Brittany arrives on Remy's door a few days before the end of June, when Princeton is just beginning to warm up and all the students are home for the summer. She doesn't question why her Aunt Phoebe would send her oldest daughter to stay with a woman that had spent a few months of the previous year in prison. She's just grateful for the company, and for the fact that she still has family left that trusts her with someone as important as Brittany.
She'd expects the bubbly blonde girl from a few years before, full of energy and bursting with malapropos, but instead the girl that gets out of the taxi from Newark is quiet. Smiling, but sullen and carrying only a duffel with her high school's cheerleading squad emblazoned on the sides. She gives Remy a hug, her arms wrapping around her ribcage in a way that shouldn't say as much as it does. She squeezes back, her hand running up and down Brittany's spine before she takes the bag from her shoulder and shows her into the building and up to her apartment.
"It's you and me tonight," she says when she puts Brittany's bag in the spare bedroom. "Amy will be by tomorrow so she can meet you. She's really looking forward to it. The last people I introduced her to were Foreman and Taub, and they didn't really leave a very good impression…"
She expects laughter, knowing that Brittany knows about her former coworkers, about House and her job and the shit she had to go through while working there. But Britt smiles shyly and starts going through her bag without a word. The first thing she pulls out, wrapped tightly, delicately in red McKinley High Cheerios towel, is a framed photo of her and another girl, both smiling broadly with their arms wrapped around one another.
Suddenly Remy is all too aware of why her aunt shipped Brittany to her for the summer.
They've never been particularly close, but they're cousins, and family is important. Especially given that she's running short on it lately. After her brother, her aunt had made the funeral arrangements when Remy had been arrested. Despite what she'd done and the punishment she'd received for it, Phoebe had been there. Taking Brittany for the summer was the least she could do to return the favor. But she knows, because she's intuitive and not a complete emotional cripple, that she has her work cut out for her when it comes to Britt.
"What d'you say we get dinner at Hunan and then I take you out for some fun?" she says when Brittany comes into the kitchen a while later. She emphasizes 'fun' and waggles her eyebrows, catching Brittany off guard.
"What kind of 'fun', Remy?"
Despite the fact that it's been months since House went away and she quit Princeton-Plainsboro, she really never gets tired of hearing her real name instead of a number in its place. She grins and snatches her leather jacket off the back of a barstool.
"C'mon. Trust me."
They don't talk much during dinner, but Remy tells Brittany about Amy, and their plan to go to Mykonos. She doesn't mention Huntington's or why she isn't working anymore, focusing on the positive because she knows Brittany is a sensitive sort. Instead she talks about how they met: in a bar, on a bet.
Taub's girlfriend/wife double-pregnancy debacle had been enough of a reason to go drinking, but it was Chase's last night in town and her last night at the hospital to boot, so the three of them went out while Foreman stayed back, ever the rigid, unflappable wall. With House and Cuddy gone, there were things to be taken care of, and if Foreman was good at anything, it was taking care of things.
Chase was drunk in a matter of minutes, giving him an inflated sense of self-worth. Taub took advantage, betting him that Remy could pick up any girl in the bar before Chase could. She'd rolled her eyes, of course, but given Chase's willingness to part with his own money, she allowed them to pick the target. That target, of course, had been Amy.
She expects a blush when she gets gratuitously detailed about their first dance, as sweaty and drunken as it was. A blush, or something other than the heavy sigh of a dejected young girl, anyway. Remy doesn't really have to ask to know it has something to do with the girl in the photograph Brittany had so lovingly unwrapped earlier. But she doesn't push it. She's not the kind to pry. If Britt has something she needs to talk about, she'll talk about it eventually.
She hopes, anyway.
Remy had planned on dinner and then the arcade in the city that had an entire wall of Dance Dance Revolution, but she can see this isn't the kind of night for that. They have all summer for that, for being childish and playing games. Tonight, she thinks, Brittany needs to forget a few things. So she goes against her better judgment and hands her cousin a plastic ID and smirks when Brittany gives her a quizzical look.
"Don't say anything to your mom," she prompts. "Or you'll never be able to see me again. And I have so much to teach you, young Skywalker."
Remy can't help but laugh when Brittany stares at the fake ID and asks, "Skywalker? Are we going hang gliding?"
They aren't, in fact, hang gliding, but when Brittany swallows the remnants of her third martini, Remy is sure her cousin would try it if someone offered. She's surprised that this girl, as tall and muscular as she is, can't hold her liquor better.
