Karin was born to an average couple in District 3. By the age of six, she was utterly orphaned, and conscripted into one of the many science-focused schools in the district. The only other option was living on the streets, and Karin was one to survive. Living on the streets lasted until she was eight, and then she was finally old enough to sign herself up for a lifetime of working with wires and microscopes
Scientist, subject, or soldier, the unofficial motto went. Oto school did not hide what it was, did not pretend to be any better. "Soldier" was a bit of an exaggeration, of course, but not a wholly inaccurate one. Peacekeepers came from District 2, but the security officers in individual buildings, keeping the blueprints and secret methods safe, were all local.
Scientist, subject, soldier.
Karin knew her safest route was scientist. Less danger of having to get into an argument with a Peacekeeper over who had jurisdiction or having to fight a burglar. Less danger of having her chest carved open to put something new inside.
(The Capitol did not care that District 3 would carve its own people to pieces to figure out how far they could push the plastic surgery that the Capitol loved so much. What did it matter to them, they who giddily sent two dozen children off to die every year and cheered as they were slaughtered?)
Karin kept her head down, focused on her studies, and waited. Her teacher, the head of the school, was one of District 3's few victors, a tall, pale, and unnerving person by the name of Orochimaru. His two second in commands were barely different, just with white hair instead of black, and shorter. One of them, Kimimaro, was a recent victor as well, but Karin could only think that he had only delayed the inevitable. It was an unkind thought, but true; she'd seen him cough blood into his fist more than once.
(Kabuto was not a victor, but Karin had no doubt that he would have been. Oto attracted only two kinds of people: the desperate and the ruthless. Kabuto was the latter.)
Karin was eight years old the first time they handed her a scalpel and showed her how to cut open an animal and see how it worked.
Karin was ten years old the first time they handed her a scalpel and showed her how to cut open a human corpse.
Karin was twelve years old the first time they handed her a scalpel and showed her how to keep a person alive as she cut them open.
Karin was fourteen years old the first time they strapped her down and instructed her to stay calm as someone else cut her open instead.
She did not scream.
She did not cry.
She did not complain.
Scientist, subject, soldier.
They'd asked her why her skin had bite marks, and she had told them. Half self-harm, half not. They were interested in the "not." Orochimaru had not watched her first waking vivisection, but Kabuto had been there.
(Kimimaro died when Karin was thirteen, just as she'd expected. He was very pretty, she thought on the few occasions she bothered to remember his existence.)
"And why did other people bite you?"
"Because when food isn't available, a little fluid-based cannibalism goes a long way. Especially from someone like me. It didn't matter if I agreed."
Kabuto had not flinched or looked shocked, the way other people did when she told them. He simply hummed, nodded, and looked thoughtful. Then he scheduled the vivisection.
Karin was fifteen when they put her in charge of an entire ward, a dozen subjects and three other child-scientists, all awaiting her orders to further their knowledge of how the human body worked.
She wiped her emotions from her face, wiped them from her mind, and gave her orders.
Eight people died in that round of testing.
She wiped them from her mind, and moved on.
Scientist, subject, soldier.
She had been the subject. She was now the scientist. She had no need to become the—
Karin was sixteen when they pulled her name for the Hunger Games.
"You are going to survive." Orochimaru told her when they made it onto the train, and after dinner. The other tribute, Zaku, had been pulled away by the woman from the Capitol (no-nonsense and not bothering to pretend this was all some adorable game once they'd left the cameras; Konan was not a fan of her job, it seemed).
"Yeah?" Karin didn't ask the question like she was wondering if he really thought so, like she was looking for reassurance or challenging him. It was an empty prompt, just like she was an empty person.
"You are going to survive," Orochimaru repeated, "Because you are ruthless, and you have survived until now."
Karin eyed him. "I'm not the Capitol's kind of victor. They like their girls pretty and sexy, not smart and scarred. I'm not going to get a lot of sponsors."
"You're not going to need them."
Karin didn't want to say she believed him, but part of her accepted that.
She was a—
Scientist, subject, soldier.
Karin was more amused than she should have been by the horrified looks on the faces of her designers when they saw the scars dotting her arms and chest.
"I drank my own blood to stay alive when there wasn't enough food." She told them, and waited for them to take the hint and drop the subject.
"That's… you couldn't have reached that with your mouth." One of them whispered, his eyes resting on the marks that pepper her collarbone, on the marks that cover the expanse of skin just above her breasts.
"The closer to my heart, the better it worked. I wasn't the only person that wanted to stay alive. I didn't always get a chance to say yes or no." Karin glared. "Now, can we move on?"
They argued and fiddled, because whatever plan they'd had before she got there was blown to shreds by the idea that they couldn't give her anything that showed off her arms or had cleavage. They took measurements and played with fabrics, and only once did anyone ask for Karin's opinion.
"Purple," she said. "And I like high-collar jackets, and split backs."
