Epilogue: The Afterglow

"I can't do this."

Tina can hear her own black high heels clinking across the floor as she paces back and forth in the dark. They had made it to Regionals and as much as a thrill it is, she feels sick. They are up next and Schue had put her solo on their set list. As grateful as she is, she's pretty sure she's going to puke at any given second.

Mike, who had unexpectedly grown to become one of Tina's closest friends over the past few months, is at her side. He and Brittany, and frequently any other gleek who wanted to attend, had easily joined in on her now bi-monthly Friday night hangouts with Murt and Artie. Although she appreciates the effort, he's currently doing everything short of giving her any sort of consolation right now.

"Try imagining the audience naked? Usually works for me."

She pauses in the middle of wringing her hands and fixes him with a look.

"Michael," she begins in a warning tone that tells him to tread softly. "I adore you, but you're really not helping right now."

"Just breathe, Little Grasshopper, breathe."

She crosses her arms, now biting back a smile.


He looks back at her knowingly.

"Shut up and go away?" he supplies simply, because this is definitely not the first time this has happened.

"Thank you."

He then shuffles back towards the main group with a pout on his face.

"Okay, mission failed. Who's up next?"

Kurt ignores Mike's tag-teaming fist bump and attempts to move forward in turn to try to calm her down. With a click of her tongue, Mercedes stops him and hisses towards Tina.

"Girl, I love you, but if you're seriously choosing now to wig out, I swear I'll—"

"I got it."

Puck pushes past Mercedes and heads right up to Tina, placing his hands on her shoulders to get her to stop pacing along the red curtain.

Although she's glaring, Mercedes can't help but smile a little at the sight.

Tina blinks at Puck, the stage lights trickling across her face as she looks out at the rest of them; Rachel's a few feet away, peaking through the gap in the curtain to spy at the audience, a look of terrifying hunger in her eyes. At first Tina had been afraid this solo had put her right on top of the Rachel Berry Hit-list, but a few dates and a duet later with Finn, Tina was reassured her life was no longer in danger.

She catches the gaze of Quinn, who flashes her a reassuring smile before turning back to the group, having already hugged her before they had been led to this waiting area. Maybe in another life she would've been surprised, but she knows, without a doubt, they're all equal parts of this lovely, dysfunctional family the group had steadily grown into. After Quinn had her baby, Quinn had opted to keep staying at Kurt's before her parents had finally let her come home. It had been an adjustment, but with their help, Quinn was getting her life back, maybe not the one full of chastity balls and cheerio uniforms—but a better one.

Those nights in the hospital hadn't been easy on any of them.

They had each taken turns visiting her hospital room, considering the nurses vowed it was surely a fire hazard to have all remaining 11 members and Schue and Ms. Pillsbury crammed into one room with a birthing mother.

Puck, Kurt and Tina were the ones who stayed the longest.

Kurt had helped Quinn with her Lamaze techniques even when she was flushed and sweaty and yelled at him to go away. He simply patted a cool damp rag to her forehead and told her she gets a free pass at the insults since she's pooping out a human being. Puck held Quinn's hand as their daughter was born into the world; Tina held his when they watched her being cradled away in the arms of her adoptive parents.

When he had asked her if it was weird for her, being there, she simply shook her head and smiled, asking where else would she be?

It was then he knew he couldn't really ask for much more than this.

Artie's eyes meet Tina's next and he gives her a warm smile; things were awkward at first, especially that practice when Artie kept staring disbelieving at the arm Puck had draped around Tina. He had rolled up to her after and told her pointblank he didn't understand why she was with him. When she opened her mouth to protest, he held up a hand, telling her even if he didn't understand it, that didn't mean he didn't want her to be happy. He added that if Puck so much as made one wrong move, he wouldn't hesitate in running him over. She laughed in relief and hugged him. Juggling a new relationship while trying to rebuild an old friendship definitely had been anything but easy, but they both missed being in each other's lives and a few Halo battles and jam sessions later, she felt like she was finally getting her best friend back.

Behind Artie is Finn, who pauses from drumming out his excitement on the back the wheelchair handles to flash her a goofy grin. Things were never the same between him and Quinn and Puck, but nobody could really blame him for that. Still, though, when Kurt had called Tina late that night and Puck's hand latched onto hers, yanking her out the door on the way to his truck, the first person Tina called was Finn, who, to his credit, had sprung up and rushed to his mother's station wagon, beating them to the hospital by minutes.

