Davey's heart hammers painfully against his ribs, and he can't seem to draw enough breath as he runs, almost tripping in his haste. The darkness is wrapping all around him, pressing in and stealing all of the air. He needs to get away; needs to find somewhere safe; needs to escape the endless screams. He climbs and climbs in the dark, desperate and afraid, until he finally reaches it.
There are lights on in the room, not electric but old oil lamps that hang at intervals along the walls. It makes the light softer, a warm, flickering yellow instead of stark white, the way he prefers it. Everything else inside the room is a riot of color, murals on the walls and splatters across the floor. A row of finished canvases is stacked in a corner. A large desk is covered in a haphazard sprawl of papers and charcoals and glossy ink pens.
And there, in the middle of it all, a figure is bent over an easel.
Davey lets out a shaky breath and pulls open the window that's always left unlatched. It barely makes a sound, but the painter startles and spins around. "Sorry," Davey says, voice hoarse. "Didn't mean to scare you."
Lowering the paintbrush, Jack Kelly smiles even as his eyes soften sympathetically. He's not wearing a shirt - he never does when he's painting, conscious of ruining his clothes, no matter that he can afford to replace them a dozen times over - and his dark hair is sticking up in a way that says he at least tried to sleep at some point tonight. Jack is a picture of casual beauty, golden-brown skin speckled in colorful dots of paints over lean muscles. His honey-brown eyes sparkle as they fix on Davey, and the familiarity of the sight makes the jagged lump of emotion stuck in Davey's throat dislodge.
"Like I got a problem with a pretty boy sneakin' in to see me," he jokes. He jerks his head, gesturing Davey inside. With a timid smile, Davey clambers over the sill and shuts the window behind him. Jack drops his paintbrush unceremoniously on the floor and crosses the room to wrap Davey in a tight hug. "S'okay, Dave, we're okay," he whispers.
It soothes the ache in Davey's chest as he clings to Jack's warm skin and burrows his face into the curve of his neck. It was just a dream. Just another stupid nightmare. They're alive. They're safe.
Jack rubs a hand along Davey's back in a reassuring gesture, just holding Davey and letting him collect himself. This is a common ritual for them by now. It's the reason both of them always leave their windows unlocked, giving the other easy access at any time. Even though it's been a year, they're both still haunted by memories they can't escape, and the only thing that softens it is the safety of someone who understands exactly what they're going through.
Once again, Davey thanks every deity he's ever heard of that he has Jack in his life; he doesn't think he'd have survived this alone.
Davey steps back, scrubbing a wrist across his eyes, just in case. "What're you painting?" he asks to change the subject.
Jack nods, taking the cue. "Tryna make the ocean," he explains. Taking Davey's hand, he leads him over to the easel. "Not sure it's right, ain't never seen the ocean 'cept in your books. Whatcha think?"
The canvas is mostly finished, a beautiful contrast of blues and yellows. Sand curves in a wide arch across one side, ending in a raised cliff of white rock at the corner, and the sand darkens as it reaches out to meet the water topped in foam. He can see the places where it's not done, patches of flat color without details or shadows, but even still - "It's beautiful," Davey says reverently.
A soft pink blooms in the apples of Jack's cheeks and he rubs the back of his neck, a self-conscious tic. "Ain't done, obviously," he says. "Water all looks too flat, gotta figure how to fix it, and I messed up this corner here," he points to the lower corner where the yellows and browns of sand seem to blur and swirl into each other discordantly.
"You're getting a lot better, though," Davey says, flashing Jack a smile. "I mean, look at the cliff there. All those tiny plants and rocks. It's amazing."
Jack chuckles. "Think I finally got the hang of this thing," he says dryly, flexing the fingers of his right hand. Without a shirt, the polished steel ring above his elbow catches the lamplight. It brings the ghosts of Davey's dream back to the surface; a large, serrated knife descending like an executioner's ax - a piercing, agonized scream - blood, so much blood, pouring from a missing limb and leaching life away with each pulse of a racing heartbeat.
Exhaling, Davey reaches out and traces his fingers along the place where Jack's prosthetic arm attaches to what remains of his natural one. Just one more thing that was taken from them. One more scar that can never be erased. One more memory that sends them, sweating and shaking, into the sanctuary of each other's arms.
Jack goes out of his way to prevent other people from touching the prosthetic, hating the way that the synthetic nerves don't feel quite the same, how the stunted sense of touch reminds him that this piece of him isn't really his. Davey is the exception. Davey has been by Jack's side as he struggled to relearn motions and gestures that once came naturally, fighting to make this new limb work like the old.
