A/N: This is a sequel to Better Run, Outrun My Gun.
Better Run, Faster Than My Bullet
April 25th, 2012
North Central Lima, Near WMHS
Hawthorne Holliday had never believed in settling down. It had led to him being on the losing end of multiple divorces, ending up on the blacklist of every loan agency in the greater Ohio area, and generally existing in a perpetual state of loneliness.
He had bought a house once, and it had taken everything in him not to just burn it down the next day and try for the insurance money.
But he had settled sometime around the age of fifty-seven, had a stroke at age sixty-three, and been forced to walk around with a cane ever since.
But he had found happiness somewhere along the way, despite the arthritis that plagued his bones – and it was always in the simplest of things.
The way the floorboards creaked under the soles of his house shoes, the laughter that he could sometimes hear from across the street at the local high school, the sweet girl who delivered his mail with a genuinely kind smile on her face...
Speaking of the mail lady – Grace something or other – she was running late today. And that certainly wasn't like her.
When a tap tapping sounded on his front door, Hawthorne pulled himself up out of his recliner to see what the commotion was. It couldn't be Grace though – her tap tapping was always sharp, crisp, cheerful in a way that not many people were capable of achieving through a knock. This tap tapping had been hard, oddly forceful, demanding.
"I'm coming, I'm coming!" Hawthorne said, making his way to the door. He thought he heard whoever was on the other side audibly moan out something or other, but he couldn't quite be sure. His hearing wasn't what it used to be.
Pulling back the door, Hawthorne saw Grace standing on his front porch. He reached to push back the screen door, greeting her happily. "Grace! My goodness, I didn't think I was going to see you today!"
"Mmmrahhh grrugh," Grace replied, arms upraised and reaching for Hawthorne's face.
"Whoa!" Hawthorne exclaimed, jumping backwards slightly and almost losing his balance. He managed to catch himself on the inward-hanging front door, but Grace had literally barged straight through the screen and was advancing on him steadily.
And she seemed to have had her throat ripped out since they had last come face to face.
"Dear god! Stay back, I'll call the police!"
But threats are empty to the undead, and so Grace pounced – ripping into the soft, fatty tissue of Hawthorne's neck and shredding the clothes that covered his chest. He screamed, and the sounds were lost in a gurgle as blood bubbled up and smeared across his lips. His head fell back, muscles losing all function as Grace feasted on her first breakfast as a zombie.
Just before his eyes lost focus and he slipped into the realm of the once-living, Hawthorne's eyes landed on his favorite picture – one taken the previous Christmas with his beautiful, charming daughter. She had been preparing to travel with some friends or something, embarking on a new business venture – he couldn't quite remember the details...
A few minutes later, Grace the postal lady stumbled back out of the house that Hawthorne Holliday had never fully paid off. And a couple of minutes after that, Hawthorne himself stepped out into the cool morning breeze of Lima, Ohio. His cane was no longer necessary as he couldn't actually feel pain anymore, and so he sprinted out into the street – intent on doing little more than searching for something that could stave off the terrible hunger that was consuming every fiber of his being.
At approximately 6:57PM that evening, Mr. Holliday was hit by a school bus as it made its way across town towards the Jones' family residence.
No one mourned the loss of Hawthorne Holliday.
June 21st, 2012
Florida, The Everglades
The eyepiece from the microscope dug uncomfortably into Holly's flesh. She was used to dressing as historical figures and eating tacos and running away. Not fieldwork and scientific discoveries and the end of the world.
Anything but this. Anything but responsibility and pressure and unbreakable commitments.
But that's exactly where Holly found herself. And there was nothing else for it.
She took a deep breath, leaning back and wiping a layer of sweat from her forehead with her sleeve. Then she pressed her face back to the scope – because rest was for the weary, and there just wasn't time for weariness anymore.
As she stared at the specimen sample in front of her with one eye, she made notes on an already half-full page in the notebook next to her.
Rate of decomposition, if at all...
Denaturation of host proteins...
Rates of virus proliferation...
Holly had learned what she considered to be more than her fair share of biochemistry in the past month. Thirty-two days, to be exact. It had been that long since she had run into Dr. Austin – though it felt like it was actually a lifetime ago at times.
She had been working as a sideline act in a traveling circus when the reports about Patient Zero were released. At the time, Holly hadn't really cared to pay much attention. A joint was being passed around, and matters outside of their strange little troupe – their family – seemed trivial and distant at best.
But the next morning, Patient Zero had turned into Patients One through One Thousand and Seventy-Three, and it had become completely impossible to ignore. Within a week, almost the entire west coast was either dead, undead, or fleeing for their lives. It was mass pandemonium, apparently, and Holly was grateful to have been in the southeastern part of the country at the time.
Unfortunately, the virus that turned your next door neighbor into a creature from your nightmares was grossly efficient – it worked quickly, it spread with one hundred percent efficacy, and government agencies were caught completely off guard. So no vaccine was expected in the near future, and there had been little to no successful intervention from the military.
It certainly didn't help that the virus was constantly mutating.
And that last fact was something that Holly and Dr. Austin had found out for themselves. And, unfortunately, it was a fact that they had not yet been able to share with the world at large...
When reports of zombie outbreaks as far east as Illinois surfaced, Holly had decided that she really needed to head back to Ohio. Her dad hadn't been in the best state of health when she had left, and her stomach bottomed out completely every time she thought about him – alone in that old house near William McKinley High, unable to properly get around without the use of his cane...
Her car had run out of gas just south of absolutely nowhere. Somewhere between Tallahassee and Atlanta, she could never quite remember.
A lifetime ago...
She had been walking down the edge of the highway with a crowbar over her shoulder and a floppy hat on her head when a white van approached from the north. Holly had kept walking – prepared for confrontation but hoping for none.
And what she had been greeted with was a rolled down window and some guy with a scruffy beard asking her if she was looking for a purpose in life.
Holly had stood there on the side of the road, stopped completely in her tracks with the brim of her hat dangling down into her eyes, and she had contemplated what he had really offered her.
"I'm not sure where you're going," the man had said, "but I know where I'm going. And I could use help when I get there. If it's purpose you're looking for in this world, I have just the job for you."
She hadn't said a word – not even a softly uttered "I thought you'd never ask" accompanied by the gentle tilt of her lips. She simply dropped her gaze to the hot pavement under her feet before turning and heading to the passenger side of the van.
The rest, as they say, was history.
It really did seem like a lifetime ago...
With a shake of her head, Holly brought herself back to the present. It had never really served her well, the act of dwelling on the past.
Just as she was focusing on the powerfully magnified tissue sample on her slide, the radio crackled to life on the other side of the van.
"Holly," a voice called over the airwaves, "Holly, do you read me?"
Immediately dropping her pen down to the makeshift workbench, Holly hopped up and dove across the cluttered space. Her fingers wrapped around the walkie, and she couldn't explain to herself why it was that her hands were already trembling as she pressed the button.
"Dr. Austin," she replied, "I'm here."
"Oh, thank god. Holly, I need you to listen carefully to what I'm about to tell you," Dr. Austin's voice was notably shaking at this point. Holly nodded in response – not that it really mattered, since the man on the other end of the line couldn't see her pale figure. She swallowed thickly and pressed the device against her forehead, closing her eyes and preparing herself for whatever her mentor – her friend – was about to say. "I need you to write an email. In this email, explain everything that you and I have discovered concerning the Z Virus. Absolutely everything, Holly. Send this email to Dr. William Channing, he's an old colleague of mine at the CDC. Send it to Colonel John Davis as well. We can only hope that lines of communication are still available within the government..."
His voice trailed off, his mutterings were lost.
Holly scrambled back across the van to scribble down the names, and she could already feel the uncertainty creeping up within her chest. Could she really explain everything they had learned? Could she act as a sufficient source of knowledge on this matter?
"I have faith in you, Holly Holliday," Dr. Austin softly uttered through his walkie. It was as if he knew – he knew that Holly still hadn't cultivated the necessary faith in herself, the faith that he had so readily entrusted in her from the very first second of their time together. "Send the email, and you may just play a part in saving the world."
It was too much. It was all just too much.
"Michael," Holly gasped, electing to use Dr. Austin's first name in an attempt to convey the emotions that she was feeling – emotions she had never really been properly equipped to handle. "I'm not sure that I can –"
"No," Dr. Austin succinctly interrupted her. "You can and you will because you must. I can't say anymore, I'm running out of time and bullets." Holly heard the sound of heavy footfalls, his breath coming in slightly laborious puffs of air now. "Send the email and get out. I'm trying to lead them in the opposite direction from you, but god knows whether or not I can get them far enough away."
"Them?" Holly questioned, her fingertips gripping at the hem of her shorts, digging roughly into her exposed skin. "Walkers?"
"Runners, more like. And Holly..." he trailed off, and Holly was able to discern an almost joyous tone to his voice – as if a child was learning that Santa Clause had delivered presents and eaten half of the cookies sometime in the middle of the night. "They're... They're doing it! Everything we thought we had discovered, it's all true! All of it and more, perhaps."
"What is it that they're doing? What's with all the urgency?" Her voice was shaking now, and the small inside space of the van seemed to be tilting on its axis, spinning dangerously.
"They're hunting me."
Holly's world stopped spinning.
"It was a pleasure knowing you, darling. Send the email. Get out of here. Colonel Davis was stationed at Fort Bragg before the world ended, see if you can make it there." Dr. Austin stopped running, and Holly could hear his heavy breathing more loudly than before. She was saddened that the fact he was still breathing served as some form of comfort. "They've formed a trap, an actual trap! There's nothing else for it, I'll have to take as many of them down with me as I can. Good bye, Holly Holliday."
And when Holly clicked through again and again – trying repeatedly to receive one last transmission from the doctor – she was met with nothing but static.
There would be time for tears later. For now, Holly had an email to send.
She shook the laptop next to the microscope awake, urgently whispering "Come on, come on, come on" and praying for more time. Once it was awake, she immediately checked the internet signal. Their mobile satellite receiver had been damaged a couple of weeks back in a hasty getaway attempt. They had escaped unscathed, but the same could not be said for their internet connection.
It was weak at best.
Holly opened up a blank email and selected the necessary contacts from Dr. Austin's list – not even having to source her chicken scratch on the already forgotten notepad.
She began to type.
To whom it may concern:
My name is Holly Holliday. I have been working with Dr. Michael Austin (previous lead investigator for the CDC) in the south of Florida for several weeks now. We have made an important discovery concerning the infectious zombie virus that originated in California near the border of Mexico – dubbed 'the Z Virus' by Dr. Austin. In his final transmission to me only moments ago, he informed me to send everything we have learned about the virus to you both as soon as I possibly could. Attached to this email are the data sheets and accompanying notes from Dr. Austin's personal files.
The Z Virus replicates at alarming rates once inside the victim's body. Anyone who survives an attack will succumb to the virus within forty-eight hours. Someone who does not survive will become one of the undead within minutes – sometimes sooner.
Once the victim has become zombified, the body reaches extremely high internal temperatures. This fever is in the range of 107 degrees Fahrenheit and above – sufficient to melt or denature the proteins in the brain. This melting of proteins leads to the sluggish movements, moaning, lack of apparent thought process, and overall yearning that the zombie has to seek out and consume human flesh. Somehow, the undead are still able to move and eat – though this is oftentimes impeded by the extent of their injuries.
However, it is necessary to understand that the Z Virus has mutated!
When a zombie with the mutated virus – which Dr. Austin believes to be all zombies with an age of at least three weeks, plus all zombies created by those zombies – consumes human flesh, the virus extracts the healthy proteins from this food source. After extracting the healthy, fully intact proteins, the virus then transports them to the zombie's brain. With essentially billions of copies of the virus in the zombie at this point, the process has become incredibly efficient. The fresh human proteins, now transported to the zombie's brain, are easily melted by the high body temperatures by the time they arrive. During transportation, the proteins undergo a heating and cooling process by the zombie's internal temperatures (which fluctuate at a rapid rate after ingestion of flesh) very similar to the PCR technique, allowing for amplification of even a few functional proteins to many.
Now here's where it gets interesting, gentlemen.
The virus actually acts as a DNA transcriptase factor, bringing the zombie's non-functioning proteins in contact with the fresh human proteins, breaking them down and using them to essentially do its bidding – it fuses the base pairs together to form DNA strands that code for new, functioning proteins. It has adapted to do this despite the incredibly high body temperatures.
These new hybrid proteins allow for slightly elevated brain function.
This slightly elevated brain function has given rise to zombies that THINK. And when I say that they think, I mean that they're doing more than just seeking out sources of food.
Dr. Austin, in his last words, informed me that he was being hunted by the undead.
It's clear that the zombies still lack emotion – they are not human in any sense of the word, but they are developing the skills to work together, to form predation patterns, to HUNT. They still have one sole purpose, nothing more – to consume human flesh.
The scariest part of all is that the mutations are not stopping. So far, the previously mentioned changes are all that we've noted – SO FAR. The Z Virus must be stopped, or else there's absolutely no telling what could come next.
I'm currently at the longitudinal coordinates that I am attaching to this email. But Dr. Austin instructed me to get out as soon as possible, to make my way to Fort Bragg. I've never been a religious person, but I pray to whoever is listening that you get this email in case I don't make it out.
Wishing you excellent weather, it's a bit muggy down here!
Not having time to reread her words, Holly smashed multiple times on the send button. The progress bar crept slowly along, and she bit her lip – hoping against all hope that the damn email would make it beyond the confines of the van.
The van that would be Holly's final resting place if she didn't get a move on.
Stowing away all of the loose equipment on the workbenches around the interior of the vehicle, Holly slid the small window open that connected the cab to the back. She shimmied her way through, reaching behind her and pulling the laptop through as well. Holly placed the laptop in the passenger seat as she grabbed the keys from the visor, shoving them in the ignition and starting the engine. As it roared to life, she glanced down at the email.
It was still trying to send.
The windows were cracked, and Holly could hear gunfire in the distance. Dr. Austin was still alive! Maybe she could get to him in time to help, plow through whatever was left of the undead and sweep him up into the safety of the white van that had become their home.
Even as Holly moved to pull the gear shifter down into the drive position, she heard the shots stop abruptly. There were only two possibilities now: Dr. Austin had run out of ammo, or he was dead. And unfortunately, the first would inevitably lead to the second.
The tears finally fell from her eyes as she came to the realization that she was – again – utterly alone in the world. And now more than ever, she felt that supreme weight of loneliness. But even more than the loneliness, Holly felt the weight of Dr. Austin's final words.
...You may just play a part in saving the world...
The moaning of risen corpses drifted on the stale air straight to Holly's eardrums. Darkness was falling, and Holly stayed true to her email, praying for the first time since junior college. She prayed for everything and nothing all at once, it seemed – her thoughts a jumbled mix of terror and despondency and just the smallest trickle of hope as she glanced down at the laptop, still valiantly attempting to send the email out.
Waiting longer than she perhaps should have, Holly finally threw the van into gear and peeled out of their spot – leaving two folding chairs and a set of empty coffee mugs toppled over in her wake. She headed north.
Not even a mile later, the empty light clicked on, and the laptop's battery shuddered and died.
June 29th, 2012
Fort Jackson; Columbia, South Carolina
Barracks C, Room 17
With a jolt, Rachel found herself drawn back into the world of the living. Though it was more like the world of the living and the not-living nowadays...
A bad dream had woken her. But they were all bad dreams anymore, so she shouldn't have been surprised. It took her a few moments to calm her raging heartbeat, and that was enough time for Tina to stir in the bunk beneath hers.
Sluggishly standing, Tina climbed out onto the cool, hard floor of their living quarters. She pressed her hands into the mattress next to Rachel's slightly sweaty form, resting her chin on top of them. "Another nightmare?" she asked, her voice soft and calm and soothing. Not that it really helped Rachel feel better.
That was someone else's job.
Rachel's only reply was to sigh heavily as she remembered the events of her nightmare, the movie reel that her subconscious forced her to watch on repeat – night after night after endless night. Kurt, not even having time to cup her cheek or kiss her forehead or hug her one last time, whispering "Goodbye, Rachel" and running into the high school.
And even though, in reality, Rachel had been pulled backwards and forced to run for her life under Quinn's direction, Rachel's dreams were grossly different. She was always just there – right behind him but out of reach, unable to grasp his shirt and pull him to safety. She would follow him back into the utter hell of McKinley High, and she'd watch – untouchable and completely immobilized – as the horde descended upon him. She could always hear the ripping of his skin and sinewy muscles, she could see the blood spurting, gurgling from every wound – and she'd witness those final moments when the grenade fell from his lifeless fingers, exploding violently.
It was this explosion that would consistently rock Rachel from her temperamental respite of sleep.
But not before she felt the searing heat of the blast on her face, not before her heart shattered completely for the loss of her friend – again and again and again.
Rachel's eyes were sad and heavy with tears as she turned to look at Tina. "Yeah," she finally whispered in accompaniment to her sigh, "another nightmare." With a shaky hand, she drew her fingers across her upper lip before pressing her palm momentarily against her eyes. "Do you know where, uhh..."
Her voice caught, and she roughly cleared her throat. But Tina understood. "She was with Lizzie tonight," the girl answered, confirming Rachel's suspicions. She pushed up on her elbows and stared across the room at the bare, grey cement wall unseeingly. "I can go get her if you –"
"No," Rachel was quick to interrupt Tina, shaking her head and sending Tina what she hoped to be a thankful smile regardless. The picture was already vividly painted in her mind, and it really just hurt too much to think about it further – it all just hurt too much. "That's ok. I don't want to bother her."
What Rachel didn't want to do was put any more pressure on Quinn than the girl already put on herself – she didn't want to burden another person with the guilt she felt, the guilt that consumed her when she let herself acknowledge that Kurt's death was her fault entirely.
And she especially didn't want to do it when Quinn was with Lizzie...
Reaching over her shoulder, Rachel flipped her pillow over and laid back on it. "I'm sorry for waking you, Tina. We have an early morning though, we should both try and get some sleep."
One corner of Tina's lips quirked upwards faintly as she pushed back from Rachel's bunk, quietly uttering her own, "Good night, Rach."
As Tina sank back underneath her own thin blankets, she heard the sobs begin above her. And she wondered – not for the first time since they had arrived at Fort Jackson – why it was that Rachel and Quinn didn't just get over themselves and sleep in the same room at the very least.
They had always taken baby steps around each other – delicate, tiny, fucking insecure steps.
It really was a shame that the zombie apocalypse hadn't taught them any better.
Barracks G, Room 15
Quinn's eyes wanted to drift closed. Her body, it was exhausted. But her mind, it was racing.
The body pressed to her chest was warm and soft, and there was only one other person who made her feel like this anymore – one other person left in this bleak reality who made her feel as if some semblance of home still existed for her as even the remotest of possibilities.
As Quinn nuzzled into the downy soft hair that was resting against her chest, rocking them both back and forth slightly, she considered the path that had brought them together.
She still hadn't decided if it had been fortuitous or disastrous.
As she inhaled the sweet scent of strawberries, Quinn decided that only time would tell.
June 24th, 2012
Fort Jackson; Columbia, South Carolina
After being picked up by Eli and Roger, the remaining members of New Directions, Mr. Schuester, and Coach Sylvester were transported to Virginia. They landed at Fort Eustis – what was left of it, at least – late the next morning. The base had become a refueling point for their rescue operations apparently, and their group had stayed there for a day – enjoying the comfort of not having to stand guard or worry for their lives.
Maybe it would have been wise of them, to still be worried. But for that one day and night, they allowed themselves to forget about watch duty and masses of the walking undead tearing down their gate and the sacrifices of Kurt and Sam...
The next morning, they left early to head down the coast to the main military base that was still intact – one of the last government places of operation that was still functional to a certain extent.
Once they had landed on the airstrip just outside of Fort Jackson's newly reinforced perimeter, a military transport was waiting to bring them to headquarters. But before they were even allowed to get inside the front gate, a small group of scientists greeted them for screening – equipped with German shepherds that sniffed and growled menacingly at the group, body temperature monitors, and a sheer number of munitions that left Rachel, frankly, insulted.
Eli and Roger led the group with Finn and Puck at their backs and Artie wheeling along at their side. Walking close behind them was Mike with his arm wrapped around Tina, Brittany and Santana with their fingers locked and swaying between them, and Schue and Sue following along in their wake. Rachel and Quinn brought up the last of their group, walking with a foot of space between them – but occasionally reaching out and grasping the other's wrist for comfort.
Just to make sure that they hadn't lost each other somewhere along the way.
As they approached the main building in the compound, they disappeared inside one by one. Rachel was reaching for the door handle when her side tingled, indicating the sudden lack of Quinn's presence.
Dropping her hand back down to her side, Rachel spun around, her eyes frantically searching for pink hair. It didn't take her long to spot Quinn in the relatively empty yard area, her back to Rachel as something obviously ensnared her full attention.
Walking back down the steps, Rachel approached Quinn's still figure.
"Quinn?" she questioned, gazing intently up at her...her lover? Her girlfriend? Labels were too difficult to come up with – she was too tired, and she was too afraid of what a label would mean.
She reached up and tenderly traced her fingers down the planes of Quinn's cheek, attempting to bring her back. Finally, the taller girl blinked and shifted her eyes down to Rachel. "Hey," Quinn said, her voice oddly disconnected.
"What's wrong?" Rachel asked. Hazel eyes locked with hers, shimmering in the bright morning sunlight.
Quinn shook her head, her brow furrowing in confusion as she glanced back towards a makeshift playground on the other side of the lot they were standing in. "Nothing, I...I'm not sure."
Rachel's eyes followed Quinn's to the playground. The sounds of children laughing and running and playing had previously escaped Rachel's notice. But now, it seemed strange and out of place – after the fifty-eight days they had spent in post-apocalyptic Lima, it was positively surreal. "Come on," she said, dropping her hands down to rest on Quinn's hips. "We should get inside." Her thumbs edged up just under Quinn's dark green t-shirt, rubbing soft circles into her skin.
"Yeah," Quinn said, tearing her eyes away from whatever it was that had hypnotized her momentarily. "Let's go."
Quinn reached down and laced her fingers with Rachel's, and it felt like progress.
After all, they had been loving each other for weeks – though perhaps it had been a lot longer than that in the making – but it had remained unspoken and hidden away in the darkness of night, only forced into the light of day recently.
Just as they slipped inside the front door, Quinn turned to look back at the low chain link fence where the children were playing. The last thing she saw was a little girl with dirty blonde hair and bright eyes, her fingers gripping at the holes in the fence as she watched Quinn walk away.
There was the slightest of smiles on the child's lips, and Quinn couldn't help but smile in return, lifting her fingers and offering a wave. In return, the little girl jumped up and down, waving one of her hands back.
Quinn couldn't explain why she chose that moment to do so, but she turned Rachel around and kissed her hard on the lips the second the door closed behind them.
"What was that for?" Rachel breathed out against her as they stood there in the entryway.
Pressing her forehead against Rachel's, Quinn quietly breathed out, "It's been too long since I kissed you."
"Well then," Rachel replied, but she didn't say anything else – she just tangled her fingers in Quinn's short locks and brought their lips back together for a soft, slow kiss.
All Quinn wanted to think about was the girl in her arms, but instead, her mind was drifting to the girl just beyond the fence...
June 29th, 2012
Fort Jackson; Columbia, South Carolina
Barracks G, Room 15
The small body against Quinn's chest squirmed slightly in her grasp.
"Honey," Quinn said, chuckle lacing her voice, "it's so late. Your mom is never going to let me babysit you again if I don't get you to sleep soon."
But the little girl clutched at the fabric of Quinn's long-sleeved shirt, burying her head against Quinn's chest and mumbling something sleepy and incoherent. Quinn ran her hand up and down Elizabeth's back, continuing to rock them back and forth in the chair.
"How about a song?" Quinn murmured against baby-soft skin, pressing a kiss to the girl's forehead.
It was a few minutes later – with Quinn softly singing out "where troubles melt like lemon drops, away above the chimney tops, that's where you'll find me" – when Shelby Corcoran walked in. Elizabeth had fallen asleep moments before, and Shelby's smile was genuine as she helped Quinn put the sleeping girl down into her small bed.
As a single mother, Shelby was afforded special housing, so there were no other occupants in the room – not that there was much clamoring for space on the base, not when the population of the entire country had been decimated already. The two women stared down at the sleeping child. Lizzie, as Quinn had quickly learned she liked to be called, slept soundly as her two mothers – one by birth and both by love – watched silently.
Because of Quinn's interaction from afar with little Elizabeth that first day on base, the shock of seeing Shelby in the mess hall a couple of days later was significantly numbed.
For Quinn, at least, despite the fact that she hadn't really known. Not for sure.
For Rachel, on the other hand, the blow was received full force – the blow of a mother who had readily found happiness from a family unit that didn't include her.
The circumstances were bizarre at best.
To say things had been awkward at first was an understatement. But when Quinn came to realize that her never forgotten hope – the hope that somewhere, somehow, Beth and Shelby had made it out alive – had not been in vain, she broke down into a sobbing mess there in the middle of the crowded room. Rachel had fallen to her knees for an entirely different reason, and they had held each other.
Elizabeth's breathing was deep and even as Shelby touched her hand to Quinn's arm and gestured to the door. Quinn nodded, and they crossed the room and stepped outside into the hallway.
"Thank you for watching her tonight," Shelby said. "I'm not sure how often they'll need me to teach this night class, but I may ask you again. If you don't mind, that is. I know that there's another session tomorrow for sure – after that, things are kind of up in the air."
Quinn was quick to assure Shelby that she didn't mind at all. "Of course, I'd absolutely love to watch her again tomorrow and any other time you need someone. But, out of curiosity, will you always be teaching this late? Two in the morning seems a little unfair to you as a mother. Do you just have terrible students or something?"
Quinn said the last line with the intent of slight comedic relief for the verging-on-awkward situation, but Shelby seemed to take it more seriously than she had planned. Her eyes widened and she averted her gaze to the floor momentarily before finding Quinn's eyes again. "The class times are a little strange because everyone on base seems to be running on different schedules. I don't think things will run as late tomorrow though."
