Authors Note: Hello all! I have to start this by saying Brittana fanfic has saved Glee for me. So thank you to all the authors out there writing such amazing stories! I'm a big history nerd so I couldn't help but shove everyone into the Civil War. The places and events will be real but do stray from time to time for the story's sake. The next chapter will be up before Christmas and then I promise to update regularly (about once a week) in the new year. I just wanted to put this out there before canon changes on me again. Otherwise I'd sit here tweaking it forever haha. Lastly, I have to thank my beta, Throppsicle, who as always makes whatever nonsense I spit out turn into English. You are way too awesome and deserve all the praise! Seriously, thank you so much for everything. :)
Rated for T for now but soon to change for violence, gore, language and sweet lady sex of course. And just to be safe, I own nothing but my own wild imaginings. I hope you enjoy the story!
Cincinnati, Ohio. June 1858
Santana Lopez hates the smell of her father's practice. Especially his operating room. It reeks of mold, faux finery and what she believes sepsis would smell like if you could capture the bacterial scent from within the still warm blood of the dying. All metallic and decayed, much like the cleavers hanging from the rusted hooks in the butcher shop below. As she sets about preparing the table for the next patient she can't help but wonder why, with all that's clearly wrong in it, her father's medical practice is still the most revered in the city. For years she felt it must have been a joke at his expense. She could imagine the town people, whispering behind her parents back.
'Wouldn't it be a riot? To bring the foreigner up only to tear him down later? The laughs we'd have!'
Her parent's were always telling her; "Let nothing, and no one, stand in your way." After all, wasn't that the family motto? Isn't that how they got to this status in the first place? It might as well have been emblazed on the family crest. It's completely lost on her why he seems to have forgotten this. Couldn't he see what this town was doing to him? The stares they received as they walked down the square? How could he think they truly valued his opinion? Dark skin, even as light as theirs was, wasn't trusted. It was a simple fact of life, one that was not soon going to change.
Not ever, Santana thinks as she takes extra care to wash her hands in the basin she'd filled with fresh water earlier.
She was used to the scorn shown to her during her days at school, the mocking that followed her down the streets. Jealous, all of them, she'd think as she held her head high and made her way home. They couldn't compete with her, not on any level. In academics she had them beat, in wealth her family was unmatched and even compared to her grace her peers were mere floundering fish upon land. And fish did not a sufficient acquaintance make. The ones who dared to speak to her were quickly silenced with a cutting affront. Some of the more fortunately blessed realized the gain her friendship could offer. Santana could not be bothered by friendship, though. Not with people who reeked of commonalty.
Not when they so plainly stood in her way.
She would be great. Would rise above the skin she was born into and make a name for herself. One with even more clout than her father. More prestige.
Many a potential friendship was dashed in favor of maintaining her due course. A mask of indifference was worn upon her face from morn till dusk. Her classmates could whisper all they wanted behind her back. Call her whatever petty names they felt fit to squawk her way. It was all just a rouse to her. She would not fall to their traps. They could not hurt her, not if she was untouchable.
Her mother had taught her early on that friendship was only as worthwhile as the rewards that could be reaped in return. None of her classmates could, nor would ever, be able to supply her with such an advantageous exchange.
Good heavens, she thinks back now, were they ever the dullest and stupidest beings to be born. She wished her father had enrolled her in the private academy uptown. Where the boys were groomed to become well to do members of society. Future lawyers, bankers, politicians and the like. Where the girls wore dresses of the finest silk and studied only the most renowned literature.
Where everyone was intelligent and most importantly respected.
"They won't take you, Santana," her father told her upon what felt her hundredth request. "And besides it's far too expensive and a waste anyway. What more of an education can a woman need beyond the basics? Your husband will attend to all else for you."
She seethed afterward. Yet despite the crumbling feeling inside her gut she maintained her outward decorum, brushing down her pleated skirt as she retaliated between clenched teeth, "I wish to be more than just a wife." It was uncouth, and entirely unbecoming to speak in such a manner to one's father. Let alone one's father who also so happened to be so highly regarded in the town, who at that very moment happened to be in the middle of entertaining a few equally regarded guests.
His jaw tightened subtly beneath his trim beard. An indistinguishable twitch pulled at his left eye.
Her mother quickly, and casually, offered Mr. Brandisham another cigar.
She vividly remembers what happened next. The clipped tone of her father's voice as he stood from his seat and excused himself politely. The way his fingernails, blunt and short as they were, seemed to pierce her skin as he took hold of her upper arm. The smell of the liquor upon his tongue as his breath washed over her face, his voice low as he demanded her silence and led her from the room and up the stairs to her own. The resounding slap and subsequent sting of pain that radiated from her cheek after the back of his hand collided with her face. The pain his words instilled in her heart as he admitted how worthless her existence was.
He'd no use for a daughter.
Not when what he needed was a son.
He left her then to head back down to his guests. His only child, a mess of resentment sitting upon her heels on the cold wooden floor. She cursed him beneath her breath, wincing at the dull ache throbbing along her bruised cheek. It would heal, she was sure. If she could tend to it properly it would heal in only a week's time. But she feared that the hurt his words had lodged inside of her would remain forever.
