title | someday (my pain will mark you)
chapter | 1/1
rating | pg-13
characters/pairings | Dan, Blair, Serena, Nate, Chuck, Jenny. Dan/Blair, Chuck/Blair, Nate/Serena
summary | This is how each of them wins the Hunger Games (and how each of them loses). Set in the Hunger Games universe.
Jenny Humphrey wins the Hunger Games when she's twelve years old.
Her Arena was a desert. She had never been so close to the sun before - didn't know it could burn the skin off her face, her hands, her back, leave her raw, red and bleeding like cuts of meat at the butcher. Didn't know it could steal everything that mattered to her, suck every last vestige of her dry like a parasitic bug. First it stole water, left her panting and gasping, crawling through the scorching sand, the skin on the palms of her hands and the caps of her knees giving way until she thought she could see bone. Then it stole dignity; she trembled as she positioned herself over an empty bottle, trembling still as she watched the dark yellow liquid splash in the container.
It did not have a chance to steal her life. Remember who the enemy is, her mentor had said. There were only three kills that year; the sun had claimed the rest. She saw the faces of the dead in the night sky: the boy from District 10 whose laugh sounded like her brother's if she closed her eyes, the Career from District 4 with eyes she could almost convince herself were her father's. She cried on her first night. No parachutes came for her, this thin slip of a girl, all hipbones and shaking hands. She wouldn't have bet on herself either.
She bled on her third day. Not just the burns on her arms, but other places too. Her undergarments soaked crimson red, gushing out of places she knew shouldn't be bleeding. (She doesn't learn about her period until much later, until after the games and Blair tuts as they sit on the bed, shakes her head disapprovingly at the mother that should've been there to teach her these things.)
Her first thought had been, This is how I'm going to die. Her second?
I have nothing left to lose.
Remember who the enemy is, her mentor had said. There were only three kills that year. All of them were hers.
Chuck Bass wins because he makes five different alliances through the course of his games and slaughters them all in their sleep on his first watch. He wins because he doesn't think twice - doesn't even think once - as he jams a knife between the forehead of a crying twelve year old boy, as he slices the head off a tribute so cleanly he hears impressed applause, as he mutilates a Career's face so badly he hears her family didn't even recognize her in her coffin.
There are stories of Victors coming home changed people. Girls and boys leave and come back, not as men and women, but as shells. They are plagued by the horrors of the arena, of the deaths, of their kills. Some are institutionalized, some are diagnosed mad, some wake up screaming in the middle of the night. They will be haunted for the rest of their lives.
Chuck Bass has no such problems. He simply does not think of the others.
He comes from a family of Victors. His great grandfather won the first ever Hunger Games. His grandfather, his aunts and uncles, his parents - the Vanderbilts are a Hunger Games dynasty. In the weeks leading up to his games, they play his cousin Tripp's win five years ago on a loop at his house. Each slash of Tripp's knife on the screen is another heavy weight on his body. He can not fail.
Nate Archibald wins the Hunger Games when he is sixteen years old. His Arena was a hot, humid jungle, rife with more terrifying mutts than all the other games combined - the bear-wolves who could scale trees, the nightmarish insects the size of his head, the alligators with the blood red eyes. He survived on nothing but his raw athleticism, the ripple of muscles as he knifed his prey, the stretch of sinew as he leapt across logs and cleared twenty foot valleys.
He could hear the gentle swell of the ocean in the distance when he closed his eyes and it was this that calmed him, that pulled him out of that bottomless pit, that forcibly washed all the temptations of nightlock away, that tells him firmly: You can not fail. You can not fail. You can not fail.
He returns home a Victor, another in a long line.
(This is what the Vanderbilts do not tell anyone:
Nate was supposed to volunteer when he was fifteen. Gone was the lanky boy with the cheeky grin, who would chase Serena and Blair around town with an easy laugh, who would lob stink bombs over the walls of the Peacekeepers' training camp. He had been training. Now stood a man with a new steel in his eyes, new cruelty to the twist of his mouth. He was ready.
Rather, he was supposed to be ready. He was supposed to be and do a lot of things. He was supposed to step forward as soon as the boy tribute's name was announced, eyes hard and purposeful. He was supposed to call out, his voice clear and ringing, I volunteer as tribute. He was supposed to be taken away in the train to the Capitol, to be introduced to all of Panem as the tribute for District 1. It was supposed to be his year.
Instead, he stood rooted to the spot, boneless. He tried opening his mouth but it seemed locked shut, voice languishing somewhere in the back of his throat. He could feel his grandfather's gaze burning into his back but he didn't turn around. His eyes caught Serena's instead, on the other side of the square, and he could feel her surprise as intently as he could feel his grandfather's fury. Next to her, he could see Blair and the look on her face withered something in his stomach. He had never seen her look so scared. Do something, she mouthed, desperately, urgently. Nate thought she might cry. He looked away from her, at his feet, did not want to see the face of yet another person he had failed. He didn't look up on stage either; instead he resolutely kept his eyes on the cobblestone ground, on the wispy daisy growing between the cracks. He was not a man. He was nothing more than a scared little boy.
Even if he couldn't see, he could hear and in that moment, he was sure he could hear louder than anyone else in that square:
Your tribute for District 1: Dan Humphrey.)
No one thought Dan Humphrey could win. He didn't think he could win.
