A/N: So this fic is actually posted on my other account SugarlessTeaMellark; I created a new one because I want to start writing stuff for the Hunger Games. I've officially basically lost the inspiration for iCarly. (I say that now but I honestly never know when I'll get ideas. I might even update SWBTEOM, who knows?) So that new account is where you should follow me if you want updates! Just wanted to post the fic here too in case anyone still wants to continue following my Hunger Games works.

Here is the link: /s/11703151/1/In-an-Instant. Just add the fanfiction URL before it and copy it into the search bar to get to it!

This fic is set in present day. I've no idea why, but I imagined modern Katniss and Peeta living in Indiana even though I've only ever been there once lol. The town names are fictional. I don't know; it seemed like they'd be somewhere like Indiana. Hope it suffices.

Anyway, now that you've all ignored me, enjoy!

Rated M for language and explicit sex.

(Italicized headings are present day. Bold headings are past.)

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But this ain't a movie

I know you can't come with me

You got your life

He better be treating you right

~ "When We Say" – AJ Rafael

Rainsville, IN; Wednesday, December 23, 2015 (24 years old)

Peeta sips on his beer absently as he looks out the window perched on a barstool, watching beads of rain roll down the glass. It's a Wednesday night, but the bar is packed: the TV's are on full blast, all the pool tables are occupied—it's full to the brim with people. Everyone in Indiana, he assumes, is on vacation, and they are all gathered here in one of the very few bars in the state.

He isn't sure why he agreed to join his best friend Finnick when he suggested they drive all the way out here almost forty minutes away from home, but if he's being honest, he's got nothing better to do. Like usual, Finn's the life of the party, talking it up with a group of random people, intermittent but loud peals of laughter coming from their direction. Peeta preferred to just ride on the back of Finn's outgoingness. Not that he wasn't a people person. He loved going out and meeting new people, but he liked to be a little quieter about it than Finn.

Suddenly, as if on cue, his best friend stumbles over to him, patting him on the shoulder with an arm slung around a girl with short, black hair.

"Hey, Peeta," Finn slurs, almost sloshing beer all over Peeta's sweater. "Meet Johanna. She's a fuckin' riot, this one." He flashes a cocky, lopsided smile at him. "I told her there was this lonely jackass I was with tonight, and she said she wanted to meet ya."

"Hey," Peeta smiles at the woman, holding out a hand. She takes it, shaking firmly. He tries to speak loud, over the noisy din of the bar. "I'm Peeta."

"Well, your friend here already told you my name, but yeah, I'm Johanna," she says, speaking over the noise as well. "Good to meet you."

He raises his beer bottle and stretches his mouth into another smile, clinking it against hers. "You, too."

As he drinks, he notices the pendant slung around the girl's neck, something hanging delicately on a thin chain just above her sternum. It's the bird. With an arrow clutched in its beak. He'd recognize it anywhere. How does she have it? Greasy Sae, the old woman he bought it from, told him she made it herself – that there were no other kinds out there. He hadn't seen it in years. At least, not since her.

Not since Katniss.

Ø

Parkersfield, IN; Thursday, February 14, 2008 (17 years old)

"Happy Valentine's Day, sweetheart," Peeta says, kissing her temple as he hands Katniss a slender box wrapped in pink wrapping paper covered in a heart pattern.

She laughs, "Interesting choice of wrapping paper, Peeta."

He smiles and shrugs. "Hopeless romantics go all out."

She shakes her head and smiles up at him, a smirk quirking up the side of her mouth. "Oh, you're hopeless, Peeta, but I don't know about the romantic part."

He just laughs, tapping the gift in her hand. "Just open it, lady, sheesh."

"Alright, alright," she relents, starting to peel away the wrapping paper.

His leg is bouncing up and down, and he's biting his lip. He's not sure if she'll like it.

When she finally opens the black box, revealing a delicate gold necklace, her expression is unreadable. Or he can't really see her face with her head tilted down. She doesn't say anything.

"You were telling me the other day," he explains as she examines it. "About the bird you saw. How it almost sounded like the lullaby your dad would sing to you. You know, about the meadow." When she still doesn't answer, he begins to panic. "I, um, can return it if you want. There's—"

"No, Peeta," she says, and finally she looks up at him. There are tears in her eyes. He hadn't noticed. That's why she kept looking down at it. She didn't like people seeing her cry—even him, despite his continuous reassurances that she could be the ugliest crier in the world and it wouldn't faze him. "It's beautiful. So thoughtful." She leans over and kisses him, and it's so soft and meaningful that it wends a delightful feeling through his veins. "I love you. Thank you for this."

Ø

He remembers the day so clearly, from the minute he woke up to when his head hit the pillow later. When he drove her home that night, they discovered the house empty, her parents away at dinner for the night and her sister Prim at a sleepover, and they'd taken advantage of the empty house, making each other fall apart again and again in her bed until they finally heard a car pull in the driveway.

How did this girl have this necklace? Had Sae lied to him?

He's suddenly conscious that he's staring, and he forces his eyes away from it, moving them back up to hers.

"I like your necklace," he says.

"Oh, thanks," she replies, a hand reaching up to touch it. "It's a—"

"Bird, I know," he finishes for her. "Only one of its kind?"

