Pairing: Gen fic; Kurt/Blaine, Finn/Rachel, Tina/Mike, past Santana/Brittany
Word Count: 1,000+
Summary: “Family is a place where everyone loves you no matter what, and they accept you for who you are.” - Brittany S. Pierce
Author’s note: I'm not putting in a warning, but be aware that I've been told this makes people cry. I teared up writing it, so be careful. The title is from "The End" by The Beatles, as in "and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."
It goes against all expectations, against every single rule of how life usually works that they keep in touch after they all graduate from McKinley.
The first wave of graduates scatters across the country, young and scared, but full of hope for their future. This wave would go on to be referred to as the Seniors for the rest of their lives, even when they’ve all been out of school for more years than they’re willing to count. Many visits back to Lima are made and it is easy, so easy to get together in a basement or a backyard to celebrate being young and carefree.
Things change when the Juniors graduate and leave Lima; coordinating everyone’s visit became harder, nearly impossible, so the size of their reunions diminished, one or two or three of them missing and missed, maybe, when they were mentioned in passing. It was before they realized how precious what they had was, before they understood how big a part of their identity those sporadic meetings were, before it became a sacred tradition to meet up twice a year.
College comes and goes, graduation parties happening all at once all over the country and keeping them apart. They send congratulation cards filled with promises and ‘see you soon,’ but no one is going back to Lima, they have the world waiting for them and Ohio is the past.
Mike and Tina’s wedding is the first time they’re all in the same place at once since the Juniors’ graduation. The wedding is lovely and Rachel, Kurt, and Mercedes weep openly as their fourth ally, their quiet strength, walks down the aisle in a exquisite dress Kurt designed. Happiness colours her cheeks the same shade of red than the bouquet she’s clutching tightly, the only hint that she’s nervous. The evening only ends when the karaoke machine breaks after a drunken duet between Santana and Mercedes sends a glass of champagne flying into it.
Later, much later, they will all agree that Tina made the most beautiful bride of them all and she’ll blush and punch the arm of the first person she can reach, socking Puck and shrieking with laughter when he gathers her in his arms and dumps her in the pool while their kids giggle with delight.
And then there are six months of nightmare when Kurt and Blaine break up and no one knows what to do. It’s the first break-up to happen since high school and when Santana and Brittany ended it, and it doesn’t make sense because it’s KurtandBlaine, the unshakable duo, the ones they were so sure they’d marry soon. There’s a new boyfriend, only one, Kurt’s, and he’s brought along to a dinner that Blaine politely explained he would have to skip for personal reasons. It’s all wrong and even Kurt can tell, he doesn’t get along with any of them and Rachel leaves before the end, not even bothering to pretend it’s for any other reason than Kurt’s new guy.
The next time they meet up, Blaine is back and they’re announcing an engagement everyone assumed had already happened back in high school. The wedding takes place within the year, a dazzling affair in a New York hotel. Puck hijacks Finn’s best man speech to declare he endorses all responsibility for this ceremony and that they should all thank him for sending Kurt to spy on The Warblers nearly a decade ago. Blaine gets up to hug him under the applause of the guests while Finn wrestles the microphone out of Puck’s hands to try and say what’s left of his speech.
Only Sugar and Quinn can make it to Mercedes’ first album release party, bringing with them a card signed by everyone; it had taken months of planning and cost a ridiculous amount of money in stamps, but they managed to get a note from all of their friends. It makes Mercedes cry and hug them tightly for too long, ignoring her other guests. She ends the evening huddled away in a corner with her two friends, the three of them whispering and giggling like gossiping schoolgirls.
They all get front row tickets to Rachel’s first Broadway show as the leading role and the same happen with Blaine a few years later. Those with kids sometimes receive packages filled with clothes handmade by Kurt and it’s with pride that they watch Quinn’s first movie in theatre or recognize signature Brittany or Mike dance moves in a music video. For most of them, life is unfolding like they want it to and the future looks as bright as it did when they walked out of McKinley, diploma in hand.
