"Now the smoke has cleared and the end is near."

Minet Nikelle, District Two

Victor of the Twenty-Third Hunger Games

"How long was I out?" Minet frowned at the sound of her voice, so raspy and ragged. The sound echoed off the windowless, white walls of the room, barely large enough to fit the bed that she was on and two small chairs. Naturally, Armia and Cobble occupied them. She smiled. Although Minet was quick to hide it, the happiness that held it remained.

It was nice, having people that cared about her again.

"Three days," Armia said plainly, taking a seat on the edge of the bed as Cobble let out a low whistle behind her. "That was risky business you played, Minet. You nearly lost a trachea to that trick of yours."

Minet shrugged, not bothering to argue with either of them at that point. What she did was all she could do, and willing it to change wouldn't do anything for her besides plague herself with remorse and doubt that she couldn't fight off.

"Is there any permanent damage?"

Armia shook her head. "You're lucky, there." She paced through the room, arms locked behind her back. "Nothing major. Bruising here; cuts there. All healed over and cleaned up in a matter of weeks from now. All back to normal."

A small smile tugged Minet's lips up at that. Back to normal. She'd gone to hell, returned, and her life was to go back to normal. She'd lost people, watched them die at her feet without anything she could, and her life was supposed to go back to normal.

She'd killed six people, watched the life seep out of their eyes, and her life was going to go back to normal.

Somehow she doubted that would happen.

"Did you ever have nightmares?" Armia scoffed at that, meeting her gaze playfully.

"I knew what I had to do and how I was going to do it. I played the Game how I wanted to play it, and it worked. I didn't write the rules, I didn't reap the tributes to their death, and I didn't take pleasure in killing them. There was nothing to have nightmares over."

Minet nodded. She expected as much. Armia wasn't one to bat an eye at the sight of death, and odds were she hadn't gotten that way over the years. She'd been born with that mentality.

Something Minet wished she had. Three weeks ago, she might've said otherwise, but today?

"At first." Minet came to attention as Cobble spoke for the first time. "It wasn't as easy at first. I had the same dreams over and over again. To the point where I knew what would come next, which person's death I would relive and on the bad days, foresee."

"And they stopped."

Cobble shook his head. "They never stop. I don't wake up screaming anymore, but it's still there. Every little girl looks like her on some days, and every boy is him, begging me to save him." The faraway look that Cobble wore for a millisecond afterwards did something to Minet that she refused to admit, even refused to consider.

It scared her.

It scared her that someone so sturdy could crumble. What would she become? Cobble masked himself well – within seconds, his boyish demeanor returned – but would she?

Could she?

Armia shifted uncomfortably in the chair that she'd taken halfway through Cobble's spiel as Cobble cleared his throat, meeting her woeful eyes and shaking his head abruptly. "The last thing to do is be afraid of it. The sooner you come to terms with every single detail of your Games, who you offed, how you did it, the sooner you can live with it."

"You never beat it," Minet murmured wispily.

Cobble met her gaze before cocking his head away, smiling ruefully. "Some games aren't meant to be beaten."

Raquel hummed as she straightened Minet's hair. The dress her stylist had given her had been worthy of nothing more than a foot rest, but seeing as she'd dressed her up as a boulder earlier, this was an improvement. The brown fabric chaffed her skin, but Raquel had been decent enough to leave out the heels she'd been just dying to see her in.

"All done!" she cooed, clasping her hands together in a combination of pride and anxiety. "They're just going to love you; what do you think?"

Raquel tilted the life-size mirror to meet her gaze, and Minet suppressed the urge to punch Raquel in the nose and walk out naked.

The ruffles of the dress were choppy, grotesquely put together and only highlighted her miniature form. Minet bit her tongue, forcing a smile as she met Raquel's gaze. "It's great," she muttered, moving away from Raquel as the latter squealed joyously.

