It's been an honor and a privilege, dear readers. This marks the final installment before I toddle back to other projects. Thanks, as always, for reading, and I will point out that some of this chapter is improved with a working knowledge of Breakfast at Tiffany's.
They're walking through the parking lot, holding each other's hands and two milkshakes, when Santana shakes her hand loose and bars Brittany across the belly to stop them short.
"Santana?" asks Brittany, checking her face and following her line of sight.
Santana's looking at Kurt, trotting into the doors with a vase of flowers under his arm.
Once Kurt's out of sight, Santana stands frozen for a moment, until Brittany's fingers trace lightly up her sleeve and bend her elbow gently downward. Santana looks at their hands as Brittany tangles them together again—with a reassuring squeeze—and tilts her head, just a little, in curiosity.
Santana glances thoughtfully at the gravel and resumes their strides toward the entrance. Slower this time. "Let's just—give them time to talk, first," she suggests uneasily.
Brittany squeezes her hand again. When they reach the front, she lets go; Santana's hand feels cold instantly in the crisp air, even though she smiles when Brittany holds the door open for her.
She smiles even bigger when Brittany swishes past her, in two long-legged strides, to open the second door, too.
"God, you're such a gentleman, Britt," Santana gasps shyly. She can feel her cheeks, extra warm under the gushing heaters just past the doors.
"Yeah, well, you seem to inspire it in me," Brittany quotes Skins in a careful British accent, foregoing hand-holding to link their arms together.
Santana giggles and Brittany's steps slow hesitantly in the foyer. They're near the big directory panel Santana paused at two days ago, and the receptionists at the desk on the right barely glance at them as they shuffle paperwork around. The one all the way on the left does a double-take and offers Santana a small, tired smile and a matching wave.
They're far away, so Santana just gestures with her McDonald's cup and nods. "Who is that?" Brittany whispers, right against Santana's ear.
The hot breath tickles and makes her blush. "Um, her name's Molly," Santana answers, leading Brittany beyond the directory and around where the gift shop is. It's a different clerk today; Santana's eyes catch on the cluster of Get Well bears.
"Where do you wanna wait?" asks Brittany, looking around curiously. She's only been here a few times—mostly for injuries, but Santana took her along one time to drop off dinner for her dad—and she has that bright, interested expression she gets when she hasn't been someplace before.
"Maybe we should just hang around here," Santana suggests, suddenly uncertain. Normally, she'd go to the cafeteria, but—she tells Brittany—"I wanna see when Kurt heads out, so we can sneak in before we have to go play eighteenth fiddle at the Finchel fuck-uptials later."
Brittany tugs Santana down into two plastic chairs and puts their milkshakes down. Santana immediately leans her elbows on the table and Brittany settles her hands over Santana's forearm and knuckles. Her hands are already warm through the sleeve of Santana's Cheerios jacket. "It won't be that bad," Brittany says darkly. She does that thing where she tries to smile, but it only half-works on half her mouth, and it really just makes it more obvious how dubious she thinks the whole thing is.
It's so cute on her. Santana grins despite herself. She works the eager grin into a smaller smile and says, "At least you'll be there." She leans in and gives Brittany an Eskimo kiss.
Brittany flicks to the side just a twist and then Santana's feeling a satisfied smirk right against her lips. She kisses back for a moment, then pulls back. Even with the sound of feet on linoleum and crappy music from the gift cart and the drone of the PA system, she hears the soft sound of their lips pulling apart, like a piece of bread being torn gently in halves.
"We can play footsie under the table," Brittany whispers with a sly grin. She nudges Santana's bare knee, and Santana feels the swishy material of their black skirts, still fresh from the competition and mismatched with their red jackets and white cheer sneakers.
Santana rolls her eyes. "Not in a hospital, Britt. That's weird."
"I meant at the reception." Blue eyes sparkle wickedly. "But we could try here, too."
"I'll tell you one thing, Fred darling," Brittany's quoting while she plays with Santana's hands, "I'd marry you for your money in a minute. Would you marry me for my money?"
Santana beams at her and glances between bright blue eyes and gloss-pinked lips as she answers, "In a minute."
Brittany leans in just a little, teasingly, as she replies, "Good thing neither of us is rich, huh?"
