A/N: It's been a long time coming but here it is. The Epilogue. Thanks to everyone who has faved and alerted the story and me, it's meant a lot to me. This has been a long and winding journey and while I'm kind of sad to see the end of it I'm kind of happy to move on from it as well. On to other things…speaking of which if anyone has ideas/prompts they would like written up, PM me or leave me a note in a review on this fic and I'll give it a go for you :-)…thanks again for reading and all of the lovely reviews.
Oh and for the purposes of this chapter they were all in the same year at school, including Jacob Ben Israel.
Also…long Epilogue is long…over 10k words in fact…
Disclaimer: I don't own Glee…
McKinley High School Auditorium, 2022.
"I truly hope that you can all keep that in your minds, in case a situation like this ever does arise in your life, so that you can hopefully change the life of someone who feels like they have nowhere else to go and no options left to get out of a bad situation. I was so incredibly lucky to have had the people around me that I did. If I hadn't the outcome would have been very, very different. Sooner or later Cameron would have snapped, regardless of where we were and who we knew," Natasha breathed deeply to settle her jumpy heart before continuing. "If it hadn't been for these girls reaching out to me then my sister would have had no one that she felt she could trust enough to call that night. If it hadn't been for them…we never would have got to that night. I'd have ended it long before then," she said candidly. "I'm not ashamed to admit that I was someone who felt like I had no options left."
Natasha looked out at the packed auditorium, seeing her Mom, Dad and Jemimah sitting with Santana, Quinn and Brittany in the front row. The rest of the Glee Club was there too, as well as Mr Schuester, Ms. Pillsbury-Schuester (she still refused to just change her name, much to the original New Direction members' amusement) and surprisingly, Coach Sylvester.
"This isn't the first time I have spoken to a group of high school students about this. But it's the first time I have done it back here at McKinley. This is the first time any of my family or friends have been here to hear it. So I want to change it up a bit and I want to say, to everyone involved back then: Thank you. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you to Coach Sylvester and Mr Schue for coming to my rescue that night. Thank you to Ms. Pillsbury-Schuester for all of her loving words to me throughout the rest of my school days here, I know I was kind of resistant to them at the time but they really did mean so much to me. And they have stuck with me. Thank you to my Mom, my Dad and my little brother and sister, for letting me heal, for letting me go through what I had to go through to get to a point where I could cope with everything, for putting up with so much crap from me during my darker days and for never losing faith in me. Thank you to Rachel, Puck, Finn, Lauren, Kurt, Tina, Mercedes, Blaine, Artie, Sam and Mike, for just being there, for picking me up when I was down and for providing so many laughs and good times to cheer me up. You guys are all so awesome…" Natasha took a deep breath. "But most of all I want to take this opportunity to thank Brittany, Santana and Quinn. There aren't enough words in the English language, or any language for that matter, that can convey my gratefulness to the three of you. You were pulling me out of the darkness, even before the worst of it hit. You showed so much love and compassion to someone you barely even knew. As long as I live I will never forget how safe and loved I felt that night at Brittany's. I can't put into words how it feels to feel like you have nowhere to go and then to have someone give you a place, a place that's safe, where you don't have to lie, but you don't have to explain either, a place where you can just be. It meant everything to me. It means everything to me. Wherever we are and whatever we do; you three will always be my safe place. Always. I love you guys," Natasha finished, shrugging shyly, her nose slightly scrunched as she grinned. The auditorium burst into applause at the woman's display gratitude.
"Ok, ok," she giggled shyly into the microphone. "I have a little more time, does anyone have questions? Or comments?" she asked. A young girl near the front raised her hand. "Yeah?" Natasha asked, gesturing at her.
"I just wanted to say that you're really brave standing up there and telling your story. You're really inspiring and I love that you've taken an awful situation and used it to do something really, really good in the world. And your friends sound awesome," the girl added with a grin.
"Aw thanks," Natasha beamed, her eyes welling up. "And yeah, they are." The girl sat down and a boy further back put up his hand. "Yes," Natasha indicated at him with a smile. Natasha answered a couple of questions and fielded lots of comments about her bravery for the next half hour until the bell rang, signalling the end of her time with the students. She was packing up her laptop and chatting with Quinn when a young boy approached her.
"Uh, excuse me Miss Isaacs?" he asked timidly, staring at his converse sneakers.
"Yes?" Natasha asked politely.
"I..I just wanted to thank you. I used to go to school in New York and you presented there one day. My dad was beating me and my Mom up at the time. People noticed but no one did anything. After you came and talked about what happened to you my friends told the teachers and they called the cops. They threw my dad in lockup and my mom moved us here to get a fresh start. If it wasn't for you sharing your story, we'd still be in that house," The boy never looked up from his feet.
"I…I…," Natasha struggled to find the words. "I'm so glad to hear that," she finally told him softly.
"I was wondering if…maybe it's inappropriate," the boy shrugged before finally looking Natasha in the eye. "But I was wondering if maybe I could give you a thank you hug?" he asked shyly. Natasha felt the lump in her throat and tears welling in her eyes as she carefully held out her arms. The boy cautiously stepped into them and gave Natasha an almost bone crushing hug. "Thank you," he whispered next to her ear. He let her go and smiled at her brightly before turning to walk away. "Bye," he called over his shoulder. Natasha managed to say a shaky 'Goodbye' back, still wrestling with her emotions.
"I guess that's why you continue to put yourself through this," Quinn said softly from behind her. Natasha nodded, not trusting her voice yet. Quinn stepped up behind her and wrapped her arms around her waist, planting a kiss on Natasha's cheek before resting her chin on her shoulder. She held her tightly as she fought to get back in control of herself. Quinn had been getting more and more exasperated lately with Natasha's determination to make the best of her situation by helping others, seemingly at the expense of her own happiness. After every presentation so far Natasha had wound up crying herself to sleep, curled up in a tiny little ball on the end of Quinn's bed. It was exhausting for both of them but Natasha insisted that if she could help one person, it would be worth it. She also claimed it was therapeutic, so when Figgins had offered her the chance to present to William McKinley High while they were in town for their ten year reunion Natasha had jumped at it. Quinn had sighed and begun preparing herself for the emotional fallout. She had the feeling it'd be a lot harder for her, talking about this back where most of it had happened.
