Snow steps in.
'I've just been having a chat with our friend, the Baker's boy,' says Snow. 'Surprising, isn't it, that he doesn't seem to have any idea what's going on.'
Johanna doesn't say anything. If she does, she'll only make things worse for herself. It would have been clear very quickly that Peeta doesn't know anything. Enobaria would sell them out faster than anything, and the Capitol knows it. Finnick would not have taken the chance of letting Annie know anything.
Johanna has made no secret of her disdain towards them, and now, after all these years, it's coming back around full swing. Her silence doesn't last long.
So long, she's waited, to spit in his face, to tell him what she really thinks. If she's going to die, she wants him to know.
'You put us all in an arena, and said, "kill,"' she snarls. 'How the fuck are you surprised that this is blowing up in your face?'
He's the creator of his own worst enemies. It's ironic almost; if he had just let them live their lives in peace, if he had been content with Victors that didn't need to appease the upper echelons of the Capitol, then might never have happened.
The dictator is never satisfied with anything less than absolute control of his subjects.
'If I were to kill you right now, do you really think there would be anyone left to care?' She doesn't answer, but she doesn't need to. Johanna has accepted that she will die for the rebellion, and the thought doesn't bother her as much as it once might have. Her life had been forfeit the very first time they pulled the slip bearing her name from the Reaping Ball.
Snow brushes her cheek, and she feels like vomiting. 'I will have my answers,' he says, plainly. 'Whatever it takes to get them.'
He presses a button on the machine beside her bed, and she finally – finally – feels the morphling rushing into her bloodstream.
She's unconscious within a minute
The next time she wakes, her hands are above her head, shackled to the wall. They've taken her clothes, and hacked off her hair.
She apparently, is far less important than Peeta, than one half of the Capitol's favorite couple. They can use him, but they don't need to keep her intact.
It's a kick in the teeth, to say the least.
They hold her down, and they don't even pretend that it's for the good of the Capitol.
That's how it starts.
They want to know who else is involved in the rebellion.
They want to know where the rebels are going.
They want answers, and for all intents and purposes, Johanna is the only person in all of Panem that has them.
In Seven, prisoners are put to work.
They are housed in an enormous building, far enough away from everything else that there is no mistaking its purpose. Each morning, they're marched out, separated according to their skills. They are only confined to their cells once the day breaks, and even then, the cells are wider, more open than anything the Capitol has to offer.
Here, she is not a prisoner. Here, she is as she has been since the day she decided to play The Hunger Games by the Capitol's rules; their toy, thing play thing.
For two days, they blast music into her cell. It's deafening, unwavering, unbearable. On the third day, the screams start, but they aren't Johanna's screams.
'Make it stop!' Peeta yells, and she hears his fists against the wall. The sound gives her pause, because she honestly hadn't expected him to be held in here with her.
Funnily enough, it does stop – almost two hours later, but still.
'Peeta.' The shakiness in her voice comes as a surprise.
'Johanna?' Turns out she's not the only one who's surprised. 'What are they going to do to us?'
For a moment, she almost feels sorry for him.
The first day, they rip out her fingernails.
Sleep that night is fitful, and she awakes with sweat plastering her to the mattress. In the cell next door, she can hear the sound of Peeta's heavy breathing.
'Johanna?' he says, hesitantly. The voice echoes in here.
'What do you want, Bread Boy?' she grumbles. There's disdain in her voice, but secretly, she's glad that she has company. If they think that she likes him in any way, shape or form, then they'll use him against her. That's a lesson she had learned the hard way.
'You were screaming in your sleep,' he answers.
'Gee, I wonder why,' she snaps back, and after that, he doesn't say anything further. At least, not until the next day, when she doesn't even wait until she's asleep to scream, because they dunk her in water until she can't breathe, strap wires to her body, and shock her until she passes out. Rinse and repeat.
This must be Snow's idea of irony, to torture her in the same way that Katniss Everdeen destroyed the arena. Pretty fucking funny.
It must last for a long time – hours, days, weeks – because she loses track of the world. The only measure of time that she can focus on, is how long it takes her fingernails to grow back. When she isn't screaming, Peeta is, and she wonders what they're doing to him in there, because surely they must know by now that he isn't complicit in anything. The nights she can manage sleep, his screams wake her.
The only mistake he's made is falling in love.
Every day, she hopes that they'll leave her under for too long, or shock her too hard, or something. Anything.
She had ignored the food the left, not because she'd been trying to starve herself, but because she knows it will come straight back up again. They hold her down and force-feed her, because she still hasn't given them everything they want.
