A/N: Hey guys! Wow I can't even tell you how nervous/excited I am to start this story. This is a modern day AU and it's SO different from anything I've ever done before. I really believe that AU stories need to reflect the heart of the original story and characters and so that's what I tried to do here. Also, this story will alternate between Peeta and Katniss' POVS. I'm REALLY interested to hear your thoughts so please leave a review and let me know what you think! I just want to put it out there right now that updates might not be AS frequent as you or I would like them to be. With 'Different Worlds' I was updating at least once a week and kind of forcing myself to write whenever I had free time. I don't think that will produce the best story or my best writing so I'm going to make sure I'm not forcing anything with this story and just letting it happen naturally. Also, I may be writing a collection of smutty one shots in between early posts for this story because I know the inspiration is going to strike eventually lol. Finally, I want to thank my two wonderful, awesome betas who helped me with the planning of this story. I can't thank them enough for the support and encouragement - Court81981 and WickedlyClever (she came up with the title! lol).
Oh! and pleeeasse go follow me at "love is all we really need to survive" (remove spaces) and then put in dot-tumblr-dot-c0m. I really enjoy sharing sneak peaks of what I'm working on and interacting with my readers over there ;)
My hand tightens around Prim's smaller one as I stare at the woman who will be taking her away from me.
She stands in the doorway of her home, wearing too much make-up and clothes that are a sickening shade of candy pink. I stand there in a daze for a few moments, taking in her appearance, wondering how she could possibly be related to us and trying to decide whether her hair is actually a wig.
I'm broken from my train of thoughts when I feel Prim tugging on my hand, whispering my name. "Katniss..." she urges, looking up at me strangely.
I gather myself and offer the woman a weak smile. "Um, hi..." I mumble out.
"And you must be Katniss," she smiles at me. "It's so good to finally meet you both." I can't help noticing the odd way she talks, like an old movie star from those black and white films. "I've only seen pictures of you both, but that was years ago when you were much younger."
I can only nod my head in response, realizing that my grip on Prim's hand has gotten painfully tight since Effie Trinket opened her front door.
I'm not ready to let her go.
I'm not ready to say goodbye.
I kneel down next to my baby sister who, despite being 14 years old, looks no bigger than 10 with her huge backpack full of all her clothes and other possessions, dwarfing her and making her seem even smaller than usual.
I take both her hands in mind and swallow the lump already forming in my throat.
"It's going to be okay, Prim," I tell her, trying to convince myself as well. "It's only temporary. Me and you...we'll be together again soon. I promise."
Prim smiles that smile that makes my heart ache and throws her arms around me. "I know, Katniss," she whispers into my ear and then plants a kiss on my cheek before pulling back.
I get to my feet and turn to face Effie again, who is looking at us with a mixture of pity and understanding.
The anger inside me swirls and expands and suddenly I feel like I'm choking on it. It's overwhelming how much I want to scream and cry and take everything out on this woman standing in front of me. It's not fair, I know that, but focusing on my anger, rather then the graveyard of every other emotion - of the despair, grief, sadness, and loneliness - that haunts me day and night, is a lot easier.
"Now come on in, darling. Let's get you settled," Effie tells my sister. "I know this is going to be quite a change for you, but I think with the right attitude we can really enjoy one another's company!"
Prim, because she is Prim, gives the woman a soft, encouraging smile.
I, however, roll my eyes and don't make any attempt to hide it.
"Well, what a big, big, big day for the both of you," Effie tries to break the awkward tension after a moment. "I hope to make this as easy as possible for you and Prim, Katniss. I realize this can't be very easy."
I ignore her attempt at comforting us though because now that Prim is standing beside her in the doorway of her home and I'm out here on the front step by myself, the desperation and fear is rising in me like a tidal wave. I start fidgeting anxiously, a blind panic taking over.
"She likes it when you sing before bed and she's really good about helping with chores. She likes coffee ice cream, but you have to remind her to eat her vegetables." The words spill out of me in one long, deep breath.
"Katniss!" Prim exclaims, a slight blush creeping up on her cheeks. I'm sure she's not exactly thrilled with me acting like she's a baby who can't take care of herself, but right now all I can see is my baby sister, my baby sister who is being taken away from me.
"Thank you, Katniss, dear," Effie returns. "I promise I'll take good care of her."
Before I can do or say anything to stop it, the door to the house is being closed, with Effie and Prim disappearing inside.
I'm left standing out on the front step, never feeling as lost and alone as I do in this moment.
My father died in a car accident when I was 12 and in the 7 years since then I have felt a lot of anger and betrayal and frustration directed at my mother.
