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The Strings Of Us

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Effie doesn’t knock on Haymitch’s front door before walking inside because she never does. Eight and a half years of working together taught her that at this time, so little past dawn, he will either be passed out drunk or he will finally have managed to fall asleep more naturally. Be it one or the other, it will take a long time for him to answer the door – if he even ever does – and the train ride from the Capitol was long and difficult because of the snow that keeps on falling. She’s cold, tired and a little annoyed to have been forced to make the trip to Twelve for Victory Tour so she doesn’t even stop to think that maybe he has been expecting her all along on those Reaping mornings but he has no clue she’s here today.

The house is deadly silent in a way that always makes her uncomfortable.

She doesn’t know how he can bear to live like this – well, she does know from countless drunk rants he imparted on her over the years and forgot everything about in the morning: he’s punishing himself. The sun might be up but the thick snowflakes falling from the sky outside make the inside of the house even darker than it already is and she switches on lamps and appliances on her path. She tut-tutts at the dirty plates and mugs that seem to accumulate on every flat surface, sighs at the number of empty bottles she refuses to count, and shivers faced with the unfamiliar noises that plague every household. The loud buzzing of the fridge, the irregular banging of a blind somewhere downstairs, the popping of the logs in the fireplace…

The fire is dying and the living-room is deserted so she makes her way up the stairs, certain that if he hasn’t fallen asleep on the couch, he must have made it to his bed. Which is good because if he was sober enough to actually get to his bedroom, it will be an easier conversation to have. He won’t like what she came to do, she suspects.

She hasn’t been upstairs often but she knows the way to his bedroom well enough even in the dark. The door is open and this time she does knock, out of respect and because she won’t make the mistake of shaking him awake ever again. She knocks with a smile on her lips, her other hand already searching for the light switch…

“Rise and shine, Haym…” she starts only to gap when light floods the place and she understands why her mother always insisted it was ill-mannered to let yourself in a house that wasn’t your own even with a tacit permission to do so.

Haymitch startles awake, blinking, confused… He immediately brings a hand to his head with a grown once he spots her, legs curling toward his chest… It brings the sheets up and uncovers even more flesh at his side.

The woman has dark hair, small breasts, sticks for legs and no real curves to speak off. Typical District Twelve. It takes her dark eyes a while to focus on her, to understand what is going on, probably because Haymitch wasn’t the only intoxicated one when they tumbled into bed, and when she does see Effie standing there, mouth still gaping, she quickly snatches the sheet up, gives Haymitch a wild look and makes the face Effie made a thousand times when she woke up in a stranger’s bed and regretted every bad decision that led her there.

Haymitch, meanwhile, is quickly becoming aware of the situation. His gaze snaps from the woman to her and back, a hint of panic on his face, he licks his lips, ends up staring at her

Effie composes herself because she will be damned if she causes a scene. This doesn’t concern her, she reminds herself. What he does or does not when cameras aren’t pointed at him isn’t her problem. Who he does or does not…

They have an arrangement, not a relationship.

“They want you in the Capitol for this Tour.” she says and she is happy to note her voice doesn’t waver, her tone is maybe less cheerful than usual but it is steady. She manages to sound casual, uncaring, and that’s the best she can hope for right now. “I need you dressed properly at the station in two hours to greet the winning team. Pack, we will be leaving tonight right after them. And, please, do shave.”

She turns on her heels and strides out of there as quickly as she can. Her shoes click hard on the floorboards and the noise is even more unbearable than the previous silence. It’s really not silent now. She can hear the rumble of voices behind her.

She wonders if this is a one-night-stand or if she read the woman’s reaction wrong. Maybe it’s a regular thing. Maybe he met someone. Maybe…

Her eyes burn and she bats her eyelashes a few times, clenching her jaw. She won’t cry. It’s ridiculous. What is there to cry about? Perhaps she hasn’t let another man or another woman touch her in a little over a year. That’s on her. They fuck. That’s all they do. They fight and they work it out against a flat surface and it makes it alright for them to work together again because, sometimes, it’s either fuck or kill and…

She’s almost at the front door when she hears him hurtling down the stairs.

“Effie, wait!”

She stops.

