Effie Trinket was prepared for the changes that came with being a district escort, especially a poorer one like twelve.

She just wasn't prepared for how many there would actually be.

There were the distressed faces she saw as she walked through what twelve called the Seam. The coal-dust dulled the air and choked the ground, leaving ashen-faced children in its wake with underfed bodies and feeble bones. She stood out against a gray town, with her purple and silk clothes, her ten pound wigs, her thick Capitol accent.

Never before had she left her beloved Capitol, and now she understood why no one did.

There was nothing to do in twelve, and as she made friendly with other district escorts, she learned there was nothing to do in three or five or six either. So she boarded her train for her third games, in her overstuffed clothing and too pink wig. Her skin was glowing a tinted green color this year, the new ink-dying being all the trend in Capitol fashion.

"You look like a fucking lizard," Haymitch had said.

"And you look like a drunk," she shot back, avoiding eye contact.

Oh, the faces. Until the seventy-fourth games (her twelfth time as an escort), she had tried so hard to forget. But in her dreams, her nightmares, they faded in and out. Each face had its own story, its own pain.

This one knew every way to throw a knife, and that one never remembered her partner's name. This one had no family, and that one was asleep when the careers came. And this one sat on her pedestal with tears brimming in her seam-gray eyes, and the blankness of her stare did not fade as the knife sliced open her throat.

And she woke up sweating.

Though she was old by Capitol standards, she looked fairly young. Her added makeup and several surgeries kept that false bravado projected. The men (fairly young by Capitol standards) flirted with her. No, not her—she told herself—it was the clothes and the money and the manners they were attracted to. Not her.

"You changed your skin color," one of the wealthy, handsome men remarked, taking a sip of his drink.

"Oh, you know," Effie said coolly, "fashion is only trendy for so long."

"I'm quite sure that will come back in style," another man remarked. "My wife has the new patterns—"

It was deafening, hearing the talk of things that she had cared about for so long. She kept up with appearances to appease her career and reputation. But when pictures of last year's games were being flashed up on a large screen, the image of her with green skin burned in her brain, even after it was gone.

Haymitch was right. She looked like a fucking lizard.

This one hummed to herself all the time, and that one could not hear. That one had beautiful eyes, they lit up a room full of dusty coal darkness, but this one never expressed any fear. And this one's cannon sounded in the dark of the night, and this one plodded on like peril's plight, and this one killed with delight, and that one choked on his own blood, waiting in the hours of morning to die.

She wakes up with a shudder, and the train's fast swish is enough to bring her back from the nightmare. In the dark, without her mask, she sat with her knees pulled to her chest, with her dark brown tresses matted with sweat down her neck. And sometimes she'll take a shower, and others she'll eat. But that night, she remembers a twelve-year-old's face, and she doesn't go for the dining car.


He's disheveled and hung-over, but opens the door anyway. And he's never seen her before without make up, and it takes him a moment to realize it's her.

"Sweetheart, it's too late for a booty call," he sneers with a frown. It's a joke. Mostly.

She has a tear that suddenly appears from her eyes—her eyes that are blue and brilliant and wonderfully normal—and she says in a steady voice that is thick from holding out a sob, "I need a drink."

He shakes his head, swallows hard, shoves a half-drunk bottle of brandy in her face.

The next morning she wakes up on his floor, to the sound of his loud snores. She sneaks out and takes a cold shower, her head pounding and her stomach sloshing from the leftover booze in her system. She dresses and takes medicine from the Capitol, something she takes for granted knowing that there are tributes that could use this in just a matter of weeks.

Bits and pieces wave in and out of her mind of her drunken conversation with Haymitch the night before, but it starts to hurt to think and she goes to the dining car for breakfast.

"How do you do it?" she pleads, gulping down a large portion of the bottle. She coughs when she hands it back to him, but he shakes his head, indicating that it was hers.

"I don't," he tells her. "I drink."

Two days into the games, both of their tributes are dead (-that one looked fierce, but this one couldn't cry-), and they sit in the district twelve penthouse, without any Capitol fashion or talk. She just sits there, holding her knees again. The promise of a drink later is her source of comfort, but she knows that they will have to be on television tomorrow.

"I think you—"

"Is it possible—"

They both start talking at the same time. When he doesn't start talking, she starts again.

