AN: This author's note may be a bit long and I apologize for it but since it's the last chapter and all I figure, what the heck. Firstly, I have two awesome people to thank, my main beta Throppsicle and temp beta Tars. Without them you all would be reading the unfiltered poop version of this story. Not joking. I am a mess haha. Throppsicle has been making sense of my writing for a few years now and I seriously have no clue what I would do without her help! So thank you Throppsicle for being so gracious, and so helpful and such an awesome friend! :) If any of you should ever find yourselves in the Wicked fandom please check out her fic, it is wonderful and I cannot recommend it enough! And to Tars, who stepped up so brilliantly whenever Throppsicle was away. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Your suggestions were always taken and the chapters made all the better for it. :) Forever in both your debts!

Now to le fins...

I've spent far longer on this story than I have any other. When I first started writing it I thought, "Oh, I'll have is thing finished by March/April, no problem!" Which, obviously, never happened. I swear I plan things far better in real life and at work thankfully haha. There were times I wanted to throw it all away because, like so many after Season 3, I had given up on the show. I was just so itching to be done and move on already. But that's also why AU is so fun, none of that matters. :) Writing this story made Brittana fun again for me and at the end of the day that is all fanfiction should be. We're here to escape for a bit with characters we love. That it just so happens other people enjoy your crazy imaginings too, than all the better!

So with all that said, I hope you all enjoy this last chapter and I thank each and every one of you for reading and leaving all the amazing comments! I promise, no matter how long it takes me, to reply back to all of you who leave a review after you finish the story. At least those of you signed in and accepting PM's anyway. ;) This is the last piece of fanfiction I will ever write (that will see light of day anyway haha), and I want to make sure to answer any questions some of you may still have about the story, etc before I sort of disappear. I'll be around, just not writing anymore. I'm anxious to get started on projects with friends and my own stuff. Nothing too exciting unless you're under the age of 5 I'm afraid!

Thanks again and happy reading!

-Good Afternoon

Poem credit in this chapter: Faith and Despondency by Emily Bronte

Chapter 26

Tell Me a Tale

February 27th, 1863

As of late, Brittany has formed the habit of waking well before the other two members of the house. She rises before the songbirds perch in the trees and begin their morning calls. Well before even Tubbington finally settles atop the warm quilt at the foot of their bed after a night spent hunting rats in the barn attic. It is always quiet in the pre-dawn, dark and chill afore the sun can start to thaw the frost collected on the windowpanes overnight.

She thinks of her sister during those hours, staring into nothing and filling the void with imaginings of the vibrant dances Emily's attended and endless fields of daisies their mother once set picnic for them amid. It is better than the other thoughts that steal to her mind, ones that leave her curling deeper into the warmth of the blankets, foremost seeking Santana's comfort to cast them away. These are memories haunting in nature, more stilling even than the blood of her fellow countrymen sprayed to her feet. Visions of pale cheeks and the burning touch of chilled skin. Memories of a plain wooden box and the painful echo of the nails driven through its lid. The ever-lingering smell of spilled milk…

And as much as Santana tries to allay the hollow look within Brittany's eyes it still remains after, just as present as before.

Brittany cannot close her eyes without seeing Emily's face.

She's stopped trying to.

Sleep, even with the aide of medication, has been troublesome.

Santana worries for her, she knows. It's hard not to see the way brown eyes stare at her from over her bowl of oatmeal in the morn, no matter how covert Santana believes she is. She thinks Santana should be more concerned for her father, for he's not come out from Emily's room — his room now, since that day they laid her body to rest.

Brittany's not set foot inside for longer than the time it takes to set a cup of tea on the dresser.

She can't will herself to stay any more than a few seconds, no matter the need she has to see her father's face and assure him that all will be well.

If anything good has come from her disturbed sleep it is that the farm has been well cared for during Hendrick's grieving absence.

The work eases her mind. By dawn the animals are all tended to, fresh wood chopped and collected for the day in a neat stack beside the kitchen door. The fields will have to wait for sunrise but on this day there is also the matter of arranging Santana's surprise down by the lake.

Brittany hopes she will like it.

She's been waiting to share this with her for some time now.

She's also starting to feel a bit tired. The oatmeal she is cooking for everyone has yet to release a wisp of steam and her feet are sore and in want of rest. A clump of the soggy meal gurgles against the spoon she's neglected to move. Brittany yawns and gives it a turn around the pot. Outside the frosted glass of the kitchen window, the sun begins to peak across the barren fields. The glow upon her face is a welcome change from the cold whispers of moonlight she's grown accustomed to.

She douses the oil lamp to her side as the room brightens with the start of day.

Santana has usually shuffled to the table by now, drowsy and bleary, but today not a stir of sound meets Brittany's ears.

Brittany's heart warms regardless; Santana is always wont to oversleep when her body craves the rest midnight sex has deprived her of. Brittany hadn't meant to keep her awake, even for the small portion of time she needed to feel that heart racing against her own. She neither regrets it though. Those moments when Santana lies bare before her are some of her most cherished.

Leaving the oatmeal to cook on its own, Brittany sets off for the bedroom.

She'll have to wake Santana, a task she has rather come to enjoy.

They share the bed in what was once Hendrick's room, the small space now boasting traces and flares of both their temperaments now with his moved. The dresser is littered with Emily's old poetry books and a tidy pile of Santana's borrowed medical journals. A small collection of Brittany's scarves and gloves are strewn overtop the only available space left, dangling in a way Tubbington finds irresistible upon occasion. Their clothes hang neatly to the old dressing screen if not discarded to the floor, at present a nightgown lies near the bedside window. Santana's, Brittany thinks coyly as she pushes the door open wider, mindful to remain silent.

Her eyes fall to her pair of riding boots, caked in dried mud, where they lean against the bedpost awaiting sole repairs.

She makes note to take them to town today before Quinn arrives. Or at the very least to ask Santana if she might before setting off for Dr. Nelson's.

Her old pair fit too tight and had been meant for Emily to wear come spring…

Brittany swallows thickly, chest tightening, and forces her attention to where Santana rests.

A small trickle of morning light spills across the foot of the bed where Tubbington sits alert, watching her with mild disinterest. He lets out a purr as she moves closer, stretching and yawning from his spot beside Santana's feet. He leaps down off the mattress and rubs his side against Brittany's leg before setting off out the door and for the blanket she's surely left for him beside the front room fire.

Brittany makes sure to close the door quietly once his tail sweeps past the frame. Santana hasn't stirred. She's still deep asleep spread on her stomach as Brittany carefully crawls up onto the foot of the bed. The blankets are a mess of pooled fabric low along Santana's back. A sliver of her skin peeks out from where her nightshirt has ridden up in the exchange. Brittany's fingers ache to dip beneath the shirt and slide across the smooth skin below. Especially so as she edges nearer and discovers it's not Santana's shirt at all but one of her own.

They're always far too big on her, endearingly so.

Brittany smiles as she hovers overtop the sleeping woman, letting her fingers finally slip beneath loose fabric to meet the warmed skin beneath. Santana flinches at the cool touch of Brittany's hand, her eyes squinting shut as she buries herself deeper into the bed and pillows.

"San?" Brittany murmurs, pressing a kiss to her covered shoulder. She pulls the shirt up higher, tracing a slow path up Santana's back. Nuzzling her nose against the groove of Santana's neck she whispers, "Je bent zo mooi."

Santana begins smiling though remains relaxed, content beneath the soft kisses Brittany brushes across her ear. "I've no idea what you just said…"

"That's okay," Brittany tells her softly, scooting her knees up beside Santana's hips. She's not told her yet, but she adores the rough quality of Santana's voice as she awakens. It is one of her favorite sounds. She nibbles some at her ear, teasing, "I just wanted to wake you."

"I'm supposed to be learning, aren't I?" Santana asks with a groggy chuckle, swatting half-heartedly at Brittany's attentions. Brittany manages to steal another kiss to Santana's neck before sitting back along her heels and allowing Santana the space to turn beneath her. Her shirt has ridden up higher along her torso as she settles on her back but Santana hasn't a care to spare for her state of undress. Blinking the sleep from her eyes she reaches up, and with a smirk tugs Brittany down by her suspenders. "Tell me," she demands, though it comes out more the words of an impatient youth than the assertive woman she was hoping to express.

Brittany laughs but concedes. "Je bent zo mooi," she repeats, tucking some of Santana's mussed hair back from over her forehead and cheeks. Brown eyes grow softer at the warm tone of Brittany's lowered voice. She's not heard or seen her so… so spirited in weeks. Brittany leans closer, smiling as she translates, "You're so beautiful."

Santana stares up at her for a moment, feeling heat rush up through her chest and spill across her cheeks. How Brittany still manages to arouse such emotion within her with words so simple she knows not. She tugs down once more on those suspenders, capturing the lips above hers in a needed kiss. "Te amo, Britt," she whispers before they can fully part.

A crinkle forms at the corners of Brittany's eyes as she smiles against Santana's mouth and pulls away to tell her, "Tea ammo… too, San."

Even butchered as her Spanish is, it still has Santana's stomach twisting in the most pleasant way possible. Brittany sits up, taking hold of Santana's hands and fitting their palms flat against her own. Her expression grows thoughtful as their fingers splay and bend. Santana's hands are so much smaller than hers.

Emily's fit in almost the same way… almost.

Santana can see the shift in the way Brittany's brow dips and the once-playful twine of their fingers grows slowed. She tries not to let it sound like a sigh as she calls for her, "Brittany…"

Brittany doesn't meet her gaze though; she lets their clasped hands fall down to Santana's exposed stomach. "I know what you want to ask me. Your forehead always gets all wrinkly before you do."

It is not accusatory, but concerned, Santana's response. "You're not here again."

"I'm okay today," Brittany tells her, proving so by meeting the brown eyes staring up at her with such expectation. She squeezes Santana's hands and brings them to her lips, pressing an assured kiss to her knuckles. She can't ignore the relief when Santana grins in response to her gesture. "Quinn should be here this afternoon."

"Hopefully sans the succubus," Santana says, clearly irritated that Berry would even so much as intrude on her thoughts. She lets her hands fall from Brittany's down to the mattress at her sides. Santana groans, shutting her eyes as she mutters, "If she's brought her, Britt…"

Brittany tries not to laugh but snorts despite herself. "She promised Rachel wasn't coming. I think Quinn needs this time away even though she says the visit is for us."

Santana hums thoughtfully, eyes still closed as Brittany begins tracing light patterns across her stomach. "She won't ever wish to return," she points out smartly, voice hitching as Brittany's hands slide lower. "I m-mean, just listen to that."

The hands still and Brittany struggles to hear anything despite the faint crackle of the fire in the room adjacent. "San..." she trails off, now worried for the woman below her. "I know you can't hear so good anymore but there ain't anything making noise."

Santana grins wide. "Exactly."

"You're very spiteful today," Brittany says with a laugh, poking at Santana's belly.

"I'm being entirely honest," Santana corrects her, though continues smirking nonetheless. "If she comes we'll not ever hear such glorious silence again."

"We will though," Brittany counters, trailing her fingers across Santana's abdomen and just beneath the rise if her shirt. She arches an eyebrow down at Santana, amused. "You'd make her sleep in the barn, remember?"

