Synopsis: It's been 30 days since humanity went extinct. It happened silently, whimpered out of existence. By some fluke, Quinn Fabray survived, and as far as she knows she's the only one who did.
A/N: This is a very AU fic inspired by my own obsession with the end of the world and what it would look like afterward. There's a virus, but no zombies. I'm not sure how long it will be, or when it will be finished, but I hope you all enjoy nonetheless.
The bitterness of tobacco lingered in the back of her throat, an aftertaste of death. It was appropriate since the sky looked a sour green, a silent pall over the abandoned city. Underneath her boots, rubble ground itself into her heel and she adjusted her pack. Another long day of travel ahead was all she had to look forward to, that and the three hand-rolled cigarettes tucked into the lining of her pocket.
Quinn remembered the day the virus hit. It wasn't like in the movies, with mobs of dead swarming the living, groaning. It came silently. Bodies strewn in the streets, corpses slumped in cars. No undead groaning, no shuffling. She'd expected some reanimation, but nothing had happened. In fact, Quinn wasn't entirely sure she wasn't the last person on the planet. She had watched everyone leave Lima three years prior to what she fondly called the Last Day. As far as she knew, everyone in the Glee club were memories now.
It was the 30th day. The era of no people. It was funny how the landscape had changed over the period of a month. The flora had long grown over any man-made structure, tree roots growing around things in circular patterns like something out of a Tolkien novel. It was really quite beautiful, and Quinn found irony in the fact that she was the only one alive to witness it. She may very well be the last to witness it. A sardonic smirk twisted her lips. Her expressions weren't soft like they used to be — anyone who had once believed her to be hard would not recognize her now. Her cropped blonde hair was bound beneath a bandana, face smudged with dirt. It wasn't easy to come across running water. A warm bath would have been lovely, but she hadn't had one of those since the last day. It was quite stunning how quickly she had adjusted to cold water. There was always the option of boiling water, but it was all travel and no time for luxury.
Once Quinn had gotten over her fear of corpses (approximately four days after), she'd broken her way into a Super Wal-Mart and gathered the most necessary supplies. For a quick-fix society, there had been at least a few materials suitable for actual survival use. She had two gallon canteens strapped to her pack, some dried breads and dehydrated meats, along with some warm, lightweight clothing rolled into compact compartments within the pack. For a girl who had grown up fed by a silver-spoon, she had learned the art of survival well.
Above, a Corvid screamed in defiance, or maybe celebration. Animals had flourished since the fall of man. Quinn's legs weren't aching yet, but they would be later in the day. The shadow of the screaming Corvid came closer, near enough for Quinn to see the dark shine of its eyes. She smiled.
"Hello friend," the sound of her voice was so unfamiliar that it caught her off-guard. Puck had liked crows, she remembered. The shadow of it stretched further away, and it was gone. Quinn sighed quietly.
Her mind turned to her former friends and acquaintances. Puck had moved to L.A. with Finn, where they'd both pursued the lives of beach bums (the last time she heard). It seemed fitting, because neither seemed the sort to pursue higher education. Mercedes had moved with her family to Atlanta and started going to community college. Tina and Mike had moved as well — Quinn didn't know where. They'd gotten engaged, the last Quinn had heard, despite the disapproval of Mike's father. Artie had moved to Florida, where they had been pioneering stem-cell treatments for patients like himself. The last she'd heard, he had been using forearm crutches instead of a wheelchair. Brittany, Santana, and Rachel had all moved to New York and gotten apartments near one another. Quinn had kept in contact with none of them.
It saddened her that they were likely dead. The odds were against their survival. Quinn had passed through a few bigger cities, Cincinnati included, and they seemed to be the worst affected by whatever virus had killed off the human population. Without any remaining news sources, any hint, there could be no surmising what had actually caused the extinction of the human race, or why Quinn survived. She had thought it had been some sort of chemical warfare, and her own survival just a fluke. Maybe she'd ended up in a pocket of air unaffected by the virus. It didn't really matter, the reasons why. She was alive and she intended to stay that way. In case the air ever made her feel ill, she had a gas-mask strapped to her pack. It would purify any tainted air.
