Summary: In the 59th Hunger Games, Dave Karofsky volunteers.
Characters/Pairing(s): Karofsky/Kurt, Rachel/Finn, Sue, Santana, others.
Word Count: 8,000
Warning(s): Violence, character death, insane crossover/fusion action.
Disclaimer: Everything here belongs to Suzanne Collins and Ryan Murphy. I’m just borrowing them for a bit and stitching everything together, like some kind of mad literary scientist.
A/N: I have absolutely no idea what this is or where it came from. I think I need my head examined.
It could be worse, he thinks. It could be raining.
The morning of Reaping Day is going to be a pretty one, the weather warm and the last traces of moonlight still sweeping over the tops of the trees around his home in District 7 when he rises from his narrow bed. Santana is already waiting for him outside and when he glances out his bedroom window he can just make her out, leaning against the tree at the edge of the property line, picking at her fingernails. Dave dresses and tiptoes down the hallway as quietly as possible with his boots in hand, trying not to wake his father as he gathers up his axe, his bag, his jacket.
He almost makes it to the front door before he realizes that he shouldn’t have bothered.
Dave sighs and pauses at the entryway to the kitchen, dropping his hunting bag to the floor as he takes in the image that greets him there. Paul Karofsky is sitting at the scrubbed oak table and looks like he has been for some time, reading by candlelight because the power must be out again. He’s not surprised – electricity is always inconsistent in their district, and the only time it ever really works is during the Games. Dave crosses his arms and leans against the wall. He clears his throat and his father’s head snaps up, surprised.
“You’re up already?” he says, trying to sound nonchalant.
“Dad.” Dave shakes his head. “Please tell me you went to bed last night.”
“I tried. I couldn’t sleep.”
Dave takes a deep breath. “I know you’re worried, but we’ve been fine, right? We’re always fine. I’ve only got one more year, Dad.”
“You do. Others don’t.” His father shakes his head, his face momentarily blank, but then he smiles wearily and leans over the table, blowing out the candle. There’s enough light pouring through the window that they can see each other, but just barely. “Is that what you’re wearing today?”
“No – Santana’s here. I’ll change when we get back.”
His father rises from his chair and crosses the room, rests his hand on Dave’s shoulder and looks him in the eye. Not for the first time, he feels like a little boy under his father’s caring, discerning gaze; like he should apologize for something, everything, he’s done wrong. “Be careful,” he says, and Dave nods, slipping quietly out the front door.
Santana holds up her hand in greeting when he approaches her, her eyes fixed on a point just over his shoulder, and he turns to see his father standing on the porch, waving back. He looks so old silhouetted against the darkened doorway, his hair grey, clothes threadbare and fading from a thousand washes and mendings. Dave presses his lips into a firm, thin line as they walk off toward the woods.
“Daddy wanted to send you off, huh?” Santana asks. “That’s cute, Dave. Did he pack you a lunch, too?”
“Shut up,” he replies, and she snickers.
“He did, didn’t he? Did he cut the crusts off your sandwich? Ooh, did he make one for me? He knows I hate strawberry jam, right?”
Santana picks at the pockets of his coat, peeking in like she expects to find something and laughing when he shoves her hands away. He pulls out an apple for her anyway, holding it in front of her nose and pulling it back when she reaches for it.
“God, you’re annoying. I should just let you starve, I swear.”
Santana snorts. “Oh, like you’d get absolutely anything without me, you big pansy.” She stops for a moment and pulls out her knife, then slices the apple in half, licking juice from the blade as she passes him his share.
“You’re such a bitch,” he snipes back, bringing the apple to his lips.
“Don’t call me a bitch, bitch.” Santana pushes at his shoulder as they sneak through the gap in the fence, her hair in its regular tight ponytail and a bag slung over her arm. She uses him for balance once they cross over, hand pressed to his chest as she shoves her knife back into the pocket on her boot. They walk down the familiar paths and check their traps, talking quietly as they do, mindful of where they step. Most of them are empty this morning, and as they move deeper into the woods Santana asks if he’s spoken to the boy he’s been “mooning after” yet. He elbows her in the ribs and asks if Quinn Fabray has figured out who’s been leaving love notes on her doorstep, and Santana elbows him back so hard that he nearly trips over a fallen log.
Maybe they’ll get married one day, just to stop people from talking. He could pick worse girls to take up with – she’s his best friend, the only one who knows the truth, and he doesn’t know what he’d do without her. They’ve grown up but they haven’t grown apart and to him, that’s what matters. That’s how it should be.
Only one trap has anything in it: a rather large rabbit struggles in a net hanging several feet off the ground. Dave lets his arm snap forward and his axe whizzes through the air; it hits its target and cuts the rope that’s attached to the net, hitting the ground with a solid thump.
