I own neither The Hunger Games nor Parks and Recreation.
"I just want to congratulate you all again on the the Harvest Festival." Finnick flashes his dimples as he addresses most of the city departments in his monthly meeting. "The event was a terrific success and it wouldn't have happened without every single one of you, but especially without one Peeta Mellark."
The room booms with cheers, applause and yells, especially from the Parks department. Haymitch beams uncharacteristically and Rue wipes inconspicuously under her eyes.
Peeta's complexion is pinker than usual as he deflects the praise good-naturedly. "Thank you everyone, but we still have so much work to do." He seeks out Katniss where she sits at Finnick's right and sees that she's smiling at him beatifically.
"Great segue, Peet!" Finnick exclaims. "The Capitol has announced that they're looking for a new host city for this year's Indiana Games. I think Panem has a lot to offer and I'm sure we can put together a great arena concept that we'll need each department to execute. We're going to work on a pitch this week and then I'll be sending my two best tributes—Peeta and Katniss—to bring this win home. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got another engagement," Finnick says as he heads toward the door. "
Peeta glances at Katniss again and she nods in return.
Katniss begins gathering her things as Marvel from the Sewage Department approaches her from the back of the room.
Peeta had been hoping to talk to her about this newest assignment and he hesitates at the door desperate to hear what Marvel could possibly have to say to her.
"You've got a killer dumpster," Marvel leers. "If you're ever down for a good time, you should come down to the toilet party."
"Ew." Katniss scowls darkly.
Peeta's about to step in when he sees Johanna approach the two. "I see you've met Sewage Marvel. He's mostly harmless; word is he doesn't know how to lay pipe right. Go back to the basement, Marvel."
Katniss flashes Johanna a grateful half-smile as Marvel turns to chat up another female city worker and Peeta makes his way toward Katniss and Johanna.
"He's the worst," Peeta offers. "I was hoping to talk to briefly about this new assignment, I've got a lot of great ideas."
"And that's my cue," Johanna quips before she grabs Rue and the two head out of the large conference room toward the Parks office.
"I'm thinking we might be able to repurpose the corn maze from the Harvest Festival for the arena or incorporate common farm animals into the challenges somehow, like a scary lamb," Peeta's exuberance for a new project is obvious and he's speaking quicker than usual.
Katniss frowns softly at "scary lamb" before turning to address Peeta, "Wow, Finnick just announced this project five minutes ago and you already have all that?"
"Yeah, I started jotting them down in the meeting," he says, gesturing to his notebook. "I thought we could go over them and talk about the trip."
"Sure. I've got a meeting now but maybe later?"
Peeta grins. "Later's great. Maybe we grab a bite at Sae's and talk there?" he asks hopefully.
Katniss' eyes go wide and she freezes. "Oh, I think we should just meet later in the day, like in a few hours? But still here." She emphasizes, gesturing at the space around them. "Like, maybe that nice mural up on the third floor?" she stammers. "But, your ideas are amazing, you're amazing, oh." She backs away from Peeta slowly. "Uh. Bye," she mutters before turning and striding quickly into the closest office.
Peeta watches Annie kiss the corner of Finnick's mouth before she waves goodbye and takes the last few steps toward his office. He couldn't be happier for his best friend that things are working out so well for her and Finnick, but Katniss' rejection is still fresh and stinging.
Annie takes one look at him as she settles into the chair next to his desk and her brow furrows in concern. "What's wrong?"
"I asked Katniss to dinner today and she said no." Peeta frowns.
Annie looks taken aback. "What? I thought she was really into you? What did she say, exactly?"
"She was awkward–more awkward than she usually is: 'Oh...I...uhh...bye,' and then she walked into the City Planner's office." He sighs. "She'd just been hit on by Marvel from Sewage and was so grossed out, I probably creeped her out too."
Annie shakes her head, frowning. "No way you creeped her out. If she's not interested in you, she's crazy. There are plenty of women who would love to date you." She pauses thoughtfully. "I know you've never been interested in online dating before, but maybe it's time to give it a try?"
Peeta groans loudly.
"A lot of the people at the hospital have had luck with this new site, ." She grabs for Peeta's computer mouse and pushes her chair adjacent to his. "Let's just take a look, yeah?"
Peeta doesn't respond and Annie takes his silence as a concession as she opens up a web browser window and enters in the website URL. Peeta peers at the website's stock photos and colorful graphics–it looks harmless enough.
