At first it’s almost unconscious. She braids her hair to sleep anyway, it doesn’t mean anything that the style has changed. A fishtail District braid. Katnisses braid. She sleeps with her victor’s hair and she unravels it in the mornings and pins it back up under her wigs. Effie’s one rebellion. She smiles at the thought then bites her lip until it stings.
It’s not a rebellion, I’m following a trend, she decides vehemently, watching girls with violet hair in the same style. They twirl the ends around manicured fingers with razor sharp nails but Effie still wears hers only to sleep and she hates the others a little bit for it. Somehow it feels like a mockery coming from them. Katniss won and they have probably never won anything in their lives (except the privilege of being born Capitol).
“It’s just a trend,” she tells her self uncertainly in the mirror at night and she decides that privilege is too dangerous a word to even think about.
On the victor’s tour she writes speeches for Katniss and Peeta (her victors) and they smile at her sometimes like they’re friends and she tries to put the right emphasis on her words, she tries to be the same as she was, but she’s afraid for them now like she never was before, and she’s too bright and Haymitch notices right away.
“Eff,” he sidles up to the door to her room on the first night. “You okay?”
“I’m perfect,” she smiles so hard it hurts. “Our little team are going to do so well at Eleven tomorrow, don’t you think? I’ve got cue cards for them. Wouldn’t want to...wouldn’t want them to stir any...they...they’ll sparkle.”
“Sure they will,” Haymitch frowns. “You let me know if you need anything, alright?”
Effie blinks at him, she can feel her smile pulling tight though she wants to laugh more than anything. At how soft Haymitch sounds, at how unlike Haymitch he sounds, caring for a Capitol girl like she’s caring for District children. She blinks again.
“And what would I need from you, pray tell?”
Haymitch grins, shrugs, runs a hand through his hair, is himself again.
“Nothing at all, princess. Make sure you get the kids lines right, wouldn’t want Katniss coming across all...Katniss.”
“Goodnight Haymitch,” she trills and she closes the door.
She doesn’t braid her hair that night. Her hands are shaking too much and she thinks Haymitch might have thought he saw something in her that doesn’t exist. Some spark of sympathy that can’t possibly exist because she is the Capitol.
“It’s just a trend,” she informs her reflection again. “And it is my job to be at the height of fashion.”
But she doesn’t braid it and the next day Eleven riots.
My words should have kept them safe, she thinks, stricken, as Peeta and Katniss are hustled off stage.
“That wasn’t what I wrote,” she shrieks and they all pass it off as something Effie, like she hasn’t even noticed the violence outside, like she doesn’t care, like she doesn’t see it. And she shouldn’t, not really, the Capitol exacts just punishment. But Katniss is crying when Haymitch whisks her away and there are gunshots behind her and she doesn’t know why any of this is happening. She clasps her hands in front of her and she stands ramrod straight and still until it quiets down and then she smiles.
At night she starts to braid her hair again, turning the action into luck, half afraid that any wrong move she makes will get her victor’s killed. She writes speeches all night and paints her face to hide her exhaustion. Haymitch backs her up and insists they read the lines she’s written and they do and she keeps them alive but not because she hates the Capitol, only because she loves them and doesn’t understand. They’re her team. They’re hers like no one else has ever been.
When the quarter quell is announced she knows immediately what it means and that she has failed. Katniss will go back into the arena. Peeta too. Or Haymitch. He finds her the night it’s announced and he’s desperately drunk, even for him, but if he notices the tear tracks through her makeup or her shredded lace gloves, he doesn’t say anything.
“You care about them,” he says gently, slumping down to sit next to her.
“I have cared for all of my tributes equally,” she manages, her voice tight and high and dry. Lies and lies and lies.
“These two are...they’re different.”
“No, Eff, not me. They’re....in love,” his fingers brush the air as he says the word, like it’s something invisible, intangible, and Effie looks at her hands.
