Disclaimer: The Hunger Games series belongs to Suzanne Collins. No copyright infringement is intended.

Author's Note: Hello, dear readers! Intrigued by my summary, were you? Well, hopefully the story doesn't disappoint. It's going to be a multi-chapter AU fic told from Peeta's POV (because the boy with the bread is my favorite), and (can't stress this enough) it is rated M for a reason. If you're squicked out by sexual content, this fic is probably not for you, so just go ahead and hit that back arrow button right now.

Okay, now that we've weeded out the prudes, on with the story! Enjoy!

I wander through the vast meadow near the outskirts of town. I can see her sitting there on the far side, undoing her braid and letting her long, silky, chocolate hair cascade down against her back. It blows in the breeze and she keeps tucking a few errant strands behind her ear. She looks so peaceful, and for a moment I ponder not disturbing her, just enjoying in the reverie she's experiencing on this sunny, summer day. But I keep marching forward. I have a purpose being out in this meadow.

I walk across the grasses that crunch under my feet, and approach the object of my affections with reverence. I kneel directly in front of her and gently touch the hairs that will not stay tucked and have been whipping about in the wind. I pull them back and lean in to kiss her now exposed cheek, and I can feel her face heat up beneath my lips. I pull back and she's blushing at me, looking more radiant than I have ever seen her, and giving me a look that only calls one word to mind: desire.

Before I can blink, she pounces on me and I land on my back in the rough grass. I watch her above me as her hair drapes in my face and tickles my nose. Her legs are on either side of me, and she's angled at just the right spot to press down on my ever-prominent erection. Well, at least it's ever-prominent when she's around. She lets her weight fall on my length and when she notices what she's sitting on, a giggle escapes her lips.

I almost come right there at the sound of her gentle laughter—part embarrassed, part frisky, and completely adorable.

She leans down and presses her soft lips against mine, and as our kiss deepens, I can feel her grinding against me in anticipation. Her body is telling me she wants to go further, but does she herself feel the same? I pull away and gaze longingly into her gray eyes, which have taken on a dark and lustful look to them. Grazing her hip with the tips of my fingers, I whisper, "Are you sure you want to do this?"

She smiles sweetly and gives me a small peck on my lips, then presses her forehead to mine. All I can see is her eyes, but I can feel her ragged breath on my cheek. She whispers to me, but my blood runs cold at the realization that it is not the voice of my Katniss whispering anymore.

"Dude, quit jacking off in your sleep and get up! It's already 9am and the whole family's over."

My eyes fly open and I release myself from my grip—how did my hand get down there?—and I whip my head around to find myself staring up at my older brother. He gives me an all-knowing smirk and I'm flooded with annoyance at his smugness. This isn't the first time he's caught me with my dick in my hand, but it was one of the better dreams I've had in a while, and he just had to go and ruin it.

My erection gone, I huff loudly and peel myself from the sweaty sheets. "Thanks a lot, Phyl," I practically growl at him. He makes a big show of backing away from me like I'm a leper, putting his hands up to guard himself as I brush past him.

"Woah, don't even think of getting near me, at least until you've washed your hands," he teases. I give him the finger as I walk to the bathroom, and to that he shouts down the narrow hall, "I don't think any customers want spunk in their bread today!"

I groan as I reach the bathroom and close the door as hard as I can without slamming it, afraid Mother is already on her way to us after hearing our shouting. Luckily she doesn't holler, so she must be too far away from our room at the moment.

Chilly water cascades down my back, and I try to scrub up as quickly as possible; District 12 is not known for comfortable water temperatures. I wrap a towel around my shivering body and wonder if Katniss has to take cold showers. I wonder if homes in the Seam have showers at all, or maybe she takes baths. At least then she could boil the water so she wouldn't freeze to death…

The image of Katniss sitting naked in a steaming bath invades my mind, and I shiver again, although not from the cold this time.

I give myself a critical look in the mirror as I scrub my teeth with mint paste. I can't believe how long I've let my love go on unrequited, and how now it may already be too late. But I did check the board at the Justice Building last night, and her name was still illuminated. A good sign, but I'll have to check today as well.

