Music and the Beast

Summary: Caught up in a ruse to stay away from her past, top talent manager, Katniss Hawthorne wasn't one for music or romance. But maybe, there might just be someone to bring the music back into her life. Implied K/C, K/G, but ultimately K/P.

Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance

Chapter Length: 9154 words

Warnings: Impromptu party planning, photoshoots and cheesy serenades

Disclaimer: I do not own any of the songs mentioned or used in this chapter. The Eels do.

Sorry it's been so long since I last updated. I've been busy revamping my blog and getting ready for the start of classes (which has already happened by the way) and I'm back to my busy schedule. But this chapter is longer than the others, so I hope that makes up for it.

A big thanks to everyone who commented and answered the Reader Pop Quiz! There were so many of you and I'm on a tight schedule so I can't really enumerate all of you but you get how much I appreciate everything!

What with the recent issues with fanfiction and their deleting stories, I've made some adjustments, and you can read about further details in my Author's Note at the end of the chapter.

Anyway, enjoy the read!

Chapter 9: Party Rockers

When Johanna and Peeta got back, they were in more amicable terms. Johanna had spent the drive back telling Peeta embarrassing stories about Katniss and their escapades as a band. He was happy to have the older girl on his side as someone he could confide in with his troubles. He just sincerely hoped she wouldn't tease him about his now open emotions for the girl, as he knew she had the tendency to do.

When they opened the door to the Everdeen's house, they were greeted by the sight of a tall bronze-haired man with Katniss caught in his arms in a tight embrace. He seemed quite friendly with her and both Johanna and Peeta had to bite back growls at the sight.

"Well there you two are!" Prim was giddy, shifting at the balls of her feet. She clapped her hands lightly and pointed to the man in their living room, trying hard for her voice not to sound too much like a squeal. "You won't believe it – it's Finnick Odair!"

The tall man put Katniss back down on the ground and smiled at them brightly, extending both his hands for shaking. Katniss looked dizzy and confused, probably from lack of air.

"Uhm yeah, this is Finnick. I actually just met him today." She had to shake her head to get the feel of the man off her body. "Haymitch says he'll be singing one of the songs as a featured artist." Her face turned worried when the two had nothing to say and didn't bother to shake his hands. "Yay?"

Peeta and Johanna knew exactly who this person was. Who didn't? He was in practically every talk show and magazine and was voted Number One Sexiest Man Alive three times in a row. He was the nation's heart throb and now a sincere pain in the ass if he had any interest in Katniss Everdeen. It was obvious that Peeta and Johanna did not enjoy the man's presence, especially after getting so touchy feely with the girl they had just been in a serious conversation about just moments ago. But Finnick Odair hadn't seemed to get the memo and instead insisted.

"Haymitch called me over asking if I wanted to feature and how was I to refuse?" He laughed, wrapping his arm around Katniss. "I'd give anything to work with such a beauty as old Joseph's daughter." He gave her a wink and she forced a smile at his advances before carefully untangling herself from his grasp.

"This is Peeta, he's going arrange the music and probably coordinate the recording and instruments." She gestured to Peeta who only returned her introduction with a nod, still scrutinizing the famous heart throb in front of him. "And this is Johanna, she's the drummer." Katniss eyes were concerned as Johanna cracked a few of her knuckles. She whispered to Finnick, "You might not want to get on her nerves."

Finnick nodded slowly and instead turned his attention to the younger Everdeen. "And you must be Primrose!" He took her hand in his and gave it a peck, soliciting a deep red blush from the nineteen year-old girl. "You're every bit as pretty as your name implies."

Katniss rolled her eyes at him. "Don't worry. He's just here for the details of recording. I'll take a few weeks before we're even ready to record the song, so you won't be seeing much of him anyway."

Peeta and Johanna looked relieved whereas Prim let out a loud 'aw' of protest.

"Ready to kick me out, already?" His voice was seductive as he caressed her cheek slowly. "Why? Do I make you-" He breathed in. "-uncomfortable?"

"Please tell me he comes with an off button." Johanna hit the man on the head unreservedly, already having enough of his advances.

At this, Peeta laughed and Prim looked on in jealousy. Katniss just swatted his still lingering hand away, unimpressed by his antics.

"Down boy, or I'll call Annie and tell on 'ya." Haymitch entered the room and gave the man's hand a good shake. "Good to have you on board. Sorry if it isn't what you're used to." Haymitch gestured around him to the homely space that was their living room. "We're really tight on everythin' right now."

"I don't mind at all. Annie's a big fan of Joseph's and when I saw your stunt in the news, I just knew I had to get in on this."

A few more minutes of back and forths between Haymitch and Finnick and already Katniss knew it wasn't going to be easy working with the man. He reminded her of a taller, more handsome and more successful Cato, except Finnick wasn't as dumb as a log. She'd actually have trouble manipulating this one. Not that she had any plans to, really. She suddenly felt guilty that she even let the thought cross her mind. Old habits die hard, she guessed.

Aware of Katniss' distaste for the man, Peeta slipped beside her and nudged a paper bag in her direction. "I didn't know what you liked, so I got one of everything." He smiled sheepishly. "Johanna ate all the bear claws though, so I hope you don't mind."

"I almost forgot I even asked for them." She took the bag and peeked at its contents. The sugary aroma of the unhealthy pastries made her mouth water. "Thanks, Peeta."

"No problem." He replied. "I left out the ones with blueberries. I'm not sure what else you might be allergic to, but let's hope to god peanuts aren't on the list because my family makes a pretty mean peanut butter frosting."

Katniss laughed and dug her hand into the bag to find it. "I think I'll have one right now."

While the two had their little private exchange, Johanna shot them a knowing look and made her way to the couch, making sure to 'accidentally' bump into their famous guest on the way. Finnick didn't seem to mind. "So I'm on standby until Beetee gets here tomorrow." Finnick continued, still talking details with Haymitch.