"Like… a tailcoat?" One of the designers asked, considering. Ino, Karin thought she'd said her name was. She was in charge.
"I can work with that." Ino affirmed, grinning. "How do you feel about glitter and gold?"
Scientist, subject, soldier.
She was their subject until this month ended. Primped and preened, with little brushes of cold color trailing down her face like the icy metal of a scalpel.
Karin did not show off in training. Orochimaru had asked her what she thought of her own abilities, and then nodded when she'd given him the frank answer of, "I know jackshit about fighting, but I'm good at sneaking around and I'm even better at biology."
"By which you mean poisons."
Orochimaru considered this. "Focus on the poisons and survival techniques. I will train you in terms of fighting privately when you return each day, but while you are there, refine what you know of everything else."
(Her nails dug into her palms.)
Subject, scientist, soldier.
(She would survive, and fuck the consequences.)
Orochimaru had friends among the other victors. Tsunade and Jiraiya were approximately his age, and Karin had watched both of their games with detachment when Orochimaru had pulled up the reruns.
Tsunade was from District 7, the lumber district, and her grandfather had been mayor the year she was called. She had won her games with a mixture of cunning, medical knowledge, and brute strength.
Jiraiya was from District 12, coal, and had won his games by lying his way through them, making alliances and slitting his partners' throats in their sleep. He'd slipped in among the Careers early on and tricked them into killing each other, then killed the survivor when she'd been the only one left on her feet.
Most people had forgotten that in favor of his incredibly graphic pornography, though. Karin found that kind of hilarious.
"Lucky girl." Tsunade muttered, her eyes lingering on Karin's scars. Orochimaru had introduced the girl to his friends as this year's future victor, and they'd both sat a little straighter. Karin guessed they trusted his judgement, and didn't let herself crumble in and shy away.
She did take a step back and give Tsunade an offended glare. "Excuse me?"
"Scars like that? Not pretty enough for the Capitol to whore you out afterwards." Tsunade's giggle was drunken and sad and downright spiteful. "Not pretty enough for them to kill your friends and family when you tell them no."
Jiraiya's hand rubbed the woman's knee, and his careful look told Karin that maybe it was a good idea for her to leave now. Orochimaru's light touch to her shoulder told her the same.
Karin rolled her eyes and left.
She did remember, though. Remembered the rumors of scandal that had been at the end of the documentary of Tsunade's games. Remembered how Tsunade's beloved fiancée had been found dead under a tree he'd been cutting down, apparently not getting out of the way in time, just three months after sixteen-year-old Tsunade had come home. Remembered how, later that year, Tsunade's younger brother had been reaped for the games, just thirteen-years-old.
He died too, of course.
Karin closed her eyes and purged the disgust and anxiety and fear that curdled in her chest.
Scientist, subject, soldier.
She would survive.
"Jiraiya and Tsunade trust my judgment." Orochimaru told her after that particular party. "They'd prefer that their own tributes win, of course, but neither of them has very high hopes."
"Lucky me." Karin snorted. She toyed with the knife in her hand, staring at her dinner. As she cut through her steak (she needed the iron, because she need the blood, she'd eaten almost nothing but red meat and vegetables since she'd arrived), she imagined taking the knife and flinging it at Konan, pushing through her eye and into the brain and killing her stone de—
She snapped back into awareness and focused on Orochimaru. Zaku was staring at her with wide eyes, and across the room, Konan seemed unimpressed.
(Capitol or not, Karin did respect the woman. She never seemed phased or even a little awkward. She took things in stride, acted Capitol-normal when she had to, and privately derided the games. If there were ever a rebellion, Karin expected this woman would be among the first to defect.)
The plate holding her dinner was split in two, where the pressure of her manic sawing at her dinner had pushed it beyond the breaking point. Great.
Orochimaru stared at her impassively, head tilted. He didn't seem concerned or even surprised. "Focus, girl. You do not have the time to be distracted."
"Fuck you," Karin answered without hesitation. She couldn't, wouldn't attack Orochimaru. She'd been stifling her rage for the entirety of the games so far, and she'd keep it all in until they were over. Nobody needed to know how frequently her violent outbursts back home came. But that didn't mean she was going to let herself be insulted.
Orochimaru raised an eyebrow and waited.
"I am fucking trying." Karin hissed. "I can't fight as well as everyone else and I sure as hell can't pretend I'm some sweet and sexy trinket for the masses, and I don't want to. My brain is scattered, my emotions are fucked, and I know I'm not in the right place to be a human being but I can be a killer if I have to."
Orochimaru rolled that over in his mind for a moment, and Karin took that time to notice that she'd gotten to her feet at some point, and that there were tears on her face. Great. Just… just fucking great.
"Scattered or not, your brain needs to get it together if you want to survive." He treated her phrasing like it's a legitimate way to talk, not just something she picked up from a song and realized was a really good way to describe how she felt sometimes. "You don't get the opportunity to stay broken. You win these games and get back to Oto, and I can get you a therapist. I know plenty. You have every chance to have your bad days and get the help you need when this is over. But you have to win first, and until then, you push it all away. You take your short term wins and your coping methods and ignore the fact that it'll make you worse in the long term, because there might not be a long term if you lose. Do you understand?"
