My eyes pop fully open at the sound of the door creaking on its hinges. Despite the heaviness of my eyelids and my head in general, I haven’t let myself join Johanna in the slumber she fell into shortly after she last spoke, which I’d guess was about half an hour ago. The pain in my ribs has ebbed enough that I could probably fall asleep now, which is good because I haven’t slept in almost 36 hours but bad because I don’t want to just yet. So far, I have managed to stalwartly maintain my vigilance. I was probably right when I said that that no one in Thirteen would hurt Johanna, but nightmares still can, and I want to be there the second she needs me to wake or comfort her. Besides, sleeping just didn’t feel right after what she’d told me. I owe her this protection after all she has done to protect me, even if she would consciously refuse it. The person now standing in the doorway, though, is one person I’m certain she doesn’t need to be protected from.
“So it was a flashback, right?” asks Prim. If the tray of food in her hands is any indication of the time, my estimation was correct. I motion for her to come in, and she does, closing the door behind her.
“Off the record?” She nods and sets the tray on the table by the door, and I look back down at the sleeping girl resting on my chest. “Yeah.” I shudder and meet my sister’s gaze again. “It was scary, Prim.”
She steps closer and peers over me at Johanna. “What happened to her?” she whispers. I swallow and screw my eyes shut.
“It was the lightning,” I explain hoarsely. “She started screaming and thrashing. I was yelling at her, but she didn’t recognize me. She was totally gone.”
“No,” Prim clarifies gently, “I mean what happened to her in the Capitol?”
I ease my eyes open and study the face inches from my own. If Prim doesn’t know, it’s probably because Johanna doesn’t want her to. “She’s keeping that one close to the vest,” I mumble. “Only a few doctors and military types know, I think. And she wants to keep it that way.”
“And you know?”
I catch Prim’s eye again and nod gently. “Now, yeah.”
My sister smiles and touches my shoulder. “You should eat, Katniss.” My eyes dart to the tray behind her, but she shakes her head. “That’s for her. The doctors said most seizure victims don’t like to eat afterward, but I insisted I should at least give her the chance, especially if she threw up earlier. You’re still expected to eat in the dining hall.”
I frown and shake my head. “No. I can’t leave her. If I move, she’ll wake up again.”
“That might not be such a bad thing,” Prim counters softly. “If she wakes up and you’re here, that could only be comforting. Besides, she really should try to get something down.” Prim’s probably right. I move my left hand to Johanna’s cheek and slowly run my fingertips down to her jaw. She stirs, but doesn’t open her eyes.
“Johanna,” I mumble, to no avail. I give her shoulder a gentle shake and try again, louder this time. “Johanna,” I say, “wake up. You have a visitor.” The woman nuzzles her face into the flesh under my clavicle and slowly opens her eyes. She raises her head enough to focus on me sleepily. “Your favorite nurse is here to see you.” She squints and blinks a few times before her eyes widen in realization and she turns her face toward the younger girl.
“Prim,” she smiles, “hey.” When she lifts her head to more easily meet my sister’s gaze, she lifts her body along with it and rolls fully onto her side, sliding her leg off of mine. I suddenly feel indescribably cold and empty, and this feeling only grows as she moves her hand from where it was nestled in my cleavage down my sternum and toward her so only her fingertips are resting on the side of my ribcage. “Thank you for helping me earlier,” she says genuinely. “I appreciate you coming out there in the downpour to give us a hand.”
My eyes unconsciously widen. This may be the first time I’ve ever witnessed Johanna being polite or gentle. How Prim has managed to draw this side out of her is beyond me, though I guess Prim does tend to bring the best out of people. Not to mention Buttercup. I’m pulled from my thoughts by the feeling of Jo’s fingers lightly tracing over my ribs just out of Prim’s view. Is this a subtle apology, a way to say she didn’t want to move? No, that’s just what I want it to be. If our last few heart-to-hearts are any indication, I’m nothing but the Mockingjay to her. And a warm and willing body, maybe, but not one whose feelings really matter.
“Even if I hadn’t wanted to, it was sort of my job,” Prim teases Johanna. “But you’re welcome. Are you feeling any better?”
“A bit,” Johanna replies. “It helps having someone here. I’m less scared of flashbacks if I know I’m not alone.” She smoothes her hand over my stomach, but the last thing I feel this time is arousal because I know she’s only doing it to justify her need to sleep on someone who just so happens to be me. Prim, for her part, just smirks at Johanna, who sends her a playful glare in return. I’m incapable of interpreting this telepathy going on between the two of them. I’m not sure what could be funny about flashbacks. Wait a second.
