She's thin; it's the first thing Santana notices—her greatest fear of this visit taunting her in the hollow dips of Brittany's collarbone and the sharp gauntness of her usually delicate features.
"I need you not to worry about me, okay?" she says as soon as she picks up the handset. There are so many things she wants to say—things she's rehearsed and things she hasn't; things she's said before and things she couldn't dream of saying—but the finality of this single visit looms heavy over her words. She only has half an hour—thirty desperately ticking minutes to communicate a lifetime between them.
She supposes, if she were only allowed to say one thing to Brittany for the rest of her life, it'd be that—a desperate demand for her not to worry about her. The love between them is so embedded in both of them that it really doesn't even need to be said to be felt, and the regret—not for what Santana's done, but for letting it happen, for not holding on, for not following Brittany and fighting for her the way she should have—has hung between them, dark and suffocating, ever since Brittany came back from Europe with the engagement ring and that quiet, defeated smile.
Santana can live knowing that she hadn't said those things, because she knows that Brittany knows them, but what she can't live with is this—is Brittany worrying herself to sickness somewhere out there while she's trapped in here with comforting words she can't even offer.
It was probably her downfall the very first time, this notion that Brittany could be perfectly happy without her. She was petulant back then, saddened and thus angered by her unyielding love for this girl who was just as happy spreading her love elsewhere, so she withdrew into herself then, until that same love hauled her back out.
The second time though, she thrived on it, letting the sadness and the anger of lost love drive her from bed to bed, convinced that if Brittany could find happiness elsewhere, then there was really nothing she could do but accept it and find her happiness elsewhere too.
This time it's different; it's not sad or angry, but it's hopeful. The likelihood that she'll be in here for the rest of her life is high and the only way she can make peace with that is if she's certain that Brittany can find her happiness—not the temporary kind with boys who are nice enough until suddenly they're not and definitely not the dangerous kind with men who are almost too nice to mask the ominous threat of when they're not—because that's why she's here. She's in here so Brittany can be happy—she'd put a kitchen knife through a hundred more men if that were the final result. The very last thing she needs is to be trapped in here, desperate for Brittany's happiness, while Brittany is out there miserable, because of her. It's a type of morbid irony that she just can't take.
"I need you not to worry about me, Britt; no matter what happens, okay?" she repeats, more forceful.
"I can't help it, San," Brittany's voice is shaky, liquid, like she's trying not to cry even though her eyes are already rimmed red like she hasn't stopped crying. "I'm so sorry. This is all my—"
"It's not," Santana interrupts her, adamant but gentle, "It's not your fault,"
"But it is! I shouldn't have dragged you into this. I should have just given you Lord Tubbington when I gave you Charity and I should have ran or—" the tears catch in the corners of her eyes, and the emotion in her throat. Santana's instinct is to reach out, but she's very aware of the glass between them so she clutches the wooden edge of the table before her instead. "Or I should have—" the words come out choked amidst her failing effort to fight her tears. "I should have just let him kill me,"
"No, Santana. I've ruined your life," The tears come heavy, streaming down her face like a summer downpour. "I've ruined your life and I—"
"No, Britt-Britt," she touches the glass with her fingertips, wishing she could touch skin or wipe away the residue of tears. "He did this,"
Brittany shakes her head, adamant to take the weight of this blame.
Santana won't let her.
"No, listen to me," she demands, firm, her palm now resting full against the cold glass. "He did this. He ruined my life the moment he ruined yours. I just—I was so blind not to suspect something. I mean, I think I did suspect something after Charity, but I just didn't want to go there, you know? I couldn't stand the thought of him hurting you and there he was the whole time hurting you. I just wish—I wish you came to me sooner,"
"I was so scared," Brittany admits. "I was just so scared all the time. I'd call the police and they'd come and he'd just charm them into thinking we just had a little argument; that I was overacting. No one believed me,"
"I would have," Santana insists. "I would have believed you,"
"I know, but he knew that too, San. He knew," Brittany stresses, "He said that if I even thought about running, he'd go after you and Charity first," The tremble in Brittany's voice makes Santana's skin tingle with the urge to just wrap her in her arms and keep her there, safe. "And he kept calling you stupid," Santana hates the way Brittany's eyes darken, her gaze fixed like she's trapped in this horrible memory and Santana doesn't know where to begin to even try to pull her out of it. "He said you were more stupid than I am, that you were stupid to love me, to keep loving me, even though I didn't love you back, but I did San, I always did, I do love you. More than anything,"
"I know," Santana assures her because she knows that Brittany needs assurance more than reciprocation right now. "I know, Britt," she repeats, tapping her fingers against the glass where Brittany has unconsciously placed her hand as well. If she presses hard enough, Santana can almost swear that she can feel the heat of Brittany's touch.