Dragging his fingertips down the length of Jack's arm, Davey takes his hand and lifts the too-smooth palm to his cheek. It felt strange at first, but now, the touch of a hand devoid of calluses and the constant coolness of skin that will never generate body heat is normal. When Davey leans into the curve of Jack's palm, Jack smiles and brushes a thumb over his cheekbone tenderly.
"C'mere," Jack says, and Davey needs no more invitation than that to lurch forward and crash their lips together.
Sometimes they're gentle, exploring each other with almost painful worship, but on nights like this, Davey can't help himself. He's desperate and dogged by memories, and he needs the firm, grounding contact. He needs this reminder that he's here, and all of the horrors that plague his dreams are only in his head. He needs to forget.
Jack gives it to him without question, dragging Davey flush to his body, one hand still cradling his face while the other is fixed on his hip like an anchor. It doesn't take long before they start staggering to the doorway, the stumbling, grasping trip across the hall to the darkened bedroom muscle-memory at this point. They might not understand what their relationship truly is - it's hard to when your relationship begins as an act that's only hardened into something more when on the brink of death - but they know that this is something they can give each other.
They fall into the bed, and Davey presses his palm to the perfectly unblemished flesh of Jack's stomach where, almost a year ago, an infected knife wound nearly took him away. Hands cradle cheeks, smoothed now that they're no longer marred by blistered chemical burns. Jack's thumb drags across where Davey should have a jagged scar on his jaw, grips the side of a thigh that was once warped with a sickening burn.
It's a form of reassurance for them both, a way to remind themselves that the scars of the Games are only inside; that the memories of blood and pain and fear are in the past.
The sky outside is the deepest part of the night that comes right before morning by the time they've collapsed, panting and sweating. Jack pulls Davey against his side, and now his touch is heartbreakingly gentle. "Mm, that never gets old," Jack murmurs into Davey's forehead, and Davey laughs. Jack splays his flesh palm on Davey's side, thumb sweeping over his ribs. "Wanna talk 'bout it?" he asks, softer.
"The sex?" Davey deflects with a smirk. Jack snorts, the motion ruffling Davey's fringe. Davey sighs, sinking into the warmth of Jack's body even though the summer heat is thick and humid. "What's to talk about that you don't already know," he admits wearily.
"Which one, the sex or the nightmare?" Jack shoots back playfully, prompting another chuff out of Davey. "I's been gettin' it worse lately too," he goes on sympathetically. Davey knows that; over the last few weeks, there have been more nights than not that Jack has slipped in through Davey's bedroom window in the dead of night, climbing into the bed with shaking breaths or tears cooling on his cheeks. "Makes sense, I guess, bein' this time."
Davey flinches, squeezing his eyes shut. "It's only two weeks away."
In two weeks, it will be Reaping Day, the day that two new names will be chosen from each District to compete in the Hunger Games. Two new teenaged boys from their home will be sentenced to fight in a televised battle royale for the prize of being allowed to go home at the end. Two new boys will stand in the place that Jack and Davey stood one year ago, facing down the fact that they will most likely be dead soon.
And after that, Davey and Jack will be forced to take up the role of Mentors, to travel back to the Capitol with these boys and try to coach them on how to survive, knowing all the while that at least one won't make it. They'll be trapped into feeding these kids false hope and then watching them be slaughtered, and they'll have to keep smiles on their faces the whole time, even when they want to scream.
"I don't wanna go back to that place," says Davey, the words breathed against a ribcage.
"I know," Jack whispers, pressing a kiss to Davey's forehead. "I know, me neither, but we's gonna be okay. Got each otha, right? I'mma be right there with ya the whole time." He pulls Davey closer and lets out a breath. "Get some sleep, Dave. I gotcha."
Davey sighs, tilting his head to rest his cheek on Jack's chest, the sound of his heartbeat drowning out the rushing noise inside Davey's skull. It's the one thing that makes the nightmares go away, the one thing that pushes the darkness back whenever it threatens to consume him. Davey hooks a leg over Jack's, molding himself along his side, and lets himself relax.
In the morning, they will put their masks back on and go about their lives; in the private sanctity of the night, they can just be together as who they are, two broken souls seeking what peace they can find.
The plaintive voice draws Davey's attention, and he crosses the room to crouch beside the young girl. "You stuck?" he asks sympathetically.
Nodding, the girl points out a word midway down the page. "What's this one?"