Santana's eyes snag on Brittany's lips as they get closer, but Brittany jerks back sharply and grabs Santana's shoulder. "There's Kurt!" she whispers urgently.
The prim, urgent stride is unmistakable. As is the truly bizarre outfit. "He changed into that, just to change into a suit?" asks Santana with a frown.
Of course it's Brittany who nudges her and gives her an amused smile and a raised eyebrow. Santana stares blankly before jolting up out of the seat. "Right. Up we go."
Brittany giggles at her and grabs both milkshakes. Santana makes a point of linking their arms again as they wander to the elevator banks.
Santana enters first, encouraging Brittany gently with soft pulls on their linked arms. Brittany looks almost shy as she slips into the room; her eyes take in his weary smile and the cups in her hands before landing on Santana's face, searching for cues.
"Hey, Dave," says Santana, happily and instinctively by now. She feels Brittany's eyes and glances to the left, catching the way they ask for a hint. As she unhooks her arm to grab the milkshakes, she gestures at Brittany with her elbow and says, "This is my girlfriend, Brittany," with a teasing grin, because they've definitely known each other at least since freshman year.
Brittany parrots, "Hey, Dave," with an awkward little wave and an awkward little smile.
For his part, Dave looks a little embarrassed, too. "Hi, Brittany." He rolls his shoulders and accepts the cup Santana slips into his hands.
Before he can do something dumb or unnecessary, like thank Brittany for coming or some shit, Santana points Brittany at the chair—already pulled away from the wall—and settles herself on the side of the bed, the way she's been doing. "So I see Ladyface made it up here finally," she comments, catching the new bunch of flowers on the table by the door.
She hears Dave's hands slow where they're popping the milkshake open. Santana looks at him and finds him looking at Brittany.
"It's okay." Brittany wears her most genuine, sympathetic expression, and Santana swallows to keep it together and focus on Dave as Brittany assures him, "You guys can just talk like I'm not here."
It's the hesitant, timid tone she uses when she feels out of place. Santana touches Brittany's shin with her left foot and sends her a little smile to say I love you and you're perfect and thanks for coming with this time.
She turns back to Dave and he gazes uncomfortably at the milkshake. He stirs it with the spoon—he wasn't kidding about keeping track of it, apparently, because the one Santana grabbed is still hidden in her pocket—and says, failing to hide a watery grin, "He was just up here like a minute ago."
Santana doesn't miss the way he's staring at his right hand; watching it stir the shake. She shares a smile with Brittany, even though Brittany doesn't know exactly why they're smiling, and Brittany grabs her shoe where it still grazes Brittany's knee.
"And?" Santana prods, poking Dave's knee.
He shuffles bashfully. "He… he says we can be friends."
He looks like it's Christmas and he just unwrapped a BB gun he didn't dare hope for.
Santana grins over the feel of Brittany's fingertips tracing the bones of her ankle. "Lookit you, tiger," she jibes, touching his knee again and shaking it back and forth.
Dave grins despite himself and wags his leg under her hand to dislodge it. "Shut up, Lopez," he mumbles, shoveling ice cream into his mouth like it'll cool his bright red blush.
"Make me," she shoots back. She feels Brittany shifting and turns her head right as Brittany picks her other foot up off the floor. Brittany arranges them in her lap, crossed at the ankles, and Santana grins like a big wuss under Brittany's proud gaze.
"Lookit you, tiger," rumbles Dave lightheartedly, giving Brittany a hesitant smile. His voice sounds better than it did that first day.
Santana's cheeks grow warm and she rolls her eyes at herself. "Yeah, yeah."
Dave glances between the two of them again and asks, "So where'd you two come from?" He nods at their skirts, spilling out under the elastic waists of their jackets, and takes another spoonful of milkshake. "You look all nice and stuff." He smiles kindly at Brittany, with his brows turned up like he's sad or afraid or maybe just tentative.
Santana remembers he was nervous about this; about Brittany. She glances at her girlfriend—yeah, she'll always be Brittany first, but Santana likes the sound of the word in her head—and Brittany's being her normal amazing extraordinary beautiful self, smiling graciously at Dave fucking Karofsky as she traces her hands absently over Santana's skin and answers, "We just won regionals."
