Here is the final installment of All the Wrong Things on Fire. We want to thank everyone who has taken the time to read, review (we really do appreciate the feedback – good, bad or indifferent), alerted and/or subscribed. It has kept us motivated through this process. We hope you enjoy!
A special thank you to our betas who were with us every step of the way. Ali and Laura, you are both simply amazing!
Disclaimer: We do not nor have ever owned or claimed to own Glee; simply our insanity.
It has been a pleasure!
Epilogue – 5 years later
He watched his daughter curiously as she laid her palm out flat, raking it over the grass that needed a good mowing. The bright child slapped her palm down and gave a squeaky little giggle that pierced the calm of the sunny afternoon in a way that made him uncomfortable. He opened his mouth to say something but he was beaten to it.
"Hey munchkin, we need to be quiet, okay? Remember our talk?" Her voice was quiet and even, just like always, and he was amazed one more time by how unruffled she always remained; it was the total opposite of him. And their daughter.
"I know, Mommy, but...it hurts when I'm quiet," she protested. She tilted her head toward him, her curly blonde ponytail drifting in the breeze. He fought the urge to tug on it like he so frequently did to get her all riled up. She'd done a good job keeping her dress clean and he knew it would be blamed on him if she got it all dirty.
Mothers of little girls are funny like that; the mother sitting with him was no exception.
He snorted a little and it drew sharp glances from both his girls. "What? Shit's funny," he replied in his most nonchalant voice.
Their eyes widened.
The little one said "Daddy, that's a naughty word!"
At the same time, her mother stood and, wiping invisible grass from her capri pants, said "Let's go for a walk. They'll be here soon so we won't need to go far." She shook her head at him and took the little girl's hand to lead her away. He tried not to laugh at the picture they painted, the carbon-copy mother and daughter strolling away. It seemed in times like this that the little girl's attitude was really the only genetic contribution he'd actually made. It was really unusual considering last time had been almost the opposite.
It wasn't long after that he caught a glimpse of last time approaching him where he still sat; she was as much opposite the other two girls as he was and he instantly relaxed as she shielded her eyes from the bright afternoon sun with her hand laid against her forehead.
"Good afternoon, Noah."
He half-squinted and half-smiled up at her. "Hi, Rachel."
"Sorry to be late." She brushed her skirt underneath her thighs and sat down next to him. "You know…I thought it would be easier after all this time and with all this…" she shrugged. "I still had to redo my makeup three times and I spent most of the morning crying."
"Well…I mean…easier than what?" He said. He propped his wrists on his knees, his posture all folded, and looked down at the headstone that was basically all that physically remained of their entire ordeal. "And who's to say when?"
"I've seen a few grief counselors and one rabbi who purported to have answers to both those questions."
"Yeah…I…." he shook his head. "I know you went about it all way different than I did."
"But was the way you did it better?" She asked in a whisper. He could feel her eyes on him; he could still feel her glance after all this time because they were always tied together—no matter how long it had been since the time they were in the same place had passed—and she would always be something special to him. There was only one other person who could really understand everything he felt for her, even if it had all just faded into just a friendly sort of chapter in their current lives. He looked over at her but didn't answer.
"You look so happy," she said. She bit her lip and looked away, and just… just beyond. She wasn't focused on anything specific, but she was just taking it all in.
He knew she had this spot memorized and he was actually pretty fucking glad he didn't live close so he didn't have it memorized, too. Of course he'd seen her here and there over the last several years, the "after" as she so frequently called it. It was mostly on Skype and in a few pictures, but he'd seen her.
"Yeah, well…so d'you." And he meant it. He took her in, his sweeping glance well-practiced at deducing someone into a category as soon as he laid eyes on them. Especially in the case of her, because he knew her so well. He'd seen her pushed beyond her limits—of joy, of sorrow…happiness, pain…and now he was seeing her after she'd bounced back; at least, as much as she ever would. "You do look kinda tired, though."
Her look at him and her dry laughter were really all the answer he needed and he ducked his head on a smile. "I just…it's like I can't get enough of anything. Sleep is right at the top of the list."
He fought the urge to smile wider. "You forget I know how you are with stuff like this."
She didn't fight the urge to smile as she bumped against his shoulder with her own. "I think Finn is wishing someone had told him."
