No Man's Land


It's an accident, in the beginning.

Effie, in her most natural state (top bun, makeup off, bathrobe on), walks in on Haymitch and Cinna and Plutarch huddled up in some room in the Everdeen house. It's late, it's dark, and the room is illuminated by a dying flame.

She hears nothing worth mentioning. Well no, no she hears Cinna whisper words like dress, and fire, and mockingjay, and Plutarch say rebellio- oh, Effie.

"What -" she starts to say, puzzled and confused and slightly put off by the scene in front of her, but Haymitch walks up to her and grabs her by the waist and drags her out before she could say any more.

He closes the door behind them and pushes her up against a wall, his arm pressed up against her throat like it's a threat. The gasp that slips out of her lips is unintentional, simply drawn out by surprise. Haymitch looks at her like she made a mistake in walking in on them, and his voice is rough and ragged and tired when he says, "What did you hear?"

And the way his voices wraps around those words like a vice - like everything and anything could depend on her answer - worries her. His voice sounds like desperation and aggravation and curiosity; so unlike Haymitch, but yet, it is just how she'd imagine him if he were ever in a state of panic.

(And she's unsure how to go about this concept that Haymitch can feel things like fear and panic, not just anger and self-pity. It's a rather foreign ideal.)

"Nothing, I - " she says quickly, but Haymitch's hands are on her hips and she feels trapped between him and the wall and she wants to both kiss him and slap him and release all the anger and all the tension he makes her feel on a day-to-day basis.

She licks her lips and pushes him off of her instead.

"You could have been a bit gentler, Haymitch," she chides softly. And Effie craves the banter, craves his roundabout comments, the insults, his push forward so she can pull back. There's something crawling under her skin and it irritates her. There's something going on, she thinks. There's something they're not telling me.

"Sorry," he says quietly. He steps back and runs his hand through his hair, heaving a sigh before he looks at her again. "Were you going to tell me something?"

Confused, she looks at him, but then figures it out - he's asking for the reason why she came in. Clearing her throat, she tells him, "Just wanted to tell you to sleep early. The cameras will be coming tomorrow to see Katniss in her dress, and I want everyone up and early to get ready for them. That's all."

Haymitch nods and doesn't make a quip about how useless that is, or how stupid that is, or how he can do whatever the fuck he wants and she doesn't own him. But he nods, like he wasn't listening, like he's relieved about something. Effie is sure that if she just told him that she was secretly a man, he would still nod with the same blank expression.

That's concerning, really.

"Is there something going on?" she asks him. She crosses her arms and frowns. "Are you hiding something from me?"

He clenches his teeth. "Not at all."

Right.

Unconvinced, she moves forward to open the door. In a split second, he grabs her by the wrist and pulls her away, oblivious to her whines of pain and protest, and throws her unceremoniously to the side.

"Haymitch," she warns, still trying to wriggle her wrist out of his grasp. She yanks her hand back and watches the outline of his fingers glow red against her skin. Seething, she bites back, "You're hiding something."

"I'm hiding nothing," he returns. "And even if I were, is it any of your business?"

She falls quiet when she realizes he's right. But still.

Her wrist smarts, but she chooses to ignore it; if anything, it's evidence that he's keeping a secret from her, which she isn't too pleased about. Effie doesn't budge, and Haymitch stares at her for awhile, seemingly sizing her up. Something crosses his eyes, something she can't quite decipher. Regardless, she stands her ground and stays there, right across from him, as a stalemate grows between the mentor and the escort.

Pinching the bridge of his nose, he retreats and sighs. "Go to bed, Effie. We'll see you in the morning."

And as much as she'd like to argue, she doesn't. Instead, she bids him a good night and walks away, pushing away the suspicion that slices at her very core. Tomorrow is a big, big, big day, after all.

. . .

Effie is at a party when the TV clicks on by itself. She's rather distracted by the man by her side, whose roaming hands grab at her rudely, whose breath reeks of vodka and wine and the remnants of the cigarette between her fingers. He reaches for her hips, for her newly-claimed status, and she finds it both funny and insulting that years ago, he wouldn't dare be associated with her.

She pushes him off right around the time Snow opens the box that contains the letters from forever ago that describe the instructions for the Quarter Quells.

"Effs, baby, come back," the man whines, outstretching his hands for her.

(Her friends fire something rather rude back at him, something that makes her smirk and laugh to herself as she pours herself another drink, even long after the party is over.)

. . .

She finds Portia at the bar around the time the Snow presents the envelope to the cameras.

"You don't look well," Portia tells her, reaching out for the escort as she stumbles dangerously close to a passing Avox. Effie frisks another flute of champagne from the servant's tray and downs it whole.

