She studied the knickknacks on the sideboard, a jumble of photo frames, high school medals and little odds and ends Peeta had obviously picked up over the years. While some of them made her smile – a goofy picture of him with his nephew, their eyes crossed, with what looked suspiciously like dough covering the small boys cheek – others made her curious; a small bronze pin in the shape of a bird, a hard, misshapen chunk of coal.
"I collect a lot of shit," he whispered in her ear, sliding his arms around her waist and drawing her into him. Katniss smiled, resting her head against his shoulder. It was warm, and bare beneath her hair, but that was to be expected.
She was wearing his shirt, after all.
"It's fun," she replied. "It gives me even more insight into who you are. All these little things that slowly add up to you. Although I'm not going to ask about the way you have those Star Wars figurines positioned."
Peeta snorted, and she felt the rumble in his chest as laughter bubbled up. "You can blame that on Finnick. Every damn time he's over here he changes them. I gave up putting them back into appropriate positions. It's more fun seeing how he changes them."
She sighed, covering his hands with hers. "Knowing now, how good a friends you are with Annie and Finnick, and how long I've been friends with them, I'm amazed we hadn't met before….."
He rested his head against hers. "We met when we were supposed to, Katniss," he said gently.
She turned slowly, sliding her arms up around his neck, linking her fingers at the nape. She studied him, the lazy blue eyes that looked satiated and happy, and the smile that tugged at the corner of his mouth. "I'm glad we sorted things out," she said softly. "I've been miserable all week."
"So have I," he replied. "If I wasn't being so stubborn-"
She shook her head. "It doesn't matter. But I just think if we're going to give this, us, a chance, we have to learn to communicate better, be honest, not be mean to each other. I don't want to fight with you if we don't need to."
"Need to?" Peeta echoed.
"Well…." Katniss trailed off. "I'm not going to lie and say I think we'll never fight. I know we will. But if we don't need to, then we won't." Peeta's hands were drawing small circles on the small of her back, his hands occasionally dipping below the hem of her shirt and brushing against the bare skin of her thighs. As much as it distracted her, she knew they needed to get all of this out of the way. It was the only way for them to make a fresh start.
"Ok," he answered. "But if we're going to be honest with each other, I need you to answer me a question."
She hesitated, and he knew it. Slipping his hands from around her, he took her hand in his, drawing her over to the recliner before sitting down, pulling her onto his lap. She moved sideways, hooking her legs over the arm. Her heart thudded, hard and heavy against inside her chest, and she nervously tugged at the hem of the shirt. She had no idea what he was going to ask her, what he wanted to know.
She wasn't sure she did want to know.
"When we first started seeing each other, you mentioned you hadn't been in the bakery for years," he started, and she let out the breath she knew she'd been holding. "Not even with Finnick and Annie being there, your good friends, did you go. But….you went there for me. Why? What stopped you in the first place?"
Katniss sighed, glancing back across the room at the hutch, her eyes drawn inexplicably to the lump of coal that sat there. "I've already told you about my parents. I guess….growing up, our dad would always take Prim and I down there, every Saturday without fail. You would have been gone, already in California by then. I can only ever remember Haymitch, and I avoided him like the plague. But Prim would love the cakes, and Dad would always pick something especially for Mom, and it was almost like when we went to the bakery nothing bad ever happened. I always had good memories of there, happy memories of my dad. It was one of the few places that wasn't tainted."
"Tainted?" Peeta threaded his fingers through hers.
"It was one of the few places in Panem that had nothing bad associated with it," Katniss explained. "Other places were…..I don't even really know. I would go to the mall, and I would remember a fight I had with Mom about some stupid sweater, or I'd go downtown and all I would see was the lawyers office, who fought us all the way in trying to claim insurance when Mom and Dad…..died. The woods, and our gardens at home, were my sanctuary, where I felt closest to them. But even there, I didn't have an idealised image of them in my head. They were just every day for us, nothing special. But the bakery….that was something special. Something we loved to do. And it did nothing but bring a smile to my face when I thought about it. Made me feel close to them, especially my Dad."
She trailed off, not used to speaking about her parents for so long. She rarely did, and mostly only when Prim forced her to. But now that she'd started, she couldn't stop. And with Peeta's warm hand around hers, and his quiet, steady heartbeat against her arm, she felt like she could.
"So why didn't you go back if it was a place you had such good memories of?"
"Exactly that," she replied. "It was untainted, and I didn't want to change that. What if the cakes weren't as good, what if Haymitch had changed everything inside? It sounds stupid, but that's how I felt."
