A strip of metal on the empty highway, rows of nails protruding upwards in razor-straight lines.
Dark night, distracted driver, school bus in a skid.
The men in masks come from beyond the highway, a path of trees and rocks and roots.
They kill Mr. Shuester first, a little black hole like a starburst right through his forehead. Rachel screams. Finn looks at her and hugs Quinn instead.
Then the men notice Artie.
Tina whines, high and sharp in the back of her throat. Kurt clenches his fingers into her arm hard enough to draw little crescents of blood.
“We can carry him,” Finn begs, looking at Puck and the men in masks and the path through the woods and Mike and Matt and everywhere but Artie. “We can carry him,” Finn begs.
A man nods, once. His bullet shears the top of Artie’s head clear off.
Santana rages against the men in masks, against their rifles and their silence and their hands on her arms when she starts to trip.
Puck places his body between Quinn’s and the man who killed Artie’s and he does not move.
The men notice.
When they get underground there are no lights, just a tunnel to the left and a tunnel to the right.
Boys one way, girls the other. Mercedes makes a strangled noise when Kurt tries to separate his hand from hers. Kurt shakes his head sharply, face pale and drawn, and Mercedes lets him go.
A woman walks into the room. She points at Santana. “We’re moving you. Pick someone.” Santana doesn’t even look around the crowded, windowless cavern.
“Brittany.” They hold hands on the way out.
A woman walks into the room. She points at Puck. “We’re moving you. Pick someone.” Puck looks at her hard, and then behind her through the door. He exhales sharply and his eyes flicker over Finn, Matt, and Mike.
“Finn.” They look everywhere but at each other on the way out.
Puck comes back covered in blood.
Brittany comes back clean, with an emptiness in her eyes that will never go away.
Finn and Santana don’t come back at all.
Puck spends the night pressed into a corner, face buried against his knees so he doesn’t have to watch the blood dry. Kurt cries as silently as he knows how.
Nobody touches Puck. Nobody asks about Finn.
Brittany spends the night with her head resting in Quinn’s lap, silent and speechless and completely, utterly gone. Tina stokes her hair and whispers soft words.
Rachel asks about Santana, once. Nobody else tries.
A woman walks into the room. She points at Brittany. “Pick someone.” Brittany doesn’t move.
“I’ll go,” says Quinn. Her spine is straight as it’s ever been as they walk out.
A woman walks into the room. She points at Puck. “Pick someone.”
“Fuck you,” Puck says. His hands are shaking.
“Pick someone.” Mike and Matt look at each other. Mike nods.
“I’ll go,” says Matt. He ignores Puck’s strangled sob as they walk out.
Puck comes back with a new shirt and shiny-wet skin.
Quinn comes back with flecks of blood on her right hand.
Matt and Brittany don’t come back at all.
Puck spends the night muttering and pleading in his sleep. Mike’s face hardens against every whimper. Kurt alternates between watching Puck and trying to visualize every single detail of his father’s face.
Rachel stares at the red-brown spots on Quinn’s hands until her vision doubles and she can feel the screams trapped in her throat rising up, clawing at the pursed seal of her lips.
“You killed Brittany,” Rachel says, and when she speaks her voice rings strong and clear as always. To Rachel’s left, Tina flinches and leans closer to Mercedes.
To Rachel’s right, Quinn laughs. It is light and cold and delicate and it will stab into Rachel’s ears until the moment she dies.
“Didn’t you see Brittany? She was already dead.”
A woman walks into the room. She points at Quinn. “Pick someone.” Quinn rises gracefully.
“Rachel.” Neither of them can bring themselves to break eye contact as they walk out.
A woman walks into the room. She points at Puck. “Pick someone.” Kurt presses himself against the wall. Mike stands before Puck can say a word.
“Fuck you,” Puck says. Mike glances at Kurt, once, before they walk out.
Puck comes back with a large cut across his forehead and a slight limp.
Quinn comes back with scrapes on her cheek and red streaks in her hair.
Mike and Rachel don’t come back at all.
Puck and Kurt sit in opposite corners. They don’t talk; they don’t sleep.
Quinn watches Tina and Mercedes huddle and whisper with a slightly detached interest. They hold hands in their sleep. Quinn feels nothing.
A woman walks into the room. She points at Quinn. “Pick someone.” Mercedes and Tina watch her like frightened children. Quinn swallows back a feeling she cannot allow.
“Mercedes.” Mercedes flinches but stands. Quinn looks her in the eye and tells her I’m pregnant as they walk out.
Nobody walks into the room. Kurt stares at the door and trembles. Puck stares at Kurt and waits.
Quinn comes back with hardened eyes. Tina meets her gaze.
Mercedes doesn’t come back at all.
At some point during the night Puck starts screaming. Kurt moves as quickly as he can, covering Puck’s mouth with both hands and pleading with him to stop, please stop, please be quiet, shhh.
Puck stares at Kurt from beneath his hands like he’s never seen him before.
Kurt retreats to his corner. Puck keeps staring.
Quinn and Tina sit in a silence so shockingly easy that Quinn is loath to break it. “Do you think the boys are doing the same thing?”
Tina assesses Quinn in that quiet, sideways way she has. “I haven’t really thought about it.”
Quinn remembers Artie and his chair and the way his head looked with the top blown off. “It’s Puck’s,” she says, and Tina looks confused. “The baby isn’t Finn’s. It’s Puck’s.”
Tina watched her again, some more, and Quinn searches desperately for a feeling she can allow herself to have. “It doesn’t make any difference to me,” Tina says, and they both know she’s not talking about the father.
Respect is probably safe for Quinn to feel, so she feels it. “I know.”
A woman walks into the room.
Kurt’s legs are shaking but he doesn’t cry, won’t cry, can’t cry. The hallway is brightly lit and the woman walks in front of them and Kurt wants his father more than anything in the world.
Puck turns to face Kurt and his eyes are calm. “Don’t follow me.”
Kurt freezes mid-step. Puck turns around and runs.
The woman turns around and watches Puck’s retreating back with mild curiosity. Kurt presses his back against the wall and struggles to breathe.
The metal hallway magnifies the echoes from wherever Puck is, shouts and a struggle and then, suddenly, two sharp gunshots.
Kurt and the woman stand in the hallway and wait.
When the door opens behind them, Quinn comes out bloodstained and cradling a broken wrist.
The woman looks at the two of them and raises an eyebrow. “Congratulations.”
Puck and Tina don’t come back at all.
“Come on,” Quinn says, “we can try to get a ride from the highway.” Kurt doesn’t move.
“What did they—” Kurt swallows hard. “How did they make you do it?”
Quinn turns around and stares at him. Calmly, steadily. Kurt stops breathing.
“They wanted to see how much we wanted to live,” Quinn says.
“I want to live.” Kurt feels very, very young.
“I’m sure you do,” Quinn says, and her voice is ice.
This time, when Quinn turns to walk towards the highway, Kurt follows.
Kurt is not a victor.
Quinn is not a victim.