My mother, who was too weak to realize she still had two daughters to take care of. My mother, who could only focus on her own pain, rather than the starving faces of her children after it happened. My mother, who took the easy way out and swallowed one too many pain killers 6 weeks ago, joining my father and leaving us here alone.
I don't think I have ever been as angry with her as I am right now though. If she had only just changed the will and named me Prim's legal guardian when I turned 18, in the event of something like this, I wouldn't be here today. If she had only taken one moment to think about someone other than herself, I wouldn't be handing Prim over to our only living relative in West Virginia, a woman we never even had any contact with before today.
I feel guilty for thinking these awful thoughts about a woman who is dead.
But as I walk back to my car without Prim by my side the guilt fades away and the anger takes over.
I drive the 30 minutes back home before realizing I'm not going to have time to shower and change before this thing like I wanted to. When I find a spot in the Church parking lot I realize I have a few minutes to kill before it starts. I eat the granola bar and the apple I find in my backseat and try to work up the nerve to actually get out of my car and go inside.
This involves a lot of debating with myself over the pros and cons of sucking it up and getting it over with, or driving home right now and blowing the whole thing off. It's a futile argument, I know, because the only reason I have for doing this trumps any pathetic excuse I can come up with for not wanting to.
He already told me, if I want Prim back, if I want a chance in hell at being named her legal guardian I have to do this. My mind flashes back to his patronizing, sarcastic attitude the other day.
Listen sweetheart, I'm that little girl's social worker, and after looking through your file there is no way in hell I'm putting my ass on the line and vouching for a ticking time bomb like yourself to be named her legal guardian. The judge would laugh in my face. You want her back? Start taking care of yourself first and prove you're trying to get better.
I scoff at the notion that I need to "get better". I may be a twisted ball of misery and anguish - a complete, emotional fucking mess - but that doesn't mean I can't take care of my sister. I've been taking care of my sister since our father died.
My mother lived a sort of half life for years and even when she finally did come back to us she would still have her moments, times when I would come home to find her passed out from one too many glasses of wine or prescription pain killers. I knew since that time right after my father's death when we nearly died of starvation that I could never trust her again. And I didn't. I took charge of caring for Prim and I'd like to think I've been doing a pretty decent job of it ever since.
Everything was fine until our mother died and the will was read and suddenly people were telling me that Prim had to go live with some relative we had only vaguely heard of in passing conversation before. I still remember the feeling of lead in my stomach when they said Prim had to go live with my mother's second cousin, apparently the only member of her family who didn't completely shun her after she ran off to marry my father.
So here I am. Forced into this because I will do whatever it takes to get Prim back. And apparently whatever it takes includes suffering three times a week for an hour of this bull shit that I don't want or need.
It's 4:58pm when I finally force myself out of the car, walking across the parking lot like
I'm headed for my own execution. I keep my head down and avoid other people's eyes, already hating the heat creeping up the back of my neck, the embarrassment I feel to be here.
I walk up the front stairs of the Church and in the lobby I go right, following the directions I remember. There is a steep set of stairs and at the bottom a long hallway. At the end of the hallway there is a single door. I take a deep breath and force myself to go inside.
The room is bright. The kind of fake brightness that can only come from fluorescent lights. There are about 10 chairs set up in a circle and a table along the edge of the room with punch and cookies. People are lingering around, talking quietly among themselves, but everyone's eyes flicker towards me when I come in the room. I stare at the ground and then move off to the side.
I pull my phone out of my purse and pretend that I have many missed calls and messages to attend to. When I let my eyes peek up from my phone I inspect the people around the room. There are only two girls about my age, one with short brown hair that accentuates her sharp features, and another with long, dark hair who looks a little dazed and out of it. The other people in the room are all older, middle aged men and women who have that worn, tired look to them. You can see from the wrinkles on their faces and the looks in their eyes that they've lived a long and hard life.
Of course they have. That's why they're here, isn't it?
I'm starting to wonder when this damn thing is going to start, because the sooner it starts the sooner I can go home, when my eyes fall on someone I hadn't noticed before.
He looks about 4 or 5 years older than me. He has dirty blonde hair that has that perpetual messy look to it and ocean blue eyes. He's wearing jeans and a fitted t-shirt that clings to his broad shoulders.
His gaze travels across the room and he sees me looking. We make eye contact and for that brief moment before I look away my stomach flips and my heart beat picks up just a little. I chastise myself and try to shake off the feeling.
When I finally compose myself I hear him speak up and address the entire room.
"Okay, everyone, we're going to get started for today."
Everyone in the room starts to move to the circle of folding chairs, taking their seats.
