Marley ducked down behind the wall and tried to catch her breath. She looked up to the sky and said a silent prayer, even though she was fairly confident that no one was listening. She concentrated on slowing her breathing and getting her nerves to settle. She hadn't slept in close to sixty hours and she was exhausted and starving.
After a couple of minutes she made herself take a quick peek around the wall. She was fairly sure that she had lost them but she needed to know. It was the middle of the night and there were no street lights around here, unsurprisingly, but from what she could make out there was no movement.
She decided to wait a couple more minutes to be sure and to give her heart a little more time to recover. She looked around and tried to work out which way to go. Not that it seemed to matter. She hadn't known where she was ever since she'd got to this godforsaken town, what difference would it make now? She just needed somewhere to get some sleep, somewhere she could hide that was small enough to go unnoticed and easily defensible.
Marley held her hands out in front of her and willed them to stop shaking. "Come on, get it together." She whispered to herself.
Sneaking another peek around the wall to be certain, she set off in the opposite direction to which she had come, staying low and using cover wherever possible. In the distance she could see a low building with a glass front, possibly some kind of abandoned store. She figured it was worth checking out as maybe there was something salvageable in there, so she cautiously made her way over to it.
She was about fifty feet away from it when she saw them. Four girls, about her age maybe, all dressed in red and white jackets. She crouched down behind a fallen dumpster and watched them, feeling woefully exposed. They just seemed to be standing there chatting, not a care in the world. Marley wondered how anyone could behave that way in this place. Finally they started to move away and she breathed a sigh of relief.
Once they had rounded the corner she sprinted to better cover and waited a couple of minutes to make sure she was alone then slowly began to cover the remaining distance. She could see that one of the windows was broken on the side closest to her, but there was about ten feet of open space between her and it. She didn't know what to do. On the one hand, now that she was so close she could see that the building did indeed used to be a grocery store and there was a small possibility that she could find something to eat. On the other, that possibility was so small, and the risk of being spotted as she ran across the car park so great, she wasn't sure it was worth it. But then, if she didn't get something to eat and some sleep soon she was going to be in serious trouble.
"Well, you can't just sit here forever." She told herself. She forced herself out of her position and ran as fast and quietly as she could across the parking lot. With barely a pause she vaulted through the window and had to smother the cry of pain that forced out as she sliced her shoulder on a shard of glass she hadn't spotted. She kept moving until she was far enough away from the window to not be seen from outside, then stopped to inspect the damage.
"Shit!" She whispered, tears pouring down her face as she saw the deep cut on her shoulder. It was bleeding freely and she desperately needed something to staunch the flow, but since the guys who had jumped her had stolen her backpack she had nothing but the t shirt and jeans she was wearing. She spun around quickly, panicking and aware she was making too much noise, blindly searching for any kind of fabric she could use. She spotted a pile of rags in the corner and sprinted over to them, noticing that they smelled awful but not really in a position to care. She pulled her own t shirt over the wound so that the rags wouldn't be directly touching her and fell to the ground in a heap, willing herself not to lose it completely.
And that was when she saw the flashlight.
Someone was coming. Move, Marley. Move! She couldn't. She was frozen to the spot, paralysed with fear. She closed her eyes and shook her head, trying to get her body to co-operate, and she saw her mother's face. God, she missed her mom. She heard a noise and her body seemed to get the message. She stood up and moved deeper into the store trying to find cover. Near the back there were some abandoned shelves. If anyone came over this way she'd be caught, but if they stayed towards the front she would be hidden, and it was all she had. She crouched down beside them and looked over just in time to see two of the girls in the red and white jackets climb in through the window, shining the torch around the abandoned store.
"Come out, come out wherever you are!" One of them sing songed.
"We saw you come in here and Kitty wants to play." The other one laughed. "She doesn't like it when we keep her waiting."
Marley felt her blood run cold. The girls didn't look like much. They were shorter than her and she thought she would be in with a fair chance on a normal day, but she was exhausted and starving and down to one arm.
Suddenly a hand covered her mouth and a strong arm pulled her back. Thankfully she was too shocked and terrified to make a sound, because whoever it was pulled her out of sight just as the flashlight beam pointed at her previous location.
