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Beautiful & Close & Young

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Puck makes sure he gets enough sleep, because bartending and sleepiness or tiredness either one don’t mix. Puck makes sure he always leaves enough time to catch Pittsburgh’s T and walk the rest of the way to work, so he’s not feeling hurried or rushed as he starts his shift behind the bar. Bartending is, even on the worst nights, calming. He doesn’t have to really think as he pulls out the correct components or carefully serves a beer on tap. Muscle memory, combined with double-checking that everything is where it’s supposed to be, at the beginning of shift, makes the job easy and mindless.

It’s not a bad life, and it’s not a bad job. Pittsburgh isn’t a bad city. Puck could even be said to have friends of a sort, but it’s not where he thought he’d be in 2015, and it’s certainly not the living situation he thought he’d be in. When he’d let himself think about it, Finn had always been there in the picture. After the accident, Puck couldn’t stay in Lima. He hadn’t gone back to the dorm. His mom had gone and retrieved a few things, and he’d bought some new clothes. The memorial had been extraordinarily difficult, and a day later, he’d had his mom drive him to Dayton, dropping him off at a cheap motel off I–675. It’s a forty minute bus ride to the bartending school, but after forty hours of class, he’s certified. A Greyhound bus trip to Pittsburgh and some walking around Pittsburgh later, Puck had a small apartment and a job at Courthouse Tavern. He hasn’t been back to Lima or even Ohio since he climbed on the bus for a six and a half hour trip.

Most evenings at work, Puck is behind the bar, filling orders at the bar and delivering drinks to the servers to take to the tables. Occasionally, though, the bar is slow and the tables are crowded, with a lot of people coming in at the same time. When that happens, Puck will do a table’s worth of drinks at a time, instead of similar drinks in a cluster, so that he can take a drink or two over to the smaller tables, or a tray to a larger one. It’s nothing out of the ordinary, especially not on a weekend, and Puck doesn’t think very much about it as he picks up the two drinks and steps out from behind the bar.

He doesn’t even see the girl, not with the low light and the crowded spaces, which is why it’s already a little bit of a shock when he bumps into someone’s side and splashes the drinks over his hands and forearms and on her shoulder. The second shock follows almost immediately, when along with his own immediate exclamation and the girl’s near-shriek, there’s a yelp of surprise that’s not coming from either one of them. It’s an impossible sound for Puck to hear, but he knows what it is, despite the impossibility. It’s Finn.

As soon as he thinks that, he starts to doubt himself, and by the time the girl’s cleaned up, the floor’s mopped, and the drinks are remade, Puck could almost convince himself that he was wrong, but as he heads home, he can hear it repeating in his head. A short yelp, just like Finn always made, a sound Puck’s never heard anywhere else, and it doesn’t make any sense.

It doesn’t make any sense, but Puck heard Finn all the same, and in the silence of his apartment, it reverberates in his head. Finn’s voice, and maybe it’d make some people sad, but for the rest of the night, until he falls asleep, Puck feels strangely content. For the first time in over two years, he heard Finn’s voice, even if it was for only a few seconds.

***

Sometimes Finn catches himself thinking about the tremendous gulf between the life he once expected he'd be living and the one he currently muddles through day to day. Maybe reality never could have matched his expectations, even if everything had gone completely right. Maybe his expectations weren't much more than fantasy. He tries his hardest not to get too caught up in wondering and wishing these days. Wanting something just means having something to lose, and Finn has already lost enough.

After the accident, after he'd forced himself into a suit that didn't quite fit so he could attend Puck's funeral less than twenty-four hours later, and after Carole and Burt had been kind enough to go retrieve Finn's computer and a handful of personal belongings from the dorm, Finn put himself on a bus to Toledo. He had enough cash for a rent-by-the-week and just enough motivation to look for a way to support himself and—more importantly—to keep himself busy. He hadn't ever considered bartending before, but when he spotted a sign offering a certification course, he enrolled.

Just a couple of weeks later, newly certified, Finn used the last of his cash to buy another bus ticket, this time to Pittsburgh, the farthest the money could take him in any direction. Kurt used to say fortune favors the bold, and it must, because before his first day in Pittsburgh ended, Finn had a bartending job at the Courthouse Tavern and a small apartment not terribly far away.

Two years later, Finn still lives in that same apartment and bartends at Courthouse Tavern. He's the guy everybody appreciates, because he'll always cover a shift or pick up a double if they need him. More work means less time to dwell on things he can't change. If he keeps himself running hard, day and night, he can almost forget about the life he thought he'd have, in a town he hasn't visited even once in two years.

Tonight's busy like it gets during the dinner rush, with fewer people at the bar and more at tables. Finn usually takes some of the pressure off the wait staff by bringing drinks from the bar to the tables. He earns a ton of co-worker points doing that, with an added bonus of staying even busier. Most nights, this plan serves him well.

This night, however, Finn doesn't notice the woman passing him at tray height. The collision sends the drinks careening to the floor, splashing him and the customer in the process, and mixed in with her shriek of shock and his own yelp of surprise, Finn hears another voice, once he hasn't heard in two years. As he kneels to pick up the glasses and try to scoop ice back onto the tray, he looks around the room for someone who could've let out a little shout that sounded just like Puck's. By the time he, the customer, and the floor are all clean, though, Finn has to admit that the only explanation that makes sense is that he imagined it.

Finn thinks about it the rest of his shift, and continues thinking about it on the short walk to the T and on the train ride home. Once he's back in the apartment, showered and settling into bed, he's able to admit to himself how nice it was to hear Puck's voice again, even if only in his imagination. As long as Puck is still there in Finn's head, he's not completely gone.

***

Most days, Puck does his errands and chores in the early afternoon, after he’s finally awake and before he goes in to work. The extra benefit to his timing is that there’s rarely anyone else in places like the grocery store or the laundromat. On this particular hot Wednesday, Puck frowns in annoyance into the sun as he walks the short distance from his apartment building to the laundromat. The sun is warm and bright, and he forgot his sunglasses, necessary even on a short walk. He doesn’t like the way he’s immediately hot, the way that the warmth seeps into him immediately.

He thinks that disliking the cold would be justified, all things considered. He’s almost certain that hating the sharp brightness of cold winter light would be, too, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t actually want to erase the entire day, the contrast of the cold air and weaker sun with the warmth of Finn’s skin, the way the two of them were barely touching, in fits and starts. Maybe if Puck’d been less distracted by that warmth, he would have insisted on driving, but even so, he can’t regret any moment up until the accident itself.

No one else is in the laundromat when Puck puts his load into the washing machine, and there’s still no one else when he returns an hour later to move it to a dryer. There’s no real sign that anyone’s been anywhere near the laundromat all day, even, and Puck doesn’t think all that much about leaving his basket there when he goes back to the apartment a second time, still without sunglasses.

There’s still only one dryer with clothes in it when Puck comes back, and he doesn’t think anything about that as he moves his basket to the floor and starts piling his dry clothes into the basket. He doesn’t think anything about it until he realizes there’s a shirt he doesn’t recognize, and as he looks more closely at the clothes, there’s something off about them. There’s his shirt from the bar, with the logo on it, but when Puck examines it, it’s a size too big. Most of the other shirts don’t look that different than his own, either, but they’re all a size too big or look it, and there’s enough that are completely different that Puck’s confused. There’s no other laundry anywhere in the building. There’s nowhere that his laundry could be, and there’s no way that someone could have swapped out a load after his and gotten their clothes so dry and warm. It’s still not his laundry, though.

They aren’t his clothes, but they’re in the dryer he paid for, in a laundromat full of cold air-conditioned air, the softness and warmth a contrast, and Puck stays kneeling in front of the dryer for longer than he should, enjoying the feeling of the almost hot clothes against his skin. When he finally decides to put the clothes back into the dryer and, in a fit of goodwill, to run the load on low for this person who has such similar taste in clothing as him, so their shirts won’t wrinkle too badly, he looks more closely at each item as it goes back in.

The second-to-last shirt is a McKinley football t-shirt, and Puck drops it briefly before holding it up to examine it. It looks well-worn, just like the one Puck’s currently wearing, like the owner of it left McKinley a few years earlier. Like the rest of the load, the shirt’s too big for Puck. It looks like it’s the perfect size to fit Finn, actually, and even though it’s been a few weeks since Puck heard Finn at the bar, he can’t help but look around and then close his eyes. All he hears is the hum of the AC unit, and when he opens his eyes again, there’s still a too-big McKinley shirt in his hands.

“I’m just going to put this back and restart the load,” Puck announces to the empty building. He does exactly that, leaving his basket on the floor, and sets a timer on his phone for forty-five minutes. He has a feeling that when he gets back, his laundry will be there, and the other laundry—the laundry his mind wants to refer to as Finn’s laundry—will be gone again.

The laundromat is still deserted when Puck returns and finds his own load. He puts it in the basket and heads back through the bright sunlight to his apartment, and it isn’t until he folds up his clothes and puts them away that he realizes he wishes he’d thought to keep one of the shirts from the other load of laundry.

***

Finn always puts laundry off as long as he can, especially now that the weather is so hot. For some reason, a hot day in Pittsburgh doesn’t feel the same as a hot day in Lima felt. The air is heavier and more oppressive, making it harder to breathe and leading to Finn sweating through his old McKinley football t-shirt, one of the few clean shirts he has left. Before the accident, Finn used to enjoy the heat, especially after a cold, wet winter, but now he resents it. All the warm weather does is make Finn feel like he’s leaving Puck even further behind, in the memories of the last winter they spent together.