She tilts her head, confusion marring her features. "How did you—?"

"Finn!"

They all turn their heads in the direction of the man's name, and there's a guy from their group motioning them over.

"Ah, shit, they're grabbing another round; let's go!" Finn exclaims, dragging Johanna with him.

As they go, Peeta sits there in mildly stunned silence, still trying to wrap his head around how this random woman could possibly have Katniss's necklace. Had Sae made another one? Or did Katniss sell it at some seedy pawn shop? The possibility makes him sick. He almost wants to drive all the way to that old jewelry store to find out.

Katniss Everdeen. That is a name that will torment him for years. Hell, it already has. It's been seven years since that fateful day, and he still can't shake the image of her—from his daily thoughts, dreams, and memories. How could he shake her though? She'd been so important to him.

Ø

Parkersfield, IN; Wednesday, August 6, 2008

"Peeta, I need to tell you something."

The words stop him in his tracks. Nothing good ever comes after that statement. The sudden seriousness in her tone unnerves him, leaving him unsteady on his feet as he stiffens, as if his body is bracing for impact. Had he done something wrong? He turns to face her.

"Yeah?"

She doesn't meet his eyes, seemingly interested in her fingers as she fiddles with them, trying to muster up the words. Trying to tell him something she doesn't want to—something she's still having trouble accepting.

Finally, she releases the breath she didn't realize she was holding.

"I'm…" she sighs, looks further away from him as she turns her head, the words tiptoeing from her lips reluctantly. "I'm leaving."

His brows furrow. "Uh… Okay? Then I'll see you tomorrow—"

She shakes her head, interjecting, directing her gaze right at him now. "No, Peeta, I'm leaving. In about a week. For California. I'm… packing up my bags. My dad's job moved locations again."

The words render him absolutely speechless. She can't be serious.

He voices his mind's commentary. "You can't be serious."

Her eyes flit to the floor, avoiding his gaze again. There's a sadness tinged in her features now. "I am. We're moving."

Ø

He'd been so overwhelmed. Just a couple words, and just like that, his life would be changing forever. It was difficult for him to absorb, let alone accept. He couldn't get any sleep that night, his mind too full with questions and no answers.

It's then that Finnick bumps into him again, getting his attention and breaking his reverie.

"Hey, you should come join us ov'r there," Finn reprimands him drunkenly. "We're havin' a lot of fun, man."

"No, it's okay," Peeta says. "I'm good over here."

"You sure?"

"Absolutely."

"Dammit, Peet, ya gotta live it up a little sometimes," Finn slaps him on the back a little too hard as he says this.

Peeta reflexively presses his shoulder blades together at the dull pain. "Yeah, I know; you tell me all the time."

"Well, it's true," Finn says. "You should be more like Johanna." He tips his glass in her general direction. "She's crazy. But I love it. They're the best people t' be around." He tips his head back, downing the rest of the beer in his glass and slamming it down on the table a bit too hard. Luckily the glass doesn't break. But Peeta's sure he was very close to doing just that.

"She's got a friend," he slurs, resting an elbow on the table and raising his eyebrows at Peeta. "Name's Katniss. Weird ass name if you ask me, but she's kinda cute anyway. She's also kinda quiet. Just your type." He flashes a lopsided grin.

His entire body freezes up.

What?

Peeta can practically feel the blood draining from his face as he looks bewilderingly at his friend. No. That can't be possible. She can't be here. She moved years ago. She left and never looked back. She—

"Peet, 'r you okay?" Finn asks, concerned. Hell, even drunk, Finnick is attentive as ever. Peeta almost wants to laugh; if he hadn't heard that name he hasn't spoken in so long, he probably would have.

"Yeah, yeah," Peeta begins but then shakes his head. "No… actually. Earlier, you said—Johanna's friend…" He stares hard at his friend, as if telepathically trying to seize the name from Finn's mind. "What was her name?"

"Oh," he says, a question in his eyes. "Katniss?"

It's her.

There's only one person in the world who would have that name.

Ø

Parkersfield, IN; Tuesday, August 12, 2008

"So then why are you giving up on this? On us!" he yells.

"I'm not giving up!" she screams back at him, but despite the ferocity in her words, he can see the moisture glistening on the surface of her grey eyes, surely beginning to mirror his own. "I don't want this! God, Peeta, this is exactly the opposite of what I want." She's pleading now, with him. "I'm sorry that these are the cards we got dealt with. But we both know it won't work. Please don't do this to me, Peeta, please. I never wanted to leave you. Or this. Us." She looks away from him as a tear finally makes its escape from her eye, landing on her cheek. "You're the best goddamn thing to happen to me in all the years I've lived here, Peeta. I'm lucky I even stayed here this long. But my life has never been stable. I was stupid to think you were going to be, too. Nothing in my life is constant."

"But it can be!" he fights her. "We can try. Please, Katniss. It doesn't have to be like this."

She doesn't respond for a moment, not meeting his eyes. She shakes her head. "I can't, Peeta. I can't."

Ø

Since she left him behind that summer, he'd done all the requisite things a boy like him would do. Graduated high school. Applied to college. Moved into a dorm. Had some short relationships here and there. Once he was finished with college, he found his own place in Indiana, back near his hometown. It was all he'd ever known. Besides, he could help maintain his family's bakery until he found a solid job for his field.

