"Excuse me? Excuse me, Miss?"
She kept her eyes closed. She could hear the annoying flight attendant talking to her, but she had no desire for her 'in-flight snack' right now, nor did she feel obliged to speak to the ditzy blonde woman who had been trying to chat up the guy in the seat next to her all flight. All she wanted was to possibly sleep for at least a damn half hour and make it home before dinner.
She heard the flight attendant sigh, and ask the passenger beside her what he'd like to drink. He murmured his response, careful not to speak too loudly. She could hear the rattling of ice, the cracking of a bottle as it was opened, the careful placement of the drink on the fold-down tray. If she opened an eye, she was certain she'd see the attendant flutter her perfectly mascaraed lashes, smooth back her perfectly coiffed hair, smile her blindingly-white perfect smile. Everything about the damned woman looked perfect. That alone kind of pissed her off.
She focused instead on the gentle rumblings of the plane engine, the slight vibrations under her feet, the lingering smell of vomit and premium grade disinfectant. There was also the faint scent of vanilla and cinnamon, mixed with soap. Strange.
It was a good ten minutes before the passenger beside her cleared his throat.
"She's gone now. You don't have to pretend you're asleep anymore." She slowly opened her right eye, raising her chin at an angle so she could look into his face.
"How do you know I'm not pretending to be asleep because of you?" she asked. He grinned and, even with only one eye open, the punch of it almost left her breathless. She opened her other eye and turned to face him fully. "Hmm?"
"Don't be ashamed, you beat me to the punch. I was planning on pulling the same thing. I'm pretty sure she'd already given me an eyeful of her cleavage intentionally twice this flight, and I wanted to avoid it again. But I figured the odds of the two of us both being asleep weren't in our favor, so I took a hit for the team." His grin hadn't wavered, and she hated the fact she was almost mesmerised by it. It wasn't perfect – the left side crooked up a little higher than the right – but it was friendly. Charming. Sexy.
Jesus. What was she thinking?
"Well, I'm sure she appreciated that you stayed 'awake'," she used her fingers to emphasize air quotes, "Just like I do. Because seriously. That woman has been shitting me to tears all flight." He laughed, and it matched the smile. He stuck out a hand towards her.
"I couldn't agree more. I'm Peeta. Peeta Mellark." She stared down at his hand for a minute, before slowly reaching hers out to clasp his.
"Katniss Everdeen." He didn't let go of her hand, the pressure light but strong. It wasn't uncomfortable, but the tingles leading up her arm were….interesting to say the least. Her fingertips were buzzing.
"That's an interesting name. It's a flower, right?"
"Ah, yeah," she replied. "Something like that. Most people have no idea what it is."
"My brothers a botanist or some shit. I spent most of my teenage years sharing a room, and a bookshelf, with him. When I couldn't sleep, one of those textbooks would knock me right out. But not before I managed to retain some of it, apparently." He grinned ruefully.
Did the guy ever stop smiling? She pulled her hand away – slightly reluctantly, she was surprised to find – and placed it in her lap.
"Peeta is a bit of a…. different twist on Peter, isn't it?" He shrugged.
"It's more of a nickname, really. My other brother – the non-botanist – couldn't pronounce an R to save his life when we were kids. It was a bit of a joke that stuck."
"I can beat that. My best friend calls me Catnip. Not because he can't pronounce my name properly. Just because he likes teasing the crap out of me," she replied. She was more than a little surprised she volunteered that ridiculous piece of information – she rarely shared anything with anyone – but for some reason, she felt compelled to. Felt compelled to share something with the guy with the most engaging smile she'd ever seen, and eyes bluer than her sisters'. She never thought anyone would have lovelier eyes than Prim, but her fellow traveler had proved her wrong.
He was also pretty frigging hot, so that may have had something to do with it.
"It's kinda cute," he laughed. She pulled a face.
"Not after the first 3 million times…." She trailed off, not sure what else to say. Conversation wasn't her strong suit. A jolt of turbulence startled her, and she gripped both armrests tightly with her hands. She didn't hate flying, but the turbulence got her every time.
"So are you travelling home, or away?" Peeta continued, trying to distract her from her obvious distress.
"Ah, home. My sister and I have been in California visiting the friend I was just referring to. He – Gale – moved out there a year ago for work, and we went over with his mom and sister."
"What does your friend do?"
"He's in the military. Based at Fort Hunter Liggett." Peeta nodded.
"So are they all on this flight with you?"
"No," she shook her head. "Hazel and Posy are staying for another week. Prim – my sister - is on this flight, but we couldn't get two seats together to go home, because we booked pretty late. She's about 4 rows back. Frigging annoying, but I'm sure she's having a blast, chatting away to whatever person was fortunate enough to sit next to her."
The warmth in her voice was evident as she spoke about her sister. If she'd been able to see herself the way he could, she'd notice that her eyes glowed, her smile practically leapt off her face, the pride she felt radiated off her skin. She slowly released her grip on the armrest.
"What about you?" she asked. No harm in returning the question, she thought.
"Going home too, actually. I moved back to Panem about 6 months ago to take over my uncle's bakery. My parents grew up there but moved my brothers and me out to California when I was about 2, to open their own store. I've come back to run this one with Haymitch. I don't know why he bothered to take it over from my parents when they moved. He doesn't bake. He just sits there and drinks in the kitchen while Finnick and Annie do everything." The surprise is evident on her face.
"You mean the Odairs? And old Haymitch Abernathy?"
"He's not that old," he laughed. "But yeah. He's my uncle. Do you know them?" Katniss shook her head in disbelief.
"Small world. Annie and I went to school together. She met Finnick when she went to Florida on holiday about 5 years ago, he followed her back here, and he hasn't left since. And I don't so much as know Haymitch as know of him. Everyone in Panem knows Haymitch."
"You live in Panem too? Well, you should come in sometime, now you know the new-" he cut off as the plane took a sharp dip. Katniss felt her body slightly lifted from her seat, her seatbelt pressing tightly into the flesh of her stomach. She could hear the frightened screams around her from the other passengers, as the plane free fell for a few seconds before leveling off again. She pressed a hand to her speeding heart.
"Are you ok?" Peeta asked. "You didn't get hurt?" She shook her head, too scared to speak. The Captain was making an announcement over the speaker system, and the flight crew was moving about the cabin, making sure everyone was ok, but she wasn't paying attention to any of it. She half turned in her seat to find Prim, and caught her sister straining in her seat, looking forward for Katniss.
"You ok?" Katniss mouthed to her. Prim nodded.
"You?" She mouthed back.
"Yeah." Katniss gave her a reassuring smile, and turned back to the front.
"Shit, that's why I hate flying," Peeta muttered.
"I don't mind it normally," Katniss replied. "I just don't deal with the turbulence very well."
They sat in silence for a few moments, the rapid beating of their hearts slowing.
The reprieve didn't last long.
The plane plunged into darkness, and the rumbling of the engine seemed to intensify. Katniss' ears were battered by the sounds of screaming and yelling and she clapped her hands over them to lock the sound out. The plane plunged again, then leveled off, and plunged again. It was a vicious cycle, as it continued over and over.
Katniss blindly reached out and gripped Peeta's hand. It was strong in enveloping hers, but she could feel the tremors as it shook with terror. Gas masks fell limply from the ceiling, looking eerily like yellow jellyfish suspended in water.
She felt Peeta change the hand he was gripping hers with, and wrapped his closest arm around her waist, bringing her forward into the brace position. She didn't know if it would even matter, would even make a difference.
She was going to die. Prim was going to die. There would be no-one left of the Everdeen line.
As the plane plunged again, she felt herself descend into darkness.