A/N: Hello, readers!
Okay, first off, I'd like to say that I agree with everyone else that all the stupid changes to this site are ridiculous and annoying. That is all.
Secondly, barring any unforeseen circumstances, yes, this is the last chapter. I know, it's sad, but we all knew this day would come sooner or later, right? :)
Next, review responses, since I was lame again and didn't get to them beforehand (sorry, guys! But, I was working really hard on this chapter, so...that's a good excuse, right?...Right? c: ):
CrawlingBackToYou9 - Haha, I'm glad you despise me in a good way! Much better than the alternative ;) Anyway, you'll find out what's the endgame in this chapter. Don't want to give away the ending, you know. ;) Thanks for the review and I hope you like this chapter!
Last White Feather - Thanks so much for the review, as always! I'm actually really glad your heart broke last chapter, because that means I'm doing my job right, hehe ;) Hopefully this chapter will make up for it :D I also wanted to thank you for reviewing, like, every chapter! I've loved each and every one of your comments! Maybe I'll 'see' you around sometime! ;)
RabbitSniper - Thanks for the review! I'm so glad that you felt for everyone in the last chapter! The situation sucked all the way around...:/ But I hope you like this chapter! And, yeah, this is the final chapter. I don't know, do you think it needs an epilogue? :) Oh, and I'll respond to your message right after I post this chapter, K? Time got away from me this week again. :/ Oh! I also wanted to say how happy I am that you stopped being shy and started reviewing! Especially since you're a fellow history-buff! And, you already know I love your username, but I just have to say that your profile picture makes me crack up every. Single. Time. haha! Thanks again for all the reviews! :D
Ryoko05 - Haha, sorry! I have a specific plan for this story, and I've planned for it to stop here. At least I didn't end it last chapter...that probably would have gotten me some angry reviews...lol. I hope you like this chapter! :) And, I wanted to thank you, too, for your continuous reviewing. All of your comments were/are very much appreciated. :D
Rtarara - Omg, "Wrong member of the party!" "Cholera ninja" etc, etc. Pahahahahaa! Priceless :') You, my friend, are hilarious. I hope this chapter helps placate you somewhat! :) Thanks, also, for all of your reviews! They always made me crack up like Humpty Dumpty :D
LadyLuck143 - I'm glad that it was a good kind of painful! :) And you will find out what happens to everyone in this chapter! I hope you like it! :D I also wanted to say thanks for all your reviews! They were awesome and entertaining and very much appreciated! :)
pourwords - Haha, I know, it was like a double whammy last chapter - first the heartbreaking stuff between Santana and Brittany (and Brittney) and then the avalanche. Well, I hope this chapter is satisfactory and answers questions and leaves you with warm and fuzzy feelings! ;)
inrepair - "oh my" indeed! Thanks for the review and I hope you enjoy this chapter! :D
wkgreen - Thanks for your review! I know, last chapter was just bad all the way around :/ But, this chapter kinda/sorta makes up for it. I hope you enjoy! And, you my friend, I believe, are the only who has reviewed nearly every chapter of Impossible to Ignore AND this story! Your loyalty and continued patronage have not gone unnoticed. Thank you so much for all your reviews! I love every one of them! :D
Anon - Holy crap, lol. One of the longest reviews I've ever gotten! Thanks so much! :) I'm so glad that you are liking the story so much so far, and I hope this chapter doesn't disappoint :) I'm also glad that you like the time period! I, too, love period stories (historical fiction is my favorite genre to read), and I think there needs to be many, many more Brittana ones out there ;) Oh! And thanks! I just get tired of Brittana always having to hide in stories set in the past - they do that enough in stories set in the modern day. Not that those stories don't do it fabulously! Just...I like to see stories where their feelings aren't questioned in any time period. :) I'm so glad that it was suspenseful for you! I was really worried that it wouldn't be, especially since you knew from the description that she did make it away from Finn :) Oh, and hahaha! Yes, Brittany is definitely the better looking of the two, and yeah...Santana was hurt, and she tends to lash out when she's hurt. I think she didn't lash out at Brittney so much because she doesn't care about her. But, she loves Brittany, so her part in the masquerade was much more painful. And yeah, Brittney and self-dignity have never met lol. ;) Thanks for your review and I hope you like this last chapter! :D
