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Hope in reality is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs the torments of man.

Friedrich Nietzsche

The 19th Hunger Games

She smoothed down her skirt and sat down in front of them.  The boy, Michael, had a nervous bounce in his leg and kept running his hand through his hair and glancing at her without saying anything.  The girl--Mercedes--had her arms crossed over her chest and was staring at her critically.

“I’m Rachel,” she said, clearing her throat before repeating it.  “Rachel Berry.  You might--”

“We know who you are,” Mercedes said, dully.  “We all watch, remember?”

Michael’s lips flickered in and out of a smile that she knew he’d had trained in him, and Rachel lowered her eyes.

“I survived.... by luck,” she admitted, after a moment.

Their expressions faltered at that admission, and she felt tears well up in her throat.

“I survived because--Noah Puckerman had the foresight on our first day in to rip apart our packs and stitch the fabric from those over the areas of our--our uniforms where we were most vulnerable, and when--”  She knew his name, the tribute from District 2 who had killed Puck and who had slashed her throat and nearly stabbed her to death as well, but before she could bring herself to say it, Michael leaned forward.

“You don’t have to explain.  We--I mean, yeah, maybe that last fight, you got lucky, because Puck--Puck just managed to catch that guy before he, uh--”

He looked at her so hopefully that she forced herself to smile, and swallow; swallowing was the only thing that made her voice work, these days, and she had to swallow a lot to get through each day.

“Noah taught me a fair amount about basic nature survival, and that will be helpful regardless of the conditions of the Arena, but in terms of combat, I hope you two have some innate skills because--”

“We’re going to die, aren’t we?” Mercedes asked her, point blank, that condescending look on her face now making way for panic.

“I hope you won’t,” Rachel said, even though she had promised herself that she wouldn’t hope for anything at all.

Despite herself, she found herself rooting for Michael.

Mercedes had the kind of attitude that--well.  

It reminded Rachel of what she'd been like, before; when she'd felt special, because of her voice.  When she'd never killed anyone.  When death was something that happened, peacefully, to old people.  When hoping hadn't terrified her, yet.  

Mercedes was apparently a promising seamstress, and had worked her way up to part-time Peacekeeper uniform production just on the basis of that skill.  Her every pore reeked with the notion that she was too good for the preparation process she was being subjected to.  Too good for the Games, even.

She definitely felt too good for the training rooms, where Michael found he could use a knife fairly effectively, but was better with a pole.  “Good,” Rachel told him, later that night.  “There will probably be wood, where you are, so you can fashion yourself a weapon and avoid the Cornucopia.”

Mercedes also felt she was too good for the lessons on plants Rachel drilled them through after their practical weapons training.  Most mentors made the tributes focus on those within the training rooms, but they needed all the time with weapons they could get, and when Michael successfully swiped the legs out from under his trainer for the first time on the sixth day, Rachel felt so relieved that she’d needed to find her inhaler just to help herself breathe again.

The only thing Mercedes didn’t feel too good for was trying to smarm the host--a noxious Capitol-native named Iago Buzzingsworth, this year, with fluorescent green hair and saucer-shaped earrings--and trying to curry favor from the crowd, as if any of them would ever sponsor a girl who rated a three at their training exhibition, unless she had something.

All Mercedes had was entitlement, and it would get her nothing.

Michael was bouncing on his toes next to her, and Rachel reached up to his shoulder and brought him down.

“Talk about your family.  How much you love them.  How much you want to make them proud, and how glad you are this isn’t happening to your younger brothers and sisters.”

Michael stared at her with wide eyes for a moment and then said, “But--aren’t we supposed to be grateful for this opportunity?”

“You can be grateful once you’ve won,” Rachel said, and then bit her lip for a moment, before repeating, “Family.  Talk about your family.”

Michael nodded sharply, and she watched him go; with his six, he might be able to get at least one sponsor gift that meant the difference between an early death or a later death, if he played his cards right tonight.


Dinner, on the last night, revolved around Michael picking at his food until Rachel covered his hand with her own and said, “Please; I know your stomach is rebelling against it but you have no idea when you’ll next be able to eat, okay?  Try.

He nodded, and did, and across the way, Mercedes stared daggers at her.

“The same goes for you, Mercedes,” Rachel added, more quietly, and then moved her own food around the plate.

It was supposed to be a perk, these nice dinners; but all she could think of was Noah grilling a fish out in the Arena, and wincing when he’d had to cut the head off before she’d even consider touching it.  

All she could remember was the way he’d smiled, every single day, until Power had gutted him from behind with a curved blade, and that smile had frozen on his face.

Michael’s fork trembled in his hand, and she closed her eyes and said, “I can’t teach either of you anything else, now.  But I will be praying for you.”

“What good will that do us?” Mercedes asked, before bursting into tears.

Rachel excused herself, and left.

The necklace she wore was there to hide the scar more than to fit in with the people she was watching the game with; a room full of brutes and vultures and victims, all of whom were coping in their own way.   The District 1 mentors were drinking joyously and taking bets on how many their tributes would take out in the bloodbath at the start; the District 5 mentors were nervously tapping out calculations on distance and odds, as if that would do anyone any favors.

The only mentors she found she could cope with were those from District 11; Micah, a survivor of the Third Games, reminded her of her father, with his calm eyes and serious disposition.

He didn’t ask rude questions like “how are yours, this year?” or “how long do you think they’ll last?”

He merely motioned for her to sit down, and they waited together for the countdown to start.

“My male tribute--he has the shakes.  I hope he doesn’t vibrate off the platform before--” she started saying, before laughing dryly and then wiping tears out of her eyes.  “Or maybe I do.  Maybe, it’s better if it just--”

“Nobody believed in you, either, girl,” Micah said, looking at her pointedly.  “And look where that got you.”

She fingered the necklace around her throat, and prayed--silently, but no less severely--that Michael would grab the closest bag and just run.

On day one, a cannon sounded for Mercedes Jones.

On day four, a cannon sounded for Michael Chang.

Rachel got to her feet quietly, wished Micah and his remaining tribute the very best, and wondered if it was even her place to cry, or tell his family how sorry she was.

She spent the night thinking of what Noah would have done, and took her medicine, and composed two letters--one heartfelt, and one rote.

The 20th Hunger Games

She smoothed down her skirt and sat down in front of them.

“Hi,” the girl in front of her said.  She was wearing a short skirt, her hair up in a neatly twisted ponytail, and she smiled so brightly that Rachel was immediately wrong-footed.  

“Hi,” she said back, carefully.  Did this girl not--

The boy, slender, small, and with a cynical look on his face, just scoffed.

“You’re Rachel, right?  Rachel Berry?” the girl asked, crossing her legs.  “And you were in with Noah Puckerman?”

