Hey, everyone. Glee has become a recent obsession of mine, so this is my first attempt writing for this fandom :) Oneshot, inspired by personal experience, so apologies if it's self-indulgent. Please review and leave constructive criticism!
No one calls at 3:18 A.M. with good news. It's practically a proven fact of life, just like the earth was round or the summers were hot or that Brittany loved cats. So when Santana's phone rings at precisely 3:18 A.M. and jerks her unceremoniously out of sleep, she should've known something was terribly wrong.
At 3:18 a.m. Santana wakes with a start and bolts upright in bed, fumbling over her own limbs before locating the rattling phone on the oak nightstand. It's dark, her head is throbbing, and all she can think is Christ, I thought I turned the damn thing off. It's not like she was actually see anything, soshe reaches over the Brittany-sized lump under the sheets and gropes around for the phone, finally grabbing it and squinting blearily at the Caller I.D. It's her mother.
With a groan, Santana pushes the hair away from her eyes and flips open the phone, her hand instinctively reaching down to stroke Brittany's hip through the comforter, seeking reassurance. The sleeping girl stirs, but doesn't wake, and for a moment Santana wishes that she had. She hadn't survived being top bitch at McKinley High for no reason; if nothing else, she knew when shit was about to hit the fan and when it did, how to turn the tide in her direction. So when a growing nervousness begins to gnaw at Santana's stomach she forces it down, swallowing the uneasy lump in her throat before speaking.
"Santana, I'm sorry to wake you up so early, I know you were probably asleep-"
She cuts off her mother's rambling with a few terse words.
"It's okay. What's the matter?"
There is hesitation before her mother's voice comes back on the line, achingly heavy and thick with what sounds like tears.
"Santana, darling, I'm sorry, I'm so, so sorry-"
"Mom? What's wrong, what's happened?"
Santana feels the panic rise like bile in her mouth, souring her palate and squeezing her throat shut.
"Is Brittany with you?"
"Sí, mamí, now what the fuck is wrong?"
Her voice rises sharply and the lump beside her shifts, revealing a sleepy-eyed Brittany, long golden locks spread every which way. She sees Santana and her eyes widen at the girl's frantic expression and crushing grip on plastic casing of her phone. Is everything okay? She mouths, but Santana only jerks her head back and forth, her nails digging into her thigh with a force that made Brittany wince, as if she felt it herself. She reaches out for Santana's hand and the tremble moves to Brittany as well.
"Please, just go to another room before I say this. Please."
Santana turns, wide-eyed, to Brittany's quizzical gaze, and her mind races for an explanation. Had her mother found out about the two of them? Were they going to kick her out? Would she be shipped off to military camp- or, Christ, some church rehabilitation program? Therapy with a priest? Her survival instinct kicks in (thank you, high school) and she begins to make plans and assess resources even as she gets out of bed, giving Brittany a gentle squeeze of the shoulder and whispering "I'll be back" before sliding into the bathroom and closing the door.
Quickly, she maps out her options like an assassin laying out her tools.
I have the car, I have the keys. The engine's practically full. Its summer, people are hiring- a job, I can totally get a job at a Hooter's somewhere, courtesy of my father. And even if this backfires and they send me away, they can't touch Brittany. I won't let them touch Brittany.
Reassured, Santana sits shakily on the toilet seat.
"Okay, I'm alone. Does this have something to do with Brittany? Is that why you're calling?"
"Then what is it?"
Her mother is trying to stall, she can tell.
"Santana, your grandmother-"
Santana's entire body snaps upright, and her fingertips turn white as they grip the porcelain. No.
"She died in her sleep last night, honey, they said it was peaceful…"
"Her home nurse found her this morning when she didn't get up- god, I'm so sorry."
She opens her mouth and words escape, but she doesn't know from where or how and fuck, she doesn't even sound like herself anymore.
"Mom- I can't…How?"
No, NO! Fuck, this can't be happening…
"I don't know, sweetheart. Just please, get Brittany or someone else to drive you home right now, okay? I love you."
She hangs up before her mother can respond. She takes a step towards the door, and then her legs give way and she almost collapses. The only thing that stops her from hitting the tile is her grip on the sink.
She can't breathe.
Last night she'd been with fooling around with Puck. Last night she'd been arguing with Brittany over the true nature of their relationship. Last night she'd gone to bed pissed and frustrated and trying not to cry when Brittany, furious, insisted on sleeping on the floor rather than with Santana on the bed. Last night she'd made the most sincere apology of her life, whispering "I'm sorry" over and over again until at last Brittany slipped under the sheets beside her and pulled her into a forgiving embrace.
