If Katniss was a raging fire, her mother was a stream; fluid, calm and cool.
There wasn't much in life that comforted Johanna, but in those first days after she was rescued from the Capitol – when her waking hours were as haunted as her sleep – Emily Everdden was the only thing besides morphling that could calm her.
There was a desperate wildness in Johanna in those early days in 13. A feral madness swirled in her overly wide green eyes, and the doctors and support staff gave her a wide berth. As thin as she had become during her imprisonment, people knew she was dangerous, they knew she was deadly. They had seen her end lives before and they did not want to become a casualty of her mental disorientation.
When Johanna screamed and spit and yanked furiously on her restraints – as she so often did – Emily was the only one who came to her side to comfort and calm her. She approached Johanna cautiously – a method she had no doubt learned from dealing with Katniss after the 74th Hunger Games – but she did approach. Once she was by Johanna's side she would then allow her hand to hover above Johanna's face for a few moments, giving Johanna a chance to not just see her but to really register her presence, and then she would slowly reach out and cup her cheek.
It wouldn't have seemed like much to most people. Emily didn't take her into her arms and rock her like a baby or coo at her softly like she was a shivering animal. She simply stroked Johanna's cheek with her thumb, or sometimes brushed her fingers lightly over her brows until Johanna had calmed down, but small as the gentle touches were, to Johanna they made all of the difference in the world.
Emily reminded Johanna that not all touch was pain and that not all people were cruel. Kindness and comfort had become alien concepts to Johanna, but as long as she knew that they were possible there was hope for her, for the rebellion, and for a better life. To the rest of Panem, Katniss was the girl on fire, but Emily was the flame that burned bright in the darkness of Johanna's life.
Without knowing it – or meaning to – Emily had become Johanna's mockingjay.
Life was pain. Life was blood and tears and aching hearts. Johanna had learned this young. To live was to lose. People had to learn to accept that, as Johanna had, or they would find themselves lost. This was what Johanna believed and it was how she lived her life, but when she saw Emily stumbling back to her apartment on uncertain legs after she had learned of Prim's death ... Johanna could not stand back and do nothing, not with this woman who had held her together when she was unravelling at the seams.
Emily had never offered Johanna empty words when she came to her side in the medical bay and Johanna returned the favour. When Emily's legs threatened to give way, Johanna wordlessly appeared at her side and steadied her. Johanna was not yet back in peak physical condition, but when Emily leaned heavily against her, Johanna supported her weight and with the iron-will that had seen her through the Hunger Games she managed to haul Emily to her apartment. Once they were inside the small dwelling whatever force of will had kept Emily going while in public deserted her and Johanna found herself sinking to the floor with Emily as the other woman collapsed.
Slumped together on the cool stone floor, Johanna's arms wound their way around Emily and when the older woman began to silently weep – too stricken with grief to even emit sound – Johanna held her tightly.
When Emily had shed all of the tears she could, Johanna helped her to the bedroom, stripped her and dressed her in her night clothes as Emily had done for her so many times after Johanna had been brought to 13.
Once Emily was settled beneath the sheets Johanna stepped back, but before she could move away from the side of the bed, Emily's fingers wrapped weakly around her wrist.
Johanna looked down at her sharply, instinct tensing her muscles as she prepared to yank her hand away, but the look of desperation in Emily's eyes froze her in place.
"Stay?" fell softly from Emily's lips as she looked up at Johanna.
Johanna remained tense and motionless. She wanted to tell Emily that this wasn't what she did, that this wasn't who she was. She wasn't the person people went to when they needed comfort, or support or anything soft and soothing. She was Johanna Mason. She was a bitch. She was not the person whose shoulder people cried on, and the idea of becoming that person sort of terrified Johanna. But Emily was looking at her, and she knew those eyes, she'd looked into those eyes so often as Emily gazed down at her and touched her when no one else would, so even though every muscle in her body was tensed for flight, Johanna nodded and then climbed onto the bed.
In the morning when Johanna awoke the bed was empty and if it wasn't for the fact that she was clearly in an apartment that was not her own she might have wondered if she had dreamt falling asleep with Emily in her arms the night before.
After leaving Emily's apartment, Johanna reported for training as she had every morning since being released from the hospital after her relapse. The fighting might have been over but in the compound beneath the ground in District 13 life went on much as it had when war was still being waged.
