Spoilers: Possible spoilers for The Hunger Games and its sequels.
Warnings: Oh God. Umm… Major Character Death. Horrible graphic violence. Contemplation of suicide. This is not a happy fic.
Word Count: ~10,000
Author's Note: Written for a prompt on the glee angst meme. This is probably the bleakest thing I've ever written. It's the Hunger Games, people. Everything is awful and everything hurts. You have been warned.
This is mostly Blaine POV, with some Kurt at the beginning and some Finn at the end. I made some odd stylistic choices about dialogue while the characters are watching the Games to try and keep the flow going. I hope it works.
NOTE: I have not actually read any of the books, but I have seen the movie, and I researched the 'verse to the best of my ability. Hopefully, I didn't make any major canon errors.
The crowd parts from him like he just sent out a shockwave. A perfect circle of people, like Kurt is the one they should be afraid of. Like being a tribute is contagious. Don't stand too close; you'll get it on you!
He is poised as he walks up to that stage. So still, so silent. Not an inch of give, not an ounce of fear on his face. He walks like a practiced pageant winner, his face a stone mask.
Blaine has never loved Kurt more than at that moment.
And he has never loved himself less.
His mouth hangs open, the words perched on his lips. "I volunteer." It'd be so simple to say them, to tilt his head just so and force them to pour off of his tongue like water. But his head won't tilt. His neck won't move. His muscles rebel, and he is frozen.
He can do nothing but watch.
Kurt marches on stage to stand next to a girl whose name Blaine honest-to-god cannot remember. She ceased to matter the second Kurt's name was called.
But then, did she ever really matter?
(Do any of them?)
Kurt gets just a few minutes to say goodbye, just like all tributes. Friends and family have to share this scant slice of time, a too-tiny portion split between too many people. What can they say with so little time?
What could anyone say with any amount of time that would make this better?
"I love you," Kurt says to his father. They hug, so fierce and desperate that Kurt jokes about starting the Games with broken ribs. Burt laughs, but it is a hollow, limping thing, devoid of humor. Kurt wants, in that moment, to be able to give back even a fraction of the love his father has given him over the years. His father's love built him, fortified him, sealed his wounds when he got cut, fused his bones when they broke, wrapped around his heart like a shield. He has always been thankful for it—now he wishes his father had saved some for himself.
Kurt is taking all of it with him. He might not get to bring it back.
"I love you," Kurt says to his step-mother, the sweet woman who loved his father so completely that it sometimes hurt to watch them together. She hugs and kisses and rocks him, trying so hard to comfort—him, or herself, it isn't really clear, and it doesn't matter, because it doesn't work. But she tries so hard, hugs him so tightly, kisses him so gently, that to anyone watching, the two of them would look just like mother and son.
And why shouldn't they?
"I love you," Kurt says to his step brother. Finn doesn't so much hug him as envelop him. The entirety of his massive body folds itself around him, tries to pull him and keep him safe. But Finn can't protect him. He never could. He always wanted to, but never quite got it. He tried, though, and Kurt loves him for that.
Finn apologizes, and Kurt forgives him. That's the way it's always been. Kurt thinks it's fitting that they part like this.
Finn wishes he could break the pattern just once. Just once.
"I love you," Kurt doesn't say to Blaine, not with words, anyway. They kiss. Feverishly, frantically, tearfully, until the peacekeepers tear them apart, sneering in disgust. They misunderstand; there was no heat, no passion in that kiss. It was simple communication. An uplink, a conduit, a physical medium to transfer all the grief and love and hope and sorrow they've ever felt for each other. In the end, each of them says too much, and neither says enough.
"I'm sorry," Blaine says as they drag him away.
"I'm not," Kurt says. "It's always someone. Why not me?"
There are a million answers to that question, but Blaine is thrown out before he can speak them.
They watch together. Finn, Blaine, Burt, Carole.
All of District 6 watches, of course. Kurt is their tribute, even if just a few weeks ago they ridiculed and mocked him for nothing more than existing as he is.
But no one watches quite as closely, quite as diligently as the four of them. The Hudson-Hummel-Andersons, Kurt's little fan club.
They watch as he makes his parade entrance, jaws dropping, fingers pointing. He is stunning on television. Just as stunning in real life, of course, but now everyone gets to see it (they shouldn't, but they do). His stylist put him in metallic armor, sleek, shining silver, streamlined and smooth like the finest luxury vehicle. District 6. Transportation. Most people would tart him up like a mechanic, but this year, they've tricked him out like a ride. It works.
Carole wonders who his stylist is. Blaine bets he designed it himself. Finn thinks he walked right in and fired everybody first thing. No thanks, I can take care of all this myself. I don't need you to make me beautiful. Burt grins. That sounds like him.
They huddle together on the day of his interview, hanging onto his every word. They're emphasizing his intelligence. His mystery. His allure. 'The Steel-Eyed Stunner,' they call him. He plays coy with Flickerman, answering every question with a question, always hinting, but never saying. Flickerman plays along, and the audience follows them with mouths hanging open like dogs trailing a piece of meat on a string. Kurt is an enigma to them, the perfect kind of puzzle, one they all want to play with, poke at, solve.
They'll send him gifts, Burt's got no doubts in his mind. Sue Sylvester is a lot of things, but he can't fault her as a mentor. She sells the Hell out of those kids.
His survival rating is a solid 9 out of 12. Burt was hoping for a ten, but nine is damn good. Carole agrees. Finn wonders what he did during his evaluation to get such a high score. Blaine gushes. He's smart. He's agile, he's flexible, he's quick on his feet. But mainly, he's smart. Burt agrees with him there. He's smart. They all know he's smart.
It's the weirdest thing. They're all so invested.
It happens every year, of course. Why shouldn't they be invested? It's their district. No matter who it is, everybody knows somebody who knows a tribute. They all tune in, they all root for their favorites.
It seems like it should be different this year. This is Kurt. Kurt isn't just a tribute, he's theirs. Brother, son, boyfriend. They should deride this entire pageant, this mockery of life, this dress-and-tie show for lambs sent to the slaughter.
