For almost as long as there has been death, mankind has tried to find an explanation for it.
Most people, at least in Kurt Hummel’s little corner of the world, bought into the whole Judeo-Christian explanation. They believe that we are mortal because Eve did what any normal, reasonable human being would do and ate the apple, thereby basically ruining it for everyone.
Before that, the Greeks believed that the world began in chaos. Erabus appeared out of the void where death dwells. Then, miraculously, Love was born. Love brought order and light. Erabus got it on with Night, who gave birth to Ether, the heavenly light and Day. Then night alone produced Doom, Fate, Death, Sleep, and Dreams.
Every nation and empire that ever came and went had their own version of the story, their own explanation for why people died. Kurt personally thought that they were all kind of ridiculous, and each one was just as implausible as the next.
There was this one story, though, that he used to love as a little boy. It was called <i>The Toad and the Jar</i>. He liked the pictures, and his mother even did different voices for the different characters, and it was his favorite bedtime story as a child.
Looking back on it, Kurt supposed that the message was morbid if he dwelled on it for too long, but Kurt loved it. The illustrations were all soft lines and saturated color. He loved the sound of his mother’s voice as she changed it to suit the characters in the story. He loved the feel of the fabric of his mother’s dress as she pulled him onto her lap. He loved the feel of her arms around him like nothing could go wrong.
Once upon a time is the default beginning for most tales, but that beginning does not apply here, for our story starts when Time itself began, before there was Night; before there were dreams; before there was even Death Itself.
It would seem that god (that’s with a lower-case ‘g’) was busy with the whole Creation thing.
He gave Toad (that was an upper-case ‘T’) a clay jar and said: “Be careful with this. There is death inside!”
Tickled pink that someone big and important like god entrusted him, of all beings, with something so precious and valuable, Frog promised to guard the jar with his very life.
Then one day, Toad met Frog.
“Let me hold the jar of death!” Frog begged.
Toad, knowing that he was entrusted with such great responsibility and he wasn’t sure if Frog was to be trusted with such an important thing, just said “No!”
But Frog whined…and whined…and whined…and Toad finally gave in.
“You can hold it, but only for a minute!” Toad said.
In his excitement, Frog began to hop around and juggle the jar with Death inside from one foot to the other.
Frog, as Toad was about to find out, was an idiot.
“Stop!” Toad cried.
But it was too late. Frog dropped the jar, and the jar shattered to the ground.
When it broke open, Death escaped.
And that is why everyone and everything that lives must die.
When she died, it never occurred to Kurt that the reason might be because Frog dropped the jar. It was just a story, just like every other explanation for why people died.
It didn’t occur to him to blame Frog if his father had died of a heart attack last year, either.
He’d found the book again when they were packing up to move to the new house, and it was different than what he remembered. It had definitely lost its entertainment value, and although the pictures were still as bright and vivid and lush as he remembered, the appeal was completely gone. For the life of him, he couldn’t remember why he liked it so much.
Like every other myth in the world, that is just a story.
Everyone dies. It is an unpleasant fact of life. He doesn’t see a reason for needing an explanation for it, because an explanation doesn’t change that fact one iota.
Kurt just can't see how trusting a frog (who was lacking in opposable thumbs, no less) was any more or less valid explanation than a woman thinking an apple might be delicious. He is, after all, atheist for a reason.
It isn’t that Kurt was mad at god. How could you be mad at something that didn’t exist in the first place? You decay and become fertilizer and that was the end of your story.
Except when it’s not.
“I’ve got some good news and some bad news this mornin’,” Rube announced, distributing his post-its as Kiffany placed their usual breakfasts in front of them.
“The usual?” Kiffany asked, standing over their table with a pot of coffee.
“Is it ever anything but?” Roxy asked.
Kiffany shook her head.
“I want the good news first,” Daisy said, reaching for the syrup. “I always like to start things off with positivity.”
“We’re gonna get both anyway,” Roxy pointed out, taking a grateful sip of her coffee. “Either way, you’re gonna get shit upon. What difference does it make when?”
“I just prefer to soften the blow, is all. What’s wrong with that?” Daisy countered, daintily unwrapping the napkin and laying it carefully in her lap.
“Nobody asked you whether you wanted the good news first or not,” George pointed out, taking a bite of oatmeal.
“Georgia, if I wanted your opinion, I would’ve asked for it. So Rube, tell us? What glad tidings today?”
Roxy shot her a glare. “That’s for Christmas. Glad tidings is for Christmas.”
“Big job today.”
“But I wanted…” Daisy began, but was silenced by George and Roxy’s glares.
“Well, this is what you’ve got,” Rube said, passing around post-its.
Will Schuester once pulled countless all-nighters as a Spanish major, and even a few as a teacher getting grades in before the deadlines. But driving sixteen hours without so much as a ten-minute break brought new meaning to the word ‘tired.’ He’d been wiped-out before, but never so exhausted it was starting to settle into his bones. At the moment, keeping his eyes open was a Herculean effort, especially after spending the last night in the motel room with the boys, who apparently thought sleep was optional. He had lost the feeling in his ass hours ago.
“If you want to take a nap, I can drive,” Reuben Jones (Mercedes’ father) offered.
“I’m okay,” Will lied. At least, he would be fine once he got a couple of cups of coffee. After the expenses that came out of his paycheck as a consequence of the last trip to Nationals, he barely had enough to cover his rent that last month of school. Kurt’s room-service bill alone had been enough to nearly give his father another heart attack, and that wasn’t even including the cost of the ruined pillows.
Figgins, in his infinite wisdom, insisted that there be two adults of each gender for this trip to avoid any more financial set-backs, so Will held a meeting with all the Glee parents before Christmas and, Carole Hudson-Hummel, Juliana Lopez (Santana’s mother), along with Mr. Jones had volunteered.
“Fine, my ass,” Reuben said with a chuckle.
“Legally, I’m the only one who can drive this thing, sir, or otherwise, I’d take you up on your offer in a heart-beat.”
“I don’t care which one of you drives,” Juliana Lopez snapped in the seat behind him. “Just as long as we don’t get lost, comprende? And can we please stop somewhere for breakfast? My freakin’ back teeth are swimming!”
“Si señora,” Will mumbled with a roll of his eyes. Apparently, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
Of course, there wasn’t time for another stop between the venue and the hotel, but like he was going to tell her that.
He turned into The Emerald City Motor Inn, which was right next door to an establishment called Burger Round-Up, thankful to be not moving, if only for just a little while.
Big reaps, Roxy knew, were always a big pain in the ass.
She liked working on her own. She liked being able to do her own thing, to not have to listen to Mason being a fucking idiot or Daisy being fucking annoying or George just being…fucking George.
Even Rube. She loved Rube in her own way, but Goddamn that man got on her nerves.
With the big reaps, though, it meant she had to put up with everybody, and she wasn’t even getting paid for this shit.
She’d gotten two reaps: K. Hummel and A. Abrams. It was already approaching 9:30 AM and if these kids were going to make their appointments, she needed to hustle. A. Abrams’ times were both listed at 10:11 AM. The location hadn’t been listed on the post-it since Rube was taking them to their appointment (or rather, K. Hummel and A. Abrams’ appointment) and she didn’t care. All she knew was that she had a shift to get to on the force and even that was boring as fuck. She hadn’t made one damn bit of difference.
And now she was escorting the dead to their final destination, and she’d been standing in The Burger Round Up for the better part of a half an hour waiting for the goddamn reaps to show the fuck up.
She was just about to leave, make some excuse that she needed to get to her day job when she noticed a gaggle of kids and a few tired adults who had just come in.
“Alright guys!” a tired-looking man in a tired-looking sweater-vest announced. He fucking looked like Mr. Rogers. “New Directions, you have thirty minutes to eat and get back on the bus! We have to get to the venue for rehearsal!”
“Oh dear God I’m going to die of salmonella poisoning,” a blonde said as they entered. Roxy hadn’t been there before personally, but she knew there’d been reaps here in the past. “Or cholesterol poisoning. One of the two.”
“Come on Quinn, one burger’s not going to kill you,” a dark-haired giant of a girl with pale skin and glasses said in a monotone.
It was called The Burger Round-Up, and the burgers weren’t the only things that were cheesy. The whole place was decked out in a dumb-ass Western motif.
There were even bullhorns on the wall.
“I don’t think grease is good for the vocal chords,” a short brunette said. Her nametag indicated that she was Rachel Berry. “Do you think this place has Vegan options?” she asked to nobody in particular. Roxy wanted to smack her.
“I think my cholesterol went up ten points just breathing in the fumes,” a tallish impeccably dressed dark-haired boy said. According to his name tag, he was A-Schizzle Abrams. Abrams. He could be one of hers. “This can not be good for my complexion.”
“Come on guys, I’m sure they have salads or something,” another dark-haired kid, even taller than the Artie kid said. His name tag read Puckzilla. Definitely not one of her reaps. “Besides, I’m starving. I haven’t eaten in like, forever.”
“Yeah, but do they have anything Kosher?” A mowhawked kid asked. His nametag read ‘Finn.’
“Mr. Schue, this place got a C-plus on its health department report card. This place does look a little sketchy,” a large black girl complained. Her name-tag read ‘Tina.’ “Isn’t there anywhere else?”
“Guys, we don’t have time for anything else. You took an extra twenty minutes getting to the bus and this is the only thing close to the motel. Besides, we’re already here. It’s either this or starve.”
“Howdy, Partner, welcome to Burger Round-Up,” a cashier said in a bored voice. She was wearing a cowboy hat. “What can we rustle up for you today?”
“Um, do you have salads?” Quinn asked.
“As a side,” the cashier replied.
“So…I’d like a salad.”
“What kind of dressing?”
“Just vinegar,” she answered with a murderously sweet smile on her face.
“Name?” the cashier asked, rolling her eyes.
Roxy watched and waited along with the rest of her reapers from her post in one of the booths that faced the front counter, leaning against the drink machine, watching the kids, trying to figure out how best to go about her task at hand.
“Excuse me,” Daisy said, brushing a hand on Quinn’s shoulder. “Do I know you?”
“I…don’t think so…” Quinn said.
“Sorry, my mistake,” she said, grabbing a napkin from the bin. “I guess you just have one of those faces.”
“At least they all have name-tags,” Daisy said as she went back to the group. “That’s helpful.”
“Not necessarily,” Rube said. “Observe.” He nodded his head in the direction of two boys and an older woman.
“Finn, honey,” a woman said to Puckzilla. “If you and Kurt want to go stand in line for the restroom, I can get our orders.” The boys exchanged questioning glances and left.
“Just get me a salad. No cheese, or croutons…” A. Abrams said, making a face. “And <i>please</i>, no bacon-bits. Just oil and vinegar dressing on the side.”
