Okay, so this is the final chapter. Thanks so much for reading and reviewing thus far. It's been great fun to write, and I hope it's been as much fun to read.
Chapter 15 - Galactica to Ashes, Pemberley to Dust
Puck doesn't want to see what's really in front of them, so he doesn't. He knows that Rachel's doing the same. And of course, it's not like he can blame her. He'd do the same thing in her position. So even though he feels his heart sinking and his stomach aching with sadness for her, he just nods and smiles.
"They're alive," she says again, and this time it's almost like she's trying to convince herself. She knocks on the door, quietly at first, but then starts to pound when her initial knocks aren't answered. Puck takes care of the few zombies in the area that are drawn by the noise.
"Maybe they don't realize it's you," he says after he shoots a zombie in the head from fifty feet away like a badass.
"It's me! Rachel!" she shouts, and her voice is starting to hold an edge of panic. She's finally noticing what neither of them wanted to notice before: that the windows aren't boarded nearly well enough to keep out zombies for very long, that there is blood all over her driveway, and that there aren't too many zombies still in the area. It all seems to suggest that nothing's been alive in that house for quite some time.
"Maybe they're in the basement," Puck suggests in a low tone, but he knows that Rachel can tell that he doesn't mean it.
"Maybe," she whispers. She tries turning the knob, then tries unlocking it with her keys, then finally locates the right position with her foot (her fathers' constant overpreparedness led to them purchasing a number of Worst Case Scenario Survival Guides for her over the years, and several of them contained information on how to correctly break down a locked door), and kicks the door open.
"That is so badass," Puck says. Rachel doesn't laugh. She doesn't even smile. It was easy to ignore the fact that her parents might be dead back when it was just a hypothetical, and back when she could convince herself that they also might be alive. Having the proof of the negative in front of her was going to take a lot of stomach, and she wasn't sure that she had the stuff.
"Come on," she says, and she pulls him inside and closes the door as much as it will still close before turning to face her empty house and all the implications that the state of it brings.
What was in pristine condition when she and Puck left only days before is now an unholy mess. Blood is smeared on the black and white tiles in the kitchen, pictures have been knocked off their nails in the walls, and empty packages of food lie haphazardly across the floor. The back door is wide open, but Rachel barely has the time to feel foolish about the fact that she kicked the door open (and possibly sprained her ankle, she's starting to realize) for nothing. She yells something practically unintelligible to Puck about checking out the basement, then runs up the stairs.
Puck, halfway down the stairs to the empty basement, feels his heart stop when she screams.
When Will pulls into the high school parking lot in the bus, he's surprised to find Sue outside and waiting for him in a fresh red Adidas tracksuit, looking like she's ready to harp on him about trying to steal funding from Cheerios again. He actually feels a little lightheaded at the surrealism of the image for a moment before he manages to bring himself back under control.
"Sue," he says, feeling like the biggest idiot in the world when he opens the door and stares down at her from his rather ungainly perch.
"I always knew there had to be a profession even more unsuited to you than educator, so thank you for finally solving that particular mental dilemma. Your driving is atrocious. I hope you know that there's no way in sweet hades I'm letting you behind the wheel of this thing for two hours. No, if anyone's going to hold the lives of everyone in their hands, it's going to be me. You can be in charge of organizing the campfire songs or…nothing. Your choice."
Will tries his hardest not to smirk victoriously at her, but he can tell from the way her expression goes from smug to furious that he's not successful.
"I'm glad you've changed your mind," he says before she can get too angry again. "It'll be nice to have you along."
"Let's make one thing very clear, William. I haven't changed my mind about anything. I still think that this is a woefully underanalyzed idea, and I'm sure you'll all end up as even more brain-dead and cannibalistic versions of yourselves before the day is over. But I want to be there when you fail so that I can know for sure that you don't make it, and that I was right."
"I know you better than that, Sue," Will says, and Kurt looks at him like he's crazy, but he keeps going anyway. "I know you like to pretend that you're all hard shell, but there's some crème filling in there just like there is in the rest of us."
"If you ever compare me to a snack treat again, you oversized Kebler elf, I will shove my foot so far into your crotch that your mother's zombie will feel it."
Will just smiles at her (and possibly winces a little), and keeps smiling as she stalks back into the school.
"You know that the second you are bitten by a zombie, she is going to take perverse pleasure in shooting your brains out, right?" Kurt says lightly, looking up at Will with a concerned expression on his face.
"I don't think that was ever in question," Will agrees, and for some reason he just can't stop smiling about it. He knows the truth about Sue, even if no one else does.
At least, he's pretty sure it's the truth. She could always just be a homicidal maniac. Part of him thinks that maybe she won't even wait for a zombie to bite him before blowing his brains out, but he has to have faith in her as a human being and as a leader.
Otherwise, they are all very dead.
Quinn is standing at one of the windows on the second floor with a sniper rifle when she hears Santana enter. She knows it's Santana because Santana has this way of walking like a panther that is really easy to identify even when you have your back turned. She's really quiet, too, and for a few seconds Quinn wonders if she's trying to sneak up on Quinn and scare the baby out of her (she wouldn't put it past Santana even a little), but then Santana clears her throat loudly and obviously, and Quinn stifles a smile before she turns around.
"Hey," she says carefully. Santana has mood swings like the husbands of pregnant women have nightmares about, especially after losing Brittany, and Quinn isn't really sure if Santana's going to shoot her in the face or hug her around the waist and try to spoon-feed her dinner.
"Okay, before I say anything, just promise me that you won't make a big deal out of this."
"I noticed that, no offense, you kind of suck at shooting shit. The presentation is all right. You look fierce as hell. You got that sneer going on, the kind that used to make Rachel Berry wet her TJ Maxx pleated pants, but you couldn't hit a zombie in the head if it was the size of fucking Godzilla."
"I'm pregnant," Quinn says automatically, her excuse for everything that has been strangely applicable for almost any situation until right now. Because Santana just narrows her eyes and looks at Quinn like Quinn has to be kidding.
"Your fetus is excused for suckage, but you're not. Being pregnant doesn't mean you suddenly get a free ride to everything. I'm not going to risk my ass for you because you're not willing to learn the ropes. And if Puckerman dies because you're too weak to save your own damn self, me and Rachel are going to go warrior women on your ass, and you know that's true. All right? So can we save the pregnancy excuse for someone who gives a shit?"
"Okay," Quinn says tensely. She's starting to feel a little like she's about to be drawn and quartered, but she also knows that showing fear is always a bad thing whenever Santana's involved. She can sense it, sort of like a snake, or a tiger, or a really mean dog. But she'll always respect someone who can at least somewhat attempt to hide it, and that's what Quinn needs to do.
"Good. Now, listen carefully, because I'm only going to explain things once."
Santana pulls a sniper rifle out from behind her back, and Quinn barely has a second to be impressed before Santana is striding towards her, a devilish sort of grin playing at her features and scaring the ever-holy hell out of Quinn and her unborn Drizzle.
Artie finds Tina hiding in the boy's locker room, which is weird enough without the fact that she's crying. He's sort of used to the whole crying thing, actually, because she's been doing that a lot (okay, so has he), and it's totally natural. But she's hiding and crying, which is really weird, and it reminds him of the time his cat disappeared for a week before they found his body under the front porch, like he knew he was dying and wanted to get away from everyone.
When Tina sees Artie, she wipes her eyes and tries to smile, but Artie knows better. He knows that she's just doing it for him, like she thinks that he'll somehow break down if he sees her crying or something.
And, well, here's the thing: he kind of does.
"Everything's going to be fine," he says, but he can feel his throat closing with fear and panic, and his eyes are pretty quickly filling with tears.
