The Sixty-Fourth Hunger Games

Effie Trinket sat aboard the bolting train on her annual trip to District 12. The compartment traveled soundlessly, without a hint that it moved at all, but Effie could almost feel herself pulled farther away from her Capitol home.

She was again traveling a day early to meet with her partner. Last year's Games had been another disappointment. Two children had accompanied them to the Capitol, and they'd returned to their District in lifeless wooden boxes.

This Games had seen her first twelve year old tribute. He was a pale, blonde boy, and she'd never seen him smile. Not in the interviews, not on the train, and certainly not in the Games. He'd had no reason for happiness.

It was a new sort of shock to climb the steps to the stage, read off a tribute's name, and watch so young a child part the crowd, face riven with despair and hopelessness. Effie had glued on a smile of encouragement and hadn't let it slip until he was dead.

The observing crowd had groaned at a twelve year old being chosen, but none stepped forward to take his place. They'd watched his first steps toward his death in silence.

It had never been so difficult to maintain her good cheer. Effie understood how the Games were won, and the odds were not in this child's favor. Haymitch, too, was noticeably subdued by their young charge. His tone was softer, his words kinder. Effie would have liked to believe this change was brought on by her coaching and suggestion, but she imagined it had more to do with his duty to help this child.

In the end though, their efforts were in vain. The boy would never make it. Neither Haymitch's truth nor Effie's encouragement could instill the smallest hope in him. When the countdown ended, the boy ran. But he was so small and so young, easily overpowered, easily killed.

As she'd watched, Effie had felt tears burn her eyes. She'd quickly dosed them, so that her fellow escorts wouldn't see. It wasn't their job to mourn these children.

Their female tribute had been a girl from the Seam. She was hardy and beautiful, quick and clever. It was little wonder the boy had felt so hopeless. Even his counterpart was at a greater advantage than him.

She'd had hope, and there were many across the country who'd shared it. Effie had known from the first interviews that Haymitch would manage to find sponsors for this girl.

And she really did know that he'd done his best. Her partner had spoken to sponsors, tried to convince the public, and he'd been somewhat successful. Truthfully, Effie wasn't sure how he'd done it, running from meeting to meeting, desperately seeking support.

Effie later learned he hadn't slept through the night for two weeks.

The girl fought well, never willfully engaging her foe, but keeping herself alive. She lasted fifteen days in the arena, and her escort had followed her every move, wishing this one child might get home alive.

Finally, she'd been wounded by a mutation, an added level of entertainment designed by the Gamemakers. This particular mutt was a flesh eating bug that bore under the tribute's skin, raising painful welts of infection. The girl had stumbled upon a nest of the creatures and was in serious need of medical attention. A parachute of medicine was the only way she'd live.

But the Games were just getting interesting, and medicine was unrealistically expensive, something Effie knew from watching a lifetime of Hunger Games. She'd hoped against hope that Haymitch would find a way, but no parachute floated down. Their second tribute's end was one of long suffering. The only relief she received was in the cannon's boom.

At first, Effie had been furious with her partner. It was the mentor's responsibility to provide for their tributes. His job was to give them help, and he'd failed. He'd sent no parachute.

It wasn't until she'd found him, poised for a fight, a lecture on her lips, that she'd reconsidered. He sat on the floor of his work room in the training center, propped against a wall, eyes bloodshot from lack of sleep rather than liquor. It was then that she began to understand just what he did for those children: everything he was able. It was simply never enough.

This year, she swore, would be different.

The train listed to a gentle stop, and Effie roused herself from her thoughts. She sighed and stood to leave. Passing the mirror, she applied a fresh coat of purple lipstick and stepped off the train.

The platform was deserted, the sky sunny, the entire district smothered in coal dust. District 12 had not improved since her first glimpse of it. Effie tugged on sequined gloves, and began her march to the Victor's Village.

Even after three years of making this hike out to Haymitch's house, Effie found herself panting by the end of it. She could understand the seclusion: Who wanted to live close to District 12's main streets? But the lack of transportation was absurd. She supposed one resident wasn't worth the trouble.

The Victor's square was well groomed by invisible caretakers. The grass was nearly green. Still, the gate was collecting rust and welcomed her into a ghost town. Except no one had ever lived here.

The empty houses were well tended, but still deserted. Haymitch's home was the most lonesome of the lot.

