Well everyone, this is it, the end of Seam in the City. I have had a great time writing this fic and hope you've enjoyed reading it. Pass it along to your friends, your family- whoever- because I'd hate to see my favorite characters die. Thank you for reading. Enjoy!
The sun streaming through the open window was the first sensation I recognized upon waking up. I attempted to blink away the sleep, only to be met by my body's unconscious refusal to leave the most comfortable spot I could remember. Reaching over to the bedside table, I checked the clock on my phone: 5:30 AM. Usually I would be up and into the gym by that time, but not today. To be honest, I didn't even remember setting an alarm the night before (so it was lucky I was awake at all). I supposed that could all be credited to my internal clock.
"Morning, sunshine." The arm that Peeta had draped around my waist in our sleep gently tugged me closer to him, my back still curled into his front. "You're up mighty early."
Although he couldn't see my face, I was smiling from ear to ear. This, waking up wrapped in his cozy blankets and the safety of his arms was an absolute dream. So much so, in fact, that for the first time in weeks I hadn't even had a nightmare. Hadn't dreamt of my father coming back one day, ashamed of what I'd become- what I'd done to his company. Hadn't faced the recurring nightmare of my mother sneering as she walked out the door, leaving Prim and I abandoned for good. All of the things that had permeated my sleep every night for days- gone.
"Yeah well," I rolled over to face him "I guess that's just my nature."
I shut my eyes as he kissed my nose gently. "Waking up next to you is a beautiful thing, Ms. Everdeen. " He was so sappy. This whole scenario was sappy, and honestly, very unlike me. But somehow, it made sense, being here with him, listening to his romantic platitudes. "I would very much like to do this every morning if you'd allow it."
"Mellark, you're getting a bit ahead of yourself, eh? I mean, you can't rush perfection, after all." The corners of his eyes crinkled as he laughed lightly. We lay on our sides facing one another, and Peeta moved to prop his head up on his elbow.
"And this is indeed quite perfect." I made no move to stop him as he lifted up the plaid comforter to take a look at my bare form. Being bold in my sensuality had never been something I was good at, but the way Peeta looked at me last night and again in that moment, made me feel completely at home. It was a look of reverence- not of pure objectivity- the way it had been with every other man I'd ever been with. "Katniss, I-" I cut him off with a kiss before he could say anything else. Whatever it was, I couldn't stand to hear it right then.
His lips molded to mine immediately, taking no time to get acclimated again. The hunger that had appeared the night before was there, in an instant setting any intention I'd had of getting out of bed ablaze. The sensation that only Peeta could incite in me had completely erupted, encouraging the both of us to take it a step further.
When I had fallen into Peeta's arms last night, I hadn't intended on spending the night. And I certainly hadn't intended on… well, this.
He broke away, meeting my eyes. "Katniss, seriously, I have to tell you something." He looked just as disoriented as I felt. I wanted to avoid all of the talking that he was so insistent on.
"Stop talking," I attempted to kiss him again, but he was determined.
"No, Kat, listen," He sat up quickly. I used the opportunity to wrap the blanket around myself and fell back onto the downy pillows behind us, staring at the ceiling. "When I saw you on stage at Julliard all those years ago I knew that one day I wanted to be here with you. You were absolutely on fire every single time you stepped out there- you inspired people. You inspired me." He quickly ran a hand through his hair and cupped my cheek.
"I loved you then, Katniss Everdeen, and I love you now."
It's hard to gauge how you'll react the first time someone tells you that they love you and you actually believe it. Outside of your family, I mean. The thought of that realization hung in my mind for the rest of the morning; as I collected my things and rushed back to my loft, as I showered and selected my black tailored Fendi pantsuit, as I rode my cab to the headquarters, as Madge handed me my morning coffee, and even as I prepped for the biggest meeting of my young career. One sentence continued to ring in my ears: I love you then, Katniss Everdeen, and I love you now.