She nodded, ignoring the thickness in her throat for now.  It had been almost two years.  It was going to get easier, they’d all promised her.  She hadn’t believed any of them until Micah had said it, too.

“I lost my virginity to him,” the girl said, before laughing.  “That’s so weird.  I mean, that you’re here now; I slept with him and like, you died with him.  Or he died with you, I mean.”

“Jesus Christ,” the boy next to her said.

She knew what their names were, but was--

God, she couldn’t do it the way it had gone last year, again.  So she had to do something else, and cleared her throat softly and said, “Unless you want to end up in the same place that Noah did, or that Michael Chang and Mercedes Jones did, you better start taking this a little more seriously and listen to what I have to teach you.”

The girl blinked at her twice and then said, “Okay, bossypants; geez.”

The boy laughed at that, surprising himself, and then, with a bone-deep sigh, unfurled his legs and crossed them the same way the girl had.  “Enlighten us, then, mentor dearest.  How exactly are a boy destined for fashion design and a girl destined for modelling meant to take on those career brutes in Districts 1 and 2?”

“You’re not,” Rachel said, bluntly.

The way his eyebrow arched slightly made her wonder if she’d just earned his respect.

“Your only job is to run as far as you can, and hide, and survive.  They will kill each other off; and only when the numbers are down to a … a bearable figure should you even start thinking about confrontations,” she added.

The girl twirled the end of her hair around her finger and said, “Okay, but, like--I’m pretty good with a pair of scissors, so I think I can maybe cut off someone’s fingers, if I have to.”

The boy turned to look at her perplexed, and then she shrugged, and after a moment he just rubbed at his forehead and said, “Is there an option where we just … quit?

“Sure,” Rachel said, after a second.  “It’s called waiting for the siren, on the first day, and then running straight for the supplies in the middle.  The Careers will end you quickly, as it won’t be for the sport of it yet.  They’ll be trying to cull the wheat from the chaff, and figure out who is even worthy of being chased.  So if you want an easy exit, Kurt, just--”

She forced herself to stop, and stared at her hands; they never really looked clean to her, even now, and she wrung them together and then took a deep breath.

“Do either of you have any skills that you think might help you in the Arena?”

The compartment was silent for a moment, and then Brittany said, “I can do the splits.”

They all laughed, until that, too, hurt too much.

Brittany had the hand-eye coordination of a circus performer, and Kurt was staring at her with an awed expression on his face as she blasted through her training exhibition and scored an eight.

“Stick with her,” Rachel said, on the sofa next to him; his make-up artist, Mella, was fiddling with his hair for a moment, getting it to stick straight up, in contrast to Brittany’s straight-down ponytail.  “She won’t even know why she’s doing it, but she’ll protect you.”

Kurt looked at her sharply.  “Are you--after that, and my dismal four, are you actually going to try to convince me that you’re rooting for me and not her to make it through?”

Rachel didn’t know what to say.  It made absolutely no sense at all, except she’d heard him sing, in the shower; a soft lullaby that her father had sung to her as a child, and she felt a wave of nausea climb up her chest so quickly that she just shook her head.

“I think that--you complement each other.  She has natural ability, but you have--”

“A brain?” Kurt said, dryly; on the other sofa, Brittany was braiding her make-up artist’s hair, and Rachel tried not to sigh.

“I know it can’t last,” she then said, finally, and then turned the television off.  “But it can get you--it can get you really far, Kurt.   An alliance.”

A slightly devastated look passed over Kurt’s face, and he nodded.  “Okay.  I’ll stick with her.”

“Okay,” Rachel said, and wondered who would sleep less that night: the mentor, or the tributes.

Brittany clearly had no idea what was happening to her, judging by the interview she’d just conducted; and Rachel yanked on Kurt’s sleeve.

“Tone down the sarcasm.  I know you think you’re hilarious and witty and above all of these--ingrates who will be sponsoring you, but they can’t know you feel that way.  Okay?  And she has goodwill going, so don’t ruin it for the both of you by making yourself--”

“I got it, thanks,” Kurt said, yanking his arm away, and then jutting his chin up and strolling out onto the stage.  Once there, he bowed in a way that somehow wasn’t mocking, and then air-kissed Iago Buzzingsworth on both cheeks.

“You look almost as marvelous as I do,” Kurt then said, before winking at the audience, and Rachel sagged against the wall in relief, jolting again when an arm wrapped around her back.

“We’ll be all right,” Brittany said, right next to her.  “And if not, then that’s totally not your fault, Rachel.  You really tried to help us, and it’s not your fault you’re kind of useless.”

Rachel stared at her, and then burst into tears and laughter at the same time, as Brittany wrapped her up into a hug and kept promising her that everything would be fine.

On day six, a cannon sounded for Kurt Hummel and a cannon sounded for Brittany Pierce.

Micah held up a cup of water.  “To--a fine partnership.  They fought well, Rachel, you should be very proud of them.”

“I am,” she agreed, closing her eyes to the sight of Kurt taking a knife for Brittany, and Brittany stabbing the guy who’d killed her beautiful, awesome Kurt at least twenty five times.

The arrow that struck her in the side of her neck, she’d thankfully never seen coming.

The 21st Hunger Games

Her girl this year, Tina, was small and nervous.  She was young, too; only thirteen, and Rachel almost felt relieved at that; she was sending a child to her death.  Not one of her former classmates.  Not someone she might’ve been friends with.

She couldn’t say the same thing for the boy, whose floppy blond hair fell in his eyes in ways that made her feel all sorts of things, even though she was now eighteen and he was sixteen, and he was probably not going to live to see the end of this month.

She tried not to smile when he smiled at her, but it was futile; and so she smiled back at Sam Evans, and then looked at Tina Cohen-Chang.

“Are you--was Michael--” she asked, after a moment, getting off her normal seat opposite them and crouching down in front of Tina instead.

“I-I-I--” Tina started, before sucking in a deep breath and then shaking her head, her lip trembling.  “No . He w-wasn’t.  Related to m-me.”

She nodded, and put a hand on the girl’s shoulder, hoping she would relax at least a little in the next few days; because there wasn’t any helping someone who couldn’t help themselves.  Mercedes Jones had taught her that.

She then glanced over at Sam, who smiled at her again, in a reflex, and said, “They say you volunteered.”

“My--my brother Stevie’s only twelve.  I mean, I’m--” he said, before just sighing and staring out at the passing countryside.  “I figure I at least stand a fighting chance, even though I don’t know anything about fighting aside from what I’ve read, y’know, in books.”

“W-what books?” Tina asked, turning towards him.

Sam looked at her for a long moment, and then said, “These picture books my old man collects.  In it, people do all sorts of crazy kicks and things.  It’s pretty--I mean, they’re great.  I’ll show you, sometime.”

