A/N: This is basically a lot of filler and set up for the end. Sorry if it's boring!
Thank you very much to my beta, for-prim for her awesome work, as usual!
"He has been waiting for my answer all night." Katniss turns around to see Peeta standing at the table with his hands in the air. "Just a few minutes!" she promises.
The phone is barely past the first ring when Neil picks it up. "Am I speaking to the future Mrs. Peeta Mellark?"
"Yes, you are," Katniss laughs. She spots a laundry basket on the floor near the couch and quickly pulls Peeta's black Hawaiian shirt out. She slips her arms through and buttons it halfway before turning to Peeta and giving him a sheepish smile.
"Trying to talk to my brother with no clothes on, I see," Peeta jokingly whispers.
"I covered up," Katniss shoots back, covering the phone with her hand. She hears Neil sigh in relief on the other end.
"Gale just gave me the nastiest look and I realized that I wasn't even sure if that was why you were calling," Neil says nervously.
"You could have ruined the whole thing just now, Neil," Katniss teases.
"I'm a terrible person," Neil retorts sarcastically.
"Sorry I couldn't tell you, I really wanted to," Neil says apologetically.
"Don't worry about it," Katniss assures him. "The surprise was better anyway, and Gale would've been pissed at you for weeks if you told."
"You're right, he would have," Neil chuckles into the phone. A brief silences falls over the line before Neil continues to speak. "Congratulations. I don't think you realize how happy you make him."
"I don't think he realizes how happy he makes me," Katniss counters. She looks over to Peeta who is now wiping down the dining room table. He smiles in her direction, but then his face quickly contorts and he crinkles his nose and purses his lips while pointing at the table top. Katniss rolls her eyes and matches Peeta's revolted expression before laughing at him. She'll have to thank him later for cleaning up.
"I'll let you get back to your fiancee now," Neil says, breaking Katniss's focus on Peeta. "That giggle did not sound innocent at all. I'm glad you called to let me know, though."
"Well, you told me to," Katniss reminds him.
"You figured it out, huh?" Neil says. Katniss can practically hear his smile through the phone.
"After the fact, but yeah," Katniss replies.
"Hang on a second, Gale wants to get on for a second." Katniss hears Neil hand the phone over to Gale and he clears his throat before speaking.
"Judging by what Neil was saying, I take it you said yes?" Gale deadpans.
"I said yes," Katniss confirms.
"Congratulations!" Gale's voice has gone from monotone to almost impossibly excited in a matter of seconds. "We have planning to do!"
Katniss groans and rolls her eyes. "Don't get all weird about my wedding now," she warns.
"All I ask is that you keep me in the loop with your plans," Gale requests innocently.
"I guess we can do that, but if you try to take things over like you did when we painted the living room, I'm cutting you off," Katniss says.
Gales laughs at the threat. "That's fine. I will let you go, I just wanted to congratulate you. How did Prim take it?"
"Shit, I forgot all about calling Prim! I just remembered Neil's weird comment from earlier and decided to call him," Katniss says guiltily.
"I'm sure she won't mind," Gale says.
"Okay, I'm going to hang up so I can call her now." Gale congratulates her one last time before she ends the call, and Katniss wastes no time hitting Prim's speed dial number and hitting the call button.
"Hey, Katniss." Prim's voice instantly brings a smile to Katniss's face.
"Hey," Katniss replies easily. "How have you been?"
"Not too bad. Just enjoying the last few days of break," Prim answers. There's something in her voice now that is unsettling to Katniss. Prim almost sounds suspicious. Katniss doesn't call Prim often, preferring to text or send e-mails instead. She usually only calls Prim when something is wrong. "What's up?"
Peeta comes to sit down next to Katniss on the couch, watching as Katniss takes a deep breath in preparation.
"Peeta and I are engaged," Katniss spits out hurriedly. This is the first time she's said it out loud and the words sound foreign as they fall from her lips and hang in the air. The silence on the other end is deafening. Why isn't Prim saying anything?