Through it all, there hadn't been a single day where Katniss wasn't in the back of his mind. Each day brought with it a reminder of her. Even if he tried to will himself away from thinking about her, his mind would snap right back to the memories. He'd see a stormy sky and be reminded of the way her eyes flashed when she was angry. He'd see someone wearing boots and would think of the ones she wore so often they began to scuff. Everywhere he turned, she was there, tormenting him. It made him frustrated and melancholy and confused. But somewhere in all of that, he knows he was lucky to have had her for even that amount of time in his life. It was better than not having met her at all.

It's then that he turns his head, and suddenly, everything in the bar falls into slow motion. He spots long, raven-colored hair, plaited in a signature braid. Olive skin. Grey eyes. Delicate hands. Mouth moving in conversation, talking to Johanna.

She's here.

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Parkersfield, IN; Saturday, August 16, 2008

They're resting on a pile of blankets in the back of her old pick-up truck, parked in the center of the grass field they always went to. Though he is holding her close, her head nestled under his chin and her hand resting on his chest, he can practically feel her slipping away from him, and it ruins him. To know that this happy bubble he'd been living in would soon be burst. To know that his anchor—the one that had been keeping him grounded for so long—would suddenly vanish from his life in an instant, casting him away from what he knows and into the open waters of uncertainty. He wants to say something, anything, to get her to stay. To convince her that somehow, between the hundreds of miles they'll be from each other, they could make it work.

But where are the words when you've got none? The feeling kindling in his chest is difficult to put into words, a mix of sadness, dread, acceptance, and longing. They're unpleasant emotions – ones he'd been able to escape when he was with Katniss. How awfully ironic it is that she was now the one making him feel them.

"Peeta?" The sound of his name on her lips brings him back.

"Yeah?" he says, his voice suddenly hoarse.

"You're crying," she whispers, as if afraid to speak louder, to break the silence they'd been sitting in.

He hadn't realized he was. He wipes at his cheek, and sure enough, his fingertips come back glistening with tears.

"I guess I am," he says, rubbing his thumb over the moisture. "Sorry. I didn't realize."

She just looks at him, chin resting on her hand, a sadness staining those grey irises as she studies his face.

"We can still talk when I'm there," she offers. "Luckily, it's the 20th century. We've got our phones. The internet. We don't need to send letters through horseback."

He smiles wanly, nodding. "Yeah" is all he says.

She's silent for a little while, and he can feel her thinking, wondering how she could lighten the mood. How she could possibly fill in the cracks beginning to form inside of him. She doesn't realize she's the one holding him together, keeping those cracks filled. Keeping him whole.

She seems to realize this. That there's no way to fix something that isn't yet broken.

"I'm going to miss you, you know," she bites her lip, which was now trembling. "So much."

The words undo him, and he sucks in a breath, more tears replacing the ones he'd thought went away. He doesn't look at her, turns his head. Afraid of what he'll see in her eyes. Afraid of this. Afraid, once again, of the direction his life was going to go. It's a helpless feeling. His heart swells now, filling up with something that overwhelms him. That squeezes the tears from his eyes and onto his cheeks.

The emotions pile up in his throat, and he almost sounds like he's choking as he returns, "I'm going to miss you, too."

He pulls her close the next moment, their lips meeting, tasting each other again. There's a desperate edge in their kisses; he can feel the longing in them and wonders if she can feel it in his, too. When they finally shed their clothes, Peeta hovering over Katniss, surrounding her like a cocoon, it becomes aware to him that this would be the last time. The last time he'd feel her underneath him. The last time he'd hear his name fall from her lips like that. The last time he'd hold her this way. The last time. The last goodbye. He doesn't think he's ever experienced something so bittersweet.

Afterwards, they just hold each other. No words. No conversation. Just them, her truck, and the open field around them. Gathered together under the muted light like a broken promise.

Ø

It's like a dream. She's like a dream. For a moment, Peeta wonders if she is one. Is she real? Is it really her? She's so beautiful. He'd almost forgotten. But he didn't. How could you forget a face that's broken you down and built you up so high at the same time?

His feet seem to be propelling him on their own, and when he reaches her, she stops in her tracks as her eyes lay upon him, the words she was saying halting in her throat.

"Katniss," he says. The name sits surprisingly comfortable in his mouth, fitting like an old glove.

She's speechless for a couple more seconds, the bewildered look on her face almost comical, before she clears her throat and blinks slowly, verifying that he's real.

"Uh… Um, Jo, could you just… give me a few minutes?" she says to her friend, not breaking eye contact with him, as if afraid that if she looks away he'll vanish.

That's what she did to him all those years ago, didn't she?

Johanna looks confused but nods and leaves them alone, going off to find Finnick.

She's a little taller now. Older. Wiser. He can see it in her slender face, in her eyes.

"Peeta," Katniss finally says, and it's chilling hearing his name spoken by her voice once again. It's like a ghost. "What are you… What are you doing here?"

He almost wants to scoff at her, but he refrains from doing so. "I think I'm the one who should be asking that, don't you think?" he says quietly, almost defensively.

