Chapter 1: part one
They’ve been together, secretly at first until those more confident steps of hers led them through into their junior year of high school, most of their lives. Eleven years. A decade (plus one).
Looking back it surprises Santana. Mostly because of all the plans she had to get out of Lima and into the rest of her life, with as much power and as much of her sanity intact, the one were she did it with Brittany at her side was the one she didn’t expect to succeed.
Yet it’s the one she wanted the most.
Images of the peeking sunlight casting strips of light over Brittany’s naked back the morning after their first time often flood her mind as being the first time she acknowledged that want.
And contrary to what most people had thought in high school; their very first time was at Brittany’s house, and it did mean something; Santana at the time had felt like there was nothing more to life than waking up next to Brittany.
In reality, Santana of the present still feels the same things.
It was fumbled, it was fun, and it was their own brand of perfect.
That’s how they’ve always been. Their own brand of perfect love, even if Santana was once too young to realize what it actually was and Brittany had been too content with letting her work it out for herself.
Eleven years of linking pinkies and half of it spent being yelled at by a track-suit sporting Sue Sylvester; along with an ever peppy Mr Schuester, who’s hair though grey by graduation, had made their high school life more than just a cliche.
Eleven years that saw them actually graduating and getting away from Ohio. Santana hauling herself and Brittany, and their scholarship money, to Arizona. Santana remembers every audition and every exam. She remembers how Brittany had watched the hundreds of other dance applicants stretching in the waiting rooms of the dance department at the University of Arizona, in their leotards and tight clothing. Their eyes had met with a shared confident smile. Santana knew that no one could match Brittany.
In turn Brittany was there in the morning before Santana’s own entrance exams to the University of Arizona. Making coffee and finding her notes and walking to the exam all with her. None of the dreams of stardom, that had fluttered into her mindset briefly in the days of their win at Nationals or their other win at Glee Nationals, had given her the false hope that she could make something of herself on a stage.
If she really wanted to, then that would have been a different story.
Instead she held her head higher and proved her way into the elusive business school the university offered.
They were students. Brittany danced for four years while Santana crunched numbers and majored in accountancy. The dreams changed a little but the outcome was always the same. Together.
The first step of that was the apartment they shared from sophomore year. A one bedroom box, literally, that lasted them until Santana had a degree in her hand and Brittany was being written up in her final showcases. In which Santana sat front row for every single one.
That was another thing that didn’t really change. The rush of awe and pride that filled Santana with every move Brittany made on stage. Every dip, glide, twirl captivated her. Even if said twirl was into the arms of a male classmate.
In the back of her mind there was always a nag, reminding Santana of one of the hidden reasons she delved into business. Why she worked the extra hours. Why she often brought her work home. Why she saved and slaved and kissed the asses of people she probably would have walked over in high school.
It was always for her.
It was because of Brittany that Santana turned down job after job until there was an offer from a company that offered her more than just an internship. They were almost kicked out of the one bedroom box by the time Santana accepted.
Nevertheless they did leave, the ink hardly dry on the first advance Santana got, to seek out a bigger place. All the money Santana saved, mostly from the bribes and the money made from selling the ‘swag’ she was swamped with back in the days of the Cheerios, was pushed into a more spacious two bedroom, bathroom, living room, sky-view, kitchen, working-front-door apartment in Phoenix, Arizona.
The second bedroom was hardly used by them; saved for the scouting trips made by friends looking to move. Old college friends, new college friends, Quinn and Puck and sometimes even Mike; who’d followed their example and moved to California to dance. He was always trying to convince them to visit him to see his projects, his work and his own studio.
Things weren’t totally perfect. Brittany still couldn’t cook for herself. Santana worked more than she wanted too and they never really saw much of people they’d left back in Lima, Ohio but they had each other.
Every day for two years Santana has woke up watching the sun on Brittany’s back. Everyday she’s made breakfast for two. Actual breakfast, carbs and everything. Everyday she’s smiled to herself as Brittany padded into the kitchen in one of her shirts and kissed her. Everyday Santana has said ‘thank you’.
24th March 2018 was eleven years in the making.
Santana’s ears are still ringing in confusion. Her knee hurts from pressing too hard into their wooden flooring. The hand she has stretched in front of her shakes without her meaning to. Brittany stares at her with an open mouth, like she can’t believe what she’s just said; Santana doesn’t want to believe the word that came out of Brittany’s mouth either.
In fact she wants her to take it back or slap a hand over her mouth or laugh like she didn’t mean it.
Except she doesn’t.
That’s not apart of Santana’s plan.
“What?” Santana croaks out still frozen on the floor next to the couch. Brittany sits as still as the air feels.
Brittany doesn’t take her eyes away from Santana as she slides to the edge of the couch. The worn leather creaks as she does so. It’s the most uncomfortable sound to hear.
Then again, it’s not more uncomfortable than the weight of the engagement ring in Santana’s hand after Brittany has just said ‘No’.
Eleven years has not prepared her to hear that word. Eleven years has not prepared her to believe that.
“I can’t.” Brittany’s eyes mirror the ring Santana holds out to her; they both dull with every second Brittany doesn’t reach out and take it. “S you can’t ask me that.”
Santana’s confusion turns into the only other thing she can feel. Anger.
“What?” She hardens at Brittany’s words. “What do you mean I can’t ask you this?”
Brittany’s hands rush to her forehead, trying to block out the sight of the ring, and Santana by default.
“What do you mean I can’t ask you? What the hell Britt?” Santana finds her feet. She can’t kneel anymore. Especially not for Brittany.
“S...” Comes her small voice through her hands.
Santana can feel her irrational side flare up under her ribs. She feels the burn and tries to hold it off.
“Do you even get what I’m asking you?” Maybe that was it. Maybe it was just a mis-
“Yes!” Brittany flings her hands back onto the couch. “Yes! And you can’t ask me to do that!”
She doesn’t hold it back anymore. “Why the hell not?!”
Brittany bites her lip but she doesn’t utter a word.
“Brittany?” Santana forces herself to cool, even though the weight of the ring between her fingers makes her want to break through her calm. Her girl ignores the call of her voice. It agitates her.
Why? Why? Why?
Santana thinks her subconscious is echoing her own questions but it’s not. It’s coming in little pants and slipping from Brittany’s lips.
“Why? Why? Why?”
Santana stares at her in disbelief. “Brittany.”
Again no response. Santana can feel her resolve crumbling. This wasn’t meant to happen. Dinner is still waiting in the kitchen. There’s a bottle of wine hidden in a cupboard. Santana has a speech. She has a fucking speech.
She can feel her words tumbling out. She breaks watching Brittany visibly withdraw as she tells her that she loves her and there’s no one she wants to be with more and the last eleven years have been the best-
“-years I could’ve asked for and I just want...I just want you.” Santana is back on her knees again but this time Brittany doesn’t look at her. Santana isn’t sure if she’s still asking ‘why?’.
“I thought you’d want me too.”
Brittany snaps up this time. Her eyes are glistening and Santana sees tears.
“I do.” She utters. Santana feels herself breath again. The connotations of the words relax her mind again.
Brittany is nervous. She’s just nervous. It’s because Santana is proposing. Santana. Santana, the girl who is the last person anyone expected to be into commitment that didn’t have a loophole. That’s what people probably would have written on her year book if she’d let anyone sign it; “Least likely to commit.”
“But I can’t do this.” Brittany finishes and Santana feels all the air knocked from her again. “I can’t marry you.”
The rejection stings. No. It doesn’t sting.
Santana is kneeling in front of Brittany and her sad eyes and she can feel something important in her chest shatter and pierce the top of her stomach.
There are questions trying to force their way out of her mouth. Important ones, intellectual and reasonable ones but all she can pathetically manage, as Brittany shuffles awkwardly away from her is;
It rings around their apartment. Over their bare walls, in the backgrounds of pictures on tables, between the panes of their windows and in the cracks on the floor and even the tiles in the bathroom.
Santana feels like everyone in the world is listening. Her face burns.
She interrupts Brittany before she can say anything. “I thought that this- I thought you would want us to, I mean, I’m sor-”
She can’t even apologise. Why? What has she got to apologise for? Loving Brittany too much? Asking her to spend the rest of her life with her?
“Are you not ready?” Santana throws out. With each stuttered phrase the shake in Brittany’s shoulder increases. The muffled cries grow stronger. She’s making her cry.
“I can wait. I can- I should’ve asked-suggested even, Britt.” Santana reaches out with her hand, the ring clasped in a fist, to brush her knuckles against skin.
Her hand never makes it. Brittany moves off the couch and takes purposeful steps to stand next to their window. The sky is darkening but there’s no sign of the heat leaving.
“Brittany.” Santana asks finally. She asks because there’s no way she can state Brittany’s name simply now. The girl turns to her looking unstable on her legs. It’s a sight Santana has never seen before.
“I ca-” Brittany abruptly stops before the last end of the word comes out again. Santana doesn’t know if it’s because she can see her breaking before her, or that it’s hard to say.
She just wants to know, why?
Brittany’s mouth moves, she’s saying something that Santana can’t hear because she’s thrown herself into the memories she has from this morning.
Watching the sun. Brittany’s back. The breakfast. The kiss. The shirt. That routine was amplified in the morning. Santana imagined watching not just Brittany, her girlfriend, but Brittany her wife. She wanted to see the sun glint off the ring on her finger. She wanted to be waking up on some tropical island. Some honeymoon paradise. Like Hawaii.
She wanted that morning.
“I don’t know who I am without you anymore.”
Santana blinks until she’s blinking back her own tears.
Brittany has her arms crossed over her chest protectively. Like she expects Santana to touch her. Santana chokes at the thought that Brittany doesn’t want to be near her.
“I don’t know who I am without you.”
“Brittany what the hell does that mean?” Santana spits out. She’s heard a lot of things come from Brittany’s mouth in all the years she’s known her; one of those instances was mistaking recycling for bicycling. So forgive Santana for not knowing what the hell Brittany means.
Brittany lets her arms fall and Santana moves. The ring is placed gently on their coffee table before Santana crosses the distance between them and finds hands waiting for her. She can understand this. She can understand the electric current in their fingertips and the tilt in Brittany’s head when Santana is this close.
“You’re Brittany.” Santana whispers. She doesn’t want anyone else to hear this. “You were born in some town in Denmark that I can’t pronounce the name of and you have the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen.”
Brittany’s lip twitches for a second but she doesn’t smile.
“You’re the best dancer I’ve ever seen, you always drink the last of the milk in the fridge. In fifth grade you refused to speak English for a week when Finn didn’t pronounce your name properly.”
Santana feels herself getting through to her. It’s all just nerves.
“You hate swimming, but you love marine life. You once told me dolphins are just gay sharks. You never really drank Sue Sylvester’s liquid cleanse, it was always orange juice.”
Brittany squeezes her hand lightly.
And then Santana screws up.
“And you’re the only person I’ve ever loved.”
Brittany rips her hands from Santana’s and removes herself from the embrace. Santana’s palms feel burnt.
“What the fuck Britt? You just said you didn’t know who you were without me and when I try to tell you, you freak out? What the hell?” Santana can’t even disguise her annoyance now. Brittany doesn’t move any closer to her. The sense of security she’d had for seconds in Santana’s arms is gone again.
“That’s just it!” Brittany shouts. Santana freezes. Brittany just shouted. “That’s my point!”
Brittany’s arm flings outwards and vaguely points to the ring on the table. Santana spares it an apologetic glimpse. “I say I don’t know who I am without you and you try to tell me. You try to tell me.”
Santana frowns. “I don’t-”
“You’re telling me who I am Santana. You’re not letting me-” Brittany starts. Suddenly it falls in place for Santana.
“When have I ever stopped you from being yourself?” Santana retorts. “You wanted to dance, I helped you prepare for your audition. I showed you how good Arizona was.”
“You showed me. You helped me.” Brittany flings back.
“You never said you didn’t want to go there!” Santana notices how their voices are rising. This is the first real fight she can remember them having.
“I never said that I didn’t! But even if I did-”
“Even if you did what?” Santana cuts her off. “Did you think I wouldn’t have followed you?”
“Would you?” Brittany’s quick question stuns her into silence. She’s caught off guard at the most unfortunate moment.
Santana can only hope that when Brittany has finished there will be a way for her to fix things.
“We haven’t spent more than a day away from each other since graduating.” Brittany informs her. Santana can’t see the problem with that. “You were the one that drew up a list of schools that we could go to, the ones with dance programs and degrees, it was colourful. Remember?”
Santana’s throat is dry when she nods, wondering how long Brittany has wanted to say this and why she’s choosing now.
“I told you to pick the best one because I couldn’t see the school Mike was going to on there.” Brittany casts her eyes down to her feet. “And I couldn’t ask you because you kept saying how much you couldn’t wait to go to college.”
As she says this Santana feels a pit in her stomach open up. She can almost predict what Brittany is about to drop on her.
“I didn’t even want to go.” Brittany sniffs. “I wanted to go with you but I didn’t want to go.”
“Brittany,” Santana attempts until the words fail her.
“You didn’t ask if I wanted to move out of dorms when you wanted an apartment.”
Every sentence slaps her in the face.
“I didn’t even help you decorate. My mom keeps asking when she can come and visit us and I keep saying I don’t know because you haven’t invited her.” Brittany reasons. Santana doesn’t like the implications in that.
“Britt you can invite your mom up here. You don’t have to ask about that.”
“But I do.” Brittany insists. “This feels like your apartment. I’ve been living here for two years and it still feels like I’m just staying over. Like a sleepover.”
Santana watches the Brittany of her mind shuffle around their apartment in her head. She sees things that weren’t obvious before. Hesitance.
“This is your home Britt. It’s our home.” Santana stresses. “I’m sorry I didn’t realize-”
“I didn’t either.” Brittany admits.
“Then why are you saying all of this? I don’t get this...” Santana clenches her fists to stop her from trying to reach out to Brittany. “Why don’t you know who you are or whatever?”
Brittany threads her hands together in front of her body. “I saw you with...” Her head nods to the ring. “...and I was...I smiled.”
Santana doesn’t let the hope flood her chest at the imagery. Brittany isn’t smiling now.
“I smiled because I thought that’s what I wanted you to do. To be yours and no one else's.” Brittany has her gaze now. She’s not looking away as she shoots Santana in the chest. “And then I wasn’t smiling because...I don’t know how to be me without you.”
Santana almost wants to argue; wants to say that it’s okay that she doesn’t know. But she knows that isn’t true.
“I don’t know how to be just Brittany.” Brittany lets her tears come silently now.
Santana hears the end of the sentence in her own mind; “Not always ‘Brittany and Santana.”
“I’m sorry.” Santana finally allows her guard to drop enough to say it. Brittany’s face softens a little.
“I know. I know you didn’t do it on purpose.” Brittany tells her like a mother would do to a child. Santana doesn’t like the way her tone doesn’t suggest forgetting anything.
“What do you want me to do?” Santana asks. The girl in front of her still doesn’t resemble the usual happiness Brittany possesses. It’s unsettling to look at her and not knowing everything about her.
Brittany steps back into their personal space with all of her grace. Her moves betray anything else Santana would have usually detected. Hands surround her and Brittany, for all of her objections and reasons given not just five minutes ago, kisses her sweetly and free of frustration. Santana closes her eyes and it feels like she’s gone back in time.
Her hands have barely cupped Brittany’s jaw when it ends and Brittany escapes her hands. She looks her up and down thoughtfully as she does. Santana feels examined.
“Can we not talk about this?” Brittany lowers her eyes and won’t look right. Santana sees the ring in the corner of her eyes. It’s presence burning and shining unwilling to be forgotten. Yet Santana can’t say no as easily as Brittany and the ring is hidden under a piece of paper.
And with it Santana’s esteem is crushed.
Brittany takes her hand once it’s out of sight and smiles weakly. Santana fakes one back, hiding the rejection under her devotion to the girl in front of her. Brittany isn’t ready. Santana isn’t going to push that on her, like she apparently has done for other things.
It doesn’t mean she can sleep in the same bed as her tonight knowing the words are still lingering in each other’s minds.
“I’m-” Santana coughs and glances down at their joined hands. Her face burns. She’s so embarrassed. “Dinner is in the oven, it should be done now.”
“Would it be okay if I-” Santana feels stupid for asking. She’s never asked, she’s always just ‘done’, Brittany has thrown her off more than she realizes. “I’m gonna go see Quinn, okay?”
Brittany nods again. Her hopeful glimmer doesn’t leave even as Santana shrugs out of their hand holding and retreats into their bedroom for shoes and keys.
The footsteps are divided between watching where she walks and holding back tears. She’s not going to cry over this.
Her face doesn’t leave it’s downward tilt until Brittany’s fingers slip under her jaw and another kiss is engaged.
Bad choice of word.
Santana pulls away just as Brittany started to. “I love you.” Brittany whispers.
“I love you too.” Santana returns. There was something different. Something final in the air that forces her hand quicker to the door and opening it.
Santana is not sobbing when she finally makes it to the street.
Santana’s face is pale and cold despite the humid heat by the time she makes it to Quinn and Puck’s apartment.
She’s walked the journey from her apartment to theirs at least a couple of times a week since they moved to Phoenix last year.
In all honesty she doesn’t know why they’re still together.
Santana fumbles with the spare key Quinn gave her wishing for a miracle. Wishing that she could just rewind the day, or even erase the idea of marrying Brittany from her thoughts altogether.
Her sigh is forced out like a spluttering wheeze. She can’t erase that thought. She can’t banish all ideas of a wedding, of rings and Brittany in a dress. Santana may not be the most typical or even obvious person to want to get married, but some family traditions don’t die. Even if she’s gay.
The key slides into the lock of Quinn and Puck’s apartment. This surprises her for no real reason. Maybe a part of her wishes that the key wouldn’t work, or that the occupants of the apartment were out.
Santana has no luck though. The door opens quietly and even in that quiet she can hear the sounds of voices. A little louder than usual. Except this is a usual occurrence, for Quinn and Puck anyway.
She takes back all the previous thoughts she had on the walk over. Coming to Quinn’s, even though she had planned to when Brittany said ‘yes’ - except there is no ‘yes’ now-, is the worst idea she’s ever had.
Santana steps without a sound down the hallway of the apartment and into the living room.
There’s a small set of balloons in the corner of the room. Candles are littered on shelves and tables and even on top of the TV. Quinn has even managed to tidy away all of Puck’s belongings; his games and xbox are nowhere in sight. And even though there’s a small banner with the word ‘Congratulations’ on the wall, the fact that the place has been tidied hits her the most.
It’s Puck that sees her first as he backs out of the kitchen with his arms in the air. He’s halfway through another sentence when he stops short. The reaction is instantaneous.
He sees her standing there and smiles widely.
Then he takes in her face. Her eyes. Then he sees she’s alone.
“Shit.” He mutters.
Santana hates how this has all turned out. Looking around at the decorations, at the hopeful ‘congratulations’ and the balloons, Santana wonders why she ever thought it would all work out.
“Santana!” Quinn follows Puck’s example. Her thrilled expression that she’s probably been dying to use since they finished blowing up the balloons drops as she realizes the lack of a smiling Dutch girl beside her.
She feels so pathetic in the eyes of her friends.
“I came to-” Santana blankly mutters. She doesn’t know why she’s here. Why would she come here?
Quinn’s face is growing more sympathetic by the second and Santana hasn’t even told her yet. She hasn’t even said it out loud.
“Where’s Brittany?” Puck asks without restraint. There’s a sudden sound of something hitting skin as Quinn slaps her arm into Puck’s side.
Santana tenses her jaw. She can’t fall apart like this. She can’t fall apart in front of these people.
Quinn removes herself from Puck’s side and closes the distance between her. Every strand of her blond hair, that is falling unruly from out of her braid, screams out to Santana. It’s not her blond.
“Santana.” It’s in the way Quinn addresses her that Santana feels older. She can see the stress of her own face in Quinn. She can see oddities in the way Quinn’s make-up has been applied. Thick and hurried.
There are years between their eyes that weren’t there before.
Santana breathes out steadily. Quinn doesn’t flinch and Santana is thankful she can’t see Puck with her blocking the view.
“She said ‘no’.” Santana shudders violently after saying it. Quinn’s arms jump forward as if to catch her but Santana doesn’t fall. “She said no.” She repeats mostly to herself.
“What?” Quinn whispers with the same essence of disbelief Santana had when she’d first heard Brittany say it.
Santana pleads with her friend to stop looking at her like that. She can’t hold herself together.
“B said no?” Puck enters the conversation and Santana immediately wishes he hadn’t. “How the fuck did you screw that up Lopez?”
Santana has been friends with Puck, and then kind of dating, and then friends, and then good-friends with him for as long she can remember.
It’s not the first time she’s attempted to punch him in the face. It won’t be the last.
Quinn’s reflexes are the difference between Santana strangling him and him tripping backwards from her almost-hit.
“Fuck you Puck!” Santana growls half at him and half at Quinn, who’s arms are secure around her waist, holding her back. “You don’t know shit.”