"You ok there Warrior Princess?" Puck asked gently as he walked up. Quinn smiled at him and squeezed Natasha tighter to her.
"I'm good Puck," Natasha replied, smiling at him.
"You did good up there," he told her, reaching out to wipe away a stray tear that was about to drip off of her chin with his thumb.
"Thanks," Natasha smiled.
"Threesome?" he asked with a lecherous smirk, sending Natasha into a fit of hysterical laughter.
"Puckerman, fuck!" Santana cursed from behind him, reaching out to slap the back of his head, hard. "You have a wife you asshole." Puck just laughed and walked away with a small wave. Santana rolled her eyes after him with a grin before turning to her friends. "We're all going to Rachel's Dads' place to drink, catch up and reminisce all night," she told them.
"Sweet," Natasha extracted herself from Quinn's grip, picking up her laptop bag before slinging an arm around Santana's waist. Santana kissed her temple and Quinn couldn't help but smile at the easy affection between the two of them. Being back here she couldn't help but think of the way they used to be and how much had changed in ten years.
Back at Rachel's, the original New Directions members all sat around in the basement, catching up. Their various significant others had all gone and left them to their catch up session. They were all talking about where they were at today. Natasha, Santana, Quinn, Brittany, Rachel, Blaine and Kurt were all in New York. Brittany and Natasha had opened a small performing arts school together and taught dance and singing classes, while Santana was working as an orthopaedic surgeon. Brittany and Santana had gotten married three years after leaving school and had a three year old daughter Mikaeli who was currently at Santana's parents' house. Natasha had been with her current girlfriend Alannah for nearly three years.
Quinn was working as an Assistant District Attorney, mostly prosecuting homicides. It was heavy work and she had deflected most of the questions her old friends had asked with a sad little smile. It was an emotionally difficult job but Quinn truly believed that she was making a difference in the world by putting away some of the most violent criminals in the city. Her and Natasha were incredibly close and Quinn was firmly of the opinion that she would be in a padded room somewhere if it wasn't for Natasha's (and Santana and Brittany's) unwavering love and support. Her boyfriend of a year, Rob, was a chef, who owned and ran Quinn's favourite restaurant.
Rachel, as everyone had known she would be, was now a star on Broadway. She had had lead roles in several amazing plays, her current play, which had run for the last two years and showed no signs of ending anytime soon, had been a hit from the start with people all over the world coming to see it. The man she married had come as a surprise to most of her friends (and her Dads as Natasha had found out during one hilarious drunken night), they had always thought she would marry another actor, her own leading man. But she had fallen in love with the lighting director of the play and married him six years ago. They had a four year old son Jayden who had told Rachel at age two and a half that he was going to marry Mikaeli Lopez-Pierce, much to Brittany's delight and Santana's apparent horror.
Kurt had had a few small roles on Broadway before realising that that actually wasn't what he wanted to do with his life. He was now an interior designer, designing for the stars. He still popped up on stage every now and then and often came to teach Brittany and Natasha's students a thing or two about singing. The younger singing groups loved it when Kurt came in and hit those high notes for them. His relationship with Blaine had ended roughly and after five years of no contact they had run into each other at one of Rachel's shows and had put the past crap aside and become firm friends again. Blaine was teaching English at a nice private school and was getting some recognition as a writer. Both had gotten married, Blaine three years ago and Kurt just one year ago.
After leaving Ohio, Puck had, in his own words, boned his way through half of the women in California before settling down in LA as a mechanic, restoring vintage cars in his spare time. He had met his partner Kate four years ago and they had two sons, Jacob who had just turned two and five month old Riley. He had settled down a lot since high school, and the former Glee Clubbers had given him a good ribbing and a round of 'I told you so!' when he had told them that he had chased Kate for a long time, but that she had only agreed to start seeing him after he had started thinking with the correct head and had finally stopped referring to himself in the third person as 'the Puckasaurus' and 'Puckzilla'.
Finn had taken over Burt Hummel's shop and had settled down in Lima with a Cheerio he had started dating senior year and they already had four kids; Samantha, eight, Toby, five and a half, Lacey, two and Georgia 6 months. He also worked part time at McKinley teaching students to play the drums.
Mike and Tina had moved to LA together and split up shortly after. It was an amicable split though and they were still friends. Both had broken into Hollywood, with Mike working as a choreographer on several movies and reality shows and Tina finding her niche as a makeup artist specialising in special effects make-up and prosthetics. Mike had a steady girlfriend of two years and Tina was quite happily single.
Sam was also in LA, writing and producing an Avatar inspired sci-fi TV series that he had created. The special effects company Tina worked for had the makeup contract for the show and Tina herself had actually done some work for him. Sam was briefly married to an actress/dancer on the show named Heather but had split with her after two years. He was now dating one of his production assistants.
Lauren had gotten a pro wrestling contract and was still all over the country winning championships. She had been selected for the Olympic Women's Wrestling team and had won a silver medal. She had a boyfriend of five years who she seemed to greatly enjoy bossing around, much like she had Puck in high school. They were all pleased to find that she had mellowed out a lot since high school.
Artie was working as a medical researcher, specifically researching and studying spinal cord injuries. He was working in a facility in Dallas, Texas and had met his wife of two years, a fellow researcher, there. Gina was five months pregnant with their first child, but had been unable to come on the trip with Artie due to work.
Mercedes had gone to LA chasing a recording contract. She had worked damn hard for a long time before it all paid off. Six years after leaving McKinley she released a single that had hit number one on the charts in the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Since then she had released two hit albums and was currently working on her third. She was currently single after breaking it off with her manager who she had been dating.
Mr Schuester had married Emma Pillsbury and they had a son and a daughter together Brady, seven, and Laura, five. Emma had just returned to McKinley part time after being a stay at home mom to the kids until Laura started kindergarten. Mr Schue was still coaching the New Directions, who had won Nationals four times since their first win in 2012.
