late August, 2016
When someone persistently kept knocking, even after at least three people had yelled ‘come in’ in the general direction of the door, Santana subtly pushed at the girl on her lap and moved to get up.
“It’s my door,” she purred when the girl whined in protest. “Just—just gimmie a minute to answer it, okay? I’ll be right back.” She slid away with a wink, weaving through bodies to get to the entrance of her apartment just as the sharp rapping took up again. Santana allowed herself a moment of satisfaction at the festivities going on in her home before swinging open the door and stopping all passage of time in an instant.
On her doorstep—twitchy and nervous, but still gorgeous as ever—stood Quinn Fabray, complete with a look of shock like she had been the one to knock on Quinn’s door or something. Santana took a slow deep breath and waited for her heart to sink back down from her throat. She hadn’t deliberately entertained thoughts of her ex in quite a while, the memories locked down to their own special box out of the way—much like the stuffed pony tucked back in her closet.
They stared at each other in loaded silence, both blinking without speaking for a few heartbeats. Santana recovered first and broke the trance, tossing a quick glance over her shoulder before stepping out into the hallway and closing the door.
“Hey. I, uhm. I wanted to congratulate you.” Quinn’s voice was thin and she cleared her throat, gaze darting to Santana’s feet, then hands, and then her own fingers before trying again. “For the—on graduating.” Santana watched as Quinn’s eyes closed, a hand drifting up to rub at her forehead as she chuckled nervously. “I’m sorry, I probably shouldn’t have come.”
Dark brows arched at her, the silent ‘get on with it’ prompting her to say her piece and flee as quickly as possible. Rachel was wrong, this was a terrible idea, obviously.
“I just wanted to congratulate you on graduating, and, I—I wouldn’t be here, except... well, I was at the ceremony, too, and,” Santana furrowed just slightly as she watched Quinn fluster, the vulnerable state one she had rarely seen on the blonde. It was curious not only for being uncharacteristic, but also in a weird sort of Discovery channel way. “I didn’t want to, like, ruin your moment or something.”
Hazel eyes met Santana’s briefly before jumping away, the brunette’s features impassive.
“So you decided to ruin my party, instead?” She closed her eyes as soon as the words left her mouth, snapping her jaw closed and shaking her head at herself. “Reflex, I don’t mean that.” Santana inhaled deeply and opened her eyes. Quinn was looking straight down, shoulders slumped and the fingers of one hand spinning a ring on the other. She looked more delicate than Santana remembered—less intimidating, less powerful—like some of her jagged edges had been rounded off.
“Where’s Rachel, anyway?” The blonde’s head snapped up at the unexpected question, eyes wide before she looked down again, spinning the ring faster.
“Uh. Well, she..” Quinn sputtered on the words and Santana rolled her eyes with a teasing smile.
“What happened to your eloquence?” Even though the pink flush of her cheeks answered for her, Quinn hadn’t denied the implication. Santana sighed, looking at the chipping paint of her door frame and picking at it with her fingernail while she gathered words.
Half a year wasn’t a long time, but introspection changes people and Santana was far from the mess that had moved out of their apartment six months earlier. The aching sense of betrayal—the constant third party to their relationship—didn’t bite when she looked at the blonde standing in front of her.
There was a calm sense of contentment when she realized that it hadn’t for a while now.
“Look, Quinn...” she shifted her feet and crossed her arms over her chest, uncertain of what she should share. “You don’t—I’ve made my peace... y’know, with us.”
The words ricocheted around in Santana’s mind touching against all her resentments, testing themselves for honesty. Quinn watched in silence as her eyeline fixed to a spot on the wall and unfocused, memories clouding the dark brown and giving her a haunted look. Something clicked and the ghosts swimming in her eyes cleared in an instant, her gaze snapping to Quinn with certainty.
“You two, it’s like—you work.” She nodded with the words and Quinn met her eyes, tentative hope shining out from the hazel as they searched for any guile. “And I mean, you look good, Quinn. Healthy.” The blonde looked at the ring again, spinning it absently with a soft smile that warmed a piece of Santana leftover from a different life.
“You’re gonna make me say it out loud, aren’t you?” The brunette grinned good-naturedly when Quinn looked up, her smile turning mildly puzzled. “She’s good for you.” Santana’s tone was quiet and sincere and a burst of warmth flared in Quinn’s chest to hear it, sparking a bright grin she couldn’t contain.
“She wanted to come, y’know, but I didn’t think it was a good idea. She’s always liked you, San.”
“I was so concerned, thank god, I can sleep once more.” The dryness was as heavy as Santana could make it, a dark brow quirking at Quinn. The blonde’s chin dipped shyly, accepting the jibe. “Listen, do you wanna come in from a drink?”
Quinn suddenly wore the stricken expression of a deer in the headlights and Santana felt simultaneously amused and insulted that her offer was being mistaken for a come-on.