Why no one else is throwing himself at her is a mystery to me. My interest in her has only grown over the years. She's just so elusive—the way she barely talks to anyone, the seemingly random things that make her smile, how different she is from all the other girls in District 12…

It's intriguing. It's exciting.

I pat my underarms with powder to keep them from sweating and exhale in a huff. I may as well face the facts: I'm a chicken shit who has never spoken two words to Katniss Everdeen, and my chances of making her mine today are slim to none. Still, she may just be desperate enough to want to avoid the Games.

Or, maybe she wants to be in the Games so she has a chance to go to District 2; I know that's where they sent her "friend" Gale two years ago.

Back in my room, I dress in whatever I pull out of my closet first, and head downstairs. I find the rest of my family in the kitchen: Father slicing some day-old sourdough bread, Mother nursing a cup of tea, Rylee and his wife wrangling their two little ones, and Phyllo looking pensive as his wife watches Rylee's kids longingly. I know she and Phyl have been trying for quite a while to have children without any luck, and I sincerely hope the Capitol doesn't have to intervene on their efforts.

See, Panem has population problems. Infant mortality rate is high, many suffer from malnutrition or dangerous working conditions, and the suicide rate… Well, in any case, the way that the Capitol has chosen to deal with these problems is to regiment our procreation. Every citizen of Panem is pair bonded by age 18, is expected to produce their first child by age 22, and must produce at least three children in their lifetime. Things have gotten better, but not by much. The Capitol maintains that it takes a few generations for the country to see true growth. Or, so I've heard.

Those who do not meet expectations are punished in various methods, the worst of which is The Mating Games. Those 18-year olds who haven't found someone to pair bond with by the day of Reaping are entered into a fierce competition, where the Capitol decides if someone is worthy enough to even become bonded to another person. It's humiliating at best, and life threatening at worst. If the Capitol concludes that you aren't worthy and can't contribute to society, they have the right to execute you.

This is the fate that could await me if I don't find Katniss soon.

My family's actions grind to a halt as I enter the room, all of them looking at me with fear and anger in their eyes. They're worried, as they should be, because I'm taking a huge risk in waiting until today to secure a wife. I try not to look ashamed as I take a seat at the table and reach for a slice of sourdough.

Mother finally breaks the silence and slams her hand down on the table, making her tea splash out of its cup. "Peeta, why is your name still lit up on the board?" she asks me in frustration. "You know Reaping day is today, don't you? As in, you've run out of time."

"I still have three hours," I argue. It is the weakest argument I've ever made about anything, and everyone knows it.

"Oh, three whole hours?" Phyl interjects sarcastically. "Well, that's plenty of time. Why was I ever worried in the first place?"

"Peet, you need to find someone who will help you run the bakery," Rylee tells me as he puts a hand on my shoulder. "You know that Phyl and I can't just drop everything we have to come back here to work for the rest of our days. And let's face it; you're the best baker of all of us anyway. You need to stay in District 12, and to do that you need to pair bond with someone from our district."

Father clears his throat, "I think what your mother and brothers are trying to say, is that we're all concerned that you've let the situation escalate this far, and we want to know what you intend to do about it."

I take a good look around at my family: my brothers, who have both left the house and have their own families and jobs to be responsible for; my mother, as sour as the bread I'm eating and who would not approve of the girl who I've pined for over the years anyway; and my father, who means well but hasn't provided any guidance on how to handle my feelings for Katniss, even though he's known about them all along.

They all knew this day was coming just as well as I did, and yet they chose now to confront me about it? I guess we're just a whole family of chicken shits.

Annoyed with their too-little-too-late concern, I snap at them, "Look, I'm going to go ask a girl to pair bond with me right now, and if she doesn't want me, then I'm fine with letting the Capitol decide what to do with me. Anyone have a problem with that?"

I don't even wait for their reactions as I grab my jacket and head out the back door. The morning air is still crisp, and I can see a bit of my breath as I huff in irritation. Maybe it would be better if I entered the Games and was taken away to a new district where I wouldn't have to put up with their bullshit. But then where would Katniss be? Despite everything else, I know my main priority is to stay with her, always.

