*~* The Sixty-Fifth Hunger Games

The train sped through endless fields of prairie grasses as it made its way to District 12. Effie Trinket glanced out the window only occasionally. There was nothing of interest out here. Her yearly train ride took her past each of Panem's twelve districts, but she never looked closely at any of them. If there came a day for a Victory Tour, Effie would see the best each district had to offer.

When, Effie corrected herself. When there was a Victory Tour. When there was a victor. Above all, she had to stay positive.

And Effie believed she had reason to be positive. Last year's Games had not brought them a victor, but she felt they'd made progress.

The tributes had been older this year, a sixteen year old girl and an eighteen year old boy. Effie had been silently thankful that she hadn't drawn the name of another twelve year old. They'd been both Seam kids. Effie was learning to tell the distinction, with their dark hair and startling gray eyes.

She'd been hopeful for them, and she'd detected just a note of optimism under Haymitch's surly front. Older tributes stood more of a chance. Seam kids often stood more of a chance because of their difficult youths and the inherent strength they possessed in order to have lived this long. All in all, these tributes had been as prepared as they could be, at least, physically.

Things had changed on the Capitol side of the Games. Effie and Haymitch were working together now. It had been an interesting transition of jobs. As the Official District Escort, Effie's role was complete when the tributes entered the Games. Last year, she had remained in the mentor's world instead of floating back to her normal life. It had been extraordinarily eye opening.

Effie thought she'd understood the job of a mentor. For four years, she'd observed Haymitch in the task. She'd seen the strain on him and the other mentors. She'd been unprepared to do the job herself.

Work for a mentor started immediately after the countdown ended, and the process was begun even before that. Throughout the interviews, scoring, and media parades, Haymitch had identified potential sponsors. He kept a list of possible supporters, and when his tribute needed help, he arranged countless meetings to garner funds.

He watched almost every instant of the Games. Each district had a room in the training center equipped with wall sized screens and constant live footage of their tributes. In the past, as a spectator of the Hunger Games, Effie had watched only the highlights of edited material. In these rooms, the mentors could watch for every detail.

Haymitch could see everything that went on, but the only control he had was over his set of cameras. He could see the gory death of their girl tribute as she was mauled by a vicious mutt of half wolf and half grizzly bear. But he could do nothing but watch.

These rooms made for intense viewings of the Games. Effie spent the majority of the two and a half weeks their tributes were in play inside that room. Haymitch, too, rarely left. Their rooms on the penthouse floor were reserved for them, but Effie was the only one to regularly sleep there. He would rest a few hours at a time on a sofa in the mentor room, with the sound of the Games coloring his dreams.

Haymitch did not easily adjust to his new assistant. It was much like he had warned this day last year. He did not delegate or instruct. He went about his job at a furious pace, keeping time with the numbered beatings of his tributes' hearts. His one concession to help was to allow Effie to 'try and keep up.'

This method had annoyed her to no end, but she'd been nearly as stubborn as he. Effie had learned early on to simply announce what she intended to do, and if his argument was only a little more than token, to do it anyway. She'd volunteered to coach their tributes through an interview, been largely ignored, and then carved out the time to make it happen.

During the Games, she'd copied his list of sponsors and orchestrated opportunities to boast about her tributes' chances. Effie had even managed to prod her partner into a meeting where he could sign off on a deal. She felt enormously proud of her contribution.

She'd also spent hours on end watching the Games in the cramped mentor's room. Haymitch refused to alternate, for the most part. And so much of their time had been shared monitoring their tributes. By the end of two and half weeks, Effie had watched five tributes die at the hands of the children they'd brought.

The first time the boy had killed, the large screen had allowed her to see a single tear run down his cheek. The second and third time even that small display of humanity had disappeared.

The girl was attacked by a mutt as she entered a cave for shelter. Effie had grabbed for the list of sponsors, searching for which name might be willing to pay for the medicine she would undoubtedly need. A hand closing around her arm had stopped her, and Haymitch had met her eyes and wearily shook his head.

The boy was killed in a battle with a District 1 tribute. The two young men were evenly matched, and the struggle would have gone on longer if the District 2 female had not honored her alliance and placed a powerfully thrown dagger into their tribute's back.

They'd not brought a victor home last year. This year though, Effie hoped to see a change.

A faint whistle announced that they had reached District 12. The Official District Escort stood, smoothed her flowering dress, and straightened her wig of topaz hair. It was too loud to be natural, but then, that's what Effie wanted.

She exited the train and glanced around the deserted platform out of habit. No one would be there. The sky was overcast, dulling the sharp edge of the heat, but the clouds had her worried. If it rained, the hike back to the train would be miserably muddy and her hair would likely never recover.