"Let's sound it out, okay?" says Davey, encouraging. The girl scrunches her nose, and Davey laughs. "C'mon, Maggie, I know you can do this. I'll help. What's the first letter?"
"I," Maggie says. When he prompts her, she squints at the word. "So, iye-"
"No, remember, I only sounds like I if there's an E after," Davey corrects.
"Ih," she amends, glancing up questioningly, and Davey nods. Maggie takes a breath. "Ih-nn-vuh-sih-buh-ull."
"Good job," Davey says. "Okay, so if we string all those sounds together, what do we get?"
Maggie frowns in concentration, repeating the sounds over and over, getting a little faster each time as she gets more confident. Then, finally, her eyes brighten. "Invisible?" she asks.
"Invisible," Davey agrees. "Good job, Mags. See, I told you you could do it." Maggie beams and Davey squeezes her shoulder.
When he feels the fabric, he frowns, and Davey surveys the sleeve of her dress critically. The cloth is worn thin, the cuff a bit too tight now she's grown, and there are a few broken stitches at the shoulder seam. "Hmm, looks like you tore your sleeve here," Davey says, poking her through the hole so she giggles. "We'll grab Sarah before you leave, she can get you fixed up."
Maggie's eyes brighten hopefully; offers of patching up clothes from Davey's twin sister more often than not end in the kids getting a new piece of clothing instead when Sarah inevitably declares that the old fabric just can't be salvaged. It's her own subtle way to share their family's new wealth with their community. More than one kid in the room is wearing something Sarah's made in the last year. "Thanks, Mr. Davey," Maggie says with a timid smile, then licks her lips before she goes back to her book.
Davey stands and looks around the room appraisingly. There are nearly a dozen young kids from the neighborhood scattered around his private library, some of them bent over books by themselves, a few paired up to share a book. A cluster of the youngest ones are sitting in a semi-circle around Jack, who is reading aloud to them. The sight sends a warm pulse of satisfaction through Davey.
It might not be the most important thing, in the grand scheme, but the fact that he can give this to his District makes him feel good.
For the last year, Davey's been building up his library, mostly starting with easier books - both because he was out of practice after years without reading more than street signs and machine labels, and so he would have them for his lessons. He started with Jack, spending days and days sitting together as he taught Jack, who never learned as a kid, to parse out the letters. Once Jack started to grasp it, Davey reached out to the neighborhood and offered to teach any of the kids who didn't know how or were struggling in school.
It surprised him how quickly it picked up, the children loving the chance to do something more enjoyable than work. Davey winds up with the younger kids during the daytime, while their parents and older siblings are working in the factories; the older ones usually show up in the evenings after they've finished their jobs for the day. Some don't actually care to learn, just listening to others read aloud in the comfort of the fancy Capitol-built house with the promise of a snack from Esther's kitchen at the end of it.
Davey doesn't care, either way, just grateful that he can do something to let these children feel like kids again for a little while. So many of them have been forced into adulthood too early, not even into puberty before they have to start working to support their families. If he can give them an hour a few days a week to relax and escape into the fantastical worlds inside the book pages, it makes everything worth it.
"Dave," Jack says, pulling him out of his musing. When Davey looks over, Jack jerks his head for him to come closer. "What's this word mean? Nay-ve?"
"Knave?" Davey asks, confused. He leans in over Jack's shoulder to see. "Oh, I think that one's pronounced Nye-eve. Those little dots make it sound different."
"I thought those were just ink spots," Jack says with a laugh. "Never seen a letter like that before."
Davey chuckles, squeezing Jack's shoulder playfully. "Naïve. It means - uh, innocent, I think. Like a person who doesn't really know a lot about the world, or like they only know the good things but not the bad."
One of the kids snorts. "That's silly," he says with all the condescension of a seven-year-old. "Why would someone know there's good stuff but not bad?"
The answer Davey wants to give is right on the end of his tongue, but he bites it back. If there's one thing he learned during his stay in the Capitol, it's that those people are very naïve. They live in their luxurious houses and dress up in flashy clothes, utterly oblivious to the pain and suffering in the rest of the Districts. But Davey's already gotten himself into enough hot water with his criticisms of the Capitol; the last thing he needs is for the young, impressionable kids to start echoing his sentiments and get themselves in trouble too.
"Well, what about your li'l sister?" Davey says instead. "Emma is only a baby. The only thing she knows is being home with your Nana and being taken care of and played with. She doesn't know anything about the bad things in the world, right?" The cluster of children all give ohs of comprehension.
