Johanna goes back to District Seven because, well, mostly because everyone seems to be going back to where they're from, and Johanna's from Seven. It doesn't take her long to remember why she spent so much time in the Capitol, even though she hated being there. Seven was the other option and it holds memories she would rather not have confronting her day in and day out.
She makes it three months. Three months of people who knew her both as a child and as a Victor—innocent and killer—treating her like some kind of a hero, someone who didn't get her little sister raped and killed by Snow's lackeys, someone who hadn't put her parents and her closest friends in the grave as surely as if she had used her axe. Three months of a different kind of adulation than after the Games, a different kind of wariness than after those same Games, after everyone dear to her was taken.
It is almost automatic to go to the Capitol, and she finds herself considering the train ride when it occurs to her that she has options. Not Twelve, she thinks, not yet. She's ready to be understood, but not to be comfortable, and strangely, Katniss and Peeta sound terribly comforting.
Certainly not Thirteen. Johanna's stomach clenches with an unnamed anxiety at the mere thought. Gale is on Two; Gale, who is scared of her, but not so scared he backs down. Annie and the baby are on four. Johanna looks out her window at the heavy spruces, the proud oaks. She will miss the leaves, the bark, the smell. But she thinks it is time to at least see the shore, even if she has no intention of putting her feet in.
Annie opens the door to her house and says slowly, "You've been gone a long time."
Johanna isn't certain whether Annie is speaking metaphorically, or if she's just confused about who Johanna is, where she comes from. She asks, "Can I stay, for a bit?"
Annie smiles and lets her in, and Johanna finds herself spending evenings tickling a child with Finnick's eyes, mornings brushing past Annie in the kitchen, the two of them preparing food. It's simple and for a while, Johanna lets herself not think. She lets the sound of the ocean drown out her dreams and hopes, fears and nightmares.
But she hears, all the same, when Annie asks, "How're the others?"
Johanna looks at her, surprised. Annie doesn't actually say much, and most of it only makes sense in a way that's tangential to the real world. Annie shrugs. "Some days are better than others."
"I haven't been to Twelve."
Annie nods slowly. "Should I tell you to go?"
Johanna considers the offer. "Not yet."
Two days later, Annie kisses her cheek and says, "Come back and visit," and it's the nicest goodbye anyone has ever given Johanna. It is still a goodbye.
Johanna takes her bag and gets on a train, unsure of where she'll stop. She knows where Annie has sent her. She's not sure that's where she'll go. She stops in Nine, not because there is anything there, but because she isn't ready for Twelve, and has already done Seven, and well, it's a place to rest.
With Annie, she'd stayed cosseted, but in Nine she receives the kind of looks she'd fled from in Seven. Only, in some ways it is worse, because anything these people know of her has come from propaganda, whether the Capitol's or Thirteen's. She lasts four days before she gets back on the train and goes straight to Twelve.
She sits at the train station at Twelve for the better part of two hours, unable to make herself stand and ask questions and go where she knows they will let her in. A few of the station attendants approach her cautiously. They know who she is, she can see it in their eyes. When she can't stand the feeling of being tiptoed around any longer, she gets to her feet and walks.
One question to a child and it is an easy thing to find the Victor's Village. She stands in the street, considering the three houses, not sure which is which, not sure which one she would choose even if she knew. From behind her, a familiar voice says, "Someone mentioned you'd come to town. Quite the sensation."
"Hi Peeta," she says softly, turning. He grins and comes to her, approaching slowly enough that she can step back if she chooses. She doesn't and he wraps her up in his arms. The strength of his first and second Games has returned and she knows she should want to struggle, but she has no interest, instead sinking in to the grip.
"C'mon," he says. "I'll make cookies."
He takes her into the house on her right, and Katniss calls, "Peeta?" from somewhere else, perhaps the upstairs.
"Making cookies," he calls back.
Katniss comes down the stairs. She's still thinner than she should be. She tilts her head and says, "About time, Mason."
It sounds kind of like welcome home.