A/N:

Updates will be every 3-4 weeks….College is a drag:/

Rated M for dark subject matter in general.

You've been warned :)

Enjoy!

Italics are used when Katniss/ Peeta speak internally to themselves…..

Major thanks to Stacylk! She's the best and works her ass off even when sick!

Love you!


She keeps Prim close to her, fearing that she may vanish or be snatched by the blonde haired man with wicked brown eyes.

This has never happened in a Reaping before; the threat of death had been too great for the women of the districts, with their husbands, boyfriends, fathers, sons and brothers had perished in that 'accident' all those years ago. A jolt of anxiety rips through her, realisation of what she has done finally sets in.

She's openly defied them.

She's volunteered to carry a child that she never wants.

She's put everyone she loves on the firing line.

All to save her, to save Prim.

"WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?!" shrieks the smaller man with the blonde hair and brown eyes, spinning around rapidly to face the dark blue- haired man.

The room is furnished with red velvet couches and dim lighting. A thick carpet brushes against her ankles, she can literally feel the softness through the thin soles of her worn out leather shoes. She clutches Prim to her side, her hand fastened to her waist, keeping her as close as possible.

The door shuts behind them as the Peacekeepers leave, and she can't stand the trapped feeling that washes over her. How can they allow something as cruel as this to happen?

The blonde man looks at her with venom in his eyes. She holds Prim tighter to her, stroking her hair, smoothing it slowly, not only to calm the sniffles that escape from her, but also to gain some control over her own heartbeat. The brown eyes stare back into hers and there's evident hatred in them. A lust for her blood to spill for taking something that belongs to him.

Except the blonde man doesn't realise that he's taking the one most precious thing in the world from her. Her eyes tighten, meeting his in a dominating manner. If he's going to intimidate her with death stares, she will fight him back. She will throw herself on fire. Anything for Prim to ensure her safety. If he wants her sister, he will have to fight her, to physically pluck her from her cold, dead fingers should the need arise.

She stares back at him with more intensity and it doesn't go unnoticed. There's tension drawn on his face, like a bull that's seen the colour red, before breaking the silence with roars that echo throughout the room.

"REALTOR FLICKERMAN! ANSWER ME! WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?! I'VE PURCHASED THIS ITEM AND I WANT IT NOW! IT'S LEGALLY BINDING AND FAIR!"

An item.

That's all Prim is to him, an item. A means to an end. An end that involves the massacre of her childhood so that some bastard brat can be created out of want and greed.

The blue- haired man known as Flickerman takes a seat behind a large oak table, settling into a luxurious leather chair.

"Mr. Mellark, please, take a se…"

"I WILL NOT TAKE A FUCKING SEAT!"

Another, taller man with startling blue eyes reaches out; his fingertips brushing the bicep of his partner. She notices the calm, soothing presence on his face.

"Car, please, be reasonable…Surely we can all come to some sort of agreement here"

"NO RYE, I WILL NOT BE FUCKING REASONABLE! I'VE WANTED A CHILD OF MT OWN FOR SO LONG AND NOW THAT I'VE FOUND THE PERFECT CANDIDATE, YOU WANT ME TO BE REASONABLE AND SETTLE FOR THIS COMMON PIECE OF TRASH?!"

He points a finger in the direction of the Everdeen sisters. She clutches Prim's shoulders a little tighter, feels her shaking at the sight of the blonde man's rage.

"Car, please, sit…"

"NO! I WANT HER! I DON'T WANT THIS OTHER SLUT! YOU HAD YOUR FUN WITH MAKING PEETA AND RUBBING HIM IN MY FACE FOR THE PAST EIGHTEEN YEARS! HOW DO YOU THINK THAT MAKES ME FEEL RYE? HAVING A CHILD THAT DOESN'T MEAN SHIT TO ME LIVING IN MY HOUSE?! YOU CALL ME SELFISH FOR WANTING A CHILD FOR SO LONG, JUST BECAUSE YOU BANGED THE FIRST SLUT THAT CAME YOUR WAY DOESN'T MEAN I WANT TO! I WANT HER!"