Some days, they don't ask her any questions at all, and beat her just for fun. Her nails are almost long enough for her to scratch her wounds. Every night, she sees her family and friends burning. Every night, she drowns.
Johanna survives, not because she wants to, but because she has no choice.
One day is indistinguishable from every other day, except for the fact that nobody comes. Sometimes, they start like this, only for Snow to come, to tell her just how imperative it is she tell him everything. She doesn't know what she has told him. Some days she can barely remember her name.
This day, nobody comes.
This day, there is shouting and screaming, but not the screaming of torture victims. This day, she hears gunfire and explosions, and she knows that somebody has come to rescue Peeta Mellark.
'In here,' a voice says, and it's an afterthought, more than anything. This isn't her rescue mission. 'It's okay, we're getting you out of here.' She doesn't say anything. She can't say anything.
Her body is broken.
Her mind is broken.
She has failed the revolution, and for all she knows, this is their last ditch effort to...do something.
They lift her onto a backboard, and her body screams out in pain. She closes her eyes, and knows that it is over. Knows that she need never wake up again.
She doesn't even realize she's stirring, until she hears the sound of his voice. Gruff, defeated. Haymitch.
'Peeta?' she asks, when her voice finally returns.
'He's in pretty rough shape,'Haymitch admits. 'They screwed with his brain a little.' That, she has no trouble believing. To his credit, he doesn't ask any question, and just sits there in silence.
Later, she learns that they had rescued Annie as well, which explains Finnick's absence, at least in part. He finally visits her on the second day of her return, and even though he's trying to look sombre for her benefit, there's a light in his eyes.
His happiness is the first truly beautiful thing that Johanna Mason has seen in a very long time.
'They only did this because they were worried people thought I was prettier than you,' she tells him, and he looks shocked for a moment, but he does laugh. It's not until a few days later she understands he has an ulterior motive, albeit one that's against his will.
'They need to see we got our prisoners out alive,' Finnick says, and she's confused for a moment, before she realizes what he's saying.
'Can't Annie do it?' she asks, bitterly, and Finnick looks uncomfortable. Of course, she realizes. Annie hadn't been tortured to near death by the Capitol. She can play the sympathy card pretty damn well, but there's nothing like a shaved head and still healing electricity burns to rile up the masses. More than needing to know that the prisoners are alive, they need to know what the Capitol has been doing to them.
She's heard, from Haymitch, about what Finnick had done to cause a distraction. The anger inside of her has in no way diminished, but she doesn't have the strength – or the courage – to say what she needs to say. It's not because she's afraid of them knowing what has happened to her. It's because she doesn't want anyone to see her in such a position of weakness, let alone the whole country.
In the end, she acquiesces, because if Girl on Fire can do it, so can she.
'I don't know what to say,' she says, and its not a great start to a painful experience. She loves and hates the fact that the morphling is working so well; hates it, because her mind is blurry, and because she can't think, can't feel. Loves it, because it doesn't just help with the physical pain.
She feels like she's floating.
Being outspoken has always been one of her strongest traits, but the Capitol has taken the broken pieces of her life, and shattered them beyond any kind of repair. She's not herself, but at the same time, she's the truest self she's ever been.
She can't look at the camera. Can barely even open her eyes. She gets through it by pretending that it's just Finnick that she's talking to, because he's the only one she could ever really tell what they had done to her, what they've been doing to her for every second of every day since she had won the Games.
Everybody else leaves, and he holds her hand until she falls asleep.
The food in Thirteen is disgusting, but it's more palatable than anything the Capitol had offered during her captivity. It takes a few days before she can eat without throwing everything back up again.
They take away her morphling, and the dreams come back full force. Her nails have grown back, but when she wakes up, they're bitten to the quick.
She sees her family, burned to a crisp. They scream, and claw at the windows, shouting her name, begging her to help. She could go to them at any time, but she doesn't. Then, the fire is gone, engulfed by a tidal wave. She tries to claw her way to the surface, but she is drowning.
The doctor they make her see is less than no help; he's an actively destructive force. They expect her to get better, but they can't see that she's trapped in a room with no doors, no windows, no exits.
There is no escape.
Day by day, she tries to piece herself back together, but she will never truly be fixed. At best, she is a shattered window that has been patched back together with tape, never as whole, or as strong as she once might have been.
Girl on Fire comes back from Two on a gurney, and there's a small part of Johanna that wishes it were a body bag. There is also, not so coincidentally, a less small part of Johanna that hates herself.