Quinn almost tripped over some rubble, the cement tumbling aside. She grumbled to herself about being distracted, and continued on. Occasionally throughout the day she'd see a skull or a pelvic bone — human or animal.
She took out one hand-rolled cigarette, struck a match, and inhaled the first taste of tobacco. It seemed contradictory, smoking something that would kill her when she'd been lucky enough to survive the end of the world, but there was no one left to impose that moral judgement upon her.
Quinn continued on through the day, stopping to consume some dehydrated jerky and refill a canteen from the nearest source of clean water.
Quinn had camped out beside a stream, surrounded by a complexity of overgrown trees and buildings. It was beautiful in a way, Quinn thought while gathering her supplies, the way nature reclaimed everything. The stream she'd camped out by was running through what used to be a strip-mall in some town. Where a water-fountain had stood, tree roots had grown around it, a stream wrapping at the base like cursive lettering.
Still no sign of life, not that she'd expected it. Miles to go and another hand-rolled cigarette, that was what she had. As she savored a bit of dried bread, her hazel eyes scanned the horizon. The sky was a deep gold. It reminded her of Beth's hair. Sweet Beth. Quinn had lost her twice, and a third time when the virus hit. It was best not to think of those things, though, so she pushed aside the thought and kept walking. Her legs were aching a little more than usual today — likely because she could not find a soft spot in the soil in which to lay, and had ended up curled between two tree roots like a bird in a nest.
She'd read in a discarded survival manual that it was best not to lose hope. Positive thinking was, unfortunately for Quinn, the key to survival. So she'd been sharpening her optimism like a knife. There would be some light at the end of the tunnel, some human being at the edge of the world, and that's the way Quinn was walking. To the edge of the world, wherever it was now.
There were some days she remembered Beth's perplexed expressions, Santana's throaty laughter, and even occasionally Rachel Berry's rendition of 'Defying Gravity.' It had become Quinn's favorite, and as sources of electricity were scarce, the dead iPod in her pocket was nothing but excess ounces of weight. Sometimes she'd hum a few bars, ones that complimented the singing in her mind. It comforted her.
How silly it all seemed now, all the high school confrontations. It seemed even stranger that it would be Rachel Berry singing in her mind at the very end of the world, when she'd convinced herself for so long that she loathed the girl. It was all childish, all games.
Now it was all survival.
The highway stretched before her, signs covered in dirt. Nameless highways, like cobwebs, went untended. Cement cracked. There was no even ground anymore. Quinn climbed a steep outcropping, the leather grip of her gloves and the tread on her heels keeping her from falling. From her vantage point, the highway evened out for a couple miles, the sun beating down. She knew that it was a little dangerous, walking on such an exposed surface in warm summer heat, but it was the most direct path to humanity, or what she hoped would be humanity.
Her legs didn't ache today — she'd drank enough water to prevent that. Her back ached a bit, though, mostly because she'd found two spare canteens in the previous day's journey and filled them to the brim. Not the smartest move, but she'd known she was approaching a long journey without any sources of water (aside from digging holes in the ground where water sources might be).
The New York skyline was all-together unfamiliar. It looked like something from Avatar. Trees had grown tall, monstrous. As she approached, Quinn's relief was bittersweet. This was the end of the road, and she wondered if perhaps there really was life within the city. It was stupid for her to be heading toward civilization, she knew that much. There would be roving bandits and groups of survivors, both equally dangerous in their desperation. Yet something had told her this is where she needed to go, the way she needed to head. Whether it was something embedded in her from being brought up in the Western civilization (New York being the modern mecca for 95% of Americans) or … well, her friends. And Rachel Berry.
Set against the sickly green of the clouds, New York looked monstrous, like something out of a dollar-bin movie where the main character gets kidnapped by renegades of the apocalypse. If Quinn Fabray were going to get kidnapped, then she would rather get kidnapped closer to her old friends than further.
If she wasn't the last person alive, that is. She had to hope she wasn't, although logic told her otherwise. It took her approximately a half an hour to get within New York City's limits.
One thing Quinn didn't expect to see, as she peered up at the buildings crumbling around her, were billboards with who else but Rachel Berry's face on them. A remnant of civilization. There were other billboards of course, most of them electronic and therefore mute, their images long-dead. Quinn felt a surge of pride. Rachel had made it, even if she was gone now. Even if there was nothing remaining, Rachel had at one point achieved her life-long goal. The blonde was glad that Finn had not stopped her from that.
