AN: Thank you all for the wonderful response to the first chapter! I still haven't responded to most of the reviews I received, but I intend on remedying that tonight. I just wanted to get this chapter posted before I went about my errands for the day.
This is all too familiar. She's been here more times than she'd like to admit but she's certain this won't be the last visit. The room is small and stuffy from so many bodies in it. The air smells almost musty, as though the windows have been closed for too long, which she supposes is a logical conclusion, being it is the middle of winter and all. She hates the way her chair squeals against the linoleum floor when she moves it slightly out of anxiousness. Even after all these years, she still gets nervous every time she has to do this.
"Miss Everdeen?" the judge asks with poorly-masked irritation as he repeats her name for the third time. Her eyes snap to the middle-aged man at the table across from her. He's a new one, but this process isn't.
"Sorry." She runs hand instinctively over her braid.
"State your full name and relationship to the patient," he repeats dryly, staring at the physician's statement in front of him, the one that states her mother is suffering from an acute manic episode from her Bipolar Disorder Type 1. Katniss is well aware that it also recommends for the court to order that Lily Everdeen be medicated.
"Uh - I'm Katniss. Everdeen," she answers, picking at the cuticle around her left thumb. "Daughter of Lily Everdeen."
"And I'm Lily Everdeen," her mother says from beside her. "I really don't think we need to even be here today."
"That's all very well, Ms. Everdeen," the judge replies coolly as he marks something down on his paper. "Doctor Thomas, if you would like to speak first."
The grey-haired, balding doctor sits at the end of the table to Katniss's left. He's not new. They've been through this process together with her mother more times than she can count on one hand. She practically has his script memorized at this point. He cites Lily Everdeen's diagnosis number.
Every psychiatric disorder is listed with a unique number in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a book most normal people would never dare look at for fear of suddenly having every disorder known to man. Katniss flipped through it once or twice while in nursing school and that was more than enough.
"Can I talk?" Lily interjects, frustration clearly edging into her tone as she shifts forward in her seat, her heel bouncing nervously against the floor.
The judge looks to Dr. Thomas who nods curtly. "That was about all I had to say anyway."
"Okay then, Lily, what would you like to say today?" the judge asks, scribbling down several notes on his papers.
"I just want to say that I don't agree at all with what Dr. Thomas just said."
This isn't surprising. Katniss hasn't once heard her mother agree with a doctor's diagnosis when she gets bad like this. It's hard enough to convince her to take the medicine when she's not depressed or manic. She just doesn't see it the way a rational person does when she has an episode.
"I'm perfectly capable of looking after myself and living at home with my daughter. She'll tell you the same thing." Katniss cringes at her mother's words. She hates when it comes to this because now she has to disagree, to betray her mother, and it never ends well.
"Dr. Thomas has something against me. He doesn't understand that some people are just different. He doesn't understand how brilliant I am. People always thought Einstein was crazy too." Lily continues arguing, her words becoming more passionate with each sentence as she struggles to remain seated rather than pace the room. Katniss knows because her mother always starts to fidget when she's resisting the manic urge to pace.
"No one is calling anyone crazy here today, Ms. Everdeen," the judge assures her. "Let's hear from your daughter now. Miss Everdeen?"
Katniss clears her throat nervously. She understands that they have to go through this every time because it's the law, but she wishes they could just print a paper with her responses and hand it to the judge before they ever start the meeting. It would save her mother so much heartbreak if Katniss didn't have to say this every time.
"My mother isn't safe to come home until she's been medicated. The doctors and nurses here have tried their best to get her to take her medicines but she resolutely refuses," Katniss says softly, her voice just above a whisper as she tries to ignore the way her heart is fluttering in her throat.
"Can you cite an example of why your mother isn't safe living at home with you?" the judge presses.
Katniss could give a hundred examples from over the years, but she knows they only want to hear one, the most recent one. She knows the judge's time is precious anyway. There was a line of six other patients with their respective families waiting outside of the room before she entered.
