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Challenges 3 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Challenges 3
Gale and Johanna, something romantic, early in their relationship. I'd really love to see how they end up acknowledging that there is something between them. for maidenjedi

Victors' Village has been razed.

I guess I knew it, but it didn't really sink in. The house I lived in for five years is a pile of rubble. So is Blight's place, and so is Jack's. Of the three, I feel the biggest tug over Jack's -- he actually liked the place, and did it up the way he wanted it. It was a weird cross of Capitol luxury and District Seven kitsch -- works from master artists hanging beside stuffed deer heads, and delicate glass sculptures vying for space with painted wooden ducks.

My own splintery cellar hole is a few holes down from Jack's. I'm guessing someone looted the place first, so I hope a few of my things may mysteriously turn up, but at the moment, it seems to be a total loss. I had a good collection of clothes there, too. Nothing from my idiot stylist, of course, but I had bought a few Cinna gowns, and a lot of Calpurnia Grave ones. None of them are replaceable now. For whatever reason -- possibly anger after years of being forced to design clothes for walking corpses -- the fashion designers of the Capitol were heavily involved in the war, and there aren't many left.

"Is this where you lived?"

I jump and turn. Gale is damned lucky that I wasn't carrying a weapon. "Don't sneak up on me," I tell him. "That's dangerous."

"I wasn't sneaking."

"Then... make some noise on purpose. Or something. That tiptoeing around is going to get an axe in your head."

He grins. "Sorry. It's just the way I walk."

I know this. I also know it's one of many things about him that make my whole body buzz like a power saw. I've had more than one dream that's begun with him appearing, fleet-footed, beside my bed. I get the sense that he knows that, and sneaks up on me deliberately. "What are you doing here, anyway?" I ask. "You're supposed to be way down in Two."

"You didn't check in," he says. "I was worried. So I took two days' leave to come up here and check on you. Are you okay?"

"This is where I lived," I say. "At least since the Games."

He nods and comes over. "What about before the Games?"

I shrug. "There are logging camps up and down the district. We moved every year to get trees at the right growth."

"So there's no main town?"

"It's what we call the place around the paper mill. They stayed put there. It smells bad. Why?"

"I just don't know anything about District Seven. You never talk about it."

"I didn't think you'd be interested. You keep acting like you're not interested in District Seven."

He smiles faintly. "I'm interested. I just feel like I'm being disloyal. To District Twelve."

I snort. "Yeah. Trust me, Gale, no one imagines you're giving up on District Twelve. Certainly not before her trial's even over."

"I already gave up on District Twelve," he says, and sits down on a bench that's supposed to look like it was rough-hewn from a boulder that just happened to land on the Victors' green between two artfully placed white birches. "Among other things" -- he does not bring up the bombing, because he knows I won't let him start circling in on that again -- "she's in love with someone else."

"And you?"

"I feel like I've been in love with her so long... it wouldn't feel right to be in love with anyone else."

"Love?" I wrinkle my nose. "Who said anything about love?"

"Well, I..."

I sit down beside him and take his hand. "Love's a word people tend to use around me right before they die. I'd rather you not die, so let's not bring up jinx words."

"What do you want from me?" he asks. "And don't say sex, because you can get that from anyone you decide you want."

"Except you?"

"Who said anything about exceptions?"

I raise an eyebrow. "Oh, really?"

He laughs. "Well, not right here and now. It's a little cold out. And I'm not ready." He weaves his fingers through mine. "The thing is, Jo, I like you. A lot. I've liked you since you walked out of your cell naked, grabbed a gun, and started shooting. But I need to know what you're really after here. Because I'm apparently not all that good at guessing. What do you want from me? Why me?"