"That's the situation." Haymitch didn't seem too happy at the revelation. It meant another head to take care of in the already crowded household. "D'you think you mind bunking with me and Peeta over here?"

Before Finnick could answer, Peeta jumped up and pointed at Haymitch. "HAH!" He screamed, earning stares from everyone in the room. "What? You guys didn't hear it? He called me Peeta! Not bready or Pizza or Pumpernickel." Everyone just continued to stare.

"Fine then. Now let me just make some adjustments to my previous comment. Do you mind bunking with me and yeasty over here?" Haymitch seemed thoroughly pleased at his retort and Peeta did not enjoy the implications of being called yeasty. Finnick just laughed.

"Before I made it big I had it rough too. I don't mind spending some manly time with my two new besties." He held the two grown men in a headlock with each of his arms.

"There's only one bed though." Peeta managed to let out whilst being strangled.

"Great!" Finnick grinned widely. "Haymitch and I'll share and yeasty'll take the floor." He turned to Katniss who had a bit of peanut butter on the side of her mouth. Before she could protest, he leaned towards her and licked it right off. "And you, my dear, are welcome to join us any time."

Katniss just wiped his slobber off her face, disgusted as she shook her head. "Smashing".

It didn't take long for the lot of them to realize that while Finnick Odair was in fact a literal sight for sore eyes, he was also unbearably loud, hyperactive and a little too giddy for his own good. It was a wonder in itself that Haymitch could so much as tolerate the man, but he seemed to have a lot of practice, and for the three people that weren't either desensitized to the man's quirkiness or too busy fangirling over his presence, it was hell to pay.

"Whatcha doin'?" Finnick was now by Johanna's side as she transcribed some music from paper into her computer. He prodded her with a finger and it took all in Johanna's power not to dropkick the man right then and there. When Johanna didn't answer, Prim cut in, hungry for any attention she could get.

"We found some of dad's old music, so we're doing our best to work it out ourselves. Jo, Peeta and Katniss split some of the music up to work on." Prim smiled at herself proudly. "You work on music too, don't you Finnick?"

"Please, call me Finn." The star's permission practically had Prim flying off the wall as Finnick threw her his hundred watt smile. He continued, "I guess I could say I do, but really all I do is sing-" He paused before continuing is ledge of credentials "-and dance, and act, and model, and host. But really that's nothing compared to arranging music and writing songs."

Overhearing their conversation, Peeta couldn't help but let out a small guffaw. He wasn't entirely sure if Finnick was being overbearing and boastful or if he was genuinely impressed at their work. Either way, he still got on the blonde man's nerves. "Thanks for lending us your voice then." Peeta enunciated his words with hints of sarcasm and a little more animosity than he had intended. But if the older artist had noticed, he didn't seem to let on and instead sauntered his way to the table Peeta had stationed himself in.

"It's hardly a burden. Singing is probably the only job I genuinely enjoy these days." The man seemed sincere in his words, letting out a wistful sigh as he sat down on a rolling stool and propped an elbow on the desk. "And besides, I don't think I'm here just to sing." He took a sideways glance at Katniss who seemed too indulged in work to pay heed to any of the conversation. It didn't escape Peeta's notice.

But before Peeta could get the chance to get out a word on the matter, Prim had her hands clasped tightly under her chin as she mused. "Oh! You definitely need to give us a performance." She was bouncing at the prospect. "You should sing! It's Katniss' birthday tomorrow and it would be the perfect present."

It was at this time Katniss' head shot up and she abruptly interjected in the conversation. "Prim." She scolded. "They don't need to know that."

Prim managed to cup her hand over her mouth, knowing she had let slip information she wasn't supposed to. Johanna just sighed as she shook her head.

"It's your birthday tomorrow?" Peeta asked, his brows furrowing, wondering why this topic of conversation hadn't popped up earlier with Johanna. She was one of Katniss' best friends. Surely she should have known, and if she did, she could have at least told him about it. And all this while he thought they were somewhat allies now.

"We should celebrate!" Finnick's eyes turned into crescent moons as he wore a smile from ear to ear, putting an arm around Peeta and raising his other in a mock toast. At his words, Katniss visibly stiffened each click she took on her computer mouse became audible in her silence. "Or not." Finnick rubbed his index fingers together, worried he might have said something wrong.

"Sorry." Katniss blurt out, aware that her icy attitude was making everyone uncomfortable, save probably Haymitch who had passed out on the counter and Johanna, who had already expected her reaction. "I'm just not one for excessive celebrations." She forced a small smile out. "And I really think we need to get all this work done."

"Fine by me." Johanna offered, already appreciative of Katniss' efforts not to be so uptight about it. It was leaps and bounds from when they last offered to eat out for her birthday and she instead locked herself in her room crying. Katniss gave her a small smile as she let out a sigh of relief, burying herself yet again in her work.

Finnick just pouted as he tapped his fingers on Peeta's desk. Peeta couldn't concentrate on his work, be it because of Katniss' refusal to acknowledge her own birthday or because Finnick was driving him crazy with his insane tapping. Regardless of the reason, he felt the need to clear his mind. "I'm going out for a bit of fresh air." He stood up and made his way to grab his jacket from the coat rack that sat beside the door.

"Ooh! I think I'll come!" Finnick wore a devious smile as he followed Peeta like a shadow. Prim was about to stand up and join them when Johanna held her down and gave her a miniscule shake of her head, telling her it wasn't her place to butt in. Katniss didn't even seem to notice.

Peeta let out a small growl at the footsteps of the man behind him and would have almost slammed the door in his face were it not for his restraint.

Out of the house, the air was chilly and Peeta buried his hands in the pants he had borrowed from Katniss' father. He walked a little off the porch and into the sidewalk, hoping Finnick would decide against following but the footsteps behind him told Peeta that the man was relentless in his persistence, for whatever reason. "Are you going to follow me off a cliff or something?" Peeta muttered, annoyance clearly in his tone.

Finnick shrugged.

