A tidal wave of thanks to Minerva-Amantine, PhoebeLovesSouffle, Deadlyrose70, HogwartsDreamer113, SassMonster, Anastasia The Goddess of Drama, homicidalhufflepuffs, ShortySC22, Bluestarisawesome, Savysnape7, mac-reye, KlarolineMyMokingjay, sue92178, Caro, Guest, MiniMischl, Kat-Knife, meantimegirl, AliceInLa-La-Land1215, HannahKellogg1, Abby and Liv Snigglebottom, Paw Print Pajamas, My Beautiful Ending, Kat, CloveLudwig99, Iani, TazzieLuv13, gramwaitforitpola, and Gdreams for your wonderful feedback left for last chapter! Alrighty, without any more prolongation, here is the next chapter! (Oh yes, a few author's notes ago, I said this chapter would take place six months later? I changed it to six weeks because that seemed more reasonable).

Chapter thirty nine: The Return

It's as if I have been lost in a dream. Caught in an enchanted world that really has no passage of leave nor desire to even do so. Since our arrival back to District Twelve, all seems surreal. There is no more violence—at least, none that I can see past Victor's Village. No President Coin nor Snow. No yelling. War. Death. And as the weeks wear on, I find myself involved in a sort of fantasy in my very own home. One that I did not ever expect myself to have wanted.

My days are spent cleaning surprisingly what little dust and ash have gathered on the furniture. Arranging and rearranging each room in the house just to pass the time. Caring for Olive who seems to grow so much every day, it's almost terrifying to even consider the thought that in no time, she'll be talking. Walking even. And as more and more people are allowed back into the District, we tend to keep to ourselves. Going outside only when needed. Visiting neighbors when the gesture of politeness is required. We wait together in solitude, counting down the days until Haymitch arrives home. Until one early morning, a knock sounds from the front door, an occurrence that is not particularly common this hour in the day.

I glance over at Olive who watches me from where she sits propped up on the couch. For a moment, I wonder if I am just hearing things. That perhaps it was nearly the wind knocking a branch against the architecture's siding. Or someone in a nearby home preparing lumber for the fireplace. But it comes again. Loud and yet, nonthreatening. As if whoever is on the other side is unsure if we heard them the first time.

"Now who do you suppose that could be?" I inquire, lifting Olive up before making my way over to the front door. "A bit early for a visitor, I do hope nothing is the matter."

It takes some maneuvering to shift Olive from both arms into one as I reach for the doorknob with my free hand. With a flick of my wrist, it clicks in compliance and slowly opens, revealing a figure that causes my breath to hitch in my throat. Scarred and far too thin to even be considered near a healthy weight, Peeta Mellark stands at the threshold seeming to focus all of his body mass on his real leg rather than the prostheses.

"Peeta?"

His chapped lips curve into a half smile as he looks at me with a weary expression. "Good morning, Effie," he greets. "I didn't wake you did I?"

"No, no. Of course not," I say shaking my head, still in awe that he's standing here. "When did you—"

"Today," he finishes. "Dr. Aurelius didn't let me leave the Capitol until yesterday. I got here this morning. The hovercraft dropped me off."

So many questions swarm in my mind that it takes nearly all of my willpower not to bombard Peeta—who looks as if he could collapse at any given moment—with them. Offering him a flustered smile, I sidestep to allow him to enter the house. The poor boy probably hasn't had anything to eat for hours. The least I could do is show him some hospitality.

"Come in," I tell him. "We were just about to have breakfast. Why don't you join us?"

Peeta takes a seat at the round table in the kitchen. After a nonverbal agreement of having him hold Olive while I cook, I set off to locate a pan as well as a few eggs that were delivered to me by one of our neighbors a few days ago. Never being quite the chef myself, I am forced to eyeball the food as it sizzles in the skillet, hoping that I don't butcher the meal too much for his palate. After a good few minutes—which result in some rather brown looking scrambled eggs—I separate the cuisine onto three plates, placing one in front of Peeta before retrieving Olive and having a seat myself.

"I'm sorry," I apologize, embarrassed as Peeta eyes the dish. "I've never been much of a cook myself. I've always been able to rely on other people to do it for me until now."

"No," Peeta says looking up with a small smile. "It's great. Really, Effie, thank you."

