Hello everyone! And welcome to my first ever fanfiction that I've posted here! I really hope you like it and would love to hear any and all feedback. This will follow Peeta Mellark's experience as he volunteers for the 74th annual Hunger Games and falls for his fellow tribute Cato. How will he become the symbol of hope for his district and how will the games end when he realizes he has more to loose than he ever thought possible? There can only be one winner. Follows the basic premise of the first book. Oh yeah I do NOT own the Hunger Games and this will contain slash. Thanks again!

The Reaping

The morning just continued to drag on, and on, and on. He was used to these types of days by now, which seem to have been increasing in frequency for the past few months. Maybe they felt what he was beginning to feel. Something was changing inside him. A small knot had formed inside his chest and increased in discomfort each day until he could no longer ignore it. He was starting to feel less willing to accept the conditions of which he had been born into, less willing to be the punching bag, less willing to hide his true self, who ever that might be. Peeta Mellark was starting to feel defiant and ready for something to change.

Everyone was now gathered in front of the Justice Building, like they do every year, while the Mayor and Effie Trinket talked quietly in their seats, the third empty. Haymitch Abernathy was always late to the reapings and usually appeared completely plastered. Peeta was feeling fidgety, more so than usual. He had been through countless reapings and he was more than ready for this one to end. He looked around at all the other boys in his section—his two brothers farther back from him—and took in the sad sight. Everyone dressed in his or her best clothes was quite a different scene from what the district usually looked like, but even their dressed up appearances couldn't hide the dirt, soot and general dinginess that permeated the district. Stifled sobs and sniffles could be heard all around, creating a massive echo of pain and misery.

They all suffered through another reading of the history of Panem and Effie's inappropriately bubbly personality as she finished with "And may the odd's be ever in your favor."

Peeta rolled his eyes. The odds were in no ones favor but the Capitol's. Thankfully Haymitch added some levity to the situation when he showed up drunk and stumbled into a distraught Effie. The Mayor quickly rose from his seat to help escort Haymitch to his chair on the stage.

First the female Tribute had to be chosen and Effie wasted no time sinking her hand into the giant bowl and fishing out a name after regaining her composure. The show must always go on. She unfurled the paper at the microphone and read in her saccharine voice:

"Katniss Everdeen."

Peeta balked. Fuck, of all the tributes he had seen chosen over the years, this was the first person selected that he had known well enough to actually care about. A few years ago when her father died in an awful mining accident she was starving and he had given her some bread he burnt on purpose. It got him a pretty nasty beating with a rolling pin by his mom, but he couldn't just stand by and let her family starve. People needed to stick together in District 12; no one else was looking out for them.

After that Peeta thought maybe he had feelings for her. He tried to befriend her but her pride kept them at a distance. He could at best classify her as an acquaintance, although a friendly one. He soon realized he didn't have real feelings for her. In actuality he was just trying to prove to himself that he wasn't attracted to men. Yet that proved a fruitless endeavor. Any feelings he had for her were purely of the friendship type. He could only get excited when thinking of a guy and developed his first crush at 13 on another boy in their grade, but was too afraid to ever do anything more than just steal glances at him from the back of the classroom, never letting his eyes linger long enough for anyone to notice.

Primrose could be heard sobbing her sister's name as Katniss walked bravely, with her head held high, to the stage. The scene could not have been more tragic, especially that most knew the circumstances of her family. Peeta was feeling something slowly build in his stomach. The knot constricted painfully in his chest. He couldn't place the feeling, but he knew he couldn't stand for this injustice inflicted upon them year after year.

Effie flustered about Katniss, cooing over her marvelous looks and strong attitude. Then she went over to choose the male Tribute. Her hand snapped out of the bowl quickly and she marched back over to the microphone to read the next death sentence.

"Riece Wilshurn."

No, he was only twelve years old. It was his first year in the bowl, how could this happen? It was an unfair and horrible fate; it always was when such a young kid was chosen for the games. Suddenly, Peeta felt something click like two ancient cogs long decommissioned now stirring with new life and purpose as they fit together and churned in his stomach.

