so i stayed in the darkness with you
- The Hunger Games; Haymitch/Effie; 5,500 words; Part 1 of 2. Effie adjusts to life, and Haymitch, in District 13.
Here is the thing that no one considers:
Effie knows what it is to be afraid, even if everyone around her thinks she mustn’t have a clue. She has lived with fear every day of her life. It’s nothing like what the people of the Districts have faced. No blood, no empty bellies. No obvious reason to rise up. It’s a quiet fear, as constant as breathing. For a long while, she didn’t even know it was there. She only felt its sharp edges and didn’t know what to do with them. So she smiled bigger. Shone brighter. Listened to what the Capitol told her.
“You couldn’t have stayed,” Haymitch tells her on the worst day of her life.
She is sitting in the ugliest place she has ever seen, which—considering how many times she’s been to District 12—is saying something. This gray little room is apparently her new home in District 13. District 13, and all she has are the clothes she’s wearing and a foggy memory of Haymitch asking her to tear her eyes away from the Quarter Quell and have a drink with him.
‘You don’t have to watch this,’ he said, seeing how it tortured her to see her poor children endure those horrors, and she thought, How sweet. How kind of him, for once.
She should have known.
Her head is still cloudy, giving all of this the odd quality of an awful dream, but she knows it isn’t one. When she does have nightmares (and she does these days, even though she never used to), there’s more color to them. Not this hideous nothingness.
“You were already in too deep,” Haymitch says. She hates how composed he sounds. “There’s no way Snow would have left you alone.”
“So you’re saving me, is that it?” she hisses. “Am I supposed to say thank you? Fine! Very well! Thank you, Haymitch. Thank you for drugging me and bringing me to this ghastly hellhole, away from everyone I know and care about, away from all of my worldly possessions—”
“You don’t have family, you’ve told me that—”
“I have dozens of friends,” Effie shrieks, “from the most elite social circles, and they’ll be very concerned—”
“You don’t get it,” Haymitch snarls. He grabs her shoulders with strong, impatient hands and stares right into her eyes. She considers scratching hiseyes out. “You’re in this now. What was that you told us? We’re a team? Well, this is what it means to be part of the team. Sorry you didn’t get the chance to pack up all your pretty things, or give goodbye kisses to all your darling friends in the Capitol, but you’re alive, and you can help Katniss. She’s gonna need you. That’s what matters.”
Somewhere deep down, she begins to know that he’s right. It makes her furious.
“You kidnapped me,” she says angrily.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he taunts. “Maybe we should have left you there. At least then Peeta would have some company.”
Effie freezes. “What?”
“They got him,” Haymitch says, not bothering to soften the news one bit. “Snow’s got him, and the Capitol bombed 12 to bits. But please. Tell me more about your terrible problems.”
Effie thinks she might vomit.
“You’re a brute,” she says, tears springing to her eyes, and his fingers dig into her shoulders. She glares at him. “Let. Go. Of. Me.”
For a second, he doesn’t listen to her, and she wonders what will happen, what he will do instead. Her breath catches in her throat. She can feel his on her face. Tinged with alcohol, of course.
Then he lets go of her abruptly, and she sways a little, dizzy without him.
“Great to have you on the team,” he sneers, striding toward the door.
She grabs the only thing in her reach—a plastic cup of water; she dimly recalls him pouring it for her as she first came to—and throws it, aiming for his head.
It misses and hits the wall beside him. At least he gets splashed. He swears and storms out, not looking back at her. As soon as the door slides shut, she bursts into tears.
There’s a gray jumpsuit on the foot of this bed (if you can call it a bed), waiting for her. Clearly someone expects her to wear that tepid atrocity. Looking at it, she sobs harder. If only she’d had some time to gather her things. If only she’d known. If only. If only.
(Peeta, Peeta, her poor boy.)
The next time she sees Haymitch, it’s after he’s returned from the rehabilitation facility and she’s begun working with Plutarch and Katniss. She feels much better; it’s good to have a purpose again, to feel like she’s doing something. Contributing something. Even if she’s doing it while confined to the dullest shade of gray imaginable. A burlap sack would have more couture potential, but she does her best.
After their meeting on how to solve the problem of Katniss’s hopelessness in front of the camera, Haymitch catches up with her in the corridor, greeting her with a low whistle.
“Well, look who’s back and full of good ideas,” she says, smiling.
“Right back at you,” he says. “Good work in there.”
“You too. You have very strong instincts for this sort of thing, whether or not you wish to admit it.”
