Okay, so I know that I should be working on i wish i could be strong without somebody there, and I promise that I haven't given up on that story. I had every intention of working on it on the plane, but this decided that it wanted to escape instead. I don't know how I'm going to work on two stories with a new semester starting tomorrow, but I'll do my best. I hope you'll give this one a chance and let me know if you think I should continue it.

Warning: Character death (kinda sorta).


They buried her on a Tuesday. It was the end of September, just after school started. The weather was still warm and her black dress clung to her body uncomfortably. The heat hovered over all of them, wrapping them up and trying to smother them and she briefly thought that might be alright. It was wrong, all wrong. It should have been cold; it should have been dreary and dark; there should have been rain threatening to drown them. She wanted the weather to match how they all felt – lifeless and dull.

But the leaves were changing early and the life cycle continued and someone was trying to sing – was it her? – but they were choking on their sobs. A stray leaf fell in front of her and she realized that she was the one sobbing, struggling to sing.

And it just felt all wrong to her, to everyone, that they should be burying their classmate, their friend.

The casket began to lower into the ground, a deep mahogany with flowers of all colors spread out over it. There were blues and whites and yellows and reds and purples and Rachel thought about how fitting it was that the burial should be marked by the sight of all the colors of the rainbow disappearing into the stark brown earth. That she should go and take all the color with her.

Someone was speaking as the casket lowered. It was her mother, Rachel realized. And she wasn't speaking, no, she was crying out the deep sorrowful wail of a mother who has lost her child. Rachel averted her gaze, more tears forcing their way out of her eyes as she watched the woman across from her grieve and mourn and sob and curse everything.

They were all crying, the entire glee club, boys and girls alike. There were students of every grade all around her, come to lament the sudden loss of one of their own or to say good riddance or just to miss school. She wouldn't have wanted them all there, and they all knew it.

Mister Schuester beckoned towards the glee club again, his face grim. Rachel didn't know if she had it in her to sing. Her throat felt raw, like it was burning from the inside out, and her vision was blurry. Her eyes were filled to the brim with tears that couldn't escape fast enough. Her cheeks were wet and her head hurt and her heart felt like it was trying to force its way out of her chest, trying to escape.

And she sang – they all did – but it was all wrong. They couldn't seem to find each other in the music, couldn't bring their harmonies together. But they sang with everything they had in them and Rachel knew it was the most emotional they had ever been, the deepest and rawest they had ever sung anything. And it wasn't right that she wasn't singing with them.

She wiped her face and pressed on, trying to block out how wrong it was that Santana Lopez was being lowered into the ground when she should have been standing right next to Rachel Berry.

Behind her, someone sobbed. It was Brittany most likely, or perhaps Quinn. She tried to take a breathe and realized that it wasn't Brittany or Quinn sobbing; it was her.

Chapter One

"'You people talk about the living and the dead as if they were two mutually exclusive categories. As if you cannot have a river that is also a road, or a song that is also a color.'

'You can't,' said Shadow. 'Can you?'"

Neil Gaiman, American Gods

The day after the funeral, Quinn didn't come to school. But she called Rachel, of all people, late that night. She sobbed into the phone, breathless gasping sobs that tugged at Rachel's emotions and made her cry as well. They talked for what felt like hours, Quinn telling her how much she wished she been a better friend to her, had reached out more over the summer to rebuild their broken friendship. She told Rachel about New York, about reconnecting with her former best friends. She didn't say it, but Rachel could feel her thinking it, could feel it rolling off of her in waves, even through the phone: If I had been there, maybe it never would have happened. It was a ridiculous thought and Rachel said as much. Quinn came to school on Thursday, but she didn't speak to Rachel.

Brittany didn't come to school again until Friday and it was obvious that she had been forced out of bed. Her eyes were read and her hair was in a messy ponytail; her uniform was wrinkled and she had on the wrong shoes. She didn't smile, didn't even speak, even when spoken to; she just halfheartedly shrugged at anyone who tried to offer their condolences to her. Some of the cheerleaders tried to talk to her before school in the hallway, saying that they couldn't imagine losing a best friend. Brittany had walked away immediately and spent first period sitting in the choir room, a fact that Rachel only knew because she had found the girl there and gently led her to her to second period.

Mister Schuester warned them all ahead of time to be careful around Brittany, to tread lightly. He didn't need to, though, because they were all already treading lightly around everyone, drifting through school a bit mindlessly. He offered Brittany the floor, encouraging her to let her emotions out. She sobbed and walked out of the room quickly. Rachel had never seen a more heartbroken soul in her life.

Mister Schuester tried to get all of them to dance, to sing, even to speak. He said that they should perform, vent their feelings and express themselves. He told them something celebrating the life lived, not the life lost, but his voice is quiet and his words rang hollow. He didn't say her name – none of them did – and for the first time, Rachel didn't know what song to sing.

She thought for a moment of an Amy Winehouse song (she had been such a fan), but then Rachel remembered that she was gone, too. The idea was immediately dismissed.

Rachel saw Noah at Temple that weekend. It was the first time he had been there in weeks and she was surprised to see him, sitting between his mom and little sister. His expression was solemn and completely un-Noah-like. He gave her a hug afterwards, wrapping his strong arms around her and pulling her close. Rachel sank into his arms gratefully, returning the hug and trying to offer him as much comfort as she drew from him. "I don't want to lose you, too," he said suddenly and Rachel cried into his shoulder until she couldn't breathe anymore. He, too, wished he had been there to stop it and it was as ridiculous an idea as ever but she couldn't find the oxygen to tell him so.