What is the alternative? Flee? Make it a big deal that will only make it more difficult for them to work together during the upcoming Tour and then during the next Games? She is not going anywhere. She does like to pretend a promotion is still a possibility but the Seventieth Hunger Games will mark her ninth year in the business and she is simply too good at handling Haymitch. Twelve was a mess before she came along and now Twelve’s victor mostly behaves and she runs a tight ship in terms of PR. She’s good at her job and nobody is as good at keeping Haymitch Abernathy in line. She is not going anywhere. They will still need to work together after this.

So she can either let it be a problem or she can smile and pretend everything is fine because everything should be.

She turns around, eyebrows raised in question, and he freezes at few feet away from her, clearly uncertain. He has expected her to storm out, she can tell, slam the door, shout, rage… But that’s not the agreement. That’s not the agreement at all.

No strings attached, they agreed once they stopped denying it was even happening.

Casual.

And now he stands there and he doesn’t even seem to know what to say and it’s awkward. He put on sweatpants that are far too lose at the waist. She mentally makes a note to order more clothes for him because god knows he won’t be doing it for himself.

“Look…” he starts. There’s a loud bang followed by muffled curses from upstairs and he winces, glancing over his shoulder before turning back to her. “Look, I went to the bar. I never do, it’s not… It was a bad day, yeah? And…”

“Haymitch, what you do on your private time is no business of mine.” she cuts him off. “Please, be at the station in two hours.”

She does turn her back to him and go straight for the door then because… Well, there’s only so much composure she can keep when she can hear another woman getting dressed in his bedroom.

She has her hand on the handle and the front door open a crack when he grabs her upper arm. Not tight enough to hurt, not like he does when things get heated and he wants her attention, not… It’s light. Almost hesitant.

“I don’t even know her name.” he insists. As if that makes it better. “I don’t remember half the night.” Half the night is a half too many, in her opinion. She wants to tell him again that she doesn’t care but, at this point, with him so close she can feel the warmth of his bare chest, all she can do is clench her jaw and stare straight ahead, at the yard covered with snow. Her boots, tights and dress will be drenched by the time she makes it back to the train. She shouldn’t have come. She should have sent a Peacekeeper or the Mayor. His fingers dig a little harder in her muscles. “Effie…”

It’s twice he’s used her name now.

He never does use her name. She’s always Trinket or sweetheart or princess or darling or whatever pet name he’s in the mood for that day. Effie is left for serious occasions, for gravitas.

She wants to speak, she does, but her jaw is clenched so badly she cannot make it work. She cannot utter any word at all.

He shifts his weight on his feet, a sure sign that he is nervous – and being nervous irritates him so she’s not surprised when he loses his calm.

“Ain’t like I owe you anything.” he growls, low enough that the woman who is now audibly making her way to the stairs won’t hear.

No, she thinks, it’s not.

“The station. Two hours.” she repeats, shrugs his arm off and steps out in the freezing weather she will be only too glad to leave behind.

She hates coming to Twelve in winter. She’s been forced to do it twice now. The first time was for Finnick’s Tour because they needed to be sure everything was perfect in every District given the public’s frenzy and escorts were dispatched to make it happen. Haymitch screwed her brains out on the very bed he’s taken that woman, that time.

He doesn’t usually make the trip to the city for the Tour. Some victors do every year, others only from time to time… Haymitch usually likes to stay well away from the Capitol when he isn’t needed. Requests happen though. Sometimes, they need victor there to distract the crowd, the less the current victor is popular, the more mentors they drag back.

From what she understands, the Gamemakers don’t expect huge audience from this Tour and thus they want to compensate with more victors in the city. She thought it would be fun. Tours are far less stressful than the Games. It’s all about parties, events, red carpets, interviews and being seen. There are no high stakes aside from making contacts with influent sponsors.

Naively, she thought she and Haymitch might even have some good time together. It’s been too long since she got laid and she’s been looking forward to that because Haymitch never disappoints. Well, he used to disappoint a lot in the beginning, when it was still all about blowing steam and not murdering each other… But it’s been five years now and he’s a lot less selfish in bed. She thought it was because he’s grown to care a little for her, respect her at the very least, but now…

No strings attached, she reminds herself as she struggles to get back to her train.