"Deservedly," Santana breathes out, conversation soon forgotten as her shirt is pushed up past her chest. She clutches to the slacks bunched against Brittany's knees, arching up into the fingers Brittany rolls across her hardening nipples. Her eyes fall closed and a moan is withheld, swallowed with a bite of her bottom lip.

There's something sparked within Brittany by the look, keeping her upon her knees instead of bending low to pull that lip between her teeth. For oh how she wishes nothing more than to kiss Santana in this moment. Whatever fatigue once weighed upon her body has vanished. She remains on her haunches, watching Santana's breaths grow quicker, a sense of pride swelling within her knowing she alone can elicit such a response from the woman below her. But more so affection, desirous in nature and want alike. She's entirely enamored by the blush upon Santana's cheeks and the tiny whispers of sound able to push past her lips. She wants more of that, more of her.

Being with Santana always helps her to forget.

Brittany drags her hands down across Santana's breasts and back to her stomach. Lithe muscles twitch beneath her touch and the sound Brittany yearned to hear finally gushes forth.

Her name, uttered breathlessly, needful and unguarded.

Brittany leans down without effort, one elbow planted to the bed while the other remains seared against Santana's abdomen. And then she kisses her as she's wanted to since entering the room, deliberate and slow. The way in which her thoughts and worries vanish, lost instead to the feel and taste of Santana. Her hand inches higher, the strong and rapid thuds of Santana's heart present even beneath the swell of her breasts. Her skin heats below Brittany's palms.

"You're very warm today," Brittany observes, smiling into the kiss Santana is so desperate to deepen.

Santana lets out a grunt of appreciative agreement as her hands tangle in the short strands of Brittany's hair.

"Like fire," Brittany whispers, yielding finally to Santana's desires. A thought squeezes past her defenses, stilling in nature. Teeth barely manage to rake over her bottom lip when she pulls back with a snap, expression contorted in mild horror as she asks, "How long is it that oatmeal must cook for?"

Santana can do little more than blink up at her in response.

Brittany sniffs at the air, inquisitive. "Maybe I should go see—"

At the word 'go' Santana's hands spring forward, holding Brittany firmly in place atop her. "I think you should stay."

Before Brittany can keep the thought within her mind she finds herself saying aloud, "You do taste better than oatmeal."

Santana's face reddens, her eyes darkening, exhilarated, at the comment.

Brittany purses her lips as her eyes dart toward the door. "It might be burning though."

Santana can't help but feel she's the one ablaze. "Brittany, please," she implores, tugging Brittany back down.

"Oatmeal can't set on fire can it?" Brittany asks, still clearly upset even despite the attention Santana now devotes to rekindling along her neck. "Because I do want to have you San but I'd also like us not to die in a blaze. Especially if it's my doing."

The neck her lips were just so fully working upon moves, Brittany's body soon with it. Santana gapes, astounded as long legs swing over toward the edge of the bed.

Brittany is on her feet.

Brittany is leaving.

For oatmeal.

Fire be damned, Santana thinks. She tosses off the quilt and scrambles up from the bed. Her bare feet smack against the cold wood floor, shirt rightfully falling back over her frame as she surges forward. She grabs Brittany, spinning her around and before word of protest can leave those lips Santana crashes hers atop them.

In an instant, the oatmeal is forgotten.

Brittany's back hits the wall, hands resuming their claim over Santana's breasts. Even through the fabric of her shirt Santana arches into her palms, groaning low as she kisses her harder. This kiss is far more frenzied, lips already deliciously swollen and tongues seeking to quench further need. It's broken only so the shirt can be pulled from over Santana's head, and quickly resumed once released to the floor. Fingers now no longer impeded pursue the hardened peaks at Santana's breasts.

Santana's feelings are further amplified by the brazen touch. Her stomach plunges far lower; blood rushes through her veins far hotter. She wants so much more of Brittany and has craved to have her in such an unrestrained manner.

They've not been together outside the confines of the bed in weeks.

Nor has Brittany shown quite such passion since Emily's passing.

Their kiss is broken again as Brittany turns them suddenly, a thud of noise echoing as Santana's backside meets the wall. The blue eyes before her have grown hooded and dark, pupils wide. Brittany licks her lips and the pressure within Santana's constricts, bubbling quick as she tries to temper her breathing. She feels prey to the want in Brittany's gaze, more than willing. She hooks a leg over Brittany's hip, drawing her nearer in silent answer.

Santana's skin is hot beneath the palm Brittany drags down Santana's thigh.

Santana curls her toes into the unyielding wood floor, back slipping down the wall ever so slightly as Brittany presses a wet kiss to her throat. She pulls her upright, grip upon Santana's thigh tightening as she holds her in place. Her lips move down across Santana's collarbone, a mark left low over her breast. Santana gasps, surprised by the sudden feel of Brittany's fingers brushing against her center. Her hips roll against Brittany's hand, fraught for a deeper touch.

Santana whimpers out in dissatisfaction as Brittany slides her hand away and up to her waist instead.

Any words she wishes to utter in protest are silenced as Brittany slams herself down to her knees.

The floorboards creak beneath quickly bruised skin, Brittany's desire heightened at the stronger scent of Santana's need. Fingers bury into the blonde hair, urging Brittany's mouth closer. Gripping tight to Santana's thigh, Brittany pushes her leg open wider and parts heated lips with a stroke of her tongue.

Santana's head knocks against the wall as her supporting knee buckles beneath the feel of Brittany's mouth upon her.

It is all she can feel.

Every nerve of every fiber within her pulls taut as Brittany increases pressure.

She's sure she's falling, supported only by hands and a glorious, glorious tongue.

"Brittany...!" The name spurs Brittany's movements deeper.

Santana bites back another cry, and with one more stroke of Brittany's tongue, she is undone.

The leg once loosely curled over Brittany's shoulder tightens as Santana's body begins to shudder. Brittany holds her until the tremors pass and all that remains of her release are ragged breaths.

Santana's hands are still buried in her hair.

Brittany's not quite ready to move yet, knowing Santana can no more stand on her own than she can open her eyes at the moment. She's thrilled to have brought her such pleasure, warmed to see her easing from it now. She pulls away just enough to rest her cheek against the bare thigh at her shoulder, waiting for the the rise and fall of Santana's chest to come more evenly.

As her breaths slow Brittany rises, pressing slow kisses up across Santana's stomach; a trail of wet imprints are left in her wake. Santana is still reeling, unable to open her heavy eyes as Brittany stands before her. She can feel the brush of Brittany's nose against her own, lips hovering just beyond reach. She's waiting for her, waiting for her heart to calm and brown eyes to open and meet her own.

They do open, dark in color and heavy with the same want that coursed through Brittany only moments before. Santana pushes up from the wall, claiming Brittany's lips with a low moan. There are faint traces of herself there, more as Brittany parts her lips and deepens the kiss.

She needs her undressed.

The suspenders are slid down first.

Brittany kisses her harder, willing her thoughts to be lost to Santana and her alone. She cannot let go though... not all together. When feeling so alive it is impossible to keep the stanzas from seeping to her mind.

And, in the red fire's cheerful glow,

Her shirt is pulled free from slacks now slung low over her hips. She pulls Santana closer.

Exhausted with repinings vain,

Her heart beats faster, darkness edging into the glow of light spilled over top closed eyes.

The creak of wood beneath their feet splits her ears, grating. Hauntingly familiar.

Hands immediately seek the smooth skin of her stomach once concealed.

She is chilled.

That I shall greet them never again.

Brittany pulls away sharply as Santana's hand slips beneath her waist line. "W-wait," she whispers hastily, squirming in both delay and need. Fear paints the blue of her eyes and Santana stills. Her hand remains, paused, just beneath the fold of Brittany's slacks.

The look of hurt that flashes in brown eyes nearly sets Brittany recanting her words.

"You've not let me," Santana tells her softly, for Brittany's seldom felt her touch since Emily passed. She's not questioned her, not once in all the times Brittany has held her close instead, whispering of times they are to share later... that she cannot let go just quite yet.

It is obvious Emily consumes her thoughts.

That even now upon the verge of such passion her heart still aches with loss.

Brittany's gaze both yearns for forgiveness and fingers to dip between her thighs. But she's rigid with hesitation. Santana kisses her gently, coaxing the fire within her to burn anew. She pulls away just enough to whisper, "I crave you just as much."

Brittany releases an uneven and slow breath. Far more sure are the hands she runs up Santana's arms. "I want you, Santana, I do," she tells her, voice tinged with unspoken regret. She cups Santana's face between her palms, willing for brown eyes to understand.

Santana bites back the sting of unshed tears. "Then why have you stopped me?"

Brittany lets her chin fall as she confesses, "I close my eyes and all I see is her..."

Santana's heart sinks at the words. She knows, of course, but to hear Brittany say it with such pain... She cannot let her hurt so. Santana removes her hand from the slacks, hooking fingers instead over the bend of Brittany's elbows. Her eyes catch on the jagged scar across Brittany's forearm. The stark white is prevalent against the splash of her skin.

It shan't ever fade.

And somehow, impossibly almost, she loves Brittany all the more.

Santana turns her head and presses a long kiss over the mark.

Emily's death may still yet bleed her heart but the wound shall heal, just as this one. And if Brittany should want for Santana's touch, she will find her. She always has.

"San?" Brittany murmurs, tone anxious.

Santana meets her gaze. "I love you," she says, voice still shaky and raw. "I know you miss her still."

"I do," Brittany whispers, warmed by Santana's understanding. She wants her all the more. Brittany gently tilts Santana's head up, reconnecting their lips. The spark reignites within them both. "Te ammo San, so much."

Santana is spurred by the confidence in Brittany's tone. Breaking their heated kiss, she trails a path down Brittany's jaw. "Trust in me?"

"Always," Brittany breathes out, threading her fingers into Santana's hair. She needs her closer, that mouth one more dragging over her skin.

Santana steps forward, pressing their bodies flush together so little more than her hand can manage to slip beneath the belt line of Brittany's slacks. Brittany bites her bottom lip, withholding a moan as Santana whispers to her ear. "Then don't let your eyes close." She nudges Brittany's forehead back up.

Dark eyes have never locked with her own in such patient desire. Brittany trembles, heat pools low in her belly.

"Look at me," Santana urges gently.

Brittany nods, breathing deeply as Santana's left hand slides between the apex of her thighs. The slacks slip further down her naked hips and Brittany wishes nothing more than to bury her face against Santana's neck. She withholds, keeping her gaze, however unsteady it's become, upon the ardent brown eyes before her.

Santana is slow in her motions, as cautious as she is tender with pace. Two fingers easily fill a ready center. She braces a hand behind Brittany's neck, keeping her from turning away, keeping those open blue eyes fixed upon hers. It's so rare she sees her like this, every flicker of pleasure so rich, every fiber of the love she harbors so bare and real.

Santana feels she will unravel with her, explode just as she does. She curls within her deeper and Brittany's muscles clench around her fingers.

Blue eyes finally slam shut as her body surrenders, forehead pressing hard against Santana's as she shudders upon unsteady legs.

And when blue eyes reopen they are filled with a look that stills Santana's heart in the most awed of ways.

Brittany hasn't the voice to speak, her words still stolen with the skipped beats of her full heart. She wraps Santana into a tight embrace, burying her face against the side of a slick neck.

Her eyes close.

She is warm.

For this moment, there is only them.

The hall is laden with the stench of burnt oats, something Santana is instantly aware of as she exits their bedroom and finds her nose scrunching in effect.