The sun beats down on the back of Finn’s neck as he carries his basket of dirty laundry to the laundromat early in the afternoon. Like it usually is that time of day, the laundromat is empty. He loads up the washer and adds his detergent and fabric softener – he doesn’t really care about the softness of his clothes, but it’s the fabric softener Puck always used, and if Finn likes his clothes to smell like Puck, nobody in Pittsburgh will be the wiser. He leans against the row of driers for a few minutes, waiting to see if anybody else enters the laundromat, but nobody does.

Relatively confident that nobody’s going to steal his clothes, Finn makes a quick trip to the nearby grocery store to restock a few essentials—milk, cereal, canned soup, pop—then stops by his apartment to drop off his groceries before returning to the laundromat to move his clothes to a dryer. The laundromat is still empty, so Finn goes back to his apartment to take a shower and shave. When he goes back to the laundromat about an hour later, his dryer is still the only one with clothes in it, and the washing machines are still empty.

Finn pulls his clothes from the dryer, raking them from the drum into his basket, then carries the basket back to his apartment. As he starts folding his still-warm clothes, though, he realizes that something isn’t right. Everything seems to have shrunk. His shirt from the bar is now at least one size too small, as is the plain white undershirt he folds next. When he pulls a McKinley shirt identical to the one he’d been wearing earlier, now sweaty and discarded on the floor, from the basket, his heart starts beating harder. Even if someone had taken advantage of Finn’s unattended load to sneak a few items of their own clothing into the dryer, the odds aren’t high that someone else in Pittsburgh has a McKinley football t-shirt, especially not one that is—once again—at least one size too small for Finn.

The next item he grabs from the basket is a slightly faded red t-shirt that looks exactly like one Puck had. It is, like the others, a size too small for Finn.

“What the fuck?” Finn says aloud. He paws through the remaining clothes in the basket to confirm that all of them are a size too small. He holds the red shirt to his face, the warmth of it so much nicer than the heat outside. The smell of Puck’s fabric softener, combined with the familiar shirts in the laundry basket, result in Finn’s stomach churning uncomfortably as he forces himself not to tear up a little. It’s all too much finally. Finn dumps all the folded clothing back into the basket, then carries the basket back to the laundromat, where he sticks everything into the same dryer as before and puts in a few more quarters.

Finn stays in his apartment for the hour it takes the dryer cycle to run. When he returns to the laundromat to check the load, he’s somehow unsurprised to find that the clothing he pulls from the dryer this time is all the correct size, all of it actually belonging to him. He can’t explain what happened, if it was some kind of hallucination episode or what, but everything’s back to normal, whatever that means now.

***

Three weeks after what Puck thinks of as the laundry incident, he sets off to walk the two blocks to the 7-11. He doesn’t drive, not anymore, and the neighborhood is designed for people like him, with sidewalks, a few local restaurants, and a 7-11 without any gas pumps. He needs more cigarettes, and he doesn’t think too closely about how he went from never having smoked to smoking a pack over two or three days within a few months of getting to Pittsburgh. When he’s not at work, it gives him something to do with his hands.

He stops at Lindo’s on his walk and gets a Reuben and a side of fried mushrooms, because he has to eat lunch at some point and Lindo’s is quick and right there. After he eats, though, he wants a cigarette, so he walks the rest of the way to the 7-11 quickly, heading inside and nodding at the woman behind the counter. For early afternoon, the 7-11 is relatively empty, just the woman who works there and another woman who Puck thinks lives on the same street as him. Before heading to the counter, he goes up and down the aisles, grabbing some snacks and a few other things. He’s in front of the chips when he smells Finn.

He mentally amends that – he smells the Old Spice body spray Finn wore, but he smells the scent the way it hung in the air after a couple of hours of Finn wearing it, where it was just slightly mingled with Finn’s own sweat and scent. There’s not even another dude in the 7-11, and there hadn’t been anyone leaving when Puck walked up, but he can smell it all the same. He reaches for a bag of chips, then heads to the counter, getting his cigarettes as he pays.

The scent dissipates briefly as he swipes his debit card and heads outside, but by the time he reaches the corner to cross Allegheny, he can smell it again, even though no one is around. He lights one of his cigarettes and crosses, heading back to the apartment, but the smell lingers, like it’s following him. The Finn-smell even follows him up the stairs to the apartment building, but leaves briefly when Puck stops to put out his cigarette. The lease says no smoking inside the apartment, and Puck doesn’t want to break the lease, no matter how many times over the past two winters he’s been tempted.

Once Puck is inside his apartment, though, he can still smell the Finn-scent of Old Spice and sweat, like somehow Finn is inside his apartment standing next to him or even in the same exact space as him. It doesn’t make any sense, but Puck decides not to think too hard about it. He sits down on the sofa and keeps smelling it. The only time he doesn’t smell it over the next two hours is when he goes downstairs for another smoke, and when he returns, it’s still lingering over the sofa.

Finn’s smell doesn’t leave until Puck gets on a particularly pungent car of the T, so heavily smelling of urine and body odor that there’s no way the by-comparison delicate smell of Old Spice could survive. He thinks he smells Finn again briefly as he walks in the door at work, but then he smells the kitchen and liquor, and he forces himself to focus on the job.

The smell is gone completely when Puck returns home that night after work. He wishes again that he’d kept a shirt from the strange load of laundry, or that he’d had some way to soak up the smell of Finn that afternoon and save it. Instead, he lies down in his still faintly cigarette-smelling sheets, and tries not to think about what it’d be like if Finn really were right beside him.

***

Finn keeps smelling cigarette smoke. As far as he knows, none of his neighbors are smokers, but he starts catching a whiff of cigarettes in his bedroom or in the bathroom starting a couple of weeks after the weird laundry mix-up. The cigarette smoke follows him to work, where he sometimes catches the ghost of its scent when he’s unloading the week’s deliveries into the storeroom, even though the bar itself is smoke-free. It’s in his clothes at the end of the night.

It permeates his sleep, too, so his usual dreams of Puck—sometimes alive and well, sometimes bleeding and still, but always in Lima—turn into dreams of Puck in Finn’s apartment, smoking a cigarette. Ash drifts down to the floor like snow. Finn jolts awake from those dreams every time, smoke still in his nose, mixed with Puck’s fabric softener and scent-memories of Puck’s tan skin, barely warmed by the pale winter sun. The phantom smoke layers over Puck’s smell like the two are intertwined, which is ridiculous, because as far as Finn knows, Puck hasn’t smoked a cigarette since middle school, when his dad ran out on them and left behind an almost-full pack of Marlboros. Puck had smoked the whole remaining pack and then spent the whole afternoon puking while Finn held a cool rag to the back of his neck.

Finn wonders sometimes if Puck had already realized it then, how much Finn loved him. Even when Finn didn’t like Puck that much, like sophomore year with the paintball incident and the whole mess with Quinn and Beth, Finn had still loved him. Puck has been dead for two years, and Finn hasn’t stopped loving him. If anything, the weird smoke-and-Puck smell following him everywhere just makes it worse, moves it from the back burner where he had banished it back to the front of his brain again.

He can’t sleep, because when he sleeps, his head is full of smoke and Puck. He’s distracted at work. Melissa calls him on it when he screws up a Long Island Iced Tea three times in a row – forgets the rum on the first attempt, the triple sec on the second, and the gin on the third. She sends him home for the night, telling him to get a decent night’s sleep, for fuck’s sake. Finn tries, he really does, but that night he has a nightmare about the accident, with Puck’s body cold and still, a lit cigarette still clutched in his fingers amidst the glass and the blood. He wakes himself up screaming and crying.

Whatever ghost carried the smell with it must have been banished by Finn’s bad dream, because that’s the last time he smells cigarette smoke. It’s nowhere in his apartment the following day, or in the storeroom at work, or hovering around Lindo’s when he stops there for a quick lunch. Finn feels strangely alone without it. Even if he can’t explain why it reminded him so strongly of Puck, it had reminded him, and without it, Finn feels like he’s lost something of Puck all over again.

He’d run to Pittsburgh to escape that loss, but maybe it’s finally catching up with him. Two years and a state away, all the small trappings of Puck’s life have started surfacing, and as much as Finn worries this might just be him slowly losing his mind, he’s even more afraid of what will happen when these strange experiences stop. Someday, maybe not that far in the future, Finn might forget what Puck smelled like entirely. He might forget the sound of Puck’s laugh. He might not recognize an old, faded t-shirt as having belonged to Puck. The idea of that happening is fucking terrifying.

***

Labor Day weekend arrives, and the Steelers are having their home opener against the 49ers, and just like the last two years, the bar staff gets one night off to go to a Steelers game. Puck hadn’t protested in 2013, hadn’t said that he’d always been a Browns fan, hadn’t pointed out how much Browns fans don’t like the Steelers. He’d gone to the game and cheered on Le’Veon Bell, and he’d done the same in 2014. He’ll do the same this year, and he doesn’t think too much about how appalled Finn would be.

It’s too hard to think about, is all. It’s hard enough to still be in love with someone who died over two years earlier because of an icy patch of road and a poorly positioned tree. It’s hard enough to still wish Finn was there, to hear him and see his clothes and smell his body spray, to think about the utter disappointment Finn would have to express if he knew Puck owned a Steelers t-shirt.

‘The bar staff’ sounds like a big group, but it’s just Puck and Melissa and Rafael, and they arrive at the game a good hour or so before it starts. The Steelers take the lead relatively fast, and Puck slips out mid-second quarter to pee and get a second beer. He’s walking back to his seat, almost back to the row, when he freezes, looking at the man who’s currently standing at the end of the row, staring at Puck with his mouth hanging open.

Finn’s standing in front of him, looking almost the same as Puck remembers him, wearing a Browns t-shirt like Johnny Manziel is going to show up and start playing quarterback for the Steelers or the Niners. Puck’s almost afraid to speak, because he has no idea what’s going on, but he whispers “Hi,” moving his lips deliberately. Maybe Finn can’t hear him, but surely he can read Puck’s lips just a little.