The implication of his words only hit him after he’d said them, and then his lips paled tremendously and he just whispered, “Oh, man” before dropping his face in his hands.

Tina took another deep breath and then leveled Rachel with an even look.  “Maybe--you sh-should um, t-tell us how we d-don’t … die.”

“You hide, and you survive, and you wait for the numbers to go down,” Rachel said, steadily.  “Okay?”

“O-okay,” Tina said, and Sam’s head bounced on his hands.

She gave in, and drank two shots of golden liqueur later that night, to help herself fall asleep.

Brittany and Kurt at least together had presented something of a fighting chance, and Michael--Michael had been her best shot of all, because he’d been strong and slender and intelligent, and he’d figured out that hiding would work for him before she’d even decided that that would be her ultimate advice, every single time.

Tina and Sam--

God, some part of her wanted to tell them to just run for home, on the first day, and make it quick and painless--but on the other hand, Sam was an older brother, and Tina adored him, even after these few days, and who was she to tell someone else to not die fighting?

She cried, once her glass was empty, and cursed Noah for doing this to her.  He used to joke about what a beautiful corpse she’d make, before tweaking her nose and laughing at her a little.

It wasn’t so funny, now that it was so clear that she should’ve been the corpse, and he should’ve been the mentor.

Somehow, they made it past the first day, and shy, stuttering Tina (ranked three) had impressed the sponsors as much as jovial, goofy Sam (ranked seven) had.  They’d found themselves shelter in a cave right by a lake, which was better than they could’ve hoped for, and a small parachute with a gift sailed down by them as soon as they’d huddled in for the night.

It contained two pills, and a note saying, we like you, so we want you to go peacefully.

Across the room, Othello, the District 2 mentor, winked at Rachel and then toasted her.

She was--

Micah pulled her back, and said, “Don’t--it’s not worth it, and remember, all the sponsors are watching this; it might work out in their favor.”

On day two, Tina and Sam woke up to find a crossbow (her weapon of choice) and a pair of nunchucks (his weapon of choice) and jam and bread sitting in a basket next to their cave.

Rachel had no idea what they’d done with the pills, and chewed on her fingernails, and watched as they had an altogether pleasant morning together.

On day three, they were attacked by a lion/gazelle hybrid that Iago Buzzingsworth declared to be a Lizelle, and it took a chunk out of Sam’s side.

He could barely speak, and just gripped Tina’s hand as she poured some of their sparse water onto his head.  When blood gurgled up between his bruised lips, she pressed a kiss to his forehead, and then slipped a pill into his mouth before he could protest it.

Then, she sang him a song and closed his eyes, and looked at the sky and said, “We tried, Rachel, we really did” before taking the second pill.

On day three, a cannon sounded for Sam Evans and a cannon sounded for Tina Cohen-Chang.

Rachel sent out two more letters, and drank herself to sleep.

The 22nd Hunger Games

Rachel smoothed out her skirt and sat down, and then stared at the girl across from her.

She was apparently only fifteen, but stared back with a calm kind of hunger that actually gave Rachel chills.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but you survived by luck, and I’m not really sure how that puts you in a position to tell anyone how to survive by skill,” the girl said, pointedly, before Rachel could introduce herself.

Rachel blinked at Quinn Fabray, and then felt herself laugh unwillingly.  “It doesn’t.  I’m just--I’m all they have, Quinn.  Out of all the tributes that have represented our district, and it’s over forty now, I am the only one they have.  I know about the Arena; I’ve been there.  I know how to make it through day one, because I’ve done it.  I can tell you which berries to categorically not eat, because I saw a girl from District 5 swell up to the size of a balloon before choking on her own spit after she did eat them.  That’s what--”

“Do you know anything about how to kill other tributes?” Quinn cut her off.

“Dude,” the boy next to her sort of choked out, and Rachel watched as Quinn glanced at him quickly and then rolled her eyes.

What, Artie--are you still trying to pretend we're just on a field trip?  That this is just like science class, and we’re going to be sampling some bugs together for you to study with your--microscope?  We’re being sent into hell with no time to prepare and I, for one, would rather be gutting other people than seeing us get gutted.”

Artie pushed a pair of glasses up his nose and then exhaled slowly.  “Yeah, okay, you got me there.  You just--you don’t need to be so--cold about it, okay?  God.  It’s bad enough that we’re not both going to come out alive; maybe I just want to go in with someone who doesn’t sound so stab-happy.”

“You think I’m happy about this?” Quinn said, after a dense silence.  Her voice trembled, and after a second she flipped her hair over her shoulder and then stared into the distance.

“I’m sorry, that was a stupid thing to say,” Artie said, after a moment, and reached for Quinn’s knee.  “I think we’re both just freaking out a little and--”

How do you kill someone?” Quinn demanded again, her eyes now shiny.

Rachel thought about Power, and thought about Noah, and finally just rubbed at her neck and said, “You get a weapon, and you put it somewhere on someone else, and then you close your eyes and just push it right on through, or pull that trigger, and make it--make it hard and fast and unstoppable.”

She looked between them, between Artie’s wide eyes and Quinn’s stormy ones, and then said, “You don’t hesitate.”

Quinn licked at her lips and said, “Okay.  That’s--that’s all I wanted to know, for now.”

Artie shifted in his seat.  “I’m--kind of a biology nerd, in case her sarcasm hadn’t already made that clear to you, so--I’m the brother you want to be talking to about y’know, food and medicine and all that.  I don’t think that Little Miss Killer over here is in the mood so--”

“Oh, shut up, Artie,” Quinn said, bitterly.

After a second, her tributes looked at each other, and then started laughing.

Rachel wished she could join in, but the idea of a fifteen year old being this cavalier about killing was only marginally better than the idea of multiple fifteen year olds being this resigned to dying, and so she reached for her binder of notes and flipped to the pages on plants.

Quinn scored a nine on training, and Artie dragged her through some complicated handshake that she fumbled three times before pulling her into a hug.

Quinn’s particular skill was in decapitation; she’d flung a small throwing axe across most of the room and knocked the head right off the dummy.

Rachel had tried to look happy for her, and not just deeply concerned, but--what was the point in pretending, when Quinn herself only managed to keep up that murderous, ambitious front when people were watching her?

They had a racuous dinner that night, with Artie pelting food at Mella and Lissie and Quinn carving a leg of turkey like it was threatening her life, and when it was done, Rachel watched Quinn retreat to her bedroom and then followed her there.

She stopped in the doorway, clutching her necklace, when she found Quinn on her knees, forehead to the ground, mumbling rapidly under her breath.  When Quinn finally straightened again, there were tear tracks on her face, and Rachel stepped into the room and closed the door behind her.