"See, so the princess is like Emma," Jack tacks on, "'cause all she knows is livin' in her fancy castle with people takin' care of her. She hasn't gone outside to see everythin' else yet." Davey smiles fondly, brushing a hand down Jack's shoulder, and the other man looks up to return his smile. Then he clears his throat and turns his gaze back to the book open on his knee. "The princess was young and naïve, but she was brave, so she put on her cloak and left the castle for the first time in her life," Jack reads, only a bit haltingly, and Davey feels his heart swoop proudly at how far Jack's come.
Davey goes back to pacing a slow circle around the room, checking in on each of the kids as he goes and occasionally answering their questions about things happening in the stories. (And, on one occasion, fetching the dictionary to find a word he's never heard before so he can explain it to the curious girl.) It's simple and peaceful and satisfying, and it always helps to center Davey after the ghosts of the past start crawling over him again.
"I thought I might find you two here."
The entire room looks up at the Capitol-accented voice. Standing in the open doorway, Katherine Plumber looks every bit like she belongs in this pretentious, extravagant house. Her pale skin shines like marble beneath a dusting of gold powders, and her glossy auburn hair is folded into a long plait over one shoulder. A sweeping violet dress with a skirt flared over gauzy petticoats is a surprisingly low-key look for her, but the fabric alone still likely costs more than the clothing of every District child in the room.
"It is a Wednesday morning," Davey responds pointedly. He's had a long-established schedule of running lessons on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. She should know that; she's interrupted his classes more than once in the last year.
"I'm aware," Katherine says, and her usual plastic smile softens just the tiniest bit. "However, I'm afraid you boys have work to do."
Davey grimaces. Whenever their Capitol ambassador shows up, it only ever means one thing. He exchanges weary glances with Jack, then stands up and cards a hand into his hair. "Alright, we're coming."
"We gotta go?" Maggie asks, pouting, and several of the other kids look disappointed for the reading time to end.
"Nah, you guys stay," Davey says firmly. "You can keep reading as long as you want. If you get stuck on a word, you can go find my dad, he can help you. Or Elaine or Thomas knows how to find things in the dictionary. And don't forget to stop and get a snack from my mom before you leave. I think she made apple tarts today." A wave of cheers goes up from the kids at the promise of warm treats. Davey smiles. "Alright, guys, we'll see you on Friday."
The gathering calls out goodbyes to them as Davey and Jack follow Katherine out into the main room of the house. "Guess they's settin' up in my house then?" Jack says once they make it to the foyer. Katherine nods, and Jack grunts in annoyance.
"Would you rather they set up here and chase your flock away?" Katherine replies, raising an eyebrow.
Jack snorts. "Rather we get more 'an five minutes notice when your lot's gonna drag us off to play dress-up," he shoots back. Katherine gives him an unimpressed look. "Just sayin'," Jack says, shrugging unrepentantly.
"This interview came up rather suddenly," says Katherine, and her expression doesn't falter from its default, but her eyes are faintly apologetic.
They trail her out of the house and turn to go up Victors' Hill, where Jack's home sits just meters away from Davey's on the other side of a raised flower garden shared between Jack and Esther. There's already a crowd of Capitol cameramen standing around, directing the District members they've recruited into hauling the gear into the house. Jack sneers at the sight and Davey squeezes his hand in a silent reassurance and agreement - leave it to the Capitol to continue to force the other Districts to do the labor even on their own projects.
"Your class seems smaller than the last time," Katherine says conversationally, glancing at Davey.
"More kids have to work this time of year and longer hours," says Davey. "Production quotas go up before the Games, all those Capitol folk wanting to buy fancy new screens to watch it on. And the families need the extra money so they don't have to risk taking out Tessara."
He can't be positive, but he thinks Katherine might've winced a little at that. For all that she looks very much the part of her Capitol upbringing, Davey's learned over the last year that Katherine's rarely as aloof as she acts, and he suspects she might have a little sympathy for the Districts. At the very least, she's less oblivious about it than most.
Before they can say more, they've slipped passed the camera crew into Jack's house. They are converting the sitting room into a filming stage, lights and cameras arranged in a semicircle in front of the fireplace. Davey winces; he still has a hard time sitting close to a fire, too many memories of being trapped in the middle of a blazing wildfire in the Games. Jack seems to sense his nerves because he places a hand comfortingly on Davey's back.
"There's my boys!"