Finn lifts his hand in a little half-wave, the corner of his mouth barely lifting into a smile. Puck starts to return the smile, and before he can decide what else to do, someone jostles him. He looks away from Finn for long enough to catch his balance and avoid spilling the beer, and when he looks back, Finn’s gone.

“Motherfucker!” Puck exclaims, glaring behind him at the guy who’d jostled him and then continued walking. He looks away from the spot where he saw Finn a second time, more deliberately, then back, but Finn is still gone. Puck sighs heavily and continues back to his seat, sitting down with a frown on his face. Melissa and Rafael ask him what’s wrong, and he shakes his head and tells them it’s nothing. It probably was nothing, but it doesn’t make him stop scanning the crowd instead of the field.

He goes home after the game and starts to get undressed, then starts laughing, because maybe the look on Finn’s face was solely about the Steelers t-shirt, and Puck was right about that, at least. Maybe he should go to Steelers’ games more often, or wear the Steelers shirt more often, if it will make Finn show up in some kind of Browns loyalty outrage. Maybe if it somehow happens again, Puck can manage not to look away, and maybe they can have a strange conversation of a sort. Maybe, maybe, maybe, he chides himself, but it’s the best thing that’s happened to him in over two years.

***

Even though the existence of the Steelers offends Finn to the very core, he allows Rafael and Melissa to drag him to the occasional game with them as a ‘bartenders team-building exercise’ as Melissa puts it or a ‘how-to-survive-in-Pittsburgh activity’ as Rafael refers to it. If he spent most of the previous two seasons rooting for literally any team but the Steelers, that’s his business. He stubbornly insists on wearing his Browns shirt to games, which makes Rafael laugh, and he doesn’t think about how badly Puck would tease him, seeing him voluntarily attending a home game for his most despised team.

When the Steelers take the lead, Finn takes that opportunity to go get a beer and a hotdog. He can tell Rafael is checking out his ass as he passes in front of him, but it’s kind of nice to be able to notice someone noticing again. Finn probably wouldn’t have been able to process someone openly hitting on him, let alone a subtle ass-check, for much of the previous two years.

He and Puck had finally made it happen. They had one night together before the accident. A part of Finn has spent the time since wondering if that’s why the accident happened. Was Puck too focused on Finn to drive safely? Was Finn simply not allowed to really be happy? Finn surpassed second-guessing himself long ago and moved on to hundreth-guessing. He still feels guilty, which is probably what led to things like hearing Puck’s voice or hallucinating smells and swapped laundry.

The game is still in the second quarter when Finn gets back to his seat. Before he can sit down, he glances down the row of seats, feeling his mouth fall open in shock at what he sees— no, at who he sees. Just a few seats down the same row, Finn sees Puck standing there. He blinks hard, because it can’t be Puck. Even if Puck weren’t alive, he’s never rooted for the Steelers a day in his life. Despite blinking, though, Puck is still right there in front of him, wearing a Steelers t-shirt.

They stare at each other for a long moment that seems to stretch on and on. The noise around them fades and everything else seems to move in slow motion. Puck mouth moves, and even though Finn can’t hear Puck’s words, he can tell that Puck is saying ‘Hi’. Finn’s hand comes up automatically, wiggling his fingers in a little wave, and he can feel himself starting to smile, then something or someone bumps into Puck, jostling him and sloshing his beer. Finn blinks, slightly startled, and in that split second of time, Puck is gone.

Finn scans the crowd, searching every face, but Puck isn’t there. Puck isn’t anywhere, something Finn already knew too well. He suddenly feels sadder and heavier than he has in a while, like any progress towards normalcy had vanished along with Puck. Finn doesn’t know why he keeps seeing and hearing and smelling things that aren’t there. Maybe he should go to a doctor and get a brain scan, though one big part of Finn thinks that maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to have a brain tumor or something, not if it means he gets to see Puck again.

All Finn can do in the moment is take his seat next to Rafael again, pretending to make small talk until the game is over. He begs off hitting a bar with them after the game, which the Steelers win, 48 to 18, and instead walks home alone to his apartment, where he puts on a clean t-shirt and sits in the dark, smelling Puck’s fabric softener and wishing everything were different.

***

A few weeks after the Steelers game, Melissa asks Puck if he wants to go bowl and grab some drinks that they didn’t mix, one Monday evening. Puck almost doesn’t process the invitation for what it is—a suggestion that they go on a date—until he’s halfway through accepting. He feels guilty as soon as they decide on a specific place and time, and he spends the rest of that shift and his trip home trying unsuccessfully to convince himself that there’s nothing wrong with going on a date, not after two years.

Melissa offers to pick Puck up, which makes sense, given that bowling alleys were not a feature that the planners of the T really had in mind when they were designing the routes. Puck doesn’t mind the bus usually, but it’s a little less reliable, timetable-wise. Melissa asks him about why he doesn’t drive, the same as a few people have over the time he’s been in Pittsburgh, and Puck shrugs. It’s not a secret, he supposes, but it’s not something he wants to discuss, either, especially not while on a date.

People like to ask questions when they find out, or at least that’s been Puck’s limited experience. He lies on the few occasions that someone asks him if he remembers the accident, or if he dreams about it. He lies and says he doesn’t remember that much, that his mind has blocked it out, and he lies and says he never dreams about it.

He remembers everything. He dreams about it at least once a month.

It’s like everything was captured by the highest-quality equipment, starting from the moment they woke up, through the seemingly unimportant discussion of who was going to drive, and onto the road, where the sun was bright and everything shone. He can still feel the sick feeling of the car starting to slide, and he can hear the way everything crunched. He knew as soon as the car stopped. That, Puck thinks, is the worst part. There wasn’t any time to say anything or do anything. In a split second, Finn was gone.

So he doesn’t explain anything to Melissa, just lets her pick him up and tries to forget everything that’s happened over the last few months for at least long enough to enjoy the date. They eat hot dogs, they bowl, they laugh, and they go to a little bar near the bowling alley for a couple of drinks before Melissa says that she probably ought to take Puck home. The words hang in the air for long enough for Puck to get the idea, and he invites her to come up for a little while.

Melissa protests that she can’t stay overnight, and Puck says the right things, like he’s falling back into a script, promising not to keep her too long but that they’ll both have some fun. He almost believes himself, enough that he’s more or less looking forward to Melissa coming up to the apartment after she parks. There’s nothing inherently odd or awkward about kissing her, and even though Puck knows you aren’t supposed to sleep with people you work with, he doesn’t really second-guess leading her up the stairs.

Puck undresses slowly, watching Melissa almost mirror his actions, and then he lies down on the bed, pulling her down beside him. She kisses him enthusiastically, and he kisses back, trying to reconcile his physical response and his rational response with the part of him that still wants to hold back. Midway through the fifth long kiss, with Melissa’s hands on him, Puck finally banishes enough thought and feelings to just slide into his physical response.

His fingers don’t shake as he pulls on the condom, and he doesn’t know what that means, just that he’s thankful they don’t. He slides into Melissa with a sigh that she clearly interprets as a positive response, even as he thinks that he’s not sure what it means, and the two of them move more or less in tandem while Puck does his best not to think about the last time he had sex. He tries not to think about how no one would believe him if he told them how long it had been, and he definitely does not let himself compare the way everything feels and sounds, down to Melissa’s mouth against his and the aftertaste of her appletini, which is something Puck has a hard time thinking of Finn being anywhere near, much less drinking. It’s not bad sex, and Puck has to admit as he comes that it’s even good sex, but there’s nothing special about it. It’s someone who knows him decently well, who’s good-looking enough, and it’s simply physical. He kisses her again, but he doesn’t object when she says that she has to leave, and he doesn’t try to stop her.

After Puck hears her car start, he locks the second lock on his door and starts to turn out the lights. First he straightens his bed, then decides it’s easiest to change the sheets, and after that’s accomplished, he lies down, holding his pillow. He knows that there’s no reason not to see Melissa again, knows he probably will, but as he goes to sleep, Finn’s the only person on his mind.

He knows as soon as it begins that it’s a dream, because Finn’s never been in Pittsburgh and never been in Puck’s apartment in Pittsburgh for sure, but Finn’s lying in the bed beside him.

“Hi,” Puck says, feeling like maybe in a dream, they can talk.

“Hi,” Finn replies. “You’re here.”

“So are you.” Puck reaches out and touches Finn’s shoulder, running his hand down Finn’s arm, and the dream gives a lot, because he can feel Finn. “It’s really good.”

“I’ve missed you,” Finn says, reaching for Puck’s free hand.

“We didn’t get the best deal, did we?” Puck asks, but he smiles as their fingers intertwine. “I missed you so much.”

Finn shakes his head as he steps closer to Puck. “Kind of lost the lottery on good luck,” he says. “I thought we were gonna have so much time.”

“We’ve got right now?” Puck says. “No one to bump into either one of us.”

“You did see me,” Finn says, smiling widely at Puck.

“I did.” Puck squeezes Finn’s hand and leans against him. “You smell the same.”

“You smell like cigarettes,” Finn says, “but under that, it’s the same.”

“Sorry,” Puck says, knowing he probably looks a little sheepish. “It keeps my hands occupied.”

“It’s okay. It doesn’t matter. You’re here with me. You’re still you,” Finn says. He puts an arm around Puck, holding him close, pressing his lips to the side of Puck’s head.

Puck can feel himself relaxing against Finn. “We’re here together,” he agrees. “Maybe we can stay here for awhile.”

“I hope so. I don’t want you to go.”

“I don’t want you to go, either,” Puck says, turning his head to kiss Finn. Finn kisses back, and it feels like it did before, the one night they had that sometimes feels like a dream, except for the fact that usually it feels more real in Puck’s memories than anything else.