She’s determined to act normal when she sees him again but, instead, when he finally shows up at the station with a bag, she doesn’t even straighten the crooked tie and she doesn’t comment on the shaved chin. Is she surprised he actually did both? Yes. But she doesn’t know how to deal with the guilty looks he keeps sneaking her.

He hasn’t done anything wrong.

But she still feels like crying and raging and hitting him very hard.

So she avoids him.

She talks with the Mayor, makes sure the welcoming crowd the man gathered will know when to cheer and clap… She smiles and laughs and acts bubbly once the cameras roll, she retreats inside her escort persona, hides behind Effie Trinket’s mask because it’s easier.

By the end of the day, she hasn’t said more than two words directly to him and he’s seething with anger.

She can see it.

She can feel it.

She knows she needs to defuse the situation before it becomes something too big but, the crux of the matter is, she can’t bring herself too. So the tension increases and increases until they’re alone in their train’s living-room, quickly leaving Twelve behind, and there’s no one else there to play buffer.

It’s late and she almost says she’s going to head straight to bed because she’s exhausted, which is not a lie. She finds herself standing in front of the liquor cart instead, tossing things in a shaker. It has been a long time since she’s mixed her own cocktail.

“How long are you gonna be a bitch about this?” he challenges.

He’s perched on the armchair’s armrest, three feet behind her back, his arms crossed in front of his chest. He’s puffing with the anger she hasn’t allowed him to vent all day. A part of her wants to turn around, toss the shaker at his head, let the fight blow out so they can sort it out like they always do. She’s pretty sure that, if she lets him, he will shove her on the couch and earn his forgiveness on his knees – which isn’t something he does often.

The fight doesn’t seem to want to rise up in her though. She doesn’t feel anger, not exactly, and she’s just… She’s tired and sad for stupid reasons that he isn’t responsible for and she wants to tell him to forget it, to leave her some space, that they will be fine in the morning but that she needs the night to… To what?

She doesn’t have the moral high ground here.

She’s cheated on some boyfriends with him. She’s slept with people in the long months between Reapings. Five years they have been doing this. Five years and…

And she hasn’t gone with anyone else in more than a year and that makes the difference.

But that was her choice, not his, a voice argues at the back of her head and she knows the voice is right. The rules haven’t changed.

She screws the lid on the cocktail shaker.

“Ain’t fair, sweetheart.” he spits out behind her. “Couldn’t know you would show up in my bedroom like that. Should have warned me and…”

And I would have spared you the sight of a naked woman in by bed, she finishes for him in her head.

But you ripped your phone off the wall so it isn’t like I have many ways to warn you, she silently argues.  

She pours some of the greenish liquid in a cocktail glass and leaves the rest in the shaker. She doesn’t fix him one.

She thinks he’s been waiting for her to because, suddenly, he’s right next to her and he’s pouring himself a whiskey with jerky moves. The ice clicks when he tosses it at the bottom of his glass.

“I didn’t mean to, for fuck’s sake!” he grumbles. “Didn’t go out looking for that. I just… It happened, that’s it.”

“Oh, did you lose your footing and accidentally impaled her? How painful.” she retorts before she can think better of it. She wants to sound furious because, at least, if it’s just jealousy she can pretend it’s possessiveness, but she simply sounds bitter and bitter is not good. Bitter implies feelings. Bitter implies…

“I don’t owe you shit.” he scowls. “If I want to go out and fuck some random bird…”

She takes a sip of her green cocktail. It’s disgusting. Too much curaçao, not enough rum and she probably shouldn’t have mixed that yellowish liquor with it.

She places her glass down and snatches the one he has yet to touch from his hand. The whiskey is bitter and she hates the taste but it’s also familiar and warmth immediately spreads to every inch of her body. She wanders to the window, frowning a little when she realizes the landscape doesn’t flash by as fast as it usually does.

They will be off-schedule but, more importantly, it will mean more hours stuck with him on this train.