The second the reaping was over, he had been herded away by the Peacekeepers, didn't even get a chance to find his feet. He sat in the ornate room of the Justice Building, his mind buzzing, full of half-thoughts, none of them finished, all of them tapering off as another partially-formed thought jammed itself inside its head. He wasn't supposed to...Nate was supposed to...this was a mistake...Nate's coming...the Capitol made a mistake.
It can't be me.
An ache was starting to build between his temples. He thought of Nate and how hard he'd been training all year. He worked in the Vanderbilt library on weekends and always, rain, shine or snow, he'd see Nate out on the green lawn, sending arrows shooting into dummies with razor sharp precision or boxing a seven foot bodyguard. They would sit together on the steps during Nate's breaks - Dan would bring lemonade and packs of ice for the quickly purpling bruises on his arms and legs. Somewhere, underneath the man the Vanderbilts were trying to turn him into, was the boy Nate still was.
"You don't have to do this," Dan had told him once. He was cleaning a cut on Nate's hand with antiseptic and water while Nate himself was nursing a particularly awful bruise the size of a grapefruit on his shoulder. It was green, purple, blue and yellow all at once. "All this. You're training to kill people. Not just people, Nate. Children. It's one thing to do it because you were chosen, but you, you're choosing to do this." He sounded accusatory, harsh to his own ears and he imagined it stung more to Nate than the injury on his shoulder.
He didn't miss the way Nate's eyes had flickered to his grandfather on the other side of the lawn. "I have as much choice in this as the other tributes do. Besides," his voice was quiet, "I do it so you won't have to."
"You could die."
There was never much Nate could say after that.
Yet as he sat in custody, all he'd wanted was for Nate to come bursting through those doors and insist there was a mistake. Nate could survive out there. Nate was fast and strong and he had trained for this all his life. Dan was wiry and spindly and the most training he'd gotten for the Hunger Games was carrying armfuls of books for Blair. He wouldn't last thirty seconds.
(A small voice: that's what they said about your sister.)
His father and sister were the first to arrive say their goodbyes. Jenny was crying but his dad had been just like him: frozen, numb, unable to process the information. Last year, he had to watch his daughter face almost certain death in the games. This year, his son. It seemed too cruel.
"Dan," Jenny clung to him like a succubi, fingers digging into his shirt. He could see the scars that ran jagged across her face and the charred skin on her hands that would never fully heal. The Capitol had tried their best but they couldn't fix everything. "You have to listen to me, okay? When the siren sounds, you have to run. Don't even think about getting to the Cornucopia, you won't make it, just take what's close and run..." He could hardly understand her advice through her tears but he'd nodded anyway.
"I'll be okay, Jen."
She cried harder and he understood then: she's not betting on him.
Nate and Serena trailed in after his father and sister left. Serena hugged him close and tight, babbling in his ear tearfully but he could hardly focus on anything she was saying. He could still hear his sister sobbing in the hallway and he could see Nate in the doorway, his face ashen, eyes glassy and wide, staring out the window.
"I'm sorry," Nate said finally. His voice didn't sound like his own. "I don't know...I...it should've been me. I don't know what happened."
"It's not your fault." He and Serena spoke at the exact same time.
"Yes, it was." He looked like he was going to cry. "It was meant to be me."
There wasn't much to say after that. He'd hugged them both. Nate didn't look him in the eye once. He made Serena promise, Take care of her, and she knew what he meant, straight away. Then she whispered in his ear, "See you soon," like it wasn't a goodbye. And he knew she'd meant for it to be encouraging, for it to give him hope, that maybe he might pull some kind of miracle off like his sister and come out of this thing alive and they'd all see each other again. But at Serena's words, a part of him had deflated, withering at the emptiness of them. It wasn't a see you soon. It was a goodbye and they all knew it. Jenny knew it, Nate knew it and deep down, Serena knew it. Now, he knew too.
Time turned sluggish. He waited there for what could've been five minutes or five hours. He closed his eyes and replayed the reaping in his head. The silly Capitol woman and her voice calling his name. How a current of panic ran through his veins until he remembered Nate and how it was his year. How he'd waited calmly, expectantly, for Nate's voice to ring through the square. How he kept waiting and waiting and waiting and how the current caught fire and turned into fear when he realized it wasn't coming.
It can't be me.
The next time he opened his eyes, she was there, standing in the doorway, looking so very small and in all his life, he had never known Blair Waldorf to look small and it was this thought, more than Jenny's anguish, more than Serena's false hope, more than the haunted look in Nate's eyes, that scared him.
He tried to smile. His mouth felt numb and he had no way of knowing if he was successful but then she was crashing into his arms and she was clutching onto him so tight he could feel his muscles burn under her grip. And she was trying to get closer still, struggling against him, like she was trying to embed herself under his skin or somehow get close enough that they could become one and she would be with him wherever he went.
"This is all a big mistake. Daddy will call the Capitol and Nate's grandfather too. This was supposed to be his year. I'm going to get you out of this," she said fiercely. "This is all ridiculous, I can't even..."
"Blair, stop." He cut her off with a feverish kiss and it was just like every other kiss they've shared, giggling under the covers in his bed at night after she climbed out her window and down a tree to see him, behind the bookcases in the Vanderbilt library when he's supposed to be working and she's supposed to be studying, in the grassy knolls on the edge of the district where they lay amongst yellow daisies making animals out of the clouds in the sky. He squeezed his eyes shut, desperately, and if he tried, he could imagine the crisp air and the mockingjays' sweet song and he was there with her, not here, not in this building, this prison, not here to say goodbye, not here about to die.
