So sorry for the six month wait! Hopefully this starts to make up for it...
Katniss didn't realize it was morning until the primary florescent lights flickered to life in the hallway outside of the research lab. The room was in the center of the building, and the only windows were interior, overlooking the hallway and atrium, instead of the early morning sun.
Her neck was sore from leaning over her book, and her eyes felt tired, even though her mind was wide awake.
Something began to buzz in her pocket, rattling the seat of her chair with an intrusive hum. Her breath quickened, and she sat up, alert, bracing herself against the edge of her desk. It was her phone, she realized, letting out a relieved sigh. Fishing it from her pocket, she clicked the screen to life.
There were several missed calls – all from Peeta, mixed with a series of text messages – also from him. Her lips creased into a frown as she scrolled through the alerts, wondering how she hadn't noticed the vibrations earlier. It didn't matter though, she still probably wouldn't have answered.
She opened the most recent text:
Can we talk? Please?
She stared at the words on the screen until the letters blurred together into nothing and the light on the screen went blank.
The lock on the door beeped and then clicked, opening to a handful of research assistants who scattered to their workbenches, filling the room with idle typing and soft chatter.
Katniss tucked her chair closer to her desk, folding her arms around herself in an attempt to become invisible. She always felt out of place around the other assistants, but in this moment, the contrast was excruciating. Her hair was matted around her tired face and her clothes were rumpled from being slept in. She looked almost savage amongst them. Who was she kidding? She was.
Although nobody looked up to acknowledge her, she felt judged, and she couldn't sit there a moment longer. She scooped her books from her desk hastily and hurried towards the door. It was too early for the halls to be crowded, and those who were around were in class, yet Katniss kept her head bowed, feeling as if a thousand eyes were watching her.
She wore her shame, broadcasting for the world to see. She was dirty, broken, and the dark purple rings around her wrists were the chains she bore. Memories from the night before flooded her mind, so vivid that she wondered if any of it had actually happened.
Her phone buzzed again and she powered it off before boarding the bus that would take her back to her row house.
Light flooded through every window of her small house, leaving each room brighter than she had ever seen. She shielded her eyes to abate the blinding glare, and pulled down the heavy shades until she was shrouded in the comfort of darkness.
Not even bothering to remove her jacket or shoes, she crawled into her bed and wrapped herself in her clean, warm comforter. She didn't want to deal with all the chaos she'd started outside of her door. She was safer there.
Hours passed. The dim light peeking around the shades darkening to night and then morning again. She was lost in time, laying completely still, where she would do the least damage. At some point there was a loud knock at her door, followed by the shrill call of Effie Trinket, which reverberated through the thin walls. She was persistent for nearly an hour, but even Effie's stubbornness couldn't withstand Katniss's complete resignation.
It must have been Thursday, time for her session with Haymitch.
She rolled onto her back to let out a strangled laugh, close to a cry. Haymitch was the last person she wanted to see. He had been right about her all along, and she hated him for it. Her fingers curled into fists and the corners of her eyes stung with the tears that crept past her eyelids.
No. She would not be facing Haymitch's righteous smirk. She'd avoid him forever if possible. Even if it meant going back to prison. She never thought the little social experiment that Cinna and Plutarch had thought up was going to work in the first place.
She lifted her comforter over her face and waited for sleep to take her again, but it never came.
Cinna would be disappointed in her. He probably expected this of her. She hated him now too. And Effie, and Plutarch, and Peeta. Especially Peeta.
She wanted to forget about them all, to pretend that the past few weeks didn't exist.
She reached for her phone and powered it back to life. Ignoring, the missed calls, she dialed Gale's familiar number.
"You busy?" she said, skipping the usual pleasantries.
"Rory and Thom are still arguing over the evening's activities," he replied with a gruff chuckle. "How about you Professor Everdeen? You busy writing your Nobel Prize speech or some shit?"
"Hardly." She rolled her bottom lip between her teeth, her eyes scanning her bare walls. "Let's get wasted," she said abruptly.
Gale laughed again. "The Hob?"
She frowned. She doubted Peeta would go there again, but it was a possibility, especially if he was looking for her, as the 20 unanswered messages waiting on her phone implied.
"Not there," she said a bit too eagerly. "Got anything at your place? We can get loaded and watch Rory and Thom play human pinata."