However, all I can focus on is that this man, this boy, is apparently the person leading this thing, the person in charge. Isn't he a little young for this? How is he even qualified?
I hesitate, wondering if it would be too obvious if I slipped out of the room and just left right now. By the time I finish debating with myself whether to leave or not I'm the only person who hasn't taken a seat in the circle. The boy looks over at me with a questioning glance.
"Are you joining us?" He asks with a crooked grin.
I nod and slowly walk over to the circle, sinking down in the only seat left, directly across from him.
He clears his throat and glances around at us all. "Well, first off I just want to welcome everyone. Whether it's your first time with us or you're a regular, we're glad to see you here today. Just showing up takes a lot of courage and it's an important first step in the healing process."
I watch him address the group, noticing the comfort and ease he seems to have talking in front of people, the way the words flow out of him so naturally.
"My name is Peeta Mellark and I'm here anytime you need to talk."
When he says this he looks directly across the small circle and locks eyes with me. I look away uncomfortably, ignoring the way his gaze lingers on me a little longer than what could be considered normal.
"If you don't mind, maybe we could go around and if it's your first time here with us today you can just tell us your name and a little bit about yourself. Nothing too heavy, just a get to know you kind of thing..."
I stare at the ground, hating Peeta Mellark already. I don't want to talk. I want to sit in this uncomfortable chair for an hour in dead silence and count down the seconds until I can go home and watch bad reality TV.
When I peek up I see he's not even looking at me. Instead he's looking at the girl sitting to his left, the one about my age with a pixie hair cut that she pulls off because she has really high cheekbones and pouty lips.
I almost laugh when I see how annoyed she looks with the idea of sharing something about yourself.
"Fine, whatever...my name is Johanna Mason and I'm being forced to come here by a bunch of shrinks who think I need to open up or some shit," the girl explains casually. She shrugs when she finishes, and looks around the group before shooting us all a falsely, sweet smile.
I have to bite back the grin I feel coming on, enjoying the fact that at least someone else finds this as pointless as I do. The girl notices and fixes me with an appraising stare. I look away under her scrutiny, feeling like Johanna Mason isn't looking to befriend anyone here.
Peeta, to my surprise, just laughs at the girl's curt explanation. "Well Johanna, we're happy to have you here regardless."
"And I don't think I've seen you here before..." Peeta says to the other younger girl I noticed before, the one with long, dark hair.
"My name is Annie Cresta," the girl speaks so softly I barely catch her words. She stares at her lap, fidgeting with her hands; she looks like she's about to cry or scream or both.
"I don't...I..." she tries to start talking but the words die in her throat. It makes me uncomfortable how much she is struggling, how hard this is for her.
I hate this so much. I knew I would, but this is only confirming it for me. I do not want to sit in this room with a bunch of strangers and see people at their worse. Seeing people deal with their shit only reminds me of my shit and how I have so successfully avoided dealing with it for so long, and I'm not about to go and open that can of worms.
"It's okay, Annie," Peeta says in a soft voice. "We're glad you came."
He looks away from her and directly across the circle at me.
I swallow thickly, finding myself unable to look away from his blue eyes. He raises his eyebrows expectantly, waiting to see if I'm going to speak up.
"My name is Katniss Everdeen," I say, willing my voice not to shake. I hesitate, trying to sort out all the thoughts in my head. There's a million things I could say, but the truth is I don't want to say anything at all. The truth. The thought floats to the forefront of my mind and I blurt out the next words. "And I really don't want to be here."
A couple of people chuckle quietly, but my eyes stay locked on Peeta Mellark. He holds my gaze for what feels like a long time. The intensity with which he looks at me is intimidating. It makes me feel like he's looking right through me.
"Well, Katniss..." he finally says. "I appreciate your honesty." There is just the slightest hint of a smile on his face, the corners of his mouth tilted upward. "Now, does anyone want to start us off today?" He asks the group.
To my surprise, the older members of the group, who are apparently regulars here, start talking, opening up without hesitation. I'm a little shocked at first, trying to get used to hearing the most personal, intimate, and heart wrenching stories from these people that I don't even know.
I look around the room at the faces of these strangers. I briefly imagine telling them my deepest, darkest secrets. I imagine telling them the things that I still have trouble talking about out loud even with the people who know me best.
Just the thought makes me shudder.
After every story it gets harder and harder to listen. I don't want to hear how these people have suffered just as much, if not more, than me. It makes me feel more awful than usual and forces me to confront the fact that they're a lot stronger and just better than I'll ever be.