"I know that," Tina sobs.
"I mean it, Teen. Everything's going to be okay."
He wheels closer and tries his damndest to stop crying before she notices, but he totally, epically fails on that front. The good news is that she actually looks comforted by the fact that he's starting to blubber like a baby, so he figures that's another facet of Tina's personality to mark down on his Things About Tina That Defy '90s Teen Movie Stereotypes. According to his rudimentary knowledge of the female sex, they're supposed to be turned off by male crying or something. Tina's looking at him like he's some kind of golden god.
"You don't have to pretend for me, you know," she says gently, only crying a little.
"Well then, you don't have to pretend for me, either," he replies, crying only a little less.
"I think that's fair. So we're in agreement, then, that this completely and totally sucks?"
Artie nods wisely and wipes his eyes a few more times. When he puts his glasses back on, he's surprised to see Tina looming only inches away.
"You move like a tiger," he says matter-of-factly.
"What? Because I'm Asian? Don't you think that's a little racist?" Tina asks pointedly. Artie laughs and feels himself turning a little red.
"No, no! I just mean, you know, tigers are pretty cool. If I wanted to be racist, I'd mention pandas. Or rice. Or those funny little hats that Chinese people wear. Or those moustaches…"
"Okay, okay. I get it. You know your Asian humor. God. Guys can be so…"
"I'm not a guy, Tina," Artie says seriously. "Not a stereotypical one, anyway. If I can't make stereotyping comments about you being Asian, then you can't make comments about me being a normal guy."
"Fine, then you can't make comments about me being a normal girl."
"I would never," Artie says, and he smiles when Tina smiles.
She bends down and kisses his lips chastely, arms on either side of his body, feet firmly planted on the ground so Artie doesn't go rolling backward like last time. Artie smiles against her mouth and kisses her back. He loves the fact that she cares about the little things like that. And when he thinks about Quinn and Finn and how much they loved each other just before Finn was killed, he knows that he couldn't live through Tina dying. Maybe physically, sure, his body would probably survive that, crippled and all. But mentally, he would probably be better off being a ball of ooze. Or something.
"You know I love you, right?" he says once she pulls away for a breath. She looks at him like he's really stupid.
"Duh. Of course I do. You say it all the time."
"Okay. So I say it enough, then? Because sometimes I wonder, and I'm like 'huh, maybe I should start saying it more', because…"
"I don't think there's such a thing as saying it enough," Tina interrupts. "Unless you're saying it with every single breath."
"No, no way. I'm not doing that. Tina, I love you. I mean, I seriously, seriously love you. But there's no way in hell I'm going to be embarrassing like that stupid alternate ending they made for the American version of Pride and Prejudice. And yes, I have seen it, because Keira Knightley and I had a very torrid love affair. And also because Kurt made me."
"First of all, dumbass, there's no way I'd want you to be that embarrassing. Secondly, he wasn't saying 'I love you', he was saying 'Mrs. Darcy', which was even more embarrassing. So if you ever call me Mrs. Abrams, just know that I will fuck you up. Thirdly, my torrid love affair with Matthew McFayden was probably way more torrid and love affairy than you and Keira "hello, I'm a stick insect" Knightley."
Artie realizes that neither of them are crying anymore. He's pretty sure that the smile might explode his face.
"You're so awesome, you know that?" he says breathlessly.
"Yeah, but you're even more awesome than I am. Do you know that?"
"There's no way my half-paralyzed body can contain even half the amount of awesome that you contain, Tina. It's just math."
"You obviously failed math, because awesomeness is not directly related to spinal issues. So clearly you're just as capable as I am at containing awesomeness."
Artie starts to retort with another (no doubt extremely clever) retort about just how awesome Tina is, but then he realizes that they sound really, really stupid.
"Um, Tina, it has been brought to my attention by…myself that we sound almost as embarrassing as the Darcys. I don't think romantic is a good look for us."
Tina considers it for a moment before answering, "You're right. Would you rather go kill zombies instead?"
Puck races up the stairs towards Rachel's scream, slipping twice on the carpet on the way up because it's so freakishly neat and clean despite the fact that the rest of the house has gone the way of total shit. Or maybe because he's so nervous that he's actually shaking from his hands to his feet, and suddenly walking up stairs is a problem for him.
He slams into her room with all the grace of a grizzly bear, and is trying to flick the safety off his pistol except his fingers are shaking so much that he just ends up jamming his thumb against the metal. He looks up, ready to brain the zombie with the butt of the gun if he has to, and sees that Rachel is standing beside her fathers' bed, hand clutched to her mouth, and in absolutely no danger whatsoever.
One of her fathers – the white one, Puck vaguely recognizes, although he's gone a bit yellow and deadish – is lying in the bed. Blood is splattered across the once-white sheets. Blood and grey brain stuff and little bits of bone. The room smells like death, and Puck sees the gun clutched in Mr. Berry's death grip.
"Oh, shit," he breathes, and it's weird that he gags a little and almost throws up. It's not like it's the worst thing he's seen since the apocalypse started getting all zombified – Finn's corpse would take the cake on that one – but there's something about the whole situation that's so fucked up. He sort of hopes that Rachel's dad has seen 28 Days Later and will have had the good sense to leave behind a note or something for her.
"Oh God," Rachel sobs, finally breaking out of her horrified trance and pushing past Puck to the bathroom. Puck tries not to listen to her throwing up (it's probably the least manly thing about him except the whole being-in-glee-club thing, but he really can't listen to people throwing up. It's just disgusting) and he starts walking around the bed. There is a note, so clearly Mr. Berry did watch 28 Days Later, which isn't exactly surprising since it has full frontal male nudity, and Cillian Murphy is all hot and everything, which Puck is completely and without embarrassment willing to admit.
He knows he shouldn't read the note, but Puck's personality is comprised of all the parts of a person that aren't supposed to happen, so he considers that fact alone a license to do bad shit as long as he makes up for it later.
Rae, the note starts, and that's actually sort of an adorable nickname for her. I couldn't save Daddy. I'm so sorry. I don't know where those things came from. I saw your note on the counter and I thought about going to see you, but I know that in the end it just would have been harder for you. I've been bitten, and I don't have long, and if you saw me you would only want to try to save me. Sweetheart, I love you so much, but you inherited my stubbornness and your Daddy's loyalty.
If you're still alive, if you ever read this…I hope you understand why I've done what I've done. I don't want to be one of those things, Rae. I don't know if there will ever end up being a cure. I hope for your sake there will be. I hope that the world can go back to what it used to be. I hope that you can find a way to be happy. You should know by now, but I'll say it anyway, that I love you very much. Your Daddy loved you too. We both want nothing but the best for you. Babygirl, if you read this, remember that you're our superstar. And you are strong enough to survive. Don't ever let anyone make you think that you're not. I love you, always. Dad.
Puck hates the fact that a letter can make him all emotional, but he can't help but wonder if his mom is still alive. And if she is, does she worry about him? Did they even stop to wait for him for ten minutes before fleeing the house? He knows that he's not a model child, but he's not so terrible that he would ever expect to be left behind during a zombie outbreak. He always sort of fanaticized that he would take his mom and sister to the school. Maybe he could prove to his mom at last that he's nothing like his asshole father. He could show his mom that he's the kind of guy who takes care of his family no matter what, and never runs out just because he can't deal with shit.
But then she ran because she couldn't deal with shit. And if that isn't fucked up, he doesn't know what is.
He leaves the bedroom and closes the door behind him, feeling the nausea start to subside as the feelings of sadness and guilt rise up and crowd it out. Rachel is standing in the bathroom with her hands gripping the side of the sink, her eyes closed and her head hanging down.