“Don’t you mean ‘seizures,’ Johanna?” I inquire pointedly.
She shakes her head. “Prim knew you were lying back on the field, I could tell. Besides, I trust her.” I have to remind myself that this is not so strange, despite Johanna’s reluctance to trust anyone. They forged a bond in my absence when I was in Two, though I clearly underestimated its strength. At the wedding, Prim made it sound like she’d been taking pity on Johanna by visiting her. It had never occurred to me that she actually enjoyed Johanna’s company. I know I didn’t for a long time. Part of me still doesn’t.
“What can I say?” Prim grins, pointing at herself. “It’s this sweet, innocent face.”
“Innocent, eh? Must be an Everdeen thing. Sweet, not so much.” I move my eyes back to Johanna, who is gazing down at me playfully. But I’m not really in the mood for games. I start to fake a yawn to give myself an excuse to close my eyes, but it quickly becomes genuine. When my eyes open again, she is still watching me. “Have you slept at all?”
“No, I…” There’s no way I’m going to admit to Johanna that I feel compelled to protect her, because even if I felt comfortable saying that, she would undoubtedly say she doesn’t need my help and push off of me completely. I don’t want that. So I improvise. “I wanted to be able to wake you up if you started having a nightmare.” It’s a partial truth, at least.
“I actually didn’t have any.” The intensity of her gaze and her small smile convey her meaning clearly. She did find peace in my arms. Even if it’s just a byproduct of the physical closeness to another human and has nothing to do with who I am, it makes my heart swell to know that my presence is helping to ward off the nightmares. This also means I can actually sleep once I get back from dinner, so long as I’m still holding her. I can’t wait. I’m exhausted.
I stumble into the dining hall, wiping sleep from the corner of my eye with the back of my hand, and automatically stagger to the food line. Or, where the food line would be if I weren’t significantly late. Once my tray is filled up with my prescribed servings of everything, I focus my bleary eyes enough to find a familiar face and start to make my way over to where Gale is sitting with the newlyweds. As I approach Finnick from behind, he is making emphatic gestures with his arms and speaking animatedly.
“I mean, I don’t usually throw it that much, but maybe I’ll have to now! Imagine if you guys had that for your arrows, hey?”
“Are you kidding?” Gale says to Finnick while watching me. “For one, catching all the arrows would take up more time than reloading. That’s what the quiver is for.” As I set my tray down and Finnick notices me, Gale adds, “And secondly, you’d have to have a separate button for each arrow unless you wanted them all to fly at you at once, and neither option is practical.”
“Way to ruin my ingenious ideas, Hawthorne.” Finnick almost immediately shifts his attention to me as I sit down, his expression turning serious. “Katniss, how’s Jo?”
I blink up from my tray. “Huh?”
“We all heard,” Annie jumps in. “Is she okay?” I’m not really sure how to answer that. She was viciously tortured in the Capitol and just had a violent, traumatic flashback to said torture not two hours ago. Of course she is not fucking okay. But I can’t say that to the girl who was locked up with Johanna and Peeta and was a little off even before that. Besides, I’m not supposed to mention the flashback. Short of being okay, Johanna seems stable enough for the moment, and I guess that’s what Annie meant.
“She’s resting,” I answer cagily, focusing on twirling a long noodle around my fork. “Prim’s with her now.”
“What happened to her?” Finnick asks anxiously. “Someone said she had a panic attack and was rolling on the ground and hitting you, but then someone else said she had a seizure. No one seems to be able to get the story straight.” Jeez, I wonder why. I’m going to kill Johanna. Not literally. Well, probably not.
“She had a seizure,” I confirm, still not raising my eyes from my plate. “And I was an idiot and tried to restrain her because it freaked me out. That’s probably why it looked like we were fighting.” This is met with silence, so I finally look up at my tablemates. That was a mistake. I squirm in my seat under their incredulous stares, especially Finnick’s highly analytical one. “What?” I sputter. “Did you guys think we were mud wrestling just for fun?”
“It sounds like something you two would do,” Gale mutters. I elbow him in response, but honestly, I am glad for the deflection from the real story that I’m trying to avoid.