Effie steeled herself with a deep breath and rejected the urge to gag with the smell. She flounced up to his front door and knocked. When she was not immediately gratified with an opened door, Effie let her gaze roam over the square. She knew Haymitch was inside. As far as she knew, he left only rarely and never on the day before the reaping.

The door did open, and Haymitch Abernathy stood in her presence once more. She was no longer surprised to see him in this state. "Good morning!" she bubbled. It was best if she ignored his appearance until it really mattered.

Haymitch snarled at her, clearly inebriated. He rolled his eyes and strutted away. She repeated the gesture and followed him in. As they passed through the hall, Effie caught a glimpse of a darkened living room that she'd never set foot in. She doubted that she'd ever receive a guided tour of his sanctuary.

"Do they pay you extra for this?" Haymitch asked as he pulled up a seat. Effie pulled up short. She hadn't even told him her plan yet. "This day early thing?"

Relived now that she knew what he was referring to, Effie shook her head. "No. But I think this yearly meeting is highly effective."

He was scowling again, though really, it was doubtful he'd stopped. "What is it this time? Disapprove of my shoes? Maybe I should move to the Capitol, so they can torture me year round? I know, you think I should get a wig so we can match this year."

Effie sniffed haughtily. She refused to let his mockery phase her. "Actually, I'm offering to help you."

Haymitch was laughing now, and he wasn't so drunk that she could ignore its sting. "I think I have as much help from you as I can handle, darlin'."

"I know what you do for those tributes," she told him. Haymitch looked at her, letting her know he was listening. As important as appearances and manners were, she was speaking beyond that. Maybe he could tell. "But you can never do enough."

The kitchen was silent. "You think I don't know that?" he asked wearily, all trace of malice lost under the sound of his fatigue. He lifted a half drained bottle from the table and stood gazing out the window. "I've been doing this almost half my life. I can't bring even one of them home."

"Maybe not on your own."

Her partner turned to face her, eyebrow raised disparagingly. "Last I checked it was just me."

Effie took a deep breath. She finally had his attention, but she'd have to choose her words carefully for him to appreciate them. "I've observed these last few years the challenging task of mentoring. Every other district has the advantage of two or more past victors. They can share the burden, delegate the responsibility, and fully devote themselves to the tributes."

He looked unimpressed. It wasn't as though this was information he didn't know. "What exactly do you suggest?" he drawled. "The only way to find another mentor is to bring out a victor."

"I know. I am suggesting that I be the one to help you."

Again it grew quiet. Haymitch studied her, top to bottom, pulling her apart with those gray eyes. He finally spoke, his voice low. "How exactly would you do that?"

The escort continued to speak with great care. "Hear me out, Haymitch." She could hear his growing disapproval of the suggestion. "I can't train a tribute in how to swing an axe or build a fire, but there are other ways to help them.

"The interviews, for example. I understand that you coach them on the content of their interviews. I can assist them with their conduct, something with as much potential to save them." Effie waved a flattering hand to herself and smiled winningly, efforts that were lost on Haymitch.

Her partner used the momentary silence to take a drink from his bottle. Effie resisted the urge to scold him and continued her attempts to persuade him. "As for during the actual Games, I will be able to campaign for public opinion. Of course, only a mentor can confirm sponsors, but I can help you. I can help them."

Haymitch glared at her, not her preferred response. He remained silent, and she was just about to launch into a tangent about how he'd be able to actually rest if the both of them worked, when he spoke. He continued to stare, suspicion coloring his voice. "Why would you do that?"

Effie swallowed her reply. He knew what her offer could help. He wanted to know why she made it. "Because you deserve someone to help you."

And that was the reason, really. The Games were taxing for every mentor, she'd witnessed that to be true. But she saw him as he worked. What's more, she saw him here where no one else could. And there was no one more alone that Haymitch Abernathy.

Perhaps she offered out of her growing desperation for the promotion that had yet to come. Maybe she offered because of the overwhelming truth that children were dying because they couldn't save them. But something about her partner's plight resonated in a part of her that responded.

"I think you're crazy," Haymitch denounced. He drank again, never letting his gray eyes leave her blue ones. "But go ahead. If you want to keep up with me, be my guest."

His agreement startled her. Obviously he knew it would be foolish to refuse. Effie graced him with a glimmer of a smile; this year they might just have a chance.