Puck realizes that he has absolutely no idea what to say to her.
"All my bags are packed," Matt sings in an exaggerated baritone, swinging two duffel bags into the back of the bus.
Mike follows up with a smooth, "I'm ready to go!" and twirls Mercedes down the center aisle. Mercedes opens her mouth and, predictably, blows them all away.
"I'm standing here, outside your door!"
Even Emma joins in with a meek, "I'd hate to wake you up, to say goodbye."
Since the only reason any of these kids know Leaving on a Jet Plane by John Denver is because of Armageddon, they promptly skip the rest of the first verse and move on to the bridge, together. Sue secretly glowers from her position near the front door, because (and not even bamboo shoots under the fingernails could get her to admit this) she sort of has a thing for John Denver, and not-so-secretly thinks Armageddon is a load of crock (just more liberal Hollywood propaganda trying to get rid of nuclear weapons. Clearly otherwise the movie would have been over in five minutes after they destroyed the asteroid with a nuke. That would have been scientifically accurate).
"So kiss me and smile for me. Let me know you'll wait for me. Hold me like you'll never let me go."
They all erupt into the chorus just as Will appears in the doorway with the last of the bags; the ones belonging to Rachel and Puck. He smiles and surveys them proudly. Quinn and Santana are spinning and laughing, defiantly enjoying themselves for this small moment despite all the bad things that have happened to them. Tina is sitting in Artie's lap, fist-pumping and cheering along with him because neither of them have seen Armageddon and are a little too embarrassed to admit it. Mercedes is bellowing the lyrics, enjoying her time in the spotlight since Rachel isn't around. Even Jacob is starting to get into it, even though his voice sounds like nails on chalkboard.
Sue rolls her eyes at Will's obvious happiness, but Emma smiles at him more brilliantly than she ever has, and that's what really keeps him going. Her smile, their voices. They're all he has. And considering that the majority of the rest of the town only have a hankering for brains and a nice case of necrosis, he's feeling pretty good about himself.
"We'll go to Rachel's house first," he says to Sue with a bright smile. "And then we'll be on the road."
He cheers and pirouettes into the parking lot to join the rest of the club. Sue just closes her eyes and thinks that death cannot possibly come swift enough.
Rachel reads the note a thousand times. She packs pictures and scrapbooks and little things that always remind her of her fathers into a backpack. She intermittently stops and cries and hugs Puck and cries some more. The whole thing takes place in under five minutes, but it seems to take a lifetime. Puck wishes that he could say something more comforting. He wishes that he had any idea how to deal with her pain, but he doesn't. The only thing he knows how to do is stand around and feel like an idiot. And he's doing that really well.
He just feels so damn helpless. He can't save anybody. He can't even help anybody. He has no idea how to make Quinn feel better, or Rachel, or even fucking Kurt. And the whole thing is really just so stupid because he never even used to care about making anyone feel better, but suddenly it's like the only thing that matters.
When Rachel's finally done, Puck is gladder than he ever thought he could feel about something. He wants out of this house and he wants to be finished with the creepiness that the whole thing comes with. He's a man of action, and he wants to be out running around and re-killing things. That's way easier than having to deal with all these annoying delicate emotions.
"Everyone should have the chance to go home and collect things that they want before we leave," Rachel says suddenly. "Pictures, books, old memories. I think everyone needs a piece of their old life."
Puck quickly replies, "No they don't. Everything's going to be here when we get back. And we will be coming back. And everything will go back to being normal. You'll see."
Rachel looks at him doubtfully, but for his benefit she doesn't say anything to the contrary. He's sort of really grateful for that.
"Ready to go?" she asks innocently. He nods and doesn't tell her that if he doesn't get out of her house soon he's going to go totally crazy and start cleaning off the walls because he can't stop looking at those blood splatters in the kitchen and wondering how they got there. He figures that they can both play the Being Nice game, even though she's probably got more experience with it.
Rachel opens the door, and it's immediately pretty clear to see that they're fucked.
Zombies. Zombies everywhere. Rachel's horrified gasp sounds like it could tear a hole in her throat, and Puck's breathing pretty much makes him feel the same way. There are ten zombies too close to avoid. There are maybe twenty near his truck. And there are at least fifty on the road behind them, making their way down the street to the only house on the block with any living occupants.
"You've got to be shitting me," Puck groans. "Why wouldn't they follow the fucking bus? I mean, seriously."
"Get inside! Go out the back door!" Rachel suddenly yells, and she slams the door just as the nearest zombie lurches forward. They're both taken aback for a few seconds by the zombie's speed and the aggressiveness with which he attacks the door after it's closed. But they don't have too long to waste worrying about things that suck already. They run to the back door and slip carefully through the broken glass (opening the door doesn't occur to either of them until seconds later, and they'd be embarrassed if they weren't so busy being scared shitless). This brief respite gives them time to ready their weapons. Rachel has her pistols, and Puck has his shotgun. He knows that they don't have nearly enough ammo to take out all the goons on the street, but they should at the very least have enough to kill a couple near the truck so they can get the hell out as fast as they can. He can practically see Rachel mentally tallying up the number of bullets she has. Which is good but also scary, because he'd rather just pretend that they can handle it with no problem.
"Let's go," he says once he's pretty sure he can walk around the side of the house without passing out or just straight-up running away into the woods behind Rachel's house (but no, fuck no, because that would be fucking terrifying. Dark woods are creepy enough without zombies roaming around and eating you from the shadows and stuff).
Rachel nods and then runs alongside him as they barge towards the zombies as if zombies need to be taken by surprise or something. But then shit starts to go horribly wrong. Puck's not really sure how or when. He and Rachel have pretty much been on the same page since day one, so they both sort of thought that communicating the actual plan wasn't really necessary. But Rachel goes after the zombies near the driver's side door, and Puck goes after the zombies near the other side. He can see why she thought they'd be heading that way, but for a few seconds he's just so mad that they didn't telepathically talk to each other or something. It's not like she chose wrong or he chose wrong. It's just that they chose different. And for something so ridiculously simple, it goes bad pretty quickly.
The problem is that they're cut off from each other by that stupid truck, and Puck's trying to avoid being eaten by the zombies that seem a hell of a lot faster when you're standing right in front of them. Rachel's trying to do the same thing, and they end up getting farther and farther away from each other every time they take a shot. By the time he realizes that she's starting to get surrounded, he's killed all the zombies on his side of the lawn, and he has a straight shot to the truck.
He remembers what he told her back when they first partnered up. Back when it was sort of still a game, and he was just feeling smug enough to think that the zombie apocalypse was kind of fun. He told her that he'd leave her behind if she didn't keep up.
But, fuck, he was probably lying then. He was probably just thinking that he was hard and could deal with the shit that happened even though he clearly couldn't. And, in any case, there's no way he can leave her behind now. It's not like anything too meaningful has happened between them (at least, nothing that he'd ever admit. Ever). Things are just different, and he really doesn't want them to change again. Especially not with a violent zombie death. Especially not knowing that he could do something to save her.
So it's really not a question at all, even though at one point it probably would have been. He doesn't even hesitate before sprinting with all his considerable speed to the street where he cracks the nearest zombie in the jaw with his shotgun and then blows the fucker's face off. He can hear Rachel shouting somewhere, screaming maybe, and he can't stop thinking that maybe it's already too late. Maybe she's already been bitten and maybe she's already fucked. He can't imagine a world where Rachel Berry would not be allowed to run around and be bossy, and he's definitely sure that he doesn't want to live in one.
"Don't you dare get fucking bitten!" he shouts over the sound of frantic gunshots and shotgun blasts.
