Chapter 76: The Book of Love
Chapter title and soundtrack song: "The Book of Love" by Peter Gabriel
A/N: And thus, my dear readers, we have come to our final chapter. If you haven't done so, please take a moment to thank my betas, the beautiful and courageous terriblemuriel, Mia, Emma's 409 and Sapphic Charmer.
Several people have expressed interest in a bound version of this story. I will be putting one together in the next month and making the link available to purchase, should you wish. I will not be making any profit whatsoever. I just feel more comfortable knowing any "published" version is one I approved. Please give me a few weeks to make final edits. I'll post the link on my Tumblr.
After hearing that first tiny, pinched cry, Santana held their newborn son in absolute awe. When she could see through her tears, she counted his fingers and toes, amazed at how small each digit was. Her own hands felt enormous and clumsy. He was so much smaller than she had imagined. When Brittany reached for him, Santana woke from her trance, realizing Brittany was aching to finally hold their son. She handed him to Brittany, whose relieved sobs turned to sniffles of joy as she held him to her chest, pressing her hand to his back and tilting her head into his. "There you are, there you are..." she whispered. Brittany's face was flushed and sweaty and her hair was matted. Nevertheless, Santana thought she looked perfect. She had never been prouder of Brittany, nor thought her more courageous.
Santana cut the cord despite her fear that it would hurt her wife or her son. After a few minutes, when Brittany had settled, the nurses took their son to be bathed. Judging by his furious cries, he did not like the experience, and Santana's heart clenched hearing it. She almost darted across the room to yank him away from the nurses, but Brittany sensed her tensing and held her arm.
"It's okay," Brittany whispered. "They'll give him back in a minute."
When the baby was handed back in a warm blanket and tiny cotton cap, Brittany took him to her chest to nurse him. Santana held her breath, watching as his head wobbled for just a second before he latched on, snuffling as he sucked, his brow furrowed. Santana's eyes flitted between Brittany's face and the baby's, wondering what it felt like. Brittany peered down at him with a smile on her lips.
"Look at that..." she whispered, grinning as if he had done something extraordinary. "He just knows what to do..."
Santana let out a quiet chuckle. Of course he knew how to nurse; all babies knew how. Still, watching her own child was nothing short of extraordinary.
Brittany patted the bed next to her, gesturing for Santana to lay with her. Santana gave her an unsure look, but Brittany nodded with an encouraging smile. Santana carefully slid onto the bed next to Brittany, being ever so careful not to bump her hip.
"What should we name him, Mama Santana?" Brittany murmured.
Santana grinned at the word. Mama. "You choose, Mama Britt. You did all the work!" she remarked.
"That's not true," Brittany said. "I may have given birth, but we made our family together."
They rested their heads together and looked down at their son in wonder, hoping he would give them some inspiration.
"How about Caleb?" Brittany suggested.
"Caleb..." Santana said, testing how it felt in her mouth.
Brittany nodded, looking Santana in the eyes. "It means whole-hearted."
Santana thought about all the things she wanted for her baby, and what his name could mean, not just for him, but for their little family. From the moment Brittany had gotten pregnant, she had vowed to be the best parent she possibly could. So although she had spent hours secretly looking up names while Brittany slept, whispering names she liked at the computer monitor to see how they felt, she couldn't think of a better name for the child in Brittany's arms.
Santana smiled. "I love it," she said. "Whole-hearted."
"Well, if he's anything like his Mama Santana," Brittany said affectionately, "he'll live up to the meaning."
Santana's chest ached, reminding her all too well that she lived with her whole heart. She didn't know any other way of being. Knowing that Brittany embraced - no, loved - that about her made her eyes sting with tears.
She gave Brittany a watery smile and turned her gaze to the tiny boy in her arms. "Is that your name, little one?" she cooed. "Is your name Caleb?"
The baby kept nursing, his eyes closed in concentration.
"He needs a middle name," Brittany murmured. "Something strong."
Santana was hesitant to suggest the name she had been thinking about in the back of her mind. It seemed selfish, given that Brittany had chosen an original name for their baby. But the name meant strength, at least to Santana.
"Antonio?" Santana suggested, her voice timid, looking at Brittany to gauge her reaction.
Brittany's eyes darted up to Santana as a smile spread across her lips. "That's beautiful," she said. "Caleb Antonio."
Santana was relieved, smiling back at Brittany. "Is that okay?" she asked.