Her mouth practically clamps shut, lips squeezing together and turning down just slightly, as if ashamed for asking such a question. Her eyes tread the floor, blood filling her cheeks, and he remembers the way she always did that when she felt embarrassed or flustered. It seems she still does it.

God, he remembers everything about her.

"I meant what are you doing here," she says quietly, "in this bar." She finally looks back up at him, a question in her eyes. "You still… live in, um…?"

"Parkersfield? The town we grew up in?" he offers, almost venomously. He doesn't know where this restrained hostility is coming from. It's unlike him. "Yeah, I still live there, Katniss."

She swallows uncomfortably, looking away from him again and fiddling with the beer bottle in her hands. Blue Moon, which he knows to be her favorite. She seems so different but in some way she also hasn't changed a bit.

"That's good, I guess," she murmurs. "How, um… How are things?"

Before he can answer, a loud cheer erupts from the bar, further making it difficult to hear in the stuffy building.

He leans towards her, speaking into her ear over the noise, "Do you want to go outside and talk?"

She just nods, albeit hesitantly, following him as he pushes through the sweaty, alcohol-drenched throngs of people. Luckily, it's stopped raining, and they find a quiet spot on the side of the building, lighted by a dim light attached to the wall. There's a couple people loitering and smoking farther back, but they don't even give Katniss and Peeta a second glance. To them, they must look like a regular pair of friends talking.

How surprised would they be if they only knew. They're composed of a regretful woman and the man she left behind seven years ago.

They stand in silence for a couple minutes, side-by-side and sipping on their drinks, listening to the muffled throb of the music and the indistinct voices of the people inside. Finally, Peeta breaks the silence.

"So, you never answered my question," he says matter-of-factly. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm visiting my aunt Effie," she answers him. "She lives ten minutes from here. Her husband, Haymitch, owns the bar." She tucks a loose tendril of hair behind her ear. "I, um… That's pretty much the only reason I come back to Indiana at all these days. To visit her."

He nods, absorbing her words. "When did you get here?"

"Two days ago," she replies.

"Did Johanna go with you?"

Her head whips towards him then. "How do you know—?"

"My best friend, Finnick. He made friends. Introduced us."

She smiles. "He's nice. And pretty funny."

He nods, a smile curving his lips, too. "Yeah, he's alright. Until you get to know him," he chuckles. "No, I'm kidding. Finn can be a little overbearing at times, but if you really know him, he's the best damn friend anyone can have."

"How'd you meet him?"

"At a frat party," he smirks, remembering the shirtless, hopelessly drunk college version of his friend. "My freshman year. He didn't have a partner for beer pong, so he looked around, spotted me, made me his teammate, we won all three rounds, and… the rest is history."

She laughs. "How romantic."

"He captured my heart with his first frat boy hoot."

She giggles. God, how long has he waited to hear that laugh? It's melodic to his ears.

He pauses, contemplating in the silence between them. "So I see you gave my necklace away."

Her eyes cut to him, and there's something in them. Apology? Regret? Both?

She shakes her head. "I couldn't… keep it, Peeta. It hurt too much to look at it," she tells him. "So, I gave it to Johanna—for her birthday a couple years ago. I didn't tell her where I got it from; she just assumed I bought it somewhere." She fiddles with the label of her beer bottle, peeling at the corner. "It was a way to not get rid of it so permanently. I just needed it to be out of my possession… away from me."

He doesn't say anything, just nods in acknowledgement. "Well, for what it's worth, it doesn't look nearly as good on her as it does on you."

When he says this, he immediately regrets the words. Or does he? He doesn't know; he can't sort through the feelings in his chest right now, much less the words in his head. Is he flirting with her? He can't even tell himself.

"Thanks, I guess."

"No problem."

He finishes off the rest of his beer and walks over to the nearby trash can, dropping it in.

"So uh, you live in San Bernardino?"

"No," she shakes her head. "San Diego, actually. San Bernardino is where my school was. Is."

She takes a pull from her bottle, grimacing a little as she swallows it down.

"I came back here after I graduated actually," she tells him. "I missed it, so I rented out a place for a couple months to save up and got a temporary job until I could afford something decent in California. I went back a little under a year later."

He turns towards her as he absorbs this piece of information, taken aback.

"You came back?" he asks, bewildered.

She nods, looking confused by his tone of voice. "Yeah, I just said that."

"You came back, and you didn't even tell me?" he accuses, hearing the anger beginning to stir in his voice.

She shakes her head at him, growing tense at his tone. "Peeta, I didn't even know if—"

But he's relentless, made angry and regretful after all these years, and it's beginning to pour out of him. Seven years' worth of words he's only ever longed to say to her until now. "You're telling me you were within my reach at some point in this… this break in the time I'd see you again, and… you didn't even try to reach out to me?" The accusation is palpable in his voice.

"You don't—"

"I meant that little to you? Is that what you're trying to say?"

"What was the use?!" she finally yells at him. "What, you wanted me to come back here and go looking for you? You thought we could do that? That I could just call you up and we could pick up right where we left off? You think it would've been that simple?" She shakes her head at him, anger flashing in her eyes. "I wasn't even sure you were still there, Peeta! And at that point, it wasn't worth it! I moved on. I hoped that you had, too! You promised me you would!"