Finn was the first one to sing. He chose a classic rock song, something he said his mother used to play after his father passed away – Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here. Puck backed him up on guitar and sang with him and for a moment, it almost seemed to help all of them. The load felt a little bit lighter, the air a little bit easier to inhale. But Finn's voice cracked during the chorus and Brittany buried her head in her hands. Puck missed a note, missed several in rapid succession, and he had to stop playing. No one pushed Finn to continue.

A couple days later, Mike performed a dance. He didn't say anything, just started dancing to a string quartet recording of Starlight by Muse. His foot slipped after a couple of minutes and he shook his head, pausing for a moment. He tried to continue, but Tina stopped the music and pulled him back to his seat. Neither of them said anything for the rest of glee.

Rachel went through her entire Barbra Streisand catalog. She found nothing.

Blaine sang Drops of Jupiter the next day. He played the piano as he performed, but he missed too many notes, seemed to forget them, and it was incomplete. He cried while he sang, poured his heart out in an unexpected way (Rachel didn't think he knew her that well). He managed to get through the whole song, a first for the glee club, his voice growing steadily louder as his emotions gripped him. Rachel clapped and wished that she could find her own song to sing.

Mercedes went next, choosing to sing TLC's Waterfalls with Artie. He rapped his verses and the two sang together, the others joining in on the chorus, which surprised the pair. It surprised Rachel, too, and she assumed it surprised all of them. Mister Schuester looked relieved, smiling at them, but it didn't reach his eyes. Afterwards, Mercedes explained that she and Santana had been talking about doing a duet of the song. It was the first time any of them had said her name out loud and Rachel looked at Brittany immediately. She hadn't joined them in singing.

It was days before any one else tried to perform anything. Rachel continued in vain to go through her music collection.

Tina was the first one to try and sing after Mercedes and Artie. She prefaced her song by explaining that she and Santana (she only just managed to say her name) had been planning to work on a new original song together. She only got through the first few lines of Cosmic Love before she broke down in tears.

Kurt stood up a few minutes after Tina had been led back to her chair. He didn't say anything for a long moment before eventually singing Send in the Clowns from "A Little Night Music." It was breathtaking and heartbreaking and Rachel cried with him as soon as he started. He was subdued, singing in a lower key than he normally would, and his voice was quiet. When the song was over, the last strains of music washing over them languidly, he told them that he only wished he had gotten to know the real Santana better. Rachel silently shared his wish.

She started listening to the radio in her car instead of her predetermined iPod playlists. She set it to scan through all the stations it could pick up, stopping when she heard something that caught her attention. Very few songs managed to grab her and the ones that did were all eventually dismissed.

Quinn sang the next day, a soft, slow version of Say a Little Prayer For You. There was no backing track or music, just Quinn. She tried to get Brittany to join her, but Brittany shook her head and sank down in her chair, watching the ground and crying. Quinn said that it was the first song she ever sang with Santana and she always associated her with the song. She also said that she did just that every day – she said a little prayer for her, for Brittany, for all of them.

When all eyes turned to Rachel next, expecting some grandiose sweeping ballad no doubt, she only shook her head and turned away. It was all too wrong.

Three weeks after the funeral, Rachel was no closer to finding a song to sing. She didn't know why. Music had always come very natural to her, even when it was something simple like choosing which song to sing. But her heart was heavy and her mind felt unorganized.

Santana had never been close to her, had spent more time torturing her than anything else. But at the end of the day, they didn't hate each other. Rachel and Santana had had their moments together, both good and bad. They often performed next to each other, in fact, and Rachel could see the sheer joy on Santana's face as she performed and it told her that maybe there was something more to the girl. And now, Rachel would never have the chance to find out.

Exactly three weeks to the day of the funeral, Rachel found herself sitting in the cemetery in the evening. The sun was setting, slowly heading towards the horizon. Dusk settled around Rachel as she settled in front of Santana Lopez's gravestone. It was beginning to darken, but Rachel didn't move. The last vestiges of light clung to her body, but she only had eyes for the ground in front of her.

The lower part of the sun slipped just below the top of the trees and Rachel shivered as a breeze blew through the cemetery. She traced her fingers across the letters engraved on the stone.

Santana Marisol Lopez

Beloved Daughter and Friend

"If only we could have been better friends," she whispered, pulling her jacket tighter around her body. The sun was almost gone now and Rachel knew she needed to leave before it got too dark to see. "Maybe things could have been different."

"Like you and me could have ever been friends," a voice said quietly from behind her. It was deep, a little raspy, and completely familiar in its tone.

Rachel whirled around and was immediately greeted with the sight of Santana Lopez. Her face was pale, almost white in the setting sunlight. Her eyes were dark against her skin and her hair was gently curled, falling around her face carefully. She was wearing the black dress she had been buried in.

Buried, Rachel remembered with a start. She raised a hand towards Santana in shock. Santana Lopez was dead, very dead, and yet there she was, standing in front of Rachel Berry in the middle of the cemetery.

Rachel fainted, seeing only black.