"Oh thank goodness he finally asked you!" Prim says, finally. "I was going to explode trying to stay quiet." Her tone is filled with relief and excitement.
Katniss's head turns to Peeta quickly, her eyebrows knitted together in confusion. "What the fuck? Prim knew too?!" Katniss asks, still in disbelief.
"I didn't say anything to Prim!" Peeta says defensively.
"Oh yes he did!" Prim argues. Her voice grows so loud that Katniss has to pull the phone from her ear. "June 29th, dancing at Gale and Neil's wedding. He took my hand and spun me around and then said to me 'I'm going to ask your sister to marry me,' but then he tried to shush me by putting his finger over his lips and he missed completely - his finger landed in the middle of his cheek instead. That's when I realized he was totally trashed, so he probably doesn't even remember that he told me."
Katniss's expression changes from one of disbelief to one of amusement as she shakes her head at Peeta curiously.
"Give me that phone!" Peeta bellows, taking the phone from Katniss's outstretched hand. "I never told you!" he says to Prim before going silent. Katniss can hear Prim lecturing Peeta despite the phone being tightly wedged between his head and shoulder.
The longer Prim reprises the story of what Peeta did at Gale and Neil's wedding, the paler Peeta's face becomes until finally his mouth is shaped into a perfect "O." and his eyes are full of guilt.
"Whoops," Peeta says, embarrassed. "That must have been after the Jagerbombs. Sorry, Prim! I'm giving Katniss the phone back now." He pulls the phone from his ear quickly and shoves it back to Katniss.
Katniss and Peeta both laugh as they hear Prim scream "Congratulations!" loudly into the phone. Peeta yells his thanks back to her as Katniss gets back on the line.
"I'm back," Katniss says, still laughing.
"Okay," Prim breathes excitedly. "Tell me everything!"
"Come on, Peeta, I'm starving. I'm not waiting for these two to get their burgers before I eat," Neil says, pushing his chair back and rising from the table. Peeta stands and follows his brother away from the table and in the direction of the small salad bar on the other side of the restaurant.
"Since when does Peeta eat the salad bar?" Gale asks, confused.
"He doesn't," Katniss says. "He just likes the pea soup, so he pays for the salad bar, but just eats a ton of soup until he's so full that he can't even look at it anymore." She looks over to where Peeta and Neil stand at the salad bar. Peeta is holding a bowl of soup as he stands at the end of the bar, waiting for Neil to finish up.
Gale laughs at Katniss's story but quickly stops. He stares at the glass of Coke sitting in front of him, dragging his finger along the condensation that has collected on the outside. "Things have changed a lot, huh?" he asks.
"Yeah," Katniss nods, meeting his eyes. "Almost beyond recognition."
"Do you ever wonder if maybe they were always out there waiting for us to find them?" Gale says feebly.
Katniss narrows her eyes at him. She has come to understand a lot of the things Gale says, but this is almost too much. "No, not really," she admits.
"What are the odds that we'd both meet the person we're going to marry on the very same night, and how rare is it for them to be brothers?" Gale asks seriously.
"I never really thought about it that way," Katniss says with a shrug. "I don't like to believe anyone was ever waiting for me find them, because I was never looking for anyone."
"You and Peeta are lucky, you know," Gale points out, rolling a stray bit of his straw's wrapper between his fingers.
"I'm not following," Katniss confesses. "What makes us lucky?"
Gale shakes his head, his eyes widening as though he has just realized what his statement sounded like. "I don't mean you're lucky because you have someone," he assures her. "I meant that both of you are lucky to have been able to tackle the issues you have and come out on the other side better because of them."
"I see," Katniss says wearily. She still isn't sure how that makes them lucky, but she is willing to hear Gale out.
"You guys have already had an incredible test and strain on your relationship that you were able to overcome and are still overcoming. Neil and I? We haven't had that, yet. Not really." He sighs and glances over in the direction of the salad bar. When he brings his eyes back to Katniss, he looks scared. "I'm not naive enough to believe that there won't come a day when we almost lose this, or that our relationship won't be put to the test in some way."