She found herself unconsciously moving to the elevator to get away from it all and just get a nap – which was borderline illegal by the Capitol's standard – but instead, Minet made her way over to the Victor's lounge. Neither of her mentors was present, but these were her people.

May as well get to know them.

"A cranberry juice." The bartender nodded, flipping a can of the blood-red juice off the counter and into an iced cup.

"Sweetheart, you just won the Hunger Games; live it up!" Minet turned to meet the – very drunk – Orson Marshall, who sloppily took a seat next to her. "Two beers."

"I don't drink," she protested, denying the beer the bartender offered her.

Orson scoffed. "What, too good for the Capitol's trinkets?"

"Maybe I am." She offered a small smile to the bartender, who laid her juice on the table. "Maybe I don't need anything to help me survive, unlike the likes of you."

"A feisty one!" Orson exclaimed, smirking. Minet winced at the aroma of liquor and beer as it wafted towards her. "Playing hard to get, I got you." The bartender was whisked away at the wail of Mags Hali, draped and laughing her ass off on the far couch. A handful of Victors tended to her side, but the majority were too drunk or didn't care.

Orson grimaced. "Do me a favor," he whispered hoarsely, the drunkenness in his voice cleared up. "And stay away from Mags."

Her words died on her tongue as she caught sight of Mags, surrounded by empty bottles of beer and martini glasses. "I can do that," she mumbled, turning away and sipping her glass quietly. To think that it was her and only her that destroyed a mother's life, let alone a Victor's life left guilt to eat at her.

Not like she needed any assistance with that.

Orson cleared his throat awkwardly. "Do you… ah, have an angle for the recaps?"

"I won the Hunger Games; when do you suppose I lost half my brain cells?" Orson laughed and she found herself laughing, too. The sensation was an odd one, joy.

When was the last time she felt that?

"I'm going to be the same girl I was before the Games," Minet said, forcing herself out of her stupor. "I am the same girl I was before the Games," she corrected.

Orson gave her a firm nod. "Don't let up any ground. There'll be things you don't want to see ever again, but don't let it show. She wants to see you crack."

"President Quinn." Orson nodded.

"And do one more thing," he muttered darkly.


Orson's face soured, eyes returning to Mags' weeping form. "Never have kids."

"Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome our newest Victor, Minet Nikelle of District Two!" Minet grinned as she made her way to the lush chair beside Hamlet Flickerman, who offered a thin smile and a kiss on the cheek before allowing her to take her seat.

The cries of the viewing audience were beyond belief, but Minet's front did not falter. Nothing would faze her, not today. A couple of loons screaming in the crowd surely wouldn't.

"Ms. Nikelle, may I say that you were absolutely astounding in the arena. You had me captivated the whole week; don't you agree, folks?" Minet laughed as the crowd flew into uproar.

"Did you expect any less?" Hamlet smirked at that, babbling off as he did so well, and Minet responded the way she knew the Capitol wanted her to respond. Composed. Cunning. Sharp.

And so their banter continued for what felt like ages, just waiting for Hamlet to shut up and play the clip so Minet could be done with the Capitol, be done with the Games.

When he did, Minet found herself tensing up more in her seat. She knew what happened. Blood was on her hands, and the allies she left for dead would always remain with her. But to relive it was something else.

The countdown highlighted each of the twenty-four once, ending with the boy from Nine. She felt her insides churning. She hadn't been close to the explosion; she hadn't seen it. Minet had been lucky then, but now?

Minet bit her lip as the boy burst into pieces, showering tributes around the area with bits and pieces of him. Hamlet's eyes seemed to dig into her, a painful reminder that she was being watched throughout this. That she had to perform.

Disinterestedly, she cocked her head, watching nearby tributes spit out parts of the boy who blew up.

The screen cut to Graecus, firing successive knives into the boys from Seven and Eleven. The latter remained down. Minet suppressed a frown.

