Modern AU, I originally wrote this as a one-shot, but realized that there was more to this story. I'm working on having an update soon! Enjoy!
Quote: Turbulence is life force. It is opportunity. Let's love turbulence and use it for change. - Ramsay Clark
Booking tickets last minute was always hit and miss. Sometimes you found an amazing deal and sometimes you were compelled to utilize your seldom used credit card in order to afford it. Even as I gave the woman my card info over the phone, I knew it would take me months to pay off the charge - and that was before I calculated the interest. Ugh.
I am forced to admit (if only to myself) as the cab driver struggles to hoist my carry-on bag out of the yellow trunk that I might have taken my refusal to give the airline even more money to check an extra bag too far. I exchange the handle for a bill and mustered up something I had hoped would pass for a grateful smile, but feels more like a grimace.
I feel eyes on me as I stride through the revolving glass doors and into the airport. After experiencing an unexpected and uncomfortable upgrade on a previous flight, I guess you could say I had dressed the part. My toes were pinched, my waist cinched and my hair singed and I hated the unwanted attention. I can guess what everyone waiting to check into economy thought as I breeze up to the first-class ticket counter. After all, I have spent countless times standing in that insufferable line myself, tapping my foot and envying the people who were done at the counter in no time and onto some lounge for a complementary cocktail and whatever else came with their premier status. For today, I had paid for the privilege and thus earned their scrutiny.
After getting some reading material from a newsstand and slipping it into my personal bag, I head straight for security. Being directed to the quicker, less invasive checkpoint is just another reminder of my atypical status. My attempted beeline for the coffee cart just beyond said checkpoint more closely resembles a stroll thanks to my overstuffed roller. The stress of traveling always gave me a headache and I fish my ibuprofen out of the huge-ass tote that is serving as my second piece of baggage for this particular trip as I wait for my turn to order. I crack the seal on my newly purchased water bottle and take the pills with the reassuring knowledge that they will soon be coupled with enough caffeine to stave off the headache until I can get my hands on a complementary drink of the alcoholic variety.
I carefully choose my seat at the gate: neither too close as to be presumptuous, nor too far away that I would give all the people waiting to board another reason to dislike me beyond principal. The airline desk isn't occupied by attendants yet which means the wait will be longer than I would like, but with my back to the window overlooking the tarmac, I'm better able to observe the people that gather to await the call for boarding with me.
The call for first-class boarding pulls me away from the latest in a series of texts from various people, all of whom are checking to make sure I haven't succumbed to a panic attack and locked myself in a bathroom stall. Again.
In a group text, I suggest that they consider sharing information the next time and inform them of my imminent boarding status before promptly turning off my phone and carelessly tossing it into my bag and making my way, albeit slowly, over to the small line of people, ticket in hand.
By the time I manage to lug my suitcase down the loading bridge, the first-class cabin looks as full as it will be for this particular flight. I'm relieved to find myself in the only pair of seats without another passenger already seated. I pause in the isle as that relief turns to dread as I look more intently at the empty seat next to mine. Being slow to board means there's no one readily available to help me lift my incredibly heavy carry-on bag, they've all settled into their own seats. I'm about to express my frustration at the flight attendant's inability to offer her assistance, surely between us we could manage - when my bag is lifted with little apparent effort from my albeit light grasp and placed handily in the overhead compartment.
I'm more than ready to unleash the frustration that has been building within me since I had to book this damned first class ticket when I'm struck speechless. Without the bag obscuring his face, I'm left facing the most attractive man I've ever seen. Ever.
Something deep inside me, something I hadn't even known was there, quakes.
He's nearest thing to the embodiment of what I would imagine a Greek god to look like in real life as I have ever seen. Sun bronzed skin, cerulean eyes, longer and lighter blond hair than is particularly fashionable these days and upper body strength to boot.
And he's smiling. Shit.
Not sure if I've missed him saying something or - heaven forbid - asking me something, I settle on the safest reply and produce a small smile of my own as I slip between him and the armrest to settle into my own seat near the window. As I do, I notice as he reaches up to secure the overhead bin that his shirt (a T-shirt with the name of a restaurant that I don't recognize) rides up slightly revealing a flash of his toned stomach. Before my gaze can travel any lower, he's dropping into his seat entirely too lightly for a man his size and letting his breath in a puff.
"What did you pack in that thing? It weighs a ton."
