A/N: Just another alternate universe that has taken a hold of me. I don't promise consistent updates. We'll see where things go...
Warning:There will be mature language and violence and post-apocalyptic (and thus highly depressing) themes.
Disclaimer: I do not own Glee.
I never really understood why they called me 'Shepherd'. First of all, I am a fucking woman. Second of all, the last sheep died months ago. People I have never met in my life - people I will most likely never see again - they just know me as Shepherd. For some reason, it makes them feel safe. So who am I to judge?
My lack of anonymity constantly fluxes between Blessing and Curse.
On one hand, as long as I am near civilization, I hardly ever go without some kind of dinner in my stomach and a semblance of a bed to lay on at night - even if I've developed the habit of sleeping with one eye open and with my hands constantly clutching at the smooth, worn handles of whatever weapons I'm favoring at the time. People who don't even know me, they'll tentatively peek their heads around lopsided shutters; and then when they recognize me - whatever it is that they recognize about me - the whispers will start. "Shepherd," they'll say. "It's Shepherd..." Even if I'm just passing through.
Then again, I'm always just passing through...
Aren't we all?
On the other hand, sometimes I need to just pass through. The places where they welcome me indoors to a meal and a bed and a conversation and the familiar comfort of community? Well, they don't usually have problems. But sometimes I'll just be passing through, and the whispers will start. "It's the Shepherd," they'll say. "Shepherd? Why doesn't she do something? Won't she stop? Can she not fix this?" In most cases, the answer was yes. Yes, I could probably fix their problems - as long as the 'solution' revolved around violence.
But those were also the places where I normally tugged my hood up more securely over my head, shielding as much of my face as I possibly could. But the whispers would still follow me all the way through whatever ghost of a town I was passing through. And I could always feel the dirty looks they would throw at my back - because I was the Shepherd, and I wasn't protecting them like they had heard of in the stories.
I couldn't protect them all. I just couldn't. Not entire communities where every family had an issue or a grudge or a bone to pick with the neighbors or the bandits across the way...
Now, lone travelers being ambushed and beaten and taken for all they were worth on the scraggly, sad excuses civilization now had for roads? That, I would not stand for - especially when the person being attacked was of the female variety.
There were a lot of things that just absolutely rubbed me the wrong way. Roughing up girls - using girls in the ways that these barbarians used them - was one of those things.
I walked slowly forward in order to properly assess the situation, pulling my hood down as low over my face as I could to shield my eyes from the blazing hot sun and give me the best visibility possible. They weren't being brutal - yet. They were playing with her - mocking her, teasing her. One brute was rifling through the contents of her bag that he had upturned onto the dry, dusty earth at his feet.
"Hey sweetie!" one man yelled as his mate roughly pushed the girl into his chest. "Why don't you come up here and give me kiss?"
She struggled to free herself from his grasp and finally got her right arm loose, then promptly used it to haul back and smash her elbow into his nose. He let her go out of necessity to clutch at his now bleeding face, and she ducked and ran towards the man with her bag. But before she could get there, one of the other men - a short, stick figure of a man - dove at her legs and knocked her to the ground.
By this time, I was about twenty paces from the scene and had gleaned as much as I could from this distance.
Four men. None of them appeared to have firearms - not that you saw many guns out in the middle of nowhere anyway. They looked poorly fed, as were most people nowadays. Their hair was gross - matted with filth and ratty from lack of hygienic practices. Their skin had a leathery look to it, as if they were out under the sun without protection all day, every day.
One victim. She had long, blonde hair that had fallen out of its braid and was obscuring most of her face in waves. The tiny bit of her face that I could see looked young, but not overly so. Probably fourteen. Or seventeen. Or somewhere in between - I was never a good judge of such things. She was wearing jean shorts that revealed long, smooth legs that ended in worn, brown boots made of leather. A white t-shirt covered her upper body, and she was wearing a brown vest of some sort.
The man who had knocked her to the ground was now scrambling to cover her body with his own. I could hear him taunting her, his voice carrying through the air between us in its uncannily high pitch. The girl was still struggling for all she was worth; she was putting up a damn good fight. And her vocabulary of cuss words was impressing me, even from this distance.
But enough was enough.
"Excuse me," I said, clearing my throat and allowing my voice to startle them into realizing that they were no longer alone. "But I think you need to let the girl go now."