“So she’s okay mentally then?” inquires Finnick, regrettably not letting it go. “I thought she might have freaked out in the storm.” Right, of course Finnick knows about the shocks. Finnick is Johanna’s best bud. Best bud with a nice ass. A quick glance at the puzzled Annie and Gale informs me that they don’t know about the shocks, so I keep my answer coded.
“I’m sure she’s been better,” I say cautiously, shooting him a meaningful look. If Finnick figures out what actually happened, it’s probably fine so long as he keeps it to himself. Johanna will no doubt tell him anyway. His eyes darken and he immediately begins to fidget. The others are still watching us questioningly, so I clear my throat and address a question to Gale before he can ask me one. “So, what was that you were talking about when I got here? Something about arrows?”
“Finnick’s new trident,” he replies compliantly, though it is obvious from his expression that he knows I was itching to change the subject. “It can be summoned from a remote location.” I squint in confusion and also extreme fatigue.
“I can call it back to me by pressing a button on a cuff I wear on my wrist,” Finnick explains. “So I can throw it and retrieve it without having to move. It’s brilliant, actually. It’s one of the things Beetee’s been working on down in Special Weaponry.” Weaponry. Weapons. Specialty weapons. I suddenly jump up from my seat.
“I’ll be right back,” I barely bother to say over my shoulder as I bolt away from the table toward where I seem to recall Beetee usually sits. I catch him just as he’s about to roll out into the corridor.
“Hey, Beetee!” I call before he can leave the room. “Wait up!” He spins his wheelchair around and smiles when he spots me jogging toward him.
“Hi, Katniss,” he greets me warmly. “I wasn’t sure we’d see you down here after the incident on the range.” Great, so now everyone knows about that. Well, maybe not everyone. Beetee is a fellow victor, after all. “Are you okay?” I’m taken aback by the question only because everyone else so far has been asking about Johanna, not me. Even I haven’t considered my own mental state after what happened.
“I’m fine, don’t worry,” I quickly brush the question off. I can’t really afford to stop and think about that yet. “Do you have a minute?”
“For you? Of course.” I walk along the wall a little ways to give us some privacy, and he follows close behind. “What can I do for you?”
“Finnick’s trident,” I say. “Do you think you could use that same technology in other types of weapons? The remote retrieval thing?” He chuckles.
“I know I could, but I think you’d find that using it for arrows would prove too complex and even danger-”
“No, not arrows,” I cut in. “I was thinking of axes.”
Beetee squints in thought and rubs his goatee. “That’s probably feasible,” he ponders aloud. “The aerodynamics would be different, obviously, but it would be similar enough because I’d want them to fly straight through the air rather than spiraling, so they’d be easier to catch…” I watch him intently as he continues to think. “I don’t see why that would be a problem.” I grin in excitement, and he smiles widely in return. “Looking to diversify your skills even more?”
“Oh, no,” I gush, “Not for me. I meant for Johanna. She’s banned from using guns for four days because the doctors are afraid she’ll have another seizure and shoot accidentally when her muscles tense up. But I think she’d be allowed to train with axes. They don’t have triggers.”
“No, they don’t,” he replies, a hint of amusement creeping onto his face. “I’ll see what I can do. So long as the doctors don’t object, I could potentially have them ready for her within a couple of days.”
“Really?” Beetee nods. “Thank you! I mean, I guess she could train with plain axes in the meantime anyway, but I think it would make her really happy to have something special just for her, you know?”
“Yes,” he concurs, “I’m sure that would help raise her spirits. I’ll set to it first thing tomorrow.”
I do a giddy little dance in celebration. Wait, I do a what? What the hell is wrong with me? I need to get it together. I need to sleep. And eat. With one final thank you to Beetee, I make my way back to the table and plunk down onto the bench. When I look up, I notice Annie rubbing her distressed-looking husband’s arm and whispering in his ear.
“What was all that about?” Gale asks from beside me. I almost tell him, but then decide that if word got around so quickly about Johanna’s episode, the news about the axes might too.
“It’s a surprise,” I mumble through a mouthful of pasta and quickly flit my eyes away, only to meet Finnick’s distraught ones.
“Katniss, do you think they’d let Johanna have any visitors right now?” he jitters. “I really should get down there. Is there anything I can bring her?” I take another bite of food as I formulate a response. I honestly just want to climb back into bed and fall asleep as soon as possible, but that won’t happen if Finnick is in the room making a scene. And if his nerves rub off on Johanna, she could get all riled up again, and I do not want to have to deal with that.
