It was the first Christmas after the success of the rebellion. Haymitch, Katniss, and Peeta had settled into a comfortable enough routine back in District 12; after getting over the initial shock of everything, the young couple made sure to check in on Haymitch at least a couple of times a week. For the most part, they kept to themselves. Of course, Katniss and Peeta were a bit more social than Haymitch, but that was nothing new.
None of them expected a certain ex-escort to show up, but two days before Christmas, there she was, knocking on Katniss and Peeta's door. "Effie!" Peeta exclaimed in surprise when he opened the door to her. He almost didn't recognize the woman before him – her hair was in an elaborate updo, but it was, decidedly, her hair, and she had much less makeup on than usual. Hearing him, Katniss had hurried to the hallway and stood behind him.
"Hello, my darlings!" She greeted them each with an embrace. "I hope it's not an inconvenience, me popping in like this, but—well, you did say that your spare room was available any time. Does that offer still stand?" As she spoke, they couldn't help noticing that her accent wasn't nearly as strong as it used to be.
"Of course, absolutely," Peeta confirmed, ushering her into the house. They set her bags to the side and moved to the living room. "How are things in the Capitol?"
"Oh, busy, of course, but it does feel nice to be doing something useful." Since the end of the rebellion, Effie had been working as a sort of assistant to President Paylor, keeping her schedule in order and so on.
"And how is everyone? Plutarch, Beetee, Annie, Johanna?" Peeta asked. They hadn't kept in very close touch with anyone; at least, not yet. The wounds still felt too raw.
"Well, Plutarch and Beetee are up to business as usual. I don't understand most of it, but they seem content. Annie will have the baby any day now. She's worried, but Johanna has been taking care of her. I'm sure she's going to be a wonderful mother."
"She will be," Katniss agreed.
"And what about the two of you? What have you been up to?"
"You know, nothing out of the ordinary. Rebuilding, a bit. Katniss hunts, I bake. Haymitch drinks," Peeta told her.
"Haymitch—is he—well, I mean to say, have you been—"
"Keeping an eye on him? Yes, as much as we can," Katniss said with a small smile. "You know how unruly he can be, though. Most days, he just shoos us away and tells us to get on with our lives."
"Stubborn," Effie said, shaking her head and furrowing her brow. "Is he home now, then?"
"I would imagine; he hardly ever leaves the house," Peeta said.
"Would you mind if I excused myself for a bit?" Effie asked. "I want to discuss Christmas Day with him – I thought the four of us could all have dinner together."
"That would be nice," Katniss agreed appreciatively. "Oh, before you go, I meant to ask—have you spoken to my mother?"
"She's doing as well as can be expected, and she sends her love," Effie told her.
"Thank you," Katniss replied softly. "All right, go and check on Haymitch, make sure he's still alive. We'll fix a snack. Tell him he can come over too, if he can manage to walk all the way here," she joked.
"I'll see what I can do, but I'm not a miracle worker," Effie joked back. She left the house, then traveled the short distance to Haymitch's and knocked on the door. She heard him groan and fumble around inside, attempting to collect himself before he got to the door.
"What do you want now? I told you not to bother me unless—" he started to say as the door swung open; he was expecting Katniss or Peeta or both, but certainly not the woman he saw in front of him. "Effie?" he asked, squinting to make sure it was actually her – she looked so different that it was hard to tell.
"You sure know how to make people feel welcome," she teased. "May I come in?"
"What are you—why are you in 12?"
"I'm here to see you, of course. The three of you, I mean. I'm staying with Katniss and Peeta for a few days. It is Christmas time, after all," she reminded him.
"It's—oh, yeah, that," he said, remembering that it was definitely past mid-December, as evidenced by the chill in the air and the blanket of snow on the ground.
"You don't seem to be in much of a Christmas mood," she observed, stepping inside without waiting for him to invite her in. "I see you haven't changed your décor."
"Why should I? It's just me, anyway," he huffed, "At least, it is when I don't have intruders."
"I came to invite you to Christmas dinner. It would just be the four of us, and I thought—"
"I'm not really a Christmas kind of guy," he said, plopping himself back down on the couch.