“Dude! Bacon bits are totally the best part of the salad!” ‘Puckzilla’ said as they left for restroom.
“The Hudsons may have fabulous arteries, Finn, but the Hummel genetics aren’t so fortunate. I have a fifty percent chance of inheriting my dad’s arteries, and I am <i>not</i> going to add fuel to the fire.”
“K. Hummel. THAT’S K. Hummel, not A. Abrams?” Roxy said with a sigh, shaking her head. “So they switched! Fucking little brats.”
“Mr. Schue,” the short brunette said. The ‘A’ on her nametag was in the shape of a star, and Roxy hated this Rachel chick on the spot. “I really don’t think this kind of establishment is conducive to an optimal performance.”
“Rachel,” the haggard-looking man answered with a sigh. “We’re eating here, or we’re starving for the rest of the day. There’s no time to go anywhere else.”
“Looks like you’ve got one of your reaps, Georgia,” Daisy said.
“Fuck me,” George replied. “I don’t want her. She’s annoying! Can’t someone else take her?”
“You’re only stuck with her for a couple of hours, Peanut. Suck it up,” Rube said. She brushed between Rachel Berry and Mr. Schue.
“Well that was rude!” Rachel huffed.
“One Boss Burger with a side of Tumbleweed Tots for S. Evans!” came another bored voice over the loud speaker. A tall blonde kid bounded up to the counter.
“Oh, he’s cute!” Daisy said, making eye contact and waving at him.
S. Evans smiled shyly and almost dropped his tray as he went to find a booth. Daisy brushed up against him as he filled his drink.
“Excuse you!” a large black girl huffed when she saw it happen.
“Mercedes,” a kid in a wheelchair said, wearing a nametag that read ‘Kurt Elizabeth Hummel,’ “He’s not your boyfriend anymore. He can flirt with whoever he wants.”
“Chuck-wagon Chicken Sandwich for A. Abrams!” the voice droned again. Mercedes got it for him.
“Excuse me,” Roxy interrupted, brushing a hand on Artie’s shoulder.
The Blonde (Latina Girl had called her Brittany) was making some stupid-ass comment about little dogies and how they were supposed to only be eaten in Japan, when she noticed out of the corner of her eye that Mason tentatively approached her.
“ ‘Scuse me,” Mason asked, touching Brittany on the shoulder. “But do you have the time?”
“I can’t wear a watch,” Brittany replied. “I kept looking for the bomb because of the ticking sound.”
“Get a fucking watch, Creeper,” Latina said.
All the reaps were done except one. K. Hummel. Mr. K. Hummel was sitting at a table, picking at his salad as he fussed with his cell phone.
“Kurt, honey,” Carole said. “Call your father. I let him know we got here safe and sound, but you know how your dad is. He wants to hear from you.”
Kurt rolled his eyes. “Fine. But he does realize that I am going off to college next year, right?”
“He knows, Kurt, he knows,” Carole said, patting his arm, “but we have to ease him into these things.”
“I’ll just go outside,” he said. Kurt stepped away from the crowd and went outside so he could make the call, and Roxy finally had her chance.
She laid a hand on him as and brushed his sleeve.
He looked at her in confusion.
“Did I have something on my sleeve?”
Roxy nodded. “It’s gone now. You had a bug. Think I took care of it. Nice hat,” she said, eyes floating to the top of Kurt’s head, this one, a purple checkered fedora with a feather in the brim. “My Gramma had one just like it.”
Will had hoped that a bunch of kids full of greasy food would’ve at least piped down, but the bus was as chaotic as it had been all trip.
“Santana, sit down!” Mrs. Lopez hissed from somewhere behind him.
“Fine,” Santana said as she plopped herself down on the massive console that contained the gear-shift.
“You see who I live with?” Mrs. Lopez asked Will.
Santana dismissed her with a wave. “B’s about to blow.”
“Huh?” Will asked.
“Britt’s not feeling well. She swears she’s preggo again because she saw a stork outside her window. I saw that bird, and, frankly, it wasn’t a stork. It was a pigeon. I try to tell her not to eat the crayons anymore, but…” she threw her arms up in the air. “You know Britt. I think it was that shit-hole you took us to.”
“So, roll down your window and let her get some air and ask if anyone has a plastic bag or something!” Mrs. Lopez suggested.
“You may wanna pull over for a bit, Mr. Schue. Unless you wanna clean up barf.”
The bus hit a sudden dip in the road, causing Santana to lurch forward.
Kurt dozed, cheek mashed against messenger bag. Normally, he would obsess over the certainty that the imprints from the bag would mar his complexion, but at that point, he was too tired to care. Nobody had attempted to sleep in the North Dakota motel room the night before, and for some reason, judging from the ruckus around him, apparently he was the only one feeling tired at all.
He called his dad earlier that morning as Carole suggested to tell him they’d arrived in Seattle. He also got another text from Blaine, who was in the middle of finals at Dalton. He sent a picture of the Seattle Skyline as a response with the text:
“I’m sleepless. In Seattle. No, really. Sleep is apparently optional.”
Blaine had sent a text back:
“I thought you were Meg Ryan in this relationship? It was Hanks’ character who was sleepless in Seattle.”
Kurt’s thumbs flew over the keyboard:
“So I’m not allowed to evolve in this relationship?”
“I totally miss the eye-brow raise thing you would be doing right now if you were here."
“Eyebrows? Really? That’s the part of my anatomy you miss?”
“I’d reply with a dirty joke, but I really do have to get back to studying. Trig is calling.”
“Text me when you get done with finals today.”
He laid his head against the flat end of the bag, put his ear-buds in, pushed play on his i-pod, and tried to drown out the rest of the bus as he attempted to drift off to sleep.
He barely registered Mercedes’ phone buzzing next to him, and hardly felt the dip in the road at all.
“I’d say break a leg tomorrow, Baby-love, but you don’t need it. You’ve got this sweetheart! Knock their socks off. Love you! XOXO. P.S. Say hi to Daddy for me and make sure he stays out of trouble. ;)”</b>
Mercedes grinned at her mom’s text and was about to send a reply when the bus was jostled and the phone slipped out of her hands.
She bent down to reach for her phone, but it was just out of reach, and was about to ask Carole in the seat in front of her to kick it back towards her when a jerk sent her tumbling on the ground. She vaguely registered a cacophony of sounds that didn’t make sense, but mostly, she just heard screams, loud and piercing. There was the clinking of splintered glass as it made contact the floor of the bus. Above all, though, there was the sound of metal groaning as it began buckling in on itself.
Mercedes screamed as she was tossed like a ragdoll against the legs underneath the passenger side seats, and the back of her head throbbed.
Then it was still.
Now the only thing Mercedes could hear was the ringing in her ears.
The bus was at a halt. Mercedes couldn’t really tell if the bus had flipped, but that was the only thing that made sense.
“Daddy!” Mercedes cried out. She’d never had a panic attack before in her life, but all of a sudden she felt her line of vision growing smaller and smaller and somehow her brain didn’t get the memo that breathing was supposed to be automatic. She couldn’t remember how.
She didn’t know how long she laid there out of breath before she felt someone shaking her shoulder and heard a familiar voice calling her name.
“Mercedes!” the voice said. “Mercedes deep breaths…come on….in through the nose, out through the mouth…” she did and was at least able to slow her breathing enough so that she could open her eyes.
“Get your ass up!” Lauren. It was Lauren. Mercedes opened her eyes to see the wrestler hovering over her. She breathed as sigh of relief. “You hurt anywhere?”
“My head…” Mercedes mumbled, breathing in deep once more, she registered the sickening metallic smell of blood mingled with the noxious fumes from the fuel tank.
Then she saw it. A severed arm. A severed arm that was wearing the same sleeve Kurt was wearing that morning.
“No…oh no…nonononono” she whispered. “Kurt! I’m fine! Help him!”
Lauren just sucked in a deep breath, and didn’t answer her.
“Get up…but don’t stand up all the way.” Lauren instructed, which of course, made Mercedes look above her, and there, just inches above her head, was a ceiling of metal that was smeared with blood. She felt her breakfast fighting its way up her esophagus, and that’s what finally made her scramble towards the front of the bus. As she made her way to the front of the bus, hunched over, she saw several pairs of legs. “Help them! Why aren’t you helping them?”
“No, Lauren! They need…”
She finally stood up a few feet from the front of the door, and whatever she was about to say died in her throat, because the sight that greeted her was something out of a horror movie.
Blood. There was so much blood. It was difficult to focus on anything else.
The seat Lauren occupied only moments before with Puck had somehow been spared, but Puck was lying limp and lifeless against the window.
Blood was still gushing from the lifeless torsos of her friends. Artie and Brittany’s headless torsos were slumped against each other as their blood continued to spill, pooling in twin rivers on the floor below their seat.
Rachel’s ridiculous unicorn sweater was so bloodied she could barely see the lavender color that it used to be.
Somewhere to her right, someone was groaning.
The glance in that direction would give her nightmares for years to come. It was Sam. They weren’t…anything…anymore. but that didn’t matter. She had to do something. Help. Whether she was saying he needed help or just screaming it in her head, she didn’t know, but…
“Sam!” Mercedes screamed. “Lauren! He needs…he’s still alive! You have to help Sam!”
But then she realized why Lauren wasn’t rushing to his aid. His lower body was missing from the hips down.
There was a pained, shallow cough.
She looked up, and that’s when she saw the rest of the damage.
Quinn’s head was only inches from her feet, severed at the neck.
Mike’s upper half lying against glinting, bloodied shards of glass looked like pieces of amber in the sunlight. His brown eyes usually alive with laughter were now glossed over and empty.
And then she saw where she herself had been sitting with Kurt.
Whose body had been sliced at his shoulder blades.
She was still screaming when someone (or maybe a couple of someone’s) had to bodily drag her from the bus.
“Mercedes!” Mr. Schue called out. “Thank God!” he breathed. She grabbed his hand as he assisted her out of the bus.
“Baby!” the familiar sound of her father’s voice boomed over the throng of people outside, grounding her back to reality. She felt her father’s strong arms wrap around her as he sobbed in relief. “You’re okay?”
She could only nod her head as her father smoothed her hair and shushed her. “Hush baby, it’s okay. You’re okay. That’s all that matters.”
Her father didn’t get it. Half of her friends she’d come to call family were gone. She’d just lost her two best friends in the world. She’d never hear Kurt or Rachel laugh or sing again, or see Mike and Brittany dance. She’d never roll her eyes at Artie for being his wannabe ghetto self. She was mostly over Sam, but any grief she still felt over that relationship was replaced by the horror at the realization that he’d just died right in front of her and she couldn’t do a damn thing to help.
