Oh, and yes, Katniss and Peeta have been friends for some time. And yes, I do realize it has been an inappropriate amount of time since I have last written on here. It's actually been so long that I had to reread chapter one to keep this chapter consistent.

Chapter 2: Is Anyone Here Alive?

"Madge!" I scream out when I walk into the room.

My mom whirls her head around at me and glares at me. I instinctively cover my mouth with both hands. If people were to find out about my mom's black market clinic, we could end up getting punished. Punishment is very severe here, in District Twelve.

"What happened?" I ask, now with a whisper.

Now that I'm closer to them, I can tell that my mother has been crying. My family and Madge's family are extremely close. Madge's mom and my mom used to be best friends before Mrs. Undersee was executed for treason.

"Domestic issues," my mother whispers softly.

Those two words lay thick and heavy in my mind. Madge was born into the nuptial group, and she was wedded off just over three years ago. She has already had a baby boy, and now she is pregnant with her second child. Upon further inspection, I see that none of the wounds are on her stomach.

Isn't he just the perfect gentleman?

Madge was fourteen when she married a thirty-three year old lumber jack. I look, in fear, at her awful life because I know that soon, Prim will share her fate.

"Is she and the baby going to be alright?" I hesitantly ask. "If the baby is hurt… I can only imagine how distressed Madge would be."

"The baby will be fine. As you can tell, her husband was careful to avoid her abdominal region," my mother objectively informs me. "Physically," she continues, "Madge will be fine, but if this keeps happening, I don't know what the mental effects will be like."

Silence fills the room. Neither does my mom or I want to speak anymore. I step closer to where Madge's body lies, and I take her left hand in my hands. I say a silent prayer, for her safety, in my head. She has been my best friend since I was born. She was born in March and I was born in October. Madge had her seventeenth birthday two months ago.

I am staring worriedly at Madge's face when I hear our door open, and soon following I hear it shut closed.

"Mom?" My sweet, innocent sister asks. "What happened to Madge?"

"Oh, honey," I can see my mom carefully choosing the right words in her head since soon this could be my sister's future. "She and her husband had a few accidents with each other… She will be ok though."

"That's good to hear," my sister says while putting on a relieved smile, "Madge and I are in the same group, so will also get into accidents like her?"

Silence overcomes the room immediately. My mom shifts uncomfortably, and I can't think of anything acceptable or appropriate to say.

"I hope not. From the bottom of my heart I hope nothing happens to you," my mom finally says.

I can tell my my was about to say something else to my sister, but she is cut off by the loud sound of our cult's gathering bells.

"CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!" They ring out over and over again.

"Why are the bells ringing?" I ask in wonder. "Isn't it a little late to gather everyone?"

My mom looks nervously at Madge's still form.

"It should be ok for her to stay here. Since this isn't an predetermined gathering, no one should be expecting her to attend," my mom decides.

"Prim, why don't you stay here also," I suggest.

My mother seems to be happy with my offer, so she nods her head in agreement. We both silently agree on the same thing. Whatever is going on in the town's center, Prim doesn't need to know.

Noise fills the town center as people gather together. Everyone is gathering around a wooden platform in the center of the town's square. On the middle of the stage are several District Twelve elders, and on the left side of the platform there is a blanket covering what looks like a form of a human adult.

One of the elders takes several steps forward and prepares to speak.

"We have a special occasion for everyone to witness and take part of!" he says with a booming voice filled with confidence.

The elder, I think his name is Jaureous, nods his head at a group of young men at the base of the platform. Two of the men walk onto the stage, and then they make their way towards the human figure. One of the men grapes a corner of the blanket and whisks it off the figure. Underneath the blanket is a bound and gagged man that has wide, terrified eyes.

He looks close to my age, maybe no more than nineteen. He has pitch black, shoulder blade length hair, and pale looking skin. I've never seen hair as dark as his before.

"This man," begins Jaureous, "was found and captured several kilometers from our walls. He is from District Eight."

The gathering audience all simultaneously gasp.

District Eight is another religious cult that worships a god that is Seriphra's rival. We hate District Eight, and District Eight hates us. Some of the people in the crowd are growing restless in the presence of this abomination. Jeers ring out directed at the District Eight member, and soon stones get hurled his way. I would join in too, but I'm sure my mom would be disappointed in me. My mother is very anti-violence, so she would be distraught to see me act up.