A middle aged woman talks about her son who was killed by a drunk driver. She says that she was finally able to go into his bedroom the other day, that she's started to go through his things. She breaks down crying not a minute later and someone offers her a box of tissues.
An older man talks about how he lost his wife of 40 years to cancer, how the diagnosis came out of nowhere and by that time she was already at stage 4. A haggard looking woman explains that, the guilt she feels for leaving the gate to the pool in her backyard open eats away at her day and night, that she knows it is her fault her child is no longer here.
It continues like this for the first 45 minutes or so of the session, I know this because I keep checking the clock on the wall behind Peeta's head, waiting until it strikes 6:00pm and I'm free to go.
I'm quiet the entire time, silently observing and listening. It's not exactly like I thought it would be I guess. Mainly, people just go around talking about whatever they want. Peeta listens and then asks questions, trying to get them to expound on what they're saying, about how they feel.
When there is about 10 minutes left Peeta thanks everyone for sharing. "It takes a lot of strength to be able to come here today and work through your grief. Pain like this is most difficult thing you'll ever have to face. And just the fact you're attempting to do something about it, that you want to get better, is a huge step."
I suddenly feel lighter because it's almost time to leave. I need to get out of here. I don't need to hear about how much these people have suffered. I've suffered enough myself. And I definitely don't need to hear about how hard life is and how brave we all are to keep going from Peeta Mellark.
I notice him looking at me again. "Before we go today I want to leave you all with this one thought to really reflect on before our next session," Peeta begins. "No matter how bad your losses, it can be good again," the blond hair, blue eyed, boy wunderkind tells the group.
Yeah...right. What the hell does he know about grief? I can see it perfectly, rich kid who decided to major in psychology because he likes trying to figure out why people are the way they are. Nothing but textbooks and lectures to inform his worldview.
I'm only doing this to get my sister back and I decide right then and there that if Peeta Mellark thinks he's going to magically "cure" me by the end of these sessions, he's wrong. Dead wrong.
There must be something in my expression, a look on my face that tells him what complete and utter bullshit I find this to be, because he looks at me questioningly.
"Do you have anything to add, Katniss?"
Against my better judgment I find myself responding. "I'm just not a big believer in the whole 'the sun will come out tomorrow' attitude. Life is a lot more complicated than that." I tell him bluntly.
From the corner of my eyes I feel every member in the group looking at me carefully.
Some are put off by my harshness, some look like they agree, but don't want to be too obvious about it. Every one looks back and forth between Peeta and I for a moment, waiting for him to respond.
He stares at me for a while, almost like he's trying to figure me out. His gaze makes me uncomfortable. I don't like it when he looks at me like that. Finally, one corner of his mouth turns up in a small smile. "You're right. It is." He finally answers.
I'm caught off guard by his answer. I open my mouth to reply and find I have nothing to say.
"See you guys next time," he announces to the group, effectively dismissing everyone.
When I get home I heat up a frozen meal and then sit down on my couch in front of the TV to eat. I try and lose myself in the mindless entertainment rather than focusing on how the small, two bedroom apartment I shared with my mother and Prim for the past 7 years now feels way too big without either one of them here anymore.
I start to get antsy, constantly checking the clock. Where is he?
After everything that's happened today, saying goodbye to Prim, suffering through that bullshit grief counseling, Peeta Mellark...
I know I can't handle being on my own tonight.
The moment I start to contemplate finding a way to take the edge off, something to help me forget about the anxiety and stress and the dark cloud of thoughts whirling around in my head, I hear him coming down the hallway.
I jump off the couch and rush to the front door, opening it before he even has a chance to knock.
I throw my arms around his neck and rest my head against his shoulder.
"Hey Catnip," he says, rubbing his hands up and down my back. I can hear the concern in his voice. "You okay? How'd it go today?"
Instead of answering I pull back and press my lips to his. It has the desired effect. I focus on the warmth of his lips and the way he sighs into the kiss. It's a good distraction for the moment. And he's always saying how I'm not affectionate enough.
But when I pull back the weight of it all finally hits me.
I bury my head in his shirt and start to cry. Tears silently fall down my cheeks until they dissolve into sobs that wrack my whole body. He throws his stuff on the floor and then leans down and picks me up off my feet. He uses his foot to close the front door and then brings me over to the couch. He pulls me against him and softly strokes my hair until I've calmed down.
"It's going to be okay, you know," he breaks the silence after a while. "I promise."
They're empty words that don't mean much, but I know he's just trying to comfort me.
I nod my head in response.
He asks me about the grief counseling, but I don't really want to talk about that either.
He doesn't push me for answers and I'm grateful.
