It's slightly AU to THG, since I've no chance to check the chronology in my copy of THG, since I loaned it out to a friend.
I don't own anything
For Rae [turnthepageoftime] because she ships this, and I'm not sure why I wrote it...
They've never gotten along, in their fifteen or so years together, not really: Effie Trinket likes to be prim and proper, to show the world that she has manners and graces – everything she thinks will get her promoted through the Districts from her current, lowly stance – whereas Haymitch Abernathy prefers drunk and disorderly, because he tries to forget what she wants to remember. Their priorities in life are very different; Effie wants to win the Hunger Games for self-canvassing her rise through the ranks, yet Haymitch just tries to forget the faces of the two children forced under his care for a short period of time, drinking to obscure their entire existence.
She thinks he's got nothing going for him, and she's right, though he would never admit that to her, because he would never allow her to know that he agrees with one of her many opinions. It's something he hears every year, when she arrives in District 12 for the reaping and then takes him along to the Capitol, her comments to him centring around how much older he looks now since last year, and whether or not he'll actually remain sober enough to mentor this year's tributes.
His response is usually to take another bottle of brandy from the train's stash, and disappear back to his room, deciding that only the bottom of the bottle can hold off the pain of knowing he's responsible for the death of another two children this year – well, it dulls the pain, at least.
He pretends not to hear her quiet, "And this is why we can never win!" when he leaves the train carriage, because, somewhere deep inside of him, it hurts for her to think of him so lowly.
They pass through the years and their relationship becomes more and more toxic, as he drink greater quantities, because the pain of being responsible for looking after this many children is too much. Her only response is to purse her lips, the colour of the lipstick painting them changing every year, until she finally decides that blue is her most flattering shade (he thinks she would look better without any, but he wouldn't want another lecture about her wardrobe, like usual) and pretend that she doesn't notice the state of his mental health.
Soon, she thinks, District 12 will go back to that time when it had no mentor for its tributes.
Each time she encounters him sober, her shrill voice drives him for the drink; it starts off being around lunchtime when he can't hack it any longer, gradually growing earlier and earlier as their years together increases, until the point comes where he's drinking as soon as he wakes up in the morning. He doesn't want to remember any of it: he doesn't like the décor, the way that the Capitol think that this show of luxury is enough for these poor souls before they encounter their doom – as he can remember it.
All of it.
"Haymitch!" her voice startles him out of staring at the cutlery on the table, wondering if eight thirty in the morning is too early to start drinking – even for him. As his gaze rises to meet hers, he wonders how rude he can get away with being, especially since the two Seam children aren't up yet. He thinks ruefully about how they're probably basking in the brilliance of the train and all its luxuries, forgetting that all it means is that their life is closer to being over, and, for a moment, he begins to wish that he could be them. Part of him would rather be forced back into that arena, forced to relive his nightmares and fight to the death – because at least death would allow an escape route from this torturous cycle of futile mentoring.
"Yes, sweetheart?" he's as sarcastic and snarky as possible at such an ungodly hour, only awake because he drank himself into such a stupor last night, he succeeded in sleeping through the night. Sleeping through the night – something that has only happened with excess drink in the past twenty three years, since they died, since his life was changed forever.
She rolls her eyes, yet manages to resist saying anything, because that's Effie for you: she'll keep it inside until she erupts – and even then, she'll be polite. "Are you going to lay off the drink today? At least until we get to the Capitol, when they go to their prep teams. They deserve a chance at survival, the poor mites; don't you agree?"
His hand clenches into a fist, his mind instantly reliving those moments of his own Hunger Games, ending when he used the forcefield as a weapon – and he's in desperate need of a drink. This is the only way that he knows to be a mentor, because there's no point in giving false hope, is there? That's what she wants him to do, that's what she's always wanted him to do, yet he can't do it. He can't lie to them, because only the brightest and the strongest can get through this – and you need to be both to beat the Careers.
"No," he replies sharply, unstoppering the bottle of brandy that sits in the middle of the heavily laden breakfast table. "They've no hope, Effie, so why bother to make them think that they can beat the others, especially District Four? They've had winners seven out of the past ten years, Effie, and this year's tribute looks just as strong. Why should I make them think that they have the chance to beat them, when we both know that we're just taking them to the slaughterhouse?" he's breathing heavily by the time that he finishes, his brain just wanting to shut down and forget everything he's just said, to get coated once again in a haze of liquor fumes.