“Showoff,” Santana mutters, moving to go take care of their prize.
Dave dislodges the axe blade from the tree, rolling up what’s left of the rope and draping it over his arm. He thinks about apples and fresh bread and the last time he had real butter, about hunting with ‘Tana and the stew they’ll get from this rabbit, about his father’s stooped shoulders and the boy who always passes him in the town square on his way to the black market – the machinist’s son, that fine-boned, green-eyed, brown-haired boy – and above all he thinks about Reaping Day, the ceremony only a few hours away. Santana kills the rabbit and Dave runs his hand through his hair.
It really could be worse.
Without her hunting boots or leather jacket, Santana could pass for any one of those pretty merchant’s girls he sees in town: her black hair down and wavy, her cheeks pink and smooth. He teases her about seeing her in a dress more often and she threatens to cut his balls off, but he can tell her heart isn’t in it. Santana links her hands together and rubs her thumb against her palm – the only sign she ever gives of when she’s feeling nervous. Dave puts his arm around her as they walk and gives her a quick squeeze, nodding at some of the others they know from school as they pass. Her expression is unreadable, she stares straight ahead.
They separate when the reach the square, filing into rows with other girls and boys in their own divided sections, but he still watches her line up with her younger cousins, pulling them around her so that they stand close, they stand together.
When April Rhodes takes the microphone, Dave looks over at where the adults are gathering, trying to find his father amongst the familiar faces. He sees Santana’s parents and her grandmother, and Will Schuester and Ken Tanaka and Emma Pillsbury, but he can’t see his father anywhere, which both relieves and worries him. The sound of April Rhodes’s tittering laugh pulls him out of his thoughts, and when she reaches her hand into the bowl of girl’s names his heart leaps up into his throat. He looks over at Santana and she looks back at him, and then, and then –
“The female tribute from District Seven is…Rachel Berry!”
Dave watches the schoolteacher’s daughter walk up from the crowd surrounding the stage, steady and sure, her faded blue dress standing out brightly against the starched white banner behind her. April shakes her hand as she climbs the wooden steps and there’s a moment where it feels as if it’s just the two of them alone in the world; she’s not even looking at him, but he can’t help but be drawn to her, how calm she seems as she crosses the stage under the hot lights of the cameras.
April grins manically and moves on to the next bowl. Dave continues watching Rachel as she takes her seat next to Sue Sylvester, taking in the sight of her straight posture, her long dark hair spilling down over her shoulders. She’s putting on a show; her smile is wide and pleasant but her eyes betray her, showing the nervousness, the fear. Her eyes are trained on one person in the crowd and in the row in front of him, Finn Hudson can’t stop shaking.
“And the male tribute from District Seven is…Kurt Hummel!”
Dave’s stomach lurches at the words and something in his neck cracks as he turns his head too quickly, staring at the people in front of him and looking, looking, looking until he finds him, six rows ahead. Kurt’s shoulders shake as he steps into the empty space between the groups of boys and girls, his hair slicked back and his head held high as he marches unsteadily forward. If his heart was in his throat just a moment ago it is definitely back inside his chest right now, feeling like it’s been run through a wringer, squeezed hard in a vise. A sinking wave of dread rushes through him as Kurt walks on toward certain death, and it takes a moment for Dave to realize that he’s walking, too. Kurt makes it to the stairs and suddenly Dave runs, he runs, pushing through the boys on either side of him in his mad scramble to reach the front of the crowd.
“I volunteer!” Breathless, foolish, he pushes against the Peacekeeper that tries to hold him back. “I volunteer!”
There’s murmuring throughout the crowd as the Peacekeeper lets him pass, brushing past Kurt and bounding up the stairs. Someone in the crowd cries out – a girl, he can tell, but it can’t be Santana because she’d never, she’d never – while April fixes him with a curious stare, her smile stretching wide at the edges when she realizes what’s happening; the ratings from their footage today will be fantastic, he knows, the Capitol loves blatant acts of stupidity like this. He catches Rachel Berry’s eye and immediately looks down at the wooden slats of the stage floor, feeling strangely ashamed. She’s so much smaller up close. Someone should have stood for her.
April clears her throat and motions for the Peacekeeper who’d held him back to escort Kurt away from the stage. Dave takes his spot next to Rachel and with that, the tributes from District 7 have been chosen.
Three people come to tell him goodbye. Three people.
He makes Santana promise to look out for his father while he’s gone and it sounds like he’s going on vacation, like he’s going to come back. He digs his fingers into her arms until she nods, makes her promise, and she kisses his cheek before she goes. His father cries, clutching him close, threading his fingers through the hair at the back of Dave’s neck, and for the first time all day the weight of the choice he’s made presses down on him.
He doesn’t cry. He can’t. He won’t.