"I won't!" Rachel yells in reply, but she sounds just as scared as he feels, and that just makes him fight harder.
A busted open jaw here. A fractured cranium there. A one-legged zombie tries to bite him on the ankle, but Puck is ready for it, and he kicks the dude in the face. He can feel the blood all over his face, his arms, and it's making his hands stick to his gun in the most disturbing way, but he just keeps going. The adrenaline is crazy. He now totally understands why mothers can lift cars off their little kids and stuff.
Finally, he sees Rachel. She's standing in the center of a whole bunch of zombies, shooting away like it's just another day in the neighborhood. She's dripping with blood, her hair is swinging around and flinging little droplets everywhere, but she's not focusing on that. She's focusing on the fact that there are still zombies around in her general vicinity. Puck thinks, not for the first time, that she's sexy as hell when she has a gun. He is a little disturbed at how much he's really feeling the whole blood thing. He's pretty sure that's not really right.
Just when he's starting to question his definitely weird sexual choices in that department, the giant yellow school bus comes careening around the corner and slams into the back end of the zombie horde. The driver, predictably, is Sue Sylvester, and she pops the skulls of at least fourteen of the zombies in quick succession, making the most disgusting and yet completely welcome noises in the history of the world.
There's something so awesome about that entrance that it makes killing the rest of the zombies seem like a piece of cake. And then people start jumping out of the bus and shooting everywhere, and Puck really could die happy.
Except not. But whatever.
Once every single zombie is dead on the ground, he's happy for about three seconds until he realizes that they're not even close to done yet. Because Sue Sylvester is standing at the head of the group of students facing he and Rachel, and she's pointing her weapon at them.
"What are you doing?" Quinn asks in a low voice.
"They may have been bitten," Sue replies.
"No, no, we totally weren't," Puck says. "Right, Rachel?"
Rachel nods wordlessly and as enthusiastically as possible. Sue rolls her eyes.
"You know, even if I didn't think that the world was a place filled with selfish liars who would do anything to avoid being left behind even if it meant turning their friends into zombies, I wouldn't believe you. I know you. You would sell your own parents to get a shot at Broadway, so why wouldn't you lie to get on this bus? And you, Puckerman. You're the most amoral and idiotic teen I've ever come across in my years of teaching. At least Hudson had decency, even if he didn't have brains."
"This is ridiculous," Emma says, stepping forward to stand beside Sue. "We're not leaving them here."
"We are if we want to live."
"No. That's not right. I know you want to protect yourself, but that's no reason to just assume…"
"Assume what, that a couple of kids attacked by a horde of zombies were bitten at least once? I don't think that's too much of an assumption to make."
"Sue, this is crazy," Will agrees. "You're not making any sense."
"I'm making total sense."
"You're not. Are you really so scared that you're willing to abandon these kids here? You're not thinking rationally. Sue, come on. Look at me. Think about what you're suggesting. If they turn, we'll do what we have to do. Keeping them from getting on the bus isn't solving the problem. If you keep them from the bus, you're no better than those things."
"William, that is a horrendously erroneous statement. When I start eating people alive, refuse to bathe myself, and wander the streets like a homeless person, you can tell me that I'm as bad as those creatures." She pauses for a moment. "This is ridiculous. This is utterly ridiculous. I'm not going."
Will, who had been expecting her rancor but not this sudden, quiet decisiveness, sputters, "What?"
"I know this is probably difficult to understand…"
"No, Sue, this is impossible to understand. I know you like to be in control at all times, but this is a little ridiculous even for you. If you're trying to send a big, brash message, then congratulations. We all know how disappointed you are in everything we've done. You've managed to make that your only focus during one of the most trying times in the history of the world."
"One of?" Kurt asks no one in particular.
"William, as difficult as this may be for you to believe, this is not about you. This is not about your hair or the baby birds currently residing within it. This is not about the germ princess and your disgusting Victorian era affection for one another. I'm not going. It's not a threat, as tempted as I am to threaten bodily harm so I can witness the impressive shade of white that you turn every time you forget to hide the fact that you sincerely fear me. It is a statement of fact. As the only real adult in this group, I am licensed to make such assertions. Whatever problems you have with it can be taken up with any one of these kids. I don't care. As long as you're not talking to me."
"Sue, this is crazy," Will points out again. She just rolls her eyes, shoulders her weapon, and starts to walk away.
"Where will you even go?" Emma asks, near hysterical even though she can't quite figure out why because it's not like losing Sue's company will make any of them less happy to be alive.
"There are a lot of zombies left in this town, Ginger," Sue replies, casting one more dramatic look over her shoulder for good measure. "And I've still got a lot of ammo."
Will still expects her to change her mind as they all stand and watch her silently make her way down the street, walking just as fiercely as she's walked down the halls every day.
"I'm so confused right now," Mercedes admits finally. "She's leaving because we wouldn't let her kill Puck and Rachel?"
"Yeah, I'm going to need some serious explanation for this one," Mike replies.
"She can't handle being responsible for other people," Emma answers, but Will doesn't think that really covers it. It touches on it, yes. Obviously Sue hates feeling like she was at all responsible for Brittany's death, and there's a high probability that she's no longer as confident in her actions as she once was. But he also thinks that Sue doesn't want to go to a place where decisions will be made for her. Sue has always been happiest as a Great White shark in the tiny Koi pond that was Lima. And with the advent of the zombie apocalypse, things were looking up even more than usual for her. She was the only person left in town who still knew what it meant to be a combat veteran, and she milked that for all it was worth.
Going to a place where there would be people of power to contend with was not on Sue's list of favorite ideas. He had known that from the beginning. But he really didn't think that she would rather forfeit the comfort of familiar company than face the loss of what little power she had managed to convince herself she possessed. It's a dark sort of realization, and he doesn't want to say it out loud, so he just lets Emma's assertion stand.
"Come on," he says finally. "If she wants to follow us, she knows the way."
He beckons to Puck and Rachel, who finally start making their way through the pile of bodies that separates them from the rest of the group. With everyone eying them warily, the two adolescent soldiers climb onto the bus and quickly take a seat in the back, sequestered from everyone else. Will gives Mike and Matt the silent order to watch and make sure that they don't turn into zombies, but he's confident that neither is so selfish as to put the other in harm's way. He doesn't even think that they're selfish enough to put anyone in harm's way, as much as Sue seemed convinced of their ruthlessness. Maybe back when stuff like that mattered, they would have sold anyone out for a chance at stardom, or popularity, but things are different. Things are irredeemably different, and Will thinks that Rachel and Puck are maybe the people who understand that best of all.
Rachel and Puck are the people who understand it best of all.
Artie and Tina still talk in references to TV shows and movies. They cling to the recent past with all the fortitude that denial can possibly offer.
Santana understands that changes have taken place, but she does not consider the big picture. Beyond her sphere of existence, she does not think of anything. No thoughts of other towns, states, countries enter her mind, because she has firmly convinced herself that she can only be bothered to worry about the things that immediately affect her.
Quinn worries constantly about herself, about other people, and next to Puck and Rachel she's probably the person most conscious of the effects of the apocalypse, but she lacks their capacity to deal with it on an emotional level. The tribulations of herself and the rest of the world are the only things on her mind. Solutions to any problems, small or large, escape her in her anxiety.
Mercedes can think only of her parents. She can only wonder and hope that she gets some information, because not knowing where they are or if they are alive is killing her.
Kurt is hopeless, sees no possible good in the future of continued existence, and wonders how long he has left before he, too, is a casualty of this horrible accident.