The words are on the tip of her mouth, wanting to emerge, but her lips only part with silence. What is it about the situation that tenses her oesophagus and parches her mouth dry of words?

It's only during the rage of this man, now known as Carberry that her eyes drift to the lonesome figure standing against the wall.

The boy stands in the crossfire between Carberry and Rye. He also has the same, startling blue coloured eyes, but they're clouded over in some dark haze.

His broad shoulders shift uncomfortably in the tight linen shirt; straining across his vast chest. His hair tumbles a little, various highlights of gold catch in the faint light of the room. He catches her sneakily glancing at him, his eyes, the startling blueness of them melting into her grey ones, says more than anything words could conjure up.

They stay like this for a minute or two; Prim wrapped in her chest, tears staining the light fabric of her shabby blue dress as the boy continues to look at her, both hurt and forgiveness burning into her.

Without saying anything, he's already asking her for understanding and compassion against the tyrannical nature of his father. He's asking her to forgive something that he can't possibly control; a force of nature that can't be subdued.

A tear leaks its way out of her eye, streaming down the flesh of her cheek. She bites back the rest in frustration, willing herself not to show him how they're getting to her, how Carberry with his arduous nature, wants to impregnate Prim, to strip her of her innocence, to draw her world into a blur of grey void of all colour, happiness and prospect for the future.

A child that he wants out of pure greed; a necessity, a fashion accessory for him to bitch about with the other merchants, an item.

An item.

The word echoes around the elder Everdeen's head again and again.

An item….an item. The very word he used to describe Prim….Nothing more than a motive, a resource to fuel his ego….to make him feel better about being inadequate to the other merchants….a cure for an unfulfilled desire….a desire that can't be fulfilled by anything else….An item.

Then, the gravity of Carberry's words register in her head and she connects the dots he's given in the past moments.

The boy's name is Peeta.

The blue eyed man named Rye is his biological father.

Carberry, the smaller man, Rye's partner, thinks he's a bastard.

He thinks that he means nothing to him because he doesn't share his DNA.

Why should she feel sympathy for this boy, for this merchant whose parents want to corrupt Prim? Why should he yield some sort of power over her, some sort of magnetic pull that both comforts and assures her that he's not like his parents? No.

You can't take that chance….no matter how different he appears to be….you can't trust him Katniss…

She has to make this about Prim and ignore the fact that there might be one decent merchant that understands her plight.

Even if he could do anything, they could never be friends, let alone anything more. Being a merchant, Peeta would go on and follow the path of his parents, fall in love with some boy of his own age, inherit off the labour of the Seam inhabitants through exploitation, then pluck some little girl and make a smaller version of himself.

She'd promised herself that she'd look after Prim, put her through school, hunt to feed and support her and their mother until Prim became a doctor. But that life was always threatened by the constant fear of the Reapings and starvation when game was few and far between in the brutal cold of winter.

And love? No. Love didn't exist in this world, maybe in a parallel universe where cold and hunger and Reapings didn't exist. Even then, who would want her?

She didn't find any of the boys in the Seam attractive, had no interest in falling in love or even having the traditional toasting ceremony that accompanied marriage in the District. She'd remembered a conversation with Gale, her only friend that seemed to understand her, but even on that subject, he was completely indifferent to her….

You know it's "illegal" for us to have actual relationships and families? Like boys and girls?

I'm never having kids….Are you?

I would, one day, if I didn't live here…

But you do live here…

But if I didn't….

But you do, Gale….And even though the rules aren't as strict in the Seam, there's only so many marriages that can happen without us all inter-breeding with each other….

Gale laughs at her, a throaty chuckle and a crease between his brow.

We could do it Catnip, you and me…

Now it's Katniss' turn to laugh at her 19 year old friend's comment.

Her and him….as hunting partner; they're lethal, a deadly team, but as anything else?...

The night that had truly shown her the brutality and ultimate cruelness of love was illustrated through her father's death, leaving her mother to plunge into a continuous downward spiral.

Except for Prim; she was sure that love for someone else displayed weakness more than strength.