Surprisingly though, it's not so terrible inside the kitchen. The evidence of their neglected morning breakfast escapes easily, thanks to the door Brittany has propped open with her boots and the window she's pulled high into its frame. Bits of falling snow melt against the thresholds, ignored save for the old tea saucers Brittany has placed overtop her boots to keep the ice from sneaking inside.

She's standing by the stove in her father's socks when Santana enters, mixing up a fresh batch of oatmeal over the open flame. Her clothes are rumpled in a way that makes a warmth settle in Santana's cheeks despite the chill of the winter air slipping inside. She watches Brittany pull her bottom lip between her teeth, concentrating as she adds a dash more milk to the pot. Quietly, so as to not give rise to her presence, Santana walks up behind her, smiling as she wraps her arms around Brittany's middle and nuzzles her face between relaxed shoulder blades.

Brittany smells of fresh hay and burnt oats and sex and Santana thinks nothing could smell more wonderful. She melts into her. "I'd apologize but then I'm not sorry at all the first batch burned," she admits, still pressed against Brittany's back, content never to move again.

She feels more than hears Brittany's chuckle. "I'm not either." Brittany taps a few fingers to Santana's wrist, a silent permission requested for arms to loosen. Santana drops a kiss to the back of Brittany's neck before letting go and grins as she notices the tip of Brittany's ears burn bright red. Brittany smiles down at her regardless, remembering the question she wished to ask. "When we finish eating I was hoping we could go to the lake?"

"I'd love to," Santana tells her, stealing another kiss before collecting the steaming kettle from the stovetop. Brittany had already seen to it that Hendrick's morning tea was waiting for her. "Let me go see if your Pa is up."

"He wasn't before I came to get you earlier." Brittany always checks, always. Even if it's just for a moment. Santana knows how affected Brittany grows after she's stepped foot in Emily's room. Her heart beats so much faster afterward.

How it will hurt her to know that her father has that same illness...

She needs to know, Santana reminds herself.

She smiles up at Brittany. "If he's still not I'll leave him a note about where we've gone."

Brittany grins, nodding her thanks as she returns to fixing their breakfast. Santana fills Hendrick's usual mug with tea and checks her pocket for her mask before heading back to his room. She always keeps a couple masks on person. One she always dons before seeing to Hendrick and the other in the event Brittany were to need it. Hendrick seldom ever leaves his room and upon occasion he does it is always with his scarf.

She'd rather not the risk.

For Brittany to fall prey to this disease, especially unwittingly, she... Santana simply refuses to think of such an outcome.

She knocks on his door and secures her mask on quickly.

If Hendrick heard any of their morning activities he chooses not to mention it as Santana enters his room. But Santana doubts he has, given the way he sits with his knees raised to his chest and head buried between his legs.

She thinks it rather a stupid question to ask, give how obviously ill he appears, but ventures nonetheless, "How are you feeling?"

Hendrick doesn't remove his head as he lets out a loud moan. "Like hell done taken up home in my head," he mutters into the bed quilt trapped against his face. "Am I burning?"

Santana settles to the edge of the bed and places a hand against the back of Hendrick's neck. His skin isn't so much hot to the touch as it is damp. A sweat bodes well for his current disposition. "Not to the extent of a fever, perhaps just fatigue," she tells him, coaxing him into a far more comfortable position against the headboard. The lines of his face are heavy with the strain of sleepless nights. He does not open his eyes to her. "It's probably best you stay in today."

She notices them squeeze shut tighter. "Tell Brittany I'm—"

"I'll let her know you're taking a day for yourself," she says, purposely not allowing him to complete the same string of words he's been so unable to speak to his daughter. Her lips thin as she adds, "She'll understand."

Hendrick still hasn't so much as met her eyes. "Thank you, Santana."

She gathers his drinking cup from the night previous, pausing to take a look back down at him. He must know how difficult it's been, how awfully her stomach churns watching another sun set on a day with Brittany still so ignorant to his disease. "I hate having to lie to her, you know," she whispers to him.

And as always he lets out a heavy breath and replies, "I promise I will tell her soon."

It is not enough. "Today."

His eyes open at the demand. Santana's not once spoken to him in such a manner since he's welcomed her back into the home. Their gazes meet, hers steady and imploring of him an answer he feels he cannot give her yet. Death awaits him. How is he to every tell his daughter such a painful truth? How is it Santana wishes to, everyday?

How has she more strength than he?

She is far and beyond anyone he could have ever hoped for Brittany to find.

"Yes, today," he answers her, clasping her hand tightly with his own. "I swear it, Santana."

"For her sake I hope you mean it," she tells him, her gaze softening as she stands from the bed with his used cup. "We're heading out for a bit and should be back in a few hours' time."

He seems to pale simply thinking about it. "Okay."

When she returns to the kitchen and Brittany asks her if he was awake, Santana lies.

She feels a burden of weight leave knowing this will be the last time.

A blanket and old corn crate await Santana near the frozen edges of the lake. She tries to muster the same enthusiasm as Brittany but the snow is deep and her footing poor at best. Brittany's not released her hand since they stepped down from the porch, the occasional promise of only good to come passing from her lips while she led Santana through the frosted trees. Every misstep and slip of Santana's feet was caught with a steady hand and ever more caring eyes.

All for what appears shall be a picnic beneath clear skies amidst what she hopes is the last snowfall of the season.

It is cold; her toes have grown numb and her ears are sure to sport the same ice that sticks to the branches above, but Brittany's smile only widens all the more. Santana's heart no longer wishes to return to the warmth of their bed as it is set upon ensuring Brittany's smile does not falter.

Brittany helps Santana to settle upon the blanket before plopping down herself beside the small crate.

And to Santana's credit she does not once mention aloud that they've already eaten.

"Have you any guesses?" Brittany asks, drumming a few of her finger tips atop the box slats.

"Somehow you've managed to obtain Quinn's dignity and we're here to pay it a proper burial?" Santana offers, smirking proudly.

Brittany snorts despite herself, before giving Santana the weakest of reproving looks. "Don't let her hear you say that, and no, it's not that."

"I'll never guess right, Brittany," Santana tells her with a laugh as she reclines down along the blanket. She prods at the box, half expecting it to peep with the noise of newborn chicks. "For all I know you've a unicorn babe in there."

Brittany's expression turns thoughtful as she stares down at the crate. "I think the box is a bit too small for one..." She turns her gaze back up to Santana, eyes alight with possibility. "Though a dragon hatchling might fit. One of those could surely keep your ears warm on walks to the lake."

"By warm I assume you mean completely burn them off," Santana says, giggling.

Brittany stares at her a moment, looking as though resisting a roll of her eyes. "We'd obviously train it not to breathe fire near hair, Santana."

"Naturally," Santana agrees. She's about to ask Brittany to simply open the box already but the other woman carries on before she can properly form the words.

"You could wear him round your neck like a scarf, but he'd obviously not be dead, just happy to be near you like Tubbington only less fat...well at first anyway. I think they'd probably grow big real fast... and he'd probably try to eat Apple or even Pa."

Santana blinks up at her, tickled to hear how her imagined pet would adapt to farm life.

Brittany waves the entire idea away with a flick of her wrist. "Okay, no, bad idea. It's a good thing dragons aren't the slightest bit real. They'd probably kill us all just like in storybooks anyhow."

"I thought that's what knights were for," Santana notes, propping her head up onto her upturned palm. "They kill beasts and such right? Why not just hire some knights to set them in their place?"

Brittany laughs, quite hard Santana thinks. She stares down at Santana, amused as she asks her, "How about I just open the box?"

Santana smiles, nodding as she rises back into place. Brittany pries off the crate top, setting it down to the corner of the blanket that's been flicking upward in the soft breeze. Santana scoots closer to her side, peering down inside the box as Brittany withdraws out what appears nothing more than straps of tangled leather and bits of rusted metal.

Brittany cradles the mess with care.

"These were Emily's," she says, holding out a pair of well-worn ice blades. Her gaze darts down to Santana's feet and then back to the skates in her hand. "I think you're both about the same size."

Santana shakes her head, pushing them gently back toward Brittany. "Brittany, I can't take these."

"She's not using them no more," Brittany states, and is so matter of fact that Santana can do little more than gape back at her. Had she not almost broken down in her arms this morning over her sister? Brittany's eyes betray the cool level of her voice, grief as evident in the pale shade of blue as it is in the way her hands tremble the longer she holds the blades within her grasp. She extends them out further, nearly begging of Santana to release them from her hands with the motion. With an equally shaky smile she assures her, "But I asked just in case so don't worry, you won't be smited."

Santana hasn't the heart to correct her that the term is smote. She smiles instead and graciously accepts the skates, hugging them to her chest. She leans against Brittany's shoulder as she tells her, "Not really a concern I have, but thank you for thinking of my eternal salvation."

Brittany grins and drops a quick kiss to Santana's chilled ear. "You're welcome," she whispers before sliding out from beside her and crawling into place in front of Santana's crossed legs. She taps on Santana's ankles. "Here, let me help you tie them up. I was always sorry we never got the chance to do this."

"I enjoyed that night regardless," Santana tells her as she allows Brittany to rest her feet down between her knees. "It was really sweet of you Britt."

Brittany blushes, proud and thrilled as she works to fit the skates on around Santana's boots. The calm of the silent lakeside surrounds them, nothing save for the tinkering of Brittany's hands on the skates echoing across the frozen waters. She finishes tying up the last one, her fingers lingering on the weathered straps as she tucks them to a higher knot. Emily always insisted on lacing them up herself, even if after few moments on the lake she'd be tripping over herself and begging of Brittany to tie them right and proper.

"Lace me real good, Britt," Emily would demand though her grin was grateful, her gaze so full of excitement to carry on their fun. "I'm going to dance till the ice melts and you must fish me from the lake!"

"Maybe I won't lace them that good peanut," Brittany would laugh in response.

She always did anyway.

Brittany pauses in her work to look now at the new owner of the skates. Santana is sat with her hands propped behind her back, eyes closed as she breathes in the morning air. Serene. Happy. "San?"

"Hm?" Santana hums out, opening her eyes just enough for Brittany to come into focus.

"I just…" Brittany begins to say, cheeks growing flustered as she finds the words she wishes to speak unable to come forward. She doesn't know how to tell Santana everything she wishes to. There is too much. How is it one conveys that her heart beats stronger today for the smile she's just shown you? To tell her that every day she stands by your side when you feel as though you're fighting to breathe is a blessing. That you'd gladly bring her back here everyday, even when the memories of someone so dear to you are still so fresh, just to hear her reason more on imagined creatures and look at you with such regard. Brittany finds the words and utters them with care, "Thank you."

Santana sits up straighter, uncomprehending where the sudden sentiment is born from. "I haven't done anything, Britt," she tells her softly though she feels herself warming with affection regardless.

"You don't think so but you have," Brittany tells her, moving forward until her knees fall beside Santana's thighs and her hands rest against cool cheeks. "You're the only one who doesn't look at me like I'm atrophied."

A sharp sting of feeling burrows into Santana's gut. Brittany has not told her of this. Could people truly be so cruel? To look at her as if not just broken, but worse. As if she were a waste, useless... "You're not," Santana whispers back to her with thick adamancy. "Everyone else who thinks so is absurdly stupid."

Brittany smiles down at her as she releases Santana's face. "They're not stupid. They just don't see me like you do," she says, toying with one of the buttons on Santana's coat front. "Everyone here has always thought me... strange."