“The doctors have told her to rest as much as possible,” I answer. “She’s actually probably sleeping right now. Prim’s only there because they would rather someone keep an eye on her for awhile.” It’s true enough. The worry doesn’t leave Finnick’s face.
“Are you sure she doesn’t need some company?”
“She has all the company she needs,” I reply brusquely. Three pairs of stunned eyes take me in as I blink in surprise at my own outburst. I duck my head, ostensibly to stuff more food in my mouth, but mostly to hide the sudden redness in my cheeks.
“Finnick, honey,” I hear Annie say in a hushed tone, “she knows best what’s going on. She was there, and she heard what the doctors said.” I look up curiously. I’m used to seeing Finnick calming and comforting Annie, not the other way around. This is fantastic news. It can only bode well for the woman. And for me, at the moment. “If they say she needs rest, that’s the best thing you can give her.”
Finnick considers this for a moment before letting out a deep breath and covering Annie’s hand with his own. “You’re right, love,” he smiles, causing her face to light up. He lightly pecks her on the lips before turning back to face Gale and me. God, they’re so adorable it’s almost disgusting.
“I don’t know, maybe you should go, Finnick,” counters Gale. “So Prim doesn’t have to stay all evening.” I look over at him in annoyance and confusion, and he returns the expression. “Did you forget we’re studying military terminology tonight? You practically begged me to help you.” Oh, crap. I did, just yesterday. But yesterday feels worlds away now after what’s transpired in the last few hours.
“I know I did, but something else came up that I have to deal with, you know? Besides, I’m too tired to study. I could pass out any minute.”
“Then you’re not much good for keeping an eye on Johanna anyway, are you? Finnick should go and keep her company.”
“No point, she’ll probably be sleeping too.”
“So then what does it even matter if you’re there?” I could slap him, he’s being so frustrating. It’s like he’s trying to get under my skin and keep me from what I want. I can’t simply tell him that I need to be there because right now there’s nowhere I’d rather be than wrapped around Johanna. That I want to personally protect her from any more harm. That I want to be the one who comforts her if she wakes from a nightmare. Not Prim. Definitely not Finnick. I can’t voice these thoughts aloud because it is weird enough to even think them given my history with Johanna, not to mention the fact that they are completely embarrassing and I would never live it down. But I must admit, part of me actually kind of wants to tell Gale these things just to piss him off. I don’t, but I still tell the truth.
“Look, Gale,” I storm, “do you really need me to spell it out for you? It’s my fault Johanna was tortured. The seizures are a side effect of said torture. So I owe it to her to help her through this.” I’m not even finished before Annie has covered her ears and picked a spot on the table to burn into with her eyes. Oh, great. So much for Annie doing well. Finnick shoots me a glare, but I’m already sending him an apologetic look. “Sorry,“ I mouth at him, and he nods before turning to his wife and reciprocating the soothing gestures she’d directed at him earlier.
“By that same logic, it’s your fault Peeta was tortured too, and you should be helping him get over the hijacking,” Gale whispers. My stomach drops and constricts painfully, along with my face. I’m floored that Gale would go this far just to make a point. Not only because he knows how sore a spot Peeta is for me and that bringing him up is cruel, but also because this suggestion runs completely counter to his own ambitions, given that he and Peeta are rivals for my affection. Since when is Johanna more of a threat to him than Peeta?
“Are you seriously suggesting I spend more time with Peeta?” I ask him in disbelief once I’m able to control my face again. “Who are you, and what have you done with Gale?”
“That’s not what I meant,” he grumbles. “I just don’t understand why you’re going out of your way to hang out with someone who barely tolerates you.” He doodles in the sauce on his empty plate as he continues, “Instead of people who actually care about you. Who you supposedly care about.” That’s a low blow, but I can at least understand why he’s upset. We’ve been practically inseparable since coming to Thirteen, despite our frequent spats. Our relationship in whatever form has survived every test over the last several years, so to have someone new who he’s mostly just seen attacking me take precedence over him must be downright insulting. It was bad enough when it happened with Peeta, who is – or at least was – basically everything that’s good in the world. My posture and eyes soften and I touch Gale’s arm to regain his gaze.
“I care about you,” I assure him. “You’re my best friend.”