"The Coors is already cold, stop by whenever you'd like."
Katniss groaned when she tried to stand. She'd been in bed for two days straight now, and her muscles ached from neglect. She willed herself to take a shower and change, but only stood unsteadily at the bathroom vanity splashing cold water on her face and up her arms.
Her wrists were a splotchy purple that was tender when she touched them. She opened the drawer beneath the sink and gathered a handful of thick rubber hair ties, rolling them over her hands one by one to wear like bracelets over her bruises. She flinched when she snapped the last one into place, then held out her hands to inspect them.
Her wounds were completely hidden, as if they were never there. She liked it better that way. She left her house, locking the door behind her.
She could hear shouting from Gale's house as she approached from the far side of the street, and his driveway was densely packed with cars. A few guys had already resorted to stripping off their shirts and were wrestling for a crowd of people in the front yard. This usually happened when the Hawthorne boys decided to stay in. Rory would put out word and soon the entire neighborhood came flocking.
Katniss debated turning around. She wasn't in the mood for a crowd, especially one so rowdy. All she really wanted to do was disappear into a couch with a case of Coors.
She lingered on the outskirts of the lawn, observing it quietly from a far.
"Catnip, is that you out there?" Gale called from the front porch. He opened up the screen door, which wobbled on its rusted hinges. His hand came up to cover his brow so he could see her through the darkness.
She waved back before quickly tucking her hand back into her jacket pocket. Gale recognized her hesitation instantly, and hopped down the concrete steps to join her at the sidewalk. He handed her a beer.
"Way to show up late to your own party."
She lifted a brow. "Oh, was this for me?"
He shook his head with a chuckle. "Nah, Rory just doesn't know to keep his mouth shut. Sorry about this. I know you love to be the life of the party."
"It's okay." She accepted the beer he extended to her and cracked open the tab. "How many of these do you have packed in your pockets?" she asked before taking a large swig of the sour liquid.
Gale tapped the lumps in his cargo shorts. "Five or six."
"That's a start," she said and drained the rest of the can. He handed her another one.
"Haven't seen you around much lately. Figured you'd forgotten about all us little people, now that you were some crazy genius."
"I've been busy," she mumbled over the lip of her beer. She licked her lips and toed the empty can she'd dropped on the sidewalk. "But I'm not anymore. I think I'm going to quit... or get fired... whichever comes first."
There was a tense silence that swelled between them, and Katniss tried to ignore it, sipping from her drink to numb her senses.
After a long moment, Gale finally said, "I thought that was the only thing keeping you out of jail."
He looked at her carefully, his lips pressing together tightly as he skated around what she knew he would say. "How's therapy?"
"Another waste of time." She dropped the second empty can and crushed it beneath her boot. "I don't think I'm going anymore."
"Katniss..." he said, his tone warning.
"I don't want to talk about it," she said, then held her hand out for another beer. He pulled another from his pocket and handed it to her reluctantly.
He shook his head, and Katniss mentally added him to her list of people she'd disappointed.
"You're just going to go back to prison?"
Katniss stared at the can beneath her boot and applied more pressure until it was nearly flush with the pavement beneath it. "I could use the vacation."
"Fuck that, Katniss. I'm not going to watch you pull this shit again."
She lifted her red rimmed eyes, leveling him with a fiery glare.
"I'm not built for that lifestyle," she said. "It's not me." She tipped her beer to empty some of it onto the brown grass. "Let's not try to fool anyone. This is what my life is," she said, nodding towards the party, which had now gathered around a card table where they were playing drinking games.
"That's bullshit and you know it." Gale pulled another beer from his pocket and turned it in his hands to read the label. "You're a million times smarter than all of those assholes combined."
"Not you too," she spat, rolling her eyes. "Don't give me that crap. Everyone's been deluded into thinking there's something special about me. Something worth saving, but they're wrong."
She thought of Peeta and the way his eyes sparkled the first time they met. It made her feel less hopeless, like maybe she could change. She wondered how he'd look at her now.
"And when they realize that, they'll be gone, just like everybody else."
She felt Gale's hand close around her shoulder and she flinched at the contact. He pulled her against his chest and she didn't struggle when he wrapped his arms around her. It wasn't until then that she realized she was crying again. She shut her eyes tightly, willing the tears away.
"I'm not going anywhere," he mumbled into her hair.
