AN: Thank you to gkmoberg1 for helping this idea along!
They're not showing her, but he's not surprised. She's smart, running off and hiding like that, but the Capitol has no appetite for smart people. Currently, they're being treated to a nice display of merciless killings a la the Careers and a rather fake-looking romance between the pair from Twelve.
They're not showing her, but he wishes they were.
They're not showing her, and he's sort of glad. Tara's there, and he doesn't want the little girl to have to watch that death. He doesn't want her to see any of them, but mandatory viewing is mandatory for a reason. He never thought he'd actually care about her, but he does.
A week ago he stood in that little room in the Justice Building, silent. Willing her to understand what he didn't know how to say. She's smart, so she probably did. He hopes she did. He hopes she isn't worried about the little girl, because he's making sure she's eating. Sometimes she even follows him when he passes the school on his way home. She has a little pile of blankets in the middle of the room, in front of the TV. As if she doesn't want to miss a single minute.
He wouldn't mind missing all of it. He'd like to pretend none of it is even happening, but he has to be strong for the little girl. He has to be strong for her.
He's very impressed that she's survived this long. He's always known she could outsmart any of the other tributes, even that not-so-lovestruck girl from Twelve and the sadistic looking girl from Two. But still, this year's Career pack seemed exceptionally unstable, so he isn't surprised that they spend more time fighting each other and cursing Twelve than they do hunting other tributes. He isn't complaining – it's part of the reason she's still alive.
He's just getting hopeful that she might actually come out of this when the trumpets sound. As far as he knows, there are no rules to the Games. Maybe the unspoken one about cannibalism, but no official rules. So he doesn't quite comprehend what Claudius Templesmith is saying at first. And when he does, he sees at once where it's going.
The pairs from Two and Twelve are the only ones left who could benefit from the change. Even the giant from Eleven, alone without a district partner, could probably pull of a win with brute strength. But her? He wants to believe that she could too, but he knows the Capitol won't sit idly by while she steals from other tributes and waits for them to kill each other.
It's the middle of the day, and he's glad that the plant let out early but the schools didn't. He doesn't want the little girl here. Not now. Not when he sees her doing what she's done every day since entering the Arena.
It's kept her alive, stealing from other tributes. It shouldn't bother him. But this time is different, because the food she's stealing isn't safe, and he knows she's not stupid. The cheese is fine, but the nightlock?
He hasn't missed the scarcity of food since the supplies were blown up, and he hasn't failed to notice that her clothes are looser than they were on day one. Her face is hollow, and he can't stop the thought that eventually she'll die of hunger unless something drastic happens. Something like nightlock.
He forces himself to keep his eyes open when she sits down with the berries and cheese and plans her death. He wishes he knew what was going through her head, but he thinks he can guess. She knows exactly how things are going to go when the Gamemakers force the four remaining tributes together. With Twelve and her bow and Two and his sword, it's only a matter of time before the cannons start firing. He's known her long enough to know that she wants to be in control. The Capitol thought they'd taken all control from her, but they hadn't reckoned on what she's prepared to do.
He ignores the way his breath catches in his throat when she seems to make her decision. He can almost see the decision being made. Her eyes harden. She nibbles a bit of cheese, hesitant. Afraid. Then she sets her chin and reaches for the berries.
He doesn't know how long he sits there after the cannon fires. He watches the hovercraft come and take her away, but still he sits there. He doesn't move until the sun is bright through the windows and he realizes what time it must be.
The doorknob turns, and his mind reels. What will he say to the little girl? How will he tell Tara? He barely has time to think before she's closed the door and is standing in front of him.
Her eyes meet his and he sees the question she doesn't ask when she says his name. He takes a deep breath.
"Tara, we need to talk."