“What’s there to know? B said no, work it out.” Puck fires back. His big hands rub over his face trying to feel if any part of her fist made contact with his face.
Quinn tugs Santana back and doesn’t release her until Santana is positioned against a wall.
Adrenaline only takes away the reality of the proposal for seconds. Santana wishes that Quinn hadn’t held her back. She wishes she could have just landed one hit.
And in reality she knows Quinn wouldn’t have minded one bit.
“Puck,” Quinn shifts her head towards the door. “Give us an hour.”
Puck’s expression darkens at Quinn’s suggestion. He glances between her and Santana considering it before picking himself off the floor.
“I’ll be back in the morning.” He tells her. Santana watches on edge as he stomps around the apartment, past the balloons and candles, picking up a coat and his wallet.
The tense atmosphere rises when he stops, raises his arm behind Quinn’s head and pulls her in to kiss her cheek.
Santana has seen him do this before but never this close. Never close enough to see how Quinn flinches a second before the contact and keeps her eyes closed until he hasn’t got a hand on her.
Puck watches her the whole time.
They don’t move until the door slams and they’re alone. Santana’s mask doesn’t fall for Quinn like she expects.
“Do you want a drink?” Quinn asks to break the leftover ice in the air. Santana remembers the bottle of wine in her kitchen at home.
“No.” She doesn’t think she can stomach it. Quinn nods and disappears into the kitchen to get one for herself.
Santana’s weak legs, no longer pulsing with adrenaline or by sheer will, stumble after her. The kitchen is lined with four plates ready for slices of cake Santana spies on the counter near the fridge.
Quinn busies herself with pouring something out of a bottle as Santana notices the apron around her waist. Quinn made them a cake. A fucking cake.
She slumps into one of the chairs in the kitchen and waits for Quinn to join her. She waits for the questioning words and the eyebrows that will frown and turn and emote.
She gets them all.
She gets Quinn’s inquiring eyes. She hears her suggestions, her concerns; Santana forces herself not to snap at the woman when she agrees with some of the things Brittany had said.
“I used to hear her and Mike talk about it before we left Lima.” Quinn declares. “I didn’t think they were serious.”
Santana rubs her eyes with the heel of her hand. “That’s because it’s Brittany.”
Quinn frowns at the way Santana dismisses it. “Just because she hadn’t really grown into herself during high-school it doesn’t mean that she didn’t have dreams like that. She was sure of plenty of things back then.”
Santana closes her eyes when Quinn points to her and says; “Evidence number one.”
By the time Santana relays the rest there’s a drink in front of her and the clock on the wall is ticking into 11.00 pm. She’s not even aware of her own expression anymore. She’s numb to the story she’s telling.
It can’t be happening to her.
Quinn’s hands cover hers as her warm words send her encouragement and reassurance. It’s the shock, Quinn reasons.
“Eleven years Q. A decade.” Santana counters. Quinn shrugs to the numbers.
“Everyone has their time. I mean, look at me and Puck.”
Santana does. She’s seen their on and off and on again act. She’s seen their stages after Quinn gave away Beth; how Puck had doted over her and daydreamed how his baby would have turned out. She’s seen them grow into the people they are today; Puck actually getting a job that doesn’t involve him taking his shirt off, Quinn getting her teaching qualifications and actually reconciling with her family.
Yet Santana can see beneath that. She can see the make-up. She’s been around Puck enough to notice the numbers other girls slip into his jacket pockets. Quinn’s stayed with her and Brittany more times than she can even count.
Everyone has their time but Santana doesn’t want to be compared to Quinn.
“I thought that’s what she wanted.” Santana admits trailing away from the relationship comparison. Quinn sips her drink and nods.
“What?” Santana asks.
“That’s what she means.” Quinn points out. “You thought that’s what she wanted, but did you ever actually ask her what she thought about marriage?”
Santana stares at the bottom of her empty cup for a long moment before the answer emerges.
And like every other one she’s heard tonight it’s a resounding ‘no’.
Santana leaves soon after that. Not bitterly because in all honesty she could see Quinn wanted her to stay. At least to quell all reminders of how Puck wouldn’t be back until the morning, after doing god knows what.
Quinn hugs her. They don’t really do this. They’ve never really been that kind of friends.
“Maybe that’s our problem.” Quinn had once joked to her. They’d been completely drunk at the time of course. Brittany thought it was cute.
She’s walked to the door. “Call me tomorrow and tell me what’s happened?” Quinn asks her.
Santana nods politely, but she doesn’t want to have to call.
She has a plan. It’s not perfect but it flourishes as Santana walks back to their apartment.
First, she’s going to apologise. Like, really. Not just a forced imitation of an apology. She’s going to look into Brittany’s eyes and say sorry like she’s never done before. It’s for everything. It’s for forcing her to come to college. For not letting her follow her dream. For even pressing the issue of marriage without any prior warning.
Secondly, she’s going to talk to her. She’s going to make Brittany tell her everything she’s feeling. Everything she’s had to bottle up. Every uncertainty she has about herself or about them. And she’s not going to interrupt her.
Thirdly, and maybe she’s indulging in that wishful thinking again, but she really wants to go to bed with her girlfriend and watch normalcy rise like the sun on Brittany’s back again.
This plan almost puts a spring back in her step until she actually reaches her apartment. The number on the door, 23, greets her formally.
She opens the door.
Santana walks over the threshold and that wave of finality hits her again. The discomfort is brings is unbearable as she sees that the ring has been moved to sit on the table by the door. Brittany has touched the ring. Mocking her failure. Mocking Brittany’s answer.
She feels the rage bubble up in her throat, yet it comes out in a dry sob.
Her feet wander cautiously around consumed by the rage yet not willing to let it out. There’s a light in their bedroom. It’s empty with the curtains yet to be closed. The bathroom door is closed.
Santana remembers the wine in the kitchen and decides that if she’s going to speak to Brittany then she needs something in her.
There’s a glass in front of her and wisps of liquid slosh into it. Santana doesn’t give it time to breath. Chugging it back in one swallow. Her eyes remain on the ceiling.
Her eyes stay there and don’t notice things. They don’t notice missing documents. They don’t notice the music coming from the living room. They don’t remember to count the pairs of shoes by the door.
Her eyes do notice how she purposely lets the glass fall through her fingers and splinters into a million pieces. A symphony of fragments play across the floor of the kitchen. Santana doesn’t care for their performance.
She listens out.
And she hears nothing.
A single coat.
Santana doesn’t move for two hours.
The glass is left in shards on the floor.
Santana isn’t used to dealing with worry. That’s a lie really. She’s so used to it when it comes to Brittany.
A lot of their lives together has been filled with worry; what time is B getting home? How longer is Sue Sylvester going to keep them at practice? Are the locker rooms really a good place for hooking up? Who do they even know in Arizona? What train is B getting? When are all her classes? What time is Santana picking her up?
Okay. A lot of Santana’s life has been spent worrying about Brittany.
And just because Brittany...
‘Just because she said no.’ Santana shoves papers off her coffee table bitterly.
It doesn’t mean that Santana is about to stop worrying. In fact, Santana hasn’t felt this worried or sick to her stomach in her life.
Her fingers pry open the laptop that’s hidden underneath Starbucks coffee cups and yesterday’s newspaper. The screen flickers to life with a push of a button. The time it takes to load is still to long for Santana’s liking.
And with the amount of worry that Santana has dealt with in her life has also brought ways to deal with it. In high school it was cheer-leading. In college it was enjoying actually eating for once and getting through her classes. After high-school, after college, it was her job.
Accountancy, no matter what anyone says, is sexy. Money is power. And power gave her control. And being in control of other people’s money sent a shiver of power through Santana that only sex came close to mirroring.
So whenever the ugly shadow of doubt, worry or stress reared around the corner of Santana’s usually happy life, whenever she wasn’t able to control the outcome of something, she threw herself into work. Into something she could control.
Santana bypasses all her emails when she logs onto her work-space. The bank she works and is slowly rising up the promotion scale in thankfully lets her access her personal accounts. Their personal accounts.
In seconds Santana has up the recent transactions from their joint account.
The numbers make her face contort and frown.
$500 has been withdrawn in the past 2 hours. Along with a wire transfer to an airline for a ticket from Tokyo, Japan to New York, USA in April 2020. It would freak Santana out a lot more if she didn’t understand Brittany better than a lot of people.
The ticket is a dud.
Other than that there’s nothing. No other transfers for bus tickets or hotels. No email to say where she’s going. Santana scans the area around her. No written note to say that she was going to stay with Mike or...anything.
It frustrates her to no end. Santana grinds her teeth. Brittany is serious. She’s gone.
Santana can’t put her faith in numbers, Brittany’s missing clothes or the engagement ring still sitting on the table by the door.
Right where Brittany left it.
It’s 4.00 am.
26th March - May 2018
When Brittany doesn’t come home in the days after her departure Santana stops going out.
She reasons to herself that maybe Brittany can’t get back in, and she needs to be there. Maybe she’s forgotten her keys.
The physical evidence, or lack of, kills that theory when Santana can’t find Brittany’s set of keys.
At first she calls in sick to work. Feigning fever or colds, she even debates the time old “I can’t come into work today because I’m dead.” before rationalizing that she doesn’t want to lose her job on top of everything else.
She goes back after a few days. The hellish experience actually forces her to talk to her boss about the possibility of her working from home for a few days. (‘Weeks.’ She thinks.)
Her boss observes her nervous appearance. Santana notices that her shirt isn’t buttoned up properly. She looks unprofessional. She feels unprofessional. Brittany’s rejection and disappearance has done this to her.
He asks “Why?”
Santana glosses over the details; She doesn’t remark that she can’t sit at her desk while pictures of Brittany smiling in frames are there so care-freely, nor does she have the will to take them down. She doesn’t mention not being able to bear that she won’t get any random and nonsense emails from Brittany during the day to get her through. She can’t work not knowing where she is. She can’t be away from her apartment not knowing. (Though somewhere in her mind expects this to change.)
Santana can’t say she’s heartbroken because that, and all the other reasons, should actually make her a better accountant.
“Family emergency.” She briefly provides. It’s vague. It’s impersonal. His face softens though a little disappointed, and nods; it’s believable.
Five minutes later she’s carrying over a months worth of back logged clients and their inquiries. It’s a ridiculous amount of work.
She checks it again. Again. Again.
Santana feels utterly helpless when she finds the same result over and over. When her head finally rises she’s looking at files and papers and a spread-sheet on her laptop. They all say the same thing.
A months work. A months work that she’d carried back to her apartment. That sits in front of her smugly and proud of Santana because she’s finished it all.
Somehow she’s had the most productive four days she’s had in months. She’s accomplished more work than she’s managed to pull in the other weeks she’s worked overtime. It sucks.
Beyond the papers there isn’t another body watching her with a wry grin, happy to see she’s finished and ‘Are you finally coming to bed?’. Brittany isn’t there with a drink in hand and dressed in an over-sized sweatshirt.
Santana sees around her tidy work to the mess of broken pencils, scraps of paper and cans of Red Bull. A habit she can’t quite kick.
She feels bad; like stale.
Out of necessity she staggers to the window in the living room and opens it wide. The humid air leaks in leaving her feeling worse than before. She’s all out of work, stuck at home for the foreseeable future and on top of all that she can’t remember the last time she showered.
Her phone rings.
Santana turns to the sound and realizes that she can’t see the tiny cellular device anywhere. Mad scrambles pass as the ringing gets louder. Santana rummages, carefully as not to disturb her completed work, around the couch and the floor.
She bashes her head on the coffee table as she comes back up. “Fuck!”
The ringing stops as she finds her phone underneath her couch.
“Quinn.” Santana says aloud. That was another downside to being at home. She had no excuse to not be answering her phone. Which wouldn’t have been so bad if the person she wanted to call was going to call, but it wasn’t. Quinn had been calling three or four times a day just to see if she’s alive.
Santana flips open her phone to check the call log. She’s missed the last three calls off Quinn.
“Damn.” She shrugs and tosses the phone onto the couch. The cushions on it look very welcoming. Sleep teases her but she forces her eyes open.
She’s depressed but that doesn’t mean she has to boycott showering.
Santana lazily wraps herself in a towel as she exits her bedroom. There’s never really been reason for her to dry her body off with a towel when the atmosphere of the apartment can do that while she sits back and watches TV, or something.
The window proves her point by still being open and still letting through warm air.
Apart from the mountain of finished papers and the lack of a drink in her hand, things are looking up. Sort of.
Santana rounds the corner in her kitchen and lets her eyes take in the sudden brightness of the lights so much so that she trips into Quinn walking towards her.
They fall to the floor with flailing limbs. A chair that gets caught up with them crashes as well, just missing their legs. Santana breathes out a sigh of relief before realizing; She’s just walked into Quinn.
“How the hell did you get in here?” Santana snaps still on the floor. Quinn is stumbling to her knees and assessing the damage and that’s when Santana realizes the second thing.
Just - a - towel.
Santana’s hands whip the bath towel around her quick covering parts exposed during her fall. Quinn’s eyes shoot back upwards and reaches out to her. “You gave me that spare key when you wanted that...thing delivered to my house.”
Santana accepts the hand reluctantly because there’s no other way to stand up without flashing Quinn otherwise. The ‘thing’ Quinn refers to is currently sitting in Santana’s bedside drawer with flat batteries.
“Are you okay?” Quinn asks concerned. Santana bats her hands away.
“Is fine?” Quinn suggests. Santana sees the guilt in her eyes.
“Always Q, always.”
Quinn scoffs at her while Santana gets her bearings back. As she does Santana mentally reminds herself that she didn’t answer Quinn’s phone calls; combining that with the knowledge Quinn’s probably gathered from asking around that she hasn’t been into work and the overwhelming devastation on hearing that Brittany is gone-
Quinn’s appearance in her house isn’t so strange after all.
“What are you doing here Q?” She asks more casually than she means. Quinn steps back from Santana and avoids looking at Santana’s hands, which are working on keeping the edges of her towel covering what needs to be covered.
“Checking up on you.” Quinn states. She fiddles with a piece of card in her hands nervously.
“Checking up on me?” Santana repeats. “What have you been doing the last four days?”
“Calls aren’t helpful unless you pick up every once in a while.” Quinn crosses her arms while Santana rolls her eyes.
“Well I assume you have eyes and you can see-” She sways her hips in the towel to prove a point. “I was a little preoccupied.”
It’s only a little lie. Quinn sighs and drops her guard. Santana doesn’t.
“I just wanted to see if you’re okay.” She says softly.
“I’m fine.” Santana quickly replies. Though the speed of her answer doesn’t give Quinn any more faith in it. Quinn leans against her kitchen counter and stays quiet. “What?”
“Nothing. I just-” Quinn starts still fidgeting with the card in her hand. “I know that you’re not exactly open with your feelings to everyone but I-”
“That’s right.” Santana interrupts.
“I just thought that you might need someone to talk to.” Quinn talks over her in order to be heard.
“Not necessary Q.” Santana walks out of the kitchen. She can hear Quinn follow her.
“Look, I know you don’t like admitting to people that you care, and gosh I know it’s hard keeping that up because I went to high school with you and watched you crack under this-” Quinn draws out her timeless attitude and Santana half expects to see her dressed in a cheer-leading uniform when she turns around. “-mask.”
Santana stands up straighter. “This is nothing like high school.”
“You’re not dealing with this. You’re avoiding it.” Quinn eyes the piles of papers on the coffee table. “You’re not even going into work, you’re not-”
“Moving on?” Santana bites. Quinn shakes her head. “Is that what you came here to say? That because she said no and left me I should move on?”
“No.” Quinn spits out before Santana can rage. “Don’t twist this S, I’m trying to help.”
“You’re not. You’re really not.”
“That’s because you’re not letting me get through to you.” Quinn’s voice is louder. “You’re just standing there fighting me. Fighting me.”
Santana stares coldly at her not ready with a reply.
“This isn’t something you can just work your way away from S. You can’t just bottle up you’re feelings or pretend that it’s not upsetting you in front of other people. It’s not healthy.” Quinn steps around the living room, all the while addressing Santana. “Have you even left here since working from home?”
Santana doesn’t dignify that with a response and that’s all the confirmation Quinn needs.
“I want to help you. I want you to just talk to me.” Quinn approaches her slowly. “This sucks. I know.”
Santana wants to shoot back that she doesn’t. She’s never had to deal with this. She’s never had to ask someone to marry her and try and cover up how painful it feels to be told ‘no’ and then come back to an empty apartment. Quinn has never felt like she does.
When the words are about to fall out of her mouth and tell Quinn just how much she doesn’t understand she notices the dark circles under Quinn’s eyes.
Santana isn’t the only one Brittany has left, is her first thought.
Her second thought has nothing to do with Brittany at all, but all to do with pain.
“What can I say, Q?” Santana jolts her shoulder in an awkward shrug. “That it hurts? It does, like a fucking bitch.”
“That I didn’t expect it? Of course I didn’t. Eleven years, remember? Eleven years and I ask her something that, if my younger self could hear would probably kick my ass for suggesting, and she says ‘no’?” Angry tears water in her eyes. “That fucking sucks.”
Quinn grips her card tighter and Santana sees in her mind the cake Quinn made, the balloons and the banner that were waiting for them.
“You know what sucks even more? That I thought that’s all it would be.” Santana tosses her head back and forces a fake laugh. “That she’s says no and I accept it and we move on.”
Quinn’s gaze is more sympathetic than triumphant for getting Santana to admit these things.
“What sucks is that I have to come back here and find that telling me ‘no’ obviously wasn’t enough and she’s gone off to find herself or some shit.” Santana balks. “Where does that leave me Q? Where does it fucking leave me?”
Santana collapses into the couch after spitting the words out. Her hands cradle her head as they repeat the facts in her mind. It sucks. Why didn’t she see it coming? Why did B feel like saying no wasn’t enough? Why?
When Quinn sinks into the cushion next to her Santana finds her own guard has dropped to her dismay as she voices hidden fears. “I don’t even know where she is.”
She can’t see Quinn’s face but she can see the girl’s knees.
“She didn’t take her credit card, she doesn’t have her phone.” Santana doesn’t acknowledge the tears running down her cheeks. Quinn doesn’t either. “She took fuck all money and bought an out of date plane ticket. What the hell was she thinking?”
The sentences are mostly to herself. Her fears voiced to her apartment and by default Quinn as well.
Quinn doesn’t say a word, or attempt to coax more out of Santana. She’s grateful for the hand that rubs the small of her back, but ask her again tomorrow and it won’t have happened. She feels cold now.
They sit like that until Santana’s body feels dry and her hair is no longer dripping droplets of water onto her floor.
“I’m sorry.” Quinn’s smoke-like voice hushes over her. Santana closes her eyes. She could be sorry for a lot of things not just Brittany leaving. In the same sense that Santana is sorry too.
“I know you want to help.” Santana breathes out. “But I’d feel better if you came back some other time.”
Quinn’s hand on her back stops. “Okay.”
She shuffles in her seat and Santana doesn’t predict the kiss to her forehead or the presenting of the small card into her lap.
She doesn’t look at it until Quinn’s footsteps have faded and the door closes.
It’s not as small as she’d previously thought, nor as blank. The front is detailed in a map with names to places she hasn’t been. One standing out bigger than the rest.
Santana’s heart bursts and she rapidly turns the card over. Brittany. It’s from Brittany. She’s in Mexico. Santana is filled with something she can only pin as elation. She knows where she is.
There’s no message though and as fast as her heart had raced it slows with the blankness of the postcard.
Her apartment’s address is written in Brittany’s loopy handwriting, which the stamp almost covers, and a line written neatly in the middle.
“I never ask God to give me anything; I only ask him to put me where things are”
It means nothing. It tells her nothing, and it gives no indication to anything. Santana shudders in order to restrain a broken sob. The card shakes in her hand, no longer giving her a form of comfort in knowing where Brittany is.
And no way of letting Santana come and find her.
There are a number of things that hurt in the wake of Brittany leaving her. In the first few months it was the lack of contact. No calls. No note. Brittany didn’t even stay long enough to tell her she wanted out.
Brittany has never done that before. Not until now. Not until Santana pushed her too far apparently.
Santana hurts. She hurts in the mornings when her alarm has to wake her up instead of the sun. It hurts when she has to walk into the bathroom and see only one toothbrush in the holder. It hurts more to see that she only took the essentials with her as well.
The rubber duck that Brittany insisted on keeping on the counter in the bathroom is still there. If Santana opened up the cupboard in the bathroom she’d still find all of Brittany’s make-up and vitamins.
The closet they shared still plays host to most of Brittany’s clothes. Even the Arizona university sweatshirt Santana had bought her in their first year of college. It’s worn and colour washed, and Brittany didn’t take it.