"What are you saying?" Katniss asks, urging Gale to elaborate.
"I'm saying that I hope when the day comes where my relationship with Neil is put under stress, we can handle it with even half as much support and understanding for each other as I've seen between you and Peeta this year," Gale explains. "Don't you see? You've been tested already, and you are both still here. I think that makes you two the lucky ones."
Katniss wants to respond. She wants to tell Gale that she does see his point, but Neil and Peeta are walking back. If Gale had wanted them to hear this he wouldn't have waited until they were gone to speak up. Instead of answering, she nods and smiles at him, hoping that it's enough to silently tell him that she understands.
Peeta sits back down in his seat next to Katniss and pushes a bowl of pea soup in her direction. "Here, I snuck one for you," he says with a smile.
"You didn't sneak me a salad?" Gale asks Neil, offended.
"What?" Neil replies. He looks around the table, his mouth agape. "But you don't even like salad!"
Gale laughs and reaches a hand out to rub Neil's shoulder. "I know, I'm just kidding."
"Neil is the worst at sensing sarcasm," Peeta whispers to Katniss. "See that face? That's Neil giving himself an ulcer."
Gale laughs louder, having heard Peeta's commentary. "He really is the worst, considering he is the master of sarcasm himself." He reaches to the middle of the table and grabs a roll from a basket and takes a large bite. "So, what are you guys doing after we get out of here?" he asks while still chewing.
"We're going to the drive-in a few towns over," Peeta says.
"A drive-in in the afternoon?" Neil asks. "What's the fun in that? Everyone can see you in your car, even if you steam up the windows."
Katniss rolls her eyes at Neil and shakes her head. "Maybe we actually like to watch the movie?"
"That's not how you do drive-in movies," Neil scoffs.
"So let's talk about the wedding," Gale urges, trying to change the subject.
Katniss and Peeta both groan in unison. They can never go long without Gale or Neil wanting to bring up the wedding.
"You booked the venue already, right?" Gale asks.
Katniss clenches her jaw and counts down from three before answering. "That was the first thing we did," she replies, annoyed.
"So we are in agreeance then that we want a completely outdoor wedding?" Katniss asks. Her laptop is resting on the arm of the couch as she and Peeta browse through tabs of possible places to book their wedding.
"Yes," Peeta confirms, looking closer at the screen.
"Just making sure," Katniss says as she begins to close the tabs they had open with indoor venues.
"And casual," Peeta adds. "We should have the ceremony, pictures, and reception all at the same place so guests don't have to go to two different places."
Katniss nods in agreement and closes even more tabs. "That leaves us with four places, then," she says. She pulls up the first tab and they are met with a picture of an outdoor chapel. The carefully crafted white structure glows against a backdrop of pine trees, and though it is beautiful, Katniss knows right away that it's too much for them.
As though echoing her thoughts, Peeta shakes his head. "Too big," he says. "Our guest list doesn't require something like that."
"My thoughts exactly," Katniss agrees, closing out the tab and moving to the next one. "This one is a garden," Katniss explains as she points to the picture. Red bricks make up the aisle and at the end a very small pavilion where they would stand during the ceremony.
"It's nice," Peeta says waveringly. "Just not what I had in mind."
"I still think it's too much," Katniss says. They have agreed to make things as low key and as casual as they possibly can, and all of the venues they have searched so far have been far too grandiose for what they have in mind.
"Next," Peeta says with a laugh. "Now I can see why Gale and Neil were so meticulous about everything."
"This is another garden, but it's a lot smaller," Katniss says.
"I like that fountain," Peeta says, taking in the picture. "Do you think they'd let us get married right there?"
"Why not?" Katniss asks. "We are paying for it, aren't we?"
"Yeah." Peeta smiles and nods approvingly at the picture. "Keep that one open, let's look at the last one."
