Rachel Berry couldn't stop crying.
She cried in her dressing room, forcing her to reapply her makeup over and over again until she finally gave up and wiped it all away.
She cried when she stepped on stage.
She cried when the followspot lit her up for her first monologue and stumbled her way through it.
She cried through the first song, ruining a beloved song.
She cried so much she could barely see through the tears, throwing off the blocking for every song she was in.
She cried during her scenes, during her dialogue, during her solos, during her time backstage.
It was, by far, the worst performance of her career, of her entire life even.
She knew the audience didn't spend their hard earned money to watch her cry her way through the performance.
But, she couldn't stop crying.
She would not do this.
This was not who she was.
She was Rachel Berry and she could do anything.
A deep breath was taken and the tears were forced to stop.
She gathered herself before the third act. Every mark and cue was hit perfectly. She poured every ounce of emotion she had into the scenes. Every note was hit as if it was the last song she would ever sing.
And then, it was the last song.
She sang her heart out and all the long hours of rehearsal got her through the steps as she forced herself not to cry. She dropped her head, extended her right arm, and her hand formed the "L" that everyone on Broadway knew as she sang the final word to the reprise of "Don't Stop Believin'." All the lights in the theater went out and she dropped her arm.
She never cried harder in her life at that moment.
The lights came back on.
Finn put his left arm around her shoulders and pulled her into him and she buried her face into his side.
After a few moments, she heard him speak.
"Want me to go first?"
She looked up and shook her head, tears still flowing. "No, I can do this."
Finn smiled his half smile and pulled her tighter against him.
She looked towards the audience, all of whom had risen to their feet while clapping and cheering for the cast, for her, for Finn. She wiped away tears as she patiently waited for them to quiet down and when they did she slightly shifted away from Finn.
"I'm sorry for tonight. I need to apologize to each and every one of you in the audience for my terrible-"
The audience resumed their clapping and cheering, drowning out her apology and forcing her to smile softly as she once again was forced to wait.
"Thank you. That means more to me than you can ever know." She wiped away more tears and sniffed a few times, "This is my final- No, this is our final performance here on Glee and words cannot describe what I am feeling right now. This musical means the world to us. Everyone knows that this is our story, that this is who we are. I have loved every single moment of the journey it has taken me on, from Off-Off-Broadway to this very stage and moment. I am honored and thrilled to have been able to share what we love with you and everyone else who has seen this. I hope you have enjoyed it as much as we have."
She had to pause once again as the applause and cheers restarted.
"There are too many people I need to thank, but I need to begin with my dad and daddy," She pointed at them in the front row and held back a sob, "who have done so much for me all my life. My friends," She gestured towards Kurt, Tim, Quinn, and JD in the same row, "who have laughed and cried and been there with me through all these years." She gestured behind her and a few tears escaped, "The entire cast of this musical, the ones who are on stage with me tonight and the ones that have moved on to other things. I need to-"
She couldn't hold her tears back anymore and buried herself into Finn's side again.
"Uh, like Rachel said, tonight is our last performance and I'd like to thank my mom and dad, my friends, my fellow cast mates, all of the musicians and the great behind the scenes people who do all the really hard work here."
She pulled herself away from Finn long enough to grab a few bouquets of flowers being held out to her, which she cradled up against her stomach, up against the new life it held.
"I need to thank Edward Adams, our director, cause he's been fantastic and this never would have happened without him. Oh and I really need to thank a group of people who traveled a long way to see the show. They're all the way in the back I think, but yea, they're here all the way from Lima, Ohio. They're the people who inspired this musical, Mr. Schue and New Directions!"
Rachel's face shot up to look at a smiling Finn as the audience cheered and clapped for people whom they didn't know personally but knew in spirit.
She wiped away more tears and smiled.
"Wanna say anything else?"
"There is one more person I need to thank." She looked up at Finn, "That would be my husband, the writer of this musical, and the love of my life, Finn Hudson."
She had to laugh as the audience began to chant "FIN-CHEL" over and over again. Finn had let their old nickname slip during an interview and it had taken on its own life among the fans of Glee.
They took a final bow before they walked off stage, as the audience continued to chant and applaud. They walked to their dressing rooms that stood side by side and paused outside her door.
She looked up at him. "Finn, I need a few moments alone."
He smiled at her. "Sure, no problem."
After one last look at Finn, she opened the door that had her name and a gold star on it and walked into the room. She took a seat in front of her mirror and wiped away a few final tears.
