"They're late," Santana says, wearing a path in the gravel walkway in agitation as they wait for the arrival of Lauren, Puck, and his family.
From where he stands by the front door, Kurt says, "They might have done what we did and lengthened the drive."
Dave's sure they would make an interesting picture to anyone watching. Santana can't keep still, pacing incessantly and crossing and uncrossing her arms. Kurt looks like he's leaning against the wall beside the door, completely at ease, but upon closer inspection he's a study of alert, careful stillness. And Dave sits on the bottom step halfway between the two, legs stretched out in front of him, squinting into the sun and wishing that Puck had a cell phone so that Santana and Kurt would just relax already.
"They could be stuck in traffic," Santana says. "What if they're stuck in traffic?"
"I don't know what you want me to say to that," Dave says. "Because if I tell you that they're stuck in traffic, you'll start worrying about all the bad things that could happen to them if they are. And if I tell you that they aren't, you'll worry about all the bad things that could happen to them if they aren't stuck in traffic."
Santana stops pacing for a second to raise an eyebrow at him in disbelief. "Like any of that isn't justified."
"Play nice, children," Kurt says impassively with the deadpan humor that's begun to sneak into his conversations lately. It's a far cry from the wild swings between giddiness and biting sarcasm he had before, but it's an improvement, and it still makes Dave grin.
"Have we met?" Santana asks. "I don't play well with others."
Dave sighs with exasperation and extends a hand. "Come here," he says, and as soon as she's taken his hand he pulls her down to sit beside him. "I get that you're stressed. But you can't hide between the queen bitch mask with us. We know you too well."
"Ugh, I'm sorry," she apologizes. "I'm freaking out, I know. It's just been how long since we've seen them? Any of them?"
"Too long," Kurt says. "Far too long."
It's an absolute truth, just like Leibniz' notation or Newton's laws of motion – and Santana is right about that as well; he was as closeted about being a nerd as he was about being gay. He'll never tell her he's thinking about Newton's Second Law of motion when he thinks about what's going on. She'd split her sides laughing. It's not as private a thought as what he writes down in the journal Dr. Moreau makes each of them keep, but it's still not worth mentioning right now, not with the mood she's in. She never teases out of anything but love, but there's a sharp edge to it when she's as stressed and worried as she is now.
She starts to get to her feet, ready to begin pacing again, and Dave tugs her back down. "What if they crashed on the way here?"
"Highly doubtful," Kurt says. "Ms. Takahashi wouldn't trust their lives to a bad driver."
"Maybe Colonel Peters wanted to get more information about what it's like on the continent," Dave suggests. "I mean, now that they're actually putting search and rescue teams on the ground they probably need to know a lot more."
"They had them for ten whole days," Santana says. "Twelve including today and when they were rescued. I'm pretty sure the military got all the information they needed already."
Dave is still amazed at the rapid change in policy since Kurt and Santana's friends were rescued. He, Kurt, and Santana had been – still are, much as they hate it – some sort of inspiration that people could escape and survive. Puck and Lauren are proof that there are still people alive back in what used to be home. And so the largest coalition of military forces in history that was doing flyovers across North and South America is rapidly evolving into the largest coalition of military forces in history going into zombie infested territory to find what survivors remain.
Santana fidgets, her knee bouncing up and down uncontrollably. "What if they were mobbed by a huge crowd of people when they left the hospital and they never even made it to their car?"
"What if flying monkeys broke into their hospital room and carried them off?" Dave counters.
"No one knows what they look like," Kurt adds, "Just like they don't know what we look like. They'll be fine."
"Yeah, because you look so relaxed," Santana says skeptically.
"Would you prefer it if I worked myself into a panic?" Kurt asks. "Stop. Breathe. For the love of god, Santana, you're supposed to be better than me at staving off attacks."
"I'm not panicking," Santana says. "I'm just –"
"Well on your way there," Kurt interrupts. "Don't make it worse."
It never really startled Dave or Santana that when there's nothing around to trigger a panic attack or a flashback Kurt's strict control over his emotions reasserts itself. It had been a shock to Dr. Moreau, as she'd apparently been expecting him to be a lot less composed when she came to the millhouse to be their psychiatrist.
