Summary: AU. "You can't be so naïve, Everdeen. People are going to use you. I guess that's why I'm still here- to protect you from yourself." Katniss Everdeen has always been a role model. Her life has been riddled with both privilege and purpose. But now, after her father's untimely passing and inherited position as Everdeen Athletics company CEO, Katniss has to figure out whose intentions with her are pure… and how much of the limelight she can really handle.
All credit for any characterization and whatnot is given to whom it is due. Please leave some thoughts- this is my first AU.
The board meetings were the worst part- the aspect of the job that I probably hated the most. Standing before the old entrepreneurs wearing their business suits and most disapproving glares, I can feel their eyes boring holes into my back when I turn to face the financial projections for next quarter. I know they call me an imposter –a phony- whenever they get the chance. And the worst part is: they're completely right.
I don't have a degree in business, like the Harvard and Yale educated elites my father made sure to put in place for an event such as this; people who actually knew what they were doing when they stepped into a conference room. This definitely wasn't the path that I had chosen for myself ten years ago. But then again, I guess no one really lives the life they had planned when they were 15. Dreams change, and most importantly, circumstances change.
"Madge will be sending out official reports tomorrow. We're projecting double-digit increases next quarter due to the new line. Thank you all for coming. See you next week." I feigned a smile before offering a brief wave and exiting the room, my mousy assistant, Madge shuffling behind me.
"I think that was your best meeting yet, Ms. Everdeen, very professional, very organized." She barely spoke audibly enough to be identified over the sound of the office musings. We walked quickly down the hallway, slowing only to give instruction to a number of employees along the way. One thing I had learned early on; this position left little room for error.
"Madge, I don't know how many times I have to tell you, you can call me Katniss. We're the same age for crying out loud." My secretary, Delly handed me my stack of messages as I entered the glass foyer of my office-suite; the same office that had once belonged to my father (the rightful owner of this company). I thumbed through the messages, quickly depositing the ones from my mother and ex-boyfriend in the stainless steel garbage can.
Madge stayed put by the door, the area she commonly inhabited. I was pretty sure she was afraid to move anywhere else, actually. "Ms. Everdeen, it's an honor you think of us as equals on some level, truly," I sighed inwardly. There was no changing her mind. She was a sweet girl and very, very good at her job. As one of the colleagues I worked closest with, though, I really wished that she would stop acting like I actually owned the joint. Although, on paper, I guess that's the way it is. "Would you have me to pick you up something for lunch now, ma'am?"
"You're impossible, Madge." I laughed and grabbed my leather jacket, almost too warm to wear in the transitioning spring to summer weather. "And no, I'm going out for lunch. You should too. Please have Delly hold my calls. I'll be back in an hour."
My bodyguard met me downstairs, looking as intimidating as ever, holding open the passenger door to my town car. "You should let me take the wheel today. I've been dying to take this baby for a spin since you bumped up the hemi. I bet this boy can really move now."
He let his booming laugh escape momentarily before motioning for me to get inside. "Catnip, if your dad saw me in the passenger seat with you behind the wheel –on business hours no less- he'd roll over in his grave. Please just get in the car." Gale was always overly protective, which technically fell under his job description as my personal watchdog. And although we'd been best friends for nearly ten years, that position always came first in his eyes.
I got in reluctantly and crossed my arms across my chest. The battle to even sit in the front seat had been hard fought three years ago versus my dad and Gale. Eventually though, with enough begging, they both finally relented, and at 22 I was granted the privilege most got when they were 13. "Hawthorne, you're impossible."
"Everdeen, you're the most stubborn woman I've ever dealt with." He replied, slipping the key into the ignition swiftly and starting the car. It purred to life quietly and lurched off of the prime curb parking spot, directly in front of the building's entrance. One of the perks of owning your own company, I'd accepted, was quality parking privileges. Which were especially useful in a city like New York, where you had to walk just about everywhere. Not that I minded the exercise, however, but outdoors in the city and outdoors back home were just very different experiences.
"Then why do you stick around? You could have gotten one of your underlings to take over a long time ago." I could feel Gale stiffen slightly beside me. It was something I had been asking myself for some time, though. He didn't have to be in the field anymore, especially given his own father's recent retirement announcement, and yet he chose to stick around.
"You know why I haven't left yet, Katniss." He bristled.
"No really, I don't get it. You only joined as an agent because your father was forcing you out of that pesky teenage rebellion phase, and you kind of got me by default. Considering our family history and all," I couldn't help but smile at the memory of meeting uniformed Gale for the first time. His hair had been recently buzzed and his scowl was one that displaced anyone who dared look directly into his eyes. I, on the other hand, welcomed the challenge. He was mad at the world and I was mad at my parents about being babysat by someone barely five years older than me.
We made a great pair.
"Promises were made, Kat. Promises that I don't intend on breaking." It was a simple answer to a rather complex question, but I didn't expect much more from Gale. He was a man of few words.
I let a moment of silence fall between us. "What are you going to do when you have to take over next month?" Thom Hawthorne, founder and CEO of Fortune 500 Company, Capitol Security was retiring in a little over 30 days, and leaving the company to his oldest son. Just knocking at the door of 30, Gale was far from ready to take on the responsibility of running a business of that magnitude- just as I'd been two years ago. Although, at least Gale would be doing something he understood. He'd been groomed to succeed his father for years, but nothing really prepared you for that much responsibility, I'd learned.