She adjusted the pack on her shoulders, checked her canteens. It was getting dark fast. The days didn't last very long — whatever had killed most of humanity had also affected the environment to a dangerous point. It was mostly darkness. Quinn told herself it was what it must have been like living in Alaska when everything was normal.
While she normally would have built a fire, she decided for safety's sake that it would be necessary to remain as invisible as possible for the first few days while she scouted for any living beings. Ones that preferably could speak a language other than 'caaw-cawk-caw' like a declaration of victory.
Up or down. What would be safer? Likely bandits would take the easiest route — living below ground or in buildings. So she started to climb.
For Quinn's first night in New York City, she slept behind Rachel Berry's billboard. She thought it funny that she should make camp in the cramped space between brick and metal, Rachel Berry's beaming smile protecting her from the sight of anyone who might threaten her existence.
Morning came dimly, and Quinn stretched her lithe form against the metal framing of the billboard. Nobody had disturbed her — if anybody was out there. She decided she would stay there for the first few days, a stowaway behind the image of McKinley High's Gold Star. She touched the place where Rachel's smile would be, a silent thank you to whatever strange gods ruled this world and guided her here.
She stashed her pack against the backing, pressed it firmly there though the chances of it being seen were unlikely. Nobody would see her, at least she hoped. Quinn pulled on a military-issue jacket, stored a smaller canteen of water and enough jerky to sustain her stomach for the day. Tightening her boots and taking one last glance at her belongings, she scaled the rusting ladder to the ground.
She stuck close to the buildings all day, scouring the landscape for any sign of life. The first day wasn't very successful, although she did find a relatively clean and undamaged walkie on the ground outside one of the buildings. Quinn didn't dare turn it on or try to communicate. There was no telling who would answer, or what they may do if they found her. So, the blonde stashed it away in her jacket.
It was easy to find her way back; Quinn's mind had become accustomed to routes and pathways, a roadmap for every step she took. The dim image of Rachel Berry greeted Quinn before she slipped behind the billboard, settled against her pack, and rested her sore feet. She hadn't been able to take her shoes off in a while. A survival manual had suggested survivors keep them on, in case she was unexpectedly forced to run from aggressors. The tattered copy of the manual lay in the bottom of her backpack, memorized from front to back cover.
It had been a long day, and Quinn was overly tired. She wanted to drop off into a deep sleep, but she'd learned that was not a smart thing to do. Mostly because she'd fallen into a deep sleep one night amid some trees and woken up to a bear rummaging through her pack. There were no bears here, but there were most likely bandits. The thing about humans, Quinn surmised, was that they could be vicious for the sole purpose of being vicious. Animals survived on instinct and only resorted to viciousness to survive.
Quinn's sleep was always light. After unpacking everything from her jacket and setting the walkie beside her pack. Restlessly, she tried to get comfortable, and could not find a good position.
And then she broke radio-silence, at least somewhat. She flipped the walkie on, and instead of sleeping that night, she fished through the channels listening for any sign of humanity.
It took Quinn a lot of hours to find more signs. There were definitely people alive in this city. She almost always kept the walkie on, but had yet to hear a human voice over the frequency. The search was restless, a desire to find humanity in this post-apocalyptic wasteland. She'd found a few abandoned buildings with relatively fresh sleeping places, but what she found seemed to be remnants of a nomadic group. Staying in one place would after all be dangerous in a land with groups of individuals ready to kill for food.
She felt better knowing she wasn't alone, however vast the cityscape was.
Quinn had never been more startled than when she had finished packing up her things, following the nomadic trail of whoever had survived. As she'd strapped her pack to her back and hooked the whispering walkie to her belt, someone spoke.
"Rubber Duck, this is Razorblade. Come in Rubber Duck. Over."
Quinn had almost fallen off the ladder. The unfamiliarity of another human voice was so foreign that Quinn almost couldn't understand her own language. She contemplated answering, but remained silent. There was something about the voice that struck her, besides its unfamiliarity after 50 days of only hearing her own voice.
"Rubber Duck, I repeat, this is Razorblade. Come in. Over."
