Katniss let out a long breath, her phone clamped to her ear. She listened hard as the ringing continued, waiting for her best friend to answer. She imagined him staring at his screen as "Catnip" flashed over the generic screensaver he'd insisted on keeping. Why would I bother with finding one? He'd asked. It's already been done for me.
"Katniss." His voice came abruptly, breaking her from her thoughts.
"Long time, no speak." She forced a smile, hoping he would hear it. "How've you been?"
"Yeah." She heard him exhale. "Good."
"Looks like you've been busy…I saw the article about him and Johanna Mason."
"Oh yeah? Prim got you reading all that garbage now?"
"Something like that."
She faltered, several beats of silence passing. "…I'm sorry I haven't called. It was a dick move."
"…Actually, hanging up on me was the dick move. Not calling me for a week afterwards was more or less a continuation."
"Yeah…I know, Gale. I'm sorry. I was having a shit of a day and I just couldn't handle arguing with you on top of it all. I wanted to call back straight away…but I knew I'd fucked up. Then the longer it got, the harder it was…"
"That's a shitty excuse, Everdeen."
"…Did the extended silence at least give you time to think about what I said?"
"…And you're staying."
"It's my job, Gale. I worked bloody hard to get here and I can't throw it away. I won't." she launched into her prepared diatribe, desperate to convince her best friend she was right before he had a second to consider the alternative. "I know you're worried about me and I appreciate it – I do. But everything is really great. I actually think you'd really like Finnick and Cato…"
"And the whole romance thing was a flash in the pan. It's nothing. I miss home and I wish we saw more of each other, but I'm good here. So: yes, I'm staying."
He sighed, dejected. "It's your life; your decision."
Katniss smiled grimly. "Thanks."
"And I suppose if anyone could handle themselves out there it's you…I just—"
A shrill chime sounded in her ear, cutting him off.
"Sorry – what?"
"I just wanted to—"
Katniss looked at the screen.
Does this guy have a tracking system or something?!
"Sorry Gale I have to go – Beetee is calling."
A frustrated sigh. "Colour me surprised."
Katniss fought to ignore the sting in his voice. "I'll call soon. Promise."
She switched to the new incoming call. "Mr Beetee! Impeccable timing as always."
"I do what I can, Miss Everdeen." Her manager chuckled, oblivious to her sarcasm. "Excellent work with the Daily District by the way – it seems Peetanna is all anyone can talk about!"
"Yes, yes. Peeta and Johanna. Peetanna. It's a couple name. Do keep up, Miss Everdeen."
You've got to be shitting me.
"As I was saying, they're the talk of Panem. Every district is hooked! Mockingjay's ticket sales have gone through the roof! I do believe if this continues we can move our tour to the Capitol! Of course, the upcoming Capitol Corner interview will be another great boost—"
"Capitol Corner interview…what—"
"The interview with Caesar Flickerman. On Capitol Corner. Tuesday night. Honestly Miss Everdeen, you're quite off your game today. I emailed you two hours ago."
"Right. Sorry, sir. It shouldn't be a problem. Cato may need to cut his weekend in District 4 short, but—"
"Why ever for? I dare say so long as Peeta and Johanna are both in attendance Mr Flickerman will be more than satisfied."
There was a pause as Katniss let his words sink in. Peeta and Johanna would be interviewed. Together. As a couple. The days of hiding their faces from the cameras as they made calculated escapes were quickly over. Now their displays of affection would be public - proclaimed, even.
Oh, the fucking irony.
"Does Peeta know?"
The abruptness of her question seemed to fluster the man. "Oh, well. Yes, he does. That's actually why I'm calling."
You mean there was a reason this time?
"It seems Mr Mellark is not, uh…receptive…to the idea."
"He said no?"
"Well his choice of words was much more colourful than that; body parts combined with expletives…new locations for said body parts…but I do believe he essentially declined, yes."
Katniss suppressed a smile. "I see."
"I'm sure I don't need to express to you how important this is for Mockingjay, Miss Everdeen. Please see to it that he's thrilled to be there."
The line went dead, leaving Katniss with her thoughts. She sat quietly on the edge of her bed, her thoughts so loud she didn't dare try and compete.
First, there was Gale. She had called, and he had answered.
That's a good sign.
Of course, he'd also chosen to toss aside the nickname he'd had for her since the day they met.
