Chapter Thirty – Three; Close Combat

(Stephanie's POV)

Dinner came and went without occasion. After she had caught Frenkin trying to strangle a yawn for the fourth time Stephanie practically ordered him to bed. She once more felt an almost maternal urge in her heart as Frenkin's drowsy eyes looked to her gratefully.

Stephanie walked into the kitchen to find Haymitch already there, sitting at the table with a full bottle of alcohol in front of him.

"Where's Isa?" Stephanie asked, taking the seat facing him.

"She insisted on going with Ficen to finish your 'shopping', since you weren't able to," Haymitch answered.

Stephanie nodded mutely. Her head still hurt a little.

"We need to talk seriously," Haymitch surprised her as he leaned forward eagerly.

"What do you mean?"

"Tactics, strategies…how we're going to get you out alive."

"Oh," it was all Stephanie could manage as she gulped. She had always known that this conversation was going to come but somehow it still shocked her.

"What do you suggest?" Stephanie asked meekly after a few moments.

"As regards to how to act; naïve, sweet, endearing. A simple District girl that is completely overwhelmed and in awe of the Capitol."

Stephanie nodded in understanding.

"No sarcastic remarks and absolutely no violence under any circumstances." Stephanie rolled her eyes though she couldn't help a small smirk.

"And no flirting," Haymitch added gruffly.

Stephanie arched an eyebrow at him.

"I though flirting was considered a good tactic?" Stephanie teased with a small smile toying on her lips.

Haymitch cleared his throat, narrowing his eyes at Stephanie meaningfully.

"You…couldn't possibly be…jealous, could you Haymitch?" Stephanie said, no longer able to stop her grin.

Haymitch threw her a glare. "No flirting," he repeated.

"From what the Capitol has been showing it has all been good, but you are still pretty much unknown," Haymitch explained.

Stephanie cringed, thinking that after today's events were shown that could change.

"The interview with Flickerman is in a few days," Haymitch said sternly.

Stephanie nodded. "What questions will he ask me?"

"We will have time to prepare for the interview but now…onto the next issue," Haymitch answered.

Stephanie gave him a questioning look.

"In the arena."

Stephanie gulped hard. "We need to discuss this," Haymitch enforced gently.

"I know," Stephanie snapped as she attempted to slow her breathing.

Haymitch opened the bottle and indulged himself with a few long drinks.

(Haymitch's POV)

"When you're raised into the arena, don't panic…don't look around at the other tributes and don't bother wasting your time on looking at the booty arranged ever so nicely in the Cornucopia. Ignore it. It's a death trap. You look for your escape route. If you see a forest run into it or any other means of shelter. You get as far away as fast as you can. Next thing is to look for water - remember where there are plants and animals there has to be water. Look for the greenest plants and things. I don't know what the temperature will be like but at all costs do not light a fire - you're going to have to stick it out. A fire is basically a spotlight showing every other tribute your position. Find a source of water, stay close to it but concealed…" Haymitch trailed off as he seen the overwhelmed look on Stephanie's face and how her hands trembled slightly.

Haymitch took Stephanie's hands firmly in his across the table.

Stephanie sniffed slightly. "It just makes it so much more real," she admitted quietly.

Haymitch squeezed her hands gently.

"But what am I going to do when it comes to fighting?" Stephanie asked.

Haymitch felt his throat tighten. He couldn't bear to think of Stephanie so defenceless where he couldn't protect her. He couldn't watch her die. It would kill him. So he kept telling himself that he would make sure she didn't no matter what, at all costs.

"Come on."

Stephanie looked at him confused as he got up from the table and still holding her hand, began to pull her after him out of the kitchen.

They passed through the main room, eerily silent with no one in it. They went into Stephanie's room where Haymitch closed the door.

Stephanie finally tugged her hand free and turned to face him with her arms folded. "Haymitch…?" she warned in a low voice.

Haymitch turned to face her with a gleam in his eyes and a smirk on his lips.

(Stephanie's POV)

Stephanie felt her stomach do an odd little flutter but she managed to remain looking stern for a total of a few seconds, because Haymitch' s next actions knocked the wind out of her…literally.

Haymitch lunged for her, bringing them both to the ground, where he hovered above her and pinned both her arms above her head, looking down at her with a victorious smirk.

Stephanie looked up at him, her mouth hanging open and eyes wide.