His father leaves and Dave grunts when his last visitor walks through the doorway, like he’d rather be in the arena already than be alone in the mayor’s office with Kurt Hummel, even if it’s not the truth. But Kurt is so forceful and charismatic that he just listens to the grateful words tumbling out past Kurt’s lips, nodding occasionally and wondering when Kurt will ask him the question he honestly has no answer for. They’ve barely spoken, they hardly know each other; there’s no reason Dave should want to take his place. Kurt finishes his speech and they stare at each other for a long, quiet moment, and then suddenly Kurt is hugging him, arms locked tight around his middle and his head pressing into his chest. It’s genuine and honest and thankful, so thankful, that through his surprise Dave hugs him back.
“It’s okay,” Dave says, patting him on the back. He doesn’t know what he’s saying it for, exactly, but Kurt looks like he’s about to cry and even Dave knows that lying is just something you do when people are upset. Kurt smiles slightly and the world brightens a bit, the colors change.
“You don’t sound afraid,” he says softly, smoothing his hands over the wrinkles he’s made in Dave’s good shirt. “Aren’t you afraid?”
I’m terrified, Dave wants to say, but he shrugs like he doesn’t care, unable to tear his eyes away from Kurt’s face. He’s such a pretty boy, so pale and clean, and Dave wonders for what is probably the millionth time what it would feel like to kiss him, to have those soft pink lips pressed against his own. His heart clenches in his chest. This is the last chance he’ll ever get.
Kurt steps back and Dave stands there with his hands in his pockets, watching him go. Kurt stops at the door and gives him one last look before he leaves; “Be safe,” he says, and it isn’t until much later that Dave realizes that there’s a pin stuck to his lapel that wasn’t there before. He plays with it on the train, rubbing it between his thumb and forefinger, feeling the grooves in the design on the small metal ‘H.’
He doesn’t wear it, but he keeps it close; a reminder.
He is going to die.
Maybe. Probably. Soon.
“Dave Karofsky,” April says somewhere around District 6, swirling the wine in her glass, “Or is it David?”
He shrugs. It’s their second day of traveling and he doesn’t feel like talking.
“Well, honey, which would you rather be called?”
When they announce you’re dead, Dave finishes for her in his head. He actually thinks about it, weighs the pros and cons, and finally lands on, “Dave.” He glances quickly down the table at Sue Sylvester, the only mentor for District 7 that’s still alive and sane. “That’s how I want to be known.”
It’s such a morbid way to phrase it, but he can’t help himself. Sue nods and starts talking to Rachel over his head, and he picks at the red velvet cushion of the couch he’s sitting on. He wonders how many now-dead children have ridden on this train, how many have had this same conversation on their first and only ride to the Capitol. He folds his hands on his lap and listens while Sue opens up the conversation to him, too, and explains her training strategies. District after district passes outside the window in a greenish blur, the treetops and landscapes blending into one another until darkness falls over everything and Dave can’t see anything else.
Before they go to bed, Rachel asks Sue what they could expect if they win and April smiles widely at her, resting her hand on her shoulder and painting her a picture of what those in the winner’s circle have: a new home, decent food, enough money to last a lifetime. Their parents never starve and their siblings want for nothing, they live a life of leisure because they are the most deserving people in all of Panem.
“You earn it, all right,” Sue says darkly, “And everything is paid in blood.”
April huffs. “It is really that hard for you to keep a civil tongue in your mouth when there are children present?”
“You think that’s hard?” Sue scoffs. She slams her glass down hard against the surface of the table, her cheeks pink with anger. “Try living with yourself afterward – that’s hard.”
Sue rises from her chair and stomps out of the car, leaving April to coo and comfort an obviously stricken Rachel, who wrings her dinner napkin between her fingers until the cloth starts to fray at the edges. Rachel excuses herself and April finally goes to bed and Dave leans back in his chair and stares up at the ceiling, listening to the almost silent click-click-clicking of the train against the tracks as they speed on toward the Capitol.
Rachel cries in her bedroom when they finally reach the Training Center, trying and failing to muffle the sound into her expensive feather pillow. Dave takes the longest, hottest shower possible and pretends that everything will be okay.
Two nights later, Dave and Rachel stand still in hallway beside their chariot while Sue Sylvester towers over them. Holly Holliday and her team fuss quietly with their costumes for the parade; his and Rachel’s faces are painted to match their clothes: brown trousers and shirt for him, a brown dress for Rachel, both with thin, leafy branches extending up from the backs and shoulders of their outfits. Rachel has leaves woven into her hair, and a little red bird perched on the branch that swoops down over her left shoulder. It definitely looks nice, even if it is really annoying that he can’t scratch an itch on his face without completely smearing everything, but here’s hoping that it’ll catch the judges’ eyes come marching time.