"She's forgetful when she's manic like this. She can be in the middle of cooking and hear a story on the radio and completely forget that the burners are on. I came home to a pan of pasta burning on the stove because she forgot she left it boiling-"
"Everyone makes mistakes sometimes, Katniss!" Lily interjects, speaking to her as though she's still a ten-year-old child that needs to be reprimanded. "It was fine. You came home and turned the burner off."
"She brings strangers into the house as well and I've asked her not to-"
"He wasn't a stranger! I've spoken to him several times," she interrupts heatedly.
"Mama, I've asked you not to bring men into the house like that. It isn't safe-"
"You just don't want me to be happy again, Katniss!" She's shouting now, something Katniss always tries to prepare herself for before coming to these court hearings, but it never seems any easier to deal with.
"You can just leave." Her mother spits the words like poison, "I don't want you here if you're only going to make things worse. Primrose wouldn't say these awful things!"
Katniss closes her eyes, taking a deep breath through her nose, trying not to let her mother's words sting, but it's a rather futile attempt.
"I think I have enough to go on here." The judge continues to jot down notes as he speaks. "Two weeks court-ordered hospitalization. The patient is required to take her prescribed medications during this time. We will re-evaluate the patient's need for hospitalization at the end of three weeks."
"This is absurd!" Lily shouts, finally losing control and beginning to pace across the room. "This is all your fault, Katniss. I'm fine! Why do you hate me?"
"Mama," Katniss starts, her voice breaking as the blonde woman leaves the room swiftly without another word.
Cinna steps inside the room a moment later. "Is everything settled in here, or do I need to bring Lily back?"
"We were finished. Bring the next patient in," the judge answers easily, waving a hand as he reaches for the next file.
Cinna nods, reaching a hand out and gesturing for Katniss to follow, which she does though she is still hurting from her mother's words. His hand finds her shoulder as she passes and gives a comforting squeeze.
"You're doing the right thing for her, Katniss," he murmurs once there aren't any prying ears around them.
With a heavy sigh, Katniss lets her face fall to her hands, willing herself to believe Cinna's words. She knows them to be true. Without this court order, her mother would check herself out of the facility. She would refuse to take her medicines and she would spiral completely out of control. Katniss already tried that once, and it had been a complete disaster that had taken years for their family to move past. Knowing that doesn't ease the pain of her mother's searing words, though. Even once the medicine starts to work again Lily Everdeen will remain bitter towards her eldest daughter for speaking against her.
"Maybe you should wait to come back again until I give you a call," he suggests. "I can let you know when she starts to come around again."
Katniss nods. It's probably the best plan. Her mother will only become more irate if she sees her before the medications start working again.
"Okay," Katniss agrees. "Call anytime."
"I know, dear." He smiles softly, guiding her to the doors so he can use his ID to scan her off the unit. "She does love you, Katniss. She'll realize it once she's back in her right mind again."
Katniss attempts her best smile, though she's sure it's somewhat lacking given the circumstances. "Thank you, Cinna."
Katniss nearly laughs out loud when she first catches a glimpse of it out of the corner of her eye- the familiar blue screen with gold boxes lined up at the bottom. There hasn't been much for her to laugh about in the last two weeks, as she spent her days waiting for Cinna to call about her mother. He still hasn't called, and she wonders if maybe this time her mother won't get over the sense of betrayal.
Still, she somehow bites back her laughter, but when Dr. Mellark glances up while on hold to give a dictation for the patient he just visited, his mouth quirks into a guilty smile. Busted.
He raises the phone slightly before shrugging. "It's been a long day. Words With Friends helps me unwind."
She raises an eyebrow, shaking her head slightly as she turns back to face the computer where she's attempting to catch up on charting for her patients. She's gotten more comfortable around the young doctor over the past two weeks, to the point where now she can have a coherent conversation with him about her patients and not look or sound like a complete idiot. But she still can't deny the way her stomach twists at the sight of that shy smile. The sound of a chair wheeling closer and the weight of a hand on the back of her own chair pulls her attention back to the blue eyes she's growing increasingly familiar with.