alyssa - First of all, χαῖρε (that's Ancient Greek for "Greetings/Hello". You may swoon ;D Not going to lie; you may or may not have made my day by saying that my knowledge of Ancient Greek is hot lol. No one's ever said that before! So...thanks c: ). Secondly, omg, your review. Hahaha! HiLARious. :) I'm so glad you like this story, and that you didn't wait until it was completed to read it (I feel special). Also, you lucked out because you read this story on the day that I update, so you didn't have to wait long! :) I hope this chapter is worth all the sad! ;) Thanks so much for the review! :D Oh, and P.S. You also gain awesome points because you were the 88th reviewer, and everyone knows that 8 is the most awesome number out there, so thanks ;)
imjustagirl2004 - I just wanted to say hi *waves* And to thank you in public for all your reviews and just general awesomeness that you exude 24/7 ;) Um...yeah, so, I love your reviews and always flail over them (just FYI, since I know you like to make me flail - I also just love the word 'flail'; it's fun ;D), so thanks for that ;) Ahem. So...enjoy this chapter! :D
Alrighty then, with that out of the way, I shall thank every person who has alerted and/or favorited this story, and everyone who has left a review! And thanks to those of you who simply read this story! Can't forget you! All of you guys are awesome! :D
Without further delay, the final chapter. Enjoy! :)
Brittany came to her sense slowly, opening first one eye, and then the other. But even with her eyes open, the world refused to make sense.
Why is it so cold? she wondered. Rebecca hates it when it's cold…
But you left Rebecca, her mind answered. You left Finn.
Oh, yes, that's right, she thought. I remember. I ran away. I went to the train depot. There was a girl on the train—and someone else—
With a sharp spear of pain, all of Brittany's senses came flooding back. She knew where she was now. She was lying, face down, in the aftermath of the avalanche, one arm pinned beneath her stomach, the other outflung. She could feel the fabric of her nightdress against her forehead. Her face lay in the crook of her outstretched arm. All around her, she could feel the cold, wet press of the snow.
I'm not in the train anymore, she realized. I'm buried. Buried deep in the snow. She was completely covered, although by some miracle she had been buried with an air pocket. She could breathe, but she wasn't sure yet that she could move. She could feel a great weight pressing down against her back.
Isaac, she thought suddenly, panic seeping into her immediately. Where is Isaac Puckerman?
Brittany tried to move, and then screamed in agony as searing pain shot from her back straight down both legs. She had no idea what held her down, but she was very much afraid that it would hold her there forever. The only thing she could move were the fingers of her outstretched hand. Everything else was useless, motionless, pinned down by some enormous weight.
Brittany stared at her fingers, wriggling uselessly. Her skin looked pinched and bloodless, almost as white as the snow. The cold was so immense that it shut out every other sensation but pain.
How long? Brittany wondered despondently. How long could she survive like this, with nothing between her and the snow?
And where was the Puckermans' baby? Had he slipped from Brittany's grip on impact?
"Isaac," she whispered, willing herself to stay strong, not to cry. Brittany held her breath, listening for anything that might give her a clue where the infant boy was. Gradually, from the hollow just below her stomach, Brittany became aware of a tiny thread of sound: Isaac Puckerman's breathing.
I've got to reach him, Brittany thought frantically. Got to keep him warm. She tried to move the arm pinned beneath her, but it was no use. She couldn't feel it anymore. Hot tears scalded Brittany's freezing cheeks as she realized the truth. Isaac Puckerman was right beneath her, but Brittany couldn't reach him. She could offer him no shelter, no protecting warmth. Isaac's life depended on Brittany now, and she could do nothing to save it. Just as she could do nothing to save her own.
All she could do was to pray. Pray that she and Isaac weren't the only ones left alive on earth. Pray that somewhere, someone was mounting a rescue, that they would get to them in time.
"It's all right. I'm here, Isaac," Brittany said softly. "Shall I sing you a lullaby? I'll sing you a lullaby," she babbled. "Hush little baby, don't say a word…"
Over and over, Brittany sang the same song. She never knew how long. She sang till her voice gave out and only her lips kept moving. Till the only sounds in her coffin of snow were her own heart beat and Isaac Puckerman's whispery rasps.