Emma thinks of the future, thinks of surviving problems of the old world in this new world so different from the last. She glosses over the real problem, the bloody and painful and deadly problem, because she does not want to acknowledge its existence. She does not want to see herself torn to pieces in her own mind. She cannot let herself focus on everything that needs to be focused on because her fears are simply too great.
Mike and Matt, even though Mike rarely ever played video games, can think only of kill numbers and headshots. Both Mike and Matt are lucky in that they know their parents are dead. They do not live with the uncertainty of Artie or Mercedes or Puck or Santana. They know that they have no one in the world beside each other, and so their awareness of the problem only extends so far.
Will, even Will, has tunnel vision of the kids. He does not worry about the changes. He does not worry about the zombies. He only worries about the kids in his care, because if he stops to think too much about the other stuff, he'll lose his mind.
Only Rachel and Puck understand completely, and this is only because they were both so jaded before the zombie apocalypse that they had no illusions of grandeur on the part of humanity. Rachel knew from her own dark desires that people would stop at nothing to obtain the goals that they wanted. Puck knew that people could only be bothered to care so long as it didn't inconvenience them, because that was the principle on which his entire personality had been founded. They understood the way that the underbelly of the world worked because, had their lives continued on the course they had set upon, they would have eventually become the underbelly. Rachel would have been a star, but a fleeting one, eventually spiraling down into the despair that the least prepared of failed actresses take. Puck would have stayed the same, would have lived alone and friendless.
Neither consciously understands why they have adapted so quickly to the new way of things. They don't understand that it's because they held no illusions. Rachel glamorized her life because she knew deep down that life wasn't very glamorous at all, and Puck controlled the students around him because he knew that once high school was done, so was the influence he had so cultured within the student body. They knew that the world wasn't perfect and they adapted to this realization in their own way. The zombie apocalypse was just another way that the world continued to fail them, and they had adapted once again.
Puck tended to prefer to think that he was just awesome, and Rachel preferred to think that it was yet another way that her improvisational skills were above and beyond what anyone her age could hope to achieve. It was easier, truthfully, to not think about it at all. But during that quiet two hour drive to Columbus, it's harder to keep themselves from thinking about it than they would like. No one is talking about much of anything, and they only have the company of each other to content themselves with. Everyone else is much too busy suspecting them of having being bitten while also keeping an eye out for any unforeseen large clumps of zombies.
Finally speaking to her for the first time since he yelled at her to not get zombified, Puck says, "You were really badass out there, you know."
Rachel beams with such suddenness that Puck can't help but smile too.
"Thank you, Noah! I think it goes without saying that your magnificence was similarly recognized by myself."
"Pretty much. We made an awesome team."
"That has been true for the majority of our zombie killing partnership," Rachel points out with pride. Puck smiles and agrees, and he's not really sure why he reaches over and grabs her hand, but he knows why he doesn't let go.
Will prepares the kids for their arrival to Columbus by shouting at them to wake up. He's not sure how they managed to fall asleep during a tense two-hour bus ride, but most of them did. Only Mercedes and Mike remained awake, and Mike's starting to look a little drowsy when they finally roll up to the hospital.
"Everyone grab your stuff," Will says authoritatively. "We shouldn't waste any time in getting up there. We're early, which is good, but we don't have a lot of time to waste sitting around and feeling bad for ourselves."
"I don't think we need a pep talk," Kurt replies gently.
"Yeah, Mr. Schue. There's no way in hell we're spending more time than we absolutely need to in that creepy ass building," Santana sighs, staring up at the desolate hospital in front of her.
"That place is probably loaded with zombies," Puck says brightly to Rachel. She smiles at him and retrieves her black headband from her back pocket, pushing it into her hair deftly.
"I do believe that it is probably time to amp up our already enviable teamwork to the next level."
"Yeah, whatever. We're not choreographing any fight moves, if that's what you're talking about again."
"I think it's a valid thing to consider, Noah, and if we survive this next encounter, I'm going to overpower you eventually with my dazzling logic."
"If I hear one more implication that we might not survive this, I'm going to slap your face," Quinn says from further up the aisle.
"Yeah, guys. This is a piece of cake," Artie replies happily as Matt carries him off the bus and sets him firmly in his wheelchair.
There are a few zombies around, but they're quickly dispatched with a few shots from Santana and Mercedes, who take point for the entrance into the hospital. Everyone exits the bus quickly and efficiently, grabbing their bags and shouldering them without complaint even though all of the bags are heavy. Puck and Rachel are the last to leave, and they take up the rear with all the pompousness that is to be expected of the two most celebrated zombie killers of the group.
Everything is going very according to plan, and that does not sit well with Will at all.
"Come on. We should get off the streets as quickly as possible," he says weakly, finding himself with very little patience for the miniature competition that seems to have developed between Mercedes and Santana in relation to their ability to protect the group from the encroaching zombies. Things like that were okay when they were at the school, but Columbus already feels different. They passed so many zombies in the bus that he can't help but think that they're going to draw all of them to their position if they don't hurry up. And then Sue will have been right, and he just can't have that, even if Sue isn't around to see it.
Santana is finally satisfied that she is the better zombie killer – a fact that even Mercedes would have been hard-pressed to honestly argue against – when Mercedes attends to Will's wishes and Santana gets in the last kill. And even though it's not the loud report of Santana's rifle that causes the subsequent actions of the zombies, it's still hard to later look back on it without acknowledging the cinematic beauty of the sudden loud moaning that arises from the zombies both within and outside of their sights, just as the last echoes of Santana's kill are dying through the city.
The moaning is loud and ghastly, and so sudden that everyone starts with visible shock upon hearing it. It's a collective thing, too. All in the same pitch. All with the same feverish desperation.
"What the hell?" Puck finally manages to ask. Rachel and Quinn clutch each other fearfully, momentarily forgetting that each has an unspoken personal code that they're not supposed to ever act as frightened as they feel. Tina instantly starts crying. It's almost a physical reaction to the frequency of the sound; low and rumbling in her chest like the too-loud bass of a nearby car with all its windows rolled up.
"It's the helicopter!" Will yells, suddenly hearing the sound of chopping blades over the moans of the dead.
"Holy shit, we have to haul some serious ass," Puck says shakily, and maybe it's because he even sounds afraid, but suddenly everyone is launched into motion. Santana and Mercedes push open the deactivated automatic doors and usher everyone inside before trying to push them closed again. They slide with some difficulty, but everyone knows that it's not going to be enough to keep out the horde that will soon be converging on their position in pursuit of the sounds made by the helicopter. They head to the elevators . And it's around the time that they realize the elevators don't work that they realize they're in for more trouble than they had even realized.
"Come on," Puck growls, and he swoops Artie out of his seat before Artie even has a chance to try and grab hold of his weapons. Rachel snags those when they clatter to the ground, and Tina quickly folds up the wheelchair and follows. It seems a little silly to be hauling a wheelchair all the way upstairs considering they're in a hospital and entirely surrounded by them, but Tina knows that Artie's really proud of the recent customizations he's done to it, what with the badass flames he painted on the wheels and the shotgun holster attached to the back, so she doesn't even for a moment consider putting it down.
They make it up two flights of stairs before they hear the doors breaking down and the zombies following after them. They're still moaning that horrible moan, and Tina's still crying, and Rachel's spouting off some nonsense about infrasound and how it inspires fear and dread in people, and how it's actually sort of an ingenious evolutionary thing for the zombies to have, even though she's not sure why, and everyone is telling her to shut up while they're feeling all those feelings of panic and dread that she's describing, and no one's sure what to do at all.
Only Emma remains calm, which is probably the strangest thing that has happened all day. Apparently not sensitive to the physically disruptive effects of the zombie moans, she calmly opens the door on the third-floor landing and ushers everyone off the stairwell, blocking the door with the handle of a nearby mop when everyone's through.