But they don't do that. They can't. The Games have desensitized them. It's been like this for as long as they can remember. You tune in, you watch, you get invested. It's always somebody.
No matter who it is, or how bad they score, you convince yourself there's a chance. Maybe they could pull it off. Maybe they could win. Maybe there's hope.
You take that hope and run with it, right up until it shatters in your arms, cuts you to pieces with a thousand jagged edges and leaves you bleeding in the gutter.
There's always hope.
Sometimes, hope is the worst thing of all.
Burt is in his armchair, Finn, Blaine, and Carole on the couch as the games begin. They clutch each other, hold their breath, cursing silently as Kurt goes straight for the cornucopia. What is he doing? You never go for the cornucopia, not unless you're a career. It's suicide. But not for Kurt. He grabs one pack of supplies and springs off of a weapon rack onto the top of the cornucopia. The asshole chasing him crashes into it and gets a knife in the spine for his trouble. Burt pumps his fist. Atta boy. Carole leans back in her chair in relief. Finn shakes Blaine and grins as Blaine tries to swallow his heart before he chokes on it.
They keep right on watching.
They lean in as he forages for food in the rocky, barren arena. Watch as he stockpiles water, tests everything before he eats or drinks it. Feeds it to animals or other tributes. Some of it's good. Some of it isn't. Smart boy, says Burt. Other tributes aren't as smart. 13 down the first day.
They grin as he finds his little corner of the arena, finds a safe place to hide, starts moving things around. He's setting up traps, says Burt. Oh, that's clever, says Carole. Shouldn't get too comfortable, though. Things can change quick.
They hold their breath as he is spotted by another tribute, runs for his life, dodges, bobs, weaves through the rocks. The tribute gives chase. Go, Kurt, go. Where is he going? He's going back to his corner. He's baiting that son of a bitch! YES! Got him!
The guy trips over one of Kurt's rope traps and knocks himself out.
They grow quiet as Kurt looks back at his pursuer, inhaling in unison as he pulls out a knife. Blaine feels sick. Finn squirms, Carole holds her breath. Burt's hands clench on the arms of his chair. Do it, son. You've gotta do it. You can't win this thing if you don't… if you can't…
He doesn't. Carole sighs in relief. Burt shakes his head.
Kurt's a gentle soul.
That's not gonna help him.
Maybe not, the audience likes the nice ones.
The nice ones don't win.
They all sigh for different reasons as he takes the kid's weapons and leaves him. Relief, disappointment, resignation. Some combination of all three. As far as mercies go, it's pretty pointless. Somebody else finds the kid before he wakes up. Bashes his skull in with a rock. A cannon fires.
Kurt stays safe.
They hang on through every twist and turn. They laugh when Kurt laughs, tear up when he struggles, feel their hearts race as he fights and runs and hides and lives. Sometimes they forget a meal or two, they're so wrapped up. Kurt is theirs. He is the bond that ties them all together.
They follow him as the cannons count down the deaths. 10 tributes left. 9. 8 7 6. 5.
No one sees it coming.
He picks a high place for his hiding spot. Good move, says Burt. Nobody looks up.
He's climbing down, going to find more water. A whoosh of air, and he gasps.
Their hearts stop.
Kurt has an arrow in his back.
He falls all wrong. Lands funny. His head whiplashes against the ground.
Blood. A puddle of red, growing by the second. He's not moving.
Someone walks out to check on him. Girl from District 2. Blonde, pretty. Bow and arrow. She looks at him. Notches an arrow, gets ready to fire.
The cannon fires first.
Kurt is the fourth-to-last tribute to die.
And it's over. Just like that.
Up until that point, they laughed, cried, rejoiced, and cringed in unison.
In a flash—a snap—everything changes.
They fall apart.
Blaine's ears are ringing. Everyone is moving, but there's no sound.
There should be sound.
Burt is pale and clenching his fists to the armchair. Carole's mouth is moving. She is shaking him, dripping tears onto his pants. A flash of movement from the side, and Blaine turns just in time to see Finn put his foot through the television. Burt falls out of his chair, his whole body gone rigid. He's gasping for breath. Finn's face is red, and Blaine can see his throat constricting as he clutches at his bleeding leg. There are tears running down his face.
But he isn't making any sound.
Shouldn't he be screaming? Shouldn't someone be saying something? Anything?
Carole grabs him and shakes him. Her mouth is moving. Blaine doesn't understand her. She mouths his name. Blaine? Blaine! We have to go. Blaine, Burt is… he needs…
He doesn't understand.
Somehow, his arms and legs figure out what the rest of him can't. They move him to Burt, help him up, help him to the car, to the hospital, drive, drive. Finn, your leg is bleeding. I'll be fine. Don't worry about me.
Alone in the hospital waiting room, the sound finally comes back. The first thing he hears is someone sobbing.
He looks around, but there is no one else in the room with him.
The sound is so close. He knows he knows that voice.
A nurse suddenly runs up to him, eyes wide with fear.
"Sir, sir! Are you alright?"
Blaine can't answer her. He's having trouble breathing. Trouble seeing. Eyes are blurry. Chest is tight. Lungs are heaving, and… and…
Oh, so that's who's crying.
Burt lives. So does Finn, of course. Everybody lives (except Kurt).
They miss the end of the Games. Others have to fill them in. The girl from District 2—Kurt's murderer—goes on to win the thing. Blaine hates her. Imagines the force of his hate stripping the skin off of her pretty face and melting her bones.
They send Kurt back to them in a box, and Burt nearly breaks in half when he sees it.
Blaine thinks he looks good. It wasn't a particularly violent death. They didn't bash his face in or cut him into pieces. He looks whole. Healthy. Like he's just sleeping.
He's not, of course. He's dead.
People talk to them at the funeral.
"No shame," they say. No shame in dying to the victor. No shame in being beaten by the best.
Like that matters. Like it's fucking comfort to anyone who knew Kurt, who loved him, held him in their arms. Kurt was precious, unique, irreplaceable. He dies, and there's no shame.