"And that night when I came to you,"
Santana doesn't need further explanation. She knows which night—the night of the murder. The most horrifying part of that night—not even the killing, or the blood or any of the raised voices and poisonous words that led up to that— still haunts her sleep with flashes of bruised skin and dried blood.
The chime of her doorbell is startling, enough to frighten her into dropping her coffee mug where it then smashes into small shards against her kitchen floor.
She groans in frustration, unsure whether to get the broom first or the door.
She opts for the broom because Charity has already perked up from where she's claimed a spot next to the coffee maker on her kitchen counter; that stupid cat has always had a penchant for danger and Santana so doesn't want to spend the rest of her night in the animal hospital because the cat has gone and got glass splinters in her tail or something.
Besides, she isn't expecting anyone and maybe whoever it is—probably someone trying to sell her something or her landlord complaining about how much she uses the heat—will go away anyway.
No such luck.
The door bell rings again. And again. And again; incessant, impatient chimes ringing out against her apartment walls.
"Jesus Christ! I'm coming!" she hisses loudly, abandoning her quest for the broom and just catching the cat in her arms instead so she can't even thinking about playing lick-the-dangerous-broken-glass while Santana's back is turned.
The bell hasn't stopped chiming, even as she makes her way to the door, so when she finally gets there, she isn't able to keep her annoyance in check enough to open the door like a normal person. Instead, she flings it open and regrets it almost instantly when she finds Brittany standing at her doorstep, hiccupping helpless, tear strained breaths.
Even the cat seems to notice something is seriously wrong because she stops wiggling and hops from Santana's arms to wrap herself around Brittany's leg.
Brittany doesn't even seem to notice.
"Brittany, what's wrong?" she asks, panicked, even as she wraps Brittany up in her arms, hugging her close.
Brittany makes a sound that sounds pained and Santana goes to pull back but Brittany doesn't let go, she only pulls Santana in tighter, crying soundlessly on her shoulder.
Santana lets her; she lets her cry for long, drawn out minutes, slowly rubbing comforting circles into the smalls of her back. The tears make no sign of stopping though and Santana knows they can't stand on her doorstep for the rest of her night so she pulls back just a little, not enough to break the embrace that Brittany is clinging so desperately to, but enough to talk to Brittany and not her neck.
"Let's go inside, okay Britt?" she suggests. "We'll go inside and I'll make you some tea and you can get cleaned up, then we can talk about what happened, okay?"
Brittany gives a small nod, but she doesn't move from where she's buried herself in Santana's neck, so Santana manages to awkwardly shuffle them, fused, into her living room, where she reaches blinding for the light switch to relieve them of the lonely darkness she spends most of her nights shrouded in.
It's when the light strikes soft against the visible side of Brittany's face that Santana sees it.
"Britt?" she gasps, pulling back to gently cup Brittany's jaw where the skin is raised, swollen and dark, like she's been rammed into something hard, repetitively. She takes another step back and sees where her lip is split, blood still trickling in a slow stream down her chin."Brittany?" she takes her hands in hers and it seems the further she steps back, the more damage she sees, because there's a ring of fading dark blotches around her neck too like she's been choked. "Britt, who did this to you?"
She doesn't even wait for an answer because what was once an eerie tingling blooms into a full-blow, gut-wrenching understanding.
"How long?" she asks, but Brittany doesn't answer; she only sobs harder, pulling Santana in closer. "I'm gonna get the phone; we're gonna call the police, okay?"
