Katniss was reeling. She couldn't believe the exceptionally gorgeous man in front of her was the same sweet, round-cheeked boy she used to watch after school way back when.

Is this a joke? Is someone playing a trick on me? Holy fucking shit, this can't be real life.

Peeta frowned, looking at her with worried eyes.

"Hey Katniss, is everything okay? You're looking a little green. Do you need to sit down or something?"

Katniss blinked rapidly and cleared her throat.

"No, Peeta, I'm fine…just totally shocked. Wow, I can't believe it's you! How old are you now? I haven't seen you since you were so little."

Peeta grinned, his blue eyes twinkling with delight.

"I wasn't that little, I was almost twelve," he laughed.

Katniss smirked. "Please, last time I saw you, you were like five feet tall and your hair was so long I could barely look you in the eyes. I almost didn't recognize you just now, you look so different."

He let out a deep rumble of laughter at this, and Katniss felt her knees go weak.

Oh my God, his laugh is so sexy. I can't believe this is the same kid. This is so wrong,. Look at that jaw, and those eyes and that smile, just stop stop st—

"I'm 23 now," he said, beaming. "And yeah, I guess I did change a lot, huh? I shot up, like, seven inches the year after you left for college, and another five inches the next year. Plus I started wrestling in the eighth grade instead of sitting around eating cookies all day," he replied with a wink.

Katniss felt faint.

"So! Katniss, have you lived here long? I still can't believe I ran into you here!"

Katniss gathered her wits and tried to maintain calm.

"Not long, actually. I've been here about a year and a half now. I teach social studies to eighth graders at one of the middle schools. What about you? What brings you here? Did you just graduate?"

"Yep," he replied, rocking on the balls of his feet. "I graduated last spring, got my bachelor's in art history from Capitol University. I'm actually starting a Ph.D. program this semester."

"Oh!" Katniss gasped. "A doctorate program! Over at Mockingjay State? That's incredible!"

He smiled softly, his cheeks flushing with color.

"Yep. Thanks," he replied. "I deferred enrollment for the fall so I could help my dad out at home. My brother and his wife had to wait 'til their lease was up before moving back home to take over the bakery for Dad."

"Your family still has the bakery? Wow, that's great!"

"Yeah, dad's been saying he's getting too old to wake up so early; he transferred ownership to Bannock so he could retire. I know he's only half serious, though. Old man can't stay away from those ovens for too long," he said.

"I'm glad to hear it's still running," Katniss replied sincerely.

Before she could say any more, they heard an exasperated "Excuse me!" coupled with the sound of someone clearing their throat. They both turned around to see a harried looking older woman, eyeglasses askew, tapping her foot impatiently.

"Could you please have this conversation somewhere else? Some of us need to get to the Moscatos!" the woman trilled, indignation on her face.

Katniss opened her mouth to fire back at the rude woman, but Peeta beat her to the punch.

"I'm really sorry, ma'am," he said, eyes wide with sincerity. "I was just catching up with an old friend. We didn't mean to inconvenience you."

The woman blushed, gazing into his eyes, transfixed.

"Oh, I'm sorry young man! I didn't mean to rush you, I'm just in quite a bit of a hurry."

"Not a problem, ma'am. We'll get out of your way. Have a lovely evening," he replied with a bright smile.

The woman darted past them to get her wine, tossed it into her cart, and locked eyes with Peeta again.

"Thank you, dear," she breathed.

Katniss stared at the departing figure of the woman disparagingly.

"You had her wrapped around your finger," she deadpanned.

"What can I say? Older women love me," he joked.

Katniss felt her heart drop into her stomach at his words.

HE KNOWS, he knows that I think he's hot, he knows he knows, oh fuck fuck fuck fu—

Her train of thought was derailed by Peeta's phone ringing. He checked the caller ID, then apologized to her, saying he had to take the call.

It's probably his girlfriend, he probably has a girlfriend, look at how sexy he is, of course he has a girl—

"Hello? Oh, hey Finn," Peeta said into the receiver.

Finn? Finn is a man's name. Is Finn his boyfriend? Does he have a boyfriend? He has a boyfriend, and I used to babysit him and now I'm lusting after him. I'm a sick fr—

"Oh, fuck, I didn't realize it was so late. Shit, sorry man. I'll be back as soon as I can. all I need to do is check out."

I'm keeping him from his boyfriend, his boyfriend is gonna break up with him, oh my god, I'm ruining his li—

"Yeah, man, I'll be back in like, 20 minutes. I'll see you and Annie soon, yeah? Okay, cool, see ya in a few."