I knew that he did because felt it too. I just wasn't ready to admit it to him or even to myself. If history was any indication of what the future held, the minute things began seeming positive, all Hell was bound to break loose. And I couldn't stand to see that happen with Peeta, especially not this early in.
"Katniss?" I looked up from the coffee that I'd been aimlessly stirring to see Madge standing in my doorframe. "We need to go over the plan for the board meeting. We have about an hour until I need to begin setting the placements, and…" Her efficient steps had her across the room with her clipboard clutched to her chest with the Jaws of Life. "Ms. Everdeen, is something wrong with you?"
I used to be a much better actress. "Nothing, Madge. Nothing is wrong with me." I pushed the coffee away and powered up my MacBook Pro. "Let's just go through the procedure again."
She shut the door to keep all of the prying eyes and ears from involving themselves with our conversation. The water cooler talk had increased in the last few weeks, the rumor mill churning out even more outrageous stories. Everyone was dying to hear what their new CEO was doing next. "Katniss, can I be honest with you?" She didn't wait for me to say yes, she continued, "This is the most important meeting you have ever faced. If we're going to do this, and I'm saying we because this has turned into a group project, we have to go into this guns blazing. I don't know what has happened this morning, but you don't get to be distracted today. If there was ever a time to conceal your personal life- the time is now."
This was all very unlike her. She had a point, though. This was it.
I nodded solemnly and shook the cobwebs off of my mind. We ran through the method that we intended on using to approach the subject during the meeting, Madge taking the lead in areas of litigation. We were breezing through our data when Delly buzzed my intercom. "Katniss, you have Gale here. He says its urgent."
I looked and Madge incredulously and she shrugged her shoulders. "Um yeah, go ahead and send him in." It didn't take long before Gale's huge form was striding through my office door. Despite has new, well-kempt appearance; he seemed slightly out of sorts. "Well, aren't you a sight for sore eyes?"
He nodded at Madge in greeting, but didn't waste time with pleasantries. "Everdeen, we have a serious situation."
"You mean other than the fact that you look like a bad Calvin Klein advertisement in your daddy's old suit?" I pushed the screen nearly shut to obscure the contents from his view. From the look in his eye it didn't seem like he was all that interested in checking up on my impending doom.
Madge gently tiptoed towards the door, just leaving Gale and me alone. "First of all, the suit is Jones New York and it is from this season, so maybe give me a break. And on that note, I'm only wearing it because dad insists the executives go formal in the office. But lets be honest, I'm obviously not here to discuss my fashion choices." He lowered himself into one of the oversized leather chairs that Madge had just vacated.
"What are you here for then, Hawthorne? I have a pretty big thing today, you know."
"Okay, well I figure it would be best not to point out that your shirt and your shoes are two different shades then, right?" I looked down at my peep-toed black heels and squinted incredulously. He was just trying to get under my skin. If there was one thing I could always count on, it was the levity of our friendship. And while it had taken a while to get back, it seemed like things were almost normal. "Yeah, I'm just kidding. But Catnip, seriously, I wouldn't be here if I wasn't in the middle of a crisis. I met a woman."
I rolled my eyes. "Gale, most men wouldn't consider that a crisis."
"But she's rich. That's the problem. Her father came in for a meeting to get someone on her detail the other day." I checked my watch to make sure I wasn't pushing it, being on time for my meeting.
"Gale, maybe you forgot that you were rich too."
He ignored my jab. "They're a family of Wall Street hot-shots. Dad worked on the auto industry bailouts; grandpa spent his lifetime lobbying for trickle-down economics and welfare elimination. Mom is the heir to a blue-blood cotton fortune, and I'm not sure, but I feel pretty confident that they'd still own slaves if they could." He rubbed the space between his eyes. "I met with her to assign her personnel and she just seems different. Effervescent even."
I leaned across the table and covered one of Gale's hands with my own. Despite everything we'd been dealing with between the two of us lately, I really did want him to be happy. I wanted him to finally be in a relationship with someone who could give him what he'd be willing to give them. "Then go for it. I don't know what you're waiting for."