"Tie him," Jaureous commands.

The two men lead the boy to one of the pillars on the platform, they cut the rope that was around his arms and legs, and then they chain him to the pillar so he's standing upright. Jaureous saunters his way over to the fidgeting youth.

"Now boy," Jaureous starts in a low, commanding voice, "What were you doing so far away from home, and so close to our home?"

The boy gives Jaureous an exasperated and helpless look.

"Ah, yes, of course," Jaureous says with dark humor, "You can't answer me can you? Silly me to forget that you're gagged."

He uses his hand to remove the cloth from the boy's mouth.

"Now that that's taken care of, answer the question."

"I was…" The District Eight member is now shaking.

"I see that District Eight does not care whether their children are proficient in speech," Jaureous mocks which receives chuckles from the crowed.

The boy looks like he has recomposed himself a little better as he opens his mouth to speak again, "I was part of a hunting group that was tracking down… some runaways."

"Runaways?" Jaureous asks not believing the story.

"Yes, two girls fled our district."

"Why?" Probes Jaureous.

The boy gives a half shrug.

"General… Unhappiness?" He says disingenuously.

This guy is an obvious liar. He probably wanted to cause problems for us. I think bitterly.

"What's your name?"

"My name?" He asks, seemingly unsure of himself. "… Melth… Melth Lerlock."

"Well, Mr. Lerlock. It seems we will be able to present Seriphra with an extra sacrifice this year," The crowd goes crazy with applause.

Lerlock looks absolutely horrified from the news.

"Please! Please. I have to take care of my family!" He pitifully begs. "I have to feed them!"

The only reply he gets from Jaureous his a hearty laugh.

"That poor mother," I hear my mom suddenly whisper.

Did my mom seriously buy the story that Lerlock gave? I look at her, and her eyes are large, filled with sorrow. My over-compassionate mother, feeling sorry for the enemy. I catch a glimpse of Peeta in the crowd, and he also looks sick to his stomach.

One of the earlier men walks up to Melth and covers his head with a hood. Then he and another man unchain him from the pillar and walk him to the town center's jail. They will prepare him their for the upcoming sacrifice, and they will probably interrogate him about District Eight.

Roll… Roll. Twist. Roll. Twist… Twist a little bit more… Knead… Knead. Twist. Roll. Roll. Done!

With a satisfied sigh, I place the bread dough in a bowl that's on a rack above the oven. All it needs from me is some patience, and then the dough will rise beautifully. I am Peeta Mellark, age sixteen, and I take great pride in the baking expertise. I am infamous for being an over-the-top softy towards people, and the question of my masculinity has been insulted more than once. Strangely, I'm okay with that.

After everything that has happened today, I have to clear my mind. And as usual, I do it by baking in the kitchen. I full heartedly believe what Melth said about his family. The way his eyes pleaded as he beg showed no ulterior motive to his claim. I sigh as I measure some flour and add it to the mixing bowl. I hear the kitchen door open, and I look over to see my mom enter the room.

"Mom," I say, acknowledging her.

"Peeta," she nods her head at me.

My mom is a very strict woman, but she and I also have a great bond. She was originally part of the nuptial group when she was younger, and she has had (including myself) three boys.

"Intense day, huh?" She asks me as she gestures to my baking.

My mom knows about my habit of baking to get my mind off of events that I'm not too fond of.

"Yeah," I sound dejected, "Do you really think they are going to kill him?"

"You already know the answer," my mother says mirroring my dispirited mood.

"Isn't that basically murder?"

"You could say that, but I suggest you don't in public," she warns me.

I give her a sad smile, and she walks over to me and hugs me. I hug my mom back.

"Peeta," my mom says to me as she shakes slightly, "I am so happy that you grew into such a perfect child."

"I'm only perfect in your eyes, you should hear some of the stuff the other boys say about me."

My mom pulls out of our embrace, then she holds my hands in hers.

"I'm so happy…," I gulp because her eyes well up with tears. "I'm so happy that all of my ch- all of my children are… boys. Healthy boys," she chokes out.

