A/N: I'm sorry it took so long to get this up. Thank you to everyone who favorited or alerted or reviewed. All of it means so much to me. Thank you for reading. Sorry for typos. Reviews are love. -Taryn
"So she's a physiological mute. Doesn't that just mean she selectively decides when to speak?" Glimmer asked critically the moment Effie introduced me to the group. The girl leaned forward in her chair, legs crossed, cleavage dipping from the collar of her shirt. Those orbed emeralds glued on me. "That's useful. Deciding when you want to answer someone or ignore them. Even makes a pretty excuse for you. I bet you use that all the time. Don't you?"
My hands were wrapped into fists, tucked in my armpits. There were people all around me; too many of them. All of them watching me. Any number of them could be for him. A fact I was painfully aware of. I'd already scoped out the four cameras posted around the common room. Despite the fact that Effie had assured me the cameras were purely for protection, I believed it as strongly as I believed these people around me were my family.
Glimmer laughed girlish to herself when I simply pressed my lips into a line.
Effie cut in with a clipped tone. "That's enough Glimmer."
Darius took a stab at it; "Why don't you share with Katniss why you are here?"
That didn't seem to please Glimmer so much as making fun of me. Further around the circle of chairs, though, the others weren't scared to give it a go. Clove coughed into her fist, "Attention whore."
Cato joined the game, sneezing, "DPD."
Marvel loved being apart of the group; "Jealous bitch."
Effie frowned at all of them, and they either shrugged or grinned widely or examined their nails. Glimmer's face was flaming. She'd sat up again, stiff shouldered, back rigid and the look on her face was one of pure wrath. Thankfully, the person on her right reached out a hand and patted her knee; the attention soothed her. The boy from Four A always turned up to feed her unhealthy need and addiction to unwarranted affection or acknowledgment.
"Does anyone else want to welcome Katniss to our family?" Effie asked once the awkward silence cleared. She sounded painfully hopeful. I followed her stare to that wall kid. Peeta.
I watched him. His ears were pink. Not as pink as his scars. He was wearing a t-shirt yesterday, so I'd gotten a clear view of the tattooed burns spreading up his limbs, but today he wore a jacket. Nothing was visible but the burn that trickled crimson down a cheek, and dripped down the left jaw. A strong jaw. He had a weak jaw.
Rue welcomed me, when no one else made an attempt. "I hope you like it here." Those small hands of hers clutched the edges of the chair that was simply too wide and she smiled up at me, kicking her legs, that couldn't quite reach the floor.
Who put her here? I wondered. What could possibly be wrong with that little girl? Once people would have said that about me. They were wrong, of course. I belonged in these hospitals. It was safer here. He had a harder time finding me in these towering white walls with muscle men like Thresh and bright, clicking Effie around. Perhaps the little girl was safer here, too.
He'd told daddy he would take that payment; the little girl.
Daddy had shouted my name. He'd told him no. No, not Katniss. Please.
"Katniss, do you have anything to say to Clove?" I looked to Effie, then allowed my eyes to meet Clove's muddy brown ones. There was a slight bruise circling her neck, that'd she'd tried to hide beneath a scarf. It'd been tugged loose, though. Probably due to the stiflingly heat in the building. I wondered how Peeta could stand that jacket.
"I apologize," I said, slowly, specifically. There was a smugness in Clove's face.
"Oh, that's sweet," she replied. Her cloy smile was directed at Effie. "Of course I accept it. Accidents happen, after all. It was a misunderstanding. I apologize, too. I'm happy to welcome a new girl to the group! It makes it even. Level One now has exactly twelve boys and girls. More than Level Two has."
"Level Two is for the older patients," Darius intoned distractedly.
Effie ignored that and clutched at her chest warmly. "That was very sweet, Clove, thank you." Cato snorted. Effie swung around on him. "Do you have anything to add this morning?"
He seemed to think about it, rubbing at his thick biceps and ruffling his spiked hair. It was as though he could not help touching himself. The leering smile he shot my direction turned my stomach over. "Welcome, Katniss."
