Vita Brevis

Vita brevis,

Ars longa,

Occasio praeceps,

Eperimentum periculosum,

Iudicium difficile.

Life is short,

the art of healing is long,

opportunity fleeting,

experience perilous,

and decision difficult.


4 Years Old

"Mommy isn't feeling well today, Katniss." Daddy tells tiny, brown-haired Katniss Everdeen as he helps her into her red coat. She loves her red coat and she loves it when Daddy takes her someplace special, just the two of them. "We're going to go to the zoo so she can sleep."

The innocent, little girl smiles up at Daddy as he takes her hand, leading her to his old truck, the one that still has a cassette player in it. He always lets her choose which tape they listen to, and she always chooses the one with a funny looking skull holding a rose. He likes to sing to that one and she likes hearing Daddy sing.

"Is Mommy sick?" Katniss asks as he buckles her into the car in her special seat.

"Mommy is just very tired today," he answers, brushing a hand over her dark hair. He tried his best to braid this morning, but Daddy can't do it like Mommy does so it's very messy. It's been messy every day for a very long time now.

Katniss nods solemnly in understanding. Mommy gets very tired sometimes and doesn't come out of her room for a many, many days. Daddy talks to Mommy very quietly when she gets tired like this, but Mommy never answers. Katniss sometimes sneaks into her room and sits next to her. She likes to brush her hand through her mother's pretty yellow hair. Mommy doesn't talk to her either, but sometimes Katniss likes to pretend what she might say when she tells her stories about the day.

Katniss picks the music and Daddy sings the entire way to the zoo. His voice is so very pretty that she hardly notices the hum of the truck's old engine as his deep, baritone voice fills the cab. When Daddy parks the car, Katniss unbuckles her seat all by herself while he walks around to open her door.

Putting his hands on her hips, he prevents her from jumping out of the truck for a minute. "You know I love you very much, right Katniss? And Mommy loves you so, so much too."

"I love you too, Daddy," Katniss giggles, reaching up and wrapping her arms around his neck. He lifts her out of the car and carries her through the parking lot. Mommy would say she's too big for him to carry, but today it's just Daddy and her, so he does it anyway.

"You want to go see the reptiles first, right Katniss?" Daddy asks her with a grin that makes the dimples in his cheeks appear and the corners of his eyes crinkle.

She wrinkles her little nose at the suggestion. "No!"

She laughs and he does too. He knows that the snakes and lizards aren't her favorite animals to see at the zoo. She knows he doesn't like them best either. Both Everdeens have always had a fascination with the big cats- the tigers and leopards and lions and cougars.

"Oh, well, I guess we could go visit the snow leopards this morning, if you really want," Daddy shrugs, bouncing Katniss on his hip playfully as he heads in the direction of the Big Cats exhibit.

Katniss loves spending days like this with Daddy. He works a lot but he always tries to make time for her on the weekends, which is why, even at the tender age of four, the weekend is already her favorite part of the week.

They spend the morning watching the lazy cats wander around their pens, rolling in the early sunlight and chewing on the bones of their breakfast. Katniss holds Daddy's hand the entire time, not because she's afraid of getting lost because she has always been independent for a child of her age, but because she misses the gentle, warm feel of his skin against hers when he's not there.

By the time they get home, the sun has already started its descent in the sky. Katniss can barely keep her eyes open and Daddy tucks her under a blanket on the couch, whispering against her hair. "Take a nap, Katniss. I'll be here when you wake up."

She drifts off quickly, the sound of his soft footsteps lulling her into a sweet, dreamless sleep as he leaves the room.

"Lily!"

Through a sleepy haze, Katniss wonders why Daddy is shouting. He is never one to shout, even when she gets in trouble. She buries her face against the soft cushion of the couch, not ready yet to wake up after the exertion of the morning.

"Lily! What did you do, sweetheart?"

Her eyes crack open against the late evening light at the frantic tone of her father's voice. Katniss doesn't think Daddy has ever sounded quite so afraid before, his voice cracking and shaking as he continues to speak more quietly to Mommy, but it doesn't stop his voice from reaching her downstairs.