For a little while, it almost looks like they might be friends; a concept which she tries to pretend is disgusting, but really, it's comforting, because only another Victor can even begin to know how she feels (and Finnick is way too busy being glued to Annie's side).
They train until their bodies are broken, and then some. For a while, it almost looks as like she'll be there when it all ends, but then it doesn't.
The water comes from all sides, and she is drowning. They put her back in a hospital bed, and tell her she's insane. They had driven her to insanity, and then denied all responsibility. It is at this point, that she knows beyond shadow of a doubt, that District Thirteen is as much of a dark, twisted place as the Capitol had ever been.
'I told you you were crazy when you said you wanted to go to the Capitol,' Haymitch says with a shrug, when she wakes up. 'Didn't think you'd take it so seriously.'
'Jerk,' she mutters, but she's glad that he's there. When she has people with her, she knows that she has escaped the Capitol. When she's alone, it's that much easier for her mind to slip back there.
In a single moment, she has had enough.
She's tired of being weak, of being powerless, of lying around while other people fight the war that will deign the rest of their lives, the war that had changed her life.
But the war is already over. At least, for her.
So she discharges herself from the hospital, and goes back to her compartment. It's almost exactly the same, only she doesn't have nurses interrupting her sleep, and there's less pity in the air. It feels lonely without someone else in there with her, but she'd known from the start that it would always be a temporary arrangement. If there's one word Johanna can unfailingly use to describe herself, it's alone.
She's still surprised the morning she wakes up and finds Haymitch waiting.
'Why is it you're always the one waiting by my bedside?' she grumbles, and Haymitch gives a snort that might be a laugh in disguise.
'Because everyone else is out doing something important,' Haymitch answers, and this time Johanna laughs, because he's not wrong. Somehow, they're the ones that always get left behind. There's something in his voice; something dark, something terrifying, and in that moment, she knows that it's over.
'Who?' she asks, and her voice warbles. Because that's the only thing it can really be.
'Finnick,' he tells her, and there's something of an apology in his voice. Because he knows that Finnick Odair had been the only person in the world she'd truly cared about. The only person in the world that could stop her from going off the deep end. 'But, the good news is, we won. Snow's been captured, awaiting his imminent execution.'
She should cry, should break down into tears, should do any one of a number of things, but she doesn't. She stares at the wall, and tries to feel something – anything – beyond the numbness. There is nothing left of her to break.
'So what now?' she asks. Haymitch gives her a sideways look, as if he's surprised by her response. 'Will there be an execution party?' He give a real laugh at that; maybe because it's the first joke she's made in a while.
So she leaves District Thirteen, and Johanna doesn't pretend that she's sorry. It's a stifling place, without any of the good stuff to take your mind off of things. "Anywhere else," is her new answer to the question, "Where do you want to be?" Not that anyone has asked it yet.
For a moment, she considers the thought of going to Four, to help Annie, because she owes Finnick that much. It fades quickly, because even now, the thought of being near so much water is absolutely terrifying to her.
She goes to Seven, because she's not sure of what else to do.
With Blight gone, she has nothing left there. The trees comfort her, but they're not enough to quell the endless nightmares, the omnipresent feeling of dread, the strange looks they give her. It takes a few days to realize that they pity her.
They mightn't have seen her outburst in the arena, but they had seen the District Thirteen propos that had aired, seen her confessions, her morphling addled weaknesses bared for the whole world to see. They see her now, covered in scars. They hear her screams, every night.
They know now, what Johanna Mason has always known. That living in a broken disharmony with the vicious killer, is that scared little girl who had cried through her interview. The only thing she has left in the world, thanks to the Capitol, is a bundle of pine needles from the woods outside of District Thirteen.
When President Coin summons her to the Capitol, she's almost grateful (she doesn't care much for Coin, but then, Coin isn't trying to prostitute Johanna off to the highest bidder, so she at least has that above Snow). Of course, it's still early days.
Today, there are seven Victors still alive.
Seven is a lucky number – that's what she'd been told, growing up. That's the lie her parents had spun, to make it seem as though coming from District Seven had been a good thing.
Today, there are seven Victors unlucky enough to still be alive.
And then, Coin reveals her grand idea.
The ones that say no, she notices, are the ones that have never truly experienced the horrors of the Capitol; Beetee, whose brain is too much of a commodity for them to risk alienating him; Annie, who has never been quite stable enough, and Peeta, who hasn't been around long enough, and apparently doesn't seem to care that his entire family is dead.
