So… This was supposed to be a bonus scene because I reaaaally wanted to write the private reunion between hayffie (and I was encouraged to do so by various people on tumblr) but it got away from me? Like… Very badly. It would be more accurate to say it slipped from my hands at the top of the stairs and I found it back twenty-nine floors down a fully developed one shot almost as long as the original story.

What can I say, I'm sorry.

Please, mind the change in rating and I hope you enjoy this bonus "scene". *Clear throat*

A hand gripped her shoulder and she startled, whirling around to face the threat, her heart hammering in her chest. It was only when she caught sight of Haymitch's sad but resigned expression that she relaxed and blinked, taking in the hallway of his house that didn't seem to have changed at all since the Quell. She also realized he had called her name twice in as many minutes when all she had done was stand there and stare at the familiar clutter.

Her name.


She wasn't used to it anymore. She had buried it deep when she had decided to run, she had shattered it when she had dyed her hair brown, she had put it to rest when she had started forcing herself to use Two's accent to disguise her own.

She had woken up Gail Abernathy that morning and now she was Effie Trinket again and she didn't know how to reconcile the two. She had always been good at living a lie. Being Gail… Being Gail hadn't been so bad. On good days, she had even managed to convince herself that the back-story she had invented was true. On bad days…

"Your coat?" Haymitch hesitated because she was now staring at him.

She licked her lips and shed her coat, wondering why everything seemed so awkward and complicated all of a sudden. It hadn't been like that in the children's kitchen. She had been… She had felt in control. She had been the one to convince him she was real, to initiate kissing, to…

She watched him hang her wet black coat to the rack next to the front door with nervous jerky moves. He was still clutching her duffel bag to his chest, as if holding her belongings would be enough to keep her there.

Not that she wanted to run.

Did she?

When she had first seen Katniss… A part of her had been waiting for this since she had left that clinic. To be recognized. To be called out. To be tossed back in a cell. That same part couldn't help but think that maybe she belonged there, that it was a just punishment for years of bringing children to their death. Another part always whispered that it would be easier anyway – let herself be captured, tried, executed – easier than the endless flee, than begging for work and slaving away in that factory…

"You're okay?" Haymitch asked softly, carefully reaching for her face. His fingers brushed against her cheek in the lightest of caress and she finally expelled the breath she hadn't known she was holding.

"Yes." she promised. "My apologies. It… It was an odd day."

"I bet." he snorted with that touch of sarcasm that usually tore a smile out of her – at least when it wasn't directed at her.

And just like that she remembered why she didn't want to run away again. Why she didn't need to.

She took a step forward and he immediately opened his arms, holding her tight to his chest, pressing his face against her neck… His hands fisted the shirt at her back. He was shaking, more vulnerable than he wanted her to know, and she closed her eyes, resting her whole weight against him, clinging to his shoulders.

What a pair they made…

"I missed you." She rushed the words out. She had already said them but they needed to be said again. Several times probably. "And I am sorry. Do you believe me?"

"Honestly, sweetheart, I don't really care." he muttered against her skin. "You're here. That's all that matters."

"For now." she sighed, too pragmatic not to know the tide would turn at some point and the anger would come. "But in a couple of hours or days…"

"Effie." he scoffed. "I thought you were dead. I grieved. Well… I did a botched job of that but… I've never been very good at grieving, to be fair."

"An understatement." she joked even if it wasn't funny. He had spent twenty-five years mourning his family in a desperate attempt at keeping them alive a little longer in his memory. He had built such a shrine to his dead girlfriend in his mind that…

She knew just how deeply Haymitch could love.

She just had never believed that it could be directed at her…

"I won't get angry in the morning." he swore. "You did what you thought you had to do to survive. That's smart. Can't blame you for not trusting me. Not after what happened."

"Katniss explained." she offered again. The girl's explanation hadn't been as thorough as she would have liked but there would be time for that. It was enough for now that he had never intended for her to be left behind, that he had wanted her with him from the start, that he had made plans no matter how awry they had gone. "It was not your fault."

"Yeah, it was." He shook his head, his hair tickling the delicate skin under her jaw. "Should have listen to my guts. Keep you with me instead of trusting Plutarch."

"Alright. Then… I forgive you." she whispered. "I forgive you. Is that enough?"

His breath stuck in his throat and the trembling increased so badly she thought he would break down. He drew back a little instead, bumped his nose against her cheek before bringing his mouth to her ear. "Don't blame you but I forgive you too. If that's what you need to hear."

She slid her hand to his nape. "Thank you."

He searched her eyes for a second, forced a pitiful attempt at a smirk and brushed her hair back over her shoulder with a tenderness he had rarely shown before. He was looking at her as if he still couldn't believe she was there and it broke her heart.

"We should get out of the hallway." he remarked, adjusting his grip on the duffel bag he had never dropped in all that time.

"Oh… yes…" She chuckled and it startled her because she couldn't remember the last time she had laughed. "It's cold, is it not?"

Now that his arms had fallen away from her, she could feel the chill in the air and the damp legs of her pants weren't helping.

"The fire must have died out." he shrugged, glancing in the direction of the living-room. "You want to… You want to get change or…"

"Yes." she nodded and it became awkward again because neither of them actually moved.

Truth be told, she was a little terrified to be alone again after all that time on the run. She had been scared out of her mind when she had gone to the train station to wait for Katniss, scared to face a life she had thought she had left behind for good, scared of Haymitch's reaction… Scared because her feelings for him had never faded or died when she had thought he had abandoned her and used her and she wasn't sure what it made of her as a person. And now she was terrified because it was so obvious she had been wrong to doubt. The way he looked at her, the way he touched her… It was written in his every move and…

She had forgotten how complicated Effie Trinket's life was.

Gail Abernathy's was very simple in comparison.

With fingers more unsteady than she would have liked, she reached for the strap of her bag. He didn't relinquish it at once. When she lifted her eyebrows in a silent question, he averted his eyes, shook himself out of his own thoughts and mumbled something about tending to the fire. Still, she felt his gaze on her when she headed to the stairs and she was well past their middle when he finally stepped into the living-room.

The first floor was completely dark and she hurriedly felt around for the light switch, always nervous in darkness now. She couldn't bear the memories that came with it. Once the old light bulbs flickered on, she found herself wavering at the top of the stairs. The guest room, she knew, was to the right but Haymitch's bedroom was to the left. Was it presuming too much to put her bag in his bedroom or…

She wasn't sure how long she stood there, undecided, but something clattered in the living-room downstairs and, immediately after that, there was a loud frantic stomping coming up the stairs. She turned in time to see Haymitch's panic face. It morphed to relief when he spotted her and before she could ask what was wrong, she was pulled into a tight, almost suffocating hug.

"Sorry. Sorry…" He repeated it a few times, so low and hurried it was almost incomprehensible.

She frowned but embraced him back. "Haymitch?"

"Couldn't hear you anymore… Hold house. Floorboards creak. But I couldn't hear you anymore." he whispered, pain and dread lacing his voice.

"I was… I was trying to decide if you wanted me in your bedroom or…" she awkwardly explained. Haymitch had always had particular rules about her sleeping with him. They had relaxed them a little during the Tour but she knew he always preferred to sleep alone because of the night terrors, because of the trust required to let someone into one's bed. She wasn't entirely sure she was ready for that right now either, to be honest.