(It tastes like rebellion and regret and secrets and desolation.)

She must've said something bad, because Portia draws her closer and tells her to not say those type of things. That she could get killed or something if someone heard her.

Around the time Snow's lips form around the words, "For this year's 3rd Quarter Quell," Effie hiccups as she covers her face in mock shame. She apologizes meekly, pathetically, mockingly, throwing herself in the stylist's arms.

When Snow reveals that this year's tributes will be taken from the existing pool of victors, Portia wavers and stumbles into the counter behind her. The party has fallen eerily silent; gasps can be heard, and a few start to cry.

Effie giggles in response.

"I told you so," Effie whispers sleepily in Portia's ear.

"How did you -"

Effie is unsure if she's crying or not, but her voice is watery and strangled as she whimpers, "Because Katniss and Peeta... they showed them hope."

And the escort shakily brings the cigarette in between her fingers to her lips and swallows her sobs as people crowd around her, offering words of advice and prayers for the girl on fire. As smoke fills her lungs, she begins to wonder what exactly went on in that room all those weeks ago.

. . .

"Stay calm," Haymitch tells her as they walk to the town square.

But Effie doesn't answer. She's not listening, being completely honest here, because her skin is lined with goosebumps and her fingers are itching at her sides, and a part of her subconscious thinks: damn, I could really use a smoke now. She focuses on steadying her breathing, because her inhales and exhales stumble on top of the other and she feels like screaming to the world that this is wrong, that this isn't supposed to happen and shouldn't.

Her breathing starts to hiccup and that is when Haymitch grabs her arm and tugs her closer. "Did you hear me? I said to stay calm, woman. We don't need you crying on stage."

Suddenly she whirls on him and slaps her hand across his face, seething as she watches his pale cheek color into a furious red. She's unsure where in the hell that anger had come from, but the next thing she knows, her face falls and she's back to hyperventilating again.

"Fuckin' God, woman," Haymitch says as he shakes his head. The handprint still glows against his skin, and it only makes her gasp for air like a fish out of water.

"I can't do this," Effie says hurriedly. She brings her hands to her face and inhales deeply, still reeling in the fact that Katniss is going back in the arena. That either Peeta or Haymitch will, too, and worst yet - she'll be picking who. More panic begins to set in, and she gives a cry of frustration. "Oh my God, I can't do this, Haymitch, I can't do this."

"Just pretend it's like every other year. Chins up, smiles on, Princess," he offers, his voice devoid of the usual sarcasm.

"I can't," she whispers, shaking her head.

"Try."

(And though it's the time of year when spring bleeds into summer and her skin is sticky with sweat and melted talcum, she shivers like there's snow and it's winter and she'll die from frostbite anytime soon.)

. . .

When they both climb up on the stage, Effie cannot find any shred of courage or bravery within her. Try as she might, she's a coward, and now, when Katniss and Peeta need her the most, she's falling apart.

She smiles and waves and nods curtly at the audience as she riddles off a script she knows by heart. It's a routine, the wash-rinse-repeat, and it's what she knows best and has known best for the last ten years. A seasoned actress like her is not a new player to this game, so why stumble now? So she keeps her tears and screams and fury at bay. There will be time later, when her nerves are dulled with alcohol and she is in the middle of Haymitch's bedroom, for her to angrily curse the government and whatever God is up there ignoring the tears and pleads of the people below.

For now, she will continue to entertain.

Effie blinks when she looks up. Thousands of eyes staring back her. Thousands of eyes that shout at her. Thousands of eyes that unanimously poke and prod and stab and slam at her very core. She gathers what is left of her shattered bravery and surrounds herself with the pieces of her mask like it's a barrier between herself and the crowd.

She finds Mrs. Everdeen in the audience. Oh, how much she'd love to apologize right now. Oh, how much she'd love to disappear into thin air.

(Like an illusionist. Like a magician. Like one of those storybook heroes that her parents told her about when she was younger.)

That's when the panic begins to set in. Her mind goes off in tangents, and the thoughts that burn start to slash at her once more. She wants to cry. She wants to break down in tears and let her walls fall and finally, for once, let everybody know that she's no heartless machine, no villain to be burned at the stake.

But she can't.

Her heels clacking across the stage are the only things that she can hear right now, but when she crosses over to the Reaping bowl, she can hear Katniss's quiet, strangled breath. The sound of this seventeen-year-old girl's sadness and helplessness rips her heart to shreds, and oh my God, she's drowning, she breaking, she's falling, she's failing.

This isn't fucking right, she wants to scream into the microphone. This is fucking wrong.

But she can't.

Effie takes a deep breath, and it comes out shakier than she expected. The name of this seventeen-year-old girl resonates through District 12, but her words had come in a cracked whisper and it hangs over her head like it's a some mistake she should have never made.