There should be shame. So much shame. Shame on these people, for saying that, for even thinking it. Shame on District 2, for training kids to be killers and acting like it's glorious and wonderful when they win. Shame on the mother goddamn fucking Capitol, for everything. Shame, shame, shame.
Shame on Blaine for letting his boyfriend walk to his death.
Time passes slowly. The world moves at the speed of light.
Burt is sick. He stays at home a lot. Doesn't talk much. Doesn't eat much. Doesn't live much. Heart problems, the doctors say. Fucking idiots, Blaine says. He can't have heart trouble. He doesn't have a heart. His heart is dead. It cracked its skull open far from home, snapped its neck in an arena. Gone, just like that.
Heart trouble. You need a heart for that, don't you?
Carole is sad. She tries to hide it. Does a terrible job. Does better at keeping food on the table, though. She picks up the slack Burt leaves. Picks all that up and more. Throws herself into work. Somebody's gotta do it. They rarely see her. Burt needs to see her, but he'd never admit it.
He needs someone else more.
Blaine is… nothing. He doesn't feel much of anything anymore. He moves through the world like he's swimming in a sea of syrup. Every motion is labored, slow, sticky. His thoughts come and go. They're hazy, strange, indistinct. He'll waste hours thinking, only to come back to himself and find that he doesn't remember anything he just thought about.
Of course, sometimes he does.
Sometimes he thinks about cliffs.
Kurt was climbing down one when he died. He and Blaine had a special place near one when they lived. Nice and quiet, secluded, away from prying eyes and ears. They'd sneak out, sit on the edge, look at the world below, the stars above. It was where Blaine got his first kiss, declared his love to Kurt for the first time. Where he first gathered the courage to touch another boy the way he wanted to be touched. Fingers, skin, tongues and teeth. Love that brought him to life. Everything with Kurt was better. Everything before seemed dim and dull by comparison. And everything after…
There shouldn't be an after.
He stands at the edge and looks down. Thinks about how easy it is. Falling. You don't even have to do anything. The world does all the work. The ground comes up to greet you. Just one step, and he could stop… all this. Whatever this is. He could stop it.
He wants it to stop.
Just one step. His foot is already in the air.
An attack from behind brings him down. Just like Kurt.
He's on the ground. Someone is shaking him, yelling at him. It takes him a couple of seconds to realize who it is.
"Don't you fucking dare," Finn says.
Blaine's denial is weak. Cursory. "I wasn't—"
"Fuck you!" Finn shouts, punching him in the shoulder. "You think you're the only one who's hurting? You think you're the only one who loved him?"
Blaine shakes his head. "I'm not hurting. I'm not anything. I'm just… not."
Finn cringes and grabs him, gentler this time. Pulls him in close. "Don't. Please don't. Please just… don't. Please. Please."
So Blaine doesn't. He doesn't do anything.
Finn, however, does quite a lot. He does everything he can to keep them all together, all safe, all sane. Good Finn, brave Finn, repentant Finn, who watched his brother die in the Games, who failed to protect him from bullies and cowards and the slings and arrows of everyday life, who failed to protect him from the world. He'll make up for it now. The family is all they have left of him. The bits and pieces of Kurt each of them hold only form a complete picture when they overlap. If they fall apart, then Kurt won't just be dead; he'll be gone. Which is worse. Somehow.
He orders Carole to take some time off. She's thin and tired, worn down like old leather. She fights him, but not for long. He works for her, works for Burt when he's too sick or sad or both. They find a balance. Carole stays home more, talks to Burt more, forces him to open up. Burt starts to look like a real human instead of a person-shaped plaster cast slowly crumbling from the inside. They heal.
And Blaine gets dragged right along with them.
Finn becomes the closest thing to a friend Blaine has. He brings him home all the time, makes him talk, makes him eat, even—God help them all—makes him laugh.
Blaine hates him for it. Actually yells at him the first time it happens.
Finn doesn't care. He keeps right on doing it. And each time, Blaine hates him a little less.
There is growth in the wake of disaster. A tiny, green sprout of hope in the ashes of death. A new family formed from pieces of old. Discarded, broken, and unwanted, they cherish, fix, and love each other. They try.
They owe it to Kurt. To each other. Maybe even to themselves.
By the time the next reaping rolls around, Blaine's brain has fallen back into a dark place.
Finn notices. "Don't do it," he says out of the blue one day.
Blaine is confused. "Do what?"
Finn pins him down easily. "You almost volunteered last year, didn't you?"
Blaine's jaw drops just a touch. "How did you know?"
"I almost did the same thing," Finn says. "But I didn't. I didn't do it when it mattered, so there's no point in doing it now. It won't change anything. It won't fix anything."
"…I know," Blaine sighs.
"Good," Finn says. "We have… we're doing so much better. We can't lose anyone else, dude. Blaine. Please."
Blaine sighs. Finn is an expert-level pleader. He could teach a master class.
So Blaine doesn't volunteer. He thinks about putting his name in a few extra times, but that would be equally pointless, so he doesn't. He just stands in the crowd and waits. Hangs onto the tiny bit of hope they've managed to salvage in the wake of this horror. It'd be stupid to have come so far just to die now.
Same old song and dance. A slight shift in the cast, but they all play the same parts. Blaine floats in a sea of faces far too young to face this kind of fear. To feel this downtrodden, this hopeless, this lost.
Their Escort, a small, nervous woman with wide eyes, plunges her hand in and swirls the names around.
Blaine wonders how he would react if they called his name. If he could hold himself up like Kurt did, make that walk without showing fear, without breaking.
It's a pointless line of thought.
Sometimes, hope really is the worst thing of all.
They don't know how to do this again.
A year has passed, but they are all still raw from their last set of goodbyes. Each of them moves gingerly, as if nursing a full body bruise. One harsh movement, and they will collapse. Explode. Slough out of their skin and melt into a pool of gore.
They all try so hard to protect themselves and it still hurts.
Burt claps Finn on the shoulder and squeezes. Opens his mouth, closes it. A fish, drowning on land. He has no words left. Finn pulls him into a hug, but he doesn't hug back. There isn't enough of him left to give. He's sorry.