She looked up at him, chin quivering but brown eyes burning and Dan thought to himself, I love you so much. He opened his mouth to say the words but she knew him well, too well, and her fingers pressed up against his lips gently before he could get a single word out. "Don't."
"This isn't the time or the place." Her eyes filled with tears again, begging, pleading. "If you say it, then it's final and it's goodbye and...this can't be it. I won't let it." Her last four words almost made him smile. It was just like her to think that pure force of will could stop something from happening and just because she commanded it, so it would be. And ordinarily, she'd be right. But the Capitol is not something Blair can control and neither are the Hunger Games. "If you say it, then you've lost without even entering the Arena and I won't let that happen."
"I can't win. You know I can't." He had meant to sound matter of fact but she shook her head, frowning.
"I don't know that. And neither do you." She held her forehead against his, her breathing heavy and strained, and he could see his own reflection in the tears in her eyes. "You can't give up. Not yet. Jenny was twelve and no one thought she could do it. But she fought and she won."
Dan is not his sister. His sister might look a fragile thing, all knobbly knees and awkward limbs, but she has something Dan does not have. He sees it in Blair too, an unquenchable spirit, a fire that seems to blaze and burn brighter than everyone else.
She'd looked up at him through wet eyelashes, her voice little more than a whisper. "You have something worth fighting for, don't you?"
Dan Humphrey wins the Hunger Games when he's fifteen years old. His Arena must have been some kind of joke, but it's one only the President and the Gamemakers found funny, surely. Last year it was the scorching desert, this year it's the blistering snow. He'd lost three fingers and two toes to frostbite and returned with wind burn so vicious, it cut a huge bloody gash across his face, blinding him for a good portion of the games. The Capitol fixed all that up for him after of course (he ended up with better vision than when he started actually), but he still has the scar from the wind burn across his face. They couldn't fix that, the wound was too deep. He and Jenny have matching scars, hers from the left eye running down, his from the right. He sees the sick humor then - the Humphrey siblings, one year after the other, burned by the Hunger Games.
And, like his sister the year previous, Dan Humphrey killed three people.
The first two were self defense, that much is certain. His first kill, a stocky boy with red hair from District 9 came at him with a knife and the subsequent struggle is something Dan can't remember. What he can't forget is the steady river of blood gushing from his skull, staining the pure driven snow a chilling scarlet. He didn't stop shaking for two days after it happened and only stopped in time to wrestle another tribute off him and over a snowy cliff.
"I thought for sure you were going to die," Caesar Flickerman cackles in his post-games interview. His voice is airy, filled with laughter, like this is all just one big joke to him and for one hot second Dan wants to rip that blue hair clean off his scalp. "No one was betting on you."
"Not no one," he says shortly and there's something in his voice that makes Caesar's smile falter a little.
He cries into Blair's hair every night. At first she tried getting him to talk to her, but he couldn't tell her about the things he saw in his mind's eye, the mutts with the eyes that chilled his blood, the scream of the girl he speared, her face just seconds before that as she begged for her life. He can't tell her.
(She will know soon enough.)
His third kill had hair like Jenny, the color of wheat. He remembers his Victory Tour through her district - her whole family had been like that, hair the color of spun cornsilk. But her eyes, big and brown, had been Blair's. "Please," she choked and all he could see was Blair's eyes - she was Blair when his name was called out at reaping, she was Blair when she kissed him so hard he thought he couldn't breathe, she was Blair when she begged him not to tell her he loved her.
The snow in the Arena was poisonous that year. He'd survived largely because he was one of the first to figure that out. Sixteen tributes died on the first day eating that snow, the most on any day in Hunger Games history. There were very few other water sources and the ones he had found were now surrounded by mutts who would tear him limb to limb and the alliance of Careers, who would surely do the same.
He had not drunk water for two days when it happened. He thought he'd gone mad, that the burning at the back of his throat had finally driven him insane. But there it was. Underneath the limp body of another fallen tribute was the orange backpack he'd seen back at the Cornucopia, backpacks he knew were filled with bottles of water.
She came out of nowhere, tumbling, somersaulting through the air. She hadn't seen him but he saw her, that beautiful hair that looked like it was glimmering diamonds in the sun. He didn't remember taking out his spear or barking out, "Stop right there," but he must have. She turned around slowly, gripping the backpack in her hands. She can't have been older than he was.
"Please," she'd said, and maybe she recognized him from training, recognized that he wasn't like the other tributes, that maybe, maybe, she could talk herself out of this. But she would've been wrong. Because all he could feel was the ache reminding him how thirsty he was and all he could see were Blair's eyes, a jolting reminder of everything he had to lose.
He doesn't remember sending his spear flying dead into the middle of her chest either, but he must have.
She wasn't trying to kill him. She wasn't armed. She was just like him, trying to survive.
Her name was Willow, named after the trees that grew in her district. That day in the Arena, he saw Blair's eyes, but every day after he returns, he sees Willow's instead.
No one thought Dan Humphrey could win. Blair did, but Blair had undying faith in everything he did. He didn't think he could win.
It's not until much later that he finds himself wishing he didn't.