Well, she doesn't know Kurt. Dave knows that there's a lot going on under the surface with Kurt. He knows Kurt thinks about before a lot, that when he sits in the garden looking up into the trees with his journal open on his lap to the poem he copied onto the first page, he's very quietly working through everything that happened, one painful moment at a time. He knows that Kurt avoids making eye contact for hours when he accidentally looks in the mirror after taking a shower, and that sometimes Dave has to go distract him with lessons or gardening or cooking dinner together to keep him from getting lost in guilt.
She doesn't know Santana, either. She doesn't know that Santana didn't cry about Brittany for months after they stole the boat, and that now that they're safe Dave sometimes finds her in the library curled up in a chair unable to catch her breath she's crying so hard. She doesn't know that Santana latches onto them like she's afraid they're going to disappear before her eyes and she's going to be left alone. She doesn't know that the only time they've ever watched TV since getting here is when Yves called and told them to, because reporters talking about before and TV shows with guns or bodies or high speed chases make her hole up in her room all day.
She doesn't know Dave. Dave catches himself halfway through reminding Kurt or Santana to eat before noticing the plates in their hands. Dave stays up later than them, making sure they're actually asleep and nightmare free before letting himself do the same. Dave's journal has nothing to do with his losses and everything to do with their recovery. Dave is the yardstick they measure normal by, and it's a sign of how screwed up they all are, since he's nowhere near being mentally healthy.
No one knows them but them, both the good parts and the bad. Kurt's still serious and practical. Santana's still impulsive and likes to tease. Dave still can't break the habit of taking care of them. But infinitesimal changes in quantity over time add up to the net change in the quantity – he's still never telling Santana that he's ever compared them to the fundamental theorem of calculus – and they have changed.
They're themselves. Not the selves they were before, but the selves they became when it happened, and the selves they became after. They're still serious, or impulsive, or reliable. It's just that they're family as well, family so close and familiar and intimate that sometimes they know each other's minds better than they know their own.
Dr. Moreau calls them codependent and tells them to try to regain some of the independence they once had. They call it the only relationship they have left that matters and don't care what she'd think about them if she knew they still all share a bed at night.
"What's it really about?" Dave asks. "Yeah, I know it's about them being safe, but what else is going on?"
Santana pulls free and jumps to her feet, smoothing her hands down the front of her denim skirt. It's the most obvious outward sign that Dave's seen since getting up this morning that she's nervous about their reunion. She always wears jeans. They're easier to run in and don't start to smell for a few days if there's no change of clothes available on the road. Putting on a skirt means nervousness and insecurity and desperation to please. At least she's wearing a red shirt. Bright colors mean she's not having a bad day.
"What if we're too different?" she asks, eyes darting from Dave to Kurt and back. "What if we've changed too much for them to want anything to do with us anymore?"
Kurt pushes off the wall and goes down the steps to stand in front of her, setting a hand on her shoulder. "We're not going to be the only ones who are different," he says. "After spending all that time living with zombies, do you honestly believe that they're the same people they used to be?"
Santana fiddles with the cuff of his sleeve on his free hand, folding it back once, then twice more. "Then what if they're pissed at us that they're famous now?"
"They aren't," Kurt says. He offers her his other arm so she can give that sleeve the same treatment. "They weren't when they called us from the hospital."
That had been a strange conversation, both awkward and fraught with intense emotion that none of them seemed able to express out loud. They'd put each other on speakerphone on both ends of the line and chatted until Margaret got tired and needed to rest, often saying things that meant something else entirely and leaving plenty of lines to read between, deliberately talking around anything related to Rachel Berry and the others who went west that day. One thing that had been made very clear, though, was that none of them blamed Dave, Santana, or Kurt for their sudden popularity. If anything, they were sympathetic to them for what their rescue and newfound fame had done to their own.
Secrets don't stay secret for long when too many people know them, and once their names and hometown were leaked to the press, it hadn't taken longer than a couple hours before people put it together: the "Don Quixote Three" knew the people rescued from Canada. Not only did they know them, they were friends.
They'd wondered, without much hope, if having new people to be fascinated by would take the public's interest off of them. But their relationship with Lauren and Puck and his family only made things worse – not only had they escaped on some crazy, wild journey across the ocean and made it, but the next people to be rescued were their friends.
Puck, Lauren, Margaret, and Sarah are famous.
Kurt, Dave, and Santana are the most unwilling living legends ever.