She was of no use to him.
And thus she would have to prove him otherwise.
Prove she could do more than any son he could hope to have.
What started as penance for her disobedience turned quickly to menial work upon completion of her schooling. Everyday she was to accompany him on appointments. His own personal servant. Her only orders were to be silent and follow instruction. It was degrading work. Her duties seemed to mainly consist of carrying his medical bag and disposing of the worst in human waste. When she wasn't with him she was beside her mother, being introduced to one potential suitor after another. As the boys talked on of their accomplishments (or lack thereof) she wished her father would receive news of an ill patient. Or perhaps that the roof over their heads would suddenly erupt into flames. And her favorite of late, that a wayward razor would come and silence their boring tongues. Anything that would whisk her from the dull conversations she was forced to endure.
Her prayers always went unanswered. And the next day she would wake as she always did, far before the sun would peak over the surrounding hills and long before her father would rouse from his sleep. She'd steal into his study and pour over the medical journals he'd acquired over the years. She never thought medicine would fascinate her, let alone that she'd be so excited over the prospect of bearing witness to a surgery some day. But it did. With every new addition that would arrive her father would skim, then scoff at before tossing aside. And she would readily consume them. He'd no patience for modern medicine, let alone the findings of the new movement of doctors in France. The surgeons in Paris were revolutionary. Pioneers to Santana. Germ theory, anesthetics, oh she could read forever about the procedures they'd discovered and the advances they'd made! All of it was incredible.
And when she'd read of Doctor Elizabeth Blackwell she knew that a career in medicine was a reality she too could aspire to. She knew she'd never get the chance to study medicine at college like Blackwell. Her father would never allow it. But she soon realized she didn't need to. Her father never attended formal school and look at his success. God, look at the success of any of the physicians in town! Of the ten she could name off the top of her head perhaps one had attended medical college and practiced with a license. It didn't seem to matter where one was taught so long as one was knowledgeable.
Santana already knew far more about most diseases and simple ailments than any predecessor her father could summon. She could be his apprentice. And one day, hopefully, she could take on his practice once he passed.
The first female doctor in Cincinnati. No, in all of Ohio. She liked the sound of it.
She looks around the operating room, imagining all the changes she'd make the day it is to become her own. The wallpaper, with its garish maroon hue, would be the first thing to go. A light blue perhaps in its stead, a calming color, the sky, something to ease the patient's mind. She can hear her father welcoming a young man into the practice, voice full of feigned warmth and clipped professionalism. She resists the urge to roll her eyes. For some god forsaken reason the people of this town trust in that voice. In her pathetic excuse for a father. But she understands why they come to him.
After all, given their chances of survival with the other physicians in the city, Dr. Lopez with his dark skin and foreign tongue is far and above superior in the practice of medicine.
At least with her father you had a marginally higher chance of surviving beneath his knife.
Santana was very good at mathematics. To her five percent barely classified as a worthwhile advantage.
But an advantage it was.
And as Santana watches him working now all she can think is how much better she'd be in his place. The simple procedure has been underway for a mere seven minutes and yet her father's brow is drenched with sweat, threatening to spill into the open wound of his unconscious patient below. He should have worn a cap, she laments, reaching forward with her own handkerchief to wipe the beads of perspiration before they can slip further down his face. He grunts something in response, shaking her off as his fingers nimbly work on prying the bullet buried within his patient's naked thigh.
Her nose crinkles beneath the mask of cloth placed snugly over the lower half of her face as she spots some dirt beneath her father's bloodied fingernails. Of course he hadn't bothered to wash them first, she thinks with a roll of her eyes. Cleanliness was not something most physicians in this town ever considered. They were old and set in their ways. No amount of evidence brought forth from the younger surgeons at Cambridge could ever sway them. Not until one of their "own" kind agreed.
She's lost count of the times she's heard proclaimed, "Invisible make-believe specs are what kill a man? Nonsense!"
Maybe if someone else with dirty fingers were digging around in their muscles they would perhaps consider changing their minds. But that was as likely as her father ever saying one positive thing toward her.
Unlikely, improbable, and only ever to happen if she were to inject him with an ungodly amount of morphine.
"Hand me the tweezers," he demands, hand outstretched. Santana is snapped from her thoughts at the command and turns to the tools beside her. They appear clean but she knows the most her father has done is wipe them on his coat. With an inward sigh she picks up the tweezers and lays them firmly in his palm.
As her father digs into the wound the patient's foot twitches. Santana's brow quirks upon realizing it is the foot on his good leg. Her eyes are quick to seek the young mans face. As suspected his lips are pursed, eyes squeezed shut. He's waking.
"Father?" Santana ventures quietly, handing him a napkin as more blood seeps from the wound. He takes it silently, ignoring her as he mops up the mess on the patients thigh.
The young man lets out a moan.
Santana quickly reaches into her pocket, extracting the vial of chloroform. She makes to move toward a fresh linen square along the counter when her father's bloodied hand wraps tightly around her wrist, stilling her in place. Her eyes dart up, locking upon her father's intolerant gaze.