In and out. In and out, Brittany forced air into her own aching lungs, as if every breath she took somehow gave Isaac breath. With every inhalation, Brittany felt the weight against her back, pressing her down into the snow. With every exhalation, she felt the cold penetrate deeper and deeper into her tired body.
Until finally, she was so cold she couldn't feel anything at all, not even the pain, and the only thing she could hear was her own breathing.
He's gone. They're all gone, she thought, the last of her hope dwindling to nothing. Isaac. Santana. Brittney. Praying hadn't done any good. No one had come to save her.
And so, when the miracle did finally occur, Brittany almost didn't recognize it, she had been so certain that it would never happen. She heard a strange sound, the ring of metal shovels against the snow.
"I think we're just about done with this spot, boys," she heard a voice say.
"No, I'm here," Brittany murmured, a tiny spark of warmth, the will to live, suddenly flaring to life within her. She tried to lift her head. Pain shot like a hot poker down her back. Brittany cried out.
"Wait a minute," a second voice said. "I thought I heard something. Is anybody there? Can anybody hear my voice?"
"I'm here," Brittany called back, her voice stronger this time. "I'm here! Help me!"
"My God, there is someone," the first voice agreed. "Be careful, now. Don't dig too deep too fast."
Brittany heard the ring of shovels all around her. A moment later, she felt cold, fresh air upon the back of her head.
"It's a woman," she heard the voice exclaim. "It looks like Miss Bennett. Where's Santana Lopez? Somebody tell her I think we've found her fiancé."
"Santana," Brittany mumbled. Then she tumbled into darkness.
The Railyard at Wellington
Early March 1910
She was freezing. She was burning. She didn't know where she was, or where she had been. The surface of Brittany's skin felt scorched with fever. But inside, she was as cold as the snow and ice she had been so sure would be her grave. So cold she feared that she could never be warm again.
She could feel hands upon her, barely make out the shapes of people around her, their voices low and soothing as they spoke her name.
"You must stay still, Miss Bennett," they told her, over and over. "Lie still. You have to rest."
"Isaac," she thought she had whispered. "Rachel. Brittney. Santana."
And then at last one shape had detached itself from the others, one outline that was clearer than the rest.
"It's all right, I'm here, Britt."
"Santana," Brittany said again. She reached up, to where the figure stood above the bed. "You have to find Santana and ask her something for me."
"What is it?" the figure said. But Brittany's strength was failing, her vision growing dim. "What is it?" the figure repeated softly, leaning closer, until its form blocked out everything else.
From the depths of her freezing heart, Brittany summoned her last ounce of strength. "Ask her to forgive me," she whispered.
The next time she awoke, Santana was sitting by the side of her bed.
The Latina was asleep in a wooden chair the exact match for the ones in the dining room at the Jones' Hotel, her head dropped forward onto her chest. At Santana's side was a table with a pitcher of water and one of Mrs. Jones' green plants.
Is this real or am I still delirious, imagining things? Brittany wondered.
"Santana?" she whispered cautiously, not wanting to wake the other woman, but desperate to know what happened.
At once, Santana's eyes opened, their deep brown turning toward the bed. For a silence Brittany had no way to measure, they stared at one another. Brittany couldn't tell what the Latina was feeling. The dead, flat expression was gone from her eyes, but in its place was something she had never seen before, something she didn't understand.
"I'm thirsty," she murmured.
Without hesitation Santana rose and poured her a glass of water. "You've had a fever," she answered. "You have been delirious for more than a week." She moved to the bed, helped prop the blonde up so that she could drink, and then handed her the glass and stepped back.
She doesn't want to touch me, Brittany thought dejectedly. Not any more than she has to. Brittany couldn't blame her. The last time they had touched had meant betrayal for them both. She drank the water in slow sips, grateful for its cool slide down her parched throat.
"It's a miracle that you're alive at all," Santana continued as she sat down again. "You were buried in the snow for nearly thirteen hours with one of the biggest tree trunks I have ever seen pressed against your back. Why your back and legs aren't broken, I will never know."