Her left arm still cradled the bouquets of flowers against her stomach, the flat stomach that would soon no longer be flat. She put the flowers down and rubbed her stomach slowly. They would have to tell their friends and family about it and it would probably be soon. She never was a patient person. Telling the public could wait, but they had agreed they would take a hiatus from Broadway. Neither of them knew for how long.
She changed out of her costume which wasn't much of a costume at all. After all, she had used clothing from her own personal wardrobe during their Off-Off-Broadway and Off-Broadway runs and assisted the costume designer in picking out her costumes on their Broadway run. No one else could really come close to her sense of style.
She returned to her seat and went through one last post performance ritual which she considered the most important. The old star pendant necklace was removed from around her neck and her wedding band was slipped off the chain. She rolled it between her thumb and index finger once to read the inscription, "Forever Yours, Faithfully" before it found its way to its rightful home on her ring finger.
Her eyes found the mirror and stared at her reflection, endlessly tracing the lines on her face while rubbing her stomach.
She eventually heard the knocking on her door.
"Rach, you okay? Can I come in?"
She heard the door open and shut then felt his arms encircle her.
"I don't know." She sighed, "I feel like I have lost a piece of myself now that I am no longer in Glee."
"I kinda know what you mean. I mean, it's been almost four years of our lives and now it's over, just like that."
"Maybe we don't have to leave?" Her voice rose as she became excited, "I mean we can just come back tomorrow! They'd never say no if we did!"
She felt him kiss her on the top of her head.
"Rach, they've already recast our roles and once you start to show there's no way you can play the part." He kissed her head again, "It's time to go."
She sighed. "You're right. It's just that I miss it already."
She saw him grin in the mirror.
"Well, after like a few years you can always come back and play Ms. Sylvester. You'd be totally awesome at it."
She rolled her eyes and looked down at her stomach again.
"You ready to come out yet? Mr. Schue has something to show us."
She looked back up. "Really?"
"Yea, just like old times."
She smiled. "Then it must be important. We should go see."
They made their way out of the inner workings of the theater and when she turned to head to the stage, Finn pulled her towards the seating area with a grin. They came out from the side entrance and she saw their friends, family, and a few cast members sitting up front in the center section of seats. She looked at the stage and saw about two dozen teenagers in a discussion amongst themselves.
"What's going on?"
Finn pointed his chin towards something behind her. "I think I'll let Mr. Schue explain. I need to go see what Brittany wanted to do with the props."
She turned around and saw Mr. Schuester walking towards her. Time had been kind to him. Grey was starting to show in his hair and his laugh lines were more pronounced, but otherwise he looked just as he did almost a decade ago.
She went to hug him. "Mr. Schue! I can't believe you're here!"
He laughed and smiled. "Please Rachel, it's William or Will. I haven't been Mr. Schue to you in years."
She smiled. "Okay, William." It didn't sound right, "Will." She shook her head twice and smiled again, "Neither of those sound right. I think you'll always be Mr. Schue to me no matter what."
Mr. Schue chuckled. "I don't know if that's a good or bad thing."
"It's a good thing and I'm sorry I haven't been back to visit more often. I haven't had much time to make it back to Lima that often."
He shook his head. "No, I understand. Broadway is a demanding and time consuming business," He looked around the theater and then back to her, "But, I always knew you'd make it."
He looked towards the seats, towards his former students.
"You guys in that first group were amazing. I don't think I've come close to having another group of kids like you." He held up his hands, "Don't get me wrong, they've all been really good kids, but you guys were something special." His head turned towards the stage, "Although, this group comes pretty close."
Rachel turned around to look at the stage. "They're a much larger group than we ever were."
"Yea, the club has had its ups and downs over the years. Last year was pretty rough, but this is an up year." Mr. Schue walked a few steps down the aisle until he was standing next to her, "We're actually here to compete at Nationals, but came in a few days early to see your final show once Finn told me about it."
"Really? That's wonderful!"
"It is and it's all thanks to Jennifer."
"The tall blonde on stage with the commanding presence."
Rachel quickly found the person Mr. Schue was describing standing in front of a semi-circle formed by the other members of New Directions. It looked as though she was describing something to them.
They were interrupted by a biting voice.
"Tighten those ponies or I will have you running one yard suicides across the entire football field! And if you think that's hard, try doing it with a medicine ball tied around your neck, with dogs chasing you!"
