Chapter 23: Time and Space (And a Lifetime with You)
Her skin is smoother than I remember, like waves of silk crashing quietly against the pads of my fingers. I want to trace every inch of her, draw tiny patterns of my affection on her shoulder as if she might find them in the morning. I'd leave a note on her if I could—I love you—with the prints of my finger like a secret meant for only the two of us. I could share a world with her, especially like this, right now, her back pressed against my front. Santana is sleeping, her calm features glowing with the moonlight that meets her face. I can't see her entirely, only half, but that's more than enough for tonight. Santana's never stayed this long before, a body instead of an empty side of the bed that I cherish.
It's moments like these that I'll try to keep forever—the smallest ones that seem like insignificant seconds of time spent when really it's here where I fall the fastest, the hardest, and the most willingly. It's through the gaps of these memories that I slip through, drowning in both my emotions and those of which she expresses towards me.
You know you really belong somewhere when you'd rather spend a moment here than a lifetime somewhere else. I could live without Santana, and I have. She just makes it easier to get through the day and not only does she do that but she makes the twenty four hours, the one thousand four hundred and forty-four minutes, the eighty-six thousand four hundred seconds, worth more than just numbers ticking in time and space. Because for those twenty four hours, I'm loving Santana and when I'm loving Santana, I'm not wasting my time.
So I can live without her, and I have. I just don't ever want to again. Not when I could watch these breaths float in and out of her all night, her chest rising and falling slowly to the melody of her dreams. I check every five minutes or so, her chest, to see if it's still moving. The thought of those breaths ending haunt me and I can't bear that kind of nightmare. I've never dealt well with nightmares but I'm hoping that the next visit can be treated as easily as turning over and embracing the body of Santana who sleeps soundly beside me. The knowledge of her being there, even if I don't turn to cuddle, is more than enough.
She twitches quietly, the movement breaking the stillness of her body, the stillness she's been submerged in for the past hour. I can't sleep, not tonight, but she's doing it perfectly. My hands ache to touch the soft bare skin on her back but I'm afraid I'll wake her. I'd rather not, it's the first time I've seen her so content. She possesses such tranquil features that simply watching is enough to instill that serenity in me.
With as little effort but as much love as I can muster, I press a grazed kiss on her shoulder. To my relief, the gesture doesn't wake her up and I slowly shift away towards the edge of the bed. When my body turns cold, quickly and uncomfortably, I'm only reminded that where I just was, lying next to Santana, is exactly where I'm supposed to be.
My feet flatten onto the coolness of the floor, toes clenching for balance as I come to stand. The bed doesn't spring too drastically and when I glance over my shoulder, Santana still occupies the same position, unmoved. I miss her, even from here, but I know she's there for me to come back to, to return home to. I could get used to this, coming home to Santana.
The ends of the sleeves of my large t-shirt fall past my fingers, warming them, but no amount of clothing or blanket can attempt to achieve the warmth Santana provides for me. Every step I take away from her is a step reminding me of that truth because I'm warm now but I could be warmer, beside her, holding her. If I'm not with Santana, I can always be warmer.
I turn off the living room lights once I'm out the bedroom, the ones left on since we were last in here, fighting, arguing but kissing too. We kissed, for the first time in seven years, right there, behind that counter. The apartment is dark now, lit by only the glow from the city. It's never pitch black here and that might be my favorite part about it, that it's never completely dark. I never dealt well with darkness either, still don't. Maybe I won't have to worry about that anymore because with Santana comes light, even in times that hide behind shadows. That's another thing; she's light now, not the darkness.
A shoulder against the wall and I peer out to the world. Despite the time, whatever it may be, there are always people. Lights still beam from the windows of buildings, the neon signs of New York City's heart. It's a crazy world out there, scary too, but I think it's the first time I haven't felt so afraid to be looking. Maybe it's because I know I don't have to face it without a hand to hold anymore, the right hand.
My body misses her already but I try to calm it, whisper to the ache that I'll be back soon. This leave is only temporary, a few minutes on my own to gather my thoughts. I'll be back soon, against her body, breathing in the same breaths she exhales, sharing my world with hers. I'll be back soon and I know that for sure. I can only hope Santana feels as much commitment to us as I do, a lifetime. I spent seven years in world without her and I don't want to stay there. I'm choosing right here, with her, because this is the only place I feel everything at once; hope, fear, love, passion and anything else you can name. Even sadness will come every once in a while and that's okay because Santana and I have never been just happy. We don't operate in such a simplistic manner but that's why we're beautiful. I may hate her some days, we may argue. We may storm out on each other and we may cry. Nonetheless, I think we can afford that because I may fight with her sometimes but I will always fight for her. I will always love and I will always try.
"You know, it's a lot warmer in bed," her velvet voice sounds from behind me.
I turn around and find her leaning against the wall. For a moment, she looks like the sixteen year old girl I met years ago. Maybe it's the lighting, because it's the night and we only ever spent most of our time hiding in the darkness. Her hair falls over her shoulders beautifully as she stands, eyes peering up at me in a way I can't help but feel my chest expand to. I notice, after a moment, that she's wearing a sweater of mine that was draped over the chair in my room.
"I thought you were asleep," I say quietly.
She shrugs, pushing herself off the wall to approach me, "Something didn't quite feel right."
"I'm sorry," I apologize, slightly dazed by the way she gains proximity, "I…didn't mean to wake you."
When she's close enough, my hands reach out for the front pouch of the sweater and pull her towards me. She smiles so softly that if I weren't paying attention to the details, I wouldn't have noticed. I adore these ones, the smiles that look as though she's the most content she's ever been.