Her mouth opens and closes a few times, her expression shocked, because she would never have expected him to speak to her like this, to acknowledge a viewpoint that she would never consider – to her, the Games are something to celebrate, and he's just destroyed everything. Yet Haymitch can't help but watch her as he pours his drink somewhat defiantly, can't help but compare her expression to that of the kids he used to see down in the Seam, before he stopped going down there. They were just as shocked when he gave them money to feed themselves, to stop them wasting away into nothingness, just as he almost did when he was their age – until he no longer felt welcome down there, before the memories began to haunt him more than they soothed him: the times he spent with his family before they were murdered by Snow; the conversations he had with people he felt were his equals; the opportunity to speak to the residents before it seemed more of a Him versus Them, approach to things.
He's sure that Effie looks just like someone he used to know, someone who would set his heart on fire, until she existed no longer. They're almost twins, beneath Effie's make up …unless it's maybe the alcohol that's already disrupting his thought processes, making him think that he's seeing things. He probably is; he's not been sure of his mental state of being since the Quarter Quell, and maybe he's just realising that he's got no chance.
Maybe his fate of doom is approaching faster than he ever thought before.
As he considers this, her face hardens into a line, and he knows that he's angered her beyond anything before, that she has never felt this much anger – or this intense – in her entire life. And yet he doesn't feel guilty as she begins to shout about how he's good for nothing, how he's sending these children to their deaths before he has even tried to save them, that he was just like them, so why can he not see that they could have the chance to do the same as he did? He doesn't feel as though he ought to be concerned about what she's saying, because he'll have forgotten it by this afternoon – earlier, if he can manage it.
"Whatever you say, sweetheart," he interrupts her, not being able to stomach the sound of her high-pitched voice any longer. "Excuse me whilst I go do something useful. If you want to, you can train our new residents on this death train. I need a drink."
As he heads through the compartment doors on the way back to his room, deciding that the solitary nature of it is preferable to anywhere on the train where she could appear, he spots the two new tributes, expecting to have their first training session with him. They're expecting, somewhere in their hearts, that one of them can be the one who gets to go home, to return to their parents and to lead a life of luxury – and be able to forget about their time in the Games. Even within the Seam children, there's a spark of a desire to win, something that he's always managed to spot in every tribute that comes through the doors of the Justice Building on Reaping Day.
He just pretends not to notice, most of the time, before forgetting as soon as he possibly can, trusting the liquor to do its job right.
"Hey, where are you going?" the male tribute yells after him as they realise he's not going to be eating with them.
Haymitch turns back for a moment, wondering whether or not he should explain now that they've no chance, or whether they should be allowed to figure it out for themselves. The years have changed him from considering that the tributes may have a chance of winning, to pessimistic outlooks that basically guarantee that whoever walks through the door faces no chance of returning to their homes.
He's about to tell them to talk to Effie, when his eyes lock on her. She's standing in the middle of the room, her hands on her hips as she waits to see whether or not he'll do his duty this year, whether or not he'll actually act as a mentor ought to. Their eyes meet with opposing emotions: she's frantic with worry that she won't be able to make him talk to the people he's supposed to be mentoring, whilst he's sure that he'd be even more useless than her pep talk about how they can win will be – which is very. They're both aware that their attempts will most likely be pointless, because District 12 has had precisely two winners in seventy three years of running these games, and Haymitch begins to see a darker side to the frantic nature of Effie's desires; she wants to win, to be allowed to feel some of the glory her fellows have felt for her entire career thus far. And, suddenly, he has an iota of respect for Effie – it's not because of her personality (which, to be frank, annoys the hell out of him and makes him add another reason to the list of why he drinks) or even the disgusting nature by which she views the Games, but the fact that she wants them to win by any means possible. He can tell that she just wants to bask in glory, which ought to horrify him, but he's already beginning to feel guilty about yelling at her before, because he knows she can't help it.
Yet none of this makes him change his mind; alcohol and forgetting are more important than trying to get to know these tributes, to tell them that they've got a chance, when they haven't got a hope in hell. He doesn't want to listen to her chatter, to hear about how someone dyed their hair brown the other day, because he knows that any feelings other than hatred for her would be eradicated. Effie Trinket is someone who rubs him up the wrong way all the time, and he doesn't want this new-found respect for her to be demolished before he can forget himself. And there's something else in her eyes, something that he can't tell apart from anything else in there, because he's never been really very good at reading emotions – he's never really had the chance, to be fair. It's mixed in with hope and perhaps even hatred for him, that he's doing this, leaving her again to fend for the tributes in order to drink himself to an early grave.