The glass wobbled in Brittany's grasp as memory poured through her. With an unsteady breath, she looked over to the Latina. "Isaac…?"
Her eyes filled with sympathy, Santana shook her head. "The rest of the Puckermans are alive, though. Noah's collarbone is broken. Rachel has a big gash on her forehead, but Abby came through without a scratch. They have gone on to Seattle, but Rachel asked me to tell you she hoped that they would see you there, and that…she knew you had done your best."
Brittany closed her eyes against the tears that rose and threatened to spill over. How could Rachel be so compassionate, so forgiving?
"I couldn't get to him," she whispered, opening her eyes. "All I could do was wiggle my fingers. I couldn't move my arms or legs."
"Nobody could have expected you to do anything more, Britt," Santana said, sincerity evident in her quiet tone.
"But, if he had been with Rachel—" Brittany began. Without warning, a familiar head poked in through the curtained doorway.
"Oh, so she's awake at last," Mrs. Jones said. "I'll tell the doctor. He will be so pleased. Now you concentrate on getting your strength back, young lady."
From somewhere, Brittany gathered the strength to smile. "You just want some help in the kitchen."
"There now," Mrs. Jones pounced, as if Brittany had just helped her win an argument. "What did I tell you? Soon, she'll be just as healthy as that plant," she smiled. Her dark head disappeared, and Brittany could hear the sound of her brisk footsteps.
Brittany's jaw dropped open. She stared at Santana. She had never heard the Latina swear, not even in the heat of her anger over the blonde's deception. "I thought you liked Mrs. Jones," Brittany said, baffled by the outburst.
"I do," Santana answered. "But once she tells the doctor you're awake—" The brunette regarded her in silence for a moment, as though she were gauging the blonde's strength. "There's something else you need to know, Britt. I was going to wait to tell you, but I'm afraid Mrs. Jones has forced my hand."
Realization swept over Brittany. "It's about Brittney, isn't it?" she said in a low voice. When Santana didn't answer, she knew the truth, forced herself to say the words aloud. "She's dead."
"None of the other passengers on the Winnipeg made it," Santana said softly. "I don't know how you did."
So this was what had saved her, Brittany thought wryly. One small twist of fate.
"I wasn't on the Winnipeg," she confessed. "After you left, Brittney and I decided that we couldn't bunk together anymore. I moved to the Similkameen." She fell silent, unwilling to tell the Latina that she had slept in the berth they had shared. "I—"
"Finn Hudson is here," Santana interrupted.
The glass slipped from Brittany's fingers as she jerked upright. Water splashed across the bed.
"You mustn't let him see me," she said urgently. The glass crashed to the floor beside the bed.
"But—" Santana started.
"Santana, please, listen to me," Brittany pleaded. What could she do to make the brunette understand?
"I know you no longer—care for me—" her voice stumbled, but she forced herself to go on. "But, please, I beg of you, don't tell Finn Hudson that I'm here. I can't go back to Spokane. If all you're going to do is turn me over to him, then you should have just left me to die in the snow."
Heedless of the broken glass upon the floor, Santana moved to the side of the bed. Her fingers reached for Brittany's chin, holding her head perfectly still. For one long moment, Santana looked into her eyes.
"You're serious, aren't you?"
"Dead serious," Brittany replied. "Even if you hate me, don't tell him that I'm here. Please, Santana, I beg—"
"Well, get in there and ask Lopez when I can see her!" a voice just outside the doorway bellowed. "I can't stay here forever. I'm a busy man."
Brittany jerked her head out of Santana's grasp. She had to get away, any way she could. Desperately, her hands fumbled for the covers.
"Stay still, Britt," Santana ordered softly. Without another word, she turned toward the doorway. In two long strides she was through it, drawing the curtain shut behind her.
"What do you want, Hudson?" she barked, her voice more acidic than Brittany had ever heard before.
"The same thing I've wanted for the last week," Finn Hudson's angry voice snapped back. "I have questions concerning my stepsister. I think your fiancé may be able to answer them. I hear she's awake. All I want to do is talk to her, Lopez."