"Let's just set up a profile and see if you generate any matches. You don't have to follow up on anything," Annie negotiates. She begins filling out the generic information about Peeta's physical description, his name and background as he fidgets beside her.
When they get to the more specific personality details, she clears her throat and glances over her shoulder at him. "Describe your ideal woman."
Peeta considers the question before answering. "The mind of Angelina Jolie and the body of Kathleen Sebelius."
Annie stares and shakes her head before turning back to the computer to fill the answer in. "Okay, I'm filling some of these out myself."
Peeta looks over her shoulder distrustfully. "'Well-read handsome blond always orders dessert?'"
"Women will love it."
She fills out a few more of the website's questions regarding Peeta's personality type before turning to him again. "Last one. What's your favorite place in the world?"
Peeta smiles wistfully. "Easy. The meadow mural on the third floor."
"Here?" Annie asks skeptically. At Peeta's nod she presses, "You could pick anywhere in the world and you pick a mural at your place of work?"
Peeta shrugs. "I like my job and I do all my best brainstorming at that mural. It's beautiful and relaxing. Besides, I painted it."
Annie types in the answer and hits enter. "Let's see who's your tribute."
They both lean in to the monitor and wait for the next screen to load. When it does, and it shows a soulmate-level match, they're both temporarily stunned silent.
Finally, Peeta whispers incredulously, "Johanna Mason?"
Peeta approaches Johanna's workspace cautiously and observes her quietly. She's always been a fantastic—if outspoken—coworker but he's never really thought of her as his "type" before. Either he doesn't know her as well as he thinks or there's something wrong with that website.
"Stop creeping, stalker. What do you want?" Johanna snaps as she quickly spins her chair around and pins Peeta with a quirked eyebrow.
"Seriously, boss, spit it out, I do not have all day," Johanna sighs.
He quickly grabs one of the closest wheelies and pushes it closer before taking a seat. "I was just thinking I never see you outside work. What do you like to do on the weekends?"
Johanna's eyes narrow suspiciously but she answers,"If I have my way, I'm in my jet tub at my place on the Puget Sound."
"You have a house in Washington state?" Peeta asks disbelievingly. "Why?"
"I like to fell trees," Johanna deadpans with an eyeroll.
Noting her sarcasm, Peeta changes tactics. "What's your favorite book?"
"Die Hard." She responds matter-of-factly.
"That's...not a book."
She pins him again with one of her famous "who gives a fuck?" expressions and he huffs in frustration.
Johanna cocks her head slowly, as if just tuning in to the conversation. "Usually a guy has to put out to get this much of my personal business. What gives?"
Peeta sighs as if surrendering an internal debate. "You're going to think it's stupid."
Johanna shrugs and makes to turn back to her work before Peeta's resolve crumbles.
"I signed up for and you and I registered as soulmates," Peeta mumbles.
Johanna spins slowly back to gawk at Peeta before guffawing loudly. "Amazing!" she exclaims when she's caught her breath. "Which one?"
Peeta sputters, "What do you mean, 'which one?'"
"What was the whole name on the profile?" Johanna presses.
"Um, I think Johanna N. Mason?" Peeta replies, brow furrowed.
"Oh my God, boss! You got matched with the nerd profile? That is adorable." Johanna cackles again.
Peeta huffs confusedly, "What are you talking about?"
"Listen, I have 26 profiles of different types of women on the site. I only use them when I have an itch that needs scratching." She winks.
"Oh. Ohhh." Peeta frowns. "Well, at least that's an explanation."
"I honestly don't know why you're bothering with online dating. It's pretty obvious you've already found your nerd girl." Johanna shrugs.
"Can I get you a cup of coffee, boss?" Johanna purrs, "I know you take it tall, milky and bitter. Just like your women."
Rue chokes on air as all eyes turn to where Johanna is smiling adoringly at Peeta.
"Wha–I don't," Peeta sputters as he frantically looks from Johanna to Katniss—who is scowling at the table in front of her—and back. "No!"
Johanna takes his hand in hers. "Peeta and I are going to lead today's meeting together because we've been in sync lately." She giggles uncharacteristically and begins rubbing up his arm. "Well, that is, ever since–"
"Okay!" Finnick says loudly, cutting her off and pushing up from his chair. "Peeta, can I see you in the hall?"
Peeta tries to catch Katniss' eye so he can send her some kind of nonverbal signal that Johanna is completely making up whatever she just insinuated but Katniss hasn't stopped staring at the table. Defeated, he follows Finnick into the hallway. Peeta hears the room erupt in laughter as Finnick closes the door behind them and Peeta is careful to position himself so he can watch Katniss over the other man's shoulder.