"I did!" he counters, almost bellowing at her, something inside of him finally breaking. "I did move on, okay? As best as I could! Y'know, you left, and yeah it fucking crushed me and took me awhile to pick up the pieces, but I accepted it. One way or another, I did. But that didn't mean it wouldn't have meant something to see you again." He scoffs, shakes his head, jaw flexing. "For fuck's sake, Katniss. I fucking loved you. There had never been something so… wonderful and reassuring a-and… amazing in my life before you. You were there, in my life like a fucking dream, and in the next instant, you were gone." His blue eyes bore into her, the sincerity she had known so well shining in them. His voice is beginning to dissipate in intensity, dimming into a near-murmur. "So forgive me for being at least a little frustrated knowing you didn't even bother to see if I was still here. And yes, it was hard for me for awhile, I admit that. I'm not afraid to admit it. It would've been… absurd if it wasn't. But I did get on with my life. I promise you."

She falls silent for a moment, letting his words sink in.

"We always did have our separate lives, Peeta. You had a better future than me anyway. This would've happened whether or not my dad's job moved or stayed."

"No," he immediately denies it. "No, it wouldn't have. We would have made it work. I would have made it work. I loved you too much to just give up on us."

She doesn't say anything to this, just stares at the ground.

Ø

Parkersfield, IN; Friday, December 12, 2008

"You can still try to get into the University of Michigan, you know," he says. "I think you can do it."

She scoffs at him. "Yeah, right, Peeta. As if. You're not even sure if you'll get in. What makes you think I can?"

They're sitting on his bed in his room, in the process of thinking about what colleges to apply to. Peeta had applied Early Action to some schools and just received his first acceptance letter from Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Between the two of them, everyone knew Peeta was smarter. And maybe he was, but he knew that Katniss needed to give herself much more credit. There were things she was capable of that he wasn't. She needed to remember that.

"I'm just saying, Katniss," he says. "You're so much smarter than you know. You have a chance, whether you'll admit it or not."

"Stop," she pleads with him, serious now. "Just stop, okay? Don't say things you don't mean."

Before he can even open his mouth, she's left the room in a rush.

Ø

"I still believe it, you know," he says softly after some silence.

She turns her head towards him. "Believe what?"

He looks at her, holding her gaze in his. "There was a chance. We could've made it work."

She scoffs, looking away from him. "Well, it didn't, so we might as well put the past behind us. No use dwelling on it."

"But I just don't understand why you—"

"Peeta, I'm engaged," she finally tells him, wanting him to stop dredging up the past. It kills her.

His eyes flicker instantly towards her ring finger, and sure enough, there's a silver band dotted with a single diamond adorning the slender digit. Jealousy and remorse vine themselves immediately around his heart, around his throat. Here she is—the woman he still loves in front of him in the flesh once more—and he's losing her again. It's like the universe is testing him.

For a moment, he can only muster two words, still letting the idea that she belongs to someone else sink in. "To who?"

"Gale," she says. She can't look at him—the man she once loved—doesn't know if she still does. Can't tell him that she's found someone else. She doesn't think she can take a single, long look in his blue depths and convince herself for sure that she doesn't still love him—that she doesn't love the body and soul attached to those expressive irises. God, why does he still make her feel this way? "I met him at Cal State."

California State University. Her alma mater. She graduated with honors. He remembers hearing about it fleetingly from his father who still talked occasionally to Katniss's mother.

"How long?"

"Have I known him?"

"No. How long have you been with him?"

"About two years."

He nods. There's a knot tying itself tighter and tighter in his heart. He doesn't know how to handle this. Wasn't prepared—for any of this. For seeing her again. For hearing about her life. For having his heart broken once more. It's unbearable. He scrubs a hand over his face, his mind replaying all the events that's happened so far in the evening. He'd come here hoping to have a good time with his friend Finnick. How different the night has twisted so far.

Katniss's phone pings with a text. She digs it out of her coat pocket to read it.

She sighs. "We better get back inside. Johanna and your friend are looking for us."

He nods in agreement. "Yeah. We should. Thanks for, um, indulging me and coming out here. It was… nice to catch up."

"Yeah, it was," she says.

A beat of silence. They stare at each other, examining each other's faces. Making mental notes where they see the differences from the versions of themselves seven years ago. She steps towards him finally, wrapping her arms around him in an embrace—a long overdue hello to an old friend, an old lover. He wraps his own around her tightly, and the feel of her against him is still so familiar. It's the same way they held each other when he dropped her off at the airport the morning that she left him. Is this another goodbye? It feels like his heart is ripping in two and being sown back together at the same time. As he closes his eyes to ward off the sudden tears layering his eyes, her head tucked under his chin, he breathes deeply, getting a whiff of her hair. Her shampoo is different from the one she used when they were teenagers, but her skin still smells the same, a sweet, comforting aroma that just whispers to him, Home, home, home.

After almost a minute, he releases her reluctantly. She looks up at him. There's a loose strand of hair resting on her face, and he yearns to reach up and tuck it behind her ear, like he's done so many times before, but he forces his hand to stay by his side. She's not his anymore. He should have accepted this a long time ago, but he just can't bring himself to do it.