"Perfectly." Karin said through gritted teeth. Her eyes landed on Zaku. "What are you looking at?"
"The girl who's going to kill me, probably." He said it like it was a joke, like he wasn't talking about his own death, but they both knew he wasn't wrong. She could see it in his eyes.
"I was headed for soldier, yeah." He admitted. He was younger than her by two years, just fourteen. He was going to be a goner. "If you try to team up with me, I'm going to slit your throat, you know."
"You're a better fighter than I am." Karin told him. It wasn't really an attempt at comfort, but… an acknowledgement, maybe.
"Barely." He muttered. Orochimaru watched them with sharp yellow eyes. He'd made it no secret that he expected Karin to have a greater chance of surviving, and focused his attention on her as a result. Zaku had gotten his fair share of advice, but they all knew she was the favorite to win. "Besides, it's the same story as it's always been, isn't it?"
Konan finally stepped into the conversation. "What do you mean by that?"
"Subject, scientist, soldier," Zaku said. "Those are the three roles you get in our part of District 3. I don't know about other parts, but Oto is…"
"Targeted. They try to get my students rather frequently, for drama's sake." Orochimaru told Konan.
"I did know that. But please, the explanation?"
"What else is there to say? We're expected to act like soldiers, but we're really just subjects. Just fucking… rats in a maze, and the gamemakers are the scientists in control of the variables." Zaku glanced at Karin like he's expecting her to argue part of it.
"Analyze like a scientist, act like a soldier, and be aware of your status as nothing more than a subject." Karin sighed. "That's how the games go for tributes."
"And you were…"
"Everyone tries to avoid being a subject. Most of us make a pit stop, or more, on our way anyway. Most of the soldier-path go through that phase extensively anyway, to make them better suited for their jobs," Karin explained, letting her head tilt back so she could stare at the ceiling. "They're not actually soldiers, just security officers to guard the research buildings, but it fits the alliteration. Proving yourself intelligent enough to go straight to scientist is the safest route, but it's… difficult."
"I see." Konan said quietly. "It seems implied that not all the subjects survive."
"Depends on which test is being run, but yeah." Karin agreed.
"I understand." Konan left.
Soldier, subject, scientist.
It was just the story of her life.
Karin's interview outfit wasn't very different from what she'd worn on the chariots. Ino and Orochimaru had spoken together at length, and then Ino had come at her with a determined look on her face.
"Two layers," was all she said before she bundled Karin off, but it was enough for Karin to know exactly what the plan was.
The dress she gave Karin was sleek and black, hugging her form tightly. It left little above the waist to the imagination, with two strips of fabric, crumpled lengthwise and holding its folds, reaching up from Karin's hips to cover her breasts and wrap around her neck. They left her stomach, sides, arms, and most of her cleavage area bare. She didn't have much of a chest anyway, and with her scars, the look didn't scream "sexy" so much as "defiant."
(The fuck was this? Chiffon? Was this what chiffon felt like? No, according to Ino, chiffon would have been more see-through and less wrinkled. That still answered nothing, but whatever.)
Over that, she wore a much more modest jacket. It was a tailcoat of Ino's design, pale lavender, edged in black and silver, with fancy pockets and everything, and a nice long zipper going from navel to chin. The tails weren't squared, but extended long and pointed towards the ground, a shape that reminded Karin of butterfly wings and flower petals.
"Or knives," Ino noted with a sound that was almost a purr. Karin gave her an appreciative smile, because that really was what they were going for, wasn't it?
She got on stage to scattered applause, the audience less interested now that the Careers were gone.
"Karin, it's nice to meet you!" Caesar Flickerman said, smiling like he was telling the truth.
"Sure." Karin allowed, giving his hand a single brusque shake and taking her seat.
"So, tell us about yourself! How do you feel about the games? Are you nervous?" He prompted, apparently understanding already that Karin's angle wasn't going to be a talkative one.
"The only results are to die or to kill your way to survival. I don't intend to die." Karin focused on straightening her back a little. No slouching, not now.
"True, true. Can you think of anything you'd like to say to potential sponsors?"
Karin let her eyes track over the audience, her mouth slowly quirking into a dismissive sneer. "Hardly."
"If they think I'm going to win, they'll try to help. If they think I'm not, they won't. There's very little I could say to change that, and I don't intend to let myself reach the point where I need a sponsor. I can handle myself perfectly fine without them."
"That's a pretty big claim to make. Very confident, I see!" Caesar gives the audience a winning grin, and most of them titter in approval. "Your mentor is Orochimaru, and I'm sure we all remember his own games. Do you think yours will go the same way his have?"
"I think he and I have much more in common than people might expect. Whether those things are relevant to the games is another matter." Karin gave away nothing, tilting her head and making her eyes go half-lidded.