"I did not give you an order," he hisses, dark eyes narrowing beneath his lowered brow.
Santana breaks her father's stare, eyes flittering over the pained face of his…no, their patient. Steeling her nerves she ventures, "he's waking. A small dose more would ensure his comfort."
Dr. Lopez scoffs, releasing his daughter with a shove as he returns to his work, oblivious to his patients continued sounds of discomfort. Beneath his breath he mutters, "it's his own damn fault he got himself shot. Pompous southern fool."
A scowl pulls at Santana's lips as she tells him, "if you detest him so I will volunteer to suture him once you are done."
"And have my good name sullied by your hand?" He counters, finally extracting the bullet and letting it fall to the floor without second thought. Dr. Lopez wipes his hands upon his chest, laughing as he turns to his daughter. "Actually, let this be a lesson to him," he says as he undoes the buttons to his suit jacket and slips the soiled garment from his shoulders. With practiced ease Santana avoids the material as he tosses it her way, grabbing the coat by its collar midair and laying it to rest over the prepared sheet along the foot of the table. Eyes practically dancing with mocking bitterness he motions toward the groggy patient. "By all means, do your worst."
His laughter carries over his shoulder as he leaves the room, presumably to retire to his office where no doubt Santana knows he will have gone to smoke. As the room falls silent once more save for the weak sounds of unease uttered from the patient, a grin forms across Santana's face.
She's in motion in an instant. Hands rewashed in the basin by the window, needle sterilized over an open flame. A small dose of chloroform ensures the young man won't feel a thing as she cleans the mess her father has made of what was once a small bullet hole and now resembles a much larger crater in his flesh. She deftly sews the wound shut, her work precise, clean and skilled. Blackwell would be proud, she muses as she knots the last of her sutures and wraps the thigh with fresh bandages.
Her father returns to the room, smelling of rich pipe fumes and peppermint. He sucks on the confection, loud smacking noises echoing in the room as he looks upon his daughter's work. Santana stands still, hands clasped behind her back as she watches his shoulders tense and his jaw pop. His fingers dig in beneath the young man's bandage, pulling the wrapping back as he inspects the wound.
The bandage falls back into place with a snap upon his release. His eyes briefly glance toward her feet, jaw grinding hard against the peppermint. "I told you not to drug him again," he mutters before brushing past her and out the door once more.
Santana smiles to herself. Flawless, she thinks. My work is flawless.
Mrs. Lopez sighs as she closes the door after yet another failed attempt to introduce her daughter to a would-be suitor. She rests back against the solid frame, chin pointed toward the ceiling as her eyes find those of her daughters across the foyer. After a deep, calming breath she asks with a hint of annoyance, "And what, pray tell, was wrong with him?"
A smirk curls to full lips. "Where do I begin?" Santana asks.
Mrs. Lopez groans, pulling herself away from the door as she makes her way into the drawing room. Santana follows, amusement still flittering across her features as she watches her mother slump down into one of the armchairs. "What am I to do with you? It's as if you don't even wish to be married."
"I'd give you a prize mother, but seeing as it's taken you years to finally realize this I hardly consider it a worthwhile victory."
Mrs. Lopez straightens in her chair as she levels her daughter with a reproachful stare. "No wonder men flee from our home, what with your tongue so full of acid."
"Boys, mami," Santana corrects, plopping into the chair opposite her mother's. "Boys who hide behind their fathers' money whilst the men fight in the war. And for whatever little my word seems to be worth in this house, you are indeed correct in your earlier assumption. I care not one iota to be married right now."
"Por qué no?" Mrs. Lopez exclaims. "Have you any idea the embarrassment you are causing your father and I? To have a daughter at your age unwed! Dois mío! Lo que soy-"
"I am such a burden, aren't I?" Santana interrupts, a tinge of melodrama laced in her voice. "What with not whoring myself around town all the time," she says with a roll of her eyes. "I've more important things to worry about than who I will share a bed with."
Mrs. Lopez groans, frustrated as she stands from her seat. "You'll never be a doctor, Santana. The sooner you get this silly idea from your head the better," she tells her, tone strong but expression tired. "You should be thankful your father even allows you to continue on as his nurse aide."
"He's loath to admit it but he knows I am the best in this city," Santana says, voice full of conviction as she stands and follows her mother's weary strides into the kitchen. "There is no one else who could replace me."
"I am done with this argument. It's given me a head-pain," Mrs. Lopez grumbles, rubbing at her temples gently.
"Oh, has it?" Santana sneers. "I could tell you how best to alleviate such a burden but seeing as I will, in your misconstrued words, never amount to anything aside from being a pool in which to collect my husbands seed then I shan't. So buenas noches, mami." And with that she turns on her heels intent upon retiring for the evening. So ready to escape to her dreams where she's sure to be promised a far better substitute from the reality of her waking world.
But her steps are halted no sooner than she's started by her mother's call.