“So what?” he scoffs after a good two minutes more without her saying anything. “You’re back to giving me the silent treatment? You’ve got something to say, just say it.” But she doesn’t have anything to say, that’s the thing. She doesn’t even know why she’s reacting the way she is – it’s a lie, she knows, but acknowledging that will only make it worse. The glass of whiskey is stolen from her hand but she still doesn’t look away from the white landscape outside. She hears him gulp it down, she hears the glass being slammed on a table… “You’ve got I don’t know how many boyfriends a year. Since I’ve known you, you’ve been engaged three fucking times.”

She stays silent because it’s all true.

He lets out a noise of frustration and, next thing she knows, she has her back against the wall and he’s very much crowding her, his face one of annoyance and frustration. “It’s the same thing, Trinket.”

And it is but it isn’t at the same time.

She does have boyfriends and she has been engaged several times and everything has been very public because that’s how that sort of things are done in the city. People want to know everything about her private life, they want to know who she sleeps with, who she loves, what she is like behind closed doors… She sells the dream.

But Haymitch has always been discreet with his affairs. If there ever were women in the penthouse, she’s never been the wiser. She heard rumors sometimes or accidentally eavesdropped on conversations between him and his friends so she knows he was sleeping around when they started this thing. But… Since they started this thing, he’s been very good at keeping it separate from whatever he does with other people, to the point she started thinking maybe she was his only partner. Her mistake, obviously, but…

“She didn’t mean anything.” he insists. “Ain’t even sure I didn’t fall asleep before I finished.” She’s not sure if it’s meant to comfort her but when he leans in, she lets him. His lips brush against hers hard, as if in rebuke. “Stop acting like I cheated on you, sweetheart.”

There’s an odd sort of pain in his voice. Guilt maybe. As if her hurt feelings are hurting him. And on one hand, she wants to scoff in his face because of that, because he makes her bruised ego about him, on the other he is under no obligation to care at all and that makes her feel…

“She was very ugly.” she consents to mutter.

The kiss he plants on her mouth next is hard, demanding, and she parts her lips because his tongue is probing. She doesn’t go out of her way to make it a good kiss though.

“Compared to you, everyone’s ugly.” he mumbles against her chin, nibbles a path up her jaw and to her neck.

That’s smooth talking if she ever heard some.

She knows he’s not without moves but he’s never used them on her before. Brutal truths are their weapons. Saying nice things just to appease or seduce the other… It isn’t them.

And it angers her that he would try to placate her that way.

She shoves him back. She can tell he doesn’t expect it because he trips and ends up half falling against the armchair, barely avoiding crashing on the floor. Her neck burns where his teeth have been. There will be a mark because he hasn’t anticipated her pushing him away and he’s bitten down. She’s not even sure she’s not bleeding.

Her fault again. Like this mess they’re in.

She marches on him while he gets back on his feet.

“Don’t you dare do this.” she hisses. “Don’t you dare tell me I’m the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen and then go have sex with someone else behind my back.”

“Pretty sure I’ve never said that.” he snarls. “And it wasn’t behind your back. Fuck this. If you’re gonna act like a crazy bitch…”

She’s on him before he finishes. She grabs his shirt, pulls him into her, crush his mouth under hers… She bits down on his bottom lip, tastes blood when she slips her tongue in his mouth…

He’s not gentle at all when he slams her against the wall but her legs end up wrapped around his waist all the same. His hands run under her thighs, push her dress up… She hears the lace of her underwear tearing when he rips it in two…

He’s taken the upper hand and that’s not what she wants so she bits down on his neck, rejoicing in his curse and his jolt of surprise. She takes advantage of that to deal with his shirt. Buttons fly everywhere but it doesn’t matter because she now has access to his chest and she growls when she spots a telling mark under his nipple. That woman bit him there. That infuriates her. He’s hers to bite, hers to scratch, hers to…

There’s a bit of a struggle because she’s wriggling to be able to get her mouth on his chest, something a little hard to do with her legs locked around his waist, and he’s trying to get the dress off her, to get his own lips on her breasts. He groans in frustration when he realizes she’s wearing a corset and rants under his breath about stupid laces and stuff she doesn’t need and what not.

She doesn’t care.

She’s a woman on a mission.

