Hello, my amazing readers! Welcome to my newest story! It's completely AU, obviously, and probably OOC, but we'll see how it goes. If you haven't read my other stories, please do so. You guys are amazing! Love you all!

The way our world works is sick.

I heard it wasn't always this way. That back before Panem, there was a free place. They were free in every way. What I wouldn't give for that. To be free. To be able to say what I want, when I want to. To believe what I want, however I want. And, simply, to marry who I want, when I want. If it was up to me, I wouldn't marry at all. I would live my entire life taking care of my not-so-healthy mother and my little sister. But no. In our world dictated by a sadistic king, everyone is to be married before the age of sixteen. He can be kind, though. If you get married a day or two after you turn sixteen, you're alright. But no more than five days. Then you're slaughtered.

That happened to my best friend, Gale. He and I would always sit directly by the fence of Kingdom 12 (nobody, not even us, dared to leave – all the food we could catch was inside the fence, anyway) and voice our opinions in any way we wanted to. Rumor was he loved me; that's why he turned down every female you looked at him. He was an attractive boy, and very sweet. If we lived in a different world, I probably would've ended up with him. But we don't live in a different world, and I'm headed for the same fate. Slaughter, because I won't marry at fifteen.

Of course, there's always the chance I'll be chosen to marry the king's son. He's my age, if not a couple months older. He turns sixteen soon, so the Reaping will be today. My name will be entered only once – seeing as how I am from the Seam, where most of the actual workers live. The girls from the town will have their names entered multiple times. It depends on the stature of their father. Delly Cartwright, who's been in love with the king's son since grade school, will have her name in the most because her father in the town doctor. But girls like me, we're only in once. They only put our names in to make it fair. They don't want the king's son marrying a Seam girl. It's unheard of.

The kind has two older sons, Mikal and Daved. Daved, the oldest, married a princess from Kingdom 6 and he's now the king. Mikal married a princess from Kingdom 5 and he's also the king. Meaning the youngest king's son, once he marries, will rule Kingdom 12. The current king and queen will move to the Capitol Kingdom, where only royal couples live until they die. But I have nothing to worry about. I won't be chosen to marry the king's son. Rather, I will be executed by him. And he'll probably smile while doing it. The entire Royal Family of Kingdom 12 is disgusting.

"You look beautiful," my younger sister, Primrose, says to me as we head into the town square. My mother is mentally ill. She has been ever since my father died. We took her to see Dr. Cartwright (who has a soft spot for my mother – apparently they were sweethearts back in their day) and he said that he couldn't do anything for her. She lies in bed all day and barely eats anything. That's why I worry for Prim. After I'm executed, nobody will care for her. Dr. Cartwright has said he'll look after her. I don't know if he'll do it well. I don't trust town folk.

When we arrive in the square, every fifteen year old girl is pushed into a boxed off area. Prim goes over and stands with a few Seam families we know. There are about two hundred fifteen year old girls gathered together. The town girls are towards the front and the Seam girls are in the back. I gather with a few I know and we give each other terse nods. Nobody wants to marry the king's son. The king, apparently, is incredibly abusive towards his wife and she, in turn, has been abusive to her sons. Which probably makes him abusive. I try not to dwell on that too much when I think about the king's son. I've never personally seen him do anything bad. We've had classes together for years. He always sits quietly and stares at his books. From what I've heard, he makes straight As. I'm sure the teachers just give him those As, though. He is the king's son.

"Welcome, welcome," the king says when he stands up to the podium. "The time has come for one lucky girl to be selected to marry my youngest son, who will go on to rule Kingdom 12 until their son is of age to rule." He smiles widely. "Shall we watch the video?"

I inwardly sigh. Everyone hates the Reaping video. It goes on for a good fifteen minutes before it stops. "I just love that video," he says. "It's so great." Finally, he walks over to the clear ball and pulls out a name. When we walks back to the podium, he opens the slip excitedly. He can't hide the disappointment on his face when he reads, "Katniss Everdeen."

No. This can't be happening. No! No way! I can't marry the king's son! I can't be a queen! I have no idea how to rule! I can't! Is there a way to choose execution over this? No, there's no way they'd let me do that. The girls around me pat my shoulder and point sadly to the walkway. I slowly make my way there and I walk even slower to the stage. I can hear the whispers – it's a Seam girl. Not only is it a Seam girl, but it's the one who was always hanging around with that Hawthorne boy, the one who, while being executed, shouted as many colorful words and profanities he could think of about Panem and the Royal Family.

"C'mon, dear, we don't have all day," he says as I slowly make my way to the podium. He shakes my hand and I walk down the line, shaking the hands of the queen, the two older sons, their wives, and finally, the king's son. My new husband.

Peeta Mellark.

I shake his hand and take my place next to him. Prim's expression is between terror and elation. Terror, because I'm marrying into the Royal Family, and elation, because I'm marrying into the Royal Family. There are pros and cons of the situation, but the cons definitely outweigh the pros.

"The wedding will take place the day after tomorrow in the Great Hall of the Castle," he says. "Everyone will be required to attend. Upon the closing of the reception, the queen and I will depart for the Capitol Kingdom and return once a year to see how things are going." He pauses, swallows, and forces a smile. "We'd like to welcome Miss Katniss Everdeen to our family. Peeta, you may kiss your bride."

Oh, shit. I forgot about this part. The future king and queen always kiss to seal the deal and end the Reaping. We turn to each other awkwardly and our eyes meet for the first time. Hmm. I've never noticed how nice his eyes were and how chiseled his jaw-line was. He leans forward and plants a kiss on my cheek. The king actually laughs.

