Epilogue: I Carry Your Heart (I Carry It In My Heart)

For Hester, who just gets me.

It's late. Judging by the way the whole world has stilled, far later than I intended on sitting at this desk. The usual din of passersby on the street below has calmed. Even the car horns, an ever-present fact of life in New York City, have been silenced by the night. Any time you're up late enough to hear nothing in a city like this one, you know you've been awake too long.

And yet here I sit, perched on a second-hand chair, illuminated only by the light of my computer screen that rests on a second-hand table. My mind is restless, yet not ill at ease. I simply cannot turn off. It's nothing new. Since beginning this endeavor I've fought the battles of the past all over again. Telling this story was never meant to be easy, but perhaps I underestimated the toll it would take on me. Reliving these old wounds means reopening some of them that had long since healed. It would be one thing if I was only torturing myself, but I have others to think about now. Other lives to consider, that could be hurt in so many ways with one word out of place. I have said so much already. Now that it's finished, I wonder if I've really even said anything. The end of this story is merely the beginning, after all.

How appropriate, Santana says, to end at the beginning. Because all the exposition leading to the climax and subsequent denouement was the story you were interested in hearing. The dirty, gutting version of what I call truth. To end here, when the drama recedes into the background and the true horror of monotony begins, that is a blessing for you.

You don't want to hear about the six months we spent apart; the awkward phone calls that were limited to just minutes and always ended in, "I'm proud of you," until pride couldn't overshadow what we really meant. You don't want to hear about the indirect love letters emailed to Kurt, who read and responded patiently, but to this day doesn't forgive me for the images I placed in his head. You don't want to hear about my return to Lima, or the way Erica carried the first box into my mother's house and embraced Santana as a friend.

You certainly don't want to hear about the hours Santana and I spent making love that first night. In my familiar bed, we relearned the curves of one another's body, like the lines of an old forgotten poem. Memorized and recited with flicks of tongue against tongue.

No, you don't want to hear all that.

You want the viscera. The blood – my blood – poured out, so willingly and graciously given. I offer it to you, and hope that might take from it strength. I imagine the road has not been an easy one to follow. My memory is suspect at best. Santana says that my details are clear, as far as her portion of our story is concerned. But I cannot help but question whether these things actually happened.

Could I really have made so many mistakes?

And how is it, among all those wrong decisions, that I managed to make one that was – and remains to be – so perfectly right?

Santana sleeps soundly these days. Her once fitful dreaming has calmed and when she wraps herself around me in the dark, those unspoken things between us cause no distress. We rather enjoy knowing that, with one look, we know what the other is thinking.

Five years is a lifetime to an addict. I count every hour of every day knowing that these are hours that I might have lost. Hours that I have lost. Hours that I have to make up for. Amends – the ninth step – is more than telling those whom you have failed, "I'm sorry." Amends is action, definable and tangible. Amends is comfort and correction. All the words in the world mean nothing if their sincerity – in theory, practice and application – is lost once they've been spoken.

Five years, and I spend every day of it making amends for my indiscretions. To Santana, who has long since forgiven me. To my family, who would rather I move forward and begin a family of my own than dwell on the problems of my past. To my friends, who can tell me in their unbiased opinions that getting to know me off drugs was more rewarding than any stupid thing I said to make them laugh while I was high. But mostly, to myself, because I must prove every day that my life was worth saving. I'd hoped that, by telling this story, I could make my life mean something.

Now, across our studio apartment, Santana is shifting in her sleep. Soon her hand will caress the side of the bed that belongs to me and whine, feeling it cold. That will be my cue to return to her, slip quietly beneath the blanket, and let her arm fall gracefully across my chest. She'll pull me to her and smile without opening her eyes, then ask what time it is. I'll want to lie, ease her worry, but we made a promise many years ago about lies, even lies that spare pain. Her forehead will crease when I tell her how late it is, but I will press my lips to those wrinkles, deepening as she ages and we have more to worry over, and she'll still against me. Other nights, I would tell her simply, "I love you, go back to sleep." Tonight, though, I have more worth saying.

When I crawl into our bed, I'll press my face to her neck and trail my lips along her skin, coaxing her into wakefulness. "I've finished," I'll whisper, my breath warm against her ear. "It's done."

Perhaps she'll open her eyes, blinking sleepily. Perhaps her hand will find the small of my back because she knows what that means for us. She might pull me tighter, her lower lip stuck between her teeth, expectant and waiting. I made another promise when I began this, and she'll know I'm going to follow through. I'll reach over into my bedside table and pull out the black velvet box from beneath a pile of bills. She'll start to cry, and I'll kiss away those happy tears as I slip the ring on her finger.

Five years is a lifetime to an addict. Tonight, I'm going to ask her to spend the next twenty lifetimes with me.

A/N: This has been an amazing run, everyone. I love you all so much. Thank you.