I choked back a hiss.
Darius motioned at the girl beside Cato to speak. I knew she was from the room Eight B. There seemed to be a pattern in that; and I realized the girl's received B rooms and the boys got A. Would that I knew who was in Twelve A. He would have heard my feet slamming against the closet floor, possibly, last night and the sound of my straggled, he knows, he knows, breaking passed my lips. The boy from Eleven A spoke next, but he was distant and forgetful and Thresh, standing silently to the side, opted to return him to his room when the boy asked Effie where he was. Everyone watched them go.
"Well, group." Effie looked around at all of us. "Since this is Katniss' first time in our therapy session, where we all are open and it's a time to share, I think it would be appropriate for one you to show her how it is done. Any volunteers?"
None, at first. The silence dragged on and eyes danced around. I wouldn't do it. I never shared. Not to doctors. Not to peers. Not to the police. Not even to the Hawthornes.
However, Peeta raised his head and gave a weak half flick of his hand. "I'll share."
"Oh, good!" The cheery woman turned to him in complete investment. "We're all listening, Peeta."
"I remembered my brother's name."
"You did? I never knew you had a brother."
That gave Peeta's face a puzzled twist. "It wasn't in my file?"
"Er. Well," Effie faltered. "It simply said you had no family."
"No. I don't." Peeta clasped a hand over his thigh for a moment, nervous, then shrugged those stocky shoulders. "My brother's name was Rye."
"Like the bread?" Rue asked demurely. She peeked shyly up at him.
I was slightly miffed when Peeta met her stare and displayed a warm smile to put her at ease. "The very same."
"And, let me guess, your mum was named 'Wheat'?" Marvel said dryly.
Clove kicked the leg of Marvel's chair. "Ignore him, Peeta. He's a jerk. I was listening," she said earnestly, clinging to her sweet side that morning. I didn't miss the dark look the girl from room Four B shot Clove, but no one else seemed to notice the things I did. Like the footsteps. Thresh was returning. I was the only one to turn and watch.
Clove opted to share next. "I had an awful dream last night." There were scuffs from Glimmer and empathetic sighs from others, and Cato simply narrowed his eyes at the girl as though he suspected her of something – which made me suspect something. What if Clove was sending messages, coded, from him? "There was this pool, right? It was just black. I was crossing this bridge.. and.. this happened.. then.." My eyes flickered momentarily away from Clove's face and I noted, in a jolt, someone was watching me. Blue eyes. I tensed up. What was he looking at? Peeta flushed, turned away, and gazed determinedly at Clove.
He lied. He lied. Maybe he was sent to mislead me. Clove isn't his partner, it's Peeta.
The rest of the therapy session went by slowly. I kept close tabs on every noise and movement the whole lot of them made. I listened to every word shared – though most of it was nonsense and nothing insightful. Effie talked too much. The girl from room Seven B cried over a lost earring from fifth grade. Cato burst out an angry objection when Marvel accused him of eating the last slice of pizza a month ago.
It was nearly time for breakfast, the session over, when Effie turned to me. "Would you like to share?"
I shook my head. He would hear. He would know. He promised me, he shouted, he told me.
"I'll know, girl. I'll know the moment you talk. Where ever you are. I'll know."
"Come on, you can tell us. It's not hard. Anything. Tell us anything," Clove encouraged.
I looked uneasily around at the others. He will know. That was certain. The question was how. How will he know? The cameras? Glimmer? She smiled stiffly at me when my eyes swung around the circle. Cato smirked. Rue perked up and bounced on the edge of her seat. Marvel shrugged one shoulder. Effie brought her hands together, as though to clap, and Darius tapped an idle foot. Tap, tap, tap.
"Tell us your favorite color," Peeta suggested.
I whipped my head around to look at him, met his gaze, held it. No, I thought, "You tell me."
"Orange. Soft, like the sunset."
