A/N: It's finally here, guys. The epilogue. I almost cried while writing this one, partly because I'm going to miss working on this thing :( I hope you all enjoy it!
Will was halfway through a bottle of Sam Adams when there was a knock on his apartment door. He pulled himself off the couch and opened the door to find Puck standing awkwardly in the hallway.
"Hi, Puck," Will said, frowning at his student. Puck's face was pinched, almost like he was in physical pain. "You okay?"
Puck shifted from foot to foot. "Uh…yeah, I think so."
"Come on in." Will stood aside, and Puck hesitated for a second before brushing past him. "Is, uh…is there a reason you're here?"
Puck ran his palm over his scalp in agitation, and then produced an envelope out of his back pocket. "Finn wanted me to give you this."
Will frowned, taking it from Puck and turning it over in his hands. To Mr. Schue was scrawled across the front of it. "This is your handwriting," Will said.
"I know, I, uh… I had to write it for him. It was right after he went blind."
"Oh. Right." Will studied the envelope for a second, then tore open the top. "Why don't you get yourself something to drink? Help yourself to anything but the beer." He thrust his head in the vague direction of the kitchen.
"Gimme some credit, Mr. Schue," he heard Puck mutter as he walked by.
Will pulled out the contents of the envelope, unfolding the letter and squinting a little to read Puck's messy handwriting.
I don't know exactly how long it'll be before you get this, Mr. Schue, but I just want to say thank you. Even though I never really tried to show it, I really loved being your student. And if I'm being honest (which I am, cause there's absolutely no reason to lie about anything at this point), I was thinking about going to college to be a teacher like you. I'm really, really grateful for what you did for me, and for all the other kids in Glee too. I'm not even sure you realize how much it meant. To all of us.
Yesterday you guys all wrote a song for me. I'm sorry I didn't make it through the performance, but it was really special, and I needed it. And now I figure that maybe you guys could use something similar, so I wrote one for you in return. The sheet music and lyrics are on the next page, and I already talked to Puck about playing it with you like you did with Somewhere Over The Rainbow last year.
I'm gonna stop it here because Puck's giving me a look and he thinks this sounds sappy.
"Mr. Schue? You okay, man?"
Will's head snapped up to see Puck standing in the doorway to the kitchen, holding a glass of water. "What? Yeah. I'm fine."
"Well…you're, like…crying," Puck said, shifting awkwardly.
Will brushed at his eyes hastily. "Sorry, I – I didn't notice," he stammered. He took a long breath. "Finn's gone?"
Puck nodded. "He died this afternoon."
Something flitted across Puck's face, but Will couldn't tell what it was and he decided not to question it. "Shit," was the only thing he said instead, swiping at his eyes again. "Sorry."
Puck shrugged. "We knew it was coming."
"Yeah, I guess we did."
"I don't think I'm going to school tomorrow."
Will sighed. "I don't blame you. God, rehearsal's going to be so strange now." He ran a hand through his hair. "The letter said Finn talked to you about the song?"
Puck nodded, gulping down the last of his glass of water. "Yeah. Read it; it's nice."
"I will, but…not right this second," Will said, dropping the letter and sheet music onto the coffee table. "When do you want to perform it?"
"Well, I'm guessing that Rachel and Kurt aren't going to school tomorrow either, and maybe one or two of the others, so…I guess, whenever everyone's back?"
Will nodded. "Yeah, okay. That sounds good."
Puck shifted his weight, unsure of what to do or say. For the first time since Will had met Puck, the kid looked completely and utterly lost. "Are you okay?" he asked.
Puck swallowed. "I just, uh… I thought that I was supposed to be the dude who died, you know?"
Will's brows snapped into a frown, caught off guard by Puck's statement. "What do you mean?"
"Well, it's like…in – in the movies, it's always the good guy who gets sick and dies, but…" Puck's voice cracked slightly. "—but that's not how it's supposed to go in real life, is it? Aren't the bad guys supposed to be the ones who kick the bucket?"