"I know," Santana says. She straightens Kurt's collar unnecessarily. Just like the collar of the white button up shirt she'd had to talk him into wearing with his jeans instead of a tee shirt, Kurt looks neat and tidy, not a hair out of place. As nice as he looks, the clean lines and crisp folds of the shirt only seem to add to his air of quiet, thoughtful gravity, and Dave wishes he and Kurt had been able to resist Santana's insistence that they put on something halfway nice for when their friends arrive.
At least when Kurt wears tee shirts he seems able to relax just a little more.
"And if they get pissed at us later?" Santana says. "What if they just haven't gotten mad because it doesn't feel real yet?"
"Then it's a good thing it's a big house," Dave says. "We can avoid each other until they're over it."
"Am I being an idiot?" Santana asks.
"No, but you are making me feel a lot calmer," Kurt tells her. "Not that I approve of you being anxious enough for the both of us."
She punches him lightly in the arm and grabs his hand. "I can't help it. There's a lot that can go wrong."
"There's a lot that can go right," Kurt says, and at the sound of an approaching car turning off the road he adds, "And we're about to find out which one of us is right."
As a sedan pulls through the gate, Dave stands and joins them on the path. The nervousness that Santana has been monopolizing makes a sudden reappearance, and his stomach lurches. One awkward conversation in two weeks doesn't mean they're going to live as happily ever after as is possible for people like them, but he can't help hoping that things will work out.
The car stops, and the passenger door opens to let out a frail looking middle aged woman, her black hair shot through with gray, no doubt from stress. The two back doors open, and Puck and Lauren get out, Puck lean and wiry, shaggy hair falling across his forehead, Lauren of average size but looking incredibly unhealthy, the image of someone who's lost too much weight in too short a time. They stare at each other across the several yards separating them. Even though they aren't his friends the way they're Kurt and Santana's, he still wants to run over and hug them and hear all that they have to say. But even the smallest doubt that it might not be real keeps him frozen in place.
Then a little girl, barely older than twelve, pushes Puck out of her way and climbs out of the car, all knees and elbows and skinny limbs. Her bright eyes land on Santana, and with a shriek she all but flies from beside the car, across the lawn, and into Santana's arms.
"It's really you!" she cries, flinging her arms around Santana. "Puck, it's really them!"
It seems to be the cue they were all waiting for. The spell breaks, and they rush toward each other, faster and faster until they meet in the middle, a weepy crash of too-thin bodies and skin crisped dark by too much sun.
"I missed you so much!" Sarah sobs into Santana's shoulder.
Santana rubs circles on her back, not even trying to hold back her tears. "I missed you too."
Puck wraps Kurt in a bear hug and lets go to hold him by his shoulders, looking him over with a critical eye. "I didn't think you could get any skinnier," he says.
"What happened to the Mohawk?" Kurt asks in reply, reaching up to tug on Puck's hair.
"You look like crap," Lauren tells Dave as she slaps him on the back.
He laughs. "Right back at you, and then some."
"You haven't been eating enough!" Margaret scolds Santana, putting her arms around both her and her daughter, who has yet to let go of her.
"Feel free to take over cooking any time," Santana says.
Like their last conversation, none of them say what they mean: Are you okay? Will you be okay? I'm so glad you're alive. I can't believe you made it too. We'll help you get through this. We'll all get through this.
Puck surprises Dave with a hug of the same strength and emotion that he gave Kurt. "You did right by them. Not bad, Karofsky. Not bad at all."
He thinks about explaining it all to Puck, all the reasons why they did what they did, why they are who they are, but the look in his eyes makes him realize that Puck already gets it. "Yeah, well," he says. "You can't choose your family. And it's Dave."
"Dave." Puck nods and shrugs. "Dave works."
The door of the sedan slams, and they all jump and turn in unison to see the driver go around to the back to retrieve their suitcases.
Santana pulls away from Margaret and Sarah to fiddle with the hem of her tee shirt, nervous again. "There are only three free bedrooms in the house," she says, "But there's another one in the outbuilding in the back, and if you don't want to stay out there we can turn the study into another bedroom –"
"Don't worry about it," Lauren says. "We're here. That's kind of all that matters, don't you think?"
"Now that you mention it, welcome home," Kurt says.
"Yeah," Puck says, looking up at the old house and blinking rapidly. "I guess we're home."
Thank you so much for reading! It was incredibly fun to try out new things (Zombies? Me?), and I'm thrilled at the response it got from my fellow Glee fans. It's being continued with several post-epilogue short stories that are being posted on Archive of Our Own (http :/ www . archiveofourown . org), and I can be looked up by username.