"Santana, por favor." It's pleading, soft, quite unlike the usual harsh snap of her mother's usual tone. Santana doesn't turn; she merely holds her position, eyes briefly flicking to her mother's shadow playing across the wall beside her. What could her mother wish to add? Just keep walking, Santana wills herself. She's long accepted whatever humanity her parents once held to have died the minute she was brought into this world. Long given up hope for them to even show an inclination that they perhaps care for the daughter they have done so little to raise. Her mother's next words only serve to reinforce what she's already come to know.
"It is your duty to do what is best for this family."
Of course, Santana thinks to herself, it was foolish to ever think otherwise. She swallows thickly past the lump lodged in her throat, not bothering to turn as she tells her, "I'm sorry I cannot summon death to take me faster then."
Her mother says nothing as Santana rushes up the stairs to hide the sting of her tears against her pillow.
Santana is awoken with a start. The slamming of a door to be more precise. She's out of bed in an instant, throwing open her bedroom door as she races down the stairs. It's been a year since the war begun and despite being far north of the fighting it isn't unheard of for skirmishes to erupt in town between northern and southern sympathizers. She's been roused enough times over the past few months to realize this is yet another of those instances. She can feel her earlier tears, dried and caked upon her cheeks, as she grabs her coat from the closet and pulls it over her shoulder. With the buttons now fastened she wipes the remnants of her earlier grief away furiously, refusing to waste one more moment on thoughts of her mother.
Her parents' voices carry throughout the home, loud and heated. It's then she realizes this isn't another typical night call.
She moves swiftly, careful to hide herself from view behind the armoire in the hall as she watches them argue. A single candle burns in the kitchen, the wax melting into a thick puddle on the table below. The sight of such negligence usually sends her mother into a frenzy, but instead her mother's frantic eyes are locked with the exasperated gaze of her father. The warm glow of the single flame flickers softly in contrast against their cold stares.
"No amount of your protests will change these summons," Dr. Lopez says, voice hoarse, strained with a stress Santana has never heard in his tone. Her brow crinkles with suspicion as she watches him read over a leaf of paper clutched in his hands. "I am to leave come morning."
"Don't say it like that," Mrs. Lopez scowls, batting aside the paper as he tries to hand it to her. "Like it's some patient you're off to see and will return come supper. This is war."
"And as such they need surgeons!" he exclaims, face red. "Do you think I asked for this? I can assure you if I could pay my way out I would have! Now ready what I need," he says dismissively with a flick of his wrist as he sits himself heavily down upon one of the kitchen chairs. "I am to be picked up come dawn."
"And what of your daughter?" Mrs. Lopez asks as she pours him a cup of coffee. She roughly hands it to him, avoiding his eyes as she busies herself with pouring her own mug. "What am I to do with her?"
Santana feels a fluttering deep within her gut, an apprehension that seems to wrap its cold claws about her throat as she awaits her father's response. He says nothing in reply, merely shrugs his shoulders as if the very act brushes her from his life. Santana feels her skin prickle with more than just apprehension. Hatred. A deep, mounting disgust bubbles inside her. He truly doesn't care. He never will.
She won't let his indifference stand in the way of what she wants.
So it is much to her parents' surprise when she stands before them and tells them evenly, with utmost seriousness and conviction.
"I will accompany you."
"De ninguna manera!" Mrs. Lopez exclaims while Dr. Lopez looks on at his daughter with an expression of interest for what feels the first time in Santana's life. "Albert, tell her this is an absurd notion!"
He continues to stare, unmoving, unrelenting in his scrutiny. Santana holds his gaze, unwavering, willing her heart not to beat so profoundly against her ribs. She needs for him to allow this. For him to see just how devoted she is to her cause. To becoming the great doctor she knows she will be… to be the son he so vehemently wishes she were instead.
This is her chance to change everything.
Her lungs are starved for air.
After what feels a small eternity he shrugs and stands from his seat, steaming mug in hand as he says simply, "I don't really care to have to train someone new anyhow."
And that is how Santana Lopez finds herself enlisted as a surgeon's assistant in Ohio's 106th Infantry.
Lima, Ohio. June 1858
Brittany Pierce is warm, so very warm and surrounded by what she imagines sunshine must feel like if you could capture its rays in a spool of thread and sew them into a blanket. All soft and wonderful, like the way spring grass feels along her back after a swim in the lake. Or a nap in the barn on a fresh pile of hay. Or like– oh no, she thinks, thoughts derailing swiftly as her body grows rigid in her bed. The barn…Apple's stall. With a defeated groan she rolls over on the mattress and buries her face deep into her pillow.
Pa will be so upset with me, she bemoans.
Because it's only now whilst dreaming of naps in hay piles that she's aware she's forgotten to clean out their horse's stall yesterday as she'd promised her father she would.
She hates disappointing him.
She tries so hard to remember her chores but sometimes things just seem to slip from her mind as easily as her blanket slides between her fingers. It really is like sunshine, she muses picking a few frayed stands of the faded yellow. She snuggles further into the quilt her mother made for her, inhaling deeply as she recalls how happy she'd been to receive it as a gift for her eleventh birthday. Has it really been so long? A small frown pulls at her lips.