"Yes." he answered without a second of hesitation. And she supposed that settled that. He squeezed her harder to the point it became uncomfortable and she ran his hands on his back, the strap of the duffel bag slipping off her shoulder and to the crook of her elbow, not quite heavy enough to hurt. He rested his cheek against her temple and let out a long breath. She could feel his racing heart against her chest. "Couldn't hear you anymore…"

"I won't sneak out and flee into the night, you know." she offered and she found she was sincere. Home, Katniss had said. Home. Such a small word for something so big. The girl had been right however. Not because Twelve was familiar territory but because they were. Her victors. Holding Peeta in her arms, having such an open conversation with Katniss on the train, kissing Haymitch again… All that felt like home to her. Right in a way nothing else could ever hope to be.

"I had that dream before." he confessed, burying one of his hands in her hair, combing it like he used to do. It was soothing and not just to her. "Sometimes when I'm very drunk I see you. It's… I thought…"

"You thought I was an hallucination." she deduced, shifting so she could press her forehead against his. "Haymitch, I am real."

The kissing was desperate but she surrendered to it without a second thought, tangling her fingers in his hair, vaguely thinking it urgently needed to be combed… She guided his head the way she wanted it, deepened the kiss… He was the one who made it messy with that dirty trick of the tongue she had taught him long ago.

Kissing him was like breathing and she didn't know how she had survived without it for so long.

His hands were busy on her back. One of them was groping her, kneading what meager flesh was left on her ass, pressing her against his growing arousal, the other slipped under her shirt, brushed the mangled skin of her back…

She broke the kiss with a breathless gasp. "Slow down."

It wasn't a request and he immediately took both hands away to place them safely on her hips.

"Sorry." He pecked her mouth, far more subdued. "Sorry." She leaned in and nibbled on his bottom lip until he let her kiss him properly again. It didn't get out of control though, he made sure of it. "We don't have to do anything you don't want." he murmured between two kisses. "We don't have to do anything at all. Just want… I need to hold you, yeah? That's alright? Just hold you. I need…"

"I didn't say I did not want to." she retorted against his lips. "I said slow down."

"Slow down." he repeated flatly as if the words had little meaning to him – but that might have had to do with the nails she trailed down the side of his neck at that moment. "Slow down. Can do that."

"I really need to get out of those clothes." she insisted, stepping back with some regret. The dove grey shapeless pants and the faded blue woolen sweatshirt were making her skin itch. It was all in her head, of course, because she had worn them countless times before but those clothes… Those clothes belonged to Gail and Gail didn't belong in Haymitch's arms.

"Won't ever hear me complain about you taking off your clothes, Princess." he teased with just a touch of uncertainty. Not sure if it was welcomed yet, perhaps.

Her lips stretched into a smile. "I thought not."

It was a bit scary how quickly she had reverted back to her Capitol accent when Two's had become such a natural speech pattern. She wondered at how quickly she had discarded Gail. As if the last year hadn't happened at all. As if… She thought about what she was carrying in her bag, the pants and shirts each plainer than the last, and she concluded that she didn't want to wear them anymore. They were her disguise. District clothes. Another mask to hide behind. She had no uses for masks with Haymitch. Not anymore. He was too good at seeing through them anyway.

She had little money, the train ticket had eaten her savings, and she wasn't sure how she would be able to get herself another wardrobe but she would think of something. She would find another job or… She would think of something. If she was to be Effie again, she needed to look the part, to feel the part.

"Do you mind if I borrow a shirt?" she asked.

His grey eyes darted to the bag they had both be clutching in turn like a lifeline but didn't comment or ask questions. He just nodded his assent and placed a hand at the small of her back to guide her in the direction of his bedroom.

It was a mess but nothing she hadn't expected.

Dirty clothes littered the floor and it was sweet that he immediately hurried to pick them up – not because he cared but because he knew she would. The bed was unmade, the sheets creased, a bit dirty and twisted together… There were empty bottles on the dresser and the nightstands… It didn't smell that bad, considering, so she supposed he must, at least, air the room from time to time.

She placed her bag on the frayed armchair next to the window, careful not to crush the book propped open on the cushion.

"There's a dressing table in the guest room…" he said, opening a drawer and discreetly sniffing a few shirts before handing her one. "I'll move it in here tomorrow, yeah? So you have your own space for your beauty stuff."

She didn't have the heart to tell him she didn't own any anymore. She had an eyeliner pencil she rarely used because it didn't fit Gail, a cheap tube of pale pink lipstick and a roll-on deodorant that smelt like chemical vanilla. She didn't even own a single bottle of perfume.

"Thank you." she smiled.

"I'm gonna make the bed while you get changed. I think there are clean sheets in the other room." He looked so desperate to please her, so desperate to convince her to stay even though she had no intention of leaving, that she smiled and pressed a soft kiss on his mouth.

"I will leave the bathroom door open so you can hear me." she offered.

His shoulders slouched a little with relief. "Take your time, yeah? If you want to take a shower or whatever…"

"Are you saying I smell bad?" she huffed, more amused than offended. After half a day at the factory and the hours spent on that train with Katniss, she didn't doubt she smelt half as bad as he did.

"I'm saying you look like you're freezing and hot water can't hurt." he replied, the picture of honesty. If only she didn't know him better than that…

She couldn't help but chuckle. "Smooth save, Haymitch."

He hesitated for a second and then rolled his eyes, a smirk stretching his lips. "I try."

She grabbed her toiletry bag while he went to fetch clean sheets and she disappeared in the bathroom. True to her promise, she left the door slightly ajar.

She lost no time getting rid of her clothes and the temptation of a hot shower was actually too powerful to resist so she looked around the cabinet for a towel that didn't look too stained. If she was to stay, some things would have to change, she decided, and the first order of business would be to clean the whole house, toss out what was too damaged to be of use and buy some new clean towels. She couldn't live without proper towels. Eventually, she located a green one that didn't look in too bad a shape and she placed it on the sink to use once she would be done.

"Effie?" Haymitch called from the other room. His tone aimed for calm but she heard the hint of fright all the same.

"Your towels are atrocious." she replied, stepping into the shower stall. "And why do they come in so many colors? Color unity is key to house design, you know."

She heard the echo of his laugh, as she had intended, and her lips twitched.

"Tell you what, I'm gonna take you to the shop. You can go crazy with the towels." he shouted back. "We probably need new sheets too 'cause I'm pretty sure you're gonna say those are good for the bin."

We, she smiled as she turned on the water. She didn't know if that we terrified her or thrilled her. A little bit of both perhaps.

She almost choked on the lump that appeared in her throat when she used his shower gel. The smell was so familiar, brought back so many memories, made her feel so… safe. That was something she had always associated with Haymitch: safety. His embrace… there was no safer place than that.

That was why it had hurt so much to come to believe he had left her behind to be torn apart.

She stepped out of the shower and avoided her reflection in the mirror over the sink as had become second nature in the months since she had left the clinic. She didn't let herself think about her body, how unappealing and damaged it had become. She wrapped herself in the slightly rough towel and brushed her wet hair until it hung smoothly over her shoulders…

"Haymitch?" she asked when she realized it had been a while since she had heard him move in the bedroom.

"Yeah?" he answered, sounding a little weird.

She toweled her hair dry quickly, slipped on his shirt, brushed her teeth in record time and grabbed the hairdryer she had located earlier before stepping out of the bathroom. The bed was now made and the room had been superficially cleaned of most of the bottles, empty mugs and dirty clothes. Haymitch was sitting in the armchair, her open duffel bag on his knees, the soft fabric clenched in his fists.

He hadn't been snooping, she understood at once, he was clinging to it because it was tangible proof the whole thing was real.

The duffel bag was discarded as soon as he caught sight of her. His grey eyes traveled along the length of her bare legs and she jutted her chin a little higher because she knew some of the scars were probably poking out. If he noticed, he didn't let on.

The hunger in his eyes…

She had missed this, the spark of desire that usually left her trembling before he had even touched her…

"Perhaps you should get ready for bed too." she suggested, her voice strangely strangled.