Sirens sounded in the distance after what seemed like an eternity, and it wasn’t until then that it registered anyone else in her immediate surroundings. Slowly but surely, though, the other people started to come into focus. She saw Mrs. Lopez holding Santana, and Tina was sitting down on the sidewalk rocking back and forth, just staring dumbfounded at the wreckage. She couldn’t see the front of her where she was standing, but Mercedes could’ve sworn that Tina’s hair was blue this morning, not red.
Finn clung to his mother who was shaking with sobs, blood spattered on the back of his t-shirt. Mercedes was only peripherally aware of the spectators that had begun to accumulate. Some had their cell phones out, taking pictures of the damage, and a few were asking if everyone was okay, but most were gawking as though it was a spectator’s sport, which made her angry as hell, but she didn’t really have any energy to yell at anyone. She was still absorbing the reality of what had happened.
A tall, stern-looking woman in a police uniform approached them.
“Who’s the driver of the bus?” she asked Finn, who pointed at Will.
“Oh God…” her teacher kept muttering over and over and over again. “I didn’t even… I couldn’t see… and then I heard all this noise all at once… and… just… c-can you tell me if… are any of the others…?”
She shook her head. “I’m sorry sir, but the EMTs haven’t found any survivors at this point.”
He ran his fingers through his hair, as his gaze remained steady on the wreckage.
“My kids… oh my God, how? H-how could this happen?”
“We were hoping you could tell us, sir.
He sucked in a breath and exhaled. “I don’t know.”
“Can you tell me a little bit about what happened before?”
“Santana was telling me Brittany was getting carsick,” he said thickly. “But beyond that, it’s a little fuzzy. M-my back was turned. My eyes were on the road. It was just… all happened so quickly and it was suddenly so loud.”
The policewoman put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “The driver of the other vehicle is also being questioned. As soon as we have the full story, you’ll have it. For now, though, we’ll need a list of the names of your group and their family’s contact information so we can notify their next of kin.”
Will nodded, dumb-struck, and handed him the list in his pocket with all the names of the New Directions members and their parent’s contact information on it.
Still in a daze, Mercedes couldn’t bring herself to look at the bus just yet, so she looked down the street. About a hundred feet away, she saw what caused the disaster: a tractor-trailer had been carrying sheets of metal, and most of the metal had spilled onto the street. She wanted to hate the driver. She wanted to yell at the idiot who was responsible for this tragedy. She wanted to scream ‘Murderer!’ at him, because that’s what he was.
But she didn’t have any energy left to hate him.
“We’ve got a live one!” Came a cry from the bus.
Carole inhaled sharply a few feet away from her.
She passed a hopeful glance to Mercedes and reached out for her hand.
“Could it…?” Carole couldn’t even bring herself to finish the thought.
Mercedes held her breath. She knew what Carole was hoping for, because she was hoping the same thing.
She saw him. She saw Kurt’s body. Still, despite that indisputable, cruel fact, she squeezed her eyes shut as the memory of the gruesome sight came unbidden. She knew it wasn’t Kurt. She knew he was dead, but still, she needed hope right now and she grasped on to the slim chance that what she had seen hadn’t been real like a lifeline.
“Oh dear God, please be Kurt, please be Kurt, please be Kurt,” was her mantra as she watched the EMTs wheel someone off the bus on a gurney. She knew who it was, though, as soon as she saw a familiar bracelet braided in the Buckeye colors.
“It’s Puck!” she shouted, and a wave of guilt crashed over her for feeling disappointed that it wasn’t Kurt.
“I’ve got to pull myself together,” Carole said, sniffling. “Oh my God…how am I… this is just….”
Finn nodded at the vans from news stations as they began to pull up. “If we don’t tell him, he’ll find out when he turns on the TV, or he’ll find out from some cop over the phone.”
“I can’t do it, Finn. It’ll break his heart and I just can’t…”
“It’s okay, Mom.”
Carole nodded and handed him her phone.
“Hey, um…Burt,” Finn started. “Yeah, it’s Finn. We’re in Seattle. Can you do me a favor?” There was a pause. “Don’t turn on the TV today okay?” Another beat of silence as Finn listened. “No…” Finn said. He swallowed. “He’s not. Something happened, Burt. We’re gonna need you to come to Seattle. There was an… an accident. No. He’s not. He didn’t…” His voice cracked and Finn swallowed. “He didn’t make it. You should get the next flight out. We…they don’t know. Call us back and let us know what flight you’re taking. We’ll meet you at the airport.”
She should’ve cried then, but the tears just wouldn’t come, not even as her father pulled her into a tight hug while Carole sobbed violently against her son’s chest.
Mercedes inhaled and the smell of blood mingled with motor oil filled her nostrils. It made her insides churn, and her half-digested breakfast christened the sidewalk.
Kurt wasn’t confused. It occurred to him that he should be. It was…odd. Mostly, it was just odd.
“I do not envy the clean-up crew today,” a man murmured standing next to him, shaking him out of his reverie. It appeared to Kurt that he was talking to nobody in particular, just standing and observing the wreckage.
Kurt was observing, too. He’d given up on trying to get Finn’s and Carole’s attention ages ago and wanted to do nothing more than hug Mercedes, who had barely missed his newly-purchased Gucci boots, but when his hand went right through her, he began to piece it together.
One minute he was sleeping, and the next, he was getting off the bus, amazed that blood hadn’t gotten all over his lucky outfit, which he’d worn specifically for the occasion.
He wanted to tell the people he loved not to worry, that he was fine. He thought his cell phone was in his pocket, but when he dug into his jeans-pocket to retrieve it, it somehow wasn’t.
A girl next to him rolled her eyes in annoyance. She was pretty, Kurt decided, but she really could use a splash of color. Professional didn’t necessarily have to mean boring, and those pumps!
“Borrow those from your grandmother, did you?” Kurt asked. He might’ve held the comment back if he was certain she would be able to hear him, but he was dead, so he must be a ghost…so…he could play fashion police as much as he wanted.
Not that being alive would’ve stopped him, but still…
“Fuck you!” she said, glaring at him.
“I’ve been telling Georgia she needs to liven things up a bit, but she just won’t listen,” a perky blonde said.
“You…you can see me?”
“How can we miss you with that bloody hat?” a dark-haired, unshaven guy with a British accent asked.
“I’m Daisy,” the blonde said, extending a hand. “Daisy Adair. This here is Georgia. That’s Mason,” she said, pointing to the British guy.
“Friend of yours?” Daisy asked, pointing to Rachel, who was currently singing Do-Re-Mi for what had to be the fiftieth time. “She does have a lovely voice.”
“Right now, I want to fucking kill that doe a dear, a female dear,” Georgia whined. “And fuck now that fucking song is stuck in my head!”
“George, that’s one of yours, right?” the old guy asked.
Georgia—George—rolled her eyes and went to drag her away from the crowd gathered around the bus. “Aaw, man! Do I have to, Rube?”
“The dead shouldn’t be kept waiting, Peanut,” he said. “Name’s Rube by the way,” he added, offering the group a smile.
“They won’t listen to me,” Rachel was saying on her way back towards where he was standing. “But that’s okay. The great ones are always ignored before they are finally recognized for their talent. I’m stopping only because if I don’t, I’ll have no voice left for the competition, but, you know, if she wants to give me the silent treatment,” Rachel said stiffly, “so be it.”
“I somehow think the competition is kind of the least of our worries now,” Kurt said.
“Santana looks so sad,” Brittany said, joining Kurt and Rachel and the strangers. “I’ve been trying to make her feel better, but she won’t listen.”
“She can’t hear you, Boo,” Artie (who’d rolled up a few minutes before) said, squeezing her hand.
“Why?” Brittany asked. “What happened?”
“Does anyone remember?” Quinn asked as she approached the small group that had begun to gather around.
“I just remember the bus dipping in the road,” Sam said, coming towards them. “After that...”
“This is quite possibly the grossest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Artie said. “Guess I’m…hey, are we dead?”
“You don’t exactly get beheaded and live through it,” Mike said.
“This isn’t fair!” Kurt yelled. Everyone glared at him.
“ ‘Course it’s not, Kid,” Rube began. “But…”
Kurt never let him finish. “I can’t die! I just can’t! My boyfriend and I were going to move in together with Rachel next year and my Dad… oh my god... he’s not going to take this well. At all.”
“It’s true,” Rachel said. “They are very co-dependent,” she told the reapers. “But Kurt, look at it this way. At least we’ll still get to move in together.”
“Somehow, that fails to sweeten the deal.”
“Wait…” Mike asked as he realized they were all walking towards a clearing. “Where are you taking us?”
“You’ll see,” he replied.
“Way to be Captain Cryptic,” Artie said. “You know…this really blows. I’m dead and I’m still stuck in this wheelchair. I knew I’d be in this chair for all eternity. I just didn’t think it’d be…for…you know…all eternity.”
“What the fuck happened to respecting your elders?” Rube retorted. “We’re here to take you where you’re supposed to go. You’ve got to get there somehow, right?”
“Artie, you know Mr. Schue said we’re not supposed to go off with strangers,” Brittany pointed out.
“Britt,” Quinn said, unable to take her eyes off of the bright lights that had appeared in the park, shining over everything like morning fog. “I don’t think Mr. Schue would… is that Heaven?”
“Don’t know,” Rube replied. “But I get the impression it’s not a bad place.”
A loud bass vibrated like thunder somewhere in the distance in the direction of the lights, and Kurt could’ve sworn he could hear the opening strains of Queen’s Under Pressure.
“It’s the terror of knowing
What this world is about
It’s watching some good friend scream
Get me out…”
“I kind of thought we’d have choirs of angels,” Sam said. “Not…uh, Queen.”
“We’d like to bring a friend out here with us…” voice that sounded like it might’ve been in the background on the phone, the soft thud of booming bass. “Give it up for Artie Abrams!”
Brittany got down in front of Artie and hugged him around his neck.
“See you on the flip-side, Brittany,” he whispered, and wheeled into the blinding blue light until he, and the light were both gone.
Then as soon as the blue lights disappeared, another one formed. This time, swelling music and a booming voice announcing: “And the winner for Best Actress in a Revival Cast for the role of Elphaba in Wicked is…Rachel Berry!”
For Sam, it was a crowd roaring as he was announced the winner of the Heisman Trophy.
For Mike, it was the sound of a Michael Jackson number.
For Quinn, it was Figgins announcing that she’d been crowned Prom Queen.
Kurt didn’t have to wonder what his lights were. He knew what he wanted the most.
He wanted to see his dad again. He wanted to find out what life had to offer him outside of Lima. He wanted to grow old with Blaine.
He stood there as he wondered what his lights would be, if they would be a Tony Awards acceptance or something else.
“So...I’m next?” Kurt asked, turning to the man who called himself Rube.
“Where’s Roxy?” George asked.
“You don’t think…” Mason asked, glancing from Kurt to Rube and then back to Kurt.