She hadn't noticed either. Throughout the entire Capitol tour, throughout the Reapings and everything in between, she hadn't caught sight of them because she simply hadn't cared. Minet shook her head.

That was a good thing.

And then, there was her. The entire alliance of Syrene and the Twelve kids was berating her with their petty attacks, and in a moment, Graecus was there to provide cover for her. She fought the urge to look away.

He had been there for her and she let him bleed on the pavement.

The rest was history; Syrene fled without so much as turning back, and she had District Twelve on the ground without so much as batting an eyelash. For once, she didn't have to fake this.

Minet could still care less about those two.

They were dead as soon as the escort chose them; there was no chance District Twelve had ever come close to a Victor with either of them. She just delivered the final blow; it was foolish to neglect every stroke of bad luck that happened beforehand. Guilt for them was unreasonable.

The rest of the bloodbath was a blur. She ran off to chase the loon from Ten and the tributes that drew breath dispersed. Her eyebrow cocked as the girl from Five rushed both Harleen and Everest, and then-

Harleen killed Everest. She leered at him, laughing as the life seeped out of him. What was done was done, but…what if? Had Harleen not killed Everest, would he be sitting here instead of Minet? Would she?

Harleen nodded at the girl from Five, allowing her to sift through the supplies before killing her, too, the knife piercing her chest with disturbing strength. She was dead before she hit the ground.

The last clip of the bloodbath had the boy from Ten eyeing Harleen, who cleaned her wounds daintily for such a demon. The boy from Ten also died within seconds as Naya threw a knife through his chest. He was Naya's first and only kill.

Minet had nearly been her second.

The footage cut to Rosemarie, screaming for her allies to keep going as she doubled back, parrying two of Minet's strikes before being disarmed. Nodding, Minet watched herself plunge her rapier through Rosemarie's throat.

That was a textbook kill. Concise. Decisive. But what she hadn't thought of at the time and bubbled in her now, was that that kill and almost every kill she pulled was something else: Merciful. She drew out no one's death; she tortured no one. Everything she did was what was convenient, what would benefit her the most.

So she wasn't a saint, and she wasn't a demon. Minet chuckled. She would be forever in between.

Next, Angevin's unharmed features – so different than the battered boy that nearly took her life days ago – led the girls from Three and Seven into the Cornucopia, solely guarded by Mizuko. Before they set foot on the Cornucopia grounds, Minet had it figured out.

But she watched, anyway. She watched as the three tore into Mizuko like animals, and left him to bleed out in the name of having an easier escape. One without suspicion. But even from there, watching the clip, she knew that had she been one of them, Minet would have done the exact same.

Minet grimaced as the girl from Three scattered sponsor bombs throughout the Cornucopia and fled with Angevin and the girl from Seven in tow.

But she had to look away as Ira dragged Mizuko away, unconscious. The girl had been doing it in the name of whatever it is that bound them, but it didn't change one thing: Mizuko had no say in it. She gulped heavily as the explosion that took Harleen went off feet from her.

He hadn't betrayed her, and she left him to be buried alive.

Minet took breaths greedily as the scene cut to the deaths of tributes she didn't remember. The boy from Seven was speared from behind by the boy from Five. The girl from Ten – the loon – decimated the remains of Rosemarie's alliance, finally stopped by the boy from Six, but not before the injuries took him, too.

A gasp and a cry and a scream, they almost all escaped from her as the next scene came into view. Almost. She watched in a combination of dread and anger as Naya blindly charged Ira and Mizuko, Graecus and her having no choice but to follow.

She knew what happened by memory. It was a broken record in her mind, playing over and over again what she could've done, what she had to do to come out on top with Graecus alive.

Minet knew it was pointless, that, either way, for her to be here alive, he needed to die. But that didn't change that she failed him when he needed her. He would've saved her. If their roles had been reversed, she would still be the one sitting here because he would've saved her whereas she did nothing but fail him.

All the while, Minet remained stoic from the outside.