Sue’s been silent for so long that Dave is beginning to forget why she’s standing there in the first place, but then his mentor pinches him hard at the elbow and tells him, “Atrocious, Karofsky, absolutely atrocious. How you expect to impress the crowd looking like this is beyond me – even your breath stinks of cheap polyester and mediocrity.”
Holly tilts her head to the side and watches Sue pick apart his costume before moving over to where Holly’s team is still working with Rachel. She turns to Dave and shrugs, smirking a little as she tells him, “I think that means she likes it.”
Sue sneers at that, reaching out and plucking at the strap of Rachel’s dress. “This branch is crooked.”
“That’s her arm.”
“I stand by my previous statement.” Sue glares at Holly for a long moment and then storms away, uninterested in lending any kind of further comment. When she’s out of earshot, Rachel leans up and breathes in his ear, “I bet she ate the other tributes during her Games.”
Dave laughs. It’s not funny, but laughing is laughing, he guesses, and he might as well find something to laugh about while he spends one of his last days alive dressed up as a tree.
The pair from District 1 are the favorites, Sue tells them, careers who’ve trained for years just to compete. Then there’s District 6, represented by a tiny girl with glasses and a skinny boy with frizzy hair who keeps dropping his weapon over at the knife-throwing station. The tributes from District 2 are the most gruesome of the lot: a glaring, grinning boy and a lean, leggy brunette, and they’ve been showing off, chucking spears at the targeted dummies for the past hour: bull’s-eye, every time. The pair from District 4 – a tall, heavyset girl and a quiet, dark-skinned boy – watch them practice with a mix of hatred and wonder in their eyes.
Dave is learning how to tie knots when the admittedly good-looking pair from District 8 pass by, both with flax-blond hair and pale blue eyes, and their snickering at his attempt at a noose means he doesn’t notice it at first when Rachel takes a seat next to him, leaning forward to pick up her own piece of rope. She doesn’t say anything, just watches Dave’s technique before attempting it up herself, ending with a perfect noose resting across her palms when she finishes. She sighs, looks over at him, and somehow manages to smile.
“I wish we were friends.”
“No, you don’t.”
He chuckles and she blushes. “I’m not going to kill you, Rachel,” he says in a low voice, leaning in so no one else can overhear. “At least, not today.” She blinks, and it takes her a second to realize that he’s trying to make a joke.
He looks at her for a long time before placing his rope next to hers, beads of sweat forming on the back of his neck. “Allies,” he whispers back, and it’s only when she leaves and heads to the bows and arrows that he looks down at the nooses they’ve made and understands what she meant.
The crowd adores Rachel Berry, but really, how could they not?
She really is something else, this girl; Rachel sparkles, she laughs, she blows kisses to people in the crowd and honest to God, she shines when the camera crew turns their spotlights on her, spinning in her black and gold dress. She banters back and forth with a fuchsia-haired Caesar Flickerman and it’s obvious he loves her: every one of his asides to the audience are about how charming she is, how witty and bright. She’s the dream interviewee, the hardest act to follow.
He feels like his tie is choking him but he still smiles as he walks, waving to the cameras and wondering if his father is watching. Santana’s probably gagging at the sight of him in a suit. He gives polite answers to everything Caesar asks him, but he knows he’s not doing as well as Rachel and when the host starts to ask him questions about Reaping Day, Dave senses trouble.
“…And you were not picked as tribute, is that right? You volunteered?”
He nods. “That’s right.”
“For another boy, a classmate of yours…not family, and yet you still took his place.” Dave swallows and Caesar gives him a paternal grin, kindly patting him on the back. “Now, I think I’ve got to ask the question everyone in the Capitol’s been dying to get an answer to – why’d you do it, Dave?”
Kurt Hummel – pale, bony, pretty Kurt – wouldn’t have lasted ten minutes in the arena, let alone have a chance at winning. Dave is big and he’s strong, he can wield an axe and he can manage, he can take care of himself. He traded fair and even: the Capitol gets their tribute and Kurt gets to live, so why is it such a big deal? They don’t need him to play their game, this boy who means so much to so many, this boy who deserved a chance to live, and Dave couldn’t let them, he couldn’t, he couldn’t –
“I just really wanna fight,” he confirms to Caesar Flickerman, which gets a laugh out of the audience.
“Tell me a secret,” Rachel says to him. “Tell me something you’ve never told anyone else before.”
It's their last night of freedom before the Games and they’re sitting on the rooftop of the Training Center, watching the night come alive in the heart of the Capitol. She’s still cold, despite the blanket spread across their laps, so he tucks her under his arm, letting her cuddle up to get warm. The city itself is like nothing he’s ever seen before – constantly moving, constantly buzzing with light and sound and life, so much life – but he can’t enjoy it.
“I don’t have any secrets.”