"Interesting! Do you have any plans for after you win?" He asked, lightly poking at the fact that most victors picked up a hobby after winning.
"Biology." Karin answered shortly, tilting her head the other way and blinking slowly.
"A lover, perhaps? What about your friends and family? How do they feel about you being a tribute and possibly winning the greatest event in Panem?" Caesar pressed, searching for more that might endear her to the audience.
Karin raised an eyebrow, her face taking on a shape that indicated the person she was speaking to was an idiot. "What friends and family?"
Caesar's smile fell away, and a hush came over the crowd. "Ah, I hadn't realized. Your parents are…"
"Dead since I was six." Karin pulled her face back into something approaching neutral. "I don't make friends. They're weaknesses."
She had acquaintances, maybe. A crush or two. Nothing solid, though.
"I see." Caesar said quietly, and whispers coursed through the crowd. "I suppose that might have made it easier to leave."
"You could." Karin said, and glanced at the clock. One minute left, give or take. Time to maneuver the interview where she wanted it to go. "It certainly means there's no one to be disappointed in me for killing people."
Caesar jumped at the opportunity, now that she was actually offering something. "And how do you feel about the fact that you will be put in a position where you have to kill to survive?"
"Who said it was anything new?"
Dead silence. Caesar's eyes widened. Karin uncrossed her legs and leaned forward. "What makes you think this is going to be the first time I have someone's blood on my hands?"
She grinned slowly, her teeth glinting in the light and her glasses reflecting them in such a way that no one could see her eyes anymore. "What makes you think this is going to be the first time someone has my blood on theirs?"
She stood up slowly, bringing up a hand to her collar and taking hold of the zipper. Thirty seconds left. She pulled it down and ripped the jacket off, turning to the audience and letting her grin be wiped away in favor of derision and disgust for the weak. "What makes you think this is going to be the first time I crush my moral compass under the heel of my boot in favor of survival?"
Karin dropped her eyes to the scars on her arms, dusted in some strange powder that made them stand out even more than usual, silvery and wrinkled when she bent the skin around it. She traced one with the tip of a finger. Just a few seconds left.
"I've got more blood on my hands that anyone else in these games, Caesar. I've hurt others and let others hurt me, hurt myself just to live another day." She turned back to the man in question and smiled one more time, a cold and humorless thing that absolutely no one was fooled by. "I'm not afraid to do it again. Not here."
His eyes were wide and, hopefully, just a tiny bit terrified. She was letting people draw their own conclusions, not explaining Oto's experimental set-up of—
Subject, scientist, soldier
—but that was planned, of course.
"I will slaughter every last person in those games if I have to." She told him. "It's not like I haven't done worse before."
The time dinged just as she stopped talking, and she let her smile grow warm and cheery as she snatched up her jacket and strode for the wings of the stage, giving the audience and the camera a sarcastic little wave. "See you after the games!"
Orochimaru was waiting for her there, a satisfied smile on their face as Caesar moved on to interviewing Zaku. "Well done."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever."
Karin got a middling score of seven.
This was good.
She wanted other tributes to underestimate her, and sponsors to see her worth. That's what the scores and interviews were for, respectively.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, and wiped the emotions from her mind.
She could do this.
Karin and Zaku made a silent agreement to avoid each other until the end. She didn't like him, exactly, but he was tolerable enough. She'd have preferred to avoid killing him.
Karin's eyes took in the arena as her little tube brought her up above ground, Ino's smiling face lingering in the back of her mind. The Cornucopia had little to nothing that she needed, but there was a pack of knives in a holster, maybe a dozen feet away, that she could snatch up without too much trouble, and an empty bag made of some heavy material just a few feet further than that. The real weapons were all in the Cornucopia, but she wasn't risking that.
She heard the countdown, and ticked off the other tributes. Zaku was all the way on the other side, and everyone's faces were a mixture of anxiety and dislike. Karin smoothed out her own expression in favor of the blankness she knew some people found intimidating, even as the numbers kept dropping and the cameras kept rolling. Like rats in a maze, Zaku's words echoed in her head, and she felt her lips curl. She laughed, then, high and light, and knew she'd drawn attention to herself. Good. Let them stare.
The numbers hit zero, and Karin flew into action.
She had a game to win.
Karin's first kill was a Career, which was fucking hilarious, from her perspective. He had pretty white hair and pink eyes, and he gurgled on his own blood when she slit his throat. He was on watch for the Career pack that had set up shop at the Cornucopia. It was somewhere around three in the morning, assuming the stars were accurate, and he hadn't been fully awake when she'd done it. She hid on the other side of the Cornucopia, waiting with bated breath to see if the other tributes would wake up, but none of them did.
She smiled as the cannons didn't go off. It seemed that even the gamemakers were curious to see how far she'd get.