During the day Johanna did not see Emily, other than a brief glimpse she had caught of the blonde – grim and focused – through the plexiglass windows of the medical bay, but that night after the evening meal Emily's hand brushed Johanna's shoulder as she walked past her on her way out of the mess hall, and when Johanna looked up at her their eyes met and held intimately for a moment. Not a single word passed between them before Emily continued past Johanna and walked out of the hall, but the moment felt important, it felt like an invitation, and ten minutes later Johanna found herself hovering awkwardly outside of Emily's apartment door.
Having spent much of her adult life purposefully avoiding emotional connections left Johanna feeling somewhat adrift as she stared at the non-descript door before for. She wasn't sure if Emily had actually been silently asking for her company or if she simply wanted Emily to have been asking for her company, and so she found herself nodding and smiling conspicuously at passerbys as she debated whether or not to ring the bell.
However, after loitering around for a few minutes, Johanna became frustrated with herself and forced herself to move.
She was a survivor of the Hunger Games – two Hunger Games in fact – and it was unbecoming of her to linger in corridors fretting like a pre-pubescent school girl.
"I won't be much in the way of company," Emily warned immediately after opening the door.
"I'm never much in the way of company," Johanna responded knowing that she was an acquired taste most people couldn't be bothered to develop. "If you don't mind, I don't."
"I don't," Emily murmured stepping back.
A moment later Johanna stepped inside, Emily closed the door behind her, and it didn't open again until morning when Emily left for work.
In the days that followed they continued to spend their 'daylight' hours apart but in the evenings they found their way to each other.
The first few evenings they spent together were spent mostly in silence. Emily took comfort in Johanna's nearness and Johanna – who couldn't remember the last time someone had needed her – was content to be the older woman's silent pillar of support.
But then, one night, as Johanna sat on the couch waiting for Emily to change out of her uniform, she caught sight of an orange tail sticking out from beneath the desk, and always having been too curious for her own good, she went investigating.
Johanna discovered Buttercup the cat hiding under the desk and promptly tried to entice the cat out.
She ended up with set a claw marks along her forearm for her troubles, and when Emily emerged from the bedroom a few minutes later she found Johanna muttering darkly under her breath and glaring murderously at a fluffy tail.
Emily immediately moved to Johanna's side to access the damage Buttercup had done to her arm, and as Emily checked the wounds, Johanna irritably muttered, "Your cat's an asshole," which brought a sad smile to Emily's lips before she sighed, "He's ... he was Prim's. She was the only one he was ever really nice to."
Emily led Johanna over to the couch after that to clean her wound, and as she went to work, she told Johanna the story of how Buttercup came to be part of the Everdeen household.
Emily's story about Buttercup's origin were the first meaningful words they had exchanged since Johanna had first stayed over and after that evening they began to talk in addition to keeping each other company.
The conversations were stilted and awkward at first, but they persevered and soon their words came easier.
At first they talked about their days because it was easy and safe, but eventually they became bolder. They started to talk about their pasts, about life in their districts, about how District 12 differed from District 7. They compared customs and ceremonies, and then hardships and problems particular to their districts.
Eventually, they talked about the Hunger Games.
After surviving the 74th Hunger Games and returning to District 12, Katniss had refused to talk about what it was like in the arena, but Johanna opened up to Emily about her experiences. It was not a pleasant subject for either of them, but it lifted a weight off of Johanna to finally talk about her feelings and experiences openly and it gave Emily an insight into her eldest daughter and the pains she had borne so bravely, so nobly, and so silently.
They spoke about frivolous, meaningless things and about things that left them so choked with emotion that for the rest of night they could not force another word past their lips.
They came to know each other.
They came to care about each other.
And then Johanna was summoned to the Capitol.
Johanna had been waiting to be contacted since the war had ended, but when the call finally came she found that she did not want to leave 13 – or more specifically, she did not want to leave Emily.
However, completely in-keeping with everything else in her life, what Johanna wanted didn't mean much, and after managing to delay her departure for a day, armed guards caught up with her outside of Emily's apartment and she was 'escorted' to the hoverpad.
As Panem's new president, Coin had called upon Johanna and all of the remaining victors to come to the Capitol so that they could decide the fate of the children of the Capitol, however in a lovely bit of irony, it had ended up being Coin's fate that was sealed around that table – though she didn't know it until Katniss put an arrow through her heart a day later.
In the blink of an eye, a new regime had come and gone, but Johanna couldn't find it within herself to give a shit. She didn't care about politics. She didn't care who replaced Coin. Whoever it was would be flawed because they were human. They would do what they thought was right and they would either make things better or worse. No matter what they did some people would be happy, and some people would be discontent. If Panem was lucky the new President would be competent enough to keep the peace, but if Panem was unlucky they'd all find themselves starving and bleeding again like they had so many times in the past. Things would be what they would be, and there was nothing Johanna Mason could do about that. All she cared about was finally getting a chance to live her life.