"Ask her what you're doing," he says suddenly to the tributes, switching his attention from the woman in the vivid green dress to the two children before him. As usual, he tries to block out their faces, block out the fragility of their bodies because of their age and malnutrition, because otherwise they'll be added to the long list of people who feature in his nightmares.
And before they can add anything further, or throw him a few of the insults he invented in the Seam all those years ago, he walks away, clinking the bottle and the glass in his hand as he heads down the plush carpet. All the details were lost on him the first time he had to come back as a mentor, the time when he threw up in the toilet continuously, as he realised that he had to try and get two twelve year olds through the Games alone. Needless to say, they both died on the first day.
As he walks into his bedroom and slams the door shut, he realises that he knows what the emotion was in Effie's eyes, the one that he couldn't decipher mere minutes ago.
Expectation: she expected him to stay, that he was sorry for saying what he did and that he would do anything he could to make her feel better. She expected him to consider that they perhaps had the chance to win, something that everyone has, really, and that he would at least give them basic advice prior to his drinking.
He disappointed her, destroyed the little faith she probably had left in him, and he knows that she'll never expect anything from him again.
His hand wraps around the crystal glass for his liquor, the other pouring a fine serving out, and he gulps it down until the pain of everything is gone. More than that, everything is gone: he can't remember why he's here, what he's meant to be doing, where his little brother is.
The only thing that remains is Effie's face, and the expression that she had that last time he saw her.
Needless to say, both tributes are dead within three days of the Games starting, yet Haymitch isn't aware of it. He's too busy downing more and more alcohol, trying to forget their faces as best he can, because he suffers enough nightmares, thank you very much, without adding another two permanent fixtures.
Effie doesn't speak to him for the rest of the Games period, and he can't say that he's surprised.
Each day, as he tries to fill his mind with the haze that makes life just about bearable, he gets a flash of her face, alight with hope, and it should make him want to do something about it. He's aware that if he were a normal man, someone unaffected in the ways he has been, he would do something about it…but all he does is down another three or four glasses of liquor, and wait for unconsciousness to come.
Only then does he get away from Effie Trinket.
She doesn't speak to him for the entire year, and he's grateful for the break from the Capitol interfering with his life; he knows that the spark of something that he can about tolerate in her from the last Games wouldn't last two seconds if he had to encounter her between the end of one Games and the beginning of another. It wouldn't happen – they're too different for her to want to remember that he exists, and she's well aware that the feeling is mutual – but he gets the odd flash of worry that she may try and change him, in preparation for the next Games. It hasn't happened yet, so he doubts that it will, but the odd moment of sobriety brings irrational thoughts to his mind.
It's Reaping Day, and he's well aware that he's going to have to mentor another two of the children in this town, and he knows that any of them would be as bad as another. There are no advantages to being anyone in District 12, expect maybe the fact that they know how to be hungry, and everyone is as bad as everyone else to take; he's got no relationships within the District, not since he hid himself away.
It seems absurd to think that the person he speaks to the most is someone who he's argued with for years, and had a mutual dislike with for almost the entire time. Then again, that's the curse of being a victor, being someone who can't sleep at night without a knife to protect him against no longer existing enemies, against nightmares that seem more vivid than reality at times.
As he gears himself up to the brilliance of having a whole two new tributes to look after, as well as spend an unthinkable amount of time with Effie (and he's sure that the spark of something he saw last year, and yet never managed to forget, will disintegrate as soon as he sees her, because she annoys him that quickly) he drinks as much as he can. There's no point in hoarding it: he can get as much as he wants, whenever he wants, and he'll be bringing back as large a stash from the Capitol as possible, of course.
He arrives at the reaping late, of course, because he's never been able to tell the time when he's completely consumed by alcohol, and finds himself stumbling onto the stage. There's no desire in his mind to think of how he ought to present himself for the cameras, as Effie would have made him do, if she had seen him before, and he interrupts the silent protest that seems strange, even to his ears in this state.
"Effie!" he exclaims, staggering across the stage and past the two tributes who he has never seen before, swinging a bottle of alcohol in his hand as he heads for the woman in the centre of the stage. She's gone for pink this year, and he can only think of how ridiculous she looks before he pulls her in for a hug, wondering why she doesn't try and push him off, before he remembers that they're on television. She's always been so perfect for the screens, someone who tries to make the situation seem better than it is, whereas he's not concerned, so long as he's drunk enough to forget it.
