a/n: MY GOD YOU ARE ALL LOVELY. it's a shock to see there's still people out there that are going to be reading my words/this. thanks for the reviews to the people who took the time to write them. it means a whole bunch and i'm going to get to responding to them now.

this chapter is a bit more of a filler, and us making our way to the last chapter, which'll be next. also, johanna mason.

every whisper of every waking hour
I'm choosing my confession
trying to keep an eye on you
like a hurt, lost and blinded fool,
oh no I've said too much, I've said enough
losing my religion | r.e.m.


I stand there silent and watching her retreating form for a moment lost in a whirlwind of thoughts. There's a cheeky side to Katniss! And it's directed to me! That means something, right? I mean... Okay, I tell myself, No need to get ahead of myself. Katniss Everdeen enjoys both making fun of me and kissing me. Can I call it flirting? Wait, is Katniss Everdeen flirting with me?!

Fuck, I'm late to class. But the thought of trying to sit and write notes or do whatever the hell I'm supposed to do in class (god, what class am I even supposed to be in right now?) seems impossible. Math, I repeat over and over again in my head and try to shake the aura of Katniss Everdeen away from me. You have to get to math class and have a damn good excuse why you're so late and you have to do math dear god the most unsexy subject in the entire world. I consider banging my head against a locker a bit and hoping for a bloody nose, because something like that could be a completely explained excuse for being late without needing actual words, but I don't do it. Should I throw water on the front of my pants and say there was an accident? Am I seriously considering allowing a rumor that would probably haunt me until well past our 30 year high school reunion become my excuse? I could just tell my teacher the truth. Hey teach, sorry I'm late. Was totally thrown into a supply closet with Katniss Everdeen and proceeded to make out with her a bit. Yeah, Katniss Everdeen. You know, the girl I've been in love with for as long as lasting memories were able to form in my mind. So yeah, you get it right? Why I totally wasn't in your class and why it totally was okay. Thanks for the high five and A+ in class, I have to go now, and sweep a lady off her feet.

Yeah. Keep dreaming, Mellark.

Laughter however, interrupts my horribly bad scheming and I turn to see Johanna Mason coming towards me. I groan and hope to god that my lips aren't swollen or whatever else happens when you kiss someone a good amount (Fuck, I want to readjust my pants but that'd make things so much obvious to her) because I don't need her smelling around me and finding out that Katniss and I are... kissing? Or have now the past two times we've been near each other with no one else around.

"Watch out, hall monitors! We got ourselves a rebel on hands. A–hem. I would like to see the proper documentation to be out and about amongst the hallways at this hour, sir." She puts on a pair of sunglasses just so she can lean her head down and look at me from above them.

I shake my head. "I don't have a hall pass, Johanna. I haven't even gotten to class yet. And now I have no clue what to tell my teacher."

She pushes her aviators back on her head holding back her hair and I watch as her face literally lights up. "Haven't been to class yet? Really, Mellark? Do our close encounters truly effect you in such a way? I'm getting all gooey just thinking about it."

I shake my head. "Yeah Johanna. Your totally admirable traits are totally rubbing off onto me."

"Right. Perfect. Anyway. You! You need an excuse for going to class late, yes?"

"Yes. Any and all ideas are welcomed. I'm considering just burying myself halfway underground outside and waiting until someone finds me and reports it to my teacher so––"

"Please don't finish that sentence so I can pretend you haven't gone that batshit insane." I keep my mouth shut. "Thank you. Anyway, I'm here to help. A rebel in need is a friend indeed, or whatever the fuck they say. Now," she pulls out a pad of pink papers as well as a pen that she starts to chew the end of as she looks at the pad. "Now..." she repeats, "what should the excuse be..." A few more seconds of consideration and the idea dawns on her. "Aha! I know!" She starts scribbling furiously and rips off the top slip and turns it around to show me. It's an "excused tardy" slip, aka the saving grace for students and treated like gold amongst us all. And somehow, Johanna has an entire stack within her possession, to use for good or (let's be real, just) evil.

