Epilogue

6 years later

|Tori|

"Where are we going?"

"Do you need to hear the definition of a surprise again?"

"Maybe."

"Siri, define surprise."

"A noun that means: an unexpected or astonishing event, fact, or thing."

I laugh, blindly reaching for her until her fingers slide like connecting puzzle pieces into the spaces between my own. Pulling her hand back into my lap, I follow the hills and valleys of her knuckles with habitual fondness.

"Since when is Jade West into surprises?" I ask with a cheeky grin. I don't need to see to know she's rolling her eyes at me; blindfold and all, I can perfectly picture her emerald eyes tracing a circle out the windshield.

"I mean, if you don't want the surprise I guess we can just turn around and go home -" The car begins to slow as Jade applies the break, and I think of the place we both call our home: our seaside apartment hugging the shoreline, California sunlight spilling into our room, our bed, our bodies - I think of the animal skeletons on our shelves beside our collection of playbills, a dentist's model of teeth next to a vase of flowers, these two seemingly opposing aesthetics so seamlessly woven together and so normal to me now that they are no longer Jade's things and my things occupying the same space; they are our things in our home.

It is my favorite place in the entire world, but I laugh and raise the back of her hand to my mouth, peppering it with kisses until I hear her laugh.

"No! By all means, romance me."

"Oh, I'm going to romance the shit out of you, Tori Vega."

It's my turn to laugh. She releases my hand and a moment later I find out why - the radio turns up, and when Jade's hand finds mine again she does it in song.

With eternal love, the stars above
All there is and ever was
I want it all, I want it all
I want it all, I want it all

Her voice has always been the siren I can't ignore. I would follow it to the depths of the ocean. Giggling, heart pounding, I fumble to lower the window and sing loud and blind into the wind for anyone around to listen.

A blade of grass, a grain of sand
The moonlit sea, to hold your hand
I want it all, I want it all
I want it all, I want it all

We serenade the street until the song ends, my cheeks sore from smiling. "Are we pleasing the crowd?"

"You don't even know if there is a crowd," Jade says, a smirk in her voice. "For all you know, these past six years have been an elaborate ruse that all leads to this: me driving you out into the desert so I can finally sacrifice you to the Dark Lord."

"Does the Dark Lord enjoy Taco Bell? Because I definitely smell a Taco Bell around here. Wait, is that the surprise? I love Taco Bell."

"My romantic surprise isn't fucking Taco Bell," she says, but she's laughing, and this my favorite of Jade's moods; playful and profane. "You're making me hungry."

"We could always get Taco Bell after the surprise, you know."

"I really am going to dump you in the desert if you don't shut up about Taco Bell."

I laugh and draw a number on the back of her hand. "Six."

"What?"

"Six years." I take a deep breath. "We've been together six years."

"You say that like you can't believe it."

"Can you?"

There are a few beats of silence; it shouldn't be possible, I know, but I can feel her eyes slip away from the road to study me, and even after all this time I still flush under her gaze. Sometimes the weight of her looking at me is enough to wake me from sleep in the gray hours just before dawn. I always try to keep up the illusion that I'm sleeping for as long as possible but I think she knows, anyway, because her hand will find my waist under the covers, following the slope of my hip until I bite my lip and my eyes flutter open. Her face is always softest then, so calm and beautiful that I can't stand it, and when she kisses me it feels like time slows down; when we make love it feels like a dream.

Six years. Simultaneously a lifetime and a blink of an eye; have we already been living together for almost three years? What was life like before her? Surely it was black and white.

Her hand briefly squeezes mine. "It went by fast," she says, but it seems like there is so much more she wants to say.

My head falls back against the seat with a laugh. "Who would have thought that the same girl who poured coffee all over my head -"

"Love at first sight, obviously."

" - would be the same girl to kiss the hell out of me in my bedroom a year later."

"In my defense, you're super hot."

"Maybe it's me putting on the elaborate ruse," I say, giggling. "I've bewitched you with my dashing good looks and now I make you do my bidding."

Jade hums in thought. "You know, it all makes sense now. My mom couldn't get me to do laundry for the life of her, but you and your bisexual black magic has me doing my laundry and yours."