"Eh- I'm sure he loves it all."
They looked up together at a faint noise and could see Finn walking up the path toward them, bouncing a tiny, brown-haired girl and saying something to her as he walked. Rachel's smile brightened, if that was even possible.
"Some parts more than others," she agreed.
"Yeah, well… he never really was one for early mornings." She let out a loud laugh and then pressed her hand to her mouth. He raised an eyebrow as he caught sight of the ring on her finger. "The least he coulda done is sprung for a new ring."
She looked over at him with a scowl that was just as much amused as it was irritated. "He certainly offered but…I don't know. There's something to be said for taking pieces of the past forward with you. They make the future more comfortable sometimes." She stood quickly and then reached a hand out to pull him up off the grass. (He didn't need the help. He took it anyway.)
Finn's eyes shifted away from the little girl clinging almost like a monkey to his body, his shirt gripped tightly in her tiny fists, and over to Rachel. "The next one is all yours. That was nasty."
Rachel just laughed, rolled her eyes, and reached out to take the baby, who smiled and dove for her with arms out. As she shifted the little one onto her hip, she turned back toward Puck.
"Noah Puckerman… meet Calista Faith Natalia Hudson."
His hands had found their way to his pockets immediately, but one of them came out to take her hand in his. (He knew having a daughter had changed him, all right? But really…universal appeal to women of all ages was nothing new to him.)
"God. She looks…." His eyes shifted from the baby, then to Rachel, then up to Finn. "She looks just like Caleb. Hey, Finn."
Finn nodded. "Puck." Suddenly the air thickened a little and it was like none of them could breathe easy; she needed this to be easier for all of them than it probably should be, so she cut the tension with the first lame joke she could think of.
She glanced quickly at Puck and then towards her husband then gasped. "Are you implying that my daughter looks like a boy?" Before Puck could banter in response, they were all suddenly distracted by the high-pitched squeal of a tiny tow-headed tornado barreling towards them, actually towards Rachel, with her grown carbon copy following suit. As soon as Rachel realized she was going to be the landing pad, she quickly handed Calista to Finn, who then took a cautious step backwards.
"AUNT RACHEL!" The toddler screamed as she launched herself into Rachel's crouched form and open arms with such force she nearly knocked them to the ground.
"Beth…what…what did I…tell…you?" Her mother said in between gasps when she finally caught up to her giggling daughter.
Beth looked up and widened her big green eyes and said awestruck, "Sorry mommy, but it's Aunt Rachel!" Before her mother could respond Rachel smiled, kissed the top of Beth's head, and then quickly rose to her feet, eliciting a groan of protest from the little girl.
With one hand intertwined with Beth's, Rachel extended her other. "It's okay Quinn; it is truly wonderful to finally meet you in person." Quinn smiled tightly as her eyes shifted towards Puck, who gave her a nod, before extending her hand cautiously.
"It is nice to meet you as well. I…I am sorry for Beth's behavior, she has just been so anxious…" Rachel shook her head and then crouched next to the bouncing girl.
"Please don't apologize. Beth was just excited and you know what?" Rachel said as she lowered her voice to a whisper, then redirected her gaze.
"What?" Beth asked back in the same hushed tone as if they were about to exchange a monumental secret.
Rachel glanced around quickly at the other three adults, than as her eyes glittered with mischief she said softly, "I have been just as excited to meet you!"
Beth's eyes widened even further and gasped "Really?"
Rachel nodded with a beaming smile. "But you know who was even more excited?"
Beth shook her head and her blonde curls bounced back and forth. Rachel looked up towards Finn, who had slowly started to crouch down next to them, with Calista squirming in his arms. Beth looked towards her mother first and then her father for permission, inching her tiny hand towards the baby when they both nodded.
"It's okay; you can touch her," Finn said softly, sensing her uncertainty even when she had permission.
Beth nodded and then smiled brightly when Calista gripped her finger and seemed to smile. "Daddy she likes me!" Beth beamed proudly and gently shook her finger up and down, giggling as Calista gurgled and cooed.
Puck crouched down with them and ran his hand over Calista's hair, then smile at his daughter. "Course she does munchkin…you are like the best girl in the whole world."