Love was the ultimate threat; because to love, to depend on someone enough, to trust and allow someone in, only proved the inevitable; that she would end up losing them eventually.

Prim abruptly tugs at her arm and Katniss snaps out of her trance, her eyes meeting Peeta's again, a curious worry poised in them.

"GIRL! WHAT IS YOUR NAME?!" Carberry barks, a violent shade of red flooding his face.

The elder Everdeen finds her voice for the first time since entering the room.


"NO! I WANT HER! I DON'T WANT THIS OTHER SLUT! YOU HAD YOUR FUN WITH MAKING PEETA AND RUBBING HIM IN MY FACE FOR THE PAST EIGHTEEN YEARS! HOW DO YOU THINK THAT MAKES ME FEEL RYE? HAVING A CHILD THAT DOESN'T MEAN SHIT TO ME LIVING IN MY HOUSE?! YOU CALL ME SELFISH FOR WANTING A CHILD FOR SO LONG, JUST BECAUSE YOU BANGED THE FIRST SLUT THAT CAME YOUR WAY DOESN'T MEAN I WANT TO! I WANT HER!"

His eyes meet hers for the first time and the very encounter of grey on blue is enough to send a tingle down his spine, the breath gathering in his chest at the thought that she's noticed him.

Peeta bites his lip in frustration, keeping the pent up hurt from Carberry's words behind his stony façade. He's always known that Carberry was jealous and resentful of Rye, but chose to love them both equally, not differencing between his biology and what he'd grown up with.

It was nature versus nurture, and Carberry had broken through the boundary between the two with his words. The hurt only registers when he replays the scene in his head, the words more menacing, more deadly, like bullets in the form of conversation, aiming to wound him.

"Banged the first slut that came your way…"

What does that even mean? Did Dad have a relationship prior to his marriage to Carberry? Why did it sever? Who was the woman? What happened to her? Is she still alive? Does she know about him? How did it all happen?...

Who am I…?

Why did Dad leave her…?

Why haven't I thought of this before…?

Why can't he conjure up the courage to speak? Why does he feel an extricable and unexplainable pull towards this girl?

''Katniss Everdeen'', she replies, her head pressed against her sister's yet her eyes stay on Carberry's, hardened and determined not to let him beat her into submission.

Peeta feels his stomach crumple again as he swallows the lump in his throat. This is her, the girl with the bow. The girl who he's admired from afar yet has never actually spoken to in his life. The girl that haunts his mind; forbidden fruit that he knows he can't touch, but longs for.

And fate has, in some cruel twist of fate has finally allowed them their paths to cross, but under the most unfortunate and horrid of ways.

"Daughter of Thom and Neassa?" asks Rye, his tone curious, yet spreading calmness throughout the cramped room.

"Now it all makes sense…..I remember your mother, she always was a bit of a wagon….Gave everything up, lost the family legacy, gave up a house, job, everything ….all to run off with a coalminer and live in the Seam, raising you two brats….. But then again, Mommy always was a rebel, wasn't she Katniss?" asks Carberry, his voice condescending and sarcastic, yet dangerous.

Peeta notices how her eyes stay on Carberry, unrelenting in the face of danger, as she continues to shield Prim away from the verbal attack, her hands knotting into the fabric of Prim's dress, the skin white and stretching over her knuckles. She stands taller, an unmoving, trembling figure, ready to strike out at any minute, yet continues to hold Prim, preventing herself from lashing out and striking.

"…The district bike, your mother, wasn't she Katniss? Didn't have much of a choice after daddy died in that 'accident', did she?...How many kiddies did she have… five, six? All your half brothers and sisters who will never know what a worthless, pathetic slut their mother was, or her two daughters who were whores themselves"

In that second, Peeta sees the sparks in her eyes, the embers set alight and roaring.

She releases Prim and lunges for Carberry; ferociously dragging him to the ground, the large thud of their collision makes the floorboards beneath the carpet groan. Katniss straddles Carberry's chest, pinning him to the ground effectively whilst her bony fists punch his face in repeatedly, blood and the chilling sounds of splintered bones fills the room.