She doesn’t want to put her mouth where the woman’s has been so she attacks his other nipple, sucking on it, her fake nails digging in his side so hard he sulks in a breath…

“Princess…” he says, his voice rough and needy.

He’s tugging on the laces at her back, finally manages to undo the double knots…

Suddenly the train jolts and they lose their footing. They crash to the floor and she can’t tell if he shouts because of the fall or because she accidentally bits down hard on his flesh.

The squeaking of the train’s emergency brakes is almost deafening. It seems to go on forever amongst the chaos of vases and various things crashing to the floor. Haymitch rolls them over and curls up over her like a human shield.

It’s a long agonizing minute before they finally feel the train come to a stop with a thud.

“Did we derail?” she asks once she’s got her breath back. Her heart is hammering in her chest.

He shakes his head. “Don’t think so.”

The knocking on the living-room car’s door is purposeful and Effie squeals. “Don’t come in!”  There are only a couple of train attendants on board, as well as a few Avoxes, and they are all usually well paid to be discreet but… There are little convincing reasons she can give to explain their state of undress. She clears her throat and asks in a more composed voice. “What is going on?”

“We’re stuck, Miss Trinket.” a man explains. “The snow… The chief mechanic thinks it’s too dangerous to go on.”

“Don’t we have plow things on this train?” Effie complains, pushing Haymitch off her. He rolls to the side without a word, leaving her free to stand up and go check the window. She pins her gaping corset over her breasts with a hand to her chest despite the fact that she’s hardly decent regardless.

“They’re not enough.” the man answers on the other side of the door. “And the tracks are frozen. We’re radioing Six for help.”

Six is hours away but she doesn’t point that out. Outside, the snow is falling in a thick downpour of snowflakes. It is technically a ten hours trip to the Capitol but, with her luck, the journey will now take the double of time. She dismisses the train attendant and draws the curtains closed.

“What are you doing?” Haymitch asks when he sees her moving on to the other window to repeat the gesture. He’s crouching in front of the upturned liquor cart, sorting out the intact bottles.

The curtains are supposed to be purely decorative but she doesn’t let that stop her.

“Do you want the mechanics who are going to pass by to watch us having sex?” she deadpans, pulling on the curtain with a little too much strength.

“Oh, so that’s still a thing?” he mocks and she can’t tell if he’s serious or not.

She purses her lips and tosses him a look over her shoulder, nodding at the windows on the other side of the car. “Take care of these ones.”

“Ask nicely.” he challenges.

“No.” she snaps. “I won’t ask nicely and you do not make the rules tonight because I am not the one who rolled around with a harlot!”

Her voice rises very high and, for a second, they both stare at each other. She looks away first, embarrassed and annoyed.

“Stay over there. There’s glass everywhere here.” he scowls.

She’s lost her shoes at some point, she realizes. She wants to ask him if it’s concern she detects in his voice, turns it into a provocation like she usually does, but before she can work it out, he’s pulled the curtains closed and he’s advancing back on her.

He tears the corset off her quicker than she unbuckles his belt.

“I hate you.” she snarls, her nails leaving long gashes on his thighs when she pushes pants and boxers down.

He hisses, grabs her by the upper arms and flings her over the back of the couch.

“Right back at you, sweetheart.” he snorts, kneading her ass and stepping between her legs. One of his hands moves up her spine to her nape and, usually, that’s the point where she would relinquish control because while she likes the power struggle, she doesn’t mind letting him have it in the end.

But tonight she doesn’t feel like making it easy for him and so she pushes back to get back on her feet. Any other time, he would have pinned her there, teased her until she finally surrenders, but they’re on uncertain ground that night and so he steps back, allows her the space to turn around because he might have control issues but he’s not the kind of man who forces things on their partner against their will.

They stare at each other for a long time. He’s searching for something in her eyes but she’s not sure what it is, perhaps a hint that they should quit while they’re ahead. She almost flinches when he reaches for her face, not because she’s scared of him but because tenderness from him is a rare thing. He brushes his knuckles against her cheek and he leans in slowly, his grey gaze on her the whole time.

The kiss is soft, a question or an apology, she’s not sure.