"Do you mind telling me what in the hell you think you are doing?" Stephanie managed to sputter out after a few moments.

"You are in the arena…engaged in hand to hand combat…your opponent has you pinned. What do you do sweetheart?" Haymitch said.

"I don't know about in the arena, but you are going to find my knee in your crotch if you don't let me go right now," Stephanie said, blushing slightly. She would never admit it, but she had been hoping for a different answer from Haymitch concerning their current positions.

Haymitch rolled his eyes and released her wrists to sit down beside her.

Stephanie sat up and glared at him.

"You need to practice Stephanie," Haymitch said seriously.

"That is what the training will be for," Stephanie answered.

"They can't work miracles in one week Stephanie," Haymitch countered.

Stephanie sighed in frustration, drawing her knees closer to herself.

"Haymitch, Districts 1 and 2 aren't meant to be training their tributes but they do it anyway and the Capitol let it slide. But this…you training me while we are right here in the Capitol, you know they would not take it lightly. Think what they would do!"

Haymitch ran a hand over his face, clenching his jaw tightly as he avoided Stephanie's gaze.

"I just can't bear the thought of someone hurting you," Haymitch admitted quietly.

Stephanie couldn't help the dopey grin that she flashed at Haymitch's words but soon she grew serious again.

"It's too much of a risk," Stephanie said.

Haymitch sighed dejectedly, his shoulders slumping. "Okay," he agreed.

Haymitch made to get up only to be knocked to the floor again. When he regained his senses, he found Stephanie straddling him and looking down at him with a smug expression.

"Is one of the rules about fighting not to turn your back or be caught unawares type of thing?" Stephanie asked with a smirk.

Haymitch grinned.

"Well, what are you going to do sweetheart?" Stephanie asked with an eyebrow arched challengingly.

No sooner had the words left Stephanie's lips than Haymitch grabbed her hips and immediately rolled over so that Stephanie was beneath him again.

Stephanie gave a cry of surprise that was quickly stifled when Haymitch captured her lips with his. They broke apart after a moment and Stephanie looked up at him, a little flushed though trying to look at least displeased.

"I'm not sure that is a viable tactic," she said, biting back the gasp as Haymitch ignored her and continued to trace her jaw line with insistent kisses.

He paused, leaning back to look at her, his hair dishevelled. "Isn't it?" he asked innocently.

Stephanie couldn't help but smile.

"You know it isn't," she replied before pulling Haymitch back down to her.

Haymitch kissed her hungrily, Stephanie's arms slipping around his shoulders to pull him tighter against her.

Stephanie shivered slightly beneath him when Haymitch slipped his hands under her shirt to explore the silky smoothness as he traced patterns across her abdomen.

He groaned, his hands tightening instinctively as Stephanie pushed her pelvis against his.

Haymitch trailed a hand down, grasping her hip tightly for a moment before sliding down to clutch at her thigh. Stephanie raised her leg to throw it across Haymitch's hip.

Stephanie broke the kiss pulling away gasping as Haymitch smirked. Stephanie meant to push at his shoulder indignantly but instead found her hands beginning to claw impatiently at Haymitch's back.

Haymitch didn't seem to mind, moaning against her neck where he began to kiss firmly, nipping gently as he moved lower. Stephanie's hand slipped into his hair, fisting tightly, her breathing accelerating. Haymitch could feel the moan vibrate in her throat as his teeth grazed the tender skin.

The ground should have felt uncomfortable but Stephanie didn't notice the hard ground digging into her shoulder blades, all she was attuned to was the steady weight of Haymitch's body melded against hers and his fevered kisses.

In much the same way Haymitch could feel nothing but the way his body reacted as Stephanie writhed beneath him, her legs embrace around his hips tightening with each movement, sending a new shiver of pleasure along his spine.

That was why the sharp clatter of objects striking the floor startled them so much.

Within seconds Haymitch and Stephanie sat beside one another on the floor, both looking dazed and flushed.

Stephanie's eyes were the first to widen in horror as her gaze fell upon the open bedroom door and the familiar clothes and pair of boots fallen to the ground forgotten.

But it wasn't Frenkin's nervously flushed face with his wide blue eyes that Stephanie saw, but a face she had never seen before with a pair of soft, green eyes that were widened in shock at what they had seen.

The woman before them was dressed in Capitol uniform.