This girl is on fire.

Rye and Peeta intervene, separating both parties away from the other.

Katniss fights in his arms, hair splayed out of the neat, elaborate plait and teeth bared. He holds her wrists tighter, backing them away into the corner with Prim.

"Ssh…Katniss, ssh" he whispers, the first interaction that they've ever had, and he's pulling her from his father's bloodied body, ducking his mouth down to her ear lobe, both excited and intimidated by this beautiful, courageous woman.

She would fight for anything, anyone she loves, with reckless abandon and without second thought; her head flinging back into his shoulder, trying to disentangle herself from Peeta's grip that has her rooted to the spot.

"Katniss….please, I won't hurt you….I promise", Peeta's thumbs rub the skin of her wrists, pressing soothing circles into the prominent veins. When he feels the strain leaving her body, he lets her go, slowly, his fingers drawing, savouring the last touches of her skin, the last warmth of her back against his chest, seeping through the thin fabric.

His breath catches in his throat as she spins around, facing him, her eyes have quieted, the raging embers have dulled, her breathing calmed, but her stare is now fixed on the boy in front of her.

The boy with the startling blue eyes.

For what seems like an endless moment, the girl with the bow and the boy with blue eyes notice each other, a deep, tantalizingly rich moment that makes a blush creep on his face.

Does she know that I'm different…that I don't want this for her, for Prim, for any of the Seam girls, or any girls in the future….? Why would she? All the merchants have ever done for the Seam has exploited the men to work in the mines and doing mediocre jobs for little or nothing….even laying claim to the women's wombs to create the next generation of little bastards that will run the system?

Why would she think me any different to anyone else? I've held her back from beating Carberry to a messy pulp, she probably thinks I'm no better than him….And yet, I know how it's all flawed. I see through the cracks, the imperfections, the cruelty….

Can she see that in my eyes? Can she tell that I'm not like them, vain and self-centred?

Katniss…Katniss, can't you see it in my eyes….?

Her fingers faintly brush his knuckle before a heavy, laboured cackle is heard from across the room and their eyes separate.

"That's it girl, you keep on defying me. It'll only make even keener to use her. And then, after I'm done with her and I've gotten what I want, I'll make sure that every year she's reaped…. Every year, she'll carry a child….that is…if it doesn't kill her first…"

Peeta's eyes bulge as he witnesses his father's outburst, his hand brushes hers briefly, sending a jolt of electricity through his fingertips.

Carberry grins a macabre, half- smile in a cushioned armchair, Rye hovering over him, his split lip and already bruised jaw, illuminated in the dim light of the room.

"Enough… Mr Mellark, I'm afraid that if you continue to act in this manner, to the possible surrogate of your future child, I strongly recommend that you stay on the right side of me. I can have you deferred from attending the Reapings and even put you under sanction if I feel that you and your partner are hostile or even neglectful to the surrogate. It compromises your chances of even having a surrogate and the possibility of having a child at all….Have I made myself clear?" the authoritative tone of Caesar calms the room to silence, yet the tension of unfinished business still lingers in the air as his eyes flicker from Katniss to the slumped figure on the opposite side of the room.

The Realtor produces a small machine from the dark oak desk. A thermometer runs the length of it, yet at the bottom, there appears to be a spike and a carved out portion of wood, where filter paper replaces bark.

"Come here Katniss…" says Caesar, his tone indifferent.

"What is this?" she asks, her forehead rising, eyebrows knitting together with caution.

"It's a fertility reader. It will give us a reading of Katniss' blood cells, any history of hereditary diseases, the possibility of specific genes, hair colour, eye colour, temperament and so forth….We'll compare her sample to that of her sister's and if there's a similar link between the two, then I'm afraid Carberry, there's no rules against volunteering on another's behalf….Not that it's ever happened before either….."

Carberry doesn't say anything; he just stays slumped in the armchair, Rye's large hand resting squarely on his shoulder.

Katniss glances at Peeta, for some strange reason, she feels as if he might not be completely inhumane and cruel unlike the others.

