Chapter Twenty-Six; Thank-you

(Stephanie's POV)

Seneca had only been gone for a few moments, before the lift doors opened again and out spilled the long-lost camera crew and their assistants, and various other people. Then behind them was Dess, who although he looked confused was also undoubtedly pleased.

Stephanie could barely concentrate on what she was doing and she stumbled over her words and made other such errors numerous times, much to the annoyance of those around her.

After a few tiring hours and picking at food that looked more like paintings on a plate rather than meals, it was over. Stephanie trudged over to the lift, taking a circuitous bypass to avoid Dess and his amorous attentions.

She made it to the lift and was able to make her way down in silence, accompanied of course by two Capitol guards.

The car was waiting out front promising a safe haven to transport her back to Haymitch.

She climbed gratefully in and collapsed onto the leather seats and the door was closed swiftly and locked.

The car made to pull away when it was stopped suddenly and the door was unlocked.

Stephanie panicked for a moment. What if Seneca decided that he wanted to arrest her for what she said?

However there was no guard there to haul her out but rather someone came into the car. And that someone was Seneca Crane himself.

Stephanie inhaled sharply as the door was closed once more and locked and the car pulled away silently.

Seneca sat facing Stephanie, eyes fixed on her face. But it wasn't the harsh glare that she had received earlier but rather an almost curious look. She felt uneasy.

Seneca noticing her uncomfortable shifting, turned his gaze to look out the window despite them being blackout ones.

Stephanie didn't feel like she could take another confrontation with Seneca.

"What do you want?" she asked quietly, chancing a look up at him.

"Do you like Abernathy?" Seneca asked. Stephanie looked at him perplexed. The bitter tone that he had used before and the malicious glint in his eyes when he had first asked her, was gone.

"Why do my feelings interest you?" Stephanie asked, side-tracking his question.

"I don't have to explain myself to you," Seneca answered.

"Oh I see now. You are thinking up an extra painful death for me, just so Haymitch can suffer?" Stephanie demanded bitterly.

Seneca looked at her for a few moments before he moved swiftly across to claim the seat directly beside her. His leg pressed against hers and she tried to scoot away from him but he grabbed her wrist, holding her firmly and plus she had nowhere to move to.

She directed her gaze at his fingers curled securely around her wrist until he firmly tilted her head up to look at him, holding her chin tightly.

Stephanie glared at him with all the strength she could muster. His face was so close to hers, so close they were almost exchanging breaths.

"The fact that I am Head Gamemaker doesn't frighten you at all, does it?" Seneca asked, his eyes glancing over her face.

Stephanie swallowed. She feared him greatly, especially because he was Head Gamemaker, but she was too proud to give him the satisfaction of knowing it. Stephanie remained silent thinking it was the safest option.

A smirk tugged at Seneca's lips at her silence.

"I promise I won't use your family against you, if you tell me the truth?" he coaxed.

"And why would I trust you?" Stephanie asked.

Seneca smirked. His gaze drifted downwards towards her lips and Stephanie inhaled sharply.

The car stopped suddenly and it gave Stephanie the chance to tear himself from his grasp and make her leap from the car before the door was even fully opened.

The guard made a move to apprehend her, thinking that she was trying to make a run for it.

She felt the familiar burning in her arm as it was twisted behind her back and she lost balance on her heels. She hissed as she felt a stinging on her knees when they came in contact with the ground.

In the few moments that it had taken for the guard to pin her Stephanie caught a familiar voice.

"HEY!" Haymitch shouted, running towards them. In a few seconds Stephanie felt herself released and Haymitch helped her to her feet once more.

Stephanie was shaking. Her nerves in the last few hours had been shot to hell. First Dess then Seneca with his threats and taunting and then again in the car – She didn't even know what to think of that!

Haymitch noticed her wide, wet eyes and how pale she looked, and immediately jumped to the conclusion that Dess was the cause for it. Ignoring the recklessness of the action Haymitch wrapped his arms around Stephanie, embracing her tightly.

Stephanie didn't object, just clung to him, her hands clutching his shoulders. He stroked her long, silken hair, resting his cheek against the top of her head. And he could have sworn he felt his chest constrict when she pressed her tear-stained face further against his neck. He held her tighter feeling rage build up in him, and guilt…Haymitch felt he should have been able to protect Stephanie from Dess even though it was virtually impossible. He placed a few kisses on her hair feeling her trembling subside.

And as Stephanie looked over Haymitch's shoulder it didn't matter that the windows of the car were black-out. She could still feel Seneca's eyes on her and it terrified her all the more.

(Seneca's POV)

The car moved on at Seneca's orders. Seneca had entertained the thought of getting out of the car and alerting Abernathy to what had happened just to further hurt the man. But there was something about the silently trembling girl in Haymitch's arms that stopped him.

From the brief encounter Seneca observed between Haymitch and Stephanie from the car, it was evident to him that Haymitch cared for her.

He had felt jealousy stir within him and scowled. How dare Abernathy have someone to care for and someone who cared for him? Seneca's thoughts were bitter. He resolved that the only way to destroy this and completely break Haymitch would be to kill Stephanie in the arena. He smirked, thinking of Haymitch's reaction and yet…the jealousy didn't go away. That only left the option - that he was jealous for another reason.

His thoughts drifted to Stephanie. He was currently conflicted over her. At one point he had never had this much admiration for anyone before. With the levels of corruption in the Capitol there hadn't exactly been an abundance of role models growing up for Seneca. Except for Lark. As Seneca's thoughts drifted to the man he cherished as his father Stephanie's words rang loud and clear in his mind.

She had been the only one brave enough to speak the truth to him. He couldn't even face it himself and yet, even though she knew that he could have her whole family killed, she had still said it. He pictured her standing before him defiant with her golden eyes blazing.

Seneca felt the strange urge to thank Stephanie.