"Is it possible for you to stay sober for more than two minutes?" she asks in a low tone.

He doesn't answer her, just takes another swig.

The first time it is an accident. She's getting so experienced that she knows it's not even worth going to the game center to watch the bloodbath. They just sit there, getting drunk and trying to not care that eight children already lay dead in a blindingly hot desert arena.

She leans in first, and she tells herself that it's not anything serious. It's just to take the pain away. And he does.

The fumble into one of the bedrooms, and he coats her neck in whiskey-flavored kisses. She can't think straight about anything, even as he removes her Capitol clothing. After their clothes decorate the floor, he just kisses her for a long time. Not because he likes her (he actually can't stand her) or because he wants to comfort her (he doesn't), but because it's almost as arousing as sex and she can't bring herself to beg.

It's just fucking, it's just fucking, just sex, just sex, justsexjustsexjustsex, she repeats in her head.

Not until afterwards, when she lies against the silky sheets does she realize it was one of their tribute's rooms that they had stumbled into (-this one had hazel eyes-), and she leans over the side of the bed and is sick all over the floor.

The third time is in an elevator on their way to the train. He's going back to district twelve and she is returning to her home in the Capitol, far off in the nestled mountains with other wealthy and prominent Capitolists. It's messy and it's fast, and it's almost not even good.

And their fourth time isn't for almost another year.

Seneca Crane takes an interest in her, not that she knows why. She's been with plenty of men in her life, but never someone has high ranking as Seneca. To her own dismay, she is okay with it. In the deepest recesses of her brain, she knows she could never want him.

His kisses are too soft. His touches are too gentle. His beard is so fake that it makes her almost laugh, especially when she compares it to…

But when the games roll around again (they always come too fast), she finds she is eager to get out of the Capitol and back to district twelve. Seneca offers to accompany her in private, mostly hinting at long hours on the train in her compartment, but she declines, says it is unprofessional (she is all about manners).

But when she sees Haymitch, she knows why she didn't want Seneca to come.

A girl of fifteen and a boy of thirteen are reaped that year, and she gives them the same babbling chitter chatter that she has given every tribute for the past nine years.

"Oh, and you'll just love the Capitol. It's the richest place you'll ever see, and even though it's only for a short amount of time, you still get to enjoy yourselves."

And they keep to themselves in their rooms for the entire train ride, and she remains stolid inside, refusing to feel pain for something she knows will happen anyway.

He unbuttons her jacket, and has trouble with the corset, but she helps him figure it out with hurried kisses and concealed sighs. His tongue trails her collarbone, her fresh candy-like perfume invades his nose and he can't help but like it.

"I'm with Seneca Crane," she whispers breathily before he is fully naked.

He pretends he doesn't hear it, and continues to undress her and himself. When she insists that he react to her statement he rolls his eyes.

"Why does it matter?" he asks. "This—" he points in the small distance between them "—doesn't mean a damn thing."

Even though she knows it's true, her stomach drops when she hears his words. She's sure that he saw her gaze fall, but she doesn't say anything, and he's grateful that he's not obligated to acknowledge her moment of stupidity.

When his beard brushes against her face, she remembers why she liked doing this, and forgets that she even has to go home to someone named Seneca Crane anyway.

The seventy-third hunger games are beginning, but she isn't watching. She's in a dark room in the penthouse, being touched and kissed and almost-loved by a man she loathes. Effie loathes herself too, because she knows she isn't brave enough to turn on that monitor and watch them die. She doesn't even remember their names as Haymitch slides his hands down her stomach and between her thighs. He doesn't know that she's thinking about not coming back next year, that the only reason she's not handing in her resignation is because of this man right between her legs.

But somehow, he does. And he calls her out on it when she gathers her clothes to leave.

"Come back one more year," he tells her. "One more year, and then you can quit."

Her face tells him she can't do this anymore. Her conscious is fed up with sending innocent children to their deaths, and tonight is the final straw as the girl from their district is gang-raped by a group of older careers.

He rests his chin in the crook of her neck, watching the screen with her.

"I'll stay if you promise to train next year," she whispers. "We have to win once. Just once I'd like to come home with a child instead of two coffins."

He just kisses her.

That night she doesn't dream of any children's faces. Just his.

Collins owns THG.