"It's not stupid at all," Peeta confirmed. "I don't think it's bad to want to try and maintain a memory without ruining it. Why didn't you ever ask Finn and Annie what it was like?"
"I…I suppose I didn't want them to think I was being weird about it. Annie was there when it happened, she knows how hard it hit me. I guess I wanted her to think I was ok, that I wasn't still affected by it."
"Annie would have understood." Peeta's free hand slid up and down her calf, a slow, soothing gesture against her skin.
Katniss shrugged. "I was used to doing things on my own by then," she said simply.
"That's why I'm curious. Why now? Why me, then? You willingly came to the bakery that night, and didn't argue with me at all about it."
Katniss opened her mouth, then closed it again. Her eyebrows furrowed together, her lips pursed into a frown. "I….I don't know. It didn't even concern me, at all. All I could think about was….."
"Was?" Peeta prompted.
She shrugged again, and she could feel the heat blooming on her cheeks. She thought back to that day, when she'd stared at her wardrobe for what felt like hours, until Prim kicked her ass into gear. Remembered how she was so insistent it wasn't a date, it didn't mean anything, that it was just dinner.
Why the hell had she been kidding herself? Looking back now, she'd already had her answer. She'd just ignored it.
"All I could think about was you," she huffed finally. She could see the grin on his face out of the corner of her eye, but she refused to acknowledge it. Saying it out loud was hard enough. "I went there, fully expecting us to go out to dinner somewhere else, and then Haymitch interrogated me….and then you walked out in this," she tugged on the hem of the shirt she wore. "And I swear anything you would have said I would have agreed to. And I did. I stayed. For you. I just didn't know it yet."
The arm that banded around her waist tightened, his hand resting almost possessively on her hip. "You killed me that night when you friendzoned me. But this? If I had known all of this back then….I never would have let you go that night without kissing you."
"Timing, Peeta," she replied. "Everything happened when it was supposed to, like you said." She leant forward, pressing her lips to his. They were soft, pliable, and moulded to hers easily, and she wondered if she would ever tire of this. It felt different now, like she no longer had to worry. She'd laid everything bare in front of him, and he was still there. She traced the seam of his mouth with her tongue, and he responded eagerly, his hand clenching against her thigh and pulling her closer as he deepened the kiss. It was slow, lazy, an exploration that promised more to come. With a soft nip at the edge of Peeta's mouth, Katniss pulled away slightly. "But you know the best thing?" He shook his head, trying to focus on her words, and not the overpowering need he felt to throw her over his shoulder and drag her back to bed. "It didn't ruin my memories of the bakery at all. In fact, they only got better."
"They did, huh?" he grinned. "Well, that's a good thing. Because I plan on you spending a lot of time there in the future."
"Yeah," he echoed. "I plan on spending a lot of time with you everywhere."
Katniss raised an eyebrow. "Why do I get the feeling we're talking about two different things?"
Peeta chuckled, slipping his hand up underneath the hem of her shirt. "If you're not thinking what I'm thinking, I obviously didn't do my job before. Which means I may have to give it another go."
She smiled, and danced her fingers up his chest. "Regardless, I think you should anyway."
Friday, and her surgery, arrived before she knew it. The week had passed quickly, her days filled with work and finalising with Haymitch and Peeta what they were going to provide to the authorities the day after her operation. Her nights were spent with Peeta, making up for the time they'd lost with months of dancing around each other. Her first night there had been a sleepless one, initially worrying about Prim; if she got home from work, if she had eaten dinner, if she was ok in their house on her own. Until, in no uncertain terms, Peeta had told her to stop worrying, and had ducked under the covers, proceeding to distract her with what she was finding to be her favourite distraction.
He later admitted, with a sly grin on his face as he rested his head on her stomach, that it was his favourite too.
Her nightmares began to abate the more nights she spent tucked around Peeta, his arm resting like a dead weight across her waist, his chest rising and falling under her cheek. He woke when she woke, smoothing the sweat matted hair from her forehead, soothing the rapid pounding of her heart with soft kisses and gentle words.
For once in her life, she felt like everything might just be ok.
Her fingers tapped nervously on the armrest, an erratic melody that highlighted exactly how worried she was. Prim had always felt comfortable in hospitals and doctors surgeries. Katniss, on the other hand…..
She felt Peeta's hand wrap around hers, and she looked at him, embarrassed. "I'm sorry," she apologised. "But I'm really nervous - I hate hospitals and doctors and anything to do with this."