"Come by tomorrow. For Christmas Eve," he says. "Rye will be there. And my dad. Basically the whole family. You should come, Katniss, it'll be like old times—"

"My flight leaves tomorrow morning, Peeta," she says gently, almost afraid of disappointing him. "I have to be back in California to spend Christmas Eve with Gale's family."

Of course she had to be back home. How stupid of him to think otherwise.

"Oh," he says, nodding. "Of course."

"Yeah," she says awkwardly, then nods towards the bar entrance. "Let's go inside."

She walks towards the door, leading the way. He follows.

Ø

Christmas Eve, the next day

Parkersfield, IN; Thursday, December 24, 2015

"Just a minute!" Peeta calls out when he hears the doorbell ring.

After stirring the spaghetti sauce, he crouches down to check the cheese buns before jogging briskly out of the kitchen, swinging the front door open.

It takes him a second to really believe she's standing there.

"Katniss?" he asks, shocked. "What are you… What are you doing here? I thought—"

It's then that he notices her red-rimmed eyes, the flesh around them beginning to swell. He waits a beat for her to say something before he finally asks.

"What happened? I thought you left this morning?"

"Gale…" is all she says at first then closes her eyes. "He's been cheating on me. I found out last night, from Johanna, after you and Finnick left. She got really drunk and told me everything." She sniffles, looking down at her hands, fidgeting with them. He notices that the silver band is gone. "She's been Gale's friend for ten years, and she's only known me since the beginning of college. She didn't know whose side to choose." She shakes her head, not meeting his eyes. She laughs to herself, but it's mirthless. "But I guess the alcohol helped her out with that."

He deflates. Even if he was unbelievably jealous of Gale, he hates seeing her in pain.

"Katniss, I'm so sorry," he consoles gently.

"Me, too," she mumbles. "Anyway, I, uh, didn't know where else to go, so I came here. I, um, remembered your address; can you believe it?" She shakes her head, laughing a bit, though there's a forlorn quality to it. "I missed my flight this morning, obviously, so I took a cab here. I hope it's not too much to ask…"

He sighs. How could she even doubt her welcome for a second?

"Katniss, of course you can stay," he says resolutely.

She nods in assent, relief sagging her shoulders. The gratitude in her gaze is intense. "Thank you, Peeta."

He steps aside, letting her through the door. Letting her back into his life once more.

Ø

After dinner, Katniss once again had nowhere to go, so Peeta offered his place. She agreed. It wasn't like she had any other option anyway. On the way back, they drove in relative silence, the radio whispering some jazzy Christmas song to them. When they got there, she complimented his apartment, looking around and examining it. He was relieved to find it relatively clean, with only a used cup on the coffee table and a couple books lying around, among other things.

Peeta's standing in the kitchen now, Katniss in the living room by the big window. He finishes washing the last dish, and he places it in the dishwasher, closing it and wiping his hands off.

He joins Katniss by the window, and she's looking down. When he reaches her, he notices that she's crying silently, and he grows alarmed.

"Katniss?" he asks urgently. "What's wrong?"

She says something, but she's choked up, and it's muffled.

"What?"

"You did it," she whispers, a slightly trembling hand covering her mouth, her head shaking marginally.

"I did it?" he repeats questionably, trying to understand her. "Did what? What did I do?"

She keeps looking at something, and he follows her gaze. The primroses. As teenagers, they had planned that out: they would grow primroses on the side of their future house to honor Katniss's deceased sister. Looking back on it now, he realizes it was almost reflex. It was the first thing he did when he bought the apartment. They're planted across the windowsill, blooming nicely despite the winter. It may have reminded him of Katniss, but he had known Prim too before she died. He loved her dearly, like a younger sibling.

"Yeah, I did," Peeta finally says. "I planted them. Of course."

She reaches out, her fingers gently brushing a delicate petal. He steps towards her.

"Careful," he cautions, reaching for her wrist to stop her movements. "They're alive, but they get really fragile in the winter. Better not to touch them."

She's silent for a little. He's looking down at them but can feel her gaze burning into the side of his head.

"I could live a thousand lifetimes," he hears her, "and still not deserve you."

He turns his head towards her to say something, but he has to hold his breath. She's so close to him. He only gets a second to look at her before her lips are on his. He's stunned momentarily, but the familiar feel of her lips molding against his has him closing his eyes and reciprocating a second later. A hand reaches up to cup her face, the other wrapping around her hip, pulling her against him. Her hands are on his waist. He can feel them burning through the material of his flannel shirt. They stand there, re-familiarizing themselves with each other's mouths for a full minute, before he pulls away.

She's looking up at him, and her eyes are such a lovely shade right now. He can't believe he gets to see them up close like this again. Before, he could only pull up pictures of her—pictures which never did justice to the way her eyes looked up close. Seeing them now, it overwhelms him, fills him with the memories of all the times he's watched the greyness shift and change. He loves them. They're a part of her, and because of that, he loves them.

"Katniss, you've no idea how long I've been waiting to do that again," he whispers.

But she does. He doesn't realize how much she had been hurting since she left him. She told him once that leaving him behind was something she never wanted to do. That he was a wonderful part of her life—one that she would never let go if she had the choice. It was still true.