Our eyes meet fully and passionately enough that I feel her gaze burn into me. Santana blinks lazily but she looks so beautiful doing it, as if she's still falling along that downward path towards me. Her warm palm against my cheek shakes me out of my thoughts and I realize I had been too focused on the little things shared between us. I reach up and grip her forearm gently, looking down at our feet because of the sudden warmth I feel growing in my face.
"You're so beautiful, B," she whispers.
I glance up; brow lifting as I stare into her eyes and I confront myself with the utmost honesty that shines there. She remembers to say it all the time now, in every moment she can, and I remind myself of what she had written in her journal. With that, comes everything else I've managed to forget about until now. Everything. Suddenly I'm thinking too much, about the past few days, the past few hours more so.
"Hey…" she says, slightly worried from noticing my change in expression.
Her hand strokes my face, pulling me back towards her and away from those preoccupying thoughts. I don't want to be thinking about them, not here and not right now. I just can't help one thing, one small query.
"Santana," I start softly, "I'm sorry about…about ever—"
"Don't," she hushes, shaking her head, "We're okay now, B."
My eyes fall to the ground, desperate to believe in her quiet cooing voice. Santana notices the small amount of worry that I have about our past, about everything that's happened so far. Being with her right now feels so right but for some reason, I feel as though there's a cloud above me, a dark one, with all the events of our past, all our history. It's not because of her more or less this changing moment we're currently in. After tonight, Santana is mine and will be for as long as she'll have me. But it's still dark outside and there are a few more hours before then, hours that I feel I need to take to eliminate any unspoken truths about us.
"Brittany," she breathes out, pulling closer to me, "It wasn't easy…but we're here, right here."
"I don't want you to go," I confess despite the fact that she isn't going anywhere, "…ever."
Her hands secure a hold on my face, forcing me to look her in the eyes, "I'm not going anywhere. I choose you. I've been choosing you forever."
The words expand in my chest, warming everything inside me. I can feel the blood coursing through my veins like it has some kind of destination, a fate of some sort. My heart thumps heavily but fiercely, for the first time feeling as though it's beating for exactly the right purpose.
"I'm so in love with you," I tell her through a whisper, "I just wa—"
She interrupts me with a kiss, quick to meet me but long lasting once we're connected. I swallow my words, feeling the way her lips coat mine with something sweet, something fresh like a new beginning. Her hands hold my neck securely, pulling my face closer to hers while my arms slowly reach and wrap around her body. Our lips brush like secrets but then I remind myself that we never have to be a secret again. I can hold her hand down the street, I can kiss her anytime and anywhere I want. It's rare that you can find complete satisfaction with what you can grasp in your hands, most of the time because we need more than what we can carry. Holding Santana, however, is my extraordinary gift because there are so many fulfillments in these small seconds that could last me a lifetime.
When we part, our foreheads rest together and we take comfort in how our breaths are stolen by each other. We linger there momentarily, soaking up whatever passion floats between us, and then she pulls me into a hug. I embrace her wholeheartedly, bringing our bodies flush against the other. I can feel her heartbeat traveling into my own system, influencing the patterns in my chest. Her hand sneaks into my hair and massages the back of my head. It's soothing, like a kind of therapy, and I love the way she can calm me down, treat any worry as easily as a small scrape on a knee.
"We're going to be okay," she says quietly into my ear, "This is it. You and me, right?"
I smile at her words as two things have never felt so perfectly fitting, so beautifully combined, you and me. With her body in mine, I never want to let go. I never want to experience someone else's love more than hers nor do I want to share another kiss with anyone but her. I want her and love her so much but in the best way possible. I feel no pressure, no inexplicable force drawing me towards her. I feel no pain, no confusion or worry. I feel no regret, no wishful thinking. I feel at complete peace with myself, my mind and body, and that is something I've never had before. In this moment, I think I finally understand what was going on when I met Santana when I was sixteen. She wasn't just a girl I fell in love with, a beautiful but dark story I never wanted to stop reading. Everything was so important, so emotional and so extreme between us because when I met Santana when I was sixteen, I was meeting my soulmate—my partner in crime, my compatible match. I was meeting the end of my story, before I even started my book.
And so I can say these next words easily to answer her question, with no effort to convince neither myself nor Santana, because we both understand what we've found here, in each other. Two words will never feel so light and heavy at the same time, like a promise made before the dawning of a new day. I'll make this promise, to her, to myself, because it's the last thing I have to do before that lifetime I was talking about, that lifetime with Santana, can begin.
"You and me."
A/N: It has been the most amazing journey everyone. I just want to thank you all so so so much for being such wonderful readers and giving such thoughtful and kind and inspirational feedback. You truly are the best audience a writer could ask for. I'm sad that I have to say goodbye to this story but it was such a pleasure and experience to have shared it with you. I know I've caused some tears and some heartbreak but I hope this chapter mended all your wounds. I know it's not long like some of you wanted but I didn't want to say too much. I don't usually like it when characters end up together but with Brittany and Santana, I honestly cannot have it any other way. They were and are meant for each other. This story had so much angst, I know, but I hope I made it up to you. Beautiful relationships like theirs are never easy, never so simple or insignificant. I tried to capture that to the best of my ability, the reality of how strong these two characters are with and without each other.
And with that, I'll say goodbye to In My Veins. But I'll be back soon, just like Brittany said. And I hope that I'll still have the honor of having you readers as my audience for the next story that I write (which will arrive in the near future). I'm going to reply to every review that I get on this chapter because I honestly feel like it would be wrong not to thank you personally. So if you do review, and you don't do it anonymously, I'm coming for you :P
Mountains and valleys and rivers of love x