Natasha, despite having a name that didn't remind Johanna of something someone in the capitol would be wearing, was from Two. She'd won the 61st Games, seven years before Johanna's. Melinda had won the 56th, the first Four win in a while at the time. Neither of them talked much, not even to the other Victors, and when they were in the capitol, if they weren't together, they weren't to be seen.
Johanna honestly didn't give either of them much thought until she came back from her Virgin Night—she'd gone at quite a price, or so she was told—with the taste of her family's blood still somehow on her tongue and nothing to show for it but some damn impressive bruises, possibly a sprained shoulder. She couldn't seem to get her door open, and after the third try, it was opened for her. From the inside.
She lashed out without even thinking. Before she knew what had happened, she was against the wall, pinned there. It only caused her to panic and she struggled desperately, trying to kick and make contact by throwing her head back, anything. It took a long time before sheer exhaustion caused her to give in, go limp.
When she had, she realized a couple of things: 1) there were four hands on her, and 2) they weren't trying to hurt her, just keep her from causing harm. She did her best to keep her voice even and say, "What the hell are you doing in my apartment?"
"We're here to help," a flat voice responded.
Johanna risked glancing around and caught the red of Natasha's hair. She took a deep breath. "You can let me go. I'm not gonna—"
They let her go before she finished. She put her back to the wall and looked in between Natasha and Melinda. "Help."
Natasha and Melinda shared a look for a short moment. After a bit, Natasha said, "Finnick asked if we would. We did for him."
"Why?" Johanna asked. Not even people who knew her growing up, knew that she liked to make wreathes from the leaves in the different seasons, and had terrible spelling, and had always had a bit of shine toward Cole Dascomb, wanted to help her. If anything, everyone knew the smart thing was to stay the hell away.
Even if they didn't know how, they knew her family hadn't been torn to shreds by a wild pack of bear mutts that disappeared as soon as they'd appeared on Seven coincidentally. She didn't blame them, it was only wise. Finnick, though, hardly knew her. He and she had exchanged maybe ten or so words over the course of the two days they'd been in the capital in her first post-victory season.
"He was one of the youngest victors," Melinda said, the emphasis very slight, but there. "But not the youngest."
Natasha's flinch was miniscule, but Johanna caught it. "How old?"
"Twelve," Natasha said flatly.
Johanna's brother had almost been there. One more birthday and— "Excuse me," she said and broke past the two of them to run to the bathroom, so that she could be sick in peace and dignity.
In the middle of the worst of it, though, a careful but firm hand came to her lower back, moving in little circles. A moment later, a cool towel was draped over her neck. As soon as she could, Johanna forced out a hoarse, "I'm fine."
"Yes," Melinda said. "We were too." Then she hauled Johanna to her feet and handed her off to Natasha, who was standing in the shower stall, still clothed. She turned the water on when she had Johanna in her grip, not bothering to undress her, either. Johanna was going to burn the clothes she had on, anyway.
"Melinda was seventeen," Natasha told her quietly as she turned her, and worked a lather up into her hair. "Three years after me."
Johanna mumbled, "You get sent to her, too?"
Natasha turned her again, tipping her head back with inexplicable gentleness. "No. I—she was the only other female victor who'd killed more than one of the others with her hands. It made the other victors nervous around me."
Johanna opened her eyes when the last of the soap had been rinsed out. "You…wanted a friend."
Natasha just looked at her. "Doesn't everyone?"
Johanna's chest hurt. "They're leverage."
"Yes," Natasha agreed, not unkindly. "If I step out, can you finish?"
The warm water and the kind touches had beaten the worst of the fear from her, and she nodded, if a little hesitantly. From outside, Melinda said, "We're not going anywhere."
Johanna couldn't have said why it was reassuring, but she was feeling too tired, too small, to care. She scrubbed until the water turned cold, until one of them reached in and turned the water off, another pulling her out with a towel. She cooperated, letting them dry her and get her into pajamas. She cast a vague look at where her outfit lay crumpled and soggy at the bottom of the shower. Melinda shook her head. "We'll handle it."
Melinda herded Johanna onto the couch and tucked a blanket around her as Natasha made tea. When it had steeped, Natasha fitted a mug into Johanna's hands and said, "Drink. It will help."
Johanna took a few slow sips of the apple-honey flavored liquid. "Do you do this for all of us? It is all of us, yes?"
"Most," Melinda said.
"No," Natasha said over her.
Johanna's confusion must have been evident, because Melinda said, "This happens to most of us."
Natasha followed up with, "We don't help everyone."
Natasha nodded. "You owe Finnick, huh? Not that this wasn't chivalrous or anything, but—"
"Finnick owes me," Melinda said.
Natasha tilted her head. "Ours, we get two kinds, usually. The ones who want us to unleash our wildness on them—and feel no threat at all—or those who want to strip us of whatever perceived power our strength has given us. With Snow, the first time is always the latter. The former is not better, but it is in certain ways easier, which is why you will not be given one until you are to be…trusted."
Johanna tried not to shake, but it was a lost cause, and she had to set the mug down on the coffee table in front of her. "Thanks for the warning, I suppose."
Quietly, Melinda said, "The only way to survive is by alliance, Johanna."
"Isn't that what careers always say?" Johanna snapped. "Didn't work out too well for them last year. At some point an ally is either a threat or a weakness and I don't believe for a moment both of you don't know that."
"This is not the arena," Melinda answered. "It is one hundred times more dangerous and complicated and those of us who have not walked off the sides of buildings or into lakes with stones in our pockets? There's a reason."
"Would you prefer that?" Natasha asked. There was no judgment in the question, which only made having to think about it worse.
The thought of just stopping had so many merits Johanna couldn't begin to list them all. But under their gazes, she admitted, "No. Not—not yet, at least."
"Then let us stay the night," Natasha said. There was no pleading in it, but she managed to convey sincere desire somehow, all the same.
"We'll start teaching you the tricks tomorrow," Melinda said with a sharp, knowing, but compassionate smile.
Johanna found herself admitting, "I'm really tired."
Melinda nodded. Natasha said, "We'll watch over you."
For the first time since before her Games, Johanna thought she might believe the word of another person.