“Fucking hell,” George swore as her eyes widened with alarm when she realized what had happened.
“What?” Kurt demanded. “Feel free to fill me in any time now.”
“You seem like a bright young man,” the old man called Rube said. “What do you think?”
“I’m dead,” Kurt answered. “Like everyone else who came with us, they all died too. But then…those light things came down for everyone else. What about my turn? Is it my turn now?”
Rube shook his head.
“Come with us,” Rube said. “There’s something you oughtta see. Might make things a little clearer.”
The autopsy was quite possibly the most disgusting thing Kurt had ever witnessed, and he’d been on that bus shortly after the accident, but seeing your own body being cut open and severed…
He didn’t have anything in his stomach, but he very nearly threw up anyway right there on Daisy’s shoes.
“I used to watch those autopsy shows on TV with my dad,” he said as Daisy rubbed his back. “But that…I think I’m scarred for life…” he swallowed as he realized what he just said. “So to speak. This is supposed to help me, how, exactly?”
“Do you like to cook, Kurt?” Rube asked
“How can you even think about food while looking at…” he pointed to the bodies below. At that moment, they were switching Brittany’s head with Quinn’s, and oh dear god…he was going to be sick again.
“You ever made something really delicious,” Rube said. “Then just… dropped it all over the floor?”
“No,” Kurt said, thoroughly confused.
“You ever try to re-watch a game on TV?” Mason asked.
“No. I generally make it a point not to watch sports period.”
Daisy patted his arm. “It’s like re-wearing Versace or Steve McQueen,” she said. “As divine as the outfit might’ve been the first time wearing it, when you repeat the look, it loses the appeal.”
Kurt nodded, but he still didn’t really understand.
From the time Burt Hummel hung up the phone (or to be more accurate dropped the phone) the whole world sounded as though it were underwater.
He was drowning, and there was no way he was coming out from the under-tow. He’d just talked to Kurt not even an hour ago for Christ’s sake.
Gary Youngblood who’d worked at the shop with him since before Kurt was born had heard the phone drop on the floor with a thud.
“Yo, Burt?” Gary hollered. “Everything okay?”
No, everything was decidedly not okay.
When Gary asked what was wrong, Burt couldn’t answer, because he didn’t know.
All Burt knew was something bad had happened to Kurt, and that he needed to get on the first flight available out to Seattle.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Burt asked when Gary started turning off the lights and turning the lock on the office door.
“You realize what kinda grief I’d get from your wife if she found out I let you drive all the way to Columbus on your own in your current state?” he said grabbing Burt’s coat and keys. “I’d never hear the end of it.”
“Someone’s gotta look after the shop.”
“It’s a slow day, Burt,” Gary said with a shrug. “What are you gonna do? Fire me? Come on. You’re buyin’ lunch on the way.”
The tension in the halls of Dalton Academy was palpable as everyone prepared for finals. It was the only time in the year when the whole school was quiet and still.
Wes hated studying with the television on. It was a disruption for him, but Blaine insisted he needed the noise to concentrate. The distraction was vital to his academic success. Besides, it was MSNBC. How entertaining could <i>that</i> be?
“Isn’t that what you’re about to text Kurt for? Distraction?” Wes said with a smirk.
Blaine took a Dorito out of the bag and aimed for Wes’s head, and that’s how he happened to glance up at the television.
“This just in…” a woman droned on. “In Seattle, Washington, police are still on the scene investigating an accident that happened roughly an hour ago. Six are dead, one is injured and in unknown condition. Twelve students and four supervising adults were on their way to a singing competition from a small town in Western Ohio when sheet metal, which had loosened from the trailer hitch, literally sliced through their bus. The names of the victims have not been released out of respect for their families, who have yet to be notified.”
“Oh my God!” Blaine said, making a mad dash for his bag and rummaging through it for the phone. “Kurt…I have to call him.”
“Blaine,” Wes said. “I’m sure it’s not…”
“How many other singing competitions could there <i>be</i> in Seattle, Wes?” Blaine said, color draining from his face as his trembling fingers scrolled his contact list for Kurt’s number.
“It could be Vocal Adrenaline,” David offered.
Wes continued to watch the news report, though, as Blaine scrounged around his bag for his phone, which he’d hidden from himself so he wouldn’t be tempted to use it while he was studying.
“That’s Mr. Schuester, isn’t it?” Wes said, swallowing as the camera focused in on the group.
He called Kurt’s number and got his voicemail. “Kurt, it’s me,” he said, voice trembling. “Please…call me back. I’m watching the news and I’m really freaking out right now.”
Blaine didn’t know Mr. Schuester very well, but he’d never seen the man look so worn and sad. He watched, mesmerized, as he rambled in broken syllables about how he didn’t know what happened, and Blaine had never felt so helpless in his life.
It had been Burt’s first time on a plane and he’d never been further west than Toledo, but this wasn’t exactly how he wanted to see the country.
When his first wife died, it was hard. He remembered how final the click of the switch had sounded when the doctor finally turned off the ventilator that kept Molly breathing. He remembered how silent the room was after that awful tone sounded, signaling that her heart had stopped.
There was no wrapping his head around this.
Kurt being, well, Kurt he always worried. As a parent, that’s just part of the job, but there was that first time he came home from school with a black eye. He’d told his mother they’d called him queer and made him eat dirt, but Burt figured it was just stupid kid-stuff. He did the same thing to other boys when he was Kurt’s age, but nobody got hurt. Badly.
Then the phone-calls started. Some asshole calling him at work telling him his son was a fag and then laughing like it was the funniest thing in the world, and hanging up. There were always glares people gave him when they went grocery shopping just because Kurt had the nerve to breathe the same air.
Kurt was different, so people were afraid of him.
It was better once Kurt joined New Directions. He had friends.
And then there was that Karofsky kid.
Burt knew there was something about what went down between them that Kurt wasn’t letting on. Burt knew that whatever happened to make Kurt believe the threat Karofsky made had to have been pretty damn terrifying, and Burt was just sure something was going to happen to his kid when he came back to that damn school with those damn teachers who didn’t do a damn thing to protect his kid.
It would’ve been so much easier if it had been that Karofsky kid.
It would’ve at least made sense.
Carole had never felt so helpless in her life. She kind of hated herself for not being strong enough to make that call to Burt an hour ago. She’d never seen Finn look so…lost, and she really didn’t know how to make him feel better, because she was just as lost as he was, for all the same reasons.
Mostly, she just wished there was something she could do.
It was all just so awful. She was an ER nurse (had been for seven years) and had seen death and loss first-hand on a regular basis. A lot of long-time nurses had become callous to the grief over the years, but not Carole. She remembered how it felt when she had to bury Christopher. She couldn’t even fathom the kind of grief she’d be suffering if she had to bury Finn.
Now they were going to have to bury Kurt.
Kurt might not have been her flesh-and-blood, but that didn’t make it hurt any less. She knew that nothing was going to change the fact that Kurt was dead, that as soon as her husband landed, they’d have to go down to the police station to give a statement and sign papers and collect his things.
She grasped Finn’s big hand in hers.
“Honey… you want something to eat?” she asked. Mostly because it was the only thing she could think of to say.
Finn took his hand away, stuffed his fists in his pockets, and shook his head.
“Hi, Sweetheart,” Carole said as soon as Burt came off the Tarmac. Her eyes were blood-shot and swollen from crying. Her lip trembled, but she inhaled sharply and bit back the tears that had threatened to spill over again. “How was your flight?”
“They made me pay for a damn bottle of water. Made me pay through the damn nose for a ticket, you’d think they’d give me somethin’ besides crappy snack mix for free. I wanted a regular Coke, but you know how Kurt—“ he stopped himself short and inhaled sharply. “When can I see him?”
“We have to go to police station and sign a few papers. Then we can get a cab to the mor—to the hospital.”
“Mr. Hummel,” Will said as he approached.
“How did this happen?” Burt asked, tone low and dangerous.
“I don’t…I am so, so sorry….”
“You’re damn right you’re sorry,” Burt snarled. “Your sorry ass couldn’t protect my kid while he was at school. What the hell made me think you could keep him out of harm’s way clear across the country?!”
“Burt…” Carole soothed, but he was having none of it.
“I TRUSTED YOU TO KEEP MY BOY SAFE!” Burt shouted.
“Burt!” Carole scolded. “If you don’t calm down, we’ll get ourselves on the No-Fly list and then we’ll have to drive back to Ohio and that is not happening. Understood?”
As far as Finn Hudson was concerned, this was not happening.
They were not here. In the city morgue.
It was just too much to wrap his brain around. He couldn’t even look at Burt, and his mom just held on to both of their hands.
Finn fought the urge to pull away from her with every fiber of his being and run the hell away from there. There was no way they were going to ask him to identify Kurt’s body. Carole had already asked him to break the news to Burt, surely, somebody else could officially sign off on things like his belongings and verify what had happened.
Mr. Schue had gone to the hospital with Lauren to be with Puck, leaving the parents (who were none too happy about that prospect) to deal with the police and the Medical Examiners and sign off on personal affects.
Finn couldn’t really find fault with that. Someone needed to keep an eye on Puck until his mom could get a flight out, but after Burt exploded at his teacher at the airport, Finn got the impression that Mr. Schue just wanted an excuse to get away.
Not that Finn could blame him.
“You the people here about the bus accident kids from Ohio?” a tired Medical Examiner in bloodied scrubs asked.
“Hummel,” he said after a long while. “Kurt Hummel. I…can I see him?”
“We can’t release the body yet. We’re not yet finished with the autopsy.”
“What the hell is there to find out?” Burt growled. “A sheet of metal sliced through him. You’re telling me I can’t…” he sucked in a breath. “That I can’t…” Finn could tell that Burt’s anger was the only thing keeping him from breaking down in tears altogether. “…that I can’t say goodbye to my kid because you’ve got to test for that or somethin’?”
“Sir, we just need to verify a few things and then we can release the body and then….”
“How long’s that going to take?” Carole asked.
“I don’t know. Look, we…we’re not usually this busy,” the Medical Examiner faltered. “Your son isn’t the only one who…”
“Burt, come on, honey,” Carole urged. “It’s going to be awhile. We can give them our cell phone numbers and then go to the hotel. They’ll call us when he’s…when they’re done.”
They were about to leave when the strains of I’ll Cover You sounded from one of the bins on the shelf just above their heads.
“Damn phone has been going off all day,” the Medical Examiner griped shaking her head in annoyance. “That has to be the fiftieth time in the past hour alone.”
“That’s Kurt’s ring-tone for Blaine,” Finn said. “Oh man… nobody got in touch with him, did they?” he asked Mercedes.
“I didn’t. Did you?”
Finn shook his head, and shot a questioning glance at Carole.