I take long, purposeful strides through the back alleyway until I've reached the side street that will take me to the center of town. I need to check the board once more to make sure Katniss is still available. The streets are bustling with crowds as they finish preparations for the various toastings and ceremonies to celebrate that their children have pair bonded.

That does make me stop and think: Father must have closed the store for a while, on what is one of the busiest days of the year, so that they could stage their little "intervention" for me. Considering that Mother keeps the store open every day of the year no matter what, I should interpret their actions as proof that they care about my wellbeing, at least a little.

Now I feel bad that I caused such a scene. I'll have to make it up to them all by securing a wife.

I reach the Justice Building and look up at the giant board with all the names of the 18-year olds in District 12. Most of the names are darkened, but a few are still illuminated by light bulbs shining behind them. Mine is; I notice it right away, like it's taunting me.


I glance up to the to right corner of the board and find Katniss' name still shining brightly as well, and it fills me with hope that maybe this strategy of playing to her desperation will work out for me.

I'm about to leave when something catches my eye. Delly Cartwright's name is darkened, as is Roman Higgins'. Two of my best friends have secured their futures, but with who? It's hard to tell, because there are quite a number of names that have gone dim between last night and now. It's always this way, the last minute scramble to find someone, anyone, who you can at least tolerate as a spouse.

The large clock posted above the board on the Justice Building reads 10:30. I have time, so I decide to make a detour to Delly's house to congratulate her. She's on the way to the Seam anyway.

I approach the shoe shop and can see Delly with her family through the window. They're all smiles, laughing and drinking wine, a delicacy here in District 12. I'm glad at least someone is making their family happy.

Then I see a tall, lanky, brown-haired man approach Delly's short and stout frame and I gasp. Not only did Delly and Roman become pair bonded last night, but they became pair bonded to each other! That's hard to wrap my mind around, because whenever all of us have hung out together, Roman was always, always teasing Delly about her "frizzy" yellow hair or her "lumpy" figure, and he even made her cry once or twice. To think of the two of them, pair bonded…

Delly spies me looking at the scene, gives me a smile and a wave, and practically skips out of the shoe shop. "Isn't it wonderful, Peeta?" she exclaims. "It turns out Roman admired my figure all along!"

"That's great, Del," I say sincerely. "I have to say, I couldn't really believe it when I first saw it."

"Well, believe it, buddy," Roman laughs as he steps outside and wraps his arms around Delly. "I just couldn't fight my feelings anymore. This girl is the girl for me."

They smile and gaze at each other for a while, and I start to feel awkward, like I'm invading on their private moment. I clear my throat and say, "Well, I'm very happy for you both. I know you'll have a lovely life together."

"Thank you, Peeta," Delly replies sweetly, then her expression falls. "Wait, last I looked your name was still lit up. Oh, Peeta, you have to go! What are you doing wasting your time here?"

"I, uh—" I stammer. What am I doing here? Procrastinating, I suppose? Yeah, that must be it, because I'm a big fat coward. I sigh and finally admit it. "I'm stalling. Because I'm scared. But you're right, Delly, I need to go." I give them a weak grin. "I'm just glad I got to witness all of this."

They smile back sympathetically at me, both aware of the risk I'm taking, and I turn and walk toward the Seam.

"Good luck, Peeta!" Delly cries out after me. I give them one last wave and check the time posted on the street corner.

11am! Shit, I only have an hour!

I break out into a run and find the streets and houses ahead dusted with black coal. I've only ever been in the Seam a few times, if my father needed something illegal from the Hob, or if my brothers dared me to stay in this part of town for as long as I could… I was always too scared to stay more than a few minutes.

I know where the Everdeen's house is though; I had made note of its location long ago when I was here with my father and I saw Katniss and her family coming out their front door. Her mother had fresh herbs for healing medicines growing in various pots in the yard.