"What exactly do you want from me?" Peeta wasn't amused and didn't even make an effort to turn to look at the man.

Finnick quickly matched Peeta's pace as he threw an arm over his shoulders. This man's obliviousness to personal space was becoming a familiar gesture. "Let's throw a party."

Peeta had to stop and narrow his eyes at the man, dumbfounded at his insensitivity. "Katniss already said she didn't want one."

"Doesn't mean we still can't throw her one." Finnick now stood face to face with the man, bending down just slightly to meet the gaze of the shorter. Even at such proximity, Finnick didn't seem to mind and Peeta could almost swear he could feel Finnick breathing his recycled air. Finnick just smiled his winning smile and Peeta wondered if he had no reservations using his tactics of seduction even on people of the same sex. He had to admit, Finnick did have a certain charisma and air to him, and if he weren't already so taken with Katniss he'd probably be more affected by it. Peeta shuddered at the thought, disgusted that it even crossed his mind. He shook his head vigorously, solidifying his resolution not to be bought by a simple smile.

Peeta just scoffed at the man. "You're insane." Peeta turned away and continued walking.

"That's just one more thing about me that makes me all the more charming." He gave the man a wink and quickly caught up with him. "And besides, Kat needs a bit of spontaneity in her life."

Peeta didn't like how much familiarity Finnick spoke with about Katniss. When did he start calling her 'Kat' anyway? "Don't talk about her like you know her."

It was Finnick's turn to scoff. "Oh I know her." There was a little tone of implication in his voice which piqued Peeta's interest, but Peeta wasn't going to go ahead and give the man the satisfaction of having something up on him. It turns out Peeta didn't even have to ask – Finnick didn't have any intentions of being secretive anyway. "Can you keep a secret?"

Peeta didn't answer. He had too many secrets of his own to keep and adding one more didn't seem to be such a good idea, but before he could protest, Finnick continued.

"Finnick's just a stage name." The older man confided, now burying his hands in his pocket as one of the biggest displays of insecurity the man had let out. There was a crack of humanity in him yet. "My real name's Nick. Nicholas actually."

Peeta laughed. The name did not suit the man at all. "And what does that have to do with Katniss?"

"Katniss doesn't know Finnick. She knows a scrawny little kid who used to drop by for vocal lessons every weekend and mooch off their food because he didn't have enough money to buy his own." He paused, gauging Peeta's reaction. Peeta remained stone faced. "She knows the boy who went off to Europe with a distant relative because his parents couldn't take care of him anymore. She knows Nick."

The story was a bit too unbelievable to register, but Peeta wasn't one to judge. Peeta was after all, Katniss' unlikely savior. And if he could be that, what right did he have to question Finnick's story? "So what are you, her childhood friend or something?" Peeta frowned as he dug his hands deeper into the pockets of his jacket. Katniss had too many male childhood friends.

"Hardly." Finnick let out a laugh, the first one that didn't seem forced or like a play to get attention. It was real. "More of like an older brother who pulled on her pigtails every chance he could get. She didn't like me much and stuck her tongue out at me every time I left." He kicked a stone that lay in front of him as he spoke. "Of course I wasn't as suave, handsome and debonair at that time. Puberty does things to you, you know?" Peeta huffed, not really caring for anything else Finnick had to say.

"So that's why you're here - to repay your debt to the Everdeens." Peeta insinuated. 'And probably try to win Katniss over'. He thought, but he wasn't so callous as to say that out loud.

Finnick nodded. "Joseph was a good man. It's only right that I help clear his name, whether the Everdeens remember me or not." Peeta's clenched jaw told Finnick that he wasn't very appeased at the man's answer and Finnick guessed that his animosity toward him ran deeper than just being annoyed at how in-your-face he was. "That and what I said earlier – my girlfriend, Anniereally is a big fan of Joseph Everdeen" He stressed the words, trying to tease the younger man. He could see Peeta's jaw visibly unclench as he relaxed. Finnick raised his brow at him. "Why? Were you worried about the competition?"

Peeta gulped, trying to stifle a blush that threatened to rat him out. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

"I should've guessed. Katniss does have a way of sneaking in and dismembering any sense of coherency you have left." Finnick kicked the stone to the curb and now craned his head to the man who seemed all too knowing of the feeling. "All the more reason to throw her a party then." Finnick now resumed his position as he caught Peeta in a headlock. For some reason, Peeta wasn't as bothered by it anymore.

"We're not doing that." Peeta persisted.

"Yes we are." Finnick replied, prodding him with a finger.

"No we're not."

"Damn right we are. And you're going to be her present." Finnick scrunched up his nose as he smiled, obviously excited for whatever twisted plans he had going on in his head.

"What the actual fuck, man?" Peeta gave Finnick a light nudge with his elbow.

"Trust me."

And for some reason, Peeta did.

"How the heck did I get stuck with you on fetching duty? I don't even know the guy." Johanna clenched her hands around the steering wheel as she trained her eyes on the road, obviously not liking that she had to spend the day with the man beside her. The man had the nerve to wake her up early that morning and force her to drive. He wouldn't even let her put on the music she liked because it "hurt his head". This was ridiculous. 'Why the hell couldn't he drive himself?' she thought. The barely conscious look he had on his face was her answer as the hung-over Haymitch grunted in response. "You just had to go and fucking piss yourself off didn't you? You did this on purpose. You suck."

"Damnit, there's no way I'm goin' alone to meet up with that old geezer and that bat of a wife of his." He just buried his face in his hands trying to will the hangover away. "If 'ya think I could've have done this sober then you've obviously overestimated me."

"So you hate his wife. Whoopdie doo, big deal. Don't drag innocent bystanders into your shit." Johanna tapped her fingers impatiently against the wheel and finally succumbed to honking loudly at the insanely slow car driving in front of her as she screamed. "Get off the road! You little piece of-"

"Chill out, will 'ya?" Haymitch had resorted to rubbing his temples with intense pressure. Loud noises weren't something his senses could process without immense pain at the moment. "If you're just pissed you don't get to spend your girlfriend's birthday with her, you shouldn't be worrying."