“Sure you do. Everyone does.” She pulls at the blanket, shifts around a little. “I’ll tell you one of mine if you tell me one of yours.”
Dave tilts his head back against the wall they’re sitting against. “Alright,” he says, “So there was this one day, not too long after my mom died, when I went to the black market without ‘Tana and there was a raid. Some kind of big higher-up from the Capitol was coming in, or something, and I guess the rest were trying to clean the place up before they got there. Everyone’s running around trying to get out, and it’s a mess, right? Nobody’s looking where anyone’s going, and even the good Peacekeepers, the ones who’d look the other way if you brought ‘em some squirrel or whatever, are cracking skulls in the middle of everything. Now, I managed to make it out, but I’ve still got all this deer on me, and how could I explain that?”
He takes a deep breath and sighs. “I started running. I got out the back and I started running, and someone kept calling after me to stop, but I didn’t. They must’ve chased me all through the square, and I thought I’d lost them when I got behind Hummel’s repair shop, but I didn’t. I’m standing there with my back to the wall and I can hear them coming, when all of a sudden a door bursts open, like, two feet from me, and this boy tells me to get inside. He let me wait it out in his dad’s shop until the Peacekeepers ran by.” Dave pauses, lost in thought. He’s never told this to anyone before, not even Santana. “He hid me. He didn’t have to, but he hid me.”
Rachel is quiet for a long time, and there’s a soft note of amusement in her voice when she finally says, “You love him.”
Dave looks down at her, expecting scorn, but Rachel puts her hand on his arm and squeezes, her long nails pressing into his bicep. He stares at her flushed cheeks, the dark curls framing her face, and he swallows. “It’s sweet,” she says quickly, “That you’d do this for him. I think it’s sweet.” Rachel bites her lip and looks away, down at the city moving below them. She tells him like an afterthought, “I’m getting married.”“
To who?” he asks, even though he’s sure he already knows the answer.
“A boy from school,” she whispers, “Finn Hudson.”
Dave nods and matches the name to the face in his head: tall and clumsy, brown hair, an easy smile. They played ball together when they were children, he sat behind him in history. It’s strange how clearly he can remember everyone, now, how the idea of death brings him closer to all the ones he’s known, however distant they might be.
“He asked me over the summer. We were going to tell our parents after the Reaping, when we were safe.” She laughs, hollowly. “I already had my dress picked out.”
“White?” he asks, and she jabs him in the ribs with her elbow, insisting that no matter what he’s implying, her mother’s blue dress is absolutely perfect for the occasion. Even in the dim light he can tell that she’s blushing, and it makes him laugh, just a little.
“Finn’s a lucky guy, Rachel. You’ll be a very pretty bride.”
She goes stiff for a moment, and when he realizes exactly what he said Dave feels like the worst sort of fool. Rachel turns her face into his chest when he apologizes, closing her eyes and breathing in. “I know I won’t,” she answers quietly. “But thank you for lying.”
Dave has never really been afraid of the dark, so the arena the Gamemakers have set up this year doesn’t bother him the way it might rattle up the others. It’s a cave, dark and deep, with nooks and cracks and endless passageways. The echo effect could be helpful if he times it right, and he can travel pretty quickly if he’s quiet about it, but he also knows that once someone spots him it’s going to be hell to try and escape an ambush.
Basically, all it boils down to is that he’s dead no matter what he does.
He lost sight of Rachel on the first day; the Cornucopia had been an absolute mess, ten dead in twenty minutes. He has a deep gash on his arm where the tribute from District 1 – Mike, he thinks – flung a knife at him and he just narrowly dodged it while reaching for an axe.
Now that he actually thinks about it, it was a stupid idea – what the hell is there to chop down in a cave? Sue’s probably glaring at him through the screen in a monitor somewhere, drinking her blended protein cocktail and psychically willing him to get his act together. He wonders how Rachel’s doing, where she is; he has yet to see her face projected like the others and he doesn’t know if he’s happy or not that she’s still alive. It would be easier if she wasn’t.
Dave sits alone in his corner, axe in hand, and watches the dripping water reflect the colors off the gems embedded in the cave ceiling.
He’s been alone for six days since the bloodbath at the Cornucopia, and he’s starving and delusional and the blood loss and smell of death that wafts up throughout the cave is starting to get to him, digging under his skin like splinters, like ticks. He staggers further and further down the winding paths of the cave and he’s close to cracking, he can feel it; he’s hearing things, all of it echoing along the walls: his father’s be careful and Kurt’s be safe and Santana is just laughing at him, laughing like she always does, telling him get up, you pansy, get up, you tall freak, are you a man or not?
He braces his hand against the wall for balance and he stumbles over something that is probably a rock. He falls and scrapes his hands along the jagged floor; his axe skitters across the mouth of the cave, a few feet too far for him to reach. Dave rolls over onto his back and lies there, thinking about what it would mean if he just never got up again. Easy target like him, he’ll probably die. He can’t say it doesn’t sound like a decent option.