"I don't know, maybe I was waiting for your blessing." He pushed himself up out of his chair and started towards the door. "So you really think this is a good idea?"
"For goodness sakes, Hawthorne, of course. You deserve it. What's her name anyway?"
Madge stood behind Gale in the doorway and pointed at her wristwatch. The time was now. I gathered my things and buttoned my blazer. When I reached Gale, I leaned up on my tiptoes to place a kiss on his cheek. "I want you to have what I have, Gale."
And that was the truth. I'd run away from it this morning in bed with Peeta and skirted around the topic all morning, but it was most certainly the truth. And I couldn't fault the man for having more courage than I when it came to being honest. That had been the bane of my existence for nearly two years. I was used to covering things up and minimalizing my personal opinion. That was going to be how I reclaimed this company- I was going to start speaking the truth.
Madge walked in front of me, pushing open the huge double doors that led to our conference room. Everyone was already seated when we arrived and stood when I walked through the door. That was still completely foreign to me, being welcomed in the same fashion as the president. I gave them the signal to sit down and took my place standing at the head of the table. "Good afternoon, everyone."
The board whispered their good mornings and sipped on assorted cups of coffee. Had I not already know that I was going to be blindsided with a demotion, I wouldn't have sensed anything different than any other board meeting. They weren't much of a lively group. The majority of the board members had come from long careers in the private sector, advising company executives and accepting billion dollar bonuses. Grey hair and classic black suits adorned every man, and the only female member something of the like. To be honest, this was the only room in Everdeen Athletics that didn't feel equal opportunity. My father had been tasked with assembling a corporate dream team.
"As always, we'll begin this meeting with the reading of the minutes." Madge stood up and very quickly read through the discussion from our last meeting. I remained standing the entire time. If there was one day to assert my dominance, today was going to be the day.
As she concluded, chairs around the room began to shift. "Ms. Everdeen, if I may?" The voice rang out from the other end of the conference table. I should have expected as much. Alma Coin stood up and strode in my direction. Everyone knew what this was going to be about. "I have a brief presentation to make."
"Of course, Alma. The floor is all yours." I took one step to the side. I couldn't help the anxiety that was building as she powered up her laptop and connected it to the projector. Madge shot me a look of pure disdain and disbelief, before mouthing the words "You got this".
Alma's hatred for me rolled off of her in droves. I could tell that as the only other woman on the executive board, she thought me a detriment to women in the workforce everywhere. She had spent her life climbing the corporate ladder; Editor of the Harvard Business Review, CFO of Wells Fargo, Board Member of JP Morgan and Chase- the list goes on. And when this young girl from performing arts school comes in and took over the Fortune 500 Company she had been working with for years, she wanted me out.
I was surprised it took me so long to notice. "Ms. Everdeen, fellow members of the board, I want to point out a number of issues that have risen to my attention in the past 12 months. After putting a private poll in the field, we've collected that our company has suffered a dramatic hit in numbers regarding public opinion. Not to mention, our investors have privately voiced concerns regarding our leadership." As she rattled on about my inability to lead, she flashed a PowerPoint of images that I'd remembered vaguely circulating in gossip rags. A photo of me twisting my ankle on the red carpet at last year's Met Gala, a shot of Jason Cato shoving his tongue down my throat at the MLB Championship last season, and the piece-de-resistance, Gale a Cato getting into their little slap fight at the charity auction. Alma was hell bent on embarrassing me before stealing my company out from under my nose. "So today, I would like to invoke Article II Section A of this company's bylaws."
Whatever whispers that had been floating around immediately ceased. In shorthand she had basically called me an idiot, a philanderer and called on a vote to remove me from office. "Before you call for your vote, Alma, I do believe that Article II Section B allows for floor discussion before that is to commence." Yeah, I knew my rules too. I could tell she wasn't expecting that as I reclaimed my position in front of everyone. Madge joined my cause and immediately handed out the portfolios that we had assembled beforehand.