Neither of those things is an easy question, and I don't want to breeze through an easy answer. At first, I latched onto him because he did me a favor getting me out of prison (and I was definitely not part of his assignment), and I figured he'd be glad to have someone around when he finally figured out about Katniss and Peeta. Maybe, in some garbled way, I was even doing it for Katniss, so it would be easier for her to be honest and not think she was leaving her oldest friend alone. (If that was part of it, it was a spectacular failure. I lived with the girl for weeks, and she apparently never noticed that I was flirting with one of her guys.) Since then, there haven't been any big moments, unless this is one, but I've become increasingly attached to him.


"I don't know," I tell him truthfully. "I don't know why you, or what I want. I just want to be with you. In a way that I'll still be with you sometime next year."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean... the guys since the Games? Mostly pretty boys from the Capitol. No one that meant anything. It's all very short term. As in, I sometimes caught their last names. Sometimes. Half of them, I couldn't pick out of a crowd. I know I don't want that. That's the best I can do right now."

"Wow. A straight answer. Are they going to kick you out of the girl club for that?"

I laugh. "I got kicked out of there a long time ago. I've played enough games in my life; I don't want to play any more. So... what do you say?"

He thinks about it for a long time, then brings my hand up to his lips and kisses it. "I say... let's see what happens next."

I lean against him and he puts his arms around me. We stay like that for a long time as the afternoon sun starts to sink. Finally, it gets too cold to stay on our stone bench. I stand up and offer him my hand. "Come on," I say. "I'll give you a tour of District Seven."

Something with Gale and his son. Father-Son bonding. for Anonymous

I think Caleb looks like Johanna.

No one else thinks so, least of all Jo. They all think he's the spitting image of me. Sure, he has black hair. Gray eyes. He'd pass on the Seam. Mom says he's exactly what I looked like at two-and-a-half.

But there's a way he wrinkles his nose when you tell him something he doesn't like, and a way he tips his head, just like her, when he's listening to something he's interested in... for me, there's no contest. Whatever features he has, Caleb looks like his mother in every way that counts. This is a thing that makes me happy. More Johanna in the world is a good thing.

At the moment, he's glaring at the steep little rise in the backyard, which has sent him tumbling backward four times, trying to reach the little patio where we keep the grill. There are stairs on the far side, but the hill is the objective. It's his enemy. He has decided to defeat it.

He squares his little shoulders and leans forward for another pass, digging his hands into the spill of rocks to find purchase. I keep a wary eye on him from the lawn chair. "You sure you want to do that, Caleb?" I call.

He looks over his shoulder and frowns at me -- another pure Johanna expression -- then goes back to his task.

"Go to it, then," I tell him.

He puts a foot up onto one of the bigger rocks and manages to steady himself and get far enough to grab one of the weeds that grows rampant up here. He drags himself up a foot, then the weed gives out and sends him scrambling back to the bottom.

He stares at his hands, then swipes them fitfully at the grass.

I get up and go over. "Come here, big guy," I say. "Let me see those hands."

He sniffs and sticks them out. Big, dirty scrapes run up and down the palms and heels of the hands, but he's not crying. He looks mad.

"Tell you what," I say. "I've got my army bag inside, and there are bandages. Do you want some army bandages like Daddy used to get if he got a cut?"

Caleb nods enthusiastically. I pick him up and take him inside. My old kit is in the first floor closet, and I pull it out. It no longer actually has the medicine I had when I was in the army, but the bandages count, and it's all in an army box, which I think Caleb believes is magic. He likes to carry it around and use it to cure the dogs when they are dead. They are good natured about being woken up and brought back to life.

I carry him to the kitchen and set him down in the high stool he sits on for meals. "Now," I say, "before we can put on any army bandages, do you know what we have to do?"

He shakes his head.

"We have to clean your hands all up. It'll sting. Can you be brave, like Mommy?"

"Yes," he says.

I take out a cloth and begin to clean the dirt out of the scrapes. Caleb winces dramatically, but he doesn't cry. When I get the big stuff out, I pour on a little peroxide to bubble up any problems. This does get a sniffle, but he's also watching it closely, fascinated by the foam. I rinse his hands with water. "Now, there's one more thing before I put on the medicine and the army bandages. It'll make the bandages work much better."

