The woods were the only way Johanna could handle herself these days. Lifting her arms high over her head, straining her muscles to shower herself with splinters, coating her tongue with sawdust and inhaling pine. Even though she had always hated her goddamn stylist for always making her look like a fucking tree, she had to admit, now, that they were the only living fucking things she could stand anymore.But she still killed them. She went out every day, every goddamn day, heavy boots on her feet and axe strapped to her ass, to kill the only living things that mattered to her anymore. The irony wasn’t lost on her. It never was.
She stood in the woods now, just outside her house, chopping piece after piece of wood into logs. She didn’t really need this much wood at home, she knew, but it was her only fucking peace, her only fucking existence anymore. She started to slowly and methodically stack the pieces of wood in her arms. She clutched each piece just a little bit tighter each time, splitting the bark like skin, filling her fingers with splinters, relishing the little stinging shocks they sent to her palm. She blew upward, trying to get her sweaty bangs out of her face, and made her way back along the path back to her house. Her mind sing-songed death-phrases to itself as she walked, started up it’s own chant, odd and distorted, as she marched through the woods. She stomped the dirt, crushing pine needles with her boots. Killerkillerkiller. The same thing, every fucking day, the same circular words a mantra in her mind. She squinted her eyes against the onslaught, tilting her head up toward the sun as she walked, feeling her way out through the woods.
She reached her house at the edge of the woods and stopped, a tingling sensation starting at the corners of her mind, making the world just a bit fuzzy. There, on her doorstep, was a pair of boots and a braid that were just oh-so-fucking-familiar. God, she really never fucking changed, did she? Johanna felt a sliver of irritation sliding its way up her spine as she stared at the girl on her porch. Katniss was standing there, facing Johanna’s door, perfectly still. No shifting her weight from foot to foot, no scraping the toe of her boot along the dust on Johanna’s porch, nothing. Just standing there, stalk-still, muscles tensed, as though afraid that if she moved at all, she wouldn’t be able to prevent herself from bolting.
Fuck. Johanna couldn’t say that she was entirely thrilled to see the girl there, but she couldn’t say that she wasn’t, either, and that pissed her off more than anything.
Johanna shifted the pile of wood in her arms, inhaled deeply, and stalked over toward the porch. Katniss tore her eyes from Johanna’s door, finally noticing her standing there. Johanna stopped directly in front of Katniss, following the progression of Katniss’ eyes, seeing them flick from the dirt-streaked stomach of Johanna’s flannel shirt to her leaf-laden hair. Johanna took in Katniss’ worn face and the scars behind her skin, her slightly-too-perfect braid resting on her shoulder and her bow strapped to her back. She was all-fucking-wrong, vacant and void, like a house set on fire, smoldering from the inside until all that’s left is the blackened ash of the bones, delicate and set to crumble.
“You look like shit,” Johanna stated, and pushed her way past Katniss into the house. She stormed her way over to her fireplace, fuming, dropping the wood on the floor next to it with a sharp clatter. She couldn’t put a finger on exactly why; all she knew was that seeing Katniss here, now, made her feel so fucking fucked up that she couldn’t really handle the electricity in the air anymore. The only living things she could stand these days.
Though Johanna didn’t actually hear Katniss come in, she suddenly felt a presence behind her, scratching down her shoulder blades, probing lightly at her lungs.
“Why are you here, brainless?” Johanna blew quietly through gritted teeth, not turning around. A soft shifting of feet, but no answer. She came all the fuck way over, and still no fucking answer. Johanna spun around, mind clouded, mouth tasting of blood-saliva and broken glass. Katniss always had brought out the fucking worst in her. Katniss managed to look both taken aback and completely unsurprised at the same time. She opened her mouth to speak. About fucking time. Johanna waited.
“Johanna, look, I—“ Katniss began, then let out a breath of thick frustration. “I’m terrible with emotions,” she muttered, voice shaking a little, giving herself away.Always fucking giving herself away. Katniss ran her fingers through her hair, catching her fingernail on a strand of braid and shaking it out in annoyance. She tried again.
“I’m good at hunting. I’m good at trapping. I’m. I’m terrible with words. I just…” and here she stopped, again, unable to continue, unable to say what she actually needed to say, the real fucking reason that she was still here and still somehow fucking alive.
“You just what, brainless, fucking what?” Johanna was losing patience really fucking fast. Katniss bit her lip, looking just as pissed off as Johanna felt.
“I just had to get out,” Katniss forced out, and Johanna tasted those words in the air like burnt sugar, bitter and brittle on the tongue. Katniss continued, deliberately not looking Johanna in the eye. “I just had to leave it behind.”