She sighed, hoping she'd find relief, but didn't. "I know," she said.
"And I'm not going to tell you what to do. I know you'll never listen anyway. I just think it's shitty that you're letting her win."
She blinked, tipping her head back to meet his eye. "Who?"
"You." Gale released her and took a step back. "This is what you do, Katniss. When things don't go your way you shut down." The words stung, hanging heavily in the air between them. "Sometimes I wish you could just get over it," he said, and immediately she could see the regret in his eye.
She wanted to be angry with him, but she hated that part of herself too. It reminded her too much like her mother. She didn't want to be like her.
"It's not that easy," she said.
Gale let out a tired sigh and nodded. Shoving his hands into his pockets he began to back away towards the party. "You want another beer?" he asked.
"I think I'm going to head home," she said, bouncing anxiously on her heels. Suddenly she felt out of place, even here.
Gale didn't try to stop her, but she could feel his eyes watching her as she rounded the block.
She walked briskly up the roads that lead to her row house, bypassing the bus stop that would bring her there more quickly. The burning air in her lungs felt good. It fueled her until it was difficult to breathe.
When she returned to her house, again, she wasn't tired. She sat at the foot of her bed, staring at the books scattered across the floor. There were still some notes she could make on the Solid State Physics text that Plutarch had passed on to her. Even if she decided to bow out of the project, it would be a waste not to at least write down some of her findings.
She reached for the book, but froze, her hand lingering in the air when she spotted Haymitch's book tucked behind it. She lifted Plutarch's book, holding it at arms length for a brief moment before setting it aside if favor of Haymitch's book.
A self help book. She wanted to laugh at the idea. But she wanted to know how someone could do it. Help themselves. She didn't even know where to start.
She flipped through the first few blank page to the dedication page that only read: "Too late."
It was oddly Haymitch like, but at the same time too haunting, too profound. She didn't understand how two simple words could affect her so much.
The book was different from what she had expected. She thought it would be instructional. A step by step guide to fixing her life, or maybe a few sloppy cocktail recipes for self medicating, but instead it read as a story.
It followed a character, only referred to as the hero, who found himself trapped in an arena with 47 other prisoners. The rules of the game were simple. In order to escape, he had to be the last competitor standing.
The arena was completely isolated from civilization, and the only tools provided for survival, came from the bountiful harvest of a golden cornucopia located at the arena's center. The beginning was a blood bath, and half the competitors were wiped out within the first hour.
Things changed as the game went on. Contestants began to align, forming their own tribes to hunt the weaker competitors and extend their survival, but the hero remained alone. He understood the means end of the competition. As the numbers dwindled, there would be no such thing as an ally.
Instead, he took to the woods, building a shelter and fire deep in the protection of the forest. There was a stream nearby that provided him water, but he had no means of finding food. The plants weren't any that he recognized, and all of his attempts to hunt ended in failure. The hero was stubborn though, and attempted to teach himself these skills through trial and error, but the exertion only left him hungrier and too weak to fight back when cornered by the remaining pack.
It was only when another outlying competitor came to his aide that the hero was able to live another day. She excelled at the things the hero lacked in, but she was tired and cold, having no means to build safe shelter. The hero was reluctant to befriend her, but now understood he could not survive without an ally. Still, he remained weary of her.
When only a few contestants remained, his ally became antsy. They could no longer hide if they wanted the game to end. They had to find the upper ground. The hero didn't want to leave the safety of the woods though, he would rather stay in a place he was familiar with. He had to trust her to survive, and so, he agreed to follow her when she took to explore the rest of the arena.
They came across the edge, which was a boundary that repelled whatever touched it with equal and opposite force. There was a seam in the force field, the hero found, and when he ran his spear against it, it made a rip in the fabric. It was an escape.
The hero did not tell his ally though. He had grown used to his life in the arena, and was afraid what was outside of its walls. Instead he decided to return to camp, where he was safe.
They didn't make it far, and were cornered by the last member of the dominate pack. His ally's throat was slit before the hero saw the enemy, and the hero was pushed to the edge of the force field, weaponless and alone.
His opponent hurled his knife towards the hero, and the hero ducked before it could strike him, allowing it to repel against the force field and impale the final contestant.
The hero was the winner and was now free. But he couldn't leave the arena, even when the force fields opened. He returned to the woods and remained in isolation through the rest of his days.