Last night she had been terrified of losing Brittany- and last night her grandmother had died.
How fucking ironic.
The compression comes from nowhere, fast and furious, and her body quakes before she can get a grip on herself and make the room stop spinning. Her fists clench and unclench. There is nothing in her mind but white noise and a tightening grip in her chest, squeezing until her breath comes in gasps. She has never been more aware of her heartbeat as it expands to fill her body, making everything pulse in time to her throbbing head. She's gripping the sink so hard she half expects her hands to leave permanent dents.
This was not how things were supposed to go.
Oh God, it's Britt.
"Santana? Are you okay?"
The numbness begins to set in and she can't bring herself to answer, sweeping up her phone from the floor where she dropped it and gripping the doorknob. She hesitates for a second before pushing it open.
Brittany's face changes from confusion to panic when Santana opens the door, head bowed and hair tangled, eyes blank and empty.
She composes herself as best she can and rehearses the sentence in her mind before saying it.
"My grandmother died, Britt."
Her voice almost cracks, because saying the words was already hard enough. But seeing Brittany's face fall and her hands reach out for Santana is too much to bear. She shifts and misses Brittany's touch by inches, grabbing her overnight bag from the dresser to avoid her best friend's eyes.
"I'm sorry, I need to go home-"
"Yeah, of course."
Santana scrambles to find the rest of her things; purse, clothing, shoes. It's all routine and its distraction enough to push her thoughts away before they could push her off the edge. Survival mode. As long as she kept moving, she didn't have to think.
Brittany hands her a forgotten sock and follows her down the stairs and out the door, never once taking her eyes off Santana's face. Santana can feel her gaze but doesn't return it, making her way to her car without ever once looking back.
Suddenly Brittany's hand is on the door and she is forcing Santana to focus, something she desperately needs not to do.
"Let me drive you."
"It's fine, I can drive myself home."
"Santana, you're sad and it's early, I don't want you to get hurt-"
"I said no!"
Brittany falls back, silently, and Santana curses herself when she hears a sniffle. Fuck.
Coldness. Rejection. Pushing people away. It's a defense mechanism, she tells herself again. But even knowing the fact doesn't stop her from retreating, apologizing silently with a kiss to Brittany's forehead and nothing else.
"Britt. You need to stay."
Brittany bites her lip and lays a soft hand on the crook of Santana's elbow, grip tightening until Santana finally looks up at her best friend. Even the heart-broken look on Brittany's face isn't enough to stop her.
"Call me, okay? Anytime, doesn't matter."
Three days pass.
The day of the funeral comes and Santana sees Brittany's family among the mourners, dressed in black and giving their condolences to her family, watching the priest and pallbearers bringing the casket in. She sees Brittany straining and searching through the crowd for her, sees her best friend chew on her nails nervously and ask her mother for the umpteenth time where she was. Santana hides behind marble pillars and family members, her head bowed and her hands busy with anything that she could find- wilting flowers, handshakes, wadded-up Kleenex left in the women's bathroom . But she can't hide when her mother, weeping, find her and guides her to the front, near the pulpit, to "say her goodbyes".
Everyone in the universe turns to watch her, it seems, and she reaches out with a trembling hand to touch the heavy casket is dark mahogany and she knows her grandmother wouldn't have approved; she liked brightness and color and had even coaxed Santana into painting her garage a soft green tone one summer. With Brittany, of course. Always with Brittany. They'd gotten more paint on themselves than the garage.
There wouldn't be a summer like that again. Ever.
The numbness wears away all at once (it's shocking how everything sharpens so cleanly, like looking through a lens that's suddenly gone into focus) and she can feel Brittany's stare burning through the back of her neck, through her skin.
This, then, was reality. The reality where her grandmother was dead and her best friend was being ignored and she was standing in front of a priest, in front of the entire fucking congregation, lying to herself. A scenario she never imagined ending happily. She wants to throw a fit right then and there, scream and sob and demand that they bring her back. She wants to make promises to go to church for the rest of her life and fuck, become a nun if that was what it took to bring her back.
But she couldn't do that. She couldn't leave Brittany.
Santana clasps a hand to her mouth before a cry can escape and whirls around to disappear back into the crowd.
But then Brittany, oh sweet Brittany. Santana takes one glance at her and she looks so lovely and stricken and worried, looking like she might rush forward and grab hold of Santana at any moment, and Santana remembers. Remembers everything she'd been agonizing over for three days, and it all looms so high and insurmountable over her that she feels penned in, an animal being fattened for the slaughter. This, she doesn't know how to deal with.