As the boy slowly marched to the stage, silent tears streaming down his face, Peeta cried out, "I-I volunteer as tribute!"

If Peeta thought it was quiet before, it was absolutely silent now. No one volunteered in District 12. It was like the entire district took a collective breath and then held it. The baker's son had just volunteered to take the place of some kid he didn't even know. But that didn't matter to Peeta. He just clenched his jaw and started to walk up to the stage, ignoring the acid tickling the back of his throat and focusing on making his legs not turn to jelly. He reached the boy halfway up the aisle.

"It's okay now. I'll do this for you." Peeta leaned down to whisper.

Riece looked up at Peeta with such adoration and thanks he felt better already, more confident than ever.

"Th-thank you… You b-better win!" The boy squeaked. He then scurried back to his friends in joyous reprieve before the fates threw another twist his way.

A peace settled over Peeta as Effie finally realized the enormity of the situation she was in; District 12 had a volunteer! She waved aside normal protocol and ushered him on stage with pink jewel encrusted fingernails digging into his bicep. The rest was just a hazy memory to Peeta as the adrenaline and wild emotions coursing through him at the moment made it hard to focus on anything other than, oh god, oh god I'm going to be in the Hunger Games. Their might have been some three fingered salute everyone gave Peeta, but otherwise he didn't quite recall. How was he supposed to retain things to memory when it felt like he was moving through a dream? This is not where he thought the day was headed when it began.

There was one thing he did recall though. Riece came to visit him after Peeta's family left—an awkward affair where no one spoke and his mother looked anywhere but in Peeta's eyes, which was fine by Peeta. Riece said he didn't have much, but that he wanted to offer him something, a token to remember him by and to be his encouragement during the games.

"All of District 12 will be rooting for you, Peeta." He then handed Peeta a small pin of a mockingjay, one given to him by his deceased mother. Peeta was more than touched at the sentiment. He pocketed the gold pin for safekeeping.

The gentle rocking of the train as it bolted ever closer to the Capitol temporarily soothed Peeta's nerves. After saying goodbye to his family he had one of the most amazing dinners of his life. There were so many choices he didn't know where to start. And then Katniss and he had tried to talk to Haymitch, but it was a futile endeavor as he was even more drunk than at the reaping, having access to endless liquor on the train. They figured they would try again tomorrow when he might be slightly more sober.

So now he was in bed, trying to grasp that elusive sleep, hoping it would bring an end to a long and draining day. The knot in his chest felt looser. Peeta only drifted in and out of a light slumber with images from past Hunger Games haunting his mind. One in particular vividly re-enacted in his minds eye where two male tributes fought at a lakes edge, wading deeper and deeper as the bigger of the two pushed the smaller one relentlessly backwards and further into the water. Their only weapons were whittled tree branches. The younger one was now too deep to stand. He had to tread water, which was his downfall as the older male lunged, pushing him underwater and then stabbing him brutally and repeatedly. His blood stained the water all around as he thrashed blindly, chunks of torn flesh floated to the surface as the water churned crimson. Peeta pulled from his dream in a gasp, not knowing how to swim he feared the most that the arena would be an aquatic one.

That morning at breakfast, while drinking his new favorite, hot chocolate, they made some encouraging headway. They secured a promise from Haymitch that he would not get drunk until the games were over. Although he didn't promise to stop drinking, but it was the best they could hope for in their situation.

Peeta and Katniss were then swept into what felt like a whirlwind once arriving at the opulent and flamboyant Capitol, full of the tallest buildings he had ever seen, glimmering like reflective pools of water in the sunlight. It was something not even he could have dreamt in his wildest imagination. The eccentric and freakish looking citizens strained to get a glimpse of the volunteer from District 12 stuck with him the most as he was ushered to the Remake Center where he experienced the picking, prodding, striping, cleaning and overall repackaging of his body, from hairs to scars, skin tone to fingernail length.

His three prep team members fussed in their silly Capitol accents over how valiant he was for volunteering; it seemed to be all everyone was talking about. He never realized how much people were invested in this, like it really was a show and not children slaughtering each other as punishment. It only sickened him more.

"So brave!"

"Just amazing, I've never seen that from your district!"