The problem was that Johanna didn't really know how to go about doing that.
The Hunger Games had changed and then consumed her life. She was a victor in a world that no longer had a need for them. This left her free to pursue her passions, but beyond axe throwing she had never allowed herself develop any.
She supposed that she could go home, but District 7 hadn't felt like a home to her for a long time – not since she'd been living in that big house in the victor's village alone – and now that she had a choice in the matter, she desperately didn't want to go back there.
The next option that came to mind was returning to District 13. She hated how grey everything there was, she hated spending so much time underground, she hated the drab clothes they had to wear and the even drabber meals they were served. She hated a lot of things about 13, but she had to admit that the mandatory schedules there were good for her because they gave her something to do with her days, and then ... and then there was Emily.
That was more than anywhere else had to offer, so Johanna put in a request to get transportation back to District 13. The next day Johanna was granted a rare private meeting with the new President so that she could be informed personally that her request had been denied. It seemed that after Katniss' assassination of President Coin, all known associates of Katniss Everdeen were considered persona non grata in District 13.
A month before learning that Katniss' impulsive behaviour had gotten her friends and family banned from an entire district would have amused Johanna. But hearing President Paylor's words then made Johanna's stomach clench. It made her heart speed up and formed a thin sheen of sheet on her skin. Her mind lost focus and she became short of breath and disoriented. They were symptoms she'd become very familiar with after the torture she had endured the last time she was in the Capitol. It was the way she had felt for weeks whenever she was confronted with water or heard the hissing of a live-wire. It was something she hadn't felt for anyone other than herself in half a decade.
It was panic.
Johanna's left hand immediately wrapped around her right wrist where her 'mentally disoriented' bracelet used to be secured and her thumb started pressing compulsively against her veins where the bracelets morphling injector had been positioned. But she had no bracelet presently, she had no morphling and it took every ounce of will power she had to calm herself down enough to choke out, "Emily ... Everdeen."
Paylor recognized a panic attack when she saw one and reached out to try and steady Johanna. She realized too late that this was not a wise course of action. Johanna was thin and often still seemed mentally dazed if not quite disoriented, but she'd always had good instincts and despite the way she shuffled through the hallways, she was still quick. Before Paylor knew what had happened, Johanna had grabbed the service weapon she still kept clipped to her hip and had the muzzle pressed against Paylor's temple while her other hand wrapped around the President's neck.
"Emily Everdeen," Johanna repeated forcefully, the unsteady shaking of her hand making the muzzle pointed against Paylor's head even more terrifying.
"Is safe and on her way here," Paylor stated calmly, holding Johanna's gaze. "She's fine," Paylor continued steadily, "But if you don't put that gun down right now and back the hell away from me you'll never see her because you'll be locked up in the room next to her daughter."
Johanna lowered the gun, put on the safety, handed it to Paylor and then backed away.
"I've been watching you for years," Paylor began softly when Johanna was a comfortable distance away from her. "That was the first real emotion I've seen from you since you won. I didn't think you had it in you anymore."
Forgetting herself for a moment, Johanna quietly responded, "Neither did I."
"No doubt that's a big step for you," Paylor continued understandingly, "But I just put two former Presidents in the ground and I have no intention of becoming the last piece in a dead President triangle, so know that if you ever try anything like that again I'll have you put down."
Johanna's back straightened as she breathed out, "Snow used to say things like that."
"No," Paylor disagreed softly but firmly. "Snow used to threaten, torture, and kill the people his enemies cared about and when none were left he would focus his attention on his real target. I'm telling you that you'll be held accountable for your actions. Your life is your own now and you need to start taking responsibility for it."
"What if I have no idea how to do that?" Johanna asked, and not simply to be belligerent.
"And if I don't?"
Paylor's hand moved to rest on the handle of the gun.
Johanna lips twisted up, and dryly she murmured, "I see."
Johanna's world came into focus again when Emily arrived in the Capitol.
Although she suspected it was slightly pathetic and spaniel-like, Johanna was waiting by the hoverpad when Emily's hovercraft docked.