"You're judging me because I play on my phone during work," he says in a low tone, one that can only be heard by her with all the other chatter going on at the nurses' station.
"What?" she demands, turning slightly in her chair to face him better. "I never said anything!"
"You didn't have to," he chuckles, placing his glasses on his nose and turning his attention back to the small screen in his hand, "You reek of judgment."
Katniss knows he's probably just kidding, but she doesn't like the idea of being labeled as a judgmental person, especially by him, even if she might secretly be berating him in her mind. That has nothing to do with him specifically. She just hates the double standard that hospital policy has for its nurses versus the doctors.
Katniss doesn't want to admit to these emotions so instead her eyes flit around until they land on the glowing screen of Dr. Mellark's phone. He's already well into the game, but his score is barely a third of his opponent's.
"The only thing I'm judging you for is how badly you're losing right now," she snaps, biting her bottom lip as soon as the words leave her mouth. Throwing around insults is probably on the quick list of ways to end up in hot water at this hospital.
He doesn't seem bothered by it though. On the contrary, he lets out a soft snort. "I know. Finnick is kicking my ass. I swear he lets people borrow his phone just so he can pretend to beat me."
"You know there's an app for that? He doesn't need people to cheat at Words," Katniss points out. "Anyway, I have the same problem. My sister kicks my ass every time."
A grin starts to break out on his face, but suddenly his eyes lose their focus and she hears the transcriptionist speaking from the other end of the line. He gives her an apologetic look and turns back to his own computer, pushing his glasses up his nose as he reports on the patient's labs that are displayed on his computer screen.
His phone is left sitting on the counter and Katniss reaches for it before she really thinks about what she's doing, having seen the perfect play on Finnick's last move of "UNDERWEAR."
She deftly slides the letters onto the board, spelling out "QUIPS" over both a triple-letter and triple-word score, earning more than double the points Dr. Odair made on his last move.
"Things could get ugly if you go around playing other people's games, Katniss," Dr. Mellark says a few moments later when he notices the word she played.
"Somebody had to help you. You were floundering," Katniss retorts, a blush reaching her cheeks before his laughter rings out through the nurses' station.
"Are you two actually getting any work done over there or are you just working on getting into her pants, doctor?" Johanna pipes up, silencing everyone else at the nurses' station as they all duck their heads and pretend to go about their business.
Katniss has half a mind to lunge across the area and throttle Johanna, but she's far too mortified to even move at the moment, the sting of embarrassment still prickling along her skin. She's shocked when she notices that Dr. Mellark's cheeks are flushed a lovely cherry-red as well while he runs a hand roughly over the back of his neck.
He opens his mouth to speak just as his phone pings, showing a new message from Finnick: "Peet, there is no way you just played "QUIPS" without help. I've never heard you use that word before. You're a cheat."
He chuckles holding the phone out so Katniss can read the screen before he turns it off and places it in the pocket of his white coat along with his glasses.
"Johanna's probably right," Dr. Mellark admits, "I have a lot of patients to see today, so I should get going."
He stands, pressing his hands over the thighs of his grey slacks as he does and she tries to keep her eyes trained away. She tries to ignore the heat pooling between her own thighs at the sight of the way his pants cling to the thick muscles of his legs. Katniss isn't quite sure what's gotten into her today.
"Maybe sometime we can sit down and play a full game of Words together," he suggests and even this small smile reaches the corners of his eyes, crinkling the skin there which only further compliments their astounding blue.
Damn, has she got it bad.
She somehow manages to laugh despite her thoughts, one hand nervously finding the end of her braid, hoping her face doesn't somehow give her away. Gale always says she's as easy to read as any book and she's never learned how to control it.
"Maybe," she agrees, refusing to look up at him anymore. Clearly she's no better than a hormonal teenager when Dr. Mellark is around.
Johanna is at least kind enough to wait until he's on the elevator to another unit before she rolls her chair up next to Katniss's and waggles her eyebrows.
"If I were you, I'd try and get a whole lot more than a game of Words With Friends out of that man. Did you see the way those pants hugged his ass? Holy shit!" Johanna cackles, fanning herself dramatically.