"That's awesome!" Dave says, raising his eyebrows in honest surprise. "Congratulations." He turns to Santana and adds, "You look the part." She pulls a face at him and he pulls one back: "The fire hydrant jackets are an especially nice touch."
Brittany snickers and Santana spins and sticks her tongue out. Brittany sticks hers out back and Santana asks Dave, "So Hummel didn't mention regionals to you?"
Dave shrugs and thinks while he eats some more milkshake. "He mostly asked how I was doing and stuff," he says. He sounds more guarded than usual. Brittany's thumb swipes the vein at Santana's ankle.
"What'd you tell him?" asks Santana gently, glancing at Brittany and then back to Dave's face. After three days, she's interested to hear his summation.
He looks befuddled at the cup in his hands and shrugs. "I mean, I told him about Brett"—that must be the ex-best friend—"and my mom, and stuff," he begins. He licks his lips. "He said I should go to another school."
"Maybe you can come back to McKinley," Brittany pipes up. Santana melts because that suggestion sounds even better and brighter and sweeter in Brittany's timid voice. She's being as nervous and careful as Dave is, whenever she speaks; she glances at Santana for encouragement.
"Like I said, we've got your back," Santana reminds him, tearing herself out of Brittany's perfect eyes to look Dave full-on. She sees he's shaved since yesterday; he looks brighter. More put together.
He swallows and smiles fearfully, like he's waiting for them to take it all back. Santana touches his knee to comfort him and his gaze drops like a stone into his milkshake. He sweeps a few hurried spoonfuls into his mouth and sets it aside to twist his fingers together anxiously.
"Listen, Brittany," he says like he's been rehearsing. She looks at him with clear eyes and an open expression and her hands settle on the rim of Santana's socks.
Dave takes a big, deep breath and goes, "I wanted to say I'm really sorry about everything. I mean, I guess I never really did anything to you"—his face scrunches up—"but, like, I know that a lot of shit I did, like, affected you a lot…" He looks down at his hands. "Especially with Kurt, and then with Santana." His eyes flash to her and he bites his lip; she nods slightly to urge him on.
He drags his eyes back to Brittany—still frozen—and he shrugs. "I just—I never meant to hurt you, and I know I hurt a lot of people, and I get it if you don't, like, forgive me or whatever." His voice is fading in and out again, from talking so much or from what he's saying. It cracks as he finishes, "But even if you don't, I think it's really important that you know. That I'm sorry."
There, his voice fails completely, shorting out in an unnaturally high pitch on sorry. He clears his throat awkwardly and shuts his eyes.
Santana looks left and catches Brittany's eyes. They're not wet—she's not crying—but they're glossy, bright with feeling. She squeezes Santana's feet and looks at them in her lap.
Santana watches her wet her lips and waits patiently. Everything Brittany ever says surprises her; every time Brittany speaks, she pays attention.
"You know the mean reds?" she asks in a voice as soft as the skirt under Santana's shins. Santana looks quickly at Dave, who looks confused and curious; he's probably never seen Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Maybe they'll fix that later. Now that they're friends.
Brittany continues, soft-deep: "The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you're afraid and you don't know what you're afraid of." Brittany looks meaningfully at Santana, who shivers; she adjusts her hands on the mattress and her wrist ghosts against Dave's knee.
Brittany looks at her lap—at her fingers curled around Santana's white shoes—and murmurs, "Fear makes people do all kinds of stuff, and a lot of it is super horrible and sucks." She picks at Santana's shoelace. "But all you can do is try to find something that calms you down and makes you forget how afraid you are."
Blue eyes meet Santana's, cool and sad and deep, and then jump to Dave. Santana turns to him and he looks like he's been stunned. It's the same face he wore for an instant at the Lima Bean, when Santana said she knew he was gay; unlike last spring, though, fear doesn't wipe the look away in an instant. His expression settles into soft awe.
Santana bites her lip and says, so soft her throat scratches the words, "I told you she was a fucking genius." She knows adoration is leaking across her face and she doesn't even care.
Brittany looks almost embarrassed and shoots her an oh, San smile. Dave takes a loud, shaky breath and scoops his spoon noisily around the plastic cup.
It catches Brittany's attention again; she bites her lips and quietly clarifies, "We all do things we regret. I'm just glad you learned from it."