“I thought it might save them,” she glances at him and away before she can see if his expression changes. “You told me they were engaged and I hoped it would keep them safe. My speeches...they didn’t work.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“It is,” she insists. “For what...for what they have to do.”
Haymitch is silent for a long time. She flinches when his hand brushes her shoulder, a clumsy gesture, but one she is grateful for. He offers her a bottle and she gulps deep and chokes and burns and he laughs a little and she wants to cry.
“Practice saying her name. It might make it easier,” he says.
“And if I have to say yours?”
“You’ve been wanting me dead for years,” his smile is a ghost. “Shouldn’t be so difficult.”
“You’ll be fine.”
“Yes,” she whispers.
She calls his name and her voice is strong and clear and Peeta has volunteered before Haymitch can even move. She feels like a deer in headlights when the whole District goes silent, raises their hands in that salute that Effie doesn’t understand. She feels like an alien, never so conspicuous than now, printed all over in butterflies with grief and terror in her smile, but a different grief and terror than that which has always stained the Districts.
Later, in her room, she cries as silently as she can, scared someone will hear it and decide she cares too much. And she does, she cares and she loves like she always has. Before she directed it at dresses and makeup and picking a favourite child to die, but now she knows the children and she cares and she loves and she hates. She pins her hair up in Katnisses braid and fastens it with a gold mockingjay, an easy thing to find now, and she is as defiant as wind and rebellious as the girl on fire in her room in her mirror with her face bare and her glitter shed and her hair strawberry blonde and straight as a pin.
When she wakes she fixes her hair, tidies the braid, straightens the mockingjay, and pins her wig on over it. Her one rebellion. Not a trend, not a violet mockery on a Capitol girl, hers is strawberry blonde and unadorned and hidden under tinsel threaded glamour and it is a rebellion.
She has symbols made, but she’s not brave enough or stupid enough to get what she really wants. Mockingjays in Haymitch’s bracelet and Peeta’s necklace.
“My gold is my hair,” she tells them, smiling and smiling and smiling.
Haymitch watches the start of the Games with her. He sits next to her, people all around, potential sponsors in brilliant shades of every colour, and Haymitch next to her, his shoulder bumping hers as Katniss shoots Gloss in the calf and tributes die and cannons boom.
He’s gone by the time Effie notices the bracelet Finnick is wearing. Her bracelet, the one she gave to Haymitch, the one that said they were a team. Her skin shivers cold and then hot and her throat is all pins and she stands up before she knows why and pauses for too long, startles the sponsors, ruffles feathers.
“I...” she starts, before shaking her head, smiling through pursed lips and fluttering her eyelashes. “Where has Haymitch gone?”
She teeters away, keeps everything held in and held up, a string through her spine, tilting her jaw and perfecting her posture. Back in her room she crumples like tissues on wind. They aren’t a team, not really, and she deserves this. Haymitch knew, he must have known she would see it, gold at the wrist of one of the boys most broken by the Capitol. This is what you do, you break us down and pretty us up. The implication hurts her more than she can say, but worse still, she knows it’s true. She should apologise to Haymitch for trying to be a part of him, she should have known he would never let it happen, they are oil and water, she is the Capitol and the Capitol is not him.
When he comes back to watch the Games later that night, he sits beside her and she doesn’t look at him. She keeps her hands in her lap and her back straight and her eyes on the screens and when he bumps his shoulder against hers she moves, just a little, so that it’s more of an effort to touch her. He looks at her, briefly, but she makes sure she is focussed carefully on her victors (not her team, maybe her friends, but she’s not theirs).
When Peeta is electrocuted she cries out in fear and Haymitch grabs her wrist and holds it so tightly she knows she will bruise and she bites back her tears because that is what he is asking her to do, with his face stoic and his other hand clenched tight on his thigh and the sponsors enthralled all around them. She knows how to be ignored almost as well as she knows how to be noticed and when Peeta gasps into consciousness she falls back into her smiles and back into her laughter and her charm and Haymitch lets go of her.