Marley tried to relax as she was manouvered silently backwards, realising it was possible she was being dragged to a worse fate but not really having any options to work with. A hand on her head forced her lower, which was a concern, but she saw they were going through a hole in the wall and tried to keep her body flexible. As soon as they were through she was turned around and moved forward at a quicker pace until she was pushed through a doorway into a small room. The door closed quietly behind them and she was released. She backed away as fast as she could and turned to face her captor/saviour.
"What the fuck are you doing in here?" A muscular guy with a mohawk hissed at her. Behind him, her back to her with an ear to the door was a short brunette. "You're gonna get us all killed."
"Ssh!" The brunette hissed.
Marley just stared at them, willing herself to stay calm. She felt like she was going to collapse.
"Alright," The brunette whispered eventually. "It doesn't sound like they saw you come back here but it won't be long before they check anyway. We need to move fast." She moved to the other side of the room where there was a second door that Marley hadn't spotted. She really needed food. "Puck, you take her. And get something on that wound, would you? That rag doesn't look at all sanitary." The girl pressed her ear to the second door and listened for a couple of seconds. "I'll go first and make sure it's clear. You follow at a safe distance. Stay out of sight. If they see me you hide til they are gone and get her to safety."
"Are you fucking crazy?" The guy hissed. "There's no fucking way I'm letting them take you!"
"You will do as I say, Puckerman. Now be quiet." The brunette barely looked at him, yet he seemed to lose all his fight. After a second he turned and walked over to Marley, anger blazing in his eyes. He turned her roughly and inspected her would, then pulled some kind of bandage from his bag and wrapped it quickly around her shoulder.
"Okay," The girl whispered. "Let's go."
"Berry," Puck whispered back. "If they take you…"
"If they take me, hopefully she'll protect me."
"And what if she's not there?"
The girl just looked at him. "Let's just get out of here." She pressed her ear to the door one last time and opened it.
Puck held Marley in front of him and pushed her gently down the corridor after the girl. It was pitch black but she could vaguely make out the other girl's movements ahead. Suddenly Puck put his hand on her shoulder, pulling her to a stop, and she could just make out a bit of light seeping in from near the floor. As her eyes adjusted she saw the girl drop down and push herself through the gap and waited for some sign that she should start moving again. After what felt like an age Puck pushed her slightly and she inched towards the gap.
"Well, hey there!" A voice broke the silence from the other side of the wall. Puck yanked her back and began dragging her further down the corridor. "Lookey what we got here, Kitty!"
"Oh my," A second voice purred. "Rachel Berry. Momma will be pleased."
Marley was running again. This time, though, the guy behind wasn't chasing her, he was directing her. As far as she could tell they weren't being followed, but she somehow felt worse. A girl that she had just met had put herself in Marley's place. She had no idea why, or what fate awaited her, but she felt sick about it. All she could do now was run.
Eventually they came to a chain link fence and Puck moved in front of her to lift a corner of it, his eyes darting around behind them, scanning for possible threats. She ducked under it and waited for him to follow, then started running again as he placed a hand to the small of her back. The adrenaline was starting to wear off now and she really thought she might pass out. They were running over a grass field which she realised, by the posts sticking out of the ground, one of them tilted at a wild angle, used to be a football field. The building in front of them that they were running towards she therefore assumed to be a school, correctly it turned out. They reached a door and Puck tapped out a complicated sequence of knocks at which point the door creaked open and they were granted access.
"Who's this?" The guy who opened the door asked.
"My latest fuck buddy, asshat." Puck spat. "Now get back to work." He put his hand on her back again and pushed her forward.
She looked back at the guy with floppy hair and too many teeth in something of a panic but continued forward. At this point what choice did she have? She took in her surroundings as best she could in the low lighting. It just looked like an old school, as much as she could remember. She hadn't been to school in...five years? Six? Not since the world had gone to hell.
Halfway down the corridor she was shoved into a room. It was rectangular with white walls and tiered seating along the back wall. She took in the fact that there were two doors onto the corridor and a small room with windows off to the side. There was also a beat up old piano. Marley hadn't seen one of those since…
"Who's this?" A tall, thick set guy asked.
"Fuck knows." Puck responded, closing though door behind him. "Some dumb fucking chick who thought it was a good idea to sneak into Cheerios territory by herself."
"Um, where's Rachel?" A thin guy with ridiculously coiffed hair and a pleasantly effeminate voice asked.
Suddenly all eyes in the room were on her and Puck. In addition to tall guy and thin guy there was a wiry asian guy and a heavy set girl, who was eyeing her suspiciously. All of them seemed to be holding their breath.