Sue Sylvester had pulled a Houdini after her second loss at Cheerleading Nationals that same year and had seemingly disappeared off of the face of the planet. She had turned up back at McKinley four years later demanding her coaching job back. Figgins had refused because they already had a coach but after said coach was mysteriously injured in a hit and run, he had given in and Sue had taken over the Cheerios again. They had won six consecutive national championships since then. There were several conspiracy theories about where Sue had been those four years – all of them probably started by Sue herself – but no one actually knew for sure. She hadn't changed much and if anything she had become more deranged as the years wore on. At one point that morning the group had heard her screaming a new version of one of her classic lines at some poor Cheerio that had messed up the routine. "You think this is hard? Try being swallowed whole by a python and then climbing back out! That's hard!" The former glee clubbers had found it almost comforting to find that the woman was still as bat shit crazy as she had ever been.
"It's weird right? Us all being back here. I feel all nostalgic!" Rachel laughed. They had finished catching up on each others' lives and there had been a lull in the conversation when Rachel spoke.
"I know. We had some epic Glee Club parties here senior year while your Dads were away," Puck grinned at the tiny brunette. "Remember that one when you caught Brittany and Santana doing it in the bathroom?" Rachel cringed at the memory, while Santana threw her head back and laughed her ass off across the room.
"You screamed so loud we all went running up the stairs at top speed because we thought someone was trying to murder you," Kurt told her, trying to stay serious but cracking a smile at the last minute.
"Thanks for refreshing that trauma in my mind," Rachel shook her head.
"Why is it that most of my senior year party memories have something to do with those two doing it?" Finn asked, glaring over at the women in question. Santana smirked her old arrogant smirk while Brittany just giggled, completely unashamed.
"Not just party memories," Natasha commented from where she was snuggled against Kurt's side. "Who remembers Nationals senior year?" she grinned.
"When we almost lost because we almost didn't get on stage in time, because we couldn't find Brittany and San- EW!" Rachel cut herself off when she realised Natasha's implication. "That's why we couldn't find you? You almost cost us Nationals because you were doing it?" she yelled incredulously.
"Well actually we found them in plenty of time," Natasha told her. "We were almost too late because Britts, Quinn and I were trying to haul Santana off of Puckerman before she murdered him because she caught him videoing them on his iPhone," she explained.
"Motherfucker!" Santana spat venomously from across the room. She was still pissed about that one.
"Unbelievable," Rachel shook her head in disbelief.
"The best part of that trip was when we all got drunk at the hotel and Puckerman streaked buck naked through the dining room," Mercedes spoke up, sending them all into fits of hysterical laughter at the memory. Natasha and Rachel – who had loosened up considerably throughout senior year – had snuck the booze in and while Mr Schue had left them to their own devices to go out to dinner with Emma they had gotten absolutely hammered. It was only 8pm and they were playing truth or dare. Santana had dared Puck to 'shave Finn's junk' (as payback for him daring her to grope Rachel's boobs for a full minute) and he had chosen to do the forfeit, which was supposed to be streaking naked down the hallway and back. Puck being Puck had had to take it one step further and had run down the stairs and through the hotel dining room without a stitch of clothing on.
"Man Mr Schue had to do some serious damage control that night," Finn laughed.
"Yes I did," came a voice from the stairs. Mr Schue grinned down at them. "Mind if I join you?" He was met with an enthusiastic invitation to sit down and as soon as he did, Finn handed him a beer. "I'm so proud of all of you, you've all come so far in your lives," Mr Schue said fondly. "I have to say I've had a lot of kids come and go in Glee Club and each group has been awesome and had its characters and its drama, but none of them have been nearly as outrageous as you lot were." He was met with a chorus of cheers and laughter. "I'm serious. You lot take the cake. I still wonder how I didn't completely lose my mind. I mean, I thought senior year once you all got over the backstabbing and lying and the practically incestuous partner swapping that you'd all settle down and things would go smoothly. But the better you all got along the worse your misbehaviour got!" he shook his head when they all laughed. "The grey hair," Mr Schue pointed to his head. "That was you guys doing!" he laughed.
"Hey at least we gave you good work stories to tell Mr Schue!" Artie told him.
"Well that's true," the teacher agreed.
"Remember the camping trip?" Natasha asked and the whole room burst into laughter again. As a last trip together as a group, Mr Schue had hired a cabin on a lake and taken the glee club camping there.
"Oh lord!" Mr Schue shook his head. "Please don't bring that up in front of Emma. She still hasn't recovered." The whole room laughed again.
"Poor woman was horrified," Natasha wiped at her eyes.
"Whose idea was it to go skinny dipping at 3am?" Schue asked. His eyes bugged when Quinn sheepishly put up her hand.
"That would be me," she giggled.
"And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we don't leave Q unsupervised with a bottle of Petron!" Santana announced. Quinn blushed. She had had far too much to drink and had thought it would be a brilliant idea to skinny dip. She had done it first and then dared the rest of them to follow suit. Santana, Brittany, Puck, Tina, Natasha, Finn and Rachel had agreed to do it and when Ms. Pillsbury had come out to investigate the racket they were making she had unfortunately gotten in the path of the seven naked teenagers who were barrelling toward the lake at full speed. She hadn't been as germ-a-phobic at that stage but apparently that many naked bodies brushing past her had still been a bit much. It had taken Mr Schue all night to calm her down.
"I still can't believe you didn't check our bags for booze Mr Schue," Puck laughed. "I mean after Nationals we were sure you'd be onto us."
"Evidently I was far too trusting. After that night, I learned," Mr Schue sighed in exasperation.
"That last night was awesome though," Brittany said quietly. It was the first time she had spoken in ages, having been content to snuggle into Santana and listen to the others talk.
"Yeah it was," Natasha sighed, shifting away from Kurt and reaching out to link pinkies with Brittany. The last night of the trip they had all dragged their sleeping bags out and laid under the stars. None of them had gone to sleep until nearly 5am, content to just lie there talking about anything and everything. They all went quiet for a bit, remembering.
"So is Sue still hell-bent on destroying the glee club?" Mercedes asked.