He doesn’t know how long he’s down for, but then there’s the feeling of something cool against his face, fingers running over his forehead and through his hair. He opens his eyes and his vision is blurry; he sees brown hair and brown eyes and a soft voice whispers, wake up, Dave, please wake up. She struggles to pull him upright and it must be funny, he thinks, considering how small she is compared to him. Rachel Berry sets him back against the wall like a doll, like a prop, she pushes something solid down his throat and makes him chew, makes him swallow. It warms him up from the inside out, fills him in a way food never has before.
She makes him drink water from a cup in little sips and there’s blood on her neck; he doesn’t know if it’s hers or not but it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter because deep down he knows they’ll never be able to wash off all the blood, not ever, not really.
He’s almost positive there are people on the outside who think he’s in love with her, or something, just because she took care of him and he’s since looked out for her. Isn’t that what allies are supposed to do? It doesn’t mean he’s fallen for her, or any of that crap the rumor mill might whip up for the tabloids and talking heads. But either way they’ve got a sponsor, now, which means they’re both getting the right medicine in a nice little package from Sue. He gets better and so does she.
“What do you miss the most?” she asks, trying to make conversation while she smears this sticky green paste over the gash on his arm. Dave doesn’t say anything for a long while, but when he does he’s smirking as he tells her, “I miss market day.”
“I miss music classes,” is her quiet reply, a small, private smile on her face. He wonders if Finn and Kurt are watching, then shakes the thought right out of his head.
They barely make it out of a fight in one of the pools on the cave floor, where Rachel slits the throat of the District 6 tribute, Jacob, and the rest of his alliance hears the commotion. Dave manages to drive his axe into the male tribute’s chest just as Mike stabs at his calf with his spear. Blindly, mechanically, Dave frees the weapon from his leg when the sound of Rachel’s cries pulls him up. Sunshine is sitting on her back with her hand fisted in Rachel’s hair, bashing her face against the cave floor. Rachel screams and struggles to shield herself, but can’t – Sunshine has one of Rachel’s arms pinned against her back, the other flails wildly behind her but can’t quite reach the tiny girl about to bash her brains in. Sunshine moves to deliver the final blow when Dave crawls over and messily hacks off her arm at the elbow, and then digs the axe deep into her stomach when she falls off of Rachel in surprise.
Dave rips off the hem of his pant leg and tightly, carefully ties it around the wound in a makeshift tourniquet. He hoists the near-unconscious Rachel over his shoulder and he carries her away as fast as he can, the sound of two great cannon booms echoing all along the cave walls.
He doesn’t look back as they run, not once, not at all.
“Your leg looks disgusting,” she says hoarsely. “My face probably looks worse, though.”
He shrugs, dabbing at a cut on her neck with what’s left of that green healing paste Sue sent them. It’s true that she looks terrible: both her eyes are purple and bruised, there’s a bloody scratch on her cheek that stretches all the way up from her chin to her ear. Her lip is swollen and her nose is a little crooked, but her eyes are still focused and determined as she rests her hand on his shoulder, playing with the torn collar of his shirt.
“The Hunger Games,” she murmurs, and there’s this little twinge in her voice that mimics April Rhodes’s Capitol accent. “Twenty-four will enter, only one will leave, and may the odds be ever in your favor.”
“Words to live by,” he agrees, pulling her close and pressing a kiss to her temple. He can tell it makes her feel better because she falls asleep against him when he takes the first watch, her cheek warm against the palm of his hand.
The fishlike muttations pop out from the water where they’ve been resting and it takes every bit of their energy to run away from their sharp fins and poisonous teeth, Dave hacking at them with his axe when they start crawling up on land. Later that night, another cannon blast in the air reveals the face of the last living District 11 tribute, Aphasia.
Six tributes are all that’s left and Dave realizes he doesn’t ever want to kill Rachel Berry.
“I used to see you around school,” Rachel says weakly, her cheek pressed against his back, over the line of his spine. She’s dying, he can smell it, but he doesn’t say anything. He never says anything. “In the hallways, sometimes.”
“I’m kind of hard to miss.”
“Didn’t we have a class together?”
“Maybe. I don’t remember.”
“I think so. We were in…fifth grade, wasn’t it? You had the seat by the window, next to the Lopez girl. I remember you were terrible at math.”
“I had trouble concentrating, sometimes,” Dave admits, wincing as he shifts his body so that he’s sitting in a more comfortable position. The pain in his leg is excruciating and having Rachel practically sitting on top of him isn’t helping, but he’s not going to tell her to move.
“I could have helped you, you know. I was top of the class that year. I could have helped you.”
