A/N: Written for Faberry Week. Prompt: Zombie apocalypse. Though I guess I deviated slightly since this really isn't apocalyptic at all. ;) Enjoy!
Also, please note: this concept of the dead rising in a docile manner was taken from one of my favorite short stories of zombie fiction, "Paradise Denied" by John L. French. I read it in the anthology "Best New Zombie Tales, Vol. 1," and the premise was essentially that the Rapture happened ["Our souls had been weighed and found wanting; we were just not good enough", French writes]. In the wake of a good portion of the the human population up and disappearing suddenly, the citizens of the earth half expected the dead to rise – which they did; in some cosmic balancing of the earth's population. I half considered writing the Risen in this story coming back to offset some great loss from a pandemic or something, but that's not the point of this story. The point of this story is Faberry.
It was almost awkward, at first, when the dead started coming back to life.
The military response had been swift and efficient – something that the popular culture of all things zombie apocalypse related had rarely allowed for in the past.
However, it turned out that the military wasn't needed in the slightest. People were rising from the dead; they were disoriented and dirty from the six foot climb to the surface. And, most of all, they were hungry – but not for brains, as the public had feared in the beginning days of mass panic; most of them just needed a healthy dose of protein.
Two to three years of unlife could apparently do that to a person.
Because it seemed that two to three years was the threshold for whatever the hell it was that was going on; if someone had been dead longer, they simply weren't coming back. The military forces that had initially been sent out to annihilate the threat of the undead were met with docile confusion, and so they had been called upon to set up processing facilities for the recently self-exhumed instead.
Families of the recently and not-so-recently deceased had all lined up – thousands upon thousands of them across the country – to find out if their loved ones were alive again, to see if they would be going home with a family member they had likely already come to terms with losing. But many of them were turned away with a regimented statement of, "I'm sorry, ma'am/sir. The time of death of your relative was before the cutoff date of July 22nd, 2010. It's highly unlikely that they will be resuming life anytime soon. Please have a safe journey home."
The hardest part in the beginning was not being there to catch the newly reanimated individuals as they rose from their graves – they tended to wander upon resurrection, and that complicated things greatly as they normally had no idea as to who the hell they had been in their previous lives (the newly deceased who were still in morgues were more easily dealt with). But whether they rose from the ground or were slid from cold slabs, there was almost always the same question on their lips when the situation was laid out before them: "How did I die?"
Fortunately for everyone involved, lots and lots (and lots and lots) of awkward conversations about causes of death and demise were avoided – it turned out that all it took was reminding the individual of their name to bring back an onslaught of memories (though the unknown Johns and Janes were still left without identities).
Unfortunately, not all of those memories were pleasant upon remembrance. Some remembered debilitating disease or cancer and others remembered suicides and still others remembered brutal murders. Within days, there were already talks of setting up support groups for those who had come back with less than enjoyable memories – Undead Anonymous had been decided on with little debate.
But there were those with pleasant memories – memories of children and grandchildren, of long lives fulfilled, of loves gained and kisses shared and peace and happiness in their lives before death took them. Sadly, these were the rarest of resurrections.
One thing they all shared – whether they were five years old or one hundred and five years old, men or women, blind or deaf or dumb, with or without their proper name – was that they didn't talk about what they had experienced after life. But people never stopped asking; they probably never would. The undead kept stoically silent, and maybe it was their silence that kept the religious fabric of the world from falling apart in those first days and even long after the dead had risen and reintegrated almost seamlessly back into society.
But in the first days, it wasn't about reintegration. It was about simply finding places to put them all until further action could be decided upon. While thousands of people lined up to collect their loved ones, many more stayed home, unwilling or unable or simply too terrified to deal with the implications of having someone 'living' – a term that was now under fierce debate between Merriam-Webster editors – beneath their roof after they had already been laid to rest.