“He’s in the middle of finals, Mom. He’s liable to skip out on them altogether and take the next red-eye out just to be here, and I just...it’s his senior year and if he blows his future because of this…”
“Finn, it’s all over the news,” Santana said, showing him her Twitter feed which had just exploded with hash-tags about a bus accident full of glee club kids. “He needs to hear from us.”
Finn sighed and shook his head.
“Fine,” Santana sighed. “I’ll call Kurt’s little hobbit. He already hates me anyway.”
She stepped away from the crowd and scrolled down the list of contacts to Blaine’s name.
“Hey, Blaine?” Santana said. “You need to promise me you’re not going to freak the hell out, okay?”
There was a beat.
“Fucking hell, Blaine, you just promised me you weren’t going to freak the hell out! So,” she sighed. “Shit happened, Blaine. Kurt’s kind of…unavailable to answer the phone. Oh, I so SUCK at breaking bad news. No, Kurt’s not okay.” There was a beat and then her lip trembled and her voice softened in a way that sounded completely alien to Santana’s usual tone. “Kurt’s dead, Blaine. He was one of the ones who was killed in the accident. I…” there was a long pause then. “Blaine…I need you to breathe. Is there someone there with you? Please for the love of GOD tell me you’re not by yourself right now. You’re just going to have to take a deep breath. Come on Blaine. Take a deep breath and put Wes on the phone for me, okay? Wes…yeah, stay with him. Make sure you don’t let him out of your sight until we can get back, okay? We’ll call you back as soon as we know more. I’ve gotta go now…”
“So we’ll go back to the hotel?” Carole suggested.
Burt nodded, and they left.
Finn hoped that Blaine was going to be okay, because he sure as hell didn’t know if he was going to be able to survive this himself.
Being dead, as it turned out, was such an adjustment.
Kurt wasn’t sure if he liked Rube yet, and he didn’t know quite what to make of George. How could anyone just…not give a shit about anything and pride themselves on it? Mason was an idiot, but there was something endearing about him that reminded Kurt of Finn in a lot of ways, if Finn was British and into drugs. And Daisy? Daisy was fabulous. They played fashion police on the plane ride over, and Kurt loved her ever since.
The fashion police game started as a way to help him cope with the first time it registered that he was well and truly dead and not mostly alive. Before, he could sort of detach himself from the situation. Even after seeing the autopsy, it wasn’t really his body as far as he was concerned, because there were so many pieces and yes, it was his face and his jacket and the clothes that he was wearing, but still, it wasn’t really...real yet.
But when that first person walked right through him like he was air? THAT was pretty much the most disturbing thing ever.
Even more disturbing still was not being hungry, not being tired, not needing bodily functions that were a normal part of every-day living because he was no longer corporeal. He could smell the food in the house at the moment, but it didn’t make him hungry. The night before they’d left for the airport to go to Columbus, he’d only laid down out of sheer boredom.
‘So this is what they meant when they said funerals are for the living,’ Kurt thought as he walked through the door. Carole greeted Rube with a thin, confused smile.
“Friends of the family,” Rube said. “So sorry for your loss.”
And there was another thing that took some getting used to...
Being invited in to his own house.
But then, it really wasn’t his anymore. That wasn’t his room upstairs and didn’t even know most of the people who currently occupied his house. He was kind of surprised Carole didn’t ask his new companions who they were, but he was more surprised he didn’t see his father in the small crowd.
He did, however, recognize a couple of faces though. There were some of the girls from the Cheerios talking in hushed tones in the kitchen. There were even some of his teachers there. He wasn’t surprised to see Mrs. Duval, his French teacher, talking with Mrs. Pillsbury. He would’ve been more surprised if Uncle Gary from the shop wasn’t there. He wasn’t really an uncle, but he was Kurt’s godfather, and Kurt couldn’t remember a time when Uncle Gary wasn’t around.
There were a couple of regular customers Kurt recognized from the shop and even Aunt Trisha on his mother’s side had come all the way from Arizona. She’d always sent him birthday presents, and he expected her to send a card or flowers, but he never expected to see her sobbing over a photo album with Carole, whom she’d never met before.
Mr. Weaver, his history teacher, wasn’t someone he thought he’d see here at all. Mr. Weaver gave him dirty looks whenever he commented about Hoover’s cross-dressing tendencies or the sexual orientation of former presidents and historical figures. But there he was, bawling over a bowl of Chex Mix.
It was even weirder when Mr. Weaver sat on him. When that kid walked through him at the airport it was traumatizing enough, but this? He knew he didn’t need to breathe so he wasn’t suffocating, but he felt like he might as well have been.
After that, he decided that sitting down for the duration of their stay would be a categorically bad idea.
“I still don’t get why we’re here,” Kurt said as Rube sat down with a piece of blueberry pie.
“You should taste this pie. It’s delicious.”
“I don’t have a body,” Kurt said, pointing out the obvious.
“ ‘Course not.”
“I’m dead. I can’t.”
“My point exactly. You want to savor the benefits of being alive? Feel the wind on your face? Have a bite of this spectacular blueberry pie? Seriously. It’s exquisite. Any idea who made this? Because I would love the recipe.”
“Severe weather is bad for the complexion and blueberries stain your teeth.”
“Work with me here, I’m making a point. I interacted with your stepmother because I’m undead. It’s the same reason I can enjoy the goodness of this perfect blueberry pie. When you get your new body, so will you.”
“What if I don’t want to get a new body?”
Rube just shrugged. “That is not a question you get to ask. But you’ll get a body in a couple of days.”
“Why do I have to wait?”
“Dunno,” Rube said. “It’s how it works. For now, just enjoy the wake.”
“Enjoy the wake…enjoy?” he muttered, shaking his head. Having quite enough of Rube, he decided to wander. Mr. Schue was sitting in his dad’s favorite chair, staring blankly at nothing in particular on the wall.
Coach Sylvester of all people, donning a black track-suit for the occasion, pulled up a chair next to him.
“Sue, if you’re here to make a crack about my hair or my chin or my kids…just don’t. Not today, okay?”
“William, I was just going to say that I can’t even imagine what you’re going through. I may have given you and your kids a hard time, and I might have questioned your teaching methods, your sanity and your unnatural obsession with synthetic-wool sweater vests, but you were there for me when my sister passed away, so now, let me return the favor. If there’s anything I can do for you, and I mean anything, just let me know. I don’t really pray, but if I did, you’d be on the list.”
Kurt felt awkward, watching the exchanges, and decided to venture into the den, where he found Tina and Lauren.
He’d never seen them so still or so quiet.
Santana had just plopped down on the couch next to Tina with a couple of plates of food.
“Here,” she said, handing her one.
“Th-th-thanks,” Tina stuttered.
“God, this sucks,” Santana said.
“Um…you’re s-s-s-sup-p-posed to w-w-wear black,” Tina finally managed when Santana sat down next to her.
“That stutter used to be fake,” Kurt whispered to Mason.
“Why are you whispering?” Mason asked in a mock-whisper of his own. “No one can here you.”
“What?” Santana protested. “I look nice. And besides…” she said with a sigh, “this is the one Kurt approved for our Junior Prom and I just, you know…I wanted to wear it as a tribute. Also? Drop the stutter,” Santana said. “Your cover was blown a long time ago.”
Tina turned her back and fixed her gaze on the wall.
“Hey…” Santana said, putting a hand awkwardly on her shoulder. “I’m sorry, okay?”
‘Santana? Being sensitive?’ Kurt wondered. ‘What was wrong with this picture?
“Fucking vegetables,” Santana said as she bit down contemptuously on a celery stick. “Nobody really eats them except for anorexics and porkers. We’re in mourning, people. Can we at least have some decent food, here, please?”
There. That sounded more like her.
“Seriously,” Lauren drawled. “I had to get my secret stash of Double-Stuff Oreos out of the glove-box.”
“Give it,” Santana ordered.
“Get. Your. Own,” Lauren glowered.
Santana rolled her eyes and Kurt took stock of the rest of the people in the room.
It was odd that Finn wasn’t there. Or Mercedes. Or Puck. What really surprised him, though, was that his dad was nowhere to be found.
“Do you mind?” Santana barked when Mason sat down on the couch next to her.
Mason could only eye her warily and walk away.
“She’s scary,” Mason said.
Kurt had to agree, but as much as he hated to admit it, he was going to miss her.
“Any news on Puckerman?” Santana asked Lauren.
“Puck…what the hell happened to Puck?” Kurt asked.
“They transferred him to a long-term care rehab facility in Hudson,” Lauren said. “I don’t think he’s going to be playing Rock Band any time soon, but I’ve got him beta-reading my Supernatural Wincest fic with his new-found spare time, so I call that a win. What?! Don’t judge.”
The doorbell rang again for what had to be the hundredth time, and his heart tightened a bit in his chest when Blaine appeared on the other side with his mother, Wes and David.
“Mrs. Hummel, I don’t believe we’ve formally met,” Mrs. Anderson said, offering a hand. “I’m Donna Anderson.”
“Of course! You’re Blaine’s mom. Nice to finally put a face with the voice.”
“I just wish it were under better circumstances. I…” but Carole wasn’t listening. She threw her arms around Blaine, ushering him in.
“Blaine, honey,” Carole said, ushering him in. “We’ve been so worried about you. You won’t return Finn’s or Mercedes’ calls and well…I didn’t think it was my place to…”
“I’m fine,” Blaine answered, smiling a little too brightly. “Feeling very Zen about the whole thing, actually. At least this way, we’re never going to break up, right?”
“Blaine…” Kurt whispered.
“Is that the boyfriend?” Daisy asked.
Mrs. Anderson and Carole exchanged wary looks and Wes gave Carole one that clearly said ‘See what we have to deal with?’
“Mrs. Hummel,” Wes said. “On behalf of the Warblers, I would just like to offer my deepest condolences.”
David handed her a small, square-shaped envelope. “Since not all the Warblers could be here today, we’ve recorded a message for your family. We didn’t know the rest of New Directions very well, but, well, we enjoyed the friendly rivalry, and it’s...I’m not quite sure if I’ve been able to wrap my brain around what’s happened, but our hearts go out to you and if there’s anything we can do to help…”
“Thank you,” Carole mumbled. “I…uh, I think the Glee Club is in the den if you want to join them. Most of them anyway. Not Finn,” she added bitterly.
“Where’s Finn?” Blaine asked.
“Upstairs. I can’t get him to come out of his room. He...I don’t think he wants to see anyone right now, Blaine.”
“So, I’ll go and cheer him up. He owes me a round of Mario Kart.” Blaine turned to Wes and David. “You guys okay to hang out in the den?”
Wes nodded. “Blaine,” David said, physically blocking Blaine from getting past him. “Mario Kart can wait. You are NOT going up there.”
“What? Really guys, I’m totally fine. Go ahead, Wes. I know you’ve been anxious to see Santana.”