"She's not my girlfriend. She means a lot to me is all." Johanna bit her lip, frowning as the car in front of her finally made enough room for her to overtake. "And what exactly do you mean?"

"Finn's throwin' her a surprise party." Haymitch explained, hoping the information would at least stop the girl from her screaming. "He wanted everyone out of the house. Probably has something big planned."

"He wouldn't." Johanna's frown only intensified, though her tone was more restrained. "Katniss hates parties."

Haymitch just shrugged. "She's just gonna have to take one for the team if we want Finnick Odair on our side. The man's got a thing for big gestures and I'm not gonna take a chance insulting him by refusin'. He can do whatever the hell he wants."

Johanna suddenly hit the gas pedal with all her might. There was no way she was letting Finnick Odair, of all people, plan this party without her. "We're getting' oldie, slipping his wife in the trunk and getting the hell back home."

"Sounds like a plan." Haymitch let out a small laugh of amusement as Johanna sped off.

"Tell me again why we're trekking a forest?" Katniss' feet were silent against the forest floor with her being familiar of her surroundings. The footsteps of the younger girl that led her however, were a different ordeal entirely and Katniss couldn't help but feel a bit peeved at the noise they were emitting "I'm supposed to be meeting up with Rue and Cinna. I don't think I have the time to be gallivanting in a nostalgia trip of my childhood in the woods, Prim."

Prim took her hand as she led her to a patch of wood that Katniss recognized as the place she used to frequent with her father. She wondered how Prim even remembered the place. She had only ever come with them once or twice. This place was more of a safe haven for Katniss and her father than it was for Prim and her mother. In fact, her father and she had loved the woods, whereas her mother and Prim preferred it indoors. As such, it was always they that ventured out and actually explored the forest that surrounded their estate. While the memories the forest held were for the most part happy ones, there was a lingering feeling of displacement which hung over Katniss' psyche. The last time she had come here was when her father was still alive, and yet the entire place remained unchanged. She wished she could say the same about herself.

"I have my reasons." Prim wore a cryptic smile as she cleared some branches to reveal the view of a clear patch of land. "It's been ages since I've come here and I sort of missed it." Prim pulled her sister to the front so that she lead the way toward the familiar clearing "And if you're worried about Cinna and Rue, they're right here."

Katniss eyes focused on three figures in the middle of the field. Sitting on what looked to be a large piece of fallen wood was Rue in a pale flowy gown with layers of fabric forming a flattering silhouette as the short hemline of the front of the skirt sloped down into a long flowing train down her legs and into the green of the grass on the ground. Pale flowers adorned her hair and the warm lighting against her tan skin gave off a glowing feel to the entire scene. Portia stood diligently beside Rue, fidgeting over the willowy girl's hair and makeup. Rue looked magnificent to say the least.

Cinna smiled at the two as they approached, walking over to the sisters with a camera in his hand and snapping a photo of their reaction to the set. He'd actually been taking test shots as Portia got Rue's makeup and styling ready. The look on his face told Katniss he was expecting her.

"What is all this?" Katniss breathed as she stepped into the part of the clearing Cinna had carefully marked with lighting apparatuses, worried that her severely out of place getup would ruin the ambience of the entire setting. While Rue looked ethereal in her fairy-like beauty, Katniss left something to be desired in her drab jeans and her mustard wool pullover. Even Prim, who donned a simple white tee with her faded jeans seemed to blend in better than she did at the moment. Katniss shifted uncomfortably before trying to rid herself of the awkward environment. "I thought Portia was the photographer."

"She is, but that doesn't mean I can't have my share in the art. It's a hobby more than anything." Cinna shrugged, not really thinking much of it. "Portia seemed particularly inspired when she met Rue, so I had her do the styling instead." Rue gave Katniss a shy wave as Portia teased her hair, effectively giving the girl a more fanciful look. It was obvious that the young model wasn't exactly used to such avant-garde styling. "Before I knew it, Portia had me drafting out some sketches as she dug around her closet for something for Rue to wear back in LA. On the drive here, it was all Portia could talk about. I actually felt sorry for Rue for awhile."

Rue shook her head slightly, careful not to interfere with what Portia was doing. "Oh no, it's an honor, really." She blushed.

"Prim helped us pick out the setting when Portia told her that the shoot would probably do well as a proposal concept shot for your father's album." Cinna explained. "We didn't want to waste the daylight, so we followed her instructions and came here directly."

"Music, art, photography and styling. You siblings are too talented for your own good." Prim laughed as she played with the train of Rue's long gown.

Portia laughed. "We try our best."

"So what do you think, Katniss?" Prim looked up to her older sister, obviously pleased with herself.

Katniss didn't actually know what to say, so she said the first thing that came up into her head. "It's very – inspired." She laughed at her limited vocabulary. She wasn't really one for the aesthetics of things and her father had always told her she was more responsive to sounds, but she didn't have to be an expert to see how beautifully Rue was styled and how intricately each part of the set was prepared - even with the natural beauty of the surroundings, each leaf seemed meticulously placed to draw focus to Rue. "So, what now?"

Cinna gave her a devious grin. "Well, we were just waiting for the last piece of the set before we started."

"Oh? And what's that?" Katniss looked puzzled. The set looked perfect the way it was. What else had they planned?


And this is how Katniss found herself fidgeting over a how utterly uncomfortable she was in what looked to be her mother's wedding dress except slightly more revealing than she would have preferred. "Is this really necessary?" Rue laughed at how she strained to walk on the thick grass in her bare feet, the train of the gown dragging on the forest floor and the sheer weight of the fabric causing her difficulty. I may have looked feather light, but it sure as hell wasn't. "How the heck did you even get these dresses here? They must weight a ton."

"Not without difficulty." Cinna snickered, fighting the urge to roll his eyes. Katniss was overreacting.