Smiling, Quinn nodded understandingly and paused, biting her lip before adding, "And I know Puck has been really busy lately with all of the training that the guys are doing, but I know he'd love to see her more than just at random meals. Maybe..."
"Yeah," Shelby added, "that would be totally fine with me." She could've chosen to worry about the teens' potential lack of responsibility, but she decided that surviving the first couple of months of the end times was qualification enough for them to handle watching their own daughter for the night.
Silence descended upon them, and Shelby moved to make a gesture indicating that she should get to bed, but Quinn interrupted. "I know that you want to take steps forward with Rachel, and I also know that she's been playing the avoidance game. I really don't want this to affect my relationship with Beth through you negatively, but so be it if it does – I just hope you know that she's justified in the way she's treated you since she found out you're here, that you're alive."
Shelby's mouth opened and closed uselessly for a few moments before she finally acknowledged Quinn's words. "I didn't handle things correctly with Rachel. I'm paying for that now. And I deserve the behavior she's shown me."
"You may deserve it," Quinn agreed, "but don't let it stop you from trying. A part of Rachel has always wanted a mother figure. And now more than ever, with her dads gone... Well, she needs you. And that scares her." Shelby sniffled and diverted her shining eyes to the ceiling. "Don't give up on her, I know she hasn't given up on you." Nodding, Shelby crossed her arms over her chest. "Good night, Miss Corcoran," Quinn said, turning and walking away.
As Quinn moved down the hallway, Shelby quietly replied, "Call me Shelby."
Quinn heard her but made no move to acknowledge the softly uttered phrase.
She really needed some fresh air.
Mike stood atop his lookout post, staring out into the muggy summer night. The moans seemed to echo from everywhere and nowhere all at once, and he shivered despite the oppressive warmth that was causing sweat to bead across his brow.
He had been told that the incessant moans in the darkness were from all the soldiers they hadn't been able to get to safety in time. The soldiers alive and dead and undead before the military jets stormed through in the middle of the night soon after the outbreak reached Fort Jackson. The poor bastards had been zombified at an exponential rate, much like the rest of the country, and the military had only one course of action at their disposal at the time.
But even their attempts to purge the infected portions of the base had been futile, resulting in flames of decimation and little more – as could be observed by the moans Mike heard at night and the still-moving zombies seen from flyovers during the day.
It made Mike's stomach roll over uncomfortably as he thought about the loss of life – and, he reasoned, the loss of resources. Less than a quarter of the original base still remained. All that was left were the barracks, a few training operations units, and select military research facilities. Trained men, combat ranges, more than a thousand buildings including the entire residential sector, tens of thousands of acres – all lost to some trigger happy, fearful men sitting behind a desk somewhere.
His hands gripped more firmly around the military-issued firearm in his possession. His eyes restlessly scanned the horizon, but he saw nothing more than his standard view since his first night on watch duty three nights previous.
The faint glow far out in the distance of fires that continued to burn. Bodies that refused to die. Dragging footsteps in the night.
It was eerie at best and nerve-wracking at worst.
A slow-moving zombie drug itself into Mike's line of sight, one mutilated leg scraping along in the dirt behind it. He leveled his scope, took aim, and blew the creature's putrefied brains clean out of the back of its skull. With the butt of the rifle still pressing into his upper arm, Mike squinted his eyes into the faintly lit night. The bright beacons of the lookout posts only reached so far – there was always that slow fade from light to shadow to darkness that forced Mike to strain his eyes. He was definitely straining them now, and his heart was racing.
Less than ten yards to the right of where he had felled the first zombie of his shift, two more zombies slunk forward out of the darkness. There was something strange about their movements, so Mike lifted his gun back to his face and watched them through the scope. But even as he was focusing in on them, his peripherals caught sight of movement back in the other direction.
He quickly scanned the shadows to the left of the corpse he had dropped, and his jaw worked soundlessly as he noticed two more undead approximately twenty yards to the left of the first.
All four of the new zombies were trudging slowly, hardly a threat. So, once again, Mike lowered his gun and merely observed.
And what he saw had him shaking his head in disbelief.
Their interactions were sluggish, but it looked almost as if they were working together. As they got closer and closer to the inner perimeter's first line of defenses, they fanned out, forming a four-pronged advance on the structure. There was little they could essentially do, but they were trying. And that caused Mike to experience immense confusion.
But worst of all, they were making no noise whatsoever. It was as if they were attempting some form of stealth. Not even the high, uneven mewling noises of starvation were escaping their foul jaws.
Footsteps sounded behind Mike on the stairwell, steady and even. Someone was coming to replace him for the next shift.
With a quick shake of his head, Mike lifted his gun and took out all four of the walking undead with efficient headshots.
"Got some live ones?" a gruff voice questioned. Mike turned and looked over his shoulder as his relief came into view.
"Yeah," he replied simply. "Five total, just in the last couple of minutes. I've been hearing them all night though."
"That seems to be their way lately," the other man acknowledged, slipping a rifle almost identical to Mike's from across his back into his arms. "It's like they're messin' with our heads."
Mike nodded, slinging his gun over his shoulder. "Good luck," he said, moving past the soldier whose name he still didn't know.
The other guy hadn't bothered to ask him for his, so he had merely responded in kind. It had been hard to break out of their group of friends – hard to trust, hard to let themselves get close to anyone new.
The steps down from the top of the tower seemed to go on and on forever. Finally, Mike exited onto one of the lower levels. He promptly turned a corner near the admin HQ and allowed his body to tiredly sink down against the wall behind him, his feet dangling over the edge of the walkway.
As Mike's eyes slipped shut, he found himself replaying the actions of the five zombies from before. And after a few moments of quiet contemplation, he came to the conclusion that they had stepped out of the darkness with something grotesquely close to a plan of action.
He filed the information away with the intention of bringing it up at their nightly New Directions meeting before his next shift.
The door to the admin building clanged open, the echo of the heavy door bouncing off of the metal railing next to it easily reaching up to where Mike was sitting. He was leaning forward now, his arms draped over his knees, his legs kicking tirelessly against the air.
If the bright green hair wasn't indication enough, Mike could have recognized Quinn by her almost painfully thoughtful expression from a mile away. Her combat boots carried her down the stairs, and she turned left. But before she rounded the corner, her head snapped up in Mike's direction.
It was some strange, sixth sense she had developed, Mike was sure of it, that made it so easy for Quinn to feel the presence of her friends.
Lifting one glove-covered hand, Mike waved in her direction. She paused briefly and just stared, seemingly reading his face for signs of unrest or trouble. He quickly gave her an only slightly reassuring thumbs up signal, but she nodded and continued on her way.
Eventually, Mike pushed himself up into a standing position. He needed to go see Tina before he even attempted to sleep.
If anyone could calm his racing thoughts and his pounding heart, it would be the girl who had possession over his very soul.
The yard area in front of the main building apparently used to be covered in grass. All that was left now, however, were the dusty remains of a happier, more stable time. Only the small playground area off to Quinn's left possessed any remaining vestiges of greenery, and even that was sparse and dying as the summer days became hotter and hotter.
The nights, on the other hand, were cold – in Quinn's opinion, at least. Mike always said they were hot and muggy, but he was also forced to wear an absurd amount of protective gear when he was on duty. Quinn, on the other hand, was wearing her usual khaki shorts. The meager warmth provided by her long sleeve shirt was not enough to keep her from shivering as she walked around the corner away from Mike's gaze.
The base was quiet. No planes flew overhead delivering supplies or the occasional refugee – that would happen in the later morning hours, if any supplies or survivors had even been found. There was no training going on – no running obstacle courses or shooting weapons, no hand-to-hand combat practice or PT workouts. The moans beyond the perimeter were muffled by the perimeter's wall itself, though the occasional gunshot could be heard as soldiers and militia-status individuals such as Mike took out the staggering, stray undead that approached.
A good distance down the edge of the building, Quinn stopped and turned on her feet, leaning back and planting one of her boots against the concrete blocks behind her. One hand snaked into her back pocket, extracting a full pack of cigarettes. She tapped it against her left palm before tipping the opening back and pulling one out, placing it to her lips.
She didn't have a lighter. She didn't need one. Because she didn't actually smoke the little cancer sticks. But she kept the full pack in her back pocket for a couple of different reasons.
Sinking down to her haunches, Quinn pressed her hands into the dirt near her feet. Her fingers ached to reach for the RSBs that used to be strapped to her thighs with a fervor that could only be considered religious. But here on base, she wasn't allowed to keep them on her – instead, they were in a secure lockbox underneath her bed. So the action of pressing her hands into the ground steadied her for the moment, and the hand-to-mouth habit of the cigarettes had been keeping her from anxiously reaching for her RSBs the rest of the time. She could reach for the package in her back pocket instead.
She had also read a story once, and this main character guy had kept cigs on him for the sole purpose of holding the damn things between his lips – they had the power to kill him, but only if he lit up. So he never lit up, and because of that, the power was always in his hands – or, more accurately, floating between his slightly parted lips. Like standing on the edge of a precipice, but constantly in control of whether or not he fell into the abyss.
Quinn bobbed the cigarette up and down in the cool night air. It felt good to be in control of such a simple thing when control of everything else was no longer hers.
It had seemed like a nice fucking sentiment. So Quinn had taken up the habit after being on base for a couple of days.
Rachel absolutely hated it.
Someone coughed relatively nearby, and Quinn's head snapped up in the direction of the sound. Her eyes leveled on one of two guards flanking a door to one of the buildings inside the perimeter.
There was never a lot of activity at this time of the night – which Quinn knew because of her lack of sleep nowadays. But this building… This building was different.
It was a tall, rectangular building. There were wide bay doors all along one side, but they were clearly barred and seemed to be out of use. There were guards standing outside what appeared to be the main entrance twenty-four hours a day, as far as any of them had noticed. No one of any rank would ever answer the questions that Quinn had about the building – and asking questions had become Quinn's specialty over the past few days, much to the annoyance of those in charge.
And as if all of that wasn't creepy enough, the lights were always on. Always. And Quinn was certain, even now, that she could hear the vaguest, most muffled sounds coming from deep within the building's interior.
Most annoyingly of all, it was this building and the secrecy that surrounded it that had led to Coach Sylvester's early departure three days previous – alone, and with little to no explanation as Quinn had run after her, begging for answers. Begging for her to stay. Because they were a family, and losing Coach Sylvester hadn't even been fathomable for Quinn. Not since she had pressed that red button behind Jean's picture, not since the wall in Sue's office had slid apart to reveal Quinn's coach in those damn tracksuit coveralls…
Quinn couldn't help but wonder if Sue was still alive. And the possibility that she wasn't absolutely tore Quinn apart.
Unbidden and unwanted, though rightly deserved, thoughts of Mercedes and Kurt and Sam assaulted her mind.
Sighing heavily, Quinn pushed herself to a standing position and scattered the dust in her hands to the ground around her feet.
It was time to sleep – or to at least give it another try.
Before making her way back around to the barracks, Quinn eyed the two guards in front of the mysterious building. Her lips pursed thoughtfully, and her head rose up on strong shoulders. But no divine intervention, no sudden dawning of comprehension came to her.
Answers needed to be discovered. Soon.
For now, Quinn turned on her toes and headed towards Barracks C. It was one of those nights where she felt inexplicably drawn to Rachel – as if, perhaps, Rachel needed Quinn in that very moment as much as Quinn needed her in return.
As she walked towards Rachel's room – a well worn path in her mind's eye – Quinn mentally checked off her list of New Directions' members.
Brittany, Santana – Barracks C, room 21
Rachel, Tina – Barracks C, room 17
Mike – just getting off of guard duty
Artie, Finn, Puck – Barracks B, room 8
Shelby, Beth – Barracks G, room 15
Mr. Schuester – Barracks B, room 28
Sue – unknown
It could be considered strange, Quinn realized, that she still worried implicitly for the safety of her friends when it was technically no longer solely her responsibility. But she had developed new habits since the world ended, and it seemed that worrying was destined to be one that stuck. Probably longer than the cigarettes, at least.
As she pulled open the heavy door and stepped into Barracks C, Quinn remembered the big men with the big guns who made big promises about their safety. She mentally scoffed, acknowledging that she wasn't letting go of the responsibility she felt for their rag-tag bunch from Lima, Ohio, because she simply couldn't.
She was still determined to take care of these people, her family – if it was the last thing she ever did. And with death tolls climbing ever higher and refugees trickling in at a consistently decreasing pace, Quinn reminded herself…
This was the zombie apocalypse, dammit. And it was no longer a matter of whether or not she would need to self-sacrifice, it was just a matter of when.
Because you don't get lucky twice, and that's the truth.
Barracks C, Room 17
Rachel's sobs had quieted gradually, eventually dissipating entirely. She was lying on her side, her head resting against her arm on the pillow and her knees curled up towards her chest. The tear tracks had been wiped away, but the emotional wounds were more difficult to erase.
For some reason, this most recent nightmare had stuck with her more than the others – even though they were all the same. Maybe it was the guilt – the slowly rising, ever increasing presence of it weighing her down. But she was Rachel Berry, and that had meant something once. It could still mean something – if only she could rise above the events of her recent past.
But this, this wasn't glee club. This wasn't set list stealing or the petty dramatics of high school relationships or slushies drenching her clothes and her hair and her spirit.
This was life and death. This was choosing to wake up each day and face this new world – this harsh, cold, terrifying world – with determination and perseverance and everything her dads had always taught her to be.
Brave. Strong. Determined. Kind.
Unfortunately, since this was the end of the world – at least, the end of the world they had always known – the whole concept of life and death was finally starting to legitimately sink in. One different step, and Kurt wouldn't have been bitten.
Rachel's breath left her throat in a long, drawn out sigh. Because despite how much regret and guilt she felt for Kurt's death, the realization was still there…
If Kurt hadn't been bitten, he might not have been so willing to bodily throw himself at the McKinley hoard of zombies with a live grenade clutched in his hand. Maybe it would have been Quinn running back through those damning double doors, sacrificing herself just to give Rachel and Kurt and Sue time to get the beaconing device back to home base.
But then Quinn wouldn't have been there to hang out of the helicopter and dispatch of those last six zombies that threatened to tear them from the sky.
It was a scenario that Rachel had imagined over and over – how the slightest manipulation of events could've changed everything.
Maybe if she could convince herself that this present they were living in was as good as it could have ever gotten for them… Maybe then the nightmares would stop.
The door creaked open, and a thin sliver of light stretched across the room from the hallway. Rachel's eyes had adjusted to the darkness soon after waking from her nightmare, so it wasn't hard to recognize Quinn's figure standing in her doorway.
Stepping inside, Quinn reached behind her and quietly shut the door. She walked across the terribly small space in just a couple of strides. Rachel listened intently to the sounds of Quinn untying her boots, slipping them off and just under the edge of Tina's bed. Then she climbed up the ladder near Rachel's feet.
As Quinn wrapped her arm possessively around Rachel's waist, as she pressed her cheek against Rachel's, as her lips delicately pressed against warm skin, as her entire body seemed to meld perfectly alongside Rachel's under the thin sheet – it was as if Quinn's presence hadn't fully manifested in the room until she was touching Rachel. But when they were touching – there, in the dead of night – it was something like safety in a world that really wasn't safe at all anymore.
"Tina's with Mike?" Quinn asked, her voice rasping softly against the shell of Rachel's ear.
Rachel nodded in response. "She left about fifteen minutes ago. I keep telling her… She should just room with him. I feel bad, like she's staying here just for my benefit."
The vibrations of Quinn humming her acknowledgment – but not necessarily her agreement – thrummed through Rachel's body. After a few minutes, she spoke again. "Why were you awake? It's so late…"
Reaching down and touching her fingertips to Quinn's – which were dancing across her exposed hipbone – Rachel smiled softly, sadly, and replied. "Does it matter?" She hoped Quinn could hear the smile in her voice despite the sadness. "You were going to wake me up when you came in just now anyway." But I want you here, she wanted to say, wanted to reassure Quinn that it wasn't a bad thing – far from it. She knew that she'd be able to sleep now that Quinn was with her.
"It matters," Quinn whispered. Her hand shifted, pressing into Rachel's stomach on top of her naval, forcing their bodies even closer together than they had been moments before.
Rachel hesitated. She had thus far avoided telling Quinn about the nightmares. A burden was not something Rachel was used to being. But with Quinn holding her, Rachel didn't feel burdensome. She just felt like she was home – a sense of comfort and belonging. "I had a dream," Rachel finally said. "I couldn't sleep after I woke up."
"A dream?" Quinn questioned, "Or a nightmare?"
No use hiding.
"A nightmare." A pause, two breaths from two different bodies, exhaling into the night. "Actually, it's always the same one anymore. I think I'm starting to get used to it at this point, honestly."
Rachel tried to make light of the situation.
It didn't work.
"Maybe… Tina could room with Mike officially. And I could take her place in here."
The worry in Quinn's voice was palpable in the puffs of air against Rachel's cheek. But no, this was not what Rachel wanted. Something had kept them together but apart from the beginning of this whole mess, and Rachel wasn't about to let the other girl break their strange habits because of her damn nightmares.
She wanted Quinn, she really did. But not like this. Not out of pity, and not out of a sense of duty.
Turning in Quinn's arms was difficult. The bed was small, and there was hardly enough room to maneuver between the two of them. But Rachel managed it, and she immediately cupped Quinn's face between her palms. "We're ok," she said. "You and me? We're ok. We're strong and smart and we made it here, didn't we? We made it out. So we'll make it through."
Rachel didn't know explicitly what she meant. Quinn didn't either. But it was stated with such a tone of reassurance and certainty that neither girl could object, and so Quinn nodded in Rachel's grasp and Rachel leaned forward and pressed their lips together.
They settled back down on the bed – with Rachel nestled under Quinn's chin and all of their limbs tangled together. Rachel allowed the exhaustion she had been fighting for so long to take over, and she was asleep within seconds.
Quinn blinked into the darkness, wishing – not for the first time – that she could stop her thoughts dead in their tracks. But she couldn't.
Pressing her lips to Rachel's forehead, she softly whispered, "I need you, Rach." But Rachel was asleep and couldn't hear.
Quinn eventually fell asleep as well, comforted by the realization that Rachel already knew exactly how important she was to Quinn.
She had probably always known.
Barracks C, Room 21
The alarm had been blaring next to Santana's head for a solid minute at least. She felt Brittany poking her in the side, but her girlfriend was hidden from view underneath the covers.
Groaning, Santana rolled over out of poking range, slapping her hand down on top of their alarm clock. She blinked her eyes open one at a time, looking to see exactly what time it was.
Too damn early, that's what time it was.
With her eyes slowly blearing into focus, Santana rested her head back down on the pillow. She sighed contentedly as she felt Brittany's warm feet against her calves under the blanket. The minute changed, ticking forward in a clear indication of the progression of time, and Santana's second sigh was far less enthused than the first.
"Come on, hot shot. Let's go shower. We're meeting for breakfast at eight o'clock."
Brittany mumbled something terribly incoherent. She was not the morning person in their relationship, that much was certain.
Shifting into an upright position, Santana hung her legs off of the side of the bed. Her now fully focused eyes shifted once more to their bedside table. And her heart constricted painfully in her chest at the familiar photograph next to the clock.
It had been taken sophomore year, around the time when she and Brittany had fully started exploring their friends-with-benefits relationship. One Saturday morning – after a night spent kissing and touching and feeling things neither of them had ever felt before – Brittany's little sister, Katelyn, had barged into her big sister's room, totally excited about her soccer game later that morning. So Santana had willingly gone along with the Pierces to the field and watched Katie's team dominate. Afterwards, Katie had run over and jumped up into Brittany's strong arms. Santana had watched with a brilliant smile on her face as Brittany twirled her sister around before stopping and grabbing Santana around the shoulders with her free arm, effectively turning them into one smiling mass of bodies.
Mrs. Pierce had taken that opportunity to snap a photograph, freezing the frame in perpetuity – Brittany's bright blue eyes and smiling face with Santana on her left and Katie on her right. They were all the epitome of sunshine and happiness, and it made Santana sick to think of what had possibly happened to Katie back in April…
Straightening her shoulders, Santana turned around and tugged the covers down so she could see Brittany's face.
Ponytail mussed completely to the side, no makeup, tank top falling off of one shoulder – and still the most gorgeous girl Santana had ever seen.
She considered herself lucky, being able to wake up next to Brittany every single morning.
Well, she considered them all to be lucky just to wake up nowadays.
Eventually, they both made it down the hall with their towels and toiletries to the communal showers. Santana stepped into the one on the far right, and Brittany took the one right next to hers, both girls leaving their clothes on the small benches nearby.
They would've showered together. But they really did need to meet everyone else for breakfast.
Santana shampooed her hair, lathering it up thickly before letting the hot water slowly wash it away, coursing down her body to the drain. As she finished with it, she stuck it on top of the divider between her stall and Brittany's, just as Brittany did the same with the body wash.
The girls finished showering at roughly the same time, wrapping their towels around themselves before heading back down the hall to their room.
As soon as the door closed, Brittany dropped her towel entirely, gracefully making her way over to the small dresser next to their bed. She grabbed a pair of jean shorts for herself and some khaki shorts for Santana. She straightened her back and pulled open another drawer, extracting two t-shirts – one white, one black.
While Brittany was picking out their clothes, Santana walked up behind her and grabbed her naked hips, pressing her front fully against Brittany's back.
"San…" Brittany cooed almost teasingly. "We'll never get to breakfast on time."
"Is that a challenge?" Santana purred, nipping at the skin between Brittany's shoulder blades as her hands dipped down between toned thighs.
"Yeah," Brittany replied with a smirk, "it is."
Half an hour later, fully dressed with their hair up in matching, tight ponytails, the girls were ready to head down to the mess hall.
Brittany grabbed their key, sticking it in the front pocket of her shorts. She turned at the door, stopping to wait as Santana said, "Just one sec."
Dropping to her knees at the side of the bed, Santana reached underneath and pulled out a decently sized lockbox. Across the room, there was another lockbox – Quinn's. Santana pulled a chain from around her neck, using the key attached to it to open hers.
Santana's eyes quickly scanned the contents, making checks on her mental list – guns, ammunition, knives, backpacks, photo albums, two spare changes of clothes each, some water and protein bars, a small first aid kit, rope, and some other survival things.
She closed and locked the box, tucking it securely back underneath her bed before slipping the key on its chain back into the v of her shirt.
"Alright, let's go," Santana said, reaching for Brittany's hand as they left their room, Brittany locking it behind them. They turned and headed towards the exit.
"You know, I really miss singing with everyone. And I don't remember the last time I danced."
Santana rubbed her thumb along her girlfriend's, glancing at her out of the corner of her eye. "Maybe we could talk to Rachel and Finn about doing, I don't know, a concert or something? That seems like the kind of fatally optimistic thing they'd like to organize."
Brittany's eyes lit up and she bounced for a few steps instead of walking. "Yeah, that would be awesome!"
Laughing, Santana replied, "It's kind of crazy that life as we know it is totally different now, but we still have glee. If things ever get back to normal, that should be our new slogan. Glee Club: You're stuck with us – even when the world ends."
"Doctor Doom, man. Seriously, there's no one better."
Artie shook his head disparagingly at Puck. "No way. The Fantastic Four! They were clearly a superior dynamic. DD didn't stand a chance."
Finn took a seat at the table, placing a tray full of breakfast food down in front of him. "Fantastic Four?" he asked, obviously having just walked into the conversation. "Pfft," he made a noise of disbelief before shoving half a biscuit into his mouth. Around chewing, he managed to say, "Doctor Doom was always the most badass."
"Thank you!" Puck emphatically exclaimed, holding his fist out to his best friend who bumped their knuckles together before taking a bite of his scrambled eggs.
"God, what kind of nerd fest did we just walk into?" Santana said, climbing onto the bench at the table. Brittany straddled the place next to her as they both lowered their trays and settled in.
"I like nerds," Brittany said. Artie blushed, and Santana was about to correct his obvious misconception just as Brittany added, "The grape ones were always my favorite."
A moment of awkward silence and confused facial expressions passed over the group briefly before the guys dove back into their conversation. Mike and Tina walked up, Mike holding both of their trays. As soon as he heard the argument that was taking place, he jumped in with, "You guys should know that good always triumphs. Fantastic Four for life!" Artie high-fived him.
Tina took a seat next to Santana. "Have you seen Quinn and Rachel this morning? They're not normally late."
Santana shook her head. "No, not yet. But Quinn wasn't in our room last night."
Tina nodded. "So they're probably together." No one had to add the unspoken acknowledgment that together they were stronger – safer. It was just an understood concept.
For all of them, not just Quinn and Rachel.
"Speak of the devil," Santana said, glancing up at two approaching figures before taking a bite out of an apple.
Quinn and Rachel walked up just in time to hear Santana's loudly uttered statement. "What, talking about us?" Rachel asked. "Was that why my ears were burning?"
"Maybe you should go have a doctor check your ears, Rachel," Brittany said, kind smile on her face.
Instead of letting Brittany know that her ears were actually perfectly fine, Rachel just took a seat next to Tina, grabbing her arm softly before proclaiming her good morning greeting to everyone at the table. The boys – still in heated discussion about Doctor Doom vs. The Fantastic Four – all turned in her direction and greeted her briefly before getting back to it.
Quinn leaned down close to Rachel's ear, one of her hands steadying her on the table. "What would you like for breakfast?"
Rachel turned and smiled sweetly up at her. "Oatmeal sounds awesome, thank you."
As Quinn walked towards the front of the mess hall, Rachel's eyes followed her. Halfway across the room, her attention was drawn instead to the entryway doors where Mr. Schuester and Eli Rodriguez had just appeared. She watched as they exchanged some words, and then Mr. Schuester came over towards the Lima kids.
"Morning, guys," he said. His voice was a mere shadow of his former self – but anything was better than the shell he had been, sitting alone and wasting away in an upstairs room of the Jones' house.