That was the year her mother died.
Fever, her father had said. She wasn't allowed by her mother's side that night, only barely able to catch a glimpse of her through the parting of the bedroom door whenever her father passed through. She remembers hearing her sister's cries, hungry from the crib in the corner. The way her mother's eyes could barely stay open, focused just out the dark window. Vacant. She'd never felt fear since like the one that gripped her young and frantically beating heart that night. Nor sadness to equal in measure that following morning when her father roused her from sleep outside the bedroom door to tell her Ma was gone.
She misses her still. So much so.
And yet her somber thoughts soon pass when two small arms wrap around her stomach and an equally small body hugs her close. For she can't be sad about that year, not entirely, not when her mother gave her such a wonderful sister.
"Happy birthday, Britt!" Emily exclaims in a hushed whisper into Brittany's ear, identical blue eyes shining bright in the light of the morning sun which streams through their small window. Brittany peeks over at her. Her sister's smile is wide, her two front teeth nothing but white stubs growing down from beneath her gums. A similar, albeit much fuller, grin forms over Brittany's face at the sight.
Brittany shifts in the bed suddenly, chuckling as she pulls her sister close and tickles her sides. Emily squeals, trying to swat away her elder sister's quick hands. She is laughing uproariously all the while, trying so desperately to muster a scowl across her burning face. Brittany relents after a moment, plopping Emily back onto their bed. The springs squeak beneath the light weight in protest as the younger Pierce settles, breaths short and cheeks tinged a bright red.
As her sister calms Brittany leans over, placing a soft kiss to her forehead. Emily giggles, squirming under the attention.
"Thanks, peanut," Brittany tells her with a smile as she hops off the bed and over to their old dresser.
Emily sits up, legs crossed beneath her body as she wrings the blanket between her hands. "Will we go to the lake today?" she asks, averting her eyes as Brittany removes her nightdress and slips into a worn button-up shirt and pair of her father's old militia slacks. As Brittany clips her suspenders in place she looks back over to her sister.
"Of course," she says and once her sister's eyes are upon her own she winks and adds, "I promised didn't I?"
Emily grins, flopping back onto the bed with a kick and some infectious giggles. "I hope the duckies are back. I'm gonna feed them till they're too fat to fly away this winter. Then when they grow up in spring they'll make more duckies and I'll make them fat too and we'll always have duckies in the lake!"
Brittany chuckles, rolling up her sleeves as she steps into her boots. "That's mean Em, how would you feel if I made you all fat and kept you in this room your whole life?"
"If it was from cake I'd be happy forever."
"Maybe we'll have some later," Brittany laughs as she settles her wide brimmed hat atop her head. She peeks outside their window, eyes scanning across the quiet yard. Her smile falters as her gaze settles on the barn. "I have to go clean Apple's stall," she says before turning toward Emily who watches her curiously from the bed. "If you see Pa can you tell him I'll be in for breakfast soon? But don't tell him where I went!"
"You forgot again, didn't you?" Emily asks, a fleeting pass of concern crossing her expression. It is no surprise to her; Brittany was always a bit forgetful. A troublesome kind of forgetful, unfortunately. She knew what the other girls Brittany's age said about her. They weren't very nice things, and she was loath to repeat them. And as if to make matters worse the boys were no better. She didn't understand why they were so mean to her sister. To someone so sweet and smart in other ways they would never understand.
She hated how they teased Brittany. If one good thing came of her sister turning eighteen it was that at least Brittany didn't have to see them anymore. She could stay here, safe on the farm tending to the animals and helping Pa in the fields. Brittany was always happiest outside and even now Emily can see her sister itching to have the sun on her face again.
Brittany sighs, cheeks flushing pink as she averts her gaze to the floor. "Yes, I forgot. But shh!" she turns back to Emily, trying to hide a smile as she brings a finger to her lips. "Keep quiet about it and I'll get us some extra feed for the duckies."
Emily grins, nodding as she settles back into their shared bed. Her sister may be a tad scatterbrained but when it came to what is truly important, she is unfailing.
Brittany dares not pass her fathers bedroom as she exits the house. For good measure she steers clear of the kitchen and for that matter the door as well. A window just along the hall suffices well enough and with a small leap she's outside in the morning air, breathing in the scent of the corn growing just a few yards ahead in their field. She takes one last look back to the house before taking off in a run toward the barn, her braided hair whipping beneath her hat as she speeds across the lawn.
As her legs carry her faster a grin breaks across her face. The sky is clear, air warm. She thanks her mother for such a perfect birthday, daydreaming of the cool lake water she can't wait to jump into with Emily in a few hours time. She swears she can hear the ducks quaking as they splash along the shore, her sister singing some new song-
And they hadn't invited their father but she accepts his presence in her daydream nonetheless. The more the merrier after all, right?
Brittany stops halfway toward reaching for where she usually leaves the pitchfork. She blinks, eyes focusing as she realizes she's grabbing at nothing but air. A shoe scuffs along the barn floor to her side.