Finn releases Puck’s other hand so he can wrap that arm around Puck, too, holding Puck firmly against his chest as they kiss. His hands travel up and down Puck’s back. Puck shifts his weight, one hand resting on the back of Finn’s neck. Finn’s hands slide up under Puck’s shirt, stroking his sides and lower back while they keep kissing.

“Like this,” Puck says softly between kisses.

“Yeah,” Finn says. “Stay here. Stay here with me.”

“I don’t know how to avoid waking up,” Puck admits.

“Me, either, but I don’t want you to go away again,” Finn says.

“Maybe there’s a way for me to see you during the day, now that we’ve talked and touched?” Puck says. “Maybe if I concentrate really hard. I don’t know how I could do it much more than I have, though.”

“I shouldn’t have let you drive,” Finn says, his voice breaking slightly. Puck can feel Finn’s heart hammering. “I should’ve taken the keys.”

“Oh, God,” Puck says, shaking his head a little. “You were driving.”

“No. You were. You grabbed my keys. You told me you wore me out too much for me to drive,” Finn says.

“And then you grabbed them back,” Puck says. “There was just a stupid patch of ice and a stupid tree.”

“You weren’t moving. You had blood on your face and hands.”

“It was so damn fast. You were still.” Puck snaps his fingers. “Like that. Gone.”

Finn shakes his head, a tear slowly rolling down his face. “No, Puck. That was you. You were gone. You’ve been gone for so long.”

“So it didn’t matter which one of us was driving. Whoever was driving, that was it, huh?” Puck says with a grimace. “I don’t want to wake up.”

“Me either,” Finn says. “Nothing’s good without you. You made everything good.”

“We can just keep kissing. Maybe that’ll be enough.”

“Okay. As long as we can. I don’t want to lose you again,” Finn says, brushing his lips lightly against Puck’s before pressing their mouths together in a slow, deep kiss. His arms hold Puck even tighter.

Puck knows he’s clinging to Finn as they kiss, but he can’t really care at all, because Finn’s in his arms, and Finn’s arms are around him, and despite what he told Finn, Puck doesn’t know that kissing will be enough. He knows the dream might end, and when he wakes up the next day, there’s no reason to expect that he won’t be alone. For the moment, though, he’s going to kiss Finn, and keep kissing him.

***

Finn hasn’t dated since the accident. He hasn’t wanted to. He’s lonely, sure, but not for some abstract other person. He’s lonely for Puck. It’s Puck he misses every day, Puck he wishes he could kiss again, Puck whose body he wants pressed against his own. The idea of doing any of that with someone else just makes Finn feel even sadder. Having to explain to someone new that he lost not only his lifelong best friend but the love of his life in the span of five violent seconds, that he’d sat in the car with Puck’s cooling body, waiting for the sound of sirens, that he didn’t notice the blood on his own clothes until hours later, well… Better to not date at all, knowing that anyone else would only be a substitute for the one person Finn really wants.

And yet, a week after the Steelers game where Finn hallucinated Puck, Rafael from the bar asks him out on a date, and Finn says yes. He feels guilty almost immediately, forcing himself to smile through Rafael’s suggestions for where they can go and what they can do. He likes Rafael—he’s cute, funny, and looks just enough like Puck that Finn’s stomach sometimes does a slight flip when Finn catches a glimpse of him out of the corner of his eye—and maybe it’s time to get back out there, at least symbolically. They agree to meet at the T station nearest to Finn’s apartment and go from there to a movie at SouthSide Works and dinner after.

Finn enjoys The Martian. When Rafael’s fingers graze the back of Finn’s while they’re sharing popcorn, Finn doesn’t jerk his hand away or flinch. After the movie, they walk to SAKE Asian Cuisine & Sushi Bar, where they order sake and Rafael successfully teases Finn into trying a wider assortment of raw fish than Finn ever realized existed. When they leave the restaurant for the T, Rafael slips his arm around Finn’s waist, and that’s how they walk to the station.

When the train reaches Finn’s stop, Rafael gets off with Finn, saying he wouldn’t be a good date if he didn’t at least walk Finn home. Finn knows where things are probably heading, but he’s so tired of feeling lonely. Maybe making himself do this will finally help him shake off some of the weight and sadness. Rafael kisses Finn at the front door to the apartments, just like Finn suspected he would, and when Rafael suggests he could come up to Finn’s place with him, Finn agrees.

Finn hadn’t been with any other men before Puck, and that was over two years ago, but he hasn’t forgotten how sex works. He and Rafael make out for a while. Finn consciously doesn’t compare kissing Rafael to kissing anyone else. It’s nice not to think for a while, to have something tangible flooding his senses instead of the multisensory hallucinations he’s been experiencing in the past few months. Rafael’s body is solid against Finn’s, and maybe that’s the reason why Finn lets Rafael start unbuttoning his shirt. He needs something real, no matter how temporary.

Rafael has a condom, Finn has lube, and they’re in the bed in fairly short order, Finn’s chest against Rafael’s back as he pushes inside. He moves slowly, intentionally keeping his eyes open, because if he closes them, he might pretend, and he can’t handle pretending tonight. Rafael feels good, so Finn lets that be enough, lets himself kiss Rafael’s shoulders, the light sheen of sweat on Rafael’s skin tasting so different from Puck’s. Rafael isn’t particularly noisy, but Finn can tell he’s enjoying it, and after a long while, they both come, Rafael first and then Finn a few minutes after.

Finn suspects Rafael wants to stay the night and is just waiting for Finn to ask, but Finn isn’t ready for that. What he really wants is to take a shower, change the sheets to a fresh pair that smells like Puck’s fabric softener, and to curl into a tight enough ball to dampen the hollow feeling in his chest. He tells Rafael he had a great time, kisses him goodnight, and sends him out the door. Finn watches through a window as Rafael walks up the street towards the T, then strips his bed and takes a long, hot shower.

When he drifts off to sleep in his freshly changed bed, he dreams of Puck. It’s so real, from the way Puck smells to the texture of his skin, the rough scratch of faint stubble around the softness of his lips, the timbre of his voice. They kiss for what feels like hours, talking in between, and Puck in the dream insists Finn was the one driving that day. Finn tries to argue, but there’s no point arguing with a dream, especially not when he could be kissing Puck instead.

Finn isn’t sure how long he’s been asleep or how long he spent kissing Puck in the dream when his alarm wakes him up. He knows he felt happier kissing Puck in the dream than he did having sex with Rafael. He knows he didn’t want to wake up.

Luckily, Rafael isn’t working that night, so Finn is able to go in and work his shift without making any real conversation. He takes orders, mixes drinks, even flirts a little with a group of older women who sit at the bar and drink too many fancy-flavored vodka martinis, all on autopilot. His mind is still back in the dream with Puck, where everything felt so real, like he and Puck really were in the same place for that brief period of time. All Finn wants is to make it through the night so he can go home and go to sleep again. Maybe Puck will be waiting for him.

***

It takes Puck slightly more than twenty-four hours after the dream—the dream that was more than a dream—for him to realize that maybe they created enough of a connection that he can hear or see Finn outside of sleep, and vice versa. He waits until after his shower the next morning, then stands in his bedroom, since Finn was on his bed, and closes his eyes. He pictures the way Finn looked at the stadium and again in the dream, slightly older than the last time Puck saw him in Ohio, and he exhales twice before speaking out loud.

“Finn? Can you hear me?”

Puck can feel Finn’s response as much as he can hear it, like a faint ripple in the air. “Puck?”

“It’s working!” Puck says, smiling to himself. “We can do this.”

“Puck? Are you there?”

“I’m here. We’re both here. I’m in my apartment,” Puck says, speaking louder in case it makes any difference.

“I’m going crazy,” Finn voice mutters, followed by a sensation like a phone call disconnecting.

“Dammit!” Puck says, opening his eyes and looking around the room. “Okay. I’ll try again later,” he says, still out loud, just in case Finn can hear it. He gets ready for work and doesn’t think about trying to talk to Finn on the T or on the short walk to the Courthouse Tavern, but halfway through his shift, while he’s in the back grabbing more beers and wine, he decides to try again.

“Hey, Finn!” he says to the empty room.

After almost a minute, Finn’s voice whispers back, “Are you haunting me?”

“I’d be a high-quality haunter,” Puck says. “Hi again.”

“Where are you?”

“Pittsburgh? Where are you?” Puck asks.

“Pittsburgh,” Finn says. “How are you in Pittsburgh?”

“Greyhound from Dayton,” Puck says with a laugh. “You?”

“Greyhound from Toledo. I didn’t know ghosts could take the bus.”

“It’d be free that way, but…” Puck takes a deep breath. “I don’t think either one of us talking is a ghost.”

“But you died, Puck,” Finn says softly.

“And I saw you die, so either it’s that neither of us a ghost, or both of us are,” Puck says wryly. “And I’m pretty sure I’m not, so that means you aren’t.”

“Maybe I really do have a brain tumor,” Finn mutters, like he’s talking to himself, not Puck. “I’m hallucinating for real.”

“I’m real!” Puck insists.

“Or a stroke. I had a stroke or a blood clot or something.”

“I’m real,” Puck repeats. “We’re both real. Don’t stop talking to me.”

“If you’re real, then where the hell have you been for the last two years? Why did you leave me?” Finn asks, his voice louder now, and slightly choked, like he’s maybe crying or fighting tears.

“I’ve been here. In Pittsburgh. I miss you too, Finn.”

“You were gone. I loved you and you were gone.” Finn’s definitely crying now, the combination of sounding choked with hitched breaths making it obvious to Puck.

“I love you, too,” Puck says gently. “We’ll keep talking. Okay?”

“Okay. This is weird.”

“Well, yeah. I have to take this beer back out there. I’ll try to talk to you when I get home,” Puck says.