“Ha! Don’t flatter yourself, blondie—been there, had that—” she scoffed, “I mean ‘cause this is actually my graduation party.” Her smile was sarcastic without fangs, gently prodding at Quinn.
“A room full of people that love you and know me as the bitch that broke your heart?” Quinn shifted uncomfortably with a tight imitation of a smile. “As fantastic as that sounds, I think I’ll pass.” Santana shrugged, trying and failing almost completely at looking nonchalant at the rejection.
“Suit yourself, I mean, whatever.” She shook her head and waved her hand in a dismissive flip. “I just meant because you were here, and—”
“Nonono!” Quinn cut in earnestly. “I really do want to catch up with you!” Santana scoffed at the backtrack, crossing her arms over her chest defensively and looking away. Quinn’s voice was smaller in her next breath, the sentiment uncomfortably self-revelatory. “I’ve really missed you, Santana, believe it or not.” The blonde shifted her weight again anxiously and cleared her throat before glancing up at Santana. “Hey... can we, maybe sometime,”
When the pause went from understandably shy to extended and awkward, the brunette raised her eyebrows in silent prompting.
“I dunno, d’you think we could get some coffee or something?” The invite tumbled out of Quinn, a wince passing over them both at the words for different reasons.
“I uh... I’m actually moving to L.A. next week.” Santana watched in interest as Quinn just blinked owlishly back at her, mouth opening and closing twice before she gathered herself and nodded, her chin dropping. Quinn’s lips pulled into a thin line as she played with her own fingers again.
“You and Britt, huh?”
A small part of Santana ranted in outrage at the sadness in Quinn’s voice, because really, after everything? She had no right to be sad at any of it. She warred momentarily with whether or not to correct the blonde’s assumption, eventually letting the simplicity of honesty win out over petty nastiness—even though it would’ve been satisfying to some repressed dark part of her.
“Nahh.” Santana waited until hazel eyes snapped to hers before continuing. “Been there, had that, too.” She grinned saucily and winked, Quinn giving a small chuckle in response. “I just...” The pause dragged out as Santana inhaled deeply, picking out just the right statement to give the decision the appropriate weight. “Need a change of scenery.”
They both stood awkwardly for a few moments, nodding and shifting gazes around everything in the brief stretch of hallway except each other while they processed the emotions between them, neither sure of what to say.
“I should get back—”
“I should go—”
Santana laughed and Quinn smiled with a blush staining her cheeks.
“Right, well,” Santana started, watching the blonde draw her lower lip between her teeth as she argued something with herself. The next thing the brunette knew, she was wrapped in a tight hug with Quinn’s familiar-but-not cocoa butter and sandalwood scent surrounding her, words she had waited years to hear breathed earnestly over her ear.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everything, San.” The raw sincerity in Quinn’s voice made Santana glad she couldn’t see the girl’s eyes, the intensity she was sure burned from them was penetrating enough in memory. “I need you to know that I always loved you.” Santana’s eyes popped wide at the whisper before squeezing closed on the unexpected sting of tears as Quinn continued, her arms tightening around Santana’s neck. “Even when I didn’t show it well.”
Santana blinked in bewilderment, her hands barely touching the material of Quinn’s shirt at her hips. They hovered unsure over the fabric while she struggled with this collision of who they used to be with who they were in this moment. In all her self-repair, she’d never anticipated how hearing those words would actually feel.
Quinn squeezed again before drawing back slowly, watching her own hands as she trailed them down over thin shoulders and arms to clasp with Santana’s. She stared at the tan fingers held in her pale grip; the blended skin tones reminded her of Rachel and she felt a rush of confidence and warmth wash over her at the thought.
“You deserved better.” Quinn dipped down to chase Santana’s gaze, her voice strong. She squeezed the fingers between her own for emphasis. “You did.” Santana choked out a ‘tch,’ pulling her hand away to wipe at her nose with a sniffle.
“See, I was right. She’s good for you.” Santana’s smile was teary-eyed at Quinn’s furrowed brows. “I don’t think I heard that much honesty outta you in one breath the entire time we were together.” Quinn laughed at her own expense and let herself be pulled into another quick hug. Santana stepped back from the embrace, her lips quirking in a bittersweet smile as she pushed gently at Quinn’s shoulder.
“A’right, enough mushy shit. G’wan, get outta here.” They both sniffled, Santana wiping the heel of her hand across her eyes to remove the welled-up tears. “You’ve got Streisand I’m sure just counting minutes ‘til she dials 9-1-1..” Santana took another step back and raised her arms, “and I’ve got shots waiting for me, ‘cause I’m a graduate, bitch!” She pumped her fist with the shout.
Laughing at the display, Quinn shook her head and rolled her eyes as she turned to walk down the hallway. At the sound of her name echoing after her, she paused a few feet from the elevator to turn around.
“Don’t be a stranger.” Santana’s eyes twinkled with the weighted statement, all the other implications of the request hanging in the empty space between them. They shared the glance for several heartbeats before Quinn nodded slowly, turning back to the elevator and stepping inside.