"Pa," Brittany breathes, surprised to find her father standing just outside Apple's stall, a thin line of sweat dotting his strong brow. He looks tired, eyes a duller shade of their usual deep blue. In his hand is clutched her pitchfork, soiled unquestionably with Apple's mess. Brittany only grows more uncomfortable at the sight. She bows her head, hands instinctively burrowing into her trouser pockets. "I'm sorry."
The apology is meek, timid, yet born of the respect she holds so dearly for her father. Hendrick sighs upon seeing his daughter's deflated stance. He's not mad. A bit upset, yes. She's neglected a chore. The third this week. But more so he's worried for his daughter. It seemed to be a habit of Brittany's, always forgetting something. He swears her head is in the clouds more so than upon the ground. Just like her moeder, he thinks with a wistful sigh as he rests the pitchfork against the stall wall and makes his way over to her.
"You think I want you here on your birthday?" he asks gently, plucking the hat from Brittany's head. She looks up at the action, a rush of relief coursing through her upon seeing the smile planted so tenderly on her fathers face. "Consider it part of your gift," he says and places the hat atop his own balding head. "Now, is this a becoming look on me? Shall I wear it to Mister Schuester's dance tomorrow?"
Brittany squints up at her father, mulling the question over. It looks rather silly she thinks, especially as it's a hat made for women and once belonged to her mother. It's too small for his big head, and the pink ribbon about the center too frilly. She grins though, because he looks so happy showing it off for her. "The hat looks good on you. It's like you're a handsome ladyman."
Hendrick quirks a brow at the description before dissolving into chuckles and flicking his daughter's braid back over her shoulder. "The things you say, Britt. I don't know where they come from."
"My mouth," Brittany replies simply, as if it's the most obvious thing in the world. This time when she squints up at her father it's as if to inspect him for ailment. "Where else would they come from?"
And as always, Hendrick muses, she has a point. He laughs, giving his daughter back her hat. "As for your other gift," he says, reaching inside his pocket to extract a thin gold chain upon which a small round locket hangs. His hand begins to shake as the memories the simple piece of jewelry brings forth overwhelm him. It's been tucked into his drawer for so long now… far back where no light could ever dare touch it. So that he might not have to see that familiar glint again and be reminded of all he's lost.
"That was Ma's." Brittany whispers, heart stilling as she reaches out to touch the necklace, hesitant. She'd recognize the locket anywhere. It always rested just above her mother's heart, catching the sun along it's polished surface. She looks up at her father, a brilliant smile spreading across her face. "You wish for me to have it?"
Hendrick clears his throat, nodding as he clasps the chain gently behind Brittany's neck. He isn't so good with words, not the way Klara was. There's so much he wishes to tell his daughter, now that she's finally of age. Be good, find love, hold strong. But all he manages is a wobbly grin in return as she presses a kiss to his stubbly cheek.
He watches as she touches it fondly, pressing it flat against her heart. "Thank you, Pa."
"Yes, well… that's good," Hendrick says, flustered. "Someday I'll get you a photograph of us that you can put inside."
"That would be lovely," Brittany tells him with that same effortless grin. "But I can pretend for now."
"Happy birthday, Britt." Hendrick chuckles as he lays an arm around her shoulders and walks her back toward the small house. "Come on sunshine," he says to her softly. "I believe tradition decrees today we bake you a cake."
Hendrick doesn't quite know why he continues to allow Brittany to accompany him to these events. The reproachful stares his peers burn into the sides of his face make his shirt collar feel too tight about his neck. The lingering eyes of the unwed, and more so dastardly of the wed, as they watch her dance cause his temper to spike. Sometimes so dangerously high he wouldn't be surprised if the next eyes focusing on his daughter with such obvious deviant intentions find themselves impaled upon his hayfork. They don't respect him, much less care for Brittany's free-spirited nature. He can hear their hate-filled whispers floating across the room, their resentment… his failure as a father. As a husband.
He tries to tune them out, to bring a casual smile to his lips. But it's strained. His mustache itches.
"I'm glad you could make it, Hendrick," William Schuester says as he comes to stand beside the bristled father. William nods out to the dance floor, a gentle smile on his face as they watch Brittany join in the circle dance. "Both of you."
"You'd be the only one my friend," Hendrick replies with a heavy sigh. "She's so different from all the other girls her age. I worry for her."
"I'd worry more for the talks of war I keep hearing about," William adds, voice low as he turns to his friend. "Have you heard the latest?"
Hendrick shakes his head, "what little I do hear does not settle well in my gut."
"Have you thought what you will do, if it were to come to it?"
"I can't leave my girls," Hendrick says, eyes growing dark, as his gaze stays rooted on the happy face of his daughter ahead. "Emily's too young yet and Brittany–" he chokes on his words, blinking back the beginnings of tears forming at the corners of his eyes. He feels a calm hand come to rest upon his shoulder.
"Let's pray it doesn't come to that then," William says.
"Pa!" Brittany is breathless as she rushes up to her father, cheeks pink and eyes full of laughter as she reaches for his hands. "Come dance with me."
Hendrick's entire demeanor softens at his daughter's request. An easy smile crosses his face as he gives nod to his friend before allowing Brittany to pull him onto the floor.