All of her dance trophies are still lined around the living room. Pictures from high school; from their senior year win at cheerleading nationals where Brittany is holding her so tightly that they aren’t even looking at the camera, to the yearly glee club photos arranged one after the other. She can see how they all changed from picture to picture. How Rachel Berry started to gain a sense of style. How Kurt Hummel filled out. There’s only one picture that has Matt R-Something in it. Santana remembers him transferring after sophomore year.
Brittany didn’t take any of them. Not even the pictures Santana took of her showcases.
And it hurts more to be surrounded by her when there’s no way she can reach out and touch her.
Santana sits barefoot in Brittany’s Cheerio letterman jacket, in a sea of candy wrappers, take-out menus and watches Brittany’s sectionals DvD over and over.
She can’t shake the sickness in her stomach when she eats nor can she taste any of it anymore.
All she has is a blank postcard and a Mexican proverb.
Chapter 2: part 2
August - October 2018
The postcard she’d held in her hand in May was the first.
More came through her door in random intervals. Each unsigned and with a different cultural clue on the front.
Santana spends half her time with them wishing Brittany was contacting her in a more interactive way and the other half trying to guess where in the world she is.
A European stamp. There’s still no more transfers coming from their joint account. Santana wonders how in the world she’s managed to get across an ocean without her knowing.
Then again, Brittany managed to leave in the first place without her knowing.
19th November 2018
The third postcard reaches her in November. There’s a picture of skis on the front of it and it’s enough to force Santana out of her apartment for the first time in days.
It’s a supply trip. As the days working from home have actually turned into weeks Santana has found that she actually needs to go shopping to keep living comfortably.
In her delirious state she somehow avoids all of the usual food stores she used to frequent in favor of a smaller place that doesn’t refrigerate their drinks. She passes by the packaged meals and stocks up on chips, chocolate and assorted fruits.
Just because she’s depressed it doesn’t mean she’s not going to have her five-a-day.
She stands in line with seemingly everything she needs when she spots something sticking out of a half-price basket.
She doesn’t plan to buy it but she does. The guy at the counter doesn’t even give her a strange look. Like he sees people picking random stuff like that up all the time.
Santana holds the tube shaped buy underneath her arm while she carries the food and items she set out to buy in the first place in a single paper bag. She can practically feel the drinks become warmer as she makes her way, on foot, back to her apartment.
The stairs to her building come into sight along with someone sitting on them impatiently. Waiting for her.
Santana can’t help but frown as Quinn spots her and stands up. Then again, the last time she saw her was less than pleasant, it can’t be any worse this time.
As she gets closer the form of Quinn starts to get more detailed. Santana can see her disheveled clothes and the way her hair is slipping from her ponytail. There are tired circles under her eyes again.
School must be out. It’s later in the day than she thought.
“Glad to see you aren’t waiting inside this time.” Santana remarks bitterly ascending the stairs ahead of her.
Quinn doesn’t take the bait and rushes forward to open the entrance doors for her. She takes Santana in.
“Glad to see you decided to get dressed today.” She retaliates after a second. Santana ignores her as they trudge up to the elevator. She makes sure to hit Quinn in the arm with her tube.
“It’s my apartment Q.” Santana groans and Quinn pushes her floor number in the elevator. Santana has the right to walk around with no clothes on if she wants. She’s paying the rent after all.
Quinn rolls her eyes and drones on; “You have a window that takes up an entire wall in your living room S. You walking round with nothing on is free porn to people outside.”
Santana has no response to that except to think of all the other times she’s done it and all the other times it hasn’t just been her naked. Shit.
The lift arrives at her floor and she pushes out. Quinn follows her every step until they reach her door. Santana unloads the tube of paper she picked up at the store into Quinn’s hands while she fishes out her keys.
“What’s this?” Quinn inquires, but Santana is already sweeping into her apartment and choosing not to answer. The bag in her hand is heavy and she wants her drinks in her fridge as soon as possible. Otherwise it’ll be hours until they’re cold.
Her kitchen doesn’t welcome her with the low tunes of a radio or a swaying body. Instead the echoes of Santana dumping her bag on the island deaden her memories and wishes.
Quinn doesn’t follow her but Santana sees her take the plastic wrapping off the tube with interest. She waits for the inevitable reaction to her purchase.
“You bought a map?” Quinn’s loud voice comes before she’s strutting into the kitchen. Santana continues to empty her shopping out of her bag. Lining it up on the counter before deciding where to house it.
“I also bought food. Would you like to question that too?” Santana quips finally removing her warm drinks, cheap beer and soda, into the cold chamber that is her fridge.
“Why?” Quinn pesters. A nag of irritation flares up in Santana’s head.
“I don’t know.” She presses. “Saw it, bought it.”
Quinn responds to her words by unrolling the map further over the kitchen island. Mexico comes into view but even at Quinn’s widest arms length the map still isn’t fully unrolled.
“Puts it into perspective at least.” Quinn mutters looking over the map.
Santana scoffs trying not to pay attention. “Whatever.” Buying it was a stupid idea.
“You should hang it up.” Quinn speaks to her as if she’s addressing one of her students. Santana doesn’t like that. Quinn teaches 1st Grade.
Santana can’t ignore that. “Gee, what an idea!” She says sarcastically.
Quinn gives her an unimpressed look.
“Are you being serious right now?” Santana throws her next item of food into the nearest cupboard just to be able to slam it closed. “I’d rather not be visually reminded every day that I don’t have a freaking clue where she is.”
“Why buy it then?” Quinn counters.
“I don’t know!” A whim. An unexplainable whim.
Quinn seems to read her thoughts and her face relaxes as she proposes her words to Santana.
“Just put it up with me okay?” Quinn asks. “If you don’t like it, then you can take it down. And if anything it’ll set off the wall in the living room.”
Quinn gestures to the massive blank wall that Santana hasn’t painted. It’s white and there isn’t even a picture gracing it to make it seem homely. The map lays on her kitchen island hopefully. Damn.
The rest of the shopping is abandoned. Santana pulls out a ridiculous amount of duct tape that Quinn raises an eyebrow at but Santana refuses to comment on to fix the map on the wall with.
It takes two of them to fully expose the map to the room. Completely unrolled it almost stretches from one end of the room to the other. All for $3 dollars.
Awkwardly Santana manages to tear off pieces of tape to temporarily hold the map in place while making sure that it was straight on the wall. Quinn spends half the time holding the map against the wall and ducking under Santana as she passes by.
There isn’t much verbal communication but they manage to work together to securely attach the huge map of the world to the wall. They stand back with a tiny bit of pride when they’ve finished and a few seconds later when the map doesn’t fall down.
Quinn was right. The map sets the wall off. Santana turns to glance at Quinn. She sees the flecks of accomplishment that usually belong on her face after a day of helping children learn or enjoying herself. It’s hidden between other emotions but Santana appreciates seeing it there.
“Thanks.” She whispers hoping Quinn won’t hear her.
“For what?” Quinn asks genuinely curious before backing up. “On second thought don’t worry. I won’t make you elaborate. Gotcha.”
Santana is grateful in that moment that they have so much history. It saves time, and facial muscles.
Although her senses aren’t spared as she lets herself take a closer look at Quinn. Disheveled. Tired. She’d first assessed her as being. Now seeing her in the light of the apartment reveals shades of discomfort, aches and sadness.
It’s too easy to pass it off as Quinn feeling what she’s feeling because Santana is too wrapped up in her own anguish to notice. But there’s something different about Quinn’s affliction to her own. It’s restrained.
“How are you doing?” She chances a casual tone as Quinn finishes inspecting their work.
“Huh? Oh, fine. Fine. Up to my eyes in lesson plans again but-” Quinn shrugs like it’s no big deal but it doesn’t settle right. “-that’s teaching.”
“Hn.” Santana agrees. She doesn’t know otherwise. Her only encounters with teaching have been as a student or watching Quinn. One thing she is sure of though is that Quinn shouldn’t look that stressed.
And since when are lesson plans required for first graders?
“Look, I know things are crappy with...everything-”
Santana doesn’t know how to approach this. How is she mean to ask someone, who’s more focused on helping her than herself, if there’s anything wrong with her - or at home?
Santana realizes she can’t ask that question.
“You’ve already said that.” Quinn grins, bemused at Santana’s double ‘thankyou’ and steps away from the map. “Listen I better go. I didn’t call Puck when I left work and, you know how he gets...”
Santana listens, with a blank face, while alarms go off in the rational side of her brain because ‘no, she doesn’t know how he gets Quinn’. What does she mean?
“You could stay.” Santana chooses to put forth. “I don’t mind you doing your work crap here.”
Thoughts in her head tell her to push this. Push past her own problems for once and sell this offer to Quinn.
“It’s okay.” Quinn reassures lightly. She has all of her things gathered in her arms again. “I know you probably want to be alone. I’ll see you some time this week?”
Santana nods. Defeated by her inability to speak. That’s unexpected.
Quinn leaves her with the daunting world map now fixed on the wall behind her. Three postcards dangle on pins on different sides of an ocean,
9.00 pm, 24th December, 2018
The airmail stamp on the back of the postcard informs her that it was sent late November.
It’s Christmas eve and Santana has no tree, no decorations, absolutely no joy and is holding the only Christmas presents she’s got this year in each hand.
One of them is an almost empty bottle of something strong and off the top shelf. The other is a late postcard with a skyline picture on one side. It’s not signed.
Paranoia and depression buzz in her head. They keep telling her things she’s known for the past 9 months.
’She left you.’
‘She’s not coming back.’
‘She didn’t want you.’
Each hurtful voice grows louder and more vindictive with each statement.
If she was mostly sober there might have been a way to distract herself from the taunting truths.
Except Santana has been polishing off her gift to herself for most of the evening. She’s not really a big drinker. Brittany hated it. She does hate it. Santana would always have to clean her teeth after drinking before Brittany would even come anywhere near her. She didn’t like the smell.
Suddenly Santana takes another uncoordinated swig of the remaining liquid. She ends up coughing most of it down.
She’s spiting her.
‘ Look,’ Santana projects to the unsigned postcard. ‘ Drinking. I’m drinking.’
It’s as close to a ‘Fuck you’ as she can manage at the moment.
The world is blurred around the edges now. The bottle in her hand gets heavier the emptier it gets and Brittany didn’t sign the card.
“Fuck.” Santana finally slurs. Her hand pushes the postcard to her head in desperation. “Come back. Why won’t you-?”
Silence brings her no answer.
“Where are you? Where- even?”
The bottle taps against her leg. The shock of the contact inspires a longing for someone to touch, for Brittany, that she hasn’t felt this intensely since the morning before she left.
“You said-” Santana murmurs. ‘You said you loved me.’
In the morning she’ll groan from somewhere in the hallway, wrapped in a sheet, and look at the mess left in the wake of her night. She’ll scan her home in despair and find things she’ll regret and want to take back.
For now all Santana sees is the huge map of the world stuck on her wall. Masses of land in front of her that dwarf her in real life.
Brittany chose this over her.
‘She didn’t choose you.’ Her insecurities cry. She can feel the pricks of tears in her eyes as her jaw stiffens. Her grip on the bottle is deathly tight. She shakes and shivers all over, in restraint and alone.
“Fuck you.” Santana says to the first card. To Mexico.
“And you.” The second, pinned around Amsterdam is the next to be cursed.
The postcards are few and far between. They can’t have cost more than a dollar or two to send back to her. It’s all Brittany will give her. A piece of card.
Santana is an afterthought.
No messages. No reassurances. No promises. Nothing.
Does she even know what she’s putting her through? Why is she the only one who can’t have Brittany? Why does Mexico get to have her? What do the streets of Europe have to give her?
Why is Brittany punishing her like this?
One of Santana’s hands lurches forwards and thrusts something away from her body. Either the bottle or the postcard.
The clunk of glass against a rug indicates the victim.
Santana’s throat is constricting and every breath is followed by a near convulsing shudder. A mirror wouldn’t recognise her. Dark eyes and self-loathing.
Drink makes her stumble. Her steps, even sober, weren’t as easy and rhythmic as Brittany’s.
On her search for a pin for the card Santana carelessly knocks over several Christmas cards. They were addressed to ‘Brittany and Santana’.
Her fingers clinch a pin. A worthless part of her tempts her with the sharp point and unblemished skin until she raises the postcard in sight again. A plain skyline. A white cross inside a red square.
She doesn’t even know where this is from. She can’t think.
“Damnit!” In her agitation the pin slips, slicing a fissure like line between England and Ireland.
A clean cut.
Santana freezes, the pin embedded in the map and stares at the damage she’s inflicted. A twitch in her wrist opens another wound.
Heaven. She’s found heaven.
She finds herself moving to scratch out France and executing the pin through Spain.
The noise is heaven.
Her miniature sword swishes from country to country. Greece. Australia. Canada.
Blood and intoxication of the thoughts and the power rush through her until the tiny pin isn’t enough. The cuts aren’t big enough. The map still towers over her and proclaims Brittany’s loyalty.
Blindly her hand reaches for the bottle previously discarded until she’s swinging it rapidly against the wall. A smash unlike anything. Her eyes close and a shower of glass pricks into her exposed skin.
She thinks she might be bleeding.
The edges are jarred and poised. They beg for contact. Her hands lunges forward to Denmark, inches away from stabbing it in delight , when someone calls her name.
“Santana!” The screeching voice is behind her as she collapses and spears a hole in the middle of the map.
There’s a hand wrestling the bottle from her grasp. Another shattered impact.
Santana is dizzily turned and backed up. Her eyes see black spots and gold. Flashes of blond hair that she’s never run her fingers through. A face appears that she’s never kissed. Hands of someone ,steadying her against the wall, that have never belonged to her.
“Santana.” Quinn says fearfully.
There’s so much shame in how Santana doesn’t want to deny the temptation.
“The map,” Quinn’s eyes feast on her destruction. “What have you done?”
“Merry Christmas, Q.” Santana snaps and tries to stumble forward. Quinn roughly pushes her back against the wall with an unwavering hand against her collar.
“How much have you drank?” Quinn demands assessing the state of her and of her apartment. The fallen cards. The glass. The map. “Santana!”
Santana pushes her shoulders out in an attempt to get Quinn off her. “Q, step-”
“No, Santana. What the hell is happening?” Quinn keeps her at an arms length. “Have you been drinking all day?”
Santana forces a grin that she hasn’t worn for years. A hateful one.
“I’m sure I’m not the only one.” Santana’s chest shudders uncomfortably under the pressure of Quinn’s hand. “That’s why you’re over here right?”
Quinn doesn’t waver and pushes Santana back into the wall. Around her postcards fall. She can feel the ends of pins dig into her back. The world is winning.
“You’re a mess. You’ve ruined the map. What are you even-” Quinn’s eyes grow bigger as she inspects the size of the slices. The intent behind them speaks for itself.
Santana pushes forward again only to have Quinn force her entire body back. “Santana stop! You need to calm down.”
Santana growls and the spots leave her eyes. She sees clearly. The pins in her back are pressing her painfully and Quinn’s hand on her skin is burning through her layers. No one holds her down like this. No.
Santana’s hand swiftly cripples Quinn’s outstretched arm with a mild jab to the middle of her arm. Quinn’s restraining of her crumbles and Santana invades her personal space and pushes.
In the seconds Quinn looks up at her in disbelief Santana can see the darkness in her eyes. The hurt. The tears that were shed before Quinn even arrived. She wants to take a stab at her, verbally, because Santana isn’t the only one suffering this Christmas and she wants to remind Quinn of it.
Backing her up she subjects Quinn to her observations. She’s not blind. She can see finger shaped bruises. She can see the way she flinches. She sees the way she stares and cries and wishes for something better.
“Santana, stop it.” Quinn grits and stands her ground. Santana feels wickedness infect her.
She won’t stop. She doesn’t even when Quinn’s lip is bleeding from biting down and Santana has run out of words to throw. She hasn’t felt this shocked intensity since finding the empty apartment. She hasn’t had this. Santana needs this.
“Merry fucking Christmas.”
They’re the victims.
She tells herself she’s not doing it because of the postcard. Or because of Brittany. She’s not doing it because she’s been alone for 9 months and counting. She’s not doing it to make Quinn forget about the bruises she has to cover up before she goes out. She’s not doing it in spite of Puck and all he does to her.
She’s doing it because she has a choice in the matter. And Santana is sick of not having control.
Those are her reasons. Santana can’t fathom why Quinn is letting her push her against the wall and letting her break down all of her barriers.
Santana strips away years of the low-esteem Puck has instilled her with as she strips her of the coat she’s wearing. Her lips are raw and bloody. Their feet catch on the shards of glass and sting.
Santana can’t do this unless it hurts them. She can’t take this unless it’s painful for her. Unless it reminds her, with every kiss Quinn takes from her, with all the scratching touches Quinn’s nails leave in her skin; that she’s alone.
The map falls to the ground and they trip. Stumble and drag each other through tears and attempts to disengage into the hallway.
She shouldn’t do this.
Quinn is underneath her. Her head hits the floor.
She should stop.
Santana rocks above her in a faux victory.
Quinn doesn’t stop her. She digs her heels and lets it happen. She engages and gasps and touches her like this is normal. It’s not normal.
Santana succumbs. They’re victims to the foreign touches they bestow. Hypnotizing and unable to tear off. In her anger she hates herself. In her desperation she hates Brittany.
But she can’t hate her. She can’t.
Quinn trembles under her.
The postcards watch them until there’s nothing but darkness.
5.00 am, 25th December 2018 - January 2019
A piercing pain erupts in the side of her head. Tremors in her brain force her eyes open. The expanse of her hallway floor is what greets her. Dust surrounds her. There’s material covering her. It’s cool to the touch but everywhere else is burning. Everywhere else she hurts.
Her breathing is the only carol in the air. Santana’s throat is sore and crackling as she swallows. She doesn’t recognise the taste on her lips.
A sob breaks the suspended morning.
Santana endures the sudden sick sloshing in her stomach as Quinn sits up beside her. Her muscles spasm and convulse at how Quinn has to push herself off the floor. Like she’s too weak to support herself. They're sharing a white sheet in the middle of her apartment’s hallway and it’s about as impersonal as sleeping with your best friend can be.
Corners of eyes can already see the blank wall in the living room.
Quinn winces, her facing away from her, allowing Santana to notice pin sized cuts in her back. Light glitters over her skin and Santana realizes that it’s not cuts from the pins. It’s glass. Quinn has glass in her back from where Santana pushed her down.
Bile rises in her throat. "Q..."
"Shut up." Quinn whispers furiously, cutting her off quickly. She tilts her head upwards to prevent tears. "Just don't say anything, okay?"
Santana follows her order. Quinn respires several agonizing pants and takes a second to gather herself before her hands find the remains of last nights clothes. Santana watches her dress slowly with no intent to help her.
Her hands burn at the sight of the red scratches on Quinn's skin. She did that.
'Fuck.' Santana can't look away at the damage she’s inflicted.'Why did I do that?'
Once she's dressed Quinn finally turns to look at her. Santana makes a temporary coverage with the sheet. Not that there’s much point now. Not now that Quinn has seen her in the moonlight. Only the daylight hasn’t been privy to their mistake. She holds the sheet to her body like a dress of overwhelming regret and despair. Quinn's eyes are red and she won't meet her gaze.
"I'm gonna go. I think- I think we should deal, for a while, alone." Quinn stammers out. It doesn't make much sense, Santana nods along, whatever Quinn wants.
"Merry Christmas." The whisper is ghostly and chills run up her body. She stares at Quinn as she retreats down the hall. Watching as her friend side steps a decorative bag. Quinn pauses there and turns back to her with a weak smile. How she can even smile after what they’ve done, after what Santana did, she doesn’t know.
As she leaves Santana doesn't know when Quinn will speak to her again.
Her weak knees stumble towards the bag and she peers into it with hesitant hands.
It's a picture of the three of them. There’s a noticeable tear in the paper, even though it’s framed she can see it, and Santana recognises this picture. Graduation 2012.
Santana hasn't had it in her hands more than a second before the tears come. Screw up.
Brittany’s smiling face. Santana tucked into her side. Quinn holding her graduation cap in her hand. Happiness.
Happiness that reminds her that she’s no longer apart of that happiness. Not 9 months ago. Not now. Especially not now that the people in this framed photograph have both walked out of her door with no clue as to a return. Santana chokes.
She's screwed up with Brittany and she left. She's just screwed up with Quinn and now she's left.
It's 5.00 am Christmas day and she starts the day throwing up everything she had last night, and showering until her skin feels and bleeds red raw, to try and erase the sadness and the hopelessness she feels.
It doesn't work.
31st December 2019
Santana spends New Years Eve sober.
After Christmas, after that, she’d spent a good hour pouring away all traces of alcohol in her apartment down her kitchen sink. She doesn’t regret that decision at all.
There are other bigger regrets she needs the space in her mind for.
The TV is on mute but every once in a while she checks on the count-down program in Times Square. They bring on talk-show hosts to introduce musical acts as well as other known celebrities to talk or perform.
Her eyes multi-task while her steady hands focus. She picks up Canada and fits it back against North America. Some countries glare up at her angrily. She keeps her face blank.