"Morning, Mr. Schue," Finn said, goofy grin on his face. Everyone else chorused their good mornings as well.
"How is everything going? I know that they've been keeping me busy teaching classes and everything, but I feel bad that I haven't gotten to see much of you."
Quinn walked up in that moment – with a big bowl of oatmeal, a banana, and a plate of toast in her hands – but she didn't answer Mr. Schuester's question. In fact, she didn't really acknowledge his presence at all.
Some people in their group had forgiven their teacher for checking out for fifty-six days, essentially leaving them to survive on their own.
Some people hadn't.
"Things are good," Mike spoke for the group. "Puck and Finn and I have been doing a lot of PT sessions with some of the militia trainees. I also volunteered for night watch duty, so I've been doing that."
"Puck and I are going out with Roger later today for a search and possible rescue mission," Finn said.
Artie crossed his hands in his lap to keep himself from gesturing excitedly as he announced, "Eli is going to introduce me to some of the R&D and tech guys this morning. I'm not really sure how I could be of any assistance, but I'm pretty stoked."
"That's all great, you guys," Mr. Schue said, smiling widely. But his smile didn't reach his eyes, not like it used to. "Well, I'm off. Let me know if you need anything, ok? You guys know where to find me."
And then he left. And no one really bothered to correct him as he disappeared – because they didn't really know where to find him most of the time, but it wasn't necessarily an issue anymore.
A few minutes later, Mike finished his cereal and bacon and stood up, kissing Tina on the head. "I'm off to get a bit more sleep. Puck, Finn – I'll see you guys this afternoon, right? Three o'clock?"
"You got it," Puck agreed.
"Hey Rachel," Brittany said, leaning forward so that she could see Rachel around the other girls at the table. "Santana and I were talking about glee club, and we were wondering what you think about doing some kind of concert?"
Rachel's eyes lit up, as did Finn's across the table. A small buzz of excitement went around the group, and ideas immediately started being tossed around. Song selections, a theme, dance numbers.
Quinn was the only one not actively engaging in the discussion, and so it made sense that she was the first to see Shelby enter the mess hall, Lizzie eagerly clutching her hand at her side.
And as soon as the little girl's eyes fell on Quinn, she was dropping Shelby's hand and eagerly rushing over to their table. Quinn turned as she approached so that she could more easily catch Elizabeth as the girl flung herself into Quinn's arms.
"Hi there," Quinn said, breathless and overwhelmed.
It was a feeling that she couldn't seem to get over, not since finally having the opportunity to meet this precious child.
Pulling back from Quinn, Elizabeth noticed Puck sitting on the other side of the table. His mouth was hanging open and his eyes were shining, and he smiled bigger than anyone had seen in weeks when Lizzie jumped down and ran over to him after disengaging her arms from around Quinn's neck.
Excitedly gesturing with her tiny little hands, Lizzie started telling Puck – and anyone else around them who would listen – about the popsicle stick house they were making later that day in her art class, a class that consisted of a small group of children around her age run by some of the parents on base.
The word popsicle was difficult for Elizabeth to say. Quinn thought she was completely adorable.
As soon as the exchange began, Rachel physically started drawing into herself. Quinn tore her eyes away from the way Puck's large hands delicately held Lizzie's small ones, shifting her gaze to Rachel. And as she stared at the beautiful girl next to her, it was almost painful to see how little space Rachel was capable of taking up.
As if she was shrinking right before Quinn's eyes.
The look of understanding and happiness on Rachel's face, Quinn assumed, was little more than an act of self-preservation. And that act was going to be tested far too much for Quinn's liking if Shelby came over at that moment.
Mother and daughter obviously needed to work through some issues on their own. But now – with Rachel's façade so resolutely in place and likely immovable – was not the time.
Quinn brushed her fingertips across Rachel's thigh under the table, attempting to gain her attention. It worked, and slightly fuzzy brown orbs finally blinked in Quinn's direction.
"I need to go to my room and get some things. Will you come with me?"
Rachel's expression softened minutely at Quinn's obviously created escape route. Her eyebrows lifted, and she smiled a little more realistically. "Yeah. That sounds good. I need to get a notebook anyway to start planning our concert."
As they stood up to leave, Quinn with another glance in Elizabeth's direction and Rachel attempting to look anywhere else, Finn stepped over the bench and followed them.
"Hey," he said, touching Quinn's shoulder before they could get far. "New Directions meeting. Tonight. Ten o'clock." Finn kept his voice low and even, trying not to draw attention to them.
This was hard when you were Finn's height, positively towering over everyone else as they sat and ate their breakfast. But no one paid much mind to them – soldiers and the elderly and parents with fussy children, all going about their own routines, too busy to care about the whispers of three teenagers in the middle of breakfast.
Quinn nodded in understanding – not that she needed to be reminded. They had been meeting at the same time and place every night since they had gotten to Fort Jackson. She resolutely turned to Rachel who immediately laced their fingers together and led them both out of the mess hall.
Finn turned back towards the table of New Directions members – plus little Lizzie. His smile was crooked but somewhat forced.
Because things felt peaceful, which wasn't something they had been accustomed to in a while.
It felt too good to be true, Finn thought. But he settled back down in his seat at the table and ate a piece of bacon anyway. No use in letting halfway-decent food go to waste, after all.
But he couldn't shake the feeling – the feeling that something was changing, that something big was coming their way. It may have felt too good to be true – for now. But what was next?
Finn just had to trust that things would work out.
No matter what.
Research Facility 77B
The hallway that Artie was wheeling himself down felt sterile. Cold, oppressive. Luckily, there was conversation to be had – a distraction.
"I told them how you managed to patch up that transponder with what little you had. They were impressed." Artie looked up at Eli, trying not to show exactly how much the words meant to him. "I bet there's a lot they could still teach you. You'd be a valuable asset to our operations here – with the right training, of course."
His hand clasped down on Artie's shoulder, and Artie nodded, pushing his glasses further up his nose and smiling lopsidedly.
It would be nice, he figured, to be able to really make a difference somewhere.
Back at Home Base, he had spent a lot of time wheeling himself around Command Central – back and forth between the same four walls, day after day. Making plans, but always needing someone else for the execution.
But now that they were attempting to reintegrate themselves into this strange, military-run society, Artie had quickly realized that he could potentially have a substantial role here. He could become part of a team – not just the guy on the other end of the radio, not the guy that his friends had to carry up and down stairs.
He had saved their asses back in Lima. He had fixed the radio, made contact with Eli, and helped them get rescued. But he was just one link in the New Directions chain, and now that they were at Fort Jackson, Artie wasn't exactly sure where his link fit in with the rest of them anymore.
"Here we are," Eli said, pushing a large door open and holding it wide for Artie to enter through.
With a look up into the other man's face, Artie smiled again. "Thanks," he said as he rolled himself out of the hallway and into the brightly lit room.
And it felt a lot like he was leaving his past behind.
June 29th, 2012
Outskirts of Fort Jackson; Columbia, South Carolina
Sue could tell that the undead were getting smarter.
But they couldn't outsmart her.
She breathed in deeply, inhaling the sick stench of rotting flesh. She strapped two field tomahawks – which she had stolen from those imbeciles running that sad excuse for a military base – into the sheaths at her side. Moving across the space of the large, mostly empty room, she picked up her Benelli semi-automatic shotgun. She slung it over her shoulder before moving to her pack, kneeling down, and extracting a protein bar.
Moving to the window, Sue looked down and observed her handiwork. For the past several days, she had been stacking the bodies of zombies she'd annihilated all around the base of the building she was holing up in for the time being. Her mastery of camouflage was paying off more than she could ever have hoped. The malodorous stench helped to mask her living smell and therefore diverted the zombies in more promising directions.
Like the bustling, more occupied base of Fort Jackson a mile and a half away – a base she was now aware was full of psychopaths. And that meant a lot, she knew, coming from her.
Sue was waiting relatively close to the base but well outside the main ring of old Fort Jackson and the soldier zombies. She was staying in one of the upper floors of an old abandoned building, trying to keep a low profile to avoid government – and undead – attention.
And in the time since her hasty departure from the base, Sue had noticed lots of strange zombie behaviors – increased activity and movement at night but faster during the day, some form of base, animalistic instinct, even teamwork.
Tossing her protein bar wrapper into an empty box at her feet, Sue went back to her pack, pulling out a twinkie and tucking it into one of the chest pockets of her bright blue tracksuit coveralls.
Sue carefully made her way down to the bottom floor and stepped out into the morning sunlight. The stench was even worse down here, closer to the piles of corpses.
But Sue was tough, and she had a purpose, a goal – one solid, unwavering objective.
She had groomed her Cheerios for greatness. She was counting on that now, counting on them to see her signs when they started looking and to know what they meant. Because Sue would be waiting.
And she'd wait as long as it took.
Until then, she was going to kill some motherfucking zombies. She was doing her damnedest to clear a path for Schuester's group of mouth breathers for when the time came for a McKinley High reunion.
Sue had never been a fan of emotions – outside of disgust and rage. But something deep inside of her knew that it'd be nice – seeing those kids making the right decision, watching as her Cheerios led them all to relative safety.
As she unsheathed one of her 'hawks and threw it forcefully – one long spike embedding in the brain of a zombie that had been approaching at a pathetic pace – Sue hoped that her optimism was not misplaced.
Whatever was going to happen would inevitably happen.
But for now, it was time to go hunting.
June 29th, 2012
Fort Jackson; Columbia, South Carolina
The vest was tight across Finn's chest. As he and Puck walked across the complex towards the chopper, he used one finger to pull roughly at the collar. It was hot and uncomfortable, and Finn wasn't entirely sure what purpose the Kevlar across his chest would serve when even the smallest bite would unavoidably lead to infection.
And that was essentially a death sentence.
They exited the building they were in, walking out into the hot, mid-morning sun. Curiously – morbidly, perhaps – Finn briefly contemplated whether or not a speedy amputation of a bitten limb would prevent infection.
He thought that living with nine fingers or only one hand or arm would be better than not living at all.
"It is so damn hot," Puck grumbled.
Finn nodded his agreement, dropping his hand from his collar to pat the butt of his gun where it rested against his side.
They rounded the corner, and the helicopter filled their line of sight. Roger was standing just outside of the cockpit, talking to his co-pilot for the mission – an older guy that Finn and Puck knew only as Lieutenant Colonel Sullivan. As they approached, Roger turned to them and waved.
"Hudson, Puckerman," Roger greeted them as they got closer. "Glad to see you guys are suited up and ready to go. The mission today should be relatively simple – we're going out on a scouting mission to an area southwest of here. As of yet, it's been unchecked. But we've been asked to search for potential survivors. We'll be filling you in along the way concerning operations that you could eventually be doing as fully trained members of our squad."
The Lieutenant Colonel took a step forward. His arms were crossed over his broad chest, and his facial expression was severe and intense. "The search for survivors is merely a secondary objective. Our primary focus is an oil refinery on the outskirts of the city we'll be flying over. The military is hoping to quarantine the area for its resources."
Finn's brow furrowed, confused as to why survivors would be a secondary objective. He could feel Puck tense up on his left, but neither of them put forth any words of protest – instead, they just nodded their acquiescence and climbed aboard the chopper, taking seats in the back and strapping in securely.
Within half an hour, they were approaching the specified area. Finn could see a small group of taller buildings looming up in the distance – probably downtown. As they got even closer, Roger bringing them in lower and lower, the buildings' architecture appeared to be quite old. Narrowing his eyes, Finn was almost certain that he could see movement on top of one of the taller buildings. And his far-sighted vision had always been quite superb.
As he talked into the microphone on the front of his helmet, pointing this out to Roger and Sullivan, Puck leaned to the side, staring down at the passing city streets below them.
And his stomach rolled as the warm air whipped past him and his eyes caught sight of a verifiable hoard of zombies streaming through the streets, apparently heading in the direction of downtown.
Roger's course was now set on the building Finn had identified, and Puck said, "It looks like all the zoms have the same idea as us."
Within a matter of minutes, their party was close enough to confirm that there were indeed living, breathing human beings on top of the building.
"Good eye, Hudson," Roger's voice resounded in their ears as he turned the chopper back to do another flyby.
Puck turned and pounded his knuckles against Finn's before slapping him on the back.
It felt good to be the ones doing the saving.
As they swooped back around, it became grossly apparent that the outside of the building was completely swarmed by the undead. There was no telling what exactly the group of people on the small rooftop had used to barricade the entrance behind them, but Finn and Puck were both silently praying that it would be strong enough to hold the hoard off long enough for them to be rescued.
As Roger circled the building, Finn narrowed his eyes and took in the faces of every person on that rooftop – every citizen who had been waiting no telling how long for help, who had maybe given up hope before seeing their chopper fortuitously approaching in the distance.
There was an elderly couple. Finn could see the man supporting the woman by the elbow, and he watched as they turned to each other and embraced – looks of joy spreading across their faces.
A middle-aged man stood near the edge of the roof, a makeshift crutch tucked into his armpit and a little girl clutching onto his hand. The girl was jumping up and down, and the man was wildly waving his free arm in their direction, a beaming smile of relief on his face.
Another woman stood nearby. She appeared to be middle-aged. Her face was dirty and some of her clothes were ripped, but she fell to her knees as emotion overcame her. On one pass over, Finn saw tears streaming down her cheeks.
A small click resounded in their earpieces, and Finn and Puck turned to each other curiously. Their communications devices had been switched off, but they could see Roger and Lieutenant Colonel Sullivan talking in the cockpit, gesturing back and forth.
"What's going on?" Finn mouthed to his best friend.
"I don't know…" Puck replied as Roger continued to take them in circles, surveying the area immediately surrounding the building. Looking back down at the streets, the sheer number of undead caused a shiver to creep down his spine. "But I don't like the feel of it."
Unbuckling, Finn grabbed onto the overhead railings, making his way to the front of the aircraft. He reached forward and tapped Roger on the shoulder. Once he had elicited the pilot's attention, he asked, "How are we going to rescue these people?"
Roger didn't answer. Instead, another static click echoed in Finn's headset, and he heard Sullivan's voice. "Rodriguez and Moore took a huge risk touching down in Ohio to pick your group up. The brass wasn't pleased," he said. Finn turned around and stared at Puck, strangely comforted to see the same look of confusion on his friend's face. As far as they knew, Sullivan was 'the brass'. "They took a lot of flak for it, and I'm sure you don't wanna see Moore here get into any more trouble. So I suggest you turn around and sit your ass back down in that seat. We're calling this one in."
"What does that even mean?" Puck asked as Finn retook his seat. "You're calling it in? We're here now, we should do something to help those people!"
"Look at that roof, kid," Roger said. His voice was quieter than they were used to hearing. "There's no way to land this bird here. And it's highly improbable that we'd be able to organize a real rescue operation in time to get them off the roof before the zoms break in and get them first."
Silence descended on their headsets as yet another click signified their exclusion from the conversation, from the decisions being made.
They suddenly felt more insignificant than ever, a stark one hundred and eighty degree flip from just minutes before.
They flew near the building again, and Finn and Puck took in the crying, laughing, happy faces once more. The young and the old… Puck could no longer repress the overwhelming urge to picture Elizabeth in that position, clutching at his hand instead of the father and daughter actually there on the roof. These five survivors were probably all that remained of the entire city population.
And their futures – which had been momentarily brightened – were starting to look very bleak.
Another few tense minutes passed before their headsets clicked again, Roger's voice spilling over the airwaves. "Our orders have been confirmed. We're to head back to Fort Jackson."
He circled around the building once more before heading back to the northeast, away from downtown.
Suddenly, it was Puck's turn to unbuckle his seatbelt. He stood angrily, very nearly yelling into his mic, "Where are we going? We can't just leave them!"
"Sit down, Puckerman. There's no way to get to them as it is. The city's overrun, it's a complete wash." Sullivan's voice was gruff and unforgiving. "We've already called in the big guns for eradication procedures."
"Eradication?" Finn questioned. "You can't be serious."
Sullivan turned around in his seat and glared at first Puck and then Finn, maintaining eye contact much longer with each of them than was probably socially acceptable. "Do I fucking look like I'm kidding? Sit down, buckle up, and shut up. Or I'll come back there and deal with your insubordination firsthand."
Puck's nostrils flared and his teeth ground together. Finn could see his hand clenched tightly at his side. "Come on, man," he implored. After a few more moments of silent standoff between Puck and Sullivan, he turned around and took his seat next to Finn again.
No more words were spoken.
About fifteen minutes later, when they were a good distance from the city, fighter planes roared past above them.
Turning in their seats to look behind them, Finn and Puck watched as the town exploded.
Smoke and fire billowed up in their wake, and it was only as the landscape changed, hiding the burning city from view, that they turned to look at each other instead. Their eyes connected, and they silently communicated their misgivings and their sorrow.
Neither of them said it aloud, but they were both thinking about Coach Sylvester's departure a few days previous – how she had stormed out of the administrative headquarters with her pack and supplies and a furious "I don't approve of how you're running this operation!" thrown over her shoulder.
It was more than a little ominous. And it was becoming more obvious than ever that something was sketchy here.
There were too many locked doors and off limit places, and this was just the icing on top of one fucked up cake.
June 29th, 2012
Georgia, North of Savannah
Holly had been going up I-95 for days now. But the going had been almost painfully slow. She drove – when she could find a car with gas or the room to even drive on the highway, which was sometimes completely overrun with abandoned vehicles.
It was disconcerting, moving along for miles and miles with nothing and no one in sight, then coming upon several dozen abandoned cars – just sitting there as if the occupants had been swept up into thin air.
That's what she liked to tell herself, at least. Because the painful truth was probably this: that some idiotically optimistic family had been transporting their old, infected grandmother to what they considered "safety". An accident, a backup of cars, the granny zombie escapes and kills her family and bites one innocent bystander. And then one zombified, innocent bystander quickly becomes many. Before long, those lucky enough to escape have fled the scene and those unlucky enough to have been bitten – well, they go zom and end up wandering off with their comrades in search of delicious human flesh.
Holly kicked at a tuft of grass in front of her, the heel of her boot uprooting it the slightest bit.
"What's even safe anymore?" she asked out loud to no one in particular. "I mean, really."
The straps of her pack dug painfully into her shoulders, but she kept walking. She felt utterly deprived of energy, but somewhere around mile marker number one hundred and twenty-seven, she had started tapping into some previously hidden backup of strength and determination.
The pack pressing into her back was uncomfortable, but it held what could possibly be the key to salvation for them all.
A couple of days before, Holly had found an abandoned motel. It was dodgy, but there had been a small generator there. It had just taken some gas siphoned off from the truck she had been driving at the time to start it up. She'd plugged in her laptop and given it a half-decent charge.
All she'd wanted was to see whether or not the email concerning the Z Virus had made it out to Dr. Channing and Colonel Davis.
Turns out… It hadn't.
But with nothing even close to an internet signal available to her, Holly's resolve had been strengthened a thousand fold.
Because she had to get Dr. Austin's information into the hands of the right people.
Pushing the brim of her floppy hat up out of her eyes, Holly looked more closely at the roadside a ways in front of her. There was an old gas station sign, some gas pumps, and a decrepit-looking building.
She picked up her pace. She needed a vehicle, her last one having died a few miles back. Maybe she would get lucky here.
But seemingly abandoned buildings held their own set of dangers. Places infested with zombies obviously weren't safe in the slightest, but they weren't the only hazards of the apocalypse. Holly couldn't even be sure that it was safe where people were.
Desperate people did desperate things.
So as she got closer and closer to the gas station, she became more and more aware of her surroundings.
Pulling even with the building, Holly stood facing it from the road. She grabbed her pump-action, sawed-off shotgun from over her shoulder and gripped it tightly in her hands. About fifty yards further down the road, she could see the cracked, faded letters of a large "WELCOME TO SOUTH CAROLINA" sign. Straight ahead, her eyes took in the gas station.
The front door hung back off of its hinges. The windows were boarded up, poorly so. The wind blew a foul stench towards her, assailing her senses and momentarily disorienting her.
Death wasn't the kind of smell you simply got used to, no matter how much of it you came in contact with.
Holly took a few steps forward. She could see the front of what appeared to be an old motorbike of some sort just around the edge of the building. It was a great sign – maybe the best she had seen all day – but she had to make sure the premises were safe first.
A few more steps and Holly was inside the establishment. It was immediately apparent that death had made its home here. She quickly spotted several different bodies – and their various parts – strewn across the store's interior. She kicked at the ankle of one corpse to check for signs of zombification – the kid looked like he had been sixteen years old at most, and he was wearing a baseball jersey. It made a part of Holly sad, but there was literally nothing she could do about it.
None of the corpses moved. They must have been mutilated too badly to have even reanimated.
Still cautious, Holly reached into her back pocket and extracted a handkerchief, covering her mouth with it and moving to search the rest of the building. The back office was empty, and the restroom was devoid of life – or the undead. So Holly quickly moved back into the main store area and searched for anything that she could use – food stuffs, viable supplies, possible weapons. Behind the counter, she found a baseball bat, so she grabbed it and made her way back outside. Near the door, she snatched up a map of South Carolina.
The air outdoors was hot and humid, but anything was better than the smell of rotting corpses.
Holly walked around the building and pulled a tarp off of the motorbike she had seen before. It was in decent shape, so she rolled it around the building towards the pumps. Odds were that the gas in the place had already been drained – a suspicion that Holly quickly confirmed. But the key was in the ignition, so she turned it and noted that the tank was almost half full.
It was the greatest thing she had seen in a while.
Holly tucked the baseball bat underneath one armpit and her gun under the other. She grabbed the map from where she had tucked it into her back pocket and shook it open, spreading it across the seat of the bike. She remembered passing a couple exits for Savannah earlier that morning – back when she still had four wheels underneath her – so she knew approximately where she was on the map.
The big "WELCOME TO SOUTH CAROLINA" sign up ahead was a pretty decent indication as well.
Her eyes scanned over the map, and her heart fell as she realized how damn far away Fort Bragg still was. Too far. The information she had in her possession wasn't doing anyone the slightest bit of good out in the middle of nowhere. But then – alas! Her eyes caught sight of a grey box to the northwest, right in the heart of South Carolina: Fort Jackson. And surely one military base could be just as effective as the next, right? They could help her get word out to Colonel Davis…
It didn't take her long to make up her mind. She quickly memorized the route she was going to take before beginning to fold up the map. Doing some speedy calculations in her head, she figured she could feasibly get there in the early morning hours. She could hypothetically get there sometime in the night if she wanted to, but she hadn't been making it a habit to travel in the dark – and that wasn't a habit she was ready to start amending now.
As Holly tucked the map into her back pocket, a low hissing noise emanated from behind her. The hairs on her exposed arms stood straight up, and every single one of her senses was immediately on fire. She turned quickly on the spot, dropping her gun and baseball bat only to catch them in her hands near her waist.
Multiple zombies were approaching her – two were moving to the left of the storefront, two to the right, and one had doubled around to her side and was fairly close to her near the gas pumps. They had been so quiet, and Holly immediately felt incomprehensibly ignorant for having not paid closer attention to her surroundings the entire time.
Then one of the zoms specifically caught her attention. That baseball jersey…
"You can't be serious," Holly muttered to herself, almost smiling at the surrealism of it all – being able to see Dr. Austin's research manifested right before her eyes. "You bitches were playing dead."
Holly quirked an eyebrow at the irony of the undead playing dead before shimmying out of her pack. She leveled her shotgun at the nearest zombie to her right and spun the newly acquired bat around in her left hand. She took special note of the strangely crouched positions her new guests took – like they were ready to pounce on her at a second's notice.
She couldn't let them get any closer.
Not all at once, at least.
"It's been a while since I played softball," Holly said, "but I had the best damn swing on the team in junior college. So bring it on."
As her first shotgun blast went off – effectively removing one zom's entire head – Holly started dancing with the undead.
Because Dr. Austin had entrusted her with the salvation of humanity. And she sure as hell wasn't going down without a fight.
June 29th, 2012
Fort Jackson; Columbia, South Carolina
The sun was well below its highest point in the sky by the time Finn, Puck, and Mike stepped into Barracks B, sweaty and tired from their afternoon training session.
Before they were even all the way down the hallway to their room, Mike was pulling his drenched shirt over his head, revealing taut abs. He sighed, his mind racing. His thoughts had been consumed with various zombie theories since his watch duty, and not even a strenuous workout had been able to distract him.
Glancing out of the corner of his eye, Mike noted the tension that seemed to be roiling off of his friends in palpable waves. "What's with you guys?" he asked as Finn turned his key in the lock, opening the door to their shared living space. Mike immediately tossed his dirty shirt to the side and pulled out a fresh change of clothes from his bedside. He easily caught the glance between Puck and Finn.
With a nod from Finn, Puck said, "Tonight. We'll talk about it tonight at the meeting."
"Cool," Mike said as he headed towards the showers.
All in good time. He trusted them to share whatever was going on in their heads.
And as he thought about the strange behavior of the walkers just outside the base, he knew that he had some big news to deliver as well.
Their meeting later that night was probably going to be a shit storm of epic proportions.
Quinn couldn't help but glance sideways at Rachel's exposed legs as they walked down the well-lit hallway of Barracks G.
Even in fluorescents, those legs were fabulous.
"What are you thinking?" Rachel asked, reaching over and lightly squeezing Quinn's wrist between her thumb and forefinger.
As the lightest of blushes spread across Quinn's cheeks, Rachel smiled – a smile of understanding, a smile of already knowing the answer to the question she was asking.
Instead of answering with "Your legs look delicious," Quinn shook her head and averted her eyes and said nothing at all.
But Rachel knew her legs looked awesome – Quinn's blush was affirmation enough. Her hips started swaying more than before, and she moved half a step further in front of Quinn, presenting the loveliest of views.
As they turned from one long hallway to the next a few minutes later, Quinn's eyes caught sight of Rachel's profile instead – her chin momentarily tucked to her chest as she walked along, contemplating something or other that Quinn couldn't possibly comprehend. She saw the beauty and the perfection that she had – inevitably, perhaps – fallen in love with. Brown eyes turned back and caught her gaze, traces of sadness dissipating like morning dew as they landed on Quinn.