For tonight he shan't think of what the future holds. Not when Brittany dances so beautifully before him, his little girl all grown now into the woman he always knew she'd become. Graceful, kind, loving… and all her mother. He can't leave her.
He'd promised Klara to always keep them safe.
They depart from the Schuester's a little before midnight, Brittany, naturally, asks for just one more dance. He kisses her damp forehead, promising they will the next time. The walk back home is filled with Brittany's voice as she hums the tunes and twirls along the bank of the dirt road beneath the waning moonlight. He wishes he could keep her like this forever, bottle this moment and live trapped within the glass, ignorant of time and space and all that encompasses life around them. They could go away. Together. His girls and him.
As he wishes them both goodnight upon returning home, feet sore, arms tired and heart full, he knows he'd do anything in his power to make sure his promise to his wife remains unbroken. No matter what, he will keep them safe.
"Welterusten, Pa," Brittany whispers, giving his cheek one last kiss before he departs their room, brow still furrowed in thought as he closes the door softly behind him.
Emily is upon her in an instant, face so close Brittany is sure she can see each individual blond lash along her sister's eyelids.
"You must tell me everything," Emily demands, excited, eyes wide and expectant. "Did you dance with any of the boys? Were they nice to you? Were they horrid? Did they smell?"
Brittany chuckles lightly, pushing away her sister as she settles beneath their quilt. "I danced with Pa, he's the best dancer."
Emily groans, rolling to her back. "It's no fair. I want to go to dances."
"You will soon enough, peanut," Brittany says through a yawn.
"Why was Pa so upset?" Emily asks, eyes darting to the door.
Brittany thinks on her sister's observation. "He looked sad like that when he was talking to Mister Schuester."
Emily pales upon mention of her teacher. "Was it about me?"
"No," Brittany replies, turning to face her sister once more. "The war."
Emily's brow furrows. "But it's over. We weren't even alive then."
"I know," Brittany says quietly, eyes falling shut. "It's why I made him dance with me… I don't like seeing him sad about it… anymore."
Silence envelopes the room for a moment, Brittany's breaths growing deeper.
"Britt?" Emily whispers, prodding her sister gently.
"Hm?" Brittany hums, half awake.
"What if there's another war?"
"Don' worry…" Brittany breathes, quickly drifting back to sleep. "… I'll save… the duckies…"
It's unbearable and excruciatingly hot outside. So much so even Brittany wishes she were inside instead. Or better yet neck deep in the lake with a pile of drift snow melting atop her head. Yes, that sounds a far better option. Exceedingly more fun than burning beneath the relentless sun plowing the new corn crops.
A few minutes longer and shirt drenched with sweat, Brittany gives a yank on Apple's reins. The young horse lets out a whinny at the sudden move. Brittany mimics him, nuzzling into his neck as she leads him from the field and toward the barn.
"I know," she tells him, giving his neck an affectionate pat. "Almost to the shade."
A breeze kicks up along the dirt, her skirt billowing against the hot gust. As they pass by the house she can see her sister propped up in their bed, eyes closed as she fans herself. Brittany is worried for her. Emily had fainted a few days prior while they tended to the pigs. And that was well before the heat of this new week began to sink its teeth into the earth. At first Hendrick wasn't too worried, thinking Emily had just been over working herself, as she was wont to do, and needed a bit of bed rest. Four days on now and she was no better than before. Worse off, even. Brittany catches a glimpse of her father, looking ever more troubled, his mouth pulled in a thin line as he places the palm of his hand over Emily's forehead.
Apple gives another neigh, clomping his hoof impatiently along the ground. Brittany wipes the thick collection of sweat over her hairline with the back of her wrist. She coos at Apple as she scratches the horse behind his ear. His temper instantly softens, steps light as Brittany opens his stall door. With Apple fed and his trough filled with cool well water Brittany makes her way toward the house.
She stops to pick a quick daisy from the wild patch Emily has replanted near their kitchen window. Daisies are her sister's favorite and while Brittany knows there isn't much comfort she can offer her, the least she can do is give her a small gift.
Emily's smile as she enters the bedroom holding the flower is all Brittany needs to know she's done well.
She hands the small daisy to Emily, purposely avoiding her heavy gaze. She sits down beside her, twirling Emily's skirt between her fingers once she's settled. She's not quite sure what to say to her.
"Thanks," Emily wheezes, voice shaky and nowhere near its usual strong quality. Hearing her so unlike herself makes the prickles that arose in Brittany's stomach the moment she sat down poke harder. She shifts, uncomfortable, trying to wriggle the painful feeling aside.
A crow's call filters in through the open window, loud and blaring in the silence encompassing the sisters. Brittany's eyes briefly glance up at the window, catching a glimpse of her sisters' eyes reflected back at her upon the panes. She looks so tiny, Brittany thinks before breaking away and staring back down at the quilt.
Emily lets out a sigh. "I'm sorry I couldn't help today," she says quietly, swallowing hard. Her throat tickles and she coughs to clear it, lungs burning hot with every breath after.