"She goes through phases," Mr Schue told her. "For the past six months she's been trying her damndest to get the football team disbanded," he groaned.
"What? Why?" Finn asked incredulously.
"Who knows? She just up and decided that it was a waste of time. We did remind her that if she disbanded the football team then the Cheerios would have no one to cheer for but that didn't seem to bother her this time," he rolled his eyes.
"Woman is nuts. Does anyone know where she went when she pulled her Houdini?" Santana asked.
"No idea. There are a lot of theories, each one more ridiculous than the last. Last month I heard her telling the Cheerios that she was 'hiding in the Amazon trying to figure out how to clone herself in order to create an army of Sues for the purpose of complete world domination'," he told them.
"Maybe she was checked into a psychiatric facility somewhere?" Natasha asked with a laugh.
"Nah, they'd never have let her out," Mercedes deadpanned.
"She possibly should be in a psychiatric facility somewhere," Quinn replied dryly.
"Possibly?" Brittany asked sceptically, causing everyone to laugh.
"Hey Brittany what was up with your dumb blonde act in high school?" Mr Schue asked the blonde. "You don't seem so spacey now." The blonde shrugged sadly.
"It wasn't an act. It was a dissociative disorder. I had a lot of horrible crap going on in my life from when I was little. My Dad left then came back, then left again and then came back again just in time for us to watch him die of cancer. I kind of just withdrew into my own little world to get away from it. It was just easier that way," she told them. "Tash had the same thing for a while after we left school and when they explained why she was doing it Santana realised I was doing the same thing. So we both got treated, together."
"I'm sorry Britt," Schue apologised, realising he had touched on something a lot more serious than he had thought. He had been aware that Natasha had had a hideous few years after high school as he and Emma were quite good friends with her mom and she had kept him posted, but he hadn't known about Brittany. Natasha had done really well in therapy for a while but then all of a sudden it had been like it had all caught up with her at once. She had been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and for a while it had seemed like even Santana, Quinn and Brittany wouldn't be able to save her from the self destructive downward spiral she had gotten caught in. It had been Quinn who had gotten through in the end - and just in the nick of time too - and the two had been practically inseparable ever since.
"Shit happens," Brittany shrugged in reply, a small smile pulling at the corner of her lips. Santana reached up and turned her wife's face toward her to kiss her softly, before nuzzling her face against the blonde's neck comfortingly. Mr Schue smiled at the affectionate display.
"You know I always hoped you two would be forever," he said softly. "You overcame so much to be together. You climbed all of the obstacles in your way when most kids would have given up and moved on because it was just too hard. You two restored my faith in love," he smiled at them.
"Aww, you are such a sap Mr Schue," Mercedes teased as Santana and Brittany blushed.
"Do you guys realise that we were like, the gayest glee club ever?" Natasha asked, breaking the moment and sending the room into fits of laughter again.
"I guess we were," Mr Schue agreed with a chuckle.
"Five out of fourteen is pretty impressive," Blaine nodded, sipping his beer. Puck suddenly sniggered from where he was sitting, his eyes far away, obviously remembering something.
"Getting high at Santana's eighteenth?" Rachel asked knowingly, quickly figuring out the connection he had made.
"Totally," Puck laughed uproariously. Rachel, who had been stoned out of her gourd after Natasha had talked her into trying it, had ended up passionately making out with Quinn on a dare…which Natasha had also talked her into. She had then freaked out big time and managed to sneak out of the house undetected, sparking a glee club, town wide man hunt for the small brunette. They had wound up calling Mr Schue to help them look so that Rachel's Dads wouldn't kill them all for losing their only child.
"Oh my God Lou was so pissed when she came home!" Natasha shook her head before putting a hand over her eyes, remembering Louisa Lopez's fury at finding the entire glee club drunk and stoned in her living room.
"She's still pissed about that," Santana shuddered. At a couple of questioning looks the Latina elaborated. "Every time I do something that annoys her – which is often - she brings that up."
"I can't say I blame her, I'm not thrilled either," Mr Schue piped up. "It took me two hours to coax Rachel into my car after we finally found her wandering around the streets at three am! And then once I got her home it took me and both of her fathers another hour to coax her out of the car and into the house." He was met with gales of laughter.
"How did you even get out of my house without us noticing?" Santana asked the smaller girl curiously.
"I have no idea," Rachel replied ruefully. "All I remember is making out with Quinn and then freaking out, then riding in Mr Schue's car and then my Dad yelling at me, while I tried to keep a straight face because Daddy was trying desperately not to laugh his ass off behind him. Oh and I remember Britt yelling hysterically because she thought you guys had broken Tasha's brain."
"Broken her brain?" Mr Schue asked, staring questioningly at Brittany as the others burst out laughing again.
"She was sitting by the window staring out and we could not get her attention. She was light-years away. She wouldn't respond to us talking to her or shaking her, she wouldn't even blink," Brittany replied.
"Where did you guys even get weed?" Mr Schue asked.
"Puckerman," everyone said in unison as Puck raised his hand.
"Where did you get it?" Mr Schue asked Puck.
"Chronic Lady," Puck replied, waggling his eyebrows.
"Ah, Sandy Ryerson. Probably should have figured that out myself," Mr Schuester rolled his eyes.
"Oh speaking of former teachers, guess who I saw the other day in one of the clubs we frequent?" Natasha piped up.
"Who?' several people asked.
"Holly Holliday," Natasha replied with a grin.
"Holly?" Mr Schue said incredulously. "How is she?"
"She said she was good but…she's still chewing through guys and refusing to be tied down. She's still subbing," Natasha told him. "Still bubbly and crazy which was nice to see. I always wondered if she might go the bitter and twisted route like Sue."
"God. I haven't seen her in years," Mr Schue shook his head. Silence settled over the group as they remembered their favourite crazy blonde substitute.
"Do you guys ever miss this?" Tina finally asked. "High school, I mean." She was met with a slow chorus of yes' almost all of them had an unspoken 'but…' after them.