She crawls off the couch, carrying the blanket with her up the stairs to stand outside her parents' bedroom.

"Lily, how many did you take?" Katniss watches as Daddy fumbles around on the bedside table, his trembling hands lifting the little orange bottles one after another until he finds an empty one. "Lily, how many were left, dear?"

Mommy doesn't answer him, staring blankly into the space between them instead. She looks strange; her lips are a funny color. Daddy looks so scared as he shakes her shoulders that it makes Katniss scared too. She doesn't understand why she feels so cold all of the sudden. She doesn't know why she can't get her legs to move her tiny body into the room to stand next to him, to pat his hand like she usually does when he's upset.

So instead, she does the only thing she can think to do- the very thing she is best at- she stays very quiet and huddles down against the doorframe, wrapping the blanket around her in hopes that it might help warm her. She doesn't want to distract Daddy, but she doesn't want to be alone anymore either.

Katniss wishes very much that she could be braver; that she could help her daddy and her mommy, but she's just so very afraid. She doesn't understand why Mommy is so quiet tonight. Even on her worst nights she will sigh or look at Daddy. She wishes that Mommy would say something, anything, to him so he might not be so scared anymore.

"Just remember that Mommy is sick right now, Katniss, so she might not want to talk very much, okay?" Katniss nods, swinging her hand in her father's as they walk through the long hallways of the hospital, at least Daddy told her this is a hospital. She's not quite sure since this place doesn't look much like hospitals she sees in her picture books.

It's been a long time since that day at the zoo; long enough that Katniss had to turn the calendar that hangs above the phone, the one that Mommy uses to write appointments on. The men in the ambulance came and took Mommy away that day in a flurry of voices and flashing lights. Katniss has noticed how sad Daddy has been since then and she hopes Mommy will come home soon.

A big man unlocks the door and lets them into a giant living room. Katniss spots Mommy right away, sitting on a couch with her legs tucked under her. She tugs nervously at one of her dark, messy braids that Daddy fixed her hair in, suddenly shy at the sight of her mother. Mommy is wearing light blue pajamas that Katniss doesn't recognize but she doesn't think Mommy has ever looked prettier.

"Hello, Katniss," Mommy smiles, holding out her arms so she can wrap her in a hug. Her tummy flips happily. She hadn't realized just how much she missed Mommy and her voice and her touch.

"Hi, Mommy," she grins back toothily. Mommy doesn't look very sick anymore. Maybe she'll be home again soon.

"How was your day?" Mommy asks, nestling Katniss to her side.

She immediately begins to tell her mother about how Daddy took her to the park where there is an ice skating rink right now. She likes the way Mommy smiles easily. She missed her mommy's smile and she missed the way Mommy is holding her now. Katniss makes a silent promise that she will try extra hard to be good so as not to make Mommy sad so she won't leave again. She wraps her tiny arms tighter around Mommy's waist in hopes that this might be able to keep her with them forever.


Present

"You're quieter than usual today, Katniss," Thom says as she passes by him on the way out of the med room, "What's eating you?"

"It's more of a problem with who isn't eating her if you ask me," Johanna offers offhandedly, never looking away from the charting on the screen before her.

"Thanks for the input, Jo," Katniss spits back, hoping Thom doesn't pick up on the blush quickly rising to her cheeks.

Johanna always assumes everything revolves around sex, which for the older woman, it usually does. Katniss sometimes wishes her life could be that simple. This morning, she got a call from Greenfields, which always throws her off, but Johanna is at least correct in her assertion that Katniss isn't bedding anyone regularly these days. Honestly, she has more important things to be thinking about than plotting ways to keep a guy between her thighs.

"Just thinking about stuff, Thom. No big deal," Katniss says with a passable smile. "I put a page out for Doctor Aurelius, so if he calls back, forward him to my phone," she adds, heading for the room where the antibiotic in her hands is supposed to be hung up.

"Good morning, ladies… and Thom," Dr. Odair greets the trio as he walks off the elevator next to the nurses' station, flashing a bright smile at Katniss as she eyes him curiously, pausing on her way to see her patient to hear why in the world Dr. Finnick Odair is visiting the floor today.