Her gentleness seems to overwhelm him; he chuckles breathily, nervously, even as tears spill past his eyelashes. "Thanks, Brittany," he says, wiping his face with one big paw and returning to his milkshake.
Brittany smiles curiously at Santana, like, Did I do good?
Like Santana would ever say no.
Santana grins at her and shakes her head in disbelief. "So, you're almost free, huh, Dave?" she asks, to remind herself that he's in the room. She wiggles her feet happily in Brittany's hands as she turns her face toward Dave.
"Yeah," he says, slowing his hand on the spoon. He licks his lips and bites them as his gaze grows unfocused.
"Dave," she coaxes, moving her wrist back slightly to touch his knee. His eyes snap to hers and she tilts her head forward to regard him seriously. "I was serious. If you need someplace to stay…"
He shakes his head and swallows. "I don't…" He hesitates; changes his mind. "I'll keep it in mind," he promises, shrugging as he takes another mouthful from the cup.
"Did your dad say anything?"
Dave shakes his head slowly. "He just said he's excited to have me back home," he recalls cautiously, like saying it aloud will jinx it.
Santana bites her tongue and looks at Brittany. "Whatever happens, you have my number, right?" she asks Dave, letting her eyes slide back to him.
He nods solemnly. "Yeah. I… you don't have to worry about… this. Happening again."
The weight of the words makes his voice shake harder; it almost hurts, how sincere it is.
Santana gives him a half smile. Before she gets around to replying, he goes on, hesitantly: "Maybe… maybe I will come back to McKinley."
Santana glances quick at Brittany—who does the same, like they're tuned to the same whistle, like they always have been—and back to him, intrigued. "You think?"
He shrugs and says, "I mean, I left because they were… people thought I was gay. But everybody at Thurston is pretty much convinced, now." The words sound painful. He's not bitter enough to swear, so it just sounds like defeat.
"It's not as bad as it was," offers Brittany cautiously. She meets Santana's eyes before looking earnestly at Dave. "There's still, like, comments and stuff, and some of the Cheerios and football guys are still butts about it"—Santana smiles helplessly at butts because fuck, Brittany is cute—"but even if it's not totally easy, or whatever, San's kind of scared a lot of people straight."
Dave mulls this over.
"No pun intended." Brittany winces.
Santana gulps down a surge of fluffy sappy lovey feeling and wiggles her feet in Brittany's hands. Brittany smiles at her, like a teacher at a giggling student, and turns back to Dave like Santana should, too.
So she does. Dave's zoned out at his milkshake again, wearing that thoughtful look that always took Santana by surprise, back when she was positive he had exactly two brain cells to rub together and used both of them to identify Sam's ass as being attractive.
"Just think about it," Santana nudges. "It's not like you gots to decide this second."
Dave smirks, just like she wanted. He flicks his little eyes at her and squirms his shoulders like a soundless giggle. He tips the cup to his lips and shovels some of the milkshake down his gullet like it's going out of style.
"You eat like San after Cheerios practice," quips Brittany, squeezing the toe of Santana's sneaker.
Santana kicks a little with a grin. "Hey!"
"He does!" Brittany insists. Santana can't reach far enough to poke her, so she settles for sticking her tongue out; Brittany blows a raspberry back, and Santana hears Dave chuckling.
"Oh, hush, asshat," she says, rolling her eyes at him.
"You're cute when you're happy," he teases. Brittany grins at him, clearly excited to meet somebody who's not afraid to make fun of Santana with her.
Santana groans dramatically. "And here I thought I was safe from you," she laments in a Rachel Berry voice.
Brittany snickers and Dave laughs. "Careful, Brittany. If you keep making her smile like that, she might convert me," he jokes lightly.
"That's okay," says Brittany with a bright grin. Santana turns with her eyebrows raised and Brittany's eyes crinkle happily. "She's still gonna be totally crazy in love with me, so you can like her all you want." She suddenly yanks Santana's feet in toward her and hugs them; Santana yelps as she nearly falls off the bed, and she has to grab the railing and the bedspread to keep steady with her butt mostly off the mattress.