Brittany shakes her head adamantly against her shoulder.
"Why not, Britt?"
"He's gone out," It's the first coherent thing Brittany has said, but it's still hiccupped, wrapped in desperate pants for breath. "He's gone with his friends. They'll say he was with them all night. I snuck out. I ran, San; I took his car. When her notices it's gone—" her words die off into another desperate sob.
"It's okay, Britt, you're safe here,"
"San, Lord Tubbington! I so scared and he's just so heavy. It hurt; it just hurt so bad—I couldn't carry him. But when Greg notices I'm gone, he'll get angry, he'll—"
"No," Santana stops her. "You said he's out with his friends, right?"
"Look, I'll take your keys; I'll go and I'll get him and get you some clothes, okay? And you'll stay here and tomorrow, we're gonna go to the police station and force them to see what he's done, alright? He's not gonna get away with his,"
Brittany nods, but it's heartbreakingly unsure.
"I'm gonna get the first aid kit and clean you up first, is that okay?" she asks gently. "Will you let me do that?"
Brittany gives her another timid nod and Santana can't help but pull her into another, albeit gentler, hug.
"You're safe here, Britt," she murmurs into blonde hair, her voice soft amidst choked sobs. "I promise I'll keep you safe,"
"That night when I came to you—I never meant to put you in any danger," Brittany sobs, her tears getting the best of her. "I don't even know what I was thinking. I just had nowhere else to go. There was no one else who cared and—and I just keep thinking, maybe if I hadn't been so stupid; maybe if I had just sucked it up and taken Lord Tubbington with me then I could have found when of those places for homeless people or a bus out of town—"
"And I would have found out and killed him anyway," Santana interrupts. She can tell it startles Brittany, her bluntness; it's the first time she's told Brittany so bluntly what she's done; even after she did it, she spoke with such vagueness that if it wasn't for the blood she was caked in, then what she had done would have still been unclear. There's no reason for sugarcoating it anymore; she killed him, she's glad she killed him and she wants Brittany to be glad about it too. " Guys like him don't stop until somebody's in a body bag, Brittany. You could have run as far as your feet could take you, taken buses across the state, you could have even become a new person and there was still no way you would have ever felt safe again if he were out there somewhere. Now he's not and it's okay to be glad about that,"
"Now when you're in here,"
"Especially because I'm in here," Santana insists. "I would do it again and end up in here every single time if I knew it's what it took to keep you safe. I don't regret it,"
Brittany doesn't seem convinced.
"God, I'm so stupid, San. If I had just—"
"If you had nothing. I did this; it was my choice! You did the smartest thing ever by calling Quinn. She's found her forte with this legal stuff and Phil, the man she works for, he's nice and so smart. I might even get out of here. You just have to listen to what Quinn says, okay Brittany? Whatever she asks, just trust her, okay?"
"Alright, Santana, but you too, you know. You gotta listen to her as well,"
"Lopez, one minute!"
She's not ready; she wants more time—she wants the lifetime she always think she'd get—but she knows she doesn't have that option.
"I will, Brittany, I promise. I'll do whatever it takes,"
Brittany nods, satisfied.
"I love you, Santana, more than I've ever loved anyone,"
Santana smiles even though tears prickle at the corner of her eyes. The realization that she really won't see Brittany again until the end of the trial or during the trial when she's on the stand, hits her hard. She's starting to wonder if seeing her at all was really a good idea, but she knows she'd never not want to see her.
"Don't make cry okay, Britt? I've got some street cred to keep up in here. I'm putting Lima Heights Adjacent on the map,"
"That's not funny, San," Brittany admonishes, even though she flashes the most genuine smile Santana has seen since she sat in this seat.
It's that kind of smile that makes this worth it.
"Lopez, times up!"
"I love you, Britt. Don't forget it," she murmurs, tapping her fingers against the glass where Brittany's fingers are resting.
Brittany smiles, curling her fingers like she can feel the phantom touch.
"I love you too, San,"
And it's those words that ping-pong off of her brain at night and drag her through her days until her next visit with Phil and Quinn.
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