Santana grabs her hand. "Then they're idiots."

"I don't believe them. I know I'm a great person."

"Then why let them bother you?" Santana asks softly, wishing for Brittany to once more look upon her again.

It takes a moment for Brittany to answer. She thinks on the faces of those in attendance at Emily's funeral. How they stared at her from beneath their hats and whispered in corners they felt themselves safe from her ears. She'd not heard their words, they were so careful. It was the pity in their eyes that made their thoughts clear. 'Emily had such a life ahead of her.' 'It's a pity he lost her.' 'Poor Hendrick, whatever will he do now?'

They were so subtle…

When Brittany does answer, the pain within Santana's stomach increases tenfold. "Because I know they wonder why it was Emily who passed when they'd rather it had been me. Sometimes I wonder it too…"

"Brittany, look at me," Santana tells her, mindful to keep her voice even and her flaring temper at bay. She does not fault Brittany for her feelings, no. It is those who have planted such thoughts within her mind. Internally she seethes, but outward… outward Santana waits, patient until those blue eyes lock with hers. She pulls Brittany closer. "If anyone, anyone so much as glances your way thinking such then they damn well deserve some unnecessarily painful molar extractions."

"Hurting them won't make them think differently," Brittany says with a small sigh. She cannot hold her smile though as she also tells her, "But thank you for offering."

"I mean it Brittany," Santana says, her hands finding purchase behind Brittany's neck. Her eyes are dark, stilling in their devotion. "You are nothing short of perfect and if anyone dares to tell you otherwise I will be pulling teeth. Lots and lots of teeth."

Brittany can't help it as her smile widens and she presses her forehead to the now warm one before her. "You're really into dentistry lately, aren't you?"

"I may have been reading a book or two," Santana admits before she scrunches her nose and tells her, "Have you seen the teeth of the people here? I'd voluntarily carve them all new teeth if only so I don't have to suppress a grimace whenever checking throats for infection."

Brittany pulls away with a chuckle. "You're terrible with crafts though, San. Their teeth might actually look worse with your help."

"Thank you for that vote of confidence, Brittany," Santana tells her dryly though ensures her gaze retains its mirth. "Truly, as if I'm not fully aware of my failings as an artist."

"I wish I still had that book you made for me," Brittany admits aloud, remembering fondly every page Santana crafted just for her. "Even though your drawings were awful I used to look at it any chance I got. Sometimes I'd stay awake real late and wonder why you picked certain things to scribble. As much as you made it for me to learn my letters I learned more of you than anything at all."

Santana had entirely forgotten that book. She can't believe Brittany could adore something so crude. Something she'd made just to make their lessons pass quicker...

How they turned to so much more because of it.

Brittany begins to tie on her own skates when Santana calls out for her, "Britt?"

"Yeah?" she responds, giving Santana her full attention whilst her hands remain hovering over her feet.

Santana smiles, enamored entirely with the woman before her. "Ik hou van je."

Brittany returns the grin. "I love you too, San."

She resumes fixing the skates to her boots, humming to herself in much the same way Emily would waiting for Brittany to finish so they could dance. Her voice quiets as her heart weighs heavy in her chest. Would thoughts of Emily ever cease feeling so unbearable? She looks up at Santana, unsurprised by the accompanying concern that begins to crease dark brows. "Stop worrying for me, I'm fine, really."

"You were just looking a tad serious fixing up your laces."

Brittany's not quite sure how one looks serious doing something so simple, but she assumes Santana means how quiet she grew. Her thoughts were elsewhere, if she must be truthful. So she tells Santana, "I was thinking of when I did this for Emily and how it reminded me of something very different. You remember when we had tea with Rachel and I stayed after you and Quinn left?"

"I never quite understood why you did," Santana tells her, curious. Her expression grows apologetic though almost instantly. "Oh no, did she force you to stay and listen to her shrill on some more?"

"In a way I suppose," Brittany replies, finishing the last of her laces. "But she said something, about how she feels without Finn. That sometimes it's unbearable."

Santana scoots closer, tone quieted. "Is that how you feel now?"

Brittany nods. "Some," she answers for it is the truth. There will always be a part of her that shall unbearably miss Emily. When Santana leans over and brushes a kiss low on her jaw she also must tell her, "But you help make me feel less atrophied."

Santana kisses her then, the same all consuming way she did just that morn in their room.

The way that makes Brittany feel alive and wanted and most of all exactly where she belongs.

The lips against hers move slower, warm kisses dotted in a path across her cheek toward her ear. "Come on," Santana whispers as she picks them both up to their feet and tugs Brittany down toward the frozen lake edge. "Teach me to ice dance!"

Brittany smiles and it's the first time in weeks Santana feels that the light fully touches those blue eyes she adores.

"Quinn, that move is illegal."

"This is a perfectly acceptable move. You don't know shit of chess."

"I know enough to know you begin speaking crass when you've been bested," Santana tells her, amused by Quinn's frustration. She smartly points down to one of her opponents dark pieces. "And that rooks can't miraculously travel crossways like that. You've confused it for your bishop."

Quinn groans. "This game is maddening," she decides and glares with well-founded suspicion to Santana. "And you've so been cheating."

"I haven't cheated a square," Santana claims, feigning affront at the accusation. Quinn shows no remorse. "Vouch for me, Britt."

Both turn toward the woman sitting in the fireside chair, awaiting her response. Brittany couldn't look more disinterested in their bickering. She is slouched across the seat, engrossed entirely in one of Emily's poetry books propped up against her lap. Her legs dangle over one of the armrests, socked feet warmed by the fire. Occasionally, when the fire burns just a tad too hot, she scratches at one of her ankles with her toes. She does so now, not even bothering to glance away from the page she's reading, and answers, "She's been moving her stubby pieces when you're not looking, Quinn."

Simultaneously, opposing exclamations meet her ears.


"I knew it!"

Santana waves off the smug look Quinn has now focused upon her. "We're done with this," she says, pushing the game pieces from the board with a swipe of her forearm. They fall into their containing box with tiny, guilty, clacks. "It just brings about discord."

"That would be you and your foul play," Quinn is quick to supply, still insufferably haughty. Santana thinks she has more than picked up on Rachel's mannerisms for the proud expression she wears now is scarily uncanny. "Who taught you chess anyway?" Quinn asks her, ignoring the leery look that's crossed Santana's features. She's quite sure if she were to bother pointing it out she'd be met with yet another diatribe on Rachel's horrid influence upon her character.

Four is more than enough for one afternoon.

She's then thankful when that expression is quickly replaced on Santana's face in favor of the usual mirth that's been directed at her since her arrival."Well not my private maidservant, that is for sure," Santana quips.

Quinn can hardly contain the roll of her eyes. "I'll have you know I did not have a private maidservant," she informs, tone clipped. Though an unfortunate blush does spread to her fair cheeks when she tells her, "It was the steward who taught me actually."

Santana's smiles, triumphant. "I feel as though the hole you've dug for yourself with all these side comments is finally deep enough for you to perhaps reach the Orient."

Quinn lets out a frustrated breath. "Oh shut up, Satan, as if you're some holy beacon of all things righteous and good."

"I don't claim to be," Santana replies smoothly, crossing her arms over the edge of the playing board. Her gaze is teasing in nature, grin sly. She motions up toward Quinn's collarbone with a few flicks of her wrist. "But that shiny new cross you've about your neck tonight might speak otherwise. Where did you even get that?"

Quinn feels her cheeks warm for the second time as she reaches up and lets her fingers brush against the small charm. "It was a gift," she says, smiling genuinely. "From Noah."

Santana arches a brow, intrigued more so with Quinn's tone than her answer.

Brittany turns another page and offers her opinion aloud, "I think it's pretty."

"You didn't even look at it Brittany," Quinn says, flippant.

Brittany merely shrugs and sinks down into a more comfortable position. "I don't really stare your breasts Quinn, only San's. Though I'm sure Noah likes yours well enough if he gave you something to wear between them."

Santana is struggling to contain the laugher she wishes to let forth.

Quinn turns her narrowed eyes from the back of Brittany's head to the dark-haired one in front of her. "Why am I friends with you both again?"

Santana scoffs and then chuckles, for really, "Because we're far superior company than the usual midget type you keep?"

Quinn doesn't immediately respond.

Santana cannot believe how long it is taking her friend to simply nod in agreement.

There were two truths in her life. She is firstly, undoubtedly, always to be in love with Brittany Pierce. And second, she is sworn, undoubtedly, to despise one Rachel Berry for all time.

So when Quinn meekly, though with some manner of clout, tells her, "Rachel is not so… terrible."

Santana has no immediate response.

Quinn ventures further. "On occasion she is, dare I say, tolerable even."

Santana finally finds the voice with which to speak at the atrocities spewing from Quinn's lips. Turning her attention toward Brittany she asks, "Do you smell that Britt?"

Brittany tilts her head back over the armrest, staring over at Santana with a quizzical squint of her eyes. Santana's senses have been known to betray her and she can't tell if this is one of those instances or if she wishes for her to agree just to spite Quinn some more. She offers out a hesitant, "yes?" just to be sure.

"That exotic aroma?" Santana elaborates, and Quinn feels insulted now just on sheer lack of subtly alone.

Brittany's upside down nod is confident and surprisingly thoughtful. "Very exotical."

Quinn sputters, "That's not even a wor-"

"It's like spices are being unloaded from the Orient right before me," Santana interjects, smirking wide.

Quinn stares over the table at Santana, impassive. "I'm just going to go to bed if you both are going to keep offending me." Before she can begin to enact her threat she hastily adds, "And Brittany better be on the other side of you tonight."

"Sorry about that again Quinn!" Brittany says with her attention once more upon the book.

Quinn moves to stand but pauses when Santana's hand comes to rest against her forearm. "You know we don't mean all the fuss," Santana tells her, and for once Quinn sees true apology within her eyes. Santana gives a squeeze of her arm as Quinn sits back down. "You are our very best friend."

"Because we only have three," Brittany mentions and offhandedly also supplies, "I didn't count Rachel."

Santana smiles warmly at her.

Quinn supposes this is the best she'll ever receive in way of acceptance from them.

Santana releases her hold to sit back in her chair, smile still soft as she turns to Quinn. "Stay up with us for a bit?" she asks, hopeful. "I know Noah's been teaching you to play guitar, maybe we could try a song or two?"

Quinn can't help the amusement that comes to her face. "You do realize you sounded uncannily like Rachel just then."

Santana's expression drops, mouth thinning as she purses her lips. "I think it's late," she announces after a moment, terse. "Brittany, aren't you tired?"

Brittany shifts in her chair, shaking her head. "No, I'm—"

"So very tired, yes," Santana drowns out the rest of her reply as she shoots up from her seat. "We've an early day tomorrow. So many farm creatures in need of plowing."

Brittany lets out a sigh as she turns to her side. "You don't plow the animals Santana," she explains calmly. "You feed them, we went over this."

"Right, feed, got to feed the animals at dawn," Santana carries on, busily collecting their used cups and dishes from the side table. "And then off I'll go to Dr. Nelson's."

"You're so transparent Santana," Quinn chuckles as Santana hurries by her on way to the kitchen.

She stops entirely, eyes narrowed with spite as she throws back over her shoulder, "Stop talking, Quinn, or I'll switch with Brittany."

