The unfamiliar face in the unusually grubby mirror made him conscious of his age, of how much time had passed between now and the time that Effie Trinket had been a simple name and irritating voice with a Capitol accent that District 12's residents mocked incessantly and he, Caesar Flickerman had been the Master of Ceremonies with the brightly coloured hair and the ability to comment on the Arena action enthusiastically, viewing the murders there dispassionately, as if a mere sport. His foot tapped a worried metronome on the parquet floor as he stood outside the bathroom listening to anguished sobs that could belong to one person alone, unable to hold the one they were coming from in his arms and comfort her as the door was locked and bolted from the inside. She was prone now to bouts of rage and panic nowadays, and they could happen anywhere at any time. They'd been dismissed as suppressible nerves, though Caesar sensed something more. They came about with even the slightest of triggers; often in the night as a result of the dreams that caused her to fit in her sleep and wake up in tears.
She drank a lot more than she had used to; he had tried in vain to give it up altogether, however he needed vodka cocktails a lot more than he had given himself credit for. He guessed that the habit of using alcohol to forget what she didn't wish to remember had imprinted on her from Haymitch. Prescription painkillers that she still required for the almost-healed fractured leg that now gave her more grief than it had any sort of right to just about held her together, but the woman that had once only enjoyed alcohol in moderation and in its weakest forms now found herself near to dependent on wine and liquer on the worst days and darkest nights. Never in all of his fifty-four year life had he felt more sorry for another living being than he did Effie.
"Effie," he gently tapped the door with a bony knuckle, leaning into it and tearing his eyes from his reflection. "Open the door." There was noting even remotely commanding about the nature of this, however it was quite clearly an instruction.
"I'm fine," Effie stammered in a voice that barely even qualified as such. He knew her well enough to tell that with her tone of voice came a plasticky smile and some kind of futile attempt to stop the incessant shaking of her hands.
"You've got me mistaken for a gullible idiot, Mrs Flickerman, now open the goddamn door!" he sounded far more authoritative this time, before softening. "Look, sweetheart, you're allowed to feel pain. I just want to help you. Now all I ask is that you let me in."
He heard the lock click, followed by a shaky sigh, and he entered the room, chewing at his lip, full aware of what Effie was feeling yet barely able to comprehend it.
"Please," she said softly in an attempt at clinging onto what little dignity she had left. "Don't call me Mrs Flickerman until we're married."
"Forgive the bluntness, but why ever not?"
"You're going to leave last minute, I can tell," she was standing in the middle of the room with tear-streaked makeup running down her face. She was wearing nothing but stockings and a lilac bra and panties adorned with silver lace; the rest of her clothes were abandoned in a ball in the corner. The shower was running, so her intentions became clear to him soon enough. "This is too good to be true, I can tell..."
"Effie..." he barely held it together himself as he took her arm in his hand, caressing the skin that had at one point in her life been smooth and flawless. A large, jagged scar had stolen that perfection from her. "I...What must you think of me if you believe I would hurt you more than you already have been hurt for little to no reason at all?"
"You deserve beauty in the woman that you intend to tie yourself to forever...not this miserable wreck...I used to strive so hard to give you the perfection you deserved, and now...look..."
"Nothing has changed...look here, what do you see?" He took her hand and turned round so that they were both facing the mirror.
"My fiance, and a beast covered in scars who doesn't know how to hold her composture for five freaking minutes..." her head dropped to her hands, and she slouched against the bathroom countertop, sobbing again.
When she brought it up again, she saw Caesar's hair loose to his shoulders and his shirt and tie discarded on the floor next to her own clothes. She looked him up and down, taking in the mottled, scarred flesh to his chest that he had gained in a futile attempt to protect her. "I'm far from perfect, sweetheart. I have exactly what you say I deserve right here; if there's ever a point that I wouldn't willingly shout from the rooftops that I'm engaged to the most beautiful woman in Panem, it'll be time to put me down."
"You don't need to do this, Caesar. If you have to strip to make me feel better about my sorry, stupid self, then that shows exactly how pathetic I am, doesn't it?"
"We're just as bad as each other, sweetheart. You deserve a handsome man just as you say I do a piece of eye candy as a wife, and if we have each other, then we have exactly that."
She opened her mouth to speak, but he leaned in and pressed his chapped lips against her cheek, moving slowly along until she reached her mouth. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders, digging her fingers into his back and hooking her foot around his leg. What had begun as a soft kiss became something passionate and fire-fueled as he sucked at her lips hungrily, stroking his hands through her hair. Pulling away from her, he smiled. "You are my perfect little beauty queen and don't you ever forget that."
A tear rolled down her cheek as she mirrored his smile. "I love you, Cae. I'm sorry."
"If we're apologising for nothing, then so am I," he laughed. "I love you too, sweetheart."