Effie Trinket is twenty seven when she loses her job as District 7’s stylist. She’s only held it for two years, only seen three children die. She’s bored of trees anyway.
She tells her friends with iron confidence that it isn’t a demotion. Escort for 12 and stylist for 7 are about on par, it’s tacky to think of some districts as better than others anyway. She doesn’t tell her friends about Spark, the silver dollar haired, silver dollar eyed, pretty as a picture escort for 7 who she’d been seeing all that time and who got her the job in the first place. The one who would rather get a girl demoted than break up with her himself. It hurts more than she’ll ever admit but she’s sure she'd make a wonderful escort.
Effie doesn't really think to prepare on top of her official training. One district is just like another, only the costumes will be different. They’re all just children and they know as well as she does why they’re here. The families get to think about what they’ve done while the children are punished. Effie doesn’t think about that much either. She just there to make their stay as pleasant as possible. She’s good at that, happy people are pretty people, are entertaining people, just look at the Capitol.
Meeting Haymitch shakes her confidence a little. Of course, she knows him. She had been thirteen when he won, the grey eyed underdog who she giggled about with her friends. Pretty and charming and old enough and dangerous enough to swoon them. But she’s in the victor's village in District 12 and he is something else now. His eyes are still grey, not Capitol enhanced silver dollar of course but a nice enough colour, but there’s something underneath them now. Some dark and dead thing that hurts her a bit to look at. He still moves the same too, easy and graceful, but his hands shake and a bottle hangs from two fingers, a second from smashing. He seems far more dangerous now. She purses her lips and steels herself for the sweat she imagines will be on his palm.
“Effie Trinket, a pleasure to meet you,” she trills. He looks at her outstretched hand critically, her gloves are seafoam lace and her nails vivid yellow underneath, fashion forward definitely, but he is frowning. She drops her hand to her side.
“What’d you do to the other girl then?” he asks, rocking back on his heels, taking a swig from the bottle.
“Oh, Blanche went to work as District Ten’s escort, she’s an animal lover.”
“Escaped then,” Haymitch smirks unpleasantly. “Good for her.” His voice is harsh and full of old bitterness and Effie doesn’t really understand it. As a victor he has everything short of actually being a resident of the Capitol. She claps her hands together and offers him a smile, not so wide that it cracks her pearly make up but enough that he knows she could be a friend. Effie is careful with her smiles.
“Well, I’m just desperate to meet our tributes, aren’t you?”
“When you’ve met one dead kid, you’ve met ‘em all,” Haymitch shrugs. Effie blinks and blinks, opens her mouth to reply then thinks better of it presses her lips together tight, curls her fingers into her palms, careful not to snag a nail on the lace of her gloves, and instead offers him a vague nod.
“I think it’s terribly exciting,” she says finally, looking around, inspecting the art with an expert eye. “Your house is just lovely.”
“This isn’t mine,” says Haymitch. “Mine wasn’t deemed presentable enough for you.”
“Oh...well it’s lovely all the same.” She smooths down the embroidered silk of her vividly coloured dress. He’s staring at her and her outfit is a little bright for the grey and brown and smoke of District 12, but how was she to know the colours would clash? Haymitch watches her for a long moment, his eyes searching out something in her that she knows doesn’t exist, that he will never find if it does. He won’t see past the colours, there isn’t anything underneath, and that is just another thing she tries not to think about.
“Pleasantries done then?” he asks and her smile stays fixed and she hums tunelessly under her breath and he laughs and down the rest of the alcohol. His wrist flicks lightning quick, the bottle hits the wall and explodes and it’s all she needs to flee. Out the door to the Peacekeepers and to the Square and to the Reaping.
On stage he slumps in his seat and there’s another bottle on the floor next to him. She’s prim, she’s ruler straight and smiling just enough that it doesn’t seem morbid. She’s been practising her lines every day and she’s got them perfect.
“Welcome, welcome,” she starts.
Their names are Thom and Marigold and they are fourteen and seventeen. They are the first of many.
After four years, eight dead children, Effie stops wearing her dyed white hair in piled up loops of intricate braids. She’s seen too many girls with their own plaited hair stained red with blood. Girls that she knows. Corn silk girls. She starts wearing wigs, curled tight and coloured pink and green and gold, nowhere close to little kid’s neat braids. Haymitch notices, because he notices everything, but he doesn’t say a word.