Stepping forward, she offers her finger to Caesar, who pricks it with the spike at the end as scarlet droplets stain the blotting paper beneath, before seemingly disappearing from sight.

"Relax dear, it's meant to disappear….see how the barometer has liquid within it now? Your blood is being tested for diseases. Unfortunately, this model is out of date, compared to the latest technologies in the Capitol, but it is still reliable when detecting disease. For all the other issues previously mentioned, the electronic calculator here…" he lifts the device up, showing her the extended electrical component at the back, before settling it back down on the desk, "… will determine your genetic variations and possibilities"

She watches the blood move through the glass of the barometer, her eyes dwindling on the tiny amount of liquid as it moves up before disappearing completely from sight again.

He can practically feel her heart beat, hear the blood rushing to her ears, swelling the minutes and seconds until the faint beep of the reader registers and a light piece of paper is omitted from a slot at the end.

This paper…Her life, her sister's life all depends upon a piece of paper….

He doesn't know what to wish for.

If Katniss isn't a good match, Prim will pay, not only for the outburst at the Reaping, but also for her bigger sister's attack on Carberry, who will keep his promise of ensuring that every year Prim will deteriorate into nothing…. A corpse, a spectre of her former self.

But if Katniss is a good match, and if Rye and Carberry agree, who will look after little Prim and Neassa, the two people in the world that depend upon her, rely on her for survival will surely die without her hunting…and even the meagre subsidy that Carberry will pay will hardly sustain them for the entire nine months, especially if she's living with us from the time of insemination….

Caesar raises the paper to read, his eyebrows accentuate as his eyes scan the paper, his mouth falling at the end result.

It's bad news either way for the Everdeen sisters.

Caesar opens his mouth to speak cautiously, Carberry's eyes glaring in the direction of the Realtor, hungry to know the outcome, like a wolf chasing after a lamb.

"Impossible….I haven't seen this in so long…..it can't be…."

"What Realtor?! What?!" cries Carberry, his hand nursing his mangled jaw, blood caked beneath his manicured talons.

Caesar takes a deep breath.

Peeta's heart skips a beat.

"She's….she's barren….She's unable to …." The Realtor's eyes diminish into darkness, attempting to hide his emotions from the outcome. As mediator in this dispute, his job is to be objective and have no bias against either party.

"NO!" screams Katniss, her legs darting her towards Prim, shielding her from the rest of the room, as he watches Carberry snarl.

Peacekeepers burst through the doorway, severing the connection of limbs from the little Everdeen and her bigger sister. Melancholy rushes through Katniss…. The night of her father's death comes back as she pounds her bony fists into the shoulders of the two Peacekeepers, ineffective.

"PRIM! PRIM!I LOVE YOU PRIM!" she screams, until her voice gets hoarse as they drag her from the secret room and down a corridor, the last sight of her sister is one of terror as Carberry glides over to rest a hand on her little shoulder.

Everything turns to black.


Where am I?

Prim. Where is she?

"PRIM!" her eyes fly open, sore and probably bruised.

They had beaten her lightly for her insolence in the Reaping hall and had thrown her in a room with grey walls, a thin night shirt covering her body. Her vision is blurry, but she can make out the faint tinge of gold in the distance as it moves towards her bed.

Peeta.

He isn't like them…He came for me….Why?

She recalls how he had restrained her, but it wasn't constricting. How his fingers had brushed over her stained, bloodied knuckles after she had lunged for Carberry. How in staring into those startling blue eyes that he was uncomfortable and hurt about the situation.

Peeta had a soul. Peeta would look after Prim, for her, even if they hadn't discussed it, she knew he would.

The tinge of gold comes nearer and nearer, her vision clearing.

Blonde hair, but not the startling blue eyes of Peeta.

No.

Brown eyes.

Brown eyes filled with venom. Brown eyes like a snake.

Carberry.

"I told you I'd win….and I will come good on my promise earlier, Katniss….She will carry more and more, year after year, until she ends up like Neassa….Funny isn't it? Like mother, like daughter…." He snarls, a twisted smile curling on his face before cackling.