"Well, that's just the thing." Puck spat. "Berry decided it would be better for me to get our new friend here to safety than protect her."
He stalked over to the piano and placed his hands on it, keeping his back to them.
"What are you saying, Puckerman?" The tall guy asked quietly.
The room was dead silent.
"Puck?" Tall guy asked again, more forcefully this time.
"I'm saying they fucking have her, alright?" Puck yelled, punching the top of the piano. "I'm saying she fucking gave herself to them so me and this fucking random could get out of there!" He gestured angrily at Marley.
"Oh, hell no!" The girl cried.
Marley pressed herself up against a wall and tried desperately not to attract any extra attention. The room fell silent as all eyes turned to the tall guy in the centre of the room. He was leaning on one of the chairs, his hands wrapped around the metal bar at the top. His knuckles were white. Slowly he stood up straight and Marley could see the muscles in his jaw working. Suddenly his leg shot out and he kicked the chair across the room, then stormed over to the other door and yanked it open, slamming it behind him.
"Well," The thin guy broke the silence after a few moments. "As I forsee Finn being his usual helpful self during this crisis I suggest we come up with a plan. Mike, could you possibly get...I'm sorry, my dear, what is your name?"
It took a few seconds for her to realise that someone was actually speaking to her. "M..Marley." She stuttered.
"Marley. Delightful to meet you, although I only wish it were under better circumstances. I'm Kurt." He turned his attention back to the asian guy. "Mike, could you please get Marley settled in?"
"Sure." He lifted himself out of his seat and ambled over to her, smiling as he approached. "Follow me." He said kindly, holding the door open for her.
She started out into the corridor, too exhausted to speak.
"You look like you're in a pretty bad way. You want food first or the nurse's office?"
She chuckled at the use of such a term, knowing there probably hasn't been a nurse present for at least five years. "Food, please. I'm pretty sure it's stopped bleeding."
"Cool." He nodded. "I'll ask Tina to have a look at it when she gets back from patrol. In here." He held open another door and she saw they were in a cafeteria.
Mike went behind the counter and she could hear him rustling about. She sank down gratefully into a chair and allowed herself to relax a tiny bit for the first time in the three days. After a few moments he reappeared with a bottle of water and an opened tin of tuna.
"It's not much but it's what we've got."
"Oh, God, you have no idea." Marley's mouth had filled with saliva just looking at it. She practically ripped the items from his hands and had a brief panic over which to attack first. In the end she went for the food and Mike took the opportunity to open the bottle for her, chuckling as he did so.
"When was the last time you ate?"
Marley shook her head. "I don't really know. Right before I left Columbus but I can't really remember when…"
"Wait, you came from Columbus?" Marley nodded. "How did you get here?"
"I walked." She said around mouthfuls of food.
Mike just looked at her for a few moments. "Why?"
Marley shrugged. "I had to leave. I left."
"And you came here?"
She shrugged again. "I didn't really know where I was headed."
Mike chuckled. "Well, welcome to hell."
Marley set the now empty tin down on the table and looked at him. "What's the deal with this place, anyway? I got jumped by a group of guys as soon as I crossed city limits." She grabbed the bottle of water and took a sip. "Not unusual. It was my own fault, I was exhausted and not paying enough attention. But those girls, the ones in the red and white jackets? Why is everyone so afraid of them?"
Mike sat back and crossed his arms. "They're the Cheerios. The gang that runs this town. Don't be fooled by the name, there's nothing cheery about them. They are a bunch of sadistic freaks and they are run by the three most ruthless, crazy, cold hearted bitches that hopefully you won't have the misfortune to meet." Mike sighed and ran his hands through his hair. "Their leader is Quinn Fabray. She is the most vindictive, conniving, heartless person you will ever come across outside of your nightmares, maybe even with them. Her second in command is Santana Lopez. She has a wicked tongue, a short fuse and a brutal right hook. She would beat you to a bloody pulp for looking at her wrong and her only concern would be breaking a nail. Santana's girlfriend is Brittany Pierce. That girl is just plain crazy. They call the three of them the Unholy Trinity."
Marley sat back and thought about this. "But every town is ruled by a gang of some sort, usually a few vying for position. Here, though, it seems different. When Puck pulled me out of there he said I was going to get us all killed."
Mike chuckled without mirth. "I take it you are not aware that Sue Sylvester is from Lima?"