"I think I have some idea," she tells him.

It's then that he feels the overwhelming need to have her—to feel her underneath him, to remember the way his name sounds like falling from her lips in an impassioned sigh.

He kisses her again, more desperately this time, prying her lips open and nibbling at them gently. It's been years, but it's a dance they've practiced so many times, and their lips fall into step nimbly. He doesn't realize it, but he's walking, and when they reach his room, he opens the door blindly and presses her against the back of it, kissing her harder. He moves his mouth down her jawline, planting soft kisses there before moving to her neck, kissing it before sucking her skin into his mouth. He doesn't care if it leaves a mark, doesn't care if this is the only night he gets to have her like this once more. He'll take every goddamn minute he gets with fervor.

"Peeta," she finally sighs his name in that voice, that breathy tone he loves so much, and he groans softly against her neck, moving back up to her mouth.

"I love it when you say my name like that," he almost growls, and her eyes widen slightly. He notices her irises are just thin rims around the darkness of her pupils, and he thinks his own blue orbs probably look the same.

He removes her from the door and turns her, walking them towards the bed. Her legs give out when the back of her knees hit the edge, and she falls onto it, Peeta crawling on top of her, spreading her out easily. He tugs on the bottom of her sweater, pulling it up and over her head, and she paws at his shirt, unlooping the buttons one-by-one, albeit impatiently. When she's halfway down, he takes over, unbuttoning it quickly himself and whipping it off, throwing it somewhere, not caring where it lands. When he reaches around her to undo the clasp of her bra, he throws it off to the side as well and pulls back from her lips, looking down at her, half-naked before him, her nipples taut, chest heaving with the effort to breathe.

"Katniss," he whispers reverently. "You're so… fucking perfect."

She doesn't get a chance to respond, his mouth possessing hers once more, tongues tangling together. A palm reaches up to latch onto one of her breasts, and she moans into his mouth softly when he begins to knead it. They still fit perfectly in his palms, and he wonders fleetingly if they still taste the same. He bends down to find out, sucking one of them into his mouth, biting gently and swirling his tongue over it.

"God, Peeta," she sighs, eyes closing.

He just grunts against her, kissing his way over to the other before giving it the same treatment. He moves his mouth back up to hers once he's satisfied with his work, and he reaches down suddenly, swirling his thumb over her clit gently, and she tears her lips away from his, her head going back to gasp her pleasure to the ceiling.

"Peeta," she gasps. "Oh, God…"

He grins, touching her delicately like that for a few more moments before applying more pressure, swiping the swollen nub back and forth.

She whimpers loudly, "Oh fuck."

She looks down at his hand working between her thighs, legs spreading further, and she looks up at him. He's concentrated on his work, tongue peeking out between his lips, and he finally looks up at her, pure lust written in his inarguably blue eyes. She fights against the pleasure to keep her eyes open. She's staring intensely at him, can't believe this.

"You still remember…" she manages to get out.

He just stares back at her, rubbing faster, determination fueling his actions. As her mouth opens at the sudden surge of ecstasy, she watches his eyes get darker, lust clouding his eyes further, before the pleasure reaches its peak.

"Of course I do," he growls, and she comes almost immediately, gasping and moaning her satisfaction out loud.

He waits for her to catch her breath, hands resting over her eyes before swiping at the sweat that's formed on her forehead.

"Oh, my God, Peeta," she huffs, melting further into the mattress as her orgasm finally wanes. "Oh, my God."

He just kisses her body languidly as she climbs down from her high, and when he feels her nails raking in his hair, he knows she's ready for him.

He's painfully hard, his dick pressing insistently on the fly of his jeans, and he opens them finally, breathing a sigh of relief. He removes his jeans, but before he can get his boxers off, she's reaching for him, a hand snaking into the hole in the front, pulling him out. He's so hard, like granite, and he groans softly as her palm runs over him experimentally, familiarizing herself with him once more just as he had done with her. She catches the bead of pre-cum at the head with her thumb, spreading it down his shaft, and he sucks in a breath.

"God, Katniss…" he says reverently.

He can feel himself nearing the edge, and there's no way in hell he's finishing that way, so he coaxes her off of him gently, pulling his boxers off finally.

He huffs, looking at her, examining her. "I have, ah, condoms, if you—"

She shakes her head, looking into his eyes. "I don't want to use one."

He returns her gaze with a question, nodding hesitantly. "Okay, well, are you, ah—"

"I'm clean, and I'm on birth control," she tells him.

He sighs. He's not sure he can trust his body to last longer than a minute inside her without a barrier, but he nods again.

"I'm clean, too. I haven't had, um… sex for awhile, anyway, so—"

"I trust you," she interrupts him, and he sucks in a breath. He knows the words mean so much more than the surface.

He crawls over her finally, and he revels in the feel of her lithe body pressed against his. He reaches a hand up to her jaw, kissing her sweetly.

"You can't know how happy I am to have you here with me," he says honestly, and it swells her heart, filling her with an emotions he can't quite place.

But she doesn't have time to respond as he reaches down.

"Oh, God," she moans when he pushes into her, sliding in only halfway at first, then pulling back and filling her to the brim. She'd almost forgotten how wonderful he felt. He was a piece of her. "Peeta…"

"Katniss," he groans, stilling. "Oh, God… I almost forgot…"

She leans into him, her mouth nearing his ear. "I didn't."