"Well, it's just one dinner. I brought presents for everyone, and I thought it would be nice, you know, to have our little team back together again for the holiday."
"You can sit," he told her, nodding to the other side of the couch.
"So, are you going to show up?" she asked, gingerly taking a seat next to him.
"You brought me a present?" he asked curiously, sitting up straight and moving closer to her.
"Yes, I brought one for each of you," she confirmed.
"What is it?"
"I can't tell you that," she said incredulously. "It would ruin all the fun of it."
"I'll still pretend to be surprised," he said. "You look—different."
"I should think so," she said, smoothing her skirt. "You look—the same."
"I should think so," he teased, a grin spreading across his face. "It's good on you. That look, I mean."
"Not any more than usual," he said nonchalantly. "Yeah, I'll be there."
"Christmas dinner. I'll be there. Gotta find out about that present, after all."
"Katniss said you can join us over there now, too. They're making something to eat. We can catch up, and—"
"Not much to catch up on, princess. Not on my end, at least. You're blonde," he observed.
"You knew that."
"I know, but it's different now. Much better than pink or orange," he told her.
"Thank you," she said softly. "Haymitch, I—I never did get to thank you for what you did in Thirteen. I—"
"Don't," he interrupted. "You don't have to thank me for anything. Did you really think Plutarch and I would let Coin kill you?"
"We just did what we had to do. You were innocent; we made sure you didn't face any unnecessary punishment, that's all."
"That's all? You make it sound so—"
"Formal," she said, looking down at her hands. Being imprisoned had been horrible, but being rescued and then told that she was to be executed as a Capitol sympathizer was far worse.
"We're a team," he said suddenly, one of his hands moving to rest on top of hers. "That's why I—well, that and the fact that it was my fault for not bringing you with me in the first place."
"You know I don't blame you for—"
"I know," he said, cutting her off and giving her hand a gentle squeeze. "I would have if I could have, but Coin never would have allowed it."
"I know," she said softly. "It doesn't matter anymore. It's all over now, and we're here, and we're safe, and we're together. That's all that matters."
"It's been a long time since I thought anything really mattered to me," he confessed. "Until those kids—and you."
Effie looked taken aback. "Me?"
"Well, you're no picnic," he teased, "But yeah; you matter to me."
"You haven't replied to my letters. I couldn't call—"
"I don't like the phone," he said, gazing at the device that had been ripped out of the wall.
"I read them. Your letters; I read them all, but I'm no good at writing them. It would sound something like, 'Dear Effie, I drank a full bottle of whiskey today, and Katniss whined at me to clean up my house. I'll never do it. Nagging doesn't work unless it's you nagging me. Haymitch'," he recited off the top of his head.
Effie let out a laugh, "Well, you could have tried, at least. I started to think you didn't care to talk to me anymore."
"I do," he assured her.
They stared at one another for a few long, silent moments; it might have felt awkward if they weren't Haymitch and Effie, if they weren't so used to one another, but as such, it wasn't awkward at all—until Haymitch leaned forward.
Effie pulled back with a sharp intake of breath just before his lips reached hers. "Katniss and Peeta will be expecting us," she said softly. "We should—shouldn't keep them waiting."
"Oh, right. Manners," he said, somewhat gruffly.
Effie stood, trying to make her head stop spinning. She had wanted him to kiss her for such a long time – years, in fact; so why had she pulled back? Even she had no idea. Perhaps it had something to do with his current state of mind; he wasn't falling-down drunk, but he wasn't anywhere near sober, either. If he was to kiss her, she wanted it to be 100% because he truly wanted to, with no outside influences.
They walked to Katniss and Peeta's in silence. Haymitch did not bring up their almost-kiss again that night, nor did he seem bitter about it. After a few hours of conversation and food, he bade them goodnight and went back to his own empty house. Effie couldn't know it, but even though he hadn't mentioned it, her lips were now all he could think about. He decided that night that if there was ever going to be a kiss between them, he'd have to actually do something to earn it, and he decided to begin by finding her a decent Christmas present.