"This one is my favorite," Katniss says. "It's small, but the way it's set up I think it would be perfect." She scrolls down to the picture which looks like it was taken as the sun was setting. Couches and white sand cover the area. Off to one side there is an elegant firepit, and across from it, a small man-made waterfall.
"What about dinner?" Peeta asks. "There doesn't look like there's anywhere for people to eat."
"It's on the other side," Katniss explains. She scrolls down to a second picture of a large pavilion with dining tables set up and in the middle, a large dance floor.
"So we can have dinner and dancing there, and mingling on the other side so people don't have to scream in order to talk," Peeta says out loud.
"That was my thought, too," Katniss says excitedly. "I want everyone to be comfortable and forget they're at a wedding."
Katniss and Peeta look at each other and immediately they know that they need to visit this one. Every place they have looked at has been nice, but this one just felt right. Peeta nods, but says nothing, and Katniss takes this as his silent approval - the green light.
"Find the phone number," Peeta says, pulling his phone from his pocket.
Three days later they are visiting and quickly booking the venue, and at the same time choosing a wedding date of August 9th, 2014, a little less than a year away.
"We sent out the save the date cards last week," Peeta adds. "You should have gotten yours by now."
"Oh we got ours. 'Save the date: August 9th, 2014'" Neil recites. "Did you draw that picture on the card, Peeta?"
"Yeah, did you like it?" Peeta asks. There's an edge of sarcasm in his voice. He had said Neil was going to bring this up when they sent the cards out.
"Sure, but usually couples put pictures of themselves on the card instead of just cartoon drawings of them," Neil teases.
"Well Katniss thinks engagement photos are dorky," Peeta reveals, silencing the whole table.
"I mean, we could have taken some really beautiful shots in the snow like you and Gale did..." Katniss adds.
The table stays silent for a long time until finally, Peeta bursts into laughter. The pictures of Gale and Neil were nice and fit them, but if Neil is going to make fun of them for their approach, Katniss and Peeta are going to tease them, too.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Peeta says between gasps. "They were very nice pictures."
Katniss tries to stifle her own laughter, but the longer Gale and Neil stay silent, the less she can hold back and she ends up laughing loudly, burying her face in Peeta's shoulder to try to silence it.
Thankfully, after a few more seconds Gale and Neil join in on the laughter, too.
"Gale didn't want to do any of those poses," Neil admits. "But the photographer made us. He kept saying 'You do the poses I tell you, and I'll make them great!', like he knew what we were comfortable with better than we did." Gale starts laughing even harder at Neil's impression of the old man.
"I even got into an argument with him over some of the poses, but we were powerless and he already cashed our check," Gale shrugs. "That's why we were so picky with a wedding photographer. The first thing we asked her was if we could veto some of her directions."
"Let's be sure not to use that guy for our wedding," Katniss whispers to Peeta, causing him to get that goofy smile on his face that he does every time Katniss brings it up.
Beyond securing a venue and choosing a date, the planning has been minimal, so far. They both agreed that they would have a very small guest list - family and close friends only. Everything else is still up in the air.
Their jobs have been very demanding. Not only has Peeta started his new job, but Katniss received another promotion less than two months ago. Between work, therapy, and finding time for each other, wedding planning has been an afterthought.
"You'd better find a photographer soon, they schedule pretty far in advance," Gale warns.
"I know," Katniss snaps. She knows Gale and Neil mean well, but it still agitated her at times. "We just haven't had time to think about it."
Gale opens his mouth to say something else, but lucky for him the waitress arrives with their burgers. After Peeta and Neil go up for another round of soup and salad, they dig into their meal without another word about the wedding, and Katniss can't be more relieved.
The spare room is quiet as Peeta sits on a stool in the corner in front of his easel. Taped to it is a picture of the trees that Katniss took on her hike with Gale and Neil. He has been working on painting it for the last few weeks, and once it is finished they plan to hang it above the new loveseat they bought for the room.