She remembers every single name. She whispers them like secrets every night before she goes to sleep because they are secrets. No one is supposed to remember them, they are penance and punishment.
After seven years she has lasted longer than anyone as an escort in District 12. No one wants the suicide tributes. Assisted suicide. Coerced suicide. That is dangerous thinking and Effie bats her golden eyelashes. Haymitch gets worse, he loses his grace, he starts to stumble, he vomits at every Reaping (before he’s had a drink, Effie notices, but she doesn’t say a word). He has the tributes figured out in a minute and ignores them for the rest and they know they’ll die, that him winning was a fluke anyway, they would die even with his help. He’s charming and funny sometimes, he spins her in a circle sometimes. He’s harsh and cruel sometimes, he spits on her dresses sometimes. She sees him for two months out of every year and his voice and his eyes are burned into her for the rest of it.
After nine years she kisses him. It’s just before the Reaping and he’s looking drawn out and tired. He’s drunk and she knows he’ll taste terrible, but she wants to feel what it’s like to be as full up as he pretends not to be. He’s all emotions, when he’s pretending the tributes don’t exist and when his trembling hands dance her around and she thinks they really are friends now. She thinks she might want more than that, even when he tells her he hates her and there’s only truth in his eyes.
They’re in the holding room, waiting for the anthem to start and Haymitch is leaning against a wall, his fingers tapping at his sides, swaying just a little bit. And he looks up and he smiles at her and that’s all it takes. She teeters toward him, curls her fingers in his collar, tilts her head and kisses him. Chaste as anything really but he flinches like she’s hit him and almost falls. He rips his mouth away and swears and grips her by the arms and pushes her so hard she stumbles and falls. Her elbows hit the ground hard and she struggles not to cry, he glares at her and his eyes are wild and terrifying. The anthem starts. He hadn’t tasted like anything except alcohol and sweat and for the first time she stutters over her lines.
He avoids her, more children die. Dami and Rose, seventeen and twelve, she adds their names to her list. She talks to him like nothing happened and he boils with anger at her every moment. She doesn’t understand why he’s so angry, it was just a kiss.
Ten years, twenty dead children, he talks to her again.
“That was stupid, you know,” he says. They’re in the dinner cart of the train, the tributes (James and Dara, both thirteen) are sleeping. She knows what he’s talking about immediately. “The keepers were just outside the door.”
“Why would they care?”
“You’re not that stupid, Effie,” he sneers. “It means something that you would choose to do that. Victors are only good as whores and you didn’t even pay me.” And that’s it isn’t it, he thought she wanted to play cute with a victor. It was her right, wasn’t it? The Capitol likes to play with the toys and she is the Capitol.
“No,” she says quietly. “No that wasn’t it. I just wanted...”
“It doesn’t matter, it was dangerous.”
“I...no, I didn’t think,” she says and she’s surprised at how desperate she sounds. “I just wanted to kiss you. I like you and you smiled at me and it wasn’t that I just decided I could have you. I’ve known you for a long time and we’re killing children Haymitch and you smiled.” Her eyes are tearing and it will ruin her makeup and she doesn’t understand why. She turns away from him, jerking her body to the side, and her glass of wine is knocked to the floor, shattering into a thousand pieces and destroying the carpet and she gets halfway through a scream before it twists and she chokes and dissolves into tears.
Haymitch is by her side in a second, brushing the glass under the table with his feet.
“Be quiet, Eff, it’s just a glass.” He looks nervous under half-closed eyes, like he's expecting something worse than a ruined carpet and cut feet.
“It was so pretty,” she says faintly, squinting down at him through her tears.
“Come on, I’ll take you to your room,” he says quietly and for some reason that’s too much, she’s sobbing when he helps her to her feet, when he lets her tuck her hand in the crook of his elbow. She leans on him even though he isn’t exactly steady on his feet either and he’s so warm and she doesn’t know why she can’t stop crying. He takes her to her rooms and pauses in the door while she wipes at her face and sniffles. The cloth comes away scarlet and chalk white and glittery and it makes her flinch.
“I must look a fright,” she mumbles.
“I’d say it’s an improvement,” Haymitch says quietly. He’s lying of course, her eyelashes have come loose. “You should be more careful about what you say. Especially here.”
“I say their names, every night. I remember them all.”