He’s hard against her stomach and she’s aching with want for him so she lets him touch her. She lets him roam his hands on her, stroke her nipples, slide his fingers between her legs, lets him lick the patch of abused skin he bit on earlier… It stings, that bite mark on her neck, but she closes her eyes and locks her arms around his neck and lets him make love to her like he hardly ever does. He’s slow and tender and when he finally flicks his thumb against her clit, she falls apart with a cry.

Her legs are shaking so badly she doesn’t protest when he lifts her up to carry her around the couch so he can sit down. She straddles his lap out of reflex, her heart warmed by the rare treat because it’s not often he allows her to top. He’s throbbing and she wants him inside her badly but when he takes himself in hand, when he guides himself to her entrance…

She coils her fingers around his wrist, stopping him. “Condom.”

He frowns. It’s been two years since they’ve bothered with that. She has a contraceptive implant and they trust each other.

It takes him a while to realize where that comes from.

How easily he forgets, she can’t help but muse bitterly.

“It’s fine.” he promises. “I used protection last night. I checked this morning. You know you’re the only one I sleep with without…”

“Condom.” she repeats and it’s not an option.

She knows he’s been safe with that woman more likely than not because he’s obsessed with that. Even drunk, even royally pissed off, if there’s one thing he never forgot about when they started sleeping together, it was protection. Before her, he had never even done it without a condom once.

He licks his lips, his grey eyes calculating, and he finally lets out a long breath. He releases the grip he has on himself but she doesn’t let go of his wrist. “Maybe we should just… leave it here for tonight, yeah?”

“Why? Because I am asking you to use protection?” she replies, refusing to shy away from the subject he wants to drop. “Is that only worth something when you are the one worrying about it, then?”

He grits his teeth together, making such an obvious effort to remain calm she wants to push him over the edge. “That’s bullshit and we’re gonna pretend you didn’t say that ‘cause I know you don’t think it. We’re gonna leave it here ‘cause you’re pissed and you’re not really into it.”

“I am the one who started it.” she reminds him.

“Yeah. ‘Cause you’re pissed.” he snorts without any sort of amusement.

“I want to fuck you.” she hisses, purposefully vulgar because she knows what it does to him. And, surely enough, he twitches against her pubic bone without either of them needing to touch it. “Or is that reserved only to…”

Her sentence ends in a yelp when he tangles his hand in her pink wig. It’s firmly fixed on her head with pins so she has no choice but to obey when he tugs her head down closer to his. Their noses bump and she can feel his breath on his lips when he speaks. “I’m fucking sorry. There. I said it. I’m sorry. Happy, sweetheart?”

He doesn’t have to be sorry.

She’s being…

She’s being a bitch.

She pouts and rests her forehead on his shoulder. “I still want to do this and I still want you to wear a condom.”

“Yeah, well… I don’t pull them out of my ass.” he scoffs. “You want one, go get one.”

“Language.” she chides and she does stand up. It takes her a few minutes to locate her purse in the mess that the living-room has become. When she walks back to him with the red square package, he’s watching her thoughtfully, his head propped against the back of the couch. “What is it?”

He waits until she’s straddling him again and working her hand up and down his length before he tells her.

“We never use condoms anymore yet you’ve got some in your purse, which tells me you’re sleeping around… ‘Cause… We never said we wouldn’t.” he shrugs. “So I’m confused about why I’m in trouble here.”

She rolls the condom on him without answering and she guides him inside her. He stops asking question after that because she’s riding him hard, letting her climax build. And when it shatters her, she slumps against his chest and lets him take what he wants, barely aware of the hand he runs up and down her spine or the fingers digging into her thigh.

After, once the position becomes uncomfortable and she slips off his lap, the air becomes awkward. She snatches his shirt from the floor and puts it on because it will be less of a hassle than trying to fit back into her corset and her dress. She did a good job at ripping off the buttons though and so it remains open, barely enough to keep the chill of the air at bay and doing a very poor job at keeping her covered.

He doesn’t bother trying to get dressed. He watches her instead. He watches her knot the condom for later disposal, watches her as she carefully wanders to the upturned liquor cart and picks up one of the intact bottles he placed on the side, watches her when she fishes her cigarettes and lighter out of her purse…

She waits for him to say something about that but he doesn’t so she doesn’t either.