My heart clenches. We've had similar conversations before about how poorly women are treated in our cult. I start to tear up a little too as a recall my mom's past. My mom was fifteen when she was married off to her first husband who was thirty-two. He was a special kind of bastard, and just thinking about him makes me upset. He put her through a lot of stuff that my mom won't even tell me about. He "mysteriously" died three years after the birth of his son, Rheigh, and then my mom met my father. I have heard many great things about him, but he also died a couple years after my birth.

Since my mom has seen and been through many awful events she's grateful that she will never have to subject a daughter to the torture that she went through. Knowing that our cult offers very little protection for the female gender, I promised my mom that I would love and cherish whatever woman I end up with.

"Mom," I whisper quietly.

"Peeta, you're going to grow up to be the greatest person this district has ever seen," a single tear escapes from her eye. "I love you."

"I love you too."

A moment of peaceful silence washes over us.

"Mom?" I ask, breaking the silence.


"I think I might already like a girl."

"Oh." She simply states.

"I'm not sure if I do, but there is a possibility."

"I don't want to discourage your feelings, but I would be careful if I were you. Getting too attach may end up hurting the two of you."

"Thanks mom."

I checked on Madge after I came home from today's surprise gathering. I was relieved to find her skin's coloration looking better than it did this morning. My mother has now sent me on an errand for her. The town center's jail is in need of bandages and cleaning alcohol, so I was asked to deliver them. I would rather be anywhere than in close proximity to the District Eight member. I enter the jail, and a large guard looks at me skeptically.

"The fuck do you want?"

"Um.." I fidget. "I'm here to deliver medical supplies." Why do I sound so unsure of myself?

He holds his hand out, "Give it here."

I don't have to be told twice. I promptly hand over the basket of supplies to the surly guard.

I turn to leave when I hear the guard call out, "Wait!"

Hesitantly I focus my attention back on him.

"Yes," I respectfully ask.

"Do me a favor. Take this food to the Eighter in cell six. I don't feel like looking at that cunt."

I gulp at the request as I look at the tray of food next to the guard.

"Do as I say quickly you little bitch!" He shouts.

This galvanizes me to grab the tray and scurry down the hallway towards the holding cells.

I unconfidently approach cell number six. Inside, Melth Lerlock has his back propped up against the back wall, and his eyes are glaring at me. He has bright green eyes, a color I have never seen on anyone in District Twelve.

"Food," I announce.

"Joy," he says with mock happiness.

I place the tray underneath the cell door, and I give it a good push so it reaches the prisoner.

Curiosity gets the best of me.

"What were you doing outside District Twelve?"

"I think I already toward you all that."

"You think I'm a fool to believe that?" I ask.

"I don't know what you are, but I do know what I was doing."

"So you hunt runaway girls who are sick of being raped?" It feels so great to speak to a man this way.

"S'pose so," he says as his eyes leave mine and stare at the tray of food.

"All you men are the same, it doesn't matter what district you come from. I'm going to enjoy watching you get your heart torn out."

"I don't think that's a very fair judgment of my character, seeing as we've only said a few sentences to each other." He appears to be getting upset.

"You hunt runaways, there's not much left of you to judge," I pointedly remark.

He sighs, and he visually calms down.

"It's true. I was selected to join the hunt. I didn't very much so have a choice in the matter though."

"Of course you didn't," I sarcastically reply.

"Do you want to know why I was near District Twelve?"

"Yes," I say while rolling my eyes.

He exhales in a distressed manner.

"I was trying to get the other hunters off of those girls' trail."

This takes me by surprise.

"Why would you do that?" I ask. I'm not fully buying his tale.

"Because one of those girls is my sister."

So I realize that Katniss's hostility towards Melth might seem OOC, but remember she grew up in a cult that pretty much brainwashed her since day one. Hating a guy from District Eight is an easy (and safe) way for her to get her anger out. I also decided to make Mrs. Mellark and Peeta have a good relationship. I wanted to have the scene between the two of them to show a little bit of why and how Peeta is the person he is even under the pressure of the cult.

Melth Lerlock. I wanted a character outside of District Twelve to come into the story, so hopefully his character will work out.

So I want to try something different. If you have a general question about the story that others might benefit from, ask it in the review. I want to have a small Q&A section at either the beginning or end of the chapters to answer questions about the story.

Thank you very much for waiting way too long! Please review.