What was once a bare, boring room has become a haven for the two of them. Katniss sits on the brown loveseat with her legs curled under her and her laptop balancing on her thigh as she surfs the web.
"Sorry the movie was shitty," Peeta says, breaking the comfortable silence that had been filling the room.
"It's fine, I needed a nap anyway," Katniss chuckles. "We'll just have to do a better job of reading up on what movie we're thinking about seeing next time."
"That was the worst movie I've seen since Battlefield Earth," Peeta complains.
"I thought you fell asleep?" Katniss says, confused.
"No, I stayed awake to watch it, hoping it'd get better but it never did," Peeta explains with a sign.
Katniss closes her laptop and looks at Peeta sympathetically. He has been working so hard and is so proud of his new job, he barely has time to sleep lately. Peeta catches Katniss staring at him and he smiles weakly.
"Come here," Katniss says, stretching her arms out in his direction. Peeta wastes no time putting his paintbrush down in the cup of water in front of him and moving to sit next to Katniss on the loveseat.
Katniss shifts her body, placing her laptop on the arm of the couch and bringing her legs up to sit cross-legged. Gently, she pulls Peeta toward her and kisses his lips gently. "Lie down," she urges.
Peeta moves his head down to rest in Katniss's lap and curls up. It's a tight fit on the loveseat, but Peeta doesn't seem to mind. The same comfortable silence from earlier falls over the room once again as Katniss resumes using her laptop. One hand moves across the touchpad while the other lightly rakes through Peeta's hair.
Suddenly, something catches Katniss's eye and she gasps quietly to herself. Not wanting to disturb Peeta, Katniss sits on the webpage, staring at the screen for several minutes as she listens to Peeta's even breathing indicating that he has, in fact, fallen asleep.
"Peeta," Katniss says gently, ruffling his hair with her hand to try to rouse him. "Peeta, look at this." Peeta groans but lifts his head from Katniss's lap, blinking several times as he tries to focus his eyes on the screen in front of him. "Do you like that?"
On the screen is a strapless ivory dress.
"It's beautiful," Peeta says. "But I think it'd look better on you."
Katniss smiles at his joke. "I think that's the one I want."
"Shouldn't you try it on first? I've seen those TLC shows," Peeta asks.
"I can order it now and if I don't like it, I have time to send it back and start over," Katniss explains. "I really don't want to do the trying on dresses thing."
"I didn't expect you would." Peeta smiles and looks at the picture again. He squints his eyes a bit as though he's taking the time to imagine Katniss wearing it. His smile grows wider as he nods, so wide that Katniss fears it'll get stuck that way. "Do it," he says, still nodding.
Peeta watches intently as Katniss goes through the ordering process for the dress. Carefully she chooses the size and inputs the address. When she reaches the checkout screen, she moves to get her purse, but Peeta grabs her arms and stops her. He shifts upward and pulls his wallet from his back pocket and takes his debit card from inside.
"Peeta, no," Katniss begins to argue, but is cut off when Peeta kisses her gently and pushes the card into her hand.
Peeta rests his forehead against hers and sighs. "Please let me do this for you."
Katniss thinks about it. All of the paintings Peeta has sold and continued to sell because he finally feels confident enough to do it, the way he has dug himself out of debt little by little and has started a job where he doesn't have to beg strangers to donate money for him to get paid. She nods, understanding.
"But only if you let me buy what you wear," Katniss says.
Peeta laughs, his breath tickling Katniss's face. "I think that sounds like a fair deal."
Katniss pulls away and focuses back on the screen, putting in the required information and checking out.
"Well," Katniss says with a sigh. "I think I just bought my wedding dress."
"That was kind of anticlimactic, if I'm being honest," Peeta jokes.
"I didn't even hear choirs sing." Katniss closes her laptop and sets it down on the floor. Peeta moves back to his position in her lap and she resumes running her fingers through his hair. She lets her head fall back onto the couch and she closes her eyes as relaxation begins to wash over her.