“It’s okay to not be okay, you know,” she then offered.

Quinn shot her a look, but got up and sat down on the edge of her bed.  “Is it really?”

“Artie has nightmares.  He throws up every morning when he wakes up,” Rachel said, quietly.  “My last--no, Tina... Tina started sleeping in the same room as Sam, by the end; couldn’t get any rest otherwise.  Sam didn’t sleep at all, just stared at the ceiling and thought about his siblings and how he’d never see them again.  Mercedes prayed, just like you’re doing.”

“Mercedes was pathetic.  She had no interest in saving herself,” Quinn sort of spat out, and after a second, Rachel nodded.

“You’re right.  But--you’re not Mercedes.  You’re Quinn, and you’re a fighter, and it’s okay for you to lose it a little--because you won’t lose it all the way.”  She hesitated, and then put a hand on Quinn’s shoulder, ignoring Quinn’s flinch at the contact.  “I have never told a tribute this before, but I have faith that you will make it.  I haven’t had faith in anything to do with any of this before, but I have faith in you.”

Quinn was silent for a few seconds, and then discreetly wiped at her eyes.  “My parents--they think it’s an honor, you know.  They want me to do them proud.  They’d--I could spend the rest of my life learning how to craft and place the best zippers in the world, but this--this would actually make them care about me.  And they would hate if I showed--if on camera, I let on that--”

“This isn’t about them.  It’s about you, and what will get you through,” Rachel said, firmly.

“I’m going to have to kill Artie,” Quinn said, looking at her helplessly.  “Why do they--why do they force us to... spend time together, beforehand?  Why do I have to give interviews with him, and stand next to him, and listen to his stupid jokes and--”

“It’s meant to cripple you, but it doesn’t have to,” Rachel said.  “An alliance can get you really far.”

Quinn stared at her for a long moment, and then lowered her head and said, “I dream about someone else killing him.  And when it happens, I wake up relieved that it wasn’t me.”

“I understand,” Rachel said, and as Quinn started crying again, gently curled an arm around her shoulder and let her get it out.

Her tributes this year had stunning eyes, complementary attitudes--Quinn’s was proud and lethal, Artie’s was full of self-deprecation and gritty survival--and the skills to make it through, more than Brittany and Kurt ever had.  They would get sponsors.  They could go far.

They could go--God, they could go all the way.

She sat down next to Micah and waited for the countdown, and gripped his hand unexpectedly when they reached the last ten seconds.

“It’s okay to want to share this burden with someone else, even if that someone else is a fifteen year old girl.  You didn’t ask for this any more than she did, you know,” Micah told her, softly.

Rachel could barely hear the siren go off, with the amount of guilt that was winding itself around her heart.

By day three, Quinn had killed four tributes and one of them had strung themselves up in one of Artie’s traps, which--after some muted debate over dinner that night--Artie and Quinn had finally agreed counted as Artie’s first kill, even if it had been mostly accidental.

“You down with the seasoning?” he asked her, before pointing his knife at her grilled guinea pig.

She looked at him with those sharp, hazel eyes for a moment, and then broke into a grin.  “What seasoning?  It tastes like dirt, Artie, and you know it.”

“Well, yeah--it’s Guinea Pig Ala Arena.  It’s going to be a thing, I swear to God,” he said, chewing tenderly.

That was when the rustling in the bushes behind them sounded; Quinn was reaching for her throwing axe and her eyes were scanning the distance.

Artie stayed incredibly still and then pulled a throwing star out of his front pocket, before lying down on his back and then rolling over onto his stomach.

The rustle sounded again, and Rachel gripped the edge of the sofa she was sitting on.  The entire room had gone silent; District 8 were some of the favorites this year, second only to District 2 in the rankings, and Rachel was actually fairly sure that nobody wanted to see them go out on some gamemaker’s whim.

Yes, nights were usually quiet and boring to watch, but why come after two of the tributes who had provided the most entertainment so far?

Quinn shifted into a low crouch, and then tugged on Artie’s foot before pointing somewhere behind him.  Rachel leaned forward, but whatever the girl had picked up on, she couldn’t see--until Quinn froze and then snapped, “Run” at Artie.

They both bounced and sprinted in the opposite direction, Artie ahead of Quinn by a few paces after they dodged a fallen-down tree in the middle of the woods, and the camera panned back to show a horde of Tracker Jackers going for them.

“Poison,” Rachel murmured, tugging at--God, there was nothing around her throat, so why couldn’t she breathe.  “Why would they poison--”

“They won’t,” Micah said.  “They’re just trying to steer them towards the Careers, look at how they’re moving.”

Quinn scaled another fallen tree and then glanced over her shoulder, to where the camera and the Tracker Jackers were, and yelled out, “Move towards the water, they won’t--”

“Got it,” Artie said, picking up the pace a little bit more.

Rachel felt her palms begin to sweat and then stared at the map for a moment and leapt to her feet.  “They’re--oh God, there’s a cliff there, why don’t they--oh God--”

Micah stood up behind her and pulled her around, settling her head against his chest, and she thought about her father and about Puck and about Michael and Sam and Tina and--

Artie’s scream was blood-curdling.

She closed her eyes, and tried to think only of what her voice had sounded like before, when she’d had anything at all to sing about.

Quinn made her way to Artie about an hour later, taking the long way around the cliff.

He was still alive, and she fell to her knees next to him, covered in bruises, her cheek swollen from where a branch had slapped it, her hands raw and bleeding from when she’d scrambled off the ground and kept up her run.

“I can’t feel my legs,” he told her.  The words came out dazed; he clearly couldn’t really believe what was happening to him, and Quinn’s eyes were brimming with tears as she brushed his hair out of his eyes.  “And my glasses, they’re like--way smashed, Q.”

“I know.  It’s okay, I can be your eyes,” she murmured, glancing down at where his legs were lying at unnatural, wrong angles.

“Can you also be my legs?” he asked, after a second.

It was the most serious Rachel had ever heard him, and Quinn’s muted sob in response said it all.  She closed her eyes, and thought about Noah--Noah, who had begged her to make it quick, and she still felt the way his last breath had felt against the damp skin of her palm every time she looked at her right hand--the one that had covered his mouth and nose, and had clamped down tight.

“Hey, Q--” Artie said, in barely more than a whisper.  “You're the best lab partner any dude could ever hope for, and you're twice as awesome in these games, okay?”

“Don’t,” Quinn whispered, harshly, and Rachel knew she was wiping at her eyes, trying not to cry, because her parents would hate her for crying.