The threat is enough to silence Quinn, though reluctantly at that. Santana stalks off into the kitchen and Quinn watches her go, wary of her threat before she too heads back to the bedroom, wishing Brittany a good evening as she disappears into the hall.

Santana emerges, subsequently pleased and at once disappointment to see Quinn has retired for the night. Presumably to ensure she not be last to bed again, Santana thinks. Though, she realizes, the fire is waning in the hearth and the room is cooling as the winter air slips gradually into the home. The hour draws late and as always they will need to rise with the dawn. She finds Brittany still in her chair as she makes her way toward the hall. "Brittany? Will you be coming to bed as well?"

"Yeah, I'll be right there," is the reply she's met by as Brittany closes her book. She kicks one of her feet tiredly toward the hearth. "I just need to douse the fire. I know how you don't like getting sooty fingers."

"Ik hou van je," Santana tells her, smiling as she leans her shoulder against the hall entry.

"Te ammo," Brittany says in kind. "It's getting better, I promise."

"If you want to be alone for a bit you need only ask, you know that right?"

Brittany nods, still not moving from her spot. Her eyes move to the fire, the light casting shadows across her pensive expression. "When you're not here, I go to the lake a lot. I talk to her there," she says quietly after a moment. "I've not tended to the fields since she di—" She still can't say the word without her throat closing tight.

Santana pushes off from the entryway and comes to a crouch by Brittany's side. "If you're worried for clearing the crops I'll wake up a little earlier to get the work done and—"

"No, you already wake with the sun as it is," Brittany says, turning her cheek against the armrest until her gaze falls on Santana's concerned face. She smiles sadly at her. "I can't keep you from helping the sick just because I've turned to such a moose."

"Moose?" Santana repeats, puzzled. "Are there even moose here?"

"I've never seen one before, they just sound like such a glum animal."

"You're not a moose, Britt," Santana assures her, brushing some of her hair from over her forehead. "I'll stay home tomorrow, if you want me to. Dr. Nelson would understand."

"That's okay, thank you though," Brittany says, appreciative of the offer. She knows Santana would drop everything for her if only she were to ask. "Quinn and Pa are here, they'll keep me company."

Santana's palm cups her cheek and Brittany also can't help it as she leans into the touch. "Not in the way I do."

"No, not like you," she agrees, smile at ease. She nods back toward the hall. "You should go to bed. I'll be there soon, promise."

"I will, I just…" Santana's words trail off as her eyes fill with hesitance. Brittany swings her legs back down and sits upright, taking Santana's hand from her cheek and threading their fingers down in her lap. She encourages her with a squeeze of her hand. Santana swallows, before asking, "Has your Pa talked to you at all today?"

"No, he's been in there all day," Brittany says, unable to keep the scowl from her lips. She lets out a breath though, frustrations fading as she tells Santana, "I don't think he'll come out for a good while. He was the same when my mother died."

"Brittany, he… he's hurting with more than just grief for Emily," Santana admits and at first Brittany looks at her with bewilderment. What more could be paining him aside from the obvious? Had something upon the farm- her thought is derailed as Santana continues, voice grave. "There's something he should have told you, long ago, and now I find I must because I cannot keep his word if it means betraying your trust especially given—"

"Santana," Brittany presses, heart racing as she leans nearer. "What hasn't he told me?"

Santana's eyes close before she begins, "Sometime in early January he received a letter about our capture. I can only imagine the horror and despair that crossed his mind thinking you were surely found out and put to death." Her eyes implore of Brittany's, grip tightening as she tells her, "You were so far away Brittany, and here was this… this proof that you'd never return. It broke him. He was losing both of you and was helpless to stop it."

"W-what did he do San?"

"He stopped using a mask," Santana confesses, her tone shaky. "Emily's tuberculosis must have set in not a week or so after we arrived."

Her father is sick.

He is sick like Emily...

"How long-" the words lodge deep in her throat. "How long have you known?"

"Three weeks." The sting of the words pierce deep into her heart. Brittany's eyes cloud with tears; with resentment. Santana surges forward, hands braced against Brittany's face as she whispers thickly, "I'm sorry, Brittany. He wanted to be the one to tell you but the days went on and he kept insisting 'today', 'today' and I—Britt? Brittany!"

Brittany has ceased listening though, already on her feet and making quick strides toward her father's room. She barges in through the door, holding her blouse up over her mouth as he scrambles up in bed, shocked by the intrusion and every more so by her hissed words. "Tell me."

"Sunshine…" he breathes out, knowing why she's come. In the hall he can see Santana's shadow spread across the wood floor. The doctor remains hidden from his sight though, leaving him with his angered daughter alone.

"I want you to tell me."

Hendrick bows his head. "I've consumption."

She breathes evenly, more to quell the way tears prick at her eyes and her heart feels ready to collapse in her chest. "You asked San to lie to me," she tells him, struggling. "For w-weeks."

His eyes shut at the absolute pain in her torn voice. "I never meant to keep this from you for so long," he utters weakly.

"But you did," she growls.

"I'm so sorry, Brittany," he tells her in a rush of words. "There's not a minute goes by that I don't regret what I've brought on myself. And you must understand why I never told you of-"

"I do understand," she counters, not daring to move closer but wishing he could see how plainly the betrayal reads in her eyes. "You wanted to protect me, keep me ignorant. Will you never stop thinking of me as a child?"

"I don't think that of you!" Hendrick is quick to respond with a few shakes of his head. "We'd just lost Emily and I didn't want to burden you more with news of my illness."

"You've known since January!" Brittany exclaims, blood hot in her veins. "Why not tell me then!"

"I didn't wish for you to hate me more than you already did!" Hedrick shouts, succumbing to a string of coughs. He slumps against the headboard. "I couldn't lose you..."

Brittany's eyes flash. "And you thought lying to me, having San lie for you, would make that better?"

"I knew the wrong of it," he says, remorseful. He'd hoped to never see that look in her eyes again. That same resentment she held for him for so long returning... "I'm sorry, Brittany. Please forgive me... Ik hou van je."

She loves him... But she can't will the words to form to her tongue. She cannot forgive him, not yet.

She leaves his room before the sting in her heart can fully settle.

Santana and Quinn stand in the hall entry as she closes the door softly at her back.

She can't look at either of them.

She can't feel much of anything...

"Are you all right Brittany?" Quinn is the first to speak as she walks away from his room. "I could make you some tea, or fix you some warm milk perhaps?"

"Please?" Brittany asks, voice small.

Quinn squeezes her shoulder. "Of course," she tells her and with a look of sympathy shared with Santana, she heads off to the kitchen to fix Brittany's cup.

Brittany instantly falls into the arms Santana carefully wraps around her back. "Know there is a very good chance he will overcome this," are the words whispered to her ear.

"Emily didn't," she replies bluntly.

Santana holds her closer. "Every circumstance is different."

"But this isn't. It is her sickness in him now. How is that different?"

"We caught it early and he has the proper medications; enough to last months," Santana explains, voice soft. "So long as we keep him with access to fresh air and his health in balance he can go years living with tuberculosis and not—"

Brittany pulls away, seeking the truth in brown eyes. "Will he die like her?"

Santana is overwhelmed by the absolution. "Brittany it's… it's too soon to tell."

"But he will, eventually, won't he?" She asks, feeling the numbness subside in wake of rising temper. She pushes it down, forcing her voice to calm as she implores of Santana, "Please don't lie to me again."

Santana's heart grows heavy as she answers, "In time, yes."

And even though Brittany's heart breaks, she smiles and says to her, "Thank you, for telling me."

"I should have said something sooner," Santana laments with a groan. "It was stupid of me but I just…I just wanted so much for him to trust me." To accept me, she thinks, feeling foolish in such a desire now.

"It's not stupid," Brittany tells her, embracing Santana for she knows why brown eyes have clouded so. "And don't you ever think you have to prove yourself for love which you more than deserve."

Santana hugs her back, burying her face against Brittany's neck. "I don't want you to lose him Britt. You've lost so much already."

"He's not gone yet," Brittany tells her, warmed as a kiss is pressed to her jaw. "And I've you."

"You've me," Santana repeats, holding her close. "Always."

The chores have been neglected the next morning when Santana wakes. Brittany is gone.

Quinn offers to make breakfast as Santana readies for the long walk to the lake.

When she arrives Brittany is lying in the center of one of their ice paths from the day before.

Santana carefully lies down beside her, wary of the creaks and groans the thick ice makes as she settles on her back by Brittany's side.

Brittany slides her hand across the ice, twining her gloved fingers with Santana's. "Everything was supposed to be better when we came home," she says, gaze still skyward. Her brow lowers over squinted eyes. "Why can't everything just be okay for us?"

It is an honest question and deserves an equally honest answer. "I don't know."

Brittany turns her head and squeezes Santana's hand tighter. "You can't get sick too, San," she tells her, voice hushed with anxiety. "I've lost ev-everyone."

"You won't lose me like that." She can't promise it though. Instead she offers something she hopes will draw a smile to paling lips. "I'm far too invested in turning into a weathered old lady with you."

Brittany chuckles softly. "You won't look weathered," she tells her, turning up onto her side. The ice barely makes a sound beneath Brittany's shift. "You'll still be beautiful even when you're fifty."

"Oh, so at fifty-one I'll be hideous?" Santana asks her, scoffing in amusement. "Is that when you imagine my skin will sag, and I'll turn all wrinkly and spotted?"

"Maybe at sixty."

Santana laughs. "And will you still love me when I look like Berry?"

"I will," Brittany tells her, poking Santana in the side. Santana squirms beneath the ticklish touch. "But she doesn't look like that."

"You have to agree she dresses like it though."

"I do but maybe Quinn has helped her? You know, gotten her some better dresses?"

"Helped her out of some you mean."

Brittany pokes her again, smirking. "They don't have sex Santana."

"That we know of," Santana points out, equally wry.

She joking of course, but Brittany responds to the comment nonetheless. "Rachel would have told me."

Santana sits up and lets out an exceedingly, unnecessary, exasperated sigh. "Have you been writing to her again?" she asks, staring down at Brittany with narrowed scrutiny. "Brittany, what could you possibly have to converse about aside from both your suspicious tastes in neck wear?"

Brittany sits up as well and answers simply, "You."

Santana gapes at her, unknowing just quite how to respond.

"She knows what it's like, living as we now must," Brittany explains, tone regardful. "I ask her about her fathers mostly, you know, just how they cope and the like. Occasionally, I tell her to get nicer scarves."

Santana grows quiet, thoughtful before venturing, "What does she... what does she tell you of how her fathers cope?"

Brittany smiles as she pulls them up to their feet. "I can share one of her letters with you if you'd like. Though, as a warning, her letters are near as long as one of your medical books. The last she sent was well over fifteen pages. Seven alone were about how horrible your apology letter was."

Santana scoffs. "She should consider herself blessed that I even bothered to send one at all."

"I know she's annoying, and I mostly end up throwing those bits of her letters to the fire, but she's the only one who knows what we're going through, San," Brittany tells her, catching Santana before she can lose footing on their way toward the snowy banks. "Sometimes it's nice to know we're not alone."

"Will you share one with me tonight?" Santana asks, feeling need to add, "Preferably a short one?"

"Mmm hmm," Brittany nods, helping her from off the ice. She smirks down at Santana as she tells her, "And don't worry, I won't tell her."

They head back toward the farm, arms linked at the elbows.