"You don't have to explain yourself, Katniss. I know. Don't worry, it will be fine. This specialist is really good. You don't think Capitol would allow someone to botch up a procedure would you?" He raised an eyebrow, and she knew he had a point. If Capitol spent all their time worrying about their image and paying people off, the last thing they would do would risk any type of surgery be done by someone who had the potential not to do a good job.
It was all about appearances and saving face, after all.
"You're right, I know you are. And I feel stupid, because this isn't even major-"
"It's major to you," he interrupted with a shake of his head. "Which means it's important, not stupid. And it makes it important to me too. At least it's done here, in his treatment rooms here, rather than at the hospital, right?"
Katniss nodded, breathing in deeply. In, out, in out. "I just….I hope it works. Because I'm sick of not being able to hear properly. I haven't felt right. Not completely."
"Katniss Everdeen?" The nurse stood in an open doorway, a clipboard in her hand and a soft smile on her face. Katniss stood, before leaning down and pressing a small kiss to Peeta's cheek.
"Thanks for being here," she told him softly.
"I wouldn't be anywhere else." With a small nod, and a nervous smile, she followed the nurse out of the room.
"Can you hear then? CAN YOU HEAR ME?" Finnick wrapped his hands around his mouth like a megaphone, leaning over the counter towards Katniss, as she walked into the bakery the following day. She glared at him, and at Peeta, who was struggling to contain a laugh beside her. She reached out with a hand, clipping Finnick around the ear.
"I could hear you beforehand, asshole," she muttered. "I can just hear you even more now. Unfortunately."
Finnick snickered, and folded his arms across his chest. But his eyes were kind, and understanding, and she knew he was sincere. She sighed, and moved around the counter, nudging him in the shoulder. "I'm good. Thanks Finn."
He wrapped an arm around her shoulders, pulling her in for a small hug before letting her go again. "That's good, Kat," he said sincerely. "I'm glad. The last thing you needed was for that to drag out any longer. Lucky Capitol is pulling out all the stops, right?"
Katniss almost had to physically bite her tongue to stop the smart remark from falling from her lips. She, Haymitch and Peeta had kept their discoveries to themselves, as hard as it was to not share it with their friends. The less who knew, they thought, the better, but it had caused a few moments of hurried shuffling of papers when they'd been looking through the documents in the kitchen. They'd told Annie and Finnick of the payments Capitol was giving both Peeta and Katniss – and Prim, for that matter – and at this stage, they were of the opinion Capitol was doing great things for those affected by the crash.
Katniss couldn't wait for it to all come out. She was sick of the cloak and dagger nature of it – and the fact that until they did so, Capitol would continue to get away with what they were doing. Or not doing, she corrected herself wryly.
She glanced over as she saw Haymitch walk out of the door that led to the bakery apartment, resting against the doorframe. His hair was matted, his shirt dotted with what looked like vanilla frosting, but there was a smile in his eyes, one that she hadn't seen in a long time.
"You alright then?" he asked. She nodded, knowing he wasn't just asking about her procedure. "Good. I've got some stuff for you to look over, if you don't mind." She nodded again, and followed Haymitch back down the short hallway into the apartment, nerves suddenly filling her. This is ridiculous, she scolded herself. You knew this was going to happen today.
He reached the table first, palming the documents. "I, uh, got Peeta to give me everything you'd put together yesterday, and I collated it. You've done good. It's solid. They're going to be explaining themselves for quite a while."
"I don't want them to just explain themselves, Haymitch. I want them to not get away with it."
"And they won't," he said simply. "You're giving them a big pile of shit to wade through." Katniss nodded, wringing her hands in front of her. "You ready to do this, sweetheart?" He asked her, holding out the thick manila envelope. She stared at it for a moment, before reaching out tentatively, her fingers curling around the edge.
"Someone needs to, right? And, I mean, if it wasn't for you..."
Haymitch waved her away with an impatient hand. "I just...had a gut instinct and had to follow it. Wasn't trying to be a hero or none of that shit."
"Either way," she muttered, tightening her grip on the envelope. They heard footsteps, and Peeta appeared in the doorway, eyebrow raised.
"We ok?" He asked, making is way over to them and slipping an arm around Katniss' waist. She was still a little uncomfortable with PDAs of any form, and couldn't help the grimace that tugged at her mouth. Haymitch's smirk at her discomfort annoyed her, and she intentionally shifted her body a little closer to Peeta's. That'll show him.
"All good," Haymitch replied. He shoved his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels. "Now hurry up and damn well go. I want these fuckers brought down, and preferably before dinner."