Quinn wondered if this was what it was like to hallucinate in the desert. Did survivors stumble, hear voices that sounded like old friends and family?
It sounded like Santana.
"Fuck familiarity," the voice, "Britt, are you there or not? Fucking over."
Santana. Brittany. Razorblade and Rubber Duck.
"Oh my god," Quinn uttered her first words in days, her voice stiff and cracking in her throat. The sound of not only a human voice but one she knew? It couldn't be possible. She couldn't be so lucky. Hands shaking, she lifted the walkie. There wasn't any way in hell out of 6 billion people that people she knew had also survived. She pressed the call button. "This isn't Rubber Duck. Or Britt."
"Then who the fuck is it?" A pause, and the voice clicked to life again, "Over." It was comical, the hint of impatience at formalities.
"You're shitting me." Formality over.
"What are the chances?"
"I think very small." Quinn wanted to cry for relief, but instead closed her eyes and breathed.
"You see Britt anywhere?"
"No," Quinn answered, "I found this somewhere in the streets. The signs were too rusted for me to tell you where."
"Shit," buzz. Static. "Would you be able to show us where?"
Quinn nodded, then remembered that nobody was present. She pressed the call button. "Yeah."
"Where are you?"
"I've been sleeping behind Rachel Berry's billboard since I got into the city."
"Funny that, huh? She actually came through."
Quinn wanted to ask if Rachel was alive. She thought better of it. One blessing was enough for the day.
It was about an hour before she heard footsteps that were not her own. The blonde had been eagerly awaiting any sound, hidden enough so if they had been unfriendlies, she couldn't be found.
"Razorblade to Tubbers," Santana called, apparently aware of her presence and the lack of any unfriendly presence.
Quinn all but piled into Santana's arms. With the added weight of her backpack, she almost knocked the Latina over. Santana smelled different now — like ash and fire. It was so strange feeling human warmth that Quinn almost didn't know how to feel. She clung to Santana and didn't realize she was shaking until Santana commented on it.
"Hey Q, you're shaking like a leaf," Santana murmured wryly and held fast to her friend. "I'm glad to know you're alive. Haven't really known whether or not anyone else was."
Quinn wanted to ask about Rachel, but was struck dumb with relief. Santana looked as brilliant as sunlight, and Quinn basked in it as she pulled away. She looked hard — the Latina was dressed in Army fatigues and had an AK-47 strapped to her back. Her hair was a little shorter now, it hung just below her shoulders. To Quinn's relief, she didn't look any thinner. She'd stayed healthy.
Her voice stuttered out, finally, "Just … I can't believe — "
"I know, right?"
It was a mutual understanding that they were the victims of some strange fate. The end of the world had come and they knew one another. The unlikeliness of it was enough to make it some dreamy fantasy. "I'm so glad to see you," Quinn breathed and held on to Santana's arm. "Even though you're packing heat."
"Gotta. There's a few rogues out there," Santana began to explain as she urged Quinn along. Quinn noticed the tense shaping of Santana's shoulders, her vigilant searching of the cityscape. She'd thought she was a survivor, but Santana was far beyond her caliber. "They'll attack anyone just for the fun of it. There are a few of us surviving groups — five that I know of within a ten mile radius, and there's a bigger group on Manhattan Island that are starting to work on rebuilding and finding ways to produce food. Most of us are civil and cooperative. There's no government, you know, but there doesn't need to be. Just a couple groups are kinda," Santana shrugged her shoulder, "loose in the head. Figure since it's the end of the world it's okay to do whatever."
Quinn nodded along, followed quickly. They were approaching the place she'd found the walkie. "How long has Britt been missing?"
"A couple days. She went out on her own," Santana scowled.
Quinn didn't ask why. It didn't matter why. What mattered is that she was missing.
"Nobody's supposed to go without another person, besides me," Santana continued. Quinn indicated the place she'd found the walkie and watched Santana search for signs that Brittany was okay. "Yes!" An unlikely cheer. Shakingly, Santana was brushing soil away from the foundation of a building. A duck. "She's okay," Santana's eyes filled with tears.
"Yeah, but we can get her back." Santana seemed filled with a new vigor as she stood. "First, let's get you back to base and get you cleaned up. You smell like a dirty sock."