Carole hugs him and tries not to sob. She succeeds in holding back her tears. She fails to let him go. Can't do it. Won't do it. She holds to her boy like a life raft in an acid sea. Squeezes him with all her might, makes him feel every ounce of her love. Like Blaine with Kurt. The same, but infinitely different.
They have to sedate her and carry her off. Finn is a boy of glass in her wake, looking one note away from shattering forever.
Blaine doesn't know what to do. Finn has become so much more than a friend to him over the past year. When Blaine wanted to collapse, Finn held him up. When he wanted to roll over and die, Finn kept him walking. He doesn't know what to do, what to say, how to honor that. How to deal with the fact that he is losing it now, losing someone else, again.
"I…" Blaine says, taking halting steps towards him. "I can't believe I'm here. Again."
Finn doesn't have time to be incredulous. He grabs him, pulls him in. Rests his head on top of Blaine's as they embrace. He's so tall. "Take care of them. You're all they have now. You're theirs, and we both know it. You have to take care of them. You have to. Please don't do anything stupid. Promise me you'll live for them. Please, dude, Blaine, promise me."
It's this, of all things, that extracts him from the syrup sea and puts his mind back in working order. He's had about enough of Finn's pleading. For the first time in a long time, Blaine feels something a very strong something.
He feels anger.
His hands latch onto Finn, squeezing hard enough to leave fingerprints in bone. "Shut up!" he says. "Stop talking like you're already dead!"
"But…" Finn stammers.
"No!" Blaine says. "I mean it. You sound like you've already given up, and it's insulting. To me, to your parents, to Kurt."
Finn's eyes moisten, but Blaine just takes that as a sign that he is getting through.
"You want a promise from me? You give me one," Blaine says, staring him down. "Promise me that you'll try to win. That no matter what happens to you, you won't give up. That you'll fight to your last breath to win this for him, to come back to us. Promise me. Okay?"
Finn's eyes are bright with unshed tears, but he soon blinks them away. Sadness and resignation are replaced with anger. Finn is angry. Blaine is angry.
But they aren't angry at each other.
"I promise," says Finn.
"I promise," says Blaine.
They share one more hug.
"You're my brother too, you know" Finn says. "Just because you and Kurt didn't get married or whatever, that doesn't mean—"
"I know," Blaine says. "And… thanks. Good luck. Odds in your favor, and all that."
Finn smiles at him as he gets on the train.
Blaine does his best to smile back.
He doesn't understand what he just did. He won't for quite some time.
Burt keeps his distance, skittish and wary, like a prey animal. He always finds an excuse to vanish whenever Blaine or Carole appears.
Carole wanders around like a lost ghost, in and out of rooms without touching a thing, purpose lost, forgotten, discarded, or maybe just never there to begin with.
Blaine tries to talk to them, but it's a losing battle. They're scared. Of him. For him. Their sons keep disappearing, you see. The second they touch Blaine, the Capitol might swoop in and take him as well. They've taken everything else.
It's a testament to how broken they have become that Blaine's ultimate strategy involves herding them like animals into the same pen. He subtly chases Burt into a side room, where he finds Carole staring at a picture of all four Hudmels. Her finger runs down the glass of the photograph. Tears run down her face in near-perfect unison. Burt almost turns and leaves—almost. At the last moment, some long-lost vestige of the old Burt is found deep within the rubble. Blaine can almost see him come to life again.
With a deep, shuddering breath, Burt Hummel walks up behind his wife and wraps his arms around her, holding her as she sobs.
Blaine smiles and leaves them to each other.
He's not surprised to find himself alone on the couch when all the pageantry begins. To decide they can't do this again—watch another son fight for his life for people's entertainment—it's only natural. Only human.
He'll watch alone, if he has to. Finn should have some support.
Blaine spots the him immediately as he gets off the train on the television. He smiles. Finn is ridiculously easy to pick out in a crowd. Just look for him one head higher than almost everyone else.
"Is that him?"
Blaine looks up to see Burt coming in from his left. He's so shocked when Burt sits down beside him on the couch that he almost forgets to answer the question.
"Oh, yeah. They… uhh… they just got off the train," Blaine says.
Burt nods. "Looks good."
"He always was a handsome boy," Carole says quietly, sitting down on his right. "All our boys are so handsome."
She smiles at him as she says this, and Blaine can only duck his head and blush, suddenly bashful, unable to quite describe what he's feeling. Burt puts an arm around him, squeezing his right shoulder. Carole does the same, gently scratching at his left.
They'll watch as a family. Just like before
They watch as Finn makes his parade entrance. Carole points out that Finn's outfit is boxier than Kurt's. Instead of sleek and streamlined, Finn just looks… big. They're emphasizing his size. That's a good thing. That means he'll stand out, be more noticeable to sponsors. He is head and shoulders above all other tributes that year. All but one, that is. A District 1 career, Sebastian Smythe, is barely an inch under him.
Burt is light on commentary this year, but Blaine can feel him tense every time Smythe comes onscreen.
Like most, Finn's entrance earns him a nickname. 'The Iron Giant.' It's meant to make him sound like a machine, an engine of destruction. His interview couldn't be more at odds with that assessment. He trips over himself on the way to his seat. Stands up, blushes, and grins his very best aw-shucks smile, and the audience melts for him. Blaine leans a little closer. Was that on purpose? If it wasn't, Finn did a damn good job of covering it up. Carole thinks it was. Thinks they're playing Finn differently than Kurt.
Where Kurt was mysterious and challenging and alluring, Finn is open and easy and adorable. Kurt was like a cat; you wanted him to like you because it felt like an accomplishment. Finn, on the other hand, is just a big friendly dog that everyone wants to pet. They're playing the contrast card, using the audience's memory of Kurt to make Finn stand out even more. He fumbles words, asks questions, is appropriately awed at the Capitol's sights and sounds. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. He is the biggest little boy in the world, and they adore him.
Carole resolves to send Sue Sylvester something nice for doing so right by her boys.
Eventually, Flickerman brings up the subject of Kurt, and all three of them tense up.
It's an incredible thing, really. Two brothers, drawn in two consecutive reapings. Do you know how long the odds are on something like that?