He pressed 'end call' on his phone screen and shoved it back into his pocket.

"Hey, Katniss, I'm really sorry to run out on you. That was my buddy from school; he and his girlfriend were helping me move in today and yesterday. We have dinner reservations at 7:30 and I totally lost track of time so I gotta run. They're leaving tomorrow morning."

"That's fine," Katniss squeaked. "It was really good seeing you, Peeta, have a gre—"

"Can I get your number?" he asked.

"W-what?" she breathed.

"Yeah, I really loved seeing you and I wanna catch up with you more. It wasn't enough just chatting for like, fifteen minutes. I missed you a lot after you moved away for college, ya know? Plus, I just moved here and don't really know anyone yet since my classes don't start for another week. It'd be nice to have a friend around," he said genuinely.

Her world was spinning. He wanted to see her again, he wanted to be friends with her, he missed her.

"Y-yeah," she stuttered. "Give me your phone, I'll put my number in for you."

He handed his phone to her so she could program her number in. Once she did so, she handed it back and he shot off a quick text.

"I texted you saying it was me, so you have my number now, too," he beamed. "Do you wanna get together to hang out and catch up sometime? I know you said you're a teacher so your hours are probably really tight."

Should I tell him I'm taking tomorrow off? Would that be too eager?

"I actually have tomorrow off," she replied. "I've been pretty swamped at work so I decided to take a personal day. We can get coffee or go to lunch or something, if you want."

His responding smile was the widest she'd ever seen, the joy evident in his dazzling blue eyes.

"That sounds perfect! I'll text you tomorrow around noon to solidify our plans," he said, excitement coloring his voice. "I'm really sorry, but I've gotta run now. It was so great seeing you, Katniss."

Before she could reply, he swept her up into his arms and gave her a huge hug. She stiffened at first, but quickly melted into his embrace, wrapping her arms around his neck and hugging him back.

His arms are so big and strong and his chest is so solid, and he smells so fucking good, holy shit holy shit, what would he feel like on top of me, arms wrapped around me as he pounds in—

He pulled away from her, a smile on his face, and she lamented the loss of the sensation of him wrapped around her. He maneuvered his cart towards the registers so he could check out, and smiled at her one last time.

"I'll see you tomorrow afternoon, Katniss. Have a great night!"

She waved weakly in return and watched him retreat to the registers. Her face was flushed and she felt too warm.

If that's what hugging him feels like, what would kissing him be like? Lying with him in bed? Fucking hi—

She jerked upright, gripping the handlebar of her shopping cart.

Okay, enough. Stop being a pervert, he just wants to be friends because he doesn't know anyone here.

Well, she thought. I could always use another friend. And I am curious about what he's been up to these past twelve years.

Gathering her wits, she ran to grab eggs and food for Buttercup before making her way to the checkout line. She tossed a pack of gum into the cart, and flipped through a tabloid as the cashier rang up her purchases. Once she swiped her debit card and loaded the cart with all of the bags, she made her way out of the supermarket and into the parking lot. She placed all of the groceries into the backseat of her Civic, pushed the shopping cart back to its designated space, and all but collapsed into the driver's seat.

I can't believe that happened, she thought. Peeta Mellark! She hadn't seen him in years.

"Babysitting? Mom, are you serious?"

Mrs. Everdeen pinched the bridge of her nose, totally exasperated.

"Look, sweetheart, I know you don't particularly like being around childr—"

"Mom, I hate being around little kids, you know that! What if the kid isn't potty trained? No way am I changing gross diapers all day for a year, ugh."

The mere thought of it made Katniss shudder.

"The boy you would be watching isn't actually a baby. He's starting sixth grade."

"Oh, a bratty middle schooler? What is he, like twelve? Isn't he old enough to watch himself?"

"His father just doesn't want him alone all day. Both of the boy's brothers are much older and out of the house. His father owns the bakery and can't get home before eight. You would just need to watch him from four until his dad gets home."

"His dad owns the bakery? Is it Mr. Mellark's kid?"

Katniss really liked the jovial baker; he would always slip extra cookies to Prim and her whenever their mom took them to the bakery as children.

"Yes, it's his youngest son, Peeta. Rye left for college and Bannock's at school too, so Mr. Mellark needs help from someone else, and Peeta's mother isn't around to help since their divorce was finalized."

Katniss grimaced at the thought of the baker's bitch of an ex-wife. Mrs. Mellark was the meanest person she'd ever met. She was so glad Mr. Mellark had finally wised up and divorced her.

"How much would he pay me?"