"You look beautiful." Prim smiled, her eyes glossed over at how radiant Katniss looked. Her face was done up with a light tan bronzer arching her cheeks dramatically but with simple eye makeup, contrasting the sharp feature Portia had afforded her with. Her lips, lightly concealed with matte powder had a puckered feel to them as Portia dabbed a bit of blood red lip stain at their middle. It wasn't something she was used to; makeup wasn't really her thing. But the pleased looks on Prim's, Cinna's, Portia's and Rue's faces told her she didn't look half as bad as she felt.

"I don't understand why you couldn't have done this Prim. You're much more suited for this kind of stuff." Katniss struggled to take a seat next to Rue as Cinna beckoned her to do so.

"Oh please. Because of me helping you out on this album, I've lost all my tanning privileges. I'm pasty white and unappealing." Prim answered a bit dramatically, obviously not entirely displeased with her fair complexion. "And besides, I'll kill you if you ever tell anyone I admitted this, but I think you're much prettier than I am."

Katniss grumbled as a blush crept up her face. She wasn't entirely used to hearing outright compliments from her sister and even though she knew what she had said was far from the truth, she was essentially powerless against such up-front flattery.

"Okay, stop bickering you two. You're going to end up making Katniss crease up her makeup." Portia teased them as she settled Katniss down, sitting on the forest floor beside Rue, by her foot. With an expert eye, she arranged the train of the dress so that it would cascade beautifully around the grass beneath her feet. "Now Katniss, lean into the skirt of Rue's dress. Your hand – move it just two centimeters across your lap from where it is now." Portia's details were relentless, but somehow they managed to exactly pull off what she had in mind, and with the light hitting the clearing just right as if it were timed exactly at that moment, Cinna had his perfect shot.

Cinna smiled a toothy grin. "How Vanity Fair."

"Shut up, Cinna."

"And that's what happened." Katniss had just finished recounting the entire tale of her escapades with Snow, minus the nervous breakdowns and not-so-awesome moments in between to Rue as they made their way back to civilization, a fair ways away from where Cinna had decided to set up. Rue had already gotten a gist of the situation from Cinna, but hearing it from Katniss was an entirely different experience. The walk back to the bungalow, at the slow pace they assumed, provided sufficient time and an appropriate atmosphere for the bittersweet account which so echoed all the memories surrounding the forest they were currently in.

Cinna took the lead, as Katniss and Rue flanked him a reasonable distance behind. Cinna was apparently good on his feet despite his appearance. She had to hand it to the man who was now hauling two large plastic bags which contained two very heavy dresses, with some lighting equipment over his shoulder and his camera which he slung around his frame – even with so much, he made the trek seem effortless. Portia, however lagged behind with Prim who so self-sacrificingly offered to match her pace. Why the older woman had decided to wear heels into a forest was beyond her.

"So you're Katniss Everdeen." Rue's eyes were wide with wonder as she continued their conversation. Her tone was as if she could not process the words that escaped her very own mouth.

"Been there, done that, but yeah." Katniss' face looked uncomfortable at the fact. She still hadn't gotten used to actually admitting the fact. "You're not mad, are you?"

"Why would I be? My manager is famous." Rue laughed, poking her in the ribs. "And that aside, you've helped me so much Katniss. I can't even begin to repay you."

"Hey, I was famous even before all this hullaballoo – just not for the right reasons." Katniss nudged the girl back playfully. "I'm just sorry you got caught up in all this business. You shouldn't have to pay for my mistakes."

"Katniss, really. In more ways than one, this is a blessing in disguise." Rue's smile was sincere as she uttered the words. "I mean when else would I get to be styled in such awesome clothes and makeup?"

"I need it more than you do, though." Katniss laughed. Rue was right. After the shoot, Portia had afforded her the chance of actually looking at herself in a mirror. It was safe to say that for a good fifteen minutes of looking at the foreign reflection in front of her, she was stunned. Such styling and makeup was reserved for high fashion shows, and though she doubted she'd wear the same look out in public, heck she didn't even wear makeup half the time, it was good to actually feel good about herself, just once in a blue moon. In fact, she felt so good she hadn't even bothered to take the stuff off. When she dared to put her own clothes back on, Prim scolded her for defiling such good makeup with hideous clothes and to appease her, she struck a compromise which would allow her to retain some of her dignity whilst still being able to make the trek back home without much difficulty. So while she wore more modest clothes, a short dress and some warm leggings care of Rue's own wardrobe, she felt more dressed than she ever had been. Prim had teased her that it was a miracle she had even consented, but to actually like the makeup was a surprise. Truth be told, all Katniss really wanted was to see the look on Haymitch's face when she saw her so dolled up – he'd either be stunned or utterly disgusted and it was a treat to see either of those faces. Somewhere in the back of her head though, Haymitch wasn't the only one she wanted share this with, and as the familiar blue and blonde hair floated into her mind, a crimson red blush dressed her cheeks.

"We're almost there." Cinna announced, breaking her away from her reverie. "You sure you don't want to try going back to being plain ol' Katniss?"

Prim snorted in her sister's stead. "The pumpkin's staying a carriage just a while longer."

Katniss whipped her head back and shot the younger Everdeen a glare before turning back to Cinna with a sheepish smile. He shrugged in return and continued their pace to the bungalow.

Night had fallen by the time they reached the house and yet there were no lights to be seen from inside of it. 'They must not be back from the station yet.' Katniss thought, a little sad that Haymitch wasn't going to be around for her big entrance. That and the fact that Peeta was still probably out getting things read for Rue's abrupt visit. She laughed at herself bitterly. Since when did she need validation, and from Peeta of all people? She had to admit that for some reason, she felt comfortable around the man that she had only met a few days ago. He had a warm aura to him, the way he approached music reminded her so much of her father and his ideals. The thought of her father not being able to meet a man with such passion for the same things and the same music struck her, and she wondered what her father would have thought had he met him. 'They'd hit it off.' She decided, and disappointment filled her once again at the thought that he was doing this for her father. Had she actually expected for him to be doing this for her? She didn't know, but an inkling inside her told her that her view of the man was more than just of respect. She sighed as she kicked a stone in her path trudging down the familiar path to their door with heavy feet

Prim ran ahead of her, digging the keys from her pocket and hurrying to help Cinna out with the door considering he was carrying much more than any one man should. "Katniss, which key was it again?" She screamed out as Cinna readjusted the load in his arms.