“Yeah, you say that. But actions speak louder than words, Katniss. Your priorities are really messed up if you’re ditching me to spend time with someone who hates you, who you hate. You don’t owe her that much.” Even if he could be right about my priorities when judging from his own limited perspective, this response really rubs me the wrong way. He has no idea just how much I owe Johanna. And not only is he criticizing my ability to make my own decisions, he’s assuming he knows everything about my relationship with the girl from Seven and how we feel about each other. That’s something even I don’t know.
“It doesn’t matter how I feel about her,” I snap. “We’re allies now. We have each other’s backs. Which is more than I can say for you lately.” I turn back to my plate and viciously stab at a few of the saucy vegetables in my pile of noodles that is getting cold, no thanks to the constant interruptions from the others. Gale stands and leaves wordlessly, but forcefully enough for me to sense his fury. I sigh deeply, shake my head, and take another bite before I bother to look up again and notice that Finnick is watching me. I suppose Annie is too, but it creeps me out less, perhaps because from her it seems less purposeful. I furrow my brow at him questioningly, but he just shrugs and scrapes the last chunks of meat off his plate and into his mouth.
“No, seriously,” I demand, “what?”
“It’s none of my business,” he says in a nonchalant tone, but his gaze is still intent.
“Yeah, you’re damn right it’s not.”
Finnick raises his eyebrows, but more in amusement than offense, I think. He smiles broadly and then turns to Annie, who is just downing the last of her water. “Ready to go, love?” She nods and they collect their trays and cups. We trade goodbyes, and they are gone.
Great, I just cleared a whole table using only the power of my sunny personality. But maybe it’s a good thing. Even if I’ve completely embarrassed myself and alienated all of my friends, at least now I can finish dinner quickly and get home with no more interruptions. That’s probably not worth the social drama I just caused myself, but in my exhausted stupor I seem to have developed tunnel vision. Johanna Johanna Johanna. I kind of wish I hadn’t realized I’m harboring some kind of feelings for her, because this is just getting ridiculous. But I’m also kind of enjoying it.
I practically sprinted back to the hospital once I finished eating. The doctors I passed are probably considering giving me back my special bracelet. I slow to a walk before reaching our open door, but the sound of a muffled slap coming from inside makes my face crinkle and my legs speed back up.
“You’re still going to lose,” Prim’s teasing voice wafts around the corner.
“I never lose,” comes Johanna’s rough reply. I approach on hunter’s feet for the last several yards before peeking around the doorframe. The lights are turned back up, the tray Prim brought has been emptied and discarded on the table, and she is sitting cross-legged on Johanna’s bed opposite the victor. I watch curiously as the two of them alternate tossing playing cards onto a pile on the bed between them. Johanna runs out of cards after several turns, but Prim keeps laying hers down. Suddenly, they both lunge to slap a hand on the pile. Jo’s face drops as Primrose victoriously raises the cards in the air and grins hugely.
“I told you so! I knew I’d beat you one day.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Johanna grumbles. “Of course you won. I’m half asleep, Littledeen.”
“Littledeen?” My incredulous voice surprises all of us and announces my presence to the others. “Really?” Johanna at least has the decency to look embarrassed, but Prim just mashes the piles of cards in her hands into one and bounces off the bed toward me.
“Katniss! We were starting to wonder if you’d ever come back.”
“Yeah, well, I got a little tied up answering a million questions about Johanna’s ‘seizure.’” I catch the woman’s eye. “Everyone’s worried, especially Finnick. He almost came running down here, but I told him you needed rest more than anything.”
Johanna quirks an eyebrow. “I’m sure you did.” I furrow my brow, but she just shakes her head and smiles. “Thanks. I honestly can’t take much more company today. And no more questions.” Her eyes drop to Prim and she quickly adds, “No offense, Littledeen. You don’t count. You can come visit me anytime you want.” Prim smirks back at her and holds up the deck.
“You just want a chance to win my cards back,” she teases.
Johanna smiles warmly and drawls, “Maybe.” Prim thumbs her nose at her, only causing the smile to grow.
I shake my head in disbelief and mild amusement at the pair of them. “You were never this nice to me,” I muse in Johanna’s direction.
“She’s much less irritating,” she shoots back, though the glint of humor in her eyes is unmistakable. Still, I’m not finding it especially funny at the moment.
Prim giggles and nudges me. “I have to get going. Mom’s probably getting worried.” I nod, and she turns to Johanna. “I’ll come by tomorrow, okay?”