Katniss wondered what Haymitch's arena was. She didn't know much about him at all, besides that he was a surly drunk and part time therapist. But there was something about his story that felt familiar to her, it made her curious.
Through the heavy window shades in her bedroom, she could see that it was morning. It had been two days since she had been to work, and Plutarch was probably furious with her. It would be reasonable enough to pretend she was sick for a few days, but she wasn't ready to go back to work. She wanted to see Haymitch.
She climbed out of bed and moved to the kitchen, where she had the Panem Country transit maps stored in a drawer. She unfolded the worn paper and smoothed it flat over the small Formica counter top. Locating the intersection of her apartment, she followed the bus lines and train stations that would take her to Haymitch's side of town. The map ended at the Beltway though, and Katniss knew his office building was at least 3 exits off the highway that split from it.
It wouldn't be an impossible walk, but it wouldn't be pleasant either. She laced up her boots, cringing at the weathered soles, which wouldn't stand much more use. Her phone was perched on the corner of her mattress and she looked at it, tempted. Gale wouldn't be able to drive her because he was already at work, but Effie would take her.
Katniss scowled. The last thing she wanted to do was ask Effie for help.
She lifted the phone and scrolled through the contact list. If Effie thought that Katniss was opening up to her, she'd probably stand up to Plutarch when he tried to have her fired. That, of course, depended on whether Katniss was even trying to keep her job. She didn't see why not. The research interested her, and if she was going to make an effort to see Haymitch, there was no reason not to uphold all the conditions of her release.
She slipped her phone in her pocket and hurried towards the door. The bus on the P.I.T. line was pulling up just as she reached the sidewalk. She flashed her employee ID and climbed down the aisle to an empty row of seats.
It was 7AM when she got there, but Effie was already behind her desk, typing something on her keyboard at a perfect 95 words per minute. Katniss stood awkwardly in the doorway, unsure of how to address her. She began to tap lightly on the door frame.
Effie's eyebrows lifted in acknowledgment, but she continued to type a few more words, her fingers moving furiously across the keys before stilling.
Her eyes widened when she recognized that Katniss was her visitor.
"Where have you been?" she demanded. She pushed back from her desk and stood tall on her stilettos. "I tried to call a hundred times, and there was no one at the address you have on file, do you even live there?"
Katniss braced herself to be reprimanded, standing numbly with a cowering nod.
"Katniss, you are under my and Doctor Heavensbee's care. We are responsible for you, and this type of behavior reflects poorly on us."
"I was sick," she mumbled, and when the words tumbled out of her mouth it didn't seem like a lie.
Effie faltered in her anger, and she lowered her voice to something more gentle. "Call next time, please." She sat down and returned to her typing.
But Katniss wasn't finished. She locked her fingers together tightly and stared intensely at her hands. "What about the session I missed?"
Effie looked up from her monitor. "You can make it up on Tuesday," she said dismissively.
That was four days away. Katniss couldn't wait that long. She'd change her mind before then and never look back. "I really need to see him," she said, unable to hide the desperation in her voice.
Effie stopped typing again, her gaze lingering on Katniss with quiet contemplation before she looked at the thin gold watch around her wrist. "He won't be up at this hour," she said, her frown genuine. She shuffled around a few things on her desk then picked up her large purse. "We can get breakfast first, have you eaten?"
She hadn't, and as if on cue, her stomach growled ravenously.
Effie took her to a cafe on campus, and Katniss feasted on a large stack of pancakes, a plate overflowing with scrambled eggs, and six strips of bacon, while Effie nibbled delicately on a small fruit cup. Katniss emptied her orange juice in two large gulps, sending a stream of orange dribble down her chin. She swiped the back of her sleeve across her face, causing Effie to grimace and clear her throat. It made her feel embarrassed, and Katniss bowed her head sheepishly, dabbing at the corner of her mouth with the napkin she'd neglected.
At 9:30 they pulled into Haymitch's building. There weren't any classes on Friday and it was nearly abandoned. Katniss pushed open his office door with a strangled creak.
"You're late," Haymitch said, looking up from his cluttered desk. He seemed to look her over for a moment, a somewhat pleasant grin creasing his mouth. "Has anyone told you that you look lovely today?"
Katniss eyed him skeptically, her scowl deepening at his cheerfulness. "No, why?" she said after a moment.