Katniss blushes, unable to admit that she'd been too busy staring at the front of him to pay much mind to the back end. Johanna takes her reaction as confirmation though. "How long is it going to take you to tap that?"
"Jo!" Katniss hisses, ducking her head and continuing to chart. Damn her, because now Katniss really can't stop thinking about those thighs and what they might feel like moving between her own.
"He wants it, girl," Johanna shrugs nonchalantly, "He was sitting here undressing you with his damn eyes."
"He was not!" Katniss scoffs, "I need to go check on my patients," she lies, standing and hurrying away from Johanna.
Even if what Johanna said was true, is she ready to complicate her work situation? Things at home are already complicated enough. Something tells her Dr. Mellark won't be an easy one to shake though now that he's wormed his way into her mind so effortlessly. He's been at the hospital less than a month and their interactions, until today, have strictly been in relation to their patients. What the hell is wrong with her? Johanna would say she needs a good fuck. She's probably right.
The afternoon passes without much incident aside from the occasional, or perhaps more than occasional, jibe from Johanna. Just as the shift is coming to an end, Katniss walks into her last patient's room, carrying his pre-dinner insulin.
"Leo, I have your insulin, buddy," she tells him, speaking louder than she normally would for the elderly man. He's not especially hard of hearing, but more often than not he asks her to repeat what she says if she says it in her normal tone.
Presently though, he doesn't say much of anything, simply looks at her with wide, confused eyes. Katniss gives him a reassuring smile as she logs into the computer mounted on the wall beside his bed.
"Okay, Leo," Katniss says once she logs in and lets the computer know that she's administering the medication. She rips open an alcohol pad and moves to wipe the man's arm. "A little cold here and then just a little stick."
He lets out a blood-curdling scream when the wet swab comes into contact with his upper arm though."Get it away from me! Who are you?"
"I'm Katniss, Leo, your nurse," she informs him patiently. Unfortunately he has a history of dementia, and she received in report this morning that he tends to have sun-downing, a term given to patients who suffer from increased confusion as the day turns to night. "Do you know where you are right now?"
"Of course I know where I am!" he retorts angrily, beginning to pick absent-mindedly at the tape near his IV site. "I'm in Las Vegas, Nevada. Where the damn hell is Eunice?"
"Who is Eunice?" Katniss asks in a soothing voice as she starts to swab the man's arm again.
"Are you stupid or something?" he demands, yanking his arm from her grip as his other hand wraps around the end of his indwelling urinary catheter that leads to the drainage bag. "Eunice is my wife and I told you to stop that!"
Katniss is almost certain that this man's wife died several years ago and she's positive they aren't in Las Vegas right now, but it's really no use telling him that. He'll stay calmer if he thinks he's in a place he knows.
"Is everything okay in here?" Lavinia, a petite, red-haired nurse's assistant asks as she pops her head through the door. Katniss gives her a grateful smile. She's one of the most reliable workers on the unit and always willing to lend a hand when she's not giving baths and swapping out bedpans. She must have heard Leo's screaming all the way down the hallway.
"He's a little confused right now," Katniss states in a quiet, even tone so as not to upset him further. "Leo, I need you to let go of that tubing." She tugs gently at the catheter tubing in his hand, but his grip only tightens.
Lavinia steps around the other side of the bed, catching his attention as she does, and he smiles.
"I know you," he states, pointing a finger, twisted by arthritis, at the young woman beside him, "We were in the eighth grade together. Patricia is your name, right? All the boys loved your hair."
"Thank you," she replies with a sweet smile, dodging his question so she doesn't have to disagree with him. "Can you let go of this, Leo? We don't want you to pull on it and hurt yourself."
He frowns, tugging his hand and the tubing from her grip. "Don't you remember?"
"Remember what?" Lavinia asks as Katniss tries to contain a sigh. This could go on forever if they aren't careful.
"You know!" he replies as though the answer should be obvious to everyone in the room. He shifts, clearly becoming more agitated with their lack of understanding as to what he's talking about. "You know. We went to that dance together, Brenda, remember?"