Of course it would be all too easy to buy another map. The one she’s desperately and delicately rearranging on her lounge floor is practically far gone. England and Spain are in tatters and half of the Atlantic ocean is trapped between her fingers.
Except she doesn’t want a new map.
Santana looks up at the television again. The camera is back in Times Square waiting for the next guest.
Back to work.
‘No new map.’ Santana reminds. A new map would mean accepting what she’s done. Accepting that she’s hurt and she’s hurting others when all she wants to do it make it right. She wants to fix things like she’s fixing the map.
Santana rips another length of duct tape off the roll.
‘I wonder if they have this for relationships.’
Canada appreciates being reattached.
Half an hour passes in steady replacing and the tearing of tape. Santana ends up having to remove a lot of it from her own arms when she starts to get tired, skipping a meal does that to her, but she struggles on.
As silly as it sounds, Santana wants to fix this to motivate her. If she fixes this...
‘ Maybe B will come back.’
’Maybe Q will forgive me.’
‘Maybe I’ll be a better person.’
There’s a vaguely annoying, yet familiar, voice filling up her head with the plausible reasoning that maybe the ‘map is a metaphor’. Metaphors are important.
Thus, fix the map, fix the problems.
Santana is a little scared it’ll all collapse on itself when she puts the map up by herself. It’s a two person job. She struggles and smoothes it out again the wall.
She watches her feet even though there isn’t any glass on the floor anymore.
But there is something.
After making sure the map isn’t going to crumple to the ground, twice, Santana crouches down. Behind the TV, tangled in wires, is a small rectangle. A small, postcard-shaped, rectangle.
Her heart jumps to her throat as she takes hold of it.
She doesn’t remember this one.
She hasn’t seen the impressive city-scape of a German town in her hands anywhere save for the pictures Brittany once showed her.
And it’s signed. Brittany signed it.
In her stunned joy she manages to back away from the wall and the map, though still transfixed by the small scribble of Brittany’s name.
She sits down to process it (the card, the card has her name) when she sits on her TV remote.
Instantly the mute is disregarded and Santana is further shocked into silence as she hears, as she sees a flawless rendition of ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ come from Rachel Berry’s lips on a stage in Time Square on New Years Eve. On TV.
Her tears fall without their usual stubborn refusal into her palms.
“Happy New Year.” She whispers.
15th February 2019
Irony applauds her with the timing of her turning point.
Santana has her epiphany the day after all of the card shops and stores have priced down everything pink, fluffy and heart shaped. The radio is back to playing normal songs and Santana is sitting in her bathtub. Alone and covered in bubbles, debating whether or not touching herself with make up for the fact there isn’t anyone in the bath with her and yesterday she was utterly depressed.
Except that debate brings up other bundles of problems ‘with strings’ attached like Brittany and the Christmas ‘incident.’
The spark of realization occurs as Santana sinks further into her bath, as she does with her depression and berates herself once more.
’This has to stop.’
Santana stares over the water and down at her body. She hates how closed she’s become, how inward she projects herself instead of outward and powerful.
Taking a bath alone in her misery? Pathetic.
She’s pathetic. She’s deplorable. She’s worthless because all she’s allowed herself to do for months is sit and cry over her loss.
Why didn’t she go after Brittany? Why did she just accept it? Why did she ruin things with Quinn? Why didn’t she notice the signs before? Why didn’t she stay in the apartment in March? Why did she just apologise-?
Santana suddenly forces herself upward and onto her feet. Water cascades off her months-thinner body quite artistically.
Why didn’t she do those things? Why hasn’t she?
Santana catches sight of her reflection in the mirror across from the bath. She hardly recognises herself. This girl. This pushover, this weak person staring back at her. This quitter.
“Pathetic.” She utters with venom.
The reflection hardens at the word and Santana’s respect grows as the familiar signs of fight arise in the posture.
The fight is what’s been missing. It’s departure has made her body fatigued and tired for too long. She needs it.
Shamelessly she stalks out of the bathroom nude and into her bedroom.
Brittany isn’t coming back.
That’s what she’s been telling herself, and it’s true. She’s not going to come crawling back to Santana willingly or not unless Santana changes.
Unless Santana finds the fight and chances the chase again.
Cool air caresses her body and a smirk finds it’s place on her face once more. Confidence blooms like a favourite coat.
She has to start winning again. It’s her against the rest of the world apparently.
And with those odds Santana needs to be a fucking super-hero.
A year passes. A year. In March she makes the decision.
While the phone rings Santana manages to finish brushing her teeth, pulls a comb through her hair, locates her shoes, debates whether or not to have breakfast and find her keys. Seven key-rings and all.
Quinn picks up.
"I wanna take you out for coffee." She blurts out without thinking about how desperate she sounds. She just wants Quinn to say yes.
"Not like on a- I mean as friends. Just friends. Okay?" Santana rambles as the headache she wanted to avoid rears up. The pounding in her head grows with Quinn silence. She feels like crap due to the casual nature she’s asking this.
She probably sounds like the Santana from before everything got so messed up. Before Brittany left. From before Santana had sex with Quinn. From before she didn’t call her for 2 months.
If that’s what it takes.
"Friends?" Quinn quietly asks from the other end of the line. All Santana hears is relief.
"Friends Q." In Santana’s mind is followed by an uncharacteristic ‘I miss you’.
"I'll meet you there."
The connection drops.
She almost walks back to the safety of her apartment several times on the way over to the coffee shop. Twice she’s when she’s in visual distance of the place. Santana reasons that the only way she’s actually sitting in wait now is because the barista saw her before she could flee.
She used to come her a lot. By that she means, ‘they’ used to come here a lot. With Brittany.
They stumbled upon it after moving into their new apartment. Back when they were still getting their bearings about the place. Brittany had seen their homey decorations and the hand painted sign. Santana had seen the word ‘caffeine’.
Santana doesn’t sit at the table they always used to sit at while she waits for Quinn. She hides herself against a wall and darts her nervous energy to the door every few seconds. She can’t even check her phone lest she hopes that Quinn has canceled or something.
She sits with her tea shaking. Not with nerves. Please. As if. She can’t even bring herself to take a drink to distract herself. There’s too much running around in her head.
How is she going to fix this? Does Quinn want to fix this?
She should have got a coffee.
From the back of the place she hears the faint bell of the door opening. A rush of wind sweeps Quinn in along with leaves at her feet. The rest of the customers chuckle over her flustered appearance and the sight of the scarf around her neck. They understand.
Santana’s mouth goes dry. Only now does her body recognise the feelings she’s come to associate with seeing blond hair. It’s Quinn, Santana knows it’s her, but a part of her feels like it’s Brittany walking towards her.
Quinn finds her after first darting her eyes to their usual table. Seeing her at the back though doesn’t bring a frown to her face. In fact, seeing Santana at all doesn’t even darken her expression. This unnerves her.
“Hi.” Quinn breathes out like she’s been running to get to her. Santana feels herself choke up.
“Hi.” Quinn looks tired and more worn since she last saw her. Since she saw her pick herself up off her floor and leave. If it’s even possible to look worse.
“Sorry I’m late. The traffic-” She pauses and a smile that looks like it wants to be brighter comes over her face. “Well, you know.” Quinn jokes as she awkwardly slides into the seat opposite Santana.
Santana doesn’t know how bad the traffic is. “Not having a car works for me.” She replies keeping her hands on the table.
Quinn settles herself and puts her purse and phone on the table. Santana sees a glimpse of her phone’s background. It’s not Puck.
“What are you drinking?” Quinn peers at her cup. Santana looks down too, distastefully wishing again that she had coffee.
“Tea, um.” Her mind catches up to the conversation finally and questions everything. Why isn’t Quinn angry? Why isn’t she seething? Why isn’t she upset?
“Do you mind if we share? I’m too tired to get up and order right now.”
“Sure.” Santana pushes her untouched cup towards Quinn, pulling her fingers back before they touched the woman. She’s being too open with her. She knows that Quinn can see that.
Quinn winces as she takes a drink. “Hot.”
Santana knows, that if she was herself - if she wasn’t so distracted with why they’re sitting in this cafe - there is a joke to be had there. It’s too soon.
“Now I know somethings up. That was wide open Lopez.” Quinn smirks like she doesn’t have a care in the world even though her face says otherwise. Santana can’t stand it.
“What? Not Q?”
Santana hates her blase attitude. She hates Quinn’s banter. She hates how normal this all is. She’s been through this, she remembers her underneath her and how it wasn’t normal; how it’s not normal between them anymore.
Why isn’t Quinn screaming at her?
“Is there something wrong?” Quinn asks as if Santana is a total stranger. This she can accept.
“Is there something- Q, can you drop the happy days act?” It rushes out of Santana’s mouth louder and with more snap than she intended. Several people shift uncomfortably in their seats at her words.
“Santana, your voice.” Quinn scolds but doesn’t indulge the eavesdroppers by turning around. “What’s wrong?”
Santana’s hands twitch on the table. The wood it’s made of reminds her of the flooring in her apartment.
“What’s wrong is that this is the first time I’ve seen you or spoken to you since Christmas and you’re not screaming at me.”
Quinn stares into her eyes almost thoughtfully. Like she’s wondering why too.
“And you’re sharing my tea.”
“What do you want me to say S?” Quinn sounds resigned to starting the conversation. As if they could avoid it if Santana wanted. She can’t though.
“Nothing. Whatever you want. Anything.” Santana rambles still focusing on the wood. Anything that will start to fix things. “I’m sorry.”
“I know you are.” Quinn makes known yet Santana can’t see it in her face.
“Can you at least pretend to look like you know then?” She bitterly comments.
“You didn’t call me to talk about this.” Quinn tries to convince her but nothing can erase it from Santana’s intentions.
“I did.” Santana alleges. Quinn can’t let her struggle through this alone. “Because I can’t go back to my previous level of depression until I apologise and explain-”
“What’s there to explain?” Suddenly there’s a change in Quinn. “I was there.”
The words aren’t as darkly intended as they appear.
“I didn’t mean-” Frustrated Santana grips the edge of the table. “It shouldn’t have happened.”
Quinn’s hands are wrapped around the cup of tea but she makes no move to take anymore drinks from it. The conversation has started. They’re doing this.
“But it happened, and if you want to apologise to me and have me look like I accept that then you have to tell me why. Why did it happen?” Quinn pleads at the end of the sentence. The question hits Santana.
“You know why it happened.” Santana fires back.
“On some level.”
“...” There are a lot of levels to why that Santana knows, and others she doesn’t. No matter which she explains, Santana knows, they’ll all hurt her.
Quinn’s tired face softens. “If you want I’ll forget this conversation ever happened later, but I think you need to say this.”
There’s more between the lines of her words. It’s not that Quinn needs to know it’s that Santana needs to admit it. To put it out there.
Everything crashes on her shoulders. Santana has hands in her hand and takes a deep breath. She blurs the background out, even Quinn. She can’t say this with so much of an audience.
“I feel like crap.” She feels so much worse than than. “It hurts now. Maybe even more than it did then, Q. I don’t understand why.”
Santana has to drag herself out of bed in the mornings. She no longer rises with the sun and the arch of a back. Her feet touch cold floors and her sheets are like lead to sleep under. She’s constantly drained.
“Simple. You love her.” Quinn adds, breaching through the mist Santana has created.
“I love her.” Santana repeats feeling that spark of emotion. It’s weak in her chest now through lack of use. “I loved her then. That hasn’t changed. So why should time and how pissed it’s made me, change?”
The calender she looked at this morning could tell her that if it could speak. It can’t though. So Quinn does.
“Because it’s been a year? Because you’re not over her leaving?”
Fingers dig at her skull. “That’s just it though. It’s been a year and I can’t get over it. Not just her not being here. Everything. I loved her, I wanted to marry her and she left.” Santana blinks several times.
“You’re in shock.” Quinn senses her breaking through.
Maybe she’s in shock. Even after a year.
“I wondered if that’s why she left. If it was because I’m too intense. Or if she just did this to punish me.” Santana doesn’t believe that last part. Brittany didn’t even like watching animal rescue programs about abused animals, how could she stand to punish Santana?
“Maybe it was to help you?” Quinn contests. There are so many maybe’s to consider.
Santana lets out a deep breath that tickles the base of her throat. “I don’t need help. I need her.”
She hears the voice in her head. She sees the last scene. The last time Brittany said ‘I love you’. She said it first.
“If it was anyone else, I wouldn’t be like this.” Santana reasons.
“That’s because you’re still a bitch at heart.” Quinn comes back. Santana almost looks up to throw her an unimpressed glare, but she regains control of blurring the world out. “And this is different. It’s B.”
That’s always the answer. If it wasn’t the truth then Santana would be sick of hearing it.
“It’s always her Q. The point I’m making is that I wouldn’t be such a fucking mess if it wasn’t her.”
If it was anyone else. Anyone in the world. Santana could vouch that a year on she wouldn’t be sitting in a cafe hating herself and her life and wishing they’d come back to her. She’s too good for that.
“I wouldn’t be depressed. I wouldn’t be working from home with an increasingly agitated boss. I wouldn’t be ripping up maps and living off postcards. I wouldn’t have fucked up with you if she was here...”
“I know.” Quinn acknowledges.
“I’m...sorry.” It’s still hard for Santana to say this. “...for doing it. Hurting you.”
Quinn’s voice sounds detached as she replies; “You didn’t hurt me.”
Santana floods herself in the atmosphere once more. Disregarding the blur of the world so she can glance upon the woman in front of her who is so blatantly lying to her.
“I’m calling bullshit Q, because I saw the glass in your back when you left and I know for a fact there’d be scars if I checked.” Santana directs her words carefully. She’s attacking but Quinn isn’t the enemy.
“I did that. And those marks wouldn’t exist if I was a better person, if I could deal with my shit without lashing out on others.”
“You’re wrong.” Quinn utters. Her eyes are closed but she’s looking above her. She looks like she’s praying.
“Q, I’m trying to repent here. I know you think you’re badass and like to see the good in everyone these days but I crossed the line and fuck-”
Santana’s hand moves of it’s own accord to reach for Quinn’s. The last time they touched is mixed between sweat and the heat of the moment. At first Santana thinks that’s why Quinn pulls away from her. It would have been fine, although it hurt, Santana could accept that.
What she can’t accept is the sight of a bandage underneath the sleeve of Quinn’s coat.
“What is that?” Santana flat-lines like it’s a statement, not a question.
Quinn’s face is suddenly full of emotion. She sees fear. “S.”
“What. The fuck is that Q?” There’s heat in her veins again. Quinn’s wrist looks so thin. Breakable and bruised. There’s a bandage there that wasn’t there before. Santana’s failed.
Quinn’s shoulders droop. “He crossed it first.”
When Quinn said ‘You didn’t hurt me’ it wasn’t to make her feel better.
‘I didn’t hurt her like he did.’ Santana is stunned in her seat. She can’t move. The idea of it all immobilizes her. It’s no longer a suspecting thing. It’s reality.
“I know I owe you an explanation but I want to fix us first.” Quinn pulls her sweater back over her bandage with something akin to shame. “You’re my best friend S. I hate seeing you hurt, despite your beliefs, and not being able to do anything to help-”
Santana wants the shame in her eyes to leave. Things are clearer. Quinn wanted to help. Quinn came to help her that night. Just not in the way she thought she would.
“Is that why you let me fuck you on the floor of my apartment? To help me?” The questions come out as accusations. Santana grimaces at the flash of hurt that really passes through Quinn.
“You didn’t hurt me. You used me.” Quinn rationalizes. “At least your intent was honest.”
Sickness enters her stomach at the thought of Quinn going home after they’re through. Panic follows.
“Leave him.” She suggests without much room to argue. “Stay with me.”
Quinn shakes her head. “This isn’t about me S. It’s about you.”
“Fuck it.” Santana hisses. Several people turn at the curse.
“Staying with you won’t solve anything. For either of us.” Quinn warns. Her eyes narrow. “I’m not what you want and I’m not more than you need. You need a friend to help you.”
Santana wishes she were back in her apartment, and this was her coffee table, just so she could slam her fist against it.
“What about you huh? While I’m waiting for B, for God knows how long, what happens to you? Your wants? Who’s helping you?” Santana thinks this is a good situation to point the finger.
Quinn leans against her chair and sighs. The resigned posture comes back to haunt them. “I wanted it that night. I didn’t stop you because you needed it and I was selfish enough to let it happen.”
Santana blanks. ‘How bad is it? If it’s bad enough for Quinn to let me do that too her.’. Glass shatters in her mind again.
“But I’m not stupid enough to think it’s anymore than that.”
“No.” And in that second Santana believes her. The moment they collided in was fleeting and without immediate consequence, but necessary for a lot of things. Necessary for this conversation to happen. For apologises and for Santana to find out what Puck’s been doing to her.
“We’ll be okay.” Quinn affirms with more confidence than Santana feels. “Worse has happened right?”
Santana has to nod. She’s right. “Maybe. But we’ve got things to decide Q.”
She concentrates on Quinn’s wrist as if it’ll reveal it’s origin.
“I won’t become my mother S, but I have to try to work it out.”
Santana holds her biting comment back. Quinn owes him nothing. Yet she’s left living in the imaginary debt Puck has created for giving away a child neither of them truly had. Quinn won’t let that guilt go.
“I know you feel hopeless but she’s sending these postcards for a reason.” Quinn distracts her away from her concerns. “She cares, this is just her way of showing it.”
“More waiting?” Santana asks.
Quinn doesn’t answer but gathers her purse and phone and stands. One of her legs trembles and Quinn doesn’t lean on it. Santana bites her tongue.
“I’ll buy next time.” She says motioning to the tea neither of them finished. Santana can feel their usual atmosphere seep back.
Quinn moves forward. This is the closet they’ve been since Christmas and something haunts Santana as Quinn touches her hand in a gentle goodbye.
“You’ll never be like her.” Santana murmurs. “Judy.” She identifies to Quinn’s confusion.
Quinn merely looks down at her feet with a half-smile Santana can only describe as being uneasy.
“I already am, aren’t I?”
April - August 2019
It’s a day-to-day progression. Santana doesn’t feel herself change overnight at all while other things do.
She turns up to work early for four straight weeks beating every other employee that was taken on with her, or before her, to the promotion the higher powers have been going on a about to her through emails since Christmas.
Santana doesn’t think she would have gone for it before. Too much work, she would have excused.
Except it’s not too much work. She doesn’t stay for ridiculous hours anymore and never brings her work home. Santana can afford a bit more now, though she refuses to acknowledge this is because she’s not buying things for two now; like clothes, shoes and even though she’s a long way off she’s looking at cars.
The weekend after she lands the promotion she stops by a hardware store on the way home. People on the bus stare at her as she sits laden with tins of paint and brushes. It’s probably because she’s wearing a dress that looks like it’s just come off a runway or out of Kurt Hummel’s closet.
Nevertheless she gets home and Quinn is waiting outside the apartment building with a small smile at the sight of her struggling down the street.
“You’d never think you used to toss people into the air on a daily basis looking at you now.” Quinn teased as she took some of the burden away from her. Santana mentally agreed but quickly reminded Quinn that for nine months she couldn’t toss shit.
A part of her questioned in the back of her mind, over the course of the weekend, where Puck was. Quinn took to crashing in the second bedroom when it got too late and too dark to continue. Santana went into her bedroom, alone, with spots of red paint under her fingernails and over her arms. Staring at the wall and thinking was harder when she knew there was someone else in the apartment. Someone else who wasn’t Brittany and yet had filled her role in a sense.
The calender had been winding into June when the weekend occurred. It had taken several more to finish the living room, the hallway and bedrooms; Santana had looked up with blotches of paint on her face and hands and seen July arrive.
Quinn stood by her side with a wet paintbrush tickling her knuckles. For a second Santana had wanted to close her eyes and grab her hand and pretend.
The last thing they’d done was wait for the wall to dry before rearranging the world map upon it. Santana handled it carefully. Quinn winced every time there was an inkling sound of tearing. The tape holding it together reminded them of the time they were both alone in the apartment together. The postcards reminded them why Santana was alone.
Days pass soon after that see Santana getting used to waking up to different coloured walls. Thoughts repeat in her own mind. ‘Is this what Brittany wakes up to now?’.
She’d been working a little harder than usual. The higher powers trust came easier when Santana was in work and not working from home. The favours and the promises were heard of more. She was brought into an empty room one afternoon and told to pick out a desk. An hour later it was an office.
Phone lines. Email. Computer. Santana even spied a tacky inspirational poster in the corner of the room. Though things tended to lose their inspiration if you were a former cheerleader for Sue Sylvester.
It was in that office that Santana was passed a message from California. From Mike.
Chapter 3: part 3
26th August, 2019
In August Santana talks her way into four days in Los Angeles to attend a 2 hour meeting with another branch of the company. On her boss’ behalf of course.
In reality she attends the meeting in San Diego and gets on a flight straight after to California.