Some of the undead were sheltered by the military, protected and housed until someone claimed them. Others, however, were never claimed at all…
When the news first broke, Rachel Berry was sitting in the cafeteria at NYADA, mouthing the lines of dialogue she would be auditioning with later that week. There was a flat screen television not even three tables away from her, but it was on mute, as it usually was. It wasn't until someone sitting across the mostly deserted room from Rachel stood, a gasp on his lips, darting across to reach up and unmute the television, that Rachel's attention was properly diverted to the newscast.
"The dead are rising, and sweeping military action is being carried out nationwide. Forces in every state have been called upon to divert any potential threats, but there have been no reports of violence from any of the Risen. Please access our website for government-issued protocol in handling the delicate situation of approaching any of the Risen in rural areas in which unarmed military personnel are not –"
Rachel continued to listen to the woman on the television screen as she slammed her folder shut and stuffed it in her bag, but only just.
As she practically sprinted out of the cafeteria into the bright, spring afternoon, all Rachel could think about was a white dress and a courthouse and the girl who had never made it to her wedding.
Rachel's breathing was labored as she practically ran through the crowds on the sidewalk to get back to her apartment. Her cell phone was pressed against the side of her face, and adrenaline was pumping through her body. She could feel her heartbeat pounding in her ears as the answering machine in her fathers' house clicked on.
"Dad, Daddy," she breathed out, not even bothering to glare at the passerby who had just bumped roughly into her, "I'm sure you've seen the news by now, but I don't know what I should do. If I don't hear from you soon, I'm coming home tonight. Please call me!"
Her teeth bit at the inside of her cheek as she made it inside her apartment building, scaled the stairs two at a time, and unlocked her front door. She got inside and slammed the door behind her, pressing her back to the nearest wall. As she slowly slid to the floor, Rachel's thoughts continued to furiously twist and buffet against the walls of her skull.
Quinn Fabray was at the center of them all. Specifically, Quinn Fabray in a yellow and white sundress with a white cardigan over her shoulders, a headband holding her lovely blonde hair back from her even lovelier, angelic face. Even surrounded by the lightly stained walls of a casket, Rachel had thought it unfair that Quinn could look so beautiful – but the unfairness wasn't born from jealousy; it was born from the stark realization that Rachel would never again get to tell Quinn such things.
Until now, Rachel realized as she sat on the hardwood floor of her New York City apartment and fingered the slightly frayed edge of her entryway rug.
Later that night, her dads called and informed her that all was well in Lima, Ohio, and that she should focus on school and her upcoming audition.
You shouldn't be afraid, they said. You shouldn't worry, they said. You shouldn't let this whole Risen thing change the way you go about day-to-day activities, they said.
But Rachel was afraid and worried and how the hell could she not let this change things?
It changed everything.
Instead of arguing or voicing her concerns further, Rachel hung up the phone after making both of her dads promise to call her the second they saw Quinn back amongst the living (whatever that word meant anymore).
Two weeks passed without word from Rachel's fathers about much at all, but about Quinn in particular. Every phone call was full of terse small chat just long enough for Rachel to not seem completely rude before the words would burst from her lips, "Have you seen Quinn yet?"
"No, sweetie," Leroy or Hiram would consistently reply, "not yet."
"Maybe someone should stop by Judy Fabray's house and check on them. Maybe they're having difficulty adjusting. I know that Quinn and her mom were never particularly close after sophomore year, but I think things between them were on the mend before…" But then Rachel trailed off, the guilt crashing over her in waves as she remembered everything.
And the fact that she had even allowed herself to forget – for even a moment – that it was her fault that Quinn had ended up in the ground in the first place broke her apart.
"I-I have to go," Rachel abruptly spoke across the connection. "Please…let me know if you hear anything about Quinn."
"Honey," one of her fathers started, "you never told us how that audition went last –"
But Rachel had already ended the call.
She had gotten the part she'd auditioned for, the lead. But that hardly seemed to matter.