Serena van der Woodsen had more sponsors the year she won the games than all twenty three of the other tributes combined. The audience paid gold by the bucketload to help the most beautiful girl they had ever seen. She never went wanting for a single second. Other tributes fashioned what sleeping arrangements they could out of grass, sticks and mud. Serena found a little silver parachute with a tent and a heated sleeping bag. The others had to hunt wild rabbits and trek for days on the cliffy terrain to find water. Serena only had to look hungry or thirsty and her mentor would send a hot meal of lamb stew and a bottle of water her way. Once, she even received a bundle of chocolate cake wrapped tight with string. People were willing to pay very generously to help her survive.
"Oh, I don't know," Serena giggled coyly as Caesar Flickerman asked how on earth she managed to win. She had not sustained any injuries or killed anyone at all. In fact, save for her first day, she wasn't sure she had even seen anyone die. "It looks hard on TV, you know? But it really wasn't out in the Arena. I didn't really have to try very hard at all. Maybe the odds were just in my favor."
(There were rumors of the games being rigged in Serena van der Woodsen's favor. While fearsome mutts were sent to hunt down the other tributes, they seemed to steer well clear of the blonde girl even if she was only a few yards away. While tributes who drank from a poisoned waterfall dropped dead within ten minutes, Serena drank from it freely without harm - even swam and bathed in it.
There was dangerous talk of an uprising by Gamemakers if she lost or if she died out in the arena. The people loved her, were mesmerized by her beauty. She was refreshingly carefree - either she knew she was going to win or she knew she was going to die and had already accepted it as such. She laughed without abandon, played with the wild rabbits like they were her pets and sang songs as she walked. The people of Panem fell in love with her as hard and as fast as all the other boys back home in her district.)
Serena is the first and only one to make winning the Hunger Games look easy.
She didn't think she would be chosen. She was eighteen years old, her last year in contention. Surely, surely, her name wouldn't come up. Not when they came from a Career district - she'd seen the way Nelly and Penelope and the other girls had been training. But Blair Waldorf was primed for bigger, more dangerous games. She was going to be President one day and run the Capitol. She wasn't supposed to be sent out to die like common cattle.
"It'll be okay, B," Serena had held her face in her hands and kissed her hair. She was crying but Blair wasn't. "I'll fight for you. I'll make sure you get all the sponsors you want." After her victory, Serena was something of a celebrity, wining and dining nightly with higher-ups in the Capitol and members of the President's inner circle. Blair had no doubt that Serena was telling the truth, that she could push some weight around with the Gamemakers so the odds were in her favor.
"I don't need your help," Blair mumbled, somewhat petulantly, but Serena didn't seem to hear her.
Dan had come in next and she could see it in the set of his shoulders, in the shake of his hands, in the tremble on his lower lip. He was trying to be brave, for her, and he was failing miserably.
"I'll be okay," she said quietly. She forced herself to smile. "I'm me, remember?"
"It's not that. I know you can win." He touched his forehead to hers and she could smell him, all the way to her heart, the ink on his fingers, the leather and pine from his books. "It's the in between I'm worried about." And she'd wondered. She remembered the day he came home, how her pure joy at having him back slowly gave way to unease. His eyes looked hollow, empty, and he'd spend long hours, just sitting, gazing out of the window at nothing. What was he thinking about? He refused to tell her. At night, he'd hold her so tight she could hardly breathe. She could hear him crying, feel his tears on her hair and she'd wanted so badly to help, but she didn't know how.
And she'd wondered. Would she come back as he did? Was this her future? Tortured by things she couldn't talk about, have them eat away at her like poison until she was no more?
She could hardly breathe. Either way, out in the Arena, or years later, she was going to die in the Hunger Games. "Dan," she whispered. "I..."
And he knew her well, too well. "Don't. It's not goodbye. Not yet."
Blair Waldorf wins the Hunger Games when she's eighteen years old. Her Arena had been some kind of wasteland, overflowing with rotting corpses and buzzing black flies. On her plate, the countdown buzzing in her ears, she was the first to realize what the complicated looking contraption on her belt was supposed to be. She was the first to put her mask on. Those who didn't passed out almost instantaneously from the smell and subsequently, were the first to die.
She allied herself with the other Career tributes from District 1, 2 and 4. They didn't like her, she could tell. She was lithe and agile and sufficient with a bow and arrow, but the others had been training their whole lives for this moment. But what they had in strength and skill was more than completely undermined by their complete lack of intelligence. She didn't hide her distaste for their ideas - it was clearly an idiotic move to simply camp out in the Cornucopia and not try to find a direct source of water - and they didn't hide their distaste for her. She knew it was only a matter of days before they turned on her.
She did it while they slept and she was on watch. She'd watched the games the year Chuck won - she was under no delusions about what it took to survive. She took out the boys first, ran her knife straight through the heart of the male tribute from her own district. She knew him. Serena went out on the town with him once and Dan used to play on his soccer team. By the time he managed to thrash and cry out in warning, blood gushing from his mouth, it was too late - she'd already the slit the throat of the other two boys and the girl from District 2. Their deaths were silent.
The last girl had woken with a start. She was too late to help the others but she stood there, staring at Blair, mostly shocked, but a little impressed too. Every person Blair killed was one less person she had to. The glint of her knife in the moonlight was the last thing Blair saw before she lunged at her.
She had at least fifty pounds on Blair, but she was not a good fighter. There was no finesse - she fought like a rabid animal for the last chop of lamb, all impulse and no strategy. Blair kept trying to make her hit that sweet spot, but she missed every time. It was a good fifteen minutes before she hit her mark and exhausted, Blair was relieved to jerk her knife up and slit her throat. This could've ended quite a while ago if the other girl wasn't such an idiot.