We begin to eat in silence at first. Occasionally, Olive attempts to reach forward from my lap for Peeta's food and I have to gently deny her of that task. However, he seems slightly amused by her efforts and even offers her a taste from his plate despite the fact that all three are exactly the same. It's only after we've all mostly finished our food—and Olive's tiny fists are covered in crumbles of egg yolk—that I finally decide it's appropriate to bring up my varying questions to Peeta.

"It's been so long," I begin, wiping at the baby's hands with a napkin. "How have you been managing, Peeta? Haymitch isn't that great of an informant most of the time. But I shouldn't really expect much from him in that department anyway."

Peeta seems to focus on his empty plate for a moment. "Some days are easier than others," he admits quietly, pushing at the dish with his index finger. "But I'm hanging in there. Dr. Aurelius helped through a lot of it. Mostly with my mind. Guess if I were any worse off I wouldn't be here," he smile seems more along the lines of a grimace. "I'm just glad to be home, I guess."

"We're happy you're home as well," I inform him. "Aren't we, Olive?"

Peeta's gaze drifts towards her momentarily and his expression seems to lighten. "She's gotten big," he comments. "I've really only scene pictures. Haymitch showed me the one of her in the hospital while I was in recovery for…" he pauses. "How old is she now?"

"A week over six months," I say, counting in my head to make absolutely sure. "We just started her on solids. Eggs mostly. She seems to like those just fine. At least, she tolerates them."

"That's good," Peeta nods. "I think eggs were one of my first foods too. That or sponge bread. I'll have to make her some once I get settled in. It'll be nice to bake again." He inhales deeply before returning his attention to me. "I'm assuming you're looking forward to have Haymitch home today?"

The question first catches me off guard and I can only imagine how ridiculous my face must appear as I eye Peeta in absolute confusion. Had he misspoken? What had he meant by saying Haymitch was coming home today? Surely it was a mistaken. I was not made aware by any journey home on his part in any of our previous conversations.

"But Katniss's trial," I mumble, talking more to myself than to Peeta. "It's still going on. It's—"

"Over," Peeta says. "It ended late last night. Formally closed. In actuality, it was technically over a few days ago, there were just a few legal issues that had to be taken care of. Both Dr. Aurelius and the judge gave Haymitch the thumbs up to bring Katniss home to Twelve. As long as she remains under the care of Dr. Aurelius and the vigilant watch of the three of us, she's free."

At first, I am unsure if I am more angry, shocked, or excited by this news. Mostly, I think I am annoyed by the fact it's Peeta telling me this rather than Haymitch himself. Why he always lacks in informing me of important dates, I will never know. One thing is for certain, despite no longer being an escort, I will be sure to keep schedules around the house. At least one of us will have to hold some responsibility over the duties involving our child's appointments.

"I spoke to Haymitch last night," I explain to Peeta. "And not once did he even bother to mention any of this."

"He couldn't," Peeta replies. "There was some strict confidentiality going on until the case ended. I'm sure he thought about calling you this morning, he was probably just overwhelmed with getting Katniss ready to go. There was a reason why you were in charge of everything during the Hunger Games."

"Because Haymitch is an incompetent fool," I frown before looking to Olive and quickly adding. "But I suppose he means well. As much as he can."

Peeta nods thoughtfully, absentmindedly pushing his plate slowly around with his fingers. "I left last night not too long after the verdict was finally reached," he inhales, seeming to think for a moment. "I know Katniss and Haymitch were allowed to leave early this morning but as to what time, I'm not sure. I think they should be home by the evening. But I wouldn't hold me to that. Again, my memory isn't like it once was."

It's a crude attempt at humor towards himself and I try not to let it bother me. Everyone has changed so much since the rebellion. And Peeta's attitude is just one of many sickening reminders of what the Capitol had done to its people. Nevertheless, I offer him a soft smile, shaking my head in response.

"Never mind that," I assure him. "You yourself said you're improving. I'm sure your thought process will be better in no time." But deep down, we both know that none of us will ever resemble who we once were. No matter how many years pass. We all bore our own scars, visible and not. Exhaling, I shift Olive on my lap. "I've missed him," I comment. "Haymitch. It's strange. Just months ago, I couldn't even stand to be in his general vicinity and now..."