Quinn bit her lip at the realization that she was terribly, irrevocably in love.
Terribly because every day was life or death now. And Quinn knew that loving someone tended to blind you – to make decisions harder and goodbyes more impossible and hellos sweeter than ever. To be in love wasn't to have your heart beat for someone else – it was to have your heart beating beneath someone else's breast.
And that inherently created a slippery fucking slope for Quinn to scale.
Rachel's eyes went back to the floor in front of her. Quinn watched as her hands clenched and unclenched nervously at her sides. She watched as those same hands then went to the front of her shorts, smoothing out nonexistent creases before falling back to hang at her thighs, fingers brushing gracefully against the smooth expanse of her skin.
As they got closer and closer to room 15, it was like Rachel just couldn't contain her energy – as if her emotions were futilely pouring from her fingertips in nervous gestures, incapable of restraint by even Rachel's supreme level of self-discipline.
Quinn mimicked Rachel's action from before, wrapping her fingertips around Rachel's wrist and smoothly pulling her to a stop in the hallway. "What's wrong, baby?"
With one hand, she reached out and pushed Rachel's long bangs back behind her ear, moved her fingers to cup Rachel's cheek, traced along soft skin. As she brushed her thumb along Rachel's cheekbone, Quinn released her grasp on Rachel's wrist and brought her other hand up to press into the back of Rachel's neck. She gently teased at the silky hairs of Rachel's nape.
And in that moment, her own senses seemed to be overwhelmed by everything simply Rachel in nature – just as Rachel herself seemed to lose some semblance of control, her eyelids fluttering shut as she leaned into Quinn and her touch. She grasped at the hem of Quinn's shirt, pulling their bodies closer together.
"Quinn," Rachel breathed, a heart-wrenching crack in her voice, and Quinn's thumb caught one lone tear, wiping it away before it could perhaps even fathom its own existence.
"You can tell me," Quinn replied. "You can tell me anything."
Rachel's eyes snapped open, hungrily seeking reassurance in Quinn's facial features – which Quinn was happy to give to the best of her ability. She was saddened, however, to see something akin to doubt reflected back at her.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Rachel finally asked. The force with which she expelled the words was tangible – as if she had been fiercely determined to say them out loud before they were lost.
They were on their way to Shelby's to babysit Elizabeth for the few hours remaining before their New Directions meeting. Shelby had another class, and she had promised Quinn that she would be back before ten o'clock. Quinn had certainly mentioned the idea of Puck babysitting – to which Shelby had been receptive. But Rachel represented a strange side to their "family" dynamic – a side that Rachel still wasn't certain she'd even be welcome to fill.
Rachel's eyes were darting rapidly from Quinn's lips to her ears, her forehead to her nose. So when Quinn finally got Rachel's attention, she grabbed onto it and held fast.
"Listen to me, Rachel. It seems like the world we live in now isn't full of many opportunities for happiness, let alone reconciliation. I'm not going to force you to be a part of Shelby's life. But Elizabeth is… She's a part of me, Rachel." Rachel's eyes fell, and Quinn ducked her head to bring her lover back. "And so are you. God, I think you're a bigger part of me than anyone else has ever been in my entire life. Our past, it's more than a little complicated. But – look around! Everything is complicated now, it probably always will be."
"I feel like I'll just get in the way," Rachel said. Her voice was so small that Quinn felt something crack in her chest. "Like Shelby didn't want me before, why should she want me to be around Lizzie now?"
"If she doesn't want you, then she won't get any of me either."
Rachel sighed. "You say that like it's so simple, as if you're not giving up a second chance at being part of your daughter's life."
Leaning forward, Quinn pressed her lips to Rachel's. Their movements were slow and uncomplicated, starkly contrasting the emotions that were swirling between them. Quinn pulled away, pressed their foreheads together, and said, "You and me, Rach. It's you and me to the end. But right now, I have the opportunity to be a part of Elizabeth's life. Right now. And since you're a part of mine, all of that has to come together somehow. We can do this. You said so yourself."
Rachel hesitantly nodded her agreement. "We can get through anything, right?"
"Right," Quinn supplied – more effortlessly than she could have possibly hoped.
It was getting easier, she realized, to have faith in her future – as long as she could continue picturing Rachel as a component of it.
Maybe falling in love wasn't as bad as Quinn had always thought it would be. Even at what they had been assuming was the end of the world.
When the door to room 15 swung inwards a few minutes later, it was more than slightly awkward for a second or ten. But Quinn's stance was solid and her grip on Rachel's hand was unwavering as they came face to face with Shelby.
And as Quinn said, "Is it ok if Rachel helps me watch Elizabeth this evening?" it was more than a little obvious to everyone present that she wasn't really asking a question at all.
"Of course," Shelby replied, opening the door wider and stepping to the side. Quinn watched as the older woman's eyes pleaded almost painfully with Rachel's for contact.
In another life, Quinn might've considered it pathetic.
But in this life, her mind hardly had time to resent Shelby for the way in which she had tossed Rachel aside like the previous day's overgrown garbage. Because Quinn's attention was equally split between the fingers laced with her own and the bright hazel eyes eagerly staring at her from across the room.
"Hi, darling," Quinn said softly as she and Rachel made their way towards Elizabeth. The tiny girl jumped up, latching onto Quinn's leg when she got close and staring curiously up at her somewhat-sister. "I want you to officially meet someone, someone very special to me."
Rachel sank down to her knees and took one of Lizzie's hands in her own as they were properly introduced for the first time. Quinn felt her heart soar as all of its pieces seemed to fuse together at once.
When Shelby kissed Elizabeth goodbye before leaving for her class, she also addressed her birth daughter with a timid, "Bye, Rachel."
And though Rachel didn't look in Shelby's direction, she responded with her own softly uttered, "Bye."
Quinn counted it as a win.
It was easy to appreciate the little things in life when their current existence was so focused on destruction and the collapse of everything they had known before and death.
As the three girls sat at the small coffee table and colored various Disney princess pictures, it was more obvious than ever that they were doing their best to meld their Lima past with their zombie-filled future.
It felt possible. For now.
Quinn really hoped the feeling would stick.
But even more than that, she hoped that her optimistic feelings weren't completely, fatally misplaced.
Barracks C, Room 21
"Journey has always served us well," Tina said, flipping over one of the handful of records they had managed to get onboard the chopper during their hasty escape.
"Ugh," Santana responded, "Journey is so two years ago."
"Don't you mean so thirty years ago?" Brittany questioned, looking at the old, worn cover with an arched brow.
They all laughed together in agreement – though they each knew that the musical group represented some of their greatest moments together. The McKinley glee club never would have been resurrected without their music, and that also meant that they wouldn't have ended up here.
They may not have even ended up alive without each other. Some of them still hadn't, after all.
Tina pulled another record from its sleeve and placed it on Sue's record player, lowering the needle and edging the volume up ever so slightly.
It wasn't long before the needle locked into the grooves of the record, and sweet music began playing from the built in speakers of the turntable.
A few lines in, the lyrics "won't you lay me down in tall grass and let me do my stuff" had Santana nodding along enthusiastically while Brittany danced with her upper body from her seat on the floor.
"Yeah," Santana said, standing up and pulling Brittany to her feet. They began dancing together, their bodies seamlessly gliding against one another and slowing down as the second track began to play. "This could totally work," she whispered against Brittany's cheek where their faces were pressed together.
Tina drew her legs up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her knees. She watched Santana and Brittany spin in slow circles around the small space of the room, and she thought about the album spinning around in lazy revolutions next to her. This album – the same album she and her little sister had danced to around her parents' record player just last Thanksgiving – was another milestone in the progression of their lives together as one cohesive unit.
Tina agreed with Santana. This could definitely work. She could see Rachel and Puck singing "Gold Dust Woman," "Second Hand News" as a group number, and maybe Quinn, Brittany, and Santana performing "The Chain." Along with Sue's turntable, they had managed to haul Sam's guitar into the chopper – Puck tended to pluck at the strings during their nightly meetings, so Tina was sure that he wouldn't mind accompanying them.
Tina thought about the way things were as compared to how they could be without these people she called friends – family. She knew that she was lucky.
They all were.
Facility 60-F, Room 229
Shelby entered the room that had been assigned to her for her class. She thought it was ironic and quite probably a complete waste of time to be teaching economics to these people. No one was even entirely certain about the state of society beyond the perimeter's walls. But she cherished having something to do. So she had accepted the assignment, and here she was.
Yes. Here she was. And here was a long way from Lima, Ohio, and Carmel, Indiana. Here was a long way from her life as a prestigious show choir director and national championships and – going back to what seemed like yet another life entirely – the surrogacy of a darling baby girl for two men who desperately wanted to experience fatherhood.
She had always tried to live her life with no regrets. But that was sometimes impossible with the choices she had made and the paths she had taken.
Elizabeth had been far more than an attempt at righting her past wrongs. But… She had been that as well, Shelby could not deny. She liked to think that she was a great mother to her child regardless of her motivations.
To this child, but not so much to the one she had given life to under strict contract. She knew that, and it still hurt. It really did. That's why, now that a second chance had rolled around – oddly enough, in the form of the walking undead – Shelby was trying to take advantage of it.
Shelby knew that she and Beth were lucky to be there. They had flown out to Raleigh, North Carolina, on the 22nd of April for her aunt's funeral. They had prepared for a prolonged stay – Shelby had always been relatively close to her uncle, and she hadn't planned on leaving before he was settled into his new existence as a widower. They had been fortunate that when things started going to hell, his well-decorated military past got them on one of the first – and only – civilian aircrafts out to Fort Jackson. But her uncle hadn't boarded the plane at the end of the day, and Shelby had remained in her seat as an act of self-preservation – for herself and Elizabeth.
Here she was.
Alone in the world. Until New Directions and Will Schuester showed up.
Will… He was just another bad choice in a long list of bad choices. She knew that she needed to stop whatever it was they had started last night – perhaps they were just picking up the broken pieces of their lives and starting where they had left off back in his apartment so many, many months ago. But he had been there – a warm body with an offer of companionship of the sexual variety that Shelby hadn't experienced in what seemed like a very long time.
It had been easy. It had been an escape.
It hadn't really been anything at all other than two people trying to feel.
They had pretty much failed at that endeavor. It had been the opposite of difficult to promise Quinn she would be home on time tonight. There was simply no point in meeting Will again. Not for that.
So here she was.
"Alright, everyone," Shelby said, looking up and watching the clock strike half past the hour. "Let's get started, shall we?"
June 29th, 2012
The sun had been sinking further and further towards the horizon. It was just disappearing, but its final rays of light valiantly attempted to warm Holly's face. The old motorbike she had found at the gas station vibrated in a protesting fashion between her legs as the pavement of the highway flew by underneath her. She had been lucky that the old beat up thing had even started, let alone that it managed to go forty miles an hour.
The wind was chilly against her skin. Holly had foregone the wearing of her jacket, abandoning it several miles back on the roadside. She forced a meditative breath out slowly between her clenched teeth and reminded herself to be thankful for the cold air.
It was somewhat soothing against the inflamed skin of her injured shoulder.
She couldn't even quite remember how it had happened. Five zoms were a lot to take on at once, after all. And she had walked away alive, that much was certain. But somewhere in her scuffle, one of the bastards had sunk its teeth into her shoulder, ripping away bits of her flesh. She hadn't been certain at the time – hell, she'd probably never know for sure – but she imagined that it was the one that had been wearing the baseball jersey…
She had killed them all. But then she'd sunk to the ground, passing out in the dirt, still hot from the afternoon sun. When she'd awoken, the first thing she became aware of was the unbearable ache that shot like white hot flames from her shoulder down to her fingertips. The wound had been radiating heat and agony and the putrid stench of infection from Holly's first moments of consciousness.
And now, she could think of little else.
Always accompanying thoughts of her looming demise, however, was the laptop in her pack – the knowledge that she had to deliver her message to someone. And at this point, she realized that it was less about the delivery and more about the passing on of the task at hand.
Because Holly knew she wasn't going to make it. She had been bitten. She was infected. Her jacket had been unnecessary because it really didn't matter whether or not she protected the gash in her skin from the elements – the damage was already done.
She was going to die, and she couldn't even bring herself to mourn her own loss.
Not yet, at least. There was some time left before her body would inevitably succumb to the virus.
First, she needed to find shelter for the night. Her body was begging her for sleep already.
Tomorrow, she would save the world.
If she made it that far.
June 29th, 2012
Fort Jackson; Columbia, South Carolina
As Will Schuester walked down the hallway towards the mess hall, the only thoughts on his mind revolved around what would be on the menu for dinner.
The sharp tap of military-issued combat boots resounded behind him just before he heard a voice speak. "William Schuester!"
Will stopped, turning in the direction of the other man moving down the hall towards him. "Lieutenant Sullivan," he said, shifting to fully face the approaching officer. He reached up and scratched at the hair just behind his ear, curious as to what the military man could want with him. He'd already received what he thought would be his finalized teaching schedule – Spanish, Spanish, and more Spanish.
"That's Lieutenant Colonel," Sullivan corrected him once he was within easy speaking distance. He planted his feet, squared his shoulders, and placed his hands behind his back. Will had to lift his chin a rather hefty distance just to meet the other man's elevated gaze. "I'm glad I caught you. I've just gotten out of an officer's meeting. We've been working out details for a special mission, and we were hoping that you'd be interested in participating."
The tone of Sullivan's voice indicated to Will that there wasn't really any choice in the matter. Not on his part, at least. And after all, these people had brought all of the New Directions kids and Will himself into their fold rather effortlessly.
It was the least Will could do to help them out in return.
"Sure," he replied, crossing his arms over his chest. "What's the mission?"
Sullivan smiled, and the hairs on Will's arms stood up. He ignored all of his instincts that were strangely screaming at him to run in the other direction. This was the military – they were here to serve and protect.
Surely there was nothing to worry about.
"I can't discuss details with you here. Meet in front of this building at eight hundred hours tomorrow. We'll take you to the location and debrief you once we get there." He dropped his hands down to his sides and looked as if he was about to turn and leave, but then he spoke again – perhaps because he noticed the slight gleam of sweat that had broken out on Will's forehead. "Don't worry," Sullivan said, reaching out and grasping Will's shoulder momentarily with his large, powerful hand. "You're the ideal candidate for this mission."
Will stood there in the hallway for a few more seconds, merely contemplating what it is they could need him for – a high school teacher from Ohio, barely capable of speaking the language he was teaching, and more adept at break-dancing than anything else.
He shrugged once before spinning around on his heels twice, snapping his fingers, and walking off in the direction of the mess hall.
He really was hungry.
Outside the Mess Hall
"But Mister Fantastic was so damn boring," Puck drawled out, emphatically gesturing with his hands for good measure.
"He was like, the supreme father figure!" Mike argued from Puck's left. "And the Fantastic Four has the Thing and the Human Torch. What does Doctor Doom have? Extreme self-loathing, that's what."
"Whoa," Finn interjected. "Doctor Doom does not hate himself. He's a genius, man."
"His genius made him arrogant." Puck, Mike, and Finn all turned around as they heard Artie utter the statement. They greeted him with nods before continuing their Doctor Doom vs. The Fantastic Four debate once again. As they neared the doors of the mess hall, they had come to no consensus on the matter at all.
"We're two for good, two for genius," Puck said. Artie rolled his eyes, and Mike punched his shoulder with forty percent power. "There has to be some way to decide this."
"We could agree to disagree?" Finn asked, shrugging his shoulders.
"No way," Artie replied.
"I know how to end this," Mike suddenly supplied, stopping to turn towards his friends just outside of the cafeteria. Puck, Finn, and Artie all looked at him expectantly. "Sam," he said. Artie looked down at his lap with a frown on his face while Finn and Puck exchanged confused glances. "I know he's not here, but I also know what he would've chosen. He always would've said… He would've said that good triumphs at the end of the day, no matter what the odds."
No one else tried to argue any further. That pretty much settled it for all of them.
Over dinner, they discussed the merits of various X-Men superpowers instead.
Barracks G, Room 15
The tips of Quinn's fingers brushed over the full pack of cigarettes in her back pocket. But she didn't pull it out – her attention was fixated instead on the two girls in front of her. Elizabeth was asleep on her bed with Rachel sitting there on the edge of the mattress, her hand stroking across the tiny girl's smooth forehead, pushing downy tendrils of hair away from closed eyes. Rachel was singing softly under her breath as Quinn stood next to her, and there was a discernible ache in Quinn's chest.
It was simply beautiful.
The scraping of a key in the lock drew Quinn's attention away from her girls. She watched as Shelby opened the door, stepping inside quietly. Her eyes quickly landed on her sleeping daughter before shifting to Quinn and smiling almost nervously.
"Hi," Shelby whispered, shedding her jacket and draping it over the end of her own bed. "She wasn't difficult or anything was she?"
Rachel's eyes remained downcast towards the sleeping child as she turned her body closer to Quinn. Quinn reached out and wrapped an arm lovingly around Rachel's shoulders as she answered, "Of course not. She was a perfect darling. We had a great time." She kept her voice low so as to not wake Elizabeth.
Shelby grabbed her right hand in her left, nervously rubbing them together as she searched for something to say to fill the void.
"Well, we better get going," Quinn said as an alternative to the awkward silence and tense postures of the two other women in the room.
She extended her hand to Rachel, but Rachel stood without her assistance. Quinn watched as she glanced in her mother's direction before smoothing one hand down her t-shirt clad stomach and walking brusquely past Shelby towards the door.
In another time and place, Shelby might have offered them a cup of tea or coffee – something to keep them if for only a moment or three longer. But here at Fort Jackson in room 15 of Barracks G, there were no such amenities. So all Shelby could do was watch as Quinn followed Rachel out of the room. Quinn looked back just before she exited the door, tilting her lips upwards with as much reassurance as she could manage to give Shelby. Her eyes shifted one last time towards the figure of little Elizabeth – sound asleep and dreaming what Quinn hoped to be beautiful dreams – before she closed the door.
As Quinn walked next to Rachel towards the building's exit, the air felt thick with all of the things they weren't saying.
I love you was on the tip of Quinn's tongue, but the timing didn't feel right. Not now. Not here. And she knew Rachel already understood the truth of the unspoken statement anyway.
Quinn felt Rachel's hand fumbling for hers between their bodies, and she immediately grasped onto it, lacing their fingers together and giving a supportive squeeze. Rachel squeezed back before lifting their conjoined hands to her lips and delivering a chaste kiss to the skin of Quinn's hand.
Looking over at her lover, Quinn saw immeasurable sadness in those deep pools of chocolate as their eyes connected. She leaned down and kissed Rachel's cheek, lingering for only a moment. Then they continued on their way, intent on making it to the meeting on time.
Maybe the sadness in Rachel's eyes was an inevitability of their circumstances. But Quinn was still going to do her damnedest to see it off.
Barracks B, Room 8
The guys' room smelled semi-funky.
"Oh my god, why are there so many dirty clothes in here?" Santana asked, scrunching up her nose in disgust and toeing Mike's dirty shirt from earlier that day.
"You guys need a maid or something," Tina joked.
Finn laughed, and Puck said, "Are you offering?" to which Mike responded by punching his shoulder – sixty percent power.
A tap tap at the door was soon followed by its opening as Rachel and Quinn stepped inside, effectively completing their numbers.
Brittany bounded over towards them, wrapping an arm around each of their necks in greeting before spinning around and heading back across the room. She gracefully sank down to the floor where Santana was now sitting on the edge of Puck's bed. Santana pulled her girlfriend's long, blonde hair free of its ponytail, ran her fingers through it a couple of times, and then began to braid it.
Across the room, Artie sat with a piece of electronic equipment in his lap – some kind of device that he was using a flathead screwdriver to fiddle with for whatever reason.
Mike settled down on his bed, and Tina sat next to him. His hands were clasped between his legs, and she reached over and placed one of hers on top of them in a comforting gesture.
Puck and Finn stood at opposite sides of the room, each leaning back against the wall as they seemingly silently communicated with each other. Puck shrugged his shoulder, rubbing his ear against it as the dull, normally dismissive ringing increased for a moment.
Apparently having a shotgun unload right next to your ear had its permanent consequences – though his hearing was mostly restored, doctors on base had assured him that it would never again be anywhere close to perfect.
Puck nodded once at his best friend, scoffing his toe against the tile floor, and Finn began to speak.
"Alright, you guys. I'm really glad that we're all here together. I know there's been a lot of adjusting the past few days. We're all trying to get used to life here and everything…" He paused, glancing down at his feet momentarily. Then he raised his head and pushed off of the wall he had been leaning against, taking in the faces of all of his friends around the room. "But something happened today that has Puck and me more than a little worried."
"What?" Rachel asked, stepping forward to the middle of the room. She planted her hands on her hips and waited for an answer, eyes shifting between Puck and Finn expectantly. "What happened?"
Finally, Finn spoke. "This morning, we went on a search and rescue mission with Roger and that Sullivan guy."
"He gives me the creeps," Mike spoke up.
Finn just nodded in agreement as Puck continued the story. "Roger called it search and rescue, but Sullivan made some oil refinery thing seem way more important."
Brittany's nose scrunched to the side in an expression of innocent confusion. "That's silly. People are more important than oil."
"That's what you'd think," Finn said, "but you'd be wrong, apparently."
"What do you mean?" Artie asked, lowering the screwdriver he was still messing with to rest in his lap.
"He means," Puck said, "that there were survivors. There were people on the roof of some building. But there were zombies swarming the entire place – the whole freaking city must have gone zom, you guys. It was intense."
"Yeah, intense enough that not only did we not even get the chance to try and save them, Sullivan called it in to the base and they ended up pulling eradication procedures."
Santana held her hand up. "What do you mean by eradication procedures?"
But she knew exactly what Finn had meant. They all did.
Brittany bit her lip, her chin lowering to her chest. Tina attempted to muffle a sob. Mike sighed heavily and shook his head back and forth in frustration. Artie's lips scrunched to the side in a look of contemplation. Rachel's hands fell from her hips to her sides as she spun to stare at Quinn.
And Quinn… Well, she had been simmering in a quiet pool of rage from the second she realized how the boys' narrative was going to end.
Eventually, Artie's voice broke the silence. "I think we have to trust that they made the right decision –"
"Are you kidding me?" Quinn exclaimed, standing up with clenched fists and frustration written plainly across her face. "Leaving people behind is never the right decision."
"Oh, but it was the right decision when you let Sam sacrifice himself?" Artie countered.
Quinn looked completely taken aback. She couldn't even bring herself to speak up in her own defense, horrified by the accusation. Her mind immediately hurtled back through time, and she was soon reliving those moments – watching Sam's truck disappear over that hill, knowing that he had sacrificed his life for the greater good of them all.
His guitar was leaning against the wall in one corner, acting as a silent placeholder for the loved ones they had lost but would never forget…
Rachel stepped up to her defense, towering over the boy in the wheelchair menacingly. "You know better than that, Artie Abrams. How dare you blame that on Quinn! We all know that what Sam did for us was heroic – it gave us time to get rescued. All of us, and that includes you. Quinn couldn't have convinced Sam otherwise, and there was no point in her dying just to drag him back when he had obviously made up his mind."
Artie looked appropriately chastised by Rachel's vehement outburst, but he just couldn't seem to shut up. "They did what they had to do to protect their interests. And since we're part of this community now, they were protecting our interests too. We have to respect that."
"We respect life," Tina said. "Isn't that how it should be? They just let those people die."
"No," Puck said. His mind flashed back to that morning – turning around in the retreating chopper and watching as flames and billowing clouds of smoke licked at the skyline. "They didn't let them die. They killed them."
"They were killing zombies," Artie emphasized, "not people."
"What is wrong with you?" Mike nearly shouted the words, standing up abruptly and facing Artie head-on. "Those people were alive on that rooftop, right?" He directed the question at Puck and Finn, and they each nodded. "If they were alive, then there was a possibility they could have been rescued. And even the smallest of possibilities should have meant that the military was willing to try. They were alive, man – and now they're not. So yeah, they killed them."
Artie shook his head and looked down at his lap. He was confused as to why there was such dissension among them over these people they hadn't even known! Surely their safety was what was most important, right? It wasn't even a question for him.
And now he was starting to think that maybe he needed to look out for his own interests from now on. Especially if his friends were going to be so rash with their emotions, with their judgments…
"No one should be left behind like that." The words came from Rachel, but they were small and nearly lost in the oppressive weight of the silence that surrounded them. But they all heard them. They all felt them to their core.
None of them – save Finn and his fuzzy recollections of stories about his father – had ever given much thought to military protection before the apocalypse. But when that chopper had shown up to carry them away, they had assumed it would be towards safety and new beginnings.
It was like a slap in the face to suddenly realize how wrong they had been.
And as if this new situation wasn't bad enough all on its own, Mike cleared his throat and stuck his hands deep into his pockets, moving into the middle of the room. "You guys, there's something else…"
"I mean, seriously?" Santana questioned without even knowing what was coming next. She rolled her eyes and spoke with her trademark sarcasm in an attempt to hide her fear. But her hand shook ever so slightly where it rested on Brittany's shoulder. Her girlfriend reached up and grasped onto her slender fingers with both of her hands in an effort to calm Santana's nerves.
Mike sighed again – more heavily this time – before recounting exactly what he had seen the previous night while on watch duty. He explained how the first walker had moved towards the perimeter, almost like bait. And then how the following four walkers seemed to have made some kind of move of strategized attack against the wall. They had hardly been successful in the slightest, but it was the thought that counted.
It was the fact that thought seemed to have gone into it at all that had kept Mike's mind racing all fucking day long.
And now the possibility that, cheesus forbid, the reanimated corpses were getting smarter was out there for them to consider, a chill of terror swept across the room. And rightly so. Because if what Mike said was true – if the zombies were gaining some form of intelligence – then the possibilities were potentially devastating. As if it hadn't been bad enough that they were starting to question whether or not people were safe, now they had to worry about super zombies.