Brittany shakes her head quickly, reaching into her pocket for her handkerchief. Her eyebrow knots when she doesn't feel the familiar fabric brush against her searching fingertips.
Emily frowns. "You already gave it to me Britt," she tells her softly, waving the handkerchief clutched in her hand.
"Oh," Brittany says, cheeks blooming red. "I guess I did."
The crow calls again.
Brittany's head snaps up, confused as she meets her sister's gaze. Brittany doesn't know why she was so scared to see her, not when she looks so much more herself smiling. She's growing up so fast, she thinks. Not yet twelve and already a young lady.
"I don't know how you can remember the way to the lake way out there in the woods yet not recall giving me your only hanky just this morning," Emily says with a light chuckle.
"I marked the trees," Brittany explains simply. She nods towards her sister's hand. "Pa would be upset if I marked my way to my handkerchief. I'd ruin all the nice walls."
Emily laughs again, this time stronger. It quickly dissolves to a hacking cough and Brittany scoots closer to Emily's side, a hand slipped behind her hunched back. She strokes the taut muscles she finds until they loosen and Emily relaxes once more against the headboard.
"Thanks," Emily says, breathless, weak once again.
"Are you feeling better today?" Brittany asks, hopeful.
Emily smiles sadly, "maybe tomorrow."
"I hope so. I'm sure your friends at school miss you," Brittany smiles. She was never a very good student herself and still can't read much beyond a few simple words here and there. But Emily is so smart. She loves school. Brittany is so proud of her.
Emily's chin drops as her smile falls. "Pa says Mister Schuester got his draft letter."
Brittany feels a chill roll over her skin at the news. She knows the war has been well underway for the better part of the year now, but they've been lucky to live well above the fighting territories. She knows of a few boys in town who volunteered but no one had been forced to go. It's unsettling. It makes her want to cry for Mister Schuester. His wife must be so upset, she thinks.
"Pa's afraid he'll get one soon," Emily adds softer yet.
Brittany shakes her head quickly, eyes focused so intently upon her sisters that Emily can feel Brittany's fear consuming her as well. She bites back the terrible feeling threatening to devour her heart. Brittany has every reason to be terrified. They both do. But she knows if she were to show it, it would only make Brittany feel that much worse.
She also cannot lie to her sister.
Not about something so important.
"Brittany," Emily begins, taking a hold of her sisters trembling hand. "You know what this means," she tells her, voice low as her eyes bore keenly into the ones before her. "He has to go."
"No!" Brittany exclaims as she stands sharply from the bed. The prickles in her stomach increase tenfold, feeling as though they will stab their way straight through her gut. She can't shake out her nerves, can't shake the way her vision seems to be narrowing. "He can't," she pleads. "He promised."
"He's trying to get the money. He needs three hundred," Emily explains before a deep cough rips through her throat. Brittany helps her to recline, a new wave of concern flooding her at Emily's pale pallor.
"Three hundred dollars Em," Brittany squeaks out. "We've never had that kind of money."
"Then I guess we're going into hiding."
"Where?" Brittany's eyes dart frantically between her sisters own. "You're ill and need doctor Nelson's help. We can't leave unless you're better!"
"If he has to go then you'll have to take care of me," Emily tells her, adding with a smile, "but don't worry, I'll tell you what to do."
"What if you get worse?" Brittany asks, tears pooling thickly in her eyes. "I can't… I don't know how..."
"It's easy," Emily squeezes her hand. "Think of me like Apple."
Brittany's eyes widen. "I forget to take care of him!"
"Brittany," Emily says softly, forcing her sister to look at her once more. "I'll be better soon. You'll see. We'll be all right."
Brittany nods, taking a deep breath as she repeats those four words in her head. We'll be all right, she thinks. We'll be all right.
But Emily does not get better soon. Her condition only grows worse as the month drags on, so much to the point that Brittany must sleep in her fathers bed whilst he sets up his own along the floor.
The letter arrives shortly after.
Hendrick disappears for a long while that night and when he returns, clothes rumpled and eyes red, Brittany envelops him in a hug and tells him what Emily once told her.
We'll be all right.
But she knows it's a lie, even before it leaves her mouth.
They can't be all right. Not if he leaves.
Not with Emily so sick she can barely lift a cup to her mouth.
It's when seeing her father tending so effortlessly to Emily that she realizes there is only one solution to their problem. Late that night, long after her father's frets finally wear him down and sleep overtakes his fatigued body, Brittany slips from the bed. She dresses quickly, sure that if she were to pause long enough she'd throw all her courage out the window and crawl back under the warmth her father's covers provide. But she reminds herself she is doing this for him, so that Emily can have the best beside her. The one who is sure not to fail her… not to forget.
So they can be all right in the end.
With a heavy heart and tears burning in her eyes she unclasps her mother's locket from around her neck, laying the necklace beside her father's sleeping form.
"Forgive me," she whispers before standing tall once more and tucking his draft letter deep within the breast pocket of his old militia coat buttoned neatly up her torso.
Come that morning the 106th Ohio Infantry has enlisted Bret Pierce as their dispatch carrier.