"Haven't seen you up here in a while, Doctor," Johanna comments from her seat in front of the computer as Katniss fiddles with the tubing of the antibiotic.

"That would be because I prefer spending my time with the pediatric patients downstairs," the young doctor admits, a sparkle in his eye, "They understand me. Plus, they share their toys with me."

"So what brings you up here today then?" Katniss asks, flicking at a bubble in the line. "We still don't have any toys."

He laughs, pulling a hand through his bronze hair, leaving it an unruly mess, "I'm covering for Dr. Aurelius today until his new hospitalist can get in and one of you put a page out for him. So here I am."

Katniss recalls hearing something about the new hospitalist a few weeks ago. Dr. Aurelius is one of the best doctors in the city, and lately he's been swamped trying to keep up with appointments at his office on top of doing rounds at the hospital. Hiring a hospitalist was the obvious solution since it will free up more of his time to be at the office. The new hospitalist will take over Dr. Aurelius's physician rounds, taking care of any patients that he is normally the primary physician for. It has become an increasingly popular option for physicians at Capitol Memorial to hire hospitalists, or at least nurse practioners, to help with their patient loads.

"You're making trips to every floor that pages you personally?" Katniss arches an eyebrow curiously at the young man.

"Only for the lovely nurses like yourself, Everdeen," he quips, shooting a suggestive wink her way. She lets out a snort in spite of herself. Dr. Odair has been a flirt since the day he was hired at Capitol Memorial, but she's come to recognize he's harmless, especially when compared with some of her patients. Somehow he always manages to make her smile, even on days like this when she's so preoccupied with everything going on in her personal life.

"So were you the one to page me?" he asks in his most seductive tone.

"Forget it!" Katniss throws her hands up, the tubing of the antibiotic swinging haphazardly between them as she laughs, backing away from the bronze-haired doctor, "I'll just write orders and lose my license for it. I can't work with you today, Doctor."

"Oh, come on now, Kit Kat," Dr. Odair chuckles playfully after her. "Your colleagues won't tell on us if they discover the true relationship between us. I'm sick of pretending your disdain for my affections is real."

Katniss scurries away from the nurses' station, making a gagging noise as she hurries off to hang the antibiotic before the dose will be considered late. When she returns several minutes later, Dr. Odair is still at the nurses' station, leaning lazily against the counter as he chats with Johanna and Thom.

"So fill us in then, Odair," Johanna turns in her chair with a smirk, "What's the new doc like?"

"A completely pompous asshole," Finnick answers easily, folding the papers in his hand with a grim look, "Thinks he knows everything, looks at nurses and everyone else as his underlings, expects everyone to fall all over themselves to keep him happy-"

"So, basically, he's you, right Doc?" Thom retorts boldly from where he's sitting on hold with the local Walgreens, trying to get information on a newly-admitted patient's home medications.

"That's offensive, Thom!" Finnick shouts over the laughter that breaks out from everyone at the nurses' station although he's biting back a smile himself, "Everybody knows I'm the best-looking and most lovable doctor around. You'll all love me even more once you meet the new one."

"Oh, please, Finn," a deep voice calls, edged with humor, from just beyond the nurses' station. Katniss turns just in time to see a broad-shouldered, blonde-haired man step off the elevator. "Don't convince them that they hate me before we even meet."

Finnick's face breaks into an even brighter grin as he turns to greet the hospital's newest physician, extending a slender hand, "Peeta! You're here earlier than Dr. Aurelius thought you would be."

"It was a pretty quick stop by his office and I didn't see the point in waiting to come in," the new doctor says with a shrug and a shy smile. "I thought it might be nice to meet some of the staff I'd be working with."

Finnick nods at the group of nurses before him, "This motley crew is the group of nurses you'll be relying on not to kill your patients on the sixth floor." Finnick points a thumb towards the handsome man beside him. "Everyone, this is Dr. Aurelius's new hospitalist Dr. Peeta Mellark."