“Don’t make me use my gavel, Blaine,” Wes warned.
“Listen to your friends dear,” Mrs. Anderson said.
“I’m going upstairs,” Kurt said, unable to watch anymore of the scene unfold.
“Do you want me to go with you?” Daisy askedd. “I can pretend like I’m looking for the bathroom.”
Kurt shook his head. “Stay here,” Kurt hissed. “And Mason?” He said, who was eyeing a silver picture frame hanging on the wall.
“That your Mum?” Mason asked.
“Don’t. Touch. Anything.” Kurt ordered.
“I’m supposed to face them how, exactly?” Finn was saying. He wasn’t shouting, but he was definitely angry. The door was closed, but one of the (few) perks of being non-corporeal was that this particular fact was irrelevant.
Mercedes was leaning against Finn’s dresser with her arms folded. Kurt could still see the tear-tracks streaked down her face and he wanted nothing more than to hug her, but he couldn’t.
He knew they weren’t all devastated over just him. He wasn’t the only one who had died that day. Rachel, Quinn, Britt, Artie…all of them…they were all wonderful, talented people and their lives had been cut brutally short just like his, but more than anything, he just wanted to tell them that they were all okay, that he was okay.
Although he knew it would fall on deaf ears.
So he just listened.
“What are you going to do in a week when we have to go back to school? You can’t stay holed up in here forever.”
“My brother’s gone, Mercedes. All of them… they died right in front of me and I couldn’t do a damn thing to help them and you want me to just deal? I don’t think I can do that. And I just…just leave me alone, okay?”
“Damn, Finn,” Mercedes said. “I always thought you were a fool, but I never thought you were a coward. You’re our Captain , Finn. Start acting like it. We need leadership right now, because Lord knows Mr. Schue isn’t gonna step up to the plate. You need to decide. Are you gonna step up or are you just gonna check out? I know you’re hurting. Well,” she faltered as she sniffled, “newsflash. So’m I. Kurt would kick your ass right now if he knew you were treating your everyone like this. Especially your mom.”
“Like what?” Kurt asked, knowing nobody would answer. “What’ve you been doing to Carole?”
“After she made me make that call…I dunno…I know I offered to do it, but I needed her to be the adult and take care of it, and she just...I’m just so mad, Mercedes.”
He started sobbing in earnest and Mercedes wrapped her arms around him. “It’s okay to be mad, Finn. It’s hard for everyone. But we’ve got to be here for each other now more than ever. Because right now, we’re all we’ve got. And don’t take this out on your mom. She needs you, too.”
“I can’t face her. Or Burt. I think he’s mad at me for being the one to survive. And I just…” Finn sniffled and his body started shaking in silent sobs again, but Mercedes held him tighter. “You’re right though. He’d totally bitch me out.”
“Yes, I would,” Kurt said, glad to know that Mercedes was looking out for his family.
“What the hell are you doing upstairs, Mason?” Kurt hissed as soon as he saw Mason heading out of his bedroom door.
“I swiped your i-pod,” Mason bragged.
Whatever Kurt was going to say was interrupted by the sound of the doorbell ringing.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Carole was yelling from downstairs, and Kurt ran to see what the commotion was about.
“I told him it was a bad idea, Mrs. Hummel,” a voice Kurt couldn’t quite recognize said hastily. “I’m sorry, we’ll just…”
Kurt couldn’t exactly say why he was surprised to see Dave Karofsky in the doorway with his father, but he was.
“I just…I wanted to pay my respects,” Karofsky muttered.
“That was what the funeral was for,” Carole said. “After all you’ve put this family through, you have the nerve to show up here…I think…”
But Carole didn’t have a chance to finish her sentence.
“Dave!” Blaine crowed. “Good to see you!” He said.
Then, Blaine balled his hand in a fist, and punched him. Hard. Square in the nose.
“Been wanting to do that for a really long time,” Blaine said with a stupid grin on his face, shaking off the pain that must’ve radiated in his hand. “Of course, maybe I should be thanking you. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have met Kurt in the first place. But then again, if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be in such unbearable pain right now I can’t even deal with it and if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t know what I’m missing more than anything right now, and…and…” Blaine crumbled into sobs finally, and Carole wrapped her arms around him, shushing him.
Kurt wished he could do the same as Mr. Karofsky awkwardly apologized for his son and left with him.
“This is supposed to help?” Kurt exploded at Rube. “This is torture . I can’t just stand by and watch the people I love in pain like this. I have to do something. There is no way I’m leaving here without letting them know I’m okay.”
“It’s against the rules, kid,” Rube said. “We have to stay dead to the living.”
“Did you all have to attend your own funerals?” Kurt asked. “How did you all stand it?”
“I spelled my mother’s least favorite word on the fridge,” said George, who’d finally emerged from the buffet table. “Good times.”
“Don’t listen to Peanut,” Rube said. “This one here should really be the poster-child for how NOT to be a reaper she broke that rule so often.”
“Fuck you, Rube,” George said.
“Generally, rules and I get along,” Kurt said, looking frantically around for something, anything that he could do to let them know he was here. “I operate under the assumption that they are there for a reason and I fail miserably at being sneaky. I vomited all over a fabulous pair of kitten heels that belonged to Ms. Pillsbury the one time I got falling-down drunk my sophomore year and I promised myself I’d never do that again. My one attempt at rebel-dom resulted in a rousing rendition of U Can’t Touch This in the library of my high school, and when my boyfriend and I first met, I was spying on his school and, to quote Blaine, ‘I stuck out like a sore thumb.’ It doesn’t go well for me when I don’t stick to the rules, so I stay in line, but this time? This time…I don’t have a body so I don’t really care what the consequences are. I have to do something. Can’t you just tell them I’m okay? That I’m here?”
Rube just shook his head.
“That moving the letters on the fridge thing,” Kurt said, turning to George. “How’s that possible? Did you have a body already?”
“No,” George replied with a shrug.
“How’d you manage it?”
George just shrugged again. “Just sort of…you know…made it happen.”
“Like a Jedi-Mind Trick,” Mason said.
Kurt rolled his eyes, but whipped around and made a beeline for the door in the kitchen that lead to the garage where he heard soft music playing. He still had to close his eyes as he went through the door to the Garage, because it was still way too weird.
It was pitch black, and the only light was from the soft blue glow of a radio-clock. He could just barely make out the form of his dad, hunched over a work-table. He could hear the crack-hiss of a bottle opening and the clink of a cap as it fell on the floor.
Paul McCartney’s voice rang out from a small boom box his dad kept in the garage.
Don’t make it bad
Take a sad song
And make it better…”
The door opened and Finn was in the doorway, looking extremely uncomfortable.
“Mom’s been wondering where you are,” Finn mumbled.
Burt nodded and took a swig of the beer he’d apparently been nursing.
“Look, I know you’re not twenty-one yet and I have a feeling your mom would have my ass in a sling for this, and don’t expect this to be a regular thing or anything, but I know what I did when I was your age and I know I was younger than twenty-one when I had my first beer, so…want one?”
Finn nodded and Burt bent over and handed Finn one from the cooler and popped it open.
“Thought you were hidin’ out in your room,” Burt said.
“I was,” Finn said taking a sip. “Mercedes kind of kicked my ass.”
“Good girl,” Burt said with a grin. There was a long pause. “What was he doing when he…when it happened?”
Finn let out a shaky sigh. “Sleeping,” Finn said. “I don’t think he felt anything.”
“Good,” Burt said, still not able to look him in the eye. “His mom…she was so out of it by the time we finally pulled the plug that she didn’t feel anything either. They had her on all these drugs and she’d forgotten who I was, and that was bad enough but when she finally she forgot who he was that…that was a hard day. Then this song came on the radio and I dunno, it made it easier somehow. But now I hear it, and it’s just so damn empty now, you know? God, Finn, everything’s just so goddamn…empty.”
Finn was silent for a long moment, looking awkwardly at the floor.
“When you were in the hospital, he sang I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” Finn said, unable to look Burt in the eye. “He told us about the time you made chicken that first Friday night after his mom died.”
“Oh my god,” Burt said, shaking his head. “I can’t believe he remembered that. It was rough…those first few weeks, and it was just me and him and I sure as hell didn’t know what I was doing. I knew how to be a dad, but I didn’t know what to do with Kurt because it was mostly Molly who handled everything…” Burt trailed off again. “I don’t know if I can do it again, Finn…figure things out again."
“So…we’ll figure it out,” Finn said. “Eventually.”
This wasn’t helping. He wasn’t feeling better, he was feeling worse.
“I have to get out of here,” Kurt announced, heading for the front door. “I can’t take it anymore.”
“But they’re just about to put out a new thing of potato salad!” George whined. “The mustard kind!”
“Don’t care. I’m leaving.”
And he did.
The Reapers could only follow.
* * *
Finn expected things to change when he came back to school that first day after the accident, but he hadn’t expected the stares.
He hated it.
He was used to attention; that was what being the quarterback meant. People knew who you were and cleared out of your way in the hall as you passed. But now, it wasn’t because of his position on the team, it was because of what happened. He wasn’t someone to be admired anymore. He was someone to be pitied.
He tried to get on with the day, find a rhythm in the new routine, but every time someone else shot him a glance, he couldn’t.
Their ghosts were everywhere. There were so many graves that were dug far too early, and all Finn could do was shake his fist at the sky and scream ‘Why?’ at the top of his lungs.
Going home after the accident was hard, but there, it was just Kurt’s memory to deal with. He could still smell the mixture of Kurt’s hair and skin-care products when he walked past his old room, which he still couldn’t pass by without peeking in, even a week after the funeral, just on the off-chance that Kurt was still there, that this had all been some kind of long, drawn-out horrible nightmare.
But this was one nightmare that wasn’t ending any time in the foreseeable future, and for the first time in his life, Finn understood why Kurt never believed in God.
Figgins had given the surviving Glee members (as well as Mr. Schue) a week off from classes so they could attend funerals, but he had to go back and finish the year, although he didn’t really see the point in doing so.
People who were smarter than him, people with more talent than him, people with more dedication than him—people like Rachel and Kurt—had put everything they had into honing their talent and getting good grades so they could go places in life, and where had it gotten them?
Six feet under.
Finn thought he saw Mike at one point walking by on his way to Spanish class the day before. He’d known it was impossible. He’d been to Mike’s funeral. He’d been to all their funerals, but still, when he wasn’t in his usual seat in Spanish, it was a tough blow.
He wasn’t sure, but he could’ve sworn he saw Quinn sitting in the bleachers one night when he took to the field to kick the ball around for some space to think.
Once, he thought he heard Rachel’s voice.
He knew he wasn’t crazy. Rationally, he knew that he was seeing those things because he wanted to see them so badly, and each time Finn almost convinced himself it was going to be okay, that things were going to be back to normal, something would send him reeling all over again.