It’s been almost three years since Santana has seen Mike for more than twenty minutes at a time and in person rather than over a screen. Yet the awkwardness fades when she steps out of the arrivals gate at LAX and finds herself pulled into a hug she never knew she needed.
Mike is all she sees. He laughs at her disorientated gaze and takes her bag.
“You didn’t bring much did you?” He jibes. Santana straightens her spine.
“I’m only here a few days.” She tightens her hold on her carry-on case. “All I need is in here.”
Mike nods without judging and steers them to his car. It makes Santana jealous because she’s yet to decide on one and happy because Mike is doing well for himself. As well as a dancer can do in a town full of wanna-be stars.
She slides in the passenger seat while Mike dutifully deposits her luggage in the back seats. He keeps up his smile through the entire motion. Santana wishes she could give him the same courtesy back.
“Okay.” Mike slams the door shut when he gets in and she jumps. “I don’t know about you but,”
Santana unconsciously holds her breath. She’s been waiting for him to ask.
“...I am starving.”
That’s not what she expected. “Right.” Santana scrunches her eyes closed and lets Mike drive them in search of food.
He pulls them up to a quiet looking place that Santana thinks is closed until Mike opens the door for her. She finds herself watching the way he moves about her effortlessly and with a grace she hasn’t seen in her life for a while. Her own steps are tentative and planned.
“How’s it going?” Mike asks when they finally get to a table. There’s a cheap cloth thrown over the wood and napkins sat in the middle.
She shrugs looking at the ashtray on the table and debating whether L.A. is a good place to start smoking. “Fine.”
She looks at Mike and decides no. Smoking is something he’d hate, and therefore Brittany would too.
He gives her a flat look that she’s only ever seen him give once before.
“For some reason, and seriously I don’t know why I’ve come to this conclusion, if you were actually fine,” Mike plucks a napkin from the pile and brandishes it in front of him jokingly. “Then I doubt we’d be sitting here having lunch.”
“Ever considered that I’ve missed you?”
“Not a chance.” Mike tucks the napkin into his shirt. He grins at her to let her know that there’s no hard feelings in admitting the truth.
And it is the truth. If Brittany hadn’t left then Mike wouldn’t have called her and Santana wouldn’t have talked to him, and she definitely wouldn’t have left Phoenix to come and stay with him for a few days.
He’s always been Brittany’s friend.
Santana takes her own napkin as someone comes by with their drinks. Water for her, soda for him.
It’s funny. Not in a laugh out loud way but to her at least, that she’s flown all the way to California and taken days off from work to sit opposite Mike Chang and deny that anything is wrong with her.
When the mere fact she is there is screaming otherwise. What’s admitting it going to do to her?
Mike’s face softens as he takes a drink. “How long has it been?”
Santana pauses before answering because as sad as it is she knows the exact amount of days. “ A year and four months.”
Mike takes a second to take it in.
“And 27 days.” Santana adds.
He looks at her sympathetically. It’s in that look at Santana remembers that she’s not the only one who’s lost Brittany in a way. Over the phone in her office Santana questioned him to whether or not he’d heard from Brittany at all.
Mike had only heard from her once. Brittany had called him the morning after she’d left Santana to tell him she was going away for a while and couldn’t use her phone.
“She didn’t mention anything about you.” Mike admits. “She just told me that I probably wouldn’t be able to get through to her and asked how I was.”
Santana rips her napkin to make herself feel better.
“I didn’t even know what happened until a few weeks after. Quinn called me around May last year and told me.” Mike stops speaking as their meals arrive. Santana sneers in distaste at his choice of food yet secretly wishes she’d ordered it. “I guess she was hoping that B had come to find me.”
Santana nods in thought. It had crossed her mind that maybe Brittany had gone to stay with him but with no car and no evidence of an airline ticket, other than the mistaken Tokyo to New York for 2020, there was no real way for Brittany to have gotten to Mike without leaving a financial trace.
“Has she been in contact with you since?” Mike asks and starts eating.
“Postcards.” Santana wipes her knife and fork suspiciously. “I get blank postcards mostly from different places.”
“From Brittany?” He continues chewing his food.
“She signs them sometimes, I got one from Mexico around May as well. It said: I never ask God to give me anything; I only ask him to put me where things are. “ She feels the memory wash over her and traces of the old frustration are taken out on her meal.
“What does that even mean?” Mike questions. Santana doesn’t know. “So Mexico? Where else?”
The curiosity in his voice makes Brittany’s postcards seem like holiday souvenirs and not the only form of contact Santana has had with her.
“The last one I got was stamped with Denmark on it. If she’s not still visiting family then she’s somewhere in the Netherlands.” Santana again remembers the small bubble of rejection over Brittany sending her a card from there. She’s never met Brittany’s extended family and yet they’ll probably hate her for putting Brittany in a position like this. Forcing her out of her own home and into a wandering journey of a morbid self-discovery.
“At least that means she’s safe though, right?” Mike slows down his eating to consider this. There’s worry and concern in his own eyes for Brittany. Santana nods hopefully.
Santana is thankful that the rest of the meal passes without relative mention of Brittany leaving. Or in particular why Brittany left. The last thing Santana wants is to get into why she wanted to marry Brittany with the girl’s best friend.
Mike drives them to his apartment. Luckily for her his roommate is away and there’s an actual bed for her to sleep in. Unluckily for her Mike lives under the studio and classes are still running.
Her feet can feel the vibrations of the music beneath her and she glances warily at Mike. She is too tired to deal with this.
He recognizes her bitch-face and laughs nervously.
“Take my room. I had it soundproofed when we started getting busier.” Mike gestures to the door furthest down the hall. He’d explained on the way over that his studio, that he owns in partnership with a guy he met at college, got it’s five minutes of fame a few months back when the cast of an apparently-popular-dance-movie wanted to use his studio to practice in.
‘You got the last dance stepped up 3’ or something.
“And now it seems like we never close.”
Which is not what she wants to hear after sitting through a boring meeting followed by an equally boring plane ride. What she wants is quiet.
Mike leaves her to settle into his room. Santana is glad that he doesn’t see her collapse onto his bed without much care. His room isn’t filled with noise like the others are. There’s a faint and dull sound that beats in a distance. Santana’s eyes are closing before she can figure out if it’s the music downstairs or her own heartbeat.
When she wakes up Mike is staring at her.
“You know back in Arizona this is called being a creep.” Santana points out as she looks up at him.
“Yet here in L.A? Perfectly acceptable.” He smiles and rests his elbows on his knees.
“I’d hate to learn where that acceptable line is drawn if you watching me sleep isn’t strange.” She sits up under his scrutiny and smoothes out the creases in her pencil skirt. “Is there something wrong Chang or did I just wake up for nothing?”
Mike’s face takes on an expression that Santana can only read as guilt.
“I lied earlier.”
Her heart is beating a mile a minute.
“What?” She injects a venom into her words.
“Britt did say something to me when she called in May.” He admits. Santana clenches her fists. “It’s not anything about where she is or was but...”
Santana wants him to just spit it out.
“It was about you.”
She’s struck into silence when Mike leans behind his chair and produces a pair of shoes that look like they’d fit her. There’s a shimmer of silver on the bottom of them.
Santana puts two and two and Mike’s growing grin together and throws her hands up.
“There is no way she asked you to do this.”
Mike puts the shoes on the floor and pushes them forward with his foot. His expression doesn’t change and Santana refuses to believe this.
There is no way that Brittany’s only call since disappearing last year was to tell Mike she was going on holiday, not to call and ‘oh, can you take Santana tap dancing?’.
“I kid you not.”
There’s a showdown moment where Santana eyes the shoes before her and Mike looks triumphant.
It wouldn’t be the first time that Brittany has suggested Santana do this. She’d brought it up in college after own foray into tap during her classes. Santana had watched her practice for hours, happily annoying the neighbors below them with her noisy steps.
Brittany had held out her hands to her and tried to pull her into the moves. Santana played along reluctantly for a few minutes before returning to her own homework.
Now that she thinks about it, she can see the flash of disappointment in Brittany’s eyes in that memory. And in all the other memories of Brittany trying to get her to dance.
It’s kind of similar to the look in Mike’s eyes now.
The shoes are inches from her feet.
The push over the cliff comes from the echoes of Quinn saying how Brittany wanted to dance with Mike in California.
“Alright.” She sighs. “But tone down your skills.”
Mike is beaming. It almost makes up for the fact that Santana knows that she’s not going to be dancing with Brittany, but with him.
“Consider them toned down.”
“If you step on my feet you’ll regret it.”
Mike ignores all of her threats, both on and off the dance-floor, letting the music and he moves he teaches her take the lead.
For four days Santana dances until she feels like she’s stepped into Brittany’s shoes.
17th September 2019
The postcard bends naturally in Santana’s hand. It tells her that it’s not a postcard at all. It’s a photograph, printed and stamped with a foreign stamp and a ‘B’ in the bottom corner.
Santana studies it like she would a lover. Her eyes take in the pitch black surrounding, seemingly, everything except a lone woman. The stage beneath her feet is hardly visible. A single light illuminates her.
Santana has re-watched Brittany’s ballet showcases enough to name the posture the woman is in. Arabesque. In which the woman in the photograph, with her hair bound tightly in a braid, stands on one leg with the other stretched out at around ninety degrees. Her knees are impeccably straight.
It’s in black and white though Santana can hardly tell the difference as there would be very little colour either way. The only contrast really comes from the shining face and snatches of skin that appear almost ghostly.
She tears her examining eyes away from the photograph to the back of it. In Brittany’s handwriting there is a single ‘B’ sketched in the bottom corner. It’s not rushed. Santana can almost count the time Brittany had taken to carefully add the letter to the photograph.
The foreign stamp is red with gold writing on it. The language resembles nothing Santana is immediately familiar with but the colours, along with what appears to be a small golden tank underneath the writing, make her guess.
Brittany is in Russia.
Santana’s mouth does drop a little at the indication. Brittany has sent her a postcard from Russia and the first thing that comes to her mind is that she is probably freezing. The pile of coats still in Santana’s bedroom can back this up.
In her mind Santana can only picture Brittany freezing. Except she mustn't be. She’s written on the back of a photograph and given no indication that she’s freezing, or sad, or happy even.
In fact the only thing Santana can really claim truth in her mind is that Brittany has been to see someone dance while she’s been in Russia.
Flipping the photograph over again Santana looks at the woman in the picture. The face, though shining, is hard to define. Through the warmth in her chest, that developed with the discovery of the postcard, comes a doubt.
Who is this woman to Brittany? Is she just a dancer?
Santana keeps looking at the photograph until it’s burnt in the back of her eyes. Taking her gaze away from the picture is not enough for it to disappear in her vision. She sees it projected on the newly decorated walls of the apartment. The dancer’s face is lit up in deep reds and dark purples.
The photograph is pinned up like all the others. Landing a guess somewhere between Moscow and St Petersburg.
It helps to remind Santana that Brittany is out there somewhere. Even if she’s not coming back.
23rd - 27th December 2019
Christmas eve. Here they are again.
‘Sort of.’ Santana raises an eyebrow at the assorted vegetables and cutlery and pots and pans Quinn has laid out around her kitchen.
She’s spending Christmas with the Fabray-Puckerman household. Santana turns up her nose at the thought of their names actually being joined up like that. She thanks the world for small favors that Noah Puckerman is too stupid to even think about proposing to Quinn.
Santana wishes she’d been a little too stupid as well.
“Ladies!” Puck’s voice booms from somewhere in the apartment and Santana looks towards the entryway to the kitchen. Quinn doesn’t turn around but hands Santana a glass with a clear drink in it.
Santana gives her a quick disbelieving glance.
“You do remember what day it is?” Santana hisses, afraid Puck will walk in too soon. Quinn rolls her eyes without so much as a wince over Santana’s meaning.
There’s that progress they’ve worked on.
“It’s water.” Quinn informs her and then proceeds to pick up one of the biggest knives Santana has ever seen, to chop carrots.
That’s how Puck finds them. He’s had to do that a lot in the time Santana’s been there. She prefers keeping them apart in her presence to save her own sanity and to stop anyone from saying something potentially life-ruining. Like bringing up last year, or Brittany.
He rounds the table in the kitchen to get closer to Quinn. “What’s with the chopping and cooking? I thought we were going out.”
He stops abruptly almost touching Quinn before she slices, loudly, into another carrot.
If Santana wasn’t so amused at how uneasy Puck looks with Quinn wielding a knife she’d tell him to back off.
He’s dressed to drink, or carry on drinking if his breath is any indication, in jeans and a jacket. Swaying slightly, he’s unbalanced. Santana studies him as if she’s preparing to take him down if anything happens.
The smell of drink that wafts after him makes her tense up. Of all the times he could choose to remind her of one of the biggest mistakes of her life, he chooses the time when she’s standing next to the person she made it with.
Quinn doesn’t bat an eye at Puck’s questions and delivers her words in a bored manner. “I’d rather not have to do this tomorrow morning.” The practiced tone betrays that this is something they’ve talked about more than once. “And it was you who said you were going out.”
Puck snorts out a laugh before wiping his face of the humor. “And by me I meant you and me.”
Santana tenses even further as Puck positions himself behind Quinn. Her arms stiffen to their most defined point at the leer he wears. His hands move to ghost her hips.
He’s making a move on her. Santana notices that his attempts at seduction have gone downhill since high school. She’s never seen Quinn look so disgusted in her life. Luckily Puck is oblivious to that fact.
“Puck.” Quinn pauses her knife with a sigh.
Oh no. Quinn is not going to cave to this while she’s there.
“It’s probably better if you let her do it now Puck.” Puck whirls around to face her in surprise. Obviously forgetting she was still in the room with them. “You know what Q gets like when she’s stressed.”
Santana plasters on a patronizing face as she speaks. Intending to win Puck over with the loyalty in her words. When in reality, she could care less.
She’ll say anything. Anything to leave her alone.
Puck rolls his eyes and stumbles, revealing that he’s had more than just a few drinks.
“Shh, you’re right. M’sorry babe.” Santana has to stop herself from acting as Puck roughly grabs Quinn’s waist to hug her into him. Quinn keeps a tight hold on her knife and the kitchen counter.
Santana does not need this to turn into the real life revival of ‘Chicago’. Thankfully Puck pushes himself away from Quinn just in time.
“What about you Lopez? Wanna take a tumble?” Puck mimes drinking.
Santana knows that he means drinking, but the positioning of his crotch ahead of his body says otherwise.
She feels sick at how he suggests this in front of the girl he supposedly loves.
“I’m good.” Santana grimaces holding up her water. “No drinking for me.”
Puck grins lewdly. “You quit?”
Somehow Santana manages to turn towards Quinn. The other woman, though engrossed in chopping still, waits for her answer. She feels a spark of sadness in the hope that she sees in her.
“Something like that.” She mostly whispers.
Pride blooms on Quinn’s face. Santana almost forgets Puck when she sees the grateful smile rise on Quinn’s face.
“Whatever.” Puck dismisses her with a wave. “Later.”
Both of them exhale deeply when they hear the front door slam. He’s gone.
Quinn immediately puts the knife down and wraps her arms around her stomach. Just like she used to. A defense mechanism that she never really grew out of.
“You alright?” Santana puts her water down and watches her carefully.
Quinn nods. “I’m fine. I just-”
“Yeah, he stinks. I know.” Santana agrees before Quinn can get apologetic about Puck’s behaviour. What did she expect?
Uncomfortable laughter meets her. “He does.” Quinn scrunches her nose. Her hands slowly unwrap from her stomach and get busy again.
She passes Santana a pot full of potatoes. “Can you help me with this?”
Santana latches on to the normalcy. A little known fact to most people, excluding Brittany or Quinn, is how much Santana likes cooking. Not so much for herself, but for other people.
“What do you want me to do?” Santana passes by her.
“Just wash them off and put them back in the pot.” Quinn instructs clearing her chopping board free of carrot.
Santana switches on the tap. Carefully she takes each potato in her hand and runs it under the cold water. Washing away anything picked up that doesn’t belong and cleaning them. Santana knows that Quinn prefers to by fresh and un-bagged to be green or lower her carbon footprint or help the farmers. One of the above.
Halfway through their routine; Santana steadily filling up her pot with clean potatoes and Quinn preparing the ingredients for various sauces, Quinn says something that takes all the air from the room.
“I think I’m going to leave him.”
The words shock the person it comes from and the knife clatters out of Quinn’s hand. It spins wildly into the sink Santana is working in.
“Q.” Santana’s mouth opens.
“Oh God.” Quinn quickly places both hands on the kitchen counter and bends over.
Santana can’t move. “Are you serious?”
Quinn breathes in and out and in and out. Fast and harsh. “I don’t know.”
“Q, tell me you’re serious.” Santana pleads with a steady voice. She needs Quinn to say this. She needs her to start this chain reaction.
Quinn is the catalyst.
“I think I am.” Her voice squeaks and cracks. Tears pour from her now. “God, I think I am.”
The reaction has started. Santana drops the remaining potatoes into the pot and grabs a towel to dry her hands. She doesn’t take her eyes off Quinn. Afraid that the scene and her words will disappear before her eyes.
“When? Do you want to go now?” Santana finishes drying her hands and out of a nervous reaction grabs Quinn’s and rubs the towel over them. It’s only the second time they’ve touched for more than a few seconds.
Quinn comes back from her daze at the motion. “No. No. He’s not going to be out for long and there’s too much to-”
“But you want to.” Santana questions. Quinn has to be sure.
Santana finally lets the confirmation set over her. She smiles in relief. Everything she’s been quietly observing and wishing since the first chip in Puck’s armor, is falling in front of her.
“Forgive me for thinking this is the best news I’ve ever heard.” She smirks out. Quinn joins in her joy with her own smile. It’s weaker but it’s getting there.
“This is your Christmas present.” Quinn’s hands are trembling in hers.
Everything Quinn had in her has rushed out in the last few seconds.
“Shit.” Santana sighs. “Can I take it back?”
Quinn doubles over, laughing into Santana until she’s not laughing anymore. She’s crying and sliding down to the floor with only Santana to stop her from falling completely. They’re a mess of limbs sitting against the kitchen cupboards.
Santana can’t detach herself from Quinn, who’s curled into her side and using her shoulder as a tissue, and although she knows it’s a bad position to be in - Quinn’s just told her she’s leaving Puck.
Screw last Christmas.
Quinn sobs quieten and Santana can hear the sounds of traffic outside.
“Why is this my present?” She asks.
“It’s not your real one.” Quinn reassures her. Santana smirks to the kitchen ceiling.
“I know, that’s not what I meant.”
Quinn shuffles at her side until there’s a wider space between them. The tears have made her eyes red and puffy but Santana thinks she looks better than she has in weeks. Quinn no longer has the weight of wanting to leave Puck solely on her shoulders.
“Last year was such a low point for you and for me...” Quinn has to stop to swallow a dry sob. Santana awkwardly stares at the floor. She’d hoped they’d gotten past this already.
“It’s alright.” Quinn recovers. “I just mean. It happened, we’ve talked about it, it’s over.”
Santana’s arm is half-hanging around Quinn’s shoulders. Not enough to be fully around her but not enough to pull away.
“But it doesn’t change why it happened for me and what it made me realize.” Quinn is deep in thought. What Santana wouldn’t do to understand those thoughts.
“Q.” She prods weakly.
Quinn’s head rises abruptly and stares her hard in the eyes. Santana flinches uncontrollably at the determined flare in her gaze.
“I’m not in love with you.” Quinn relieves. She shakes her head with a self-depreciating grin. “Sorry, S. It’s insane. You’re brash, rude, and have far to little modesty for there to be anything between us.”
Santana frowns. If it was a better time then Santana would calmly point out that a lack of modesty wasn’t always a bad thing.
‘Prude.’ Santana jokes to herself before continuing;
“Well gee Q, you sure know how to make a girl feel special.”
Quinn shoves her in the ribs gently while Santana looks wounded. At least they are able to joke about it now.
The blonde’s face grows sullen again. “But you still treated me better when you were in that terrible state-” Quinn emphasizes. “-than he has all year.”
“You don’t deserve it.” Santana adds. Quinn shrugs vacantly and for a split second Santana realizes, in horror, that it could have been her. If not for Brittany.
It could’ve been her.
“It’s hard to realize that when you can’t see the alternative.” Quinn admits to her. They take each other in for a second before Santana lets herself come to terms with the fact that it was her, it is her, that’s shown Quinn the alternative. Even though the alternative isn’t her type.
“We’ll find you one.” Santana inspires. The kitchen is dark and dull. Quinn is getting away from this as soon as she can. “You don’t have to put up with this anymore.”
Quinn wipes her tears on the sleeve of her jumper. Santana can’t spy the bandages there anymore.
“Thanks.” She shudders, fighting off the negative feelings crashing over her from admitting she wants to leave Puck. Santana lets her shiver alone. She doesn’t need someone to hold her, and Santana isn’t really the holding kind. Well, with Quinn anyway.