It's a fight or flight response. Fighting death? She'll never win that one.
So she flees. Away from the casket, her family, the massive stained-glass Jesus mocking her from the pulpit and the disapproving priest with a Bible in hand. She runs towards the first exit she sees, bursting through the double doors and simply running with no direction. She doesn't care.
But through the sound of her pants and the muffled roaring in her ears she can still hear the sound of a pair of heels, clicking against the marble, chasing after her.
Brittany's faster but Santana has desperation pumping through her legs. She turns the corner and goes for the nearest doorknob, a powder room, and slams the door shut with a loud crash. Thump! A second later the poor door is hit again, this time by a body.
Santana pushes herself against the wall and clutches it, trying to get a grip, but there is none. The urge to destroy something rears its ugly head and she searches frantically for something to take the anger out on, something to She can't punch Brittany, of course- that would go against her very nature. But she can punch other things, and the plaster wall feels her wrath again and again, until her hands are one big trembling ache and she can hear her best friend begging her to stop. God, Brittany can't do anything but listen to her beat the shit out of the wall and fuck, why am I so stupid?
How long has it been? Minutes, hours? She doesn't know.
Brittany is unrelenting with her pleas for Santana to come out, and for an instant Santana wishes that she was alone. Maybe it would make this whole process easier.
She hears Brittany' body slide down the door and watches her fingers try to poke underneath the crack.
"I'm not leaving, Santana."
Fuck, she wasn't supposed to say that.
"I'm not leaving."
And just like that, Santana is cried out. Her fists ache and her head hurts and she's so fucking tired of it.
Everything falls limp; her mind, her body, her fading sniffles. Like someone had come and pulled the plug on her anger, letting it all spill out her body and down the drain. He body mimics Brittany's as she weakly sinks to the ground, pulling her knees to her chest and resting her head on them.
She reaches up and the lock clicks open. Brittany's fingers disappear and the first thing Santana sees is a flash of blonde hair before Brittany's face was in front of her, taking in everything that Santana had tried to hide from her.
"It's okay. You don't have to talk about it."
But Santana shakes her head. If she doesn't do this now she'll never get the courage again, and Brittany deserves an explanation. Her breath and her words leave her all at once.
"She was the only one I was sure of."
A look of confusion crosses Brittany's face, and Santana sighs before leaning back against the wallpaper.
"She would've listened to me, Britt. You knew her- she would've accepted me, accepted us- I'm sure of it. I made all these plans to tell her, I had all these opportunities; but all my stupid lame-ass excuses got in the way and now-" She presses up a little tighter into the corner and turns her face away from Brittany.
"What am I supposed to do?"
Brittany, for once, seems at a loss for words as she digests the information. Santana settles for wiping her nose on her sleeve (in a completely unladylike fashion) and curling her hands into fists over her knees, looking at a helpless Brittany with swollen eyes.
"God, she wasn't even that fucking Catholic. Did she ever once go to church? Did she ever try to convince us to go to church?" She doesn't quite know why she brings up that line of conversation, but it's a temporary reprieve from talking about her feelings, which she cannot do. Santana Lopez doesn't talk about feelings, she acts on them.
Brittany doesn't take the bait.
And then the silence is back.
Santana coughs and wipes her face with the back of her hand.
"She loved you too, y'know. She said-" Santana laughs bitterly at the memory- "She said you were a good influence on me."
At that, Brittany's mouth opens and a look comes onto her face; Santana knows that look, she's seen it when Brittany finally understood a math problem or figured out a particularly tricky bit of choreography. It was usually followed by a tackle to the carpet and a bone-crushing hug that made Santana would never admit to liking. So when her best friend scoots closer and stops a few inches away, she's disappointed and surprised- but not for long.
"Remember that summer, when we went to stay with her in Virginia? We were eight, I think."
Santana manages a smile.
"How could I forget? I loved that place. You were so excited when your parents let you come with me."
"Yeah, and we swimming in the creek, with the ducks and the minnows."
Santana snorts and wrinkles her nose at the memory.
"You went swimming, I stood on the bank and made sure the little monsters didn't eat you or something."
Brittany laughs softly.
"C'mon, you had fun at that creek too. We brought an old Mason jar…"
"and I caught fireflies, but you made me let them go so they could grow into those glow-in-the-dark butterflies on your ceiling." Santana finishes, nudging a giggling Brittany with her knee.