Peeta nods at the group before him, giving an awkward wave. "Nice to meet you all."

"Here's your list for the day, Peeta," Finnick says, gladly shoving the papers he printed only moments before into the blonde man's hands. "I'm going back to pediatrics where I fit in. Everyone up here is old and grumpy."

"At least the patients up here can tell me what's wrong," Peeta chuckles, clapping the other man on the back as he looks down at the names on the sheet in his hand.

Finnick shrugs, knowing that the blonde man has a point. "Katniss is the one who paged me up here, so you'll probably need to talk with her first. She's a hard shell to crack though, Peeta, so don't beat yourself up too hard if she doesn't like you." Finnick flashes her a grin. "I won her over with my stunning good looks, but not everyone is so lucky."

Dr. Mellark glances in the direction that Finnick is looking and a blush rises along his neck as his eyes meet the curious grey ones a few feet away. Katniss, for her part, maintains a neutral appearance even though her heart is suddenly pounding against her chest. She doesn't think she has ever met a person with eyes quite so blue, the color rich enough to get lost in for hours.

Finnick says his goodbyes, waving as he heads for the elevator, but Katniss has a difficult time tearing her gaze away from the beautiful man before her. She's not sure when he moves, but all at once he's standing directly in front of her, his head tilted down so their gazes still meet.

Up close, she realizes just how big Dr. Peeta Mellark is. He's not so much tall as he is stocky, muscular, wide. He looks like the type of man who might play football, hockey- some sport where there's enough contact that his size would be beneficial to throw around. Katniss wonders how in the world a man of this size ended up going through medical school. Almost every other doctor she knows is barely a few inches taller than her at best and slightly built.

It's not until he clears his throat that Katniss realizes, a bit belatedly, that she's been staring in silence for an awkwardly long time. She sticks out a hand, realizing once she does that it's sweaty and probably not going to give the best impression when she's hoping to convince this man that she's a confident nurse.

"Nice to meet you, Dr. Mellark," she says, trying to offer a pleasant smile, but she's afraid it comes across as more of a grimace. Katniss has never been good at pleasantries or introductions.

He doesn't seem to notice, or if he does, he's kind enough not to point it out as he takes her hand, his own large hand engulfing hers. His hand is also dry and just that comfortable temperature that isn't too cold. Her eyes narrow of their own accord, wondering how on earth this man can be so freaking perfect and how his grip sends electric tingles traveling up her arm.

"Nice to meet you as well… Katniss? Is that the name Finn used?" Dr. Mellark squints at the name badge hanging from the collar of her navy scrubs.

She nods, "Yes. We're a family full of flowers." She cringes. Why the hell did she just tell him that?

Dr. Mellark's lips break into an easy smile though as a sweet chuckle escapes from deep in his throat, drawing a shy smile from Katniss in spite of her embarrassment.

"Good to know," he nods amiably as he reaches into the breast pocket of his white medical coat, pulling out a pair of black-framed glasses and placing them on his nose. They somehow seem to enhance the color of his eyes and Katniss finds herself mesmerized, "So Finn said you paged for Dr. Aurelius?"

Right. Work.

She gives her head a little shake and looks down at her nails, "Yes, I got in report this morning that Mr. Strider was supposed to be going home today, so I was hoping to get orders and reconcile medications."

Dr. Mellark gives an easy smile. "Oh, sure. I'll just have a look at him first and then come back out here to do the paperwork. How's Mr. Strider doing today?" he asks, pulling a sheet of hand-written notes from a pocket of his coat and looking it over briefly, the frames of his glasses sliding down the bridge of his nose ever so slightly.

"He's good," she replies dumbly, tugging anxiously at the end of her braid. She's not sure why her nerves are so raw right now. It's not as though this man is threatening or intimidating, at least not in the way most physicians are. Physically he's pretty massive, but she can already tell he's kind and easygoing in a way most doctors aren't with nurses.

A soft chuckle catches her attention, causing her to look up again and meet those stunning eyes. Dr. Mellark is smiling at her, his eyes crinkling at the corners, "I'm going to need a little bit more to go on before I'm ready to discharge him."