“You gonna be okay for the holidays?” Santana asks. They’ve still got to get through Christmas, maybe even New Year depending on when Quinn decides to leave.
“Yeah. I’ll be fine because your here.” Quinn affirms. She follows Santana’s previous example and casts her gaze to the ceiling. She almost looks like she’s praying.
‘Maybe she is.’ Santana ponders.
Quinn sniffs one last time and straightens her back. Ready to play her part again. “Our whole relationship has just been based on my insecurities. Ever since-”
Santana can practically tune into what Quinn is viewing in her mind. The innocent eyes of a child.
“You owe him nothing.” Santana pushes with venom. Quinn can’t let herself feel sorry for him. Not after everything. They’re not sixteen anymore.
“Okay.” Quinn agrees.
“Say it.” Santana commands.
Quinn takes a deep breath. “I don’t owe him anything.”
Santana believes her.
“Good.” She fidgets from her spot on the floor. “Can we get up now? I think I’m sitting on a carrot.”
Quinn bursts out laughing again.
The knowledge of her ‘Christmas present’ is what gets her through the rest of the stay with Quinn and Puck. She thinks about Quinn finally leaving him through the dinner they have on Christmas day, through the present exchange, the calls home and every time Puck complains.
It’s almost entertaining to imagine what his reaction will be once he realizes.
The good news keeps on coming when Puck gets a call from work and informs Quinn that his team has been picked up for some short construction projects in Mesa. He’s going to be gone in January for two weeks.
Santana can’t remember the last time she’s had to hide being happy.
Quinn presents her with her real gift late Christmas day, once Puck has passed out on the couch, with strict instructions never to make Quinn watch them with her. Santana actually has to put the ‘Complete Star Wars’ box-set down to hug Quinn.
“I thought we didn’t do this.” Quinn jokingly murmurs into her collar with a tearful voice. Santana shrugs into it.
Star Wars doesn’t usually bring out this much emotion in her.
“Don’t tell anyone.”
The last presents she gets are when she returns home. One of them is a box of Quinn’s personal belongings to store in her second bedroom.
The other is a postcard from Brittany.
By January she’s the master of keeping herself busy.
Progress with Quinn is slow, almost painfully so, as Puck is often out of town with work. Although the time gives Santana and Quinn room to sneakily start to rearrange belongings and figure things out more. Santana is working on the plan.
Mike flies in a couple of times after Christmas under the guise of expanding his studio to Arizona.
“To capitalize on all the Arizona State rejects.” He jokes while she gets ready to go out dancing with him. She threw him an unimpressed face when he’d mentioned it and made sure to drag them to a gay bar with overly-handsy guys.
Between tap and the mock-waltz, Mike teaches her other things as well. She’s smiling when he calls now. She doesn’t feel as awkward when he takes her arm and leads her around the rooms they acquire.
They dance in clubs. They dance in studios. When the first rain of the year fell Mike was there grabbing her waist and twirling her out on the sidewalk.
Sometimes Santana drags Quinn out with her and the three of them dance until the sun goes down. It’s almost the same.
They crash in Santana’s apartment, Mike and Quinn sharing the spare bedroom while Santana falls slowly into slumber as things come together. In the mornings there still isn’t a back for her to watch the rising sun on, but there’s voices waiting for her in the kitchen. There’s music in her life again.
It’s not as vibrant or as catchy, but Santana dances to it.
28th January 2020
Santana rarely has to take her work home anymore. Which previously would have bothered her. Being stuck in her apartment with no real distraction to the emptiness wasn’t as appealing as it sounded. Yet being able to take a little break from doing nothing by taking some work off one of her many subordinates for the night is a welcome change.
“Dinner and entertainment.” Santana chuckles on her way up the stairs to her apartment. It’s one of the better offers she’s had for a while.
She balances her files and opens up her door. There are a couple of letters on the floor of her hall but no new postcard. It’s been a while since she’s heard anything.
Her entrance into her apartment is a circus act in itself. Keys are held between her teeth, shoes are tossed, letters opened and smiled at, files deposited on the coffee table.
Santana orders takeout that arrives still hot in twenty minutes.
She reads through masses of numbers and makes sure all the totals add up for the client while clumsily eating noodles with chopsticks.
This is how she spends her twenty-sixth birthday.
3rd February 2020
“I kissed Mike.”
Santana drops the plate she’s washing back into the sink. Her hair falls from behind her ear but she can’t push it back with soapy hands.
Quinn nods from the other side of the kitchen island. She’s unsure and probing, wondering what Santana will think.
“Mike’s nice.” Santana states.
“Yeah.” Quinn agrees.
They fall back into their actions while silently deliberating to themselves. Santana pulls the dinner plates they’ve just used into the sink. The actions hide just how secretly thrilled she is.
Christmas conversations are reawakened in the back of her mind. She can see as clear now as then how unhappy Quinn had looked. How oppressed and trapped.
Noah Puckerman in high school was not the Noah Puckerman of now. There was no thread of a child keeping them as comfortable together anymore. Quinn isn’t as protective of herself as she was in the remainder of her time in Lima. That dropping of her guard is what catapulted her into the hold of Puck in the first place.
‘Our whole relationship has been based on my insecurities.’
Quinn hasn’t really been together with Puck since moving to Phoenix, not in her mind; and Santana doesn’t blame her. She’s witnessed Puck in action and been sworn to secrecy about it. And she’s hurt Quinn enough both by not revealing those actions and by her own missteps to deny her happiness.
“When did this happen?” She directs. There’s a mixture of genuine sincerity and a twitch of a smile in her voice.
Quinn flushes like a school girl. “The last time he came to visit.”
Santana retraces the dates in her head. “When we went to that Thai place?”
Quinn nods. Santana fast-forwards through the events.
Mike had surprised them by coming really. His dream of studio expansion wasn’t, and now isn’t, just a dream anymore. The demand for classes from him had grown since the cast of that-dance-movie-Santana-didn’t-see had him interviewed as part of the press for it. People were clamoring for him to teach.
What started as a small hope of a second studio was now a reality. Mike came to tell them the good news in person as well as whisking them away to see the building his new studio would reside in. This one didn’t have apartments set on top.
Santana tries to recall a moment during the visit when she’d left him or Quinn alone.
“Did I miss this exchange?” She finally asks. “I don’t remember leaving the two of you at all.”
Quinn’s blush darkens and her eyes bristle to the right. Santana suspiciously follows her gaze and finds herself staring at a wall of her apartment. Behind that wall is her hallway. On that hallway were the bedrooms. One of which Mike shared with Quinn when he last...came...to visit.
“Please tell me you didn’t go any further than that.” She immediately whirls around. Quinn smirks.
“I don’t kiss and tell.”
“You’re cleaning those sheets if you did.”
Quinn laughs. The noise chimes around the kitchen and eases them both back into the light conversation.
“He was a total gentleman.” Quinn assures her. The sentence does more than that. Santana knows Mike well enough, through Brittany mostly, to know that he’d treat whoever he dated right.
“Do you want me to talk to him?” Santana wipes the remaining washing up soap off her hands as unthreateningly as possible. “Lay the ground rules?”
“Do you want him to leave the country?” Quinn teases.
“I’m just saying, it’s been a while.” Santana wiggles her eyebrows. She can’t remember the last time she’s done that.
“I think I can handle skinny Mike Chang.” Quinn sits confidently. Santana basks in her posture. Quinn has never looked like that around Puck.
“Have you told Puck?” Santana hates to dampen the mood but the last thing she needs is Puck storming his way into her apartment.
Quinn tenses but doesn’t shut her out. “I haven’t told him about Mike but after Christmas I-”
Santana’s stomach drops. “Please say that you didn’t mention-” Her hands gesture wildly between the two of them.
“No.” Quinn avers. “But I think he knew something was up.”
Santana isn’t entirely comfortable with that. Or the way Quinn nervously taps her foot against the ground in memory.
“I’ve told him that I’m moving out.” Quinn admits. This takes the weight off Santana’s shoulders.
“The place is in your name Quinn.” Santana argues.
“He hasn’t been picked up for another project yet and I can’t just toss him out.” Quinn justifies. Though Santana is sure that after everything he’s put her through she can certainly justify kicking him to the curb. “It’s easier for me to leave for now. I have places I can go.”
“By ‘places’ I hope that you mean here.” Santana expresses leaning on the kitchen island. “Plan to run off with Mike all you want, sure, but wait until Puck is out of the picture.”
Besides, most of Quinn’s worldly belongings are already in various boxes and piles in the second bedroom. Gathering volume steadily since Christmas.
“Thankyou.” Quinn wraps her hands around the cold coffee she hasn’t drank.
For a second Santana lets herself believe that it’s going to be as easy as it all sounds. The image is too good to deny.
“So,” She continues slipping into the seat next to Quinn. “Not that I care or anything, but when is Chang coming back to take you out?”
Quinn’s face brightens as she shyly discloses Mike’s plan to stay in Phoenix while they refurbish the new studio. Santana doesn’t mind taking the footnote of bubbly emotion coming from Quinn as she talks about him. Something is working out.
27th February 2020
The months ends with Quinn finally moving out.
The boxes that had started shuffling into the second bedroom since Christmas were being unpacked and it was starting to look more like Quinn lived there. Lived with her.
Save for a few clothes that Quinn was out getting now.
Santana turns down the volume on the TV as the door shuts in the hallway. “Quinn?”
“It’s me.” She replies. Santana looks back to check because she doesn’t like the sound of Quinn’s voice.
“You okay?” Quinn doesn’t appear in her sight. “Quinn?”
A dull thud in the hall rushes her off the couch and into the hallway. “Quinn?”
When she races around the corner to the source of the noise all of her hidden fears about Quinn collecting things from her apartment, while Puck was still there, comes to life.
“Sorry.” Quinn grimaces as she tries to smile with a split lip. Santana is stunned at the line of blood dripping down her chin. “He’s never-”
“Never what?” Santana’s insides are burning with disgust. Puck did this. “Never drawn blood? Never let you leave looking like this? Fuck Quinn! Why didn’t you let me come with you?”
Quinn bats away her fussing hands until Santana grabs hold of her wrists and lifts her from the floor. She can stand on her own yet Santana steers her waist through her bedroom and into the bathroom. The harsh lighting in there tells more of the story.
The split lip is probably the result of a final hit. The wound is fresh. Discoloration around Quinn’s eyes is seen clearer than ever with the fading effects of make-up.
“I didn’t want you to worry and I didn’t want him to know I was staying with you.” Quinn weakly admits as Santana assesses her face cringing.
“I can take Puck and you know it.” Santana grits her teeth and rests Quinn against the counter. “Don’t move.”
She searches the baskets in the bathroom for make-up remover and sponges. The sponges are run under cold water. Quinn winces as Santana proceeds to mop up her lip with the first cold sponge.
Hisses follow with each dab. Santana morbidly notices the way the sponge soaks up Quinn’s blood. It’s all too unreal.
It makes her angrier.
Quinn keeps her silence as Santana works make-up remover over her face gently. Foundation is stripped away and more and more colours emerge on Quinn’s skin. Santana’s motions press harder until Quinn tells her it hurts.
“Sorry.” She bites back.
Santana went to school with him. She was his friend. Her mind screams at the state of Quinn’s face. She had sex with him. She interacted with this monster.
“He’s dead.” She mutters threateningly, forgetting Quinn is in the room with her.
“Don’t do anything stupid.” Quinn utters.
“Like what? Give him a black eye?” She harshly states. Quinn’s own eyes are dark and pain filled. How long has this gone on? How long has Santana been content to wait for Quinn to say something?
Santana grabs Quinn’s face between her hands quickly. “I swear to God if you say he didn’t mean it I will go after him while you sleep.”
She can’t threaten much more than inflicting damage to him. Quinn licks her bleeding lip but doesn’t object.
Santana finishes cleaning Quinn’s face with a quiet intensity. Quinn doesn’t look away from her, choosing to hold onto the way Santana tends to her to ignore the pain in her face. The bruises on her skin are a map in itself. Santana thinks of Brittany. And that leads her to her next step.
“I’m calling Mike.” She informs her. Quinn’s eyes widen and she almost attempts to beg Santana not to say anything, but the protective way Santana stands in front of her stops her.
There is no way that Santana is keeping this from him. She sends Quinn to sit in her bedroom while she tidies up. She can see the broken girl from her place in the bathroom. Her phone slides into her hand. There’s a missed call from an unknown number she ignores.
Nothing is more important than this.
Santana keeps an eye on Quinn as she calls Mike. She feels so much; useless, angry, hurt, helpless - and most of all upset because she could have stopped this sooner.
“Mike? Hey...I could be better.” Santana sees Quinn watching her from the bedroom. “It’s why I’m calling...no, it’s about Quinn actually.”
Mike’s voice betrays his obliviousness to the situation. She wonders what Quinn actually told him.
“Not so good. There’s been an incident.” She hates that she has to do this on the phone. “Yeah, it got a little rough...she’s here with me now.”
Santana motions for Quinn to take the phone. “I’ll hand it over to her, but I think you should think about flying in for the next couple of days...okay, thanks Mike.”
Quinn takes the phone from her hands and whispers ‘thankyou’. Santana retreats from her own bedroom to the living room. All of her anger and fury whirls in her stomach even as she sits back down on the couch.
The image of Quinn’s face won’t leave her. The bruises are new and tender.
“Shit.” Santana locks her hands behind her head and closes her eyes. She can see the lines of the map on the inside of her eyes and how easily it matches Quinn’s face.
She wonders when the good days will start to come back to her.
Chapter 4: part 4
1st May 2020
Evidently the good days don’t come back.
“Tell him to find it. No...no. I will not be pinned for this.” Santana shoulders her door open and drops her keys on the floor of her hallway. She doesn’t pick the offending objects up, too engrossed in the phone call she’s making. “He wanted it - he.”
The door slams behind her, channeling her anger, as she keeps the phone pressed between her shoulder and ear. Her hands are full of files and her bag. The strap snapped half way down the road on her way home.
It was her favourite fucking bag okay?
“Bull, Adam, bull. You tell him-” Santana barks down the phone to the idiot on the other end. “You tell him that I’m signed off on this and it’s all on him. All on him, yeah.”
Mumblings of inadequacy reply to her.
“It’s his fucking job. I don’t even care. His job, you tell him - fuck!”
She can’t even push the end call button easily. Some files flop dangerously in her arms as she furiously stops the conversation. Her body is a ball of frustration and irritation.
There is no way she is getting blamed for other people screwing around and messing up their clients. Words, very deadly and borderline threatening words, will be had tomorrow.
Santana stiffens and takes a deep breath. “Quinn?” She asks out.
Her shuddering voice doesn’t receive a reply indicating Quinn’s absence from the apartment. Thankfully.
The relief of this information comes out in a hurried explosion of words.
“Fucking bull!” Santana feels like stomping her feet because her arms are full. But doing so doesn’t relieve anymore of her displeasure. “Goddamn it. Asshole. Crap crap crap.”
She is going to kill them all if she gets blamed for this. Justifiable homicide.
In her daze her occupied hands scrambles for the light in the hallway and flips. Nothing happens.
“Are you kidding me?” Santana yells out to the still darkened hall. The lights don’t illuminate her path. “Fuck my fucking life!”
She can’t even stop the curses coming now. This day couldn’t get any worse.
The first file slips out of her hand.
“Crap.” Santana dips her knees to slow it’s fall. In succession a multitude of other files spill from her grip. “Fuck!”
She can’t even see the mess but the sound of paper hitting paper is enough to suggest that she’s got a lot of sorting to do.
“Fuck it!” She drops the rest of them. “I don’t even care.”
Except she should. The broken lights aren’t able to alert her to what’s in front of her and Santana trips over a pair of shoes as she tries to navigate in the dark. All of her reflexes don’t help her from face-planting to the floor.
Her cheek explodes in pain. Now she can’t even curse.
Hisses turn onto growls and groans of pain.
Her knees brush files. Paper is bent and torn. Santana’s head throbs. She sits up on her knees, propping her weight on her fists.
Everything feels amplified today. She’s been trying to get everyone’s schedules up-to-date; she indirectly got shouted at, and though it’s nothing compared to what she’s heard before, it’s her work they criticized. And the asshole on the phone. Now she can’t even walk into her home and escape.
She just has all of this anger. Not just from today. It’s been pent up and stinging temptingly in her knuckles ever since Puck hit Quinn. Before that even.
The wood is hard against her fists. Too hard but walls aren’t.
Santana lurches to her feet with this revelation. Stumbling in the dark, over her work and bag, she makes her way blind into the lounge. The light in her kitchen is still on from this morning. The electric bill is going to be a bitch.
’Pick a wall.’ Santana offers her hands. She’ll pay for the repairs.
The map is off limits. Leaving a limited choice.
Santana eventually turns to the wall that separates the lounge from the kitchen. There aren’t any pictures on it and Santana remembers painting it.
She squares off against it.
“No hard feelings.” She throws the first punch.
The second follows; not gratified with the first.
The third quickly after; beginning to channel the severity of her vexed state.
The forth cracks the wall and the previous punches catch up to her nerves. Pain.
“Fuck you.” She grunts through the discomfort of her fists pounding into the plaster and the chips of material scratching against her attacking hands.
The words open the world of bleeding emotions she’s needed to express to herself; punching a wall instead of Puck’s face.
She’s so tired of this. She’s tired of things not working out. She’s tired of not having the good days back. She’s sick of seeing Puck in the street and being unable to confront him. She’s pissed that Quinn still can’t move back home.
She’s sick of the spineless people she works with. Inferior subordinates that don’t do their shit properly and leave her head on the block. She’s sick of their looks; their pity and the hurt it stirs.
Another punch. Another crack that Santana can’t determine if it’s the wall or her fist.
She’s consumed with pain. She’s exhausted with waking up. She’s wasted with hate.
She hates time. She hates waiting. She hates, she hates, she hates. And it’s too much.
It’s her knuckles that are cracked, bloodied and bruised. She can’t see the damage she’s done to the wall but she knows she’s not done.
It’s not enough.
Santana turns to the map. She feels weak when she looks at it. Postcards and countries force her to remember and accept that she’s powerless against it. Hateful voices in her head taunt her. The truth.
A fell swoop of her hand finds her throwing a framed photograph against the map.
Another explosion of glass. Another release. Another voice.
Santana doesn’t care what Quinn thinks. She can’t be okay anymore. She can’t deal with being just ‘okay’ anymore.
Her fingers are inches away from the top of the paper map, the map that’s already hanging together just barely from her last rage, within touching distance of tearing it right down the middle. It would be just so easy.
It would feel so good. No coming back. No repairing this time.
And then it’s out of reach.
Her back is shoved against the wall once more. Like before.
That’s another thing. Santana snarls and her chest roars like an animal. She’s so sick of being held down like she’s dangerous.
“Quinn get the fuck off me.” Santana growls out. Her head hits the wall behind her roughly. Dazed. No lights. “Or are you back for round two?”
She shouldn’t have said that. Why the hell did she say that? Has she not been paying attention to what Quinn’s been through?
The unmoving arm against her is what suffocates her physically but what chokes Santana is realizing that she didn’t leave the light in the kitchen on that morning.
Her eyes adjust to the lack of light and discover why Quinn didn’t answer to her name.
It’s blond hair alright.
But it’s not Quinn.
“What were you doing?” Brittany’s concerned voice cuts through her more painfully than the punches to the wall did.
Santana remains stoic and silent. This isn’t happening. This just isn’t happening.
“Santana you could’ve seriously hurt yourself.” Brittany’s words brush against her hands. Santana is more attuned to the pain emitting from them now, in the face of everything. There’s warmth dripping over her fingers. She’s bleeding.
“Off.” She whispers. She can’t touch her. She can’t push her away. This day cannot be happening.
“S- are you-?” The more she speaks the louder her voice gets, the more details Santana can see in her face. She can’t.
“Get off me.” She bites a little louder.
“Santana please.” Brittany doesn’t remove her arm.
“Get off me Brittany!” Santana stares into her face and demands.
Brittany has a braid in her hair from the front of her scalp, hanging down the right side of her face. Even in the dark Santana can see speckles of freckles across her cheeks that only live there after long exposure to the sun.
She can’t look any further down, because she can’t tear her shocked eyes away from Brittany’s, but she can sense the girl’s fuller figure and the confident way she’s able to keep Santana locked against the wall behind her. She’s stronger.
She’s different. Her eyes have the moonlight in them and her face is searching and full of new experiences.
And she’s touching Santana.
Her body is a traitor for the brief contact. Overwhelmed and accepting. Her arms are numb and begging Santana to reach out and hold her. Pull her impossibly close and never let go.
Her reaction overrides instinct and does the opposite.
The hardest thing isn’t forcing them to separate or even exerting the force to push Brittany, almost mindlessly, off her.
The hardest thing is the look of confusion on Brittany’s face that practically asks her “Why did you do that?”