None of them were ever coming back, and it was finally hitting home.
Going back to the choir room that first time had been the hardest, though. It was supposed to be loud and joyous, but that first day back, it was like another visitation. Only, this time, they weren’t paying their last respects to the individuals or consoling their family members, they were preparing a final farewell to the group as a whole.
Finn let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding as he entered the choir room for the first time. Brad the Accompanist was at the piano bench waiting for them, and although his expression was neutral, Finn thought he wanted to say something, but didn’t quite know what would be appropriate.
There had been a lot of that this week…of people not knowing what to say. Finals were over at Dalton (not that he’d been able to concentrate on them), and that’s how Blaine was sitting one seat over from Tina, but neither seemed aware that the other was in the room. He had shaved and his hair was gelled back, but he didn’t seem like himself at all. He was so still and so…disconnected from the world that Finn wondered if he’d even noticed that he was in the room. Finn put a hand on his shoulder and engulfed him in a bear hug.
“I can’t believe it’s only been a week,” Blaine said finally. “I can’t even imagine what it’s like for you guys. You were there." He paused and shook his head as if to expel images. "How’s Mr. Hummel doing?”
“He won’t leave Kurt’s room unless my mom makes him. She tried to get him into counseling, or at least find him a support group, but…” he trailed off, and waved his arms dismissively.
“It’s so weird. Being here without him. He’s your brother, Finn. Of course it’s appropriate for you to sing at the memorial service, but I don’t even go here. I’m not…you guys are a family, and I’m just…”
“Hey, Blaine…” Finn began. “We’re kind of down by over half. We need all the voices up there we can get at the service in a couple of days, and as far as I’m concerned, you might still be at Dalton, but that’s just a technicality. You’re one of us, man. It wouldn’t be right if you weren’t here. And by the way, just so you know, if you miss another Friday Night Dinner, my mom’s gonna be pissed.”
Tina wouldn’t look up from the spot she had fixated on near her feet. Mercedes walked in, took her usual seat, glanced around the room and then moved away from the crowd off by herself. Santana stormed in next, rolled her eyes and sat down on the opposite side of the room from Mercedes.
Lauren showed up last. “This is so freaking awkward,” she drawled.
Finally, Mr. Schue entered, looking, weary and lost and…old. Emma Pillsbury trailed closely behind him, looking for the first time like she didn’t belong.
It was a good five minutes before Mr. Schue could even open his mouth to speak. Under the circumstances, Finn understood why Ms. Pillsbury was there to address the group, but it seemed wrong somehow.
“First, let me just say thank you,” he began, his voice shaking, unable to look any of them in the eye. “All of you. Being back here, in this room, after all that hap…happened” he sucked in a deep breath and let it out again to regain composure. “It’s not…easy. But we’re a family. So thank you. I know this is difficult. I uh… I don’t know what else to say.”
“So…” Mrs. Pillsbury began awkwardly. “I know this must be an extremely difficult time for all of you and I just want to start by telling you how unbelievably sorry I am that this happened. I’m here to comfort you guys, but honestly, I’m at a loss. I wasn’t there. I don’t know what it was like. I haven’t shared your experience. The pain is so clearly written on the faces of every single one of you, and I just want you all to know that…”
“That what?” Santana snapped. “That it’ll get better? That time heals all? Listen, Bambi, I know you’re here to spout some kind of lovey-dovey Dr. Feelgood bullshit…”
“Santana, that’s enough!” Mr. Schue demanded.
“Let her finish, Will. She needs to let it out.” Ms. Pillsbury said.
“Nothing you can say is going to change what happened. Nothing you can say is going to bring them back. Brittany was the one who helped me. Brittany was the one who made me feel better. Now she’s gone. What am I supposed to do now?” She trained her icy glare on Mr. Schue. “And if you say ‘sing about it’ I am out of here so fast your head’s going to spin.”
“Nobody’s forcing you to stay,” Finn said.
Santana got up, folded her arms, narrowed her eyes at Finn, started to say something, but turned around and marched out.
“Santana!” Mr. Schue called after her, but she wasn’t having it.
“Someone should go after her,” Ms. Pillsbury suggested, scanning the remaining members of New Directions now for volunteers.
“She doesn’t want to be here, we’re not going to force her,” Mercedes said.
Lauren rolled her eyes and got up, headed for the door. “I can handle her. She’s gone all Lima Heights Adjacent on me before and I’ll just toss her against the lockers again if I have to.”
“What do we do now?” Mercedes asked when Lauren left.
Finn had no clue, but somehow he knew Mercedes wasn’t just talking about the next five minutes, because the same question was ringing in his head, too.
Mercedes sucked in a deep breath, and let it out shakily.
‘Come on, girl, pull yourself together,’ she told herself as she stood in line with Tina, Finn, Lauren, Santana, and Blaine. Well, at least she thought she told herself to pull it together, but then Blaine’s arms were around her, and any composure she had dissolved completely.
“It’s supposed to get easier,” she said through choked sobs into his shoulder. “I’ve already said my goodbyes. It should be easier.”
“I don’t want it to get easier,” Blaine said. “Because when it gets easier, that means I’m starting to forget him…them…and…I…that’s…”
Mercedes sobbed harder, and he just kept rubbing circles on her back until she quieted.
“How are you holding up?” she asked after a little while.
“I’m still hoping it’s a nightmare I’m going to wake up from any minute now,” he said. “What about you?”
She knew that this was for everyone else, and not for them, and that made her angry. Nobody knew Kurt. They didn’t want to know him. Or Rachel, either. And she was expected to say something, sing something, to help them heal.
But what exactly were they healing from? It’s not like any of those people had lost their best friends, the people they thought of as family.
So she was a bit bewildered as to why the auditorium was packed to capacity, each pair of eyes red from crying, and everyone, teachers and students, huddled together, hugging each other and leaning on one another for support.
They had no right.
“Students, faculty, and staff members of McKinley High,” Figgins began. “It is with great sadness that we gather here today to honor the students whose lives were lost a week ago. The remaining students of New Directions would like to present a tribute to their memory.”
“Before we start,” Mercedes said. “I’d like to say a few words.” It was more of a question than a statement, but nobody was going to tell her ‘no’ today.
“We’re all here to say good bye to Artie Abrams, Brittany Pierce, Sam Evans, Mike Chang, Quinn Fabray, Rachel Berry…” she stole a glance over at Blaine. “And Kurt Hummel. It’s a horrible tragedy what happened, but the real tragedy is how you treated most of those people when they were still with us. Most of you guys probably thought of Brittany as a dumb slut. Artie to most of you was Wheelchair Kid. Mike was the Asian. Sam was the bleach-blonde jock for most of you, and Kurt was the gay kid, and Rachel was pretty much annoying all the time.”
“Artie and Mike were hilarious. They should’ve been enemies because Mike dated Artie’s ex, but they weren’t. They were just really cool guys. Sam was the first guy who gave me the time of day. Brittany had a good heart and she could actually be pretty smart sometimes. Not to speak ill of the dead, but Quinn could be a royal bitch.” The crowd was half-giggling, half gasping at the use of foul language. “It’s true! She was! But beneath that, she was a girl who followed her heart. Rachel could be annoying, but she could also be sweet and supportive. And Kurt…Kurt was my best friend. He’d literally give the shirt off his back to a friend in need and he was always…” She trailed off and sucked in another breath, but the tears wouldn’t stop flowing down her cheeks.
Still, she had to continue. “I guess I’m just confused why you’re all so upset,” Mercedes said. “Because I see you all crying and carrying on, and I would get that, except you tossed Artie into port-a-potties and rolled it over and laughed. You called Quinn a slut when she got pregnant and you laughed at her when you found out who she used to be. You never gave up an opportunity to slushy Rachel, you’d sleep with Brittany if given the chance. Kurt, you shoved him against lockers and tossed him into the dumpster like he was garbage. Not to mention that stupid Prom Queen prank last year.”
“And I’m not trying to tell you what to feel, but you never missed a chance to diss Glee or slushy us, but we are a family. I don’t think our lives will ever be the same, but I bet after the weekend, it’ll go back to normal for you all and you’ll be back to your old selves. So I guess I just wanted to say…this is for them, for the ones we had to bury last week, and I hope none of you experience the kind of loss, but I hope you can learn from this. I hope this teaches you that people are actually people…and not a joke or a stereotype, and I know that those of us who knew them best…we’ll never forget them.”
With that, she nodded at Blaine, who nodded at the jazz band and the AV Club, who’d agreed to provide back-up vocals.
“I’m not a member of New Directions. I’m not even a part of the student body here at McKinley, but this was Kurt’s family, and it wasn’t long before they became my family too. They were gracious enough to allow me to join them in this tribute.”
He began to strum softly on his guitar and started to sing.
“I don't want to be the one to say goodbye
But I will,
Tina sang the next line:
“I don't want to sit on the pavement
while you fly.
But I will,
“oh yes I will”
“Maybe in the future,
you're gonna come back,
you're gonna come back around
Maybe in the future, you're gonna come back,
you're gonna come back
“The only way to really know
Is to really let it go
“Maybe you're gonna come back,
You're gonna come back,
You're gonna come back to me”
“I don't want to be the first to let it go
But I know,
“If you have the last hands that I want to hold
Then I know I've got to let them go.”
Blaine and Finn harmonized on the next verse:
“I still feel you on the right side of the bed
And I still feel you in the blankets pulled over my head
But I'm gonna wash away,
oh I'm gonna wash away
everything ‘til you come home to me”
“Maybe in the future,
you're gonna come back,
you're gonna come back.”
“In the future,
you're gonna come back,
you're gonna come back
Maybe in the future,
you're gonna come back,
you're gonna come back around
Maybe in the future,
you're gonna come back,
you're gonna come back.”
“The only way to really know
is to really let it go.”
“Maybe you're gonna come back,
you're gonna come back,
you're gonna come back to me.”
From the stands, Kurt sat, watching, tears flowing freely down his face.
“I hate this,” Kurt said. “I hate that they’re hurting and I can’t let them know I’m okay. This so stupid! I can’t even talk to them! This is SO not helping.”
“They’re saying good-bye,” Rube said. “Here’s your chance to say good-bye, too.”
“I promised Blaine I’d never say good-bye to him,” Kurt choked out through sobs. “We were gonna go to New York next year…move in together…”
“That’s one promise you’ll just have to break, kiddo.”
“It doesn’t have to be good-bye,” Mason said. “How about farewell? Sayonara? Au revoir? Arrivaderci? Auf weidersehen”?
“Shut the fuck up, Mason,” Kurt said.
“You heard the kid,” Rube said. “Shut the fuck up.”
It took some time, but it got easier.