"Prim, you've been living here longer than I have, I think you know which key opens the damn door." Katniss replied blandly, her mood sour from the situation she found herself in. She walked to the door to examine the keys Prim was struggling with.

"What? It's dark." Prim shrugged, handing the keys to her. "You know my eyes suck in the dark."

Cinna cleared his throat as he shifted the weight of his body and everything he was carrying from one foot to the other. "Ladies, today please?"

"Sorry." Katniss shot him an apologetic look as she eased the key in and twisted, unlocking the door. "See? That wasn't so hard." She mused at Prim, who looked unusually pleased for someone who had just been showed up. But as Katniss opened the door and hundreds of streamers came flying into her face, she didn't have to wonder why.

"SURPRISE!" A flurry of voices shouted in unison and Katniss had to squint back at the blinding light that accompanied their greeting. Prim caught the startled girl before she could stumble back fully, legitimately stunned at the sight before her.

"Happy birthday." A pair of sturdy arms took her away from Prim's catch and steadied her on her feet. Katniss forced herself to look up at the man who now held her firmly in place, a wide smile on his face echoing the radiance of his earlier greeting.

"Peeta, you-" She started, her eyes wide and her mouth opening and closing like a trout out of water.

"You look beautiful." He smiled, his eyes playful and mischievous yet curious and questioning, knowing full well that he had just been part of something Katniss had specifically told them not to do. When she didn't respond, he just shook his head slowly, his eyes trained on the floor, but his face still smiling. Katniss could have sworn he saw his ears turn bright red. He loosened his grip on her and stepped back, gesturing her inside to allow her into her own party.

A pair of hands grabbed her just then and pulled her into the house abruptly as Cinna, Rue, Prim and Portia followed behind her, amazed, although not surprised at the scene before them. Katniss turned back to them incredulously. "You guys planned it all along." She tried to say the words accusingly but they fell flat as she saw the faces of those in attendance. There weren't very many, but the people that mattered were there, and suddenly she felt monumentally grateful that she had chosen to dress better and keep the makeup under the eyes of all those that watched her. It felt like high school prom all over again.

Portia shrugged at Katniss' accusation and winked as she accompanied her brother to put away their equipment.

"It was my idea." The owner of the new pair of hands that held her boasted. Finnick ushered her into the living room and sat her down on the couch. "Nice look by the way." He gave her a wink then turned to Cinna with a thumbs up. "Nice work." Cinna returned his gesture with a wave of his hand.

"What is all this?" She looked around her living room which now looked to be transformed into a small nightclub, flashing laser lights, a black-lit dance floor and drinks strategically placed everywhere. Haymitch assumed his usual place, making the most of the opening bar and Katniss felt genuinely disappointed that the man wouldn't be sober enough to give a coherent opinion on how she looked. Cocking her head a little to the right, she saw Madge standing proudly with her arms crossed, her father beside her waving spastically and she knew the Undersees where to blame for this spectacular display.

"Sorry, Kat. Didn't get a say in any of this. I know how much you hate parties, but if it's any consolation, I got here in time to stop Finnick from bringing in the male strippers." Johanna sat beside her best friend and put an arm around her, the tone of her voice hinting that there wasn't as much regret as she thought there would be at the turn of events.

Before Katniss could actually process what was happening and take in the sensory overload, music started playing drowning out any coherent thought she might have been brewing. Instead, she settled for a simple question. "Why?"

"C'mon brainless. Live a little." Johanna nudged her, handing her a drink. "It's your birthday, and we haven't celebrated it in years. If you aren't doing this for yourself, then do it for us." She paused as her eyes followed the infamous organizer of the party as he stood on a table singing Happy Birthday unabashedly. "And for that playboy, movie star, singer, actor, model guy who might just screw us over if we don't let him get his way."

Katniss forced a smile on her face as the said man's gaze met hers and she waved awkwardly as he flashed a smile which seemed only like a goofy look of genuine accomplishment. Katniss felt awkward. Very awkward.

"What'd they do to your face?" Johanna asked, taking a swig of her own drink. Judging by the way she was hitting it, it must've been alcohol.

Katniss took note of this and took a small reserved sip of her own. 'Yep, definitely alcohol.' She squinted a little as the bitter burning taste made its way down her throat. It had been ages since her last drink and she had forgotten how bitter Johanna's brews tended to be. "It's a long story." She answered after managing to swallow her drink, not even bothering to focus her eyes on anything in particular. "Does my mom know about this?"

"Why don't you go ask her yourself?" Johanna nodded in the direction of the woman who looked like she was enjoying herself, now dancing with a couple who looked to be her age. "Who knew your mom was such a party animal?"

Katniss had to squint her eyes to recognize the couple as Beetee and Wiress. They had aged beautifully, in her opinion, but really all she had to compare to was Haymitch and her mother, both of whom weren't very good examples in the first place. She laughed at the sight of the three of them dancing a little out-datedly to the club music of the 21st century.

Prim plopped on the couch beside the two girls, sandwiching Katniss in the middle. "So, whadya think?"

"I think you guys are mad." Katniss took a larger gulp of her drink, the music making it harder to concentrate. "But it's the thought that counts."

"Well that figures."Johanna scoffed. "All blondie over here was thinking of was Finnick Odair asking her to personally help him plan the secret exclusive birthday party of the decade."

Prim slapped the older woman's arm playfully. "Was not. So I can't even throw my sister a party without having any ulterior motives? Please."