"Eleven dollars an hour."

Katniss' eyes bugged out of her head when she heard the figure. That was way more than she would be making working a shitty retail job or bagging groceries at the supermarket, and she needed to save up a lot of money before she graduated high school in the spring. College was expensive.

"Eleven dollars an hour, four hours a day, five days a week? That's not bad…is there a catch? Are you sure this kid isn't trouble?"

"Peeta's a dear, sweetheart," her mother replied. "Ask your friend Madge, she lives right next door to them. Mrs. Undersee said Madge used to watch him when he was ten or so."

Katniss hadn't heard Madge mention Peeta before. If Madge said he wasn't too bad, then Katniss would gladly take the job.

"Okay, mom. I'll ask Madge what she knows about him. Thanks for letting me know about this. Tell Mr. Mellark I'll think about it"

"No problem, sweetheart."

Katniss: hey what do u know about peeta mellark? His dad needs a babysitter for the school year, I was thinking about doing it. my mom said ur mom told her u used to watch him.

Madge: OMG PEETAAA. he's the sweetest kid ever, I loved watching him. U don't really need to supervise him at all, he does his own thing but isn't like quiet or antisocial or anything. his dad mostly just doesn't want him in front of the tv all day. I'd totally be up to sitting for him again if I didn't have these dumb SAT classes evry afternoon ugh

Katniss: are u being for real or lying to me? If I start watching this kid and he's nuts im gonna kill u

Madge: NO IM BEING SERIOUS! he's a sweetheart, ur gonna love watching him. ok my break is over, back to studying. ugh I wish I was a genius like u and got a crazy high score on my first try

Katniss: sry ur not as lucky as me. lol just kidding, good luck & thanks.

Katniss exited out of her IM client and leaned back in her desk chair, pensive. She trusted Madge's judgment on the matter, and honestly, Mr. Mellark's job offer was the best one she had come across. She had done so well on her SATs and ACTs junior year, she didn't need to worry about taking those again and was all but guaranteed a full ride to study history at Capitol University next fall. All of her friends were too busy with college applications and test scores to hang out, and Prim, a freshman at Katniss' high school, was engrossed in her cheerleading squad. Gale was across the state at Coin College, and only came home during major breaks or long weekends. Maybe she really needed to spend her time babysitting, so she didn't feel as lonely anymore.

The following Monday afternoon, Katniss found herself on the Mellarks' front step. She rang the doorbell, rocking on her feet, waiting for someone to answer the door.

The door swung open and she looked straight ahead, but didn't see anyone. She looked around the foyer, to the left into the living room, up the staircase, and to the right to the sitting area but couldn't place the voice anywhere.

"I'm right here."

Katniss flushed, and looked down. "Oh! I'm sorry! I didn't see you down there."

The little boy who answered the door had a shock of blond curls atop his head, drooping down into his bright blue eyes. His cheeks were rosy, and he had a small smile on his face.

"It's okay," he said. "You're Katniss, right?"

"That's me," she replied. "And you must be Peeta."

"Yep," he said cheerfully. "Come in. I was just making some cookies."

Katniss eyes widened. "Cookies? Are you allowed to be using the oven? Will your dad get mad about this?"

Peeta let out a peal of laughter.

"I'm eleven, not six. And my dad is a baker, I've known how to make cookies since I was, like, nine. They're almost done, do you want one?"

"Uh, yeah, sure. Have you done your homework?"

"I did it at school. Hey, you get that you don't actually need to tell me what to do right? My dad just doesn't want me to home alone all day. I can take care of myself."

Katniss flushed. "I'm sorry, kid. I've never really babysat before, I don't know what it entails, exactly."

"N-tails? What are you talking about? What's that?" He looked at her curiously.

"Oh…it means…like—" he cut her off with raucous laughter.

"I'm just joking, Katniss. I know what it means! I'm just messing with you. Look, the cookies are done! Lemme get you one."

He bounded to the kitchen, pulled the cookie sheet from the oven, and placed it on the counter. He went around to the pantry in order to grab a step stool, and climbed up onto the counter to retrieve the cookie jar from the top most shelf.

"I made chocolate chip, I hope you like them," he said.

Katniss helped herself to a treat, took a bite, and almost moaned.

"Oh my God. These are so good!"

Peeta's chubby cheeks flushed, the pride evident in his eyes.

"Thank you," he replied. "My dad taught me."

Katniss helped herself to another cookie, munching as Peeta took one for himself.

Maybe this babysitting gig won't be too bad, she thought.