"Was Caleb the best boy in the whole world?" Beth asked innocently as she looked between Finn, Rachel, and Puck, who all shared the same expression (like maybe they'd just been kicked in the chest.) When they didn't reply, Quinn cleared her throat and slowly lowered herself to ground next to her confused and curious three-year-old. She steadied herself by stroking the girl's back.
"Baby, Daddy told you all about Cale—um, your brother…so…" Beth nodded and looked over her father, who was blinking fast like maybe there was something in his eye.
"I'm sorry Daddy, I didn't mean to make you sad. I…I just…you said I was just like him, so…I just…I…"the little girl stammered as the tears welled her in eyes; she didn't understand what she'd done wrong.
Puck just pulled her into a tight embrace, trying to formulate a coherent sentence and speak over the lump in his throat. "You…you are munchkin." He whispered brokenly, clinging to her like she was a lifeline. His teary eyes met Rachel's. She smiled sadly and leaned into Finn, who had wrapped his free arm around her just as like in the hospital room on this exact day five years prior.
"Maybe…maybe I should go and take Beth, so you all can have some time…" Quinn said softly as she reached for her daughter, "…this is a family thing and…we are intruding and…"
Puck shook his head and opened his mouth to speak but it was Finn's hoarse voice that echoed softly. "No…you… you aren't intruding. It's…we're…and you're…you're not…"
"Please stay," Rachel interrupted softly, yet firmly. "You…you would have been his …maybe his stepmother I guess? But either way, you're part of the family so you…please stay." She reached her hand out towards a now-crying Quinn.
"If…if you are sure, I…I feel like I know him. Puck talks about him every day, some days I forget that he isn't just living in another house, I…" She covered her mouth with a gasp and shook her head when she heard Rachel let out a soft sob. "I…I am so sorry, I…I wasn't…" Rachel nodded and then blinked, sending the tears down her face.
"I forget, too sometimes; then it hits me all over again that he isn't coming back and…" she said. She took a couple of deep breaths, then leaned over to press a kiss to Calista's soft hair. "…And then I hold my daughter and am grateful for the time I had with my little boy and…and it hurts a little less." Finn tightened his hold on Rachel's shoulder and squeezed it reassuringly as she continued speaking softly. "If…if it's any consolation, I think he would have loved you, given the opportunity."
Quinn nodded, still in shock. "Thank you. I…I can't believe you are trying to make me feel better."
Rachel shrugged with a small smile. "Well…" she looked over at Finn, communicating with her eyes. "That was kind of the purpose of this. That and a few other things."
Finn knew what she was saying and he nodded. Calista had dropped her head to his chest, though, so where he normally would've left her with her mother, he just stood. This whole thing was still just so…so unfamiliar to him, and keeping the sleepy, snuggly little girl against his chest, he thought, might make it easier for him to get even a few of the words he needed to say—words that were long overdue—off his chest. His motion when he stood up from the huddle around the grave, caught Puck's eye and he nodded off to the side, where a tree sat right along the walking pat that wasn't too far away. Puck just nodded and mumbled something to Quinn, kissing her cheek before he followed Finn. Finn had thought about squeezing Rachel's shoulder, but she was already mid-conversation with Beth and he didn't want to interrupt because he knew how much they'd both been looking forward to meeting for the first time.
Once they were sufficiently away from the girls and their conversation was private, Puck reached out and rubbed his palm over Calista's back. She pressed even further into Finn and her eyes drooped, the combination of her warm daddy and her back being rubbed just a little too strong for her to ignore.
"That's like the magic off-button," Finn joked, looking down at her.
"It really is somethin'," Puck said, continuing to rub her back. "She's just like him."
Finn sighed. "Does it suck? Rachel said no, but…but I don't think she could ever say being with her daughter sucks and…" he gave an awkward shrug. "I didn't know Caleb much in person so the only real…like…the only way I know when she's like him is 'cause you guys say and I've seen pictures."
Puck nodded. "I…it's good to know some parts of him are still around, you know? More than just what we remember, but like…like she's real. But I think if she was your son…well, it'd be different."
"I think Rachel was relieved we were going to have a girl," Finn breathed. It wasn't something they ever talked about. "Truth be told, so was I. I'm not, like…I don't know…second-guessing everything. I don't have to watch Rachel to make sure she's okay or…or whatever."
