Welcome, welcome to my very first fanfiction! Thanks so much to the absolutely lovely misshoneywell and nmoreblack for their indispensible help in betaing/prereading this story for me.

This story is rated M for language, innuendo, and (eventual) sexual situations.

Disclaimer: The Hunger Games is the intellectual property of Suzanne Collins and Lionsgate Entertainment. I don't own anything.


"Please don't tell Coach Brutus, Ms. Everdeen! I can't be failing, I'm going to be kicked off the team!" the hulking boy in front of her wailed.

Katniss had never seen the boy in such a state; he was a troublemaker who swaggered around the school as though he owned it. To see him cowering near tears was more than disconcerting to her.

She sighed, feeling a headache coming on.

"Listen, Cato, I'm sorry, but you know the rules about late assignments. I assigned this project three weeks ago, too. You had more than enough time to complete it."

"I know and I'm really sorry, but please let me turn it in late! The coaches from the high school are coming at the beginning of next week and I have to be at practice! They could put me on varsity! Do you know how big of a deal it is to be on varsity as a freshman?! I promise I'll bring the project first thing tomorrow morning, plus I'll do a bibliography and everything. Pleeeeease, Ms. Everdeen!" he begged.

He was openly weeping at that point, and as irritated as Katniss was, she wasn't totally cold-hearted. She could tell that the possibility of making varsity was incredibly important to him, probably the one thing he had been working toward the entirety of his middle school career. She pondered his suggestion for a moment, and then made her decision.

"Okay, Cato—" she was cut off by his sobs growing louder. "Cato—" she tried again. "CATO!"

His wails ceased immediately, and he regarded her with watery blue eyes. "Y-yes, Ms. Everdeen?"

"Listen to me, and listen to me carefully, okay? I'll let you turn the project in tomorrow—" she was cut off by him again, this time by his loud whoop of joy.

"Yessss, thank you, thank you, thank you, Ms. Everdeen!" he shouted, coming around her desk to give her a big hug of gratitude, lifting her up in the process.

She struggled in his arms, cheeks flushed.

"Cato, put me down immediately!" she said, sternly.

He acquiesced, placing her back in her seat. His bright blue eyes looked at her with childish hope, and she realized that she had done the right thing.

He's only a kid, she thought. I don't want to ruin his life just yet.

"Okay, like I said, I'll let you turn in the heritage project tomorrow, but you can only get up to 70% on it. It wouldn't be fair to the students who turned it in on time if you're allowed to get full points after turning it in late. If you do a full bibliography, I'll add the points from that to your participation grade. I realize that making varsity is important to you, but I want you to understand that this is the last time I'll allow you to turn something in late, all right? You must learn to be responsible for your schoolwork. The teachers in high school are going to be a lot less lenient than here in eighth grade. Got it?"

He nodded rapidly, a huge smile threatening to break his face in half.

"Thank you so much, Ms. Everdeen! You won't regret it!"

She couldn't help but return his smile.

"Okay, Cato. I want the project first thing tomorrow morning. Don't forget, all right? Have a good afternoon."

He beamed at her, cheeks dry and eyes bright.

"Thanks again, Ms. Everdeen. You don't know how much this means to me. I'll see you tomorrow morning!"

She smiled at his back as he exited the classroom, ready to go home.

"God, what a long day," she muttered.

She laid her head down on her desk for just a moment, running through all the things she had to do tonight.

Laundry, grocery shopping...I probably have to get more food for that damn cat while I'm at it. Plus, I need to start grading these projects too, ugh!

She let out a loud groan, wanting nothing more than to just jump in her bed with takeout and trashy reality TV.

She got up with a sigh and was collecting her things to go home when she heard a sharp knock on the classroom door.

"Ugh, what now?" she mumbled, turning around exasperatedly.

"Rough day, huh?" Madge asked sympathetically. "Was Cato Anderson just in here? I saw him doing a jig down the hallway. What did you do to make him so happy?"

"I told him I'd accept his heritage project late," she replied tiredly. "He was crying his eyes out, begging me not to tell his coach. Apparently, the coaches from the high school are coming next week and making the varsity team is, like, the most important thing to him. I felt bad, I don't want to ruin his life just yet."

"Aww, you're so soft, Katniss!" Madge teased. "Katniss Everdeen, champion for slacker student athletes everywhere!"

"Shut up, Madge," Katniss replied with a smirk. "How were your afternoon classes?"

"Pretty uneventful, the kids had a test today so I didn't have to do much. I mostly just replayed lunch with Gale in my head. He certainly made a meal out of me," she said wistfully, a dreamy look on her face.

"Okay, enough. You guys are the worst with over sharing. I don't need to hear about your sex life 24/7," Katniss replied with mock annoyance.

In reality, she was glad that her two best friends were so happy with each other. Ever since they were kids, Madge had had a thing for Gale, and Katniss was only too happy that Gale had finally wised up and asked her out four years prior. They were happily married now, having celebrated their sixth month wedding anniversary over the Christmas holidays.

"You love it," Madge said with a snort. "Hey, do you wanna come over for dinner? Gale's grilling."