“Okay. Thanks, Prim.” The younger girl waves and grabs the tray before making her exit, leaving Johanna and I alone. I raise my eyebrows at Johanna and shut the door behind me.
“Who knew you had so many friends?” I jab teasingly.
“That’s hilarious, coming from you,” she deadpans right back.
I release a barely-amused half snort as I kick off my shoes. “Well, at least you get along with one of the Everdeens,” I joke weakly, crossing the room to my side.
“Who would have guessed?” she grins. “I’d assumed you were all bitchy morons.” This manages to hurt me more than it would have as recently as this morning, even though I know she’s joking to some extent. God, I hate how unstable she makes me feel.
“Yeah, and who would have guessed you’d ever behave tolerably enough for one of us to actually want to spend time with you?” I respond bitingly. Johanna’s eyes and mouth open farther as she tunes into my mood. She pivots on the bed to fully face me. “I mean, I know Prim likes everyone and everyone likes her, but even her enjoying your company seems like a stretch.”
Jo stares silently through narrowed eyes for a moment, plucking her lower lip between her thumb and forefinger a couple times. I can’t help but stare back. “Okay,” she finally asks, “what’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” Johanna scoffs and I add, “Okay, nothing I want to talk about.”
“What?” she demands. “Is it Prim?” I blink away and she continues, “Are you actually jealous that I got a bit of your sister’s attention? You shouldn’t be. That kid adores you, you know. It’s obvious.”
I shake my head. “It’s not that.”
“Then what is it?” The opposite, though I don’t quite understand why. I would find their connection completely adorable and heart-warming if the differences between theirs and ours didn’t highlight all of my own insecurities. Like how the only thing that’s obvious about Johanna’s feelings for me is that she does not adore me.
“You know what?” I sigh resignedly. “It doesn’t matter.” It does matter, but I don’t know how to express just what I need from her. I’m too tired to think and apparently also too tired to speak without being a complete asshole, so trying to explain is probably a horrible idea. I don’t even bother to change into my hospital gown before pulling back the covers on my bed. Johanna will probably not want me with her after I’ve been snapping at her like this. Even if she does, now that I actually have the opportunity to climb back into her bed, I’m unexpectedly hesitant. I’m not sure my heart can take another round of being a generic bedwarmer and then feeling dispensable afterward.
“What are you doing?” comes Johanna’s puzzled voice from behind me as I crawl under my covers. I curl up on my good side, facing away from her.
“Going to bed,” I grumble. “Turn the lights down, will you?”
“But…” She is seemingly lost for words for a moment, and when she speaks again her tone is still confused, but also imploring. “Katniss.” I grunt to indicate I’m listening, but I don’t move. “Look, I don’t know what I did to piss you off, but I need you with me right now.” I painfully swallow the lump in my throat that has just sprouted at her words and try to battle the fluttering of my heart. She probably doesn’t mean she needs me in particular. She just needs some person to hold her. As much as I want that person to be me, I want even more for her to say I’m the only person she wants with her. But I know she won’t. “Are you on your period or something?” she teases, reverting back to her old habits. “You’ve never been this easily offended.”
“I’m not offended,” I shoot back. “Or at least I wasn’t until you brought up my menstrual cycle.”
“Then why are you upset?” What a stupid question. Only hours ago, I witnessed someone I care about having a flashback far more traumatic than any I’ve ever experienced, and I felt absolutely powerless to help her. In fact, I made it worse by restraining her. I know those few minutes were much worse for her than they were for me, but now that I am finally giving myself a moment to reflect on it, I realize I’ve been on edge ever since that first lightning strike. Seeing Johanna in such a vulnerable and perhaps even endangered state made me realize how important she is to me, much like how seeing Gale lying bloodied on my kitchen table and Peeta dead on the jungle floor brought their importance to light. And those feelings I’ve just discovered are confusing and overwhelming, especially in combination with the effect she has on me physically, which I cannot say either of the boys really have. Combine all of that with Johanna’s words and other relationships making me feel so small and insignificant, and it’s far too much to process. My nerves are beyond frayed.
“I have a lot on my mind,” I succinctly sum it up.
“Oh, no,” she taunts in possibly the most patronizing voice ever, “does the Mockingjay have too much going on in that teeny tiny little head?”
“Fuck off, Johanna,” I bark. She chuckles a little but then becomes eerily silent. When she finally speaks again, her tone is much different. It’s soft. It’s uncertain.