She snuck to the largest of the tributes near her, the one that had gotten the highest score, and picked up the blanket he'd thrown off as he slept. With that much fabric covering his face, he'd barely had a chance to make a sound as she slit his throat.
There were three Careers left. The first went down much as the earlier kills had. The second stirred a little, eyes opening just in time to let out a shout of surprise before she stabbed him in the throat and slammed his head into the ground.
The last one managed to wake in time to put up a fight.
It wasn't a fun fight. She lost her knife and was weaker than her opponent, and the girl managed to kick her into the fire that the Careers hadn't bothered to put out, even at night. Karin howled as the wood burned through her official jacket and then the skin of her back, and barely managed to roll out of the way of the spitting-mad career.
Karin grabbed one of the planks of burning wood and used it to smack the girl across the face. Her hair caught fire, of course, and the skin on her cheek and temple didn't fare much better.
At least you won't be pretty if you win, Karin thought with a tiny bit of Tsunade's loaned spite. She didn't continue to think on it, because manicured fingernails dragged down her face a moment later, presumably a result of the girl aiming for the eyes and making the best of the situation once she missed.
"You uppity little bitch!"
Karin didn't answer, scrambling backwards in search of a weapon. Her hands closed around a length of chain (how the fuck was that meant to be useful?), and she wrapped it around her hand just in time to throw a punch as the Career girl lunged for her. The girl stumbled back, and Karin rushed her, throwing her onto her back and straddling the girl's chest. She punched her once, twice, three times, and then realized that wasn't really working and decided that maybe the chain would be better used for strangling instead.
This left them both still enough for Career girl to slam her knees into Karin's injured back, throwing her off.
Shouldn't have stopped punching.
Karin rolled to her feet, but she wasn't quick enough to stop the girl from grabbing her by the throat and slamming her up against the Cornucopia. Karin reached up for the girl's hands, nails scrabbling against the bony flesh, but couldn't find much purchase. The girl searched the area nearby for a weapon, one hand digging through her pockets with growing alarm. Choking someone to death against the Cornucopia was much harder than doing it against the ground, or just stabbing them.
Karin's fingers found purchase, and she pulled the girl's hand away, breaking a finger or two in the process. Much like her opponent, Karin didn't have any weapons left.
Unlike her opponent, Karin had been raised with the unfortunate knowledge that teeth were also weapons.
She tore the girl's throat out, and spent the next fifteen minutes spitting out blood and rinsing out her mouth with water from the nearby stream.
Five cannons went off, and Karin grinned.
Soldier, scientist, subject.
She was going to survive.
The knowledge that all the Careers were dead did odd things to the other tributes. Karin didn't stick around the Cornucopia for very long, but she did treat her injuries with what little medicine was available, collect the weapons she thought she could feasibly carry without weighing herself down, pack enough food for a few days that she could carry around in a backpack, and grab a few other essentials.
Then she put everything else in a big pile and set it on fire, and subsequently got the hell out of dodge before the sun even rose.
She knew that whoever killed the Careers would be targeted by anyone else who thought they might have a chance of killing her. Killing the Careers was no mean feat, and she'd pulled it off with… well, not minimal injuries, because the burns were actually at risk of infection, even with the medicinal creams she'd picked up from the Cornucopia, and the scratches on her face weren't even scabbed over yet, and her throat was bruised and giving her trouble with breathing, but… she was mobile. And actually fairly well-stocked. And alive.
With the Careers gone, so were her biggest threats. And with the Bloodbath having gone the way it always did, and the ones that had died since then by hands other than her own, this meant the games were, at least in terms of tribute count, over halfway done.
Karin heard a scream after she was a mile and a half away, and smiled humorlessly. Seemed someone had run into the trap she'd left at the mouth of the Cornucopia.
Not her problem.
She probably had the highest kill count in the games so far. Hilarious.
God, she hated this. This wasn't what she was—
Subject, soldier, scientist
—fucking trained for.
A tribute from District 8 found her in a tree.
She was asleep in the branches, tied in place to keep from falling, and he found her.
"Do you want an alliance?" He asked, before she'd even fully woken up. There was a kind, open smile on his face, but there was also a knife in his hand.
Karin's mind went through lightning-quick calculations. She remembered him in training; he wasn't the best at knife throwing, but he was vaguely adequate, which was much better than her, and also she was tied in place, so it didn't matter. There was the chance that he could have faked his abilities as well, and was much better than he implied.
She gave him a watery smile and sniffed. "Sure."
Her pack was in another tree, so when she scrambled down from her place in the tree, it looked like she was only travelling with the bare basics, if that.
She rubbed at one eye. "I haven't really run into anyone else since the Bloodbath. I'm just… I should be scared of you, probably, but it's been so long since I've seen another person, and I know I played it tough before, but I'm just… I'm so scared, and—"
"Whoa, hey, it's okay." The tribute came closer, and she watched him holster his knife. She didn't let it show on her face, but her brain could only run with the words Is he an idiot?
