A/N: Since there's only, like, two chapters left of Rusted Gold, I decided to get a head start and post up my next Cato/Peeta fic. This story is based in the Hunger Games universe but is an AU . . . sort of. I think. I dunno. You be the judge! ^_^

Disclaimer: I don't own the Hunger Games.


Chapter One


I awoke from my sleep with a jolt. Sweat plastered to my brow and dripping down the sides of my face. My chest heaved as it became a struggle to get oxygen into my lungs. Another nightmare. Typical. I'd kicked the duvet off the bed in my sleep and the plain white sheet lay in a mess on the floor beside me. Must have been a bad one. I tried to think back on what had happened but the details of the dream eluded me. The kicked off duvet and my racing heart were the only evidence of my ever having a nightmare.

I sat up and ran my hands through my hair. Was someone calling me?

"Hello?" I yelled.

My brother Rye came into my bedroom with a smug smirk on his face. "Your girlfriend Katniss called but I told her you were sleeping," he said.

I groggily rubbed my eyes and frowned. "What?" I asked. "Katniss? She's not my girlfriend and you know it. Why didn't you just wake me up?"

Rye shrugged. "I dunno," he said. "She said to meet her at the fence by the meadow at eight o'clock."

I turned to the clock on my nightstand and squinted at the red 10:05 beeping on the screen. "Eight o'clock?!" I exclaimed. "What the hell man, why didn't you tell me?!" Rye shrugged again and saluted before turning and leaving. I ran a frustrated hand over my face and groaned.

No, Katniss isn't my girlfriend. More of a best friend. We met outside the bakery when we were kids. She was hungry and I gave her some brunt bread my mother was going to throw out. We'd been friends since then. Katniss and I hang out on a daily basis but never this early. I wondered what had gotten into her to decide to meet up at eight o'clock anyway. She knew I was never awake at eight o'clock in the morning.

I grabbed my cane and hobbled to the bathroom when my eyes caught the calender and the red circle encasing today's date.

June 15th

Choosing Day

Oh yeah, today was the choosing day. That's why Katniss had called in early.

The Choosing Day became an annual event when District 12 began spiralling into deep poverty. It was the last straw when people were beginning to be found everywhere, dead of starvation. So, to solve the problem, Mayor Undersee decided to put all citizens in the area up for sale toward the people in the richer Districts.

The richer Districts are always looking for partners, especially when they're selling for cheap. The Choosing Day is when one person from the rich Districts come down here to chose one of us as their partner. They pay for us and the money is put toward the well being of our people. It's a sacrifice we all have to make.

So far there's been three choosing ceremonies. Two people from District 4 and one from District One. I didn't know the people who were chosen by them because I refused to go to the ceremony. I couldn't watch their lives being thrown away. It was horrifying to think about. That's why Katniss came early. She wanted to talk to me before the ceremony. I took another look at the clock and decided I still had time if I went to her quick.

I ran into her as she passd the entrance to the square. "Wow!" She exclaimed.

"Katniss!" I said. "I thought I was going to miss you! Rye was an ass and didn't give me the message."

Katniss rolled her eyes and shouldered her game bag. "Sounds like him," she muttered. "Anyway, how are you?"

"Alright," I shrugged. "You?"

"Same," sighed Katniss. We started walking the perimeter of the square and I kept my eyes locked on my converse sneakers as they kicked up the stones as we went. Katniss fiddled with the fabric of her hunting jacket nervously. "So, you going to the choosing ceremony?" she asked.

"What do you think?" I asked back.

Katniss stuffed her hands into her pockets and shrugged. "I think you have to," she said.

I glanced at her out of the corner of my eyes and frowned. "Why do you say that?"

The brunette sighed and stopped in the middle of the pavement. I winced and leaned heavily on my wooden cane. There was an . . . incident last year that left me unable to walk too far without the stick. I don't talk about it too much and not many people know the truth of what happened. I just say it was a football injry.

"The man, from 2, he's a homosexual," Katniss explained. "As a man, you have to be there."

I frowned and crossed my arms. "When you say homosexual, you mean . . . ?"

"Gay," Katniss nodded.

Cato Hadley had been in the District for a week. He arrived on a train seven days ago with his father and had been seen around the Merchant and Seam areas, scouring for his new partner. I'd thought he was looking for a girl, like everyone else who had come here had done. We hadn't sold any men yet because no rich girl had come looking for a partner but now . . . today was going to change that.

Katniss touched my arm and gave me a worried smile. "Please stay at the back Peeta," she said. "I don't like this and, if push comes to shove, I won't be able to stop it if you're chosen. The welfare of the District is what's most important."