Puck had raced like a madman into the parking lot, skidding to a hasty stop at the hospital entrance to let Tina fly out. She ran to greet both Finn and Kurt by grasping one of each of their hands and bombarding them with a string of questions, asking if either of them had heard anything yet. Finn shook his head and remembered to call his mother to tell her where he went so she wouldn't think her car was stolen again and call Rachel, who'd lividly gouge out his eyes if he didn't.

When a nurse summoned Kurt into the delivery room, claiming Quinn was calling for him, they were the first three to camp out in the waiting room. Tina fell asleep between them, with her fingers intertwined with Puck's and her head slumped against Finn's arm. Puck had slowly reached over so he wouldn't wake her and held his free hand out to Finn in silence. Something cleared in their cloudy expressions when he shook it.

Then they split up the task of calling everyone else before they risked being skinned alive by the rest of them.

Next in line are Brittany and Santana. Santana is standing in between Matt and Brittany; one hand squeezing Brittany's in anticipation and as the other is snaked around Matt's back as she leans into him, all of them listening to the applause and mentally going over dance moves at the literal last minute.

Her attention drifts back to Puck when he tucks a now-purple streak behind her ear.

"Don't sweat it, Cohen," he murmurs, his hands sliding from her shoulders to her waist. "You've seen Vocal Adrenaline's soloist, right? He has a Jheri curl and man-boobs. Guy's a total douche."

She laughs a little and bows her head, her fingers fiddling with his shirt collar.

"Hey," he calls, placing a hand under her chin to get her to look up at him. "I'm serious, Tina. You got this. 'Leaf on the wind', remember?"

She all but bursts out into laughter.

"You're seriously quoting Serenity at me? Oh, what have I done to you?"

He scowls.

"You're the one who makes me watch that shit every weekend. I don't even—"

She puts a hand on his chest to stop him.

"I like you," she says simply, and although he rolls his eyes, she notices how he pulls her closer.

He's now smirking like he's got some little secret; he has on that look he reserves just for her, that look that makes her cheeks burn and her stomach flip, that look he's wearing when he pushes her against the wall on a whim, kissing her breathless before she can protest…

She curses herself for losing focus and guides herself back to thoughts of lyrics and melodies and not kissing Noah Puckerman.

She evidently fails, her grin genuine as her hand moves from his collar to the back of his neck to pull him in for a quick kiss in thanks anyways. At least, she intended for it to be quick. He instead reels her in, his arms snaking across her lower back and she can already feel the familiar blush creeping up her cheeks.

"Hey," a voice hisses at them.

Tina turns around, leaning her back against Puck as his arms automatically wrap around her. They're met with a death-glare from Mercedes.

"None of that ish—we're on in 30 seconds," she scolds, and they grin back at her. "The last thing we need is the judges marking us down for being creeped out by a Mohawked punk with lipstick smeared all over his face like a damned fool."

Tina holds back a laugh and rolls her eyes before exhaling once more. She disentangles herself from Puck to get into formation, accidentally bumping into Santana and Matt in the process. The first flashes her the traditional glare but soon gives into an excited grin and the latter simply nudges her back, an easygoing smirk lighting up his face. She smiles at them both, but soon enough she's staring at the curtains again, dreading what's behind it, when she feels someone lean over to squeeze her hand.

It's Rachel.

"This is going to be amazing, Tina. You're going to be amazing," she whispers, that frighteningly perfect Rachel-Berry-smile gracing her lips.

She lets go and they all take a deep breath as their club name is being announced and the curtains fly open, shining bright lights upon them, their months' worth of work lighting them up in the afterglow. Tina beams back in thanks before casting one more glance back at Puck.

This is going to be amazing, she repeats in her head.

And it was.

Again, thank you for all the love and support with this fic. I have never completed a multi-chapter fic like this before and I have never received such an incredible response for a story before, especially one for a UC couple! Thank you for joining me on this wonderful ride and as always, reviews are love, so feel free to leave me feedback—Questions? Comments? Favorite chapters? Favorite characters? Requests? Glad it's finally over? Haha.