Almost unconsciously my lips parted, forming the word green. But I locked it up inside me. I turned aside my face and picked at the edge of my shirt. He lied. He lied. Watch out for isolation. That didn't hold any value, his words didn't. I would not waste mine on him. He will know.
Breakfast was called for afterward. We parted, returning our chairs to their respective spots. I dove for the kitchen serving counters, toppled on my tray as much food as I could, then found a corner to eat in. No one questioned my solitude. There were plenty others who kept to themselves, out of the twenty-four of us. There were clear gatherings, though. Clove called over the most; Cato, Glimmer, Marvel, both boy and girl from the rooms Four, and the boy from room Three A. The girl from room Eight B sat next to the Peeta boy, smiling shyly, and Rue joined them when Peeta welcomed her over at the wave of his hand.
Watch out for isolation.
Perhaps he hadn't meant the type of isolation I'd thought.
Was it possible he meant isolation from the others? Had my attack on Clove cut some social tie I was unaware of? Were there glares being sent my way that I'd failed to notice? Shadows were suddenly everywhere and all of them looked like his. I couldn't sit here. I was prepared myself to abandon my tray and make an escape, with the intent of reaching my closet. He wouldn't find me there. I could be alone and safe in there. But a man noticed my paranoid glances, the tense of my shoulders, and he slipped into the seat next to me.
No, I resisted internally, I have to leave. I peered over at him. There was something feline about his appearance. Only in the way that he was sleek and handsome and moved with a gentle grace.
The male caretaker indicated a hand at my food. I noted a peculiar ring of gold eyeliner around his eyes. "Is there something urgent calling you away from your food, Miss Everdeen?"
I shook my head.
"Well is there something wrong with the food?"
I looked over the meal; an assortment of soggy green beans, clumpy mashed potatoes, and a pungent cheesy pasta. I had no problem with it before, but after he mentioned it, I felt apprehensive about the whole thing. My eyes returned to his, staring, wondering if he knew something.
"Is there something else I can get you?" he asked politely.
I pressed my lips into a line, teeth gnawing at my cheek.
"I see." He offered me a hand and I shrank away. "My name is Cinna."
Clearly, I could read. The name tag pinned on his uniform stated that exact thing. Except, I was relieved all the same when he told me his name. Letters could lie. That uniform could have been stolen. Cinna might not have been a worker in Panem at all. The doubts filled my mind. Until I could not decide one way or the other. Until I decided he had something to do with it. Everything became much simpler when he was involved. When he was linked to something, anything, in any miniscule way, I knew that instantly, I had to reject it, had to distance myself from it.
I stood abruptly, clumsily. The bowl of mashed potatoes tumbled over thanks to the bang of my knee on the underside of the table and fell to the bench with a splat. Cinna looked at it, for a moment, then looked to me. He smiled, began to say something about it being of no matter, and I turned away, wrapped an arm around my torso. I took a skittish seat in the table three from mine, thankfully empty. I ignored the stares.
There, I tried to pretend things were alright. I mean.. I figured that I wasn't really that hungry anyway. Out the corner of my eyes, Cinna and another woman began to clean up the mess I made. No one approached me. Did not even glance my way. (They knew better, I suspected.) Panem had well trained staff members, that much was evident.
Eventually I cooled myself down. A false alarm, really. It was better to be out in the open, as of that moment, with the loud voices of the other patients around me. The closet would always be there.
I heard a stampede of footsteps. Effie entered the common room in the lead of a whole line of twenty-four other patients. They huddled into the same corner we on Level One had just vacated, pulling chairs and huffing and yawning and sighing at the perky sound of the head nurse's voice. "Are we all ready to share?" Effie chirped, loud enough for me to hear in the cafeteria.
Unfortunately, I couldn't hear any of their replies from where I sat. What I could make out of the patients was that they were certainly older. Some far more than others. None were teenagers. The youngest had to be a twenty-something young woman who sat in the chair backwards, scratching shapes into the wood with her untrimmed nails.