"There's another staircase on the other side of the building," she says calmly. "Farther away from the front door. The zombies are mindless, thoughtless creatures. They won't find it."
Her assertion isn't necessarily the sort of thing that can immediately be identified as accurate, but the rest of the group follows her blindly. She and Santana and Mercedes shoot any zombies that stand in their way, while Puck and Rachel slowly bring up the rear of the group, eyes constantly turned over their shoulder to see if the mop handle has been broken yet. Neither of them want to see the horde of zombies as it surges through the doorway, but both know that they can't afford to miss it. The zombies aren't fast – the fact that they're still alive is testament enough to that – but the zombies are determined, and the group is slow-moving and frightened. Constant awareness is of the utmost importance.
"We're going to make it," Kurt says again with the most cheerful of smiles, except for the fact that his eyes are wide with horror and fear and a very relatable sense of freaking-the-fuck-out.
"Of course we are," Emma agrees sagely, and Will is even starting to buy into her whole confidence thing.
"Thanks for carrying me," Artie says brightly to Puck. Puck just grunts his "you're welcome" and tries to look like he's not already exhausted. Artie might be a small kid, but Puck is fucking terrified, and is fear is not doing a whole lot to help his buffness.
Their movements through the labyrinth of hallways are silent and watchful. They all are trusting Emma's memory of her visits to the hospital to see her dying mother, even though most of them had trouble trusting her with their class registration last term.
It's right when they reach the stairwell that things start to go wrong.
There's a zombie making his way up the stairs that Santana fails to see as she pushes open the door. He's hidden just so behind the white railings and the lip of the landing, and she's already halfway up the flight of stairs before it reaches the group and clamps onto Matt's arm.
Matt has always been the stoically brave sort of person who thought that he deserved more credit for his good nature and constant cheer in the face of the zombie apocalypse than he was ever given, but even he cannot hide his pain and terror. He knows what the bite means, and he knows that even if he manages to pull his arm free and kill the zombie, he's still a dead man. Mike is screaming and trying to shoot around him to get the fucker whose teeth are holding deep into Matt's forearm, but there are other zombies coming. They're coming quickly, too. Scrambling up the staircase over each other, looking like demons trying to scramble out of hell.
But Matt knows exactly what to do, because Coach Sylvester told him to do it, and she was sometimes right about things even though most of the time she was just crazy.
"Go!" he yells to Mike, punching the zombie in the face and hearing the fingers in his bones crack painfully. Mike looks torn, lost, sad beyond all belief, and Matt wishes that they could have a sort of 'bye, bro' moment like they have in the movies, like Pearl Harbor but less lame and without the pregnancy part (or Kate Beckinsale, which is a bummer). It's just, there's no time for shit like that. They're all going to die if they don't get out of there.
"Hurry!" Rachel shouts, shoving Mike away from the door and making room for Puck, who's red in the face as he tries to find the energy to carry Artie up the stairs. He lurches behind Tina, who sends Matt one last silent look of gratitude that almost makes Matt want to cry or something. Artie waves sadly, Quinn cries, Kurt refuses to look but squeezes Matt's shoulder as he runs by. Rachel kisses his cheek. The zombie recovers from Matt's punch and tries to get at him again. Matt shoves it down the stairs, and it tumbles into some of its hideous friends, knocking them all back down to the other landing. There they lay like turtles, trying to get to their feet. It's only a matter of time, but at least he bought a few seconds.
"What are you going to do?" Mike asks, frantic and uncertain.
"What Coach told us to do if we got into a situation like this," Matt replies sadly. He doesn't want to do it. He's terrified. He doesn't know the first thing about it, and he's worried that he's going to fuck it up. But he has to do it, because it's the only way he can help his friends.
"Oh, God," Mike whispers, looking sick. He throws his arms around Matt suddenly, so briefly that it's like it doesn't even happen, and then he's hurrying up the stairs with everyone else.
"Yell down when you're three floors up," Matt says.
"I will," Mike replies, and even though neither of them says anything about how much they actually really do care, it's implied in the way they look at each other. Mike and Matt have never been the sort of people who need a lot of words to get their emotions across, and it would be clear to anyone who happened to be watching that they say everything that they need to say in just a few meaningful looks.
Mike disappears from Matt's view, but Matt can still hear his feet slamming on the metal stairs. It echoes all around him, almost as loud as the horrifying sounds of the zombies, and it makes Matt feel very lonely and very afraid.
He grabs his assault rifle off his back and opens fire on the zombies that are getting a little too close to the steps for comfort. It drowns out the sounds of the running feet above and the sobs of Quinn and Tina and Kurt and Will and Emma and whoever else is crying for him. It's sad that this is the most appreciated he's ever felt by the whole group, and it's only because he's not going to be around much longer.
"Okay," Mike yells down the stairs, and Matt gets why he doesn't say anything more. He just hopes that Mike doesn't come to regret not saying anything more poignant or something. Matt's happy with what he got.
"Okay," he yells back, and then he opens his backpack.
Four floors up, Quinn is trying to convince them all that they should go back and help him. She doesn't actually think that there's anything they can do: she saw the zombie quite clearly bite him, and that's a death sentence. They all know that by now. They all learned that the hard way. But it just seems like the only thing that she can say. Like she should be fighting for something for him, since he's down there shooting at the zombies like he's not going to be one of them as soon as he turns. The whole situation is unfair and confusing, and she's exhausted and falling over herself. She has no idea what to do or what to say, but she doesn't want to leave him. She doesn't want him to die.
No one else is supposed to die.
"We can't go back," Will is saying, keeping his arm around her shoulder as he practically drags her up the stairs. "Quinn, you know we can't go back."
"He shouldn't have to be alone!" Quinn all but screams at him, even though she's not mad, not really, not at Will. She's mad at the whole situation, at the injustice of random, unpreventable deaths. It's so ridiculous that you get bitten and then suddenly there's no hope. She's always been raised to think that no situation is hopeless, but this one is, and she hates the fact that they're just expected to deal with all these things that are happening.
She remembers the way that Rachel said, "we're just kids", and she can't stop crying about how true and horrible that fact is. They've been raised in an era where parents protect and shield their children from horrible things. But horrible things happen, and they're happening now, and they don't have any idea what to do about them. Quinn least of all.
"He shouldn't be alone," Tina agrees when no one replies to Quinn's assertion, but Mike shakes his head and prevents Tina from turning around.
"He has to be," he says gently. And, as if on cue, there's an explosion. It doesn't quite rock the building, and it doesn't make everyone fall and scream and flail about, but it does shock them into silence, and they do feel the hot wind that blows up from the floors below. It's not as cinematic as Matt would have wanted, Mike knows, but it's just as dramatic. Matt would have been satisfied.
"What was that?" Will asks after the shock has worn off. The moans have dimmed from below them. Rachel stares down at the slices of carnage that she can see in the gaps between the institutionally white railings and stairs.
"Coach told us that if we were ever bitten, she didn't want us going out like losers. She said she wanted us to take out as many of those motherfuckers as we could."
Mike is crying a little, and Will feels bad pressing him for information, but he's livid and confused and feeling a little betrayed by the fact that they haven't mentioned this before.
"She gave you explosives?" he asks. He's not sure why it's a surprise.
"The night before we left. Matt was done. He knew that. We all knew that. That explosion would have taken out a shitload of them."
He sounds more like he's trying to convince himself than he's trying to convince the others, so Will doesn't press him anymore about it. Quinn is crying on his shoulder, Artie is crying into Puck's shoulder, and all the kids look disheartened and terrified. He needs to be strong for them, like he's needed to be strong for everyone so far.