He nods and doesn’t answer, because what is there to say? That time is over and they’ll never get it back. The silence stretches on between them, and he knows they’re both just so tired and hungry that he thinks maybe neither of them will talk again until Rachel takes a deep breath and sighs, her breath warm against his skin as she murmurs, “Kurt owes you his life.”
Dave freezes, looks at his hands. “I didn’t do it so he could owe me,” he says, “I didn’t do it for that, okay? I did it because I…so he could…” He trails off. He can’t say it – not here, not in front of the cameras, the world. This is the only thing that’s truly his. He won’t let them take that, too.
Rachel slides her arm around his waist and hugs him, pressing her body a little closer than it already is.
It’s District 8 who gets them.
The girl gets an arrow into Rachel’s heart in the ambush, and it’s a quick but grisly fight as he kills Brittany, bashing her head against the cave wall the way Sunshine tried to do with Rachel. Sam, the boy, tries to stop him and at the end he disappears into a crack for safety, limping off as fast as he can as he tries to hold in his intestines.
Dave is by Rachel’s side in less than a second and he knows that even if he pulls the arrow out from her chest, there’s nothing that he can do to save her. She’s just lying there, body trembling and blood dripping from the corners of her mouth, her eyes wide and fearful as she tries to understand what’s happened, comprehend the pain. Dave is careful as he slides his hand behind her back, lifting Rachel up so that she’s sitting in his lap, her forehead pressed against his neck and his arms around her, holding her upright. Her hand reaches out to him and he grasps it gently, lacing their fingers together when she starts to cry.
His heart is beating fast and he knows there are others still out there, but he won’t move, not yet. He’s not going to leave her here, he won’t let her die alone in the dark.
She’s mouthing something, trying to talk, but blood bubbles at her lips and tears stream down her cheeks when she closes her eyes. Her breath is quick and shallow. “Everyone’s proud of you, Rachel,” he tells her in a low voice, trying to stay calm, “He’s so proud of you. He’d want you to be happy, you know he would, because you’re going somewhere better and all this’ll all be over soon. Don’t be scared,” he whispers, pressing her fingers to his lips. He’s kneeling with her on a sheet of rock and it’s a deathbed, it’s a coffin. She deserves so much better. “Don’t be scared, Rachel. It’ll be okay. You’ll see him soon.”
His words hang heavy in the thick air of the cave, but then Rachel’s grip on his hand loosens. Her breathing slows and then it stops, the cannon fires, he shuts her eyelids.
She’ll see him soon.
They take her body away when he goes to get fresh water.
Dave is alone in the dark, completely still, sitting in the place where it used to be.
Coward, the dripping water hisses.
“I know,” he says back.
It’s not even an ambush. Dave turns a corner and District 2 is already there, waiting.
The girl somehow gets him to the ground and Jesse slaughters the already-dying Sam before his eyes. Dave is pinned to the floor with Giselle sitting on his chest, her hand closed around his throat. He kicks and she squeezes tighter, laughing as he claws at her arm, trying to break free. She’s carving something into his other arm with her knife and he’s suffocating, practically convulsing in pain, but suddenly the weight is gone and a horrifying crack fills the air instead. Giselle’s body falls to the side and Dave gasps, trying to fill his lungs with air, but then Jesse looms in, gleefully slamming down a bloody rock that comes this close to caving in Dave’s skull. He somehow manages to scramble away and Jesse laughs, he laughs, and picks up the rock.
They’re the only two left and this is it – this is how it’s going to end.
The cannon sounds and Jesse grins as he kicks Dave’s lost axe into the nearby pool, savoring the moment because Dave is so completely fucked and they both know it. Jesse’s smaller than Dave, but quicker, too, and smarter, so smart – Dave is hurt and it’s slowing him down, he’s weak, he’s already dead. Jesse laughs and Dave knows that cameras or not, he’ll drag the pain out for as long as he can. He tries propping himself up with his palms and the balls of his feet, scampering away as blood streams down his arms, his breathing hard and ragged as he drags himself away as fast as he can. His leg feels like it’s on fire. He doesn’t know where he’s going, what he’s going to do, but he manages to squeeze himself into a crack in the cave wall just as Jesse’s footsteps approach from behind him and then, just as suddenly, they stop.
There’s a dead silence, and then the cannon goes off for the last time. Dave blinks, unsure if this is a residual hallucination from the mutt poison or not, but when he finally crawls out of his hiding place he sees Jesse’s limp body hanging from a snare. There’s a noose around his neck, perfectly knotted.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” a loud voice booms throughout the empty arena, “I give you the victor of the 59th Annual Hunger Games, Dave Karofsky from District Seven!”
Dave falls to his knees with his head in hands, and behind his closed eyelids all he sees are bright brown eyes and a broad smile mouthing, Allies?