Finally, he lets her go and realises that he doesn't know where he's going, doesn't know where the edge of the stage is, because his eyes are going all blurry with the drink. It's not the alcohol, he doesn't think, because he's never had this before, but he's flat on the ground before he can think of anything else. And with this new situation comes unconsciousness, along with the flicker of Effie's face that never leaves his mind.
They're on the train now, and he emerges from his room for dinner, because he makes an effort for the first night, at least. His definition of effort is to see the tributes, decide whether or not they've got any chance of winning whatsoever, before drinking as much as he needs to, in order to ensure that Effie's words become mere background noise. He doesn't dress up, of course, and arrives already drinking his third alcoholic drink since he woke up on the train earlier, and he can see Effie's eye rolling even from outside the train carriage. It's with an effort that he conceals the smile that he finds covering his face, because it's predictable with Effie what she does; he knows her inside out, now, or at least her routine on the Games trips, and that's more than he needs to know…but he wants more.
"Oh, you've decided to join us," she says to him, slightly waspishly, yet he can only tell this from the years he's spent with her and his extraordinary brains, of course. To anyone else, even the attendants, she would merely sound welcoming and pleased to see him –though it must be obvious to everyone that he's her worst nightmare…and all she wants is to have a mentor who can actually do the work.
"Well, I decided to take your words to heart, Effie, and visit the tributes on their first night," he rolls his eyes as he sits down, immediately refilling his glass with the richer brandy that the dinner table always brings with it. The girl and boy are sitting opposite him, yet he manages to avoid looking at their faces; it's a learned method, something that keeps them from haunting him for just that one extra night, and neither of them bother to speak as he downs the glass in one.
"So, what do you suggest about surviving?" naturally, the boy has to interrupt Haymitch's thoughts and drinking, and make him look at him. It's the first time that a tribute has spoken to him directly in years, something that actually causes Haymitch to exchange a glance with Effie, who looks equally shocked. Then again, Haymitch presumes with an internal laugh, she's probably shocked by the fact that he can actually talk, as well as use cutlery, which is something that never seems to happen.
His cursory glance at Effie doesn't remain as this, as his Seam eyes end up reading hers once again. Like last year, he can see that she has a burning desire to win, and that's been lifted by the fact that this boy wants to talk tactics straight away, rather than the usual night of luxury, before they head to this. It's unusual for him to be considering Effie as an ally, since normally he's horrified by her attitudes and this is where his dislike stems from, yet he can't help but think that maybe, just maybe, they've got a chance at having a victor here.
So, of course, he has to turn to the boy and give him a good look over, as well as the girl, and he sees that he has the baker's son, and a girl from the Seam who seems stronger than she ought to be, given where she lives. Naturally, of course, he progresses to say, "Stay alive."
Unfortunately for him, the girl doesn't like this answer, and neither does the boy; they both begin to talk at once, explaining how they want to win (and Haymitch thinks, no, you don't want to win, as then you become me, remember?) and then showing off their talents, with the girl somehow managing to get her knife stuck between two wooden panels on the far wall.
Haymitch turns to Effie again, his eyes finding hers and knowing that they share the same emotion in them. They both realise that they've got fighters this year, that they've got a chance, because the spark inside of them is stronger than anything he's ever seen before. They're stronger than the other forty six tributes he's mentored – or, rather, watched die in painful ways that are only blocked out by the drink – and he's beginning to get the feeling that he may want to work with Effie, if it means that they can get one of them through successfully. It's a great doubt, because he's never done it before, yet they've got the desire that he had when he fought, and that should be good enough, right?
"Yes, sweetheart, let's see where you get tomorrow, shall we?" he's sarcastic as he speaks to the girl, turning away from Effie, because they need to talk in a while. He doesn't really like the girl – he thinks she reminds him too much of himself, in the strangest of ways – but the boy, he seems ok. Probably better than ok, actually, because he seems someone who Haymitch would want to remember, if he didn't have to.
Because if he's got a chance of saving one of them, Haymitch is pretty sure that it'll be the girl, as there's a fighting spirit about her that only those who survive in the Seam can have.
Nobody says anything further, and the room lapses into silence, until Effie comes up with another of her quips that have all three of the District 12 residents looking at her in disgust.
Yet, for the first time, he can remember the tributes faces on the first night, as they both head to bed.