They're at a club. One of those dark, dingy basement clubs where people have glow sticks in their hands and E under their tongues. The crowd is mixed, men and women, but Remy knows from experience that everyone is pretty fluid here. She's taken many people back to her loft after a night in this place. It's never gone well the next morning, but that's not what Brittany is here for. There won't be a morning-after to deal with. There will be a tonight, and a tonight only. A tonight where she can lose herself in the beat of the house music, in the sweat and pulse of the crowd. Where a little liquor will help her forget that maybe the last few months haven't been her favorite.
Remy wants Brittany to live, because Remy is so very close to dying.
She's smiling at least, and that's better than she's been since she'd gotten out of the cab. She spins on the ball of one foot, her arms bent daintily in front of her chest, nearly bowling over a heavily intoxicated man to her left. He reaches out to catch her, his hands grazing places Remy knows he wouldn't have need to grab in order to stabilize Brittany. She gets up off her barstool and slips her way between her younger cousin and the man, who holds his hands up defensively. He was just trying to be a Good Samaritan, his look says. He didn't do anything wrong.
Remy may be enabling a teenager, but there are limits. Getting groped by a drunk in a club is the least of them.
Brittany pulls herself away and into the fray, the throb of the crowd melding with the race of her heartbeat as Remy watches her dance. She wants to follow, to throw herself against the men that grind and rub on this innocent girl who only wants to get lost in the music, but Brittany is completely oblivious to their presence. They lose interest and a circle forms around her. Those who want to give her space, to keep out of her way. Those who stop to admire how she moves, so perfectly in time with the music without a real choreography. Like this music is erupting from her chest and not from the subwoofers overhead.
"Remy!" Her name pierces the atmosphere, and around them movement appears to stop, everyone listening to the joy in Brittany's voice. "Remy, come dance with me!"
Her eyes are closed but her hands are out, fingers flexing and reaching, twitching to hold hers, pull her into her bubble and let her remember what joy feels like.
The tips of her fingers, the padded bits that are both soft and firm in their grip, find purchase on her wrists. She's so strong, pulling Remy to her and spinning, letting Remy find the beat with her. Even in the dark, even with everyone watching, Remy finds the steps. She find's Brittany's current, that wave she's riding, and together they dance. They find joy where there had been none.
God, it's been so long.
She helps Brittany into bed, taking her ankle in one hand and pulling her shoe from her foot with the other. Brittany sways drunkenly, but still she smiles. Her eyelids droop, heavy and tired. Remy lays her down, placing a pillow under her head and pulling her legs up and under the quilt. She expects silence, for Brittany to drift off, but her hand reaches out, index finger grazing the framed photo that sits by the bed.
"I love her."
Remy watches as the sleepy-drunk face shifts, and Brittany's eyes open wide with the awe of her own words. Love. She loves that girl in the photograph. She loves her dark hair and matching eyes, the way she can drape her arm so comfortably around her shoulders. The way their bodies fit together like the universe's only perfect puzzle. Remy watches, and wishes she could call Amy, just to show her the way that her cousin looks at a photograph. So she can look at Amy that way, and remind herself that what little time she has left is going to mean something to someone.
"I know you do, Britt." She kneels by the bed and takes it in as Brittany studies that photograph like a painter would the Mona Lisa. Like someone seeing her life's inspiration.
"She loves me, too." It's barely a whisper, the power of sleep overtaking Brittany's desperate need to keep staring at the girl in the photo. "But she's so scared, Remy. How do I make her not be scared to love me?"
The question stops her short, and she closes her eyes. She finds Brittany's hand and holds it tight, bringing the knuckles to her lips and kissing them. She'd been wrong about why Brittany was here. She'd assumed she was struggling with a kind of love she didn't understand. She should have known better.
Brittany loves without condition, and she doesn't fear it, no matter what form it comes in. She never has. What scares her is the idea of someone unwilling or unable to love her in return.
Remy crawls over Brittany's limp body and sits up in the double bed, her back against the headboard. She gently rolls her cousin toward her, away from the picture that's paining her. She pulls Brittany's head into her lap and strokes her blonde hair softly from her eyes, which have fallen closed.
She knows first-hand how precious time can be. How you think there's an infinite amount of it until there isn't anymore. Her hand trembles as if on cue, and she steadies it against Brittany's forehead. To tell her that time will heal things, that this girl will come around in time, isn't fair. She chews on her lip, wishing Amy were there to hold her, still the tremors, still the racing of her heart as she realizes once again that her future can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
"You tell her everyday, Britt," she says, watching as Brittany fades slowly with each word. "You show her how much love means, how much it fixes things that that seem unfixable and, if it can't fix it, it sure as hell makes it seem survivable."
With one hand on Brittany's head and the other on her back, Remy breathes in, exhales out. Counting these breaths. The few she has left.
"You make her afraid of not loving you."