Effie scowled briefly in the direction of the Victor's Village, then began walking. The things she did for this job...

The rain held off, and Effie reached the abandoned Village with hair intact. Everything was just as it had been a year ago, as it had been ten years ago. Effie wondered fleetingly what it would be like here if they gained another victor. She hoped the place could look a little more welcoming with two residents.

Haymitch's door was closed and the windows were drawn. Effie guessed that he was asleep in his kitchen with his knife and his liquor. She rolled her eyes in disgust and wrinkled her nose against the smell she would shortly encounter. Her knock resounded through the empty Village.

It took another knock for the door to open. Effie turned her customary smile to the man inside. Haymitch Abernathy looked as he always did. His long hair was plastered to the side of his face, and he could desperately do with a shave. His clothes were soiled beyond belief and the smell was truly dreadful. She ignored all of this as best she could.

"Surprise, surprise," Haymitch drawled. His voice was hardly slurred, and while he reeked of alcohol, he seemed only mildly inebriated. Effie tried to take this as a good sign.

"Good morning," she replied, ignoring his satire. She followed the District 12 victor into his rank smelling house. Everything was just as it had been last year, with the excepted possibility of more garbage and a stronger smell. Why the man didn't bother with a housekeeper was beyond Effie.

Haymitch turned into the kitchen, just as she knew he would. A decade's worth of empty bottles littered the floor, and Effie was mindful of her expensive shoes. "What have you got to say this year?" Haymitch asked as he sank comfortably into a chair.

Preferring to stand, Effie strode about the kitchen, navigating the messy maze as she went. "I only wanted to say that while we did not bring home a victor, I believe we made great progress last year."

Her partner snorted and folded his arms across his chest. His gaze followed her around the room. "Progress? There's no participation prize in these games, Trinket."

She sent him a scalding glance for his rude address. "I mean to say that our methods are improving. We're learning to give them the best chance possible."

His eyes narrowed, a sure sign that a fight was brewing. "So this is a congratulatory visit?"

Effie plucked the curtain up and away from the window, viewing the Victor's Village from inside its one residence. "We've not succeeded yet, but I have high hopes for this year."

"You think your contribution made that much of a difference?"

She glanced back at him, miffed. "I think the effect was noticeable. The interviews went far more smoothly last year than ever before, and even you have to admit that my efforts with sponsors were helpful."

When he admitted no such thing, Effie continued. "I suppose I hadn't fully realized the difficulties of the mentor's job, but I feel I can learn how to do it adequately."

"You think you can learn it?" Haymitch asked, startling her attention back to him. "You think you can learn what it is to be a mentor? To relate to your starving tribute because you've almost died that way, too? To learn their terror and understand the certainty that they'll never make it home? You think you can learn everything a mentor has to know in order to do the job they do?" He took a drink from the ever present bottle. "Don't try to be a victor, Effie. You're not one."

Surprised by his tirade, she stayed silent a long moment. "No," Effie answered carefully, "I am not a victor, nor do I wish to be one. My expertise lies in other areas, and I will use it to give them whatever help I'm able."

She frowned. "And I daresay I do a better job than any other escort in the field would."

Haymitch actually almost smiled. "You do."

Effie raised a sculpted eyebrow. "That's nearly a compliment coming from you."

The two partners stayed quiet, and the silence was almost companionable. Effie decided it was time to address this year's reforms. "I think we made progress," she reiterated. "And I think we'll make more this year if you acknowledge my assistance."

"I think I just did," Haymitch pointed out.

Silently noting that this might be the longest she'd ever seen him go without a drink, Effie clarified. "I mean during the Games. If you allow me to actually help you then, it will go better for all of us."

He was frowning again. "What do you want now?"

Clamping down on her rising ire, Effie told him. "If we institute a schedule of watching the Games, you might actually manage to get a good night's rest. With the two of working, we can share the task of observing." She looked pointedly at him. "You'll be of more use to everyone with the right amount of sleep."

Haymitch looked ready to spout an argument, but he didn't speak. Maybe he saw the sense in her position. "You'd watch out for them while I slept?" he asked finally. Effie nodded. "And you'd wake me if something important happened?" She nodded again, wondering if she might get her way.

After another moment of intense consideration, he nodded. "Fine. We might be able to work out a schedule."

Effie was suddenly aware that it cost Haymitch something to allow that. The job was, after all, his alone, and he'd done it this way for fourteen years. If he let her help him, he'd have to trust her with his tributes' lives. It surprised her more that he was willing to do that.

"Excellent," Effie approved. "I feel better about our chances already! After all, practice makes perfect!"

She ignored his glare. Effie knew she was right.