Katniss' senior year flew by. She wasn't being challenged at school, so she went through her classes with relative ease. She officially received her acceptance letter and scholarship to CU, so she didn't feel worried about anything academic. Madge received her early decision admission to CU as well, and they decided to room together on campus. Katniss was thrilled she was going to college with at least one friend from home.

As much as Katniss didn't want to admit it at first, she adored babysitting Peeta. He was such a sunny kid, never angry or moody . She really looked forward to spending time with him each day. He taught her how to bake cookies and showed her his paintings, and she taught him how to shoot a bow and arrow. It was like having another little sibling, and she loved it. Peeta's father was an absolute pleasure as well, often sending her home with a bag of treats to share with her family.

As the school year began to wind down, Katniss was more than ready to be done with high school. She had been accepted to a prestigious summer program, and would leave to do research under the History department head soon after her graduation. She was beyond excited, but still felt pangs of sadness in her heart when she realized that she was really leaving home. She was going miss her mother, she was going to miss Prim, she was going to miss her friends, she was going to miss Mr. Mellark, and she was going to miss Peeta.

She had really gotten close to him during their time together, and considered him to be a friend, even if she was six and a half years older than he was. On her 18th birthday in May, two weeks from graduation, Peeta presented her with a cupcake he'd made with his dad, gorgeously decorated like the forest behind their town. She gave him a big hug and lamented that their time together was coming to an end.

On her last day of babysitting, the day before she was leaving for her summer program, Peeta wept. He cried and cried, saying he would miss her so much, and that he she was his best friend in the whole wide world. Her heart broke at his tears, and she quickly reassured him that she would always be his friend, and that she would see him when she came back home for breaks.

Unfortunately, that was the last time they saw each other. Katniss' mother was offered a much better job at the hospital in the state capital, five hours from their hometown of District 12, and the Everdeen house was packed up and put up for sale. Katniss wasn't too upset by the move- her family's new house was closer to Gale's school so she could see him more often, plus it was only about an hour from her school.

Her life went on, and she enjoyed college with Madge and her new friends, and continued the next chapter of her life away from District 12.

"I'm an asshole," Katniss muttered. She was so awful to poor Peeta. She knew how much he cared about her, but never made any effort to contact him, or his father, after her family moved away. How did he not resent her for what she did to him? If she were in his place, she would've been livid.

She sighed, and put the car into reverse, backing out of the parking lot and making her way back to her apartment.

She would be lying to herself if she said she hadn't thought about him from time to time, but she was so nervous about contacting him years later. What if he thought she was crazy? Or a pedophile or something? Maybe he had totally forgotten about her.

She was proud to see how well he was doing, though. A doctorate program was impressive, and she was exceptionally happy that he was so successful.

Katniss pulled into her parking spot and trudged up the steps to her apartment, groceries in hand. Unlocking the door, she set all the bags on the kitchen counter, kicked off her shoes, and began unloading the groceries. When she was done, she filled Buttercup's food bowl, poured herself a glass of wine, and flopped onto the couch.

As soon as she hit the couch, she felt her phone vibrate in her pocket. Pulling it out, she opened her text app to read the message on the screen.

Peeta: Hey! I'm so happy I saw you today, can't wait to see you tomorrow!

Her lips broke into a huge smile and her heart fluttered in her chest. She couldn't believe how hot he was; it was almost unreal. She felt weird thinking about how attractive he was, though; she knew him when he was little, plus he had made it clear he only wanted to be her friend.

Still, she thought. It doesn't hurt looking. He's just so sexy, with those arms, and that jaw, my God that jaw, wonder what it would feel like between my thi—

"SNAP OUT OF IT!" she shouted suddenly. Buttercup yowled in shock at the sudden noise. "You can't lust after him," she said to herself. "He's only 23, you're almost 30. You were his babysitter, you knew him as a kid, it's wrong."

She couldn't afford to think like that. She couldn't afford to get close to someone she knew was off-limits and unattainable. It would break her down even more.

She sat up quickly, and texted him back.

Katniss: same! Let me know what you want to do tomorrow afternoon. Looking forward to seeing you then.

Once the text had gone through, she settled back into the couch cushions, taking a long pull from her wine glass. Her grey eyes lit up in amusement, and she retrieved her phone from her pocket to send a message to Madge.

Katniss: you won't believe who I ran into at the supermarket just now…

As always, thanks to the phenomenal misshoneywell and nmoreblack for pre-reading/betaing so marvelously.

Thank you for the lovely response to the first chapter; I can honestly say I'm floored by all the sweet notes and reviews you've all left. I'm so glad you're enjoying this xxxx

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