Six months had past since he’d joined the ranks of the undead, and Kurt was slowly learning the ropes of his new life as Henry (a name he’d chosen as a reference from both My Fair Lady and Next to Normal). He still started every time he caught sight of his new reflection. Someone with a sick sense of humor decided his new body would have ears the size of Ross Perot’s, dirty-blonde hair and skin that had been scared by years of severe acne.
George reluctantly got him a job at Happy Time. Crystal freaked him out and he was learning to tolerate Delores, even like her sometimes. The soul-crushing monotony was hard to get used to, but he learned to deal with having to work with a bunch of slackers who, like George, didn’t give a shit. It was a paycheck. At least reaping souls was oddly gratifying, even if he didn’t get paid for it.
But there wasn’t a day that went by that he didn’t miss the people he left behind.
He’d sent an email to Blaine, telling him how much he loved him and that he was okay. Blaine ‘s reply had been: “This is a joke, right?” He thought about sending an actual letter to his dad, knowing that he’d never read the emails, but then he realized it would do more harm than good, so he didn’t.
Sometimes, he was really grateful to Mason for stealing the I-pod. There were days when his old music collection was the only thing that kept him sane. On the days when it wasn’t enough, he called his dad’s shop just to hear his voice, but it never helped and it was hard to keep from spiraling into a deep depression.
“Just go back to Ohio,” George finally said when she caught Kurt stalking Blaine’s Facebook profile for the hundredth time that week at his work-station.
“Excuse me?” Kurt bawked. “I can’t just…show up! I’m not even me anymore. How’m I supposed to say goodbye to people who don’t even recognize me? And I can’t leave Seattle! I have two jobs here!”
“Like you haven’t racked up vacation time already. You never take a day off. You’re making me look bad.”
“I can’t go back,” Kurt replied. “Who’ll take care of my reaps? Who’ll take care of things here?”
“I can cover for you. Look, Kurt, you are annoying. You’re whiney, you’re manipulative, you’re anal-retentive, and you can be a huge bitch when you want to be. But I know what this is like, and I wasn’t even that close to my family when I died. Take a week. Take my car and drive to Ohio.”
“Really?” Kurt sniffled.
“Just don’t get all weepy on me again. I can’t fucking stand it when you cry.”
So that’s what he did.
‘God,’ Kurt thought as he opened the door. ‘The shop even smells the same.’
It was never his favorite place in his old life, but the familiarity was comforting. He didn’t like the smell of rubber and flannel, but now it was like he could pretend that he was Kurt again coming in to help out around the shop.
He was still getting used to Seattle weather, getting around the place and getting accustomed to way the new house smelled and felt and sounded.
It was nice. Being in a place that was familiar.
His dad emerged from the back of the shop.
“Can I help you?” his dad asked.
Kurt couldn’t speak.
“What’s your name kid?”
“Ku—Henry. I’m Henry Bloom.”
“Anything I can do for you, Henry?”
“I um, I’m from Seattle,” Kurt began.
“Kid, the only reason someone from Seattle would wanna speak to me is because of what happened to my son there. I doubt you’re from the Associated Press. You don’t even look like you’re out of high school. You thought you’d just barge in here and get an interview from me and sell the interview to the major networks, didn’t’ you? I’m gonna make this real easy on you: No. Fucking. Comment. Now, get the hell out of my shop.”
“I’m not from the press!” Kurt rushed out. “I’m not from any newspaper! I swear I don’t even have a twitter account!”
“Why are you here?”
“The bus accident…there must’ve been some kind of mistake because, for some reason, I somehow got some things that I think belong to your son.”
“My son’s dead, kid. I don’t think this stuff’ll do him any good anymore.”
Kurt sucked down the sob that threatened to escape his throat.
“Just… I thought maybe someone might like to have it,” he said and handed him the I-Pod with Kurt’s name engraved on it.
“You came all the way from Seattle just to deliver my son’s I-Pod?”
“Not that I’m not grateful ‘cause I am, but you know, I heard about these very handy places where they ship all kinds of packages all over the world. They’re called post offices. Might wanna use one next time you find somethin’ that belongs to somebody you don’t know who lives clear across the country.”
“Well, you know, I was in the neighborhood,” Kurt-as-Henry said with a shrug, unable to keep his voice as calm as he would’ve liked.
Burt studied him for a minute.
“Your parents back home know you’re out here?” Burt asked.
Kurt should’ve shaken his head. Or given a non-committal shrug. Or just left at that question, but he didn’t.
He couldn’t shake down the sob that came out of his mouth. It was impossible. Of course his father didn’t know he was here. He’d played this conversation over a billion times in his head; telling his dad it was really him and he was really okay, but as much as he wanted to, he couldn’t.
“Hey, it’s okay, kid,” Burt said, laying his big, rough hand on Kurt’s shoulder. “It’s gonna be okay. Let me guess. You’re worried about what your old man’s gonna say when he finds out where you’ve been.”
Kurt nodded and a wry grin spread across his features and sniffled as he stuffed his hands in his pockets. “You don’t know the half of it.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I’m really not supposed to be here.”
“Your parents will be pretty pissed when you get back, that’s for sure.”
“Something like that,” Kurt said.
“I hope this little stunt of yours is worth it, because if your dad’s anything like me, you’ll probably be grounded until you’re thirty when you get back. But you know, if you explain to him why you did what you did, he might go a little easier on you and ground you for a couple of weeks. You could’ve sold the i-pod. You could’ve kept it. But if I were your old man, I’d be pretty damn proud you went to all this trouble to do the decent thing.”
“Coming from you, that means a lot.”
“Why did you bring it back?”
“I don’t know,” Kurt said with a shrug. He sucked at lying. His dad always knew when he wasn’t being entirely truthful, and he was sure that he knew there was something more to this story.
But…now? His dad’s face had more lines than it used to and he had bags under his eyes, and there was loss there and pain and Kurt just wanted to make it go away.
But at the same time, he knew it wasn’t the right thing to do. He knew it’d only make things harder. Harder for him, harder for his dad, harder for Finn and Carole and Blaine and…
He needed to do what he came all this way to do.
“It’s just…when someone’s got the iPod filled to capacity with such quality music, I guess I kind of felt like I got to know Kurt in a way,” he grumbled. He felt stupid saying it and he couldn’t look his father in the eye as he said the words, but luckily, his dad seemed to take that as embarrassment. “So I Googled your son and I found out what had happened to him, and…so I thought it was time I said goodbye.”
The reaping had definitely taught him how to lie.
“Thanks for going to all this trouble, kid,” Burt said, clapping him on the shoulder.
The door jingled and someone came into the shop.
“Now if you’ll excuse me, Henry,” he said, turning to the customer. “Yes sir, Mr. Peterson, we’ve got her ready to go for you!” He said as he went into the back for the keys.
“Love you, dad,” Kurt whispered.
With that he left, closing the door to his dad’s tire shop for the last time.
It’s been four years since he saw the news report. It’s been four years since he got that call from Santana. It’s been four years since he attended Kurt Hummel’s funeral and the following wake and memorial service.
He doesn’t know who designed it so that he wound up winning a full scholarship for Washington State’s graduate program for music. Which is pretty much the only reason he even considered it as an option.
His parents were fine with him being gay, but a poor, potentially starving artist?
That was simply not acceptable for an Anderson.
He knows Kurt would be coming back from the grave to kick his ass if he found out that he settled for anything less than his dreams, so what other choice did he have?
And that is how he finds himself stepping off the Tarmak and collecting his luggage.
It feels so weird, having a history with a place without actually having been there. There have been boyfriends since Kurt, some of them were even great guys, because (as Mercedes and Finn remind him every chance they get) Kurt wouldn’t have accepted anything less for him.
But then, none of them are Kurt.
So maybe it is for the best that Anthony chose his career over him, because Blaine needs a fresh start, a chance to shake the Ohio dirt off his loafers once and for all.
A chance to…not forget about Kurt, exactly (because Blaine knows Kurt is unforgettable, as more than a few empty bottles of hard liquor can attest), but maybe...make his memory an easier pill to swallow.
He knows what street they were on when it happened. He doesn’t pass by it intentionally, but when he does (a month after he arrives), there’s a flash of an image from a TV screen, and something tugs at a memory, and even though he was never there like Finn or Mercedes were, it’s all of a sudden a very real memory for him.
And it’s been four years, but all of a sudden it’s like it’s that day all over again.
And then he loses it completely.
Right there on the sidewalk.
He knows he must look awful, and he’s got to teach a class in twenty minutes, but he really doesn’t care. Delivering a lecture on intervals would require counting and right now, he can barely stand upright, so that’s why he barely registers a hand on his shoulder.
“You okay?” a stranger asks. He starts for a minute, and Blaine nods.
He’s tall and lanky with brown eyes and sandy-blonde hair that Blaine could swear has been highlighted with at least lemon juice, and although his ears are ridiculously big (really, you could fly with those things), there’s something about this man that Blaine is sort of drawn to.
“Rough day,” Blaine replies.
“So it would seem,” he says.
“There was this really horrible accident here about four years ago,” Blaine explains. “A bunch of kids were here from Ohio for a singing competition, and they were…”
“I know,” he says. “I mean, I remember. I mean…I saw it. On the news.”
“Anyway…” he continues, wiping at his eyes, “because of one of those people on that bus, I had it really great and wonderful for a little while.”
“Sleepless in Seattle?” the man breathes.
Blaine nods. “You know the movie, then?”
“Oh please, you know it’s one of my…I mean, it’s a classic. Who doesn’t know that movie?”
“I have a class in about fifteen minutes,” Blaine says, brushing himself off. “So I should go.”
“TA. Music Theory. At the university. I’m Blaine, by the way.”
The man smiles and his eyes are glistening and Blaine doesn’t know why but he feels like he’s just given his new companion a really early Christmas present.
“I’m glad you’re going after your dreams.”
“I just mean…you don’t go to grad school for music to bring home the bacon, you know?”
“My parents certainly think so,” Blaine says, trying to keep the bitterness out of his voice, but failing miserably.
There’s a long beat and they just stand there, and Blaine doesn’t really want to leave, but he has no idea why.
“Henry,” the man says after what seems like an eternity. “My name is Henry.”
“Listen, I really do have a class to teach in,” he glances down at his phone. “Now, ten minutes. But…you want to get some coffee sometime?”
The man—Henry—nods and smiles. Blaine hands him one of his cards that the university issued him when he first got the position.
Blaine thinks that maybe they met in another life, and although there’s nothing in the world that will make him stop missing Kurt, what they had, there’s a kind of promise in Henry’s smile that Blaine thinks this might be a start.
He’s not Kurt. He’s not even Blaine’s type, but the spark that has ignited is undeniable, and he just knows that if he walks away, a spell will break and it’ll be over.
And suddenly, Blaine knows that whatever happens tomorrow, the next day, or the next, this is the beginning.
And the maybe means everything.