Lavinia does her best to talk him down, holding onto the hand gripping his catheter tubing the entire time while Katniss turns back to the computer, looking to see which medications the physician ordered on an as-needed basis.
Of course, there's no Ativan ordered, which leaves her essentially helpless with this poor man until she can get a hold of the physician. She looks to the top of the screen for the attending doctor. Mellark, Peeta. Damn him.
"Do you think you've got him for a minute? I'm going to try getting a hold of the doctor to get some IV Ativan," Katniss asks Lavinia, who nods with a tight smile. For the moment, as long as she keeps Leo talking, he doesn't seem to be exceptionally agitated.
Katniss is out the door in an instant, dialing the pager number that her mind has somehow already managed to memorize. For once she doesn't curse her good memory because it saves her the time of walking all the way to the nurses' station and looking it up.
As she expected, the cell phone in her hand rings only a minute or two later, "Dr. Mellark, this is Katniss up on six North-"
"I know who you are, Katniss," he chuckles on the other end of the line. "I don't think there are many Katnisses running around the hospital. What can I do for you?"
"Um…" A dozen things he could do for her flash through her mind and she cringes, brushing a hand over the top of her head as though trying to banish the thoughts. "I need Ativan. For the patient in six-twenty, I mean. Leo Hollbrook. He's really confused and pulling at tubing-"
"Go ahead and give him 1 mg IV and order it as a PRN so you have it if you need it again later. He can get it every four hours," Dr. Mellark says easily. "Do you think he needs restraints or anything?"
"I don't think so. He's not aggressive, and I think once the Ativan kicks in he'll calm down just fine," Katniss muses, heading toward the med room to override for Ativan in the Pyxis, the unit's massive dispensary for almost all the medications given on the floor. She'll put the order in and send it down to the pharmacy later, but for now she wants to get the drug into the man's system before he has a chance to rip every tube out of his body.
"Okay. Give me a call if you need an order for anything else," Dr. Mellark says, in a tone so pleasant that it's almost disconcerting. "I'm on call for the night so I'll be around for a little while yet."
Katniss doesn't waste time saying goodbye before hanging up the phone and grabbing a syringe and a large bore needle as she logs into the Pyxis and scans her fingerprint. Several touches of the screen later, the locked refrigerator pops open with a beep, and she quickly counts the vials of Ativan in the container before pulling her own out and typing in the number on the screen to reconcile the amount of medication still available.
She hears the older man before she even reaches the door and knows that administering this medication is going to be easier said than done. He's trying to fight Lavinia's grip off of him and shouting at her, something about a man named Sam. Luckily, his IV is in his right forearm, which happens to be the one he refuses to move from the catheter tubing, so hopefully he won't move around too much.
Katniss quickly flips the blue top of the vial off and connects the syringe to the needle, pulling up the thick liquid as quickly as the large needle will allow. It only takes a minute, but by the time the liquid is finally drawn up, Leo is growing increasingly anxious and when Katniss reaches to connect the syringe with the hub of his IV, he jerks his hand away, aiming a kick at her stomach.
"Hey!" Katniss shouts, struggling to remain calm. She knows he's just confused and threatened by the situation but she's not a fan of being assaulted either, even if it is by an eighty-six-year-old man, "I'm your nurse. I need to give you this medicine. It'll make you feel better."
"I don't need any medicine!" he yells back. "Just leave me alone and bring Eunice in here."
"Eunice can't be here right now, but this medicine will help you relax, Leo," Katniss reasons. "Please, let me help you."
She reaches for his arm again, and this time he reaches out, grabbing her wrist and squeezing painfully. Katniss wonders how a man this frail and this old can have this much strength.
"Ow!" She tries to twist her hand from his grip, but it's like an iron lock. "You're hurting me. You need to let go, Leo."
The door to the room swings open before the old man is able to respond. It reveals Dr. Mellark, brow furrowed in concern, "Hey, Leo, what's going on here?"
The old man's eyes widen as they rove over the large man standing beside his bed. He doesn't look fearful so much as he does surprised, which is a feeling Katniss understands well when it comes to Dr. Mellark.
