She isn’t supposed to come back. She is tiny during her interview, a fairy princess in a pink taffeta gown and a giant flower in her hair. It isn’t until the numbers start dwindling down that the remaining Careers realize that no one has killed her yet.
She still survives.
Her heart breaks for every child.
She starts getting a reputation in the Capitol, because she really will do whatever it takes to get them sponsors. The media paints her as a delicate flower, so gorgeous that people can’t help but flock to her to sample her nectar. They don’t talk about the smell of vomit after parties, or the pills she gets from men in dark alleys to stay barren, or how she drinks to forget. She turns down an associate of Snow’s, once, and comes home to find her dad - the only one she had left - bleeding out.
It’s not that he’s an idiot, she thinks when she meets him for the first time. He’s just painfully naive. He’s never left the Capitol before and he doesn’t fully understand what he’s doing. None of the Gamemakers do, not really, or, if they do, they stay in it for the sadism. He goes on and on about proper Tribute containment and higher ratings and playing within the system and she wants to tell him, I’ve been “in the system.” I saw one of my best friends die in front of me and had to bite my fist to keep myself from screaming. He flirts with her shamelessly and thinks what the magazines say is real, that she flirts for fun and leaves broken hearts behind like rose petals. Somehow word hasn’t gotten around to him yet that she’s a whore.
He offers her a glass of blue wine and a walk back to her room.
She invites him inside, if he’s interested. They always are.
He turns her down, politely. “Not while you’re drunk, sweetheart,” he says, and kisses her hand.
She loses track of how long she stands in her doorway, still feeling his lips on her skin.
She has to admit he’s creative, if nothing else. Sipping a green cocktail at two in the morning, she watches the girl from District 12 get mauled to pieces by a striped bear. Tribute containment. She got too close to the edge.
She answers the door later that day, in a green silk robe printed with daisies, and sees he has a bouquet of daylilies in his hand.
“No Victor from District 12 this year,” he says. “I’m sorry.”
She blinks, her mind trying to process a Capitol citizen being sorry. “For what?”
“The bear,” he says. “Couldn’t be helped, of course, I just- it’s still your tribute. Tributes.”
“Oh,” she says, and accepts the flowers with shaking hands. He’s the first person who hasn’t offered her roses. “Thank you.”
He starts to bring her flowers every time a tribute dies. She takes them with her to the funerals and leaves them on the graves.
He’s too sweet to be so good at what he does. He moves every piece in the Games with such precision, down to the last leaf on the last tree. He says he tries every year to make them even more unforgettable, that the best Gamemakers find the balance between the arena and the Tributes to put on the best show. She comes to him with a love story. She tells him about a boy and a girl who in other context would have been the happiest of couples, if not for cruel fate dividing them. And the Gamemakers take it and make it bloom, until every citizen of the Capitol is clamoring for them to both win, because they can’t bear the thought of one living without the other.
When he announces over the loudspeaker that both are champions, something loosens in her chest.
She throws herself into the rebellion work after that. She doesn’t think she’ll live very long now, not after the stunt with the berries and her passionate appeal to the sponsors that made even the Gamemakers change their minds. He’s worried that the Capitol is going to target him because he made the final call, and what’s worse is that she knows he’s right. She doesn’t tell him about the rebellion, or District 13, but as the days lead up to the Quarter Quell she wonders if she should. She goes to the same parties, pins more flowers in her hair, but she stops drinking long enough for it to matter. No one notices but Haymitch.
“There a reason you’re not drunk, sweetheart?” he asks.
She smiles her Capitol smile and takes his hand.
She finds that his skin is soft and he’s one of the few Capitol citizens who doesn’t dye his hair. She revels in her lack of strings; this is the first time in a long while that no one has paid for her. It might be the last.
That night, she tries to tell him everything she can’t say and has no idea if he understands.
The Quarter Quell is over and Effie’s on the run. They won’t kill him quickly, not when they know - they have to know, cameras are everywhere - that there’s something between them. When one of the Capitol retrieval missions comes in with him on a stretcher, she almost cries in relief. She sits outside his hospital room while they try to keep him from dying, but there’s so little skin and so much blood.
When he wakes up from the haze of morphling, she is holding his hand. There are no flowers for him here.
He smiles. “You still drunk, sweetheart?”
Katniss kills Coin, the world falls apart again, and Effie and Haymitch plant lilies in the ruins of District 12. His skin isn’t so smooth now, and he still wakes up some nights looking fruitlessly for morphling to take his pain away, but she doesn’t drink anymore.
They still survive.