Santana leans against Brittany's shoulder as she confesses to the truth she feels in her heart. "Someday things will be good again. I promise you that, Brittany."

Blue eyes darken, but only just. "But Pa..."

Santana halts their steps, waiting for those eyes to lock upon her. And when Brittany is looking at her, hopeful for words to inspire a better future, Santana tells her, "Like you said, you have him still, he's not gone yet." She motions out toward the lake with a smile. "And I bet he'd love it if you brought him here."

"He would," Brittany agrees, smiling softly at the sight before them.

And when the hurt in her heart has lessened, she thinks she will.

November 26th, 1863

She still finds it hard to talk to him at times. A part of her always reeling, remembering the lie that tore them apart. He was patient with her after; never pressing, always kind.

It's hard to remain cross with your father when watching sickness slowly consume him.

She started bringing him his meals a few months ago and from there, they've renewed their bond. It's not the same though, Hendrick knows, for she's matured and is ever wary of what he speaks as truth. But she smiles at him now and he'd not trade anything in this world for having that back.

She's shared with him her lake.

He wishes he were fit enough to accompany her nowadays.

She seldom, if ever, needs him anymore.

He doesn't know when it happened but happen it has. She cares for him now, for all he's worked his whole life to provide her. She's stood leaning against his window frame, staring out at the far off storm clouds as they near with a look of mild concern upon her face. She's worried for her dinner, he knows. She's to play host to all her friends tonight, throw them all the greatest Thanksgiving feast any has seen.

He thinks she'll do just fine.

And she looks radiant in her dress.

So like her mother...

"You look beautiful, sunshine," Hendrick tells her, his voice long faded and raw with the progression of the wasting disease. He coughs roughly, clearing his sore throat. Brittany frowns at him, concerned but he waves her worries aside as he lets out one last cough into the crook of his elbow. He smiles up at her, once more wishing he'd no need of the mask so she could see how truly his grin spreads to his lips. How proudly he beams up at his beautiful daughter. "Well, you always do but in that dress especially."

She smiles softly down at him. "I know," she says quietly, cheeks tinged with blush. "San really liked it too."

He's more than aware. The two must have spent a better part of the morning exchanging compliments in the like. He grew rather uncomfortable whenever a lull crossed their usually clear voices beyond the wall.

The wistful smile now upon Brittany's face alludes to such remembered moments.

"How was your sleep last night?" he asks to break the silence that's fallen between them. "Did the rain keep you up?"

"Good and no, it didn't," she replies, slowly leaving the realm of her daydreams. Her gaze sharpens as she finds her father's and her smile, the one meant for him, returns. "You?"

"Not the rain, just the sore in my chest," he answers as he rubs at the aforementioned spot. He doesn't speak of the blood coughed up. No need to worry her, he thinks. Not today.

Brittany sits down beside him regardless, her attention and concern fully upon him. "Did you tell Santana about it giving you trouble again?"

"Yes, so don't you worry none," he says, giving her hand a pat in confidence. "Haven't you guests you're expecting yet?"

"Noah's gone to bring them from town."

He shakes her hand with a grin. "You best get things goin' then."

Brittany's gaze falls down to her lap. "I'm afraid no one else is coming."

Seeing her look so downtrodden clenches something fierce in Hendrick's already sore chest. "The war has been hard on us all Brittany, you know that better than anyone," he tells her softly. When she's looking back up at him he squeezes her hand as best he's able. "Let us be grateful we have those to invite at all."

She nods, though hasn't taken the words to heart as he'd hoped. "I wish it ends soon," she whispers. "Noah's scared he'll be sent back."

"He has every reason to be," Hendrick tells her honestly. It wasn't unheard of for those in Noah's position to be found and tried for their departure. Most were simply forced back to service, a punishment far more feared. So many soldiers were dying, every day... "He's lucky they've not come for him here."

"He's asked if he might be able to stay a while longer. Just until it's all over."

Hendrick immediately gives his consent. "He's welcome for as long as he needs, Brittany," he tells her, the crinkle returning to his eyes as he smiles. "I know he's been a good help to you with the harvest. God knows we've lost time what with me confined to this bed on most days."

"San gets so mad when she sees you working in the fields, Pa," she repeats to him, almost a scold but also accompanied with a small grin. She likes knowing he's well enough to toil in the crops. That he's still alive, that he's fighting.

He looks so frail.

"Oh, do trust me, I get quite the earful for it," he chuckles.

"She just wants you to stay well," Brittany tells him, serious in tone. "If you were to catch a fever or—"

"I'm right here, sunshine," he says before her eyes can gather anymore tears. "I ain't letting this take me yet."

"Please listen to her Pa," she pleads.

Please don't go yet, is all he hears.

"I will, Britt," he says to her, holding her gaze. "I promise I will."

He can't leave her yet, nor does he think he'll ever be ready too.

Emily was so much stronger.

Santana hasn't seen Brittany in the home for over two hours, something which normally would not cause her worry, but given the chaos of the day's preparation ahead she's beginning to grow alarmed. Brown eyes take in the empty baking dishes along the table and countertops. Supplies are still unpacked in the crate by the stove. And the hand of the hour, how it nears frighteningly closer to noon whenever she checks upon Hendrick's clock.

Everyone will be here soon.

At the moment the house is empty save for Hendrick sleeping soundly in his chair, dressed already in his best clothes and even donning a new mask for the occasion. Noah had left earlier to fetch the Berrys and Quinn from the Inn up in town, leaving her alone with Brittany to complete setting up for their festivities.

Festivities Brittany is adamant are to be the most perfect of Thanksgivings anyone has ever yet seen.

She's kept Santana up for long hours the past few nights fretting over it all.

Santana indulged her, at first reluctant to admit that she too was looking forward to the evening. But the more Brittany spoke, and the deeper the happiness rooted into her eyes, the more Santana melted to her hopes.

The evening will be nothing short of perfection, she told herself as she rose this morn. No amount of overcooked stews, burnt bread or Berry's singing would ruin all Brittany envisioned for the night.

Once the rain started up again Brittany's hopes for a perfect evening began to wane.

She disappeared just as the first flashes of lightning began to fill dark skies.

Santana looks out the kitchen window, unsurprised to find the glow of a lamp shining out from the open barn doors. On any other day Santana would leave her alone, knowing there are moments when Brittany merely needs to steal away and share in thoughts only Emily is privy to. She always returns with her mind cleared and heart at ease. The "thank you" whispered to Santana's ear is made ever more sweet with the accompanying kiss placed to her neck.

She can feel the ghost of it now upon her skin.

She does not wish to break the routine they've accustomed to but she knows there are more than thoughts of Emily keeping Brittany from returning inside.

Of all Brittany's talk of the feast they will share, she's also lamented over the Hummels' missing response.

Cold rain falls down in thick sheets from the heavy layer of clouds above as Santana hurries from the house with her winter coat held tightly over her shoulders and head. Her skirt soaks quickly with the mud kicked up from her strides as she ducks within the shelter the barn provides. Brittany's not heard her enter over the drone of rainwater. She's outside Apple's stall, engrossed in feeding the horse another carrot from the bucket tucked between her feet.

Santana leans against the barn door, smiling over at her. "Aren't those supposed to be for us?"

Brittany seems to almost have expected her, the corner of her mouth showing hints of a smile as she replies, "He deserves a Thanksgiving feast too you know." She withdraws another carrot from the bucket and feeds it to Apple as she rubs his nose. "Just because he's an animal doesn't make him any less a part of this family."

"You've overfed the cows too, I see," Santana notes, realizing they've all grown quiet with full bellies and the lull of the storm taking them to sleep. And perched on the edge of their enclosure is Lord Tubbington, equally satiated and drowsy. "Ah, and Tubbington of course. Dear god is he ever fat now."

Thunder claps outside and the cat merely curls into a warmer position. Santana scratches beneath his chin as she walks by, his purr barely audible over the fading rumble overhead.

Brittany hands Santana a carrot. Even after all this time Santana's unsure how to ask her what troubles her so. She feeds the carrot to Apple, thankful for the distraction Brittany's afforded her.

She doesn't know how to bring forth Burt's name without also causing blue eyes to darken in grief.

She need not have worried though. Brittany knows why she's sought her out. And she's rather touched actually that Santana's done so at the expense of her dress for the evening. So she slides closer toward the muted woman and hands her the last carrot. "Do you think our letter made it?" Brittany asks after another round of lightning crashes overhead. Apple remains calm, soothed by the continued strokes Brittany makes down his nose. Her hand stills as she mumbles aloud, "Maybe I should have sent another..."

Santana links her arm through the one at her side. "I hope they come, Britt," she tells her, faithful in her wish. It's all she can truly offer in words of comfort. She hates the way Brittany nods with defeat nonetheless. To tell her what she feels truth, that Burt is long dead, and Kurt is too pained by memories of his father to face her would only have Brittany falling quick to that darkness that consumed her upon Emily's death. The war is still heavily underway, countless funerals held by the week in this small town alone. All Hendrick's friends are gone; near a quarter of Brittany's classmates buried too.

A selfish prayer strikes them upon sight of every plain wooden casket that is driven down the town lane.

They grip each other's hand tighter as they walk home on those days.

Brittany feels Santana take her hand in much the same way now.

"Come on," Santana whispers, tugging her toward the open doors. "Lets get you inside."

Brittany slips her hand free, giving Santana a shake of her head. She offers a small smile as Santana's brow furrows with concern. "In a bit, I just have to get the pigs their dinner," she explains and motions off to the far corner where the piglets have begun to grow restless with the sounds of the storm.

Santana pauses with reluctance, but knowing she can say no more, and trusting Brittany to her word, she gathers her coat in preparation to leave.

Brittany too is struck with reluctance. "San?"

"Hmm?" Santana hums out as she turns, hearing the shuffle of Brittany's feet in the hay strewn across the floor.

She's caught by surprise though when Brittany's lips fit against her own. It's so much more than the simple brush that's paid to her neck, the cherished feeling within her intensified as Brittany's tongue sweeps over her bottom lip. The kiss deepens as they draw closer to one another, hands twining in hair and shirt alike. Brittany cares for her, regardless of her inability to quell her pain. She cares enough to kiss her senseless and leave her legs weak. And for this moment Brittany doesn't think of lost letters and missing souls, instead her heart fills with warmth and need for woman returning her kiss so ardently.

So easily one of those boxes could have held Santana instead.

How fortunate she feels to wake next to her everyday.

How much more in love with her she grows even when she hasn't the right words to say.

Lungs starve for air and they must part, still clinging to one another, faint in head and heart alike.

"Thank you," Brittany whispers, breaths heavy against Santana's chin. The brown eyes so clear before her squint just a fraction in puzzlement and Brittany leans forward, smiling into the kiss they share again. "Thank you for coming out here to find me," she clarifies against warm lips.

Santana's grin warms every last bit of her heart. "Of course," Santana whispers, tucking a section of Brittany's hair back over her ear. It's grown so much longer over the year. Her fingers linger at the ends, twirling portions between her thumb and forefinger. She looks back up at Brittany, pleased to find the woman standing before her so at ease. "Find me later?"

Brittany simply kisses her again in reply.

The storm outside persists, wind clawing at the brittle trees and rain-laden roofs. Guests of the Pierce home pay it no mind for good company and fine drink keep their attentions. Their conversations carry loud, the distant thunder rolling overhead lost to their cheerful voices.