"Oh, Peeta," he says. "You're so shy." The crowd (and by crowd I mean the merchants) laugh with him. And then we're all escorted into the castle.

Upon entrance, Peeta starts blabbering. "Look, Katniss, I know you're not happy to be here but you've got to just follow my lead with this or else something really bad is going to happen and I don't want anything bad to happen to you because–"

"Peeta, Katniss, to the dining room immediately!" shouts the king as he enters the castle. Peeta looks at me before putting his head down. I get the message and lower my head, watching the king's feet in front of mine. When we get to the dining room, Peeta pulls out a chair for me and I sit in it. He sits down beside me.

"I know you're from the Seam, but I've seen you around," the king says. "You've got decent manners, from what I hear, and with a little cleaning up you'll look good enough. But I know about your attitude towards us, missy."

"I have nothing against you, sir," I say, my head still down.

"Okay, well I know what your friend's attitude was towards us," he says. "And I hope that that doesn't negatively affect how you're going to help my son run this kingdom."

"Of course, sir," I say.

He seems surprised. "I didn't realize you'd be so agreeable."

"Katniss is a good girl, Dad," Peeta says. "I've known her since Kindergarten. She's a brilliant student, too. Her GPA was nearly higher than mine last year."

I keep my head down but I wonder why he'd say such a thing. My grades are nothing to be desired. I was one of the low scorers in our grade, even.

"Well, that's not at all surprising," the king says sarcastically. "Look, Katniss. We killed your friend and we can easily kill you too."

"Dad!" Peeta exclaims.

"If she doesn't behave properly, she'll be executed," he says. "And you'll see to that, Peeta. If you don't, you'll be executed." An eerie silence falls over the room. "Peeta, take her to your quarters. You'll be served dinner there tonight."

Just as we're about to walk away, I turn back, keeping my head down. "Sir, is it possible for my little sister to be my maid of honor? At the wedding."

"Excuse me?" he says.

"Well, we've always talked about being each other's maids of honor, and she's so young," I say. "I don't want to hurt her feelings."

He softens. "I don't mind if she's your maid of honor. But if she messes this wedding up, she'll pay."

"Of course, sir," I say.

"I'll have her come by tomorrow to try on a dress," he says. "Consider this a gift, Miss Everdeen. Since I'm letting you have your little maid of honor, you'll play by my rules. Correct?"

"Of course, sir," I say.

With that, I follow Peeta up a flight of stairs and down multiple corridors before we enter the biggest bedroom I've ever seen. The bed is about the size of my house. There's a kitchen, an office, a living area, and a dining room, all in one. "These will be our living quarters," he says. "They aren't as big as my parents', but I like them better. I've lived here my entire life."

"Wow," I say.

"Yeah," he laughs. He walks into the kitchen. "Want anything to drink?"

"I'm fine," I say, but he brings me a water bottle anyway.

"Just in case," he says. "Once my parents leave, I'll sleep on the couch. Unfortunately, while they're here, we'll have to share the bed. I know that you're probably not comfortable with that–"

"And you are?" I ask.

"I'm not modest," he shrugs. "And anyway. The bed is huge. There's enough room for ten people to stretch out comfortably."

"That is a huge bed," I say.

He laughs. "It's very comfortable, too."

"I'd imagine so," I say.

He looks uncomfortable for a moment. "Katniss, I just need you to know that I'm not like them."

"Like who?" I ask.

He looks me straight in the eyes. His beautiful blue eyes stare back at mine. They look completely truthful. "I'm not like my parents or my brothers. I'll never hit you and I'll never lay a hand on you if you don't want it there." He pauses. "In private, I mean. In public I'll have to hold your hand or touch your waist but I need you to know that I'm not going to hurt you. I'll provide for you better than anyone in this Kingdom and even if you don't love – we don't love each other, you'll be happy. I don't want you to hate me because you've been forced into this. I want to be your friend." He looks down. "I know my father killed your best friend, but if it's any consolation, I told him not to. And I'm perfectly willing to just be your best friend. I mean, who needs romance and kissing and all that gross stuff?"

I look down and smile. "I'd like to be your friend, too." And then it hits me. "What about kids?"

"We've got at least five years before my father starts bugging us about kids," he says. "And who knows, maybe in five years we'll want to have kids. I know for a fact that you'd make beautiful babies."

I squirm a little. "I thought we were just going to be friends," I say.

"Feelings can change," he says. "Five years is a long time, Katniss. Feelings of friendship can grow into more. I'm not saying that you'll – we'll be like that, but it could happen."

"Why do I feel like your feelings about me don't need to change?" I say.

"What, you think I want a baby with you right now?" he says. He laughs. "No. We're fifteen, Katniss, I don't want to have a baby with you." Peeta looks me directly in the eyes as he says, "I am, however, attracted to you. I won't lie to you about that. I think you're beautiful."

I don't know how to reply. "Thank you," I mutter softly. I suddenly realize how close we're standing. His body can't be more than a centimeter or two from mine. I turn away and walk into the kitchen.

"It's just a compliment, Katniss," he says. "I didn't just ask you to marry me."

"Yeah, well, I'm not getting much of a choice, there," I say.

"I didn't mean it like that," he says. "Would you like some dinner? I can call the butler to bring something or I could make us something."

"You can cook?" I ask.

"That's how I spend most of my time," he says. "I'll make us something. Go relax in the living area. I'll call you when it's done."

I go and sit on the couch and listen to him bang around in the kitchen. I think for a long time before I come to one conclusion. Peeta Mellark actually wants to marry me. He must've rigged the Reaping. And suddenly, I'm seeing red with anger.