Puck nodded. "Yeah, I think I know what you mean. I mean… well…Beth wasn't…I didn't plan any of that. I can't say I really thought about it and I'm not sure I was relieved about any of the pregnant and baby bullshit. Like I was on fuckin' pins and needles the whole time, y'know?"
Finn snorted. "Understatement, dude. After…well…you already know Rachel had it rough again." He cleared his throat. "I mean, I just…I really understand how much I owe you now; for taking care of them when I…well, I totally let them down and that's on me and I just…I knew I owed you before but now I really know what it's like and you didn't have to do that but… but for whatever it's worth, thank you for doing it."
"I didn't do anything," Puck said flatly. "Nothin' you probably wouldn't have done if you woulda known anything."
"I didn't know because I didn't listen," Finn said flatly. "You didn't do just anything. You did everything. That's all there is to it, man. And then… then you let him have my name. You didn't have to do that either."
"Didja expect me to say no? I mean…she'd already made it clear where…" he looked away and then back at Finn with a shrug. "I already knew it was goin' back to how it should've been the whole time."
"Puck…" Finn sighed. "Just accept the fact that my whole family thinks you're a hero, dude. And this one?" He bounced the dozing baby gently once to make his point. "This one will think so, too. You don't really get a say in it, either."
"I'm not a hero," Puck said. He looked over at the girls, who were still chatting away even if it looked a little more intense. He slipped his hands into his pockets. "I'm just a lucky fuck-up."
"You and me both," Finn said. He cracked a small smile.
Rachel stared absently at the two men in the distance while Quinn walked Beth over to a nearby grassy area for her to play.
"Do you think they are going to be okay there, alone?" Quinn asked drawing Rachel from her thoughts.
"Oh, no, I think they are beyond bloodshed at this point. If anything I think they are on the verge of rebuilding their friendship."
Quinn sat down next to Rachel, her position mirroring hers. "And is that okay with you?" Quinn asked cautiously, quirking a brow as Rachel turned slightly to face her, "That they rebuild their relationship I mean?"
Slightly stunned, Rachel opened her mouth and closed it quickly, trying to formulate a proper response. "I…of course I want that more than anything. They were best friends before…"
"Before you?" Quinn said hotly then quickly covered her mouth with her trembling hand. "I…I am so sorry, I don't…I am not normally so adversarial." Rachel nodded slightly as she stared her curiously.
"Why are you so adversarial? I noticed it earlier when we first met and…and have I done something to cause you to dislike me?"
Quinn shook her head and lowered her gaze to the grass. "No, I…I suppose it is more of my own insecurities than an actual dislike." Rachel stilled Quinn's fingers which were haphazardly pulling at the overgrown grass.
"Is this about Noah and me because if it is, you have absolutely nothing to be concerned about. He and I are…"
"Are connected." Quinn interrupted.
"No buts, the two of you are connected in a way that I can never compete with and…and well, honestly it terrifies me." Rachel tried to respond, but Quinn continued, staring off in Puck's direction, "Beth and I love him so much and I know he loves us, but there is a piece of his heart that will always be yours and Caleb's. Beth doesn't see it yet, but he gets this wistful expression whenever he talks about you, Caleb and the life he had before…well, before and it hurts so much that I can't reach that part without seeming selfish…"She paused and met Rachel's compassionate gaze and added in a whisper, "…maybe I am simply selfish."
"No, listen, you aren't selfish, not in the slightest…" When Quinn looked away sniffing back tears, Rachel squeezed her hand and continued to speak, "…Noah loves you and you make him happy in a way that I never could."
"He loved you first." Quinn said softly wiping the fresh tears off her cheeks.
"Yes and no." When Quinn sighed Rachel laughed softly then glanced over at Beth who was catching imaginary butterflies. "I know you find this hard to believe, but, he was never happy with me."
"I do find that hard to believe given all of the stories he has told us." Quinn argued softly now watching her daughter in the distance.
"I won't lie and say we didn't have some wonderful moments together. We were raising a little boy together, a little boy that we both loved dearly, but at the same time we were constantly dealing with one crisis after another, living in chronic limbo and while yes, we developed a relationship of sorts, it was never one like what you two have. He and I didn't fit that way. I am not sure how else to explain it." Quinn let out a soft sigh and squeezed Rachel's hand.
"Yes, I…thank you. I seem to be thanking you a lot." Rachel nodded and then smiled as Beth danced in their direction.