"Peeta, I have to say, I'm a very concerned about what just happened in there." Finnick frowns.
"I totally understand." Peeta glances briefly at Katniss who's now peering at Johanna from the corner of her eye as she chews on her bottom lip. "Johanna was just joking. We're friendly coworkers, nothing more. We've never done anything. That's just her sense of humor," Peeta explains hurriedly.
Finnick considers him for a moment. "Okay, I don't think you're lying to me. It's important that we maintain professional relationships here, Peeta. I have a rule that prohibits intraoffice relationships. Even Katniss is prohibited from dating anyone at City Hall," Finnick says as he reaches for the conference room doorknob.
"Wait!" Peeta exclaims, halting Finnick's movement. "What?"
"Oh, yeah." Finnick explains nonchalantly, "She asked yesterday if she was permitted to date someone in the Panem government but I had to explain to her that, given our positions and that we technically have authority over every department, it's completely out of the question. She understood."
Peeta glances back through to the conference room and meets Katniss' eyes before hers quickly flicker back to the table. "I see."
"Listen. I know we like Finnick and that he's super nice and handsome and amazing but I need you to be on my side on this one," Peeta stresses as he sinks into Annie's soft blue couch.
He hears a bang and a subsequent muffled curse from Annie's kitchen before she leans through her kitchen pass-through. "I'm always on your side," she says with a grin before ducking back into the kitchen. Annie walks into the living room juggling a beer, a glass of her favorite white wine and a bowl of pretzels and he quickly stands to help before reclaiming his seat. "What are we talking about again?" she asks before popping a pretzel in her mouth.
"Finnick's stupid rule," he mutters darkly.
Annie quickly finishes her pretzel before nodding her head. "It is a stupid rule."
"I finally find a woman who is smart, funny and beautiful who I'm not practically related to an–"
"Thank you," Annie interjects with a light smile.
"You're welcome. And I can't do anything about it because we'd be fired," Peeta huffs. "I love my job. Katniss loves her job. It's so unfair."
Annie considers this as she takes a sip from her wine. "It is unfair," she agrees. "You're going to have to just stay away from her," she offers with a shrug.
Peeta snorts over his beer. "That'll work. We only have to travel to the Capitol, just the two of us, and give a presentation on Panem."
Annie winces at his uncharacteristically sarcastic tone. "OK, we can do this. We'll just make a plan; you like plans."
"Yeah," Annie says as she nurses her wine. "We'll come up with a plan for you to keep things with Katniss strictly professional. You can follow a plan."
"Like, safe topics of conversation?"
Annie nods. "And the world's worst playlist."
Katniss sneaks a quick glance over at Peeta before she turns her eyes back to the road. He'd asked her to drive this morning, citing a bad case of pre-presentation nerves. "So, you and Johanna," she starts, trying to sound unaffected.
Peeta jerks his head in her direction. "We're just friends! Nothing happened, she was just messing with me." At Katniss' confused scowl he continues, "I, uh, lost a bet."
"Oh." Katniss says, glancing at him again quickly. "So, you two have never…"
"No, absolutely not." He tries to think of the list of pre-approved topics he and Annie had brainstormed and fails. "You're staying at Mags' place, right?"
Katniss nods quickly. "Yeah, she's nice and the bed is great but my landlord back in the Capitol is terminating my lease so I'm going to have to make a decision soon."
Peeta clears his throat roughly. "Oh, like try to find a new place back there?"
"Or try to find a place in Panem." Katniss smiles. "I don't know how much longer we'll be–maybe I could find something month-to-month."
Peeta turns to stare out the window to hide his grin. "Oh. Maybe." An uncomfortable silence fills the car and he decides to fall on plan B, digging in his pants pocket for his iPhone. "Want to listen to some tunes? Annie put together an awesome playlist for us."
"Sure." Katniss smiles again and Peeta uses his phone as a distraction from the appealing curve of her mouth as he works to connect it to the car stereo.
Lynn Rosetto Kasper's voice fills the air as she begins to recite a recipe for scratch biscuits. Peeta leans back and begins mentally calculating a double-yield, thanking Annie for the perfect relaxing intro as he does.
"Is this the Splendid Table?" Katniss asks excitedly. "I love this show! The food always sounds incredible and makes me so hungry," she moans.
Peeta stares dumbfounded at the woman next to him as he imagines her making that sound for him.
"I've already heard this one," he says, quickly skipping to the next track on Annie's playlist.