"How did you––"

"No questions about the how's, darling, and we'll be fine. Now, here you have the key to your excused tardiness, right in reach of your hands." She literally dangles it in front of me and I'm tempted to grab for it but I know that's what she wants me to do so I refrain. "And it's foolproof. I wrote that it's from the counselor Armstein. You know the one. He plays his 'zen music' and helps us meditate out of panic attacks but never gives us truly good plans of coping with social issues or college or any of that bullshit. No teacher ever questions a note from him. They don't ever want to double check to make sure if you were there or not because that would include a conversation with him. I have his signature down to the nth degree of perfection. It's all right in the reach of your hands. All you have to do," I groan, "is tell me why you're not in class."

No. No no no no no way in hell. I'd rather my bury myself half underground idea than tell her why I truly am late to class. "That's classified information."

She shrugs and puts the rest of her passes and pen away. "Fine, then this is a classified object," she tells me as she goes to rip it up.

"Don't!" I say right before she does and she smirks. I curse myself under my breath because I knew that she knew I would try and stop her, that she is just dangling me more. "Johanna, please don't rip it up. Give me that pass please but I cannot tell you why I was late. It's... personal."

"Personal? Why, you're truly just buttering me up. Now I need to know. Please tell me it's something juicy like you were jacking off to the things some girls have written about you on the bathroom stalls."

"Johanna, no! I was not –– wait, there's writing about me on bathroom stalls?" I can never tell if Johanna is lying or telling the truth about things and at this moment, I particularly hate that about her.

"You're getting off topic! Tell me, why were you late?"

"Like I said, it's personal, but not just for me..." I tell her, trying to get her to understand. "It's not just my decision to tell you."

She shakes her head. "Bullshit excuse and I do not accept it. You obviously play a part in it since you're the one that's late, and therefore you get to decide who to tell. Like me. What, do you not trust me? Do you think I'm going to go and tell the whole school or something?"

"Well, that, and making sure you personally make fun of me at any and all chances, yes."

She waves her hand in a shooing motion at me. "That's dumb. Look I'm not going to make any promises that one or either of those aren't going to happen, and even if I did, I know you wouldn't believe me. That being said, you should still tell me. Unless you want an unexcused tardy for your class. Well, if you stall any longer it might become too late and you'll have a cut. What would happen to good ol' merchant boy Peeta Mellark with an unexcused cut from a class of his? Why, I can just see mommy and daddy now––"

Johanna doesn't know what my parents would do in that situation (hell, let's be honest, I don't either) but I don't want to hear what she'd imagine up, and before I can stop myself my mouth is talking. "I was kissing Katniss."

There it is, out there in between the two of us, and Johanna is staring at me, silent, mouth opened and surprised. And then she smiles big and I groan. Fuck. A cut from a class would be better than this, what was I thinking? "Can you repeat that please?" She said, trying to contain the glint in her eye.

"Katniss is here getting her work from her teachers and uhmm... I was just kissing her."

She starts laughing under her breath and looks like she just woke up to a stack of gold on Christmas morning. "Holy shit. No fucking way, Mellark, you finally grew a pair? Where? Just right here in the hallway?!"

"No. She pulled me into a janitor's supply closet."

"What the fuck! I didn't think she had it in her. That saucy minx! Was this the first time the two of you tonsil hockeyed?"

"No she came over the... other night." God, why am I telling her this? Didn't I promise myself not to tell Johanna? Didn't I convince myself this is A Very Bad Idea? I shake my head and take the tardy pass she wrote out for me. "Look. I know you want to Spanish Inquisition me right now but I need to get to class. Like you said, if I stall any longer I'll be too late to my class and get a cut." Johanna's face tells me she isn't about to just let me leave, not like that. I groan. "Look, I swear, I'll tell you all the horrible details that I'm going to regret promising to tell you after school. Give me a ride home today and I'll tell you, just... let me get to class now. Please."

She smiles at me, beautifully, and for a moment I could forget that she sometimes is basically the devil incarnate. "You know I can't refuse a begging man." Like I said, just for a moment I can forget that. "Alright. You've got a deal loverboy. Enjoy class." She starts to walk away and sings loud enough for me to hear "Oh–oh here she comes, watch out boy she'll chew you up. Oh–oh, here she comes, she's a maneater."