The realization of what exactly Puck was saying slammed into Will with all the force of a bullet train, and he put his beer down on the coffee table. "Puck," he said firmly. "Look, I've made a lot of mistakes in my life, and if there's one thing I've learned it's that fate…is completely random. It's never determined by what you've done. It's always up to chance. What happened to Finn was not the result of something anyone did – it was a freak occurrence, it was an accident. And you have nothing to do with it. Understand? You are not a bad guy."
Puck swallowed audibly, and he winced as if the action had physically pained him. "I'm, uh…I'm gonna go."
Will sighed. "Do you need a ride?"
"No, I have my truck."
Not meeting Will's eye, Puck shoved his hands into his jacket pockets and left.
Kurt sighed as he trudged down to his bedroom, a headache blooming underneath his skull. It had been a full day since the EMTs had carried Finn's body out of the house underneath a white sheet, and he'd avoided going downstairs until now. But now that he was here, it was sort of…anticlimactic. He wasn't sure what he'd been expecting, though. Crying, maybe, at seeing everything that Finn had done to the room? Whatever it was, he hadn't thought he'd feel quite this empty.
Rubbing his eyes exhaustedly (he hadn't slept in two days), Kurt went over to the fish tank and sprinkled some food into the water for the fish. "Sorry, guys," he said softly. "Looks like you belong to me now."
Mercedes swam up to the side of the tank, staring at him with wide eyes, her purple fins flowing in the water like hair.
"Don't give me that look, 'Cedes, it's not my choice either," he said, his voice cracking. He shook his head. "Not only am I talking to myself, but I'm talking to a fish as well. Wow, I need sleep."
Raking his fingers through his disheveled hair, he pulled off his clothes, turned off the light, and dropped into bed, praying for sleep. The room felt cold and vacant now that Finn was no longer in the house, though, and it unsettled him. He tossed and turned for over half an hour before rolling onto his side and just staring at the wall. His brain, desperate for something to do, began to read some of the things that Finn had scrawled on the paneling (not all of which was legible). Most of what Finn had written was nonsensical – scraps of information that meant nothing unless they were partnered with other scraps of information that were probably on the other side of the room – but a few random sentences stuck out here and there.
"There is a choice in life – one either grows or one decays."
Was that what had happened to Finn? Had he started to grow but for a number of reasons, was unable to flourish? A tree couldn't live without room to stretch, after all.
Hm. Finn's expanding IQ must have rubbed off on Kurt more than he'd realized.
"There is a larger universal reality of which we are all a part, and if you don't acknowledge that, then there is very little to live for."
At that, a lump rose in Kurt's throat. Finn had acknowledged it, and he'd died anyways. If the 'universal reality' was really that cruel, then Kurt didn't want to be a part of it.
Rachel's breath hung in the night air in front of her nose as she climbed out of her car, pink tote bag in tow. She shivered and wished that Finn was with her for the thousandth time since yesterday afternoon when she'd gotten the news. Here, in the midnight darkness of the Twin Lakes campground, Rachel had never felt so alone. She fought the urge to hum On My Own under her breath – even though it was her birthday, this was Finn's moment, and she wasn't about to cheapen it with her showbiz tendencies.
She shivered again and fumbled her way through the shadows to a picnic table by the shore of the half-frozen lake. There were no clouds and the Moon was absent, so the stars shone brightly against the black. The freezing air smelled faintly of pine needles and snow on its way down from Canada. Sitting on the picnic table bench and feeling the cold seep into her skin through her clothes, Rachel cast a nervous glance over her shoulder. The campground had been closed for the winter, and she didn't know what kind of security the place had. Her teeth chattering a little, she pulled out the pair of binoculars she'd borrowed from her dads, looking up to the sky and trying to locate Orion like Finn had shown her.
After several minutes of searching the horizon where she remembered the constellation was located, she finally recalled that stars changed positions relatively quickly (astronomy had never been a strong suit), and she scoured the rest of the sky until she spotted Orion hanging in the southern sky. Smiling and suddenly forgetting about how cold it was, she peered through the binoculars at the blank stretch of sky between Orion's stars until she spotted a feather-like brush of dark grey. Squinting through the lenses, her eyes slowly adjusted and before she knew it she was looking at a wispy cloud almost as large as the Sun. Reflexively, she gasped in amazement at just how big it was.