“Beer?”

“Okay, and wine, too. Bartending,” Puck explains.

“Oh. Me, too.”

“Huh. What’re the odds?” Puck says. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” Finn says, his voice fading, then gone completely.

Despite Puck’s statement, he has to take another thirty seconds before he can go back out to the bar, and for the rest of the night, he wonders where, exactly, Finn is bartending. It gives him something to focus on beside just getting finished with his shift and heading to bed, and it almost makes him want to call an Uber, just to get home faster. He doesn’t, though, since he doesn’t know how any of it works. Maybe he’ll already be trying too soon to talk again, but he has to try.

***

Finn wants to believe Puck’s voice, that Puck is really there and neither of them is a ghost, that Finn doesn’t have a brain tumor and isn’t losing his mind. If that’s true, though, where is Puck? How are they able to contact each other like this? None of it makes any sense, but if it means Finn gets to talk to Puck again, he’s willing to go with it. He’s only just gotten home from his shift when he hears Puck’s voice again, sounding less far away this time.

“Finn? Are you here yet?”

“Puck! Hi!” Finn says. “Yeah, I’m home, in my apartment. Where are you?”

“My apartment. Where do you bartend? I could, I don’t know. Walk past it,” Puck says.

“Courthouse Tavern. What about you?” Finn asks.

Puck doesn’t immediately respond, and then he laughs. “Are you shitting me?”

Finn shakes his head, wondering if Puck can sense that, somehow. “Why would I shit you? Either you’re real and I want you to find me, or you’re in my head and you’d know I was messing with you, anyway.”

“Okay, but I work at Courthouse Tavern.”

“Oh,” Finn says, then he starts to laugh. “Well, that’s kind of weird and fucked up, alright.”

“How can we…” Puck trails off. “Who do you work with? This is so weird.”

“Usually with Rafael and Melissa. There’s another guy, Jake, but he’s usually only on Fridays and Saturdays.”

“That’s really weird. Why would we have the same job with the same coworkers?” Puck asks. “Just because of who drove?”

“You don’t live in an apartment on Western Avenue, do you?”

“Holy shit,” Puck’s voice says. “Yeah. I do.”

“2B?”

“Shit. Yeah.”

Finn feels himself grinning so widely his face hurts a little. “You still have that red t-shirt you used to wear all the time, don’t you? And a McKinley football shirt.”

“Yeah. How— the laundry?” Puck says. “That really was yours?”

“This is all so weird, but I don’t want it to stop,” Finn says. “How are we doing this? And why did it take two years?”

“Nothing started for me until I heard you at work one night,” Puck says.

“Same! Some girl ran into me and spilled a tray of drinks everywhere.”

“I’m pretty sure I ran into the girl, so are you sure she ran into you?” Puck asks, laughing a little.

Finn laughs, too. “Fine. Pointing no fingers, a collision occurred.”

“And then the laundry, and then I kept smelling you one day,” Puck says. “You ever eat at Lindo’s? Go to the 7-11?”

“Not the 7-11 that much, but Lindo’s, yeah, all the time,” Finn says, then he remember, “but I was in the 7-11 a few weeks ago. I ran out of soap.”

“I kept smelling your body spray,” Puck says. “It was nice.”

“I kept smelling your cigarettes. It wasn’t bad, though. It reminded me of middle school.”

Puck laughs. “Of course. Hey. Where are you standing?”

“Right next to the bed. You?” Finn asks.

“Okay, I hope your bed’s in the same place,” Puck says. “I’m going to try something. I’m going to take a step towards you and I don’t know, tell me if the air is rippling or anything.”

Finn nods, somehow suspecting Puck can feel it, then he extends his arms to his sides slightly. After a moment, he does feel a faint warm ripple in the air. “I think I feel you,” he says softly. “It’s like Ghost.”

“Well, that’s something,” Puck says, his voice closer. “I don’t want to step through you or anything.”

“It might be cool, though.”

“I’d rather just touch you again. I’m going to take another step.”

“Okay.” The air ripples again and the surface of Finn’s skin feels warmer. “I think maybe you are.”

“That’s so cool.” Puck pauses, like he’s thinking. “You want to go to bed?”

“Yeah. Still sleep on the same side?”

“Just been waiting for you to fill in,” Puck jokes. “Maybe we’ll be able to feel each other even more this way.”

“Yeah, maybe so,” Finn says. He strips down to his boxers, flips off the light, and lies down on his usual side of the bed, the one closest to the wall.

“I wonder if the sheets look weird,” Puck’s voice says a few seconds later from right next to Finn’s head. “For either of us. I turned off the light, though.”

“Yeah, me too.”

There’s another pause, and then Puck says, “Can you feel this? I think I can feel you.”

“It’s warm. Not pressure, just, like, body heat, I think,” Finn says.

“Okay.” Puck’s voice is even closer. “I wonder if I could manage to kiss you.”

“I’ll roll onto my side. My head is on my pillow, next to the wall.” Finn feels the same sensation—warmth, but no pressure—against his lips, and he exhales slowly, letting his lips part.

More time passes with the same feeling before Puck says, “Not as good as that dream, but a lot better than nothing.”

“Maybe we should go to sleep and see what happens,” Finn suggests.

“Okay. I have my arms around you. Or where you would be. Are. You know what I mean,” Puck says.

“Yeah,” Finn says, moving his arm to drape over Puck’s side of the bed. “Me, too.”

“I love you, Finn.”

“I love you, Puck.”

Finn closes his eyes, feeling Puck’s vague warmth around him, and lets himself drift off into a deep sleep.

***

When Puck wakes up the next morning, he doesn’t open his eyes. He can’t tell if he can still sense the warmth of Finn’s body, or just a residual feeling, but opening his eyes and not seeing Finn lying beside him would interrupt either one. He stays still, feeling Finn next to him and around him for long enough that he decides it can’t totally be residual, but he still keeps his eyes closed as he talks.

“’Morning, Finn.”

“Hey,” Finn’s voice answers. “It really was real.”

“I’m not opening my eyes yet. Do you think we can make it get stronger?”

“Maybe. I thought I would dream about you, but I didn’t,” Finn says, sounding sad. “Maybe we used up our time yesterday.”

“I want to see you again,” Puck says, but he carefully keeps his eyes closed as he moves towards Finn’s voice, stopping when his lips feel warmth and something that’s almost pressure.

“Should we try to not talk to each other today? See if we can dream instead?”

“I want both,” Puck admits. “We should plan to do the exact same things today.”

“We can eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch, then go to work if you’re on tonight,” Finn says. “I was going to eat some Cheerios.”

“Yeah, I’m on. Cheerios, and then maybe Thai for lunch, the place across the street?” Puck suggests.

“Pad Thai and some of the soup?”

“Sounds good. We should set an alarm for nine or something and remember who the customer is at the end of the bar, and then compare notes later,” Puck says. “If we’re really in the exact same situations, that’d tell us something.”

“Okay. I’ll miss you until we can talk again, though,” Finn says.

“Just pretend we have slightly different jobs, and you’ll see me when we’re both off shift. Okay?”

“Okay.”

Puck presses his lips into the warmth of Finn for a second longer. “Have a good day,” he says, then slowly rolls onto his back, away from Finn, and he would swear that he can sense the moment the connection is broken. He lies in bed for a few more minutes anyway, then gets up to start the day. Cheerios, Pad Thai, and an alarm on his phone for nine pm, and Puck knows he’s in a strangely good mood as he heads to work.

It’s frustrating, sure, that he can’t see and really feel Finn in addition to hearing him, but hearing him is more than Puck’s had for a long time, and it’s not recorded or memories. It’s really Finn, one way or another, and the only thing that makes Puck sadder than the thought of how long it’s been since he’s had Finn is that Finn had to endure the same thing in reverse. The chance to somehow almost fix things, not just for Puck but for Finn too, is too good to be ignored.

Puck’s phone alarm goes off right at nine, and Puck studies the customers at the bar. One end is empty, which isn’t too unusual, but at the other end, there’s a guy with almost platinum-blond hair, drinking a glass of red wine, which makes him relatively distinctive on more than one front. Puck almost sneaks a picture of him, then realizes he wouldn’t know where to send it, which introduces another question. If he tried to access any of Finn’s old contact information, would it somehow get to him? Puck decides that since the answer might be no, he won’t try it, and it’s probably better he doesn’t sneak pictures of the customers as it is.

After his shift, he heads home and climbs into bed, briefly considering that at some point one or both of them might need sleeping pills or that Z-Quil stuff. The temptation to talk to Finn is still there, especially as he’s lying there waiting to get tired, but in case Finn’s right, he doesn’t say anything. It still takes him at least thirty more minutes to fall asleep, but finally he can feel his body getting heavy and his mind almost ready to turn to off.

***

The transition from falling asleep to being asleep happens suddenly enough that Finn can’t tell if he’s still lying in bed awake or if he’s now dreaming about being in bed. He turns his head to the side and sees Puck lying next to him, his head on the other pillow, which at least clears that up.

“Hey,” Finn says quietly.

Puck smiles. “Hey. It worked.”

“Yeah. You should kiss me real fast, just in case it stops working!”

“Good point.” Puck leans in, kissing Finn hard and then slowly deepening the kiss. Finn moves close enough to Puck to press their bodies together, running a hand over Puck’s buzzed hair. Puck slides his leg over Finn’s, closing the remaining distance between them.

The best thing about dream-kissing is that nobody really has to worry about breathing, so the kiss goes on and on, getting more passionate to the point of being almost frantic, the way they move their hands over each other’s bodies.

“I missed you so much,” Finn says during the brief pause where he’s kissing Puck’s neck instead of his mouth.

“Everything was just duller,” Puck says. “Flatter.”