As soon as Peeta and Katniss are on their way to bed, Effie removes the glass from Haymitch's hand, a stern expression on her face. It's so different to the usual reproachful glance she has reserved just for him, or even her angry face, so he finds himself stunned to silence, in opposition to yelling blue murder to have the drink back.
"Listen to me, and you had better listen well," she orders him, the usual airy nature to her voice entirely eradicated. "We are going to win this year, Haymitch. I know you know Katniss is strong enough, and maybe even Peeta; I don't know. But what I do know is that you are going to help them. If they ask you to do something, to remain sober, you do it. They deserve this. You've always said that you'll do whatever it takes if someone worthy comes along, and now you have the chance."
He's unsure if he's actually experiencing this, or if he's imagining Effie being authoritative, as it's never happened like this before. She's organised, that's something he takes the piss out of her about every year, but he's sure that this has never happened before. Never has he been so respectful in his feelings towards her, never has he considered her actually a human being, given that their opinions usually differ so greatly.
He doesn't contest as she decants the whiskey back into the bottle, and neither does he try and reach for it again as soon as she walks out of the cabin. It's not until the door has shut with a soft click, that he realises he never replied.
He was struck…by Effie Trinket.
He doesn't sleep well.
He never does, when he's not had enough alcohol to be inebriated, because there's nothing to block out the faces that haunt him. There's no way for him to hide from those people he's killed, the people who died because he won, the people who put their trust in him year on year, even as he left them to die whilst he drank and drank to forget his own pain. So he tosses and turns throughout the entire night, lathered in a heavy sweat that makes him think that he's drowning whenever he wakes up, because he's mentally disorientated.
He finds himself waking up every now and then, screaming as loud as he can as he wrenches himself from reliving the moment he found his mother's dead body on the floor of their onetime home, before he realises that it was just a nightmare, something he's already lived before.
But there's no chance for him to sleep now; not for hours, at least, not until he can get the sight of the corpse discarded on the floor out of his mind – and the only way to do that is to head for the liquor. Only alcohol can hide the pain he feels, mask it so that he can live a life that could be deemed normal in his mind, because feelings are too hard for him. Anyone and everyone he's ever cared for is now dead and gone, or moved on with their life, so why should he be expected to care for anything other than the numbing effect?
His feet trace the familiar path down the hallway on the moving house, heading for the room which contains all the alcohol on an evening; Effie didn't want him repeating what he did a few years ago, which was to throw all the china everywhere when he couldn't find the brandy because he had forgotten which room he had left it in. Now he knows that it's always kept in the main dining area, conveniently close to his bedroom, and he's soon opening the door and turning on the-
He jumps into mid-air as he spots the pink wig above a body draped in a blanket, the wig that belongs to none other than Effie Trinket…a woman who, now the light is on, begins to stir into consciousness, seeming more like a young child than a Capitol woman. For the first time, Haymitch really sees her as someone slightly different to how he perceived her, because she's still as annoying on the surface, yet there's the softer side to her personality that seems to be coming out as he begins to actually get to know her.
"Haymitch, what are you…oh, of course," she begins to ask a question, before remembering where she is, and ends up answering it herself. "If you can't keep a promise, then go ahead and take it. You evidently want it." She's dismissive as he stands in front of her, not even taking a step towards the enchanting liquids in the bottles behind her. They tempt him, they really do, yet he manages to draw his eyes from them to the face of the woman sat in front of him, the face that seems strangely naked without the excessive make up.
"You know why I drink?" he asks her as he sits down in front of her, wiping his still damp brow with the arm of his dressing gown.
She doesn't reply, and he takes this as affirmative for her not knowing why, not being able to understand how some people haven't the ability to view the Hunger Games as a sport, because they're not.
And so he explains. He begins to give details as to what happened in his Quarter Quell, what happened after it, and how drinking led to the only escape. He explains why he's never done as she's said in the past, about getting to know the tributes, because they only then become another two faces to add to the list of recurring people in his subconscious state, and Effie is strangely silent as he goes through it all.
It takes almost an hour, and the sun is beginning to rise as he finishes telling her that, because of the shared resolve he saw from her expression, he's trying to stay sober, because they do have a chance to win. There is a possibility – and a strong one at that – they will be victorious in having the only survivor of this year's games, and he'll do anything to ensure that they do it.
"After all, you said that I said I would do it if I felt that one of them was worth it," he concludes, startling Effie because he evidently listened to her. "And we're luckier than that…and also cursed. As they're both worth it. Both of them could win this thing, if only such a rule was in place. We have the strongest two tributes this year that District 12 has ever had."