After a whole month without word concerning Quinn, Rachel decided to catch a train and a bus home. Something just didn't feel right. In fact, Rachel felt like nothing had been right for quite some time.
Maybe she was just searching for closure. What she hoped to find was Quinn.
Perhaps they were one and the same.
All was quiet on Dudley Road as Rachel walked up the sidewalk to the green front door of Quinn's old home. She tucked her hair behind her ears and stepped forward, ringing the doorbell before stepping back. Her eyes traced the letters of the welcome mat beneath her shoes as she waited.
Movement to the side of the door caught her eye. Someone had just been staring out at her.
Rachel stepped forward again, striking her knuckles against the wood of the door. "Hello?" she called out.
Finally, the sound of a lock sliding back signaled the presence of another, and Rachel found herself more eagerly awaiting the opening of the door than she had her fathers' nightly (disappointing) phone calls for the past month.
When the door finally opened – just a crack, really – Rachel spotted disheveled blonde hair and a gaunt face; sunken eyes and an odor that was particularly disturbing to her olfactory senses. "Miss Fabray?" Rachel questioned, barely recognizing the drawn, skeletal figure of Judy Fabray, wasted away as she was.
"That's me," Judy replied, staying back in the shadow of the dark interior of her home.
The slur in the other woman's voice was prominent and disconcerting, and Rachel found herself momentarily at a loss as to how to proceed. "I…I was wondering if Quinn was here?" She meant to sound more certain and less questioning, but Rachel felt no certainty at all, and questions were the only things running rampant through her mind.
For a moment, Rachel watched Judy's eyes glaze over as if she was staring at something far, far away. She wobbled, leaning unsteadily against the doorjamb. "No," she finally said, "she's not here."
"Is she with her father?" Rachel questioned. "Perhaps another relative?"
Judy breathed in and out deeply through her nose, and when she spoke again, the last thing Rachel expected to hear was anger in her voice. But it was certainly anger she was met with. "After she got pregnant, I was the only family member she had left." Rachel opened her mouth to speak, to interrupt the bitterness she was hearing in Judy's voice, but the older woman seemed to have just begun a downhill careen of emotional outpouring. "I left her father because of his behavior a-and it was…it was just us. It was hard, and I had no one. No one." And now Judy was sobbing and Rachel was gaping like a fish out of water. "My mother is my only r-real living relative left a-and she…I disgraced her, she said, by leaving my husband." Judy sniffled. "So no, my daughter hasn't Risen to go be with her grandmother, and Russell would never take her back. Not now, especially…"
"But…I don't understand," Rachel spoke slowly, impatiently waiting for Judy's eyes to focus back on her. "If she's not with anyone else, why isn't she with you? You're her mother." The inflection at the word 'mother' hadn't been intentional, but the severity of the situation was dawning on Rachel; it was making her heart constrict in her chest painfully.
"I couldn't let her see me like this. I just…I couldn't." Judy's voice was small and insignificant and Rachel hardly let the words process before she was spinning on her toes and marching back down the sidewalk to the car she'd borrowed from her dad.
There was only one place left for Rachel to go. And it was a place she was gravely, intimately familiar with seeing as she had spent almost every afternoon there the summer previous.
Lima's one and only cemetery, New Hope.
The name felt more ironic than ever.
As Rachel walked up to the newly erected tin roof building on the west side of the cemetery, she felt clammy and cold and strangely nervous. As she got even closer, she noticed a sign on the door.
Pickups between the hours of 9am-5pm M-F
"Pickups," Rachel scoffed underneath her breath, disgusted that people were obviously referring to the Risen as little more than packages to be picked up at someone's earliest convenience (or not at all, it seemed).
Upon entering the building, Rachel noticed a single individual behind a plain, unadorned desk.
"Hello," Rachel said, stopping right in the man's line of sight.
He flipped the page of his newspaper before looking up at her. "Can I help ya?"