Thresh escorted four of them back to their rooms twenty minutes into the group therapy session. I had thought before that our session was in a ruin, but evidently, we were the good group. The first was a bedraggled young woman whom had started to rock and Thresh scooped her up as if she were nothing more than a kitten. Next went a handsome man who stomped (durm, durm, durm) after the woman, hands fisted at his side, and Thresh followed dutifully. An older woman, silver laced brown hair curled in her fingers, began to scream at another member of the group and Thresh pulled her out by an arm. (For the woman's credit, she remained dignified and aloof). The last to fail was an older man, clearly a past drug-user by his sagging yellow-ish skin, and his withdrawal symptoms caused him to collapse.
None of them screamed guilty of deception, but I watched all as carefully as I could. He wasn't among them. Not that I expected him to be. He usually hid himself better. He was good at what he did. I knew that. So when we (that being the twenty-four adolescent patients of Level One) were escorted carefully passed the patients of Level Two (who were inadvertently heading in to have breakfast) I used the most of my hands and arms to cover my face from their eyes.
Back in the common room Effie assigned us a helper for the day. (I was explained to that they lasted a week, then we got a new one for the next week, but it was always within a carefully chosen group, as to remain familiar and trustworthy.) I got a plump woman named Octavia. Gaudy, heavy makeup slathered her face. The eyeshadow was a particular pea green that contracted sharply against the plain white of her uniform. "Katniss!" I cringed at her greeting. "Oh, Effie told me so much about you."
Usually that would have spiked my blood and I would have sent Effie an unforgiving glare, but I knew Octavia was not his type. No. Glimmer was more his type. I watched the blonde the entire time Octavia painted my nails for me. (She had insisted. It would distract from the scratch marks Clove left on my neck, she said. It would make me look lovely and it would take up the time we had to wait to use the showers.) Glimmer was glued to the attention of the boy from Four A (whose name, I caught by eavesdropping, turned out to be Sal) and I decided that she though Sal was wrapped around her pretty finger, but she was really on his.
Peeta played chess with the girl from Eight B. I leaned over the table when Octavia added a clear coat over the evergreen and I pretended to be absorbed in the sight of them, admiring them. She was saying something about it, to me, placating me, but I had no care. I was listening farther away. "Aly," he'd called the girl. Peeta and Aly. They were friends, I could tell by their shared smiles, the way he let her win. (He could have taken that king three times, I saw it and felt like going over and pointing, but knew better.)
I caught a hug between Rue and a woman from Level Two. They were separated instantly and Rue was dragged off. I frowned and turned away, looking for something else to watch, to note, to remember for later. I was taking inventory while I could. Clove was slashing at a tabletop with a pen, while Cato talked over the sound, telling her a bawdy story. She didn't seem to be listening, her eyes dark and her mind elsewhere, her lips sneered. She was not the same Clove that was at the therapy session.
Darius was watching after the boy from Five A. That man, Cinna, was smiling and teasing with a co-worker whose name tag said Portia. After a few minutes, they parted, and I watched Cinna speak kindly to Aly. The two left the common room and Portia helped Peeta set up the chess board again. They played. It seemed an even match throughout the game, until I noticed an easy win for Peeta. (I saw it, I stared at it and he did, too. My eyes followed his across the checkered board and I know he saw it, then sacrificed a bishop, ruining his path.) Portia won, and afterward, they, too, left the room.
Octavia was painting her own artificial, three-inch long nails when I finally returned my attention to her. I spoke none. Just stared, and she smiled, put aside the cosmetic and stood. "Would you like to shower? Or you could wait until tomorrow, if you'd like. You're scheduled for a half-hour exercise just before lunch, then a after meal nap. Which really is only cool down in your room. The rest of the day goes to free time, dinner, then lights out. Do you have objections? Do you understand what's happening today? Any requests I can try to fulfill?"
She spoke in that same accent as Effie, but less high-pitched and certainly slower. Slow, in the way that made me feel as though she thought me simple or dim. I scowled, didn't reply, but stood and walked away. She followed, huffing to keep up. That was how it continued to be for the day. Me pacing ahead, her lagging behind.