"I guess I miss parts of it. I miss us all being together, the way we were senior year, when we put the drama aside and got along," Rachel told them after a long pause. "I don't miss the previous years," she almost whispered, looking down at her hands. Santana and Quinn looked away guiltily, while Brittany shot an apologetic look at the brunette. Natasha untangled herself from Kurt long enough to reach over him and grab Rachel's hand, pulling it up to plant a kiss on the back of it.
"I miss that too Rach," Brittany replied. "And we truly are sorry. You know we love you right?" she asked sadly, blue eyes gazing imploring into Rachel's brown.
"Yeah I know," she smiled softly. "And I do forgive you, for all of it. It's just not so easy to forget is all," Rachel explained.
"I miss us all hanging out like this," Finn spoke up, interrupting the sad moment. He grinned at the chorus of 'Me too' that followed.
The reunion itself was a hilarious mess of an evening. It started out well, the old cliques had all reunited and caught up on each others' lives. Quinn, Natasha, Brittany and Santana had caught up with the Cheerios for a bit before their night was disrupted by Sue and her bullhorn.
"You're all failures!" She yelled through the bullhorn at the group of Cheerios. "All of you, except for Q, Natasha, Tweedle Dumb and Airbags. They all learned that you have to be exceptional if you want to get anywhere in this world. Airbags is an orthopaedic surgeon, Brittany and Natasha's performing arts school has put out five top cheerleaders in the last two years alone and Q is putting murders and rapists in prison. The rest of you are average! And average equals failure in the Sue Sylvester book of life! Look at you all. Housewives and office workers…You should be ashamed!" she ranted. Santana glared at the resurrection of Sue's favourite insulting nickname.
"Uh I'm a cheerleader for the Dallas Cowboys," one girl spoke up, offended. Everyone else knew better than to bother.
"Failure!" Sue yelled through the bullhorn, before turning on her heel and heading toward Rachel, leaving the former Cheerios rolling their eyes at her retreating back.
"Well she's in fine form tonight," Natasha said casually, her lips quirking up at the end as she watched Sue move to stand over Rachel, clearly with the intent to intimidate the tiny woman.
"Berry! You managed to get out in the world and not become a complete failure. I'm vaguely impressed…but still; your very presence in this world offends me!" Sue ranted at Rachel before catching sight of someone else she felt the need to harass.
"I wouldn't have expected anything less from her," one of the other girls commented. Natasha looked across their circle to smile at the girl when she noticed who was standing next to the other girl. She smiled shyly at Jennika, who smiled back widely and waved. Natasha and Jennika had stayed together through their senior year but had both had very separate dreams. Natasha wanted to go to New York and teach dance with Brittany, while Jennika had wanted to go to LA to study to become a teacher. They had made the heartbreaking decision to break it off instead of trying to pursue a relationship cross-country and they hadn't seen or been in contact with each other since. Natasha waved back before ducking out of the circle and around to stand next to the other girl.
"Hey," she said shyly.
"Hi," Jennika beamed. She hesitantly opened her arms and stepped toward the other girl. Natasha hesitated before stepping forward and wrapping Jennika in a hug. "I've missed you," Jennika whispered, hugging the smaller girl tightly.
"I've missed you too," Natasha said shakily, realising that she actually had.
"So did you bring this lovely lady of yours with you?" Jennika asked with a grin.
"Nope," Natasha smiled back. "She had to work. She wanted to come though," she explained.
"Oh that's too bad. Mine had to work too," Jennika replied. The two women made awkward small talk for a while, talking about their partners, their jobs, Jennika's two adopted daughters, and the current government. They soon ran out of superficial small talk and lulled into awkward silence. After a moment Jennika suddenly grabbed Natasha's hand, leading her away from the group a little before reaching up to cup Natasha's cheek tenderly, causing Natasha to tense up and break off eye contact, suddenly nervous. "It broke my heart walking away from you that day. Actually, scratch that, it absolutely shattered my heart into a million jagged pieces walking away from you that day," she said softly. "It destroyed me. It still destroys me. But, and I don't mean for this to sound awful, I'd do it all over again to get to where I am now. I wouldn't change a thing," Jennika dropped her hand from Natasha's cheek to grab her hand and give it a squeeze.
"I feel exactly the same," Natasha smiled and exhaled shakily. "My life is amazing. I think Lani is truly the love of my life. Breaking things off with you like that was absolutely horrendous, but if you and I hadn't ended things they way we did, I never would have found her. I really did love you. I think I still do in a way. I'd love if we could keep in contact," she finished nervously.
"I'd like that," Jennika beamed. Natasha couldn't help but smile back. Without that tension between them the conversation became easier and soon Brittany had wandered over and joined in, tired of listening to Santana regaling the jocks with stories about the gnarly injuries she had treated while working at the hospital.
"Uh, can I have your attention please," Figgins' voice echoed through the auditorium. People stopped talking and turned to face the stage. "It is my honour to welcome you all, the McKinley High School Senior class of two thousand and twelve, back to McKinley for your ten years high school reunion," Figgins spoke in his awkward phrasing. "And now the McKinley High New Directions will perform a song to welcome you back," he grabbed his mic and walked off of the stage. The current New Directions group performed a fairly average rendition of a pop song while Mr Schue watched on with a frustrated look on his face. Once the performance was over one of the girls grabbed the microphone from Figgins.
"Um on behalf of New Directions, we would like to welcome you all back to McKinley. We would also like to invite the original New Directions up to sing a song if they'd like to," she said in a very bored voice. "Mr Schue seems to think that you guys were better than us for some reason. I don't know why. We're awesome and you guys looked like a bunch of nerds," the girl said haughtily, before walking off the stage.
"Thank you for that Alyssa," Mr Schue, who had bolted onto the stage midway through the girl's 'speech', said awkwardly. "Sorry guys," he apologised.
"Give us a half hour and we'll throw something together to make her eat her words," Rachel called back, her own voice haughty now, miffed at being labelled a nerd again after so long out of the high school system.