His gaze slowly trailed back up her legs and all the way to her face. He licked his lips but wordlessly nodded, willing to go along with whatever she wanted. He wouldn't touch her until she asked, she realized, no matter how much he wanted to.

And she wanted to ask.

But it looked like he had been wearing that shirt for days and she knew just how sparingly he bothered to wash when he didn't have incentive to do so. All the more so when he was in one of those bad spells that left him drowning in a bottle without any will to do anything else. It might have been shallow but she didn't want their first time after so long and so much heartbreak to be clouded by the natural smell of unwashed skin. She had a problem with strong unpleasant smells nowadays. It triggered flashbacks she could live without.

He paused when he walked past her, cupped her cheek and stole a kiss that wasn't quite insistent but that conveyed without doubt just how much he wanted her. "Won't be long."

She grabbed his wrist before he could move away, kept his hand in place. "I am not… You should know I am not…"

He frowned a little and brushed his thumb against her cheekbone, looking a little guilty. "I meant what I said, sweetheart. We don't have do to anything. Can't lie and say I don't want to 'cause… Well, bit obvious I do, yeah? But… I can wait. When you're ready…"

"It is not that! Would you stop interrupting me? You are always so rude." she snapped and then huffed in annoyance.

Unfortunately, it only seemed to amuse him.

"Still so feisty." he snorted and he sounded pleased about it.

She pursed her lips and averted her eyes. "I am not exactly beautiful anymore."

"Bullshit." he scowled, moving his hand to finger a strand of her hair. "Sure, I miss the blond hair but… Doesn't look that bad… And it's gonna fade at some point, yeah? Go back to blond?"

She was stunned for a second because, there she was, telling him she didn't look like she used to, no longer the fashion goddess who had brought the Capitol to its knees but an underweight little thing with scars he couldn't not guess at given that his shirt was sliding down one of her shoulders, and his mind jumped to her hair. Her hair. It was so typical of him to focus on her hair color that she snorted once and then chuckled because… It was ridiculous.

And he looked far too smug for it to be accidental.

"I can always dye it back if you miss it that much." she offered once she had her breath back.

"I miss you." he shrugged with some embarrassment and a raw need that tugged at something deep in her guts.

"I am not sure I am the same me I used to be." she confessed.

"We're all a little bit broken around here, sweetheart." he wisely reminded her. "But we're all very good at surviving, yeah? Together."

"Together." she breathed out with a small smile. "I like that."

"Good." He leaned in and brushed his lips against hers. "'Cause now that I've got you back, I'm not letting you go again."

It was very cheesy and very much not him and it gave her a good idea of just how much he had suffered when he had believed her to be dead. She gently pushed on his chest before he could deepen the kiss and she let herself be swayed into forgetting she wanted him to be clean. "Go shower."

"Bossy." he complained.

"You love it." she accused.

In the past, he would have argued the point but, right then, he simply pressed another long peck against her mouth and moved into the bathroom. He left the door wide open and she made sure she was in his line of sight when she plugged in the hairdryer.

She watched him brush his teeth and he watched her dry her hair. It was weirdly domestic but natural at the same time.

Eventually, though, his teeth were very clean and her hair was very dry and they had no more excuse to keep staring at each other. He took his clothes off and tossed them in the vague direction of the overflowing clothes hamper, his grey eyes never wandering away from her. She stood there and watched, her heart racing in her chest for more agreeable reasons than usual.

He had lost a lot of weight, she couldn't help but notice, not unlike her. She could have counted his ribs if she had been so inclined. His chest though… So familiar… The tanned skin calling her name, the pale hair begging to be stroked, the scar on his side begging to be kissed, the pert dark pink nipples begging to be sucked, the darker patch of hair on his lower belly begging to be nibbled on…

And then the pants and underwear were gone and she barely registered the strong thighs that used to look firmer or the weird-shaped toes she had always been fascinated with because her gaze was glued to the part of him that wanted to be worshiped. He was half hard, jutting out proudly in front of him, and she couldn't help but lick her lips, remembering just how much she loved taking him into her mouth, bringing him apart with her tongue… How much more she loved having it inside her. She remembered the weight, the taste, the length with precise accuracy…

And she wanted it.

She wanted it very badly.

Whatever reassurance he had been searching for with that little striptease, he seemed to have found it in the instant lust that must have flashed on her face because he smirked and stepped inside the shower without another word.

She wasn't sure what to do with herself so she busied herself trying to find a drawer to put her clothes in. As much as she didn't want to wear them again, it would be some time before she could afford something else.

She wasn't sure what kind of system Haymitch was using when it came to tidying – she suspected he used none – but she found a lot of things in the drawers that didn't belong in a bedroom's dresser. Candles amongst them.

She recognized two or three lavender scented ones that had once belonged to her and she briefly wondered if he had snatched them during the Games – and why – before deciding it wasn't really important. The other ones looked handmade, plain white wax that must have come from somewhere in Twelve.

She wasn't against the scent of lavender and she wasn't against dimming the lights so she went to work quickly, placing them all around the room, making sure none of them were too close of anything flammable. She used the cheap plastic lighter that had replaced her now lost silver one and then tossed it back in her bag before switching off the lights just as the sound of running water stopped in the bedroom.

"Effie?" he asked. She wasn't sure if it was because he needed reassurance that he wasn't dreaming or because of the sudden change in luminosity.

"Yes." she answered and nervously sat down at the foot of the bed. It looked pretty she decided. Candlelight was good. It was romantic, which should ease things and made them a little less awkward, and it might help hide some of the damages on her body. At least, she hoped so.

His head poked out around the doorframe, his grey eyes took in the over-the-top amount of candles and settled on her. "You're alright?"

She pondered the question for a moment and then smiled. "Strangely enough… Yes."

He studied her for a second and then acknowledged that with a nod. "We can't sleep with those candles, sweetheart, ain't really safe. I can leave the bathroom light on, though. With the curtains open, it's not that dark at night."

He had his own fear of darkness, she suddenly remembered. How alike they had become…

"I do not want to sleep." she denied, patting the bed next to her.

He didn't immediately move and she blushed, feeling self-conscious. It had never been that difficult before. Sex, if anything, had been the easiest part of their relationship. But he was still adjusting to the fact she wasn't dead and she was still trying to come to terms with the fact she was Effie Trinket again. She wanted him, though. There was no doubt in her mind that she wanted him. Her body was already aching for his. She had missed him so much, too much.

"You're sure?" he asked, his voice rough. "'Cause as much as I want to be the good guy here, Princess, if we start something and you change your mind I ain't sure I can stop."

That was the difference between them, then. She was very certain he would stop at the smallest hint she was uncomfortable, no matter how far into it they were. That was just who Haymitch was. The same way she had never slept with him when he had been too drunk to know what he was doing, he had always placed her consent above everything else. He had never really asked before taking but when she had said no, he had always respected it and never pressured her – unlike others.

"Do not make me ask again. It is not good for my ego." she joked.

"Your ego's so big it won't suffer much." he mocked, dropping the towel he was still holding on the armchair and making his way to the bed.

Candlelight was a good light for him, she decided.

Shadows flickered on his naked body and she held her breath once he was standing in front of her. She let it out against his thigh, pressing her forehead against his hipbone, her eyelids shut tight. "I missed you. So much. It hurt to stay away. I wanted to get in touch with you. You have no idea the number of letters I wrote and burned. But every time I thought… If anyone found me out… What they did to the other escorts… I couldn't risk it, Haymitch. If you hadn't been willing to help me… Being trapped between four walls again… I couldn't."