"I see it, Finn!" she whispered. "I see it!"
She lowered the binoculars and just stared up at the sky as the stars twinkled silently. Far out in the lake she could hear the forming ice shifting and cracking, and as her eyes adjusted to the darkness even further, more and more stars became visible until Rachel thought she was looking at an entire galaxy. Her gaze followed a path along a band of celestial cloud and she suddenly realized she was staring at the Milky Way.
"Wow…" she breathed.
Then an odd assembly of stars caught her eye close to the middle of the sky. The tiny pinpricks of light were arranged in a sort of lopsided W, and Rachel racked her brain for all the things Finn had rambled on about, trying to remember what it was. She knew this.
"Cassiopeia!" she exclaimed, relieved that she'd recalled it. Then, as she studied the seemingly random blanket of stars, other shapes began to form in her sight and the names for those shapes rushed forth from her memories of Finn's excited rants about the night sky. She could see the Dippers, Taurus the Bull, and Andromeda. Pegasus flapped its wings. Draco twisted through the sky. Cygnus stretched its arms, and the two lovers clasped hands in Gemini.
Rachel let out a shaky breath, not realizing until then that there were tears in her eyes. She sniffed, watching the stars flicker.
"I miss you," she whispered.
Will couldn't help but think that even two weeks after Finn had passed away, the club still looked worse off than it ever had before. They'd just returned from Christmas break, and they all (well, Rachel, Puck, Quinn, and Kurt mainly) looked like they'd had shitty holidays. Everyone else was just depressed in general. Will worked up the courage to address them, taking a stand in the center of the room.
"Guys, I know we've had a really hard time the past few weeks," he started, his hands in his pockets. "There's really not a lot to say other than that I want you all to know it's going to get better eventually – we just have to hold on 'til then. But Puck and I have something that might help." He beckoned to Puck, who stood up and grabbed his guitar. "After you guys wrote and performed that song for Finn, he wrote one for you."
There was a tiny ripple of murmurs amongst the other kids as Puck and Will sat with their guitars, strumming a few chords to get them in tune.
"Ready?" Will asked. Puck nodded, and the two of them began to strum their instruments, their melodies weaving in and out of one another.
"I'm a machine," Puck started, his voice smooth and soft. "And it looks like I'm running out of gasoline."
"It's not too late," Will replied. "I know there's habits that I can't break. But that's okay…"
Together, they sang, "The roads I've traveled would bend and burn, but always bring me back to you. My friends all say I've lost my way, so I'll keep on rolling through…"
Surprisingly, Mercedes was the first one to start crying, and she reached over and gripped Kurt's hand as they listened, rigid in their seats, and Will began the second verse.
"I am a dog, barking at the neighbors in the morning fog…" he sang, closing his eyes as he focused on the strings of his guitar. "Could you quiet down? I'm trying to sleep and move on to the next town."
"The people I meet and the friends I make, they treat me like I'm family," Puck cut in. "It won't be long because before dawn, I'm gonna pack my things and leave."
Rachel was the next one to start quietly crying, leaning on Kurt's shoulder. Kurt's only response was to lean his head on top of hers while maintaining his grasp on Mercedes' hand.
"I have lost," Puck sang, his voice rising slightly. "I have lost my way…"
"I have lost my way," Will echoed before sinking into the last verse. "I want to fly away…"
"But I got no wings, so I'll just walk away."
"I don't want any more…"
"I feel like I've been through this before, so long… So long."
Once again, their voices joined up to sing the final chorus. "I would like to believe I don't have to leave, but my welcome has been stayed. Don't look so sad, it's not that bad – I'll see you again some day."
Rachel reached over and wordlessly held onto Quinn's hand.
"Don't look so sad, it's not that bad. I'll see you again some day…"
A/N: Wow, it's over. I don't really know what to say, other than THANK YOU to everyone who's reviewed, favorite, alerted, and even just lurked. I hope you'll all check out the other stories in the Expect The Unexpected series, as well as my other Glee fics! As for the songs that the characters wrote, I will upload them to YouTube so you can hear them as soon as possible, and I'll post an author's note when they're up :) Thank you again, and don't forget to vote for your favorite EtU installment in my poll!