Katniss recalled being surprised enough by the dull ache that she had heard straining Johanna’s voice that day that she had chanced a look at Johanna’s eyes. She remembered, very clearly, looking into them and realizing that she actually saw in them that vulnerability and numbing pain for just a second before Johanna quickly let them harden back into a glaring smirk. Katniss had never been good at emotions, as clearly demonstrated by the way everyone but the Capitol had had a hard time truly swallowing her love story. She had always been all about survival: hunt, fight, kill, act; play capitol sweetheart, play lover, play revolutionary, play Mockingjay. All the surviving she had to do had left very little room for actual love, beyond the love of family and friends. But then, look where even that much love had landed her: alone with blood on her hands and a dead heart that had stopped when she saw her sister die. Katniss had realized, on that beach in the arena, after that small glimpse into Johanna’s eyes, that Johanna was all about survival, too.
Katniss couldn’t really fathom what Johanna was like before her games, but love was clearly not a welcome presence to post-games Johanna, with her brash personality and overt self-sexualization and unpredictable (closed off) attitude. Back then, Katniss had still allowed herself to love a little, but Johanna had said, in a hard-yet-heartbreaking voice, that the jabberjays couldn’t hurt her because there was no one left that she loved. Katniss remembered feeling a dull ache begin in her chest at those words when she had heard them, but quickly quenched it; she knew that Johanna would hate her even more for her pity. For Katniss, there it always was, constant and ever bearing, no matter how dull the vibe, and she often thought that it made her weak. That moment in the arena, she wondered if Johanna thought so, too. She knew that love came in many forms, with many results: sometimes it felt like a warm blanket, and other times like a nagging cough that just wouldn’t let go. She knew that it terrified Johanna, despite the cool exterior, and made Katniss herself more than just a bit wary.
When it came to Johanna’s feelings toward Katniss, Katniss suspected that they had undergone a kind of metamorphosis over the course of the last couple of years. They had started off as a very short-lived admiration, then an absolute, scalding loathing, then a dull dislike. After Johanna had been rescued from the Capitol, Katniss had reevaluated Johanna’s feelings toward her, and had been hard-pressed to come up with anything except morphling-numbed pain and harshly worded disdain. Eventually, after spending time together in the hospital, she had felt a bit of begrudging acceptance. Once they became roommates, the vibes had changed to a reluctant sort of caring, and actual appreciation for their friendship. Occasionally, Katniss had felt a heavily disguised pity, but it was always brief, and they seemed to have an understanding that neither would welcome the other one’s pity. Their relationship had moved beyond forced camaraderie, and into an unexplainable sort of relationship that went beyond friendship. They understood each other, without words, and they both gave their care and protection silently and with a sense of caution.
The first time was when Katniss had woken up from one of her usual nightmares, sweating and shaking, with a biting scream on her lips and the taste of blood-bile in her mouth. She had been about to sit up, only discover that Johanna had tucked herself into Katniss’ bed. She hadn’t questioned it, had only reveled in the comfort, and neither girl mentioned it the next morning. The second time was when Katniss pushed open the bathroom door to find Johanna huddled in a bathtub full of five inches of water, arms wrapped around her thin frame, shivering, her teeth gritted together and her lips twisted into a half-grimace. Katniss’ heart had dropped sharply at the picture, and she had wanted to run over and run her fingers through Johanna’s hair, telling her that the water wouldn’t hurt her. Instead, Katniss had simply grabbed Johanna’s washcloth, dipped it in the water, and very carefully scrubbed down Johanna’s body, softly humming the tune of the meadow song.
Eventually, these small moments, these details of their shared suffering, had woven into a pattern that became a part of everyday life in District 13. Every night, Johanna would tuck herself into bed with Katniss, usually with a “how can I even try to sleep if you make such a racket all the time? Move over, brainless, your feet are cold.” Katniss would always be the one to toll her eyes at Johanna and tell her she really needed a bath, then follow the scowling girl into the bathroom and help her wash.
Katniss supposed, now, that all of those things might have constituted as a part of a loving relationship. She never really thought of it as such, she merely thought of it as the way she and Johanna were, two broken people who were just trying to survive, as they always had. Now that the rebellion was over, Katniss was positive that she would never let love be a part of her life again. And yet yesterday she had grown tired of being in 12, tired of seeing the ruined remains of her town and the constant reminders of Prim. Tired of seeing Peeta shoot her both frustrated and pitying looks, tired of seeing him settle down and be happy, tired of everything. There were times that she had honestly missed her time in 13, missed their “prison of paradise,” as Johanna had called their room. Missed the closest thing she had had to normal, no matter how dysfunctional it was in her relationship with Johanna. So Katniss had grabbed her bag and her bow and taken off on the train to 7. She had marched straight from the platform to where she knew Johanna to be living, and without allowing herself a second thought, knocked hard on the door. Johanna had answered in nothing more than an oversized flannel shirt, dirty and sweaty, clearly having been interrupted in the middle of changing out of her wood chopping clothes.
Seeing Johanna now was like taking a long gasp of fresh air after having spent too long underwater. There were no words exchanged, but Katniss watched Johanna take in her haggard expression, read the mourning and pain in her eyes, and saw Johanna’s expression shift slightly. Katniss was looking at Johanna’s eyes once again. There, on the doorstep of Johanna’s house in 7, Johanna was using her facial expression to press down on Katniss chest, crushing it into a slow CPR, restarting it. She said nothing, still, but her heart ached again, and she could feel Johanna not trying to fill the gaping hole in Katniss’ heart, but rather creating a memorial around it, as though in memory of her pain she could somehow find some kind of life again. It was the same hole that caused her dead heart, had eventually pushed Peeta away from her after the revolution, that had now pushed her toward Johanna. But her heart wasn’t dead now. Suddenly she could feel emotions in droves, working their way in wavelengths up through her body as Johanna stared at her with an unreadable expression from the doorway.
Love is weird. Katniss hadn’t known her plan, just had known that she had to get out, to try and reclaim her sense of normalcy. But nothing was normal, was it? Love is weird. Katniss hadn’t known what to say that day on the beach. Johanna had basically said that she never wanted to love again. Katniss didn’t know, now, if she wanted to love again, either. Yet here it was. Katniss couldn’t say anything at all, because there was nothing to say. There was no actual name for the thing she felt boiling up in her chest around that gaping hole. So she acted on instinct. She hadn’t had a plan coming here, no, but she knew that she had to change something. She took a deep, shuddering breath, and pressed her lips very softly to Johanna’s. She felt Johanna’s face break out into her signature smirking smile, and kiss her back. Eventually, after what felt like an age, Katniss pulled away. Johanna still had that odd smile on her face as she stared Katniss up and down. Katniss felt fear flow down her throat and land in her stomach, where it settled into a heavy rock there. What had she done? Finally, Johanna spoke.
“God, brainless. What took you so damn long?”