Of all the Capitol people Davey's ever met, the only one he truly loves and trusts is Miss Medda Larkin, their Capitol stylist. The woman commands the eye of any room she enters, even though she wears far simpler clothing than most. Today is a sleek navy dress that glides beautifully over her curves, and there are tiny silver beads in her hair to match the trio of crystals that sparkle at the corners of her eyes, bright against ebony skin. Medda smiles, and it's not the dazed, silly smile of most Capitol people; it's warm and kind and welcoming.
"Medda!" Jack says excitedly, and he crosses the room in quick steps to throw his arms around her. Medda laughs, a bright, loud noise like the ring of the worship hall bells, as she hugs him back.
When she lets him go, her eyes flick to Davey. "David Jacobs, you'd best get yourself over here and gimme a hug," she says teasingly. Davey grins and wraps his arms around her warmly. "Mm, it's good to see you again, sugar."
"You too, Miss Medda," Davey responds. "We missed you."
The woman taps a knuckle to the underside of his chin and smiles fondly. "Of course you did," she says playfully. "Now come along, then, we're on a schedule here. Let's make you boys glamorous."
Being dressed up like a child's doll is another thing that Davey's unfortunately gotten used to at this point in his life. He sits patiently in the lounge they've converted into a temporary dressing room, and barely gives it any thought as he lets Medda pick his clothes and style his hair and cover his face in makeup. "You been sleeping, sugar?" she asks, frowning as she sweeps a line of kohl along his eyelid. "You look tired."
"Stayed up too late reading," Davey deflects with a wry smile. Medda narrows her eyes in a way that clearly says she doesn't buy it, but she won't push the subject with the Capitol crew in the next room. With an approving noise, she steps back to admire her handiwork. "There we are. What do you think, Jack?"
"Pretty as a pi'chur," Jack responds with a tender smile. Davey ducks his head when he feels the heat crawl up the back of his neck.
"Mm, I think so too," Medda agrees. She glances over to Katherine. "Are your things ready?"
The redhead licks her lips, an uncharacteristic show of nerves that makes something lurch ominously in Davey's stomach. "What's going on?" he asks, eyes darting between the two Capitol women. "You're both acting strange. I thought this was just another interview."
"It is," Katherine says hastily. Medda crosses over to shut the lounge door firmly, muffling the sounds of the crew working in the other room, and shoots the redhead a pointed look. "Or, well, perhaps not just any interview."
"Kath," Jack prompts, eyes narrowed.
Her smile has that rigid, false look when Katherine claps her hands together, and she cheerfully announces, "It's the interview where you'll share the news that you have promised to a Binding."
When she lifts a polished box from the table, opening it to reveal a pair of matching gold bracelets, Davey doesn't even have it in him to be surprised, really. A Binding ceremony, the eternal union of two souls to solidify their love and commitment to one another, makes sense with the act they've been portraying for the last year. Part of him knew this was the path they were on and that this day would inevitably come, even if this is much sooner than expected.
Jack, on the other hand, is furious. "What? No, we ain't doin' it," he says firmly. "Ya can't just throw this shit on us like it's nothin'. All this other stuff's been bad enough, but this?"
"Jack," Medda says warningly, darting a look at the door and gesturing for him to keep his voice down.
"Let 'em hear," Jack snarls.
"You don't mean that," says Katherine, eyes narrowed. "Jack, the Capitol-"
"Fuck the Capitol!" Jack says. "This might all be some damn show to you folks, but this is our lives."
"Which might be over if we don't play along," Davey intervenes wearily. Jack's eyes dart over to him, brow furrowed and a tidal wave of emotion spinning in his eyes. Davey sighs and resists the urge to comb a hand through his hair, clasping his fingers in his lap so he doesn't ruin Medda's hard work. "We both knew this'd happen, Jack. Isn't it how all the love stories go?"
"I ain't Bindin' with someone who don't want it," Jack counters. "Ain't gonna force that on ya, Dave." He lowers his voice, the anger dimming, to finish, "Love ya too much for that."
Katherine twists the end of her braid around one finger. "This isn't a suggestion we're making lightly," she says, and her cheery Capitol facade is gone for the moment, her expression strained and oddly vulnerable. "I know it's not fair, but you don't know how tense things are getting out there. With the Games approaching, people are restless."
"There've been more riots," Medda says, frowning. Davey glances at her in surprise. "The Districts that rioted before, especially Queens, they've gotten worked up again with the Games coming. Brings up memories, I suppose. There have already been a few deaths and far more arrests."