That is how I'm able to locate their house today. I slowly approach the front door and concentrate on the only argument I have to convince beautiful, daring, enigmatic Katniss to be mine. I think of the only thing I have to offer her, which is that I see her and love her for what she truly is. I know a lot of boys who want a homemaker for a wife, and it makes me sick to my stomach to think of that as her fate. That's not who she is, not who I would want her to be…

With these words on the tip of my tongue, I knock rapidly on the door and suppress the urge to run away in terror. I can't be afraid of her rejection anymore, because today there are much worse things to fear.

The handle turns and the door opens to find a wiry, fair-haired girl on the other side. I know this girl is Katniss' younger sister, Primrose, who Katniss loves more than anything, and she gives me a curious, expectant look as I stand there fidgeting. Oh, right! I need to say words.

"Um, er, hi."

Stellar beginning. I'm sure she's impressed with my way with words.

I clear my throat and try again. "I'm looking for Katniss. Is she home?"

"You're looking for Katniss? No one ever comes looking for Katniss! What's your name?" Primrose asks, curiosity alight in her eyes.

"Um, Peeta… Mellark."

"You're family owns the bakery!"

"Yes," I laugh sheepishly.

"I love the cookies and cakes that your family makes. I look at them every day on my way to and from school. They are so pretty!"

"Thank you," I say, feeling more and more confident. Maybe if I win over her sister, Katniss will be more inclined to pair bond with me. "I actually frost a lot of those myself."

Primrose gasps, "Oh, well you are very talented! Why have I never seen you with Katniss before?"

"Uh, well…" I may as well cut to the chase. I sigh and admit, "I've kind of been afraid to talk to her until now."

"That's understandable. She can be intimidating," Primrose says with a knowing smirk.

I protest, "No, no, it's my problem. I shouldn't be so scared to talk to her."

"Well, she's not here, unfortunately," Primrose tells me sadly, which makes my heart sink. Now I know I don't have enough time to go looking for her. "She's been out hunting all morning, but by now she's probably in the meadow near the outskirts of town. She always goes there to rest afterward. You know which one I'm talking about?"

I try not to look like I'm freaking out as I remember my pleasant dream from this morning, and how it turned out to be more of an omen. I can only hope things go as well in real life.

"Yeah, I know which one. Thank you!" I holler as I take off running back toward town.

"Best of luck, Peeta!" Primrose shouts after me. "And, nice to meet you!"

Just as I reach the edge of the Seam, I take a turn down a back alley and break into a full on sprint. I'm cutting it very close now, but maybe I can still reach her in time. I almost knock over an old woman as I turn a corner, and when I reach the edge of the meadow, I take the shortest of moments to catch my breath on the side of a building and take in the scene around me.

I have a panoramic view of the beautiful field that stretches out in front of me, with small flowers blossoming all around it. And over on the far side, near the electric fence, I see my Katniss sitting on a rock, concentrating on skinning a rabbit. And just as in my dream, she keeps tucking short strands of her hair behind her ear.

Literally, it is now or never.

Just like in my dream from this morning, I walk through the crunchy grass determinedly. Katniss turns her head and stares at me with a confusing expression on her face. Part of it is perplexed, like she's asking to herself, what is he doing here? The other part looks, well… rather horrified, actually. I consider taking that look as rejection for just a moment, but then I remind myself that I must do this.

Katniss stands as I get closer, until we are an arm's length apart, just staring at each other. She still looks confused and frightened, but now also appears as though she will stand her ground, like she will fight me if she has to.

This is not how I pictured it going.

I exhale, practically shaking from nerves, and open my mouth to speak.

"Katniss, I—"

The loud chimes of the clock on the Justice Building drown my words out.

Twelve o'clock. I'm too late.

Oh noes! What will Peeta do next? Stay tuned to find out, and in the mean time, I'd love to hear what you think of the chapter!

Also, this:

WANTED: Beta reader. Must know the HG fandom well (so we can fangirl out together). Must be a spelling and grammar nazi (because I am but sometimes I don't catch my mistakes). Must be speedy in their beta'ing (because I am impatient). No prudes (this is an AU about sexy Games, people!). No Team Gale (because really, why would you do that). Inquire via PM. *******UPDATE: I have found a beta! YAY! Thanks so much to all who applied!