She felt his fingers toy with her dark curls, then his hand cradled the back of her head and she looked up at him to find his grey eyes a little shiny in the ever-changing light of the candles' flames. Slowly, he placed a knee on the bed and, when she didn't protest, he put the other one on her other side, straddling her but not putting any weight on her lap. He towered over her, her head held so preciously in his hands it brought tears to her eyes.

"I thought you were dead." he said quietly, not bothering to hide the pain in his voice. "I thought I'd lost you. I thought I'd never see you again."

It was nothing they hadn't already established but she still felt his distress acutely. Tears escaped her eyes, rolled silently down her cheeks. "I'm sorry… I'm…"

"No." he cut her off, wiping the tear tracks with his thumb. "Just… Just listen, sweetheart." He tilted her head up, his eyes roaming on her face with something akin to despair. Taking her in. "Losing you… It nearly killed me. Wanted to die."

She closed her eyes, unable to hear that. "Haymitch…"

If anything had happened to him, if he had hurt himself because of her actions

"You don't get it." he grumbled awkwardly. "Ain't saying it to hurt you. I just… Thought you died thinking…"

"That you did not care." she finished. "Katniss mentioned."

He winced. "Yeah? Not hers to say."

"It does not matter." She shook her head. "What I thought in those cells, what I came to believe… I was foolish. I know the truth now."

"Do you?" he challenged with a small snort. "'Cause I haven't said it yet."

"I do not need you to say it." she countered. "I know you care."

"I don't care." he growled, leaning down until he was more or less sitting on her lap and his face was right against hers, his lips hovering over hers… "I… I…"

"I know." she whispered because she did. She hadn't completely believed Katniss when the girl had said it but she did now. If only because he was completely naked except for a battered gold bangle around his wrist.

"I want to say it." he scowled with an irritation that was more directed at himself than at her. "I had no problem saying the words when you were dead and now…"

He breathed out loudly and the strong smell of his peppermint toothpaste tickled her nostrils.

"I was never dead, Haymitch." she reminded him. "This is not a miracle."

"It is to me." he spat. "Even if you weren't really… You could have… You could have stayed away. But you came back."

"You made sure I was safe, I had no reason to stay away anymore." she countered, framing his face with her hands, brushing her lips against the line of his jaw. "It is over now. Everything… I finally feel like I can breathe."

"You came back to me." he whispered again with something akin to awe.

"Don't I always?" she teased, guiding his head back so she could plant a kiss on his lips.

The look in her eyes told her not always. Because he had thought she wouldn't. Because he had waited and searched and lost hope. Because he wasn't good at hoping in the first place when she wasn't there to do it for him, with him.

She lied down on the mattress, her hands trailing down his shoulders, down his arms, until her fingers entwined with his. He looked down at her from his straddling position, emotions warring in his gaze. Lust, tenderness, love

She brought his hands to her chest and it was the only hint he needed. She expected him to rip the shirt open because that was what would have happened before but he unbuttoned it slowly instead, brushing his knuckles against her skin between each button and, when he was done, he parted the shirt as if he was uncovering a treasure.

She stared at the ceiling when he finally saw her in all the glory of her decline, too aware of the patch of burned scar tissues above her hip and of how bony she was, too aware that her breasts were sagging and barely existent, too aware she was so underweight she looked like a corpse, too aware he could guess at the scar on her shoulder and that the one on her thigh was exposed, too aware it wouldn't take long for him to find out the ones crisscrossing on her back.

His weight shifted and she looked back in time to see him bow over her, bring his lips to the tail-end of the scar on her shoulder. He kissed it reverently and, when she didn't stop him, he moved his mouth in a purposeful line of kisses down to her hip. He didn't ask and she didn't volunteer the information.

It felt weird when he licked the scar on her hip, the burned skin not quite insensitive but not responding how it used to. She understood, suddenly, why it had taken him so long to accept her touching his. Moved by instinct, she caressed the huge swollen scar on the right side of his stomach, always surprised that it looked so angry even though it had been decades.

Their eyes met and his softened even more at the insecurity he could probably read in hers.

She didn't ask if he minded the scars because she already knew the answer would be no, he wasn't the sort of man who discarded a woman because she was damaged. It puzzled her because it went against everything she had witnessed and experienced in her romantic life but she knew it with certainty.

He kissed her, his tongue slipping in her mouth, distracting her enough that she barely noticed he was guiding the sleeves of the shirt off her arms. It remained stuck under her body but she didn't care, she roamed her hands on his back, her toes curling where they were still resting on the floorboards.

She could feel how hard he was against her stomach already, knew she wasn't quite ready for him yet and that while it wouldn't have stopped her before, it frightened her a little now. When his mouth brushed down her jaw to that spot under her ear that had her gasping and she felt one of his hands running down her side and to her thigh, she panicked a little. "I haven't been with anyone since the Quell… Since the last time we…"

She wasn't sure why she was formulating it like that but it seemed important he knew somehow. Did she imagine the relief that flashed in his grey eyes? She didn't think so. And she didn't think it was about jealousy either. They hadn't discussed what had happened to her yet and she wasn't ready to tell him but she could guess he already had some ideas, some fears.

"Me neither." He pressed an open-mouthed kiss against her neck, poked at her skin with his tongue, moved down to her breasts… "We're gonna go real slow. I've got you, sweetheart."

When his tongue circled her nipple, she arched her back. He took advantage of that to suck it into his mouth, torturing the peak with his tongue. The moan escaped her but, to be fair, she didn't try very hard to hold it back. He buried his chuckles in the plane between her breasts, shifting his weight so he could slip one of his legs between hers. She trapped his thigh between hers, shamelessly rubbing herself on it while he sucked and gently pinched her nipples… His hand was roaming all over her body, caressing her, and all she could do was cling to his shoulders and feel.

Eventually, his mouth left her breasts and trailed down and he shifted again, moved away…

She made a sound of distress and tried to bring him back over her because she thought she was ready now but when he kneeled down on the floor instead… She tensed, not quite sure if she wanted him there. She had rotted away in that cell, soiled herself, her body… But she locked that away in the deepest recess of her mind when she saw him looking at her, doing little more than pressing teasing kisses on her inner thighs, waiting for her to come back to him.

"Alright, Princess?" he asked, his fingers drawing lazy circles on her pubic bone but staying in safe territory.

And that was the man who was afraid he wouldn't be able to stop if she asked him to…

"Please…" she breathed out.

He was happy to oblige but he didn't rush it out like he tended to do in the throes of passion. He touched her first. His fingers ran up and down her slit a few times, collecting moisture before he went anywhere close to her clit. He stroke her slowly, purposefully, and when she started wriggling, bundling the sheets in her fists, her breaths coming out in short breathy moans, he brought his mouth to her core.

At the first poke of his tongue, she thought she was going to die in bliss. But his tongue alone wasn't enough to make her come and she whimpered, blindly feeling around for something of his she could grab: hair, shoulder; she wasn't difficult…

"Haymitch… more…" she panted.

He teased her for a minute or two by placing simple kisses on her core and then he switched, sucking her clit in his mouth and slipping his fingers inside her. A synchronized curl of his digits and a flick of his tongue and she came hard, with a loud cry, her nape and back arching.

For a second, she could have sworn she was leaving her body.

She was boneless and limp in her afterglow. She barely noticed his pleased soothing kisses against her quivering thighs. When he climbed back on the bed and carefully pulled her up toward the pillows, she went along with it, automatically responding to his kisses. Her own taste on his tongue jerked her out of her peaceful bliss, reminding her they weren't done yet.

He had settled them on their sides and seemed content to keep kissing her, touching her… His fingers were so gentle where they ran over her body, barely touching really, yet the light brush of his hands against her already stimulated nipples was enough to send jolts of pleasure through her body.