The blonde had stopped struggling and her hair had fallen over her shoulders and down her back. I was close enough now that I could see her lovely eyes locked onto my face, searching the darkness of the cover of my hood for a set of eyes to look into - probably to reassure her that everything would be ok. I tilted my head down to my chest slightly in a subtle nod, hoping that she would understand.
"Excuse me," the guy who had been rifling through her bag said as he stood up slowly. He threw back the edge of his coat and rested his hand on the handle of some makeshift machete-esque weapon. I couldn't help but grin. "Why don't cha mind ya own business, girl?" I took this ignorant fool to be the leader.
This could be fun.
His 'minions' - including the one with the still-streaming-blood, probably-broken nose - stood and moved a few steps behind him. The one who had been straddling the blonde's waist yanked her up with him and drug her along. She kicked his shin roughly, and he cried out but didn't drop his grip on her wrist.
"I told you to let the girl go," I called out to the rat-like man.
"Don't cha be tellin' my men whats to do, little lady, ya hear me?" Leader Man bellowed at me. His words were partially slurred. Some part of the Sickness had affected him. He probably ruled these other three idiots by brute force and nothing more.
I looked down at the ground, lightly scuffing it with the toe of my left boot before looking up again. "I'll only say it one more time, you mother fucking imbecile..." I crouched down and lightly pressed my hands into the dust at my feet, collecting a thin layer on the palms of my cutoff gloves and fingertips. "...and then, you'll all be dead. Let..." I stood up and let my hands hang loosely at my sides, posed over my concealed, wickedly sharp daggers. "...the girl..." Leader Man made some kind of grunting sound, and Broken Nose on his left and Dumb Fuck on his right clumsily grabbed for their weapons.
I was a little disappointed that I didn't get to finish my third and final warning. Alas, you can't win 'em all.
In the flash of an eye, I had grabbed a dagger in each of my hands and thrown them with such precision and force that both men were soon lying flat out on their backs, gurgling sounds emitting from their throats as blood spilled out onto the ground around them, gushing fervently from between their clutching fingers. One was brave enough - or foolish enough - to wrench the weapon from his windpipe.
He died first.
Leader Man was visibly shaken at this point as he pulled his piece-of-shit machete weapon thing from his belt and shakily held it up in front of him. If he was scared, then he wasn't as stupid as I had first thought.
"Stay back!" he shouted. "Stay away from me!"
"Let her go," I said. My voice was firm, steady, strong. I had known that this fight was mine to win from the beginning. Unfortunately for them, they were just now figuring it out.
"F-f-fine," he stuttered. "Just leave us alone!"
He took a step back as I was no more than seven or eight steps in front of him now. "I'll give you a head start," I whispered. "So start running." Leader Man turned around and nodded at Rat Face who promptly dropped the girl and took off. She fell to her knees, clutching at her wrists which were likely sporting bruises by now.
Leader Man took off running - lumbering - after his buddy. I sighed, tilting my head from side to side, before reaching down and dislodging the knife from Broken Nose and prying the knife from Dumb Fuck's fingers. One right after the other, I threw them with impressive force - if I do say so myself - into the spinal columns of both of the retreating men.
They were malnourished; they hadn't run far, and my range was long... Even for a girl of such badassness as myself.
I walked the thirty or so paces to Leader Man and roughly yanked the dagger out. He was still alive. I kicked him over with the toe of my left foot, bent down, and slit his throat. Then I turned away and walked several more yards to Rat Face. He was twitching a bit, mumbling some nonsense that I couldn't understand. I pulled his head back by his filthy mane of hair and slit his throat before letting his head fall back into the dirt, face first. I collected my second dagger.
Turning back, I began to walk towards the girl and the two brutes' bodies where I had left them. When I approached the scene, the girl was crouched down on her haunches and organizing her things to place them back into her brown leather satchel. She looked up as I bent down to wipe the blades clean on Dumb Fuck's shabby excuse for trousers.
"You're the one they call Shepherd, aren't you." She said it in such a way that I knew it wasn't a question. She was just stating a conclusion that she had come to on her own. And I was fine with that - people tended to do it around me all the time.
"Why do you say that?" I asked. The words leaving my lips startled me a bit. I was never really one to make conversation. And I had also never openly inquired as to how the hell people seemed to know me the way that they did.