I laughed. "I won't get picked. Don't worry, I'm sure this Cato fella has better tastes than a short baker from the outlying District. Maybe he'll pick someone from the Seam." Katniss bit her lip, unconvinced. "Okay, okay, how about this? He'll probably want someone with experience."

"Hmm," Katniss sighed. "I guess you're right."

I was the only person over the age of fifteen in the whole of 12 who hadn't had sex . . . sort of. I know it sounded strange but everyone else had either been hasty when at the slag heap or had been forced to give it up to Head Peacekeeper Cray for some money for their families.

Even Katniss had lost her virginity. She got drunk one night and woke up the next morning beside her best friend Gale. It turned her into a wreck for a bit and both of them were embarrassed about it. I think they're still friends now but not as closely as they used to be. Still, it seems to be what's happened a lot of District 12 teens since Ripper stopped giving a damn over who she sold her alcohol too.

Except me. It was just something that had never cropped up yet. My inexperience with the particular topic might just be what saved my freedom.

"I told my mother and Prim I'd meet them there but I was going to walk to the ceremony with you," Katniss said. I nodded and we both set off walking again. The ceremonies-I think-take place in the middle of the square whenever said buyer announced what they want.

My first choosing ceremony . . . this should be interesting . . .


I didn't know where my family were. I had got lost in the crowd of people who attended the ceremony, immediately losing Katniss as she weaved away to find her sister and mother. Were my brothers even coming? I mean, they're men, aren't they supposed to be here as well? Then again, if they decided not to attend, tthey'd be safe from being chosen. Both are experienced in the field of sexual activity and I hated for this man from 2 to decide to have either of them as his partner.

Mayor Undersee always carried an air of guilt and regret on Choosing Day. He was the man who put us all up for sale after all. It's okay for those who don't get chosen. They get to live in the lap of the money the said rich buyer leaves behind but it always means one more soul lost. One more person's ambitions crushed.

When he appeared on the riggedty makeshift stage outside the Justice Building, he held the same demeanour as usual. His face was a hard mask as he led the man from 2 and his father out to overlook us all. "Cato," he said, before coughing to clear his voice. "Cato Hadley from 2 is our buyer this year." He gestured to the strong, brutal looking blond man standing beside him.

I'd heard the rumours of Cato being around but I'd never seen him myself until this minute. His tall, strong being made me feel even smaller than usual and I took a step back, hoping to blend into the crowd. Not that I thought he'd chose me, I was just taking a percaution because even the slimmest of possiblites chilled me to the bone.

"Have you decided who you'd like to . . ." Mayor Undersee chewed on his lip and sighed. "Who you'd like to purchase."

The man from 2 smirked, and my blood turned to ice even though the gesture wasn't even directed at me. There was something about the small turn up of the corners of his lips that made me feel unsettled. My gaze dropped to the dusty ground and fixated on my converse.

"I want a virgin," Cato said, plain and simple. "Someone I can make my mark on." His father rubbed the back of his neck nervously and stared out into the crowd of people who had come to witness the pairing. I wasn't sure why I was even there. I didn't care who the damn brute choose. My feet just sort of took me here when Katniss asked me to come with her.

"But this is District 12," his father informed him carefully, as if telling a stroppy child they couldn't get the lollipop at the store. "There are no virgins here."

"Then I'm not taking anyone," Cato concluded. The mayor's eyes widened in fear and he stepped forward to intercept.

"No need for hasty decisions," he said. "I'm sure there's a virgin somewhere here."

I ran my hand through my hair nervously, my heart beating faster than my blood vessels could keep up with. It's alright. No one knew that I was a virgin here. I could pass off easily as someone who's had sex. The only person who knows I'am is-

"We do!" A familiar voice chimed out. My blood turned to ice as Katniss climbed onto the stage. "We have one virgin left."

"Who?" The mayor asked.

"Him." She pointed into the crowd. Right at me. My heart stopped before picking up faster than before, faster than I could even comprehend.

I risked a glance at Cato and swallowed hard when I saw him looking at me like everyone else was. His eyes gleamed with malice, a predatory gaze that made me feel small.

"Yes, he'll do just fine."

Betrayal. The very first feeling that surfaced within me was betrayal. Katniss had betrayed me. I knew she had said that she cared more about the welfare of the District than she did our friendship but so much so that she'd just sell me out like that? Reveal my secret to everyone? I thought I could trust her, that's why I'd told her I was a virgin.

Mayor Undersee squinted at me. "The baker's son?" he asked in disbelief. "Are you sure?"