“Well, I learned from the best,” he says pleasantly, then adds, “I almost didn’t recognize you.”
“Ugh.” She shudders theatrically. “Don’t remind me.”
“No, it’s good,” he protests.
“Good? Hmph. Hardly. I’ve done what I can, but even I’m not a miracle worker.”
“It’s interesting, then,” he amends with a grin. “I like the scarf.”
“It does have a certain understated flare, doesn’t it?” Effie agrees, preening.
“I always wondered what was going on under all those ruffles.”
“You’ve had more opportunities to find out than most,” she reminds him airily. She isn’t in the habit of referring to their past, but it’s so boringdown here that any opportunity to flirt will do.
“Yeah, well,” Haymitch says, “most of those memories are a little fuzzy.”
“What a pity for you,” Effie says blithely.
“You know,” he says, catching her hand and bringing her to a standstill, “my head’s much clearer these days.”
“Oh?” she says, holding back her smile.
“I’m paying all kinds of attention to all kinds of things.” He gives her a look that makes it very clear just what sorts of things. She feels a happy thrill run through her, for once without the irritation that usually accompanies these little slips in their professional relationship.
She supposes it’s not much of a professional relationship anymore. Strictly speaking.
And isn’t that an intriguing idea?
He keeps on staring, making open lechery inconveniently charming as always, his thumb brushing over the back of her hand. She decides that she might as well give him a bit of a chase. Goodness knows they could all use some fun around here.
“Manners, Mr. Abernathy,” she teases, tapping his nose. Then she quickens her pace, slipping out of his grasp and leaving him behind.
She hears him chuckling. She puts a little spring in her step.
The Capitol bombs District 13, and Effie learns how it feels to fear for her own life. It’s not the bombing itself that frightens her the most, although that’s no picnic. It’s the evacuation.
It seems ridiculous that safety measures are the thing to scare her most of all, but for the first time she knows what it’s like to have the world fall into chaos around you and be trapped in it. Even when the riot broke out in District 11 during the Victory Tour, they had been behind closed doors, safe and away from the violence.
This time, she’s right in the heart of it.
People cry out and stumble around her as they hurry down the stairs, never mind that they’re all supposed to be proceeding with caution, in anorderly fashion, and she tries her best not to slow down; she knows that if she does, she’ll be run right over. Squashed like a bug. Like nothing. But the first bomb drops and the world trembles around her, the stairs rattling; the sprinklers go off, and she’s suddenly drenched and there’s so much screaming, so much agony. She trips, missing one of the steps, and stumbling knocks the breath out of her. She clings to the railing, half standing, while bodies dash by her, shoving into her without a bit of guilt. Someone’s elbow jams into her ribs, and she gasps. The world rushes on around her, too fast and cruel to have room for her; she feels dizzy and sick and suddenly very sure that this is what it was like. To be in the arena. To let the games begin. All of those children. Their names in her hands.
She cannot seem to move, and hates it. She has always tried to keep a cool head in a crisis.
This is it, this is it, she thinks, or maybe says out loud. It's over.
“You’re okay,” Haymitch says into her ear, putting his arm around her to guide her back up. “Just keep moving."
He holds onto her like that the rest of the way down. Finally, she is safe and sound, sitting on one of the horrible bunk beds, trying to catch her breath. It isn’t easy.
The whole room shakes, the bombs rumbling, dust falling from new-formed cracks in the ceiling like snow. The air is full of screams, peoples’ voices blending with the blaring alarms. She’s never been in the middle of something so horrible, never even imagined what it might be like. Haymitch keeps his arms around her. She can feel him shaking. The lights go out, plunging everything into darkness. One by one, the lanterns switch on in protest.
And then, at last—after what feels like hours, but can that be right?—everything goes still.
She can’t quite trust the stillness, not after the world erupting around them. Every single person seems too afraid to speak, as if it might bring the bombing back.
A stark silence drags on, punctured at last by children’s wails. Absurdly, she envies them their freedom to cry openly. She thinks of Katniss, somewhere in this darkness too; she closes her eyes, and swallows the lump in her throat.
It takes her a long while to notice Haymitch’s hand rubbing her back. She doesn’t feel quite inside her own body.
“That all they got?” he says sardonically.
She isn’t in the mood to joke.
“Living like this,” she gasps, “skittering around like vermin, hunted like animals, knowing that you there’s nothing to stop you from dying ingloriously at a second’s notice ...” She takes a deep breath, but can’t seem to find her composure. “I nearly got trampled to death, Haymitch. Trampled! How would that look on my headstone?”