Johanna decides not to remind Annie of all the people that Finnick has killed, of all the things that the Capitol has done to him, has made him do. She's not so much of a bitch that she'd purposely try and tarnish the other woman's memory of him.
It doesn't matter anyway, because the "No's" get outvoted. A few weeks ago, she might have considered Katniss' vote a surprise, but after Prim's death – not really surprising at all. Still, the look that passes between Katniss and Haymitch doesn't go unnoticed. When brainless Girl on Fire shoots Coin, Johanna finds it in herself to concede that maybe Girl on Fire isn't so brainless after all.
After all, there's a reason she'd become the Mockingjay in the first place.
Johanna tries not to let herself feel disappointed that there won't be a Seventy-Sixth Hunger Games.
Seven has lost all of its appeal, so she stays in the Capitol for a few weeks, which is really just as painful.
After flubbing off her fifth session with her head doctor, she packs up her things, and she moves to Twelve.
She doesn't call ahead or ask, or any of those things. One day, a few days later, she walks through Haymitch's door, and dumps her things in his spare room. She's a masochist, but not nearly enough of one to intrude on the weird-fest that is the Peeniss debacle. It takes two days for Haymitch to even notice she's there, at which point he vomits all over her feet.
It's the best greeting anyone's given her in years.
Half the refugees from Twelve come back, back to ashes, and corpses. The only houses left are the ones in the Victors' Village, and while they might be enormous, they're nowhere near big enough to house three-hundred and fifty people.
The people from Twelve can mine, but there's a surprising difference between swinging an axe, and swinging a pick, and none of them can swing an axe for shit.
They're going to need wood if they want to rebuild.
In Seven, they'd build their houses with the leftovers – with the wood that the Capitol had deemed "unworthy for construction purposes." It's a double-bit axe when that happens; someone usually gets a beating, but they also get to keep what doesn't pass muster.
On her Victory Tour, Johanna had seen the houses in Twelve, where they'd had to make do with even fewer scraps.
There are machines from the Capitol to help them out, but after everything that's happened, some people still just prefer to make things with their own two hands.
More than anything, it keeps her mind busy. She tells herself she doesn't care about the people of Twelve, but they treat her with a kindness that she hasn't seen in a long time. Or maybe she just hasn't been looking for it.
For months, her axe sees only wood, but her body, her mind cries out for something more. The next time Katniss goes out hunting, Johanna invites herself along, under the guise of needing to be in the woods. It's not entirely fabricated, of course – she doesn't half mind Twelve, but it doesn't bring her the same comfort that home had, before the Seventy-First Hunger Games.
A lot of the trees have gone to wood, but the forest beyond Twelve is enormous. You could spend days, weeks walking, and still not come out the other side.
Katniss tries to teach her how to use a bow, but it's too disconnected, to distant. If Johanna is going to kill something, she needs to know that she's killed it.
They come across a deer, oblivious to their presence.
Katniss gives her a slight nod, as if to say, "You take it."
Her axe hits the deer mid-torso, and it collapses with a screech of agony. It's not a flesh wound, but it will probably take the deer a few long minutes to die, so she breaks its neck.
It's a mercy kill, but it's also a kill of cowardice.
Because she had decided that her need for meat is more important than the deer's need to live. In her head, everything twists itself into a parable of the Games. The Games have not ended. The Games will never end.
She looks at Katniss, and sees her own eyes staring back at her.
They might not ever be close, close, but they have an understanding, and really, that's all Johanna wants. She doesn't want sympathy, or a shoulder to cry on, or any of those things. She wants...she wants a normal kind of life, and that's almost a terrifying thought.
'You said there's a lake nearby?' Johanna asks, and Katniss gives her a look. To her credit, she doesn't coddle, or ask "Are you sure?" but leads the way deeper into the forest.
Johanna dips her toes into the lake, and for the first time in a long time, it feels freeing.
This year, she won't have to lead two children to their deaths. This year, she won't have to put on some kind of show, like she really cares what anyone thinks.
'I'm going to head back soon,' Katniss announces. There's an edge of concern in her voice, like she can't turn off that older-sisterly instinct, even though she isn't an older sister anymore.
'I'm going to stay,' Johanna says firmly, adding, with some amusement, 'Just for a little while,' because Girl on Fire looks like she's about to protest. 'Go, be with Lover Boy.' That, Katniss gives an amused sort of sneer at, but her expression does soften slightly.
Once she's alone, she slowly edges herself into the water, and stays there until the sun goes down.