He still didn't seem to be regretting his suggestion, so either he was planning on killing her another way when she got closer, or thought she had other uses. They'd worked together at some of the stations about uses for various plants, actually, so if he remembered that, he might have thought that she could help with things like that.
She let herself burst into tears and flung herself forward into his arms, hugging him. He seemed unsure of what to do, which… honestly? Really? Was this a fucking joke? She was tense as a fucking wire as she waited for him to take the chance to just kill her already, so she'd be ready to fight him off, and here he was, actually panicking because there was a girl hugging him.
She slipped a hand into his holster, distracting him from the sensation by digging the other one deeper into the skin of his side as she let out a wail, and waited to see if he noticed. He didn't.
She pulled the weapon up and stabbed through the back of his neck, as close to the spine as she could without seeing it.
He collapsed to the ground, staring at her in horror.
"Sorry. I'm not actually weak enough for the crying little girl act to be anything other than an act." She crouched down and told him, "I'll make your death a quick one."
She stabbed him through the eye and into the brain, jiggling the knife around a little to make sure she really cut the brain up enough to kill. She heard enough about miraculous survivals of brain injuries (the centuries-old case study of Phineas Gage came to mind) to make sure it stuck.
The hand splayed on his chest felt his heart stutter and stop.
She screamed as loud as she could before the canon sounded, and smeared blood on herself.
True to form, somebody came running.
It was a tribute with a fucking spear.
She didn't know much about the District 6 tribute, but unlike the District 8 boy, this girl wasn't going to be falling for the act that Karin put on, as evidenced by the fact that she flung the spear within seconds of entering the clearing.
Karin tried to dodge, and got giant hole in her shoulder for her troubles.
"Oh my god, dude, what the fuck?" She yelped, once again trying to project I'm harmless, you don't have to attack. "Chill out!"
"Hilarious," the girl mocks, pulling a sword from where it was holstered at her side. What was that, a piandao? A shamshir? Karin's mind flipped through sword names she'd learned at the training area instead of doing anything even moderately useful.
All her throwing weapons were back in the pack, save for the spear that was currently embedded in her shoulder. Her idea to lure someone closer and reuse the "helpless little girl" act had clearly backfired, and she had a feeling that Orochimaru would be laughing at her back in the capital, if not for the fact that this had the potential of ending in her death.
Stupid, stupid, stupid girl.
Karin closed her eyes, let her head tilt back, and started laughing. She had no idea if the other girl was coming any closer, but she ramped up the laughter, forcing herself into full hysterics. She reached up and slowly pulled out the spear, even as her brain screamed at her that that was only going to make her bleed out faster.
She let the laughter ebb out, brought her head up to stare at the girl through half-lidded eyes and kept her smile small and understated, close-mouthed. "Oh, I am going to rip your goddamn throat out."
Karin got to her feet and spun the spear in her good arm. It wasn't her preferred weapon, but she didn't really have one of those in the first place.
The fight wasn't a fun one. Karin got even more hurt, continued to curse her own foolishness, and finally got in a glancing hit to the neck with a knife she'd gotten a chance to pull from her pack. It wasn't a win by skill, but by luck, especially since the only reason Karin got the blow in was because the girl tripped over the boy's corpse in the first place. And only that glancing blow let Karin get close enough to cut so deeply into the girl's throat that her neck was halfway severed.
(Although that mostly worked because the poison Karin had coated her blades in was made from nightlock berries, so points to her for being prepared.)
Karin waited for the cannon to go off, breath heaving. When it did, she sighed and got to her feet, limping towards the tree that she'd hidden her pack in, glad that she'd decided to keep as much medicine as she had. There were a few rolls of bandages in there, and she was going to need them if she wanted to live past bleeding out.
Her sight started to waver as she got to the tree, even more than her glasses could compensate for, and she felt her legs shaking. Her knees buckled, and she fell to the ground. "Shit."
Her vision was greying out, but she couldn't fucking… okay, she had to stuff the wound so that there was at least a chance she could survive. She tore off her shirt and started wrapping her shoulder as tightly as she could.
She managed to finish before she passed out, but only just.
Karin did not expect to wake up.
"So, I heard you scream. Was that when you were fighting the chick or the dude?"
Karin knew that voice. She pushed herself up into a sitting position, wincing. "Zaku?"
"Hey." He looked uncomfortable. They were in a cave. She was up against the wall. Okay, sure. "So, which was it?"
"In between. I figured I could lure someone in by screaming before the cannon went off, but it didn't work out as well as I hoped. Dumb mistake." She looked around. "You found my pack."
"Yeah, that's uh… that's a really full pack. Did you grab it from the Cornucopia before it caught fire?"
"…Karin, did you kill the Careers?" Zaku asked carefully.
"Yep." She grinned, but let it fade after a moment. "You should have left me to die, kid. One less opponent."
"Fuck you, I make my own decisions." He answered without hesitation. "Also, believe it or not, I'm pretty sure I have a better chance of surviving with you on my side."