He didn't sound mad, just curious. But his voice ... his voice has me letting out a breath I hadn't realized I was holding. His tone matches his countenance: easygoing and unperturbed by his surroundings. Why am I unable to cultivate this attitude? Wait, don't answer that.
Instead of responding with the hostility that I've been told by professionals is ingrained in my personality, I manage to sound adequately contrite when I respond, "I didn't have quite enough to justify checking another bag." I feel the left side of my mouth pull down slightly turning my grimace into something that could pass for a frown, "Thanks for -" I gesture about his head and I'm relieved when his eyes leave mine to glance upwards.
The gravelly quality of his chuckle catches me off guard after the smooth tones of his voice. The sound makes me wonder what his voice would sound like in ... different circumstances. Ugh, I do not need to be thinking about that while gearing up for a flight home. Especially a flight back home.
Luckily the stewardess at the front of the plane picks up the microphone and begins the tried and true speech about plane safety and prevents this conversation - and, more importantly, this train of thought - from continuing. Once it's appropriate to stop pretending to pay attention to her, I reach down and pull out the pack of chewing gum I had bought along with my periodicals and grab myself a piece before grabbing another and holding my palm out to the man sitting to my right. It takes him a long moment before he takes the proffered stick. I heard the wrapper and I notice my hand was a bit unsteady as I reached for one of my magazines.
I don't have to look at him to know he's watching me. He probably has a confused expression on his face; it wasn't a new reaction, a lot of people don't know what to make of me when they first meet me. I don't try to be contradictory, it's just that I'm more comfortable with silent interaction and most people felt bereft without them. I begin flipping through a tabloid that I usually only flip through at the supermarket counter, indulging my love of yellow journalism while waiting for his response. I began to linger on pages for longer periods of time as the plane taxies onto the runway. The extended silence makes it harder to distract myself with celebrity gossip. Eventually I am forced to abandon all pretense of reading and shove the mag into the seat in front of me.
God, I hate this part of flying. The taking off and the landing are always the worst parts. Mid-flight I'm able to pretend it's the same thing as riding a bus or a train or something other than this death trap. Usually the passenger next to me helps by talking annoyingly throughout the horrific experience. But not today. The man sitting next to me today has the decency to keep his mouth shut. Damn it.
Closing my eyes I focus on breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth. I don't think this technique is working. Unconsciously my hands grab the armrests as I feel the plane begin to accelerate. My fingers are numb enough it takes a crucial moment for me to realize that my seat mate has managed to pry my fingers off the armrest between us and entwine our fingers. I'm momentarily startled out of my fear enough to glare over at him, only he's not looking at me. His eyes are closed like mine just were and his head is tilted back against his seat. Only his clenched jaw gives his anxiety away. That and the way his hand spasms around mine as I feel the familiar lurch of the plane leaving the ground. I look to see that his hand has pulled mine to rest on his leg. The digits in my right hand are regaining their ability to feel and I hesitate a moment before returning the pressure with a slight squeeze of my own.
Warmth emanates from that spot where my hand is trapped against his thigh and while I know that this isn't the time or the place, I can't help taking the opportunity to look him over without his knowledge. There's a light dusting of freckles across his flushed cheeks. His eyelashes are impossibly long. The ends of his hair curl ever so slightly. The unsteady movement of the Adam's apple in his thick neck might be the hottest thing I've ever seen. His chest is broad and looks to be made of solid muscle if what's peeking out under his short sleeves and his grip are anything to go by. Well, fuck me.
Looking out the window for something to do, I realize that the plane has pulled far enough away from the ground that it's almost leveled out and I was too busy checking out the guy beside me to notice. It wasn't the usual kind of distraction, but it had worked.
I just have to somehow get through this flight without doing or saying something completely embarrassing and I can go back to normal. I can go back to being my fearlessly independent self. I am about to begin the mantra that helps center me in the present (a technique that my doctor and I came up with to help handle bursts of emotions until I had time to process them fully that I find extremely effective) when I feel the hand around mine loosen. Startled by the lack of pressure, I swivel in my seat to look at him and I see understanding in his eyes. "I've always hated that part," he admits clasping my hand tightly once more before gently extricating his fingers from mine and placing each in our own laps.
By way of response I offer up a feeble smile and quiet, "Yeah, me too."
I look over at his proffered hand, it's not the one that moments ago I had been holding onto for dear life, but it looks just as capable of sending my mind wandering. Yup, as I clasp it in mine I know I'm in trouble. "Katniss."