Under the shadowy veil of the trees, Blair squinted at the gushing wound in her right arm. Gritting her teeth, she plunged her left forefinger and arm into the mess of flesh, trying not to gag as she dug past her own tissue and bone. Finally, she found what she was looking for.
She palmed the small metal disc in her hand for a moment and then she threw the tracking device, as far as she could, deep into the woods. And then she ran like hell in the opposite direction.
They were looking for her. It took a few hours for the Capitol to realize what had happened, but when they did, she heard the constant hum of the hovercrafts, diligently scouring the Arena for her body, dead or alive. As the days went on, it started to feel less like a search and more like a hunt. But they'd never find her. She hid under the piles of rotting corpses and laid in wait. She could feel the maggots and leeches all over body, under her clothes, crawling under her skin, into her flesh, into her bloodstream. She wondered if this is what Dan felt like in his darkest days, stumbling around snowy embankments, crippled with frostbite, half blind, his eyeball barely hanging in its socket.
She wanted to die.
One night, she heard the cannons. Her own face up in the night sky. They thought she was dead. And just like that, she felt hope fizz through her blood. It wouldn't be long now.
It turned out to be ten days. Each day, she felt herself growing weaker. She only had a very limited supply of food and water and she couldn't risk leaving her hiding spot to go out and find more. The cameras would spot her in five seconds. She couldn't do anything but lie under all those dead bodies and wait. She rationed her food very carefully. Only a handful of nuts on the first day, only half a slice of beef jerky on the third day, only a sip of water on the seventh day. By the time the tenth day rolled around, she felt she was growing delusional. Her mind was a haze, every inch of her body burned and ached and she was so hungry. Maybe she could slice a piece of flesh off one of the bodies she was lying under...
The voice of Claudius Templesmith knocked her out of her daze temporarily. He sounded so very teeny and far away, like he was on another planet entirely, but she caught the words that mattered. The final two. Cornucopia. They always drew the final battle between the last two back to the Cornucopia - that's why she'd chosen the hiding place she did. Under the canopy of rotten corpses, she carefully maneuvered herself into a better position. Sure enough, the horn of plenty, and underneath it, the huge, hulking figure of one of the tributes.
It took an hour for the other tribute to arrive and she stared at the two of them. They might as well have been mirror images of each other - both strong men, muscles rippling under their shirts. They fought for close to an hour, with nothing but their bare hands. She wanted to watch them intently, to perfectly time her next move but she was tired, so tired, and there were white spots appearing in her vision and there was a throbbing pain in her temples and all she could think of home and Dan and his arms and how he smelled and how she was so close but she was so tired and she just wanted to die, right here, rot right along with these corpses she was surrounded by.
The sound of cannon fire jolted her to attention. She saw two things - the mangled body of the second boy lying limp on the dirt and his killer, his back to her, on his knees as if he were praying. Faintly, she could hear: Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to present to you the winner of the...
Claudius Templesmith never finished his sentence. She could hear his small squeak of surprise and later, she realized it was because she'd finally emerged from under all those dead bodies, clutching her bow and arrow. But in that moment, she couldn't concentrate on anything but the line of that tribute's back. It was as if she'd forgotten how to walk, her legs were like the tentacles of an octopus, useless on solid ground. She was so dizzy, so tired, so ready to go home. She loaded her arrow and faintly, in the back of her head, she thought she was going to miss. She was seeing in triple, quadruple vision, colors fading in and out of her eyes.
The last thing she saw before she passed out was her arrow flying clean into the other boy's back.
The Quarter Quell was fast approaching, and as past Victors, they had ceremonies to attend and duties to fulfil, but all Dan really wanted to do was stay in bed with her.
It had been five years since Blair had won. She hadn't been the same. He thought she died and he was so happy to just have her back that he didn't see the warning signs at first. The hollow, empty look in her eyes. The way she'd sit and stare out the window at nothing. He could hear her crying into his chest at night and he'd wanted so badly to help, but he didn't know how.
The Capitol was not very impressed with Blair's stunt at the games. She made them look like fools. She looked positively angelic at her post-games interview. "That girl just stabbed me and I was in so much pain, I didn't even realize my tracker had fallen out." Blair gave a beatific smile and blinked innocently. "I mean, I'm just a simple girl from the districts, I couldn't possibly plan something so clever."
She was so convincing, Dan almost believed her for a moment.
Five years. It had been both too fast and too slow. Things were almost back to normal. He went weeks, months without waking up in the middle of the night, drenched in cold sweat, Willow's scream in his ears. Blair didn't cry in her sleep anymore. Sometimes, it was as if the Hunger Games had never happened. They were happy again, finally.
It wouldn't last - it never did.
On the hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary, as a reminder to the rebeles that even the strongest among them cannot overcome the power of the Capitol, the male and female tributes will be reaped from the existing pool of victors from a single district.
She found herself aligned with Chuck Bass. The Arena this year were an archipelago of volcanic islands, separated by shark-and-god-knows-what-else infested waters. She was almost glad she had been separated from her brother. One of them had to die for the other to come out alive and she knew without a shadow of a doubt what his choice would be if it came down to it. No, she's glad he's not here with her.
"So, what do you say, Little J?" Chuck looked her up and down lasciviously and she shivered. He was a carnivore, a predator. "You know, you and I, we're just alike."
She shouldn't have said yes. First chance he got, Chuck slit Jenny Humphrey's throat in her sleep.