She waits, blowing the hair out of her eyes quickly before mustering up phlegm from her oesophagus.

The liquid shoots from her mouth and hits Carberry squarely between the eyes, blinding him effectively.

Then in a low, dangerous tone, she whispers;

"If you want to make sure that child survives, you won't touch her…."

"And why is that? What could you possibly do once she's impregnated? She'll stay at my home for nine months; all contact from you will be severed…."

She gargles, her bloodied lip and the phlegm dripping down the side of her face as a strained laugh escapes her lips.

"What's so funny?"

"You are old man."

Maybe she can call his bluff, use something as leverage in order to protect Prim now that she's unable to take her place as surrogate.

"Go ahead, little slut… oh well, you can't really qualify as that….you can't really qualify as a woman either….but go ahead, enlighten me…."

Peeta.

She can use him now as ammunition for a better deal, as propaganda for Carberry to fear, should harm come his way.

"I'm sure your son can fill you in…"

Carberry double blinks at her, the foundations of rage building on his forehead.

"My son?"

"Yes…well, no actually, not your son….you don't have an actual son, do you Carberry? All you have are ideals and notions of grandeur….do you really think that Peeta…. It is Peeta, isn't it? Wouldn't it be absolutely awful if poor, unfortunate Peeta was walking home one day and disappeared mysteriously, never to be seen again?..."

Her tone is condescending, her speech slurred from the blood and saliva of her mouth. The man watches on at the girl with the venom returning in his irises.

"If you touch him…"

"Who me?!"

She replies innocently, a high pitch twinge in her voice.

"Oh no, it would be an awful trick of fate…. Poor boy stumbles off past his guarded, secure life in the town for the wild rush of the Seam, with its dense forest and endless predators, how long do you think that darling Peeta would survive? An hour? Eight hours? A day if he's lucky?...He wouldn't be the first boy to wander off into the unknown….in search of something new…"

He leans further into her face, his breath colliding with hers, dangerously close.

"If you even contemplate on touching my son, I can assure you that I will make everyday a living hell for your sister….You know how biology traditionally works, don't you, Katniss?"

She doesn't know the full complexities, but her mother had been fortunate enough when she was thirteen to fill her in on the basics of reproduction.

Carberry produces what appears to be a long, syringe like object, but wider and made of plastic.

"You see, traditionally, with the surrogates, this…" he holds up the object for her to see "…is used. It generally works rather well….but before this technology, the prospective fathers and sperm donors had to physically mate with the surrogates in order to conceive a child…. Now, your sister is in the insemination clinic at this very moment….the chances of her conceiving on the first go are….shall we say ….limited"

Her heart drops like a stone.

Don't, don't you dare say what I think you're going to…

"For a Seam slut, you're not dumb; I'll give you that, Everdeen. You know exactly what I'm getting at…and just in case you don't, here's it for you, in black and white…. I will fuck your sister every, single day if you try and touch my son….You may be thinking of my fidelity to Rye or even my conduct and go squealing to Flickerman….I can assure you that if you do such things, I will make your darling little lamb of a sister scream and cry every single day for nine months….Do you understand?

Of course she understands.

There's never a second thought for safety when it concerns her sister.

"Do we have an agreement?...Stay away from Peeta or else Prim will pay dearly for your transgression…It's in your hands…"

Of course it's in her hands. The merchants have never justified the brutality of the Reapings; they merely follow the orders of the Capitol. Of course it's not their fault that hundreds, if not thousands of underage girls and women are culled to produce new offspring for the same sex couples.

His hand rises up to meet hers and the contact is so vile that it barely lasts for a second.

Carberry grins, wicked and deadly at her.

Katniss glares at him, her teeth latching onto her bottom lip, a steady flow of blood covering her tongue with a metallic tang.

He leaves the room, smiling icily at her, rooting her to the hospital bed.

She will murder that son of a bitch.

Soon.


A/N: I know this story is weird, it's unusual. But please just take it for what it as, one step at a time and trust me enough to clear up anything that seems off or strange. I have it all worked out, and an amazing Beta who works her ass off, even when she's sick Thank you and please review!