"She gave me two dozen more the next day. They're still above my bed."
"Oh! And on the last day she let us crack open that watermelon in the driveway and eat it with our hands."
Brittany takes Santana's hand and strokes it, as if wiping away any sticky watermelon residue that was still there after seven years. She rubs over the bruising knuckles, and traces the spaces between each digit with her fingertips. She holds Santana's hand in both of hers like delicate glasswork and presses their palms together.
The tenderness snaps Santana's last reservation and she's crying again, fuck, and it feels so goddamn pathetic to be giving up after three days of avoiding this very scene, but she does it anyway. She takes one look at Brittany and… she does it anyway.
Arms find their way around her and she is so caught up in everything Brittany that she forgets to breathe. Her best friend's body is warm and protecting and encompassing, untainted by baby powder and stale church dust that Santana must smell like. She feels safe enough to let herself sink a little into the embrace, safe enough to wrap her hands in loose fabric and let the grief flow out of her.
No reservations. No caring about looks or gossip, that Santana Lopez was sobbing on the floor of a goddamn church bathroom with her grandmother locked away in a casket. In a town where loving a girl who loved her back was a one-way ticket to a living hell, regardless of popularity.
"She told me to take care of you." She finally murmurs against Brittany's neck.
She feels the girl's lips turn up into a smile and a gentle kiss is placed on her hair.
"She told me that too."
This time, the silence is peaceful without being suffocating and Santana feels her pulse slowing, calming down; Brittany tends to have that effect on her.
"Remember the time we went hiking that first day, and I tripped?"
A shiver runs up Santana's spine at the memory.
"Yeah, and scraped all the skin off your knee too- I swear to God, I could see white underneath all the blood. Fuck, Brittany, you have no idea how terrified I was."
Brittany nods and looks down at their hands, still entwined, her blonde hair enshrouding her face so Santana can't see her expression.
"Well, I never told you this, but…"
Santana's eyebrows shoot up.
"When you panicked and ran back to the house for gauze, she…she kissed my knee and told me that love could make any hurt go away."
Then Santana is suddenly aware that Brittany is crying too, silently, given away only by a slight tremble in her voice and a few tears along her jaw. It's a sight she's only ever seen a few times before, but it's been years- and it hasn't gotten any easier to bear. She forgets her own grief for a moment and automatically leans forward, her lips already forming words of comfort. It should have been a capital crime to make Brittany cry, she thinks. But then Brittany looks up and smiles at Santana through a film of tears, a hopeful note entering her voice.
"And she was right. She made it hurt less. She made it better."
I've never shown you before, but I can be the strong one sometimes.
Brittany brings Santana's hand up to her lips like a prince, kissing it gently before folding her own strong fingers around her best friend's. Her blue eyes are liquid and Santana feels like she could forget about everything and just breathe again if she tried hard enough.
I've never shown you…
"So where does it hurt, San?"
A sob rips itself out of Santana's chest and a tiny, choking laugh escapes her throat as Brittany's words lift her up and bring her crashing down at the same time. Brittany waits patiently, rocking back on her heels. The grief surges up with a vengeance, again, and Santana tangles her hands in her hair as helplessness threatens to overwhelm her. She thumps a fist against her chest and motions crazily towards her head.
"Here, here. Everywhere, I can't understand-I'm sorry-"
Brittany scoots even closer and places a gentle hand over Santana's heart, presses her lips to her collarbone and then her brow, moves up to stroke the moisture away from her trembling face. Santana's eyes close and the tears spill themselves out from under her eyelids. Brittany kisses those away too.
I can be the strong one.
Santana tastes salt and smells Brittany's shampoo all around her, pulling her closer and sliding her palms over her shoulders and down her spine, searching for solidity and something permanent to hold onto.
Brittany kisses Santana's cheeks, nose, temples, eyelids- and then pulls back to breathe over Santana's damp lips, her whisper almost too soft to be heard.
"Then I'll love you everywhere, anywhere. However long it takes."
Then Brittany's lips press against hers and Santana responds, cupping her love's face in her hands (because she knew now that this was love and she had been so fucking foolish to believe it was anything else) and kissing her as if to leave an impression of their love on herself, on Brittany. Because Brittany was here, Brittany was hers, and Brittany was willing to dilute the pain to make it easier to bear. It was going to be difficult, but she imagines a little blonde child believing a kindly grandmother's words and she can't help but want to believe too.
And then, she knows, the loneliness within her will begin to heal.