"It will?"

"Oh, yeah. My dad taught me this. It's really important. Nothing heals right without it." I pick up his hands and put a solemn kiss on each of the sore spots, just like my dad used to do, though, to be honest, it wasn't usually followed by nice clean bandages. He usually had to sacrifice an old undershirt to wrap around our various cuts and scrapes.

Caleb smiles and holds up his hands.

I pick out some nice clean bandages and tape them up against his scrapes.

"You want to have another go at the hill?" I ask him.


"Good. But let's see if we can kit you out better." I take him back to the closet, where we store all the winter clothes, and I find him a pair of mittens and two scarves to tie around his knees. "There," I tell him. "You look like a mountain climber to me. Let's go."

I carry him back outside, and set him down at the base of the hill. I know he won't follow me when I go around to the stairs, and I'm right. He's already trying to find purchase in the weeds again.

I take off my belt, then lie down on the patio and lean over the edge. I loop the belt around my wrist, grab it tightly, then hold it down the slope like a rope.

Caleb grabs hold of it and pulls himself up, step by step, until he reaches the top.

I scoop him up and hold him over my head. "And the world's best mountain climber is Caleb Hawthorne! Today, the back yard! Tomorrow, Capitol Peak!"

He laughs wildly.

I swing him down and balance him on my hip, and that's when I hear the clapping. I look down to see Jo coming out of the house, shaking her head. She climbs the mountain to be with us, and together, we lie on the boards of the patio and watch the sun go down.
12 comments or Leave a comment
From: (Anonymous) Date: June 4th, 2013 12:11 pm (UTC) (Link)


Awww, that was SO CUTE. You do death and violence very well Fern, but god I love it when you do happy fluff and father son fluff is especially fluffy!
Lurker Beth
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 5th, 2013 05:14 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Awww

I like the chance to do fluff now and then! (And somehow, in this universe, the fluff feels better than usual, because there's so little of it.)

Edited at 2013-06-05 05:15 am (UTC)
barbara_the_w From: barbara_the_w Date: June 4th, 2013 01:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
I laugh. "I got kicked out of there a long time ago. I've played enough games in my life; I don't want to play any more. So... what do you say?"

Yeah. That's Johanna, all right. Tired of the usual games. I can see most victors probably don't play any games at all.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 5th, 2013 05:15 am (UTC) (Link)
They do seem like they mostly want to live perfectly game-free lives, don't they?
sonetka From: sonetka Date: June 4th, 2013 06:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
I love the look inside Johanna's head. Is it weird of me that I want to know a little more detail about how exactly her Games played out?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 5th, 2013 05:15 am (UTC) (Link)
I'd like to know, too.
maidenjedi From: maidenjedi Date: June 4th, 2013 07:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
That was perfect! I especially like getting inside Jo's head on that. Thank you!!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 5th, 2013 05:16 am (UTC) (Link)
She doesn't always know exactly what's going on in her head. I like that she's more or less cool with that.
shortysc22 From: shortysc22 Date: June 4th, 2013 10:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
These were both so cute. I like how you've written Gale and Johanna's relationship, both of them have been through so much at this point that I don't think either of them really knows what they want.

And then the father-son bonding was so precious.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 5th, 2013 05:16 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm glad to have an excuse to do a little Gale writing. I haven't paid much attention to him, and I think maybe when I have, I've been kind of unfair.
rosaxx50 From: rosaxx50 Date: June 5th, 2013 09:59 am (UTC) (Link)
I never considered Gale/Johanna until reading your Haymitch fics, and I have to admit, the idea is intriguing. Also, I bask in fluff and happiness.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 5th, 2013 03:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm not overly attached to it, but it seems to make a certain kind of sense.

Fluffy is good.
12 comments or Leave a comment