When he moves to get up off the couch I grab his hand. "Gale...thank you."
He smiles at me and leans back to kiss my forehead. Then he disappears into the kitchen to get something to eat.
I realize now how thankful I am for his presence in my life. We've been best friends since my mother, Prim, and I moved into this apartment after my father's death. He was the older boy down the hall, fatherless like me and with younger siblings to look after too. We spent all our time together, practically inseparable. He was my refuge from the real world, from facing the reality that my father was gone and my mother had become worthless.
We were best friends and I wanted it to stay that way, but about a year ago he made it clear he wanted more. At first I didn't want to ruin what we had. I was perfectly fine with us just being friends. But Gale is stubborn like me and when he wants something it isn't so easy for him to just let it go. He pushed the issue until I realized if I kept refusing him it could mean losing him as a friend forever.
The idea itself was so unthinkable to me that eventually I relented and we've been dating ever since. Sometimes it feels like I made the right decision. Gale knows me better than anyone. He's been by my side for as long as I can remember, helping me survive after the car accident that took my father's life.
There are times though when I realize my initial reluctance about us being together was warranted. We are so much alike, headstrong, with short fuses and cynical world views. We are both so full of anger that our fathers are gone, leaving us here alone to suffer.
Together, it is a lot of fire. And too much fire isn't a good thing.
But tonight, with Prim gone and the memories of my first grief counseling session still fresh in my mind, I'm especially grateful to have him by my side.
He returns to the couch with his dinner and we sit in comfortable silence for the rest of the night as he eats and I flip through the channels. When I can't stop yawning I turn off the TV and grab his hand, leading him to my room. He sleeps over more often than not since he lives only just down the hall, but now with Prim gone I know I'm going to be asking him to stay a lot more.
He steps out of his jeans and slides into bed while I disappear into the bathroom to change and brush my teeth. When I return to bed he's sitting up, waiting for me.
I get under the covers and lean over to plant a soft kiss on his lips.
"Good night," I whisper, lying down on my side and facing away from him.
I close my eyes, ready for sleep, waiting for this day to be over. But then I feel him curl around my body, his chest pressing against my back, his arm snaking under my own. He starts planting kisses along the curve of my shoulder.
After everything that has happened today, being with him like this is the very last thing on my mind. But then his hands start to wander, slipping under my shirt, squeezing my breasts, inching their way down to my underwear, rubbing me over the fabric. Despite myself, I feel my body start to respond and I reason that this might not be such a bad distraction after all.
I tilt my head back to kiss him and in a second he moves over me, pushing his tongue into my mouth. He grunts and grinds himself against me. I feel his length pressing against my inner thigh. I pull back, breathless, "Gale..." I warn, not wanting him to get carried away.
"Come on, Catnip," he breathes against my mouth.
I feel like we've had this argument a million times. We've never had sex and as much as I realize that if anyone should be my first, it should be Gale, that doesn't stop me from just not wanting to do it. I can't really explain it other than the idea of being with someone like that terrifies me.
It would mean letting walls down that I have done just a fantastically, wonderful job of building up over the past several years. It would mean laying myself bare, opening up the twisted mess that is my soul and allowing it to be completely vulnerable. It's not that I don't care about Gale enough to let him in, but the things that have happened to me in the past have left scars too deep to be healed. I'm not about to go around and leave them bare and uncovered, ready to get hurt again.
His hand trails down my side as he continues kissing me, sucking on bottom lip.
Then he starts tugging on my underwear, trying to pull it down my legs.
I put my hands on his chest and push him away. "Gale, no!"
He rolls off of me and doesn't do a very good job at hiding his annoyance. He's usually a lot more tactful about it. "Fine," he says, getting out of bed and heading for the bathroom.
I wince when the bathroom door slams behind him.
I lay in bed, wide awake, feeling guilty and confused. I know he must be getting tired of waiting for me, but I'm too emotionally fucked up to be able to handle something like sex.
Not to mention losing Prim today has made everything worse.
He could have also been a little nicer about it. Usually I offer to take care of him and make sure he finishes when I halt any of his advances.
But by the sound of his grunts and groans coming from the bathroom I can tell he wasn't in the mood for a pity hand job tonight.
I roll onto my side and close my eyes. As I drift off into that space between consciousness and sleep a blur of images float through my mind, Prim being taken away by a woman with too much make-up, the cries of parents who've lost their children, Gale pressing his hardness against me, making his intentions clear. In those last moments when I'm not yet asleep, but not still awake, another image, one I can't even begin to make sense of appears behind my eyelids.
Blonde hair and blue eyes are the last thing I remember before I fall into a dreamless sleep.