"No," Peeta agrees. "I understand. Feelings can change so fast. One moment you think you know what you feel and the next…" He stops, his eyes closing for a moment as his fingers begin to massage his temples.

"Peeta?" I venture, suddenly growing worried. "Peeta, are you—"

"I'm fine," he cuts in, voice sounding strained. "I just need quiet. That's all."

So we fall silent, giving Peeta a moment to recollect himself. His breathing grows ragged a few times, his body trembling as if he could burst from his own skin and into a creature of horror at any given moment. Yet slowly, he comes to, shaking and clammy, his eyes reopen to an even more exhausted looking boy than the one who had entered my home.

"Water," he croaks. "I just need..."

He doesn't need to finish his sentence. Instantly I am up, Olive held against my shoulder as I look in desperation for a glass among the dinnerware in the cabinet. Finally, coming across a mug, I fill it with water from the sink and hand it quickly to Peeta. He snatches it and begins to gulp down large mouthfuls of the liquid. When it's drained, he sets it down on the table, looking haggard and faint.

"I'm sorry," he manages to say. "My episodes are…unpredictable. This one thankfully wasn't the worst of them though. I hope I didn't scare her," his eyes flicker to Olive. "Or you."

"We're both fine," I assure him, finding it almost sickeningly humorous that he is more concerned in our benefit than his own. "Is there anything I can do for you? Have you any medicine or…"

He shakes his head, "Just have to fight through it mostly." And I watch as he inhales, his expression flickering briefly to one of pain before his features relax. "I'm getting better at it though. The sparks of memory. Sometimes, even when it's really bad, I can pinpoint what is real and what is not," his eyes fall to the empty glass. "Still doesn't do much though. But it's something."

Momentarily, we both fall silent; unsure of what else needs to be said or whose turn it is to speak. It's only when Olive's babbling interrupts the pause in conversation that the unsaid tension seems to lift from the atmosphere. Peeta's haggard expression turns to one of slight serenity as we both look on to the baby's amusement brought on by an unseen force.

"Do you think she'll remember any of this?" I whisper, smoothing down the wisps of hair on top of her head. "I worry. As ridiculous as it may seem, sometimes the thought keeps me up at night. She was born into a cruel world and I fear that even though all is well now, the memories…"

"She won't," Peeta looks to me and I cannot help but notice his smile is almost sad. "She won't remember a thing. The war. District Thirteen. She'll grow up in a happier society. Soon, the mere idea that there were ever such things as the Hunger Games or laws forbidding anyone from leaving their Districts will seem like a fairytale. Unbelievable. And I, Katniss, Haymitch, and all of the other Victors will become a distant memory. Warriors of a previous time. Unrecalled and only remembered briefly from what the history will read."

And as I gaze at Peeta, sorrow swells in my heart. The once witty, kind boy I met two years ago has transformed into a man I do not even recognize. He, as I was, has been broken. It will not matter how much mending and repairs are made to his person, the innocence that was previously there has disappeared forever. But that is unimportant to him. Everything he went through. The detest he surely must hold for the Capitol. None of that matters. Ultimately, deep down, his fears trickle down into one idea he has not verbally voiced. Being forgotten.

I shake my head, "No, what happened to you. To all of us. We can never forget. It simply cannot happen. Your stories will be passed from generation to generation so this monstrosity will never happen again. If not, history will repeat itself and no one desires for that to happen."

"You always had a way with optimism, Effie," Peeta says. "I'm glad to see that never left."

When I open my mouth to reply, I am interrupted by the soft chimes of the old grandfather clock in the corner. I count each sound in my head, all the way up until noon. Have we really been talking for hours? Olive wriggles impatiently from where she sits against me, grunting in warning that soon her pleasant attitude could turn from one of glee to tears. I bounce her lightly, moving her to my arms as the idea of napping seems to grow more in her favor than any other activity.

"I should go," Peeta says as he rises from his chair. "I need to go out into the woods. There's something I want to do for Katniss before she arrives home."

I stand as well, Olive watching Peeta with heavy lidded eyes. He smiles softly at her, reaching forward with a scarred hand to touch her forehead. She gives him an open mouth smile, evidently enjoying his company. And I know, even though she has not known him for very long, she will love him very much just as I do.