Katniss begins to think about how things are beginning to fall into place in ways she never expected them to. It's not what she would have ever pictured for herself, but at the same time, it feels right.
"How did you know that becoming a teacher was where your heart was?" Katniss asks suddenly, waking Peeta once again.
"What?" Peeta says groggily.
Katniss feels bad for bothering him a second time, but this is something she has to know. "When you decided to become a teacher, how did you know that's what you wanted?"
"Well, you know I volunteered at the library teaching an art class one summer when I was home from college," Peeta begins. Katniss nods, remembering the story. "When I was doing that instead of working at the bakery, I would wake up every single day and feel excited about what I was going to do. There was something about the looks on the kids' faces when they finished a project that made me feel good. Like I had some part in shaping who they would become in some way. Nothing ever felt forced. It always felt right to me and I knew then that I wanted to bring these things into kids' lives for a long time to come."
"I thought so," Katniss says thoughtfully.
Peeta looks at her quizzically. "What do you mean?"
Katniss bites the inside of her cheek. She knows it's time she talk to Peeta about this. "I've been thinking alot lately. Well, longer than lately. Since earlier in the year, really." She meets Peeta's eyes and he raises his eyebrows slightly, waiting for her to finish. "I've been thinking about maybe going back to school."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Peeta asks immediately.
"I didn't want to say something that could potentially become empty words. I wanted to know for sure that this was what I wanted before I dragged you into it," Katniss tries to explain. She knows there is no excuse for not saying anything to Peeta.
Peeta nods and doesn't press the issue. "What are you thinking about doing?"
"Hang on a second," Katniss says. She gets up from the loveseat and disappears out the door, returning moments later with papers in her hand. She sits back down and hands them to Peeta. "Prim brought these pamphlets to me back in April when she met us at the park. It's information on distance learning opportunities where she goes to school. I had been looking it up online, but I wanted information that I could hold. It made it real, to me. That probably sounds stupid."
"It doesn't," Peeta shakes his head and looks through the pamphlets Katniss has handed him. "Music therapy?"
"Yeah." Peeta looks at Katniss, waiting for her to elaborate. "I saw how much simply singing to you helps you, and that's only the beginning of it. I thought about all of the people I could help and all of the different ways I could help them if i did this. I want to give others the chance to heal, because we wouldn't be here right now if it weren't for the chances we were given."
Peeta smiles at her and looks back down at the pamphlets. "I think this sounds great, Katniss."
"So you support me with this?" Katniss asks.
"As long as this is what you really want, of course I do," Peeta replies. "You'll have to interact with a lot of people every day, are you ready for that?"
"I'm never ready for that," Katniss laughs. "But if it's with the intention of helping them, I can do it."
"When did you want to start?"
"I thought about starting this spring. I could get my bachelors degree while still working where I am now," Katniss explains.
"Starting school, working full time, and planning a wedding?" Peeta points out. "I'm not trying to discourage you, I'm just being realistic."
"I know," Katniss counters. "I thought about that, but why wait? The sooner I start, the sooner I finish and then we can figure out what to do when I have to start my internship."
Peeta chews on his lip. Katniss can tell that this was only going to make their suddenly busy lives even busier, but he doesn't argue. "We'll make it work."
"I can even go for my masters online if I wanted to later," Katniss says.
"That's pretty ambitious," Peeta laughs. He smiles and nods in the direction of the pamphlets.
Katniss lets out a sigh of relief. She has been keeping that a secret for so long. She didn't even tell Prim exactly why she wanted the pamphlets, and Prim knew not to ask. Now that she has told Peeta, she feels so much better. His support was what she needed to make this decision once and for all, and his vow to make it work between both of their jobs, planning a wedding, and then an impending internship makes things a little less scary.
She removes the pamphlets from Peeta's hands and sets them down on top of her laptop. She moves back and finds Peeta's lips, kissing him deeply trying to convey every last thank you for everything. The love, the support, and the faith he has in her that she can do this - that they can do it.