Quinn laughed — an airy, unfamiliar sound. It felt good to laugh.
It got dark by the time they made it back to the base. Santana had lead Quinn through a web of metal pipes, a self-sustained fortress inside an old factory. It was easy to understand why they'd survived. There were so many questions on Quinn's mind, but she didn't have time to ask them. Santana showed her to a secluded area where she could take a hot shower (some kind of engineering magic), and she reveled in the warmth. She'd heard other voices from other parts of the factory, but she didn't hear the one she was listening for.
She was afraid to ask. Afraid that Rachel would die a second time. Quinn had accepted the death of the people she'd known already, she didn't want to get her hopes up. As the blonde took her allotted ten minute shower, she steeled herself for a new chapter. She had found humanity, now it was time to learn how to live, not just survive.
The blonde toweled off, clothed herself in some of Santana's old fatigues. The Latina had actually served in the military, Quinn had been surprised to find out. That's how she and Britt had managed to afford an apartment in Manhattan. The fatigues fit well, and she was happy to have some clean clothes on. She pulled on the warm hoodie Santana had given her to wear as well. Apparently, the group had jobs they did to sustain one another and Santana had given Quinn's clothes to the members who washed clothes and cooked. These would do for now. Quinn laced up her boots and noted how strange it felt not to have the weight of two canteens on her hips or a pack weighing her shoulders down.
Once out of the secluded area, Quinn passed some young and unfamiliar faces, found Santana directing a group of teenagers (baby faces who looked had hard eyes).
"We'll scout here tomorrow. This is where she left the mark, and I'm pretty sure there is a network of tunnels run by some of those red bandits. They could've taken her," Santana's eyes looked hard as well. Quinn imagined Santana was picturing the reasons for Britt's capture.
"Can I help?" The blonde inquired, moved into the light of the fire. Santana eyed her and shook her head, "No, you need to rest a couple days before I can make use of you." Quinn smirked. Who was in charge now? Santana returned the smirk briefly before she returned to business. The Latina indicated another lit area nearby, walled off. "Go get some food. They should have something hot."
Quinn merely nodded, squeezed Santana's shoulder in passing, and felt a returning squeeze of her hand. It was all overwhelming; right now her emotions could only handle so much, but she was aware that she would emotionally crash in a few hours. Her stomach was more demanding, though, and she made her way to what appeared to be the kitchen. Fires were being stoked, two or three people milling around.
"Santana — err, I mean. Razorblade," she didn't know the protocol yet. She'd learn. "She said I could get some food?"
The person she was speaking to turned around and regarded her suspiciously before nodding, "Sit," his voice was small. He couldn't have been older than 12. "I'll get you a bowl. I'm Apollo. You must be new so I'll lay it out for you — you get two rations a day, no more than that. We rarely have fresh meat but we mix protein supplement in with the grains or whatever else we find to cook." As he sat the bowl down, Quinn regarded him with an amused expression, "Two rations." He emphasised the point with two fingers.
In the corner of the room, a bowl dropped. It clattered loudly and Quinn looked up sharply from her food.
Rachel Berry stood looking as if she'd just been slapped in the face. Her hands were clapped over her mouth and she stared at Quinn the way she would a ghost. Quinn was equally surprised, but she was in too much shock for it to register across her face. Another familiar face. A friend.
"No," Quinn breathed. She didn't know why it meant so much. Maybe she just wanted to know that she wasn't in a world full of strangers. "No, I'm hallucinating," she stood up. Apollo was watching her with a scowl.
"What's your — " he didn't get time to finish the sentence, because Rachel was pushing him out of the way.
Rachel stopped in front of Quinn, equally stunned. Her hands lifted as if to touch Quinn's face, to make her real, but she looked afraid. As if Quinn would crumble to ash, or perhaps she thought her fingers would go right through her.
"Weird," Apollo grumbled before resuming his duties.
Hazel eyes regarded brown ones. Recognition lingered in both gazes, and Quinn offered a smile. Her voice was suddenly hesitant, but a ghost of the old Quinn Fabray came out when she arched an eyebrow, "I saw your billboard. Slept behind it, actually."