"And that's causing - unease in the Capitol," Katherine adds. "The president's been trying to keep the rioting quiet, but you know how fast gossip travels. So people are talking, wondering if their lovestruck Victors are really just troublemakers. And this year's the Quarter Quell. You know what that means."
Every twenty-five years, the Hunger Games celebrate a Quarter Quell to commemorate the anniversary of the Capitol bringing the Districts into line. The Games mark this by changing up all of the rules for one year, pulling out all the stops in designing Arenas and creating challenges. The biggest change usually comes at the Reapings. At the first Quell, they'd surprised the nation by choosing female Tributes instead of boys; at the second, they'd drawn four names from each District instead of two.
"The president is hoping to shift the focus onto that, give the people such a show that they forget about you," Katherine says. "And once that happens..."
"No one will notice if we disappear," Davey finishes grimly.
Medda sets a hand on his shoulder reassuringly. "But a glamorous ceremony, the Binding of the young lovers that captured the hearts of an entire country, that will cause headlines. That will make people pay attention."
"There's no other way?" Jack asks, voice cracking with desperation. "Nothing else we can do instead?"
With a flicker of a smile, Davey meets his gaze. "C'mon, Jack, is a Binding really the worst thing we've been through together?"
Jack echoes the fragile smile, but his eyes are sad. "I never wanted ya to give up your freedom for me."
"I gave up my freedom the minute I volunteered," Davey points out with a shrug. "But I didn't give it up alone; I've got you." Jack's eyes soften, fond but subdued. Davey glances to Katherine. "We'll do it."
"But maybe next time youse gonna hijack our lives, give us more heads-up, wouldja?" Jack spits tightly. Katherine winces ever-so-slightly and averts her gaze.
Davey sighs and licks his lips. "Kath, gimme the bands? If we're doing this, we might as well make it something really memorable."
So instead of announcing that they've already made the promise, Davey takes matters into his own hands. They go through the interview like normal while Davey waits for the right opening. Finally, the interviewer - another nameless, faceless Capitol peacock - asks how their relationship is going, and Davey clears his throat uncertainly.
"Actually, that's part of why we wanted to do this," Davey says. "Or, I did, anyway." Turning in his seat to face Jack, he doesn't have to fake the rush of nerves that whirl in his stomach. "Jack, you've been a gift from the gods for me. You've saved my life in so many ways. I don't know what I'd have done without you in my life this last year, and I don't want to ever find out what that would be like." Hands shaking, Davey pulls the pair of decorative gold bands from his pocket.
None of it is a lie, Davey's true feelings laced along the edges of the romantic words the viewers will be expecting. And he can tell, as they take turns fastening the union bands around each other's left wrists, that the tears escaping down Jack's cheeks aren't an act either.
An impromptu party springs up in the District market after the interview ends, the people of Manhattan coming together to celebrate the news. The Capitol camera crew linger to film as Jack and Davey are paraded around, drawn into dancing and games as the District rejoices at the happy ending for their proud Victors. Although Davey's heart warms to see his people so happy, flattered by so many people that want to see him happy, he's mostly just tired.
It's a relief when the celebrations wind down in the late hours of the night, and they can finally escape to the solitude of their homes. Except a cameraman follows them at a short distance, and Davey can tell immediately what they're expecting. So even though he can see the questions in his family's eyes - they're undoubtedly not fooled by the whole affair - Davey bids his family goodnight at their door.
Jack takes his hand and leads Davey to his house instead. It's not until the front door is bolted behind them that they both let their smiles slip away. Jack scrubs his hands over his face, while Davey sighs as the fatigue takes hold, swaying slightly on his feet.
"Davey," Jack starts, and then he winces, obviously not sure what else to say. For lack of words, Davey just leans into Jack's chest and wraps his arms around him. Jack hugs him back, cradling Davey's head against his shoulder. "I'm so sorry," Jack whispers.
"It was my choice," Davey says, shrugging.
Jack's laugh is hollow. "No, it wasn't." And there's really no argument he can make to that one. The band on his wrist suddenly feels too tight; he remembers, as a child, thinking that union bands looked rather like handcuffs, and the comparison has never seemed more accurate. Jack kisses Davey's temple softly. "C'mon, been a long day. Should get some sleep."
Davey lets Jack guide him upstairs to the bedroom, and all at once, it hits Davey that this will be his life soon. They might be able to stretch out their engagement for a while, but once the Capitol starts losing interest again, they'll have to go through with the Binding. There will be no escape after that, the ceremony tying their very eternal souls together in the eyes of the gods. This house will become Davey's too, and this will be his bedroom, and Jack will be his husband. Forever.