He disappears after that. He isn’t at the viewing room the next day at all and Effie knows she looks too wrecked, too tearstained and tired to even try to gather sponsors, so she leaves too. She watches from her room and she bites her fingernails to the quick and wishes he would come back.
They get sponsors despite her, Peeta and Katniss and their allies. They get things to keep them alive and Effie wonders if that’s what Haymitch is doing, gathering up pledges, and thinks it’s the only excuse she would accept to keep him from her and then remembers the bracelet and decides she doesn’t care where he is or that she cares too much or that she has know idea how she feels.
He comes back on the third day, just briefly. He comes to her room and just seeing him makes her want to spit out all her secrets. She wants to tell him about her pin and her braid and she wants to declare that they are on the same side, but then she remembers the bracelet and her throat closes and the words stick.
“You gave away the bracelet,” she hisses, choosing anger instead of guilt because it’s easier, because she has grown up choosing what is easier. “You gave it away and I thought we were a team and you gave it away. I made a speech and I...I talked about my hair and you all probably laughed at me and...”
She doesn’t know when she starts crying, only that Haymitch kneels in front of her and his fingers touch her cheeks and come away wet. She pulls away from him and he follows, moves to sit next to her, tugs her closer to him, holds her hands tight in his and keeps her still.
“I felt bad for the kid, he had nothing,” Haymitch mutters.
“Liar,” Effie spits. “You wanted to humiliate me.”
“Actually, for once this wasn’t about you.”
Effie freezes then blushes hot with shame. She sniffs and shuts her eyes and her hands fall dead in his.
“No,” she sighs hollowly. “But it worked well enough. I won’t...I won’t be so naive to think we’re...a team again.”
Haymitch looks at her for a long time and she tries to see into his expression, past the nothing he keeps painted on his face like she does makeup, but it’s impossible.
“That...is probably a good idea,” he says quietly.
She shuts her eyes again but tears leak out anyway and drip down her cheeks. Her makeup burns a little. Haymitch’s hands are warm and dry and for the first time since she’s known him, he doesn’t reek of alcohol. She opens her eyes.
“What’s happening?” she asks, suddenly afraid.
“Nothing, princess,” Haymitch gets to his feet, keeps one of her hands in his. “I’ll see you tomorrow, we’ll get more sponsors.”
“Sponsors,” she echoes stupidly.
“Get cleaned up though, you look like shit,” he grins at her, too wide, reminding her of her own smiles, and he kisses the back of his hand, so brief she can only stare, and then he’s gone.
The next day he really is gone, and Katniss has split open the sky and all the remaining tributes have disappeared too. Peacekeepers come to Effie’s room in the evening. She doesn’t fight them. She demands time to freshen up her makeup and fiddle with her hair and they give it to her and she is the Effie everyone expects her to be, bright and smiling and a little bit confused. She asks them all the appropriate questions, what happened last night? Who is the winner? And they answer nothing and frogmarch her out of the building and into a vehicle.
“Where is Haymitch Abernathy?” one of them asks, over and over again. And over and over again Effie shakes her head.
She never sees their faces, hidden behind stark white helmets, not when they demand she strip off her makeup and her clothing and her wig. Her armour. When they see her braid and her pin, one of them slaps her open palmed across the face, so hard she staggers, so hard she tastes blood.
“You’re one of them,” he snarls behind his mask.
From somewhere a syringe is produced and Effie doesn’t fight, not even as her ears roar and her hands shake. Where is Haymitch Abernathy? The needle is jammed into her arm and Effie only has time to squeak out a gasp before she falls unconscious.
In the beginning she counts to keep hold of time. But she loses track too often and it hurts too often and soon she just gives up. There are no markers where she’s kept, nothing to tell her it’s day or night. The room is kept in twilight at all hours and there are no windows or air vents or shadows. Just dim white and the bench she is kept strapped to and the needle taped to her arm that she assumes is keeping her alive, because they don’t feed her.