"Yes, you can –" Rachel glanced down at the name tag on his chest "– Steve. I'm here for a friend."
"Yes, a friend. Quinn Fabray, to be exact."
"Only relatives allowed to make claims."
Rachel sighed but kept it as minimal as she possibly could. "You and I both know that's an absurd rule, Steve. Her parents aren't coming. You're really going to keep her here forever?"
Steve chewed on the lid of his pen as he stared at her somewhat contemplatively, considering her words. "Well," he started slowly, "she is my last charge here…"
That fact irked and sickened Rachel. That Quinn was just beyond the door to her left, probably living in barracks-like conditions with no outside human contact…
"What's the harm in letting her come with me?" Rachel asked, adopting a sweet voice while still being fully prepared to enlist the help of her fathers' contacts at the American Civil Liberties Union.
"We're 'sposed to wait. The government's 'sposed to be –"
"Oh, Steve," Rachel said, leaning forward over the desk, "let's not talk about the government. Let's talk about us and what you can do for me."
"Oh, umm," Steve gulped, sitting up straight. "I guess we could work something –"
"Steve," Rachel interrupted, "you have a wife? Kids?" She glanced down at his wedding band.
"Y-yes," he replied, the fingers of his right hand touching those of his left in a nervous gesture.
"You deserve some time off, don't you think, Steve? Let me go see Quinn. I'll take her home with me. You'll be done with this –" her voice caught around the words "– pickup service. It's a win-win-win situation, as far as I can see."
Her smile was charming and her posture was friendly and her voice was sincere. But Rachel's knuckles were gripping the desk tightly and her heart was pounding and her entire body felt coiled tight like a spring.
"I really shouldn't…" Steve drawled, "but I guess there's…there's really no harm in it, is there?"
"No, Steve," Rachel replied, relaxing minutely, "there's really not."
Steve didn't escort Rachel through the door. He didn't tell her where to go, and he certainly didn't tell her what to expect. But the building was minimalistic, and there were only so many doors for Rachel to peek into before she found who she was looking for.
In the last couple of weeks before Rachel finally cracked and headed to Lima, she had seen some of the Risen around the city. It was relatively easy to distinguish those who had been underground for three full years and those who had only recently passed away. Some of them could almost pass as non-Risen – or 'the Living' or 'the not-Undead' or whatever the hell the new terms would be for everyone. As Rachel pushed into the last room, as she saw blonde hair and a shockingly white cardigan, she hoped against all hope that Quinn didn't look…dead.
The first thing Rachel noticed was the smell.
"Flowers…" she whispered to herself, stepping across the room to the cot where Quinn was sitting with her legs drawn up beneath her, staring out the tiny window. It was affording them the only light in the room, and Rachel inhaled deeply the sweet scent of freshly cut flowers as she moved around in front of Quinn, allowing the light to shine on her friend's features so she could fully take them in. "Quinn," Rachel said, her voice soft and nearly lost in the still air between them.
Quinn's eyes immediately locked to Rachel's, and they welled up with tears faster than Rachel had ever thought possible.
"Oh, Quinn," Rachel gasped, rushing forward to embrace the girl she had said goodbye to over and over again in her dreams for the past year. But when her arms wrapped around Quinn's shoulders, Quinn felt frail. She lacked the same softness she had once possessed, and Rachel was immediately afraid of shattering her completely. "I'm sorry," Rachel said next, stepping back and wrapping her arms around herself instead. "I hope I didn't hurt you, I…I haven't seen anyone else, umm…Risen, or what have you. This is all so new and –"
"Gross?" Quinn offered, interrupting Rachel succinctly.
The voice that had always had strong hints of raspiness in it now sounded even more so to Rachel's highly trained ears. There was a bit of gravel residing in the back of Quinn's throat, it seemed, and Rachel wanted to hear more; it was husky and not at all unpleasing, despite the implications of decomposition to Quinn's vocal cords.