For exercise I was let into a white-walled room with various bars and mechanisms for muscle building. I picked up a heavy ball and tried to bounce it. Didn't work. I'd seen plenty people play basketball on television, when I actually watched it, and for some reason the fact that the ball didn't bounce bewildered me, and made me uncertain. I picked it up and twisted it in my hands. Dimly, I remembered Gale's father used to keep one of those peculiar orange balls in their garage (right next to the shiny red scooters). Obviously, despite the heavy ball being orange, it wasn't a basketball. Unbidden, I made the decision Peeta would not like the color of the ball. It was too bright. However, the shade was almost the same as Foxface's hair.
I threw it at the wall a couple of times and ran about to catch it. Aches spread through my arms, tight and bruising. I closed my eyes a moment. I saw my mother. Curled finger-shaped tattoos rising violet and squash green on the backside of her neck. Once, I might have dismissed those marks as a new and silly makeup idea. I knew, now, that they weren't. That he had to have wrapped his hands around her throat to leave those behind.
Fervently, I hoped he saw the impressions I left on Clove's neck.
Lunch came and I sat alone. Rue joined me nearer the end. Her own caretaker, Flavius, sat happily and talked to Octavia. We, the patients, spoke none. I ate all of my food. (Skipping breakfast turned out to be a mistake.) The boy from Seven A had a melt down of some sort. That triggered Cato. Thresh, imposing and clean faced, came out of no where and dragged the ruthless boy from the cafeteria before he could cause too much commotion.
Down time in my room was the hardest part of the day. As Octavia escorted me to my room, I saw Portia walking Peeta to his own. The boy was in Twelve A, and I caught his eye when I passed. He looked away immediately, tugging the hood of his sweatshirt over his face. Suspicion rose painfully in my chest and I sat in my closet, listening for something from his side of the wall for the whole break. Only, they were too thick. That made me think of my last room mate. I wondered where Haymitch was. If he ever really worked for him.
The camera in my room, wrapped in two shirts and a pillowcase, still bore into my bones. After the fifteenth glace sent around the fabric of the closet covering, I got up, stalked over to the dresser, climbed and examined the mount. It was metal, new and shiny. I tampered with the bolts in the wall. None were loose. In the end, I took a pair of socks and slipped both tightly over the snout of the lens, on top of all the other things.
Octavia tisked at me for that, later. Free time came, but I sat contently in my closet for nearly three hours. When Octavia did come in, for a heartbeat, she considered me missing. Effie came back with the panicked caretaker and pointed to the closet, gave me away. I glared at Effie, and ignored the way she clicked away. Octavia sat on my untouched bed. "Did you sleep in this last night?" she asked.
I returned to the closet and ripped the curtain shut. Eventually, she left, but inevitably returned to bring me to dinner. The common room was full of Level Two patients when I crossed through it. I felt extremely exposed. A man and woman sat together at the painting station and lifted their heads when I passed; they looked to be twins, both so similar. Octavia noticed the way I attempted to hide behind her wider frame to get away from their stares. "Oh, that's just Gloss and Cashmere, they won't hurt you none."
Then why are they here, in a mental institution? They had to be a danger to others or themselves to be here. Something was wrong with everyone I had chosen to lock myself in the same building with. Rue came to mind, and I spotted her sitting at the table we'd eaten at together earlier that day. I decide to join her, only because I wanted to puzzle out why she was here in the fist instant. I could ask, I figured, but that seemed to give away something. Would the answer matter? No. No, it wouldn't. I stopped trying to figure out why everyone around me was there and focused on eating my custard.
Then someone knocked my milk over. I looked up instantly and saw Peeta. He was smiling, strained. "Sorry," he said. He snatched the few napkins that Octavia tucked under my tray and wiped dutifully at the spill. I recoiled from his suddenly appearance, eying him, but he leaned forward and muttered. "She's here, watching you."