A wave of shock passed through Brittany. She pressed her hands to her mouth to keep her emotions at bay. All this time, Santana had been protecting her, and she hadn't known it. The Latina hadn't allowed Finn to see her, hadn't revealed the identity switch. Only Santana and Brittany knew the truth about the Brittany Pierce who lay buried under who knew how many feet of snow, knew that she was really Brittney Bennett. But Finn Hudson didn't know it.
Her stepbrother believed that she was dead!
"I have told you, Miss Bennett has nothing to tell you," Santana answered, her next words confirming Brittany's realization. "She's weak, recovering from an ordeal you can't begin to imagine. She cannot be disturbed. I will not allow it."
"But, my stepsister's belongings," Finn protested.
He's talking about my mother's jewelry, Brittany realized suddenly. Finn and Rebecca must have searched her room, discovered what she had taken. She had no idea where her coat was, no doubt buried beneath the snow.
"You stepsister's belongings? Santana's said incredulously. Brittany felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. She had never heard Santana's voice sound like this, not even when she had faced down a roomful of angry passengers. "That's all that really matters to you, isn't it?" she asked.
"You don't care about finding her body. You don't care that the only way we had to identify Miss Pierce was by the ring on her right hand. Her severed right hand, Mr. Hudson. That's all we have of your stepsister. All we may have till spring. I suggest you return to look for her belongings then."
A wave of nausea flooded through Brittany. Dear God, she thought, horrified. Brittney hadn't deserved such a fate. No one did. Brittany drew her knees up and hugged them to her chest.
"Your behavior is insulting," Finn blustered. "I intend to lodge a protest with Superintendent Figgins."
"Fine," Santana said promptly. "You do that. In the meantime, leave Miss Bennett alone, or I promise you that you'll regret it."
A moment later, Brittany heard the angry retreat of Finn's footsteps. Santana stepped back through the curtain and held it closed behind her. She pulled in a deep, slow breath. Slowly, Brittany slid her legs down and sat up as straight as she could, staring across the room at the Latina.
"Why did you protect me?" she whispered. "You don't even know my reasons."
"I don't need to know them," Santana snapped. "I have reasons of my own."
Brittany held her breath. Santana all but vibrated with tension. She was wound as tightly as a watch spring. But when the brunette spoke once more, her voice was low and controlled. Her dark eyes looked straight ahead, as if she were staring at the past.
"When I left here—that day—I thought I never wanted to see you again. I told myself that offering to marry Brittney was the right thing to do, the honorable thing to do, and that was why I had acted the way I had."
She paused and, in that moment, Brittany could see the deep lines of weariness etched around her eyes and mouth. You don't have to do this, Brittany wanted to tell her. You don't have to explain. But she couldn't seem to force the words out.
Without warning, Santana's brown eyes turned to hers and Brittany felt a jolt. They were haunted, tortured. Had she done that?
"It wasn't true, Britt," Santana burst out, as if the spring inside her had suddenly given way, her voice trembling with emotion. "I wasn't trying to do the right thing. All I was doing was trying to hurt you—to pay you back. I wanted you to suffer. I wanted you to feel the way I did—betrayed. Then we got word of the avalanche and I—"
She broke off, breathing hard, and turned away. Brittany watched her run a hand across her face, as though to scrub it clean of her unwholesome visions. Brittany was shocked to see that the Latina's hand was trembling.
"I thought that I'd go crazy. All I could think about was you. Seeing you again, holding you again. I would have given anything to make that happen, Britt.
"I didn't give a damn about who you were; all I wanted was to have you back again. I don't know if I can ever forgive the choice you made—coming to me without telling me who you really were—but I think that, now, I can understand it. When I thought I'd lost you, I thought I'd lost everything—except my memories."
Brittany was still for a moment, listening to the steady beat of her own heart and to Santana's ragged breathing. She did understand, Brittany thought. Maybe better than she had herself. Her need to build a memory. As much as desire, that was the thing that had pulled her to the Latina that night. But if Santana couldn't forgive her, a memory would be all they would ever have.
Brittany never knew how she found the courage to speak. "What happens now?" she asked.
Santana rand her hand across her face once more, and then turned to face her. Now Brittany saw that the brunette's eyes were dim and troubled, as if the fire in them had begun to smolder but hadn't yet found the way to burst to life.
