"Old man, if you sleep much longer, you're going to miss all the fun."
My eyes snap open at the sound of Finnick's voice and I sit forward with a start, hands clenching at empty air where my knife should be. I start to panic, until I realize that I'm safe. Well. As safe as a person can be under the watchful eyes of the Capitol, anyway.
I take stock of my surroundings before I allow myself to sit back, letting in a deep breath as I wait for my heart to slow down. Yawning widely, I gaze at the screen where my Tributes are still lively shivering together, before looking to the other two Tributes, who are still nowhere close to them. Cato is wandering through the fields, and Ginger is freezing in a clump of bushes. It looks like it has been a boring day in the Arena apart from the gruesome murder of Thresh. Now would be the opportune time to turn this romance up a notch.
When I turn my chair to ask Finnick if I've missed anything important during my nap, I'm subjected to the sight of Pria, his District's Escort, sprawled across his lap with one arm draped around his shoulders. He endures it with a bored expression, paying little attention to her as he gazes at Katniss and Peeta. Pria starts twirling his hair around one of her fingers, and Brutus, who's sitting beside them, seems more than a little distracted by her voluminous assets. A quick glance around the room tells me that the Capitol women are all incredibly jealous, and some of the men as well. Who they're jealous of is hard to decide, and I can't help but roll my eyes when I notice Effie's dejected expression from her place between two other Captiol women.
Chaff is sitting beside me, wide-awake and motionless, staring unblinkingly at the screen that used to belong to Thresh. I look for the words to ask him how he is, but I already know the answer so I leave him alone. Nothing I can say will fix it. It's better to keep my mouth shut, get on with the Games, and get us home where we can drink and mourn in silence.
It would be much easier to get us there if Katniss could pick up the pace on the "wooing" front. I get it. They're hungry, cold, and exhausted, and the rain has been relentless. It doesn't make for the greatest romantic atmosphere. At the same time, the Escorts in the room are all looking increasingly bored with each passing moment, and I stare at the screen, begging the girl to put on the show I know that she is capable of. The silence between them drags on, while the storm outside continues to rage. Sick of listening to the thunder, I press mute and take stock of the room.
"Anything important happen while I was out?"
"Nah. But I've got a feeling that things are going to heat up soon," Finnick offers.
I look again at the screen, where my kids are huddled miserably, and look back at him doubtfully.
"Trust me, old man. I know it's been awhile since you played the Games, and your Victor senses have been dulled by all the drinking, but I know what I'm talking about. Those kids are going to be making out any minute now."
"Guess I'll have to take your word for that Odair."
Pria starts braiding Finnick's hair in little knots, and Effie comes to stand by me, staring determinedly at the screens and releasing the occasional huff. "If it'd make you feel better Effie, by all means you can braid my hair while we wait for this promised love scene," I offer, fluffing it a little for emphasis. Her gaze falls upon me, clearly unimpressed, and she turns pointedly back to the screen wall.
She gasps, grabbing my arm and pointing, before snatching the controller from me. She frantically presses buttons, and I look at what the fuss is. Katniss has an almost-pleasant expression on her face, and her lips are moving while she looks at Peeta.
"Called it," Finnick says smugly.
Well, it looks like it might be something, I think to myself. Mentors and Escorts alike pull their chairs closer as we're treated to the story of Peeta's childhood crush on Katniss. He weaves us a story about the first day of school, when he fell in love with a girl with a beautiful singing voice, and how he spent the next 11 years trying to "work up the nerve" to talk to her.
"... so, in a way, my name being drawn in the reaping was a real piece of luck," he finishes. Escorts on either side of me sigh longingly, and even Pria has stopped braiding Finnick's hair, gazing at Peeta as though he were a kitten with a ball of yarn.
"Puh-LEASE," Johanna sniffs disgustedly. I turn to see her leaning against a wall in the corner of the room, arms crossed, with Peacekeepers on either side glaring at her distrustfully. "Do you seriously believe this? I think I'm going blow chunks."
"SHHH!" half the room admonishes, waving frantically at her to go away, while someone increases the volume.
"-wasn't paying attention," Peeta says.
"I am now," Katniss replies softly, staring unwaveringly at Peeta. I swear I could almost believe her acting myself if I didn't know any better. No one in the room pays Johanna any attention when she makes another sound of disgust from her corner.
"Well I don't have much competition here," Peeta says, blithely unaware of the Capitol women hanging hungrily on every word coming from the innocent, handsome baker's boy.
I don't know if anyone else notices the darkening of Katniss's expression, or the tightening of her mouth, but I most certainly do. "Don't you dare," I mutter angrily under my breath as the silence between the two lovebirds lengthens. "Don't you dare to this to us now". She's come too far on this path to back out now. The only thing stopping her from plummeting over the cliff edge and into the enveloping adoration of the Capitol is her own damned stubborn mind. I will her with my own mind, staring hard at the screen, trying to overpower her mental defenses. Say it, Sweetheart. Say it. Another sentence. That's all it will take to make the Capitol swoon.
She swallows and opens her mouth. The wait is agonizingly slow, and time seems to move slower as her mouth forms the careful words: "You don't have much competition anywhere".
As they lean in to kiss, I press the faintly flashing button on my remote, releasing her Sponsor gift. It lands with a clunk beside the cave as teenage lips touch, causing them to pull away, and various Capitol escorts make hissing sounds at my interruption of the romantic moment.
I don't care. My girl has done what I wanted, and she needs to know that I approve.
"I guess Haymitch finally got tired of watching us starve."
"I guess so."
The involuntary noise that slips from my mouth is caught somewhere between exasperation and amusement, and I toast my tributes with my empty plastic bottle as they dig into the feast.
Well done, Sweetheart. Keep up the good work, and maybe you can eat that well for years.