"I love it," Brittany said, her words soft but absolutely confident.
"Caleb Antonio Lopez-Pierce," Santana murmured, listening to the ring of the name as she spoke it.
Just then the infant in Brittany's arms jerked, pulling away from Brittany's breast and opening his eyes for a moment, revealing deep brown eyes with a hint of honey in them. He made a gurgling noise, moving his lips like a fish before rolling his head back to Brittany's breast and taking it in his mouth. Santana and Brittany watched in amazement, still incredulous at their creation.
"I think he said yes," Brittany whispered.
Santana and Brittany looked into each other's eyes.
"Caleb Antonio Lopez-Pierce," Brittany whispered.
They smiled at each other and turned their gaze back to the baby.
"Caleb Antonio Lopez-Pierce," Santana echoed. "That's your name, isn't it?"
Caleb's mouth puckered and he swallowed, as if taking in the name. In the quiet stillness of the room, the sound of his name felt warm and right.
When he had finished nursing, Vickie poked her head in, reminding them there were people anxiously waiting to meet the baby.
"Are you ready for visitors, Britt-bee?" Vickie whispered.
When the Pierces entered the room, they did so with quiet footsteps, the low lighting instinctively telling them to whisper. They all had anxious smiles on their faces as they tiptoed towards the bed where Santana and Brittany sat.
"Hey, darling girl," Gordon hushed, sidling up to the side of the bed. "Who is this handsome guy?" he said, bending down to peer at the baby's face against Brittany's hospital gown.
"This is Caleb Antonio Lopez-Pierce," Brittany murmured, looking down at the sleeping baby in her arms, smiling with pride as her family crowded around her. She looked back up at her dad. "Want to hold him?"
"Of course," Gordon said, eyes wide in delight.
Santana watched as her son was passed delicately from arm to arm. Gordon swelled with pride, his grandson appearing even tinier and more delicate in his arms. Hayley looked almost frightened, yet incredibly happy as she held him, looking back and forth between Brittany and the baby. Vickie cried her usual happy, bursting tears as she held the child to her chest, whimpering, "Caleb... my first grandbaby..."
When Vickie said that, Santana couldn't help but think of Dolores. It was the only mar to the day, knowing her mother wouldn't cry or perhaps even want to hold her perfect little boy if she had been there. But thinking of Dolores reminded Santana that there was someone who did want to meet him, who was proud of her and desperately wanted to hold her son. She ached, wondering for a moment why he wasn't there. But she realized he was probably out in the waiting room, waiting to be invited. He wanted to be respectful of Brittany. As soon as Vickie handed the baby back to Brittany, Santana asked her to tell Antonio it was okay to come in. The Pierces left with big smiles on their faces, relieved and overjoyed that both Brittany and the baby were healthy and safe.
A moment later Antonio peered inside, his face apprehensive. Santana smiled as she beckoned him over. He walked around to Santana's side of the bed, looking at the baby in Brittany's arms.
"Daddy," Santana murmured, putting a hand on his arm. She nodded towards the baby. "This is your grandson."
Antonio's face spread in a smile.
"Do you want to hold him?" Santana asked, still somewhat timid, lifting the baby from Brittany's arms towards her father.
Santana saw Antonio warm from head to toe as the baby was placed in his large, protective arms.
"Hey, little guy," Antonio said with a huge grin. "Hello there, handsome..."
Santana watched her father's eyes as they studied her son from head to toe, taking in the way his fists bunched and his brow wrinkled over his flat little face. Caleb puckered his face like he had tasted a lemon and Antonio chuckled.
"His name is Caleb," Santana offered.
Antonio smiled at the baby in his arms. "Hi Caleb," he cooed, rocking side to side on his feet.
"Caleb Antonio," Santana added.
Antonio stopped rocking, looking up at Brittany and Santana in surprise. Brittany and Santana looked back at him with sincere smiles.
"We wanted to give him a strong name," Brittany said.
Antonio dipped his head down, looking back at the baby, an unreadable expression on his face as he studied the infant in his arms.
"I remember the day you were born, Santana..." Antonio began.
There was a pause and Santana was shocked to see her father wipe his face; he had actually been moved to tears.
"Your mother and I, we were-"
He stopped abruptly, realizing he had brought up the one person who could wipe away Santana's smile. He cleared his throat, glancing up at Santana before looking back down at Caleb. He took a breath, steadying himself before looking back at Santana with confident eyes. "He's beautiful, Santana," he declared. "You should be very, very proud." He looked back down at the baby, his smile turning joyous again. "And - I'm honored to share my name with my grandson."