Finn's smile wanes and he looks down for just a moment. Blaine leans forward. Come on Finn. Don't trip up now. You were doing so well.
Finn looks up, a tiny, sad smile on his face.
Probably about as long as someone like me winning the Games. But hey, if one can happen, why can't the other?
Flickerman likes this answer. Why indeed.
Finn talks about how Kurt was a friend first, a brother second, how their parents found second love with each other, how Kurt taught him to be a better person. He ends by resolving to win in honor of Kurt's memory, and the crowd goes wild. Humor, sentimentality, resolve. His interview had it all.
Good job, baby, Carole says. Good job.
Burt doesn't say anything, but Blaine can feel him nodding, silent but resolute.
The survival ratings are a harsh reality check. Finn doesn't have the skills Kurt did. Isn't quite as bright, isn't quite as savvy. He lacks speed and agility, but he does have size and strength, which go a pretty long way in the scheme of things. He gets 7 out of 12.
Carole tenses up, starts breathing funny.
Blaine starts to comfort her, but Burt beats him to the punch. It doesn't matter, he says. Those numbers don't mean a goddamn thing. All that matters is what happens in that arena.
It calms her down. Just a bit.
But they're all on edge when the Games begin.
Like Kurt, Finn goes for the cornucopia, apparently forgetting that Burt has a heart condition. Fortunately, Finn does not attempt to repeat Kurt's strategy; he uses his size advantage to bulldoze anyone who gets in his way, grabbing a bag and making for the woods without even breaking stride.
And then he's in the woods, looking for places to hide, and they're holding their breath again. His size is a disadvantage here. The more of you there is, the harder it is to find somewhere to put it all. And there is certainly a lot of Finn. Blaine squints and leans towards the screen. Is he bigger than when he left? He is, Carole's sure of it. He must have packed on pounds before the games, to prepare himself if he needed to go for a long time without food.
Burt nods again. Good. That's smart. Kid always could put food away like nobody's business.
Their reactions are tempered. They try to keep a lid on themselves. But they are tied too strongly to Finn. They can't cut those cords on their own.
He really is a terrible hunter. They laugh out loud when Finn finally gets a meal by full-body tackling a lizard and squishing it flat.
Jaws and fists both clench as Finn swelters in a sudden heat wave. This year's theme is 'seasons,' and the gamemakers have rolled the clock forward from spring to summer. They all cheer silently when Finn manages to refill his thermos from a river and crawl under a fairly large rock for shade without passing out. Judging by how many other tributes fall to the heat, that's an accomplishment.
Fall rolls around, and brings with it Finn's first confrontation with another tribute. Carole can't watch—she gets up and leaves the room. She knows what they all know.
Finn isn't going to be outrunning anyone.
He'll have to fight.
It's him and the boy from District 8, black kid not much younger than Finn. District 8 has a long knife. Finn's got nothing. He takes a few cuts on the arm before he finally finds a decent-sized stick. Swing, miss, swing, miss. The boy is much faster than Finn, whose swings are wild, uncoordinated, and getting slower and slower. His injured arm is giving out on him. The boy sees an opening, moves in for the kill—
And Finn knocks his goddamn teeth in. Poor kid doesn't even see it coming. Finn was faking.
They watch as he goes over to the other kid. Kicks the knife out of his hand while he's still stunned. Kid tries to grab his stick, so Finn kicks him in the head. He won't let go. He kicks him again. And again. And again.
Blaine flinches with every impact.
Burt remains impassive as the boy's hand goes limp.
Finn looks down at the unconscious boy. The camera closes in on his eyes.
Blaine and Burt look at each other, knowing what comes next.
Finn raises the stick and brings it down. Again. And again. And again.
He doesn't stop until he hears a cannon.
Blood and tears mix together on his face as he throws down the stick in disgust.
Burt just gives him a sad nod. It's what you gotta do.
Finn pockets the kid's knife and leaves, and they call Carole back to the couch.
"What happened?" she asks.
"He got away," Burt tells her.
She gives him a long, hard look. "No he didn't."
"No he didn't," Burt sighs.
Carole sheds a few silent tears as they watch him wash the blood off.
They remain silent, right up until the gamemakers decide to roll out the finale.
Winter. Out goes the sun, plunging the arena into night. A blinding blizzard rolls in, covering everything in snow. The one point of light—of heat—is an enormous, roaring bonfire at the cornucopia in the arena's center. You go there, or you freeze to death. They're herding them together, forcing them into confrontations.
It'll be over soon.
When it finally happens, there are six tributes left. Two fewer than Kurt outlived. Two points lower on the survival scale.
Finn meets the District 4 girl on his way to the bonfire. He's taller, but she's thicker, and spoiling for a fight. Finn tries for the knife, but she knocks it out of his hand and starts grappling with him. They struggle back and forth for quite a while.
Neither of them sees the cliff's edge through the falling snow.
District 4 takes one step too far, and she's gone.
She brings Finn with her.
Nothing can quite capture the horror of watching it happen. District 4 falls straight down, lands with a sickening crunch on the frozen rocks. Finn falls closer to the cliff face, which means he gets maimed by rocks on the way. He slams into an angled rock at the bottom of the cliff, bounces off, rolls for what seems like miles, and falls still.
Blaine shakes his head, feeling like he could vomit himself inside out. Carole is white enough to pass for a corpse. Burt goes silent and still, eyes closed, breath stopped.
One cannon fires.
For a second, they dare to hope.
Blaine and Carole immediately burst into tears. At first, it's relief.
Then, it's grief.
Finn is not well. Covered in blood, mangled and battered, left arm, right leg, both bending the wrong way, thoroughly broken. Breathing shallow. Cracked ribs.
He's not hurt.
He's dead. He just hasn't realized yet.
He crawls. Inch by painful inch, he drags himself towards the fire, smearing dark red through the stark white snow.
Carole folds in on herself in horror, and Burt practically shoves Blaine onto the floor to wrap around her, shush her, whisper comforting things she doesn't want to hear.
But Blaine can't take his eyes off the screen.
Finn keeps crawling.