Blood rushes to her cheeks and she ducks her gaze back to her hands. How embarrassing! And he's still smiling at her like she hasn't just made a complete fool of herself. She wishes she could just crawl under the desk at the nurses' station and hide there until Dr. Peeta Mellark leaves for the day.

"How are his lungs sounding?" he prompts, raising a pale eyebrow over the dark frame of his glasses.

Her heart begins to race again and Katniss tries to remember if she put a nicotine patch on a patient without using gloves this morning. The last time she did that she thought she might be having a heart attack. It felt a lot like she's feeling right now as her eyes find his vibrant ones again.

"Pretty shitty-" Katniss stops, her eyes widening before she corrects herself. "Or- uh, coarse. They sound coarse, I mean. They are improving though."

Why wouldn't the floor just open up and swallow her whole? Katniss hears Johanna's amused snort from behind her and it really must be as embarrassing as Katniss thinks if Jo's laughing about it.

Dr. Mellark laughs loudly though, apparently oblivious to her lack of professionalism, "I'll bet they don't sound so good. I looked at the x-rays from yesterday." He gives her a conspiratorial wink before folding the papers up and slipping them back into his coat. Maybe he's not so oblivious after all. Not that that's any comfort at this point. "How are his sats this morning?"

"Ninety-six on two liters." Katniss answers more readily this time, clearing her throat in an attempt to keep her voice from shaking now that she's thoroughly embarrassed herself. "They had to bump him up to three overnight but I weaned him down this morning, and he's been okay with that."

"Have you tried taking him off the oxygen completely yet?" Dr. Mellark questions, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck.

"Not yet. He was working with physical therapy earlier so I didn't want to do it then." Katniss shuffles awkwardly from one foot to the other.

"Okay," he nods, his blonde hair capturing the light as he moves in the direction of Mr. Strider's room, "Why don't you give it a try sometime today before he leaves and if he desats below ninety let me know? I'll write the discharge orders and do the meds before I leave, but we can keep him another day if he needs the oxygen. Otherwise I'll switch him over to an oral antibiotic and have him follow-up with Dr. Aurelius in two weeks."

"Sure," Katniss says softly, doing her best to smile confidently at him but she's not sure it's very convincing. Judging by the amused look he gives her, she figures he agrees.

"So you have the hots for Dr. Blondie," Johanna says, collapsing into the seat next to Katniss at the break room table.

"What the hell are you talking about, Jo?" Katniss mumbles through a mouthful of sandwich, rolling her eyes at the stunning, dark-haired woman beside her.

"I'm talking about the way you turned into a stuttering, idiotic, puddle of mush as soon as that broad-shouldered god started talking to you," she fixes the younger woman with a shit-eating grin. "Even you aren't that socially stunted with the average person, Katniss."

"And you're fishing for gossip," Katniss replies, shaking her head as she stuffs more sandwich into her mouth.

"Okay, if you want to go for denial that's fine," Johanna shrugs. "But that man is ridiculously attractive and you haven't had a good fuck in ages-"

"JO!"

"Just saying!" She holds her hands up in defense with a little cackle. "I would just go for it. You're young and unattached and you deserve some happiness in your life, Katniss. I don't think people tell you that enough so I'm saying it for them."

"I just have a lot going on right now and the last thing I need is to get involved with a physician," Katniss mutters, picking at the crust of her sandwich.

Johanna gives her a knowing glance. "How's she doing?"

Katniss looks up in surprise but Jo simply shoots her a wry smile.

"You always get quiet when she gets bad again. You might not say anything about it, but you're not that hard to read, Katniss," Johanna shrugs. "Is there anything I can do?"

"No," Katniss admits, her voice barely louder than a whisper, "I'll be okay."

Both girls share a look, one that says they both hope her words are true. Katniss's nerves are wearing thin lately and she doesn't know how much longer she can keep doing this. But for now she just has to buck up and make do with what she has to work with.