“Me too, sweetheart,” he murmurs and he’s gone before she can react.
He’s back to being angry the next day, drunk before she wakes up and cruel to her from the get go. His eyes are death. She’s pretending again too, bright and brilliant, her hair is metallic and her lips and her cheeks are frosty blue and she knows she looks like a corpse but maybe it’s kind of apt. He ignores the kids and he snaps at her and she simpers at the kids and snaps right back.
After their tributes have died and the games are over, Effie immerses herself in the Capitol. She’s thirty seven now and too old for the clubs and the lights, but there are bars that work and she knows how to be the right kind of beautiful. She dresses in spun sugar to match her hair and she fucks guys who buy her drinks but only if their eyes are grey and their smiles quick. In District 12 Haymitch wonders what colour her hair really is and drinks so much he can’t even jerk off properly.
After eleven years they get Peeta and Katniss, both sixteen. Katniss spits fire and Peeta is eager and in love and Haymitch decides there’s something there. Effie can’t really see it but Katniss damages the furniture and none of the others have done that and she’s just glad to see Haymitch helping them. When Katniss scores eleven at her training with the Gamemakers, he lifts Effie off her feet in a hug and she squeals and holds on a beat too long after he puts her down.
Their tributes are star-crossed lovers, the talk of the town after Peeta’s interview. Katniss is spitting mad and Effie can taste Haymitch on all of this. It’s genius actually, just the kind of drama and romance the Capitol eats up. A tragic storybook story, they’ll get sponsors for sure.
He comes to her room that night, the last night, and he’s fall down drunk and his eyes are so hot and she wishes she had her armour of stiff silk and thick makeup.
“Your hair,” he says and she bites down hard so she can’t smile properly. Sometimes even now she can’t look at her hair without thinking of blood, but it’s down around her shoulders now and he touches it with the back of one finger. “It’s red.”
“It’s strawberry blonde,” she corrects automatically. He sways toward her, his hands hover a breath from her bare shoulders, she ducks her head to smile. “I don’t...”
“You do,” he insists. He rests one hand at the base of her throat, his thumb brushes the length of her collarbone. His other hand is soft on her arm. His hands are warm and not unexpected but she jumps anyway, inhales so sharp it’s almost a scream and he laughs.
After that there’s nothing romantic in it. He’s rough and leaves fingerprints on her arm and down her spine and pressed into her hips. She’s vicious and leaves teeth marks at his neck and is chest and his wrists. He bites her tongue when he comes and fills their mouths with blood and she cries when she comes and disappears into the bathroom afterwards. He’s gone when she comes back and she’s glad for it. She hums to herself while she changes the sheets and bites the skin off her dry lips to keep the taste of blood in her mouth. Tomorrow the Games start.
Haymitch whispers something to Katniss before she goes and Effie purses her lips sharp and adjusts the ruffles at her neck. They’re the same kind of fire, Haymitch and Katniss, Effie wouldn’t exactly be surprised if Katniss tore the arena to pieces and got Distric 12 it’s first victor in twenty four years, in forty eight deaths. It’s a shame about Peeta though, she hopes Katniss won’t have to kill him.
Effie is always quiet when it starts, it’s probably something to do with their tributes almost always being killed in the Bloodbath. Something to do with how all of this makes her sick, another secret, like her whispered names. She usually stops watching when her tributes are dead, moves back into her apartment in the city centre, sleeps for a week. This year both Katniss and Peeta avoid all the carnage (eleven children in four hours) and Effie’s fingernails dig into her palms so hard she can’t breath, and next to her Haymitch’s eyes burn holes in the screen.
Together they gather sponsors, they keep Katniss alive (she’s their bet, she’s everyone’s bet). Peeta stays alive on his own. Haymitch is rational in his approach, he explains why Katniss will win, he picks his words incredibly carefully, he smiles crookedly at the ones who remember his Games even though he wants to rip them apart. Effie flirts and grins wide enough to show her teeth and crack her makeup when Haymitch pulls her away from someone who’s hand moves at her waist and higher. They’re a whirlwind together, Haymitch knows exactly what to send and when and Effie knows how to get it.
They don’t fuck again, or kiss, or hardly even touch. When Rue dies, Haymitch gets a shut off look on his face, cold and closed. Effie remembers Maysilee and she curls her fingers around his hand and squeezes.