It had been New Directions against the world from the very first day of this whole mess – at least, that's what it had felt like. But that was obviously how it was destined to be, no matter where they ended up. They were no longer even sure they could count on their so-called protectors for protection. It would be up to them, just as it always had been.
"You know, we haven't even revisited our discussion from a couple nights ago about that creepy ass building that's lit up at all hours," Santana supplied. She had spoken up partially to break the silence, partially to distract herself from thoughts of zombies using strategy.
Brittany nodded her agreement before adding, "Yeah, or what exactly happened to make Coach leave…"
At Brittany's statement, everyone turned to look at Quinn. They had all been giving her space concerning the issue since Coach Sylvester left. They knew how much of a role model – a strange, abrasive role model, but a role model nonetheless – Sue had been to her. Whatever words had been exchanged between the two of them that day had been private, and Quinn hadn't yet shared them with anyone.
While everyone kept silent and looked to her for some kind of clue, Quinn just stood there with her arms crossed and her head bowed towards her chest in quiet contemplation.
Because suddenly, everything Sue had said to her as she beat a hasty retreat was clicking into place.
And, quite frankly, that was fucking terrifying.
June 26th, 2012
Fort Jackson; Columbia, South Carolina
Quinn had just been on her way to the mess hall to wait on the rest of her friends for breakfast, not having been able to sleep the night before, when she heard Sue yelling from a couple of corridors away. By the time Quinn caught up to her coach, it only took her a matter of seconds to put two and two together – the weapons strapped to Sue's sides and the pack across her shoulders and the fresh tracksuit all led Quinn to one stunning conclusion.
Coach Sylvester was leaving.
Puck and Finn turned into the same hallway as Quinn on their way to breakfast, catching her in a position of muted horror as she watched Sue interact with some guy they didn't recognize at the time – the same guy they would later come to know as Lieutenant Colonel Sullivan. They read the distraught look on Quinn's face and immediately offered their support – hands on shoulders and silent questions imparted with their eyes. But Quinn roughly shrugged their heavy hands from her body and took off at a run, bursting out of the front doors of the administrative headquarters just as Sue was reaching the far side of the courtyard.
The boys stayed inside, instantly realizing that this was Quinn's conversation to have alone.
"Coach!" she yelled, sprinting the remaining distance to catch up with Sue.
Up ahead of them, the main gate opened on its automatic, sliding hinges. Apparently the order had been given to let Sue leave peacefully.
Anything else would surely have raised more suspicion.
"Where are you going?" Quinn gasped as Sue turned slowly on her heels – lips pursed tightly, hands gripping the straps of her pack just under her armpits. "Why are you going?"
Quinn's questions were begging to be answered, and her tone was begging Sue to stay.
"Q," Sue acknowledged. The look of pure sympathy in Sue's eyes had Quinn's body reeling for air. Her head was spinning. "I'm going elsewhere."
The answer was too simple for Quinn. They had come way too far for that to be an acceptable parting phrase.
"But why? Why are you leaving us? We came here as a group. We're stronger together. We never would have gotten here without you!"
Sue took a step closer to Quinn and placed one hand gently on her shoulder. The effect was exponentially more soothing – and heart-breaking – than Puck's or Finn's hands had been in the same position. "Listen to me, Fabray, stop this display of emotion right now. You can't let them see you like this." Quinn sniffed once, immediately putting more effort into maintaining her composure. "I'm leaving because I can't condone what's being done here."
Quinn easily caught the way Sue's glance shifted to her left, towards the strange building none of the commanding officers had been able – or willing – to tell Quinn anything about. Obviously Sue had discovered something about it – seen something she perhaps wasn't meant to have seen. But what? "What happened?" Quinn asked, her voice steady and unwavering. But her eyes – her eyes were seeking answers almost frantically.
Sue was silent for a couple of moments before nodding once. She dipped her chin towards her chest and stared Quinn straight in the eye. "There are things going on that are beyond anything I could ever have imagined. But I'm not going to tell you, Q, because I know that you have new factors in your life to consider. It will never be as simple as just picking up and leaving for you, not like it is for me." Quinn nodded, her mind immediately flying back as she pictured meeting Elizabeth for the first time since she had said goodbye to her in the hospital. "The opportunity belongs to you and your friends to either seek out the knowledge or to go on living here as you have."
"How are you doing this so easily, Coach? How can you stand to just leave us behind…?" Quinn's voice trailed off, but she managed – just barely – to keep it from cracking on the last syllable.
Sue squeezed Quinn's shoulder and dropped her voice even lower than before. "I'm not going far, but I absolutely refuse to stay. And I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I just abandoned the last of my Cheerios, so when you need me again, you'll certainly be able to find me. Just look for the signs, Q. You seem to be pretty talented at finding me when you need to."
Quinn's eyes locked with her coach's, and she couldn't help but smile the tiniest bit as she realized that both of their eyes were welling up with unwanted tears. Their minds were obviously in the same place – Sue's office, Jean's picture, that big red button.
She'd be able to find Coach Sylvester again when they all needed her to do so. She was sure of it.
"I have to go now," Sue said, "but remember: I'll be waiting. As long as it takes."
Quinn nodded, fully realizing that the way Sue was speaking implied that Quinn and the others would plan on leaving if they ever discovered the truth about what was going on here at Fort Jackson.
The feeling chilled her to the bone.
With one last nod, Sue relinquished her grip on Quinn's shoulder and turned to leave. As she passed through the gate – just as it was closing back into place behind her – she called out, "You're nothing like a young Sue Sylvester, Q." Quinn's heart sank momentarily, but Sue spoke again right before Quinn lost all sight of her. "You're better."
The way she emphasized the word 'better' made Quinn sure that her mentor believed it.
And maybe that convinced her of it as well.
June 29th, 2012
Fort Jackson; Columbia, South Carolina
Barracks B, Room 8
As Quinn finished recounting the details of her departing conversation with Coach Sylvester, the room remained almost painfully silent. Rachel moved closer to Quinn, pressing against her side and wrapping her hands around one of Quinn's arms.
It was weighing heavily on everyone's minds that Sue had been so adamant about them forging their own opinions – how she had almost assumed that them doing so would lead them out of Fort Jackson in the end. It was eerie that maybe…
Maybe she had been right.
"So it's obvious that something that's going on here isn't kosher with Sue," Puck said, breaking the silence with his almost overly loud voice.
"Yeah, but what?" Finn questioned. "We've got evidence of super zombies, and we've seen the military sacrifice the lives of innocent civilians. But what was it that had Sylvester out the door on day three?"
"We should probably consider what Quinn said, about how Coach Sylvester is out there waiting on us. Doesn't she have Black Ops training or something?" Mike questioned.
"Special forces," Brittany interjected, correcting Mike.
Santana nodded. "She could be our greatest chance at surviving out there on our own. And I don't know about you guys, but I trust her judgment. If she left, maybe we should too."
"We don't even have all the pieces to the puzzle yet," Artie said, pushing his glasses up further on the bridge of his nose.
"Doesn't that scare you more than anything?" Rachel spoke up. "Coach Sylvester left because of something potentially worse than the military killing civilians. She's out there facing the new threat of intelligent undead, and she's doing it alone. And you know what? I bet she's surviving. We could do it too."
Artie kept his mouth shut this time, knowing that his disagreement would be whole-heartedly ill-received.
Tina sniffled and cleared her throat. "We all have a lot to think about…"
Quinn nodded in agreement. "Yes, we do. And one of the things we most definitely need to consider is the possibility that we could find real safety elsewhere rather than here."
"Think about what you're suggesting," Tina said. "You're talking about leaving behind shelter, meals, weapons – everything."
"Not everything," Mike corrected her, gently taking one of her hands in his. "We have each other. And together, we can find shelter. We can survive. Quinn, Brittany, and Santana could feasibly help us get to Sylvester."
"And we have the weapons we came with," Santana added, her mind drifting to the locked boxes underneath hers, Quinn's, and several of the boys' beds. "They can't keep those from us."
"Are you sure about that?" Brittany quietly asked.
The collective conscious of the group shifted abruptly as Brittany's question hung in the air, leaving them all wondering if the military would find it as easy to let them – a group of young, strong teenagers – walk out of Fort Jackson as they had Coach Sylvester.
Suddenly, the dam of emotions that had previously kept everyone silent was smashed into oblivion. All at once, it seemed, everyone was talking over everyone else. Finn and Puck were standing shoulder to shoulder in front of Artie as he gestured emphatically at them, complaining about rash decision-making and wheelchair inaccessibility outside of the base. Tina sunk down to sit next to Brittany on the floor, talking to her quietly while Santana and Mike spoke to each other above them.
Quinn ignored the cacophony and moved across the room, pressing her forehead against the only window and savoring the coolness against her skin. Moving with her across the small space, Rachel stood at her back, wrapped her arms around Quinn's waist, and pressed the side of her face between Quinn's shoulder blades, savoring the warmth.
The buzz of conversations around them – some angry and some skeptical and some completely at a loss – faded into the background. A few moments passed before Rachel spoke. And when she did, she felt as if it took every ounce of her strength to even form the words on her tongue. "What about Elizabeth?" she questioned, instantly fearful of the response she would get.
Quinn squeezed her eyes shut tightly as she felt her heart become pinched, trapped, completely decimated in that single instant.
She knew she would speak to Shelby about whatever decision they chose to make – it was obvious that, whatever they ended up doing, severe precautions would be necessary for anyone who stayed in Fort Jackson. The lines of who to trust and who to steer clear of were blurring at a frantic pace.
"We came to this base as a family," she answered. She felt Rachel's warm exhalation of breath through her shirt. "Nothing can change that."
A few more minutes passed, and the quiet chatter served as background static to the deceptively quiet, intimate moment Quinn and Rachel were sharing near the windowsill.
But eventually, every silence must be broken.
Finn, with this hand clasping Puck's shoulder, said, "We don't have to make any decisions right this second. It's getting late, let's sleep on it. We'll figure something out."
"Fine, let's sleep on it," Santana agreed, standing up and crossing her arms over her chest. From her spot on the floor, Brittany wrapped her fingertips around Santana's ankle, caressing the smooth skin she found there. "But the point remains that we're kind of under the government's thumb here. They rescued us and put us up, and we don't know how they'll handle letting us leave – especially if we stay much longer. We have to deal with this the right way, and we have to do it soon if leaving is our consensus in the morning."
Almost everyone in the room nodded their agreement as they began to disperse. Mike kissed Tina on the forehead before grabbing his gear and heading to guard duty. "I'll see you in the morning, babe," he whispered as he gave her one last hug on his way out the door.
"Come on girls," Rachel said as she moved forward and hooked her arm through the crook of Tina's elbow. "Let's go back to our building."
Rachel and Tina headed out the door first, and Brittany and Santana followed immediately in their wake. Quinn was the last to leave the room, and she shared a brief glance with Puck before she stepped out into the hallway. The glance, even in its brevity, shared more than words ever could.
Quinn was worried about Artie. She could tell Puck was thinking along the same lines. Their friend seemed oddly protective of the military's hidden agenda, and his defiance of their group's obviously legitimate worries was more than a little concerning.
A sigh escaped her lips as she stepped out of the room, shutting the door behind her. Soft, hazel eyes stared down at the tile of the hallway, illuminated by fluorescents and unforgivingly hard against the soles of her boots. Someone called her name from down the hall, and her eyes snapped up and caught sight of the other girls.
Quinn started walking towards them, eager to close the distance between her body and Rachel's. For a moment, her heart stopped at the thought of not being able to reach her partner – the girl who kept her grounded, who held her in the dead of night, who made the world seem a little bit smaller in the best of ways.
Her feet carried her closer, but the distance felt insurmountable for some reason – maybe because of the profound conversations that had taken place over the past couple of hours, maybe because of the heavy thoughts in Quinn's head about Sue and Shelby and Elizabeth and the futures of every single person she dearly loved. The distance seemed overly long, but maybe the shortest distance between two points was sometimes no distance at all. Maybe it was just the thought – the thought of Rachel in her mind, the act of conjuring up a beautiful image, perfect in its untouched lack of reality – that could close the overwhelming gap. Maybe it was just the notion of reaching out and yearning for something that could bring it closer.
But then – suddenly, it seemed – Rachel was right next to her. Quinn could grasp and physically touch the manifestation of that pristine mental image. And that was better than anything in the world.
As she wrapped her arm around Rachel's waist and they all headed towards Barracks C, Quinn hoped that the most correct answer to their situation would be clearer in the bright light of day – for all of their sakes.
June 29th, 2012
As Holly laid on her back in the darkness, she reaffirmed for herself that she was going to die.
A part of her had hoped for bird flu or meningitis or to get hit by a god damned truck. Maybe even the peacefulness of passing in her sleep.
But she figured that was too much to ask for nowadays – and it hurt more than she cared to admit to find out the truth in that statement firsthand.
She couldn't stop the shivering or the aches or the white-hot lances of pain shooting through her entire body. She couldn't stop the barrage of memories or the regrets that she had always tried not to have or the emptiness inside her chest that she had never quite managed to fill with love.
If her body was hydrated enough, Holly could have cried actual tears. But her mouth was sticky and her tongue worked almost pathetically against the roof of her mouth in an effort to create some kind of moisture. Her tear ducts were doomed from the start. No tears of sweet release were going to come to her, not on this night – probably her last night of nights.
She curled in on herself, attempting to press her knees to her chest in a semi-comforting fetal position. It would have been nice to feel close to something, even if it was just her own warmth. And god, was she warm – in fact, she was burning up.
The abandoned barn she had found to sleep in for the night was anything but safe, but she couldn't even bring herself to care. A distant memory – screaming from somewhere deep in her tired mind – was telling her that safety was so dreadfully important right now. It was telling her to be careful, to be wary of her surroundings, to make it through the night and into the morning.
But she just couldn't remember why it mattered so damn much…
June 29th, 2012
Fort Jackson; Columbia, South Carolina
Barracks B, Room 8
Back in the boys' room, there was a seemingly endless supply of awkward silence. Perhaps it stemmed from avoidance. Finn and Puck were both unsure as to how to handle Artie's staunch support of the military's objectives, no matter their cost, apparently – something that neither of the boys agreed with in the slightest.
Finally, Artie sighed and grabbed some of his things. "I'm gonna go shower," he called over his shoulder as he left their room and rolled out of their sight.
Left alone, the two long-time best friends sat on their own beds with their knees almost meeting in the space between them. "What do you think about this mess?" Finn asked.
Puck shook his head and rubbed at his ear with his thumb and forefinger. "I think it's scary to imagine leaving. But things are leaning in that direction."
Finn nodded in solemn agreement. He stuck his fist out, and Puck pounded their knuckles together. Their skin remained in contact for a few seconds longer than normal before they both stood and hugged each other solidly.
Learning that real-life crisis situations were far more difficult than co-op mode in Call of Duty was scarier than either of them wanted to admit. But at least they had their friends, and at least they had each other.
Before Mike even pushed through the front doors of headquarters, he could see that there was an inordinate amount of activity going on in the courtyard. The plethora of bright lights was his first indication. The orders being shouted out over bullhorns were his second. Regardless of the strange scene that was in front of him, Mike walked down the steps and headed towards the stairs that led to his usual post.
One of the men Mike sort of recognized as being a captain stepped towards him, gun held tightly in his hands. Mike's fingers went to the butt of his own standard issue weapon that was slung over his shoulder. "Captain," he said as the officer approached him.
"Chang," the man acknowledged, stepping right in Mike's path and stopping him dead in his tracks. "We don't need you at your look out post tonight. Go on back to your barracks."
"Why not?" Mike questioned, peering over the other man's shoulder. "Is there something else I can help with since I'm already here?"
"No, soldier. Get back inside."
"Look," Mike bluffed, gesturing towards a group of soldiers fifty yards away, "I see my usual commanding officer. Just let me go talk to him and –"
As soon as Mike took a step to the man's left, he was roughly shoved back. Luckily, he had great balance or else he might have ended up on his ass in the dirt. "I said," the captain growled, menacingly baring his teeth, "get back to your god damned barracks. Learn your place, son." And it was almost as if the unspoken 'or else' was hissed out between the captain's clenched teeth. Mike watched with more than a little apprehension as the officer exhibited a white-knuckled grasp on his weapon.
Without saying a word, Mike held his head high and turned back to the main building. He went inside but immediately ducked around a corner, doubled back, and carefully began to observe the activity that was happening just outside one of the shuttered windows in the hallway.
It was less than five minutes later when the main perimeter gate was opened and a group of heavily armed soldiers went out into the night in Humvees. Mike's brow furrowed sharply in the briefest moment of contemplation he could allow himself. And then he was up on his feet and running straight back to his friends.
The girls' barracks were closer. He had to find Quinn.
June 30th, 2012
Barracks C, Room 21
"I don't want to leave," Tina said, speaking openly and honestly with the people she cared for most in the world.
Rachel reached over and grabbed her hand briefly before leaning back against Quinn's chest in her spot at the head of the bed. It didn't take long for Quinn to speak up, and she said, "I'm not entirely sure I want to stay…"
Santana was sitting on her bed, leaning back against the wall with her legs hanging off of the edge. Brittany's head rested in her lap, her knees in the air as she fiddled restlessly with Santana's fingers where they were splayed across her stomach. Quietly – so that no one else in the room heard – Brittany whispered, "I just want to be wherever you are, San."
Santana smiled sadly – both pleased and terrified that that was all it took nowadays to keep Brittany happy. She bent down and pressed her lips against Brittany's temple, lingering momentarily with her mouth pressed to the smooth, peach-infused skin she tasted there. "Always," she finally whispered, and she sighed contentedly when Brittany's hand came up to caress her cheek and eventually scratch at her scalp near her ponytail.
It was a nice feeling – no, it was more than nice. And Santana truly couldn't bring herself to consider existence without Brittany by her side.
Mike barreled down the hallway of Barracks C, frantically searching for the room that Quinn, Santana, and Brittany shared. He knew that was where they had been headed, and he also knew that Rachel and Tina were planning on staying with them for a while. With every single one of his pounding heartbeats, he sincerely hoped to find them there – safe and sound.
It was irrational, Mike realized, to be worried about their safety. It had been a mere half hour since he had left them behind. But everything about Fort Jackson was suddenly giving him the severest of creeps. His spine was constantly tingling, and he found himself throwing nervous looks back over his shoulder almost constantly.
As he literally skidded around a corner, barely maintaining contact between the floor and the soles of his broken-in combat boots, Mike saw the sign for room 21. As soon as he reached it, he started knocking as quietly – yet persistently – as he could.
"Whoa whoa whoa," Santana said, attitude lacing her voice as she swung the door open a few seconds later. "Cool it, Asian Sensation. I was just about to get my sweet lady kisses on with my girl when you interrupted with that feisty knock." Mike completely ignored her, edging into the room and frantically seeking Quinn out. "Fine," Santana huffed, "don't even worry about the fact that your girl was gonna watch…"
"Quinn!" Mike huffed. His shortness of breath was less from the act of physical exertion and more from the fact that his heart had been uncontrollably pounding in his chest from the second he saw those Humvees driving out into the night. "Something's going on," he gasped.
"Mike, what's wrong?" Rachel questioned, leaning forward even as Quinn was pushing herself off of the bed, dropping down to the ground, and kneeling. Quinn's worried gaze shifted momentarily to Mike's distraught face as she pulled her lockbox towards her. "What happened?"
Quinn pulled a key from a chain around her neck and quickly began to open her box as Mike explained the situation to everyone in the room.
"All I did was show up for guard duty, but I was told that they don't need me tonight. Which is fine, whatever, but I offered to help with anything they might need. And the captain on duty physically pushed me back towards the main building. He told me I wasn't needed and that I should learn my place, whatever that means. And then there were loads of soldiers headed out in armored cars past the perimeter. I don't know where they were going or what they're up to, but I feel like we really need to find out."
By the time Mike finished explaining what had happened, Quinn had already removed her RSBs from her lockbox, checked that they were fully loaded, and put on a set of chest holsters. She slipped the guns into position and then grabbed a leather jacket to wear over them, effectively concealing them from anyone who could potentially spare a glance in her direction.
"Alright," Quinn said, standing up and pressing a quick kiss to Rachel's forehead. "Let's go find out what these bastards are up to." She turned and caught the attention of her best friends. "Go to Barracks B. Find the guys and tell them where we're going. Bring them back here, and Mike and I will be back as soon as we can to let you know what's going on." Santana and Brittany nodded their acquiescence, slipping shoes on their feet.
Rachel stood to grab her own shoes. She threw on a jacket and was reaching for a kukri style machete that Brittany kept next to her bedside. "Hey," Quinn asked, "what do you think you're doing?"
"I'm coming with you, obviously," Rachel replied, attempting to quickly thread the sheath onto her belt. But her hands were shaking because of her frantic movements, and she simply couldn't do it.
Quinn reached out and steadied her. "Not this time, baby girl."
Brittany and Santana were about to head out the door when Santana looked back. She gave Rachel an almost sympathetic glance in conjunction with the roll of her eyes – she knew what it was like to be told 'not this time' by Quinn, and it sucked. In that moment before she slipped out of the door with Brittany at her heels, Santana felt a strange sense of camaraderie with Rachel.
Instantly, Rachel became defensive. "Why can't I come with you?" she asked.
Quinn felt Mike practically vibrating with energy at her side. Instead of wasting more time than they already had, she simply wrapped her hand around the back of Rachel's neck, pressed their foreheads together, and whispered, "There's no time, Rach. Stay here with Tina. I'll be back before you have the chance to miss me."
And then Quinn and Mike were out the door, and Rachel was left standing still with Brittany's blade in her hand and a sense of uselessness in her heart.
"What makes you think I don't miss you already?" Rachel whispered to no one in particular as the door clicked shut behind Mike's retreating figure and Tina twisted the lock into place.
There was a clock in the hallway above their heads. Quinn couldn't fucking understand why the damn thing was there in the first place, but it was. And the silence in the building was practically deafening – except for its rhythmic ticking.
Mike shifted next to her. They were standing in an alcove, each of them pressed against the wall on opposite sides of a window, staring out into the night. There were a few soldiers who remained in the yard, but things had been quiet for over a full hour since they had arrived. There had been no sign of the Humvees returning, no chatter, no instructions delivered via bullhorn. The only things Quinn and Mike were witness to were tense postures, nervous glances, and idleness.
"Maybe one of us should run back to the barracks and let everyone know what's up," Mike whispered. His breath momentarily fogged up the edge of the window nearest his face, and he hastily reached to wipe the traces of his presence away with his sleeve.
Quinn was staring at the unwavering main gate of the base when Mike spoke, but she set her eyes on him when his statement finally registered. She blinked a few times before nodding. "Yeah, you should go. Let them know we're still waiting."
Mike's eyes narrowed as he scrunched his nose and said, "I kind of meant that you should do it."
Thoughts of Rachel filled Quinn's mind, much like they had been for the entirety of time since she and Mike had left Barracks C. The other girl was probably nervously pacing a hole in the floor, and that was Quinn's fault entirely. But she couldn't just leave – not yet, not when she was certain that something was going to happen any minute now.
Quinn looked up at the stupid clock ticking away above them, noting the time. "We'll give it ten more minutes. Then we'll rock-paper-scissors to see who goes back to update the others."
Nodding his agreement, Mike turned back to the courtyard.
The whole thing was taking longer than they had expected. Not that they knew exactly what it was they had been expecting in the first place.
"Quinn," Mike hissed out not even five minutes later, ducking down and gripping at the window's ledge with his fingertips. "Do you see that?"
But Quinn's sharp eyes had caught the movement half a second before her name left Mike's lips. The gate was opening. The soldiers who had been idly standing around were now jogging towards the base's entrance, and every single one of them had their guns locked and loaded in front of them.
"Finally," Quinn breathed out, pleased that something was happening.
But Quinn soon discovered that her exhilaration was grossly misplaced.
Barracks C, Room 21
"They've been gone too long," Finn said. He nervously pressed his fingers against his forehead and tried to rationalize all of the potential reasons that Quinn and Mike hadn't yet made it back.
"That's it," Puck said, pushing himself up from where he had been sitting against the far wall. "We have to go find them. What if they're in trouble?"
Rachel's feverish pacing stopped abruptly at Puck's statement as she turned bewildered eyes on him. "What exactly do you think could have happened to them?"
Before Puck could get words out of his opened mouth, Santana interrupted him. "It's fucking stupid to just go rushing out there looking for them when we don't have any idea what's going on. For all we know, they're still just waiting. And so what if we show up and give them away? What if that just ends up drawing attention to the fact that they were spying?"
"The best thing we can do is have patience," Brittany said in agreement. She wrapped one arm around Tina's shoulders and let the other girl lean her head down against her.
Artie crossed his arms in his lap and shook his head, sighing once before saying, "This whole thing is absurd. I can't wait for Mike and Quinn to get back just to prove to you guys that nothing strange is going on here."
No one said anything, but there were several people in the room who wanted to slap the semi-smug look right off of his face.
As Quinn and Mike stared out into the courtyard, it was impossible to wipe the muted looks of horror from their faces.
When the first wave of vehicles poured back through the entrance, Mike quickly pointed out what appeared to be the return of the first group of soldiers he had seen leaving. The armored cars were moving at a strangely slow pace, and all of the soldiers onboard had their guns pressed to their shoulders, leveled at something behind the entourage of Humvees.
Before long, a second group of soldiers appeared on foot.
"Oh my god," Mike muttered. He brought his hand in front of his mouth to keep himself from saying anything more.
Quinn shook her head. Disgust filled her lungs as she gasped, "You've got to be kidding me…"
The first group of soldiers was acting as a guard. And the second group of soldiers was acting as an escort.
There were at least a dozen men on foot, and they were each dragging along a thrashing, slobbering zom in their wake. Long safety poles were apparently the only things keeping the zombies from surging forward and taking a bite or two out of their captors.