It hurts to watch. Especially when Blaine remembers…
He promised. Oh God, that's what this is. He said he'd fight to his last breath. He's actually doing it.
Bit by bit, he moves forward, gasping for air. Grunting against pain, his broken limbs bending in ways they were never meant to bend. How long can he keep this up?
A cannon fires as he goes. And another. And another. Finn's breath becomes more and more shallow. He stops grunting, and starts whimpering, soft, pitiful cries he can no longer hold in.
Blaine wants to reach through the screen. Grab him, shake him, tell him to stop. Just roll over and die, damn it! It's okay. You did your best. Kurt would be proud. He wouldn't want you to hurt like this. Not for him. Not for anyone.
But he can't do that.
So Finn just keeps right on crawling. And God help him, he makes it to the fire.
Carole's face is buried in Burt's shoulder, but Burt's eyes are glued to the screen.
Blaine wants to pull him out of the TV and give him a big hug. Fucking trooper, look at you, look at how far you got. Kurt would give you a standing ovation. You did him proud. You did us all proud.
He just wants it to stop. Finn, the Games, everything. But it doesn't. The Game doesn't stop until there is only one tribute left alive, and right now, there are two.
Sebastian Smythe is already there, the last one left besides Finn. Fucker has on a thick fur jacket, probably an expensive gift from his district. There's a spear next to him, stained with blood. Probably what happened to the last three tributes.
Finn crawls next to the fire and rolls over onto his back.
Blaine listens as they start talking. Their voices even coax Carole out of her shell.
"I wondered what happened to you," Sebastian says casually. "Ouch."
"…yeah…" Finn rasps, his head lolling around like it's barely attached to his neck.
"Damn," Sebastian says. "You're fucked up, aren't you? I don't even have to do anything. I could just wait for you to bleed to death."
Finn takes a shuddering breath. "…go home faster… if you kill me…"
"Good point," Sebastian says, readying his spear and walking around to Finn's side of the fire. "Alright, alright, I'll put you out of your misery. You don't have to beg. I'm sick of this place." He raises the spear. "I'm ready to go home."
And Finn catches it. One-handed.
"Me too," he rasps.
It happens in a flash.
Sebastian starts to shift. Finn yanks the spear, pulling him off balance. Smythe stumbles forward. Finn hooks his one good leg around him, and with a cry that probably tears a hole in his throat, he kicks him towards the fire.
Smythe pitches towards the inferno, stumbles, and almost falls in.
In this case, however, almost is just good enough.
The fur is where it starts. The jacket was made for luxury, not survival. The fire catches easily, spreads quickly. By the time Sebastian notices, it's too late. He panics—his final undoing—stands up and starts running. Tries to beat it out, but it's everywhere, all over him. It spreads to the rest of his clothes, and he screams. Runs around, claws at himself, and screams, and screams, and screams.
Finn watches, silent in horror.
By the time Sebastian finally thinks to roll around in the snow, it's too late for him. The fire is out, but the boy is still smoldering. His hair is gone. His face is charred beyond recognition. Much of his clothing has burnt off. What isn't burned is melted, fused to his skin. He writhes in the snow, crying out like a wounded animal.
Finn crawls to him. There is only one thing left to do. Slowly, gingerly, he uses the spear as leverage, rising up on one knee. He needs a good angle.
Sebastian looks up at him. Unable to speak, his pain so far beyond words, his mouth opens and nothing but choking sounds comes out.
"I'm sorry," Finn says.
And he plunges the spear into Sebastian's heart. The burned boy twitches one final time, and falls still.
The cannon sounds.
And Finn falls on his back.
His breath rattles in his throat. But he is breathing.
No one moves. No one blinks. No one breathes. For one horrible second, they wonder if they have miscounted the cannon shots. If there isn't one more tribute waiting around the corner to come in and finish him off
"Ladies and Gentlemen, I am pleased to present the victor of the 66th Annual Hunger Games: from District 6, Finn Hudson!"
It's over. He won.
Carole's whole body trembles with the force of the noise she makes, something between a sob and squeal. "Oh God. Oh God, Burt. He won. He won. Oh Burt, I'm so sorry, Burt, he won."
Burt holds her tight and rocks her steady. His face is bright red, and the tears flow freely. "Shhhh, shhh, don't be sorry. Ain't nothing to apologize for. He did it, babe. Our boy did it. He pulled it off."
Blaine is distantly aware that he's having trouble breathing again, but it isn't until Burt calls his name, tells him "Get over here, kid!" that he realizes he is sobbing again. He runs to Burt and Carole and dives into their arms and the three of them laugh and smile and sob until they are spent.
The commentators go apeshit. They say it's worst condition they've ever found a victor in. They play up the drama surrounding his survival, but they don't fool anyone in this family. The Capitol won't let him die. They need their Victors. And sure enough, the announcement comes just an hour or so after the games end—he's gonna pull through.
All things considered, Finn looks pretty good in his post-games interview. No cuts on his face. None they can see, anyway. Might've covered them with makeup. He limps onstage with the help of a shiny blue cane with a golden eagle on top—a gift from the President himself. His breathing is a little off, but he smiles and jokes and goofs, just like the audience loves. He dedicates the win to Kurt's memory, prompting tears from more than just the studio audience.
"He's coming home," Carole says, wiping her nose on her sleeve, having thoroughly exhausted their supply of tissue paper. "I still can't believe it."
"I could pinch you if you want," Blaine offers.
"Hey!" Burt says. "The only person who gets to pinch my wife is me. You keep your hands to yourself, kid."
Carole laughs at both of them, and it's incredible to hear.
They watch as President Snow crowns him, congratulates him, takes him off to his banquet.
Blaine gets up to turn the set off. By the time he turns around, Burt and Carole are asleep in each other's arms, and Blaine realizes how exhausted he is. He heads over to Burt's armchair and plops down.
He's asleep within seconds.
When Finn gets off the train, his mentor in tow, they are there to greet them.
"Ow, ow! Mom!" Finn says as Carole hugs him. "Little tender," he hisses.
"Sorry, sweetie," Carole says, stepping back. "I'll try to be gentle. We just got you back. It'd be a shame to squeeze you to death now."
