She’d known from the moment she’d met him that he was somebody important. There was a certain air about him, something that spoke of money and power and a ‘proper’ upbringing. The very opposite kind of world she’d known her entire life. Still, there had been something so enticing about the too-chill blond guy with the brilliant blue gaze. Like some force drawing her to him.
So even as her friends had wandered off to enjoy the other amusements the party had to offer, Katniss had stayed at the man’s side. ‘No names’ he’d urged desperately, hand firmly gripping a red solo cup filled with god knew what. ‘Not real ones, at least.’ So she’d told him to call her the first name that popped into her head. He’d laughed and followed suit, feigning a roguish suaveness as he’d introduce himself as her namesake’s counterpart.
A night of adventuring wildly around the city had followed. She’d taken him to all the most exciting, and often seediest, places she could think of when he’d admitted he was just hoping to forget life for one damn night. When they’d exhausted all of her hole-in-the-walls and dives, and themselves in the process, she’d brought him back to her apartment. Then they proceeded to exhaust themselves even further.
The next morning, she’d woken slightly hungover and thoroughly fucked. But she realized she hadn’t regretted a moment of it. Not when he’d awoken beside her like he’d just lived the best night of his life. They’d shared breakfast at a cafe a block from her apartment, still sticking astutely to the names they’d used the night before.
He’d kissed her softly on the cheek as he’d made his leave, whispering a tender ‘thank you’ in her ear. She’d watched him go, a small twinge of regret flaring in her chest because she’d known from the moment they’d ‘said go’, she’d been nothing more than an escape. A glimpse into a world he was far too privileged to be a part of. A one time thing.
Six weeks later, the remaining regret had finally come crashing down on her in nauseating waves as she’d stared at a positive pregnancy test.
"Aurora, look at me please." Katniss tugged on her daughter’s hand, trying desperately to get the six-year-old’s attention. It was a difficult task with the little girl so completely enraptured by her surroundings. Not that she blamed the child. This was the fanciest place she’d ever been to as well.
"The whole room sparkles, mama!" Aurora sighed dreamily, her blue eyes bright and wide as she looked back to her mother. "It’s like a fairy tale!"
Katniss smiled at her daughter’s wonderment. “It is!” She breathed, brushing a thumb against Aurora’s cheek. “Which is why you need to pay attention to what I say and not get in anybody’s way tonight.” She scrunched up her face disgustingly. “Because there’s an evil stepmother running all around this place and if she catches you doing something bad, she’ll get really angry.”
Aurora’s eyes got wider, this time with worry. “Will she turn me into a mouse?” She whispered nervously.
"Maybe." Katniss hoisted her up and settled her against her side, carrying her out of the main ballroom and into the server’s area where the rest of the wait staff was milling about. "I don’t know what her powers are exactly, but I do know she made Uncle Haymitch cry!”
The girl gasped in shock.
"So you’ll be on your best behavior tonight, right?" Katniss gave her an expectant look as she set her on her feet by an empty row of chairs in the corner. "You’ll stay right here and color in your coloring books and not go off on adventures like you like to do, right?"
Nodding vigorously, Aurora let her mother ease her arms out of her backpack and climbed up onto a chair. “Right!” She chirped, holding out her hands. Katniss sighed reluctantly, unzipping the tiny bag and pulling out one of the aforementioned coloring books and the Crayola Big Box she’d packed away. She placed them into waiting, wiggling fingers.
"I mean it, Aurora." She set the backpack down in front of the chair. "You stay here. If you need anything, you wait until you see me or Auntie Jo-Jo, okay?"
"Yeah, yeah!" Aurora mumbled, already intently focused on which color of pink was just right for the Pinkie Pie picture she’d opened up to.
With another sigh, Katniss hesitantly stepped away from her little girl. She moved over to the table not too far away where the earpieces for the wait staff were placed. She picked one up, focusing her attention on turning it on and getting it situated in her ear.
"Haymitch isn’t gonna like this…" Johanna Mason muttered as she sidled up next to Katniss.
Katniss glanced up at her, still fiddling with the earpiece. Her roommate’s eyes were focused on Aurora and Katniss turned to look that way as well.
"It’s not my fault he put you on this event last minute," She hissed and glanced back at Johanna. "I couldn’t find a damn babysitter on such short notice."
Shrugging, Johanna slowly began backing away from the table. “I know the details, brainless.” She pointed at Katniss. “Doesn’t mean this isn’t gonna turn into a huge shitstorm.”
Looking over to her daughter again, Katniss pulled in a deep breath. “God, I hope it doesn’t.”
It had been a futile hope, Katniss realized with dread when she came back into the server’s room to exchange her empty tray of hors-d’oeuvres for a full one and found the corner empty of one six-year-old. Panic immediately set her heart racing. She threw the empty tray down onto a table, yanked the earpiece from her ear, and rushed over to where she’d told Aurora to stay.
"Rora!" She whispered desperately, throwing herself to the ground so she could peer under the chairs and tables nearby. "Rora, please come out…"
When she saw nothing but gaudy carpet and a few crayons that had slipped from the Big Box, she let out a quiet growl of frustration. Katniss pushed herself to her feet and began to turn in a circle slowly, trying to take in every portion of the room as she went.