Emily's eyes found her almost the moment she exited the craft and Johanna immediately moved forward. Emily looked pale and shaken, and Johanna realized that the hovercraft must have flown over the square where the children of the Capitol and medics who'd arrived to help them had been blown to pieces. She could imagine the thoughts that must have been running through Emily's head as she gazed down at the blackened earth. When she made it to Emily she extended her hand and Emily gratefully took hold of it the moment Johanna reached out.
"It's good to see you," Emily murmured when their fingers were entwined. "I missed you," she continued as she gave Johanna's hand a tight squeeze.
"Nobody ever misses me," Johanna responded though she held onto Emily's hand tightly, her actions showing how much she wanted Emily's words to be true even though her brain had trouble accepting them.
"I did," Emily stated firmly, holding Johanna's eyes, not allowing the younger woman to look away and hide.
"I missed you too," Johanna whispered a few seconds later, her voice thick with emotion.
Her chest felt tight and her eyes stung with building tears. She knew that people were watching, but the feelings swelling inside of her would not allow themselves be shoved down and ignored, and Johanna found herself using their joined hands to draw Emily into a tight embrace. Emily's arms wrapped around her a second later, firmly returning the hug, and when Johanna felt the other woman's lips brush softly across her cheek, a relieved sigh fell from her lips, her eyelashes fluttered shut and a few of the tears she had felt building in her eyes escaped.
In the past, Johanna had rolled her eyes when she had witnessed Finnick and Annie tearfully reunite after they had been separated. She couldn't understand how Finnick Odair, how a true victor, how a god among men, could be so weak at times. She couldn't understand how he could let people see him with tears in his eyes, how he could fall his knees before a shaking, wisp of a girl, press his head against her and cling to her like he needed her. Though she never said anything to him about it, she had judged him for it. He'd seen the judgement in her eyes and in response he'd told her that one day, if she was lucky, she would understand. She'd rolled her eyes at that too, but it turned out that Finnick was right. It'd taken far longer than he would have thought, and he was no longer around to smile triumphantly at her, but as she clung to Emily, hiding her face against her neck, Johanna finally understood.
It was good to have someone.
It was good to be together.
Drugged and caged, Katniss was barely fit for company but Emily was nonetheless given permission to see her. While Emily visited her daughter in her luxurious cell, Johanna paced in the hallway outside, waiting, so that when Emily emerged for the room, weary and worn out, she would be able to walk straight into Johanna's arms.
Later that night, when they were tucked away in Johanna's room, Emily talked about her visit with Katniss.
The majority of their time together had been spent in silence missing Prim, but she and Katniss had managed to briefly hold something that resembled a conversation, though Emily thought it unlikely Katniss would remember it in the morning given the amount of morphling that had been in Katniss' system.
The drugs had made Katniss' mind sluggish, but she had managed to convey to her mother why she had killed Coin. She had managed to explain how beyond wanting to avenge Prim's death, she'd had to remove Coin because there could be no better life for anyone under the rule of a person willing to kill children to gain control and keep control. The rebellion had been fought to stop the Hunger Games and to put an end to the corrupt and diseased government that thought the institutionalized murder of children was an appropriate way to govern. Hundreds of thousands of people had died so that a better system, a just system could be established, only to have Coin's first mandate as President be to continue the Hunger Games with different peoples children.
It was the first time Johanna had heard what Katniss' motivation for killing Coin was and for the first time she really understood why out of all of the victors it was Katniss who had become a symbol of hope for the people Panem, why it was Katniss had changed the world. Katniss wasn't the strongest, the fastest, the smartest, or the most beautiful of the victors, but she possessed a unique mixture of wrath and mercy, resolve and restraint, and pragmatism and optimism that had made her the best of them – that had made her the best of Panem.
Even with so many people to treat in the Capitol, with one daughter dead and the other lost to the law, drugs and misery, being in the Capitol soon began to suffocate Emily. She had nearly lost herself to misery and sorrow after her husband's death and she thought that if she stayed in the Capitol for much longer that she would start to drown again – and she feared that if she let that happen that she would never surface.
To live she had to leave.
"I'll be setting up a hospital in District 4," Emily told Johanna one evening over a glass of wine. "I know Paylor and Plutarch have been talking to you about your future."
It was true, though Johanna had never brought it up with Emily. Plutarch especially had plenty of ideas about what she could go on to do. She was a rarity among the remaining victors after all, still being young, attractive, mostly sane and relatively likeable. According to Plutarch, Panem was her oyster to suck clean, but Johanna had spent most of her meetings with him plucking the petals off of roses or shifting restlessly in her chair as she emitted deep sighs.