Her fingers curl around the unfolded parchment in her hands and she steels herself for one moments.

When she looks at Katniss, however, all her resolve disintegrates to mere dust and she feels herself beginning to cry.

I'm sorry, she wants to say.

Instead, she clenches her teeth and forces herself to continue as she hastily rebuilds herself in front of the cameras. Her fingers find Haymitch's name, a slip that damns her straight to hell. His name manages to escape her unscathed - no falter, no cracks, no fissures to be closed up with seconds to spare.

And it doesn't even register that Peeta had volunteered, that she was being pushed into the train, that both Katniss and Peeta have hugged her, that Haymitch is talking to her right now at this very second.

The only thing she manages to comprehend is that she has made a mistake, that she had effectively screwed up in front of millions of people, and it could very well mean her head on a silver platter.

But Haymitch shakes her desperately, worry leaking through his words. "Effie, goddamnit, you need to answer me."

Then panic sets in again. She starts to hyperventilate as she presses her palm against her forehead, her feet carrying her over to the cart of drinks. She pops the cap off the nearest whiskey bottle and downs it, the liquid leaving a path of fire to the pit of her stomach - she relishes the burn, for it masks every other emotion her mind is trying to make her feel.

A distraction, yes, that's what I need.

But then Haymitch knocks it out of her hands. His voice booms, "Effie!" and for the first time in so long, she's scared.

The glass shatters around her and she starts to cry, starts to break down wholly this time. There's nothing to stop her now, no cameras to act in front of or masks she has to hold up - she collapses into Haymitch's arms when she is finally, finally able to let go.

"I fucked up, Haymitch, I fucked up," she sobs, burying her face into his shoulder. "I can't..."

"It's okay," he tells her.

But it isn't, not really. They both know this like the backs of their hands and the way that the Hunger Games are much more than an over-glorified reality show. They both know that if you make mistakes like these, you're as good as dead and things will be a far cry from okay in the aftermath.

Yet Effie asks what will happen to her, what will be her punishment because of this. And Haymitch, bless his drunken soul, cannot answer. She could ask every question under the sun and he will have answers for everything, but this, he cannot bear to give her one.

She knows, though. She knows what will happen at the end of this. There will be an accident, in plain daylight, on the way to the Training Center. Or a break-in at the penthouse in the dead of night. An overdose. A suicide. A death. A newspaper headline splashed around the country: District 12 Escort Dead at 36.

(She'd title her memoir The Pitfalls of Being an Escort if she could write one.)

Effie inhales shakily. "I'm sorry."

"You have no reason to be."

And maybe she doesn't.

But later that night, when they both are tied up in bed sheets and cigarette smoke and empty bottles of wine, she realizes that no matter how many times she will pray to the God who forgot about people like her or how many times she will apologize for her frailty or how many smiles she will give the camera in the following events, nothing will be enough to bring her redemption.

While Haymitch sleeps, she curls up in his bathtub and drowns herself in smoke and sorrow until she finally drifts off.

. . .

"Effie Trinket?"

She had been sitting in that chair for perhaps hours. It's three days into the Games, and it's been long and tiring and she had found herself sleeping while waiting for her name.

"Yes, that's me," she says quickly, eyeing the man in blue that had called for her.

"President Snow may have you now."

Her heart beats faster with every step, but she remains visibly calm. Holding her chin up and tightening her lips in a smile, she walks in like she was always meant for this. Like she's about to walk into a long-awaited promotion and she wants it. And maybe, just maybe, she'll go peacefully like Seneca had.

President Snow stands with his back facing her and she can tell he's not pleased. She finds a seat (because what is the point in formalities when she's about to die, anyhow?) and waits for him to turn around and face her like a man should.

He doesn't.

She's not surprised.

"Miss Trinket, I believe you know why you're here." he says coolly.

And tonight, she's feeling ballsy. If she's going to die, she'll die fighting, and if she can't be Katniss, she'll try to be just as brave.

Evenly, she returns, "Humor me."

He turns at that. He smiles. "Oh, Miss Trinket. Where are your manners?"

"I'm an innocent woman," she plays back just as quick. "There isn't courtesy in murder."

(Years of banter with Haymitch has taught her so, so well. She'll miss it once she's gone.)

"Innocence is a relative concept. Your hands aren't clean of blood, either," the man quips. He turns back to the window and laughs. "Nobody said you'd be the victim."

She freezes.

"Excuse me?" she asks.

Then behind her, like she's in some macabre movie that is full of claptrap and asinine nonsense, the television clicks on. She is afraid to turn around, afraid to see Katniss or Peeta or Haymitch's face on the screen, screaming, crying, cursing, dying because she was selfish all those weeks ago, because she was weak and couldn't keep a brave face on.