"Good," he said. "Because if they did, they're lying."
She traced the deep purple rings that circled her eyes, evidence of the sleep that had eluded her the nights before. She'd showered and combed her hair at least, which was a start.
"Trouble with the boy?" he said, and he didn't look amused anymore.
Peeta. Why had she felt compelled to tell Haymitch about him. Things were better when she kept Peeta to herself.
She sat in the chair across from Haymitch's desk. "He's not who I thought he was." She looked at her hands in her lap. The bruises on her wrists were hidden beneath her jacket sleeves, but she could still see them. She didn't want to see them.
"That's unfortunate, since you've been so honest with him," Haymitch said wryly.
Katniss glared at him, her jaw setting defiantly. She couldn't get sidetracked. "I read your book," she said.
"Really? About time someone did."
"What was the arena?" she asked, straight to the point.
Haymitch tapped his fingers against his desk with a smirk. "You're supposed to figure that out on your own. Hence the self help." He flipped open her file, glancing it at it briefly. "Is Finch Street east of 12th Avenue?"
That was her address. She nodded.
"I grew up on Branta."
Katniss recognized the street, it was a few blocks north of hers, with the same type of dilapidated row houses.
"Sae still behind the bar over at the Hob?"
"Best mystery stew in town," she said, with a faint laugh. She narrowed her eyes curiously, leaning forward in her chair slightly. "Were you... in the system too?"
"Sorry sweetheart," he said, closing her file, "my parents managed to hang on to me."
She slumped her shoulders, deflated. She wasn't sure why she felt disappointed by this. "It's just... your book."
"What did you think the book was about?"
She thought about the story again. The hero alone in the woods. It sounded nice. She ran her fingers along the lacquered arm rest. The grain of the wood looked like pine, the kind that surrounded her father's cabin in the forest. He'd gather pine needles and cinnamon sticks and make them tea in the winter. None of it was real though, she had to let it go. She didn't know how.
"Who's the ally?" she asked.
"Effie tells me you haven't been showing up to work."
"I asked you a question," she said stubbornly. She needed to know.
"And I'm talking about something else. Keep up," he said, snapping his finger.
"I wasn't feeling well," she mumbled.
"Sure you weren't."
Katniss bit her lip and turned her attention to the hem of her jacket, there was a patch that was slightly frayed and she rolled it under to hide it. It was quiet for a while.
"For someone who couldn't wait until Tuesday, you're awfully talkative." Haymitch forced open the bottom drawer of his desk and fixed himself a drink. He finished it in one sip and poured a second. "You said something about the boy."
"We're not seeing each other anymore."
"He go running?"
She turned her eyes at him with a piercing glare. "I took preemptive measures."
"How noble." He tipped back the second drink then set his glass aside.
"I thought he was different, but he wasn't," she said. She had tainted and ruined him, just like everyone else.
"You seem to spend a lot of time worrying about how other people will judge you. You ever wonder if maybe you're guilty of the same thing?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Haymitch sighed tiredly and leaned his elbows against his desk. "I realize life has dealt you a shitty hand. Nobody's going to challenge that. The question is, are you ready to grow past it?"
She eyed the bottle of whiskey on his desk. "Have you?"
"You don't want to end up like me."
"Aren't you supposed to be my mentor? Why am I even listening to you?"
He dropped the bottle back into the drawer and shut it. "I hope you're not," he said.
Her eyes lingered on the drawer. "A guy finds a girl who makes him less miserable and then he screws it up," she said. "That's what your book is about."
"Sounds like someone's projecting," he said.
"Peeta and I had an argument," she said carefully. "Things got kind of ugly."
"Do you know what you were upset about?" She shook her head. "Do you know what he was upset about?" She shook her head again. "Then you should both figure it out. It's called empathy."
"You're a shining example," she said icily.
Haymitch looked down at her wrists, her sleeves had rolled up slightly, revealing the thick hair ties that covered them. She pulled down her sleeves hastily.
"Anything else you want to talk about?" he said. The concern in his voice made her nervous, and she started to panic. If she told him about what had happened with Peeta, he'd tell her not to see him anymore. He'd take him away. She didn't want him to.
She tucked her hands beneath her thighs and shook her head.
"Okay," he said, but there was still suspicion in his eye. He glanced at the clock. "Time's up."
She was relieved to escape his questioning, and hurried towards the door.