"You are welcome in this home anytime, Peeta," I inform him as we make our way to the door. "Our house is yours. You and Katniss...you've always been like children to Haymitch and me. And though he's not one to show any type of affection, he would agree."

Peeta leans in the door frame, his hand resting on the doorknob. "Once a team, always a team." He seems to smirk at the soppiness of his own words as he turns his attention to me. "I'll visit again soon, Effie. You and Olive take care of Haymitch for me. Panem knows someone has to."

He leaves without another word and I am left watching from a far as he limps away, growing smaller and smaller until he completely disappears from my path of vision. Olive yawns quietly in my arms and my attention draws away from the window and to the tired baby. Carefully, I make my way into the living room, gently taking a seat on the old, stained couch that despite its ugliness has earned a spot in my heart.

Has my life really come to this moment? Sometimes it seems as if only seconds before I was Effie Trinket, the District Twelve escort who lived in the Capitol with all the luxury in the world. Then to the Effie Trinket who awoke unplanned in her tributes' mentor's bed. To Effie whose world slowly left its orbit around her and began its mark to the tiny being growing inside. Effie the naive. Effie the prisoner. Effie the mother. Effie the rebel. And Effie of District Twelve. So many titles in such a short amount of time.

Sometimes the thoughts of what brought me to this point in my life are painful. Unforgivable. And others of stupidity are just as undesirable. But when I look down at the baby asleep in my arms. At how something so perfect could exist from events of such misery, all seems worth it. I would give it all up again for her. The fame. The glory. The glamour. It's truly both fantastic and terrifying what the love of another being wills a person to do.

Time seems nonexistent as I find myself watching her sleep. Afraid that if I look away for one second, she'll be all grown by the next. It's a silly thought that comes to mind when only weeks before I had to mostly be concerned with if I would survive the next day. If Haymitch would. Now that the true concerns are over, the little worries can plague my mind.

The clock goes off once more, tearing me from my daydreaming as the sound of footsteps, quiet at first, seem to grow heavier the closer they come to the house. My heart pounds quickly in my chest, my stomach fluttering foolishly as I gaze intently at the doorknob, watching the bronze orb twist as someone turns its other half on the opposite side. It opens almost painfully slow, sliding open until the man on the other side is in full view.

He looks to me with a smirk I know so well, exhaustion shadowing his face as he steps over the mantel tracking dirt in that I will worry about later. I get up from my spot on the couch, Olive tucked away safely in my arms as I move in absolute silence towards him. We stand face to face, neither of us saying anything as we study each other.

"You're late," I inform him very a-matter-of-factly.

"My flight was delayed," he counters. "Sorry to keep her royal highness waiting. Next time I'll phone in my tardiness details."

At that moment, the wall of intensity falls. Haymitch looks to me with a grin, a sort of joy I have never seen present on his face before. My heart begins to swell once more-only this time, the feeling is good. Of pure, undiluted happiness. Our eyes lock, emotion swimming between us that no words are needed to confirm.

"Welcome home, Haymitch," I tell him. "Welcome home."

His arm snakes around my waist and I lean into him, staring at our home with an entirely new set of eyes. A brand new light. Another meaning. The final chapter to my previous life ends. But in its place, a new story is only just beginning.

My name is Effie Trinket and I am home.

I'm sitting at my computer teary-eyed right now. I can't believe I just have the epilogue left. Nearly two years later and this is where this story has gone. And of course, it wouldn't be anywhere without you fabulous readers. I hope you enjoyed this chapter. Only the epilogue (which I have so much planned for) is left to go before "Of Perfume, Liquor, and Baby Bottles" is finally complete. Hard to believe right?

Feedback is greatly loved and appreciated. It would mean so much to me if you could take a moment of your time to review. I would love to know your thoughts so far and if you are looking forward to the epilogue. Even a few words would be the greatest thing. Oooh also, before I forget! I have had several questions about my plans for doing a sequel and at the moment, I am very indecisive. But I will let you know the final decision in the last author's note of the epilogue however. To help me reach a verdict, if you could also take a moment to visit the poll on my author's page that involves the question of possibly doing a sequel and vote, I will forever be in your debt. Anyway, only one chapter to go guys! Until next update! -Jen