All of the stock information was highlighted. All of the money that I had personally earned the company through my public persona was very clearly marked. And the moments that Alma had pointed out were some of my shining financial achievements. And last but not least, for all of those investors that she claimed were concerned about my leadership skills, we had collected twice as many that were interested in doubling their investments. No, I hadn't been much of a CEO…
But I was one hell of a saleswoman.
It didn't take long to conclude the meeting after that. If there was one thing I learned in my time as CEO, it was that money spoke louder than most other things. Which was why after the board voted in my favor, I decided to present another vote- one to remove Coin from the board.
The vote was once again unanimously in my favor.
"Luckily they all signed confidentiality agreements, otherwise I know this story would be all over the Internet by now." I smiled from ear-to-ear, "God, Primmy, I can't believe you're really here." Prim had called me maybe an hour after this morning's meeting to tell me that her flight would be in by 6. She had a grad school interview at Boston University the next morning, but I could at least flatter myself into thinking she was here for me tonight.
"There was no way I could come to the East Coast without visiting my big sister." Prim took the last sip of her white wine and waved to Rory for another. It was still surreal for me to see my baby sister drink, but I was getting past it. "Anyway, Rory wanted to come back and see Gale too, so it all worked out." As if on cue, Gale and Rory walked up, fresh drinks in hand.
"Speaking of the devil," Prim smiled up at Gale's looming form. While he and I had always been best friends (up until recently), he was the closest thing Prim ever had to an older brother. "I heard you've been a bit of a handful there, Hawthorne."
He reached over and mussed the top of her blonde head. "Give me a break, kiddo. You know your big sister is a heartbreaker." We all allowed a laugh to escape. Gale and I had gotten to a place where we could smile about the whole thing, which I guess was due in part to the dramatic changes in our love lives that we had incurred in the past few days.
"Whatever, Hawthorne, you were simply seduced by my painful awkwardness and feigned emotional stability." I nudged him with my shoulder. "And it's not like you don't have some flighty little blue blood just waiting for your call. Where is she anyway? I thought she was coming to our little get together."
Rory snorted from his seat next to Prim in the booth. "She's probably still doing her makeup." Gale reached across the table and punched his little brother in the arm. I could tell Rory wasn't joking when he grabbed his arm and winced in pain. He was a little guy, topped out at 5'7", and weighed 130 soaking wet- sometimes it was hard to see the family resemblance. "Seriously, bro! I thought we talked about that." I lived for nights like these when all of my favorite people were in one place. Well, nearly all of them.
"Hey, Kat," Peeta greeted me with a kiss on the forehead. "Hey everyone else. Let me guess, you must be Katniss' beautiful little sister, Prim. And you're not over six feet, so you must be Rory Hawthorne." I slid out of the booth and wrapped an arm around his waist. I could see the surprise register on Prim's face momentarily. She quickly replaced it with a look of satisfaction.
"Great guesses there, pal. And you must be Peeta Mellark, the guy that's got my big sister tied up in knots." I glanced up at him and flashed a shy smile. "I think that face says it all." His arm wrapped around my shoulder
Gale stood up next to the two of us, his stature putting him about 3 inches taller than Peeta. "And you're the infamous Gale. Nice to meet you man." They shook hands quickly and my best friend gave him the once over. I could tell, even despite our rediscovered friendship, he was sizing up my new boyfriend.
Wait… what? Even mentally, I was referring to Peeta Mellark as something more than "that guy I went to college with but never noticed until recently and just had sex with for the first time last night". He was bringing out a change in me, even if I wasn't at a place where I could tell him that. It was all happening. And slowly but surely, I would be able to romantically come into my own. I was glad that I was finally getting there. And I was even gladder that I was doing it with Peeta.
"So this is the boyfriend, huh Catnip?"
A smile slowly spread across my face. "Yeah, I guess he is."
"Well, do you want me to grab you a whiskey sour at the bar, new boyfriend?"
"Yeah, that'd be great, thanks man."
Gale clapped him on the back before heading to grab the next round. "He likes my signature drink? This guy's a keeper, Kat!"
I was in full-blown cheese mode by then.
"I think so too."
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