“Do they usually put cause of death on a headstone?” he ponders.
Her voice quavers. “How do you keep going?”
“The hell if I know,” Haymitch says. “Why do you think I’ve been trying to drink myself to death all these years?”
“That’s not funny,” she says sharply.
“Wasn't joking,” he answers.
She feels a sting of sorrow. She has always known this about him. Still, it hurts to hear it, especially now.
She leans away from him, and he takes the hint and removes his hand from her back. They sit without speaking.
“Listen,” he says at last, sighing, “I’m sorry we brought you here. It wasn’t originally part of the plan. But I didn’t want to leave you to whatever fate they had in store for you.”
“You could have at least told me.”
“Ah ah ah. Strictly confidential information.”
“Well, I’m part of the team, aren’t I?” she says tauntingly.
He lets out a grim bark of a laugh. “Touché. Would you have come along if you had the choice?”
“I don’t know,” she admits, and doesn’t like the uncertainty left hanging in the air. She sits up taller. Stiff upper lip. “It’s just as well that I’m here. I expect I’d be faring even worse in the Capitol. Although at least I’d be doing it in style.”
He chuckles, patting her knee.
She thinks of Peeta—so pale and sickly in those terrible interviews, forced to tell those lies. She hates to imagine what he must be suffering right now because of it. It’s a good thing she wasn’t left behind. There’s no way she could have been so strong. So brave.
“I’m glad to help Katniss,” she says, “but now that we’ve sorted out the wardrobe and the propos—and they needed sorting out, don’t get me wrong—what’s the point in me being here? What can I possibly contribute? What’s the point of ...”
Any of it, she does not say.
Haymitch looks at her. She knows her desperation must be plain on her face.
“Like you said,” he says. “Style. District 13 is in need of some serious style.”
Once his words sink in, she shakes her head and smiles. He smiles back, seeming encouraged by her reaction.
“There’s no denying that,” she says. “These jumpsuits! Ugh. And don’t get me started on the president’s hair.”
“By all means,” he says, “get started. Although you might want to keep your voice down.”
“That gray!” she whispers, leaning closer to his ear. “So drab. So severe. When obviously a nice purple would suit her much better."
“If you ever tell Alma Coin that she needs purple hair,” Haymitch whispers back solemnly, “I want to be at that meeting.”
"Deal," she promises.
They sink into laughter, and for a second it’s easy to forget where they are, and why.
And then another child’s cry rises up, followed by the shhes of its parents. Their comforting seems to be futile; the poor thing keeps wailing.
Effie holds back a sigh, tears pricking her eyes.
She feels Haymitch’s gaze on her, and then his hand over hers.
“We’re nowhere near the end of this fight,” he says. “And Plutarch reached out to you because you’re the expert. Our girl’s going to need more coaching, more speeches. That’s your area.”
“Coaching she ignores. Speeches she doesn’t use.”
“That’s Katniss. Don’t take it personally.”
“I suppose,” Effie says, smiling weakly.
They sit in silence, listening to the child cry.
“How do you live like this, hmm?” he muses.
“Suggestions very much appreciated.” She tries to sound cavalier, but spoils the effect by sniffling.
“I guess ...” He bites his lip, thinking. “I guess you just have to choose to fight.”
“Well,” she says with a nervous huff of laughter, “I am not a fighter.”
“Are you kidding me?” He affectionately tugs on a lock of hair that’s slipped from her turban. “You’ve been fighting me all these years. Winning most of the time, too. What’s a war with the damn Capitol compared to that?"
He smiles at her, all of his usual mocking replaced with kindness, and she feels a rush of affection for him. The one thing she hasn’t lost.
She takes his face in her hands and kisses him, soft and sure. He freezes for a moment, surprised, and then wraps his arms around her, pulling her in.
It isn’t their first kiss by any means. They’ve worked together for a very long time, under very stressful circumstances, and there have been occasional lapses—drastic lapses—in professionalism, usually after Effie’s had too much wine. It hasn’t happened in years; she’d gotten more prudent and he’d gotten more drunk with every year that passed. But now she’s without her rules and he’s without his liquor, and perhaps that means they’re entering a new era.
“Thank you,” she says after they break apart, both a little breathless. She touches his cheek, his stubble tickling her palm. “That was a very sweet thing to say.”
“Uh,” he says, dazed, “sure. No problem.”
She smiles a little, liking this—the chance to fluster him for a change. He puts his arm around her, pulling her close. She rests her head on his shoulder, and they wait out the darkness together.