"These girls are trying to hurt me," he informs the good doctor in a much calmer tone than he had been using only moments before. "I want them to leave me alone."
Dr. Mellark nods sympathetically. "I understand that and they will leave you to rest, but first they really need to give you some medicine. You're not going to get better if you don't let the nurses give you this. And you really need to let go of Katniss. You don't want to hurt either of these lovely ladies."
Leo fixes him with a skeptical look but nods, allowing Katniss to connect the syringe to the hub of his IV and push the medication into the line.
"I have insulin too," she says, quickly wiping his arm with alcohol and administering the shot quickly before he can change his mind about allowing it.
Dr. Mellark nods towards the hand that is still firmly gripping the catheter tubing. "I need you to let go of that catheter too, buddy. I don't want you pulling that out and hurting yourself, alright?"
"I don't like having it in," he argues, listening to the orders and releasing his grip. Lavinia lets out a heavy breath, backing away from the bed now that the minor crisis has been averted.
"Well, I'll see about having them take it out tomorrow morning," the blond man offers, running a hand over the pocket of his physician's coat. He comes up empty-handed and gives a sheepish smile in Katniss's direction, "Do you have a pen? I must have left mine downstairs before I came up here in a hurry."
Lavinia finds one first and hands it to the doctor with a pleasant smile.
"Okay, Leo," he says, pulling out a sheet of paper and starting to scribble. "I'm going to write a note for myself. I'll come by tomorrow to see how things go tonight and we'll see about discontinuing the catheter."
His words seem to soothe the older man (or maybe that's simply the Ativan beginning to work its magic) but Katniss doesn't care what calms him so long as he doesn't start pulling IVs and catheters out.
Lavinia hurries out of the room to answer a call light as Katniss wishes Leo a good night. Dr. Mellark promises he'll be back tomorrow before lunch and leads the way out into the hall.
"You must be an awfully good doctor," Katniss states as they amble slowly back towards the elevator and nurses' station.
He arches a pale eyebrow in amusement. "How so?"
"Do you make personal calls to all of your patients who get anxious?" she retorts, raising an eyebrow of her own.
"Not all of them." His cheeks flush as though he's just been caught doing something naughty.
Katniss laughs, "Well, I'm not sure I would be leaving work with two hands today if you hadn't talked him down, so thanks for that, I guess."
Dr. Mellark laughs as well, but she doesn't miss the way he glances at he wrist, which is red but otherwise unharmed.
"Consider it repayment for not automatically ordering you IV Ativan for a patient that gets confused," he replies, flashing her a winning smile.
Shaking her head, she bites her lip to keep from smiling before joking, "Just don't let it happen again, Doctor."
Dr. Mellark doesn't laugh at this though; instead he stops walking, turning to face her, his eyes an intense blue as she looks up at him curiously. Maybe she took the joke too far. She was under the impression that he was easygoing enough he wouldn't mind, but Katniss has never been the best at reading people.
"Katniss-" He's cut off by a high-pitched ringing and he groans, reaching for his phone and glancing at the number. He shakes his head. "Sorry. I have to take this. Have a good night, Katniss."
She doesn't move right away, watching the way his shirt shifts over his broad shoulders and the perfect fit of his slacks. She misses the opportunity to truly appreciate the sight because her mind is still confused about what just happened. Was he angry with her? He didn't seem like it when he left. But then what did he want to tell her? A call light starts blinking just down the hallway and she lets out a heavy sigh; she'll probably never know.
"Shit!" Katniss shouts, slamming a hand down on the steering wheel of the banged-up Chevy Cavalier when the engine fails to turn over for the third time in a row.
She pulls the lever for the hood of the car before hopping out to take a look at the engine. She might as well be trying to read Japanese for all she knows about cars, and it's beyond her why the damn thing won't start.
Unfortunately for Katniss, the weather has decided to take a turn for the worse, and snow is falling thickly around her while the wind whips it up almost before it can even hit the ground. She pulls out her cell phone with another curse under her breath, dialing the only person she knows for a fact will be able to help her.