"The ally isn't just one person," he said before she could leave. "There are other people out there that want to see you succeed. Don't ask me why."
Katniss felt numb at the words, but she couldn't deny them. There were all these opportunities speeding past her that she had never experienced before. She didn't know how to react to them all. She had no idea of how to break out of her force field.
She went downstairs, where Effie was waiting in her car.
"Here," Effie said, and pushed an envelope into her hand.
Katniss pulled the car door behind her and buckled her seat belt. "What is this?"
She read the P.I.T. address stamped on the corner, and immediately felt dread. It was probably her pink slip for ducking out of work without notice.
"It's your paycheck. They're distributed on Thursdays, and you hadn't set up your direct deposit, so it came to my office."
Katniss's fingers cut through the envelope flap in record time, and she frantically unfolded the pay stub. $600. She had never seen so much money in her life.
"It's your weekly stipend," Effie elaborated. "There's an honor system. We assume you put in the 40 hours of work, and we don't ask questions when you don't show up for three days."
The relief Katniss felt was quickly ebbed as she read over the printing on the paper. The check was a piece of paper. What was she supposed to do with a piece of paper?
"I was hoping for cash," she grimaced
Effie laughed. "We can't pay you that way! All that money lying around, you couldn't keep track of it. We'll take you to the bank and you can cash it there."
She felt ashamed. "I don't have a bank account," she said lowly.
Effie blinked, her perplexed expression softening into recognition. "We'll go to the grocery store then," she said, her voice more gentle. "I think they cash them there."
Katniss shifted uncomfortably in her seat and looked out the window. "Can we buy shoes too?" she said, slipping her feet further beneath the dashboard so that Effie couldn't see the condition of her boots.
Effie hesitated for a moment. Perhaps she was stunned at Katniss's request, but soon a warm smile was slanting her perfectly painted lips. "Of course," she said.
They pulled into the closest supermarket parking lot, and Katniss watched in awe as the register attendant counted out a thick stack of $20 bills. She carded her fingers through it, letting it fan the scent of ink and paper against her nose. She bought 5 candy bars at the checkout counter, just because she could, savoring each one in the car as they drove to a low end department store.
There were too many shoes to count, and Katniss felt overwhelmed by the never ending sea of aisles. She flipped over a digital price tag beneath a pair and gasped at the cost. She couldn't spend $70 on shoes, even with the $600 burning in her pocket. Frantically, she flipped over a few more price tags, hoping to find something cheaper.
"Here," Effie said, guiding her to the clearance rack. She held up a pair of boots that were similar to the ones she was wearing. They were obviously fake leather, except unlike hers, these had a zipper running up the insole. "They're a little out of season," Effie said with a slight grimace, before extending them to Katniss. "But still, good as new."
Katniss slipped them on. They were a half a size too big, but she could wear two pairs of socks to make them fit more snug, and according to the sticker on the bottom, they were only $15.
"Thank you," Katniss said, allowing herself to smile.
Effie helped her pick out a pair of sneakers and nice looking loafers to wear to work too. Then a few pairs of jeans that actually fit, some dress pants, and blouses that flattered her shape. Katniss couldn't remember the last time she bought clothing new, and she reveled in the soft feel of the fabric, reaching out to touch every rack they passed.
Effie was a professional at this. She had an eye for what would fit Katniss best, and would rattle off all the discount percentages, stacking up multiple deals so the clothing cost almost nothing at all. Katniss was in awe of her talents, and didn't even protest when she slipped some undergarments into the cart with a wink. She left the store with two large shopping bags and only $150 missing from her pocket.
"We can set up a bank account for you next week, if you'd like," Effie said, as she drove Katniss back to her house. "They'll give you a debit card too and you can take out the money whenever you need it."
Katniss nodded, but she didn't know what to say. She was silent as they rolled up to her curb, and she could only flash Effie a grateful smile as she climbed out of the car.
Inside, she spread out each new piece of clothing across her mattress and ran her fingers across the material. She wasn't ready to wear them yet. They were too perfect to be soiled. She folded them up into a neat pile and tucked them back in the shopping bags, which she placed in the corner of her bedroom.
She allowed herself to put on her new boots though, and she flexed her feet against the solid sole. These would be comfortable to wear, and she could walk 100 miles in them without her arches getting sore.
