I own neither The Hunger Games nor Parks and Recreation.
"Dammit, Gale!" Peeta Mellark flinches as he hears intern Rue Williams shout from the main office adjacent to his, "Did you use permanent marker again instead of dry erase?"
He can't hear Gale's response but Rue's subsequent shriek leads him to add a new dry erase board to the budget proposal he's finalizing, "Let's all pretend Gale wasn't born!"
Peeta gathers up the finished five-pound proposal and strides into the other room to find his coworkers discussing their plans for the evening.
"You losers better not bail on me again," Johanna Mason drawls, "I'm serious, guys, if I'm using my investor's privileges to book the Mutthole Lounge for Rue's 21st birthday soiree, I better not be the only one there double-shooting Jameson."
Peeta sighs contentedly, excited that he'll be able to celebrate this near-won workplace triumph with his colleagues tonight. As Deputy Director of Parks and Recreation for Panem, Indiana, he's come to view these annual meetings as a gauntlet–every department fighting to the death to squeeze as many nickels as they can out of the City's budget, until one victor remains. Peeta, a gifted orator and cunning game player who is particularly passionate about his job, has never failed to ensure his department is triumphant.
"Wouldn't miss it, Johanna," he says as he breezes past her to the next office, "You ready, boss?"
Haymitch Abernathy isn't a particularly engaged Parks and Recreation Director, due to personal opinions about how ineffectual government is that Peeta doesn't understand, but Peeta enjoys the challenge that provides him and the two seem to get along comfortably. Peeta's even come to think of Haymitch as his mentor.
"Oh, joy," Peeta hears Haymitch mutter as the older man finishes refilling his hip flask from the bottle of Lagavulin he keeps in his bottom desk drawer.
When they reach the conference room that city employees refer to as the arena, Peeta pushes Haymitch to the front row and can't help himself from bouncing in his seat a little with nervous energy, excited to finally secure the funds for the proposed park on the empty lot next to his best friend Annie Cresta's house that has become a bit of a pet project.
"Settle down, son," Haymitch murmurs darkly.
Peeta is about to retort when Councilman Plutarch Heavensbee steps up to the podium.
"Hi everyone," Peeta straightens in his seat as Councilman Heavensbee begins, "So, there's been a change of plans."
"Due to the sensitive nature of the situation, I can't get into specifics, but this morning City Manager Crane was asked to resign due to irresponsible spending," the councilman pauses and Peeta has to remind himself to breathe, "Unfortunately, the city's finances aren't looking so great and we've been advised to postpone this discussion indefinitely."
"I'm sorry, when?" Peeta asks.
"We're not sure, Mr. Mellark, it's indefinite," Councilman Heavensbee answers.
"What's the deadline, then?" Peeta presses.
"Later," the city councilman sighs, exasperated.
"So, next Monday?"
"Listen, Peeta," Councilman Heavensbee enunciates, frustratedly, "We're bordering on a financial meltdown. The Governor is sending state auditors down from Indianapolis to see if they can't pull us out of this but right now it's not looking so great."
It's then that Peeta hears Haymitch begin to chuckle gleefully next to him.
"Relax," Haymitch chastises him as Peeta paces the length of his mentor's office.
"How can you say that, Haymitch," Peeta tugs on the roots of his blonde curls in frustration, "They're state auditors. They're being sent here from the Capitol to escort us like lambs to the slaughter."
Peeta knows his boss is a bit of a rebel but the delight with which Haymitch is responding to this situation is beginning to baffle him.
"Listen kid, this government has been suckling on the teet of its citizens for too long," Peeta watches Haymitch pause to take a discreet sip from his flask, "It's about time they get cut off."
"That's what citizens do, Haymitch," Peeta argues as he settles into the chair opposite Haymitch's desk, "We're supposed to pay into a system that serves the public and I'm going to fight to ensure that these auditors don't cut any of the essential services that the Parks Department provides Panem!"
Peeta's about to dive into a lecture about how his boss could be a little more sensitive to the situation when a soft knock on the doorframe behind him catches his attention.
"Hello," He hears a voice croon behind him and the force with which he turns nearly topples him from his seat.
