so i stayed in the darkness with you
- The Hunger Games; Haymitch/Effie; 5,500 words; Part 2 of 2. Effie adjusts to life, and Haymitch, in District 13.
When she hears that Peeta’s been rescued, that all of the captured victors have, Effie feels such happiness.
Like most happiness these days, it’s short lived.
She visits Katniss in the infirmary. The poor thing is drowsy from morphling, wearing a bulky neck brace. When Effie approaches, Prim gives her a tight smile, hugs Katniss, and leaves.
Effie has always found Prim wonderful. She supposes she can understand why the girl might not return the feeling.
Katniss lifts her hand weakly in greeting. She can’t talk. Haymitch told Effie all about that beforehand. Peeta did quite a number on her vocal cords.
Effie smiles at her and sits daintily on the side of the bed.
“You know, I like this,” she says, tapping the neck brace with a careful finger. “It’s the closest thing to innovative fashion that I’ve seen in this dullsville district.”
The corner of Katniss’s mouth twitches, just slightly. Still, her eyes are weary, oddly blank. Effie feels a flash of nostalgia for the old surliness that used to blaze in them.
“Oh, darling girl,” Effie says, pressing her fingers lightly to Katniss’s cheek. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Katniss nods slightly. Effie kisses her forehead.
“We will find a way to—to snap him out of this,” she promises, and hopes her smile is more convincing than it feels. Now more than ever, it’s important to look on the bright side. “He has too many people who love him too much to just let him slip away. He’ll remember that."
Katniss doesn’t nod this time. Just stares forward. Effie blinks back tears, and holds her poor girl’s hand.
Effie loves both of her victors equally, but she’s always had a soft spot for Peeta. Such a gracious gentleman, always so pleasant and thoughtful. Whenever Katniss and Haymitch would balk at one of her suggestions, united in their prickliness, Peeta would hear her out patiently, and treat her with respect. Perhaps it was a respect she’d never even deserved.
And so even though she hates the thought of seeing him in his current state, she goes with Haymitch to watch him through the glass.
At the sight of him, all of her worry vanishes. He looks terrible, but it’s Peeta all the same, their Peeta, back where he belongs. With them. She wants to sit at his bedside, smooth his hair, coo worriedly over the sharpened angles of his face. It’s the least she can do, after how kind he’s always been to her.
But it isn’t wise. Just because he’s a weapon aimed at Katniss, Haymitch explains, it doesn’t mean his memories of Effie will be fond.
“I’m not saying that to hurt your feelings,” Haymitch says. “Devoting yourself to those kids is the best thing you’ve ever done. I’m just saying, there’s a good chance he associates you with one of the worst experiences of his life; it’s not safe, and the risk isn’t worth it.”
She presses her fingers to the glass, watching Peeta stare blankly into space just as Katniss had. “I just want him to know that I—”
“He will,” Haymitch promises, although of course there is no possible way to know that, and very little reason to hope.
She nods and puts a hand to her mouth, holding back tears. Haymitch rests a hand on her shoulder, and together they look through the glass at their boy.
“I never used to understand it,” Effie says sleepily, resting against Haymitch’s bare shoulder. He plays idly with her hair. It made her uncomfortable at first. Having someone else see your real hair in the Capitol is akin to a much more blatant faux pas in the Districts. Running through the street with no pants on, maybe. But they’ve been at this for awhile now, and she’s grown to like that he likes it. She supposes it must make her more like the women from 12. More real in his eyes.
“Understand what?” he mumbles.
“The idea of loving someone so much that it would move you to tears. Clothes, yes. People, no."
“Love isn’t really that way in the Capitol. You adore things, of course. And people. And parents are wild about their children. But the idea of loving someone so much it hurts—you don’t really find that. It’s not proper.”
“Go figure,” Haymitch says, sounding not at all surprised.
“And then the Games would come around,” she continues. She doesn’t know why she’s thinking about this, and yet it won’t get out of her head. She suspects she won’t be able to sleep until she’s said it out loud. “And you would know that finally, here was the chance to really feel something. Besides ... besides full, or bored, or besotted with the new fall fashion line. Here were people whose lives were so different. So important. And we would sit and watch and feel for them and cry for them, and it was like—like coming to life yourself. Like waking up. The idea of working with victors ... it was magical to me when I was a girl.”
She can still feel the old giddiness rise up in her at the memories. It makes her stomach turn. She thinks of Peeta, a killer waking up in him whenever he looks at the girl he loves. Maybe this is what the Capitol does best: it turns people against their own hearts. Or maybe just twists their hearts into monstrous things.
“I watched you,” she recalls. “In your Quarter Quell.”