She kissed him back with renewed purpose, pressing against him until he rolled on his back and let her hook a leg over his hip. Her left hand ran down his chest, her thumbnail teasing his nipples until he groaned into her mouth and his hips jerked up against her thigh. His erection was straining toward his belly so it wasn't difficult to find even if she wasn't looking.

"You don't have to." he mumbled against her lips when she closed her fingers on it. She pumped him anyway, the way he liked best, relishing in every groan and moan that he tried to muffle with her mouth.

She wanted to return the favor he had done her but she knew he wouldn't last very long and she wanted him inside her more than she wanted to blow him off.

She stopped kissing him long enough to climb on top of him, making sure to keep her weight mainly on her knees so she wouldn't crush his penis between their bodies. The small amount of pressure was enough to make him close his eyes tight anyway and she sat back, straddling him, pausing when she had his tip positioned at her entrance.

"Do you mind if…" She let her question trail off because it was awkward to ask. She would never have asked before, aware he didn't like her topping but also knowing if he was really bothered he would simply roll them over and take control. She wasn't sure he would right then because he was too desperate to please her and she didn't want him to be uncomfortable.

"You're crazy?" he half-replied, half-laughed, running his palms up her ribs and to her breasts, clearly enjoying the view. "Fuck, Effie…"

"That's the plan, darling." she grinned.

She wasn't sure if it was the pet name she had only ever used to tease him or the position that was quickly becoming unbearable but his hips jerked up of their own volition and a good two inches slipped inside her.

"Shit." he groaned. "Sorry. Sorry."

She had meant to do that more slowly but it wasn't as bad as she had feared. She felt stretched but no more than usual. Still, she was careful when she slid all the way down, not quite helped by the jerking of his hips he failed to control. His hands were kneading her breasts, his eyes were riveted on her but a little glassy from pleasure… They were both sweaty and she wondered if showering first had been worth it after all.

She experimentally rocked her hips and he groaned. He was never so vocal in bed usually and she revered in it, in the knowledge that he had missed this as much as she had. His hands slid down to her hips, lifting her up and bringing her back down… She followed the movement, surprised he didn't try to speed up the pace.

It was slow and sensual and it wasn't long before she threw her head back when she felt him swell inside her…

She felt his fingers brush the place where they were joined between her legs, and then they were on her clit and then…

She wasn't sure who came first. She didn't remember slipping off him or anything that happened between the powerful climax and the moment she opened her eyes, safely snuggled against Haymitch's heaving chest. They were on their sides again, legs somehow tangled together, his arms were tight around her, so tight…

"I love you." For a second, she thought she was the one who had said it because she had certainly been thinking it. But it was his mouth against her ear, his voice that was strained and raw, his hand that coiled around her nape and gave a possessive fond squeeze. "I love you."

I love you too, she wanted to say, almost said it…

But she was so tired and he was so warm… She fell asleep nuzzling the crook of his neck, exhausted by the events of the day.

She woke up tense, her whole body ready to bolt. It took her a while to remember where she was, to register the soothing caresses of the fingers running up and down her side, to remind herself she was Effie Trinket once more. Finally, she relaxed and buried her face in Haymitch's shoulder, not sure at which point he had rolled on his back and she had curled up against his side. She knew he was awake because his touch was too purposeful – not demanding in any way because it was rather distracted, perhaps instinctive, but nothing sloppy either.

"I thought you did not want to sleep with the candles on." she hummed against his skin, breathing his smell in. He had maneuvered them under the blankets at some point too and it was almost too hot in the bed, exactly the way she liked it. It must have been a touch too warm for him however because his leg on his other side was free from the constraint of blankets.

"Ain't sleeping." he muttered.

She frowned at that and glanced at the nightstand where she could spy an alarm clock. She wasn't sure it was on time but it said it was well past three a.m. and she could believe that without trouble. Half of the candles had naturally snuffed out but there was still enough light that she could see how tired he looked. His eyelids were drooping and it was obvious he was fighting slumber.

"I am not a heavy sleeper, you know that." she chided him. "I know how to handle your nightmares."

He would need to learn how to handle hers though. But that could wait. She could see his knife on the nightstand, out of easy reach, so he must have taken it out from under his pillow.

"Not the problem." he slurred, his head nodding off to the side. It jerked up again and he made an effort to keep his eyes open.

"What is the problem?" she asked, drawing mindless patterns on his chest just because she knew it would help him relax.

"What if you're not here when I wake up?" he replied in a pitiful frightened voice.

"I will be here." she promised.

"That's what you always say…" he complained. "Then I sober up and you're gone…"

"Haymitch…" she breathed out, unable to swallow down the lump in her throat. She pressed kisses up his neck and to his jaw. "This isn't a dream. I won't leave."

"Promise?" he demanded, his arm loosening around her.

He was drifting off and she pressed another kiss on his neck, right on his pulse point. "I swear."

He fought it for a couple more minutes and then he let out soft familiar snores that made her grumble under her breath because that hadn't been her aim. She vaguely thought about getting up to blow out the candles but she was too comfortable and half of them were already out so it stood to reason the rest would soon follow. At long last, she grabbed his wrist and turned on her other side, forcing him to roll with her. By the force of habits, he spooned her, wrapping the arm she was holding around her chest. She manhandled his other one above her head so it wouldn't get numb between their bodies and finally let out a long deep sigh of contentment because he had stopped snoring. He only snored when he was sleeping on his back.

She felt an overwhelming wave of tenderness for him when she realized this could be the rest of their lives if they did it right – hell, this would be the rest of their lives if she had anything to say about it.

It took her a while to go back to sleep but she wasn't surprised by the fact Haymitch's hand migrated to her breast long before she managed it.

She woke up again two hours later, shaking from a nightmare. It had been a light one though, Haymitch was still asleep so she couldn't have made a sound. The sky was starting to lighten, a bit pinkish on the edge and she watched it for a while until more pressing concerns convinced her to get out of her warm cocoon.

It was cold out of the bed and even Haymitch had gotten back under the blankets at some point. The fire must have died down downstairs and she told herself she would go and try to stroke it up once she would be done. For the moment, she borrowed the old blue woolen dressing gown Haymitch had owned since before she had met him and blew out all the remaining candles before heading to the bathroom. Mindful of the sleeping victor in her – his? their? – bed, she shut the door.

She took care of her business and then wasted ten minutes searching for an acceptable washcloth because she felt sticky and, while she never minded that on the moment, it was always a little disgusting in the morning. She brushed her teeth while she was at it, humming a little because she her muscles were sore, her inner thigh were itching from stubble burns, and that felt… really great.

All in all, she was in a better mood than she had been in a very long time when she walked out of that bathroom, ready to sneak back into bed once she would have tended to the fire.

What she hadn't expected was to find Haymitch sitting in the middle of the bed, his legs hugged close to his chest, his forehead pressed against his knees, rocking back and forth like a child.

"What's wrong?" she cried out, immediately crawling on the bed to sit next to him, placing a hand on his shoulder and the other on his arm.

His head snapped up and he stared at her as if he couldn't believe she was there. His eyes were bloodshot, he was trembling a little and she wondered when he had last taken a drink and how heavily that played tricks on his mind.

"Effie…" His voice was rough, desperate.

"Do you need some alcohol?" she asked, choosing not to beat around the bush. "It is alright if you do. Katniss said you were…"

Her sentence ended in a squeak when he pulled her into a brutal hug. "Effie… I woke up and you were gone. I thought… I thought…"

"I was in the bathroom." she whispered, wrapping her own arms around him. "I am sorry, I… I just needed to use the bathroom."

"You're alive." he said. "Tell me."