Directly after Katniss finishes her shift at the hospital, she jumps into her old beat-up sedan and makes the drive out to Greenfields. She can't help but think that the name is an apt description of the establishment as she turns down the familiar drive surrounded by the large open areas of what would be manicured, green grass and trees if it weren't the dead of winter.

She finds her way to the unit easily, the path ingrained deeply in her memory at this point as she passes through the hallways washed in soothing colors with tranquil paintings hanging upon them.

"Hi there, Katniss." Cinna greets her warmly when he opens the heavy, metal door after she rings the bell.

She returns his gentle smile as she steps through the doorway and follows him down the short corridor. Cinna swings his badge around his finger carelessly as they approach a black keypad that he waves his ID in front of before a high-pitched beep sounds. A loud click echoes and Cinna pushes the door open, following Katniss through it as she walks onto the unit.

"How is she doing?" She asks softly, rubbing a hand nervously over the sleeve of her jacket.

"Better since we called you this morning," Cinna nods smoothly as he lets them through the door and locks it behind them once again. "The Haldol calmed her down. She's just really quiet right now like she always is after an episode."

"Is she still talking about leaving?" Katniss tugs at the end of her braid.

Cinna looks at her sympathetically, "She's still mumbling to herself about breaking out of here. She thinks the government is holding her here to keep her quiet. So pretty much the usual."

Katniss sighs heavily, pressing her fingers against her eyes. It's the same cycle, but after this many years it's really starting to wear on her. Cinna places a gentle hand to her back. "She's in the rec room."

"Thanks, Cinna." She gives a halfhearted smile, "I'll talk to you before I leave for the night, okay?"

The dark-skinned man nods gently, returning to the nurses' station and settling down at a computer to chart. Katniss waves at Portia, who is in the med room pulling out evening medications and settling the tiny paper cups onto a tray. Katniss makes her way to the rec room, which is separated from the main visiting area by a small half-wall. It only takes a moment to spot the head of blonde hair sitting just beyond a table where three patients are quietly working on a puzzle.

"Hi, Mama," Katniss greets quietly as she walks up behind the rocking chair that's facing the window, looking out at the dark courtyard of the psychiatric facility.

She moves around the chair and settles herself carefully on the windowsill, looking up at the woman who raised her. Her mother's eyes flit to her face for a short moment before returning their focus to the darkness outside. Observing the tired face that seems to have aged twenty years practically overnight, Katniss can't help but watch the older woman with a wistful look.

Katniss always found her mother beautiful, but her illness has started to take its toll of late, really ever since Daddy passed. He was always the string that held her to reality and grounded her, but when he died, she spiraled out of control in a way that neither of her daughters seemed able to help.

The depression was bad enough; Katniss lived in constant fear that she would come home from her shift one evening to her mother and a handful of empty pill bottles. But when the manic phase took hold, her mother became dangerous. She wasn't just a hazard to herself anymore when she felt invincible, and she was liable to ruin the household finances as well.

When Katniss came home one day to find a towel on fire on the stove it was the last straw. Mama told her she had been cooking a feast but got distracted by the news report. There was a message hidden in the words, she said. The government was trying to communicate with her.

That first time after Daddy passed, it was impossible to convince her mother that the hospital was what she needed, that they would give her medicines that would make her feel better. The court only took ten minutes to decide that she was a danger to herself and society if she wasn't in a locked facility. Since that first time, Katniss has become quite at home at Greenfields Psychiatric Facility. She tries to make it out here at least once a week when her mother is here.

"Mama?" Katniss repeats after a few minutes of silence, "Will you talk to me?"

There's a long pause before Lily turns to look at her eldest daughter, "You have to get me out of here!" she demands, her wide, blue eyes frantically searching Katniss's face.

"Mama-"

"They're giving me drugs to keep me quiet because of what I know-"

"Mama, stop it-"

"You can't leave me here, Katniss, they'll kill me." The words tumble out of her mother's mouth so quickly that Katniss doesn't have a chance to stop her. "We can escape! I have a plan that won't fail!" Her mother reaches for her hands, clasping them desperately, bouncing her heel quickly against the floor, unable to remain still as the mania overtakes her again.