“She’s being stupid,” he says roughly, pulling his hand away with the words.
“She’s being brave.”
“They’ll punish her for it.”
It’s Haymitch’s idea, two winners from the same district. Him and Effie figure out how to get it to work and it starts with her, all in soft pink and dewy smiles, flirting with Seneca Crane so effectively he stumbles into Haymitch with flushed cheeks, is already stunned stupid by the time Haymitch starts his sell.
“You’re ruthless,” Haymitch says to her after, looking strangely proud.
“I thought you didn’t like me flirting,” she retorts and he laughs about that for a long time.
Their tributes win. Katniss and Peeta both, staying alive enough to trick the Capitol. Haymitch gets very quiet at that, very tense. He paces wihle they wait for them to get back. His eyes dart to the doors. He drinks and he flips a table knife in his hand. When they learn that Katniss and Peeta are in the infirmary, no visitors allowed, he backs Effie into a corner.
“You won’t be implicated,” he says, his voice low and urgent. “It’s going to look like this was planned.”
“No, it was the girl being stupid again, or brave. But if they don’t believe me, I’ll make sure you’re not even a thought.”
“Oh,” Effie whispers. She thinks about flirting with Seneca, about trying to change the rules and she shuts her eyes.
“Eff, you’ll be fine,” Haymitch is so close she can feel his voice inside her, rumbling slow. She’ll be fine, he won’t be fine. She’ll be a Capitol princess, he’ll be tortured and killed.
“What happened to you last time?” she asks, suddenly remembering how he had won his Games. He’d broken the arena, he’d used it. He knows what will happen to Peeta and Katniss for doing the same.
“I’m going to try and see them, you go home sweetheart,” he says, and his voice is raw and scareder than she’s ever heard it. “I’ll see you next year.” And he leans forward, kisses her once on the cheek, brief and rough, before leaving.
Effie packs up her room, moves back to her apartment, watches everything Katniss and Peeta do and hopes for a glimpse of Haymitch. She’s known him longer than she’s known anyone. She misses him desperately.
She is called back for the victory tour and everything feels set on the edge of a knife. She doesn’t know what’s happening and no one will tell her. Haymitch drinks more than ever and she can’t talk to him and he won’t touch her. She bites all the skin off the insides of her lips and she tears her cuticles out and bleeds and bleeds and covers it up with paint and pearls. Her throat aches constantly with all the questions she doesn’t ask and she has a schedule that must be kept.
Katniss is frayed to nothing and she’s so sharp she breaks Effie with a word. She knows no one cares, she knows that, but she can’t help it, she can’t make them care. Not for her, not when everything she is they’re built to hate. Something terrible is happening and she doesn’t understand.
After twelve years she pulls his name from the Reaping bowl and her blood runs cold. She stares at the scrap of paper for far too long, her voice jars and twists on Haymitch Abernathy and she’s watching her and he’s frowning and then Peeta has volunteered. It disgusts her how relieved she is. That night she braids her hair then cuts it all off, close to the scalp, leaving behind peach fuzz. She looks like an alien like that, a bare head and no mask, her eyes are too big and her cheeks are too hollow and her teeth are too sharp. She bites clean through the inside of her cheek and when her mouth fills with the taste of copper and salt she remembers Haymitch.
Haymitch doesn’t tell her what he’s part of and she ends up in a cell and she’s so glad she cut all her hair off. They ask her so many questions and she has nothing to tell them but she wishes she did. She wishes she could damn them all to Hell for getting her stuck in here with broken fingers and skin and insides. With cold men with blue hair and glowing eyes and lust in every pore. It’s electricity in here, she grows accustomed to the smell of burning flesh. They hurt her worse than she ever did herself and it makes her feel sick to know that she ever drew blood intentionally.
They stop coming to see her, and she assumes they’ve realised she’s useless. She will be thrown out with the rest of the garbage. She thinks she might be dying, she can feel every bone in her body and they scream at her to let go. He won’t come for you, he left you, he hasn’t spared you a thought in forever. In ever. When he does, when she opens her eyes to his voice, calling her name, she laughs until her throat gives out.
He doesn’t get to stay with her. She’s stripped and scrubbed and built from the bottom up and he’s not there to see it. They make her wear gold, a wig and dress and face, and she screams at first but does what she’s told. Part of her hates them for leaving her behind and for pretending like she’s the same as she always was. Part of her hates Haymitch too, but she still wants to see him more than anything.