She brushed her fingers through his hair, patiently working at the knots in that untamed mane. He needed a haircut, she mused, it was far too long even by his standards. But, then again, she had been the one trimming his hair for years, the only one he trusted to bring scissors that close to his face and throat… The beard too needed to go. She had nothing against stubble but this was out of control.

He had let himself go without her to berate him.

"I am alive." she promised. "I am right here. We are together again."

The tension left his body and he slumped against her. He wasn't heavy enough that she couldn't take it. He would need to eat more too. And she was one to talk probably but… That was something they could work on together, she supposed. He tugged at the belt of the dressing gown and she let it fall off her shoulders because she understood he needed to feel her, skin on skin.

His hand was splayed on her back and she could almost pinpoint the exact second he realized what he was touching. She clenched her jaw but he didn't say anything, his fingers simply danced on the slightly budging scars, following the irregular lines on her skin.

"Same as mine." he commented once he was done exploring their paths.

It was more of a question than an assertion. Because the faded lines on his back were from a whip, reminder of that time he had been caught poaching at fifteen, and the ones on hers were too characteristic to be anything but. Yet she resented the implication that she was following a trend. It was a poor joke.

"It was not exactly a fashion statement." she retorted, a little too harshly.

She had more scars on her back than he ever would. She had more scars on her entire body than he did now and given that he had brought back a ton of them from his arena, it was saying something.

"Do you…" he hesitated. "Wanna tell me?" She immediately shook her head, her throat closing at that very thought. Not now. Not yet. Maybe never at all if she could get away with it. "Okay. Okay. All good, sweetheart. All good…"

It was her turn to be shaking. She lifted her head from his shoulder, not sure when she had started leaning on him, and cupped his cheek. "I'm alive, Haymitch."

She wasn't certain which of them she was trying to convince this time.

"Yeah, you are." he smirked, grey eyes twinkling in pure untarnished joy. "Should have known, really. You're far too annoying to die."

She laughed at the familiar teasing and tugged him into a kiss mid-laugh because his happiness was contagious and she wanted – needed – to feel him against her again. The kissing didn't remain innocent for long. They were starving for each other, thirsty for the other's mouth…

He lied her down but she pulled him on top of her and when he nudged her legs open with his knee, she complied eagerly. It was much quicker than the previous night, foreplay sacrificed to the urge to be one again, connected as intimately as they could. It hurt a little even, but that was a kind of pain she would never have complained about because when he was in her she felt whole, anchored. She knew who she was. She knew…

"Mine." he whispered against her mouth, just as she was about to burst.

"Yours." she immediately confirmed, a little frantic, her voice rising to a higher pitch. "Always. Forever. Yours."

"Yours." he repeated like an unnecessary promise just as she reached her peak.

They ended up snuggling under the blankets again with her on her stomach and him drawing random patterns on her back, taking a better look at the scars in the pale light of dawn probably. The blankets and sheets kept sliding down until he had a complete view of her backside. She would have minded the chill in the air if his hands hadn't been so warm on her skin.

"You're so fucking beautiful…" he professed with a handful of her butt cheek in his palm.

She couldn't do anything but laugh and she marveled at the lack of bitterness in it. Such a poet.

"What I am is frozen." she rebuked without heat.

He immediately covered her with the blankets, snuggling back against her side. She could feel his warmth and she hummed in contentment.

"You're thinking." he protested after a few minutes of him dropping kisses across the span of her shoulders. He didn't seem to be able to stop touching her and she wasn't complaining. "Rude, that. I'm trying to distract you. Should let yourself get distracted."

"I am very willing to be distracted." she grinned against the pillow. "But I think it is yourself you are trying to distract. I won't mind if you have a glass, you know."

His hands had been steadily shaking for a few minutes now and he didn't look so good.

"No." he refused, half draping himself over her upper body. "Ain't gonna get drunk when I've got you in my bed, sweetheart."

"I did not say get drunk." she sighed. "Just enough to stop the tremors. You can't cut out cold turkey, Haymitch."

"Did once." he shrugged. "In Thirteen. Prohibition act."

"Oh." she frowned. "How was that?"

He snorted against her nape. "Hell."

"Why did you start drinking again?" she asked, dreading the answer because…

"Not just because of you." he answered quietly as if he had read her mind. He rubbed his thumb against her side. "Relax."

She did.

"I don't…" she hesitated. "I cannot be with you if you are going to hurt yourself by getting wasted all the time. It cannot be all the time. But I understand why you drink. I understand why you need to…"

"I'm gonna cut down." he offered. "Ain't promising I'm gonna cut down 'till I stop, yeah? 'Cause… That was hell, sweetheart, it really was. But you're here now so… Maybe it's gonna be… easier. Just… I'm gonna cut down. Keep it under control. At least try."

It was more than she ever thought she would get so she nodded her assent. She could handle him when he was drunk out of his mind but she refused to be little more than his handler again. "As long as you are doing it safely… If you need a glass…"

"I can wait a little more." he shrugged, sliding off her so he could brush his knuckles against her spine. "Tell me something."

She stretched like a content cat. Her body felt like her own for the first time in a really long time. She was acutely aware of her every muscle and she rolled on her back, arms tossed over her head on the pillow, watching him with a smile. "What do you want me to tell you?"

"Don't know." He placed his hand on her ribcage – to feel the rise and fall of her chest. "What's on your mind right now?"

"Right now?" She lifted an eyebrow, grabbed his wrist and guided his hand much lower until it rested between her legs.

He chuckled but obliged. "Good to know that's what you missed about me."

"Amongst other things." She hissed when he unexpectedly flicked her clit. It didn't take him long to get her worked up. He could have done more, make her beg for it, but he kept it lazy and when her orgasm finally came it was a gentle tide rather than a tsunami. Not any less good though. "Right now…" She hummed, watching him lick his fingers clean as if it was the natural thing to do. "I am thinking I didn't get to use my mouth on you last night."

"Who's stopping you?" he challenged.

She kept her touch just as purposefully lazy as his had been just then. She took her time teasing him with light caresses on his nipples and lower belly because she knew it hadn't been that long since they had had sex yet that he would immediately be ready to go. It took patience and cunning but she had both in spades. She caressed every part of him she knew would trigger a reaction and some out of pure selfishness. He was already throbbing when she ducked under the blankets.

There was a short struggle with the sheets because he wanted to watch but she didn't want to freeze. She won the round by taking him whole into her mouth, letting him hit the back of her throat in the first thrust. He forgot all about blankets, then.

She didn't use all her tricks because it didn't feel like that kind of play. She just wanted to touch him, to pleasure him, not to make a show of it. He didn't seem to mind. She must have done it right because soon enough, she felt the telltale signs.

"Effie…" he warned, out of breath, but she simply squeezed his thigh to let him know it was alright. She wasn't sure when they had developed that system. When she let herself think about how long they had been sleeping together, it frightened her. Ten years, give or take. Her longest relationship by far.

She crawled up his body and settled on his chest, pleased when his legs parted to bracket her hips. She could hear his heartbeat under her ear. His fingers found her hair, like always, and played with the dark curls. She wondered if he was growing used to it. He had always liked women with dark hair after all, it wasn't a stretch of the imagination to expect he would reconcile with the color.

Except it was Haymitch and Haymitch had an unhealthy obsession for her blond hair.

"Right now…" she continued the game from earlier. "I am torn between craving a cigarette and being hungry. The kitchen is too far but I might just make it to my bag on the armchair."

He reached for something in the nightstand drawer and she grumbled because he was disturbing her rest, forcing her to lift her head so he could grab whatever it was he wanted. When she caught sight of what was in his hand though…

"Why are you keeping cigarettes in your nightstand?" she asked, puzzled.