She has to look down at her hands to fight off the shock. She can’t clench them properly and when she tries the wounds forces her to moan in agony.
But she can’t let Brittany speak. She can’t let her walk back into the moment like there’s nothing wrong. Like she didn’t just stop Santana from breaking her hands against another wall.
Santana tries her hardest not to blow up immediately. Maybe this isn’t happening.
“Why are you here?” She croaks out through the pain in her hands. It’s the only thing that’s keeping her in the present.
The pain tempts her to let go and collapse but her voice is keeping her grounded.
Brittany pauses, looking her up and down and chances speaking again; “If I remember correctly I do live here.”
“Live as in present tense?” Santana balks. “As in this apartment?”
Brittany shifts her weight from one leg to the other. Her usual equal distribution of weight is forgone as she faces her.
“That’s what you said.” Brittany says. Santana remembers their last fight. She knows what she said.
“What I said?” Santana’s eyes widen. Brittany is using this against her? “You mean that’s what I said two years ago, you know? Right before you left me.”
‘Left me.’ Strikes her in a wave of pain that’s more than just her hands. It’s a dagger piercing in her already wounded chest.
How much more can it take?
Brittany doesn’t blanch at the harshness in her words. She stands her ground. “Santana I had to go.”
Santana scoffs at her. “Was my proposal really that devastating for you that you couldn’t be in the same apartment as me?”
“No, San-” Brittany’s face softens at the mention of the proposal. Pity.
Santana exploits it.
“Was it necessary for you to leave without a word?”
“Santana that’s not fair.” Brittany disapproves. Her voice refuses to rise to Santana’s bait. Santana wonders what will it take to get this to change. How far will she push?
“Not fair?” She snaps. “Do not throw fair into this.”
What’s not fair is how Brittany didn’t leave a note. What’s not fair is that she never wrote any messages on the postcards she sent. What’s not fair is that it’s been two long and lonely years for Santana.
“You’re not giving me a chance to explain.” Brittany sounds exasperated now. “I called-”
“I don’t think you can explain or excuse this.” Santana informs her.
And then Brittany enters the playing field raising her voice commandingly, like Santana hasn’t heard used against her.
“Will you stop for a second.”
Santana does. Not because Brittany asked but because Brittany just told her to.
“I can see that you’re not thrilled to see me as I am to see you but if you give me a minute, I just want to talk about this.”
Stars burst in front of her eyes. She can’t hear this. She can’t listen to Brittany bring up why she left. Santana can’t relive that day. Not when Brittany still looks like she’s about to leave her. Not when the only girl she’s really loved is looking so different without her.
“No.” Santana utters. She can hear the fear in her voice.
Brittany blinks at the interruption. “Santana please.”
Santana falls and shuffles against the wall in a frenzy to find the nearest lamp. Her fingers fumble but the bright light floods the room and brings Brittany into colour and life.
Santana is assaulted with her presence all over again. Brittany watches her in a silent awe as Santana forces herself to take in what stands before her.
The single bag that was missing from their closet, the one Brittany used to leave her with, is bursting at the seams. She’s lived for two years out of one bag.
Santana finds it hard to take everything in all at once. There’s so much.
The braid is familiar. Santana’s done that to her before.
The clothes, layered with old and new, are familiar but worn with a traveler's pride. There are numerous necklaces and bracelets adorning her neck and her wrists.
Brittany is tan. More than she used to be. Her blond hair is shocking in contrast to her face now. Angelic and glowing.
Her previous assumptions were right. Brittany’s figure, though obscured by her heavy clothes, is fuller. She no longer looks as if she could snap in half.
The way she stands screams assurance. Santana can’t believe how much that changes her perspective. The Brittany that left her couldn’t have survived two years alone in the world. But the Brittany standing before her could and has. There’s a hidden strength in her that wasn’t as present in the past.
She recognises to much of her but is familiar with so little.
“I can’t do this.” She chooses panic over rational thought.
Brittany frowns at her denial.
“Santana talk to me.”
“I can’t talk to you.” Santana whirls her head up. Hitting it once more against the wall. She hasn’t been able to talk to Brittany for two years when all she’s wanted to do is talk to her. Now that she has the chance, she doesn’t know what to say.
“You can always talk to me.” Brittany expresses. There’s another step forward.
“The last two years say otherwise Brittany.” Another step back.
“Are you upset?” Brittany questions. Santana almost laughs.
“Am I upset? Am I fucking upset? What do you think?” She accidentally bashes her fist against the wall behind her and hisses at the flash of pain that shoots up her arm.
“S.” Brittany attempts to move closer, her hand outstretched, to tend to the injury. Santana digs her feet into the ground. That is not going to happen.
“Look I can’t do this.” She shouts before Brittany can advance on her. “You can’t be here, you can’t show up and call this place home, acting like nothings happened.”
Her words echo around the room. Brittany stops.
“I’m not acting like nothings happened, I just want to talk to you.” She sounds so sincere it hurts.
“I don’t want to talk to you!”
‘Liar’ Her heart accuses. All she wants to do is talk to her.
“Why are you acting like this?” Brittany looks like she’s pouting but for some reason it doesn’t fully appear on her face. She looks uncomfortable instead.
“Are you- you’re being serious? You’re actually being fucking serious asking me why I’m acting like this because you’re here. What part of this don’t you understand?” Santana’s voice is breaking with every question. Something precious in her has snapped for her to be able to confront Brittany like this.
“Santana you’re being hysterical.” Brittany calmly informs her, seemingly unaffected by Santana’s anger.
“No you’re missing the reason that I’m being hysterical. You left.” Santana points to the door viciously. She didn’t see Brittany leave but Santana has an imagination that’s been taunting her with her own directed versions of Brittany’s dramatic exit. “You left me, you left this apartment, you left us.”
“I didn’t-” Brittany protests.
“Didn’t what? You walked away Brittany. It’s that simple. You walked away from this apartment and this relationship and you expect me to be ‘calm’ when you suddenly turn up here after two years?” Santana finds herself out of breathe. It’s really been that long.
The amount of time passed seems to strike Brittany into her own thoughts. Santana sees pity on her face.
“You want to know why I’m pissed? You want to understand?” Santana’s words are raw and they scrape at her throat. Brittany nods her head despite knowing a lot of the reasons already. Somehow even the simple agreement is managing to make her look mature.
So much has changed.
Santana juts out her bottom lip and tries not to bite down. “For two years. Twenty-Five-Months even; you’ve had time, space. New experiences - whatever.”
Brittany actually flinches at her verbal attacks now. It gives her a sense of satisfaction that she’s finally getting her anguish through to her.
Santana points her straight arm to the map on the wall. It’s riddled with cuts and duct tape. No more than eight postcards are dotted across it’s plane.
“But for two years this is all I’ve had.” A single tear drops from her eye in pain. She’s glad the light of the lamp isn’t catching her face. “Snatches of hope spread across the world. Not even a phone call to tell me you weren’t dying in some ditch-”
“Santana.” Brittany interrupts, probably to tell her she’s more capable than that. She doesn’t have to, Santana can see it written all over her. It doesn’t change her fears even now.
“I wouldn’t have known any different.” Santana yells. Screw the neighbors. “And I’ve had to deal with you leaving for two years.”
“S, I didn’t leave you.” Brittany whispers. Her voice grows an iron-will because she refuses to let Santana shoot her down once more. “Yes, I walked away but I didn’t walk away from you.”
Brittany steps forward, Santana steps back.
“I never meant for you to think that I was gone forever. I never meant that.” Brittany pleads with her. Santana sees her scrutinizing the distance between them. What’s another meter when she’s been on a different continent for years?
“Then why didn’t you just explain that to me!” Santana throws her hands up in chagrin.
“Because I needed to! I needed to go away to fix things.” Brittany argues ignoring the agitation in Santana’s posture. “I left because I didn’t want to marry you to continue being just an extension of you.”
“I had to leave to change that.” Brittany adds. Santana’s face drops.
An extension. Brittany saw herself as an extension.
“And you couldn’t have just worked it out here?” Santana seethes. “You just leave. What about what I needed B?”
She’s being selfish. But she can’t stop the storm of narcism from thundering. “Did you even take a second to think of how that would impact me? Did you think just showing up here after all that would make everything better?”
‘Yes’ Her heart beats out.
“I needed to do this S, otherwise things wouldn’t get better.” Brittany is firm in her choice. In the past Santana would have won this argument by now.
“What makes you think we weren’t capable of working things out together - in the same country? You had to vanish out of my life completely to find yourself?”
Vanished apart from pieces of square card and friends left behind.
“Santana, I’m sorry.” She manages to sound it out perfectly to show that she is sorry for how Santana has had to deal, but she’s not sorry at all for leaving.
“That’s the screwy thing. I knew you’d probably say that. Because that’s what I want to hear.” Santana’s heart is beating a mile a minute and her eyes are unfocused. “But if you woke up tomorrow on the day I proposed you still wouldn’t do anything different.”
Brittany takes another step forward but Santana has no more room to move back. She’s against the wall and can’t see anything but Brittany.
She’s had this argument in her mind for months. What she wanted to say to Brittany. What accusations she would have thrown in her face. How much she wanted Brittany to feel what she feels. The apology she wanted. Yet she can’t match it as well as she can in her mind.
Santana comes to the same conclusion that she always does.
“I’m a wreck B.” Her blood stained hands grip limply around her neck and she supports herself against the wall.
“I can see.” Brittany observes her hands and her figure. She no doubt notices the weight Santana has lost and the dark circles under her eyes. She looks like Quinn.
Once again Brittany is her total opposite. For a girl who’s probably not had a permanent home for more than a few months, she looks a damn sight better than Santana does.
“You look fine. As usual.” Santana can’t help the slice of bitterness that attaches itself to her compliment.
“Are we done shouting now?” Brittany asks a little patronizingly in return.
Santana hangs her head until her chin touches her collar and sighs. There is no way that this is over. It’s just a break in the flow. There’s too much left unsaid and unexplained for them to move on just yet. But there’s not enough energy in her body to continue right now.
“I don’t know.” She admits wearily.
“Can we postpone it for a while?” Santana looks up.
Brittany just said ‘postpone’.
“Because apparently I’ve been away for 25 months, left you in a wreck and found myself and I really, really want to hug you.”
Brittany is closer than she remembers. She’s closer than she’s been in a long while. Her body is tempting and twitching to open up her arms and take Santana in.
“If you’ll let me.” Brittany adds meekly. It’s the closest to subdued that Santana has seen her.
She wants to stop her heart from taking over. If she doesn’t then she’s going to get hurt again. A part of her knows that, but the other part doesn’t care. No matter how broken and empty she feels now, she knows that things won’t get better until Brittany touches her again.
She doesn’t move as Brittany centers in. Hands rest on her shoulders and invisible strings are cut. Her arms can move on their own accord.
Brittany watches her every move. All the emotions in her eyes are on display. Santana shivers once, then twice, three times until she’s not shivering. She’s shuddering.
Brittany’s hands flee her shoulders. One travels to the small of her back and rests there. Santana breaks in two at the touch and arches forward. Her touch is hot but Santana can’t feel the burn.
The other hand cups the back of her neck and Santana is released from the stiff solidarity of the argument. Her head lolls into the touch. The strings holding her together and upright are cut and she falls into Brittany’s arms.
She hyperventilates. Her chest pushes against Brittany who crushes their bodies together. She doesn’t want Brittany to pull away from her. Over breathing brings them together and the dizziness in Santana’s head doesn’t stop her from suddenly clutching at Brittany’s clothes and skin and tugging.
They slide to the floor in amidst the broken glass and tears and whispers that don’t make any sense.
Santana feels nothing but the way Brittany consumes her body.
Between the electricity of her nerves causing her to twitch in Brittany’s arm every second, keeping her grounded and reminding her body that Brittany is touching her, and the crying that both of them are doing Santana doesn’t know which of them apologises.
“I’m so sorry.” Santana repeats in case it wasn’t her the first time.
Brittany has her in such a tight lock that neither of them wish to break. Rushing blood to her head and black spots in front of her eyes have never felt so welcome.
The word ‘explanation’ pops up a lot as she clings to Brittany. There’s so much to talk about.
She needs to tell Brittany so much.
She needs to explain why they don’t have use of the second bedroom anymore and why Quinn is living with them. Oh God, she needs to talk about Puck and Quinn and what happened at Christmas. She needs to mention Mike and dancing and everything that’s happened. Work. Decorating.
But she can’t bring herself to relive it and still have nothing to latch onto from Brittany.
“There’s a lot I need to tell you.” Santana keeps her eyes closed. If she opens them, who knows if Brittany will really be there. “But right now I don’t think I can-”
“I guessed from walking in here, and when I saw you - I’m not sure, will I like it?” Brittany utters into her shoulder. Her breath heats the material of her shirt.
“No, Britt.” Santana shakes her head. There’s no way that Brittany will like all of it. If any of it.
She sighs into Santana with her whole body. “I didn’t think so.”
Although it’s behind her Santana can feel the presence of the map above them. She wants to ask so much. She wants to direct the conversation elsewhere.
There are a lot of questions in her head, just like there was when Brittany said ‘no’, but all she can manage without provoking another argument is to ask Brittany to start from the beginning.
“Where did you go?” Santana asks.
The conversation is not one for sitting in a wrapped cocoon over broken glass. Brittany directs their closeness onto the couch and Santana sits with her legs crossed. They don’t touch as intimately as the first hug allowed them to.
Brittany sits with her legs swept under her with her knees bumping Santana’s thighs.
Brittany explains. They don’t talk about why she left. That’s a talk for tomorrow and the days after and arguments of the future. For now Santana just needs Brittany to distract her with her tale and travels.
“I just walked until I found the nearest bus.” Brittany admits looking into her lap. “I didn’t know where it was going or if I could get on it.”
Her eyes are glossy and water-ridden as she relays her feelings. “I was in shock S. I didn’t know what to do; stay or go for a while.”
“A while?” Santana repeats. “You’ve never been too good at math.”
Brittany smiles softly. “I thought about you when I waiting in line. I thought about how much I loved you and whether this was a good idea.”
Brittany reaches over carefully to grab her hand. It’s a weird feeling having her hold onto her.
“And then I thought about all the things I said to you. About wanting to be more than just your girlfriend and all the things I wanted to do.”
Santana hears Quinn’s voice in her head reminding her of how Brittany and Mike wanted to open a studio together.
“In the end I couldn’t decide.” Brittany’s smile widens wryly. “So I flipped a coin.”
Santana raises an eyebrow and suppresses the agitation in her body.
“You flipped a coin to decide whether or not to leave?” She asks in mild disbelief, because honestly? She could imagine that happening.
“Yeah. Heads - go, Tails - stay.” Brittany explains.
“You got heads?” Santana asks, knowing the answer.
Brittany’s smile grows wider.
“It was a double headed coin.” Brittany’s chest rumbles in ironic laughter. “I found it in the bottom of my jacket pocket and that was the last barrier. It was like destiny.”
Santana can’t argue with destiny as much as she wants to.
“You had to.”
Brittany nods in response. “I got a few buses and a couple of other transporters later I was in Mexico.”
Both of them turn their eyes to the map. Brittany looks at her curiously. “I meant to ask about that. It’s pretty beat up isn’t it?”
Santana shakes her head. “A story for when it’s my turn to tell okay?”
The postcard from Mexico, according to Brittany, was sent just before she left.
“I spent a few months working.” Brittany echoes. At Santana’s worried look she continues to reassure her. “Nothing bad. There was a few touristy places that I picked up hours at.”
“Why didn’t you just take use card?” Santana asks. “You wouldn’t have had to work.”
Santana’s care for their finances is outweighed by the thought of Brittany working in worrying conditions with total strangers.
“What would you have done if I had?” Brittany aims. “I knew you’d come and find me and I needed you not to.”
Santana bites on her lip to bite down the small hurt in the truth. Brittany is right - evidenced by the fact tracking their bank accounts on the night she left. Santana motions for her to continue.
“I saved up enough to get a plane ticket, I didn’t spend much while I was in Mexico.” Brittany reasons. “The hostels there are pretty-”
“Hostels?” Santana dies a little inside. “Are you crazy?”
Brittany squeezes her hand quickly. “S, it was a women’s hostel. The special ones with the women who’ve been kicked out-”
It doesn’t settle right with Santana, anyway Brittany puts it, because she stayed in a Mexican hostel. She’s seen horror movies.
“Anyway.” Brittany eases. “By June, I was in Amsterdam.”
Santana raises an eyebrow.
“What did you do in Amsterdam?” Santana questions curiously, because really?
Brittany smiles in amusement at the hidden implications in Santana’s words. “I took in the culture.”
“Literally?” Santana drops her voice suggestively enough for Brittany to giggle. It’s still awkward.
“Not at first.” Brittany disappears into her description. “I stuck to the tourist sights at first but I got lost one day...”
Santana doesn’t have the time to expect that or to worry because Brittany keeps talking.
“...and there was this building which everyone was cuing to get in. So I joined in, I thought it was a club right?” Brittany claims. “But when I got in there was stairs that were almost like a wall and a bookcase and behind that...”
Santana is in a blissful awe as Brittany reveals to her that she went to see the Annex that Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis in.
“She had a diary.” Brittany points out. “And they were selling it! Everyone was buying it but I thought it was kinda rude. I wouldn’t want anyone to read my diary.”
“If it hadn’t have been published then you wouldn’t have been able to see her house B.” Santana smiles to herself at how easily the conversation is coming.
Brittany thinks for a minute. “Well, I guess that’s okay then. As long as we don’t read it.”
Santana reminds herself not to mention she’s already read it.
“Alright, I promise.” Santana’s pinkie finger twitches. “What then?”
“I walked around a lot. The buildings there were...” The description ends because Brittany can’t seem to describe them. “But then it was October and I was leaving.”
Santana catches the map again and looks to the postcard with the red and white cross.
“From there? Switzerland.” Brittany looks upwards as if the direction will remind her of where she’s been.
“Switzerland? What did you do there?” Santana asks bemused. “Try not to start wars?”
“Ha. Ha.” Brittany rolls her eyes. “I’ve missed your jokes.”
Santana’s heart flutters stupidly. It’s going too fast.
Santana softens. “I’ve missed you.” She quietly adds.
Brittany takes her reserved words and paints a picture of the two months she spent in Switzerland. Visiting shops, meeting people and exploring the culture. Mentions of churches and cathedrals confuse Santana, Brittany has never been too spiritual unless it included things like Christmas, but the buildings genuinely attracted Brittany to them.
“I bought chocolate too.” Brittany adds wistfully. “But I ate it all.”
Santana grins and pokes Brittany’s ribs until Brittany gives her an amused look.
“Then?” Santana urges her on.
“I spent Christmas in Germany.” Brittany gushes. “It was beautiful. There was snow but it didn’t sink.”
Germany was the ninth month away. “It was pretty easy to get a job.”
“What about the language barrier B?” Santana asks curiously.
Brittany shrugs, like it didn’t occur to her that it was a problem. “It was in a bar. They mostly just wanted me to bring the brings out. I don’t know why though.”
Santana skims Brittany’s appearance. She knows why.
“I did explore there as well.” Brittany comments. “Some people that I was staying with-”
There shoots her worry levels again.
“-took me to this place and they said there used to be a wall there?” Brittany ponders. “There was only a small bit of it left.”
“The Berlin wall?” Santana inquires. “You saw it?”
“It was only little. I don’t think it was a very good wall.” Brittany spews. “I could walk all around it.”
The historical aspect of Santana’s mind is jealous but at the same time in utter fascination with Brittany’s take on these matters. Pictures of the Berlin wall as it remains pale in comparison to Brittany saying she could walk all around it.
Brittany once again brings up her visits to cathedrals and churches during her visit. Santana looks on curiously but doesn’t question.
“After that in...March.” Brittany decides and points out another postcard on the map. “I went to Denmark.”
That postcard had brought worries about Brittany seeking comfort in her family and unwittingly turning them against her.
“How are they?” Santana asks politely.
“They’re doing good.” Brittany replies. “My Oma, Grandmother.” She clarifies for Santana. “She misses my mom a lot and says I should visit more.”
“Oh.” Santana turns inwardly slightly. She feels uncomfortable with how Brittany got the time to visit her grandparents and how much they knew of the reason Brittany was able to see them.
Brittany disregards her awkwardness.
“I only stayed until May because they wouldn’t let me leave.” She jokes but Santana can see the happiness at the gesture. “But they knew I had to get moving by then.”
“Why?” Santana asks interested. Brittany doesn’t let anything on when she gives her a glowing look and taps her nose.
“Time was running out of course.”
Santana leaves it at that but returns her attention to the map. “Well you have to answer the next one.”
“Hit me.” Brittany declares.
“Whatever possessed you to go to Russia? I think I had a heart attack when I got that card.” Santana admits and looks towards the picture of the dancer on the map.
“An audition.” Brittany follows her gaze. “I’d run out of money before that and I didn’t really want to ask my family when I was with them.”