Not such a good sign.
She'd been able to explain; or at least able to try and explain her reasons for wanting to stay. And he'd relented. He'd even agreed.
But then the very thing they'd argued about had gotten in the way – again – and she'd had to cut him off. They were supposed to always be there for each other – but lately she hadn't been holding up her end of the deal and she knew it. When they were younger and going into the woods was still an unknown danger, they'd been forced to rely on one another. Katniss had been sure that when the woods stopped being their primary provider that their alliance would end. Turned out she was wrong - at some stage during those years spent alone hunting and gathering for their families, their mutual reliance had shifted from compulsory to chosen. One day, instead of showing up to her house with an un-plucked turkey hanging from his pelt, he brought a loaf of bread and a block of cheese – purchased with his first paycheck. That was the moment she realized that Gale Hawthorne was more to her than a survival tool.
And it had been that way ever since: them against the Districts.
Until I fucked off.
A clang from downstairs followed by loud expletives interrupted, forcing her back to the present.
And then there's that…
"For fuck's sake you fucking piece of shit! Just fucking stay there!"
The topmost iron pot swayed defiantly, challenging Peeta's demand. He slammed the cupboard door and moved back to the island bench where a narrow baking tray – the catalyst for his kitchen mayhem – waited innocently.
"Did you win?"
His head snapped up at the sound of her voice. It was the first time he'd heard it since their argument about Johanna. Katniss leant against the doorframe, her arms folded. A tight smile played on her lips, though her eyes were still cautious.
"Uh – yeah. Showed them who was boss."
She nodded but didn't move. "Beetee called."
"What did he have to say?"
"He wanted me to convince you to do the Capitol Corner interview with Johanna."
Peeta leant forward, his hands splayed on the counter. "I hope you told him thanks but no thanks."
She snorted. "Of course I didn't. Though why you did is beyond me. An interview with Panem's newest Power Couple is exactly what Mockingjay needs. I'm not sure why it's even such a big deal for you."
"Are you serious?" He stared at her, incredulous. "Up until now all it's been is misconstrued video footage of me throwing her out and a free meal with some iffy company. Assumptions have been made – just like everyone wanted – but it's all been speculation." He straightened, his arms waving in the air as he spoke. "But sitting on a stage, staring into a fucking camera and proclaiming my love for Johanna Mason? That's something else entirely."
Katniss didn't flinch. "It's a lie, Peeta. That's it. It's not like you haven't told hundreds before – even to Caesar fucking Flickerman."
The truth in her words stung Peeta, as he was sure she'd intended.
"It's not the fucking same! I keep—"
He saw her straighten in the doorway, ready for his scathing retort.
"You know what? Never mind…I'm sorry." He slumped further towards the bench, defeated. "I've been sorry for a long time…I just haven't had the chance to say it properly. I tried, when you got back – but Johanna was there…" he chanced a glance at her, bolstered by her silence, "I know I fucked up, Katniss. Up on that stage, with all the lights – the pressure got to me. I made a stupid decision. I chose wrong. And I would do anything – anything – to take that night back."
To get you back…
He knew he couldn't; that he didn't deserve it – but something; anything would be better than the nothingness he was forced to endure now.
Katniss stared at the ground, seemingly transfixed. She was silent for so long that he wasn't sure she'd heard him. He'd opened his mouth to repeat his speech in full when she finally spoke.
"I know you're sorry, Peeta." She looked up, her eyes locking onto his. "But it doesn't change anything. It all still happened. And it's more than the denial thing, anyway."
He frowned, uncomprehending.
What else is there?
She sighed. "What about after we broke up? What did you do?" There was no pause this time. "You found the first girl who was willing and able and you fucked the pain away."
"Katniss – no – it wasn't like—"
I was trying to forget…
"Cato said that I was good for you; that I was helping you become a better person." She said angrily, "But from what I can see, you haven't changed at all. You're still running away and blaming everyone else."
Peeta reached out to her but stopped, letting his hand drop to his side. He had wanted to make her understand how much he was sorry – but how could he when it was clear he didn't even know what it was he should be sorry for?
They stared at one another for an age, Katniss apparently out of words and Peeta having too many.
He thought about what Johanna had said; about committing to his decision - enjoying it, even – and baulked. Music was his first love – maybe it would be his last, too. But at this moment, watching her stare at him with a combination of anger, hurt and mistrust, he couldn't comprehend how something so valuable to him could have led here.