“Win them for me, boo, okay?” Artie said, and then coughed a little.  “Win them for me with style.  You throw that axe at every motherfucker who--”

“I will,” Quinn said, and right as Rachel opened her eyes again, Quinn took a deep breath, and then--with so much grace, and speed, that it was almost impossible for the naked eye to follow--jammed one of her throwing axes right in--

Rachel cried as Quinn vomited, cried as the cannon went off, and then cried again when Quinn took her axe out of Artie’s neck and then very gently placed his glasses back on his face.

The look on her face after that was indescribable, and Rachel felt actively afraid for the first time since she herself had left the Arena.

On day eight, Quinn Fabray won the Hunger Games.

Rachel didn’t want to be first to meet her, but who else was going to do it?  The make-up team would just crowd her, and she remembered how much she hadn’t wanted anyone to touch her right after the games--or even three years after the games, as it turned out.

They were in this together now; she and Quinn, who had actually won the games and not stumbled out of them the way Rachel herself had.

Quinn would make fifteen times the mentor that Rachel ever had, and that was what Rachel reminded herself of, when faced with the dull black of Quinn’s eyes, and the way it took all of Rachel’s strength to pry her fingers loose of her last axe.

“It gets easier,” Rachel said, after a moment, and Quinn nodded, tugging her long, blonde hair out of her face and wiping another streak of blood over her forehead.

“I just--really want to take a bath.  Can we make that happen, before I talk to the press?” she then asked.

Rachel nodded.  “Of course.”

A trail of clothing lined the hallway to Quinn’s bedroom, and stopped with her boots, placed neatly right outside of that door.

Rachel had no intention of invading, at all, because people coped with the loss that came with victory in different ways; she had sat and stared into space, feeling the bandages around her throat and thinking about Noah’s smile.

Quinn maybe just needed a soak, to get back to the idea of a world in which killing wasn’t a necessity, and so she turned to walk away from the bathroom again, even though Quinn had been in there for almost three hours.

That was when she noticed that the shoelaces from Quinn’s boots were missing, and panic gripped her throat the way that a knife had once lashed it.

They were too late; her lips had gone purple, and the rest of her was dangling soundlessly from the ceiling light above the tub.  

Rachel backed out of the room when they lowered the body, and wanted so badly to pretend that she hadn’t seen the I’m sorry scrawled on the bathroom mirror.

God, she should have never left the girl alone; her eyes had been--

The Capitol wouldn’t foot the bill for a funeral, and so they took Quinn back to District 8, where a few of her classmates--a tall, silent boy who looked like he was swallowing compulsively to just not cry, and a dark-haired, dark eyed girl who looked murderous at Rachel and everyone else with her, and an overweight girl with large glasses who looked bored--showed up for the small service that Rachel was paying for out of pocket.

The Capitol was furious at Quinn, for depriving them of both the genuine victor and any possible replacements.  The morning after, the Iago Buzzingsworth had rolled his eyes and said, “Geez, if she wanted to die, couldn’t she just have let Shine kill her in that last epic battle?  Am I right, everyone?”

The crowd had cheered, and Rachel had thought I’m sorry.

Quinn’s parents were not invited to the funeral, nor were they sent a letter.  

They did not deserve to be told about how spectacular their daughter could have been; that would be another thing Rachel would have to tuck inside of herself for the rest of her days.

The 23rd Hunger Games

She smoothed down her skirt, and then stopped before she could sit down.

“You’re Quinn’s friends,” she then said, straightening again.

They had just been names to her, after the Reaping.  She hadn’t been to one of those since her own, and the Capitol didn’t require her to be there.  Instead, she stayed at her house and tended to the herbs she grew there for a last time, before her other obligations took over once more.

Earlier this morning, she’d been by Quinn’s grave and had talked to her for about an hour--about what an inspiration she’d been, and how she’d made Rachel a better mentor.  She’d almost lost her voice, by the end of it, but she hadn’t known how to stop.  

Quinn was up there with Noah, in terms of people who would make a better mentor.  Quinn was up there with Noah and everyone, but it didn’t matter.

She was all Santana Lopez and Finn Hudson had, now, and as they all stared at each other, Rachel tugged her hair behind her ears and said, “Is--do either of you have what it takes, the way she did?”

“Yes,” Santana said, dully.  She was sixteen, already, which made it a little more bearable.  Finn was fourteen, but strong and big, and Rachel looked at them both and then had to look away.

“Maybe,” Finn said, after a moment, a pained look passing over his face.  “Quinn was--I don't think there's anyone like Quinn, anywhere."

Next to him, Santana scoffed loudly.

Finn ignored her, focusing on Rachel instead; his forehead crinkled, and he licked his lips nervously before swallowing thickly. “I asked her out, a few days before the Reaping, and she said--she said that I was too young for her, and she laughed a little, but then she said that I should ask her again next year.”

“You had a crush on her.  She was nothing to you,” Santana snapped, before clamping her lips together tightly.

“What about to you?” Rachel asked.

Santana said nothing, and after a moment Finn said, “Santana also had a crush on her, but we don’t really talk about that because--”

Shut up,” Santana hissed at him, and then rubbed at her nose for a second.  “She was my best friend, okay?  Since we were kids.  It wasn’t about--that was just--”

“Do you want revenge, for what happened to her?” Rachel asked.

Santana’s eyes burned through hers when she looked over.  “What do you think?”

“I think that--wanting revenge will get you killed.  This isn’t about Quinn, now.  There is no one to avenge for Quinn,” Rachel said, as evenly as she could.  “She killed every last person in that Arena and won, and--”

“And yeah, that fucked her up so badly that she killed herself.  So if you think I’m not pissed--”

“Of course you are.  But the people you need to be pissed at are the ones who organize these games.  Not the other kids who are in them.  They don’t want to be any more than you do, so--”

“Uh, actually, we both volunteered,” Finn said, softly.

Rachel stared at them, and wondered how she’d missed that.

“You--volunteered.  To go in and--”

“To win,” Santana said, flatly.  “For Quinn.  And for District 8.  And for all those other fuckers who didn’t stand a chance in recent years, and for--”

“For um, Noah Puckerman,” Finn finished, and then glanced down at his lap.  “We don’t really care which one of us lives, I mean--my mom died last year so I’m all alone, and Santana--”

“I don’t have any family,” Santana said, roughly.

Rachel opened her mouth, but no words would come out at all, and after a second Finn almost smiled at her.  “We’re basically the first District 8 Careers.  We’ve been--working on our fighting the entire year, so we’re okay on that, and we read what we could about the plants and stuff so--we’re mostly just hoping you can tell us what the Arena is like.”

Rachel rubbed at her throat for a moment.  “It’s--different every year, but there are some things that are the same.”

“Such as?” Santana demanded, those glittering black eyes trained on her like a viper’s.