They come in sometimes, to stick her with drugs that make her scream and cry and to black her eyes and burn her skin and to ask her so many questions so relentlessly she forgets what the words mean. They cut off her braid, they take away her pin, they dress her in linen. When she sleeps (there’s another needle for that), she dreams of Haymitch kissing her hand and of the golden bracelet that must have meant something after all and of all of that disappearing in electric charged water and hails of arrows.
It takes a hundred years for someone else to come. She thinks she must have died she’s been there for so long. Her bones ache with age, her skin feels like dried leaves, trampled dust. And then someone is there, in cloth not metal, with skin and teeth and eyes and hair, not a Peacekeeper. She doesn’t recognise him just knows he’s not Capitol, couldn’t possibly be with that hair, and he’s cutting the straps that are holding her down and gingerly tugging the needle from her arm and then there are two more of them and they’re all yelling but she can’t hear them and abruptly she realises it’s because she’s started to scream.
They don’t touch her, they just yell and she just screams and then falls silent all at once. She gathers her knees to her chest. Bird bones, weak and shaking and coated in dead skin and dirt. With her eyes holding theirs, she swings her legs over the edge of the bench, hops lightly to the floor, falls when her knees give out immediately. Every bump bruises but she snarls at anyone who tries to help her.
“Who are you?” she snaps, huddled on the floor after failing to stand too many times, her voice hoarse from disuse. “I’ll tear your eyes out if you touch me.”
“We’re from District Thirteen,” one of them says.
“You’re liars,” she shakes her head, smooths her hospital gown over her trembling legs.
“We don’t have time for this,” another mutters, turning away from her. “Just pick her up.”
“I will destroy you,” Effie squeaks.
“Haymitch Abernathy sent us,” the leader says, looking irritated, and Effie almost starts screaming again.
“Leave me for...please, give me five minutes, I will be ready in five minutes,” she whispers then, her fingers fisted in her gown.
But they roll their eyes and the biggest one picks her up and she screams and scratches and cries but he holds her tight as anything and she tires herself out far before he does.
They take her somewhere she’s never seen, District Thirteen she thinks irritably, though it’s never confirmed by any of those who take her. She is left in a room and the door is locked and can’t help thinking that nothing has changed, not really, until Haymitch shows up. He’s furious, it seems, and drunk, and wild, and she’s never been so glad to see anyone in her life. She starts to cry and his anger turns to fear and he steps forward and then back and then sways a little in the middle and she cries harder.
“Sweetheart,” he starts, sounding terrified. “I...you look...Eff, can you stop crying?”
“No,” she manages through snot and tears. “I hate you.”
“I’m sorry about them...the ones who brought you here, they’re...”
“I did my hair like Katniss, under my wigs,” she sobs. “I braided it with a mockingjay pin and...I did that and they saw it and...”
“Shit, Eff,” he runs a hand through his hair. “I thought...I thought they wouldn’t touch you.”
She laughs, rubs at her face with dirty hands, brittle nails, broken fingers. She moves toward him, still unsteady on her feet, still shaking. She leans up and kisses him and he stumbles and she laughs again.
“I thought...I thought I was some huge rebel wearing my hair like hers,” she giggles, she sways. “You gave my bracelet to Finnick Odair because you were a team.”
“I gave it to him because we were a team. I thought Katniss would recognise that and trust him.”
“They’re both alive.”
“As alive as I’ll ever be.”
He jams his hands into his pockets, she presses her hands to his chest, curls her fingers under the buttons, keeps her head tilted away from him, away from the stench of alcohol and the careful way he’s looking at her.
“We need you to be..Effie Trinket again.”
“Who else would I be?” Effie purses her lips. “N-nothing like a little bit of torture to put the spring back in my step.”
“That’s my girl,” Haymitch says sadly and Effie Trinket smiles.