Peeta chuckled. "I don't think anything will happen by tonight."
Haymitch snorted. "Realistically, I know that. But you never know, boy. Capitol could be dead by morning. Stranger things have happened."
Katniss glanced at Haymitch, then at Peeta, and thought how she'd come to know them, really know them. How what had started out possibly being the worst thing that had happened to her had become the best.
Yes, she realised, stranger things HAD happened.
They sat in the car, both staring blankly into space, out towards the valley below. Panem spread out in front of them, lights beginning to dot the landscape as day shifted towards night. The sun began to dip below the mountains that provided a distant backdrop to the city, its rays dancing and flitting across the landscape.
"We did it," Peeta muttered, reaching out for Katniss' hand blindly. Their fingers entwined over the console, and she could feel his shake a little.
"We did," she replied. "I….I kind of can't believe it was that easy."
Katniss could see Peeta shrug out of the corner of her eye. "I told you Haymitch would know what to do. He told us to go to Boggs, and that he'd do what needed to be done from there."
"Why didn't Haymitch just give the documents to him then?" she asked, finally breaking her gaze from the deepening twilight and turning to Peeta. "Wouldn't that have been easier?"
"You know why, Katniss," Peeta replied gently. "We needed to do that. Don't you feel some sense of…..closure, knowing that what we've done could change everything for them? That it could make them really take responsibility for their actions?" His eyes bore into hers, and she realised that the day had taken as much out of him as it had her.
She unbuckled her seatbelt, pulling herself across the centre console until she was planted sideways in his lap, her legs pulled up against her. With a chuckle, he pulled the lever so that the seat slid back, and he wrapped his arms around her waist. She tucked herself in so that her head rested under his chin. It was cramped, and awkward and uncomfortable, but she knew it was the only place she wanted to be right now.
"I do. I feel good about it. Scared shitless that they'll come after us, or whatever, but I'm glad we did it."
Peeta's arms shifted around her, his voice muffled against her hair. "They won't come after us, Katniss; we've already talked about that. They'll be too busy cleaning up their mess to worry about it. And anyway, we specified to Boggs that we were doing it all under the promise of anonymity. We'll be fine. And now….."
"And now?" she echoed, tracing her nails across the bare skin that peeked through the open collar of his shirt.
"We can focus on us. Just you and me. And see where this goes."
Katniss pulled her head up, a smile creeping across her face. "You're right, you're absolutely right. And at the moment, the only place we're going…." Her hand trailed down to the waistband of his pants, slipped it up under his shirt, felt his stomach muscles contract under her touch. She dropped her voice to a whisper, leant in close to his ear. "Is the backseat."
It was the lead story on all news broadcasts by Monday, populating the airwaves and dominating the local Panem newspapers.
"Investigations are underway of Capitol Airlines, after documents were leaked to the press detailing a number of poor practices that have allegedly been committed by the company.
The documents, provided to authorities and the press via an anonymous tip-off, outline over 50 individual cases of wrong-doing as a result of incorrect procedures implemented by the company. In each instance a passenger of the airline was injured, and their medical costs covered, along with a significant out of court settlement. Initial reports suggest the instances were all easily avoidable had the airline followed correct procedure and guidelines. Coriolanus Snow, president of Capitol, is highly implicated of wrongdoing in the documents leaked and is likely to face serious charges.
Capitol Airlines was recently in the spotlight following the crash of Flight 1210, in which numerous lives were lost.
When contacted in regards to these latest reports, Effie Trinket, spokesperson for the airline, had no comment.
Information will be released as more details come to light, but it seems that Capitol Airlines may be in for a bumpy ride."
Katniss turned the radio off, smiling to herself. She glanced at Peeta across the kitchen, elbow deep in dough, his own smile creeping across his face in return. She moved towards him, leaning on the counter, not caring about the flour that was going to coat her arms and her shirt.
"I guess we did it," he said, and she could all but hear the relief in his voice.
"I guess we did," she replied. "Happy?"
She pressed a light kiss to his lips. "Definitely. For more reasons than one."
A/N - That chapter brings AHATQ to a close. I would like to thank every person who has read this story, and who has taken the time to favourite, follow or review during the process. I've appreciated it so much, especially during those times when writing just seemed too hard to do.
A special thank you to Jeeno2, MalTease, salanderjade and i-live-in-district-12 for pre-reading so many of my chapters, and just telling me to post my shit. I can't thank you enough.
You can find me on tumblr at sponsormusings :)