Still, if he walked away from the band, there would be nothing. It would be debris and dust, just like his relationship with Katniss. The fight in Peeta left as he realised his distinct lack of options.
"Fine…Tell Beetee I'll do the interview."
Johanna rounded the corner, her shoulder colliding purposefully with Katniss' shoulder blade. "Oh – sorry Kitty-Kat. I didn't see you there."
Katniss gritted her teeth. "Shouldn't you be somewhere? Hair and makeup? Wardrobe?"
Deep underground back in District 7…
She leant against the concrete pillar next to Katniss, ignoring her. "Impressive work there, by the way. When I saw your email confirming this whole shebang I almost didn't believe it."
Both women looked towards the stage where Peeta was sitting patiently on one side of a large red velvet love seat. Two women were hovering above him, applying powder and hair gel simultaneously. He looked absolutely miserable.
"At first I didn't understand how you'd gotten him to say yes…but then it dawned on me: you just used his guilt against him."
Katniss turned to face Johanna, her eyebrow arched. "Excuse me?"
"Oh please, don't act dumb – we both know you're quite the opposite." She straightened, smoothing her hair. "You know screwing things up with you is his biggest regret, like, ever."
"-Not my business?" she finished, "Please. It's all he talks about. Though from the way he describes you, I would've thought you'd be above emotional manipulation."
"You've got your facts completely backwards, Mason." She turned back to the stage, startled to see Peeta watching them.
"I hope so." She moved in front of Katniss, forcing them to make eye contact. "Because from where I'm standing now, you have a genuinely nice guy who's trying his best to atone…and then there's you – the woman dragging out the pain for all it's worth."
"Do you care about him? At all?"
"Surprisingly enough, still none of your fucking business."
"Even if you don't – would it kill you to fucking fake it? Just a bit? The kid made one questionable decision and he's being flogged for it."
"He didn't have to fucking choose in the first place." Katniss spat.
"He didn't know that though, did he?"
Johanna turned and walked towards the stage, her long black dress billowing behind her. She reached the stage, taking a seat beside Peeta. Katniss watched as they launched into a heated conversation, their hushed tones not quite making it all the way to where she was standing.
Becoming vaguely aware of someone standing beside her, she turned. Seneca Crane smiled, bemused, and gestured towards the stage. "She's quite the little charmer."
Katniss jumped, surprised. "Is she?"
He laughed. "Not a member of the Miss Panem fan club then?"
Decidedly not, I'm afraid.
"Of course you are." she blushed, adjusting her clipboard. "I'm Katniss."
"And what brings you to this glorious sound stage tonight?"
She held up her STAFF access pass feebly. "I'm with the band."
"Oh – Mockingjay? Awesome. Are you their manager?"
"More logistics. Budget, bookings – that sort of thing."
Seneca nodded, "And tonight you're babysitting the happy couple?"
"Something like that."
He smiled knowingly. "Pretty out of the blue, don't you think? I always heard rumours that Peeta Mellark was this groupie Lothario – never to be tamed."
You heard right.
"…But now he's been domesticated? And by Johanna Mason, of all people!"
"Yep. Can't you just feel the love?"
"Oh it's absolutely suffocating…perfectly timed too, what with the extended tour coming up…" He winked.
"Is it that transparent?"
"Depends how tonight goes, I'd imagine. Though if anyone can make the Capitol buy into their goo-goo eyes it's Flickerman." He turned to face Katniss, his dark eyes staring at her imploringly. "What about you, Katniss? Anyone you have goo-goo eyes for?"
The poster of you my 17-year-old self plastered above her bed?
"Uh, no. No one."
He smiled and her blush deepened. "Good."
A heavyset man with eyebrows to match made his way over to them, signaling to the movie star to Katniss' left.
"I believe that's my cue." He cocked his head to one side thoughtfully. "I'll tell you what – I'll keep quiet about the lying love birds over there…if you have dinner with me tomorrow night."
Fucking what now?!
Katniss opened her mouth, shocked silence spilling out.
Pull it together, Everdeen!
"In the spirit of not giving you a chance to disappoint me – I'm going to take that silence as a yes."
He leant down and kissed her lightly on the cheek and smiled before walking back down the corridor, leaving Katniss alone.
Well that fucking happened!