Cato's eyes hadn't moved from my face since they'd locked on me when Katniss had pointed me out. "Yes, I'm sure," he said.

"Great!" Katniss said frantically. She leaped off the stage, grabbed my arm and started dragging me to the stage.

"Katniss!" I exclaimed in shock, yanking my arm out of her grasp.

"I'm sorry Peeta," she said, grabbing me again and pulling desperately to try to get me up to where she previously stood. "This is bigger than you! GO!" I hit her lightly with the cane, enough to get her to let go, and backed away from her. I understood her desperation. The partner pairing money helped her sister and mother live their lives. Her hunting hadn't been enough to keep them living recently and they needed the money badly. But I couldn't give myself to Cato just because of that!

My back bumped into something and a yelp escaped my mouth as someone grabbed my arm and pulled me up and onto the stage from behind as if I weighed nothing more than a hollow porcelin doll. Said person whirled me around and I came to face to face with Cato.

His blue eyes bored into mine and a tight knot formed in my stomach. His hands gripped my arms so tightly that I could already feel bruises forming. I refused to wince. I refused to give the brute the statisfaction of knowing he had me terrified. "Yes," he finally said, his eyes practically gleaming, "He's perfect."

"I'm sorry Peeta," I heard Katniss say weakly from the crowd. A bit late for apologies now. "I'll tell your family what's happened."

What? I couldn't even say goodbye to my family? This detail, the fact that I wouldn't ever see my father or my brothers ever again made me finally comprehend what was happening properly. This brute was going to take me away to District 2 with him where God knows what will happen.

I tried to pull my arms out of the man's grasp but he smirked and held tight. My eyes met his fearfully and he quirked an eyebrow, daring me to keep trying, to keep attempting to escape. I glared at him and did exactly that. I pulled back against his hold on me and thrashed, trying to get his grip to loosen. Inside of getting looser, it got tighter and I cried out in pain. He held on so tight that my hand spasmed and my cane-my only weapon of defense-dropped out of my hand.

"Thank you Mayor Undersee, he'll do just fine," Cato said to the sweating man beside him. "My father will discuss the payment arrangements with you." In his distraction of speaking to the Mayor, I yanked one of my arms out of his grasp and tried to make a run for it. Instead, I ended up pulling my other restricted limb which the brute from 2 still held onto. The man didn't even stumble as I pulled in fact, his feet stayed planted firmly where they were.

How screwed was I exacty?

I looked out into the crowd of dispersing relieved citizens who were glad that they didn't get chosen this year. Katniss remained where she stood, her hands fisting the bottom of her braid fearfully. As if unable to handle it anymore, she sighed and turned her back on me, following her little sister Prim as she skipped away hand in hand with her mother. I wondered if she meant it when she said she'd tell my family what had happened.

I wondered if she'd tell them it was her fault.

"I'm going to go ahead and take him to the train," Cato informed his father. "You take care of all that finacial shit, okay?" His father nodded and turned back to the Mayor, immediately beginning to discuss prices. Prices on my freedom. The price of my body and soul.

How much would that cost?

As if finally noticing my escape attempts, Cato yanked me back toward him. I lashed out, strugging to get out of his hold, and screamed when he hoisted me up over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Cato bent down and scooped up my cane, twirling it jollily as he set off to the train station. My hands found purchase on his head and I started pulling at his hair, yelling out of fear of what was going to happen when he got me onto that train to District 2.

Then he chuckled. I swear to God he chuckled. He was actually finding my lashing out amusing!

I didn't give up. The entire walk to the station, I kicked and thrashed in his arms, trying desperately to get free. A part of me knew it was hopeless, that I was fighting a useless fight-the man wouldn't even flinch, even when I hit him as hard as I could-but I couldn't admit to myself that it was over.

Then we were on the train, and the doors were sliding shut behind us.

Plunging us into momentary darkness.

And my life was over.

Maybe it was really doomed from the start.

A/N: So guys, tell me what you think. The rest of this story will be written in third person POV and, don't worry, it's not going to be like the other 'claiming' stories that are bouncing around here. It's different, I promise.

Teaser: Chapter Two:

He still wondered why Cato had sought out a virgin when there was plenty of ruggad, well-built Seam teens he could have chosen in District 12. The worst thing of all, was that the brute from 2 . . . well . . . he wasn't really a brute. He was a gueninely nice guy. He didn't force himself on Peeta, had obviously been giving him space, and came to make sure he was okay when he heard him screaming . . .

R&R pleeeaasseee! ^_^