Dave's laughing like an asshole and Santana kicks her way out of Brittany's tight squeeze. Brittany's laughing, too, because Santana has to let go of the bed and fall ass-first on the floor to get to a position where she can fucking move again. She huffs as she gets to her feet, but she stands down reluctantly at the sight of Brittany being a happy giggly gorgeous goddess and of Dave actually smiling like there's something worth smiling about.
"You guys suck," she grumbles, needlessly smoothing out the ruffled skirt of her dress.
Brittany grins evilly and says, "Don't act like you don't like it," with a raised eyebrow and mischievous bedroom eyes.
Santana feels her cheeks get warm in an instant and before she knows it, she's calculating how much time they have between now and the stupid wedding. Maybe she can get Brittany to blow off the wedding. It's just Fimpotent and Squawky celebrating their right to play house like kindergarteners.
"Save it for the janitors' closet, ladies," Dave's saying drily, and Santana's still happily surprised by the way his wit surfaces where she doesn't expect it.
Brittany grins and returns, "You're probably the first guy to say that."
It's not true, but Santana's sure as shit not gonna bring up Artie right now.
"I bet Kurt would take my side," says Dave with a mild shrug and a crooked smile.
Santana grins. "He'd probably be too busy running away with his fingers in his ears."
"Yeah." Brittany looks at Santana smugly. "That time I made out with him, he freaking squeaked when he saw my bra strap."
Santana laughs and adopts a falsetto: "Eee! Girl parts!" she mimics, waving her hands dramatically with her elbows pinned at her sides.
Dave points his spoon at them and says, "Girl parts are crazy dangerous. Don't even kid."
It takes them a moment to realize he's not serious; his lips curl at the edges and they're laughing again, softer and quieter. "They should come with warning labels," he carries on: "Warning: May Cause Children."
Brittany wrinkles her nose. "Gross," she says, right as Santana drawls, "Wanky." They look at each other and giggle again.
In the corner of her eye, Santana sees Dave check the cell phone she gave him. "What time do you guys have to go?" he asks, concern creeping onto his face.
"Never," groans Santana flatly.
Brittany purses her lips unhappily and asks, "What time is it?"
"Almost four," he says.
Brittany looks at Santana and Santana links her hands behind her, settling them in the flouncy black fabric. "I guess we should go soon," Brittany says.
Santana turns to Dave and asks, "This is your last day, right?"
He nods and sets the half-empty cup on the table. "I'm going home tomorrow," he rasps uneasily.
Santana tries to smile, but she feels her lips quivering as she takes in his heartsick expression. She steps into the corner between the table and his bed and leans over to hug him. It takes him by surprise; he takes a full second to wrap his arms around her.
When he does, he squeezes tight. She feels the wet corner of his eye against her neck, under the curtain of her hair.
She draws away because they really do have to go, and anyway, just because it's a special enough occasion for her to hug him doesn't mean it has to go on forever. "Call me tomorrow and I'll come see you," she instructs, and she can feel her sincerity seeping out around her eyes and at the edges of her mouth.
He nods just as somberly and smiles just the tiniest bit. "Thanks for coming, Santana," he says, voice wandering in and out around the emotion clogging his bruised throat.
She wets her lips and nods because she doesn't know what else to do. He rescues her when he looks around her and smiles a little more at Brittany. "You too, Brittany," he says, fiddling with the monitor on his finger. "It means a lot to me that you came."
"That's what she said," offers Brittany with a reassuring little smile. Santana knows Brittany means it both ways—as a sex joke and as a way to say she wants to say thank you, too—but Dave at least interprets it as camaraderie and nods at her like the football bro he really is.
Brittany climbs quietly out of the chair and smooths her skirt. Santana turns halfway to link their hands at every finger—and God, it's at least five or ten or fifty times better than pinkies—and she holds her fist up to Dave. "Stay frosty," she says with a grin, thinking of the condensation on the plastic cups right beside her.
"You know it," says Dave. He bumps her fist and she beats it twice against her breastbone before flashing a peace sign.
He grins and mirrors her, belatedly.
As they pass the window, Santana glances in and sees him digging back into the milkshake, smiling and looking at the teddy bear still perched on the bedside table.
Santana squeezes Brittany's hand and thinks maybe he'll be okay, too, after all.
Maybe they can both finally be okay.