"Did you know the boy? Oh you must have!"

Finally his stylist arrived, a lovely looking mocha skinned woman, whose style, while still reflective of what is popular in the Capitol, was much more restrained and boarded on beautiful. Her coco brown hair fell in large tightly coiled curls around her face with gold inlays, gold eye-liner, a subtle gold lipstick and a sharp, angular shimmering brown dress that fit her well, but did not overbear like many of the Capitol fashions.

"Hello Peeta, I'm Portia. You are one brave boy or I should say man. Although I'm sure you've heard that quite enough from your charming prep team."

He almost laughed. Maybe she got it.

"Thank you... So what are you going to do with me?" He asked hesitantly.

Portia smiled brightly and then explained to him his costume. And okay, maybe she was just as crazy as all those Capitol people. Fire? She had decided with Cinna that this year the District 12 tributes deserved something more than the routine costume often slapped on the lowliest of districts.

So now he and Katniss stood on their chariot, waiting for the opening ceremony to begin. He took a quick survey of the other tributes, but didn't have much time to take a close look as Portia and Cinna started to light them on fire.

"It tickles. That's not what I expected." Katniss looked at him and cracked a slight smile.

He smiled back, she really was beautiful, it was too bad he could never have feelings for her; he was more likely to feel something for her best friend Gale than her, which had been known to happen.

"Yeah, I was ready to rip both our capes off at the first flicker of heat," Peeta said.

Suddenly the music began and the chariots started to file out into the street. This was it, their introduction to the world. When their chariot finally appeared the crowd erupted into a deafening roar. It was beyond anything he had ever witnessed. They loved them and maybe Peeta? No, no they definitely did.

"PEETA! PEETA! PEETA!" The crowd chanted as they passed, everyone craning his or her neck to catch a look at them, at him—the volunteer from 12.

It was a weird feeling. That hope and spark of defiance returned, bubbling up in his chest uninhibited. He gave his most charming smile and waved back, sending a wink or kiss here and there, only to increase the frenzy.

He looked up at the screens lining the streets and finally saw how striking they looked with massive tendrils of flames flowing off their skintight black jumpsuits and capes. It was a sight to behold and surely not to be forgotten. He sure would never forget it, nothing like that had ever been done before, and especially not for his district. He briefly wondered what everyone at home thought of them, of him, as they watched the lavish festivity.

Flowers of all types were showered on their chariot as they made the journey to the city circle, where President Snow would address them. Once all the chariots arrived and were in position Snow approached the podium and began his speech. The same shit as usual, that it was a great honor, pride to the districts, blah, blah, blah. So Peeta didn't really pay attention. This wasn't done for their benefit anyways.

"I have a feeling we just made a lot of enemies." Katniss nudged Peeta. She then signaled with her eyes towards the various other tributes, all shooting dirty looks and glares their way.

"We definitely stole the spotlight," Peeta grinned, feeling combative.

He finally took the time to survey the other tributes. He noticed a couple of young tributes, one from 11, a young black girl, very sweet and innocent looking dressed in colorful fruits. He had to look away quickly knowing all too well her likely fate in the Games and wondering if her sweet face would remind Katniss of her younger sister, Primrose.

The girl's male tribute was a large and strong looking dark skinned male, with no emotion discernable on his face. He was like stone and probably hit like one. Further down he saw an even larger male from 4 with one very noticeable emotion on his jagged face, hate. Maybe mixed with a tinge of eagerness, definitely a career and a fearsome looking one at that.

But the tribute that really caught Peeta's eye was the male career from 2. He looked like a Greek God—and not just because his costume was styled that way—he held his head high with such self-assurance it battered down one's defenses. His powerful looking biceps rippled with the slightest movement and his deep hazel eyes only sucked Peeta in further, which were now looking directly at Peeta.

He quickly looked away, trying to stop the burning in his cheeks and fluttering in his stomach. It was a disturbing feeling he did not often get. While most tributes still shot them dirty looks, the Greek God looked intrigued. Peeta would have to learn this man's name. He didn't often find guys that got quite that reaction from him and he needed to know more. Because really, he only had a limited amount of time left and he was not going to waste a moment.