"People have been telling you what to do for a long time," Emily went on, drawing Johanna back into the present, "and I know that you must be anxious to plot your own course, to ... pave your own way, to ... well, to finally have the opportunity to do with your life what you want to. I just," Emily paused then and lowered her eyes, playing with her wine glass for a few seconds before she managed to draw her eyes back up to meet Johanna's. "I wanted to say ... I know there's a lot of water there, but if your interests should pull you towards District 4, I'd be glad for your company."
For the rest of the evening and much of the next day, Johanna walked about in a sort of fog. Whether she wanted it to be or not, her life had always been planned out for her, which meant she'd never had to give much thought to it.
When she was little her parents told her what to do, and it was understood that when she grew older, she'd become a paper-maker like her mother.
When her name had been drawn for her first Hunger Games, her only options were to win or to die.
Immediately after the Games she'd delusionally believed that she'd be able to take control of her life, but the Victory Tour relieved her of that notion.
She had been the Capitol's puppet the moment her name had been drawn in the town square and was to remain the Capitol's to control until she was too old or too crazy to be of anymore use to them.
Her old puppet masters had been removed, but Emily's words made Johanna realize that she had been unconsciously waiting for someone to tell her what to do. Plutarch made suggestions, but she didn't pay attention because she had been waiting for him to give her orders.
Since coming to the Capitol she had been idling, but Emily's announcement made Johanna realize that she had to start functioning on her own. She had to plot her own course, pave her own way; she had to do with her life what she wanted to.
Johanna walked down hallways without registering her surrounding, and drifted out into the broken streets of the Capitol and wandered amongst rubble, glittering shards of glass, and lost herself among the dirty, dishevelled people ambling by who were just as lost as she was, Emily's words floating through her mind the whole time.
What did she want?
What did she need to live?
At one point her answer would have consisted of nothing but food, air and sunshine. When her life was not her own it was useless to want anything else, and she was not a person to waste her time wishing for impossible things.
But the world was different now.
She could make friends again. She could care about people without worrying about them getting shot because she refused to report a penthouse and take off of her clothes for the entertainment of the people inside.
She could feel again. She had been feeling again, and she liked it.
She liked that her heart beat faster when Emily walked into a room.
She liked that when she wandered a bit farther and for a bit longer than she had intended that Emily came looking for her.
She liked that when she wrapped her arms around Emily that the nearness of her chased away a little bit of the sadness in Emily's eyes.
She liked feeling again. She wanted it. She ... needed it.
She had been on her own for too long, and she didn't want to be alone anymore. Her life was her own, and it was now up to her to do something with it, to make something of it. After all, what was the point of surviving if not to live? And what was the point of life if there was no one to share it with?
As of the night before Emily was set to leave, Johanna still hadn't told her what her plans were. But when Emily arrived on the hoverpad the next morning, she found Johanna waiting there with a bag slung over her shoulder and a sheepish look on her face.
"I was hoping you would come," Emily said softly, happily, when she came to a stop beside Johanna.
Johanna turned to look at her and a gentle smile touched her lips.
"Well, you know how fond I am of swimming," Johanna breathed out.
The response drew a short, amused snort from Emily, and then, for the first time since they had met, Emily smiled and it reached all the way up to her eyes.
Water lapped gently at Johanna's feet as her eyes scanned the dark, rippling expanse of water stretched out before her. She could hear someone approaching her from behind, but her eyes remained focused on the glittering water. At one time she would have whipped around the moment she sensed someone near her. In the past she would have tensed and readied for a fight, but there on the beach outside of the home she shared with Emily there was no reason for her to be afraid.
A minute after Johanna registered a presence on the beach, thin but strong arms wrapped around her from behind and Johanna sighed happily, leaning contently back into the warm body behind her as Emily's lips pressed against her skin, nuzzling her neck.
"It's late," Emily whispered, tightening her arms around Johanna. "Come back to bed. The ocean will still be there in the morning."
Johanna smiled and then angled her head back and to the side so that she could press a sweet kiss to Emily's cheek. She slept better since the move to District 4, but she still often didn't sleep well and she was sure that she wasn't going to get much sleep when she went back to bed. She would, however, get to hold Emily and watch her as she slept when they returned to bed, and that was more than enough incentive for Johanna to complacently nod her head and then reach down for Emily's hand.
A smile touched Johanna's lips as they started up the beach towards the back doors of the house, and when she turned her head and caught Emily's eyes, a matching smile appeared on the other woman's lips and a feeling of warmth and contentment washed over Johanna.
It was good to have someone. It was good to be together. It was good to be home.