“You know… Everdeen…” The hesitation in her voice is what finally prompts me to roll over and take a good look at her. She’s still sitting cross-legged, gazing down at her fidgeting, grubby hands. “I don’t know how to ask for things.” The fear in her eyes is unmistakable when she shifts them up to meet mine. I just stare unwaveringly at her, and her jaw twitches as her eyes bounce away. She takes in a shaky breath before admitting, “But I don’t think I can sleep alone tonight.” I’m torn between empathy and anger. This is not my problem, as much as I’d like it to be.
“Call Finnick, get him to come cuddle you,” I grouse.
Johanna looks genuinely surprised. “Finnick? Who said anything about Finnick?” My eyes narrow, and she admits, “I may have cuddled with him in a few rare moments of weakness over the years, but that’s not really our thing. We’re like brothers, you know?”
I’m slightly amused and puzzled at Johanna sort of referring to herself as a boy, but it’s not the most pressing question on my mind at the moment. “So then what are we like?”
I catch the ghost of a smile of Johanna’s face before she can duck her head to hide it. “We’re… we’re something else.” She looks back up and lets me see the warmth in her expression briefly before slipping so seamlessly back into her signature smirk. “Not brothers,” she specifies with a wink. I roll my eyes, and she adds, “We’re not really sisters, either.”
“You know,” I grin despite myself, “back when you were a total bitch to me in the Quell, I wondered if that’s what it’s like to have an older sister who really hates you.” Johanna genuinely laughs at this, and I again feel the floating sensation of pride I am getting used to experiencing whenever I help her improve her mood or forget her troubles. Who am I kidding? Even if it’s scary, I want to do that for her tonight. I want to hold her and chase away the nightmares. I’d want to do that even if I didn’t feel like her torment was my fault. But I’m not going to give in that easily. I want to hear her ask again.
“Maybe that’s actually what it is,” she jokes. “Annoying siblings. I mean, you were always way too eager to get my approval.”
“Yeah, right,” I scoff. “I was just putting up with you until I had to kill you.”
“And I was just putting up with you because I wasn’t allowed to kill you. Sadly.”
“That must have been very frustrating for you,” I smirk.
“Oh, you have no idea just how frustrating you can be, girl on fire.” Johanna’s eyes dance with some unspoken challenge, and she starts plucking at her bottom lip again. It takes me a moment of feeling mesmerized yet oddly uncomfortable to recognize this as yet another variation of that look she keeps giving me that makes my stomach burble in nervousness. But it’s nervous in a way I sort of enjoy, in a way that ignites my insides in anticipation of some hidden meaning I’ve yet to discover but think I’m going to like. Whatever the challenge in her eyes is, I want to meet it.
“Hmm, is that so?” When Johanna nods, I grin and turn back over. “Goodnight, Seven,” I salute her airily. Johanna groans in frustration behind me, only widening my smile further.
“Katniss Everdeen, get your ass back in my bed right now,” she orders. “Don’t make me come over there.” I’d just wanted her to ask once more for me to come back, but for some reason her demanding it is even better, and there’s no way I’m not obeying that directive. The connotation attached to the way she just said it doesn’t hurt, either.
I roll back over and cock an eyebrow at the girl. “Was that intended to sound extremely sexual?” Judging from the smirk on Jo’s face, it probably was. I huff in a poorly executed attempt to seem hesitant or offended before swinging my feet down to the floor.
Johanna wiggles her eyebrows and responds lewdly, “Take it that way if you want, darling. But I thought you were supposed to be the pure one.”
I side-eye her as I make my way toward the door to dim the lights. “You’re an asshole.”
“That’s why you like me,” Johanna grins, pulling back her covers. She crawls under them just as the lights go down.
“I don’t like you,” I state matter-of-factly.
There’s no hesitation on my part this time when I slip into Johanna’s bed. I roll her forward onto her side and wrap myself around her, sliding my right arm under her neck and my left over her waist. She threads the fingers of her left hand through mine from underneath my palm and pulls my arm tighter around her, my whole body snugly into her. She lets out a deep breath as she finally relaxes, and wriggles to get into a comfortable sleeping position. I have to fight to steady my breath and hands as her butt grinds against my pubic bone when she does this, but once she stills I simply lean forward and bury my face in the crook of her neck.
We remain silent now, despite all that is left unsaid. Maybe that’s safer, given how well talking always seems to go. Or maybe words are just unnecessary.