Of course, he doesn't answer, but she leaves a message knowing that he'll check his phone eventually. Until then, she'll just have to wait in the hospital where at least there's heat. With more force than necessary, Katniss slams the hood of the car back down, muttering a string of curses as she trudges back towards the hospital practically blinded by the snow blowing in her face.
"Whoa there." A pair of large hands grab her shoulders, steadying her balance after she runs headlong into a very solid body, "Where's the fire, Katniss?"
She looks up, her heart freezing as she realizes this is no stranger.
"Sorry, Doctor Mellark!" she blurts out, quickly stepping away from his grip and stuffing her hands in her pockets, trying her best to avoid his piercing blue gaze. "I couldn't see with the snow."
"Obviously," he says, but he doesn't sound irritated like most people would. Mostly he just sounds like he's trying not to laugh.
"Right," Katniss says, awkwardly sidestepping him so she can enter the hospital. "Sorry again."
His lips, normally curved into a natural smile, form an uncharacteristic frown, "Where are you going?"
"Inside." She rolls her eyes just thinking about her luck again, "My car broke down and I'm waiting for someone to come pick me up."
"Will they be here soon?" he asks, stepping in front of her and scanning his ID before opening the side entrance of the hospital and following her back inside.
"I don't know," Katniss shrugs. "I couldn't get a hold of him. I'm waiting for him to call back and let me know that he got my message."
"Oh." She thinks she notices a slight blush reach his cheeks before he asks, "Your boyfriend?"
Katniss laughs at the thought. "No. Definitely not."
Now his cheeks definitely flush pink. "Sorry. That's really none of my business anyway. My mother always yelled at me for asking questions when I shouldn't. Dad called me Curious George."
She can't help the genuine smile his admission brings to her lips. Suddenly Katniss finds herself imagining a little Dr. Peeta Mellark asking a million questions, and the thought leaves her chuckling. It seems somehow fitting even though she hardly knows him.
"Anyway, well," he hesitates, his blue eyes finding hers from beneath a thick set of light eyelashes. She's never noticed them before, probably because he almost always has his glasses on, "Do you want a ride home? I- uh- I hate to think you'll be waiting here all night for someone to come get you."
She feels her eyes widen, surprised he would offer since, really, they're barely acquaintances. "Seriously?"
He nods, pulling a hand through the mop of curls on his head, "Sure. I'm on call tonight anyway so it's not like I have any big plans."
"In that case…" she trails off with a chuckle but Dr. Mellark's smile stops her when it makes her stomach twist.
He motions for her to walk with him as he leads the way out to his sleek sedan. "Go ahead and get in," he offers, hitting the button on his keychain to unlock the doors, the engine already running quietly from what must be an auto-start button.
This car is fancier than anything Katniss has ever owned simply because it was made after the nineteen-nineties. She lets herself in on the passenger's side, appreciating the immediate warmth that greets her cold body as she settles inside.
Dr. Mellark runs around to the back seat, pulling out a snow scraper and begins clearing the freshly-fallen white flakes off the window. Part of her feels guilty for sitting there, letting him do all the work while she's warm inside. But a larger part of her doesn't want to offer simply because she's warm inside. It's not a bad view anyway, especially given the dark wool coat he's wearing. The way the coat is fitted accentuates his wide shoulders. Something warm starts to gather in her belly and lower as she continues to watch him shamelessly.
He brushes himself off once the car is cleared and hops in behind the wheel, his cheeks and the tip of his nose flushed red with the cold. With a shivering chuckle, he puts the car in gear and makes his way to the main road.
"I live over on Seam Street if you know where that is," Katniss offers, trying to ignore the fact that their shoulders are only separated by a few inches. What is it about this man that turns her into a giddy, prepubescent girl?
"Oh, sure," Dr. Mellark nods, flipping on his signal to turn left. "I know the area." He glances at her with a smile, his blue eyes nearly black in the low light, but suddenly it's there again. The electric feeling that she's noticed a handful of times in the last two weeks whenever Dr. Mellark happens to be around.