Rachel looked at the binder in front of her, and then put it down on the ground and said, “Get me some of those paper napkins, and I’ll see if we can puzzle out the commonalities together and arm you guys with a strategy.”

Finn enjoyed spears, and was deadly with them, whereas Santana had a knack for throwing knives.

Rachel tried not to think too much about whether or not the mutual choice of throwing weapons had anything to do with Quinn’s natural aptitude, but it didn’t really matter; on top of their preferred weapons, they were excellent melee fighters and sparred together in a bitter, snippy fashion.

“Get up, fat-ass,” Santana called at Finn, who had landed hard on his back and was trying to catch his breath.  “I could’ve impaled you on something like six times by now, so--”

He flipped over faster than anyone his size should be able to and lunged for her ankle, and almost got a good enough grip to trip her.

She laughed, and then stuck out her hand to help him up.  “Nice try, Momma’s boy.”

“You’re such a bitch,” he told her, yanking on the end of her ponytail.  “I hope someone like, spears you with a trident.”

“Oh, please--like you’ll be alive long enough to see that happen,” she said, dancing away from him and then getting two poles from the weapons rack.  “Ready?”

Finn sort of half-grinned at her, and then beckoned her in closer, and--God, someone really needed to sit them down and tell them that the fight to the death happened later this month, Rachel thought.  

When Rachel looked over at the cluster of Career tributes, and saw that they were looking at her kids with something akin to fear on their faces, she almost smiled a little anyway.

Santana and Finn were drowning in grief, but they wouldn’t be drowning in blood--unless it was the blood of others.

The media training was a little more difficult; Santana didn’t see the point in being the Capitol’s sweetheart, and Finn was affable but not exactly the brightest bulb, so the only way to actually sell the sponsors on the validity and promise of their alliance was to get them on camera together.

“Pretend you like each other,” Rachel urged them.

They both cracked up laughing, and then just stared at her for a moment.

“I know--” she started saying, before rolling her eyes.  “Look, you wanted strategic advice?  This is it.  I know you’re gay, and you both had feelings for the same girl, but all you have now is each other--so can you maybe at least pretend that’s something that matters to you?”

“We both loved the same girl,” Finn said, fidgeting with the hem of his extravagant dress robe.  “And, I mean, in loving her, we sort of grew to love each other as well.”

Santana’s head craned towards him slowly and Rachel groaned; Micah showed up next to her and chuckled softly.

“I’m going to guess that the three-way relationship with last year’s tragedy route was not your idea?”

“It really was not, no--”

She could barely even hear herself over the sound of cheering from the crowd, and shut up abruptly.

Santana was looking out with similar disbelief, and then turned to the Iago Buzzingsworth and said, “Every time we kiss, it’s like Quinn is with us.”

People burst into hysterical tears, clapping for them; even Iago dabbed at his face with an embroidered handkerchief, and then took a deep breath.  “Now, be honest.  You volunteered for these games, and it’s clear from everything you’ve said that you miss Quinn dearly, both of you.”  He paused for dramatic effect and then leaned forward again.  “Did you two volunteer in the hopes of meeting your end, and joining her?”

“Not before a hell of a lot of other people do,” Santana said, and then kissed Finn wetly on the cheek.  He grinned at the crowd, and Rachel shook her head and then laughed.

Santana got a nine for her knives; Finn a ten for his spear; and they were the dead favorites to win this year.

Rachel should’ve felt something akin to accomplishment, or at least relief, but instead wondered when the reality of their situation would hit these two, and who it would hit first.

Her gut told her it would be on Finn; something about the way Santana’s eyes occasionally glazed over reminded her too much of Quinn for her to ever really convince herself that the girl wasn’t aware of what she was committing to.

Rachel was now twenty, and sixteen felt like a lifetime ago; a lifetime in which she’d lost almost everything, and gained so very little to show for it, and all she wanted to do was sit Santana down and remind her that there was an after, and that she had to have something to look forward to there, or she’d end up just like...

“Congratulations, to all of us,” Mella declared, before cupping Finn’s cheek and declaring him so very precious all over again.

Santana’s hand flexed over her thigh, as if she was feeling for knives that weren’t there, and Rachel felt her throat tighten.

It was their last night, and she knew that they wouldn’t be sleeping--though with these two, it was unlikely they’d be huddled together, the way Sam and Tina had been, or talking softly the way Brittany and Kurt had been.

She found Santana not far from where she’d found Quinn, a year ago, and sat down next to her.

“Last minute pep-talk?” Santana asked, her fingers tapping on the window sill and her eyes trained on the city outside.

“No,” Rachel said, and then gently reached for Santana’s foot, just wrapping a hand around her ankle for a moment.  “I don’t think you need that, but--”

Santana’s eyes moved over to her, and she arched an eyebrow in a way that--

Rachel closed her eyes and said, “I can’t handle another Quinn.”

“I’m not planning on--”

Rachel shut her up with a quick finger to her lips.  “I know you’re not; do you really think she was?  She--all she had was the Games, and the idea of winning, and once she had, there was nothing else there for her.  What about you?  What do you have to live for, once you’ve killed twenty three people and they let you back out?”

She could feel Santana breathing against that finger, and then her lip trembled for a second, and Rachel pulled back when her shoulders started to shake.

“I don’t know,” Santana admitted, before lowering her head to her knees and crying silently.  “I don’t know.”

“Find something,” Rachel said, and rubbed gently at her ankle.  “I don’t care what it is--find it, okay?  Because I have faith in you, and--”

The rest of that sentence lodged itself in her throat, and after a second Santana looked back at her, with wet eyes.

“I wasn’t like--she was my best friend.  We kissed, once, before she left for the games; because she was all I had then, too, but she didn’t--I mean, she’s not--”

“It doesn’t matter.  You loved her, and I’m sure she loved you,” Rachel said, even though she wasn’t, and after a moment, Santana started crying in earnest.  

Rachel watched over her, and wondered if she’d just told a kind lie or the truth, without meaning to; but whatever Santana had felt for Quinn, if Quinn had felt anything in kind, she’d left those feelings in District 8 when she’d boarded the train.

She’d left everything behind.  The fact that Santana couldn’t was either a very good, or a very bad thing.


When the sun rose, Santana’s eyes were less deadened, and she wiped at them once more and said, “Better go and force some food down my throat; survival first, right?”

Rachel nodded, and followed her into the dining room, where she slapped Finn upside the head and then sat down next to him, stealing a muffin off his plate as he grumbled at her.

She almost felt hopeful, seeing that, and immediately squashed the feeling.

Nothing was more dangerous than hope, when it came to the Hunger Games.

On day one, twelve cannons sounded.

The bloodbath had surpassed everyone’s expectations, and Careers aside, only Finn and Santana and four others remained.