Rachel saw half of the girls on stage, including Jennifer, reach for their ponytails as she whipped her head around to find Sue Sylvester, wondering why the Cheerios coach would make the trip. But, all she saw were Santana, Brittany, and Quinn pointing and laughing at the girls up on stage. She returned her gaze to the stage and saw Jennifer staring daggers at the former Cheerios causing them to laugh harder.
Mr. Schue was chuckling. "I see Santana still enjoys causing trouble."
Rachel smiled and shrugged. "Santana is Santana."
They watched as Jennifer turned back around to continue the discussion with her fellow students.
"There seem to be quite a few Cheerios up there."
"Yea and we even have the head Cheerio again."
"Jennifer, I presume?"
"Yes. And like I was saying, she really saved the club. We lost a lot of members at the end of last year and wouldn't have had enough people to compete, but she showed up at auditions with all of the Cheerios." He shook his head, "I still don't know why she did it. But everyone in school wanted to join after that and here we are."
Rachel and her former teacher watched the teenagers on stage for a few moments.
"So, what do you have to show us?"
"Well, it's more what they have to show you. When Jennifer heard about who you are she pretty much demanded that they perform the Nationals' set list for you to critique them." He shrugged, "And like you, she's pretty determined when she wants something."
"Well, I'd be happy to assist New Directions in any way possible."
Mr. Schue laughed. "Somehow, I thought you'd say that." He looked towards the stage, "You guys ready yet?"
Jennifer glanced at Rachel before looking at him. "Almost Mr. Schue."
Mr. Schue turned back to her. "I guess we better get to our seats then."
Rachel walked over to the row Finn was sitting in and made her way to the center of the row to sit down next to him and Quinn. She spoke with him and their friends around her as they waited for the show to begin.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Everyone went silent and looked at Jennifer on stage, "We are New Directions and we will be performing our set list for the 2021 National Show Choir Competition."
Jennifer walked upstage and took her place within the choir.
Rachel didn't notice Brad and the Jazz Ensemble were on stage until they began to play. Brad looked exactly the same since the last time she saw him and she wondered where the Jazz Ensemble got the money to follow New Directions to across the country. The question was quickly forgotten as the singing began.
They started with "Feeling Good." A song that had Broadway roots, but the group had obviously chosen to cover the Michael Bublé version, albeit at a faster tempo. There was no lead vocalist, the males and females of New Directions switched off every few lines then came together as the song built up near the middle. Their choreography was very good. It was intricate and well rehearsed; apparently Mr. Schue had worked a lot on his choreography skills. They reminded her of the first performances she saw from Vocal Intensity. Or was it Aural Adrenaline? She quickly stopped worrying about something so trivial.
Their second song was the lead single off of Taylor Swift's comeback album. Jennifer and one of the boys took the lead solos on the love song. Swift had returned to the formula that made her a star after experimenting with more mature content which fell flat to both her fans and critics. Rachel supposed all that experimenting had improved her songwriting, since she was no longer singing about princes and fairy tales. There were no such things in the real world, no matter how much people wanted to believe in them. As she slowly played with her wedding band, she glanced over and smiled as she watched Finn nod his head and calmly play the air drums to the song's beat. Well, perhaps there were happy endings.
She returned her eyes and thoughts to the actual performance which, once again, was very good. Jennifer's voice was more than good enough for this song and the male vocalist was almost as good as her. They harmonized beautifully together, almost as well as she and Finn did, and the rest of the choir did a fine job supporting the two leads throughout the song. She was slightly disappointed to see a few mistakes in the simpler choreography after seeing the much more complex steps pulled off in their first song. But overall it was a good performance.
She smiled when she heard the beginning of their third song. It brought her all the way back to her first year in Glee. Their arrangement was much simpler than what they had performed every night. It reminded her of the song as they first performed it, backed only by a piano, a guitar, and a drum set. Even their choreography reminded her of what they did back during her sophomore year of high school. There were no complicated dance moves or intricate formations. It was just the two leads, once again Jennifer and the same boy, singing together surrounded by the other twenty two members in perfect harmony.
Just like the cast of Glee, New Directions ended up in a line as they hit the last notes to "Don't Stop Believin'." But they had their heads pointed skyward and their arms outstretched above them as if they were reaching for the stars. It was very fitting in Rachel's mind.
Just like the cast, they received cheers and a standing ovation from their audience.