He's just haunted by the fact that he wasn't strong when it counted, for Matt. He kept running up the stairs with the rest of them, and in hindsight it's more cowardly than he can bear.
"Let's keep going," he says darkly, and even though Quinn sobs a little, she doesn't protest. Emma keeps leading the way with only slightly less confidence than before. No one can pretend that their hearts aren't broken for poor Matt. Even Jacob sheds a tear.
But Matt won't be the last of the casualties at the end of the next ten minutes. And even though it would pain him to hear it admitted, he won't be the most painful.
It becomes perfectly clear who is going to be left behind when they reach the roof access.
It's a ladder.
"No," Puck says instantly when he hears Artie's resigned sigh. "No way, man. We're not leaving you behind. I can carry you up that."
But they can all hear the sounds of the zombies approaching from somewhere much closer than they had anticipated.
"We can find another way," Emma says. "I'm sure there's a stairwell around here."
"Yeah," Puck replies. "Everyone else get to the roof. We'll find another way."
He helps Artie back into his wheelchair with Tina's guidance. Will tries to insist that they'll all go together, but Emma shakes her head vehemently. Santana is already halfway up the ladder. Kurt is ready to follow.
"Will, you know we can't. We need to get up there and meet with Paul in the helicopter. He's already up there. If he thinks that we haven't showed up, he'll take off."
"Yeah, see, man?" Puck says lightly, like it's not a big deal. "We'll be fine."
He smiles weakly, but Artie is shaking and pale, and Puck is still out of breath and looking more and more exhausted, and Will has this horrible feeling that if he lets them go on their own, it's the last that he's ever going to see of them.
"I'll go with you," he says.
"No way," Emma replies.
"Yeah, Mr. Schue, please. Come with us. Puck and Rachel can handle it," Mercedes says quietly, sounding more like a little girl than anything else.
"Rachel's going with you," Will replies. He detaches himself from Quinn's sobbing frame and passes her resolutely to Rachel. Rachel accepts her charge with silence, looking with wide eyes towards Puck.
"I'd like to go with Noah and Artie," she says quietly, but Will shakes his head.
"You need to get up there and help them out. I can't let them do this alone. I'm your teacher."
"I take French," Rachel sobs, but she knows that it doesn't negate his point. He's responsible for them. And maybe it's not legally responsible anymore, but she knows that he would never forgive himself if he let Puck and Artie leave and didn't go with them. She hugs him as best as she can in addition to already hugging Quinn, and then she backs away and starts directing people up the ladder. The moaning and crying of the zombies on the stairwell is getting closer, and she starts feeling that senseless panic again. Tina refuses to climb, positioning herself firmly behind Artie's chair, and Rachel gets Quinn on the ladder directly after Emma. Then she turns to Puck and quietly smiles at him.
"See you soon," she says, clenching her hands into fists at her side as she resists the urge to run to him and kiss him and say her last goodbyes like she feels she ought. It would be very dramatic, but even though she has every reason to be dramatic, she doesn't want to be. She wants to believe that she's going to see him in five minutes and all thoughts of melodrama will be cause for future embarrassment. He seems to understand – God, she hopes he understands – and he just smiles at her and nods.
"I know," he says.
And his posture and the situation are just so familiar, but she doesn't realize until she's up the ladder and on the roof, breathing cool air and dodging Jacob's attempted embrace, that he was trying to make a Star Wars reference, and that maybe he was just a little bit trying to tell her that he loves her. Maybe just a little.
Puck does love Rachel just a little, and it's so embarrassing, but he can't exactly help it. He tried at first, but then it just got all out of hand with the zombies and the hotness and the way she let him cry about shit and then didn't judge him afterwards. That was really sort of special, and as he pushes Artie along the linoleum as fast as his aching, tired muscles can take him, he finds himself strangely motivated by the promise of seeing her again once he's finished. Once he finds the stupid stairwell and can finally stop carrying Artie places and can just sit and rest and hopefully sleep for a little while, because he's about to drop dead of exhaustion and he truly believes that would be the lamest way to die. Especially in context.
"It's gotta be this way," Will says, pulling them down some random hallway. Puck isn't really sure what's going on, so he just follows Will blindly, like he trusts the guy or something. Behind him, he can hear the sounds of the zombies gaining ground, and in front of him he's pretty sure he can hear some serious pounding-on-doors action that pretty typically signifies zombie presence, so he just really hopes that Will is as right as he thinks he is.
"We should have just tried to get you up the ladder," Tina says, and she sounds so angry that Puck is taken aback. Artie looks confused, chastised, and most of all regretful.
"Well, it's a little late for that," Puck growls. "You could have mentioned it sooner."
He knows that Tina is only saying that because she's scared. He guesses that he's only saying it because he's scared too, but he'd rather not to admit to being scared, or to being terrified, which is what he really is. Plus that ladder was really long, and Puck knows that there's no way he would have ever been able to carry Artie up that thing, so arguing about it like there were ever options is completely useless.
"Come on, guys," Will says absently, but he's really too focused on finding them the stairwell to the roof to mediate an argument.
"The stupid designer of this stupid building should have just allowed access to the roof on all the stairwells," Tina yells. "This is so dumb!"
Getting mad at the architect is significantly less hurtful than being mad at Artie, so Will lets it slide.
Finally, they spot a big yellow sign that says "roof access". They take the corner at a dead run, and find the sought-after stairwell to the roof clogged with zombies trying to break through the metal doors at the top of the stairs. There are just too many zombies, and still more of them coming up behind them, and there's no way they can even foolishly hope to kill them all.
"You need to get out of here," Artie says, and Puck is just so damn angry that he wants to smack the kid in the face.
"There's nowhere to go," he says, his voice taking on a damning edge of panic as he watches the zombies closest to them turn around at the sound of their voices.
"You can go back to the ladder," Artie says hopefully.
"How? Fucking how, Artie? There are zombies up our ass!"
"I don't know! But you have to get out!"
Artie is hysterical with fear and guilt, and Will is breaking down, and Tina is staring around like she doesn't even see anything. They're at a dead end, and Puck knows that, but he still backs them into the nearest room and slams the door behind them.
"Fuck. What the fuck are we going to do?" he asks Will, yanking him way from Tina and Artie. Even though they're all facing near certain death together, there's just something way too innocent about Tina and Artie. It's like talking about near certain death in front of little kids. You just don't do it.
"I don't know…is there anything we can do? We can try to take some of them out. We can…we can kill as many as we can, and then what? There's nothing else, is there? We're going to die, we might as well do it…do it quick?"
"No, fuck that," Puck says automatically, even though a few days ago he was completely resigned to the idea of killing himself if it didn't look like there were any other options. Now, his blood is pumping hot and he's so angry that if he doesn't kill as many of those stupid bastards as he possibly can, his death will be the lamest thing ever.
"What other options do we have?"
"We can get out. We have to."
"We can't, Puck. Look around. In two seconds, those zombies are going to be in here. They're going to tear us to pieces, and no matter how many we kill, there will be others behind them. I've never seen so many. I never even thought there could be so many in one place. How the hell are we supposed to survive this? We can't. We just can't."
Puck turns from Will, realizing that it's useless to try and talk to him. He sees it too: he sees that it's hopeless and that there's no conceivable way that they can get out, but he doesn't want to think about that. He doesn't want to admit it. He watches Tina and Artie talking quietly in the corner, crying and kissing each other and whispering that they probably love each other and shit.
And all Puck could manage was a stupid Star Wars reference.