"Thank you Mr Schue," Figgins moved to take over again. "I would just like to say tonight, how very proud of you all that I am. Almost all of you have gone on to represent McKinley well out in the big wide world," he cringed on the word 'almost' and it was all anyone could do to not burst out laughing. There was probably no one in America who hadn't seen the recent, very public arrest of one Jacob Ben Israel, who had been caught peeping on movie stars. Of course his entire history was laid out for the world to see, including his less than savoury activities at William McKinley High School, which had copped some flak for not taking action in regards to his well-known obsessive, perverted behaviour way back then. "I would like to congratulate you all on all of your accomplishments in your lives, the big and the small-," Figgins was cut off by Sue shoving him out of the way and aiming her bullhorn at the microphone.
"Look at all of you mouth breathers, standing around, drinking free booze and talking about your mundane little lives. Like anyone else wants to hear about your average-ness!" the whole room shrank back from the sheer volume of her voice when magnified twice. "It sickens me to see that my carefully cultivated Cheerios have lost themselves to the drag of everyday life and ignored my valuable lessons on the importance of doing anything and everything to cement your place at the top of the social food chain. The nerds are famous," she gestured in the general direction of the former glee club, who were chattering between themselves to figure out what they were going to sing. "And my Cheerios and the stars of the football team are average. AVERAGE!" she shot them a filthy look as they all winced at the volume again. "But so far as I know, none of you are homeless, rapists or murderers and only one of you is a pervert and we already knew that, so I suppose that overall you haven't done too badly. Regardless, I blame one William Schuester for the bizarre twist in the social hierarchy, him and his disturbingly hypnotic, mind-controlling, lard-filled curly hair," Sue turned her rant onto her favourite subject, causing eye rolls all around. "Now I suppose we have to be subjected to a performance from the original band of merry rejects that Will Schuester tried to call a Glee Club. I SUGGEST YOU PLUG YOUR EARS!" the whole auditorium jerked back as she yelled into the bullhorn, which was amplified by the microphone. She stalked off of the stage and Figgins cleared his throat and floundered for a few seconds. In the end he gave up on trying to finish his speech in favour of introducing the next couple of speakers. After a few more of their teachers and Coach Beiste had spoken, Mr Schue took the stage again.
"I would just like to say-," he began.
"I'M BORED!" came Sue Sylvester's amplified voice.
"Seriously, Sue? We let you come up here and rant like a crazy woman without interruption, now it's my turn," Mr Schue told her.
"Fine!" she snapped, putting her bullhorn down on the table next to her, crossing her arms and glaring at everyone and everything.
"I would just like to say that I am so proud of all of you. You have all achieved so much in your lives and as a teacher it's been fantastic to see how much you have all grown and changed and I have loved catching up with you all tonight. I hope we can do it again in another few years. Now I have to say to my amazing, fantastic original Glee kids. You guys are my living inspirations, when I'm having a bad day, when I feel like giving up I think of you guys and I remember how much you went through, how well you put all of the fighting and the crap aside and supported each other through an incredibly traumatic experience. Finn when you stood up and led that Glee Club it was something to behold. They got themselves together and did some amazing things under your guidance and you should be so proud of yourself. Rachel your constant striving for excellence kept us on point and seeing the supportive, caring leader that you became in senior year was a privilege to be able to watch. Brittany and Santana, I said it before and I'll say it again for everyone to hear; you two restored my faith in love, you fought such a huge battle within yourselves and with the people that surrounded you for acceptance and you never gave up when most would have, you stood by each other through thick and thin, through happiness and sadness and you battled through every obstacle in your path and came out the other side stronger and even more in love than ever. Natasha and Quinn you two went through some major, hugely life changing events, in front of the whole school, that can't have been easy but you both rose up and showed your amazing inner strength and some incredibly admirable bravery. Puckerman, you were the biggest pain in my ass," the room burst out laughing at that.
"You were reckless, obnoxious and you rarely thought with your brain…or thought at all for that matter…but under all that you were one of the most loyal, caring members of that club, with a huge capacity for forgiveness and I watched you go from a reckless juvenile delinquent to a thoughtful, caring, fiercely protective…juvenile delinquent," Mr Schue grinned as the room burst into laughter again.
"Mercedes you showed your ability to fight hard for what you felt that you deserved and it's definitely paid off for you, Mike I always knew you'd be big time one day, you always had the serious moves," Brittany whooped in the crowd at that.
"Tina I watched you go from a shy, stuttering girl who rarely said a word to a confident, happy, outgoing girl who isn't afraid to stand up for herself and her friends. Sam, you never let anything get you down, you were always such a positive easygoing guy and it definitely rubbed off on the rest of the group…thank god," Mr Schue grinned again.
"Artie you rose above your disability and showed that where there's a will, there's a way and you always found that way. You inspired me to never give up and I just know that one day you'll be the guy who finds a fix for spinal cord injuries. Lauren, you were a force to be reckoned with and another one who proved that you can do anything that you put your mind to, even when people shoot you down and make fun of you for it. And you certainly showed that you don't take crap from anyone," Mr Schue looked pointedly at Santana who puffed out her chest and glared at him menacingly. He had to cringe a bit, the girl may have softened for the most part but she definitely still had that Head Bitch in Charge buried in there.
"Kurt," Mr Schue cleared his throat. "You overcame some serious bullying and you never let it change who you were. You were so courageous and you made me so proud, and Blaine you were instrumental in helping Kurt to rise above it all and shine like the star he is. You were such a support and your positivity and ability to cheer us all up on the crappiest days is something that we were all incredibly lucky to have experienced. Anyway, I'm rambling now, what I'm trying to say is that I was so lucky, and so privileged to be able to watch you grow and change into the wonderful people you became and I'm so happy to be able to see you again tonight to see the even more wonderful people that you have become in the years since you left McKinley High. Thank you all, for being who you are and for giving me my reasons for doing this job," Mr Schue finished, his voice nearly cracking with emotion. "Now are you ready for this performance?" he asked. Rachel nodded and the group headed for the stage.