Nate Archibald couldn't bring himself to think about it. It was hardly bearable when his victims were strangers and trying to kill him too - it was agonizing, made his heart hurt, to think that he was now playing these games against his friends. Dan, with the sardonic twist to his smile, who was always on hand to tend to his battle wounds while he trained. Blair, who thought she was so tough but was just a scared little bird at heart. Serena, who brought a smile to his face in his darkest day in the Arena. Even Chuck, who made him laugh in all his absurdity. No, he couldn't even think about killing these people, his friends, his best friends, his family, these people he had known for years.
His cousin, Tripp, clearly had no such misgivings.
Almost immediately, Serena realized this wasn't going to be anything like her first games.
The glass had disappeared around her and she found herself in ice cold water. It froze all the nerve endings in her body and short circuited her brain. She tried to will her limbs to move, but it was like trying to swim in concrete and she found herself paralyzed, being pulled like a dead weight toward the ocean floor.
And then, a small hand wrapped around her wrist, insistently, started dragging her toward shore. It was slow and torturous work and she tried to help her rescuer out by paddling her feet, but it was no use - she was too cold to move.
They were almost at the shore when she felt a jolting agony in her left leg. She could feel the fangs in her flesh and a strangled scream ripped from her throat before she could stop herself. The pain was almost sobering - she found enough strength in her feet to kick the beast off and fight toward the beach.
The first thing she saw when she got to shore was her blood, red in the pristine ocean. The second thing was Blair, ripping the sleeve of her shirt and wrapping it tight around Serena's leg. She must have cried out in pain because Blair was stroking her hair soothingly, "It's gonna be okay, you're gonna be okay, it's all gonna be alright."
Serena wanted so badly to believe her.
"How bad is it?" She tried lifting the blue material off her calf but Blair stopped her hand in its path.
"It's not that bad." Blair was a good liar and Serena was not the best reader of people, but even she could see right through her.
The parachutes didn't take long to arrive. Four, five, six, in quick succession. Bandages, medicines, painkillers, food, water, tents...the people of Panem clearly still loved Serena. Blair got to work, quickly and efficiently cleaning Serena's wound (she wouldn't let the blonde girl watch as she did it) and taping her up. She could hardly stand the pain and there was no way she could even entertain the thought of walking, but the immediate threat of infection was over.
Serena slept fitfully. Cold sweat was beading around her forehead and her leg still hurt so much. The painkillers might as well have been baking powder for all they worked. She saw Blair, sitting a few feet away, gazing out into the ocean, her knees pulled up to her chin. "Hey," she managed to whisper, touched her best friend's wrist. "You okay?"
Blair gave a weak smile. "You're the one who almost got her leg torn off and you're asking me if I'm okay?" She paused. "You need any water or pills or anything? A couple more parachutes arrived while you were sleeping."
Serena shook her head gently 'no' and they sat in silence for a few more minutes, staring out at the ocean. "The cannons go off yet?"
"Yeah." A soft sigh. "Nate. And Jenny."
"Oh." Serena wanted to cry. For a second, a memory filled her so suddenly, it sent all her senses into overload. She was ten or eleven and her parents were leaving for the Capitol again. And Nate was there, with his floppy blonde hair and eyes the color of the ocean right now, blue and green all at once. He held her hand as she cried and then he kissed her, gently on the mouth. That was her first kiss ever. "Was there...anyone else?"
Her question was careful, deliberate. Blair's answer was short, "No."
Her next question toed that same line. "When was the last time you saw him?"
Blair took a long time to answer. "In the ocean," she said finally. She still wouldn't look at Serena. "He was trying to tell me something. Trying to point out which island to go to or something. He was yelling and trying to get to me and there was someone coming at him with a knife and it was mayhem...and then the tide came in...and then I heard you scream..." She trailed off.
"He's not dead. That's the important thing." Serena wrapped her fingers around Blair's hand, tried to pry her stiff fingers from the white-knuckled fist she was making. "He could be trying to find you. You could try find him."
"And leave you here, injured and defenseless?" Blair scoffed. That wasn't an option.
"My leg feels better already," Serena smiled brightly to cover up the weak lie. "I could try walking tomorrow."
They didn't make it thirty yards the next day. Or the one after that. Or the three after that. The Gamemakers were merciful (or afraid of public outrage) and they were thankfully spared any of the usual Hunger Games horrors as Serena tried to heal. Parachutes came in steadily like a parade, filled with assorted medicines and ointments, but none of them helped. Serena's leg wasn't recovering - quite the opposite actually, it was getting worse. No matter how often Blair changed the bandages, it was always bloodied and dirty within minutes. There was some kind of black mold festering inside the wound and Blair was afraid infection had finally started to set in.
Serena was under excruciating pain. Nothing in the parachutes was working. She didn't stop crying all day and her screams of agony started to bring tears to Blair's own eyes. "We can't go on like this," Blair pleaded. "You can't go on like this. You have to let me do something."
"No," Serena's brave smile was undercut by the guttural groan of pain that followed. "No, just a few days longer."
Blair knew what she was doing. Serena was going to die soon, that much was clear. She was losing blood by the gallon every day and all the color had drained from her face. She'd pass out for hours at a time and Blair would panic, keep her finger on the weak pulse on her wrist to make sure she was still there. But the parachutes were saving both their lives. They weren't only filled with vital medicine, but with hearty food and clean water, with compasses and paper for drawing maps, with clean clothes and warm blankets for the cold nights. The second Serena died, not only would the parachutes stop coming in, but the Gamemakers would stop being merciful, would release the most terrifying mutts in their arsenal on Blair, surely, to make up for the relative vacation they'd receieved so far. No, the longer Serena stayed alive, the longer Blair stayed alive and nothing was more important to Serena than that.