"What about you?" she utters the first words she's said in an hour now, her tone soft and low, none of the usual airs and graces that adorn her voice normally. "Were you not one of the strongest tributes your District has ever had, Haymitch, given that you're sitting with me today?"
He's stunned, in all honesty, by the fact that she seems to care about him, even if it is only because he succeeded in winning the Quarter Quell twenty four years ago. And, in these few sentences she's just said, Haymitch is one hundred percent sure that he's gotten Effie Trinket wrong. The shallowness to her isn't what she is like underneath; she's not just the airhead, organised Capitol woman who sends tributes to their death and is happy about it. No, she's got something inside of her that makes her think of others, think of him, even though he's never been anything more than cordial to her than before today. She values him, perhaps more than he values himself, and this isn't something that he thought he would ever be able to say about himself and Effie. Their toxic relationship, the one that seemed to get worse and worse with every year that passed, is almost eradicated, by his promise to stop drinking, his explanation about why he's like he is, and the way that she's almost changed. One random thought that passes through his mind is that he's doing all the real work, yet he soon pushes it straight out, because she's never really been that bad, and it's just his temperament that has caused the issues between them. He thinks, at least.
Slowly, he shakes his head, realising that he never answered her question, and smiles ever so slightly. "No. I'm not strong, not really; I never have been. I won because I cheated, used a weapon that the Capitol never expected, and I paid dearly for it. Believe me, Effie, if I could take it back, I would." His own voice is softer now, yet not lacking the ragged edge to it that marks it as his, the Seam heritage that he will never forget, even when he leaves the world with nothing to give credit for.
Besides, you know, being the first victor to openly defy the Capitol, and pay dearly for it.
She smiles again, stifling a yawn with her hand before replying, "It may mean nothing to you, but I think you're strong. You're still here, aren't you?"
He considers this for a moment, before his head begins to hurt – and it's not because of a lack of alcohol. It's a fuzzy feeling that stems from feelings, confusion and the entire lack of comprehension as to what's going on. The fact that he's gone from hating this woman – or his version of hatred, as his only real figure of hatred is President Snow – to considering himself unsure of how he feels is enough for him to have a drink.
Yet he manages to resist himself: the promise to more than the tributes, but to this woman that he will not drink seems too compelling to break, and so he won't. He'll go to bed and lie there until it seems an adequate time to get up, because he doesn't want to sit here any longer and contemplate what's going on; he'd rather do that in his own room, on his own. True solace is something that he hasn't felt for years, because that would require being happy, but his own version is enough to get by, he thinks.
He stands up and walks towards the door without saying goodnight – or good morning, given the speed of the rising sun – before he suddenly turns back. His expression is softer than it usually is when he looks at Effie, and his voice is softer as well.
"You look better without all that makeup."
And, with this, he walks out of the room and heads to think about just what is going on in his head.
They both behave as though the conversation never happened over the next few days, focusing instead on Peeta and Katniss who are going into the Games, and hoping that the impression they make will be enough for the sponsors to give them the money that they need. Every conversation they have once the children have gone to bed – because though they're competing, he can't get it out of his head that they're still children – is about Peeta's wish to keep Katniss alive, or Katniss's raw ability being enough to get her through till the very end. It's as though they don't have a life of their own, because every fibre of their being is focused on these two, to get a worthy winner from the District and for neither of them to be added to Haymitch's nightly dreams of terror. The lack of alcohol makes them worse, more vivid than before, and he knows he doesn't know how he's going to pick between Peeta and Katniss, as to which one to save. He prefers Peeta – so does Effie – but he knows that Peeta will do anything for Katniss to win. So he may as well go with what the boy wants, though Effie isn't sure if choosing from the start will affect the voters going for the star-crossed lovers.
They don't spend a night talking about anything other than the Games, until the third night of their tributes being left to fight: it's relatively peaceful, with neither Peeta nor Katniss in imminent danger – yet: that can always change – and the two adults sit down on the sofa in their team apartment, knowing that it's time to face what they discussed, how they viewed the other.
Naturally, there's silence. Effie doesn't know how to word anything, Haymitch thinks, and he is personally so drained, that all he wants to do is down an entire bottle of scotch. Yet he promised that he wouldn't, that he would stay sober for the entire duration of the Games (unless they die, of course, as then his responsibility is finished and he doesn't need to be concerned any longer, and could just focus on blocking out nightmares) and so he resists, sticking with water.