Their new home in the Victor’s Village is big; Santana’s whole family could probably move in with Dave and his dad and there’d still be room for all of them to be comfortable. His father asks for a library and they get one, complete with ceiling-high shelves and Capitol-approved books to fill them. Their kitchen cabinets are always full, their power never goes out. The beds are really comfortable and he has to admit that it’s kind of nice, having butter for his toast in the morning.
The Victory Tour is quick; he’s handsome and brave, but he’s not the most exciting victor they’ve ever had. Ultimately, he’s forgettable, and if he’s lucky in another few Games he’ll completely disappear.
Dave sits on the porch one morning and waves at Sue, who curtly nods back and leaves to take her daily walk. Outside of these little moments he doesn’t see her all that much; she mostly stays in her house, alone and unfriendly, and Dave doesn’t blame her. He survived, and that’s great for him, but so what? There’ll be two more kids in twelve months, and you can’t win every year.
He thinks about Rachel a lot. He doesn’t know Finn Hudson personally, so he doesn’t know where he lives, but Santana does, says their mothers are friends. Dave gave Santana coins to give to the Hudsons, but no matter how many times he tries Santana always comes back with the bag, saying Finn didn’t want it. Dave keeps trying, even thinks about delivering it himself, but he doesn’t know how to act with Finn. What can he do, apologize? Talk about how Finn’s girlfriend – his fiancée – saved his life, but he couldn’t save hers? Maybe he tell him how everything is just so completely fucked up, now, how Dave is so fucked up, and how really, winning the games comes at a higher cost than losing, and being a victor is almost exactly the same as losing in the arena except that everything is worse because he can still feel everything.
He’s alive, all right, but the only thing he has to offer the world is a shit-ton of coins and not even Finn Hudson will take it. He sits alone in the swing on the porch, wrapping the quilt he took back from the Capitol around him a little tighter.
No one outside of Santana really visits him, but it’s not because they don’t want to. Dave knows that no one knows what to say to him, and honestly, most of the time he doesn’t really feel like talking. He doesn’t hunt or go to school; he shuffles around inside his house and flips through books without reading their pages, he sleeps fitfully, with nightmares, and most nights they’re the same: those last moments with Rachel played over and over again, but with his father, with Santana, with Kurt dying, all of them bleeding to death in his arms. Sometimes he wakes in a cold sweat, his heart racing and his fingers itching to reach out for his axe or Jesse’s rock, and it’s only when he’s halfway out of bed – close to rearing back and snapping the neck of an invisible assailant in his bedroom – that he even realizes he’s not in the arena anymore.
He doesn’t have to fight, but the urge is still there. The blood will never completely wash away.
He’s been expecting it when Kurt shows up on his doorstep one cold winter afternoon, let in by his father and led to the kitchen, but at the same time it feels different, strange. Like this is someone else’s life, like he’s fallen asleep while out setting traps, dreaming this awkward, one-sided conversation in a kitchen that never quite feels like home. Dave feels like he should say something when his father leaves the room and Kurt takes the empty chair next to him, but he can only find the energy to blink, leaning forward on his elbows over the empty kitchen table. Kurt swallows and places his hand on Dave’s arm where his shirtsleeve is rolled up, right over the place where Giselle carved his fate into his skin. He stares down at Kurt’s hand, his long fingers curling over the letters.
L-O-S-E. Giselle never finished the ‘R.’
“I’ve wanted to come see you,” Kurt says. “Since the tour ended. I’ve thought about it, but I’ve never known what I wanted to say to you.” Dave doesn’t answer; his arm itches underneath Kurt’s hand, but he can’t bring himself to move it away. “You saved me. You saved me and you didn’t…you didn’t even know me. You shouldn’t have done it, Dave.”
Dave laughs harshly. “Little late for regrets, isn’t it?”
“I didn’t deserve it,” he insists. “You could have – you could have avoided all of this, just never even –” Kurt takes a deep breath, closing his eyes. “I’m in love with someone else,” he says, and guilt rushes through Dave so fast and hot that he feels like he’s going to just burn up from it. “I’m in love with him, and I can’t keep pretending that I don’t owe you for –”
“Would you stop?” Dave interrupts. “It’s not your fault, and I didn’t do this so you’d love me, okay? I did it so you could have a chance to find someone who does. Not so you’d love me back.”
Kurt sets his mouth into a hard, worried line. He covers Dave’s hand with his and squeezes reassuringly. It’s such a simple gesture, so kind and ordinary, and Dave leans forward so that his lips are pressed against the back of Kurt’s hand. Kurt tenses but doesn’t pull away, he brings his other hand to the back of Dave’s head and rests it there, soft and warm.
“You were worth it,” he says, and Kurt runs his thumb over the shell of his ear.
The Games don’t end. They never do.
Two more in twelve months, and you can’t win every year.