"Not today," Katniss sighed. "I'd love to, but I've got so much shit to do tonight it isn't even funny. Hey, do you mind helping me carry these projects to my car?" She pointed to the small pile in the corner of the classroom.

Madge nodded. "Damn, these kids really go all out, don't they?"

"They love this project. It's a lot more fun than writing an essay, I guess."

"Yeah, for sure. You have everything? Ready to go?"

Katniss glanced over the classroom one last time, confirming that she had everything she needed for the night. "Yeah, let's go."

They departed the classroom together, and Katniss locked the door behind them. Madge prattled on happily during their walk to the parking lot, with Katniss offering a cursory grunt in response every now and then. She felt bad for ignoring her friend, but she could only think about how utterly exhausted she was. Work had been hitting her even harder than usual post-Christmas. Her students had been more distracted than normal. And it had been so damn cold; the draconian superintendents had refused to cancel classes on several subzero days, much to the misery of students and teachers alike. All she wanted to do was sleep.

Maybe I should take the day off tomorrow, she thought. A three-day weekend might be nice.

Once she and Madge reached their cars, she fumbled in her purse to pull out her keys, precariously balancing the pile of projects in her other hand. Once the door was open, she shoved the projects into the backseat and all but fell into the driver's seat.

"Hey Katniss, are you okay?" Madge questioned worriedly. "You look so exhausted…maybe you should take the day off tomorrow and call a sub. I can bring you Cato's project tomorrow afternoon and get the stuff from your mailbox. I don't mind."

Katniss smiled at her friend tiredly. "Thanks, Madge. I was actually thinking about it. I probably should take a breather tomorrow. I had a movie scheduled for the kids on Monday anyway, I can probably just move it up."

"No problem, girl. I hope you feel better! I'll see how you're doing tomorrow afternoon. Maybe we should make some plans this weekend, just you and me. To defuse," Madge said with a grin.

"Sounds great. Thanks again, Madge. I'll see you tomorrow."

Katniss pulled out of the parking lot with a wave, thankful that Madge understood where she was coming from. If she were being truthful with herself, she had been in a funk ever since Christmas break ended. Prim had left to do her fieldwork at the beginning of January and would be abroad until May, so their apartment felt empty and quiet all the time. Madge and Gale were still in the honeymoon stage of their marriage, totally enamored with each other, and she didn't want to pester them with her loneliness during their happy time. Johanna, her roommate from graduate school and her closest friend after Gale and Madge, lived across the state so Katniss didn't see her on a regular basis.

As she drove home, she began to think more. Ugh, this is pathetic, she lamented to herself. She was just so lonely. She missed her sister, she missed having a life outside work, she missed being with a man.

Wait, what the fuck? She slammed on the brake, shocked that the stray thought had entered her mind. Well, you do. Don't beat around the bush.

She sighed, turning the corner into her apartment complex. She parked her car in her designated spot, and rested her head on the steering wheel in exhaustion. She did miss being with a man. She missed being in a relationship.

She hadn't seriously dated anyone since her disastrous break-up with Darius two and a half years earlier. She met the jovial, handsome redhead in a graduate seminar during the first year of her master's program. He was sweet, gentle, and absolutely adored her. She enjoyed his companionship and loved how he was in bed, but wasn't actually in love him. Unfortunately, much to her dismay, he was head over heels for her, and asked her to marry him two months before her 26th birthday and their graduation. She was completely blindsided by his proposal; she never thought he felt so seriously about her. Turning him down was hard, because she really did care about him. She didn't want to hurt his feelings, but she also didn't want to sacrifice her own principles by giving into his proposal.

Darius took the rejection hard, but thankfully remained cordial until graduation, after which he took a job across the country at some hoity-toity boarding school. Katniss had dated a couple guys here and there, but didn't really care for any of them in particular. Once she began teaching at Panem Middle School the year before, though, she had been swamped with work, effectively putting her social and dating life on the backburner. She loved teaching social studies to her eighth grade pupils, but sometimes they were a lot. She forgot what it was like to just relax.

Pull yourself together, Everdeen, she chastised herself. You can mope around after you go grocery shopping.

She pulled herself out of the car, gathering the small mountain of projects into her arms, and pulled out the key to her apartment. She trudged up the steps of her apartment building, and opened the front door. Upon entering, a flash of orange fur collided into her shins, almost making her lose her balance.

"Damn cat! I'm not Prim! She won't be back for four months, you really need to stop doing this to me."

Her sister's mangy cat glared at her with beady yellow eyes, the disdain evident in his look. She pulled a face at him.

"I hate you too, okay? The only reason I haven't given you away yet is because Prim would literally skin me alive. I really don't know why she loves you so much…" Katniss trailed off, kicking her shoes into the coat closet.

Buttercup hissed at her, then trotted away to his water bowl.

"Why couldn't one of Prim's friends have taken you, ugh…there's no way in hell they're all allergic…"

She carefully threw the pile of projects onto the kitchen table, and poured herself a glass of water. Gulping it down, Katniss looked into the fridge, making a quick inventory of everything she needed to get at the store. With a sigh, she made her way to her bedroom, stripped herself of her uncomfortable work clothes, braided her hair, and threw on a pair of yoga pants and an old sweatshirt from college.