"Yeah, but then I'll have to be the one to kill you. I don't actually want to do that."
"Tough shit. You can leave after you're done healing, which, in case you haven't noticed, probably won't happen for months, at the minimum. Or at least weeks, with medical intervention."
"Days, if all I want is enough mobility to kill someone." Karin pointed out.
"And in the meantime, you can help me figure out what's edible." Zaku asserted. "I'm shit at that whole thing, and I've mostly just been stealing shit from the Cornucopia while the Careers are asleep until now. I wasn't the only one, either, but… well, too late now. Hunted a little, too, but I'm bad at plants."
Karin shook her head in defeat. "Fine. I don't have much of a choice anyway. I'll help you stay alive, and you help me."
Zaku was fourteen, and he was definitely going to die soon, but she could help him stay alive a little longer, she figured.
After all, they were both—
Scientist, Subject, Soldier
Karin left Zaku after four days. Four days during which they'd waited for the sound of cannons and the sight of faces in the sky, and watched in shock as not one, but two packs from what were probably sponsors, floated down to them from the sky.
One contained advanced medicine, the kind which Karin would never even dream of seeing at the Cornucopia, meant to knit up her shoulder, with a note from Orochimaru telling her that the Capitol was loving her, especially after the Careers incident.
"The hell is a soldier pill?" Zaku muttered from his own spot, looking at the package he'd gotten. "Karin?"
"It's an energy boost, basically. Mildly addictive, but you've only got three, so you should be fine. If the games get to a point where sleeping isn't an option, those are going to carry you through." Karin looked back down at the cream in her hands. "Help me apply this."
"The fuck did he use to pay for this?" Zaku muttered, even as he started to remove Karin's bandages. They were the same ones as before, though Zaku had at least proved adept enough to boil them in water when they needed to be changed. Half were on Karin, half were boiling or drying, and it at least managed to minimize the chance of infection.
"Apparently," Karin said, hissing a little in pain, "the Capitol was very impressed by my actions."
"…by you killing five Careers and two more people."
Zaku's face twitched. "The old guy probably used some of your donations for me, then."
"Old person," Karin snapped. "He may use pronouns more traditionally associated with men, but he identifies as neither binary gender. He has told you this more than once."
"Sorry!" Zaku put his hands up in surrender. "Just… the soldier pills are probably from your money too."
"Yeah, well, tough shit. I didn't even really need the medicine, it just makes things easier."
"Next you're going to say you didn't need me."
Karin shrugged. "I'd have woken up eventually. I did manage to get the bandages on fast enough for that, and I'm a fast healer."
She doesn't say there's enough Uzumaki in me to survive a little stabbing, but she does think it. Her family's ability to survive was never quite supernatural or anything, just… impressive. A little odd.
"Still would have been a shit time," she acknowledged. "So thanks."
"Hey, your food is keeping me alive too. You're useful, that's all there is to it." Zaku poked her wound, and laughed when she made a quiet whine of pain. She punched him with her good hand.
"You're only two years older than me."
And he'd never live out those two years, but neither of them mentioned that. They both knew the dangers that life brought. They'd both spent too much time knowing how the world was run.
Subject, scientist, soldier
It wasn't always those words, but… masses, rulers, and enforcers was always how it went, wasn't it?
Karin killed two more people after leaving Zaku, both with poisoned weapons, and there was both relief and grief in her heart when she saw his face in the sky three nights after they parted. She didn't know who had killed him, but he'd be a decent enough friend.
There were… hm. Seven had died in the initial Bloodbath, none by her hands. Five Careers at her hands. Three random tributes in between by someone else. Two more afterwards, by her, and then the cave. By that point, seventeen dead.
Two had died while she and Zaku hid. She'd killed two more since leaving. Zaku was dead.
That meant… oh.
She was one of the final two.
To the Cornucopia, then.
Scientist, subject, soldier
She would survive.
Karin's final battle never happened as such, because she hid in the Cornucopia and waited. There were still twisted metal remains and ashes scattered about from when she'd set everything on fire, and she just… waited.
Closed her eyes, took deep breaths, listened hard, and waited.
She heard the first cautious crunch of footsteps. The battles usually ended at the Cornucopia, so it was no wonder that the other final tribute was there. She listened even closer, and waited, waited, waited.
The footsteps became faster, heavier, and Karin inched towards the mouth of the Cornucopia, maneuvering herself to be just inside the curve of it, where she'd see anyone that came in immediately, while they wouldn't see her. It wasn't the absolute best position, but it was the best for her purposes.
The boy from District 11 rounded the corner, such as it was, and she slammed a blade into his throat before he could register her presence, kicking him away as soon as she did.
He died within minutes, despair on his face at being so, so close to survival and still failing.
Karin waited for the sound of the cannon, and heaved out a sigh as it sounded, along with the announcement that she'd won. She survived. She made it. She lived.