He's mirrored my position and angled his body toward me. Despite myself, I want to keep talking to him.
"So, Katniss, what is important enough to get you to use this type of conveyance?"
A smile appears unbidden on my face. "My sister." By the time I've related the story about her boyfriend asking me to be there when he proposed because he knew it was a moment that Prim would want to share with me, my smile has grown into a full-fledged grin. As I try to temper it, I refocus on the man beside me I see a look of regret flicker across his face and I wonder if he has siblings. Instead of asking about it I echo his initial question.
Peeta's smile tightens and if it weren't for my rampant curiosity I would probably feel bad about asking. "I've got family stuff too, not the good kind like yours though."
"You're not from there, are you? Only it's a small town and I could swear that-"
"Oh no, I've never lived there. My parents moved there after I went off to school. Empty nesters, you know? Left their business to my oldest brother and opened a smaller chain store on main street."
I take half a second to consider the last place that showed up new on main before I blurt it out, "Mellarks?" His head hasn't finished its first nod before I continue, "That place is great! Wait," I go as far as holding my hand out in the universal stop gesture to prevent him interrupting me, "Those are your parents? Huh." This time his nod is accompanied by another rough chuckle, my disbelief followed by ready acceptance amusing him. I feel like I have some backtracking to do, so I say, "No, it's a cool place. I just didn't see that coming, you know?"
"No," it's his turn to do the stop gesture so he can catch his breath, "That's understandable. I've only been there a handful of times to help out. That opening weekend?" He says it like a question and it's my turn to nod, "I worked the back for them, so they could meet the customers and start building those relationships, you know?"
"That makes sense." There's a natural lull in the conversation and before it can become awkward I ask, "Are you going to be helping out this time? While you're in town, I mean?"
"Yeah. They're letting me try out a few new items on their customers, so it should be fun."
The look on his face is so mischievous that when he doesn't explain further I'm forced to prompt him, "So, in real life, you're some kind of chef extraordinaire?"
"Aspiring to be, yeah," he looks a little sheepish admitting it. "I work underneath some amazing chefs, but I have a long way to go. I just want to perfect each dish before presenting it to them for the restaurant menu."
"By using the unsuspecting people of my town as ginny pigs? You do know that their palettes won't be nearly as sophisticated as us city folk, right?" He nods. "Good, otherwise you'd have a revolt on your hands." We are sharing our amusement at the townspeople when a stewardess rolls by our row offering drinks.
Not a half hour ago, the prospect of a stiff drink was the only thing keeping my sanity intact, but now I worry what could happen with the man next to me if I were under the influence of altitude plus alcohol. Instead, I pour my soda bit by bit into my glass (a real glass, not the plastic variety available in coach) and find myself talking to Peeta the way I would when catching up with an old friend you haven't seen in a while. For everything I reveal, he divulges something about himself.
The ebb and flow of our conversation carries us through the flight and in no time the light dings on indicating that it's time to buckle our seat belts and prepare for landing. Peeta offers me his hand as the plane begins to shake and I take it without looking away from his eyes.
I've never dreaded landing the way I do at this moment..
All too soon, I'm watching him haul our carry-ons down from overhead and exiting the loading bridge. We make our way through the airport slowly, thanks to my overstuffed bag and his insistence that he pull it for me. I can't help but think that if he were walking me to my front door I'd be fiddling with my keys right about now.
I know that projecting confidence when in reality all my nerves prickling will help me appear calm, so I straighten my shoulders and purposely place my hand on top of his as I reach to take my bag's handle from him. Pretty soon we're standing in the middle of the concourse, facing each other and we both ignore the grumbles of the people following us at our sudden stop.
Neither of us speak, for a moment we just look at each other. I feel my resolve shake ever so slightly. I feel my chin lift and my eyes narrow and I'm back in control. "So," I pause for effect, "When I come in tomorrow morning, you should ask me for my number."
The way his shoulder relax and that smile appears tells me that I made the right choice. But I must look pleased with myself because he asks with a teasing lilt to his voice, "Tomorrow, huh?"
Instead of snapping like I usually would, I shrug and go along with it, "Hmm, I thought a pastry and a mimosa would be the perfect way to start celebrating Prim's engagement. Don't you think so?" I think I manage to sound pretty confident considering the nonexistent amount of experience I've had in these situations.
However, when I meet his eyes fully I know the uncertainty I feel has shown somehow because he's not teasing me when he says, "Seeing you tomorrow sounds perfect."