"Picked up one or two more bad habits while you were gone." he shrugged, avoiding her gaze.

Katniss had said something about that, she remembered suddenly. About him having started to smoke. And the half empty packet on his chest was indeed her favorite brand.

"You hate the smell." she whispered.

"Reminded me of you." he sighed. "You can keep them. Don't need them anymore. Now I can go back to nagging you to quit."

She smiled at the teasing tone but couldn't quite shake the sadness she felt at the knowledge of how hurt he had been by her disappearance. She had honestly thought nobody would care, that nobody would miss her…

She strained her neck so she could kiss him and the cigarettes, the lighter and the ashtray he had grabbed for her slid to the side, momentarily forgotten. If he couldn't stop touching her, she couldn't stop kissing him, it seemed.

Her stomach rumbled and he snorted in the middle of the series of kisses. "We better feed you."

"We should feed you too." she replied pointedly, softening that remark with another kiss.

"Probably, yeah." he agreed, nudging her off him. "You need to get off me for that to happen."

"I do not want to get off you." she pouted.

He erased that pout with his mouth and they got distracted by the kissing until his own stomach joined in the rumbling. She chuckled and he rolled his eyes, rolling over and off her before she could protest again.

"Don't get used to breakfast in bed." he warned, heading for the bathroom.

"That's not the kitchen." she cheekily pointed out.

"We're funny today, ain't we?" he mocked.

He left the door open and even though a part of her wanted to protest that she could hear everything and some things should remain mysterious, a bigger part was just more relieved to hear him at all so she kept her peace and huddled under the blankets.

"Do you want me to come with you?" she asked when he walked back into the bedroom. So far, her getting out of his sight hadn't gone so well and she hated how distressed he got when he convinced himself she wasn't real.

"Gotta start believing it, sweetheart. You can't hold my hand all the time." he mumbled, not meeting her eyes. "Besides, if you're cold here, you're gonna complain it's freezing downstairs."

"Do poke the fire." she requested. "Or perhaps you can push the heating system up a notch? I know cold doesn't bother you but…"

"You're a lizard." he taunted, like he had many times before.

"They do have skilled tongues, I heard." she grinned.

He chuckled and shook his head at her, slipping his feet in the old slippers that were waiting near the armchair. He was in a good mood and that made her smile harder – that and the sight of a naked Haymitch wearing only frayed red fleece slippers and her token.

She propped herself up on the pillows – adding that to the list of things she needed to acquire somehow because she needed far more cushions in her bed than Haymitch currently possessed – tugged the blankets up to her chin and placed the ashtray on her legs. She smoked an entire cigarette while Haymitch was downstairs and counted time in the flicking of ashes. She was just starting a second one, more nervous because of his prolonged absence than she wanted to acknowledge, when he finally came back with a tray loaded with far too many things.

The anguish on his own face vanished when he saw her. His lips stretched into a smile and he put the tray down to immediately crawl back in bed and kiss her like there would be no tomorrow. He couldn't have been too upset or even that distracted this time because when the ashtray threatened to fall, he caught it without breaking the kiss and safely relocated it to her other side. She drew back because the smell of hot toasts and tea was far too appealing right then.

He stole the cigarette from her fingers and took a long drag. His hands weren't shaking anymore so she supposed he had drunk something while he was in the kitchen.

"I thought you were quitting?" she asked.

"You got me addicted." he grumbled, breathing out the smoke before crushing the bud in the ashtray and moving it to the nightstand.

They didn't talk a lot during breakfast, they were both too famished and it had been a while since they had both eaten their full. The tea was particularly welcome because she hadn't realized how thirsty she was. Between the two of them, they ate everything and she suspected they were both feeling slightly nauseous with the unusual amount of food once they were done.

They sat in silence for a while, propped against the headboard, her legs tossed over his under the blankets. One of his hands was coiled around her knee, the other was holding the cigarette they were sharing. He breathed the smell in more than he smoke it but she didn't say that out loud because she suspected it would make it that much easier for him to actually quit. He could have chosen a more harmless way of remembering her by though. Buy her favorite perfume, light one of those lavender candles she often used when she took a bath and he appeared to have been stealing over the years…

Her thoughts switched tracks at that idea. A bath. She hadn't had one since before the Quell. She might need to scrub the bathtub first but… A real bath in which she could soak for hours… She wouldn't have fancy bath salts but she could pretend she did as long as she could soak and do nothing… She wondered if Haymitch had white wine somewhere. He liked red better, she knew, but white wine and a bath seemed like paradise.

"Where were you?" he asked, bringing her back from those pleasant considerations. Her eyes darted up to his and he shrugged. "It's fine if you don't want to talk about it. I'm just wondering how Katniss found you. I've really been looking everywhere."

"Beetee found me actually." she corrected softly. "I believe she had him looking at the prison logs. He found my false name on the survivors list and it must have piqued his curiosity."

He frowned. "Survivors list? I've… I've never looked at those. Plutarch and I had people… If your name had popped up, we would have been alerted so… I never took a close look at the lists. I just saw the pictures of the unidentified dead women."

She took the cigarette from him and watched his hand drop on the comforter, apparently dejected to think he could have found her that much quicker. She was upset because he had been forced to flip through pictures of dead women looking for her.

She opened her mouth but she didn't know what to say.

There was only so many times she could say I missed you so much and I'm sorry without the words starting to sound like feeble excuses.

"What was it?" he asked after a minute or so. "Your false name?"

"Gail." She took a long drag of the cigarette. She hesitated because she wasn't sure how he would take it, she wasn't sure if it would upset him more or please him or if he would just get angry that she had taken that liberty… "Gail Abernathy."

He stared at her and said nothing, his face a blank mask. Eventually, he snatched the cigarette again and brought it to his lips before handing it back without a word.

"I was in Eight when Katniss found me." she volunteered. "I was there for… I think three months now. I was in Two before. One before that for a time. They were the easiest Districts to get lost in."

He nodded as if he understood but she wasn't sure he really did. His fingers twitched around her knee. He licked his lips, lowered his eyes to the comforter… "How long did you stay in the city after the war?"

"Long enough to find out my family was dead." she whispered, closing her eyes. "I was not in a good shape. It took weeks for me to be coherent enough to… By the time I was in any state to claim any name and get out of the clinic… Snow was about to be executed. I was in the crowd that day… I couldn't not be. When Katniss shot your President Coin…"

"She was never my President." he snorted. "She was bad news."

"Anyway, it was chaos in the city after that." she shrugged. "It was easier to just… slip away." He nodded again, his fingers digging hard into the flesh of her leg. "Are you mad?"

She wouldn't blame him if he was.

His eyes snapped up to hers and he took a deep breath.

"No." he said and he sounded sincere enough. "I just feel fucking stupid 'cause you were out there and… Truth is… I should have been the one to find you. Not Beetee or the kids." His grip on her knee relaxed and his thumb started drawing soothing patterns. "I guess I gave up at some point. There were a couple of false alerts. Hope… I ain't good at hope, sweetheart. They all agreed you must have been killed and dumped into one of the mass graves we found… I guess I just… I accepted it. It killed me and I hated it but I accepted that…" He shook his head. "I'm fucking glad everyone was wrong. I don't care if the last year was hell. Wouldn't change it. Wouldn't change a fucking thing if that means you're here and you're staying."

"I am here and I am staying." she swore, reaching out to cup his cheek.

She would repeat that as many times as he needed.

It would be good for her too. A fresh start.

"I'm gonna have to call Plutarch sometimes this morning." he warned with a long suffering sigh. She supposed the former Gamemaker wasn't his favorite person. She had no personal opinion, she hardly knew him. He had been an elusive character before he had become Head Gamemaker, they had gravitated in the same circles but Plutarch liked to be in the shadows – preferably of influent people – when she only blossomed under the spotlights. "Make sure there won't be any problem with your coming back to life."