"Dave?" Jack's voice is uncertain, and he's instantly in front of Davey again, cupping his cheek in a palm with his eyes full of concern. "Hey, you okay? Talk to me, pal."
"Why can't they just leave us alone?" Davey asks brokenly. There's a knot in his chest, pushing against his lungs until he can barely breathe. "Haven't they played with us enough already? And what are we supposed to do after this? We get Bound, that buys us some time, but what do we do the next time they start losing interest? Are we just delaying the inevitable?"
"Hey, hey," Jack shushes him soothingly. It would be more convincing if Davey couldn't see his own fear reflected back at him in Jack's eyes. "It'll be okay, Dave, we'll figure it out. You and me, ain't nothin' we can't do togetha, right?" Jack drags a cold thumb along Davey's cheekbone, wiping away the tear he couldn't hold back. "We'll figure it. Just - what can I do to help righ'now?"
Davey squeezes his eyes shut and drops his forehead onto Jack's shoulder. "Nothing, let's just - go to bed."
Making a soft noise of agreement, Jack presses a dry kiss to Davey's cheek. "Take the bed." Jack starts to move away, but Davey grabs his wrist. "S'fine, Dave," says Jack. "Couch is hundred times comfier than my bed at lodgin' ever was."
"I'm not kicking you out of your bed," Davey counters. He tightens his grip when Jack goes to pull away again, and Davey knows the desperation must be showing on his face because Jack pauses with a frown. "You think I really wanna be alone right now?" Davey adds, and it feels like a small triumph when his voice only quavers a little.
Jack scratches his neck nervously, but he nods. Tonight, there's no feverish kisses or grasping hands. They undress quietly and slip between the sheets. Davey doesn't let himself overthink it as he rolls to tuck himself against Jack's chest. Jack immediately wraps his arms around him, drawing him closer like he can shield Davey from the world.
"I'm sorry, Dave, none this is fair to you," Jack whispers into the quiet bedroom.
"What about you?" Davey replies. "It's your life they're controlling too."
"Yeah, but I feel like maybe I'm gettin' the better end the stick, 'tween us," Jack admits, a bit self-deprecatingly. "You know how I feel 'bout ya." Davey's heart skips at the tenderness, and Jack rubs his flesh hand over Davey's spine. He can feel the smooth metal on Jack's wrist, warmed by his body heat, roll across his skin. "Youse the one gonna be stuck Bound with someone ya don't love."
Davey flinches, clearing his throat anxiously. "I wouldn't say that, exactly," he murmurs against Jack's skin. He feels Jack tense at the words. Davey takes a breath and forces himself to go on, "I don't know if I'm in love with you, but I do love you, Jack, if that makes sense. You're important to me. And everything I said in that interview was true. I couldn't do this without you."
The next long inhale Jack pulls in sounds a bit damp and shaky, and he curls himself further around Davey. "Youse too good for me," Jack says. "But I swear it, I'mma do everythin' I can to make ya happy. It might not be the life ya wanted, but I'mma make sure it's still a good one."
"Nothin' we can't do so long as we do it together, right?" Davey says, and Jack chuckles appreciatively. Smiling, Davey presses his palm flat over Jack's chest, feeling the pounding heart beneath his palm. The gold on his wrist catches the moonlight from the window, making it jarring and eye-catching to him even in the dark. "And, hey, could be worse," Davey tacks on mischievously, needing a break from the tension. "At least you're attractive."
Jack barks a surprised laugh and tucks his face into Davey's hair. "Kloppmann ain't kiddin', you know, you got a smart mouth on ya," he teases.
"You like it," says Davey, smirking.
"Gods above, I do," Jack agrees. "I really, really do."
The next few days are a whirlwind of chaos, with two more interviews and a filmed segment of Miss Medda helping them start on ideas for the Binding ceremony. The whole event feels surreal to Davey like he's acting out a part in a play instead of something from his own life. Although, admittedly, that's a feeling he's starting to get used to as well.
Davey's barely seen his family all week, except when the Jacobs' are all dragged in for an interview about the Binding. It's not until Davey and Jack manage to join them for dinner one night that Mayer pulls Davey aside to check on him, and the whole story spills out. They keep their voices pitched low, always conscious that there might be cameras spying from somewhere, even in their home, but Davey can't stop the indignant tears that sneak out.