“It hasn’t really felt like living. It just feels like existing,” Finn says.

“Living in a dream probably won’t help that,” Puck says wryly. “Oh! Who was at the end of the bar?”

“Blond guy, late twenties,” Finn says. “You?”

“With a glass of red wine?”

“Yeah, house red, which is pretty nasty, by the way.”

Most red wine is pretty nasty. I think that’s the same guy,” Puck says. “We’re the only things that are different.”

“That’s so weird. Cool, but weird,” Finn says. “How did this happen?”

“It has to be the accident. Either it wasn’t supposed to happen, or we were both supposed to die, or we were both supposed to walk away fine,” Puck says. “So we’re in some kind of parallel universe situation.”

“So how do we fix it? Can we fix it without both of us ending up dead?” Finn asks.

“One of us needs to sort of… pull the other one through, maybe?” Puck guesses. “And then there’d be both of us in one place, and neither of us in the other.”

“How would that even work?” Finn asks. “Do we need a ouija board or something? Black candles?”

“I’m not a demon,” Puck says with a laugh. “Doesn’t it feel like there’s something sort of between us, when we’re awake? We need to pull it down or tear a hole in it or something.”

“What if that makes both our universes collapse?”

“Then that makes us really powerful,” Puck says.

Finn laughs. “Aren’t we, though?” He kisses Puck again. “Since we’re both together in dreams, maybe we can figure out a way to wake up together in the same universe.”

“Maybe we have to really occupy the same exact space?”

“So we should run at each other really fast, and when we collide, bam! We’ll be in the same world again, right?” Finn says.

“I guess that’d be one way to make sure we were definitely in the same space, yeah,” Puck says.

“Okay, then kiss me one more time for luck, and then we’ll go to the other ends of the dream-apartment and get a running start,” Finn says.

“It’s too bad we can’t film it with dramatic music,” Puck says, then kisses Finn. “Love you.”

“Love you, too,” Finn says. He pulls away and walks to the back corner of the kitchen, the farthest spot from the front of the apartment. Puck goes to the front corner. “On three?”

Puck nods. “Okay.”

“One, two, three.” Finn starts running towards Puck, who runs towards him, and they collide hard in the center of the apartment, their heads knocking together with so much force that Finn’s vision briefly blacks out and he sees stars. When his vision clears again, he’s lying in his bed in the real-world version of his apartment, completely alone. “Shit!”

***

Puck is disappointed and annoyed enough with the particular outcome of that experiment that he ignores the throbbing in his head as an after-effect of the dream. He rolls over and goes back to sleep without any further dreaming, and by the time he goes to shave the next morning, the throbbing has more or less subsided. Despite that, when he looks in the mirror, there’s a bruise on his forehead, perfectly centered on where he and Finn collided in the dream.

“Well, fuck me,” Puck says out loud.

“Sure, if you can figure out how,” Finn’s voice replies.

“One way or another. Do you have a bruise?” Puck asks, still staring into the mirror.

“I think so. Sorry about that.”

“Go check in the mirror. We maybe accomplished something, anyway.”

“Yeah, great. We accomplished giving me a headache,” Finn says, the sound of his voice moving closer to Puck. Before Puck can reply, the mirror almost looks like it’s bending, and then Finn’s face appears, complete with a matching bruise.

“Holy shit,” Puck says, afraid to even blink.

“Hi!” Finn says. “That bruise looks really nasty. Extra sorry.”

“Yours doesn’t look any better, so we’re probably even.” Puck pokes at the mirror, but it’s still solid. “Okay, we can’t walk through mirrors or anything.”

“Which would’ve been convenient, but also super creepy, like that episode of Supernatural with all the mirrors.”

“At least we’re narrowing it down, I guess.” Puck grins. “How are we going to explain these bruises away?”

“I’m just going to say I hit my head on something,” Finn says. “I’m tall, so nobody will even question it. They’ll all figure it was a ceiling fan or a door frame.”

“I’ve never been called a ceiling fan before. Maybe I’ll tell people I fell down some stairs and hit the bannister,” Puck says. “If we don’t talk the rest of the day today, you think we’ll still dream?”

“No clue. The rules for this don’t seem really clear, still,” Finn says.

“You tried to Google it, didn’t you.”

“Google thinks I should try the ouija board.”

“I’m still not a demon!” Puck says. “Do you think it matters if you pull me or I pull you?”

“My version of reality kind of sucks, since you’re not in it. Maybe I should go to yours,” Finn says.

“I could say the same, you know.” Puck pauses, watching Finn’s image in the mirror and thinking about the way they can hear and almost feel each other. “We need… a door, maybe.”

“A magical ghost door,” Finn says. “I’m sure they have one of those down at the actual courthouse.”

“Just an old-enough door, maybe. An old house or cemetery. You can even bring your black candles.”

“Yeah, ’cause nothing could possibly go wrong in a cemetery with black candles.”

“We’ll leave the black candles on the side of the door that neither of us will be on,” Puck says with a shrug. “Maybe an old building instead of a cemetery.”

“This is really starting to sound like a horror movie plot. I don’t want to accidentally summon zombies or ghosts!” Finn says. “Maybe I’ll skip the candles.”

“No candles, okay. What if we tried after closing at work? It’s a pretty old building, and we wouldn’t get in trouble for being there, even at 3 am.”

“Sure. That way, if we knock ourselves out, we won’t be somewhere we aren’t allowed to be.”

“Tonight? Or tomorrow?”

“Your face looks like it might need a night to recover,” Finn says, “but I kinda think sooner is better.”

“Okay. I’ll see you then,” Puck says.

“Have a nice day at work,” Finn says.

Puck laughs. “You, too.” Puck blinks and steps away from the mirror for a few seconds, and when he looks again, it’s just his own bruised reflection. The day goes the same as any other work day, except that before getting on the T, he goes to the bank and nearly empties his account. If he ends up in Finn’s universe without any real way to access anything in his own, which still seems like a more than fair trade, at least he’ll have some cash to show for the hours he’s worked.

Both Melissa and Rafael comment on the fact that Puck seems awfully upbeat, especially considering the large bruise on his forehead. Puck doesn’t attempt to explain it, since there’s not a good way to word plans to go to a different universe. He volunteers to do the post-closing cleanup solo, and after the requisite couple of minutes of protest, Melissa and Rafael give in. Puck does finish the cleanup, locks the doors, then stands near the back of the main room.

“Finn?”

“Yeah, I’m here,” Finn says. “I didn’t bring any candles.”

“Me either. You think the door into the back storage room would work?”

“Maybe. Which side do we try?”

“The storage room walls are older. You should go in there and shut the door, and tell me when you’re in place,” Puck says.

“Okay.” A few beats pass, then Finn says, “In the storage room now!’

“Okay.” Puck stands in front the closed door, then closes his eyes, too, picturing Finn on the other side before reaching for the doorknob and starting to push the door open.

“Holy shit, I can see the door opening,” Finn says, sounding awed.

“Yeah?” Puck pushes the door the rest of the way open and steps through, listening to it swing partially shut behind him, and then he opens his eyes. He pivots in place, but there’s no sign of Finn. “Dammit!”

“It didn’t work?”

“I’m in the storage room now,” Puck says. “Maybe we should summon one of those crossroads demons.”

“Let me try walking out of the storage room and then back in,” Finn says. Another few beats pass before Puck hears Finn sighing loudly. “Well, you’re not on either side of the door.”

“Yeah. You, either. I guess we go home, then.”

“Crap. This sucks. I really thought it would work,” Finn says.

“Yeah, me too,” Puck admits. “Maybe we’ll still have a dream, anyway.”

“I hope so,” Finn says. “If we have to live like this forever, we’ll probably end up going crazy.”

“There are worse things than hearing your voice, you know,” Puck says. “See you at home? Or, well, hear you. Hopefully see you.”

“I’ll go stand in front of the mirror like a creeper and look for you.”

Puck laughs and heads out of the storage room and then the bar. The streets are empty enough that they could probably get away with talking unnoticed, but just in case, Puck doesn’t want either of them picked up on a suspicion of public intoxication or something. By the time he’s home, he’s exhausted, but he goes into the bathroom and carefully looks into the mirror.

“Hi!” Finn says, grinning back at him from the mirror. “It worked!”

“Now I really wish we could walk through a mirror,” Puck says. “Your bruise looks a little better.”

“Yeah, yours, too. I could try punching through the mirror.”

Puck winces. “You’d just get little shards in your fist, dumbass!”

“It’d be worth it if it got me to you!” Finn says.

“Yeah, but I don’t think it would,” Puck admits. “Bedtime?”

“Yeah. That’s the best time,” Finn says. “Want to talk for a little while before we sleep, or just try to fall straight to sleep?”

“Sleep,” Puck says after a moment. “Just in case.”

“Okay. Goodnight, Puck.”

“’Night, Finn.” Puck hurriedly brushes his teeth and then lies down, and he realizes that he isn’t totally sure if he’s been adjusting for Finn’s presence all along or if he had quickly fallen into the habit. Either way, he closes his eyes with one hand lying close to where he thinks Finn’s might be, and after what feels like a few minutes, he must fall asleep, because he suddenly can feel Finn’s hand on his. “Hey.”

“Hey. Long time, no see,” Finn says, wrapping his hand around Puck’s.

“If this is crazy, I’m pretty much totally okay with that,” Puck says, scooting closer and laying his head on Finn’s upper arm. “When one of us comes through to the other one, do you want to stay in Pittsburgh?”

“It’s been pretty good to me,” Finn says. “I like the apartment.”

“It’s still plenty big enough for both of us, I think,” Puck says. “Oh. I don’t really drive.”

“I haven’t since I moved here. I guess I could always get a car again if we needed one.”

“And meanwhile, I get a prescription for tranquilizers for both of us?” Puck asks, shaking his head.