"No, not gross at all," Rachel said. And truthfully, the embalmer had done an extraordinary job with Quinn's preservation. She looked just like the Quinn who had danced with them at regionals; she looked just like the Quinn who had said goodbye to Rachel before rushing home to grab her bridesmaid dress; she looked just like the Quinn who had been lowered into the ground – if a little grey around the edges.
But her eyes…they just weren't the same shade of hazel anymore.
Quinn laughed quietly at Rachel's response, believing it to be entirely false in order to protect her feelings or something. But she didn't look away from the girl standing before her.
It had been painful, these past four weeks, waiting and waiting and never having anyone come for her.
In all honesty, once she got her memories back, she had found it quite surprising that Rachel, of all people, hadn't come to see her yet. Maybe that was just wishful thinking on Quinn's part; in fact, she rationalized, there was no doubt in her still-functioning brain that it was exactly wishful thinking. Quinn had never been particularly fond of the being saved, but she had never minded when it was Rachel to her rescue.
"I'm here to take you home," Rachel said.
But Quinn certainly hadn't expected that.
"Home?" Quinn questioned, immediately thinking of her mother; a mother who obviously didn't want her anymore than any of her other family members did. "What even is home anymore?"
Rachel moved forward to sit next to her, and Quinn tilted her body away from Rachel's warmth. She knew how cold her own skin must be, and she didn't want Rachel to touch her; it would hurt too much to see the look of disgust on Rachel's face. It hadn't shown up yet, but Quinn knew it was coming. It had to be coming – she was monstrous, wasn't she? She had been dead. She had been…
"Home is with people who love you and will take care of you," Rachel replied as if it was the simplest thing in the world.
That was just like Rachel, Quinn knew, making everything effortlessly sound simple even when it absolutely was not.
"Who could love me," Quinn said. And there was no inflection hinting that it was an actual question deserving of an answer. But Rachel had an answer for Quinn – just like she always did.
"Quinn," Rachel breathed, touching her hand to the back of Quinn's cold, grey wrist. If there had been air in Quinn's throat, it would have caught tightly at the way Rachel didn't flinch or look disgusted at all. "Don't you know that I've always loved you?"
Steve had followed Rachel to the room Quinn had been in after a few minutes, and he was waiting outside the door when they emerged. But neither of them paid him any attention whatsoever before continuing down the hallway.
"I have to be honest, the way you smell, it…it was quite unexpected," Rachel said, her cheeks flushing slightly at the admission. She didn't want to seem rude, but Quinn really did smell surprisingly lovely for someone who had been underground for the past year.
Quinn tilted her head and looked downward at the side of Rachel's reddened face. "It was the gardenias," she said simply.
"What?" Rachel gasped, stopping and turning to stare fully up into Quinn's eyes. Her gaze shifted from one to the other rapidly, and Quinn's own slightly decreased motor function caused her to momentarily shift her gaze to Rachel's forehead so she could focus.
"In my casket," Quinn attempted to clarify, "there were gardenias. I guess I'm one of the lucky ones, not everyone had something decent smelling in their caskets. It's just part of the way we came back, smelling like whatever we were…buried with."
"I see," Rachel muttered, turning and walking forward again. They were just reaching the door when she stopped once more, standing in the building's threshold as she stared right up into Quinn's eyes. This time, her gaze was entirely unwavering as she said, "I put them there." The gardenias had been her last, silent attempt to say all the things she had never been able to say to Quinn in life – her last chance to tell her how terribly sorry she was and that a part of her had loved Quinn from the very beginning, even if she had done so in secret.
Quinn tilted her head and smiled and her eyes glistened in just such a way that Rachel could almost see their old color shining through. "Oh, Rachel," Quinn said sweetly, "I know you did."
And when Quinn walked out into the sunlight with her hand in the crook of Rachel's elbow, she had never felt more alive.