"Thank god-," Sue started to say through her bullhorn, only to be stopped by Santana yanking it out of her hand and giving her a filthy look. The Latina handed the device back with a warning glare and Sue drew herself up to her full height, towering over Santana menacingly before backing down again and giving the girl a curt nod of approval. "Nice balls you've grown there Lopez," she called approvingly through the bullhorn. "I guess that Head Bitch is still in there somewhere." Sue sat back down in her seat before lifting the infernal bullhorn again. "Anyone else who tries that will get dragged down Main Street tied to the back of my Le Car! Naked!" she warned. The Glee Club all walked onto the stage and Finn moved up to the microphone.
"Thanks for all of those lovely words Mr Schue," he said shyly. "You were a super awesome teacher and we all love you too," he told the man, who blushed.
"Gay!" Karofsky coughed loudly from the audience where he was holding hands with his husband. He grinned and gave a salute when Finn attempted to glare at him, only to fail miserably. Natasha unashamedly flipped him off from her position on the stage, a gesture Karofsky promptly and lovingly returned. The two of them had developed a strong brother-sister type relationship and had always kept in touch after school had ended.
"Alright alright, let's just do this thing," Finn laughed. Brad appeared as if out of nowhere, looked more annoyed and jaded than ever and took his spot at the piano. A couple of the old band members that Santana had rounded up and intimidated picked up the instruments that had been left onstage by the current band and they began to play the opening notes of the song. The crowd in the auditorium began clapping out the beat as they belted out a very raw, albeit impressive, completely unrehearsed rendition of Journey's 'Don't Stop Believing'. After that the group goaded Rachel into singing 'Don't Rain On My Parade' which met with huge applause and half shell-shocked, half impressed looks from the current New Directions. The girl who had dissed them earlier looked suitably resentful and horrified at the realisation that there were people out there that were better than her. She reminded Rachel of herself in high school. The group all lined up back on the stage as Santana stepped toward the microphone.
"Mr Schue we wouldn't have gotten through those tough years without you there, supporting us. Much as you pissed us off sometimes by giving all of the solos to Berry and all of the duets to Berry and Finnocence," Santana rolled her dark eyes. "You were there when we needed you, be it during school…or at 3am on a Saturday morning when one of us was under the influence and lost," she twisted to shoot a look at Rachel who blushed and giggled. "And you got better at being fair to everyone and you gave us a fantastic senior year. We do all love you too and thank you for all of the lovely things you had to say about us. We appreciate it and we want you to know that we care for you as much as you do us. Thank you for giving us our safe and accepting place and the best part of our day," she finished, walking over to hug her former teacher. Puck leapt forward followed by the rest of the club for a group hug.
"I will vomit in this punch bowl if you lot don't stop that sickening display of contrived emotion right now," Sue hollered through her bullhorn.
"Oh my god would someone just destroy that thing?" someone yelled.
"SHUT UP!" Sue barked, upending the table she was standing next to, before upending every punchbowl in sight, creating a hell of a mess, before stalking out of the auditorium.
The rest of the night had been a blur of drinking and dancing, no one wanted it to end, but it had to and the next morning they all met up back in the Berry's basement. No one talked much, they just soaked up each other's presence, making the most of it before that evening and the next day when they would all start going their separate ways again. Finn was the first to speak after a long silence.
"We should make this an annual thing," he told them. "Getting together for a weekend I mean. We wouldn't always have to do it here. We could just make a date each year and all meet up somewhere. We can catch up and keep in touch more than we have before this. I had no idea how much I missed you guys until we were all back here together," he admitted.
"Me neither," Rachel sighed, curling a little sleepily against Santana's arm. "I think an annual thing would be a great idea," she smiled at Finn. "It might not be easy to get a date we all agree on but you guys all have to promise to try your hardest, kay?" she told them all, receiving a series of nods in return. They all lapsed into silence again before it was broken by a quiet sniffling. There was a flurry of people searching each others' faces before they all finally found the source of the sniffling. It was Brittany, her face tucked securely into Natasha's neck, Natasha had tears in her eyes too, she had never been able to see Brittany cry without it making her cry too.
"Aw Britt," Mercedes sighed tenderly.
"I don't want it to end," Brittany whimpered into Natasha's neck. Natasha held her tighter as Santana moved to hug her from behind. Her distress quickly set off the rest of the girls in the room and even most of the guys were looking decidedly teary eyed. The next half hour was spent hugging and comforting each other and swearing black and blue to each other (but mostly to Brittany who seemed disbelieving that it'd actually happen) that this time they would definitely keep in touch much better than they had before.
Puck was the first to have to leave, wanting to get back to his family he had booked a 4pm flight and had to get packed up. The others slowly followed until it was just Finn, Rachel, Tina, Brittany, Santana, Natasha and Quinn left as they were all leaving the next day. Brittany was snuggled limply and quietly between Santana and Natasha on the couch, having exhausted herself bursting into tears each time someone else left. The two girls kept shooting worried glances at each other over the blonde's head.
A few years after Natasha's whirlwind of self destruction and the beginning of their subsequent treatment together, Brittany had become an emotional wreck whenever she was under stress. She would be oversensitive and would have periods of being so completely overwrought that it took all three of her best friends hours on end to calm her down again. It was a constant source of worry for them all but her therapist had explained that Brittany was just struggling to deal with all of her emotions now that she was facing them instead of detaching from them and that she just needed love, support and to keep going to therapy sessions to improve. She had actually generally improved quite quickly but she still had a tendency to really struggle when she was particularly stressed or upset over something.
"Ok Britt?" Rachel asked tenderly, pushing a glass of water into the blonde's hand. Brittany swallowed a few mouthfuls of water before nodding and smiling weakly. "Ok," Rachel smiled back, brushing Brittany's bangs out of her face and leaning down to kiss the woman's forehead. As she straightened up she reached out to squeeze Santana's shoulder comfortingly. Santana smiled up at her tensely catching her hand and squeezing it briefly as Rachel pulled it away.
"I just didn't realise how tough it'd be being back here with everyone," Brittany said softly, smiling as Natasha reached up to wipe at a stray tear on Brittany's cheek with her sleeve.
"It brings a lot of stuff back. I mean it's one thing to come back for a bit for Christmas and maybe see a few of the old crowd around again but just, all of us being together, back in that school…it's a lot," Santana replied as she watched the exchange between Brittany and Natasha.