Each day was worse than the last. Each day, Serena's screams grew louder, more painful. Each day, Serena saw Blair's eyes linger for longer on her knife. Finally: "Serena, it won't hurt, I promise. I...I learnt some things in training and it'll be over before you know it."
"It'll be better than this, faster," Blair said insistently, tears in her eyes. "You can't go on like this. You're in so much pain and it's...it's killing me too. If you're doing this for me, don't. I can survive."
Serena just shook her head, too weak to form words now.
It'd been exactly seven days. On the eighth, Blair took Serena's hand and they both hobbled out to sit right on the edge of the ocean, the water lapping at their heels. Serena squeezed her eyes shut and she swore, that if only for a few seconds, that all the pain disappeared and all she could feel was the salt in the air and the sun on her back. She wiggled her toes in the wet sand and felt the gentle breeze ripple through her hair. "Reminds me of Nate," she murmured quietly.
Serena smiled gently. "Do you remember? That summer we spent at the beach while Nate tried to build his boat? Dan swore up and down that by the law of physics," here, her voice turned painfully pretentious in an uncanny impression and Blair gave a short tearful laugh, "he couldn't do it and I bet him a hundred he could. He still owes me." Serena paused, eyes still closed, head tipped toward the brilliant pink sky. "That day, that summer we spent at the shore, just the four of us, after the games, after everything...I think that was the happiest I ever was."
And that's how Serena van der Woodsen dies, smile on her lips, wind in her hair and Blair Waldorf's knife in her back.
Blair dreamt of Serena. Serena as a little girl, already a head taller than all the boys, grass stains on her white dress. Serena at ten, crying into Nate's shoulder when her parents left again. Serena as a young woman, hypnotizing and beautiful. Serena on her deathbed at the ocean.
She'd hardly been able to see through her tears, not as she'd dug the shallow grave in the sand with her hands, not as she made a silly little wreath out of daisies and sunflowers like Serena did when she was girl, not as she'd kissed her best friend on the forehead, crying over and over again, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry.
Blair dreamt of death - always patient, always cruel, always on her doorstep.
Serena had not been wrong. The moment she dropped the last grains of sand on Serena's grave, she heard a rumble beneath her feet. Screams in the distance. Her eyes fixed on the volcanoes in the distance, squinted through her tears at the red hot lava erupting from the top, racing down the curve of the huge rock. Right towards her.
The volcanoes were just the beginning. There were the vicious mutts on the land, in the water, on the air - the beasts that seemed to hunger for her flesh and her flesh only. There were the landmines in the jungle, the ground that gave way where she ran, the plants that spat venom at her, blinding her, made her skin sizzle like bacon in a pan, made her delirious.
The Gamemakers weren't playing nice anymore. This was their revenge for that stunt she pulled five years ago. She pretended not to notice when they embedded two extra trackers under her skin - one in her neck, the other on her left thigh.
No parachutes came to her aid.
It was pure chance (fate, destiny, kismet) when she ran into Dan again. She'd pulled her bow and arrow on him before she realized who he was - dropped them with a thud to the sand and leapt into his arms, burying her face in his shoulder. It was the only place she felt safe anymore. She was crying again and all she could think about was Serena, Serena the day they met as children, Serena the day Blair rammed a knife into her spine.
"Hey, hey, hey." He cupped her face in his hands, and she touched them, all over, clutched his long fingers in her hands until her knuckles turned white and she thought it might break skin. He looked worse than she did, face gaunt and darkened with dirt and blood. "It's okay, it's all going to be okay."
She could hardly breathe, she was crying so hard. "Serena," she managed to choke out and Dan's face fell.
"I know. I saw her face in the sky. I'm so sorry."
No, no, no, he didn't understand. "No..." she hiccuped.
"Listen," Dan kissed the tips of her fingers gently, then her wrists, then her face. "I'm going to go get some water, okay? You look dehydrated."
"No," she clutched his shirt tighter. "No, don't leave."
"I'll only be a minute, there's a spring just behind those trees there. Just stay right here and wait for me." He kissed her again, fiercely, and she inhaled every last inch of him, wanted to hang on forever. "I love you so much, okay?" He slowly pried her fingers from his shirt, pressed one last, lingering kiss to her mouth. She watched him leave - he didn't look back once.
The beach looked too much like the beach she'd buried Serena in. Maybe it was the same one, she didn't know. She fell to her knees, wanted to cry, but there were no tears left. She was so tired, just wanted to curl up in a ball in Dan's arms and sleep forever. Maybe when all this was over, they could move. She'd heard of a place called the Meadow where the skies were always blue and yellow sunflowers grew year round. She'd plant a grave for Serena and Nate, Jenny too. They could live and be happy, and forget all this...
"Well, well, well."
Instinct made her grab her bow and arrow. She whirled around and found herself looking Chuck Bass straight in the eye.
He smirked, adjusted his own bow and arrow. "Look what we have here."
"What do you want, Chuck?"
"What I've always wanted." He smiled, all teeth. "You."
She felt tears start to fill in her eyes again and she blinked them away rapidly. She would not appear weak, especially not in front of him. "Stop it."