"All in a day's work," I say, leaning over the console between us searching for a kiss, which she quickly obliges.

"Don't make me crash now, we're just about there."

"Can I use my bisexual black magic to make you tell me where we're going?"

"How about you guess?"

"Hmm." I tilt my head. "Jolly Days?"

"Jolly Days isn't for another three months."

"I'm so pleased you know when Jolly Days is."

"It's your fault for dragging me there the past six years."

"Because it's special! Our love was just beginning to sprout at Jolly Days. Don't act like you don't still love the hot air balloons."

"It's not Jolly Days. Try again."

My fingers drum on my lap."The Human Body?"

There's a pause. "That would've been a good idea. But no."

I think in silence. "Are you sure it's not Taco Bell?"

"Alright, time's up. We're here." The car slides sideways as Jade parks and my heart has successfully traveled all the way to my throat. Jade isn't usually this elaborate about things, not even our anniversary or my birthday, and it's neither today. I'm about to ask her for another clue when she abruptly gets out of the car and when the door shuts I'm alone in silence with just the sound of my excited breathing. When my door opens, Jade's hands take mine and slowly guide me out. Wherever we are is relatively quiet; there's light traffic, distant voices, definitely a street of some kind, winding down businesses in the dusk.

"Okay, come around here - there's the curb, step up - okay. Stand right there." I hear her take a breath - is she shaking? "There's a couple rules I need you to follow."

"Okay," I say warily. "Like?"

"No talking. Not a word. That's rule number one."

My eyebrow jumps. "Why - ?"

"Ah, nope. You have to not talk the whole time, okay? You just have to listen. Rule number two, you can't move. There's one more rule."

This is beginning to sound familiar. On the screens of my eyelids I see me, six years younger, straddling Jade's hips on her couch, ordering her to not say a word, to not move, and -

"No touching." She releases one of my hands so she can hold my left in both of hers. "Okay? Nod."

I do so, swallowing hard.

"Okay."

Jade takes another deep, shaky breath. The window blows and tosses my hair. I ache to see her in the setting sun as night begins to crawl over the sky with the moon hanging above her; I want to reach out and take her face in my hands so I can see what she's so nervous about and kiss it away.

I guess I didn't give her credit when I put her through this all those years ago; this is hard. But at least - wait.

"Wait, Jade, are you naked right now?"

"No! We're outside!"

"Well I just wanted to make sure! I understand the reference, okay, and I wanted to make sure that you know I'm, like, not really down with exhibitionism -"

"You are breaking all the rules, shush," she says, laughing, the nerves in her voice now gone. "Just listen. I have to ... I have things I want you to hear."

I nod firmly, mouth pressed shut.

"Tori, I ..." Her thumb moves over my hand. I can feel her watching it. "I love you."

I think of the first time she said that to me; she thought I was still asleep, whispering it into my ear before she slipped into a dream. We tell people that I was the one who said it first because I never told her I was awake. I plan on telling her, someday; I've always imagined I'll tell her when -

My thoughts halt when Jade speaks again. "I've loved you for six years. The best six years of my life. And I know it hasn't always been easy to love me."

"Oh, Jade -"

"Shh," she says, a finger on my lips that traces them when I swallow the words down my throat. "I'm stubborn and easily agitated and I fight with everyone who looks at me sideways. I pushed you away so much in the beginning, I still don't know why you stayed."

Because you amaze me, I want to say. Because you're beautiful and kind and funny, because I found something soft and gentle beneath the scissor blades you wield, because when you kiss me I feel more alive than I've ever been, because I can't imagine being without you.

"When I was lost and heartbroken you took me in, even though I had done nothing to deserve your kindness. You didn't give up on me when I got scared and you stood your ground against my mom when I could barely look her in the eye. Every time I wanted to give up, you were there to catch me, and I ... I couldn't have made it through everything without you. All of the things I hated about you when we first met - your optimism, your tenderness, your ability to see the best in everything - are all things I can't imagine living without now. You are the most incredible person I've ever met and I'm just ... so in love with you."

Tears escape the blindfold. Jade's hands are at my cheeks, brushing them away, and then she's kissing me. Rules forgotten, I wind my arms around her waist and kiss her back like it's the one thing I was born to do.