"It is," Tina spoke up quietly. She had an unreadable expression on her face. At questioning looks from some of the others she smiled and shrugged. "I'm really glad to see that you guys all stuck together. You all just…made each other better people in high school. It's nice you're still doing that." Natasha smiled softly at the girl, who smiled back.
"We'd be lost without each other. We've been so lucky that we've been able to stick together and still be big parts of each others' lives. That's not exactly the norm," Quinn replied. Santana's phone rang then and the Latina excused herself to answer it.
"But you can't deny that you've had to fight hard for that," Rachel piped up.
"True," Quinn smiled. Santana came back then, looking apprehensive.
"That was my mom. She says that Judy, Greg and Gen and Helen and assorted kids are there and we're having a late lunch together," She told them, her eyes locked on Brittany. As she expected the blonde's face crumbled and she burst into tears again. They decided to make their goodbyes quick so that they could get her out of there and settle her down again and so, after brief hugs and see you next times they headed out.
Lunch was a noisy crowded affair and after everything had been cleaned up and Mikaeli was busy following Elijah, her newest crush, everywhere he went, the four women snuck away to Santana's old room, closing the door and squeezing onto her king sized bed side by side. It was no easy feat.
"I swear this bed shrank, Natasha whined, hooking a leg over one of Santana's so that she didn't fall off the bed.
"Nah you just got fat Tashie," Santana retorted with a smirk and a prod to Natasha's belly.
"Funny I thought it was your ass that had doubled in size," Natasha came back, pinching Santana's arm in retaliation.
"Ow! Fuck you!" Santana yelped.
"Don't be mean you two. If anyone's ass got fat it was mine after having Mikaeli," Brittany said with a quiet smile. She laughed when she was met with three simultaneous scoffs.
"Brittany your ass is in no way fat. I swear you're skinnier now than you were before you got pregnant," Quinn said, rolling her eyes. "And you made it look ridiculously easy. I felt like I had to work myself to the bone after Beth to get my body back," she complained.
"Yeah but most of it came off when I was breastfeeding," Brittany replied. "And walking around the living room for hours every night when she had colic and reflux."
"Yeah I guess that was the difference," Quinn replied thoughtfully. Since Shelby had come back with Beth in their senior year and Quinn had gotten to become a part of her daughter's life, she had stopped being a taboo topic of discussion.
"And you're not allowed to be jealous 'cause you came out of it with like, four little stretch marks and I have like four thousand," Brittany told her, with a nudge of her elbow into Quinn's ribs.
"I apologise. I will never complain again," Quinn said, breaking into a wide, goofy smile at the end.
"This is what I miss about high school," Natasha said suddenly. "Just hanging out in a puppy pile on one of our beds, nothing better to do, no jobs, no kids to worry about – not that I don't love Kaeli to pieces - but just hanging out and talking. About boys and girls, about how much our parents sucked and how we were never going to be like them. About school and Cheerios and Glee and everything. This is what I miss the most."
"Yeah, me too. It's funny how back then we couldn't wait to get the fuck out of Lima and leave it all behind, and now in a way we wish we could go back and live those carefree days again," Santana agreed. "Although there's no way in Hell I'd want to relive junior year," she said, her voice softening and trembling slightly at the thought.
"It wasn't all bad," Natasha replied threading the fingers of her right hand with Santana's as Brittany did the same on the other side.
"It wasn't exactly good," Santana retorted.
"No. But someone asked me a question at one of my presentations recently and it really made me think. This girl asked me 'If you had the opportunity to go back and have the choice of the life you've had, the life you've got, or a life where none of the abuse would happen, what would you do?' At first I thought, obviously, I'd change it. But then I realised that if none of that had happened, I probably never would have met you guys. I wouldn't have you in my life today and the thought of that…well I didn't want to think about that. I truly love my life. In spite of everything I've been through, everything I'm going through. I love it. And I wouldn't trade such an amazing life for one with a little less pain. Because, you know what? I think the pain of the past is what makes the present so amazing. That pain, that darkness is what makes the good times so good and it's what reminds me to never take the good, happy times for granted. If I could go back and choose? I'd choose this life. Every single time," Natasha finished, her cheeks flushing and her voice full of passion.
"God I love your outlook on life," Brittany mumbled after a few minutes of silently letting Natasha's words soak in. She dabbed at her teary eyes with her sleeve. "And I think I'd do it all again for the life I have now too."
"Me too," Quinn agreed. When Natasha put it like that how could she not agree?
"Makes sense I guess," Santana said softly, her eyes sad and teary. Natasha untangled her fingers and reached an arm around Santana's waist to hug her as best she could in their current position. "But I still wish that you didn't have to go through so much pain."
"I know honey," Natasha said with a smile as Brittany rolled over to hug Santana too making Quinn smile at the display. She never would have guessed in their first two years at high school that there was such a sensitive, sweet, loving girl inside that mean, angry bitch who had challenged and manipulated her way to being Quinn's right hand woman. But then she figured that other people probably hadn't guessed that there was an insecure, miserable girl named Lucy who was hiding behind the formidable ice queen Quinn Fabray either, or that there was an emotionally damaged, deeply sad yet incredibly sweet girl that hid behind a vacant, bubbly, vapid façade named Brittany Pierce, or even that there was an angry, terrified, suicidal girl that had hidden behind the force of nature that was Natasha Isaacs.
As they lay quietly, listening to the noise coming from downstairs and contemplating the way their lives could have turned out had things been different, Quinn realised that when you meet people, they appear a certain way. For most people these appearances are natural, not even consciously thought about…but other times they are carefully cultivated to hide what lies beneath. All four of them had been the latter and she thought that if things had been different, then chances were they would all be wherever they had ended up, still hiding who they truly were from the world. Always carefully cultivating their appearances to make sure that no one ever got in close enough to find what lay beneath. And with that thought, Quinn had never been more grateful for everything that had happened junior year.
A/N: Thank you once again for reading and reviewing etc. It's been awesome.