The two exchanged playful teases between themselves as Katniss finished her drink. Katniss rolled her eyes at the two, getting up from her seat and allowing them to continue on without her. This was going to be a long night.

A waiter, one of the many Finnick had hired for the private event offered her a tray of lighter drinks and she thankfully took one off him. She cradled her second drink in her hands, her eyes scouring the room for anybody else who had come as the two girls beside her bickered on.

Finnick was now dancing with a dark haired girl with long wavy hair and Katniss couldn't help but wonder if that was his 'someone special' as the smile he shared with her was so different from the ones that seemed so staged and plastic. The girl's eyes, a striking pale green in stark contrast to the lights that now permeated the dimly-lit room, met hers and soon enough, Katniss found herself enveloped in a hug by the shorter girl who looked much younger than Katniss had initially thought. Apparently, Finnick wasn't the only one with personal space issues.

"Katniss!" The girl exclaimed, her voice loud with a ring that reminded Katniss of wind chimes. "I've heard so much about you! I'm so happy you're doing this project. I've been bugging Finnick about it since I heard the news."

"This is Annie." Finnick explained. He looked rather sheepish now that Katniss thought about it, and she wondered if this was how he naturally was behind the mask of perfection media had created for him. The lack of forced confidence was refreshing.

"His girlfriend." Annie chided playfully. She was more like a child than Prim was, but as Finnick wrapped a possessive arm around the woman's slender waist, Katniss understood how the two fit so well together. "But shh. Nobody's supposed to know." She giggled.

"Of course." Katniss smiled back at the girl who seemed to have Finnick wrapped around her fingers. Being a star was difficult that way. In some ways, you're treated like public property and one woman laying claim on the world's most eligible 'bachelor' was almost like treason. Katniss felt for the man who wore such hard mask of indifference in strength in adapting to the machinations of the flawed system of show business. She wasn't the only one with scars to show for her fame, apparently. "I'm glad you were able to make it. Your Finnick throws one hell of a party."

"I hope you don't mind, though." Annie's brows furrowed a little in concern. "Your friend sort of gave Finnick a hard time about it." Katniss' followed Annie's eyes, trained on Johanna still in a heated battle of quips with her younger sister.

"Don't mind her. She's not as abrasive as she seems." Katniss laughed. Of course Johanna would come to Katniss' defense and of course she'd oppose the party, but looking at her now, Johanna didn't seem to mind at all, and Katniss realized that she shouldn't either. "Plus, I think I'm actually enjoying this party. Thanks for the present, Finnick."

Finnick flashed her a smile and Annie clapped her hands quickly as she let out a light squeal. "That's not the best part! You haven't even seen your surprise yet!"

"Annie, that's why it's called a surprise. She isn't supposed to know about it yet." Finnick muttered softly, tightening his grip playfully around her waist. He forced out a feigned smile of innocence, hoping Katniss hadn't heard.

But she had. "What surprise?"

No sooner had she uttered the words when all the flashing lights suddenly dimmed and one spotlight shone on a figure a few meters from the fame of the hallway of rooms. There stood Peeta, a guitar strapped around his frame and a few dozen roses in his hands in one of the most cliché birthday displays one could only fathom.

"Katniss Everdeen. I just met you, and this is crazy. But it's your party, so happy birthday." The look of nervousness was apparent on Peeta's face and it was all he could do not to trip over his words as he made his way to the stunned girl who was now covering her mouth, either in embarrassment for herself, or for him. Maybe even a bit of both.

"I can't believe you just said that." Katniss whispered quietly as she took the roses from him, wishing desperately for the scene to end, a bright red now flashing through her cheeks. "You look ridiculous by the way."

He did look ridiculous in a short-sleeved polo shirt with a bright yellow polka-dotted bowtie undone around his neck and old corduroy pants. Peeta leaned in and whispered to her, drawing a few gasps from those watching, but the words he muttered were far from romantic. "Just go with it, Odair's crazy and Annie picked out the clothes."

Katniss bit back a laugh and nodded slowly as Peeta stepped back and propped his guitar up for the cliché song that was to come. They both knew this was ridiculous, but the touched looks people, especially Finnick who looked very pleased with himself, gave them egged him on. "I don't do this often, or at all, but what the hell. This is for you, Kat."

You don't have a clue,

What it is like

To be next to you.

'Oh god, he's actually doing this.' Katniss trained her eyes to the floor, trying to avoid his gaze and any others' while he sang. She gulped. 'Do it for Finnick, take one for the team.' She chanted in her head like a mantra.

I'm here to tell you,

That it is good,

That it is true.

'What the heck did I just sing? Did I really just write those lyrics?' Peeta thought nervously, almost meeting a strum of his guitar. 'She's not looking at me. I look like an idiot. Fuck you, Finnick. Fuck you."

Birds singing a song,

Old paint is peeling,

This is that fresh

that fresh feeling.

Words can't be that strong,

My heart is reeling,

This is that fresh,

That fresh feeling.

The light of a projector flickered on as it pictures on a slideshow played on the blank wall Finnick so strategically prepared. Katniss eyes now shifted from the floor to the wall where pictures of the shoot from earlier and from their work these past few days flashed. Where had all these pictures come from? Her eyes widened when she saw pictures of Peeta writing and composing. It was his song. He had written a song for her.

Try, try to forget,

what's in the past,

tomorrow is here.

One by one, messages from each person started to play. Cinna greeted her first, recounting an old tale from when they had first met and how he thought the scarf she wore looked horrendous. Then came short messages from Portia, Octavia, Venia and Flavius who hadn't known her very well, but each had their own encouraging words to say.

Love, orange sky above,

Lighting your way

There's nothing to fear.

Her friends came on next, a short and curt message from Johanna, more of an inside joke than anything played, and Katniss found her eyes moistening on the brink of tears. Madge told her to get a life and to start paying her for her massages. Katniss just shot her a playful glare, trying so hard to keep herself composed. Were those violins playing? She turned around to find that Cinna had started up the synth and had started accompanying Peeta on his guitar.