Rachel looked around the seats, saw approving nods, and heard positive comments from all around her. When she looked back up at the stage she saw Jennifer staring determinately at her with her left hand on her hip, reminding Rachel of a friend. She couldn't help the smile that appeared on her face as her eyes found Quinn who returned her look with a smirk and an arched eyebrow. It looked as though Quinn was reminded of herself as well.
Rachel looked back on stage when Jennifer cleared her throat.
"I think they're waiting for your comments Rachel." She heard Mr. Schue say.
"Oh, of course. Your first number was excellent, full of energy and well choreographed. It seems you have improved greatly at that aspect Mr. Schue."
She heard him laugh. "I can't take credit for that. That was mostly Jennifer and her knowledge from the Cheerios. I will, however, take credit for the vocals."
"Then you will be sorry to hear that they were flat at some points during the song." He jokingly winced, "I realize that singing and performing a high energy dance at the same time is difficult but this is what you have chosen to do. You must make sure that you are all well rested and concentrate on your breathing because it is very important for that number."
She was happy to see Jennifer and many others on stage nod at her critiques.
"As for your second number, the vocals were very good but you had some problems with the choreography. I realize that this is not the stage you will be performing on but-"
"No," Rachel's eyes widened slightly when Jennifer cut her off, "There shouldn't have been any problems. The stage at Nationals is about the same size as this one, so you're right, we shouldn't have messed up the choreography."
The male vocalist next to her chimed in. "Come of Jen, we're all kinda tired from a day of sightseeing and you know some of us get a little nervous up on stage."
Jennifer turned to face him. "Jake, that's no excuse. We hit everything for 'Feeling Good' and mess up that simple number?" She stepped into his personal space, "And we've already performed in front of hundreds of people for Sectionals and Regionals. There's no reason for anyone to be nervous anymore."
He took away few steps away. "Whatever. Sorry for caring about the rest of the club."
Rachel didn't miss the look of pain that flashed across Jennifer's face as she turned to face the seats again and glanced over towards Quinn who only shrugged. She saw Santana in the next seat over discretely point at the two lead vocalists and then begin to make a crude gesture signifying sexual intercourse until Quinn slapped her hands down. Rachel rolled her eyes at Santana's antics and returned her gaze to the stage.
"Sorry about that Mrs. Berry. Please continue."
"Please, call me Rachel."
A smile was given in return.
"I don't actually have any comments on your third number, just that it was good. Very good."
She heard cheers come from the choir and smiled.
"Now, if you would reset yourselves to your first position, we'll see how you do a second time around."
Now all she heard were groans.
Mr. Schue spoke up. "Hey, I warned you guys about Rachel."
She felt Finn nudge her arm. "Cut them some slack Rach, they must be tired. I mean, I'm tired just from watching them dance that much."
"Absolutely not, rehearsal and practice are the worst times to be lackadaisical."
She saw Jennifer nod and Mr. Schue agreed with her. "She's right you guys. Let's get it right one time and then we can head back to the hotel." A few more groans were heard, "Okay guys-"
"Mr. Schue, if I may?"
She saw him look at her with a confused expression before he understood what she asked for and smiled.
"Sure Rachel, go ahead."
As the kids onstage slowly made their way back to the original positions, she glanced over to her left to see Quinn rolling her eyes at her. Santana and Brittany in the next seats over were tickling each other, completely ignoring the entire debate over extra practice. She turned her head to the right and saw Kurt holding hands with his longtime boyfriend in the row in front of her. She hoped one of them would pop the question soon. She looked down at the seat next to her and Finn smiled his half smile up at her before he chuckled and slightly shook his head.
She smiled brightly and looked towards New Directions.
"From the top."
A/N: I hope you guys and gals that have stuck with it have enjoyed reading this story much more than I enjoyed writing it. There were times when I wanted to off myself for being stupid enough to write this thing. Like I said all the way back in the Prologue, I wrote this story for myself. This is the story I'd want to read and I've read the entire thing over again almost every day.
I got a bit tired with reading all of the Finchel stories trying to fix what happened after the last two episodes. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy angst pieces as much as the next person but there's only so much angst I can take and frankly it was getting to be repetitive. Plus, I doubt Ryan Murphy will make things as angst filled as most of the stories here. It wouldn't surprise me at all if everything was fixed after one more kiss and a random conversation.
Also, I found out a third of the way through this story that I hate writing Rachel because I suck at capturing her voice and I love writing Santana cause she came so easily to me.
Finally, thank you to everyone who read, reviewed, alerted, and/or added this story to their favorites. I really hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I have.