Without understanding what the hell was going on, Quinn kind of wished that the walking undead would be successful. It would have been adequate payment for the stupidity that was happening right in front of her eyes. A shiver crept down her spine as the corpses passed underneath a light, their features thrown into gruesome detail.
Pestilent-looking ooze dripped from multiple orifices. A couple of them were lacking fingers, hands, arms. Their jaws snapped, closing around nothing but air as their outstretched limbs clearly yearned to grasp onto living flesh. But most haunting of all were the moans – they seemed to penetrate through the windows, the walls, the very clothes on their bodies, leaving them shivering and clammy.
"What the fuck are they doing?"
Quinn didn't know how to answer Mike's question. She was shocked and appalled and totally repulsed by the scene playing out in front of her.
But she couldn't look away.
The Humvees spread out once the entire assembly was inside the gate – which slid smoothly back into place as if creatures from their very nightmares hadn't just entered through it. The soldiers on the vehicles jumped down, spreading out and surrounding the zombie handlers. Mike noticed the tall, imposing figure of Lieutenant Colonel Sullivan – he was shouting orders and walking briskly ahead of his charges.
The group in its entirety was slowly but surely disappearing out of their line of sight, so Quinn and Mike crouched down and ran further along the corridor to find another window with a decent vantage point. As soon as Quinn caught sight of the building with the ever-burning lights, her chest constricted painfully with the memory of Sue's words. Something was going on in Fort Jackson, and it was not acceptable. Why were they taking them to that building? What was going on inside?
Why weren't they killing the zombies?
It went against every survival instinct that had been awoken within Quinn. Ever since that first day – when she had smashed the business suit-wearing zombie's skull open with a baseball bat in front of the Jones' residence – Quinn had only one inclination when it came to dealing with zombies.
Kill them – or rekill them – so that they could never hurt another living, breathing human being.
Whatever was going on here inherently went against that instinct, and Quinn felt her head swimming and spinning and drifting away as the last soldier wrestled his zombie inside the building. The door slammed shut behind him, and Quinn and Mike could see no more.
Sinking down to the floor, Quinn pressed her palms against the cool tiles. She focused on breathing – just breathing – because anything more than that would have been too difficult.
"Quinn?" Mike finally asked, his voice quiet and almost lost to the pounding in Quinn's ears.
She shook her head back and forth several times, attempting to clear away the fuzziness. "We need to tell the others," she finally said, quiet determination lacing her voice.
Without another word spoken between them, Mike and Quinn both pushed to their feet and took off running down the hallway of the administrative headquarters.
Every time they hurtled around a corner, Quinn felt her breath hitch in her throat at the possibility of being caught. Every squeak of linoleum under their boots forced her to dig in harder and run faster. Every time she thought she saw movement outside one of the windows as they ran past, she felt her heart beat more frantically in her chest.
What if there were soldiers who caught them sneaking around?
And worse yet, what if the zombies that the military was apparently housing in that god damned building got loose and bit someone? Just one fucking walker roaming around on its own could mean the end of Quinn's life or Mike's or Rachel's or – Quinn cringed at the thought – Elizabeth's.
Quinn would get back to Rachel. She would get back to the others and tell them what they had seen. She had to – no matter what.
The only sounds in the air were her footfalls pounding in time with Mike's. And the ticking of the clock was long behind them, but Quinn could still hear it in her mind.
Quinn didn't know what the countdown could possibly be leading to, but she sure as hell didn't want to be around when things exploded in the military's face.
June 30th, 2012
Holly awoke, gasping for breath. A moan involuntarily escaped her chapped lips, and her fingers instinctively clutched at her shoulder.
"Fuck," she cried out into the darkness, her hand pulling back from her festering wound. Blood and puss covered her fingertips, and Holly couldn't keep herself from rolling over in the dirt and retching as her stomach rejected its meager contents.
The moonlight fell across Holly's face as she rolled onto her back again. Her eyes blinked twice, her vision cleared, and her mind started racing. But her thoughts were no longer a jumbled mess of self-pity and regret and confusion. It was as if her sudden bout of wakefulness had brought with it a stunning moment of clarity.
When the sun rose in the morning, Holly was going to save the world. Or at least, she was going to give it the old college try – and she had done decently in college back in the day, as far as she remembered.
She rolled onto her side, gritting her teeth and promising herself that she would maintain some semblance of reasoning and self-awareness between these midnight hours and daylight.
It was the least she could do.
As sleep fitfully began to once again take over her body, Holly thought it was ironic, really, that she was doing her damnedest to try and save humanity – even though she herself was quite literally doomed to lose everything that inherently made her human when all was said and done.
June 30th, 2012
Fort Jackson; Columbia, South Carolina
Barracks C, Room 21
Rachel's dads had always told her that pacing wasn't good for the soul, and it certainly didn't help to solve any problems. For a long time, she had continued to do it as little more than her solitary act of defiance – from ages seven to seventeen, actually – but she had eventually stopped. Among other things, the zombie apocalypse had resurrected – pun certainly intended – her pacing habit.
"You are literally going to wear a hole in the floor, Frodo," Santana bit out harshly. Rachel didn't take it personally though – they were all on edge. The waiting was absolute torture for every single one of them.
Rachel also didn't take it personally when Santana slouched even further down on the floor, practically sprawled flat out on the tile, and stuck her ankles out into Rachel's path. Rachel just picked her feet up higher to step over them, vaguely hoping that Santana wasn't going to kick her on her next pass.
Brittany lightly petted the top of Santana's head where it rested in her lap. "It's ok, babe," she softly whispered, bending down to kiss the tip of Santana's nose. "We're all worried. You're allowed to be worried too."
If someone else had said those same words to her, Santana might've punched them – at the least. But Brittany possessed magical powers of the girlfriend variety, and so Santana was inexplicably calmed instead of enraged.
And still, they all sat. And they all waited. And they all hoped that Mike and Quinn would come bursting through those doors like some dramatic scene playing out onscreen at the cinema.
They had been waiting almost two whole hours when the door finally flew open, Mike practically falling into the room with Quinn right on his heels – cinematic expectations marvelously exceeded.
Bright – but still nervous – smiles covered previously anxious, frown-marred faces. Santana sat straight up, grasping onto Brittany's hand. Tina rushed forward and practically jumped into Mike's waiting arms. Puck and Finn stood by waiting for news, a wet-haired Artie sitting next to them near the window. Rachel stopped right in the middle of the room, waiting on Quinn to come to her – and she did, grasping Rachel's hands in hers and pressing her face down into the smooth skin of Rachel's neck.
For a moment, the group did little more than breathe each other in – one collective breath of awareness and thankfulness and preparedness for each other and whatever was going to come out of Quinn and Mike's mouths.
Finally, Tina spoke. Her soft voice easily carried across the tense, expectant silence that had descended on the group like a shroud, breaking the moment apart into a thousand spectacular shards. "What did you see?" she asked.
It was a simple enough question. Unfortunately, the answer was anything but.
Quinn turned, pulling Rachel's arm around her waist as she went. Her lover's hand rested low on her hip as Quinn locked eyes with Mike, silently giving him the floor.
He nodded several times, inhaled and exhaled deeply through his mouth, and began to explain the situation. He didn't leave out a single detail – other than that godforsaken clock that had been ticking relentlessly above their heads – and it wasn't long before the entirety of New Directions knew about the zombies the military was apparently keeping just a few buildings over.
Whereas earlier that night everyone had descended into cacophonous bouts of talking over one another, now there was a heavy quietness on everyone's shoulders. Quinn felt Rachel's fingertips wandering across the waist of her shorts, dipping down into her back pocket – and she heard Rachel's sigh of annoyance as her digits came in contact with Quinn's stupid fucking pack of cigarettes. "Quinn…" she breathed out between her slightly parted lips, and Quinn couldn't do anything more than turn to her partner, press her forehead against the side of Rachel's face, and kiss the perfect skin of her cheek. When Rachel sighed again, it was almost in recognition of the futility of trying – for even a moment – to be frustrated with Quinn.
Maybe in another life, Rachel would have put up more of a fight. But not in this one.
"We don't know what this means," Artie said, unlocking his wheels and rolling forward. "For all we know, they could be working on a cure."
"Then why the hell was that soldier so rough with me, man? If they were doing something good with a group of rabid, flesh-eating, walking corpses, they were certainly working pretty damn hard to keep me from seeing it. Why should they put so much effort into hiding what they're doing if it's for the good of mankind? These pieces aren't fitting." Mike's hands were fists at his sides as he responded to Artie's question.
Her boyfriend's normally calm demeanor had been pushed to its reasonable limits for the last time that night, and Tina sensed it as she held onto one of his arms. She shot an imploring look in Santana and Brittany's direction, passively asking for assistance to defuse the situation before it blew up entirely.
"Whatever is happening, we can't do a damn thing about it right now," Santana said, pushing herself to her feet and stepping into the increasingly narrow space between Artie and Mike. "Let's try and get some rest."
Everyone's stores of emotions and words had obviously been spent, and so they all started to disperse in relative silence. Puck hugged Quinn and Rachel around the shoulders as he passed them, and Finn kissed them both on the tops of their heads. Artie rolled out into the hallway with an almost grumpily muttered "good night" hanging in his wake.
Tina was practically dragging Mike out the door. Before they left, she turned and said, "Rachel, I'm going to our room. Are you coming?"
But Rachel's eyes immediately snapped down to her fingers that were conjoined with Quinn's and her heart started beating fiercely in her chest and her gaze shifted to Quinn's eyes and a part of her that she wasn't sure she wanted to acknowledge was begging Quinn – begging her – to not keep them apart. Not tonight when everything seemed to be crumbling around them.
The scraping of metal against the tile floor distracted Rachel momentarily, and she glanced over and watched as Brittany and Santana pushed their beds together. Quinn squeezed her fingers, bringing her back. Their eyes connected, and Rachel knew where she would be sleeping.
Tina was already nodding her head in silent acknowledgment by the time Rachel looked back at her. She led Mike out into the hallway and down a couple of doors to her room, leaving Rachel in what she was sure were capable hands.
It would be nice for Rachel to be comforted in the middle of the night by the person her heart really sought.
As Tina collapsed down onto her bed with Mike's strong arms wrapped around her, she was glad to see that – maybe – Quinn and Rachel were learning that time was precious and that loving each other was all any of them really had time for anymore.
Barracks C, Room 21
"Could we just stay like this forever?" Quinn whispered, the breath from her lungs getting lost somewhere in the locks of Rachel's hair.
Rachel hummed against Quinn's bare collarbone where her shirt had shifted sometime in their few hours of sleep. She pressed her lips to the warm skin and danced her fingers across Quinn's abdomen just under the hem of her shirt. "That would be nice," she replied.
Rachel's hips shifted involuntarily as Quinn's fingertips momentarily dipped below the waistband of her underwear, stroking her skin. It felt almost animalistic to her – the way her pulse raced and her stomach fluttered and her skin seemed to come alive underneath her lover's touch.
It was a daily miracle, Rachel realized, that she and Quinn were able to make each other feel – feel happy, feel safe, feel wild and free but simultaneously tethered and whole. To feel at all was maybe impossible for some people in this apocalyptic world – a defense mechanism of sorts, the shutting out of emotion. But Rachel and Quinn were some of the lucky ones, and Rachel knew it.
"Quinn…" she breathed out, the name fading away like scattered dust particles refracting light in the summer sun. Quinn's touch was getting lower, hotter, gaining momentum that Rachel couldn't have stopped even if she'd wanted to. No immovable object existed in this world – not in the world where the unstoppable force of Quinn Fabray resided. "Santana and Brittany are sleeping just over there," Rachel whispered, her words now caressing the soft skin of Quinn's lips as she leaned ever closer.
When Quinn spoke, the soft husk of her voice was just as arousing to Rachel as the fingertips that were now pressing against her center through her underwear. "I really don't think they care," she said – and it was only then that Rachel took the time to glance over and saw that their sheets were moving slowly up and down in a steady rhythm.
"Oh," Rachel said. And then she gasped as Quinn's fingertips made their way beyond the confining material of her underwear beneath the covers. "Oh."
Quinn breathily moaned against Rachel's cheek. "Baby," she nearly purred, her fingers curling. "You are everything."
And all Rachel could do in response was grip tightly at the back of Quinn's shirt and throw her leg around Quinn's waist and breathe – breathe, dammit – and savor this moment of moments. Because tomorrow was just as uncertain as yesterday had been, and all they were guaranteed anymore was today. The words that Quinn exhaled gently against her skin were an acknowledgment of the things that Rachel knew remained unspoken between them.
As her body shook and she bit her lip and her breath became little more than short pants of air into the quiet morning, Rachel realized that she and Quinn had been showing each other exactly how in love they were for a long time now. Words were just words. But comforting touches in the dead of night and the way their bodies responded to the other and how their eyes always managed to lock from across the room – that was what mattered.
Quinn's body was pressed into her side, and Rachel tilted her head to kiss the other girl's forehead as she came down from the type of high to which only Quinn could have ever taken her. And for a while, they merely existed in each other's presence. Neither of them thought about life outside of Fort Jackson. They didn't think about their lost or unaccounted for family members. They expelled from their minds the notion of a tomorrow in which the other did not exist. And they certainly ignored – for now – the decision New Directions was going to have to make soon – for better or for worse.
At some point, Rachel's fingers moved to become tangled in Quinn's hair, running through her green highlights. Rachel smiled at the color, at the childishness of it all.
But their childhoods were now a distant memory. And their futures were more uncertain than ever.
"I guess the responsible thing to do is get up and meet everyone for breakfast and, you know…" Quinn's voice trailed off.
All either of them wanted to do was stay locked in the tight, comforting embrace of the other's arms. But it was funny how reality always seemed to crash down on them at the least opportune of times.
"Yeah," Rachel sighed, pressing a kiss to the corner of Quinn's mouth as her fingers tangled more forcefully in green and blonde strands of hair. "Let's go, baby."
June 30th, 2012
Outskirts of Fort Jackson; Columbia, South Carolina
Sue's eyes snapped open. She thought she had heard something outside her window. And instead of attempting to convince herself that it was nothing – as some people were inclined to do – she rolled off of her makeshift bed and popped up to her feet, spry for all of her thirty-one years of age.
She pressed herself to the edge of the wall and peered out into the already bright morning. The sun was rising steadily, casting its light over the decimated remains of Fort Jackson. Nothing stood in the way of her visual and auditory scan of the area. And from her window, Sue saw and heard…
Nothing at all. Which made sense to Sue – she had been systematically hunting all of the zoms in the surrounding area during her waking hours, after all. But it was always good to be safe rather than sorry.
The building she was in creaked, and she spun on her heels, reaching down for both of her 'hawks. She unsheathed them and proceeded to walk through the building.
But every suspicious sound was met with empty rooms, deserted hallways, doors rocking lightly on their broken hinges.
"You're being paranoid, Sue," she spoke to herself. "Now isn't the time to lose it." She cocked her head to the side and added, "Or to start speaking to yourself, woman."
Walking back upstairs, Sue grabbed a protein bar. She forced herself to breathe in and out through her mouth as she ate – and the irony of that action was not lost on her. The sick scent of rotting carrion in the increasingly hot summer sun was disgusting, but it was necessary to mask her living odor.
Just a few more days. She was sure of it. That's all it would take for Q and the others to figure it out for themselves.
A brief moment of regret surfaced, and Sue wondered if maybe she shouldn't have told Q everything when she had followed her that day. If she had warned them all properly, maybe they could have been more cautious while still on military premises – at the least.
But this wasn't the time for regret, and it certainly wasn't the time to second guess her judgment on the matter. They would find her when it counted the most.
Today, she was going to venture further north. On her last outing, she had seen a deserted school. It must have been on the very fringes of Fort Jackson and had managed to avoid their sloppy attempts at bombing the overrun premises. If it was free of walkers, Sue was hoping to requisition some kind of vehicle fitting of their transportation needs.
A school bus seemed grossly cliché, but it might be just what they needed to get the hell out of there.
But first, those kids needed to make the right decision. Her Cheerios needed to lead them all to her. And she'd be ready when they showed up.
Fort Jackson gave her the creeps, and she couldn't wait to get them all as far away from its disturbing happenings as she possibly could.
June 30th, 2012
Fort Jackson; Columbia, South Carolina
Will jauntily tossed a bright red apple from one hand to the other as he walked down the hallway. He caught sight of a clock overhead and almost dropped it as he realized that he was already a few minutes late. He was a grown ass man, but that Sullivan guy really seemed like the type of dude you shouldn't keep waiting.
As he stepped out into the sunshine and down the front steps, a soldier looked up and moved towards him. "Will Schuester?" he questioned.
Nodding his head, Will responded in the affirmative as he took a big bite out of his apple. He wiped a bit of juice from his chin as the soldier indicated that Will should follow him.
They walked around the right side of headquarters, and Will noticed a tall, rectangular building that he couldn't recall having seen before. "Huh," he said to himself before speaking more loudly and asking, "What exactly is this building?"
The solider called back over his shoulder, "It's one of the research buildings. We call it Bunker Six."
Shrugging, Will finished his apple and tossed the core just outside of what appeared to be the main entrance as his guide held the door open for him. "Thanks, man," Will said as he entered.
"Please go through that middle door. Lieutenant Colonel Sullivan will be here shortly to give you instructions."
"Oh, he's not here yet?" Will questioned, relief settling eagerly on his frame.
"He's here, but he's in a meeting. Once he's done with the meeting, you'll get your instructions." The soldier's voice was oddly clipped, and Will's eyebrows rose questioningly. "Please, through the middle door."
"Alright, alright," Will muttered, stepping forward to pull the door open.
It was super heavy, and he had to tug two or three times to get it to swing inward. He rushed to step through, and it clanged loudly into place behind him. Lights flickered into life above him – perhaps they were motion-sensitive, he wasn't sure. But the room was suddenly bathed in a dusky haze as the lights began to illuminate what Will quickly realized was quite a cavernous space. There was a line of tall walls in front of him – nine or ten feet high at least – with one gaping entrance in the middle.
Something scraped into place behind him, and Will turned to stare at the door he had just come through. He hummed curiously, moving back to it. He ran his hand over the smooth metal. There was no doorknob. "That's odd…" he mumbled to himself. Pressing his shoulder against the door, he pushed with all of his body's weight to open it. It hadn't been easy the first time, maybe it was just stuck again. Surely if he pushed a little harder – just a couple more times – the door would swing inward and he'd be able to find that soldier and ask what exactly this room was and why he was here.
"I'd advise you to stop doing that, Schuester," a voice resounded above Will's head, echoing in the vast space of the room.
Will stepped back and looked up the wall above the door. He noticed a long row of windows, so he kept stepping back further until he could see into them. There were people there, staring down at him. Will quickly spotted Sullivan's imposing figure, his brain connecting the voice with the man he could now tell was holding some kind of microphone.
"What's going on?" Will shouted. His heart was starting to race, and he felt claustrophobic despite the largeness of the room he was in.
Instead of answering, Sullivan said, "Do you see that metal cabinet to your left?" Will dropped his eyesight, swinging around until he saw it. He started walking towards it. "Good," Sullivan spoke, and Will was annoyed at the tone of condescending pleasure that seemed to be coming through the speaker. "Open it, and you'll find some things vital for survival."
Will did as he was instructed, opening the cabinet and coming face to face with several types of hand-to-hand combat weapons, guns, and ammunition. Instead of grabbing any of it, he spun around and yelled up at Sullivan, "What are you playing at? I don't need weapons. Let me out of here!"
Soft laughter poured from the speakers and echoed around the room. In his frustration, Will slammed his fist into the side of the cabinet, leaving a sizeable dent. "You're angry. That's good. You'll need to channel that – and your fear – if you plan on making it through the maze."
"The maze?" Will questioned.
But he should have known.
Even as Sullivan started to explain that the structure behind Will was in fact a large, complex maze, Will was already turning to look at it. From his vantage point, Will couldn't even see the far side of the building. The puzzle in front of him must have been incredibly large.
"…So grab your weapons of choice, because the first wave of walkers will be released in approximately five minutes."
"Wait, what?" Will shouted, obviously having tuned out Sullivan's crazy talk.
"Five minutes. Starting…"
Will spun around quickly, grabbing a 9mm handgun, shoving several clips of ammo into his pockets, and picking up a long, wickedly serrated blade. He was running headfirst into the maze before even giving himself another moment to contemplate what the actual fuck was going on.
"Now," Sullivan laughed into his mic, and Will felt a shiver of dread creep down his spine.
He barreled towards the first fork in his path, careening down the first left he could take and almost slipping to the floor as his feet lost traction momentarily. "What happens if I get to the other side of the maze?" he yelled over his shoulder.
"Who said anything about you getting to the other side?"
Will swallowed thickly around the lump that had formed in his throat. A strangled sob escaped his mouth, and he slammed his fist into the wall in front of him as he realized that he'd reached his first dead end. "Dammit," he hissed, spinning around and running back in the direction he had come from.
Sullivan's disembodied voice spoke above him, and Will was certain he was going to be sick.
"Tick tock, tick tock."
Barracks C, Room 17
Mike's hand edged further up the inside of Tina's shirt, indicating that he was definitely not sleeping anymore.
"Mike," she said, laughing quietly. But she didn't do anything to stop his wandering hands.
"Yes?" he drawled, pressing a kiss to the top of her head.
She said nothing, just giggling as Mike started to tickle her. "Stop, stop!" she nearly shouted, squirming in his grasp. He finally relented, and they fell back into their previous position – intimately close and grasping onto each other as if they were the only things keeping the other anchored to the earth.
Maybe they were.
"We're going to end up leaving, aren't we?" Tina finally questioned.
Mike sighed and tilted his lips to the side, contemplating a response. "We knew things would be different when we left Lima. And if we end up leaving here as well, we'll adapt. We'll deal. It'll be ok as long as we have each other – which we do." Tina nodded, curling her body into Mike's even more than before. "Come here," he whispered against her forehead, standing and pulling his girlfriend to her feet.
Tina giggled and questioned what exactly it was he was doing. He began to hum something that sounded pretty close to a quintessential waltz. "Mike…" Tina said again, staring up at him with love in her eyes.
Mike stopped the rendition of his waltz just long enough to extend his hand and bow. "Dance with me, m'lady?"
She was destined to say yes. And so they danced around the small space of the room, and Tina's voice harmonized with Mike's to create a waltz that maybe no one else in the world could have appreciated as they did.
"Release the first wave."
Sullivan's words resounded in Will Schuester's mind like a fucking death sentence.
"No, no, no," he was gasping as he ran. He hadn't hit a dead end in a while. He was hopeful that he could find the exit on the other side.
If there was even an exit to be found…
As his feet continued to pound against the pavement, Will thought back to his final weeks in Lima. Regret surfaced and left an achingly bitter feeling in his chest. He wished more than anything that he could have been the role model his kids deserved from him in that trying time – and now! Now, he was stuck in this mess. But he would get out of it – he had to. He would make it out alive, and he'd make it up to New Directions.
Hell, he should probably apologize for naming them New Directions in the first place. But he'd start with apologizing for giving up.
He never should have given up then. And he sure as hell wasn't going to give up now.
Barracks B, Room 8
Puck sat up in his bed. He reached over to his bedside and pulled out a fresh t-shirt, slipping it on over his head. Across the room, he saw Finn bending down under his bed and pulling out their shared lock box. He hefted it up on top of the mattress, and Puck watched as Finn checked all of their supplies – he piled them meticulously into two separate packs before closing the now empty box and placing it back under the bed.
Finn looked over, caught Puck's eye, and nodded his head with a sad smile on his face. Puck returned the nod, climbing out of bed and slipping on what could be his last military-issued set of pants. He grabbed the extra clothes he had accumulated over their few days on base and took them over to Finn's bed, shoving them into the top of his pack. Finn did the same.
When all of his things were secured away, Puck walked over to the guitar that was sitting in the corner. As he strummed the back of his finger along the finely tuned strings, he realized that he had no idea how long they would be on foot, and a guitar really wouldn't be conducive to moving quickly. They would probably have to leave their last physical reminder of Sam – and all of the other friends they had lost, really – behind.
Across the room, Artie started moving around. He reached over for his glasses and slipped them onto his face as he sat up in bed.
"What's with the packing?" he asked. His voice was flat.
"Puck and I are pretty set on leaving the base. You should pack up as well, it's the safest bet for all of us," Finn said. "We're gonna head to breakfast, do you want us to bring you something back?"
Artie shook his head, leaning back on his pillow again. "Nah. I'm not hungry."
Puck sat their packs next to the door, and they both exited into the hallway. As they stepped outside, they ran into Tina and Mike who were also on their way to breakfast.
"It's a pretty day, isn't it?" Tina questioned.
None of the guys had actually noticed it before it was mentioned. But the sun was shining, the sky was a beautiful shade of blue, and there were big, fluffy clouds drifting by in a soft breeze.
They all answered positively, glad for an excuse to be optimistic on a day that was certain to be filled with endless change.
"Look," Sullivan hissed, "you can see them getting closer to him. They must smell him, hear him. Maybe they can sense the blood that courses through his veins..."
Eli Rodriguez and Roger Moore stood off to Lieutenant Colonel Sullivan's left-hand side in silence as they watched the scene playing out in front of them. A line of desks was pressed up to the window, and a panel of scientists was observing the scene carefully. Some were taking notes, a few had binoculars pressed to their eyes, others were carefully monitoring the time.
The first wave of zombies had been released into the maze. There were five zoms in each wave, and three of them had taken the left at the first fork while two had taken the right. They could all hear them moaning – a primitive form of communication between each other, they suspected.
"I don't like this…" Roger whispered out of the corner of his mouth, glancing at Eli's profile next to him.
Eli sighed heavily but did little more than shake his head.
They weren't the ones with the power in this room.
"Ha!" Sullivan exclaimed, a manic glint coming into his eyes as he watched Schuester trip.
"Sir," one of the scientists turned around in his seat. "It's been exactly twenty minutes since the subject entered the maze, fifteen minutes since the first wave was released. Do you want us to release the second wave as previously scheduled?"