I shake my head. "Did you just Hall & Oates me?"

She turns back to me. "Did you just make 'Hall & Oates' a verb? Later, loser."

My excuse slip is taken and accepted without question and I read the reasoning Johanna put as I hand it over being that I was brought in on the concern brought by others with my breaking out to random song and dance in the hallways. Thanks for that, Johanna. But she got me out of the possibility of trouble, so I have to still be grateful to her. Class goes by fast, working on a new unit and getting a headstart on my homework, while the rest of the day seems to rush past too. I'm both happy and dreading it, for I feel like I have too much pent up energy in me to be able to deal with classes, but at the same time, the quicker the day ends the sooner I have to deal with Johanna.

I try to stall at my locker and with getting my stuff but it's no use either. Delly asks to hang out but I tell her I'm busy. She seems a bit disappointed but nods and ends up making plans with other kids in our group of friends that have their lockers by ours. When I can delay it no longer I wrap my scarf around me, zip up my jacket, and go outside to the parking lot to find Johanna sitting on the hood of her car, smoking a cigarette. She may as well have been smoking it right in front of one of our "School Grounds No Smoking" signs with the amount of "I don't give a fuck" attitude she has coming off of her. It's freezing out, but she seems just fine in her leather jacket, her sunglasses down even though the sky is mostly cloudy. Basically, she is the epitome of teenage angst stuck within the grunge of nineties, her beat up old car just adding more to the picture of it all. I stop to take in the visual, thinking of how great of a painting this would make but knowing that Johanna would never agree to me asking her to pose for me. Or she would, and try to strip naked. I don't know which is worse, and I just don't want to find out which way she'd go.

"Get in and spill, loverboy!" Johanna says to me, sliding off the car and putting out her cigarette when I get close enough. My leg is aching and I'm feeling thankful for a ride from her instead of having to hope and wish that my brother would wait for me. But then I remember how she said "spill" and wasn't feeling so thankful for that. We both get in her car and she didn't even turn the music on as she pulls out of her parking space, which just tells me how much trouble I am in for. Fuck. "So," Johanna prompts when I don't start spewing everything out, "Go on, tell me. You are legally obligated, you know. Bound by justice and morals made on a deal for your get out of jail free pass."

"Uhm, okay." I adjust my sleeve of my shirt and look down. I don't look at her at all and don't watch the road. I don't want to look at anything. The lack of music to fill the space of silence is uncomfortable and to be honest, wretched, and all I want is to start talking to fill up the space between us, which I'm sure is all part of her plan. Dammit. "Um so I've kissed Katniss a couple of times now..."

"Did you two kiss at her birthday?" I could tell this is about to become interrogation mixed in with my detailed account of it all.


"Okay, there was just a complete cuddle session or something... whatever. Anyway. When did you first kiss? And why the fuck didn't you tell me right away?! What the fuck Mellark, we're in this together." Johanna pulls into a gas station and parks the car. "I need a coffee, do you want one?"

I tell her no, but in the end she tells me to go get it for her so that she can fill up her gas tank. She also told me to get my story together and get ready to talk, nonstop, about all of the "mouth and tongue action that transpired between you two assholes that you've decided to leave me in the dark about."

I get her dark roast coffee, one sugar and no milk ("I'm not a pussy, Mellark, don't you dare make that coffee lighter than black"), and end up getting myself a hot chocolate since just getting out of the car and into the mini mart reminded me of how cold it was. When I come back out, we both have our respective hot drinks and the gas tank is filled up, I begin my talking. "She came over my house the night after her birthday party. It was late and I couldn't sleep––"

"Were you jacking off?" Johanna interrupts, and my face goes instantly red but I decide to not answer her (and tell her that she guessed right) and keep on talking.

"––and I heard a sound at my window. When I looked I saw that umm, Katniss was in my yard throwing rocks? So I went down and we talked a bit and then she kissed me." I didn't want to go into details with Johanna about those kisses, how amazing they were and how we were desperate, both of us, in them, so I just took a sip of my hot chocolate and kept on talking. "And then ummm, after a bit of that she went home and then I didn't see her again until today. She was in to give her teachers a note? And to get the work she's been missing. So she saw me in the hallway and called for me, and then pulled me into the supply closet when I couldn't figure out where her voice was coming from."