A man, slightly taller than himself and with bronze-colored hair and light green eyes, steps into Haymitch's office–hand outstretched. Peeta thinks vaguely that making eye contact with the man is like staring at the sun.
Peeta wasn't aware Haymitch could move so quickly but his mentor is suddenly next to him, shaking hands, "Hello, I'm Haymitch Abernathy."
"Mitch Abernathy," The younger man punctuates cheerfully, "Can I call you Mitch?"
"I'd prefer that you did not," Haymitch grumbles.
"And you are," the man asks brightly, turning to Peeta.
"Um, Peeta Mellark, Deputy Director," he replies dumbly, somewhat at a loss. It's not often that someone seems undeterred by Haymitch's gruff demeanor.
"Peeta Mellark. Is Peet okay?" the man asks, "Right, well I'm Finnick Odair and this is my colleague Katniss Everdeen from the state office," Finnick gestures to a woman standing behind him that Peeta hadn't noticed.
As she steps up next to Finnick to shake both their hands, Peeta notices the long dark hair that's braided tightly down her back and her cool grey eyes but he's mostly struck by how pretty she'd be without the scowl that currently distorts her dark features.
Peeta glances between the two auditors and decides his odds are better of winning over and befriending Finnick, "Welcome, would you like a tour?" he beams brightly at the man.
"I can think of no better way to spend an afternoon," Finnick replies simply and Peeta thinks he sees Katniss' mouth twist in a smirk.
Peeta leads them into the department's main office, where most of his colleagues work. He quickly introduces his staff: Johanna Mason has been the Parks' Office Manager for seven years; Gale Hawthorne, who has never seen a promotion in his fifteen years for the city, works as the department's Assistant and Scheduler; and Rue Williams is getting credits from Panem Community College for her internship.
He's just launching into the great work they've been doing–particularly on Lot 12–when he notices Katniss rolling her eyes, confirming his assumptions about the woman. He doesn't have time to react before Finnick interrupts him.
"That's fantastic, buddy," he says, beaming, "I just want to assure you that we're only here to fiddle with your budget a bit." Peeta releases a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding.
"Think of the City as a run down boardwalk on a shore town," Finnick rouses, bouncing up on the balls of his feet, "We're going to replace some rotten boards, slap on some new paint and get people back up on that ferris wheel where they'll be able to enjoy a nice view of an ocean sunset, right?"
"Okay!" Peeta exclaims as he notices Katniss staring blankly at the wall across from her.
"Great," Finnick affirms as he claps his hands, "Katniss is going to hang around for a bit and I'll see you later." The male auditor doesn't look back as he walks out the office doors, hand waving above him.
Katniss speaks for the first time as she addresses Peeta, her voice pleasantly low, "Do you have a second?"
Peeta sits silently with Haymitch on his left as he watches Katniss sift through binders of Excel spreadsheets and memos.
"Okay," She starts, finally meeting his gaze, "I'd like to start by identifying waste within the department."
"We don't have any," Peeta rushes out as he hears Haymitch declare "It's everywhere!" next to him.
Katniss glances between the two of them, seemingly unsurprised. "Let's start with personnel, I'd like you to talk to me about," Katniss pauses as she works to locate a particular piece of paper, "Gale Hawthorne."
"He is an essential member of our team," Peeta forces out. As much as Gale gets on his nerves, the man will not be losing his job because of Peeta's personal opinions. "He's the most popular employee in the department, I'm pretty sure the rest of the staff would be outraged if you cut him."
Haymitch softly snorts in disbelief.
"I need you to understand," Katniss says, putting down her documents and clasping her hands in front of her, "In order for this to be successful, we're going to have to cut every single department's budget by about 40 to 50 percent."
Peeta puts his hand up, "I don't understand, Finnick said you were here to just work things around, slap a coat of paint on things."
Katniss grunts before picking her spreadsheets back up dismissively, "That's because his version sounds better than the truth, which is that we'll be using your department and its budget for bowhunting practice."
Peeta feels his defenses rise as Haymitch lets out a giggle.
"You're rude." Peeta fires angrily at Katniss.
Haymitch shoots upright in his chair, "Easy, kid."
"This is a real job for us. We're real human beings with real families in a real town in an office with real feelings," Peeta knows he's not making any sense but nothing in his career of public service has prepared him for this.