After all the visitors had left and the nurses had done all the measurements and tests they needed to do, Santana lay next to an utterly exhausted Brittany. Yet no matter how exhausted either of them were, their overflowing pride propped them up, keeping their eyes open for a few minutes longer, memorizing every eyelash, every wrinkle, every dark goose-down hair on their baby's tiny head. Although his face was smushed and he looked grumpy like all newborns, he was rosy and warm as he lay peacefully in Santana's arms.
As he slept, his lips pursed and reopened, sometimes sighing or shuddering, as if the task of breathing were exhausting. Santana supposed it was to him; he had only begun his lifelong rhythm of inhaling and exhaling a couple of hours before. His fingers, fascinatingly tiny, were held in tight fists which occasionally jerked up or out to the side in his blankets. Though his face was wrinkled and serious, sometimes he would raise his eyebrows, as if questioning everything around him in his sleep, and Santana wondered what he was dreaming about. She laid her head back onto the upright bed and tilted it onto Brittany's shoulder, never taking her eyes off the tiny person in her arms.
"He's a miracle, B," Santana murmured, her voice still wavering whenever she tried to talk. "And you were perfect. So brave. I could never have done that."
"Of course you could have," Brittany cooed. "You'd do anything for him."
Santana looked at his tiny, serious face and couldn't think of a single thing she wouldn't do for him. She would have endured all the pain she had seen on Brittany's face - and more - to meet her son. The thought shocked her; she never thought she'd entertain the idea of voluntarily subjecting herself to that much pain. But the child in her arms had changed everything. She didn't think it was possible to love someone so completely or so instantly. She was overwhelmed and felt tears stinging again, blurring her vision, making his outline fuzzier than the blankets wrapped around him. She didn't understand why she was crying; this was supposed to be one of the happiest moments of her life.
Brittany heard Santana sniffle and kissed the top of her head as they looked down at their baby boy. He was the embodiment of possibility; he was just starting his life, and was proof to Santana that she had done something with hers. She had never been prouder of anything.
After a few minutes, Santana began to drift into sleep. She was startled awake by Brittany's whisper.
"Do you know what today is?"
"Hmm?" Santana hummed, opening her eyes.
"Today is the eleven year anniversary of the first time you told me you loved me."
Santana's heart swelled at the thought. At the time she had been terrified and had never felt so hurt in her life. But it had marked the start of a most amazing journey. She remembered it vividly; even the color of the lockers and the chipped tiles beneath her feet, and the way Brittany had tried to hold on to her when she started to crack.
"Uh huh. March eighth, two thousand eleven," Brittany said with a grin.
Santana smiled. "I can't believe you remember the exact date."
"Of course I remember," Brittany cooed. "How could I forget?"
They rested their heads together on the pillow as they looked at Caleb. His tiny torso rose and fell with shallow little puffs of breath. Brittany's eyes fought to stay open as she whispered to him in his sleep, "We're so happy you're finally here, little one. We have been waiting for you for a long, long time... "
Yes, Santana smiled as they drifted into sleep, sometimes the longer way is better.
A/N: When I began drafting this story in March, I was nursing a broken heart and used writing to cope. As I finish editing the final chapter, I am struck by the wonderful changes in my life since then; the people, opportunities, lessons and gifts the past year has brought me truly astounds me. Although this story was written about Brittany and Santana finding their joy, I assure you "Taking the Long Way" has really been about finding mine.
If this story has reached you in any way, please let me know in the form of a review or message. Connecting with others has been the most meaningful part of this experience. I have been so touched by the responses I've gotten, the personal messages, experiences and feelings you have taken the time to share with me. It has meant so much that you cared so deeply about this journey.
This story is dedicated to all the beautiful young Santanas in the world. To everyone still on the rough beginning of their journey, I hope my story has helped you believe that you deserve to have your wildest dreams come true. Because you absolutely do. Every last one of you.
Since you have been such a wonderful audience, and because I'm not ready to say goodbye, I have a surprise for you: if you look on my profile, you will see I have posted the first chapter of thesequel:Me and You and Daisies. Enjoy the first chapter, and once I get back from a much needed "maternity leave," I hope you'll join me as Brittany and Santana continue their journey into motherhood!