She may have had the highest kill count of any victor by this point (she wasn't sure, but it was up there, certainly; ten deaths out of twenty-three opponents), but she damn well lived.
Subject, soldier, scientist, it doesn't matter, I lived.
She let herself drop back against a wall and smiled.
"Of course it stays with you," She said when Caesar Flickerman asked her the obvious question, draping herself backwards in her chair. Her outfit was deep purple and gold, a mixture that should have clashed with her hair, but didn't, and showed off every little scar she could without crossing the lines of decency, from the faint nail marks on her face to the burn scars on her back to the star-shaped stretch of skin on her shoulder to the bites she'd had for years.
Ino was good at her job.
("Lucky girl," Tsunade said when Karin finally got a chance to see Orochimaru and his friends again. "Even got more scars on your face to stay unpretty. Good on you.")
(Tsunade was drunk and not particularly tactful, but at least Karin could understand why.)
"I'm sure it'll stay even longer, that I'll probably wake up with nightmares for years to come, that I'll remember seeing Zaku's face in the sky, or all the throats I slit, or the fights I was in. That shit isn't going to go away." She leaned forward and bared her teeth in a parody of a grin. "But I fucking survived, and that's all that matters, in the end."
She grinned at him, fiddling with the glass of champagne they'd given her for the interview. The light glints off of it, and the stem is just barely long enough to reach through a person's eye socket and into the brain, if she just breaks off the base. She could do it now, jump over the table, get it through Caesar's eye. The dress wouldn't hinder her too much, not if she—
She snapped back into awareness and brought her smile back up. "Sorry. I just got distracted by how easy it would be to stab someone with the stem of this champagne glass."
He tittered nervously.
Fucking good. If she had to live through these games, then he should at least be put in a position of being a little nervous. He wasn't the—
Subject, scientist, soldier
—one who had to play in the games, or design them, or enforce them. He was just a puppet on strings, leading more lambs to slaughter.
…At least he was nice about it.
"Did you think we suddenly stopped thinking like killers when you took us out of the arena? You said it yourself, Caesar, that shit stays with you."
"So, kid," Jiraiya said one night, when Karin was in a private room with Orochimaru and Tsunade and Jiraiya, with Konan in the corner with the redheaded, wheelchair-bound past victor from District 4 that Karin hadn't bothered to learn the name of.
"How would you like to join the revolution?"
She always liked being the scientist.
A/N: Almost definitely not going to continue this. Had fun writing it, but not gonna continue it. Got inspired to write it by the fic Elastic Heart by IncompleteSentanc on AO3, since I've been in a very "Karin-centered crossovers" mood, and the fic mentioned above is an MCU/Hunger Games fic that had a vibe I really liked.
Anyway, some bits and pieces you might be curious about:
The fic's name comes from the song "Après Moi" by Regina Spektor.
The other two musical references are the "my brain is scattered" line, which comes from "Mad Hatter" by Melanie Martinez, and the other is the phrase "glitter and gold," referencing a song of the same name, by Barns Courtney.
The white-haired Career that Karin kills is Hidan. The chain she grabs during her fight is a reference to her Adamantine chains in canon. The burns on her back are a reference to the Amaterasu burns she suffered in the Hachibi fight.
Other than Zaku and Hidan, none of the other tributes are meant to be any particular Naruto characters. The only other referenced Naruto character that isn't named outright is Nagato at the end, but that should have been a little more obvious than Hidan.
Tsunade's storyline in canon has certain similarities to Johanna's in the Hunger Games, so I figured that, as a former victor/hero and a particularly beautiful woman with lots of dead family, their stories could easily be adapted to one another, contextually.
A lot of fics that do AUs of Naruto tend to explain away Karin's scars as sexual abuse, if they include her at all. While I understand why, it's still not something I want to play in to, so I decided "drank the blood to stay alive" was a good way to do it, since that's actually almost exactly what happens in canon.
All of Karin's "acting" moments are in reference to the way she actually, legitimately fooled some of Konoha's interrogators in canon (not Ibiki, of course, but he's special).
I genuinely considered having her attack Caesar with the stem of the champagne glass, as another step in the plan to get to "not suitable to sell to the highest bidder," but I figured that was too much, on top of the scars and the lack of family and friends to kill. I also considered having her call out the Capitol on having just as much blood on their hands as she did, and making a Lady Macbeth reference about how none of them would ever wash the blood off, but again: too much.
I legitimately did not plan the numbers out like that in the end. I just laid out some approximate guesses for how many had died and then went "Oh, hey, that's a thing. Everyone's dead except Karin and one other person."
I didn't expect to like Zaku when I decided to toss him in as District 3's other tribute. He's an amusing little shit, though.
And finally, I'd just like to say that the entire fic got written because I decided that the first interview, where Karin reveals her scars and tells the Capitol that she already has blood on her hands, absolutely had to get written. Just… I like Karin revealing her scars and talking about her bloody past and being all dramatic about it.
Anyway, see ya on whatever I decided to update next, now that this is over.