“Yeah, maybe we’ll just stick to the T,” Finn says. “Good ol’ T, never killed either of us.”

“Yeah, and maybe if we leave Pittsburgh ever, we go someplace with even better transit,” Puck says with a little grin.

“Or a nice walking city.”

“Planes would be fine, too.”

“We’ll move to Venice, travel by boat,” Finn says.

“Slight problem,” Puck says. “Neither of us speak Italian.”

“Venice Beach, then.”

Puck’s not entirely sure if Venice Beach also has canals, but he shrugs and nods, because if nothing else, beaches are usually walkable in movies and television shows. “We’ll be a little quirky together,” he says with some finality, then kisses Finn.

Finn kisses back for a while before pulling back a little and saying, “Yeah, that sounds good.”

“Do you think about that night?” Puck asks, kissing Finn’s mouth and then his neck.

“Only all the time,” Finn says. “It was my last good night, until now.”

“We’re so good together. We should do that again,” Puck says, putting his hand on Finn’s lower back and pressing a little.

Finn nods his head, grabbing the bottom of Puck’s shirt and tugging it up. “We should do that again right now,” Finn says. “While we know we can.”

“Do you think the dream provides lube?” Puck says as he lifts his arms up to assist Finn. Finn drags the shirt up and over Puck’s head, dropping it to the floor.

“Well, this looks like my room, so it’s probably in that drawer,” Finn says, pointing to a dresser that doesn’t exist in Puck’s version of the apartment.

“Always knew that extra year you spent in Cub Scouts’d come in handy,” Puck says. He pulls Finn’s shirt off and tosses it on top of his. “Too bad we don’t have magical powers in these dreams, because then neither of us would have to get up to get it.”

Finn scrunches his face up, reaching towards the dresser, before relaxing and shaking his head with a little laugh. “Nope. I tried, though.”

“A Jedi you will not be,” Puck says as he laughs with Finn. “I love you. I’ll get it.” He kisses Finn and then stands up and goes to the dresser, opening the drawer Finn’d pointed to. “Phew, there’s lube,” he says, holding it up.

“I said there would be,” Finn says. “I don’t know why I even keep it in the apartment. Not like I’ve done a lot of dating or anything.”

“Aspirational lube,” Puck says as he walks back to the bed and hands the bottle to Finn. “I like it. Want me to take these off?” he asks, pointing to his underwear.

“Yeah. You get yours, I’ll get mine,” Finn says, already starting to shimmy out of his own boxers.

“Good plan.” Puck kicks his underwear off and climbs back onto the bed, straddling Finn. “Hi again.”

Finn grins up at Puck. “Hi. How’s it going?”

“Pretty damn good, actually. Best dream I’ve had, ever.”

Finn puts his hands on Puck’s thighs, sliding them up to his hips. “Me, too. I’m good not waking up.”

“Mmm. Yeah.” Puck drops so he’s hovering just over Finn. “‘Pittsburgh Man In Strange Coma’ or something.”

“That sounds good to me,” Finn says, gripping Puck’s hips. “I’ll just stay here with you and be happy.”

“Shit, I missed you so much,” Puck admits, kissing Finn instead of trying to continue talking. Finn uses his grip on Puck’s hips to pull him down, their chests pressing together as they kiss. Puck leaves one hand on the bed, propping himself up, and he rocks his hips down as he puts his other hand on Finn’s shoulder. Finn makes a whiny noise into Puck’s mouth, the same sound he had made during their one night together before the accident, still pulling down on Puck’s hips.

Puck kisses Finn harder, bringing their hips together as he opens his mouth wider. Finn’s tongue flicks against his, while Finn’s fingers dig into Puck’s hips. Finn rolls his hips to press his dick against Puck’s, and Puck can hear himself making a somewhat whiny noise himself. He lowers almost all of his weight onto Finn, moving his hands into Finn’s hair. Finn wraps one arm around Puck, his hand splaying across Puck’s upper back. His other hand slides down to Puck’s ass.

“Don’t wake up,” Finn says between kisses. “Stay here with me.”

“All I want’s to stay with you. This is so good. You’re the best thing I’ve ever seen,” Puck says, feeling a little desperate suddenly.

“Then stay,” Finn says, his hands moving across Puck’s back and ass. “We’ll both stay. We don’t have to wake up.” He kisses the side of Puck’s neck, then nips at it. “Don’t wake up.”

“I’ll stay with you,” Puck promises, then rocks his hips again to push their dicks together.

Finn lets out another low whine against Puck’s neck. “I missed you so much.”

“I missed you, too. No one’s ever understood me like you,” Puck says.

“We were supposed to have so much time,” Finn says. “It wasn’t fair.”

Puck shakes his head. “No. It wasn’t.” He kisses Finn’s lips and nose and chin and jaw. “I want to know which one of us goes grey first.”

“Probably you,” Finn says, rolling his hips and pushing up against Puck. “I want you everywhere.”

“You’re going to tease me about it, aren’t you?” Puck asks. “Roll us over.”

Finn rolls them both, until he has Puck underneath him, pinned against the bed. He immediately starts kissing Puck’s neck and chest, keeping as much of his body on Puck’s as possible, his hands on Puck’s shoulders and arms, stroking Puck’s sides. Puck arches up, pressing into Finn as hard as he can, and he wraps one leg around Finn. Finn catches Puck by both wrists, bringing Puck’s arms up over his head and pinning them to the bed.

“Love you so much,” Finn says, kissing Puck’s mouth, then his throat, then his chest.

“Not going to let me go, huh?”

“No way,” Finn says, pressing Puck’s wrists a little more firmly to the bed, both of them under one of Finn’s hands. He flicks his tongue across Puck’s right nipple. Puck whimpers, his back arching. “You still like that?”

Puck nods, grinning. “I knew you’d remember that.”

“I remember everything,” Finn says, running his tongue over Puck’s left nipple. Puck whimpers again, wiggling a little. Finn does it a few more times, moving from the left side to the right and back again, then gently catching the right nipple between his teeth.

“Mean,” Puck whines, moving without any real effort behind the attempt.

Finn lifts his head and grins at Puck. “I’m not mean. You like it.”

“The two don’t rule each other out,” Puck says as he returns the grin.

“Fine. I’m mean and you like it,” Finn says. “Tell me what you want.”

“You. More. Everything?” Puck says.

“What’s the thing you want the most, then?”

Puck has to close his eyes for a moment before he can open them and try to respond. “To wake up next to you.”

Finn’s eyes suddenly look too shiny as he blinks rapidly. “Yeah,” he says, voice rough. “Yeah, that’s what I want most, too, but I don’t know how to do that.”

“I know.” Puck takes a deep breath and smiles a little. “Guess I’ll just have to make do with you inside me?” he says lightly.

“You’ll suffer through it, huh?” Finn asks.

“Oh, happily,” Puck says, smiling more.

“Where’d the lube go?”

“Probably under my ass,” Puck says. “I was wondering if your mattress was firmer than mine, but…” he says as he lifts up a little.

“This one feels the same as mine,” Finn says, reaching under Puck with the hand not currently pinning his wrists. He briefly holds the bottle where Puck can see it. “Guess I have to let you go now. Don’t leave, okay?”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Puck promises.

“Okay.” Finn kisses Puck again deeply before releasing his wrists and running his hand down Puck’s left arm and chest. He shifts to the side so his hand can fit between them, lightly tracing his fingertips along Puck’s dick. Puck wiggles in spite of his best efforts.

“Tickles!” he finally says.

“You don’t like it?” Finn asks, touching a little more firmly, grazing the head of Puck’s dick with his thumb.

“You know I do,” Puck says, rocking his hips up slightly.

Finn nods. “Yeah. I know.” His fingers curl around Puck’s dick. “You like this, too.”

“Oh yeah.” Puck pushes into Finn’s hand. “So do you.”

“I love it,” Finn says, beginning to slowly jerk Puck off. Puck whimpers a little, moving with Finn’s hand.

“I know,” Puck says, drawing out the last syllable. Finn’s hand moves faster, and Finn starts kissing Puck again, sometimes on the mouth and sometimes on the neck or shoulders. Puck shifts his weight a little to push harder into Finn’s hand, one leg still around Finn’s.

Finn shifts position, so he’s between Puck’s legs again, sitting back on his heels slightly. He keeps stroking Puck’s dick, staring at his face. “We should’ve stayed in bed that morning.”

“We were going to go back to bed. Remember?” Puck shakes his head. “I love you.”

“We should’ve just stayed,” Finn says again. He flicks the bottle of lube open with his free hand, drizzling a little on Puck’s dick while he continues jerking him off. “This is definitely a dream, ’cause the lube isn’t ice cold.”

Puck laughs. “The people in charge of the universes thought we were owed something, I guess.”

“They’re right,” Finn says. He strokes Puck’s dick a few more times before letting his hand move down to Puck’s balls, then behind them, pressing a slick fingertip to Puck’s hole.

“Yeah, they are,” Puck agrees, angling his hips up. “Yeah, that’s what I want.”

Finn’s finger slips in deeper, his eyes still on Puck’s face. Puck nods and rocks his hips slightly. Finn pushes in even more, crooking his fingertip slightly. “Good?”

“Yeah. It’s so good,” Puck says, half-closing his eyes.

“You want more?”

“Duh,” Puck says, his hips rocking again. “I want all.”

Finn laughs quietly. “Okay.” He slides a second finger into Puck, and Puck wiggles his hips a little as he feels himself stretching around Finn as Finn pushes in deeper.

“See, that’s better,” Puck says.

“Yeah,” Finn says. “Definitely.” He puts his free hand on Puck’s dick, jerking him and moving inside him at the same time.

“What do you want?” Puck asks.

“Just you. Just this,” Finn says. “I just want to be inside you.”