She finds the ashtray half broken next to the TV. She brings the whole thing to the couch where she gracefully sits down next to him and purposefully doesn’t look at the ugly purple mark she left on the right side of his chest. It’s not the only one. There are teeth marks all over him, scratches from her nails… Some of them are even bleeding a little.

For her part, she can feel there will be bruises where his fingers dug in too deep. That’s not usual though. They’re often rough.

But she’s never hurt him so badly before.

She wanted to hurt him like finding that woman in his bed had hurt her.

She offers him the bottle, expecting him to immediately take a sip – which he doesn’t do – while she tries to light her cigarette. Her fingers are shaking too badly and, in the end, he puts the bottle down and grabs her lighter. He cups his free hand around the end of the cigarette even if it’s not necessary given the lack of wind and brings the lighter close to her face.

“Thank you.” she whispers once it’s done and he’s tossed the lighter on the coffee table.

His nod is a little uncertain. So are the fingers that gently probe at the side of her neck. “You need to clean that.”

It hurts when it’s touched. That’s her own fault. She shouldn’t have pushed him while he was nibbling on her neck. He probably took a piece of flesh with him.

He doesn’t apologize for it, probably because they both know he’s not responsible.

“I am sorry about your chest.” she offers because she ought to.

The bite around his nipple will bruise and swell, she can see it clearly, and he will probably be forced to have it checked out at the Clinic as soon as they would arrive.

“It’s fine.” he dismisses.

“No. It isn’t.” she denies, breathing out a long cloud of smoke. “Should we talk about it or…”

“There’s nothing to talk about.” he cuts her off. 

They don’t talk about that sort of things.

They hardly ever talk about anything.

Wisely, perhaps. Walls have ears and the Capitol is full of wolves ready to pounce on anyone showing their underbelly.

But they aren’t in the Capitol yet.

They are stuck in the middle of nowhere.

She nods anyway and stands up, walks to the window and lifts a corner of the curtain. The glass is soundproof so she doesn’t hear anything but she can see silhouettes moving outside in the dark. She wonders if the mechanics got the help they needed or if Six has radioed their suggestions to get them back on the road. The second option probably.

She feels him move behind her. He can be fast when he wants to be. The curtain is pulled closed again.

“They’re gonna see you.” he growls.

And she doesn’t think it’s about their illicit affair staying illicit. It’s about the fact she’s only wearing an open shirt and with the lights on, she would be giving them a show.

“Why would it bother you?” she challenges.

She’s turned around and pushed against the window, wrists trapped over her head. The curtain is soft against her back and she’s careful with the cigarette still wedged between her fingers. His grey eyes dart up and he remedies that danger by snatching it with his free hand and placing it between his lips.

He never smokes. He doesn’t like the smell, doesn’t like the taste, doesn’t understand the comfort she finds in the repetitive motion of bringing it to her mouth…

He presses his hips against hers.

He’s not hard yet but he could get there again, she knows.

She tugs one wrist free and he doesn’t resist. She gets her cigarette back, takes a drag, hold the smoke in, brings her lips closer to his… He knows what she wants and he opens his mouth, lets her kiss him, blows out the smoke by his nostrils…

He coughs.

She laughs.

He’s half-glaring, half-smirking…

For a second, everything is alright.

Then, he drops his eyes, his hands coming to rest on her hips. “I didn’t mean to.”

“It isn’t comforting.” she answers.

“You’ve got boyfriends all the time.” he argues, his thumbs rubbing circles on her skin.

“Does it make a difference?” she retorts.

Yeah.” he snaps. “’Cause I’m not that kind of guy, alright? I don’t… I won’t go looking if…”

“I thought you weren’t looking? That it just… happened.” she points out.

“I wasn’t. It did.” he sighs. “Look, it was a very bad day. Just couldn’t get my brain to stop thinking about… stuff. Believe it or not, I was actually missing you yesterday ‘cause you know how to distract me when liquor doesn’t work. I went to the bar, don’t remember much else after that. I was wasted.” He shakes his head. “You’ve got boyfriends all the time, sweetheart. And girlfriends too. There aren’t supposed to be strings here so…”

“I haven’t been with anyone else for some time.” she cuts him off in a tone she takes pain to keep casual. She knows he sees through it though. If only because of how shaky her fingers are when she brings the cigarette to her lips.