"Your office has feelings?" Katniss questions quickly.
"Sure. Why are you being so callous?" he retorts.
"This isn't my fault," Katniss punctuates hotly, "It's your governments'."
Peeta watches her stand and collect her binders, "I think I have everything I need already," she says as she strides from the room.
Later that night, as promised, Peeta finds himself at the Mutthole Lounge for Rue's birthday celebration. Johanna is over at the bar shooting Jameson with the birthday girl, from where Annie Cresta, Peeta's best friend, is returning with a beer in each hand.
"So, I guess our park is never going to get built," she murmurs quietly as she hands him a bottle. "I'm so sorry, Peeta."
Peeta takes a long pull from his beer, unwilling to rehash the day's events just yet, at least not without something to take the edge off first.
"Do you have any idea what they're going to cut?" Annie asks him.
"None, whatsoever," he replies glumly.
"Maybe you should try to make the cuts yourself," she suggests. "You know you'd rather be the one deciding your department's fate over some outsider; no one knows the department like you."
"I just don't think I want to play into their game like that. You know," Peeta mumbles, "I just don't think I have it in me, acting like a vengeful God who fires Gale without reason."
"You'd fire Gale?" Annie confirms, nodding.
"I don't know," Peeta rushes, "it's just been a rough day."
"You want to get drunk?" Annie tests, a smile on her face.
"Absolutely," Peeta says, finishing his first beer and slamming it on the table in front of them.
Hours later, while playing quarters with Annie, Peeta spots Katniss talking with Johanna and Haymitch. He catches her eye and curses.
"What," Annie slurs next to him.
"Katniss, that rude lady, is coming over here," he states, "Get ready."
"Okay, Peeta," Annie says patting his shoulder, "You've got this, just be professional."
"Hi, Peeta," Katniss says, stepping up on the platform that Peeta and Annie's booth sits on. She glances between the two before starting, "I just wanted to clear the air between us since we're going to be working together for a few more weeks."
"Go," Peeta replies darkly.
"Excuse me?" Katniss queries, confused, before she shoots a glance at Annie.
"Yeah, this is a party for my friends, who you're trying to fire," he continues, oblivious to the look of discomfort blooming on Katniss' face, "I surveyed everyone here and we all think you shouldn't be here because you're a cold and unfeeling person who wants to hunt people!"
"That's not–" Katniss starts.
"No, Annie's right," Peeta interrupts, "I'm going to come up with my own plan and it'll be better than yours and you won't be able to stop me." Though he tries, he can't stop the hiccup from bubbling forth. "So, there."
"Okay," Katniss says, starting her retreat. "I'll see you tomorrow, sorry to bother you."
"Bye," Peeta retorts loudly.
It isn't until Annie turns to him, hand clenching his elbow as she slurs, "Peeta, that was so professional," that he realizes his mistake.
Peeta switches on the lights to his office the next morning a little later than usual, head pounding, to see that Annie has beaten him there.
"Ugh, turn the lights back off," she shouts.
"Sorry," he mutters. "Lower your voice."
"I need your help." Annie says, handing him a bottle of Ibuprofen. "I made out with someone last night," she says, slightly pink.
Peeta shoots a smirk Annie's direction before popping three pills from the bottle she'd offered him, "Ugh." Peeta grimaces at the taste of the pills' coating before he chugs half the water from his canteen. "Who?"
"That's the thing, I don't know. I don't even really know for sure it happened, I just woke up with the distinct feeling that I kissed someone last night." Annie answers with a puzzled frown.
"Oh, man," Peeta drawls out.
Suddenly, Gale is at the door to his office, "Morning Annie," he says as he leans into the door jam, "that was a crazy night last night."
Peeta's jaw drops and his eyes shoot to Annie, whose face has drained of color.
"I mean, I left at 11:30 and you were still at it," Gale chuckles.
Annie lets out a relieved sigh, "Yeah, crazy."
As Gale leaves the doorway, Annie turns to Peeta, "Help."
"We'll get this mystery solved by lunch," he reassures, though the thought of food makes his stomach pitch.
"Mellark!" Haymitch bellows from his office.
"Gah, I'm out," Annie flinches and fumbles with her coat as she makes a dash for the exit.