“Yeah, you’ve mentioned that before,” Haymitch says dryly.
She cringes, thinking of all the fawning silly things she’d said back when they first met. Even though he was far more of a disaster than she’d anticipated, she had been so awe of him. Until he’d thrown up on her shoes.
She had been so disappointed. All her hopes dashed of a valiant hero who’d sweep her off her feet. A Capitol citizen could never fall in love with a victor from District 12, of course; that would be like falling in love with a farm goat. But a little flirtation had seemed so delicious to her young self.
“What monsters we all were,” she says, ashamed.
He brings her hand to his lips and kisses it, but he doesn’t argue.
She can hardly blame him for that.
“But they’ll see,” she presses on. “The people in the Capitol. They’re not all bad. Some are, of course, but most of them ... They just don’t know any better, that’s all. They’ll come to understand, like I have. One day.”
Haymitch gives her a look. “So we’ll all live happily ever after having Capitol/District dinner parties, huh?”
“My friends would hate you,” Effie says, laughing a little at the thought. “The ones who’ve met you already do.”
“Considering what your friends are like,” he says, “I take that as a compliment."
She swats at his chest, and he laughs.
It’s such a lovely thought. Her two worlds, becoming one.
“I suppose they’re not safe anymore, are they?” she says softly.
“None of us are safe,” he points out.
“No,” she agrees, and doesn’t press the matter.
She suspects the odds of a happily ever after for her must be very low.
Effie is walking out of the cafeteria after a positively mundane breakfast of water and what she charitably dubs gruel. A year ago it would have been the breakfast of her nightmares, but she’s grown accustomed to having no standards beyond I must consume it to live. It’s an ordinary morning. That is, until a man coming into the cafeteria mutters, “Capitol bitch.”
His voice is so low that she wonders if she misheard, but when she turns to look, he’s watching her, hatred clear on his face. She realizes that he’s more a boy than a man; he can’t be much older than sixteen. He’s gangly and thin with a patch of angry red zits on his forehead. Once she meets his eyes, he looks back down and hurries away. She knows he won’t give her any real trouble. She’s very familiar with scared children lashing out.
Part of her wants to give him a good scolding. The Excuse me, young man? burns on her lips. But then she looks into the cafeteria and finds a sea of unfamiliar faces. Haymitch is visiting Katniss in the infirmary, and Plutarch is tucked up conspiring with President Dull Hair like always. For the moment, she’s without allies.
So she straightens her clothes, pushes up her sunglasses, and keeps walking away.
It’s the only time she’s been spoken to like that, but some of the looks she’s gotten over the weeks have told her the same thing plainly enough. She knows no one would dare harm her—not when she’s so close with the higher-ups, with the Mockingjay herself. But it hurts all the same.
When she reaches her quarters, she goes straight to her most precious belongings. Her wig is a little the worse for wear, but nothing some tender loving care won’t fix. Her pink dress is nearly finished. She resolves to debut them at the next possible opportunity. The next cause for celebration, assuming another such instance ever makes its way to this place.
She won’t be shamed into hiding herself. Not when she is here, and she is trying. These people aren’t the only ones who can rebel.
“Beautiful,” Effie declares, her eyes bright with tears. She clasps her hands over her heart. “Just beautiful.”
Haymitch grunts in response, but Effie decides that it’s a less ornery grunt than usual.
“To finally see some joy in this wretched place,” Effie continues happily, watching Finnick and Annie swirl around the makeshift dance floor, surrounded by revelers but so clearly lost in their own little world. “Granted, the dancing is rather provincial, but at least there is dancing.”
She watches the dancers for a moment, then turns and gives him a beseeching look.
“No,” Haymitch says. He manages to pack a lifetime’s resistance into the tiny word. These District 12 victors—always so stubborn.
“Fine,” she huffs.
“I’m sure you could get one of these other dashing gents to take you for a spin on the floor,” he adds with a smirk, gesturing around the room.
“I’m sure I could,” she agrees lightly, mostly for the sake of banter. She’s been here for months, and most of these people still look at her like she’s some sort of freak. Never mind how friendly she tries to be—and she has begun to try.
Then again, so many of them have watched her take their children away year after year. Effie tries to remind herself of these things. To be patient with them. To see—really see—things from their points of view. One day they’ll realize that she understands, and she means well.
Effie shakes off the thought and smiles brighter. She focuses on the music, so quaint and merry. It isn’t the sort that they’d play at a Capitol celebration. There is something rustic about it, something that makes her think of the dreary square of District 12 and wonder if there had been some beauty in that place she had never noticed.
“So what’s the problem?” Haymitch asks, sly. “None of these boys to your liking?”