Birds singing a song,

Old paint is peeling,

This is that fresh

That fresh feeling.

Words can't be that strong,

My heart is reeling,

This is that fresh,

That fresh feeling.

Her mother came on screen next and it was hilarious how she tried to comprehend the rationale of the video, but in the end a simple 'I love you' was all it took for Katniss to lose it and break down in tears. Her mother came up to her just then and embraced her warmly and Katniss returned the gesture with a kiss to her cheek, thankful for this little display of awareness despite it all. Prim, in her video, was actually crying and Katniss couldn't understand half of what she said through her sobs, but like she had said earlier, it was the thought that counted, and the few words she did understand from her sister were like gold.

Some people are good,

Babe in the hood,

So pure and so free.

Finnick and Annie each gave their messages, shallow, but well-meant, and suddenly Katniss didn't hate this whole situation. She made a mental note to ask Finnick himself for a copy of the video, just for 'safe keeping'. Haymitch and Beetee came next and she found that Haymitch was surprisingly sober as he recalled the times when the band with her father would chase her around on her tail at all times. She had always had them running after her, and years after, even now, their loyalties still lay with her. She grateful, eternally grateful.

I make a safe bet,

You're gonna get,

Whatever you need.

Peeta came in last. There were patches of awkward silence in his words, but they struck a chord still. "I came into this for your father. The entire time had thought it was for him. But then I realized. That day in the studio when I walked out on Snow, I didn't just walk out because of the song list. I walked out after I realized he had been using you. I walked out because of you, Katniss Everdeen. And now I'm here to stay, not because of your father, but for you. Always."

Birds singing a song,

Old paint is peeling,

This is that fresh

That fresh feeling.

Words can't be that strong,

My heart is reeling,

Katniss turned to Peeta, who now wore a sad smile on his face. The look he gave her tugged on her heartstrings and she suddenly felt an inexplicable force drawing her to him. What was it about this man? Was he telling her the truth? Or was this all just an act to keep them on Finnick's good side? How much of it was real?

At this point she didn't really care. As the last few lines drew to a close, she walked up to the man, her grey eyes now meeting his blue ones directly, and in them she saw nothing but sincerity. She couldn't explain what she felt after that. All that she knew was in a matter of seconds she had thrown herself onto the man, capturing him in her embrace.

This is that fresh,

That fresh feeling.

Notes: Sorry that this took so long to update. I really don't have any other reason other than that I was busy and uninspired.

This chapter was a bit of a filler chapter and rest assured that the plot will be back on track with more character development in the next chapter ;) Btw, did any of you recognize the song? Haha. I hope some of you did.

Regarding the recent issues with fanfiction, people have PM'd me concerning both my active stories and all I have to say is that I've been following the ratings perfectly so far, so I'm not very concerned with my stories being taken down, but just in case. I will be posting copies of my story on my personal blog, which you can find on my Profile Page. That, or you can just search for it on google – Ada no Nikki (blogspot).

I'm also really sorry to say that I have come to the point that I cannot moderate all the comments on my fanfiction, so instead of the Reader Pop Quiz, I will be displaying the EXTENDED PREVIEW for this story and all others that follow on my PERSONAL BLOG as well. So all of you can just go ahead and look for the extended preview there.

I'll also be posting tidbits, notes and related music and art on that blog so it would be best if you follow my blog via google friend connect or subscribe to my RSS feed so you can get updates. Please and thank you!



Chapter 10: The Real Us

After Peeta and Katniss' abrupt display of affection, the entire audience had erupted into a flurry of emotion and cheers which spurred a very well received call for drinks and merry-making. It was a festival of drunkards to say the least and by two in the morning everyone was either out cold or too drunk to care.

Everyone but Katniss and Peeta, who instead, for some reason, spent the rest of the night outside on the porch talking.

"You really do have a knack for composing and arranging. The violin was a nice touch." Katniss nudged the man in the ribs cuddling into the sweater he had so generously lent her. While she appreciated the dress which she found out was in fact not actually Rue's but a dress specifically chosen for her by Finnick Odair with the scheming help of her friend Cinna, it didn't really do much for the unusual cold the night had stuck them with. "But your lyrics suck."

Peeta laughed. "Okay already. As if Haymitch didn't give me enough grief about it already. I'm not as gifted as you Everdeens are, okay?"

"I liked them though." She told him, her voice quiet "Did you really mean what you said?"

"What?" He asked. He seemed distracted. "The song or the video?"

"Both." She answered, suddenly gathering the courage to take his hand in hers as she squeezed his lightly.

Peeta smiled at her warmly. "Before I answer, I need to tell you something." He gulped, wondering if he had the guts to push through with what he was about to do. Could he really reveal himself to this girl? Telling her about that night would be telling her that he saved her. But it would also mean telling her that at the same time, he had failed to save her father. Would she hate him?

He really didn't have a choice. He had withheld the information from her for far too long and it was eating him up inside. He searched her eyes for any signs of judgment, but at that point, there was none, only curiosity and sincerity. He wondered if what they had would change after he broke the news to her, that is if they had anything in the first place. What were they anyway? He knew they were something more than just co-workers. Friends? Maybe, but the way her hand held his and the feelings that mere action stirred within him told him that he couldn't be content with being just that. Either way, he had to tell her, and now seemed as good a time as ever. "Katniss, I-"

Just then, Katniss stood up, her hand recoiling from Peeta's. Her eyes were wide as they trained themselves to a figure approaching them from a distance.


"Hey Catnip." He greeted her. "I know it's late, but happy birthday."

I'll be posting the extended preview on my personal blog (soon, in a day or two). So follow my blog and check it out!

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For all of you who haven't already read it, go check out my other story Learn to Fly. I'll be posting backgrounds and art on that story on my blog as well. Hope you enjoyed the read!