He searches her face but she refuses to meet his eyes. At least until he gently grips her chin and nudges it up. “Effie…”

“I am not asking for anything.” She rushes the words out before he can tell her nicely but firmly she’s being stupid. The thing between them isn’t supposed to be complicated. “I am just saying…”

“We’re not gonna go exclusive.” he interrupts.

She licks her lips and averts her gaze again. She gently frees himself from him so she can go crush the bud of her cigarette in the ashtray.

It’s better this way anyway, she tells herself. She’s being stupid. What she needs is to find a Capitol man. A nice Capitol man who will treat her like a princess and cover her with expensive gifts.

They’re bad for each other.

One look at the respective injuries they inflicted each other tonight is enough to assert that.

“Let’s go to bed.” he suggests. “I can go again. If you’ve got more condoms. Can even be imaginative if you don’t have them.”

“We do not need condoms.” she says. She’s done punishing him.

He rolls his eyes at her and quickly picks their clothes off the floor. “So we’re good now?”

“I do not know what you mean.” she answers with the perfect amount of cheer in her voice. “I was never angry. Do not be silly.”

She hates the look he gives her probably as much as he hates the act she’s pulling.

Still, she crawls in his bed and doesn’t protest when he buries his head between her thighs. She doesn’t protest any of what he does between her thighs.

The train powers up a little afterwards. They’re drifting off but she knows he must be itching to get her out of his bed right about now. He let her snuggle against his side but she’s quickly falling asleep and he doesn’t like sharing his bed because of the nightmares. That woman slept with him though and she can’t help but feel she’s entitled to the same privilege at least once. To make it even.

The train is quickly taking speed but she doesn’t think it’s going as fast as usual. The trip between Twelve and the Capitol is usually a journey but this is a particularly painful one.

Haymitch rolls on his side to face her, his right leg pushing between hers, his arms tightening around her. His way of telling her he isn’t kicking her out just yet, she supposes.

“I don’t care about you.” he says.

It’s so cruel and unexpected given what he has just done to her body that she recoils. His arms keep her where she is though and his face is softer than his words.

“I do not care about you either.” she lies. “You are a barbarian.”

“Good.” he smirks but it doesn’t reach his eyes. And it’s in total contrast with the way he brushes her pink wig back. It’s completely askew now, she figures, and he can probably guess at the blond hair underneath but she stubbornly refuses to let him take it off all the same. “So we’re never gonna be exclusive, you and me, ‘cause this is just for fun, yeah?”

“I never expected otherwise.” she huffs.

His big palm rests on the side of her neck, covering the bite mark, and slowly slides to her nape. She likes when he does that. She likes it more than she probably should. It’s possessive and comforting all at once.

“Okay. So, this being said… What happened this morning, it ain’t ever gonna happen again.” He lowers his voice enough that it doesn’t carry far and she wonders, suddenly, if he’s worried about bugs, if the whole thing is an act in case… But that’s the thing with Haymitch. He might mean he won’t be sleeping with other people anymore altogether or that he will simply be more careful about her not having to see it. Her confusion must be plain because he leans in, nuzzles her nose with his… She can feel how uncertain he is, how fragile this whole thing, right now, is. He hasn’t liked what happened today any more than she had. “So, on your end, you’re not getting engaged behind my back anymore. You get what I’m saying?”

“You are saying we are not exclusive but that we should keep it casual with everyone else too.” She lifts an eyebrow, her lips stretched in a teasing grin.

He groans, rolls on his back, and brings her with him this time around. “Princess…”

“I understand.” she cuts him off before he can say something that bugs can’t misinterpret. Like the fact they just agreed not to sleep with anyone else. Exclusivity by default is a defense, she supposes.

He licks his lips, brushes his fingers against the bite mark on her neck… “We really have to clean that.”

She likes the we so she lets him slip out of bed to fetch the first aid kit.

That’s an even longer journey than this train trip, she muses, lying there naked waiting for him to come back, the transition from two Is to a we.