Finn laughs, growing a bit more sober when he spots Burt. He reaches out to shake Burt's hand. Burt takes one look at it, steps around it and pulls him into a (slightly gentler) hug. "You did good, son. You did him proud."
Blaine is the last one to hug him. "You kept your promise."
"You too," Finn says, ruffling his hair.
Sue Sylvester quickly decides she's had enough of their sentimentality and proceeds to instruct them through the moving process. They get a new house out of the deal. The Victor's Village. Nicest houses in the District.
Burt and Carole take up honor guard positions on either side of Finn as they prepare to usher him through the crowds, eager to greet their newest victor.
"It's almost too incredible to be real," Blaine says as he watches them go.
It's not really intended for anyone, but Sue hears it. She gives him a long, hard look.
"Enjoy it while it lasts, short stop," she says. "Reality is a mean hangover."
There's a flurry of activity to get through. The Hudmels move into their marvelous new house. Blaine more or less moves with them. His parents barely acknowledge his existence these days.
Finn, of course, becomes a local celebrity, weathering thousands upon thousands of congratulations damn near every time he goes out in public. It takes a while for the fervor to calm down.
When it does, and Blaine gets the chance to really look at Finn, he realizes it's more than his breathing that's a little off.
His smiles are rarer. They seem forced when they come. Sometimes he'll stare off into space at odd intervals. Blaine regularly hears him limping around in his bedroom late at night, long into the morning.
The pain bothers him, so he gets some kind of prescription. Blaine picks it up for him.
"I don't understand," Blaine says. "Why are you still hurt? I thought they had the technology to fix this kind of thing up at the Capitol."
Finn grows very quiet and very still. He doesn't look at Blaine when he answers. "The Capitol has many gifts," he says quietly. "Sometimes they choose to give them out. Sometimes not. We should be thankful either way."
The answer sours and bubbles in the pit of Blaine's stomach. He feels odd for days afterward, but Finn refuses to elaborate on the matter.
He pops up enough to satisfy Burt and Carole, but he spends a lot of time alone. Way more than before.
"Are you okay?" Blaine asks him.
"I'm alive," Finn says, his voice oddly hollow. "Others aren't so lucky. We should be thankful."
That phrase again. The sour thing in his center grows larger.
The time comes for his Victory Tour. In the weeks before it, Finn becomes scarcer than ever. Blaine barely sees him before it's time for him to get on the train.
When he does see him, Blaine almost doesn't recognize him. He's pale and thin. Thinner than Blaine has ever seen him.
"The painkillers upset his stomach," Carole says quietly. "He… hasn't been eating as much."
Blaine doesn't accept that answer, but he doubts he'll get another one.
Sue scolds him, practically orders him to eat, which seems to get him riled up, if nothing else. Finn smiles at everyone as he boards the train. Blaine doesn't miss the haunted look in his eyes as he goes, even if everyone else does.
"You're not okay," Blaine says when he gets back.
Finn looks at him carefully, for a long time. He opens his mouth to speak, but his words are shoved aside by a sharp hiss of pain. He clenches at his chest, and looks at Blaine with pleading eyes. "Just stop," he says. "I'm… I'm fine. Forget it, Blaine. Please."
Blaine doesn't know what to say.
He once said Finn could teach a master class in pleading. But something about that last please stabs right through his heart in a way it never has before.
He wants to know. There are so many questions, but Finn refuses to answer them.
So he asks Sue instead.
"I look like a medical doctor to you, curly-cue?" she says, clipping her hedges like she's planned revenge against them for centuries. "He's hurt. Why don't you stop asking stupid questions and try to make him feel better?"
It's not a bad idea, really. So Blaine does for Finn what Finn once did for him. Teases him, jokes around, drags him out of the house. Reintroduces him to the world, tries his level best to keep him smiling and moving.
It works. Somewhat.
When the time comes for the next reaping, Blaine stands in the crowds and feels the familiar moment of tension just before the familiar relief. It isn't me. The three best words in the English language between the ages of 12 and 18.
Heading home afterwards, he sees Finn, Burt, and Carole, standing on the front porch. Carole is fussing over Finn's outfit, while Finn lamely tries to fend her off, seeming to move even more gingerly than normal.
Sue watches them from the curb.
"What are you doing here?" Blaine asks.
"Waiting for Sasquatch's entourage to finish fretting over him so we can blow this keg stand," Sue replies.
Blaine squints at her. "What?"
She scoffs at him. "Oh, come on. Surely you're not that dumb. Frankenteen is coming with me. He's my co-mentor. It's his responsibility as a victor."
"Wait, what?" Blaine asks. "I didn't… I mean… I thought you mentored all the District 6 kids."
"I do. I used to have a partner, but Bryan Ryan drank his sorry ass to death before you were even eligible to be reaped. Most districts have two mentors. Now that we have two living winners, Finny-boy's gotta play along."
Blaine is taken aback. "He's… he's coming with you? But he just won! And he's still injured."
"Yeah, I know," she says quietly, and with uncharacteristic sympathy. "Snow must've really had it in for him. Poor kid."
The sour thing inside of him burbles and threatens to burst. Blaine feels like there are answers within his reach, but he isn't sure he wants them anymore. "What do you mean?" he asks anyway.
She juts her chin at Finn. "Every part of the Hunger Games is a reminder of the power the Capitol has over us. The Victors are no exception. Every Victor is a living lesson."
Up on the porch, Finn hisses suddenly and loudly, going rigid. Carole grabs him and eases him onto the porch swing, rocking him until the pain passes. Burt sits down beside them, gently rubbing Finn's back.
Blaine swallows thickly, a bitter taste on his tongue. "What lesson is he?"
"The cost of determination," Sue says. "Some people are just better off giving up."
"Giving up?" Blaine nearly barks.
"Not so loud!" Sue scolds.
"What do you mean, 'giving up?' Do they want Finn to… to kill himself?" Blaine asks.
"Of course not," Sue says casually. "Suicide makes them look bad. The time for Finn to give up was during the games. Now, that isn't an option. If he takes himself out, they'll take out his family. You too, probably, if they're feeling vindictive, which they usually are."