He sighs at the admission, his hips beginning to push into her, and the rush of pleasure she feels as his cock slides through her wet folds makes her lean her head back and moan. His cock still stretches her in all the right ways, her walls pulsing around him. He looks down between them, watching his thick shaft disappearing inside her, revels in the feel of her tightening down around him. She feels so good—better than he remembers, even, and he groans his approval into her neck, hot, heavy breaths against the sensitive skin there. She's gasping each time he pushes into her, small whimpers and moans escaping here and there.

"Peeta," she moans. "You feel…"

"Yeah?" he encourages her, moving against her harder, and her face contorts further in ecstasy. "Feel good?"

She whimpers pathetically. "So fucking good," she groans in response, eyes closing against the pleasure and her head tipping back. "Please don't stop."

He groans and thrusts faster now, encouraged by her dirty talking. She moans loudly, her back arching up, dragging her nipples across his chest.

"Mmm," he rumbles, dipping his head down to suck a nipple into his mouth, suckling at her sweetly. "God, Katniss, you're so hot and wet. Fuck."

Katniss moans her approval into his mouth, and he groans at the rush of wetness he suddenly feels soaking his dick as he thrusts into her heat. He hasn't forgotten how much she loves it when he talks dirty to her, and it's working wonders for them now. He can feel himself nearing the brink, and his eyes roll back into his head when he feels her pussy tugging on his cock, milking him tightly.

"Fuck," she keens, her back arching even further when he begins thrusting into her even harder. "Oh, God, Peeta. I'm gonna… Ngh, fuck... I'm gonna come."

He almost whines pathetically, grinding against her suddenly to rub against her clit roughly, and she gasps, thighs clenching against him at the stimulation. He swells even bigger inside her, stretching her further, and her body quivers momentarily, squeezing him tighter. He watches her eyebrows furrow together, teeth tugging her bottom lip into her mouth as she leans her head back, helpless whimpers falling from her open mouth. He groans as he feels her dripping down his shaft.

"Katniss," he groans, can feel the release right there, eluding him. "I'm close, baby… Oh, God…"

He reaches down suddenly to swipe his thumb over her clit, and she practically lurches off the bed, a scream sticking in her throat as she comes hard on his cock.

"Oh, fuck!" she screams out. "Peeta, oh, my God…"

Her climax seems to trigger his, and he gasps, thrusting into her faster, emptying himself inside her, spurting his release. He loses his rhythm, closing his eyes against the pleasure coursing through him, cascading from his groin to the rest of his body, his muscles bunching up.

"Shit," he groans when he finally stops, remaining inside her momentarily to revel in her warmth.

She's still catching her breath, eyes closed, arms slung over her head in defeat. She still looks absolutely breathtaking, even in her post-coital bliss. He finally rolls over, falling on the bed next to her, his own breathing labored. He turns towards her, rolling her onto her side and pulling her close, wrapping an arm around her. He kisses the spot behind her ear tenderly. They don't speak, just listen to the sound of each other's breathing.

The room is silent, save for their heavy breaths, but Peeta's mind is reeling. Finally, he asks the question he's afraid of the answer to.

"Did you love him?" he asks. He braces himself.

She waits a moment, thinks to herself.

"Yes," he practically feels his breath hitch. "But differently. I loved him the way I would've loved the brother I never had. But was I in love with him? No… Gale did everything a boyfriend should do. You know, took me out to dinner, kissed me, complimented me every now and then, bought me gifts." He feels her warm fingers caressing his arm, and she twines their hands together as she speaks the next words. "But he never made me feel the way you did... Like I was safe. And loved." She brushes her lips softly over his knuckles. "That's how I know I didn't actually love him."

He sighs, nestling closer to her. The words warm him from the inside out, his heart thumping harder in his ribcage. Just when he was beginning to think he could finally start to forget about her, he doesn't know if he can love Katniss more in this moment.

He's not sure how it ended up like this. Not sure how, by some twisted fate, Katniss had fallen back into his arms like a gift from God—just in time for Christmas. But that's the way his life had always been, it seems. His life was always changing in instants. One day Katniss was there, and in another she wasn't. And now here she is, back where she belongs, and he's still having trouble believing it.

But for now, of all the instances that have changed the course of his life again and again, winding him down roads he's never known, he finds that he wishes he could freeze this one right here and now, and live in it forever.

A/N: Well, I hope that was enjoyable! I thoroughly enjoyed writing it, as I hope you did reading it. If there are any errors, I apologize. I edited and proofread this as best as I could, but sometimes it still isn't quite pristine.

Please share your thoughts and suggestions in a review. I'd love to hear some feedback! Should I keep writing for this fandom? If yes, suggest me some prompts or stories. I've got a lot of free time for the next month, so I need something to keep me preoccupied. :)

Also, if enough people are interested, I might continue this! Just let me know and I'll start working on it. And again, it is also posted on my new account SugarlessTeaMellark so I'd prefer that you leave reviews and favorites and such there, but here is also okay!

By the way, Happy New Year everyone! I wish you all so much happiness and health in 2016.