She’s about to go to Katniss, dress her up pretty, keep her on schedule, when shouting interrupts everything. She’d know that voice anywhere. She sits down on the cot, she smooths her skirt over her knees, she folds her hands in her lap. Haymitch bursts in looking furious and breathing hard and she cocks her head to one side, looks at him for a long moment. His hair is long, longer than hers under the wig, shaggy and falling across his face, and he looks old around his eyes.
“I haven’t got long, I have to pretty Katniss up,” she announces before he opens his mouth. He scowls, stalks forward, slumps down next to her on the bed.
“Don’t be stupid,” he growls. “Effie, Effie.” He hesitates before touching her and she shivers anyway when his fingers brush her cheek, turning her face toward him. She thinks of other hands on her skin and she exhales slowly and carefully to keep herself from running.
“I really don’t have much time,” she says absently, but she’s leaning into him all the same. He’s comfortable and warm and his skin doesn’t hurt her.
“Yeah you do Eff,” he tucks her up beside him, he crumples up the sleeves of her dress and she knows her wig will get messy leaning her head on his shoulder like that. She doesn’t care. She tangles her fingers through his. “You were supposed to be left alone, I’m sorry.”
“I wasn’t, I wasn't left alone,” she spits, laughing into his shoulder. His fingers tighten around her arm, she hears his breath catch. He’s been drinking, she can smell it on him, she thinks he wouldn’t be Haymitch without it. She laughs again and clutches at his shirt, pressing her fingers to the skin at his open collar. His laugh rumbles under her fingertips. “I’m in love with you I think,” she sighs.
He tilts her head up, he kisses her soft and sweet and more tender than she ever imagined. His hair falls over her cheeks, cooling the blush that burns under her makeup. When he pulls away his lips are stained gold and she smiles and wipes it off with the pad of her thumb.
“You’ve ruined me,” she presses her lips together, hopes the gold evens out.
“I know,” he offers with a sheepish grin. “You’ll get used to it.”
Katniss stares at her for a long time, at the gold paint and the trembling hands and the stifled eyes. She’s softer to Effie than she’s ever been and Effie is grateful for it. She plays her part, she teeters around with a clipboard and she’s as gold as the mockingjay, but she’s scared and new and hard and fiercer than she ever was even at her best.
When Coin falls instead of Snow, her first instinct is to run. They’ll find a way to blame the capitol for this, she’ll be on the chopping block again. Hopefully they’ll make it quick. But Haymitch’s eyes catch hers as the crowd surges and boils. He holds her in place and she stumbles over and over again but he gets to her and drags her out. He pushes her to her room (it’s another cell really) and he locks the door behind them.
“Get this off,” he waves a hand at the gold. “Even if they know who you are, without the look you won’t remind them of what they hate.” The halls outside are humming with anger. With shaking hands she tears the pins from the wig, she wipes the paint from her face. Haymitch’s fingers fumble at the long row of buttons down her back and she kicks off her shoes.
When she’s stepped out of her dress, when she’s in only a pair of plain grey underwear and a bra, Haymitch stops. He takes several steps back and his expression is stricken. Her hair has grown some, a ragged thatch of straw on top of enormous shadowed eyes and sharp, sharp cheekbones. Her skin is still mottled with bruises and scars, more colourful than she’s ever been. She twists her wrists and the bones crack and her ribs are like steps to her waist.
“Hand me a shirt please,” she turns her back on him, holds a hand out and waits. Soft black fabric falls across her arm a minute later and she shrugs the shirt over her head. She tucks it neatly into loose grey trousers, buttons the cuffs and collar carefully before turning back to face Haymitch. “Will this appease the mob?”
“Stay close to me.”
Effie takes his words to heart, she follows Haymitch to District 12. It’s not a difficult decision and he doesn’t ask her, but she follows him anyway and he holds her hand and ruffles her hair and keeps her close. She gets freckles, her hair grows out curly, her fingers won’t ever really be straight again. She tears up her wigs to make nests for the geese Haymitch raises and he won’t ever stop thinking that’s funny. They have nightmares together.
After thirteen years the world is rebuilt from ashes. Victor’s villages are razed to the ground, turned into crops and houses and better things that don’t remind anyone of the Games. Panem is slowly and carefully made new.