Rachel didn't move, didn't say a word. Again her hands reached up, but this time they did touch Quinn's face. Her hands felt hot, and her fingers grazed the shape of the blonde's face reverently. "You're alive."
Quinn nodded, her own hands hanging awkwardly at her sides. "You too."
"We were stupid, weren't we?"
Confused, the blonde narrowed her gaze slightly.
"I-it just seems so trivial now, all of it. Back at McKinley," Rachel's voice sounded like honey. It was the most wonderful sound Quinn had ever heard. She looked the same, somehow still as innocent, if only a couple years older. Her clothes were a little more normal. Well-worn denim and a ragged t-shirt, long brown hair tied in a ponytail. That face, still as lovely as always. "It was all so childish."
Quinn again nodded her head, and reached to touch Rachel's arm stiffly. Her fingers rested on her elbow for a second. Silence again. How did you greet a ghost? She'd never been very affectionate, even before the world ended.
"I'm going to hug you now," Rachel whispered, and Quinn thought how funny she should warn her. The shorter girl wrapped her arms around Quinn's waist and pressed herself in tightly.
It took a moment for Quinn's arms to respond, but they did. She closed her eyes and held fast to Rachel, surprising even herself at how tightly she embraced the shorter girl. "I guess this means I have to be your friend for real this time," Quinn spoke quietly.
Rachel laughed, a sweet chiming laugh. "I guess so." Her fists curled into the hoodie Quinn wore, and the blonde swore she could hear Rachel sigh into her chest.
The collaborative effort was absolutely stunning. It was impossible to imagine the scale of how they worked together unless she'd seen it in action. Quinn had awoke to a gentle hand shaking her awake. She'd slept a few paces away from Rachel on a cot, covered in the kinds of blankets you'd find with arctic equipment, but now worked alongside Rachel washing clothing. When Rachel had found out it was Quinn's belongings she was repairing, she had apparently demanded to be the one to take care of it all and it had been stacked neatly beside Quinn's cot when she awoke.
"How did you make it out here? This far from home?" Rachel had been probing her about everything — life after high school, education, past career goals.
"The whole way?"
Quinn nodded. "It didn't seem smart to drive. Gasoline…you know, I didn't know if it would last. I didn't know if there would be enough to get me here."
"It must have taken so long," Rachel stared at Quinn, bordering on gawked.
"Seems like a lifetime."
"Did you go alone? Travel alone? Why New York?"
The Gold Star in the sky. McKinley's savior. The Captain of the Glee Club. That's why. Quinn didn't say any of that, because she didn't fully understand why Rachel had been her motivation, "I'm not sure."
Rachel nodded, seemed to accept the statement as fact.
They worked in silence the rest of the day and waited to hear whether or not Santana's Recon group had found Brittany.
It was sometime around three in the evening, already dark, when Santana had arrived with her group. Quinn and Rachel had been eating by the fire, the blonde listening to the drone of conversation and acutely aware of Rachel leaning against her shoulder. Santana had come in, and by the way she was hunched, it was easy to see that they had been met only with disappointment.
Rachel was the first to look up, and Quinn had stood to greet Santana. The girl looked angry — which, if Santana was still the same person she had been, meant she was simultaneously sad. Quinn was afraid of the news.
"Did you find her?" Rachel asked hesitantly.
Santana shook her head. "We will," she assured the group of survivors. "We will." She also assured herself, closed her eyes. She looked tired. Quinn moved forward but Santana waved her off dismissively. "I'm going to get some sleep."
A hand at Quinn's elbow told her not to press the issue. Hazel eyes looked back to find Rachel shaking her head a bit. She sat, despite the urge to go to Santana anyway.
Next to her, Rachel had resumed eating, though her posture was a little more solemn now. The blonde next to her sighed, and suddenly didn't feel hungry at all. While it had been much easier surviving alone, worrying only for herself, she was now in the company of at least two people she cared about.
Rachel was leaning against her slightly, the warmth of her arm pressing against Quinn's. The shorter girl finished her food, placed her bowl at her feet, and sat in silence. Her brown eyes were full of thought, the fire flickering across her strong features. Quinn watched quietly for a moment.
It wasn't long after that she felt the weight of Rachel's head on her shoulder and realized the girl had fallen asleep against her.