Angevin ran in, bulls hot on his heels, and Minet glared at herself through the screen as she let Graecus lie, trampled. She turned heel and fled.

A hiss bubbled from her throat as a foreign hand rested on her shoulder. Hamlet retracted his hand immediately as Minet clearly stated without words that if he touched her again, there would be limbs missing.

A profound sigh escaped her lips as the scene flipped to Syrene throwing Harley off a railing. These days were the ones where she searched the arena alone without any findings, where her actions brought up no regret, no shame.

The tsunami towered through one quadrant of the arena, smashing buildings to rubble in its wake. Minet quirked an eyebrow as the girl from Seven threw herself into the waters, her ally forced to flee without her.

If there was one thing Minet could not tolerate, it was that. Graecus had died before her, and this idiot had thrown away her life like it was useless. What would've happened if Graecus had the chance? If he lived that long?

Next, Syrene dueled the pair of Rosemarie's living allies – the boy from Three and the girl from Nine – having both on their knees, but only killing the girl. The sight of the weeping boy left Syrene to abscond with her tail between her legs.

The mental toll on the boy from Three was evident; he charged Ira the following day, who had been separated from Mizuko in the flood. Mizuko appeared minutes after, able to kill the boy only for him to kill Ira. Minet gulped. Had Mizuko pulled off a cleaner kill, would Minet have been able to take on both him and Ira?

No, she knew that for a fact. She would be dead.

Minet's chest constricted as Mizuko, screaming and flailing, faded to black. The rest of these Games were all her, directly and indirectly.

Naya glared into the screen, so real and alive that Minet fought the instinct to fall into a defensive stance. Then, she saw herself, daunting the other girl to strike. And, as she'd wanted, Naya struck out and missed.

Minet had not.

If Naya's splayed corpse was meant to spook her, she telepathically told the Gamemakers that they would need more. Naya had her chance and she blew it; Minet owed her no thanks, no thought.

The screen cut to Angevin and Syrene, spewing venom at each other with respectable defensive positions. Syrene struck out first, and that was her downfall. With a hidden blade, Angevin skewered her through and through.

And then he spat on her. Minet shook her head, disgusted. To kill a district partner was one thing; to blatantly disrespect them was another.

The recording remained on Angevin as he backstabbed his own ally, the girl from Three, as she moved to help him and his injuries. He was resilient; she'd give him that.

Then she was on the street again. It was from her point of view, staring down Mizuko's bruised face with venom, yet reluctance to finish him off. She would never admit it, but that was why she'd let the building devour him.

She wouldn't have been able to do it herself.

The screen splits down the middle, showing Minet being sliced and diced by the bats as Angevin was gouged by the panthers. She arrived first, sifting through rubble to find something, anything to fight with in vain.

The fight ensued shortly thereafter.

Every punch, every kick – she felt it. It had been so recently that she could still remember the sound of Angevin's raspy breath as he allowed her to plunge the knife into herself, his ruin. And she watched herself stumble into the ground, seconds before the first medic reached her side.

Minet remembered what the darkness felt like.

The tape didn't get the chance to close before the audience was on their feet, cheering and crying, whistling and weeping, and everything in between. Hamlet rose from his seat and offered a hand for her.

Minet considered it, shook her head, and sidestepped around Hamlet. She was off the stage before the crowd had the chance to take a seat. The berating voices of Armia and Cobble – even Orson – bubbled in her mind, but she ignored them.

She didn't play the part because she couldn't, but because she was giving up a part of herself in being someone that she wasn't. Someone that she would never be. And if the Capitol didn't like it, so be it.

They could beat her, they could throw her through hell and pull her back, they could take the truth and morph it into acrimony, but they would never force Minet Nikelle to be anyone that she was not.

Six years later.

"If you don't leave now, I'm going to kick you out," Minet laughed, practically shoving her brother and his fiancé out of their house. The door to the Victors' Village home had been wide open for at least ten minutes, but no one had stepped foot outside.