She moved the projects into her bedroom and placed them on her desk, so Buttercup couldn't destroy them in a fit of rage.

Wouldn't put it past him, she thought to herself.

Slamming her bedroom door, she grabbed her car keys, locked the front door, and jogged down the steps to her car. She settled herself into the driver's seat, started the car, and backed out of the complex. She fiddled with the radio on the short drive to the supermarket, landing on NPR and unwound to the sound of Ira Glass debating the Secretary of Education on the pros and cons of the charter school system.

She quickly reached the supermarket, thankful that it didn't seem to be too packed. The last thing she wanted to do was hear screaming children begging their frazzled mothers for sweets. She parked, hopped out of the car, and grabbed a shopping cart. She made her way to the produce section and loaded up on all the vegetables she would need for her salads for the upcoming week, throwing a couple mangos and plums into her cart too, since they were on sale. She hit the dairy and cereal aisles as well, and was picking up her required coffee creamer and beloved Honey Bunches of Oats when she felt her phone buzz in her pocket.

Madge: do u remember Cashmere Carlson from high school? She's pregnant with her FIFTH KID WTF.

Katniss' jaw dropped. Cashmere was in the same grade as Madge and Katniss growing up, and though she was a nice enough girl, they weren't friends. Katniss knew that Cashmere had gotten married right after graduation, and remembered her having twins around the time Katniss came home for summer vacation after her freshman year of college. She couldn't believe Cashmere was going to have five kids by the time she was thirty.

Katniss: sounds like hell. is she still married to Seneca Crane? mb someone should give them a box of condoms at the baby shower.

Katniss walked into the ice cream aisle; if she was going to take the day off tomorrow, she wanted to enjoy it with a tub of green tea ice cream.

Maybe a bottle of wine, too. Might as well go all out, she mused.

She was pushing her cart along to the wine racks when she felt her phone go off again.

Madge: yeah that or a gift certificate for a vasectomy

Katniss snorted, letting out a giggle at Madge's wittiness. She tried to maneuver her cart and text Madge back at the same when she felt her cart crash into someone else's.

She jumped, mortified that she might have broken something in the other person's cart. The cart's owner, a blond man with his back turned to her, didn't seem to be too concerned, as he continued to peruse the cabernet sauvignons.

"I'm sorry! I wasn't looking where I was going, I didn't mean to hit you. I hope nothing's broken," she fretted.

"Hey, don't worry," the man said, his back still turned to her. He picked up a bottle of wine off the rack and turned around to face her. "I'm sure nothing's broken. Accidents happen," he said with a grin.

When she locked eyes with him, she felt herself flush immediately. A wide and friendly grin stretched across his face, and he had the deepest blue eyes she had ever seen, twinkling with his smile. He looked a little bit younger than she was.

Maybe he's a recent college grad, she contemplated.

His t-shirt stretched over his muscular chest, his biceps straining against the thin sleeves. His blond hair was curly and fell in waves over his forehead; he was easily one of the most attractive men she had seen in quite some time.

I wonder what that curly hair would feel like under my hands, she thought distractedly, and then froze in horror. Are you fantasizing over this stranger in the grocery store? I know you're lonely and needing to get laid, but get limits, she scolded herself.

The grin gradually fell from the man's face and his mouth twisted into a frown.

Oh no, she lamented. He knows that I want to jump him, he can tell, he can smell it on me, oh God, I'm a perv—

"Do I know you?" he asked. "You look familiar."

"Uh, I don't think so?" she replied, her face contorted in concentration. She looked him up and down again.

He does look a little bit familiar, I guess… did I know him in college? But there's no way he went to school at the same time I did, he looks too young. Maybe I was a TA for him?

She ransacked her brain trying to figure out where she knew him from when when he interrupted her thoughts with a loud "holy shit!"

She looked at him curiously. The realization lit up his face, and he wore a smile so wide it looked as though his face was about to break in half.

"Holy fucking shit! Oh my fucking God!" he cried. He looked so happy, practically bouncing on his toes in excitement.

"Who are you?" she asked impatiently. "How do you know me?"

"Katniss, don't you remember me?" he babbled, eyes shining with delight. "It's me, Peeta! Peeta Mellark!"

She paused, regarding him with questioning eyes. As soon as he said his name, though, everything clicked into place. Her eyes widened almost comically and her jaw dropped wide open.

"Peeta?!" she gasped. "Oh my God! I haven't seen you in—"

"Like twelve years, right? Goddamn, this is crazy! I can't believe I ran into my old babysitter at the grocery store!"

Babysitter, she thought, head spinning. I used to babysit for this boy—no, man. I used to babysit him when he was eleven and I was seventeen. I used to babysit for him and I was just lusting after him, fantasizing about doing dirty things to him less than five minutes ago.

"Oh, fuck."


;)

I hope this was enjoyable! This story should be around five or six chapters in total.

I'm flythruflames on tumblr, come say hi.