Katniss sighs, "Mama, no one is trying to hurt you. You're in the hospital. They're trying to make you feel better."

"I feel fine!" she argues fervently. "Or I did until they gave me that shot today. Look at it." She raises the sleeve of her t-shirt to show the swollen area on her upper arm where the needle had bruised the tissue when they had forcibly administered the shot of antipsychotic earlier this morning.

"Don't you see?" she pleads, moving to stand, wrenching her hands through her stringy, blonde locks. "They're putting trackers in me. If we don't get out of here soon-"

"Mama, stop it!" Katniss shouts, clasping her shaking hands together as she stands. "I'm not taking you out of here. You need to be here. Don't you remember what happened last time?"

"I was fine before I came here!" the older woman maintains but Katniss is shaking her head even before she can finish.

"Mama, you almost drove your car off a bridge-"

"I did not!" she hisses, her offense hard to miss. "I was trying to deliver an important piece of research and the cops were chasing me."

Katniss shakes her head, taking a step back. Talking to her mother when she's like this is pointless. No matter how logically Katniss tries to argue with her, her mother will never be convinced that her delusions are just that- delusions.

"Why are you shaking your head like that? You know I'm right, Katniss!" Lily shouts angrily.

"Lily, here's your medicines for the night." Portia holds out the little, white paper cup.

"I don't want those!" She swats a frustrated hand in the air, nearly knocking the cup from the other woman's hand before turning back to Katniss, fixing her with a pointed glare. "You see. They're trying to drug me."

"You need to take those pills, Mama," Katniss warns, trying her best to soothe the older woman. "Those pills help you."

"I won't take them!" she shouts, backing away, a look of betrayal plastered on her face, "And you can just leave if you're going to take their side, Katniss. I don't need you here! I don't want you here, so just go!"

"Mama-"

"Get out! Leave me alone!" she screams as two nurses' aids suddenly appear, guiding her away down a hallway that leads to her room. The shouting doesn't stop as she walks away though. Her words quickly revert back to accusations about the government, about escaping this place, about having an important message to deliver.

Katniss lets her body sag, settling into the rocking chair where her mother was only a handful of minutes before. Her head settles back against the headrest and she closes her eyes, barely hearing Cinna's quiet tread as he walks up to join her.

"Hopefully tomorrow will be better," he offers. Katniss opens her eyes to see him shoving his hands into his pockets, a grim look.

"But it probably won't, right?" Katniss asks, already knowing the answer. They've been through this before after all.

"Probably not." Cinna sighs, reaching out to cover one of her hands with his.

"When will the judge be here again?" she asks, "So I can switch shifts if I need to."

"Thursday," he replies gently. "You know that your sister could be a family witness as well. It doesn't have to be you every time, Katniss. That would be a lot to ask of anyone."

She shakes her head, letting her forehead fall into her hands. "Prim doesn't need this stress. Besides, it's harder for her to get home now that she's started med school rotations."

"Okay," Cinna nods understandingly, "we'll get an appointment for Thursday set up then. I'll call you with a time once we get one."

"Thanks, Cinna." Katniss shoots him a weak smile before standing, cracking her back tiredly. Seeing her mother like this always ages her about ten years. "I guess I'll see you Thursday then."

They walk back the way she came and Cinna lets them through both locked doors, giving her a smile as she steps out into the main hallway of the facility.

"Take care, Katniss." Cinna waves goodbye. "We'll be in contact sometime tomorrow."

"Thanks," Katniss waves, letting herself out of the building and hurrying through the cold night to her car. She lets her forehead fall against the steering wheel, taking several deep breaths to steady her nerves before the drive home. It's times like these that Katniss misses her father more than anything. He always knew how to talk to her mother when she got like this. Sometimes she just doesn't know what to do anymore. Sometimes Katniss just wishes there was someone else there who could share this burden. She just feels so lost, so small, that she's not sure how much longer she can keep this up.


AN: Thank you all so very much for reading! Please feel free to let me know what you thought! I love hearing from you. An extra big thanks to Court81981 for beta-ing this chapter and whipping into readable shape for you all.