Roger and Eli turned to look at Sullivan's semi-crazed self as he gazed wide-eyed out into the maze. They all watched as Schuester actually put up an impressive fight when two zombies hurtled around a corner at him. He dispatched of them with his handgun and kept moving. But the remaining three were still relatively close to him, and the gunfire had alerted them of his exact location. Everyone in the observation deck fell silent as they continued to watch the three undead crouch down and stealthily spread out, surrounding Schuester in various points of the maze without him having even the slightest idea.
"Yes," Sullivan whispered, "release the second wave."
An almost disappointed frown turned Sullivan's lips downward when Schuester turned a corner and managed to just barely blow one of the walker's heads off instead of getting his own face eaten.
At the front of the room near the maze's entrance, a door slid open and five undead moved forward into the light. They were uncertain at first – almost cautious. One of them moaned – a long, low, bone-chilling sound – and everyone watched and listened as the two remaining zoms in the maze turned towards their brethren. One of them moaned back – short, high-pitched – and the second wave of walkers moved to the maze's entrance. They started moving more quickly, and they moaned even more when they reached the first fork.
A collective breath was held as the remaining zombies within the maze actually seemed to communicate via their moans to the new group, and the five zoms turned right.
"They…" one of the scientists breathed out, pressing her fingertips to her lips, unable to finish her statement.
"This is remarkable," another exclaimed.
"What we're seeing shouldn't be physically possible!"
"Ladies and gentlemen," Sullivan said, rubbing his hands together, "that man down there has no idea what he's just done for us."
Roger stepped forward. "Sir, we've gleaned as much information as we can from this trial. Let's get Schuester out of there before it's too late! We now have documentation of the walkers communicating, hunting, and exhibiting teamwork. Isn't that enough?"
Sullivan turned on his heels and drew himself up to his full height. "Who are you to determine what is or is not enough, Moore? My goal here is to gather as much information on the changes that are occurring in the zom population as I possibly can. How else will we be able to potentially harness them for our own purposes? This is our job – to get every detail we can, to learn what makes these fuckers tick. Schuester is a useless member of our community here, have you even heard him speak Spanish? It's pathetic!" He turned back to the window and watched as the man in the maze below found himself in another dead end but seemed to be preparing himself for a final stand. "The trial continues. And I don't care how close your rank is to mine – watch your acts of insubordination, or else you'll be the next one down there."
His fests clenched at his sides, but Roger fell back in line next to Eli.
He felt absolutely sick, but he was fucking powerless to stop the madness that was unfolding before his eyes.
"They're learning the maze and helping each other through," one of the scientists whispered to another.
"How long do you think until they get him?" someone replied.
They were practically placing bets on the man's life.
Roger couldn't fathom what existence must be like outside of Fort Jackson. Maybe it was worse, what with the lack of societal structure or the few remaining resources the military actually had at its disposal.
But he thought that maybe it was better elsewhere – because this was some fucked up shit.
June 30th, 2012
Outskirts of Fort Jackson; Columbia, South Carolina
Sue could see the school up ahead of her. It was close enough now that she could make out the blackened remnants of the main building and the chain link fence around a good part of the perimeter. As she got even closer, she could see that the fence had been compromised in several places.
"Sloppy," she muttered to herself, contemplating how grossly the military had attempted to clean up the mess on their premises. She wiped her brow with one hand, pulling one of her tomahawks out of its sheath and gripping its handle firmly with the other. It was always best to be precautious. Especially when it came to the not-so-dead dead.
Her mind raced back in time, decades past when she had been a little girl growing up in the Panama Canal Zone. Fort Clayton had been home, and Sue's daddy had been a beloved and vital leader in the military operations there. When a small zombie outbreak had occurred just after her seventh birthday, Sue had heard some of the officers talking about voodoo and black magic and things that she didn't understand. She hadn't realized how serious it all was until Colonel Sylvester had sat her down later that evening and compared the threat of the walking undead to Adolf Hitler.
Sue's daddy never joked around when it came to the Nazis, so she had known then that he was deadly serious.
The issue had been handled swiftly – with a firm military hand, proper tactics, and careful maneuvers. And somewhere along the way, General Zod had been born – a nickname that had stayed with Sue for as long as the Sylvesters had remained stationed in Panama.
But as Sue slowly moved towards the school and as she thought about the threat of the undead, her mind suddenly figured out why the other word was so difficult for her to use casually – zombies.
It had been taboo back in Panama. No one had dared to utter the word, as if saying it would evoke the dead to rise and attempt to rip everyone's faces off. It had been as if people knew that what they were dealing with were technically 'zombies', but the term had been avoided entirely. Before the most recent outbreak in April though, the term had become mainstream – video games and film and literature of the genre existed en masse!
The ease with which societal norms fluctuated made Sue both terrified and morbidly curious to see exactly what the future would hold.
She stepped over the downed chain link in one area of the fence, carefully moving forward. It didn't take her long to find where the buses were stored. Her eyes were constantly moving – left, right, behind her, in front of her. Sue was immensely thankful for the flat, open space afforded by the school grounds.
But she kept reminding herself that the dead were getting smarter. There was never an alright time to let her guard down, not anymore.
Sue found a bus that had a nearly full tank of gas. Before starting it though, she set off to make sure the location was devoid of zoms – she didn't want the noise she'd make when she went to move the vehicle to draw swarms of them to her if they were nearby.
Even after a full, thorough search, Sue found nothing. And it was eerie as all hell. No walkers, no trace of walkers, nothing at all.
It was fortuitous, but it also set Sue's teeth grinding in anticipation of the inevitable fall – the unavoidable backlash of the quiet.
It wasn't until she had started the bus and taken it a full mile from the school, parking it along the line of some trees near her hideout, that Sue let herself breathe in some sense of relief. It was then that she saw a lone figure appear on the horizon – a few sluggish steps were taken before whoever it was stumbled and fell to their knees.
Sue narrowed her eyes. This new, unknown threat was clearly almost entirely incapacitated. It wouldn't hurt to check out the scene.
So she began walking towards the prone figure lying on the ground, hoping against all hope that she'd meet friend and not foe.
June 30th, 2012
Fort Jackson; Columbia, South Carolina
Mike held the door into the cafeteria open for Tina to step through. He, Puck, and Finn followed directly after her. They quickly spotted the other girls over in one of the furthest corners of the room, so they made their way towards them, intent on uniting their family and finding closure in the wake of their previous night's meeting.
"Morning," Tina said, sinking down onto the bench next to Rachel.
"Hi Tina," Brittany responded. Rachel also nodded her hello, leaning her head briefly against Tina's shoulder.
Some members of New Directions got trays of food while others just sat in the slightly ominous stillness that surrounded them. Before long, Quinn broke the silence.
"Artie didn't want breakfast?" she asked. Rachel's head cocked to her side inquiringly at her partner's tone of voice.
Puck shook his head. "Nah. Wasn't hungry."
Silence again – and tension so thick, someone could've sliced through it with a knife.
No one spoke, even when Finn cleared his throat and asked, "So what does everyone think? About staying or leaving."
Though there was no voicing of opinions around their table, the consensus was easy enough to feel out – not a single one of them wanted to stay somewhere they no longer felt safe, especially not after what they had survived to get here in the first place.
Finn nodded. Rachel spoke. "We should talk to Mr. Schue before we leave," she said, "not to ask his permission, just to let him know."
Another silent wave of agreement, and they continued to eat – or not eat – as the minutes slowly drug by.
There weren't many other people in the mess hall that morning, and so Quinn easily caught the movement of the main doors swinging inward as Shelby and Elizabeth made their way inside. They clearly didn't see the Lima kids, or else Quinn was certain her daughter would have run towards them. Instead, she watched with a heavy heart and shaking hands as they went through the breakfast line before sitting down together on the far side of the room.
Shelby started peeling an orange for Lizzie, and the action was so simple and yet so simultaneously far out of Quinn's reach that she almost got up and left the building in that moment.
But Quinn knew what she had to do, and it didn't involve running away.
She stood, and Rachel reached out and grasped her wrist, squeezing reassuringly since she had also seen Shelby. Rachel was silently offering her support, and Quinn just as subtly denied it with a chaste kiss to the other girl's lips.
Quinn was sure she was going to walk across that room and end up saying goodbye – again – and she didn't want Rachel to have to watch as she cried.
Will knew he was going to die.
He reached up and hastily wiped the sweat from his brow with a shaky hand. "Dammit," he panted, raising his gun and shooting at another zombie that was rounding the corner right at him. His shot went wide, and the click of his empty round made his stomach sink.
Moving quickly, he grabbed the serrated knife he had picked up at the front of the maze and prepared for direct combat with the mother fucker running towards his face.
As it approached, Will stepped to the side, using the beast's momentum against it and forcefully impaling the blade of his weapon into the base of its skull, severing the spinal cord.
He was already tired, and he hardly had the strength to pull the knife from the felled zombie's neck and plunge it once more into its brain to finish the job.
Time was something he had lost track of. For all he knew, he could have been inside the maze from hell for half an hour or six, though it felt like a fucking lifetime of torture. He didn't know what the military was playing at – he literally could not even begin to comprehend what ungodly reasons they could possibly have for doing this to him.
Will grabbed a round of ammo from his back pocket, despondently noting that it was his last. He inserted the clip into the gun, thankful that he had taken that training class with the boys on their second day at Fort Jackson.
Despite the absolutely minimal training he had partaken in, Will still knew…
He was going to die.
He could hear them coming for him. The almost ethereal voice of Sullivan had drifted through the room not long before announcing that wave number three was being released. Will didn't know how many zombies were in a wave, and he didn't know how many waves there were. But he was running out of energy, ammunition, and hope.
There was no exit to the maze. Or if there was, he hadn't been able to find it. He had stuffed himself into this corner – a dead end – hoping that it would allow him to better handle the undead as they sought him out for breakfast. But even now – in his little, indescribable piece of hell – Will could hear them just over the nearest wall. He thought maybe they sounded like… Like they were trying to climb over. Maybe they were going to attack him from as many sides as they could.
That seemed like something these fucking creepy undead bastards would try.
"Ten bullets left," he muttered to himself. And in a strange moment of comprehension, Will realized that he was going to kill himself. "Nine for them, one for me." He didn't know what the hell the brass was playing at, but he wasn't going to let his zombified body be part of their twisted experiments.
A snarling sound resounded above his head and to the left, and Will glanced up just in time to see a walker being leveraged up and over into his area. At the same time, three zombies came hurtling around the corner straight at his face.
Without giving himself time to think, Will started shooting at the growling, putrid bodies that were sprinting towards him from the front. He wasn't the best shot in the world, and his exhaustion made it hard to aim. It took him seven bullets to rekill the now dead-dead undead that had been out for his flesh.
"Two left." His voice was a whisper, a shadow.
Will shifted on his feet just as the walker fell towards him from over the wall. Directly in front of him now, somehow having managed to land on its feet, Will hauled his right arm back and punched the thing right between its eyes. It fell backwards, and Will pounced on it, plunging his knife into its delicate brain matter through its left eye.
But he was weak. He was so weak, and he could hardly even push himself up from his knees to his feet as he heard the sounds of rabid, hungry beasts coming for him again. He looked up and saw two more approaching from around another corner.
The tears were involuntary. After coming so far – after surviving all of these zombies being sicced on him like vicious dogs for sport – this was how Will was going to die: with tears in his eyes, on his knees, gun pressed to his temple.
They were twenty feet away now. Will thought they seemed a bit slower than the others, perhaps having suffered some kind of trauma before the military rounded them up for their sinister purposes. But since they were moving slowly, Will had time to think for the briefest of moments.
And in that moment, his mind went to the beautiful, ever-lasting image of Emma running towards him only a couple days after all hell had broken loose in Lima. She had been so close, so near to his grasp. He had almost had her – he had almost reached out and saved her. But he had been too late, and she had been lost to him before he ever really got to have her in his life as he had wanted.
In her last moments though, Will had seen a look of love in her eyes. He had seen that she recognized a kindred spirit for herself in him, and she had known just before she died that he loved her just as much in return.
Then he had fucking lost her.
And now, he was going to die.
"No," Will hissed between his teeth, pushing his knuckles into the ground and standing up. He was not going to give up.
This was his life – his death.
And he was not going to fucking opt out.
He grabbed his gun and leveled it at the bastards working their way towards him, and he took a deep breath before shooting at his foes.
He managed to take one down, but the other was still approaching. It had been a man in its past life – tall, broad shoulders and dark hair. Will wondered briefly if the man had any family still living.
Not that it really mattered.
Tossing the gun to the side, Will grabbed his knife and prepared to fight this monster to the death.
Not even a full minute later, the zombie bested Will. His life faded from his body as the creature ripped into his stomach cavity and began to hungrily devour his insides. With his last bodily exhalation of breath, Will quietly whispered Emma's name.
In the observation deck, three different scientists on the panel clicked stopwatches. They didn't care that Will had been in love before the zombie apocalypse and they didn't care that he had been a role model to his students once upon a time and they didn't care that all he had ever really wanted to do was dance and sing on Broadway.
They were just interested in finding out exactly how long it would take the man to go zom.
June 30th, 2012
Outskirts of Fort Jackson; Columbia, South Carolina
It had taken Sue a few minutes to ascertain – and then convince herself – that the woman in front of her was indeed Holly Holliday. It was strange enough to see a living person walking around in the middle of nowhere when Sue had seen nothing but the undead for days, but to have that person be someone from her past before the apocalypse? It was bizarre at best – but Sue had seen weirder things.
As Sue kneeled next to Holly Holliday – her knees pressing into the dirt and the back of her hand resting against the hot skin of the other woman's forehead – she knew that Holly was going to turn. And it was going to happen sooner rather than later.
"I…" Holly gasped out the single syllable, her eyes frantically darting around the sky above her where she was laying on her back. Her breathing was shallow, and her hands clenched and unclenched rapidly at her sides. Sue grabbed one of Holly's wrists in an effort to calm her erratic movements, and she frowned deeply when she felt the hummingbird-like flutter of Holly's pulse. "I h-have to get… To the military," she spoke again, her eyes managing to somehow lock onto Sue's.
"Why?" Sue asked. "Why do you need to get to the military, Holly?"
"Y-you know me?" Holly asked.
"Of course I know you," Sue replied. "Don't you remember? Merlot and highlights and animal hoarders?"
Holly's lips upturned the slightest bit in subtle recognition. "Yeah," she said, her voice soft – almost fading away entirely.
"Focus for me, Holly," Sue said, her eyes shifting to the rancid wound on the woman's shoulder. "Why do you need to get to the military?"
It was remarkable, the way the cloudiness in Holly's eyes faded when the question was asked a second time. Sue could see it – the clarity, the determination. And then Holly was speaking. "My… My pack. The laptop. It has all the information on it."
She squeezed her eyes shut, and Sue watched as her brow furrowed and she swallowed. Every action looked painful, and Sue felt more helpless than she had in a long time. But she saw the pack Holly was talking about on the ground just under her shoulder, and she wondered what secrets she would find within it.
Holly's eyes opened suddenly, and Sue searched their grey depths for the person she had once known – bright and bubbly and terribly naïve. But that person no longer existed. It made Sue's heart ache in an unfamiliar way – a way that spoke to Sue of endings and beginnings in a way that nothing else in this apocalyptic world had thus far. "We discovered things," Holly said, "things that people n-need to know."
Holly's hand shifted in Sue's, her fingers gripping purposefully. It was as if she was trying to convey the importance of her brief, more-than-slightly confusing message with her touch.
"What do people need to know?" Sue's voice was calm as she attempted to coax more information from the feverish woman on the ground in front of her.
"The Z Virus… We learned things, and Dr. Austin… He told me to get it to… To the military. I have to get it to the military. I think I'm close… I'm close, aren't I?"
It was one of the hardest things Sue had ever done, telling Holly that she was so close and yet so fucking terribly far away from completing her mission.
"Holly, you can't take your information to Fort Jackson."
"W-what? Why can't I? I-I need to. I have to." The way her voice cracked wasn't from the fever or the pain in her shoulder – it was from the pure, overwhelming emotion of having her goal so close to her grasp and yet so undeniably unreachable.
Sue shook her head and cupped Holly's cheek in her palm. "You don't want the people here to have your information, Holly. Please trust me."
"Then… Then what do I do?" Her body started to tremble, and Sue couldn't stop the solitary tear that escaped from the corner of her eye only to cut an acutely painful track down her cheek. "I thought I h-had made it. I thought I'd get to deliver… Michael, he needed me to deliver the… The world must know."
Inhaling deeply through her nose, Sue repeated her previous question. "What is it that people need to know, Holly? Tell me. Tell me, and I'll do what I can to get the information to the right people."
Holly's eyes widened, and she managed to pull Sue closer to her by their clasped hands. Words poured from her lips at a frantic pace – she knew her end was approaching rapidly. "The virus is mutating. There's s-so much more to it, but that's most important. All of Dr. Austin's notes are in this bag, in the files and the laptop. I t-tried to email all of it to... To Dr. William Channing and Colonel John Davis." Sue made a mental note of the names, the Colonel's chiming some distant memory in her mind. "The email, it didn't send. It's up to me… To you, Sue, to get the data to them. If they can make sense of it, we could stop it. Do you understand?"
Sue nodded, but she could see the way Holly's eyes seemed to be losing focus, so she spoke aloud as well. "Yes, Holly. I understand. I understand completely. I'll get it to them. I'll make sure of it. We'll save the world, Holly. And it'll be because of you."
In response to Sue's promise, Holly began to sob, her entire body shaking from the release. But not a single tear trailed down her cheeks. Sue pulled a canteen from her side and unscrewed the top, pressing it gently to Holly's lips and allowing a small trickle into the woman's mouth. Holly swallowed greedily, gratefully. But her body kept shaking and her heart kept pounding and there was nothing to be done for her.
"I can feel it," Holly whispered, "I can feel it in my veins. It's changing me, and I can feel it happening."
Sue shook her head and cleared her throat before powering through her next words. "It'll all be over soon. Then you'll be able to rest."
"I'm going to die," Holly replied, and it was not a question but a fact.
Not entirely sure how to respond, Sue brushed Holly's sweat-drenched hair back from her forehead and asked, "Are you ready for that?"
Holly blinked. A single tear rolled down her cheek and landed futilely in the dirt next to her loose hair. "Oh, Sue," she gasped, "I'd hoped you'd never ask."
The clicking of several stopwatches filled the air.
"Eight minutes, seventeen seconds," one scientist spoke. Several others along the panel scribbled furiously on clipboards in front of them.
"Confirmed," another said.
Lieutenant Colonel Sullivan stepped forward, almost gleefully rubbing his hands together. He watched as William Schuester stood up on his momentarily unstable, newly zombified legs. His head of curly locks turned and looked up at their observation deck, and a chill seemed to permeate the room. They could just make out the way his organs were spilling from his stomach cavity. One scientist covered her mouth and averted her eyes while another near the end jumped up and dashed out the door. His heaving could be heard from just around the corner.
"Round them up," Sullivan called over his shoulder. Eli was quick to comply, grabbing his team of soldiers who had stood by idly watching from the back corner.
Roger shook his head and muffled his discontent sigh to the best of his ability before turning on his heels and following the others.
Having slowly worked her way across the room, Quinn quietly took a seat at the same table as Shelby and Elizabeth.
"Good morning, Quinn," Shelby said as she added milk and a little bit of sugar to Lizzie's oatmeal.
"Morning, Mama," the little girl chimed.
Quinn's eyes darted to Shelby's, an apology already forming on her tongue. She had never meant for Elizabeth to start calling her that. For a myriad of reasons – the most pressing one being their potential and now imminent departure from Fort Jackson. But before Quinn could say anything at all, Shelby softly smiled and shook her head in reassurance. Quinn smiled gratefully – though shakily – in return before turning to smile down at Lizzie and saying, "Good morning, sweetheart."
"How are you, Quinn?" Shelby asked. And when Quinn's eyes remained rather painfully fixated on the uneven grain of the table in front of them, Shelby prodded further. "Is something wrong?"
Lifting her eyes, Quinn took a deep breath before explaining everything to Shelby – from the mission Puck and Finn had gone on the previous day to the fact that the military was keeping undead in a building inside the base's perimeter. She spared no details, and she was glad that Elizabeth seemed to be adequately fixated on her breakfast and the coloring book next to her plate, singing along under her breath as she doodled on a cartoon pony.
Quinn finished her tale with a softly spoken, "And we're leaving. Today, if we can."
Shelby nodded and turned to look out one of the cafeteria's tall windows. She sighed. "We can't leave here, Quinn. But I think you knew that before you even sat down."
As one, they turned to look at the purple and green pony Elizabeth had almost finished coloring in. Quinn was certain that she could make out the lyrics of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" coming from her daughter's cherub lips.
Yes. Quinn had known that they couldn't leave. Despite the crazy that was apparently running rampant here on base, the unknown beyond the perimeter walls was no place for a small child.
Nodding her head, Quinn reached her hand across the table. Shelby met her halfway, and they squeezed the other in a moment of maternal understanding. Then Quinn stood and walked around the table towards her little girl.
Lizzie saw her other mom coming and spun around on the bench, propping herself up on her tiny knees. Quinn kneeled on the floor in front of her and reached out to take two delicate hands in her own. Her daughter's skin was so perfectly soft that Quinn almost lost it then and there.
But the zombie apocalypse wasn't the only thing that had hardened Quinn over the years. She had said goodbye to Elizabeth before, and she knew that the strength was somewhere inside of her to do it again. She just had to dig.
Quinn grinned despite the aching sadness she felt as she caught sight of the innocent smile on Elizabeth's lips and the way her eyes shone brightly with her youth and the love that surrounded her. Quinn kissed the skin on the backs of the little girl's hands before saying, "I love you, my sweet, darling girl. And I'll always be with you. Right… Here." She pressed her fingertips into Elizabeth's shirt just above her heart.
Lizzie reached with both of her hands to cover Quinn's fingers. "Right here, Mama?" she questioned.
"Yes, Beth," Quinn whispered her answer, "right there."
Then she stood and she brushed downy soft blonde locks of hair back from the girl's forehead and she kissed the crown of her hair and she turned and she left.
In the end, Quinn couldn't bring herself to say goodbye for a second time. Her heart just couldn't fucking stand it.
June 30th, 2012
Outskirts of Fort Jackson; Columbia, South Carolina
Holly was beginning to succumb more fully to the virus. And it was not pretty.
The moans were terrible and constant. Her eyes kept rolling back in her head. Sue had worried more than once that the woman might swallow her tongue, but she wasn't about to risk sticking her hand into Holly's mouth to prevent that.
"Just breathe," Sue kept whispering. "It'll be alright."
It felt somehow wrong to lie to a dying woman when Sue made it a strict policy never to lie to anyone – not to Schuester about his fugly buttchin or Porcelain about how rainbows had exploded from his mouth when he had talked or her Cheerios about how badly they had sucked sometimes. But this situation was different, and all Sue wanted to do was give Holly a sense of comfort and peace in her final moments.
"Sue," Holly gasped out, turning her head and just barely managing to focus her eyes on Sue's face. Somehow, she was able to find the willpower to control her movements. Sue knew Holly was about to speak her final words, so she leaned closer and listened acutely. "Do you think I'll b-be missing the new season of… Animal Hoarders?"
Sad smile on her lips, Sue replied, "Highly unlikely, my dear. I can't imagine that they'd ever air it without you to see it."
Holly sighed, and it sounded full of relief. "There were always just… So many cats…"
"I know, Holly. I know…"
When the virus took the last breath from her body, Sue already had her pistol at the ready. She placed it to Holly's forehead and destroyed her infected brain matter with one quick pull of the trigger. Reanimation didn't even have time to take place.
Sue carefully removed the pack from underneath Holly's uninfected shoulder, securing it to her own back. She turned and began walking to her hideout, intent on finding a shovel or something at least semi-efficient at digging.
She could have added Holly's body to the pile of corpses around her building. But that wouldn't have felt right.
Holly was a fucking hero, and Sue knew it. And heroes deserved more than that.
All Sue could do was her best. All she could try for was something resembling the actions of a civilized, caring human being.
All she could hope for was a better tomorrow. And Holly had somehow – miraculously – given her that hope.
June 30th, 2012
Fort Jackson; Columbia, South Carolina
The members of New Directions all left the mess hall and headed towards the barracks.
Just before the girls split off towards Barracks C, Puck spoke up. "If we're gonna have Mr. Schue take us seriously, we need to rip this band-aid off – and we gotta do it quick."
Everyone nodded in acquiescence. "We can check near HQ," Santana said. "Maybe he's around there."
"Sounds like a good starting point," Finn agreed.
"Listen, you guys," Quinn said, turning to face the group and addressing the most important issue at hand, "don't forget anything. If you have a lockbox, get all of its contents. Once we leave here, we're not coming back. We'll meet at the guys' room in ten minutes."
"You got it, chief," Mike jokingly said, saluting Quinn.
It was always easier to joke in the light of day.
The group split apart, the guys heading into Barracks B while the girls moved down to Barracks C. The last thing the guys heard before the door closed behind them was Brittany's questioning voice saying, "But I didn't think Quinn was Native American…"
Mike, Puck, and Finn entered room 8. Mike quickly moved across to his bed and dived underneath to grab his pack and fill it up with supplies. Puck bent down to check his and Finn's packs one last time, his eyes darting momentarily to the guitar in the corner that he would soon be abandoning. And Finn walked over to Artie's bed. Their friend hadn't even gotten up since they had left for breakfast.
"Hey man," Finn said. "Let's get you packed. We're leaving in just a few minutes."
But even as Finn said it, he knew that he'd be met with resistance.
"I'm not going with you," Artie replied, his gaze fixated across the room on the blank wall. "It doesn't make logistical sense. I'll slow you down. I'm no use out there. You don't… You don't need me. And I can't say that I agree with your accusations towards the military here anyway."
"But you're part of this group," Finn said.
"We don't know how safe it is here, dude," Puck added.
Mike continued packing but turned towards Artie and said, "We find Coach Sylvester, and we'll stand an awesome chance. We're stronger together than apart."