Sam, Finn and Artie are the ones who fly out to LA to bail Puck out of jail and sign him up for rehab. They don’t talk about those years, when they were all so busy with their own lives that they let one of their own fall deeper and deeper until he crashed at the bottom and hid there, never calling for help, never letting anyone know how much he needed them. It’s a phone call from Burt to Finn after he heard the news between the branches that send the three men across the country to rescue their friend. Those who can afford the trip take turns visiting him and he spends a year living with Sam until one day he calls them one by one to apologize for the past three years. A reunion is organized in his honour and they all cry; Puck starts it when he says he doesn’t feel good enough to sit between two rising Broadway stars and they join in when Blaine smacks him behind the head for that, backed up by everyone when he says they only want him to be happy, nothing more.
Boyfriends and girlfriends come and go and they can tell when someone will last: they face them with their head high instead of cowering from the united front they present. They join in on the jokes and laugh at their stories and before they know it, there are weddings and more kids added to the lot.
The kids. There are so many kids. Tina and Mike’s and Rachel and Finn’s and after years of struggle Kurt and Blaine’s and Santana and Brittany’s with their respective partners, and Quinn and her lawyer husband’s, and Sugar’s and Mercedes’ and by the time the last one is born (Puck’s) the first one is graduating college. They’re all there to cheer for Mike’s carbon-copy as he receives his diploma and he pretends to be embarrassed as the people he introduces as his uncles and aunts all want pictures with him.
Kurt and Blaine babysit almost every night for two months while Rachel and Finn file their divorce. It’s eight weeks of coaxing their scared nieces to bed every night with promises that everything will be alright even as their parents tear themselves apart and try to make everyone take sides.
It’s just one of the many fall outs that pulls them apart, small meetings happening from time to time until they don’t and they go three years without hearing from anyone except for Christmas cards filled with family pictures and generic messages.
It’ll take Burt’s funeral to bring them all back together. Kurt is cold and distant through it all, thanking everyone for coming with stilted words and a forced smile and it’s more heart-wrenching than if he were crying, his silence screaming louder than tears. Finn and Rachel spend the night in the backyard of the Hudson-Hummels’ dressing the wounds the divorce gave them, relearning to be friends after two years of constant warfare over custody and child support while inside, Blaine holds Kurt close as he cries himself to sleep, the realization that he’s now an orphan finally hitting him.
From that moment on, the tradition is born. They always meet in Ohio, where it all began. It’s their very own high school reunion that always ends with a trip down memory lane as they go back on McKinley’s campus, rehashing stories as old as time; Lady Gaga week, West Side Story, that one time Puck dressed as a girl and that other one when Finn wrapped himself in a shower curtain, and does anyone remember when Kurt and Rachel had a diva off and we were all in wheelchairs, and that time Puck spiked the bake sale cupcakes and that time Sue stole our Christmas tree?
They realize too late that what they have is a family. Even with their kids calling everyone Auntie this and Uncle that, it takes the death of one of their own for them to realize that they were more than friends, probably had been seen high school. Artie’s cancer is vicious and it takes him down in less than a year, giving them no time for goodbyes. Another late night conversation, sat in a circle in the Berrys’ basement like they have so often before, and they don’t mention that for the first time in thirty years no one had to haul down a wheelchair. The years are weighing them down and making them wise enough to know they need to talk about this, so they do, until tears sting their eyes as the radio plays “Dancing With Myself.”
“A lifetime ago,” Santana begins in a quiet voice, her rough edges softened by the decades, “a clever blonde told me that family is a place where everyone loves you no matter what, and they accept you for who you are. She was right.”
They wake Artie all night, exchanging their best memories of him in whispered and hushed tones, and around three in the morning someone has the terrible idea to watch the Christmas special he directed, bringing a fresh batch of tears mixed with laughter at how silly they look. They hug longer and tighter when the sun rises and they need to go back to their own lives, with promises to see each other again soon.
Artie is the first of many deaths, spread over the decades until there’s so few left of them that they fit in a single booth of the restaurant that replaced Breadstix so long ago. They’re barely recognizable, now, only the glimmer in their eyes unchanged from the high school kids who once met together for Valentine’s Day or before Junior Prom. And they may be widowed or slowed down by arthritis, but when they gather in the single car it took to get them to the restaurant and “Don’t Stop Believing” starts playing, they sing along like it’s 2010 again and winning Regionals is the most important thing in the world.
And maybe it was, because it’s what brought them together, forging bonds that lasted them a lifetime, ensuring that they would never be alone.
“Ohana means family, and family means that nobody gets left behind. Or forgotten.”