Finn had taken a blow to the back of his head that Santana had bandaged up, cursing him all the time, and she herself had to deal with a nasty gash on her forearm; it would get infected if they didn’t get it cleaned up and medicated soon, but--parachutes full of gifts rained down on them, for the fact that they’d killed four tributes personally and had assisted in the death of at least two more by chasing them towards the Careers.

“Can you even believe how blood-thirsty these two are?  Boy oh boy, I’d love to see what they’re putting in the water in District 8,” Iago said, before laughing and shaking his head at himself.  “Although, maybe not; is it even safe to drink water in District 8?”

Rachel put her own purified Capitol water down, bitterly, and then watched as Santana stood watch over Finn, who kept nodding off.  There was a chance he wouldn’t make it through the night, but Santana was kicking at him often enough to keep him somewhat conscious.

Out of all the tributes she’d had, she felt the least for these two, and she also felt the most for them.

She had no idea what to do with that emotion, and instead just silently watched over them as the sun came up.

On day two, one cannon sounded; the Careers had finished off a girl from District 7, and Finn and Santana were prowling around the abandoned, nuked city that was the landscape for the 23rd Hunger Games.

The buildings provided plenty of shelter, but limited food, and that was what killed off one of the Careers from District 4 on the third day--a desperation to drink had him guzzling up rain water, which killed him within four hours.

Rachel prodded a sponsor into sending a warning to Finn and Santana, who were also running low on supplies; but by day four, had figured out that some of the buildings had miniature coolers of supplies in them.  They were in the most blasted apart buildings, and once inside they were easy pickings for ranged weaponry, but none of the Career tributes specialized in those--there wasn’t enough hacking or gore involved in killing someone with a bow and arrow, on the whole, and Santana had pointed that much out to Finn before darting inside for two meals and some food.

On day five, they had a near-miss encounter with the remaining District 4 Career, who had suffered a chest wound and had been abandoned by the Career pack--but as he closed in on Finn, Santana spotted him and snapped a knife right into his neck.  Finn only noticed the guy had been behind him when his body dropped, and then just laughed shakily and retrieved Santana’s knife for her.

“Do you think we’ll ever be normal again, after this?” he asked, over dinner that night.

Santana shot him an annoyed look.  “Define normal.  Slaving away in the factory, with you stamping off buttons and me learning how to stitch shit like a good girl?”

“Well, yeah,” Finn said, after a few seconds.  “I mean, that’s what life is like.  Although I guess it’s not if you win, I mean, Rachel doesn’t work in the factory.”

“No,” Santana said, shortly, before going back to sharpening her knives with a rock.

“I didn’t think she’d be good, y’know, as a mentor,” Finn said, after a moment.  “But she’s--kind of impressive.  I mean, she got you and I to work together, which is--”

Santana snorted.  “Yeah.  Well, she had to be good at something, to win.”

“So you don’t think it was luck, the way everyone else kinda does?” Finn asked, carefully.  “Because--I think she probably won because--she knows people.  And because she cares about them.  I mean, she even cares about you, so.  And she was so good with me the days before; I was kind of starting to freak out but she just reminded me that I’m strong and young and that I had you--I don’t know.  I think I probably would’ve lost it a little, without her.”

Santana put her rock down, and then stared at Finn for a long moment.  “Do you have feelings for her?”

Finn’s mouth fell open in surprise, and then he laughed.  “What?  No, she’s like way old.”

“Twenty isn’t old, you idiot--” Santana started saying, before shutting up abruptly.

Over in the Capitol, Rachel felt her glass slip from her fingers, and clatter onto the floor.

“Use it,” Micah said.  “Use it, because the games are dragging and the gamemaker is going to inflict carnage on the tributes.  Any help is help out there, Rachel.  You know it.”

It was unusual, to say the least, to have the mentor interviewed mid-game; and some part of Rachel balked at the idea of not watching, but any broadcast would be immediately interrupted with news of a kill anyway, so there was no reason not to go on.

Iago Buzzingsworth was beaming at her with his fake teeth as she rose to the stage, and then she smoothed down her skirt and sat down.

“Be honest, Rachel,” he asked, before darting forward.  “Was there love a-brewing during your preparation?”

She took a deep breath, and thought about Santana crying, that last night, and mustered up a smile out of somewhere.  “I’m not sure--it’s love, but there was.... something.  We became close, during our preparation time.”

“Despite the fact that Santana and Finn are both so clearly in love with last year’s almost-victor, Quinn Fabray--you still think her feelings for you are sincere?” Iago demanded.

The crowd gasped at the audacity of the question, and Rachel summoned up every ability to act she had in her before answering.  “I think--that all of us loved Quinn.  But love expresses itself in different ways, and what Santana and I experienced in those weeks we lived in the same suite--it was primal, and passionate.”

Primal and passionate?” Iago echoed, before staring at the crowd with a wide open mouth.  “Rachel, oh my God, you are killing us here!  Tell us everything, please.  What a beautiful story.”

Rachel forced another smile, and then said, “Well--she’s really special, obviously, and I knew that the moment I met her.”

Some part of her wondered, afterward, what Santana would do if she survived the Games; thank her for the boost in sponsorship, or slap her for the outrageousness of the story she’d just spun.

She really had no idea, and felt queasy when a cannon went off about an hour later, declaring the last tribute of District 5 dead as well.

Even though Finn and Santana were attempting to track the remaining Careers, a quick look at the map revealed that they were moving in the wrong direction--further away from where the Careers were holing up, not too far from the Cornucopia--and it wouldn’t be long until the gamemaker steered them around.

They spent day four running for their lives from an air raid, and for the first time, when they finally settled behind a building and heard the helicopter pass by them, Finn and Santana looked actively afraid of something.

“They’re not getting me like this,” Santana then said, dragging her hair back into a neater ponytail and then nudging Finn in the side with her foot.  “Let’s go hunt.  We’ve got to do something, and--”

“Yeah, okay,” Finn agreed, trudging along after her.

Rachel ate a few bites of something expensive and tasteless, and watched as, by the time night set, her tributes settled down for some uneasy rest within a mile from where the Careers were.

The ambush caught them unawares, on Day 5; they’d been laughing about how shitty this Arena was for any of the survival skills Rachel had taught them, over breakfast--waffles and coffee, a gift from sponsors who just left them a note saying ‘True Love Conquers All’--and then a chuckle sounded behind them.

“Well, look what we’ve finally found,” Mistral, the dark-haired girl with the sharp nose from District 2 said, hopping over some rubble and then leaning against it, her bowie knife loosely dangling from one arm.

Lucius, her partner tribute, built like a brick wall with a sneer permanently on his face, was grinning and slapping the flat end of his spiked bat against his leg.  “Cozy.  Almost like--you forgot that we were still here, waiting to gut you and watch you bleed out.”