Piece by piece, all the conversations with Finn start to make sense. The realization is making Blaine ill. "They left him like this on purpose, didn't they?" he says. "The Capitol. They made him this way. To send a message."
"Now you're on the right track," Sue says. "Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if they broke a few things that didn't need fixing, and 'fixed' a few things that weren't broken. Like I said; vindictive. Those bastards hate longshots, and Hudson's pretty damn long."
Blaine looks back up at the porch. The pain seems to pass, and Finn slowly stands up again. He smiles, and kisses his mom on her forehead. Burt gives him an honest hug, and Finn looks like he wants to cry.
Blaine knows how he feels.
"Dry up, tiny," Sue says. "He doesn't want you to know any of this. If he did, he'd have told you."
Blaine wipes his eyes furiously. "So why'd you tell me?"
"Because you're a nosey little fucker," Sue says. "Maybe now you'll stop asking."
He glares at her, nostrils flaring. Anger to drive away grief. "Alright," he says. "So what lesson are you?"
She turns away from Finn and looks him right in the eyes. "Simple; the people who deserve to win? Who deserve to live? They never do. That's how I knew Porcelain—sorry, your boyfriend—was a goner the second I laid eyes on him. Kid was just too damn good. Of course, I thought the same thing about Frankenteen to be perfectly honest, and look how that turned out."
Finn hobbles through the gates, putting on a smile for Blaine. "Hey, what's up? What were you guys talking about?"
"Why, we were talking about you, Potato Head, and your amazing last-minute turnaround victory. Isn't that right, helmet-hair?" Sue says.
Blaine takes a deep breath. "Right," he says.
"Well, uhh… cool as that is, we really need to go. They won't like it if we're late," Finn says, somewhat nervously.
"No, they won't. Let's motor," Sue says, moseying onwards and ushering him with one arm.
"See you later, dude," Finn says. "Take good care of mom and dad, okay?"
"Okay," Blaine says quietly.
Finn turns to hobble away, and it's just… it's too much. It's hitting him all at once, and he has to say something. "Finn!"
Finn stops to turn around, looking at him curiously.
And Blaine suddenly finds that he has nothing to say. What can he say? "…take care of yourself."
Finn blinks at him, but eventually he nods. "You too. I'll… I'll be back soon."
And he limps off. The broken boy from District 6, who promised he wouldn't give up, and didn't, and now…
Blaine leans against the fence.
He is so stupid. They all are. They're complete and total idiots. Finn didn't win a goddamn thing. Nobody wins in the Hunger Games but the Capitol. All Finn did was survive, and as his reward, he gets to live the rest of his life in crippling, unnecessary pain, as an integral part of the very games that broke him. The games that killed his brother.
Every year from now until he dies, Finn will help usher two children to the slaughter. He won't have a choice.
Blaine made him promise that he would try to win.
But he completely failed to realize what winning actually meant.
This isn't honoring Kurt's memory. If anything, it's spitting on it. Kurt would never want this for Finn. For anyone.
He died for nothing.
They all die for nothing.
"Blaine?" Carole says from the porch. "Dinner's ready. Are you coming?"
For a second, Blaine honestly considers telling her 'No, thank you, I have a date with the bottom of a cliff. Because one of your sons is dead and the other is ruined and all you have now is me and I'm partially responsible for it. And I don't know how to live with that.'
He takes a deep, slow breath. No. He won't do that.
Finn can't take the easy way out. Why should Blaine get to?
"I'm coming," he says.
She smiles at him, like nothing in the world is wrong. And he realizes that for her, that's probably true.
He smiles back as she heads inside, and Blaine takes a second to steel himself.
There's nothing left to do now but follow Finn's example. Even if it hurts, he'll limp on with what he has left, because it's better than nothing. There's no sense, and no point in giving up now.
It's just the way things are. The way they've always been. Probably the way they'll always be. There's nothing he or anyone can do to change it.
Kurt was right.
It's always someone.
Why not them?
"What am I supposed to say to her?" Finn asks. He leans heavily on his cane, trying to steady himself. His bones are killing him right now. The train must be rattling his implants. Or maybe Snow is just in a bad mood and torturing him for fun. Who the fuck knows anymore?
"I don't know," Sue shrugs. "Nice things. I'm sure 12-year-old girls like it when handsome giants tell them they're pretty and they have a chance to win the Games."
"Oh, you want me to lie to her?"
"Now, you're getting it!" Sue says. "This is your job. You give hope to children! This girl's got a couple more weeks to live, hot shot. The least you can do is make it decent for her."
Finn huffs out a laugh. "Great. I hate myself already."
"Yeah, you get used to that," Sue says, walking off. "If you need me, I'll be in the other car, mentoring the kid who actually has a chance."
"Great. Thanks." Finn grits his teeth and turns around, walking into the car where his tribute is waiting for him. He almost breaks the second he sees her. A tan little girl with bright blonde curls. God, she's so tiny.
She is a bundle of nerves and fear, but it all changes when she lays eyes on him. "You're Finn Hudson!" she says excitedly. "You're our victor!"
He can't help but mirror her excitement. "Yep," he says, smiling back. "That's me."
"Are you gonna teach me how to win?" she asks.
Finn nods. "Yep. I'll give you all my secrets."
She looks so excited. "Do you… do you think I can win?"
Finn bites his lip. He walks forward, slowly, leaning heavily on his cane. The bones in his legs scream at him as he kneels in front of her, but he ignores them. He takes the little girl's tiny hand in his own massive paws, and looks her right in the eye. "Hey, if I can do it, anybody can, right?"
"Right!" she nods.
A brilliant spark of hope flares to life behind her eyes, and Finn feels like the biggest bastard in the world for putting it there. This is his job now. This is his life. All he can do is try his very best to hand out hope on a silver platter and watch it get smashed to pieces in the arena. Every year. Every year until he dies, or until Snow gets tired of him.
He gives hope to children. What a laugh.
I'm sorry, Kurt. I'm so sorry…
Sometimes, hope really is the worst thing of all.