He runs his hands through his hair with frustration, slamming his fists on the bloody hospital bed in the corner of the room. It smells like shit in here, and this just can't be the end of his life. He can't not see Rachel again, or Quinn and his daughter, or any of those other kids he used to hate so much. He's come too far to die trapped in a corner.
He grabs his gun and heads for the door, eyes blazing.
"Where are you going?" Will asks.
"I'm going to distract them," Puck spits, bitterness forming his every thought. "There's a room down the hall. I'll lock myself in there, take out as many as I possibly can, get their attention. You wait until they're away from the door, and then you run like fuck down the hallway, okay? All of you. You go back to that ladder and you get Artie to safety, and you tell Rachel…tell her…whatever. She knows."
He turns away from Will, ready to make his last stand. So he's going to die, so he's never going to see Rachel or Quinn or his baby. He's not even going to see any of those stupid kids. But at least he will have proven to himself that he's worth something. At least his baby's mother will tell the kid stories about how brave he was in his last minutes. Maybe she'll even gloss over all the bad parts.
And Rachel will be strong. She'll get over it. She'll find someone like Finn with a good heart and a not-so-good brain, and she'll end up with her Prince Charming like she was always supposed to. He was just her second best, anyway. He was just the replacement for the guy she could never have.
He's not bitter, though. How could he be bitter? He was fucking happy with her, and that was amazing. Because he'd never really been happy before. And he knows that it's kind of shitty to return the favor by going and getting himself killed, but he figures she will at least enjoy the dramatics that come with being the sort-of widow of a martyr.
He turns away from Will, ready as he's ever going to be, and he sees that the door is already open. Artie and Tina are gone.
And before he can exit the room completely, he's hit with the wall of fire from the explosion.
This explosion rocks the building. It knocks the people on the roof to the ground. It causes screams of terror and fear. Emma tries to corral the kids, but she's white as a sheet and shaking. The helicopter pilot, Ballard, tries to ask what the hell that was, but no one can answer. They can only think about Matt's bomb, and Matt's sacrifice, and they can only wonder who else Coach Sylvester talked to about "taking one for the team".
"Oh, God," Quinn sobs finally, closing her eyes and shaking her head and retreating again to Rachel's waiting embrace. Truth is, Rachel needs the comfort just as much as she's willing to give it out, but all she gets is an awkward pat on the shoulder from Santana, who looks pained but composed, as always. Rachel isn't sure how.
"Maybe they just set a trap," she says, staring hopefully at the doors that lead to the stairwell. The pounding on the other side of it has ceased. "Maybe they just blew up the zombies and now they're going to emerge right there."
They wait, anticipating Rachel's prediction, but the doors don't open. Artie does not appear, triumphantly wielded in Puck's arms. Tina does not follow, carrying Artie's wheelchair and smiling exultantly at their near escape. Will does not follow bashfully behind to rejoin his frightened flock.
Nothing happens. Except, slowly, the pounding on the metal doors recommences.
Rachel feels tears prickling behind her eyelids. Horrified pins and needles rush up and down her arms as she smothers Quinn with her fear-based affection.
"We need to make sure," she whispers. "We can't leave without making sure."
"Don't open that door," Ballard orders.
"No, I mean…the ladder," she says weakly, trying to pull away from Quinn. Quinn releases her reluctantly, and Rachel darts forward. She's halfway back to the door that hides the ladder when it flies open. She freezes, blindly groping for the pistol at her waist, but lets her hand fall when she sees Will pull himself from down below. She runs forward to help him, barely daring to hope. But when Will moves out of the way and she sees that foolish mohawk following him, her heart leaps into her throat.
But then Puck stands up and slams the trap door behind him. And then he pushes right past her and strides towards Mike. And then he punches Mike in the face.
Rachel stands frozen, thinking that surely Tina and Artie are still waiting downstairs. Surely Puck has just forgotten about them. But Will is walking away, too. But surely they can't be dead. Surely that kind of cruelty would not be allowed to happen.
"You son of a bitch," Puck shouts. Rachel sees that he's bleeding, that his face is scratched and blistered in places, that he's favoring his right arm. She sees all of these things, and she understands.
"I'm sorry," Mike says, spitting out the blood that's pooled in his mouth.
"What did you tell him, huh? Did you try to make him feel more useless than he already did? Did you tell him he'd be better off killing himself and taking out a few of the zombies on the way?"
"No, man, come on! No! I just said, if he found himself in a tight spot…"
"They fucking killed themselves because of what you said, you asshole!" Puck bellows. The sounds echo and converge over their heads, darting through the empty streets loud and damning. Mike is silent until the echo fades.
"That's rich, Puckerman. Coming from you. Locking kids in port-o-potties, throwing slushies at chicks, that's the kind of shit that makes kids kill themselves. Artie made a choice."
"You asshole," Puck growls again, but some of the fire has gone out of it. Looking utterly exhausted, he turns away. He turns towards Rachel, who's waiting for him with her hands to her mouth and her eyes wide with sadness. She sees whatever signal he's unconsciously giving off with his slumped shoulders, and she runs to him, flinging herself into his arms. Even though he's tired, and his muscles ache from carrying Artie, poor Artie, he lifts her into the air and hugs her crushed against him. And there, in front of everyone, he loses his shit and cries.
Rachel isn't long in doing the same. And then Quinn joins them in both the crying and the hugging, and all jealousy and past regrets can be forgiven for just this moment (but don't think that means it's over, because it will never be over, not as long as the three of them still live. And the three of them will live for a long, long time together, in a strange sort of family unit that no one will pretend to understand).
Ballard helps them all onto the helicopter. They're beaten, bruised, confused, and heartbroken.
"We're free," Quinn says to no one in particular. "No one's going to die now."
Ballard doesn't agree, just looks over his shoulder at her and smiles a little.
"There's a doctor at my camp," he says. "She'll be glad to see you. She used to deliver babies for a living. Now she does triage."
Quinn smiles down at her stomach and brushes her hand lovingly over it. Ballard hands her a blanket and makes sure she's strapped in. When he turns around and walks to Will and Emma, he's tall and moves like Finn, and she cries quietly into her hands.
Will kisses Emma gently before she gets into her seat beside Jacob. Jacob's sobbing with grateful relief, and it's hard not to resent him for surviving when so many more useful and wonderful people died. Kurt and Mercedes are seated next to him, and they do their best to extend their friendship to him in their shared grief over losing Tina and Artie. Santana sits on the other side of Quinn, and the way her knuckles are white as she holds on to the straps of her bag is the only way she shows her emotions.
Before the helicopter starts and makes further conversation impossible, Rachel turns to Puck and sadly whispers, "We're going to make it, right?"
Puck manages to smile despite everything that's twisting and burning inside him, and he squeezes her hand tightly with his own.
Ballard starts up the motor. The rotors whirl above, chopping through the air and eliciting more moans from the horde amassed inside the hospital. They finally break through the metal doors, but that's long after the helicopter is already off the helipad and angling toward where their sanctuary lies.
Puck has never been a hopeful person, but as he watches the ground get smaller, he feels sure that even though things are horrible – worse than they've ever been in both his life and the history of the world – they can only get better.
It's a long road, one paved with far more challenges for our heroes. But eventually, one day, when he tells this story to his daughter, surrounded by Rachel and Quinn and Santana and Will and Kurt and everyone else who has, against all odds, survived and made an irreversible impact in his life, he will end his tale with, "it could only get better. And eventually, one day, it did."
Well, everything gets better other than the fact that Sue Sylvester eventually walks her way to Canada and leaves a swath of destruction across the U.S. unlike anything ever known to man. But Puck isn't in the habit of giving his child nightmares, so that's a story better left untold.