She tensed. "Katniss promised I would be safe."

"On the escort front, you will be." he promised. "I got you immunity before I even put one foot in Thirteen and Paylor was willing to honor it after Coin died. I made sure before I supported her candidacy. But I'm not sure how legal it is to play dead for so long… If anything, it's gonna be a media circus."

"Oh…" she winced. "I didn't think about that."

"Plutarch will handle it." he shrugged confidently. "He owes us anyway."

She finished the cigarette and crushed it into the ashtray, stretching her arm to safely place it on the nightstand behind her. Then she shifted so she could cuddle against his side, resting her head on his shoulder, happy to let him play with her hair again.

They stayed like that for a long time. The sky was a pale blue stretching on grey when he started telling her random things about the war. He described Thirteen for her and she could hear just how much he had loathed the place in his voice, he told her about Annie and Finnick's wedding, about the baby she had heard about through the newspapers… She told him a little about what she had done in One and Two, the odd jobs she hadn't been qualified for, the stressful urge to keep moving, to never settle too long in one place in case someone eventually recognized her… He talked about Coin a little, how disappointing it had been to realize she was perhaps just as bad if not worse than Snow. His voice caught when he told her about Prim and the children at the City Circle and, while Katniss had already covered that part of the story in the train, she couldn't help but feel again for the girl, for Haymitch, for those children… She told her about waking up in the clinic, terrified and alone, she told him she had been out of her mind, insane with terror… She told him about listening to the gossips between the nurses and the doctors, how she had heard about the Purge and how, one day, rebel soldiers had dragged a sick man out of his bed just because he had worked in one of the Games' prep teams once upon a time.

After what felt like hours clinging to each other, he told her about being tossed in what passed for a rehab cell in Thirteen, about being strapped to a bed, naked and alone, while he rode out the worst of the withdrawals.

She told him about the cells, about some of the torture.

They fell asleep in each other's arms and grabbed each other again as soon as they woke up. That bout of lovemaking was slow and lazy, a little on the exhausted side, but it left them starving and more clear-headed than before.

Leaving the bed, convincing themselves to stop touching and kissing each other, was difficult but, eventually, they made it downstairs. Haymitch hadn't bothered with clothes but she had commandeered a pair of flannel sweatpants, a long-sleeve shirt and his woolen dressing-gown.

"Winter isn't even that harsh yet." he mocked as they walked down the stairs.

They were holding hands. Like children, she mused – or dysfunctional adults.

She tried to help him cook lunch but between the few stock of food in his cupboards, her disastrous skills in a kitchen and her incessant complaining that his heating system must be broken, it wasn't long before he told her to go wait by the fireplace. She did for a while and then she wandered off downstairs, exploring the rooms she had never really taken the time to look at on her rare visits on Reaping Days.

The dining-room was dusty and clearly unused but there were entire collections of lovely plates in the dresser. She pursed her lips at the dried potted plant that must have died a very, very long time ago.

The cellar held several shelves full of bottles – some empty, some full – a few unmarked cardboard boxes that seemed heavy, the washing machine and the clothes dryer. She spotted an overflowing basket of laundry on the floor, clucked her tongue and filled the washing machine with it – taking care to separate white from colors like Haymitch had clearly not bothered to do.

The study was the real surprise though. Mostly because she found a canvas propped against the desk, turned around, and she couldn't resist taking a look. Curiosity killed the cat or so they said. She had been prepared for some abstract painting Haymitch would have hated on principle alone but she couldn't help but gasp when her own eyes stared back.

She turned the portrait around to get a better look. It was exquisite work, very accurate, very poetic, and she didn't really need to glance at the signature to know it was Peeta's. She wasn't sure how long she studied that version of her, a version she wasn't sure she recognized. It wasn't the escort. It wasn't the model. It took her a while to decide it was just Effie, at her most simple, without artifices or smoke screens. Peeta had always had a gift for discerning people's true nature.

"I couldn't bear it." Haymitch said from the threshold and she startled, tossing him a guilty look because she was caught snooping. He waved off whatever apology she was about to give with a careless sweep of his hand. "The boy meant well but… It was too hard. Either I kept staring at it or I wanted to burn it so I locked it in here." His features softened and he joined her in front of the painting, wrapping an arm around her waist. "Guess we could hang it over the fireplace now…"

"That would be a bit extravagant, wouldn't it?" she replied, fighting to keep the emotions out of her voice. "People might think I am arrogant."

"You are arrogant." he snorted. "And it ain't like there weren't any pictures of you at your old apartment… You had one in the bathroom for fuck's sake. Who does that?"

It had been a black and white poster-size reproduction of one of her first fashion magazine covers and it had been lovely. She indeed had hung pictures of her on the walls of her apartment. She was a model and she was famous. Famous people did that. Besides, she had been beautiful… Where had been the shame in showing that off?

"It is a nice portrait, isn't it?" she hummed.

"I like the original better." he shrugged awkwardly, pressing a kiss against her neck.

She smiled and burrowed into his side. She didn't point out she hardly look anything like the woman on that canvas anymore. He would have ranted about her hair color again to avoid talking about the real subject. Her beauty wasn't her main asset anymore. She had learned to adapt. It was enough that he still wanted her.

"If you want to put it in the living-room, I don't mind." she decided. "If you are certain seeing it every day won't bring back bad memories."

"You're here. That doesn't matter anymore." he denied with perhaps too much strength.

He would get angry about it eventually, she already knew that. He didn't want to be and he would try to repress it and it would probably come out in the middle of an argument about something futile but, at some point, the next day or in a year, he would let the anger out. It wouldn't be unwarranted. He had hurt so much, was still hurting on a lot of levels…

"I love you." she offered because she wanted him to know, she wanted him to hear it, she wanted him to believe it. Even if it spooked him off, even if the words terrorized him, even if he wasn't ready for them. She locked her arms around his waist and propped her chin on his chest, head tilted up so she could look at him. "I never want to be away from you again. I… It won't be easy and we are going to fight every two days probably but… I really want an us, Haymitch."

"Yeah." he immediately agreed, his lips stretching into a smile. "Yeah." Then, he was kissing her and she found herself backed against the desk. The very dusty desk on which he had no chance in hell of having his way with her. "Say it again." he requested when she refused to understand his – not so – subtle hints for her to climb on top of it. "Please, sweetheart…" His mouth ran along the length of her jaw. "Say it."

"I love you." she repeated, whispered it in his ear like a secret.

He drew back, cupped her cheek, stared at her with an almost frightening intensity… "Me too. You know that, yeah? I…"

He faltered and she smiled. "I know."

He looked relieved and he pressed a long kiss on her mouth.

"You're still hungry?" he asked tentatively. "I found some casserole dish in the freezer. Ain't sure how old it is but that stuff keeps, yeah? It's gonna take a while though."

"Whatever shall we do until it is ready, I wonder…" she teased him.

"I've got a few ideas." he smirked, wriggling his eyebrows.

"They better not involve this desk until you dusted it." she deadpanned. "As a matter of fact, we are cleaning your house at some point. Perhaps not today because today I am more inclined to stay in bed with you all day but…"

Her sentence ended in a shriek when he lifted her up, tossing her over his shoulder like he used to do when he wanted her to stop ranting and do what he had in mind. She laughed when she understood he was carrying her up the stairs, likely to drop her on his bed and keep her there like the caveman he could be.

Not that she was complaining.

She was starting to realize that it might have been easier to remain Gail but she would have missed out on the truly important things in Effie's life. And those things, as it turned out, she wasn't ready to lose again.

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