Mayer cups Davey's face in his big hands, and it's still a novel experience for Davey to be able to look straight ahead and meet his father's eyes. The first thing Davey'd done on getting home was paid for a Capitol surgeon to come treat Mayer's broken spine, finally freeing him from the wheelchair. Davey'd been three inches shorter than Mayer when he'd gone into the chair; now he's an inch-and-a-half taller.
"I know it's not fair, but you are strong, David," Mayer says in that calm, steady voice that always soothes him.
"I'm tired of being strong," Davey admits softly. "I just want to be normal."
Mayer's smile is sympathetic. "You have always been more than normal," he says. "My strong and brave son. You will always be more. I have always known you are destined to be more. It's not easy, but you will still win. The gods are with you."
Davey frowns and drops his gaze. Of their family, Mayer is the only one who still firmly holds to the old faiths. He's the only one who still trusts that the powers up there actually care to guide and protect them. Davey stopped believing in that the first time he was old enough to really understand what was happening on his holo-screen every summer, and each cycle of Hunger Games that passes only makes him feel it more.
If Mayer knows what Davey's thinking - which he undoubtedly does, he's always been able to read Davey so well - the patriarch doesn't comment. He draws Davey in and kisses his brow gently. "You've been through so much, David, I wish I could take some of this weight from your shoulders," Mayer says somberly. "But you're stronger than I've ever been. If anyone can make good of this situation, it's you."
"I just-" Davey swallows, and his gaze darts across the hall to the sitting room, where Jack is practicing coin tricks with Les, a warm, affectionate smile on his face as he applauds Les' progress. "I wanted to - I think I might love him," because there's no point hiding it from Mayer, who no doubt already knows the truth Davey's scared to face. "And I guess I just hoped that if it ever came to this," Davey brushes his fingertips over the gold on his wrist, "it would be 'cause we chose it."
Mayer touches the bands on his own wrists - both wrists, to mark him as Bound. The circlets are far simpler, and the metal tarnished by time and wear; to Davey, that just makes them more beautiful. "I know at your age a Binding seems so final, but it's not the end. You will have time, and you will have to work hard for it, and you might find, somewhere along the way, you're already where you wanted to go. I know I did. Love never happens easily, but the gods won't allow this if it's not meant to be. And Jack is a good man, and he loves you very much. He will be good to you." With a flicker of a smirk, Mayer adds, "Or I will have words with him."
Davey laughs, and the ache in his chest eases just a little.
In that way, it feels like no time has passed before Reaping Day is upon them. Neither Davey or Jack sleep that night, too wired up with anxiety to even try, so they retreat to the sanctuary of Jack's art studio instead. Davey lounges on the floor in a nest of pillows, reading aloud to Jack, who is working on a new painting.
The sun hasn't even cleared the horizon when a sudden loud noise makes both of them jump. Davey is instantly on his feet to defend himself while Jack flips the paintbrush around in his hand and holds it up like a knife. It takes Davey's startled brain a moment longer to realize the sound is someone downstairs hammering on the front door. "Who-?" Davey mutters, exchanging a bemused glance with Jack.
The knocking doesn't let up in the time it takes for them to get to the door, and Jack cracks it open uncertainly. Davey's eyes widen when he recognizes the redheaded figure on the other side. "Katherine?" Jack asks. "What the hells-?"
"Let me in," Katherine whispers flatly. "I need to talk to you." Jack casts another confused look at Davey, but he releases the chain and opens the door all the way so the Capitol woman can step inside. She hastily shuts the door behind her with a snap.
"Kath, what's going on?" Davey asks nervously. For all that she's trying to retain her usual collected appearance, there's something wild and frantic in her eyes, and her already pale skin seems a shade whiter. Davey swallows hard, a pit forming in his gut. If something's managed to shake Katherine so much...
"I'm so sorry," Katherine says breathlessly. "I came as soon as I found out, they only just told me. They've been keeping everything about the Quell under wraps, even from us Ambassadors."
"The Reaping?" Jack guesses grimly, and Katherine nods. "What're they doin'?"
Davey feels like he already knows the answer, in some intuitive way, even before she opens her mouth. "It's not a lottery," she says, and her green eyes are suddenly too bright, moisture pooling at her lashes. "This year, they're pulling the two most recent Victors from each District. They're - they - I'm so sorry."
And there it is. Jack wraps Davey in his arms, but Davey can barely feel it through the shock that's turned his body to ice. There's no escaping. There's never been an escape.
They're going back into the Hunger Games.