Brittany finds it difficult to concentrate on the story Sam is telling her. Every creak of the wood steps outside has a beat of her heart skipping and her gaze darting toward the door.

She's not given up hope on Kurt yet.

Or Burt.

Sam is rolling his hand at her and she nods, not quite sure what she's agreeing to, not so much caring either. Given the smitten look on his face and dopey curve of his smile he must be talking of Quinn.

"Can't you tell when you're boring a woman to death, Sam?" Noah asks with a laugh as he steps up beside his friend. He gives Sam's shoulder a nudge. "No wonder you couldn't keep Quinn's attentions."

Sam's eyes flash before his mouth quirks up wryly. "You'd be one to talk, how long again was it that you asked for her hand?" he asks pointedly, smirk growing as Noah's face flushes. He turns back to Brittany. "Did he tell you how Quinn giggled afterward? And then for days whenever she saw him?"

"I told you she didn't want to marry you," Brittany tells him, sympathizing for the embarrassment it must have cost him. At the smug look that begins to cross Sam's face Brittany must also add, "Or you either."

Sam looks no less deterred by her claim. "At the moment," he says, grinning. "Just give her some more time, you'll see."

Brittany thinks Sam quite silly in his proudly declared assurance. Quinn would no more marry him than she would Rachel. Something, Brittany notes to herself, she'll need to remind Santana of before the doctor has a few more glasses of bourbon and her tongue grows far less reserved.

"Your head is full of horse shit, Evans," Noah says to him, suppressing a chuckle.

Brittany is prepared to share similar sentiments when a knock sounds at the door. Sam and Noah drop their argument, recognizing the way Brittany's eyes have widened and her breath stills.

"Go on then," Noah says to her as he gives her a gentle push toward the door.

"Only one person that could be," Sam adds, smiling as he too gives her shoulder an encouraging squeeze.

The porch outside the window is dark and the rain spills down in cascades over the roof ledge making it impossible for her to see just whom has arrived. It must be Kurt, she thinks. Aside from Tina, who could not make the long trip with children so young, the Hummels' were the only family not present.

Brittany's heart races as she opens the door. A chill gust of air rushes in over the threshold and she must blink against the droplets that sprinkle her face. The rain is still beating down against the home, lighter now than it was earlier but still hard enough to drown out the greeting of the young man standing shadowed before her. He steps closer toward the firelight spilling out onto the porch, his slender form now illuminated with flickers of warm flame.

Brittany need not ask him to repeat himself. Her grin is shaky but the arms she throws around his neck are sure. "Kurt!" she exclaims, hugging him tight, thrilled to finally be seeing him in person. Kurt laughs, a sound she's imagined countless times before and yet still finds incomparable to hearing it spill from his throat now.

"I see my reputation precedes me even in passing words," he says, heart-warmed by the enthused reception. He hugs her back and wills himself not to shed too many tears. It has been a long journey, replete with cold nights in cramped inns and wrinkled shirts. But he'd gladly suffer them again to finally meet the friend he's come to know in letters alone. Brittany is every bit the delight her animated words relate, and he feels himself wishing he'd had come to visit her sooner. Some tears spill forth nonetheless as they part and as he wipes them away he tells her, "Excuse my mess, how unbecoming of a gentleman to cry all upon his host! And such a beautiful one too. How my father ever managed to overlook this you in his letters I'll never know."

Hearing him mention Burt, and with such former tense... Brittany tries to ignore the way her throat swells and her heart clenches but it's a fruitless effort.

Kurt notices though, eyes clouding with shared feeling. "There's no need to be a mess like me now," he tells her softly. She tries mustering a smile but it comes across a tad frightening and Kurt merely gives her another hug. "And I hope you don't mind but I've brought a guest along."

Brittany's only hope is that he's not reconciled again with Blaine.

She looks up over Kurt's shoulder to the figure now coming up the porch and out from the rain.

Kurt steps aside, full of sniffles and excitement.

If not for the water that leaks through the roof down upon her shoulder Brittany would surely think herself dreaming.

She shivers as it seeps through her dress, the feeling so very real roused by the dizzying image before her.

He looks older, so much more so than last she saw him. Wisps of greying brown hair peek out from beneath his cap, scars new and old join the wrinkled lines around his eyes and jaw. He leans heavily on a cane, pain of his leg evident in the crease of his brow, but his eyes... they're still so full of life and that same warmth that kept her spirits high after so many lonely days.

Burt's smile quivers just a touch, eyes welling with tears as he chuckles out, "Kurt insisted on keeping quiet about it all until we—"

Brittany surges forward, throwing caution to the wind as she embraces the man she's been waiting to see in near a year. Her nose buries deep into the collar of his thick coat, breathing in the scent she felt lost. He hugs her fiercely in return. "I'm so happy you're all right," she chokes out, holding him at arm's length to look him over. "You are right? All right that is?"

"Discharged when my leg finally gave up on me a month back," Burt tells her and gives a knock of his cane against his lower leg. It echoes loudly across the porch. "Wood now."

She hugs him again, nearly toppling Burt off balance. All is well now, she thinks. "Thank you for coming."

He holds her close and using his free hand rubs a hand across her back. "I'm so sorry about everything, Brittany," he whispers. "Not a day went by I didn't worry for you."

"All's well now," Brittany tells him, grinning broadly. "You're here."

"How about we all get in there then, huh? Where it's warm and my collar won't be soiled by any more rain?" Kurt asks, motioning toward the open door.

Brittany jumps into motion. "Please come in! Here, I'll take your coats," she grins, ushering them both inside. "Merry Thanksgiving, Hummels!"

"You're really moving to Delaware then?"

Quinn takes another sip from her cup of bourbon, resisting a roll of her eyes. "We already went over this, Santana. Yes, I am moving to Delaware. No, Rachel is not coming with me."

Santana's eyes have narrowed to slits of judgmental disbelief. "But Delaware?"

Quinn snorts, amused and smiles against the lip of her cup. "You say it as if I'm pilgrimaging to Oregon country."

"It's the principle of the matter Quinn," Santana stresses, wielding the cutting knife in her hand in such a manner that has Quinn unconsciously leaning further away. Santana points it toward her with a lazy flick of her wrist. Quinn tenses. "You're going to attend college."

"In a town less than a halfday's ride from Marysville," Quinn explains, carefully moving Santana's hand back down to the potato she'd been chopping. As a doctor Quinn has the utmost confidence in Santana's hand... as a cook though, Quinn measures her skill similar to that of a young, bungling child. As Santana resumes cutting Quinn relaxes and leans her hip back against the counter.

"I'm very lucky the Berrys are generous enough to offer me scholarship and that a women's college exists so close by. Wesleyan is the perfect fit really. Granted, the mens' college doesn't accept women so I must attend the separate womens' college, but I am sure that will all be changing given the times. Our voices are finally being heard, Santana! We no longer have to— you're not paying a lick of attention to what I am saying, are you?"

Santana continues her slow slices through the potato, smirk already firmly in place. "Quinn, when you go on your exceedingly long-winded righteous spiels about politics, I tend to tune you to a level I usually only ever reserve for Berry."

Quinn is ruffled, gaze squinted in indignant fury. "This all affects you too, you know," she snaps, slamming a few more potatoes down in front of Santana. "It wouldn't hurt to at least glance at the reading material I send you."

"Brittany reads it for us both," Santana says with a shrug, chuckling as Quinn bristles all the more. "You should talk her ear off about it all. She's all aboard your suffrage train."

"I can't tell if you're mocking me or not."

Santana smiles wide. "When it comes to Britt, I never mock," she says and gives Quinn's shoulder a friendly shove. "You really should ask her, she's very interested in all that voting stuff."

"It's not just a matter of voting power, Santana," Quinn tells her and Santana resists letting out the exaggerated sigh she wishes to. Regrettably, Quinn doesn't notice her waning attention, delving forward with even more righteousness than before. "And you should be engaging in this discussion with her too. There is so much more we are simply denied because—"

Quinn holds her tongue as Santana raises her knife in hand. "I'm just going to tell you now, before you get too far into your little speech," Santana begins to say, clearly bored in expression and tone. She shakes her head, unapologetic. "I'm not even paying you the slightest attention anymore."

Quinn groans. "It's because of women like you that we are not being taken seriously!"

"Women like me?" Santana scoffs, raising a brow at Quinn's outburst. Using the knife she ticks off against her fingertips, "Ones with their own honorary doctoral certificates, who are soon to inherit a practice, live upon a profitable farm in a relationship with its newfound proprietor who just so happens to be a woman and—"

"Shut up, Santana. Just shut up," Quinn interjects, eyes closed as she squeezes a few of her fingers against the bridge of her nose. The pressure within her head does not alleviate in the slightest. Santana can always be counted upon to bring her such unneeded mental aches. Always so contradictory and... and candid! When Quinn opens her eyes once more Santana is staring at her with that insufferable look of triumph Quinn loathes so. For Santana is right of course. Her friend is the very picture of the movement she's grown so deeply involved with. And that above all else is what frustrates Quinn beyond measure. That her friend could be so nonchalant, could care so little for the very women fighting to gain even a fraction of the life she's come to know. Resigned, Quinn settles with muttering, "I better see your face at the next rally I invite you to."

Santana smiles, genuinely, and with her next words Quinn is reminded why she considers her one of her truest friends, "Consider us both there."

Quinn returns the grin, tenfold.

It wavers though as Santana's lips curl with a hint of devious intent. "What's the uniform of choice for such occasions these days? Still shapeless frocks bent upon illustrating just how little you care for decorum when there are voices needing to be heard?"

Quinn glowers and shoves more vegetables across the counter top toward her. "Stop belittling my life choice."

"This isn't your choice, Quinn. You can't stop wanting to be liberated any more than Berry can keep a music note from her vocal cords longer than a few minutes," Santana quips and adds with a sly grin. "It's also why you can't decide upon whether you wish to be with Sam or Noah."

"Firstly, while I do hold affection for both they are, as you well know, entirely unwedable."

Which is, unfortunately for her friends, quite the well spoken truth, Santana thinks. "And secondly?"

As the words leave Quinn's tongue she regrets ever allowing them the second to form in her mind. "I appreciate you not also tagging Rachel to that as you have been wont to do."

Santana's smirk is her just reward. "Oh, do not press me, for I am very much wont to do it. The mere fact you even pointed it out means you've thought it a possibility."

Quinn smiles broadly over at Santana with a sarcastic tilt of her head. "No more than I've dreamed of seeing your farm burn to a fiery rubble and for you to join me in my political efforts."

"Which I gather is a nightly occurrence," Santana says, mimicking Quinn's grin.

They stare at one another for a beat, Quinn now with arms crossed over her chest and Santana with that same expression now strained upon her face. The bustle of noise from the front room drowns out the softening patter of rain against the window panes.

Quinn rolls her eyes. "You are the worst friend, quite literally."

Santana reaches forward, laughing as she squeezes Quinn's forearms and tells her, "I love you so much, Quinn. You've no idea how much I'll miss you when you set off for Wesleyan to liberate other women's vagina's with—"

"Don't you even dare say fingers or tongue Santana, or so help me god you won't have any left to please Brittany with."

"With words of newfound scholarly wisdom," Santana continues, feigning shock. "Dear god, Quinn. There are virgins present today."

Quinn's face heats and she hates the impish glint in Santana's eyes as she notices the blush spreading to her face. "Don't even look at me like that. You were entirely thinking those very words."