I went rigid. Who? I scoped the room in vain. Peeta's hand caught my wrist, fleetingly, and he tipped his head to the left. There, stood a young girl. She was small, with a face as fresh as a raindrop, blonde hair braided in two pigtails. I felt my mouth parch when her wide blues eyes met mine.
Rue was hissing at Peeta. "You told her?"
"Someone had to," Peeta said, defensively.
The mess was cleaned by then and Octavia finally noticed our new guest. "Peeta! Where's Portia?" She looked to me, saw my panicked eyes, and frowned. "Katniss, are you alright with Peeta being here?"
"No. I'm leaving." He backed away. Aly stood some paces away and she attached an arm to his and they both fled the cafeteria. I watched them cross the common room and their caretakers took off after them, scolding and slightly miffed.
Flavius and Octavia looked equally confused, before they shook their heads. "Peeta is usually very composed," Flavius said. "Warden Coin said the nightmares are back."
"Poor boy," Octavia sighed.
I ignored them. In the corner of the room, I saw the girl from before was gone. She'd been wearing the standard whites of the staff. Really, she couldn't have been any older than Rue, and even more sweet looking. So why had Peeta felt the responsibility to warn me against her? Why had Rue been horrified he had?
After dinner there was an hour of common room time. Level Two was escorted to their own dinners, and before I could get a word with Rue, about what just happened, she begged Flavius to take her to bed. Normally, I would have asked to be taken to my own room. Except, I felt the need to figure out what was going on. I sat on the chair near the television, where Octavia was absorbed in the program and I could see everyone in the room.
Cato noticed my stares and approached. "Wait," Octavia told him. She looked to me sweetly. "Is it alright if Cato joins us?"
I shook me head, no.
"Sorry, but Katniss wishes to be left to herself," she told Cato.
Cato clenched his fists. "I see." He stomped off, clang, clang, clang, and slumped into a chair next to Glimmer. There, he said something that made the girl turn my way; her eyes were glowing emeralds. Amused, far too much, than I'd like.
I waited to see if Peeta would come back, or even that young girl that had been watching me, but neither did. Aly did after forty minutes or so, and I sat up and Octavia noticed the intensity in which I regard the girl. "Is there something you'd like to say, Katniss?"
I could ask about the girl, or request we are introduced. Instead, I inclined my head to the hall and walked myself to my room. I paused before I reached mine and knocked on Twelve A. Octavia stood stiffly behind me, not quite objecting, but cautious.
Thud, thud, thud, came from behind the door. I felt my heart tighten. He stomps. It sounded eerily like footsteps clamoring upstairs. Despite the blurring illusions in front of me, it was Peeta behind the door. A hood was pulled over his head; it worked well to hide the burn on his jaw. His eyes shown friendly in the shade, though, and the only thing they had in common was the blonde hair. He had black eyes.
He peaks at Octavia when I am silent for too long. Why had I knocked? I couldn't remember, only that I remembered the girl. I wanted to ask why he pointed her out, why she was important, what she could do to me. If she was working for him. But how could Peeta know if she was? That was what I needed to know, whether or not Peeta knew him. Thoughtfully, my eyes traced the rifts of the scars on his hands, until he shoved them in his pockets. His cheeks were pink when I looked back up at him.
"Did you want something?" he asked.
He acted as though what happened earlier hadn't occurred. I pressed my lips into a line and put my own hand out between us. Peeta looked at it for a moment. "Yes?"
"Green." I curled the fingers to display the nails his way. That's my favorite color.
Octavia raised a hand to rest on my back, mouth opening to apologize to him about me and my antics, but Peeta understood perfectly. "Was that really so hard?" he asked.
No. I turned from him and entered my own room. I heard my caretaker say something to him before she joined me and fluffed my bed and bid me a goodnight. I waited until she was gone to curl up in my closet. Every time I closed my eyes I saw the little girl with her pig tailed braids.
Who is she? What does she do? More importantly, why are the other patients afraid of her?