“I can’t just leave you standing on the sidelines alone,” she replies. “Imagine how pitiful you’d look.”
“So this is you doing me a favor,” he tests.
“Precisely,” she says, and gives him a brilliant smile.
He rolls his eyes, but smiles back.
“I think everyone needed this,” she declares. “One night where we can all turn our thoughts away from all of this horrible tragedy.”
“You know what the real tragedy is? A wedding with no booze.”
“Oh, hush,” she says, slapping his arm lightly.
“You’re doing very well,” she adds, softer. “I’m proud of you.”
“Yeah, well,” he says, uncomfortable, and exhales sharply. “It’s not like there’s a choice.”
“Still,” she insists. She slips her fingers into his and squeezes his hand reassuringly, just for a moment. They’ve both agreed that there’s no sense in public displays of affection under the circumstances, but tonight they’re hardly noticeable. Not with such a beautiful couple front and center.
Effie watches the newlyweds twirl around the floor. The music settles into something less cheery, more slow and romantic, and Finnick pulls Annie into his arms. To think both of them have known such incredible suffering. At least for now, you can see none of it on their faces.
Despite herself, she imagines what a magnificent propo this will make. How people will ooh and ahh all around Panem watching such a beautiful scene, love triumphing against all odds. If anything could sway the people of the Capitol, it’s this. Ugliness doesn’t work to change minds in the Capitol; all this talk of war and justice, it only makes them afraid. But give them something lovely—something bright and glimmering with hope—and they just might listen. No one else here understands that, but Effie does.
She saw it begin to happen, before.
“I can’t help wishing that it were them,” she admits aloud, her voice wavering slightly. She never can keep from crying on a sentimental occasion. “That we had gotten to see that wedding—”
Haymitch knows right away who she’s talking about. Katniss and Peeta are never far from his thoughts either.
“You and the rest of the Capitol viewers,” he remarks dryly. “Sending kids off to fight to the death’s all well and good until two of them start making googly eyes at each other. It was a smart strategy.”
“It was more than a strategy and you know it,” Effie scolds. “They’re so young, and they love each other so dearly. They deserved some joy, and peace, and babies—”
“I know,” Haymitch says, resting his hand on the small of her back, and she gets ahold of herself.
Peeta’s sweetness stolen. Katniss with those haunted eyes, bruises on her neck, her voice raspy as a tired old woman’s. It isn’t fair.
She had seen Katniss earlier, twirling around with her sister, but now she can’t spot her in the crowd. Effie supposes the poor girl wanted to retire early. After all she’s suffered, who could blame her for not knowing what to do in the face of happiness?
She sniffles in spite of herself.
“Hey,” Haymitch says.
She looks over at him, and he holds his hand out in an invitation.
Effie gasps, delighted.
“None of those fancy Capitol moves,” he orders. “You try any of that, I’ll step on your toes and make it look like an accident.”
“If you step on my toes, I’m sure it will be an accident,” she replies, but smiles to show that she’s teasing. “You, Mr. Abernathy, are a positively hopeless dancer.”
“Maybe, Ms. Trinket, that’s just because we’ve never danced before when I was sober."
She sighs with faux weariness. “There’s only one way to find out, I suppose.”
“That’s the spirit,” he says as she slips her hand into his.
“But don’t you step on my toes,” she warns. “I spent hours making these shoes look presentable. Do you know the kind of effort it took to put together an ensemble like this in these circumstances?”
“Effie,” he says with a crooked smile, “I can’t begin to imagine.”
“Well,” she says, “first I had to completely take apart the dress I was wearing when I got here and turn it into something new; I can’t very well be seen in the same outfit twice, can I?”
“Hell no,” Haymitch says amiably, putting his free hand on her waist.
“I know that the people here have more important things on their minds,” Effie says as they slip into a waltz, “but still. It’s a matter of principle.”
“And so, for the first time in my life, I had to labor with my own two hands, and I must say, it wasn’t nearly as bad as—”
—you’ve all made it sound all these years. The sentence finishes itself in her head, but she catches it before it comes out of her mouth. She doubts anyone is listening to them; everyone seems swept up in their own merrymaking. But she knows better than to let those things slide anymore. Even in her thoughts.
“And?” Haymitch prods.
“And?” she says lightly.
“I assume the story doesn’t stop there. It was just getting good.”
“Yes, well.” She smiles. “A girl needs to preserve a little mystery.”
“Ooh. Mystery. I like that.”
She giggles, and he pulls her close. Dancing cheek to cheek, they’re not so different from any of the other couples swaying on the floor. In his arms, she almost feels at home here, almost feels like she might belong in the heart of this tired hopeful new world.