Her fingers slip behind my head. The bandanna is untied and dropped, forgotten. But I don't see Jade standing in front of me; instead I see a street I've never been to before, stretching out before me and winding away down the slope of a hill. There is a shop beside us whose swirling script in the window I'm too bewildered to read. The sun has nearly set in the west, igniting the sky pink and orange, and I watch as the streetlights lining the sidewalk on either side turn on all at once, illuminating us in a white halo.

I look down. Jade is on one knee at my feet, looking up at me like I alone raise and lower the sun. There isn't an ounce of uncertainty in her eyes; in fact, I've never seen her more sure, more beautiful, ever in my life.

I can't breathe.

"Tori Vega," she says, her voice strong and firm. I don't even register that she's holding my left hand until she squeezes it. "You're the sun to my moon and I want to spend the rest of my life with you." She smiles, and I've never wanted to kiss her as badly as I do right now. "Will you marry me?"

"Yes!" There is nothing else but her growing smile, her standing up to envelope me in her arms, lifting my feet from the sidewalk and spinning me like we're the very center of the universe. "Yes! Yes!"

And just like that, my future isn't my future if Jade is not my wife, if I am not hers.

She laughs, I laugh, and when my feet are on the solid Earth again I kiss her and kiss her like I'll die if I don't.

"I have one more surprise for you," she says, smoothing my hair behind my ears before turning me around to face the shop window I couldn't focus on before. "Rings aren't really my style, so I thought instead, maybe ..."

"Yes." I spin around to face her again, throwing my arms around her neck. "Hell yes."

She grins. "You sure?"

"I've never been more sure in my life. And I know exactly what I'm going to get." I kiss her again to capture the smile on her mouth, branding it into my memory.

Together we walk into the tattoo parlor and at the counter Jade wraps her arm around my waist.

"My fiancee and I have an appointment," she says, and my heart soars.

|Jade|

On the way home, Tori leans her head on my shoulder with her eyes closed as the radio plays a soft song I don't know. Our hands are clasped in my lap. I am acutely aware of my pulse in my wrist, a drum beat.

"What do you think sounds better: West-Vega, or Vega-West?" I ask her, glancing down to catch the smile on her face before her dark eyes open to look up at me.

"Mrs. Vega-West has a nice ring to it," she says. She sits up and turns her hand over so our wrists are side by side. Wrapped under a layer of plastic is the simple, elegant outline of a sun and moon brought together as one on each of our wrists. "Jade's wife sounds even better."

My wife. Tori is going to be my wife.

I don't know that I necessarily believe in fate but I'd be lying if I said it didn't feel like destiny. I watch the road but I'm somewhere else; six years back to the night Beck dropped me off at my house after breaking my heart in a Starbucks parking lot. I see him drive away again. I see myself weighing all of my options, not particularly fond of any of them, and then taking the first step that would put all of this in motion. I see myself drive to Tori's house.

I try to recall the exact moment I knew I was going to marry her, but there are so many; I think of her standing in the heart of The Human Body beside me, or when I flew up her stairs to kiss her desperately in her bedroom - I think of her letting me touch her body for the first time, the look on her face when I asked her to move in with me - but really, if I had to pick the very first time I knew for certain I couldn't forge a future without her in it, it was the night she pinned me to the couch and ordered me to stay quiet and not move and not touch her while she kissed me and begged me to not abandon her, when she pretended to be asleep after we exhausted ourselves between my sheets ... I told her I loved her before I could even think to stay silent. It was as automatic as breathing. I couldn't have stopped myself if I tried. She kept her eyes closed, she feigned a dream, but I could see her breath catch in her chest, watched the corner of her mouth move, and I knew then that she loved me, too.

In the present, I pull up to a red light and stop. Tori leans over and kisses my cheek. "I love you," she says, like she's answering me in the past, six long years ago.

"I love you, too," I say to her now and all of the years after.

If you'd told me six years ago that I'd turn into such a sap, I would've made you swallow razor blades soaked in acid.

We follow the streetlights home.


"The Shade" by Metric is the song used in the beginning.

It's been a long time, y'all. I hope this was a nice surprise. Thanks for reading.