Peeta recognizes the hook—an altered Bill Withers sample—immediately and he freezes in horror. Annie had teased him about sneaking some of his 90s R&B onto the playlist but he'd never thought she'd actually do it. "I can't believe her," he groans as he reaches for his phone.
"Oh." Katniss frowns. "You don't like this song? It's a classic."
It takes all his effort to lean back into his seat without yanking his phone from where it's connected to the stereo and when he hears Katniss start to sing sweetly next to him he swears he'll get his revenge on Annie no matter what.
"I really think that our recent experience with the Harvest Festival makes Panem extremely qualified to host this years' games. We're planning to build our arena on the festival grounds, utilizing our corn maze and existing infrastructure," Peeta says, pointing to the festival grounds model he and Rue worked on retooling for the presentation.
Mayor Alma Coin considers them with narrowed eyes before speaking, "The last time Panem tried to host the games, the arena was overtaken by rabid dogs."
"We have the mutt problem under control. They've been fixed and placed in very loving homes," Peeta assures.
"What's the advantage to hosting the games in Panem?" Anita Paylor, the mayor's chief-of-staff asks.
Peeta's about to reply when Katniss speaks up next to him, "The advantage is that Panem is different. I've traveled all over the state as part of my work for the Capitol and Panem is very special. The people there are hard-working and proud. They're passionate about their community and they care for each other." She glances briefly at Peeta. "It's really very special."
Mayor Coin leans in and whispers something to Paylor before standing and leaving the room. "Congratulations," Paylor says with a smile. "It's yours. I know you both have to head back already, but it was good seeing you again, Katniss. It looks like you've found your stride in Panem." The older woman excuses herself and leaves the conference room.
Peeta grabs for Katniss' hand and squeezes it tightly. "You were amazing. You should be the one to call Finnick to tell him the news," he says as he tugs her out the door.
Peeta focuses on the road as Katniss finishes her call with Finnick. "He says he's literally never been prouder of us." She grins. "He also told me to tell you Annie says hi."
Peeta huffs, not having forgotten her betrayal so soon. "Did you mean what you said about Panem being special?"
Katniss is quiet and he shoots her another sideways glance as she clears her throat. "Of course. Panem is very special. The town has a lot to offer." He can feel her eyes on him but he tries to focus on the road. "You know, the best part of my day is when I get to hang out with the town and talk to the town about stuff," she murmurs. Peeta can't help it then and he has to turn to glance at her again. "And the town has this really nice, wavy blond hair and it's so smart and cares so much about people. I've never met a nicer town. Besides, I've been told it makes a mean calzone with dough from scratch and fresh cheese and spices."
His breath hitches. "Oh, man."
Katniss sighs and turns to stare out the window. "I know."
Peeta takes a deep breath and whispers, "You know, the Capitol is exquisite."
Peeta raps quickly on the door jam to Finnick and Katniss' office before stepping inside. "Finnick asked me to drop these off." He waves the few receipts from their trip in his hand.
"Oh." Katniss rises quickly from her desk and maneuvers around it, hand outstretched to take them from him. "He left early today."
Peeta pauses, uncertain at what to say next. He hadn't slept at all last night, afraid of what he and Katniss were supposed to do now, after last night's confessions. She hasn't stopped staring at him since he walked into her office and he takes a deep breath and licks his lips to buy more time.
Katniss' eyes drop at the movement and suddenly her hands are on his neck, tugging him to her as her lips slide over his perfectly. Her lips are warm and full, if a little chapped, and he thinks she smells like vanilla and cedarwood. His hands are itching to finally touch her everywhere but settle for the curve of her waist as he steps impossibly closer to her.
Peeta sighs against her mouth, thinking vaguely that the wait was worth it and how Annie would so give him shit for thinking something so saccharine. "Shit!" he gasps, quickly pulling away as he remembers why they'd been waiting in the first place.
Katniss gapes at him, hurt and confused.
"Finnick told me we can't date each other and work here." He shrugs, reaching for her hand.
Katniss watches him silently as she tangles their fingers and pulls them back to rest on her hip. "Is that all?" She smiles, returning his shrug. "It's worth it."
"Uh oh," he says, gripping her waist tightly and pressing her into the desk behind them as he leans down for more.
Thanks for your patience, you few—yet loyal—parcis readers. I'll just say that this was difficult and I'm still not sold. Sohypothetically and BaronessKika are the Ann and April to my Leslie. They are perfect sunflowers and this story was better because of them.