"I'd like you to watch the show with me, Miss Trinket. I find it entertaining," Snow rambles on as he makes his way next to her. The drink sloshes in his hands and he offers it to her - and like the first woman with the apple and the snake, with the fall of Eden and the emergence of sin, she takes it. His hand rests on her quaking shoulders, and when she turns to face the television, she almost drops the glass.

The President's hand steadies her before she falls over.

Her brother.

Elias.

Her brother.

Her fucking brother.

"No," she whispers, her voice threatening to crack. She falls to her knees and sobs, her voice hysterical and desperate as she screams at the screen, "Eli! No!"

"He will be found tomorrow in the middle of a street, seemingly mugged for his money," Snow tells her, his voice fluid like it's some fucking song, as if it's a story, a game. "The killer will never be found, and his family will revel in the gracious amount of money he left for them."

"Fuck you!" she shouts, her eyes wet with tears and wild with fury. "He didn't do anything to you! It's me. I screwed up. It's me, I die."

"Oh, I know. He's a good citizen. He does the Trinket name well, Miss Effie," he continues. "The perfect citizen. The perfect man."

"Kill me then," she begs. "Kill me, not him."

"Well, where's the lesson in that?"

"Please!"

On the screen, Elias is bound by his hands and feet and is on his knees, staring right at Effie. His eyes are crestfallen, like he's given up, like he's offering himself to them. But oh, oh he's crying, he's praying, and Effie cannot bear to watch her older brother be reduced to such a state.

"He can see you. He sees you right now. He knows it's your fault that his daughter will be fatherless for the rest of her life. He knows it's all because of you," Snow taunts. He takes a seat in the chair she abandoned and continues, "Would you like me to turn up the volume?"

Effie shakes her head.

He does anyway.

And the words that fall from Elias's lips are less than graceful, and it's so painful to watch him admit defeat.

"Effs, don't cry. Don't cry, it's not your fault, I-" he hiccups, his sobs rolling out of him until he finally swallows his sorrow. "Take care of them, baby sis. They love you."

"Eli, no," Effie cries, burying her face in her hands. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry."

"Don't be sorry, Effs, okay?" he continues as he shakes his head. "Be brave, Effie, I love you. I don't blame you. I don't - I don't blame you in any way."

"Don't say goodbye," Effie whimpers as she watches a man step behind her brother. He pulls a gun out of his pocket and points it to the side of Elias's head. Effie has to bite her tongue to restrain herself from screaming, and taste of blood washes over her. Defeated, she recoils into herself and sobs out loud, not caring that the President is watching her with amusement.

"It's just like when I left for college, yeah?" Elias says through a watery smile. He swallows a sob as he adds, "It's not goodbye. Not really."

Then there's a loud crack and then there's blood splattered onto the screen and Effie was not able to close her eyes in time.

And it kills her, if you'd excuse the term.

So she starts screaming. And even when they sedate her, even when she sits in the penthouse alone hours later with her cigarettes and bottles of wine, she will never stop screaming. She will never stop crying and sobbing and pleading with God, any god, any form of higher power there is to bring him back. Because he shouldn't have died for her faults, for her sins. He shouldn't have been punished for what she has done.

(But of course, she is not in God's favor. There is so, so much blood on her hands, and no matter how long she spends at the sink scrubbing her skin raw, she will never wash it out.)

. . .

Haymitch tells her everything when it's too late to do anything useful. He spills all the secrets he's been keeping from her, all the reasons why she was kept in the dark for so long, why she needs to stay safe and wait awhile in the Capitol and find somewhere to hide. She tells him that she's known all along, that the whispers in the dark aren't really whispers when the hallways echo, that she isn't stupid or blind or deaf and she's known of this Rebellion since its conception in the Everdeen house so long ago.

He smiles; he isn't surprised.

"Stay safe," he whispers into her ear when she pulls him into a tight hug. "Please, stay safe, Effie."

"I will," she lies.

(She knows that she'll be chained up in the wake of the Rebellion. She knows she'll be put through hell in back in hopes that she either stays there or coughs up information she doesn't have.)

And then he leaves.

And then she cries and inhales so much smoke, she thought she'd burst into flames.

(She isn't a phoenix, though, or Katniss for that matter; if she burns, she won't rise up anew, but she supposes that's quite alright.)

And when the lights flicker out above her, she thinks they have forgotten about her.

(They don't.)

fin.


A/N: BECAUSE THE TRAILER CAME OUT TODAY AND DID YOU SEE EFFIES FACE JESUSMARYJOSEPH. Also, it's nice writing for THG again. Don't forget to leave a review! :D