"So…we've got a fighting chance," Effie decides to break the silence by going back to their status in the Games – District 12 now have higher odds than District 2, which is unique in itself – because there's nothing else to talk about.
Well, there is. She just doesn't feel comfortable about bringing up their conversation from before.
"The kids do, yeah," Haymitch is harsher and blunter as he speaks, part of him wondering how he reached this point in his life. He should be in love, have a girl at home who loves him, even be working in the mines. There shouldn't be an aching desire to find the bottle, or him sitting in such a plush apartment next to a woman from the Capitol who he no longer hates.
It isn't sudden to him, that he doesn't really hate Effie; she's not as bad as he always thought, because she does care about the tributes more than just to get further in her career – he can tell that, this year, since he's actually listening. Part of him feels that the ban on alcohol has actually made him see life clearer, as well as help Katniss and Peeta, because before, he would never have sat here with Effie, in a relatively calm state.
"I mean, we have a lot more to do, and I think that Katniss is going to need an ally or so, as otherwise the District 2 tributes will overcome her, in the end, but I really do think…" Effie rambles on about the odds of their star girl getting to the end, but Haymitch has stopped listening. For a minute or two, he just wants the conversation to be about them.
He doesn't know how to put it in words; he's got a fear that he'll be sarcastic, flippant, and that she won't believe him, no matter what he says – or even how he says it. She's not the most trusting of souls, particularly with him, and Haymitch considers the fact that she may not even like him…he's not sure if he likes her – like that, anyway. Feelings are flooding back to him in a way he's never experienced before, not since he locked them away in his heart all that time ago, and it's just impulsive.
So he reaches across the sofa and presses his lips to Effie's before she can say a word. He doesn't do anything other than kiss her gently, the sensation of something warm flooding through him giving the indication that that was the right move, and that it was probably more beneficial than stumbling through words that would probably have ended up offending her.
Within another few seconds, he's pulling away, moving back to sit on the end of the sofa as he waits for her reaction: either she'll sit there and look shocked, or she'll slap him for being forward when she didn't want him to be, but she'll do either one instantly.
She chooses the first option.
As she does this, he becomes aware that she either feels that she likes him, or feels the same as him – confused and unsure about what exactly is going on right now. All Haymitch is assured about is that he made the right move for him, and that she can make her mind up as to whether she ought to be attracted to the washed-up victor of District 12, in the hope that he stays sober.
There's a beat long pause, during which their eyes meet again, and he can't tell what she's feeling, because he's never really understood Effie, and that hasn't exactly changed now. He knows what she's like on the outside, but he doesn't know how far she'd go to protect her position…or if her heart would have the ability to win. If she likes him, of course; there's no point contemplating this if she doesn't, as they'd go straight back to their usual positions in life, barely communicating beneath the arguments over the alcohol and the participation, never interfering in one another's lives.
Then she smiles. "I…that was nice." She's speechless, and that's a first for Effie Trinket, at least he thinks it is, because she's always got something to say, or do, to alleviate awkwardness in a situation.
Her words hang in the air for a moment, and there are so many unsaid words, words that would normally have been hidden at the bottom of a bottle of liquor, that he almost allows them all to spill out. Haymitch's normal sarcastic manner, one which only says what is necessary, is almost blown as he wonders if he should attempt to try to explain in words how he feels about Effie, or if it'll just destroy everything between them. As he wouldn't be able to do it without insulting her a fair few times.
Before either of them can speak, however, there's the sound of the canon from the screen in the other room, and the television in front of them automatically turns itself on, for the pair of them to watch as another tribute dies.
Unfortunately, they're rather close to their District's tributes.
All thoughts of romance, feelings, kissing, or anything not related to the Hunger Games is entirely eradicated from their minds, as Effie and Haymitch try to grasp what's happened in their short time out – and the realisation that the Games are never over, that even quiet times can be lethal, returns to Haymitch's mind with a bang. He's aware of the legacy of the Games; does he not suffer with it every night? Are they not the reason why he's alone in the world, and turns to the bottle every day and night in order to try to forget about them, but fail miserably? They interrupt everything, destroy every lingering chance of happiness, all for the sadistic dictator, President Snow, to show how complete his control is of his country happens to be.
And so they move on, watching as their tributes come close to danger, and end up having to sweet talk sponsors at their poker tables, because although this is five in the morning, Capitol residents never sleep, do they? They don't need to, Haymitch thinks bitterly, as he tries to wrestle a little more cash out of the brother of the sponsor Effie is working on to buy Katniss some cream.