Katniss wills herself not to feel it because she knows he's a physician, and having feelings like this has the potential to really screw things up. But the feeling is there and she can't deny that it is despite every reason her mind produces over why it shouldn't be.
The ride is mostly silent, save for the sound of slush hitting the side of the car as they drive and the drumming of Dr. Mellark's fingers against the wheel when a particularly upbeat song comes on the radio. Katniss isn't sure what to say and with the way her stomach is now in knots, she's afraid she'll say something stupid anyway. She has to bite the inside of her cheek when he starts humming softly to the song as his fingers tap out the beat. He's horribly off-tune, but she still can't help but find his enjoyment endearing.
"It's the brownstone one on the right here," she says quietly once they've turned onto her street.
He pulls cleanly up to the curb, but Katniss doesn't get out right away. She finds doesn't really want to leave the warm presence of Dr. Mellark tonight, but she has no reason not to.
"Thanks for the ride, Dr. Mellark," she says, forcing herself to open the car door.
His hand finds hers, the sharp jolt of electric heat from his skin touching hers freezing her movement instantly.
"Call me Peeta," he says softly, staring at their entwined hands as well, "It sounds ridiculous to be called Dr. Mellark, especially outside of work."
"Okay." Her tone is breathy and she cringes, tugging her hand away from his because she can't think clearly when they're touching. "Peeta, then. Thanks."
"Katniss-" He starts but stops, shaking his head almost imperceptibly with a shadow of a smile on his lips. "You're welcome. Have a nice evening."
Katniss tries to ignore the way her heart falls at his words. In spite of her better judgment, some small part of her wished he would have said something more- wished that he might have given her some indication that he can feel the same things she's feeling. But he doesn't.
"Right. I should get going." She shifts reluctantly in her seat. She really shouldn't want to stay with him this much. They hardly know each other's names; she has no right to be this attached to Dr. Peeta Mellark.
Katniss turns, walking slowly away from his car towards her front door. It's the slamming of a car door that stops her in her tracks only a few steps later.
"Katniss!" he calls out, quickly catching up to her in a few short strides. His hand goes to the back of his neck before he speaks his next words, his blue eyes looking up shyly through his glasses to meet hers. "Do you want to get coffee or something? Have you eaten? I just- I usually don't really sleep when I'm on call, so I thought you might want to…"
She realizes it's completely ridiculous that her stomach twists excitedly and that it's ludicrous the way her heart speeds up at his suggestion. But she hasn't eaten, and as a matter of fact, she's absolutely starving.
"I could eat," she answers, a soft smile tugging at her lips when she watches the way his smile lights up his eyes.
"Great!" He looks almost giddy, like a boy just informed he could go to a candy shop. "What kind of food do you like?"
"I like all food," Katniss answers without a second's hesitation, earning a hearty chuckle from him as he leads her back to his car still idling at the curb.
"How about Italian?" he suggests. "I know this awesome hole in the wall place."
"Do they have breadsticks?" she questions, pretending for just a moment that she's skeptical of his decision.
"Of course, what Italian place worth its salt wouldn't?" he grins, opening the passenger door for her so she can settle in again.
Peeta quickly makes his way back to the driver's side and once they're on their way to the restaurant, he flashes her a joking smile before asking, "You're not just going to order a salad right? I don't like eating with girls that refuse to order actual sustenance for a dinner out."
Katniss snorts, "No. Have you ever been back in the nurses' break room around lunchtime?"
He shakes his head.
"Well, this will be a real experience for you then."
He glances over at her, his eyes darker than before, "I can't wait to be enlightened."
She blushes, realization finally hitting her that they are indeed spending time together in a non-work related manner. The nerves come shortly after because although she's become more comfortable working with Dr. Mellark, Katniss still doesn't know anything about Peeta Mellark, and she has a feeling she'll quickly be in over her head.
AN: A special thanks to Court81981 for beta'ing this story. She's fantastic and she's also publishing her first Everlark fic. If you like historical AUs, hers is absolutely fantastic and you should check it out!