"And then you kissed the fucking daylights out of her, right?" Johanna's grin seemed borderline maniacal.

"Sure, Johanna. Kissed the absolute daylights out of her. Anyway that happened and then we talked and kissed a bit more. But talked a good amount. Also she left saying that she needed to thank you for kissing me and getting my first awkward kiss out of the way, why did you tell her that?!" As I talk I start to get panicked. Why did Johanna tell her that I've never been kissed before Johanna decided to? Did she tell Katniss that I tried to hold my first kiss out for her?

But Johanna just barks out a laugh. "Oh come on, it was at a fucking party and she'd have heard about it. I told her how when I took you away to talk to you, you told me you've never been kissed. So I kissed you. Which is true. I didn't tell her how we were talking about her, about how you've pined over her for forever and haven't kissed anyone because you wanted your lips for her only." Her smile curls even wider. "And now you're kissing her. All hot and steamy in supply closets, may I add. You can thank me at any time, you know."

I groan. As much as I hate it, she has a point. Without her I'd be pining and not kissing Katniss, not even talking to Katniss. "Yeah, uh. Thanks Johanna. You're the best unwanted friend I never asked for." And only.

She cackles. "Good." She's quiet again for a moment, and allows some music to come on, quietly, through the radio. I sigh in relief, and go back to enjoying my hot chocolate. My interrogation is done. "Say, what do the two of you talk about in between your boner–worthy makeout sessions?"

My interrogation is not done, apparently. I sigh. Also, why does she have to word it like that? (More importantly also, why does she know that?)

"I asked her why she's been missing school," I tell her.

Johanna starts nodding. "And she brushed you off, angry makeout afterward, etc." She finishes for me.

"Not exactly." She stops at a stop sign quickly, and in that second of her foot on the break, she turns and looks at me. I see surprise. It's not a face I've seen on Johanna a lot, or ever, really. She's not used to being wrong, I guess. Especially when it comes to me.

I try to hold back a smirk at that, and she starts to drive again. "I brought it up and she just shut me out. But I told her uhh..." God, I'm just going to throw myself back into the snakepit with Johanna, about me and my 'super deep feelings, gross' as well as having her say 'I already told you, she'll tell you if she wants you to know.' "I told her that I wanted her to know that I wanted to be there for her, and stuff." This sounds so dumb and I sound so dumb, shit. I blush and look down at my hand as I talk, fidgeting with my to go cup. I won't look up or anywhere where I can see Johanna, even from the corner of my eye. "That she was wrong, that friends don't just keep parts of themselves away from one another to protect them. Because that's what she said to me. I told her I'd listen and she said she'd keep it in mind and left." Well, she told me she needed to thank Johanna for kissing me and then left. Dammit.

Johanna doesn't respond. Johanna is quiet for the first time I've ever known her and when I look up at her to study her face, to see if I can see anything about what she's thinking and why she's quiet, she just turns up the music more and continues driving. I feel uncomfortable all the sudden. Time with Johanna has always been loud and aggressive and a whirlwind. The only exception was when she was completely drunk and sad and actually let me see a window of her feelings, and even that was short and only induced by alcohol. There's not ever been a downtime with her, really. And even then, she talked still. She's not talking though. She just drives. I pick at my fingernail, not knowing what to do. I guess our conversation is over? Thanks for the ride, see you later? It felt all weird.

I feel the car stop after being lost in my thoughts for a bit, and look up. We're stopped on a small street that needs to be repaved. In front of us it turns and seems to be swallowed by the trees that surround the gravel. I know instantly we're in the Seam. We have to be. I don't know why though. What, after our silence Johanna has decided we have more to talk about and is inviting me into her house for some milk and cookies? But this isn't her house. And she sure as hell would never do that. I turn to look at the house we're parked in front of and I don't recognize it. Then again, that's not saying much. Johanna's is the only person from the Seam's house I can remember, so unless I had playdates when I was a child I haven't been to anyone else's house in the Seam. Then again, I wasdrunk at the time I was there so there's a chance I still couldn't pick it out.