"God, you're rude, I'm just trying to help." Chuck clicked his tongue disapprovingly and then said, baiting, "I saw Serena's face in the sky."
Her voice was tremulous. "Stop it," she said again.
"I saw you and her on the shore. Saw that huge bloody thing on her leg. Is that how she died?"
Blair opened her mouth to answer, but no noise came out. Nothing except, "Stop it," high-pitched and desperate.
"I mean, those Gamemakers were going to give her a cakewalk again this year. Serena was always my biggest competition. Apart from you, of course. You and I, we're one of a kind, Waldorf." He grinned wolfishly. "If it were me with Serena..."
Chuck eyed her thoughtfully for a moment and she couldn't take it, couldn't take the hungry look in his eye, the cruel twist of his mouth as he said Serena's name. She looked away and that was all it took. She could almost hear his sharp intake of breath as he made the connection. He always knew her too well. "It wasn't the leg, was it?" Chuck sounded wondrous, impressed almost. "But if it wasn't the leg, then what could it have been? The Gamemakers weren't going to kill her, we both know that."
"Stop." Pathetic. Weak.
"It was you." Chuck's voice was so soft, lethal, like a killer in the night. "Wasn't it?"
"But did you do it to be merciful, Blair? Did you tell yourself it was because Serena was in so much pain and you did it to put her out of her misery?" She didn't want to hear this, she wanted to slice her ears off so she couldn't hear the venom in his voice. But she stood, boneless, rooted to the spot. "Or did you do it because a part of you has always hated her? Did you do it because you almost killed yourself winning your games and she won hers playing with bunnies? Or did you do it because she was the one who got to the Capitol first, who was doing bigger and better things while you were stuck in the districts? You did it because she got to everything first and you had to take her scraps, didn't you? The Capitol, winning the Hunger Games...Dan, she got everything you wanted first."
He was wrong. She knew he was wrong. This was the way Chuck operated, planting seeds of hate and doubt in her mind. Chuck and Blair, Blair and Chuck - they were something, once. She had loved him, once. But he destroyed her, over and over again and now, he was doing it again, still. He was wrong and she knew it. But for one long second...
He had her and he knew it. He nodded toward their weapons, the arrows pulled taut in their bows. "It's you or me, kiddo. You gonna make your move or what?"
She paused for a second but a second was all it took.
Pull, release. She didn't have time to think or react. It was instantenous, the arrow piercing her heart.
Chuck hadn't thought twice.
Chuck Bass is alive approximately seventy seconds after he kills Blair Waldorf.
Dan Humphrey's spear in his leg, and then his stomach. The boy's shaking hands over Blair's dead body, his lips over her cold mouth. And then: "I am going to watch you die slowly, you son of a bitch."
Chuck has no interest in dying slowly. "Your sister..."
The Capitol doctors find seventy-two stab wounds to his heart.
Blair's hand is limp in his.
He can't move. He can't breathe. If a tribute or a beast were to happen upon him right now, he wouldn't stand a chance.
And he wouldn't care. Serena, Nate, Jenny...Blair. What does he have left worth fighting for?
He can hardly remember the last hour, just flashes of memories and faces and blood. Blair, looking beautiful and broken, in his arms. She didn't look healthy and he remembered thinking she needed water, that she was dehydrated and delirious and before he left, he told her he loved her. He didn't mean it as goodbye...did God, whoever up there, think he meant it as goodbye? He just meant, I love you, you're everything in my life worth fighting for, I can't survive without you. He'd take it back, he'd take it all back, every last word, if it meant she'd squeeze his hand back right now.
He was a long way away, but he saw it all. The arrow flying clean out of Chuck's bow, right into the middle of her chest. She fell to her knees first, dead before she hit the ground.
He remembers nothing about what happened next. He wakes up and Blair's cold hand is in his and Chuck's mangled, mutilated body is a few feet away. He did that, he supposes. There's no one else around.
He thinks about Willow, the girl he killed in his first games. Her scream, her face, her eyes - Blair's eyes. This is his penance, this is what he deserves. But he was the one who should've been punished, not Blair. Blair is perfect and everything good in this world - she is home and if he somehow makes it out of here alive, he doesn't want to go anywhere without her. I love you so much, he thinks, or maybe he says it out loud, he doesn't know. But it's not goodbye, not yet. He made that mistake once, never again. He's determined to go with her, wherever she's going.
"Well, well, well."
He opens his eyes. It's getting dark, but he can make out a girl, her blade on his throat. He recognizes her from back home, the girl with the heavily lined eyes and perpetual smirk on her face like everything in this world amuses her and she can't wait to watch it spark on fire and burn. He knew her name once, but he doesn't know it now. He doesn't know much of anything now. He knows his name is Dan and he loves a dead girl named Blair and he knows Willow's scream. That's all.
"I'll give you ten seconds to arm yourself and then it's fair game." There it is again, that perpetually amused voice.
He shuts his eyes, squeezes Blair's hand tight. "No," he says after a moment, blinks. His voice doesn't sound like his own.
"No?" She sounds surprised.
"No," his voice is hoarse. "Just make it quick."
He watches her eyes flicker to Blair, at his hand clutching hers and hers hanging loose and lifeless in his. Her blade is cool, welcoming against the line of his throat. She almost looks sympathetic for a moment.
"Okay," she says.
And she complies.
The name of the winner of the one hundred and twenty fifth Hunger Games is Georgina Sparks.