"Coming," Peeta says, grabbing a cup of water and bag of tea from the office station on the way.
"Have a good night last night?" Haymitch asks.
"Not really." Peeta volleys.
"Did you enjoy your second tantrum at Katniss Everdeen's expense, the very woman who holds your career in her hands?" his mentor volleys.
Peeta perches his tea on his boss's desk and scrubs his face with his hands. "I already know I messed up, Haymitch," Peeta mumbles, "I don't think my reaction was entirely unwarranted, but I'm going to apologize."
"Good, because if you get fired that means I'm going to be expected to actually do something," Haymitch barks. "Now get out."
Peeta finds Katniss in the makeshift office that she and Finnick have commandeered.
"Can I come in?" he asks meekly, as he spots Finnick sitting cross-legged in the corner with an iPod. He shoots Katniss a questioning look.
"Yeah, he's meditating to ocean sounds," she says, glancing toward her colleague. "He grew up on the coast and being inland makes him antsy."
Peeta nods as he takes the seat across from her, "Listen, I just want to apologize for being rude to you for the second time last night,"
"Sure," Katniss says, looking back to the work at her desk.
Peeta feels his frustrations rise at the dismissal, "I realize I'm just reacting to the threat you represent to the work we're trying to do here."
Katniss' steely eyes shoot up and her hands still, "Look, Mr. Mellark," she iterates, "We're not the threat to your department, we didn't do anything," she replies darkly, "It is your government's irresponsibility that got you here."
Peeta's hackles rise, "Okay, that's enough, I don't care that you hold my fate in your hands like a newborn baby mockingjay," he sputters angrily. "I really don't appreciate your attitude; you're being an ass!"
Katniss is visibly taken aback and her eyebrows shoot up. She purses her lips and asks, "Do you want to get a beer?"
"It's 10:30 in the morning," Peeta states slowly, as if Katniss is unable to tell time.
"Yes, well, you look like you could use one," she replies not too unkindly.
Peeta shrugs, "Yeah, I guess I could go for a beer."
Finnick shoots up from his corner, "Just make sure to have her back by lunch, she promised to take me for sushi!"
Peeta takes a pull from his Upland wheat ale and swallows around the guilt that's lodged itself in his throat. He's not sure what it is about Katniss, particularly, that keeps setting him off but he needs to get his emotions under control.
"So, uh, I'm sorry for yelling at you–again–when I should have been apologizing for the second time," he remarks, casting a sideways glance Katniss' direction as she picks at the label on her beer. He pivots on the bar stool so he can face her in an attempt to catch her attention, "I just don't think you understand what it's like to be called into public service. Have you ever experienced government work before?"
He's surprised when she snorts, "Um, yeah," her grey eyes finally meeting his, "In a small town called Seamville, West Virginia."
Peeta's brow furrows in concentration as the name rings familiar, "Wait, you're Katy Everdeen?" his jaw dropping in wonder.
"The one and only," Katniss quips, cringing at the long-forgotten nickname, "My friends convinced me that running for mayor at 18 would be a great act of rebellion to make a farce of the system that elected our previous mayor."
Peeta remembers something of Coriolanus Snow, who was caught accepting personal bribes in exchange for positions within the city government. He's about to ask Katniss specifics when he realizes she's muttering darkly about how a steady income hadn't exactly been a deterrent to her decision and he senses a need for a change of subject.
"What was that song you played during your swearing-in ceremony?" he asks, a smile growing on his face.
Peeta watches her eyes flash defiantly before Katniss replies, "'Independent Women.'"
Before he can help himself, scenes from the CNN footage of an 18-year-old Katniss in combat boots and a red plaid flannel, two braids woven down her back, staring sullenly at the camera as Destiny's Child blares overhead flash in his brain and Peeta recalls the image featured more than a few times in his 17-year-old self's rotation of masturbation material.
"Yes, so hot," he groans.
"Oh, thank you," Katniss replies, her mouth set in a flat line.
"Shit, I didn't mean it like that," Peeta begins stammering, "I didn't mean to objectify you like that; you were very smart and really funny," if his palms weren't already wet from the condensation of the beer he's clutching, he's sure they would be from sweat. "I just meant you were very attractive."