In the end, though, they manage it, and they're knackered by the end of it, so decide to leave things as they stand, because the Games are heating up, and it's too dangerous to focus on anything but their tributes.
(Even though Haymitch would prefer to spend the time with Effie, or at least allowing her to explain why she feels as she does.)
They're victors – more than one victor, because they have two, the star crossed lovers of Panem have been allowed to win together, though Haymitch knows it's at a cost to their future safety. There's no chance that they're going to go unpunished – like his stunt with the forcefield, President Snow doesn't like to be made a fool of. It's a guarantee that the Head Gamemaker will be dead by now, so where does that leave the victors?
Where does that leave Haymitch?
They'll class him as part of the rebellion, which he was, because he pushed Peeta to play the lovers angle, and he'll be punished alongside them. Even if they escape now, they have no escape: no matter what Katniss thinks, her old life is never coming back. She's never going back to how she was. Not now Peeta has revealed so much, not now she understands the way that things work: she will never be a mentor, of that Haymitch is sure. Neither of them will be. They're enemies of President Snow, so that makes them enemies of the Capitol, and those people never last long.
Yet Effie thinks that it's time for them to be together, to explain their feelings in the best way they can – he can see it in the way that she keeps requesting his presence away from the children, in the slightly too overjoyed way that she keeps straightening his tie for his television appearance that won't probably even happen.
"Can I speak with you, Haymitch?" she's confused why he doesn't want to talk to her, so ends up cornering him in the busiest room, so he can't exactly refute her request.
"Certainly," he mutters, grabbing a brandy to take with him, as his no alcohol is over now, at least in part, and they end up walking into the first empty room they see.
"You…you cannot kiss me, and then ignore me, Haymitch! It isn't good etiquette!" she's straight away firing at him, her face crumpling into something that he doesn't recognise for a minute, until he distinguishes the expression from beneath the makeup: hurt. She's hurt that he thinks he can just use her, when, in fact, he's actually pretty sure that they could make a go of it.
If it wasn't for their two victors, of course, as they merely complicate things to the point that the entire Capitol will be after them at some point.
"I…I'm not ignoring you, Effie," he replies, his voice quieter than hers, because he's sure that there are cameras and bugs everywhere. The Capitol isn't safe. Nowhere is safe anymore – and Effie isn't, not with him. "I just realised that I made a mistake. We're friends, a mentor and a Capitol overseer to the events. That's all. The lack of alcohol obscured my mind for a moment of madness. I'm truly sorry." It hurts him more than he thought it would to lie to her, to tell her that he didn't mean to do anything, because he did; it was spontaneous yet planned simultaneously, and he's pretty sure that he would do it again, if he had the chance.
All Effie does is gasp for a moment, before straightening her wig and mustering up a fake smile. "Well…if that's all…then I suppose we should go…yes…we should go…the train leaves soon, you know…and we need to be on it." Her voice fades out by the end, until they're left with a silence that fills the room and speaks volumes: there are so many things left unsaid, so many lies he wants to correct, but he supposes that their lives are more important than a fleeting romance that would probably never amount to much, anyway.
She walks away, and he's left in the room by himself, holding the glass of brandy, which he soon downs in one. It allows a feeling of contentment to spread through him, something that he hasn't felt for weeks now, and he realises how much he's missed it.
The old Haymitch is back.
He tries being sober again for a day, but he doesn't manage it for much longer than this. This time, his nightmare isn't about his dead family, or all the tributes he's responsible for killing, or even for the injuries that he allowed to be inflicted on Peeta and Katniss…but it's Effie.
He's dreaming that she's standing right in front of him, waiting for him to come to kiss her, to tell her he loves her (as he's sure he does, now, but it's still iffy given he spends more time drunk than sober) because that's the best scenario possible with his life at the minute. That's all that there is to look forward to, even though he doesn't really, as she's never in his reach. There's a sense of him having his heart's desire, yet never being able to reach it, to this dream, and he's bloody sick of it!
He's awoken rudely by a basin of water being poured over his head, and he finds himself reacting instinctively with the knife, swiping it around the room incase any adversaries are here for him – you never know in this country, you never know.
Instead, he sees Effie.
"Get ready, Haymitch," she's polite but cool with him, and one look at her with his hungover head tells him that she's still angry and hurt. "We're going for the victory tour today. And you better look your best."
And so he does…for her.
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