Anders tripped to maintain foothold in the house. "Are you sure you can watch her and yourself tonight?"

Minet groaned. It was the same routine they ran through, the three of them, every time she tried to get them out of the house. At first, it'd been just as much for her as it was for them, but over the last couple of months, the two had been reluctant to leave her without them.

What with the suicide of Daisy Springs in recent years and the murder of Azure Dominicus three weeks ago, they were reluctant to leave her in a room without one of them there, let alone a house.

"I'm a big girl; don't you worry."

Anders playfully smirked. "Well…"

"I swear I will punch right through that fat nose of yours." The three shared a quick laugh before Minet quite literally kicked her brother out the door, laughing as she watched him frowningly adjust his disheveled suit.

"Thanks, sis!" Anders called out, lowering himself into the driver's seat of the car and of course, being himself, bumping his head on the side of the car as he did so. Minet and Ali shared a laugh at his expense, with the usual 'He's an idiot' and 'Why the hell am I related to that?'

Ali turned to Minet, mother-mode activated. "Talia's milk is in the fridge, I packed an ice cream if she gets whiney, but I really don't - "

" - Like her eating sweets," Minet finished, grinning. "I've watched her a thousand times, Ali; go have fun."

A sigh passed Ali's lips. "You're the best, Minet," she murmured, pulling her into a hug.

"No need to remind me, sweetheart, I've known that one for a while." Ali giggled as Minet continued to nudge her out the door. "Have fun; stay out late!" Minet let out a sigh of relief as Ali actually went into the car and it pulled out of the driveway. Winning the Games had been easier than this.

As soon as she was sure they had actually left, not just gone down the lane and turned back to make sure she was okay, Minet climbed up the stairs to the smallest of the guest bedrooms, where her niece lay, snoring.

"You can stop now; they're gone," she said in a sing-song voice, grinning as Talia's sheets were unceremoniously thrown off her bed.

"Can we play tag now? Or watch a scary movie? Can I have some ice cream?" Talia bounced on the heels of her feet, shaking Minet with her.

"How about you go grab us some ice cream and I'll start up a screecher?" Minet hadn't been able to finish her proposal before Talia was halfway down the stairs, whooping. Minet couldn't suppress the smile that naturally spread across her face if she tried.

Because even if Talia wasn't her daughter, she was family. Minet had come home from the Games unstable and needing something to make her feel needed and whole again, and she found that in Anders, Ali, and Talia. She had been there, when Talia was born, when Anders proposed.

She had been there for them. She had never let them down. Not like before.

Minet shook her head. That would never happen again. If there was anything she could do, no matter the cost, Minet would let nothing harm the ones she loved, because she'd let it happen before. She had failed someone before, and on the bad days, she still had nightmares.

She relived Graecus' death more times than she could count, but she didn't fight it anymore. Minet used it to fuel her into never letting that happen to Talia, to Ali, to Anders.

So maybe she didn't beat the Games, but she found a way to live through them. To never forgive, to never forget, but to remember, to cherish. To mourn, but not be plagued.

And that was all Minet could ever need to go on.

A/N: There you have it, the end of Blood Splatters :)

It's been one hell of a ride, and I thank any and all of you that supported me along the way. Elim, Fin, Blissy, Skye, Purple, Cloe, just to name a few.

But I have to give special thanks to Immy, who helped me through thick and thin (and trust me, there's been some thins in this story). Immy has made me into the writer I am today, and for that, I can't express how grateful I am for her helping me write this story. Immy, you're vindictive and sarcastic, but more than anything, you're sweet and helpful, and one of the best people I've met on this site. You make me cherish that I decided to join Fanfiction to meet people like you, so good and so frikin cool XD

You're the best, Immy :) Thank you for everything.

Wow, why did I make it sound like you just died XD

That's all I have :) Thanks, again, everyone!