I finished cleaning my weapons and stowed them back at my sides. My long trench coat fell down around my shins and fluttered in the slightest breeze; it was almost imperceptible. I reached over my shoulder to grab some water from the side of my backpack. My eyes locked on hers for the first time since I had walked back over to this area. She gestured to her own face, indicating that she was really indicating my own. "Your face," she said. "The scar." My hood had fallen down revealing my face and my long, wavy hair. I replaced my canteen and pulled a tie around my loose locks, putting all of my hair up into a high ponytail on top of my head.
Oh. Yes. The scar.
I quite literally rolled my eyes and mentally chastised myself. Of course people would have seen the scar. Probably my most discernable feature, the stories had spread - and I could even imagine their retelling now - "Shepherd," they would say. "The girl with the wicked scar down the left side of her face, she saved us..."
"Ahh," I sighed the word. "Yes. Well, it is quite unique, unfortunately." How could I not have realized that my blasted scar was the thing preventing my anonymity? Not that I could do anything about it in the end, I guess. But I felt childishly slow in that moment for having had to receive this explanation from this girl standing before me.
"Thanks," she mumbled.
I must have misheard her. "What?" I questioned, one eyebrow arched dangerously high as I wiped my gloves off on the loose pants that hung low on my narrow hips.
She stood up as she slung her bag over one shoulder and across her chest. "Thank you," she said. "You saved my life. I'm clearly in your debt."
"No, no," I waved one hand in her direction before turning and walking off in my original heading. "You don't owe me a damn thing, sweetheart. Nothing. Nada. No worries, I promise."
"But you saved me!" she proclaimed, running a few paces to catch up to me. She fell into step beside me easily. "I don't know about you, but I was always taught to never let any debt go unpaid." She flipped open the top of her satchel and pulled out a worn pair of aviators, placing them onto her face and turning to look over at me with a face-splitting, teeth-baring smile on her face.
"Who the hell taught you that?" I asked. "I think I need to have a word with them..." I mumbled the last words, trying not to acquiesce to this child traveling along with me. Like she was some companion or something. I shuddered at the thought. "Was it your mother? Seems like something a mother would teach."
"No," she was quick to supply. "Not my mother. I was raised by my father. I never knew my mother." Her voice fell quiet as she finished, and her eyes shifted from my face to the barren, shoddy path that was unfolding before us.
We walked along in silence for several long moments. It was getting dark. This would be one of those nights where I would have to seek shelter out here - in the wilderness. But tonight, it appeared that I would be finding shelter for two.
"I'm looking for her," Blondie finally broke the silence.
"Who?" I asked, already having lapsed into my own thoughts. I wasn't used to carrying on regular conversations while on the road, so I mustn't be judged for already having lost track of the exchange.
"My mother. I've been traveling west to find her for a few months now. Maybe... Maybe I can travel along with you for a while? Perhaps I'll get the opportunity to repay my debt to you."
She smiled over at me again, and I chuckled while shaking my head. "What makes you think I'm going the same direction as you?" I couldn't believe the words flowing out of my mouth, as if I was contemplating actually letting her travel with me. What was this madness?
"For starters, everyone goes west. And we're going west right now!" She was chuckling now, but her chuckle was filled with less disbelief and with more mirth at the knowledge that she was right. We both knew it.
"Fine, I'm going west." I was quiet again for a few moments as I pursed my lips before running my tongue along the back of my teeth. "How old are you?"
"Sixteen," she replied.
Young enough that I wouldn't have to worry about latent side effects of the Sickness. "Mmm," I hummed out. I saw her smile down at the ground. She knew she had won. "Alright, sweetheart," I finally announced. "You can come along with me for now. So what's your name? Unless you prefer 'sweetheart' or 'Blondie' or 'little one' better?" I grinned over at her, trying to convey my joviality.
She turned to me and stopped. I stopped as well. She reached up with her left hand to her face, sliding her aviators up on top of her head and connecting her bright, hazel eyes with mine. She grinned - and it was sweet and innocent and I knew that she was probably a trouble maker (either in this life or another). "Hello, Shepherd," she said, sticking her bare hand out in front of her. I stared down at her dainty wrist before snapping my eyes back up to her face. "The name's Beth."
I grabbed her right hand in my own and shook. I was pleased to feel that the daintiness was only a misperception as her grip was deceptively strong.
"Nice to meet you, Beth, my dear," I said, my voice low as I accepted Fate in that moment. "You can call me Rach."