Finn tried to reach for his spear, but a foot landed on his hand a second later.  “I don’t think so,” Breeze, the freckled, redheaded District 1 female tribute drawled..

“Just do it,” Finn said, with a tremor.  “You got us; just end it, quickly, and then kill each other; that makes sense, right?  To just stand here and fight it all out right--”

He cried out as someone kicked him in the back, and Rachel closed her eyes as Nero, the absolutely batshit male tribute from District 1 showed up.  His preferred method of killing was wearing these knuckle bracers with long, thin blades in them; beating and stabbing his opponents to death at once, and manually.  He had curly blond hair, and Rachel thought his eyes looked utterly vacant.

Santana was sitting deadly still, even as Finn slowly raised his head.

“I thought you’d be more fun,” Nero declared, before licking at the blades on his right hand.  “This is--rather pedestrian, and I for one don’t intend to win a boring Games, so--let’s liven it up.  Why don’t you run--”

“Are you crazy?” Breeze said, turning around to face him.

A second later, the needles on his fist stuck out on the other side of her throat, and as he delicately withdrew them again, her body fell onto Finn’s legs.

Finn gagged, visibly, and Nero just glanced at his hand for a moment, before saying, “Run.  Now.  We’ll give you--oh, I don’t know.  Some sort of head start.”

Santana scrambled to her legs first and snapped, “Finn, move” at him, but he wasn’t getting up fast enough--and as he tripped on his way around the building, Nero sighed and said, “That’s enough; get him.”

Rachel held her breath as Finn picked up speed again, darting after Santana, before looking over his shoulder and heading another way--and then she just bit down on her hand, because he’d just saved her life.  She had no idea if he’d done it on purpose, but Nero and Mistral took off after him, leaving only Lucius to deal with Santana.

The television switched to split screen as an unarmed Finn made his way through the city as quickly as possible, with two relatively relaxed careers in a slow pursuit, and Santana crouched around the corner of a building, two knives in her hands, waiting for Lucius to show up.

It happened almost simultaneously, and as soon as Rachel’s hand went up in the air as Santana jabbed one of her knives in Lucius’s ankle and then slammed the other one up into his throat so quickly he couldn't even think about raising his bat, Finn took a step that resulted in a click.

Rachel's hand, mid-celebration, went limp and dropped down to her side, and Micah put a hand on her shoulder.

Finn stood stock-still for a long moment. She could see the fear on his face--they knew about the mines, having narrowly avoided a few just two days ago--until his jaw tightened briefly and he nodded to himself, just once. Then, he slowly turned around, pivoting his right leg around, and raised his hands.

“I surrender,” he called out, when Nero and Mistral jogged around the corner.

Nero smiled beautifully, his blond hair curls bouncing in the wind, and then shook his head, tutting.  “Didn’t you hear me?  I want a challenge.  Mistral, by all means.”

He bowed, in mockery, and Mistral moved forward, her bowie knife steady in her hands.

Finn sucked in a deep breath when she was about a foot away from him, and then glanced up at the sky and said, “This is for--like, I don’t know, Quinn and Santana, I guess--someone please tell her.  Tell her to win this.”

Then, he lifted his left leg, and Rachel couldn’t look anymore; couldn’t see anything at all, really, as her vision blacked out.

When she came to, Mella was by her side, wiping her face down with something, and then cupped her cheeks.

“She did it.  Our girl did it.”

Rachel blinked a few times, and then said, her voice nothing more than a croak, “Don’t let her--”

“We’re not letting her out of our sight, but she’s okay,” Mella said, surprisingly human for a change.  “She’s sad, but she’s eating, and she’s asked to see you.  Are you ready for that?”

Rachel forced herself to sit up a little, and then nodded.

“Y’know, I really should be the one on my ass after the week I’ve had,” Santana said, and Rachel looked over at the door sharply.  “What’s your excuse?”

The word congratulations lodged in her throat, and after a second she just said, “Stress.  Because you two were so reckless and crazy and--”

Santana smiled faintly, and after a moment, Rachel just patted the mattress.

“You’re not wrong.  Come lie down.”

Santana curled up at the foot of the bed, but her muscles remained tense and Rachel knew--knew--that they would stay that way for some time.  Years, maybe.

“So I’m kind of pissed at you,” Santana finally said.


“Because,” Santana said, sighing deeply.  “The victor normally gets this swag house, but because you and I are so in love and everything, they’re making me move in with you.  As a gift.”

Rachel stared at her for a long moment, and then felt an unexpected wave of giggles come over her.  “Oh, God, I’m so sorry.”

“Nah, it’s--I mean, I figure it got us a few meals, right?” Santana said, as the carelessness slowly slipped from her face.  “I just hope your house is big because--we hardly know each other, and all.”

Rachel rubbed at her face.  “It is.  It has five bedrooms and two bathrooms, so we hardly have to see each other if--”

A hand on her leg stopped her from talking, and Santana then said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re probably the only person I’m ever going to want to see, after this.  So I mean it, when I say it’s okay.”

Rachel lowered her hands, and then said, “What got you through, in the end?”

“The fact that you’re the most broke-ass mentor ever, and whoever gets ‘lucky’ in District 8 next seriously deserves better,” Santana said, before closing her eyes.

The 24th Hunger Games

Santana stepped forward with a bouquet of Capitol-imported flowers, before gently placing them down in front of Quinn’s grave.  Then, she kissed her fingertips, and pressed those down on the wooden memorial for just a few seconds.

“To Quinn,” she then said, before reaching for Rachel’s hand.

“To all of them,” Rachel amended, latching their fingers together and taking a step back.

They turned from the grave simultaneously, and then Santana sucked in a deep breath and nodded firmly.  “Our boy looks promising; built like a bear, and not as dim as--well.”

Rachel nodded, and then smiled faintly.  “Don’t underestimate the girl; just because she seems kind of--”

“Her name is Sugar,” Santana said, in the kind of sour, dismissive tone she’d previously reserved for Rachel’s ‘strategy’ suggestions, and Rachel wrapped an arm around her back and laughed.

“If we’re lucky, they might confuse her for District 1 or 2 with a name like that.”

Santana chuckled, and then shook her head.  “I don’t know.  I guess we’ll see if we can maybe--get Big Bear Dave to help Sugar make it past the first few hurdles, right?  Anything after that is a total crapshoot anyway, but... alliances can get you really far.”

“Yes, they can,” Rachel agreed, and thought about Noah’s smile and Quinn’s deadened eyes and Santana, curled up at the edge of the bed, calling her an atrocious mentor in an almost loving way.

This year, she thought she might let herself hope--just a little.