Johanna laughed, a harsh, dull ache that didn’t extend to her eyes. “So you decided to come here? You ran away to me?”
Katniss shrugged, still not looking up. “They were all just…they were moving on, Peeta had found someone new, Haymitch wouldn’t stop knocking. I just. I had to go.”
Johanna rubbed the bridge of her nose, streaking it with sap, and let out another derisive laugh. She didn’t feel like someone’s fucking savior, wasn’t a thing to run away to.
“Poor sad, broken Mockingjay,” Johanna spat, bile-coating her words. Katniss winced at the name, surprise filling her eyes, and Johanna could see it killing her, watched a small piece of the girls’ heart crack and break off, shattering into pieces on the floor (where Johanna’s was already reeking, still and stagnant from years ago). Johanna exhaled just a little more rage into the air, and started again.
“You think that you can just show up here, on my fucking doorstep, and expect it to be okay? You think I’m here to pick you up and put you back together? You think that I can save you from those who died, from yourself and your own dead fucking eyes? Well, fuck that. Don’t you get it? We’re all fucking dead, brainless. We’re all fucking gone.”
And there, now, the girl was re-broken, a newly cracked bone that had never quite healed right in the first place. Johanna had done it again. Killed the only living thing she could fucking stand. She waited, watching as Katniss’ face tightened, flashed with the oh-so-familiar-fire, then crumbled into dust.
“Oh, god.” The words left Katniss’ mouth in a strangled half-cry, wretched and burning in their presence, filling the air with a dull throbbing light. Katniss pressed her mouth with three shaking fingers, like a sad, grotesque imitation of the District 12 salute. Then she broke down.
It wasn’t exactly crying, not really; rather, it was a stone-silence, water streaming softly down Katniss’ cheeks. Johanna was stunned into silence herself. She hadn’t been prepared for this, not one fucking bit. She had been ready, yes, for some kind of fight, a clashing of tongues and harsh sounds, rude looks and hard eyes, like back in 13. She hadn’t been ready for pure, utter defeat, and for just one moment, just one fucking moment, Johanna realized what President Snow must have felt like, sitting on his throne in the Capitol, drinking blood and waiting for others to die. And then she felt so sick for it, so fucking sick for it, because even though trees were the only fucking things she could stand anymore and she only liked herself in the woods, Johanna just didn’t want to be that kind of defeat, not that body-drenched in water, not that electric shock to the system even though she was so fucking irate that she couldn’t even scream.
And there had been times, hadn’t there? Back in the days of their arrangement in 13,back before Prim, back when it was something as simple as nightmares and memories of electricity running through her veins. Johanna would murmur, barely breathing, blow her thoughts on ice through her lips like she was kissing the sky. It had always been while Katniss was sleeping, moaning and shaking with the morning’s dew forming on her brow. Then Johanna, in a fit of unforgivable fucking softness, would sigh out those whisper secrets, wrapping her arms tightly around the other girl, cooing her words into the air, head twisted awkwardly upward to face the ceiling; she would pretend that just this one time that she had some real use, someone to fucking care about.
And, Johanna supposed, she kind of did, didn’t she? Brainless and broken though she was, Katniss had shown up to find nothing here but a woman sticky with sap-sweat, still nothing to own, nothing in her life (like that empty fucking drawer, remember that, brainless?). But Katniss had had things tucked away in her drawer, and she had let Johanna see them, and Johanna had both loved and hated her for it.
Katniss was wavering now, though she kept her feet rooted to her spot. Tears were still streaming softly down her face, and Johanna carefully took a step toward her. Katniss’ knees were shaking, and oh fuck now she was sinking slowly to the ground. Johanna leaped the last step, reached out her arms, and gingerly wrapped one of them around Katniss’ shoulders as she went down. Johanna pinched her lips together and sighed internally, knowing that it was fucking over, that this was the end of her fucking self-contained life. Because she knew she couldn’t be that person anymore, couldn’t be their killerkillerkiller even though she always would be, even though she knew she was theirs forever, no matter how many people were dead and gone. Johanna wasn’t sweet sounds; she was splinters pressed into palms, pine needles crushed between boots, sap stuck in sweaty hair. She wasn’t a life, she was sheer survival, but maybe that was the best thing there fucking was.
They were almost wrapped around each other now, Katniss with her knees pressed into the hard, knotty wood of Johanna’s living room floor, Johanna with her still-sore arms wrapped around Katniss’ shoulder. Johanna lowered her chin onto the top of Katniss’ head, and pushed away all of her screaming for get the fuck out.
“Alright, brainless,” Johanna whispered, rubbing Katniss’ shoulder lightly, pressing soft circles into the leather of Katniss’ hunting jacket. “Okay. You can run away to me.”