"Please be in this damn room." She muttered to herself, hoping for a glimpse of a tiny brunette-haired head or a wisp of her daughter’s frilly purple dress. When she came up empty, she groaned and gave into a tiny, petulant foot stomp. "Dammit, Aurora…"
Katniss moved hastily back into the ballroom, skirting along the outer edge as she scanned the crowd. It was a dizzying sea of tuxedos and designer gowns, waiters, trays, and champagne glasses. But no wayward six-year-old too curious for her own good. That was, until Katniss caught sight of tiny hand sneaking up to swipe at the beautifully decorated cake set up on a table against the far wall.
Katniss took off as fast as she felt she could get away with without looking too obvious, making a beeline for the cake and her daughter. She arrived just in time to see the little girl grasp at a beautiful lily made of frosting.
"Aurora!" She whispered harshly, taking her daughter’s hand in her own and dragging her away from the table. "What did I tell you?!"
Aurora looked at her with a mix of shock and guilt. “Mama!” She gasped, allowing Katniss to continue to pull her along, back towards the server’s room. “I was bored and hungry and I couldn’t find you or Auntie Jo-Jo and I saw the cake and it looked so pretty…”
"I don’t care how pretty it looked!" Katniss snapped quietly. They passed out of the ballroom and into the server’s room. She brought Aurora back over to the corner she’d first placed her in and she turned sharply on the little girl. "I told you to stay here," She pointed to the floor and glared sternly into watery blue eyes. "Right here, and you didn’t listen. You told me you’d stay.”
Aurora’s face screwed up in anguish and she looked to the ground. “I’m sorry, mama…” She whispered dejectedly.
Katniss’ anger dissipated instantly. She gathered the child into her arms, lifting her up so she could hold her tightly. Aurora wove her arms around her mother’s neck, letting out a sob.
"It’s okay, cupcake." Katniss soothed, regret seeming to engulf her.She turned away from the bustling room of waiters, some of whom where giving her reproachful looks. "I was just scared somebody would see you." She brushed a hand over her little girl’s hair. "If the wrong person had caught you-"
"There she is!" A voice screeched from across the room and Katniss whirled around. She took an instinctive step back, clutching her daughter tightly. A fierce looking woman in an evening gown was practically dragging Haymitch Abernathy in her direction. She felt the dread beginning to turn her stomach hard.
"And she’s got the grubby little urchin with her too!"
Katniss bristled at the woman’s words, the dread turning to rage. “Excuse me?” She seethed.
"Don’t you dare backtalk to me, you little brat." The woman snapped, holding up a finger as if to silence Katniss from saying more. She turned her icy stare on Haymitch, who was scowling at Katniss. "I don’t know what kind of show you’re running here, Mr. Abernathy, but if you let an unauthorized child run unaccompanied around private parties-"
"Unauthorized child?!" Katniss snapped, taking a step forward.
Haymitch threw up his hand, halting her. “Don’t say another damn word, girl.” He muttered before returning his attention to the fierce-looking woman.
"I want her fired." The woman barked out, giving Haymitch a no-nonsense stare. "I want her fired, right here, right now, or you and your entire staff don’t get paid."
Katniss opened her mouth to say something, but Haymitch pointed at her without bothering to look at her. Like he’d expected her to try. “I don’t think we need to be that hasty…” He used his most convincing voice, the one he reserved for when he schmoozed the most elite clients.
"This is non-negotiable, Mr. Abernathy!" The woman’s voice carried loudly across the room. "Fire her!"
"Mother?" Another voice drifted cautiously from where the ballroom entrance was and Katniss suddenly felt as if she’d turned to stone. It had been a long time since she’d heard that voice, so long it felt like more of a daydream than a reality. But she’d recognize it anywhere. It was a night of adventure and no strings attached. "Is everything okay in here?"
Katniss shrank back towards the wall, her grip on Aurora tightening. She let out a shaky breath as she watched a head of blonde hair bob and weave through the crowd that had gathered to watch the spectacle. She felt sick. She felt stuck. Like a mouse trapped by a whole bunch of cats.
"Peeta, go back to the party." The woman sighed, glancing behind her. "I’m just dealing with a staffing issue."
"Well, your staffing issue is carrying out into the ballroom," Suddenly he came into view and Katniss wanted to sink into the ground. His hair was pushed back, not unruly like it’d been that night almost seven years prior. He was in a tuxedo instead of well-worn jeans and a button down. He carried himself more rigidly, like there was a fierce confidence that hadn’t been there the one night they’d had together. But it was him. Definitely him. "Let’s see if we can’t work out-"
That brilliant blue-eyed gaze finally landed on her and he stopped dead in his tracks. Like he was seeing a ghost. Katniss felt much the same way.
"Leia?" He breathed in shocked, his eyes searching hers frantically. She almost choked out a sobbing laugh at the name she’d given him that night. The stupid, stupid name.
Aurora, who had been hiding against her mother throughout the entire ordeal, picked her head up off Katniss’ shoulder. She looked out towards Peeta, her eyes wide.
"That’s the Star Wars princess!" She gasped in delight.
Peeta’s gaze snapped to Aurora’s face as if he was noticing her suddenly. They lingered there, and Katniss watched as understanding slowly dawned upon her Han Solo.