"Whose house is this, Johanna? And why are we here?" I ask finally, when all the sound between us is still just the radio and she doesn't seem to want to explain herself for why she drove me to somewhere that isn't my house.

"We're at Katniss' house."

I'm confused. And panicked. I feel my heartbeat pick up just at her name. "Why?" I ask, my voice cracking.

"Because I'm taking back what I said the other day."

I shake my head. She needs to stop being so cryptic and tell me what this is about. "You've said a lot of things the past couple of days, weeks, whatever, that I wish you'd take back. Please be more specific."

Johanna is still quiet. Johanna is not smiling and alluding to my cock and the music that's on is just like white noise. Her car is idled and if I look outside, I can almost feel how cold it is. I take a sip of my hot chocolate, almost finished, and look back over at Johanna and she finally begins to talk. "I told you that Katniss would tell you when she wants to tell you. She has trust issues and everything. All of that stuff." She looks at me. God, it's almost alarming when she's serious. "She's already let you in though. Can't you see it, Mellark? She was outside your house. She pulled you into the closet. It's your time to pull back." She shakes her head. "Stubborn knows stubborn, okay? If it was up to her, she'd never let anyone know anything. She'd never let a goddamn person in." For a second, I don't know if Johanna is talking about herself or Katniss. For a second, I think she doesn't know who she's talking about either. "Do you want to be here?" She asks me.

"Yes." I respond automatically. "No." I falter. "I don't know. I don't want to upset her."

"You know what? Fuck upsetting her with this or not. Honestly. Listen. I'm worried about her." Johanna's voice is rushed and she almost stumbles. I suddenly feel worried, much more worried. Johanna talking like this... It's got to be worrying. "I know what she's going through and I don't know how to help. I don't know if I can help. And I never do. It drives me fucking insane, okay? If five guys came at us with knives I'd be able to defend us. But I'm fucking clueless with this. She just needs... support. And you... you're that. You're it. And she's already let you in. More than you know. Knock, go inside, tell her I drove you here if you want, whatever. But she'll get it, seeing you within her environment instead of sneaking in and out of yours. She'll get it."

I stare at her and try not to have my mouth opened in shock. Johanna will never stop surprising me. Whether it's because she's going to kiss me, or try and kill me, or have this intensely detailed insight as an onlooker to feelings. Could it be true? I mean, she changed her mind. She told me earlier that she was wrong. That has to count for something. "Do you really think so?"

She lets a cold laugh out and I have to stop from shivering. Her smirk slides onto her mouth. "Again, take it from one emotionally closed off woman about another. Yes." She reaches over me and opens my door. "Now get out of my fucking car, and never talk to anyone about me talking like this, ever. I have a reputation to uphold."

I undo my seatbelt and turn to look at her as she goes searching through a box of cassettes she took from her backseat and put on her lap. She's busying herself, I know, and I feel like I'll soon maybe be able to read Johanna as easily as she can read me (not likely). I have to say something to her before I leave. I can't just leave it like this. "I was wrong before too," I tell her, and she stops and looks up at me. "You're not an unwanted friend at all, Johanna. You're a little hard to digest, especially at first, but you're not unwanted." Her face suddenly looks like a child's, and I wonder if anyone in her life ever told her that. "Thank you for being my friend."

There's silence again and I can almost read her face. Almost. But her mask goes back up (one emotionally closed off woman about another, truly) and she lets out a chuckle under her breath. "Get the fuck out of my car before I try to shut you up by kissing you again or something, Rico Suave."

The moment I'm out of her car she speeds down the road, disappearing around the bend. I see the mailbox now, something I didn't pay attention to before, and see the old and disappearing paint that says "The Everdeens." Well, that all would've been easier if I just looked at the mailbox sooner.

I stood there for a moment, my breath coming out in clouds in front of me and try to rearrange my scarf around me. Leading up to the front door is a cracked pathway. Her house is small and needs fixing, a typical kind of look on this side of the town. There's a car in the too–small driveway. The woods seem to start again right after her house so I don't even know if she has an actual backyard or if just the entirety of the woods became it.

I take a step towards it all. Here goes nothing. God I hope you're right, Johanna. More than ever before.