"I'm not leaving, you guys. The end." His jaw was pushed to the side in a habitual gesture, and he pushed his glasses further up the bridge of his nose. But his resolve was obviously firm. There was nothing to be said.
A few minutes later, the three New Directions guys who were planning on leaving Fort Jackson stood solemnly outside their room. The girls rounded the corner, all five of them with packs slung across their backs. Everyone had possessed the good sense to keep their weapons concealed – for now. Though Quinn's RSBs were present as visible bulges beneath her leather jacket if someone knew what they were looking for. Despite the heat, Quinn refused to go through this unarmed.
"Where's Artie?" Tina questioned as they approached.
"He's not coming," Mike responded.
Sighing, Tina shrugged her shoulder straps off and dropped her bag next to the door. She walked inside, and the remaining members of New Directions stood quietly in the hall, waiting.
It was a few minutes before she emerged, downtrodden expression on her face. Rachel's foot was tapping and Quinn's hands were digging into the straps of her pack and Brittany and Santana were whispering sweet nothings to each other across the hall while the guys played rock-paper-scissors.
"I can't change his mind," Tina said. Everyone stopped what they were doing to turn to her. "And he doesn't want us to say goodbye."
Goodbyes were inevitably painful, especially in the world they lived in now – where every single goodbye could easily be their last.
Tina put her pack back on, and then she pressed her palm flat against the center of the door. Before turning to leave, she leaned forward and pressed her lips where her hand had previously rested. Mike repeated her gesture by tapping first his knuckles and then the palm of his hand against the door, softly whispering, "I'll see you later, man," to the quiet hallway. Finn did the same, and Puck did some crazy gestures in the air – possibly some sort of secret bro handshake – before pressing his knuckles against the wood of the door and moving on. Each of the girls pressed their hands in the same spot, and then they were leaving.
One man down. One less member of New Directions.
It was astounding how badly it still hurt every single one of them – even though Artie was staying behind by choice and not because of something more permanent. Like death.
"Let's go find Mr. Schue," Finn said.
And with heavy hearts, they followed him out into the bright light of day.
They should have known that a peaceful departure would have been too much to ask for.
As they walked outside along the edge of the main HQ building, a sudden surge of shouts and gunfire reached their ears.
"What the…" Finn muttered.
"What's going on?" Brittany asked.
Tina scoffed the toe of her shoe in the dirt and nervously said, "Do you think it has something to do with those walkers they brought in last night?"
Everyone around their small circle of friends was tense, their teeth practically grinding in unison as they considered potentially disastrous scenarios. Brittany was pulling her machete out of the top of Santana's pack while Puck grabbed their guns out of Finn's.
Quinn did not move to unholster her RSBs, but her mind was racing at the speed of light – she was wondering if today was the day, if her final sacrifice would be now, just around that corner up ahead of them. And then she felt the lightest of feathery touches on the inside of her wrist, and she looked over and down into Rachel's eyes. Quinn had to protect her at all costs – something inside of her flamed to life in protest at the thought of losing Rachel.
Because a broken heart only got so many beats. And Quinn did not want to find out how many beats her broken heart would get if the situation arose. She knew everything would be over if she lost the beautiful girl standing at her side, looking up at her with love in her eyes.
"We need to go see what's going on," Puck said. "It's better to meet the action headfirst – that way, we won't be surprised when shit flies around the corner at us."
"I'm with Puck," Mike said. "It'll be better to know what's coming."
Mike might have been on Puck's side, but the way every single set of eyes was suddenly on her, Quinn knew that she held the final decision.
She wasn't sure she agreed, but there was no time to come up with alternative options. The gunfire was becoming more and more sporadic, and human screams were now discernible. And amidst them, the chilling cries and moans and shrieks of an unknown number of zoms. "Come on," she growled out, hurtling down the side of the building with Puck close on her heels and with Mike and Finn covering the group from behind.
As they approached the corner, Quinn slid to a halt with the rest of the group at her back. She peered around the edge as she reached beneath her jacket and pulled out one of her precious guns. The courtyard was empty, but even as Quinn gave the signal that they should move forward, two soldiers stumbled out from around the opposite side of the building. They each had rifles over their shoulders, and they promptly began hauling their asses up the utility ladder on the side of HQ.
"Hey!" Santana shouted at them. "What's going on?"
But they ignored her, and no one was really very surprised. Though the general consensus of emotions from the group was primarily confusion laced with a dash of frustration at that point.
Quinn moved forward quickly, her knees bent to keep her low to the ground and both of her hands gripping her pistol firmly. Everyone continued to follow carefully behind her – their movements guarded and their eyes constantly scanning their surroundings.
Crouching down at the next corner of the building, Quinn looked around the edge to see where it was the two soldiers who were now firmly planted on the rooftop above them had come from. Puck leaned around the corner above her. "Look," he said. "That sketchy building where they keep the zoms, one of the bay doors is open."
Quinn took note of Puck's observation, and she narrowed her eyes as another bay door started opening up nearer to them. As it rose, the volume of the gunfire increased, and Quinn could hear the screams of both the living and the undead more clearly than before.
"Fuck." The word left Quinn's lips on a puff of air as she saw several armed soldiers and a couple of people wearing white lab coats barreling out from under the partially open door.
And right on their heels were half a dozen of the undead.
The first zombie through the gap pounced on a soldier, tackling him hardily around the waist and laying the poor bastard flat out on his face before ripping into the flesh of his back. Another zom dropped down next to the first and started to devour the man as well. His screams didn't last much longer. The Lima kids couldn't help but think that he looked a bit like Eli…
Quinn heard gasps behind her, but she refused to turn away from the grizzly scene that was unfolding in front of her.
She watched as one of the zom's heads exploded, and her eyes tracked back up to the roof where one of the soldiers had taken efficient aim with his rifle. But there was no other gunfire coming from inside the building, and there were too many humans among the undead to take careful aim again. They all watched helplessly as the last four zombies attacked a scientist as one, crashing to the ground in a snarling heap as they feasted. The remaining military personnel managed to escape out past the imminent threat of death, running towards HQ and relative safety.
Among the survivors, the members of New Directions easily recognized Roger Moore as he headed towards their position at the front of the building.
"Roger!" Finn called out to the older man.
Moore's eyes were wide and panicked as he sought out the source of his name. Once he spotted the Lima kids, he ran over towards them. The men on top of the roof took out another couple of zombies as the humans below cleared out of the open area and found shelter. But they had been on strict orders before not to kill the zoms unless absolutely necessary, so they held their fire while the remaining three walkers munched on their fallen comrade.
"What the actual fuck is going on here?" Quinn demanded the second Moore was in speaking distance.
He dropped his hands to his knees, panting heavily and shaking his head from side to side. "The zombies," he gasped, "they're getting smarter." His words did nothing more than confirm their fears. "The government here, they've been… We've been running tests on them – studying the way they interact, their ability to react to change. This last group…" He trailed off, squeezing his eyes shut and glancing back over his shoulder momentarily. "I'm afraid we pushed this last group to their limits, and they outsmarted us all. It's a massacre inside – they got to most of the scientists when they were unarmed and unprotected, and then the soldiers… We were all caught off guard. I just don't know what happened…"
"How could the military do this?" Santana yelled, surging forward. "You kept those motherfucking flesh-eating bastards right next to the god damn building where we eat breakfast. What is wrong with you?"
"It wasn't my call!" Moore retaliated.
"Thank goodness we're getting out of here," Tina said, and a disgruntled murmur of agreement swept over the group.
All Quinn could do was work her jaw furiously as she watched the last three undead feast on the remains of the previously living human being at their feet.
It was absolutely devastating to see such a vivid portrayal of the collapse of humanity right in front of their faces.
It was only at Tina's statement that Roger seemed to notice their packs. His eyes shifted around the gathered teenagers in front of him before he asked, "You've decided to leave?" In the end, his eyes landed on Puck who nodded firmly in response. "That's probably for the best. I feel bad though, you're all so young. I'm sorry that we can't send your teacher with you, I'd feel better if y'all had some kind of adult figure –"
"What do you mean?" Brittany asked, interrupting him. She was frowning uncharacteristically as she moved forward and reached for Santana's hand.
"Has something happened to Mr. Schue?" Rachel questioned.
Roger sighed and stood up to his full height. He was about to answer, but he was interrupted by a gasp.
Santana loudly said, "Oh my fuck," at the same time that Finn muttered, "Holy sweet cheesus crust…"
Everyone followed their lines of sight to the zombies that were still feasting on the fallen. And when they did, they noticed that the middle zom had raised its head – with strips of flesh hanging from its putrid mouth and ravenous hunger reflecting back at them in its eyes. But the worst thing of all was that, beyond the sick hunger and almost rage-like energy radiating off of the beast, they could still tell…
The zombie was Mr. Schue. There was no mistaking those curly locks, no matter how matted with blood and sweat they were.
Comprehension dawned as suddenly as a wave crashing over their group. Mike rushed back around the edge of the building and emptied the contents of his stomach. Finn sunk down onto his knees with one of Puck's hands on his shoulder. Brittany wrapped her arms around Santana from behind and buried her head in her girlfriend's back. All the while, Santana continued to stare unseeingly at the soulless remnant of her teacher. Rachel gasped and reached out to steady Tina who ended up against the side of the building, breathing heavily through her mouth as she tried to compose herself.
But Quinn stood up to her full height. And with a frown on her lips and a pressing heaviness in her heart, she took a step towards Mr. Schue.
He snarled as she took another step and then another, climbing to his own feet. Quinn stopped a considerable distance away from him. She shook her head sadly and allowed herself a moment to mourn their loss. But just as Quinn was raising her RSB to end Mr. Schue's unlife, Lieutenant Colonel Sullivan poked his head around the corner of the bunker that had housed the zombies. His shifty eyes didn't do a particularly effective job of taking in his surroundings before he suddenly sprinted towards the courtyard.
It was in that moment that Mr. Schue's fleeting attention was forcibly shifted to Sullivan's retreating figure. He let out an ear-piercing shriek before dashing after the other man, jumping onto his back, and sinking his teeth into the man's throat.
Sullivan was dead before he even had time to wonder when the fuck the odds had turned so remarkably out of his favor.
Roger and the soldiers on the roof probably didn't realize that Quinn could have stopped Schuester. Her aim had been steady from day one, and her resolve was always sharp. She could have dispensed of him before he made it to Sullivan.
But as they watched her move forward and plant a bullet between Mr. Schuester's ears, they didn't need to know that.
Quinn moved even closer and shot Sullivan in the forehead where he lay in the dirt, dead and likely approaching undead in a few short minutes. As she did so, Puck left the group and took aim with his rifle, quickly dispatching of the two remaining zombies that had been starting to look bored with their current entrée. Without speaking to each other, Quinn and Puck walked together towards the fallen individuals who hadn't yet turned zom, and they annihilated their grey matter.
It was with somber steps that they moved back towards their friends. Everyone felt the loss of Mr. Schuester sharply in their hearts. It was still sinking in for some of them, even after having watched Quinn rekill him.
Mr. Schuester was dead – not that the term dead meant the same thing that it used to mean. Not at all, really.
Rachel stepped forward and grabbed onto Quinn's outstretched hand, lacing their fingers together. Quinn briefly pressed her forehead down towards her partner's before stepping further forward and looking Roger square in the eye.
"From what I've gathered about ranks since we've been here, you must be in charge now." Roger's hands shook, and so he planted them on his waist, nodding in acknowledgment of Quinn's statement. Her gaze was smoldering and relentlessly unwavering as she continued. "You know that we're leaving. But there are people we love staying behind. It's up to you, Moore, to make good fucking decisions. You have to do that, or else there's no god damn point in anyone making it out of this mess alive."
"I know," he said. "I understand."
"Do you?" Finn roughly questioned. He pushed himself to his feet. "My father was a soldier. And it makes me sick to think that this is the kind of thing he risked his life for your people to be able to do."
"Good riddance," Mike spat from behind the group.
Roger looked strangely chastised, seeing that the people surrounding him with criticisms were hardly half his age. "Look, I get it," he said. "Bad decisions were made here. But I never agreed with them, I never… Things will get better. I promise."
"Your promise is all we have," Rachel spoke up. She pressed her body closer to Quinn's side. "That will have to be enough."
"Let's go, guys." Puck finished reloading his rifle before slinging it back over his shoulder.
As their group moved out into the courtyard, Santana brushed past Roger's shoulder. "I trust that there won't be any problems with us leaving, am I right?"
Without replying, he simply nodded his head and made a signal to the guard manning the front entrance. The mechanized gate began to slide open as they approached it.
They moved forward as one – an entirely different group on their trek out of the base than they had been upon their arrival. Finn and Puck led the way with Mike and Tina following in their wake. Santana and Brittany walked with their pinkies laced behind their friends. And Rachel and Quinn brought up the back of their group – Quinn's arm was tiredly draped over Rachel's shoulder as they supported each other on their way out of the compound, and her eyes forlornly glanced one last time at the deserted playground to their left.
There was no Artie – he had made his choice.
There was no Mr. Schuester – his life, apparently, had been sacrificed and was now lost forever.
And there was no Coach Sylvester – though her presence was something they all hoped to find sooner rather than later.
June 30th, 2012
Just Outside Fort Jackson; Columbia, South Carolina
Their pace was relatively unhurried as they made their way further and further from Fort Jackson. Their hearts and minds were still heavy with loss, and it was weighing down their steps.
It was just as the sun was beginning to pass over their heads in the sky when the path they had been following faded away almost entirely, ravaged by the bombings of the base from weeks previous. There was rubble all around them – ruined buildings and mangled blocks of concrete. There was even one busted Humvee tilted on its side off to their right, its engine exposed where the hood had been blown upward.
The Lima kids came to something of a subconscious halt. They weren't entirely sure where to go from here. Should they continue in a straight line from the base? Would Sue have veered off in one direction or another? Would it be better to avoid structures where zoms could possibly be hiding, or should they go towards such structures since the coach could've been hiding there as well?
Tina and Rachel passed around extra canteens of water they had brought. Everyone drank sparingly. Puck and Finn plopped down on the ground, and they conversed in quiet whispers – about Mr. Schuester and what it meant for each of them to have lost another father figure in their lives. Mike pulled a handgun from his pack and checked to make sure it was loaded before carefully placing it in a holster at his side. Quinn ventured off in the direction of an old, downfallen sign a few yards away, and Brittany and Santana followed her.
"She said to look for the signs..." Quinn trailed off, muttering to herself. She was cupping her chin in her open palm, staring down at the ground beneath her feet. As she heard her friends approach, her eyes snapped up and began looking more closely at their immediate surroundings.
"What kind of signs do you think she meant?" Santana asked, crossing her arms over her chest and following Quinn's lead around the area.
"I'm not sure," Quinn replied, "but she seemed to have absolute faith that we'd be able to follow them."
Brittany walked ahead of them towards the broken down military vehicle. "You guys," she called back to them. She was hidden by the huge front end of the Humvee, so Quinn and Santana quickly picked up speed and came around the side of the car so they could catch sight of Brittany – so they could make sure she was safe.
And they saw more than they had bargained for once they did.
"Do you think this is what Sue meant?" Brittany asked. "When she said she'd leave us signs?"
There, sprayed in bold, bright orange letters, was one word: WONKA. But the A at the end of the word was blatantly askew, pointing almost at a ninety degree angle off in a northeasterly direction.
Santana wrapped an arm around Brittany's waist, remembering with fondness Sue's sister, Jean. The funeral they had helped put together for the sweet lady – who had always been something of a secret reminder that Sue was human – had been themed after her favorite movie. So seeing the word scrawled out in the middle of a barren wasteland of wreckage and quiet despair had to be exactly what they were looking for.
"Yeah, Brit," Quinn said, smiling softly and moving to stand behind her two long-time best friends. "I think this is just the sign we were looking for." She wrapped her arms around both of their shoulders before leaning forward and kissing first Brittany and then Santana on the cheek.
"Eww, Fabray," Santana muttered. "I'm taken."
A few minutes later, New Directions set out to the northeast. And for the first time in a good long while, their hope didn't feel misplaced in the slightest.
Outskirts of Fort Jackson; Columbia, South Carolina
Sue spun the sharpening stone in her hand once around her fingertips. The carbide edge caught a glimmer of the sun as it began its descent towards the horizon. She deftly trapped the small device in her palm before setting the edge of one of her blades firmly in it and sliding it along the groove.
Glancing up, Sue stilled her movements and took stock of the barren lands around her – her eyes searching for any movement, her ears probing for any sound.
It wasn't just her weapons that Sue needed to keep sharp.
Her eyes watched the rays of the sun with a fleeting moment of sadness. This particular emotion – sadness – happened more often than Sue would have preferred since the world collapsed down around the obviously fragile walls of civilization months previous. But she had lost Holly earlier that day. She had lost a woman – a friend – she hadn't even realized she'd been missing. So the ache in her chest was warranted – it held its place, it served its purpose. It was cruel, Sue thought, that such things were given and taken so easily. Especially when they were needed so badly in the vestiges of existence as it once had been.
It used to be so easy to take things for granted.
Sue turned back down to her sharpening stone and the methodical, soothing act of repetition at her fingertips. The minutes passed at the same pace with which they always had, but they felt longer as she contemplated the journey in front of her – the journey in front of Schuester and his kids if they so chose to join her. She had decided to wait a few more days. Just a few more to give them the chance, and if they didn't show, she would leave detailed instructions on how to find her in the days to come.
Because Sue had never been more determined in her life to fulfill a promise than the one she had made to Holly in her last minutes of humanity.
The sun was casting an orange hue across the earth when Sue heard the voices. Her body stilled entirely, uncertain as to whether or not the noise was in her mind or in her reality. Breath left her body in a slow exhalation as she raised her head and narrowed her eyes and stared in the direction of the setting sun. Sure enough, her ears had not deceived her – there were voices. They were subtly there but were there nonetheless.
Slipping her tomahawk into its sheath at her hip, Sue stood and squared her shoulders. There was a set of three or four buildings whose downed walls had just barely survived the military's bombings, and the voices were coming from between them some distance away.
The voices were coming from precisely the direction of Sue's final clue she had left for the New Directions kids. And Sue realized that if it was indeed Will's mouth breathers about to make their way into her line of vision, she would never take their existence for granted ever again.
Brittany's bobbing blonde head was the first thing Sue saw, and she didn't even bother to internally scoff at the shaggy mane of green hair at the girl's side – Quinn's hair had been pink when Sue had left Fort Jackson, after all, so almost anything was preferable to Sue. Within moments, it was apparent that they had seen her standing there – hands firmly planted on her hips and chin lifted high and the faintest of smiles proudly warming her lips.
They began moving more quickly in her direction, and it wasn't long before her Head Cheerio from a previous life was standing in front of her. Sue reached out, and she clasped both of her hands on Quinn's shoulders as the other Lima kids around them spoke in quiet relief to one another.
"I can't explain how good it is to see you." The words were uttered carefully, sincerely, and it didn't matter whether Sue or Quinn had said them. The sentiment rang true for them both.
"Coach," Brittany piped up from her side. Sue turned to the girl and grinned, extending her arm and accepting a rare hug. Brittany had always broken the walls Sue built to bar affection easily enough.
"I'm glad we've found you, it's been a relatively exhausting day," Rachel spoke up from just behind Quinn's shoulder. Sue watched as Q and the Berry girl effortlessly reached for each other, their fingers lacing together. Second nature.
And it was then that Sue took in the exhaustion that really was radiating from them. It was less of a physical exhaustion, all of them being in decent shape, but more of an emotional burden resting across their collective shoulders.
"Where is William?" she asked, withholding any snarky comments that so readily formed themselves on the tip of her tongue about the hair products he probably couldn't have stood to leave behind.
Finn spoke up for the group. "He's gone."
Sue didn't have to ask the freakishly tall kid what he meant by gone – the word mostly held one connotation anymore as it was. But she did focus her eyes back on Quinn's face as she asked, "Was it the bunker?" And when Quinn solemnly nodded in response, Sue couldn't help but feel partially responsible. If only she had legitimately warned them instead of cryptically leaving some insipid clue as to –
"You can't blame yourself," Quinn whispered, catching Sue's thoughts off guard. "Shit happens. We move on."
Sue missed William, she realized, and that just wasn't something she cared to dwell on at the moment – the missed opportunities for allegiance, friendship, camaraderie. He had been a good, decent man, Sue knew. And now he was gone as well. She shook her head and, in half a second, composed herself and asked, "I know you're tired, but are you all up for a mission?"
"What kind of mission?" the Other Asian questioned, his hand resting affectionately on Asian's shoulder.
"Earlier today, I was entrusted with some vital information by one Holly Holliday," Sue said. A round of gasps and dropped chins passed over the group, but she quickly shook her head to clarify. "She's gone as well…" A chorus of sighs, and, if Sue had been more sentimental, she might have taken a moment to reminisce with them about the bubbly substitute with the quirky personality and disarming smile. But she didn't have a moment to spare, not right that second.
Sue continued. "It involves mutations in what she called the 'Z Virus', and we have to get it to the right people. I can only imagine that it could help them to create, I don't know, a vaccine? A cure? To maybe at least put a stop to the proliferation of the undead. Whatever the information says exactly, the matter remains that it is very important. And it's up to me – to us, if you're all willing – to deliver it into capable hands."
When the kids in front of her took her news with stony-faced acceptance, Sue realized that they weren't really kids anymore. Not by a long shot.
"So we're a glee club out to save the world now?" Santana said, scoffing off-handedly and flipping her immaculately constructed ponytail over her shoulder. "Sounds like it could be fun. My schedule is pretty much wide open as it is."
"Let's do it," Rachel said. All of her peers turned to stare at her with expectant gazes – it seemed like a patented Rachel Berry Speech was inevitable at some point anyway. She made eye contact briefly with them all in turn before locking her eyes with shining, hazel orbs. "We're smart. We're capable. And now we have a perfect way to channel our actions towards something good in the world. We are strong together – so strong – and nothing will be able to stand in our way. Let's do this – for Mr. Schuester and Miss Holliday, our parents, our brothers and sisters, our families and friends. For every single person we've lost and the memories we hold on to and the hope that we can still cling to for a better tomorrow –"
"Ok, pipsqueak," Santana succinctly interrupted. "We get your point. And I think I speak for all of us when I say that we're in." No one commented on the way she nonchalantly wiped her finger underneath her left eye, catching a few drops of moisture in the process.
"How about some wheels, Coach?" Puck questioned. "Let's get this show on the road."
"Alright, Puckerman," Sue replied, turning to walk towards the building she had been staying in. "We'll get all of my supplies from here and then head out. I've commandeered a bus for us, and it's waiting about half a mile away."
As the group followed, Tina softly spoke up from where her head rested in the crook of Mike's shoulder. "You know, we never got to put on that concert we were planning."
Santana sighed and added, "What a shame. That set list was awesome."
"Who says we can't still put on a concert?" Finn asked.
Rachel reached her hand that wasn't occupied with Quinn's elbow out and grasped Finn's fingertips briefly. "Someday," she said – and it sounded more like a promise than a brush-off.
Half an hour later, they had left the final outskirts of Fort Jackson behind on foot. In a single file line, they climbed aboard the bus Sue had obtained for them.
Santana and Brittany made it on first, Santana loudly proclaiming, "Dibs on the backseat!" before she and Brittany took off running down the aisle with their packs bouncing against their backs.
Tina quietly climbed onboard, saddened by the fact that the bus actually was fitted for handicapped individuals – a detail Sue had likely purposefully not overlooked. Mike gently took her hand in his own, bent down towards her, and kissed her cheek lovingly.
As Puck climbed up the steps, his eyes eagerly scanned over the vehicle. "Yeah, we can totally make this work," he said. "This could be fortifiable, livable for the time being." He turned back to look over his shoulder at his best friend. "What do you think, man? You with me on this? You know I always need you watching my back."
"Yeah," Finn said, nodding his head as a small smile found its way onto his face. "We got this."
Sue sat down at the driver's seat, buckling herself in and starting up the beast of an engine just as Rachel and Quinn stepped onto the bus. They deposited their supplies in a couple of the front seats before making their way to the back.
As they began to drive away, leaving behind yet another chapter of their lives, they all knew that they had a long way to go. But they had each other. And they had hope. Most importantly, they had purpose, and that was hard to come by in a world gone completely to hell – so all they could do was cherish the gift – the mission – that Holly had given them.
Quinn sat down in the next to last row of seats, her back against the edge of the bus. Rachel scooted into the seat with her, reaching over her shoulders to push in the releases and lower the window behind them. Immediately, Quinn's green locks of hair started blowing in the wind. Rachel delicately ran her fingers through the soft, loose mane, and she stared down into Quinn's eyes with all the love and affection in the world.
"Can I just point out the elephant on the bus?" Santana loudly called, leaning forward over the seat just as Rachel leaned down and pressed her lips to Quinn's.
Rachel pulled back with a huff, and Quinn rolled her eyes before asking, "What, Santana?"
"Your hair –" Santana replied "– looks whack. I can't believe you chose green of all the damn colors of the rainbow."
The laughter that emanated from Rachel's lips was contagious, and the others on the bus found themselves looking over and smiling despite whatever serious thoughts were on their minds. "Honey, I think the green looks great."
Brittany scrunched up her nose as she leaned over the seat next to Santana, a hopeful smile on her face. "Maybe purple next, Q."
Quinn smiled and pulled Rachel back to her, and their lips crashed together as the wind whipped through her hair. Purple certainly didn't sound like the end of the world. Not that anything sounded bad in that moment – with Rachel's hands pressing into her sides underneath her leather jacket and their breath mixing deliciously between parted lips.
"Ugh," Santana moaned dramatically, sinking back in her seat and pulling Brittany down with her. "Can't you guys ever just get a room?"
They lived in a strange, dangerous, zombie-filled world – but at least they lived. And maybe it was the kind of situation where things were destined to change – people, opinions, exactly how far a person was willing to go to survive. But some things…
Some things never really changed at all.