"I don't know. Guess we'll cross that bridge when we get to it, huh?" He flashed a weak smile in my direction and pulled into a spot next to our favorite dive joint, Sae's Kitchen. "But don't worry; we won't get Rory to replace me. Lord knows what type of trouble you'd be in then." Gale's little brother, Rory was a goofy little guy, the same age as my sister, Prim. He was as sweet as pie and couldn't squash a bug if his life depended on it. Gale and I figured that was the sibling curse- lack of resilience. But that also may have explained why Rory and Prim made so much sense as a couple. They could save the world, one sick baby and injured pet at a time.
Inside was just as disparate as the outside; a dingy, cramped dump. But it was our dingy, cramped dump. Nestled right in the heart of the business district, Sae's was the hub of all those who dared venture outside of their archetypal comfort zone. The Village hipsters travelled for her delicious (and somewhat organic) specialty soups, even tolerating the presence of downtown yuppies in need of a moment of solace (much like myself). It had always been a personal favorite of mine.
"How's Rory doing by the way? I know Prim is busy with clusters and waiting on med school acceptances, he must be in the same boat." I asked as I pointed behind the counter, ordering the soup of the day. The attendant scooped it out unceremoniously and plopped it into a bowl.
They rang up the both of our meals together, assuming we'd be paying one bill. It happened all of the time. When you spend as much time together as the two of us, people automatically begin to assume that your relationship is more than plutonic. Gale paid quickly and ushered us to a table towards the back. He always did this. Not that I got accosted often, but it was something of an occupational hazard the high-profile position, and something he was always prepared for.
"Getting ready to start grad school at Johns Hopkins in the fall- he's very excited about it. Dad's really proud of him, which is great." He pulled out my chair, making sure I was seated comfortably before he took his own. "Rory always was the ambitious one."
I nodded knowingly. In the time that I had really gotten to know Gale, outside of the familial functions that we'd both been forced to attend as children, I'd begun to understand his fierce devotion to family. I knew that he was proud of his little brother, and that he wanted nothing more than his happiness. But I also knew that the reason Thom Hawthorne was retiring was due to the return of his Biliary Thrombosis and Gale wouldn't allow the family company to fall into the hands of anyone other than himself.
"It's going to be fine, you know. You're going to get through this transition just fine. Your dad wouldn't have given you this responsibility if you couldn't handle it. Thom's too much of a control freak for that." He laughed solemnly. "And he raised you right. I would know. I was there."
"Whatever, Everdeen you were still in diapers when I was growing up!"
"Shut up, I totally remember when you got hives at the Fourth of July barbeque when I was eight!"
"You were practically a baby! How would you remember that kind of thin-" Gale stopped speaking midsentence, rising from his chair immediately. "You think I didn't see that you rat bastard? Give me that camera before I break you and the film in half!" He crossed the floor of the restaurant in a few quick strides, catching up with the suspect in question within a few steps. I turned to see Gale hoisting the guy up by his collar, ripping the offending camera from his neck like a toy, dropping it to the ground and crushing it beneath the toe of his steel-toed boot. He dropped the guy to the ground, only now allowing me a clear view of his face. Aside from the red flush of embarrassment and pure fear, he looked really sweet. And probably could have sold that photo for a solid 500 bucks if he got us at the right angle. The headline would have said 'Beauty and the Bodyguard! New Guy for Everdeen?'. I couldn't say I blamed him for trying.
"Go ahead and get on out of here, kid. I don't wanna have to make your face look like this here Nikon, eh?" The guy nodded his head quickly, blond curls falling into his face as he picked up the leftover pieces of his camera and running out the door. Gale wiped his hands on his pants and returned to the table, suited with a contented look as though he hadn't nearly ripped someone's head off.
"Gale." I started, but was met with his hand and implored to silence.
"It's all in a days' work, Catnip." Everyone in the restaurant that had stopped to stare at the commotion moments before was finally going back to their meals. Regardless of the paparazzo, I knew there would be photos of the ordeal circulating later. My publicist was probably blowing up my office phone right then and there.
"You really embarrassed him, though. And broke his camera. I bet that thing cost a pretty penny."
"Yeah, and I bet that picture of you he was snapping from across the room would have made him a nice amount too. You can't be so naïve, Everdeen. People are going to use you. I guess that's why I'm still here- to protect you from yourself." I wanted to respond, but knew it was no use. This wasn't the first time Gale had busted someone up for getting too close to me or snapping a picture during an intimate moment. It always made me uncomfortable when he retaliated, even more so than having my privacy violated.
"Just because I have a conscious doesn't make me naiive, Gale. This type of thing comes with the territory. And you can't just blow up on everyone who makes you a little antsy." I pushed my empty bowl forward and grabbed my jacket off the back of my chair. "You're a hothead and I you need to take me back to the office now."
I could see his frustration building again. "It is my job, Ms. Everdeen, and I actually do it quite well. And I will gladly deposit you back at your office." We left Sae's and returned to the office without one word being shared between the two of us all 50 blocks. He always managed to do this to me, reduce me to the pre-pubescent silent treatment. Another thing I could always count on in our explosive relationship.
He parked the car along the curb and came to the passenger door to let me out.
"Ms. Everdeen." He commented coolly as I turned on my heel to head inside.
"Yes, Mr. Hawthorne?" Two could play this game.
"I'll have my replacement here to pick you up this evening and escort you home. I will arrange the details with Delia and have them here by 5." I bristled at his cold tone. While we'd been in brief spats about his management style before, he'd never gone so far as to remove himself from my detail. It felt a bit excessive, and quite frankly, hurtful. I wasn't going to allow him the satisfaction of my disdain, however. I turned back towards the revolving doors, tossing one final comment over my shoulder and the cacophony of New York car horns.
"Make sure you get the car washed first. It's looking a bit dusty."