She went outside to test them. She would walk a few blocks in them until they were molded to her feet, she decided. Then she'd stop at one of the alluring restaurants on the edge of town that always taunted her with their savory scent and she'd buy a hot meal. That would be her reward for today.
But when she began her walk, her feet carried her past the row of restaurants, and past most of town, through the city and all the way to Capitol University, stopping right outside of Peeta's dorm.
She wanted to see him. She couldn't deny herself of that anymore.
Katniss sat perched on the back of a bench, her feet were sore from the new shoes and probably blistered beneath her socks. She placed them on the seat of the bench and tucked her knees to her chest to let them rest. It had been a long walk, and the sun had already crept behind the taller buildings of the Panem skyline, a brisk breeze sweeping by that caused her to shiver, and wrap her arms around her legs more tightly.
Her eyes lingered on the third row of windows of the James Merchant building. She couldn't remember which room was Peeta's, but if her count of the windows was correct, it was the fourth one in. Dark, with the window open a jar.
She wondered if he was in there. If he was sleeping or hiding away from the world just as she had been. She shook her head, moving to stand from the bench. He probably wasn't even there. All of this was a waste of time.
She shoved her hands in her coat pockets and followed the cobblestone path that led to the subway station, hurrying past a large crowd of students with her head bowed.
She glanced over her shoulder to inspect the crowd. Her pace quickened when she spotted Peeta, already pushing through the throngs of people that filled the courtyard with activity. He caught up with her quickly though, and she paused when he fell in step with her.
"Hey," she nodded shortly.
"Hey," he said. He grinned at her shyly, quickly dropping his gaze to the plush, green grass beneath his sneakers. "What are you doing here?" He looked at her again, as if to be sure she was real.
She didn't know what to say. She couldn't admit that she came to see him. That sort of confession seemed too personal. It wasn't something she was ready to share.
"I figured I'd never see you again," he said when she didn't answer. "You've done a good job avoiding me."
"I needed some time."
It was quiet where they stood, even though the courtyard between the dorm buildings was still crowded with students returning from class. Peeta scratched at his temple, his eyes lingering on her although she refused to look at him.
"I – um. I just wanted to apologize for what happened the other night," he said.
Her eyes widened. She didn't want to talk about or think about the other night. Not now. Yet here he was, discussing in front of anyone who passed by.
"I mean I like you, you like me, what's the big deal?" He tried to mask the tension with an uncomfortable chuckle. "I don't – I don't know why I flipped out about it."
He ran his hands through his hair roughly, and Katniss took the opportunity to glance at him quickly. His eyes were red and unfocused, but he didn't look tired. He was bouncing on his heels with this uncontainable energy that seemed to make his hands fidget constantly. He was touching his hair, adjusting his glasses, rolling his sleeves up and down his forearm. She wanted to still him, his anxiousness was becoming contagious.
"Maybe I do know why I flipped out, but it's not because of you, I swear – not that that's any sort of excuse, because there isn't one."
He was talking too quickly, it was making her nervous.
"It was my fault," she said suddenly, catching him off guard. "It was me. I screwed up. I don't..." she didn't know what to say. She kicked her boot against the seam of the lawn and walkway. "I can't explain."
He blinked and took a few calming breaths, frowning deeply.
"Look," he said more slowly. "Could we maybe go someplace? To talk?"
Her eyes darted towards his bedroom window and she inadvertently touched the hidden bruises on her wrist. She wasn't sure she was ready to go back there.
Peeta seemed to sense this, his features plagued with guilt, before his eyes turned frantic. He probably thought she was ready to bolt again, and she'd be lying if she said she wasn't thinking it.
"Have you eaten? There's this pizza place... well more like a bowling alley – but it's the best pizza in town, I swear, and on Friday night's they have $2 pitchers of PBR, which is probably more than the regular price, come to think of it..."
Katniss thought of her conversation with Haymitch. If she wanted to build any sort of meaningful relationship, she'd have to learn to empathize instead of immediately pass judgment. Hadn't that been the reason she came to see him in the first place? To figure things out.
"Okay," she said.
Apologies for the lack of Peeta, perhaps that's why this was so difficult to get out! I promise, the next chapter starts Peeta's big arc, and I'm really excited/nervous about it. Thank you so much to everyone that has stuck around! I'm on tumblr as absnow if you ever need me.