"Well, it was all my friend Cinna's doing, but thanks," Katniss' smile is bemused.
"The point is that I was dumb and 18 and I didn't really want to be mayor and it showed," she says with a sigh. "I ended up bankrupting the town and I've spent the last five years trying to help clear cities from red ink to make amends for my transgressions; trying to be responsible." She pulls a final drag from her bottle before finishing, "That's what public service is, Peeta, and you need to come to terms with it if you're serious about running for office one day."
Peeta nods thoughtfully as he reaches around him to where he carries his wallet in his back pocket.
"Oh no," Peeta feels Katniss' hand on his and he glances up, "I invited you for the beer, this is on me."
Peeta shoots her a quick grin as he shoves his wallet back, "Well, Madame Mayor, I'm going to let you pay because I respect that you're an independent woman."
Peeta's leg bounces as he and Haymitch wait to be called into Finnick and Katniss' office. Following Annie's advice, he worked all afternoon on a proposal that would cut the Parks Department's budget by 35 percent.
Annie, ever the best friend, is sitting with them to lend her support while they wait.
"Hey Haymitch," she starts, quickly shooting a glance Peeta's way, "We didn't make out last night at Rue's party, did we?"
"God, no," Haymitch guffaws.
Annie's hands shoot up into the air, "That's it, I have no idea who I made out with last night!"
The door to Finnick and Katniss' office opens swiftly and Finnick steps out to greet them, "Mitch, Peet, come–Annie Cresta," the auditor exclaims brightly as he spots Peeta's best friend.
As realization dawns on Annie's face and she makes eye contact with her friend, Peeta's face breaks out in a teasing grin.
"How are you?" Finnick queries, "What a great night."
"Yeah," Annie says, wide-eyed.
"Well, I would love to catch up but I have a pre-existing commitment." Finnick says, mouth twisting into a small frown as he glances from the men waiting to see him and back to Annie.
"Oh, yeah." Annie states dumbly, "I guess you can call me?"
"Actually, you couldn't remember your number," Finnick starts, reaching into his pocket and pulling out an iPhone, "But you gave me your phone!"
"Yeah, that's great," Annie says, cheeks blazing as she stands quickly to take the proffered device from Finnick's hand, "I've got to get to work."
Peeta watches Finnick hold Annie's grasp for slightly longer than necessary as he and Haymitch start for the doorway to Finnick's office.
"Talk to you soon?" Finnick asks Annie as he hesitates at the door.
"Yep, sure," Annie says quickly, eyes darting to Peeta.
"And I'll be talking to you soon, too," Peeta says quickly, "About that thing," he says shooting her a thumbs up as he follows Finnick and Haymitch into the office.
As Haymitch and him take seats around the table where Katniss is already seated, Peeta notices that Finnick is leafing through the budget proposal that Peeta had sent over in advance of the meeting.
"As you're noticing, Finnick," Peeta says after clearing his throat, "I was able to make practical cuts at 35 percent to the overall budget, including services."
"Very impressive, Peet." Finnick says kindly, looking up from the document, "Unfortunately, it's a case of too little too late."
"Excuse me?" Peeta asks, panicked, shooting a glance from Finnick to Katniss.
"Yes, after further investigation, we discovered that things in Panem are much worse than we were led to believe," Finnick states cautiously.
"What does that mean?" Peeta questions, glancing to Katniss.
"It means that, effective tomorrow morning," she states, "the government will be shut down until further notice."
As a pit deeper than the one that used to be on Lot 12 opens up in his stomach, Peeta sees a wide grin break out over Haymitch's face from the corner of his eye.
"I'm sorry, I just started hearing a chorus of jabberjays in my head," he stammers. "What did you just say?"
I want to thank imlovelee for unwittingly inspiring this foray with her seamless THG/Party Down crossover fic "Having Fun Yet?" and Plumgal1899 for helping me decide on a title.
I also could not overstate how helpful Baronesskika and Sohypothetically have been (in terms of inspiration, beta-ing and general hand-holding). This story will be immeasurably better because of them, especially considering I haven't written anything other than emails and proposals for over five years. You're the April and Ann to my Leslie, you beautiful, powerful musk oxen. Thank you, oxen, for keeping this ship afloat.
You can find me on tumblr, my url is walker.