“Good.” Puck puts his hand on Finn’s arm. “More’s good.”

Finn nods. “As much as you want.” He adds a third finger, pushing them inside Puck’s ass and pressing up.

“Fuck,” Puck breathes, sliding down so he can tilt his hips at a different angle. “I missed this specifically, too.”

“You want me to just keeping doing this?” Finn asks.

“Not just this. You do have great hands, though.”

“You’ve got a great ass,” Finn says, “but I think we’ve had this conversation before.”

“You can compliment my ass any time you feel like it,” Puck says. “I won’t complain.”

“I think it’s even hotter than two years ago.”

“All the walking, maybe?” Puck guesses.

“Maybe I just appreciate it even more now,” Finn says. “Just tell me when you’re ready.”

“Oh, I could have been ready right away.” Puck laughs and runs his hand down Finn’s arm. “Whenever you are.”

“I’m ready. I want to,” Finn says. He leans forward to kiss Puck again, moving his mouth and tongue slowly as he slides his fingers out of Puck’s ass. Puck whimpers into Finn’s mouth, one leg still wrapped around Finn. Finn shifts up onto his knees, pushing Puck’s free leg back, then Puck can feel the head of Finn’s dick pressing against his hole.

“Come on,” Puck says softly, tugging on any part of Finn that he can reach. Even as Finn starts moving again, Puck keeps pulling, feeling Finn pushing inside and his hole stretching. Puck exhales, grinning at Finn. “Come here often?”

Finn starts laughing, letting his head drop forward so his forehead rests against Puck’s. “I could, as often as you want.”

“I think it’s a good plan, is all,” Puck says, rocking his hips. “Feel good?”

“Feels perfect,” Finn says, slowly starting to move his hips, pushing in deeper before pulling back until he’s halfway out of Puck again.

“Missed you so much,” Puck says softly, rocking his entire lower body to match Finn’s movements. “You feel so fucking good inside me.”

“Let’s stay here and do this forever.”

“Okay.” Puck pulls Finn down into another kiss. “Maybe with some resting in between.”

Finn moves faster, rocking into Puck while they kiss. Puck wraps his other leg around Finn, too, meeting each of Finn’s downward movements. Finn makes a low noise, deeper than a whine, as he moves faster and harder.

“I love you, love you so much,” Puck whispers.

“I love you,” Finn says. “God, so much, Puck.”

“This is all we need. Just you and me,” Puck says, kissing Finn like he’s trying to make up for two years. Finn nods without pulling away from Puck, kissing him hard. The bed shakes, headboard banging against the wall, but there’s no neighbors to worry about here. Puck clings to Finn’s shoulders with his hands, still moving with Finn.

“This is so good,” Finn murmurs against Puck’s lips. “You feel so good, so real.”

“We’re real. I can’t explain it, but we are.”

“I want to make you come. I want to make you feel good. I love you so much.”

“I know. I know. I do,” Puck says. “We’ll come at the same time.”

Finn leans up slightly, snagging Puck by the wrists again and pushing them above his head. Finn holds Puck down with one hand, taking his face in the other hand, kissing him hard, teeth grazing against Puck’s lower lip. Puck whines and stretches up towards Finn, his hips still moving.

“It’s okay,” Finn whispers. “We can come back here again, we can keep coming back here, just come for me now, Puck, come with me.”

Puck can hear himself almost yelling more than he realizes he’s making the noise, his body pressing against Finn’s as he comes. He shakes a little, his eyes closed, and Finn shakes too, crying out and thrusting wildly into Puck.

“I love you,” Puck says after a few moments. “You feel perfect.”

“So do you,” Finn says, wrapping himself around Puck.

“We’ll just stay here, just like this,” Puck says. “There’s got to be a way to stay asleep.”

“Maybe if we stay awake in the dream, we’ll stay asleep.” Finn nuzzles his face into Puck’s neck. “So we just have to stay awake.”

“That’ll get harder, because it feels like we should fall asleep now.”

“Gotta stay awake to stay asleep,” Finn says softly.

“I love you,” Puck says, because he can feel how both of them are close to falling asleep.

“Love you,” Finn repeats back, his body getting heavier and his breathing slowing.

“We’ll figure something out,” Puck whispers. “I don’t know how, but we’ll do something.”

***

Finn jolts awake in a panic, light streaming the the window of the apartment. He hadn’t meant to fall asleep in the dream, or wake up back in the regular, Puck-less world, but he must have, because now it’s day and he’s woken up in the bed—

“Finn,” Puck’s voice says, sounding like he’s not completely awake, and the bed squeaks a little before Puck’s hand lands on Finn’s chest.

“Oh! Hey!” Finn says softly, rolling towards Puck. “We must’ve done it, Puck. We’re still both here! We stayed asleep!”

“It’s really bright for sleeping,” Puck says, squinting at Finn. “Are you sure you didn’t pull me into your universe or something?”

“This isn’t my blanket,” Finn says, patting the bedspread on top of them.

“It’s not mine, either,” Puck says as he frowns at it.

Finn lifts his head from the pillow and looks around the room. “Is there a third person here we don’t know about?”

“I think we’d have noticed, or they’d have noticed us,” Puck says. “We could try eating. You probably can’t eat in a dream.”

“I think I had some Pop-Tarts. If they’re here, it’s gotta still be the dream, right?” Finn says, sitting up and giving the room another look. “That’s my dresser, but I don’t recognize the table.”

“The table’s mine,” Puck says as he lifts his head. “I was out of Pop-Tarts, whatever that means.”

“Okay. I’ll be right back,” Finn says. He realizes as he stands up that he’s still naked, which confirms the dream theory, but when he goes into the kitchen, he can’t find any Pop-Tarts. He also doesn’t recognize the plates, but the glasses and coffee cups are the ones he bought when he got to Pittsburgh. He grabs a couple of granola bars from a box on top of the fridge and carries them back to the bed, tossing one to Puck. “No Pop-Tarts.”

“Huh.” Puck unwraps the granola bar and takes a bite. “Feels like I’m really eating.”

Finn unwraps his own granola bar and starts to eat it, which does feel real. “Puck, I think this food is real food.”

“Did we change one of the universes?” Puck asks, eating more of the granola bar. “Because neither one of us is dead.”

“I mean, I don’t think we’re dead,” Finn says. His phone is on the table, next to a second phone he hasn’t seen before. He picks up his phone and briefly thumbs through his email. “I’ve got internet. Is this other phone yours?”

“Yeah.” Puck stretches to grab it. “Me too. I mean, I guess there could be wifi in the afterlife, but it seems unlikely that I’d have an email about shifts for next week.”

“But I have an email about shifts for next week,” Finn says, turning his phone around to show Puck the screen.

“Finn,” Puck says slowly. “Read the actual email.”

Finn turns the phone back around. “It’s to both of us. We’re both scheduled to work Tuesday to Saturday.” He looks up at Puck. “How are we both scheduled?”

Puck looks like he’s on the verge of laughter. “Do you think that means there’s a universe where there’s only two bartenders on the schedule?”

“I sure fucking hope so,” Finn says, starting to smile.

“Do you think we can get away with some fake coughing and calling in sick, just for today?” Puck asks. “After we leave the apartment and eat some lunch somewhere, talk to a few people.”

“I’m pretty sure that if you’re sick, I’d be sick, too.”

“Exactly. No point in getting any customers sick though, right?” Puck says. “We’d have to stay here together.”

“How is this happening?” Finn asks. “How is this real? How are you here?”

“The same way you are, I guess,” Puck says. “I don’t know how but I say we take it and don’t ask too many questions, you know?”

“You’re right,” Finn says, looking down at the phone in his left hand. Something on his finger catches the light. “Um. Puck?”

“Yeah?” Puck looks up. Finn holds up his hand to show Puck the plain gold band on his left ring finger. Puck’s eyes get a little wide before he drops them to look at his own hands. “At least we match,” Puck says. “I’d be worried if we didn’t.”

“Do you think it still counts if it happened in a different universe and we don’t remember it?”

“Maybe it counts even more. Inter-universe commitment.”

Finn keeps smiling as he sits down on the bed next to Puck again, and doesn’t stop smiling even while he’s kissing Puck. “I hope we’ve got pictures somewhere.”

“Probably in the living room,” Puck guesses. “But I need to know our anniversary so no one can say either of us forgot it.”

“We’ll figure it out,” Finn says. “We’ll figure it all out. You’re here, though, and I’m here, and we aren’t dreaming or hallucinating.”

Puck grins. “I think that makes us pretty damn special.”

“Damn right it does,” Finn says. “So… does that mean we can go back to bed now?”

Puck grabs Finn’s left hand in his left hand. “I think these rings mean we’re more or less contractually obligated to, yeah. What a hardship, huh?”

“Terrible,” Finn says. “I love you.”

Puck kisses Finn’s hand. “I know. I love you too.”

“Maybe the universe—or universes, I guess—decided they really did owe us,” Finn says. “Maybe all of this is just the universes fixing their mistake and apologizing.”

“I don’t know how we managed to make it happen, but it’s so cool. I mean, we always knew we were great together, but we fixed an entire universe.”

“We probably only get the one fix, though, so we should probably buy life insurance and, I don’t know, get regular check-ups,” Finn says.

“No more smoking, yeah,” Puck agrees. “We won’t take any chances with it.”

“Always use safety equipment. Salt the steps every day.”

Puck kisses Finn. “We can work out – on indoor treadmills. And we’ll go buy some vegetables later. Stir fries for lunch.”

“We’ll make it to 90 or something,” Finn says.

Puck takes Finn’s other hand and turns the rest of the way to face him. “I am one hundred percent holding you to that as a solemn vow. Okay? You promise?”

Finn looks in Puck’s eyes, smiling. “Promise.”