Santana raises an eyebrow. “Why not?”
“I didn’t tell them why I was there.”
Santana swallows at the smallness of Brittany’s voice. ‘Of course she wouldn’t.’
“I didn’t think it was a good way to introduce you.” Brittany adds and the light-hearted thought in that confession tides Santana’s mood over.
“An audition?” Santana changes the subject. “You got a dance audition and you don’t speak a word of Russian.”
Brittany’s smile grows into a knowing smirk which makes Santana feel stupid because Brittany’s been traveling for two years on her own, there’s no way she hasn’t picked up a few things along the way. Even if ‘picked up’ implies more than just languages.
“I knew enough. And besides the dancing spoke for itself y’know?” Brittany bubbles and Santana agrees.
“So, did you stay there long? With the dance? I assume you got it.” Santana keeps coming with her questions. She wants to know it all. She wants to experience it through Brittany and share it.
In a way she knows this is what Brittany wanted in the first place when she left.
“No. We had to travel a lot because apparently the Russian Ballet’s Nutcracker is like, mega-popular? At first I thought that they should just buy more so everyone could have one and then someone explained it to me. It was like the Cheerios but we had to wear tights.”
Santana nods along absentmindedly for a second before Brittany’s voice is ringing with the words ‘The Russian Ballet’ and then everything comes to a halt.
“The Russian Ballet?” Santana blurts out completely interrupting Brittany’s talk of tights. “You went on tour with The Imperial Russian Ballet!”
Brittany nods her head up and down slowly like she’s waiting for Santana to get over it. “Yeah, that’s why I stayed there the longest.”
“Brittany that’s, that’s huge!” Santana exclaims. She can’t help it. Her girlfriend went on tour with the Imperial Russian Ballet and she’s shrugging it off like she’s saying she had dinner with Mr Schuester or something. “Oh my God.”
Brittany finally sees the twinkle of pride in Santana’s eyes and stops glossing over the story. “Is it? I mean a lot of people would come to see us but...”
Santana nods and touches Brittany’s cheek. She has to touch her and hold onto her again. The contact makes up for the things she can’t convey.
“I wish I’d seen you.” Santana admits. The longing in her voice isn’t missed by Brittany. “I bet you were amazing.”
Brittany’s head sits up. “I thought I sent you a picture of me.”
“What?” Now Santana leans up.
Brittany turns to look at the map on the wall. “I did, that one there.”
“With the dancer?” Santana moves from her comfortable spot and rushes to the picture-made-postcard Brittany points to. It’s the one she’d dismissed and fretted over because she’d thought it was a woman Brittany was involved with.
“Who did you think it was?” Brittany’s voice calls. Santana shakes her head looking at the dancer in the picture. She’s been looking at Brittany. As that becomes clearer in her mind Santana can see the tell-tale signs she couldn’t unmask before. The shape of Brittany’s jaw, the positioning of her hands and especially the arch of her back.
“Some...girl.” Santana laughs to herself when she admits it. Brittany winks at her when she reaches her again.
Brittany fishes the photo out of her hand. “Lemme check. It might not be me.”
Santana knows teasing when she hears it. Even after all this time. “Alright, alright, I was jealous that you’d taken up with some Russian dancer teacher and she was getting to know how flexible you were.”
Brittany stays deadly quiet.
“Britt.” Santana’s face drops as Brittany’s brightens. Unable to keep a poker face.
“Joke!” Brittany places the photograph between them. “None of the other girls really liked me. They all thought that I was out to steal their spot.” Brittany shrugs like it was no big deal but Santana fumed.
“I could go beat them up for you?”
“Alright.” A pause. “Do you want me to mess with their bank accounts? I can do that.”
Brittany silences her by tracing a finger behind Santana’s ear. The air is charged around them and Santana swallows a bundle of nerves. It’s been over two years and there’s so much she doesn’t know about Brittany’s life in that time; so much she wants to talk about and argue and forgive and work through; yet all Santana wants to do is kiss her.
Brittany’s eyes dart from her lips to her eyes and there’s a hint of a movement. The anticipation allows undue arousal to spurt with no release in sight.
“Um,” Brittany awakens them away from the moment without letting on that she felt it. “I left in December when the company neared the country we get take-out from.”
Santana frowned in confusion. “The place on the corner?”
Brittany shook her head. Santana took her movement to check back on the map and spot the postcard.
“Yeah!” Brittany exclaims. “The company arranged for some guides to take me through China, I was like on a fishing boat until January.”
Her girlfriend went to China. On a fishing boat.
“Are you serious?” Santana recites. “You. Boat. In China?”
Brittany nods like it’s normal. “Yes. Boat. Me. China.”
Santana breathes out. “That just...insane.”
“It wasn’t though.” Brittany conveys. “It was...amazing S.”
By the time Brittany finishes relaying her journey through China on boat and by land Santana feels as though she was right there with her. Catching fish and looking out to an endless horizon. She sits on the couch with Brittany but at the same time she also sat with her over water and meditated. Brittany brushes over more about the spiritual aspect of her trip. Yoga, time alone; in her confessions she tells Santana that some of the people traveling with them had just come back from a retreat.
“In the mornings I’d heard them over the waves. Praying and chanting.” Brittany whispers and the chiming of voices fill their imaginations. “Sometimes when I close my eyes I can still hear them.”
Santana thinks she can too.
“It was then that I think I realized why I left in the first place.” Brittany mutters mostly to herself. “Everyone was just so at peace. It was simple. I’d wake up sometimes and help them fish or pray or swim even-”
An image of Brittany diving into cool waters momentarily distracts her.
“I found myself.” Brittany states. “And then I found myself missing you.”
Santana’s throat tightens hotly. She fights back tears. Brittany pulls her legs from under her body and turns to face Santana.
Dancer legs come past her own crossed legs and plant themselves behind Santana’s back. Brittany is almost in her lap but not yet so. She’s doing this to comfort.
“I’d experienced a lot of things by then and gone on so many journeys,” Brittany has her full attention now. There are no images to fill in the blanks. “Attempted a lot of languages and had time to think and find out a lot about myself.”
“Did you-” Santana coughs to clear her throat of the hot compressed feeling. “Did you find what you were looking for?”
Santana can’t answer for Brittany but she knows that the girl that sits before her and is telling her story is different to the Brittany that left almost 25 months ago. There’s an independent element within her that’s changed the way Brittany comes across to her completely.
“In a way. I wasn’t done yet.” Brittany slyly avoids a full answer. “I had to make my way through North Korea before I got to Japan.”
A twinge of embarrassment crosses Brittany’s features.
“What’s that look for?” Santana inquires.
“I got so lost.” Brittany groans with a laugh. “I ended up going in circles for about two weeks before I found out where I had to go. Luckily I had enough money and my passport to make the trip to Japan.”
Santana grins in a good nature at Brittany’s misfortune.
“What happened in Japan?”
“Not much.” Brittany rolled forward a tad and looked up at the ceiling. “I got there late and didn’t have time to see anything.”
Santana can see the disappointment in her eyes. “You wanted to look for cartoons didn’t you?”
Brittany laughs and nods. Santana is glad somethings haven’t changed.
“I waited in the airport for ages and I kept thinking I’d lost my book and my ticket and then this guy came over and asked me-” Brittany rambles.
“Asked you what?” Santana presses, wary of what guys often ask.
Brittany looks at her knowingly and makes her feel over protective. Santana blames this over-protectiveness as a result of all the pent up worry she’s had for the last two years.
“If I wanted a tattoo.” Brittany informed brightly. “At least that’s what he said in English. I didn’t understand all the squiggly signs.”
Santana chooses not to tell Brittany that people in Japan don’t actually speak in Kanji and lets her brain short circuit over the ‘tattoo’ part.
“You got a tattoo?” Santana asks. Her eyes subconsciously roam Brittany’s body to see if it’s visible.
“Uh huh.” Brittany sits up and gathers her hair in her fist and faces away from Santana. “Right back there.”
‘Right back there’ means on the back of her neck. Santana curiously kneels behind Brittany to get a better look at the Japanese script now permanently inked on the back of Brittany’s neck. Her warm breath brings up goosebumps before Santana asks what it means.
“It means ‘Journey’.” Brittany says, her voice sounding far away. “Like the band.”
“You got a tattoo for Journey, the band?” Santana asks skeptically.
“No!” Brittany releases her hair and spins. “I got one about the journey I’d been on but I guess it could be about the band as well. Like at Regionals.”
The spin Brittany makes is misjudged, not hugely, but enough that their bodies now touch and they’re pressed more closely together. Santana is more confined to Brittany, physically, than she has been in years.
The proximity is too much and Santana lurches back.
“That’s amazing.” She looks down and shuffles off the couch, wondering why she thought talking so close to each other was a smart move. “Amazing.”
Brittany, thankfully, takes Santana’s sudden movement in her stride. She swings her legs off the couch and sits in content next to her. Santana picks her nerve up and raises her head to meet Brittany’s gaze.
“I can’t believe you did all that.” Santana confesses. She never imagined that Brittany would be able to do that on her own.
“Well, I wasn’t finished in Japan.” Brittany playfully adds.
Santana suddenly remembers the plane ticket that Brittany had ordered after first leaving. She thought it was a dud; Tokyo to NYC.
“I stayed in New York for a few days to sleep everything off.” Brittany carries on. “And shower. You’d be surprised how hard it is to find a shower in Japan.”
Santana smiles. She considers asking if Brittany had looked up Rachel Berry or other McKinley alumni who now reside in New York but she rules against it. Jealousy still lurks.
“And then I gradually made my way to Lima from bus to bus and the occasional train.” Brittany is grinning even as Santana turns her nose up at the mention of their hometown. “Don’t worry, I didn’t see anyone. I don’t think Mr Schue would have let me go if I had.”
“That or Coach Sylvester.” Santana remarks. God only knows what Brittany would have endured.
“Yeah.” Brittany abates. Santana senses the upcoming ending to Brittany’s two-years-in-the-making tale.
Brittany leans back into the couch with a relaxed flutter that makes it hard to believe she ever left Santana. “And then I came back here.”
The conversation comes full circle. Santana is all too wary of how this could return to their previous disagreement and chooses to direct her energy elsewhere. To the very focus of her insecurities.
“Why didn’t you keep on traveling?” She asks hesitantly. Her hands shake waiting for the answer.
A foreign hand covers her spine from base to top and tickles at Santana’s neck. They can touch again.
“I went to find myself, not leave and never come back.” Brittany murmurs. Their words caress the air around them. “I was always coming back S.”
Deep in the locked confines of her heart Santana always hoped she would hear that. Hearing it play out before her almost reduces her into tears again but a final confirmation is still needed.
Santana should have known from the ticket scheduled for 2020, she should have had more faith in Brittany’s instincts and her intent.
Brittany’s lips steady millimeters from the skin of her jaw. Her whispers graze the skin there tenderly as she banishes the rest of Santana’s uncertainties to the dust.
“I’m at my destination.”
6.00 am, 2nd May 2020
She hung onto snatches of sleep and plagued dreams of a reality that didn’t happen. Santana spies Brittany, asleep on the couch as she silently passes her into the kitchen.
She doesn’t reach for a drink, not even water, she just leans against the edge of the sink and breathes in the atmosphere. Breathes in the charge in the air that’s come back because Brittany has come back.
Standing and brooding in the kitchen in the early morning helps her mull over a lot of things. Her head is clearer and her thoughts are more considerate. They all agree on one thing.
Santana knows they shouldn’t do this. There’s too much still to figure out, where they stand and everything.
She’s known this since Brittany moved off the couch and followed her footsteps into the kitchen.
Despite all the things that have changed, the connection they seem to possess hasn’t. Their unconscious need for each other, that Santana has been deprived of for so long, hasn’t been stated. And putting them together, within touching distance now, is too much to settle into a dreamless sleep.
They don’t say a word. In the morning they can work it all out.
Santana is the one to reach out first. She tangles their hands together. Bashful smiling and a radiating body without guilt.
They need this.
Brittany kisses her. She’s kissing her. Kissing her. Time is nothing in the face of this
Santana pulls on Brittany’s hand and leads her step by careful step into her bedroom. Their bedroom. Brittany silently marvels over the changes. The painted walls and the photographs. The neatness as opposed to the mess.
Her observations are matched by Santana’s own. Tonight she wants to re-learn Brittany’s body.
Knees hit the bed and fall back. Brittany slides over her body like a cool water.
From there it’s natural.
The way Brittany touches her says more than words or postcards every could. Hands map out her hips and worry about how much weight she’s lost. Eyes roam and mark again noticing her longer hair, bruised hands and dry lips. Kisses remind Santana of how long it’s been and how much Brittany wants her.
And at the first touch Santana knows she’s giving away what happened with Quinn, and when Brittany keeps touching her with a coy smile she knows that nothing can come between them.
Santana nods and Brittany dips and glides and pushes inside her. Waking up every sense that lay dormant in her body to the brink. Santana feels alive when Brittany touches her.
Cliche and dramatic and whatever, Santana is feeling this all over again for the first time. She’s fifteen and they’re lying in Brittany’s bed with her pokemon bedsheets covering their naked bodies.
Santana is nervous. Brittany is trying to hide that she is too.
Their kisses grow and slow and innocent touches melt in their heat.
Santana believes she’s back there. She believes it with all of her heart as she undresses Brittany on top of her. Touching her shoulders and conveying as much as she can in the movements. She tells Brittany she can dance as she draws her leg to rest of Brittany’s hipbone.
Kissing Brittany’s throat she shares how she listened to Rachel Berry sing on New Year’s Eve. Gasping as Brittany nips at her jaw reveals how sorry she is for a number of things and how she’ll tell her soon.
When Santana finally touches her, the nostalgia and the shuddering joy she feels in doing so after so long, erases the misery in her soul. Brittany is with her. Brittany loves her.
Nothing compares to the heights Brittany takes her to. The mountains Brittany’s overcome can’t rival Santana.
They’ve grown. They’ve changed.
But in the morning Santana gets to wake up to the sun rising on Brittany’s naked back. And maybe she cries.
23rd June - 24th September 2020
Santana explained everything in the weeks after Brittany’s return.
Brittany’s reaction to Santana telling her about what Puck did was somehow more terrifying than Santana’s. Everyone was uneasy for days about where Brittany went. Santana made sure to keep her attached at the hip. Not just for Puck’s safety but because the love of her life had just come home and she wasn’t letting her go so soon.
Quinn moved out of the apartment when Mike announced he’d be running the Arizona studio full time and moving to Phoenix.
Brittany landed an instructing position in Mike’s studio, naturally, and teaches most days. The day Mike gave her the job was the day before Quinn chose to move out funnily enough.
This may or may not have been because Santana tied Brittany to the bed and congratulated her for hours.
Santana doesn’t kid herself over things. She and Brittany have talked. Issues are out there more than they used to be. They’re different than they used to be.
Brittany is more independent. Santana sometimes has to blink when Brittany suggests things like going out dancing or yoga or waking up in the morning to meditate. Something picked up when traveling through China. She doesn’t think she’ll ever get used to Brittany cooking for her or using chopsticks to eat but she can get used to the food.
Santana is grateful for the little things. She’s grateful to be sharing a bed with the girl she loves. She’s happy to see two toothbrushes in the holder. Seeing more clothes in their closet brings a smile to her face. She’s grateful for holding hands, for kisses and photographs.
They work things out together now. Santana still wonders about all the other things Brittany did during those two years. Brittany confides in her that she can’t really imagine what Santana’s been through.
There’s still an unanswered question but Santana isn’t ready to approach that. Even after readily bringing Brittany back into their home. Their home.
But sometimes she does lay awake at night, watching Brittany sleep and wonder, ‘What’s the catch?’.
That question disappears with everyday that Brittany pads into the kitchen wearing her Arizona State sweater and kisses her good morning.
Everyday she says ‘I love you.’
And everyday she gets to hear it back to her.
Maybe there isn’t a catch.
The heart-attack or the ‘catch’ comes a few months later when Santana comes home from work and sees bags packed and sitting on their couch.
Her first instinct is to cry but her second instinct to freeze up wins over.
Brittany wanders into the room like nothing out of the ordinary is happened. It kills her more. Santana doesn’t know what’s in the bags, but there looks like there’s more in them than Brittany took previously. A passport sits on top of one.
“Britt.” Santana voices weakly. Her knees are shaking that’s how worried she is.
Was it not enough to go through this once? Was it not enough and now she has to watch it happen in front of her this time?
Santana’s face is a mess of anxiety when Brittany kisses her cheek. Like china she shatters.
“What’s going on?”
But Brittany doesn’t answer. The mystery and the nerves threaten to overtake her again but they’re fought away with her touch.
Brittany’s hands. Her calloused and skilled hands trace along her collar until they dip underneath the collar of her shirt and find a chain.
It’s a simple chain that Santana’s worn around her neck for two years. Brittany is smiling at her, carefree and knowing as she pulls the chain out of her shirt. Santana’s words get caught in her throat as the chain is produced, along with the two years old engagement ring hanging on the end of it.
“I couldn’t take it back.” Santana admits quietly. She’s fascinated at the delicate way Brittany holds the ring.
She doesn’t know what to expect. There are bags sitting on the couch that hold more things than Brittany last took.
Yet they don’t look like they’re meant for her.
“You kept wearing it?” Brittany holds the ring between her fingers. Teasing the piece as it tries to slip onto her finger. Santana’s dreamed something like this.
Brittany glows in front of her and pulls the ring as far away as the chain allows. The retreating light from outside shines on it. Somewhere in the corner of the room the light flickers on the wall.
Suddenly it’s a homecoming again. Brittany clutches onto the chain as she moves back in. Capturing Santana in a kiss that could have arrived with dramatic music and professional lighting. Her toes tingle and goosebumps erupt all over her body. Fire emerges in her stomach. She’ll never tire of how good this feels.
How much she’s missed this.
Santana freezes up involuntarily in Brittany’s embrace when her girl’s fingers play with the latch of the chain.
Old hurts throb as Brittany touches something that she once refused with no thought to consequence. Santana feels ridiculous. It’s always been Brittany’s.
The clasp comes undone and weight crashes from around her neck. How long has she carried that regret?
New strength pours into her as Brittany dangles the chain in her fingers before carefully pooling the chain and the ring into her palm. The chain becomes a puddle of metal. The ring is afloat on the surface.
Brittany studies the object in her palm with a curious energy. “I’ll hold onto this.”
The bottom of her stomach drops as she sees the bags again.
“Hold onto?” Santana shoots out in confusion. Why would Brittany want to hold onto it? Everything is changed before her. What’s going on?
“What?” Brittany grins harder and in Brittany’s humor Santana finally sees the bags behind her for what they actually mean. “Why are you laughing? We’re having a moment.”
Brittany is dressed in pyjamas and an old sweatshirt.
“Those aren’t your bags.” Santana directs her whisper seriously to Brittany’s amused face, which promptly shifts to a mixture of pride and happiness.
“No.” Brittany lets Santana unclasp the chain in her hands and circle it around Brittany’s neck with shivering hands. She can feel the tattoo greeting the clasp. Journey.
Brittany’s eyes open once the ring is secured around her neck. “They’re yours.”
There comes a point in life were things can just be accepted easily. Like how good the ring looks against Brittany’s skin. How much Santana is grateful to just be standing within touching distance of Brittany.
How unsurprising it is that Brittany would turn this on it’s head again.
Brittany reaches deep into her pocket. Her messy braid falls over her face. Her freckles are still present. Their silence isn’t uncomfortable or deadly. Brittany is home.
Santana accepts the paper and the book Brittany presents her with. A plane ticket. Passport.
Despite the well of appropriate emotions that she will feel in the aftershock, Santana blushes and looks up at Brittany with a ‘Really?’ expression.
“Not together?” Santana asks although she knows the answer.
Brittany shakes her head and brings her arms around Santana’s neck. So close after so long. It’ll always feel like so long now.
“That would be too easy wouldn’t it?” Santana adds with a little sigh.
The bags behind them are Santana’s. There’s more than just essentials and Santana won’t think that’s fair once she’s rooted through them. There’s no ultimatum to this decision Brittany is giving her. She could easily pass it by and carry on.
The memory of Brittany walking through the door of their apartment after two years looking different, looking ready and looking happy flashes back; it’s a decision she can’t afford to refuse. Not after everything Santana has asked of her in the past.
The promise of a happy ending is hanging around Brittany’s neck. What’s a year or two when you have forever ahead?
“I’ve never been to Italy before.” Santana confesses. Brittany is starting her in the land of pasta, mopeds and Italian football.
The words have barely left her when her mouth is occupied again. Brittany kisses her with the air of finality she remembers from a past life almost. It’s fierce and forgiving. It’s desperate and lazy. They have all the time in the world. Yet Santana’s flight leaves in a few hours.
She’ll taste her on her lips for days.
Blue eyes and wishful thinking pull back and Santana knows ‘This is it.’.
Her words are two years, one month and seven days in the making.
“Send me a postcard.”