"Well now it is my turn, thank you for giving him the family that I never could. Thank you for giving him your everything." Before Quinn could respond Beth plopped down between the two women.
"Aunt Rachel, when does Calista get to meet Caleb?" Rachel brushed off her skirt and stood, signaling Finn and Puck to rejoin them.
"Now…" As soon as Finn made his way to them Rachel lifted Calista from his arms, pausing to enjoy the feel of her daughter snuggling into her embrace, then extended her free hand towards Beth, "…are you ready to help me introduce Calista to her brother?" Beth wiped her grass covered hands and on her dress much to her mother's dismay but took Rachel's hand and followed her to the marble stone. Beth smiled at the stone and then up at Rachel who offered her a reassuring one in return. Rachel felt Finn behind her, his hands resting on her waist while his chin rested on her head. While Noah and Quinn silently stood on the other side of Beth hand in hand.
"You gonna be okay?" He whispered as Beth ran her tiny fingers across Caleb's name. She simply nodded, words escaped her. Beth was whispering something and giggling. She was talking to him. As if she noticed she was caught Beth turned towards Calista who was now sleeping in Rachel's arms then towards her Dad.
"So, Calista, this is our brother Caleb. He is almost 10 and my mommy says he is with the angels 'cause he was too special for the world, but Daddy told me we can have a piece of him in our hearts, cause well, it is the safest place ever. Now, you are a baby, so you don't know 'bout all the cool stuff he did, but I will make sure to tell you everything Daddy told me, which is a lot." She turned towards Puck and beamed when he gave her a 'thumbs up'. She straightened out her dress a bit and smiled at Quinn then back at Rachel, Calista and Finn before placing one hand on the marble stone and the other on Calista's foot (it was the closest she could reach) then said innocently, "And Caleb, this is our sister Calista…" She paused when the four adults gasped softly and Quinn knelt down next to her to correct her.
"No, let her keep going." Finn said, surprising the group, "It…it is just too confusing to explain and she…" he stopped and kissed his daughter's head, "let her finish." Puck nodded with a slight smile and then gestured for Beth who was rocking on the balls of her heels impatiently, to finish.
"Kay, so as I was sayin',"she drawled and Quinn scowled in Puck's direction.
"You know what…we…we will discuss this later." Beth looked between her parents, rolled her eyes and then with a sigh spoke.
"'kay, Caleb, this is our sister Calista, your mommy just had her and she is the cutest baby ever. I pwomise to take care of her like a big sister is s'posed to. She's gonna know all 'bout you." Beth turned to face the adults beaming. "That good? Or should I talk more?"
Puck shook his head, scooped her in his arms and put his giggling daughter on his shoulders.
"That's good lil' bit. Ready to go eat?" Beth leaned down and whispered something in her father's ear causing him to stop walking. "Ummm, Beth wanted to know if you'd have dinner with us."
"We would love to, provided it's okay with you, Quinn?" Rachel replied over her shoulder while strapping Calista into the car seat.
"Yes, I would like that very much." Quinn replied glancing around realizing they had left Beth's bag at the site. "Puck, I forgot Beth's bag. I'll…"
"No, I'll get it, Quinn." Finn interjected then pressed a quick kiss to his daughter's head and one to his wife's. "Be right back."
"Thank you, Finn; it's right next to…" Quinn trailed off when Beth started laughing hysterically. As he pulled her off his shoulders, Puck eyed his daughter warily.
"What's so funny?" he asked.
"Ffff…fiinnn and Quuiinnn rhyme!"
"Elizabeth Rachel Puckerman, you…" Quinn scolded but froze when her 3 year old stopped and hiccupped.
"What? That shit's funny!" the giggling child protested openly. Rachel and Quinn both shot a look at Puck.
"Wha…hey!" He shrugged. "She's right, okay? Nothin' wrong with being honest?"
Rachel simply shook her head with a laugh as she watched Puck and Quinn argue as they put Beth in her booster before glancing back at Calista who was sleeping peacefully.
"Okay, so got the name of the restaurant…" Finn said as he climbed into the driver's seat, pausing when he saw Rachel just staring into the distance, "Everything okay?" She smiled then leaned over and kissed his cheek softly.
"Yes, in its own really screwed up way, everything is perfect." .