"You said them," Santana points out, quite pleased. She jabs the knife toward the pile of remaining vegetables. "Hand me the carrots will you?"

Quinn obliges, setting them down before her and leaving a few for herself as well. If there is one thing she has learned from her time spent in the Berry household, it is that she is better left for after dinner assistance rather than preparation. Warily, she picks up the smaller knife Brittany set out for her earlier. "I don't know why we're bothering, this is going to be the worst dish upon that table."

"Brittany insisted everyone make something," Santana informs her as she lobes off a great portion of the carrot's top. "It's boiled vegetables, Quinn. We can handle this."

"It's a disaster so far," Quinn says as she takes a glance down to the crudely chopped assortment of vegetables Santana has managed to work through. She looks back up to Santana, twisting the small knife between her fingers. "You know this is the first blade I've held that isn't meant for slicing a man's skin or spreading butter?"

Santana turns her eyes heavenward. "Such a sheltered life you led, what with your Spanish Nanny, and then the French tutor, harem of maids, steward—"

Quinn shoves her with a bump of her hip. "Shush you, Brittany knows what terrible cooks we are, why bother assigning us a dish at all?"

Affecting Brittany's air, Santana repeats, "'Everyone must bring a meal to the Thanksgiving table. It is the law Santana, I read it in the president's address.'"

Quinn stifles a laugh between pursed lips. "He said no such thing."

"There was mention… vague mention of sharing time with loved ones," she explains, a warm smile crossing her face. "She took it a bit literally. And besides if you think about it, giving us this dish makes perfect sense in her mind."

"Do explain."

Santana turns back to Quinn."What is the most basic of skill sets required for boiling vegetables?" She asks, awaiting a response that ceases to manifest. Quinn stares at her blankly. Santana grunts out, "You're holding the answer idiota."

"And what of this knife? All culinary endeavors at some point require one."

"Seeing as the density of your skull is impeding thought," Santana tells her before wincing as Rachel's voice raises several octaves in song. "Though I will also accept an excuse of Berry's singing causing you unneeded mental strife. How about I simplify it for you?" She says, picking up a loose piece of paper from the tabletop. She holds it out for Quinn to read. "What does this look like to you?"

"A page from your medical journal," Quinn answers immediately, recognizing the small borders on the diagrams and finely lined script. She frowns, eyes once more locking upon Santana's. "Why've you torn it out?"

Santana forces the page into Quinn's hand with a roll of her eyes. "Dear god Quinn, look at it for more than a second will you."

Quinn sees no reason to reacquaint herself with the world of medical science, but given the temperament of her friend she complies. The drawing within the diagram is the first thing to take her notice for it's clearly a carrot. "Its… it's a recipe," she says, astonished. Even the usual symptoms index has been replaced with proper cuts to garner the freshest taste. "But… I've never seen one like this."

"Brittany created it for me," Santana tells her and Quinn can't help but notice the pride laced thickly in her tone. She glances sidelong at Quinn, smiling as she adds, "Well, for us I suppose."

"That's rather clever of her," Quinn says, impressed by the thought put into the page.

Santana beams. "It is." She takes her knife cleanly down through one of the carrots. The slice is near perfect in execution. "When you think of them as fingers and it's not so bad."

Quinn swallows down the bile that's just risen to her throat at such an admission. "You're entirely morbid, you know that right?"

Thunder clashes in the distance and Rachel begins singing just a tad louder.

"Berry!" Santana shouts out across the kitchen to be heard in the front room. "I swear to whatever inane god you pray that if you start up another rendition of that damn awful song again I will force you to sleep in the barn beside the fresh pile of Apple's shit!"

To which Quinn also decrees, "I second that!"

"Do not fall to her trappings Quinn!" Rachel hollers back, though smartly remains hidden from sight. "And it is impossible for you to invoke such an ultimatum upon me Santana, I'm not even staying with you all!"

Brittany peeks her head inside the doorway as Rachel instructs Noah, loudly, to begin the song anew. "San," she warns as she enters through the door and closes it at her back. "I know shes annoying but please be nice, it's Thanksgiving."

Even Brittany's request cannot stop her from ranting on regardless. "And this is our home and I won't have her giving poor Quinn and I anymore head pains."

Brittany relents, "… she is a tad loud."

"And grating," Santana adds.

"And at times a nuisance," Quinn offers.

Another voice joins in the song, its cadence softer; refreshing.

Both Quinn and Santana leave their knives along the counter top to listen.

"Who's that with her?" Santana asks.

"Oh, that's Kurt," Brittany replies, picking a chopped carrot from Santana's plate and popping it into her mouth. "Him and Rachel are gettin' on real well but then I knew they would. He's just like her Pa's and he's already promised not to charge her for any outings they take together."

Sheepishly Quinn admits, "I've not done that in months."

"Are they… harmonizing?" Santana asks, at once appalled and captivated.

"It's as if she's multiplied," Quinn says, similarly affected.

Brittany watches as they fall silent again, both women clearly enjoying the performance despite their pitifully uttered claims otherwise. She smiles as she takes another bite out of the raw carrot. "Do you want me to make them stop?"

They both shake their heads though Santana is the one to offer a quiet, "No…"

Brittany sneaks up to her back and presses a light kiss below Santana's ear. "Will you two admit they actually sound lovely together?"

That seems to break her trance. Brittany laughs as Santana rushes out a quick counter. "And forever give her ammunition to gloat?"

"They are rather good together though," Quinn notes honestly.

The daggers glared to the side of her face as they resume cooking don't sway her opinion in the least.

For all her complaints on Rachel's dramatics, Quinn thinks Santana just as guilty of them.

Santana sits on the outskirts of the festivities, chin nestled in the palm of her upturned hand, watching with a tipsy serenity those she's come to call her friends and family. Her elbow digs uncomfortably into the splintered wood of the barn utility table but the liquor in her belly does well to numb the sensation from reaching her mind. She's far too at ease and happy to care for something so inconsequential.

Not on this night. It is her first tradition as a member of the Pierce home.

She wishes to remember it all, every sight, every laugh, even the lingering smell of the last bits of ginger cake lying on her plate.

The meal was hardly worthy of being deemed a feast, but to Brittany and those sat around the table it was the finest of Thanksgiving suppers.

She's also rather proud of her boiled vegetables, even despite their lackluster reception.

Brittany liked them well enough and her opinion, after all, was truly the only that mattered.

Brittany stands by the window now, gone the smile that seemed a permanent fixture upon her face throughout the evening upon the Hummels' arrival. Santana's heart sinks at seeing the somber expression Brittany wears as she relights the candle on the sill. She'd lit it for Emily earlier, "So she can be with us tonight too," she explained when Santana had asked. Santana had held her tightly from behind afterward, assuring her in whispered words that Emily would not miss tonight for all the poets in the world.

It had cheered Brittany's mood as desired. They shared a kiss and Santana, much to her restraint, managed to overlook the squeal of proud delight from Rachel as they parted.

Berry meant well of course, no matter how tactless her approach.

Santana wishes to bring that light back to Brittany's eyes, remove the touch of grief that sometimes still consumes her when night is at its darkest. But she remains seated, watching as the candle wick flickers with new flame, the glow returning Brittany's smile all its own.

It's demurred though, thoughts of Emily still heavy in her heart.

She glances sidelong, eyes locking upon Santana's. Her lips pull wider, grin growing more relaxed, content. The hurt vanishes. "Te amo," she silently mouths.

Santana curls her fingers, now tingling with warmth, closer to her chin. Her knuckles obscure the large smile on her face but barely at that. Brittany sees it, reads the returned sentiments held within the dark brown of those softened eyes she loves so. With a crinkle of her nose Brittany motions for her to remain seated.

And Santana does, for she's also quite sure her feet have found home elsewhere in the wake of the alcohol now clearly spreading through her veins.

Brittany carefully steps back from the candle, pleased as the flame continues burning bright. She lets out a yelp as Sam sweeps her into a drunken dance with a chuckle against the harmonica trapped between his lips. She laughs with him, entertaining his stumbling steps before spinning him down to rest beside Noah. He slumps with nay a pout, grinning broadly into his instrument. She accepts the hand LeRoy extends to her in invitation next and throws an apologetic look back Santana's way.

Santana doesn't mind. Watching Brittany dance has always been one of her greatest joys.

And LeRoy is a fine dancer, making the pair all the better. Brittany easily keeps in step, enjoying herself and her favorite Berry's company. Santana knows they've been exchanging letters, each subsequent one growing in length and regard.

"We're not alone, Santana", Brittany once so astutely told her.

And she was right, Santana thinks, fond and proud. She is always right.

Sam proves a much better accompaniment to Noah's guitar strums than a dance partner. Together they strike up a favorite, and even wallpapered as they are, it's still an excellent rendition.

As Brittany and LeRoy pause for drink Santana takes a moment to observe the rest of their company. Her friends are scattered about the front room, Quinn the closest just a chair away, deep in conversation with Hiram on topics Santana would no sooner add her opinion lest she wished to suffer another of Quinn's long-winded rants on her lack of social responsibility.

The rest of the plates lie untouched and empty along the short line of tables Brittany arranged earlier that afternoon. How she ever managed to maneuver the old barn table inside without a scratch Santana attests to her devotion for the holiday. Let alone that it was done with the ground sodden from the earlier storm. Santana recalls the smile upon Brittany's face as she pulled it inside, how bright her eyes were as they filled with a crackle of excitement for the evening soon to come. She remembers the mess of mud Brittany tracked across the floorboards, how great swaths of it slicked high up on her slacks... the small desire that flared within her to brush away the flecks of wet dirt sprinkled over flushed cheeks.

Rachel had entered then, ruining any such moment as she was seemingly predestined to do. She'd the better sense upon seeing the scowl work its way across Santana's face to hold up the two bottles of bourdon she and her fathers had bought for the supper.

Santana set her to cleaning the floor anyway.

Her eyes scan the room now in search of her insufferable friend. She hears her first, even with the deafened quality of her ear. She's sat down the table with Kurt, unsuccessfully trying to squeeze the entirety of her life's worth into one breath. And Kurt, bless his soul, listens with strained patience, waiting to do the very same.

Kindred spirits in voice and vexation alike, Santana thinks, leaning forward over her supporting arm more. She listens for a short while as Rachel expresses desires to move to the capital with her mother, waiting for the pause that never comes.

Rachel has Kurt held captive in her fanatic gaze. "She's quite the influence over a great many, shall we say, men of persuasion, and has promised me that this farce movement is fast coming to an end! If I-we, if we were to seriously consider careers this revival of form back to its most-"

The words begin to run together into a mess of sound she at once finds endearing in its exasperation.

Rachel will never know of it though.

Santana turns her attention from them with a roll of her eyes. Hendrick's soft snores from where he now naps reclined in his fireside chair are far more endearing a sound. Burt is on the verge of joining him in slumber, both lulled by the warmth of the flames and soothing strums of the guitar Noah plays from his spot sat propped against the wall with Sam. He smiles up at her as he catches her staring and gives a wink before striking up familiar song.

Her cheeks heat regardless as Long, Long Ago carries throughout the room.

LeRoy drags Hiram to his feet.

His once blonde partner is now gone from sight.

Hands slip over Santana's shoulders, touch tender and warm.

"Found you," a soft voice whispers to her good ear. "Dance with me?"