"I honestly don't know," Santana admitted softly. "Part of me still wants to blame you, Britt. You lied to me. You hurt me, and I responded in a way that I'm not proud of. But if I had been honest from the start—if I had told the truth and said that I couldn't marry Brittney Bennett, things might have been different. You and I could have been free to love one another. My head knows that I have to let go of the past—but my heart—"
"It's still all around us, isn't it?" Brittany whispered. She thought of Brittney, lying cold and dead in the snow. Cold and dead in what could have been her place. Would Brittney's tomb house her own heart? Brittany wondered. Would she be doomed to live alone, without love, in atonement for Brittney's fate?
"Now that I know you will recover, I must leave for Seattle. I can't put it off any longer," Santana continued, he voice snapping Brittany from her thoughts. The Latina came to stand beside the bed. "Perhaps, all we need is time, Britt. Perhaps—"
Brittany reached for her hand, curving her pale fingers around Santana's tan ones. "What do you want to do?" she asked
The question burned in her throat, it sounded so unlike her. The old Brittany Pierce didn't ask. She made up her mind and then she acted. Without her impetuosity, she never would have met Santana Lopez, known her love.
Because of her impetuosity, Brittany might very well have lost her love forever.
I've been no better than Finn is, Brittany realized suddenly. Manipulating people, using them to satisfy my own ends. The knowledge filled her with self-loathing. The fact that she hadn't intended to act in such a fashion hardly made a difference. How could she expect Santana to love her when she couldn't love herself?
Her fingers slipped from Santana's and fell back upon the bed. When Santana reached to capture them again, Brittany felt her heart stutter.
Perhaps the Latina wasn't ready to let her go. Not yet.
"This is what I think we should do," Santana answered slowly, gazing down at her joined hands, fingers laced together. "I'll hike out to Scenic and take the train back to Seattle. You stay here and recover your strength. When you're ready to travel, if you still…want me, wire me when you will arrive. If I want us to be together, I'll meet you at the train depot."
"And if you're not there?" Brittany couldn't help asking, although she dreaded the answer.
"Then you'll have my answer," Santana said. "Just as I will have yours if you never come to Seattle. We're even now, Britt. No more lies between us, no more secrets. Both of us must take the same chance."
The chance that, even as one of them moved forward, the other would step back. Brittany felt her heart accelerate with fear at just the thought. She had been impulsive all her life, but had she ever truly been brave? Was she brave enough to take this chance?
To show by her actions that she wanted Santana's love, before she could know if it was still returned?
I am brave enough, she thought resolutely. I must be.
"All right, Santana," she said, squeezing the Latina's hand to convey her sincerity, that she wanted this.
A look of relief swept across Santana's face. "Thank you," she breathed out. For a moment, the brunette stood silent, as though, now that she had leave to go, she was uncertain how to do it. Finally, she raised Brittany's hand, still clasped in her own, and pressed it to her lips. Brittany felt the tears start, unbidden, in her eyes. She blinked frantically, desperately trying to hold them back.
She would not weep. Not when it felt so much like giving in to defeat before she had had the chance to prove that she could win.
"Rest well," Santana said softly, gazing intently into Brittany's ocean blue eyes. "I hope—"
Shaking her head, as if to stop herself from speaking any more, Santana broke off abruptly. Without another word, Santana released her hand and strode away from the bed. At the doorway, she slid the curtain back, stepped through it, and then slid it into place behind her. Not once did she look back. Brittany heard her quick footsteps walk away from her room and then fade away to nothingness.
Brittany sat in bed, staring at the bright green leaves of Mrs. Jones' plant. It looked so eager for life, so hopeful, and Brittany had never felt so hopeless.
How much of her heart had just vanished with Santana? she wondered. And how much of it would stay forever here in Wellington, buried in the cold among the dead?
The Railyard at Wellington
Late March 1910
"Are you ready to go, Britt?"
Several weeks later, Brittany stood once more on the porch of Jones' Hotel. This time, she was waiting to board the train that would take her on the final leg of the journey she had started so long ago, through the mountains to Seattle. She had been ready to travel for more than a week, but she had been forced to stay in the mountains until the tracks could be cleared from Scenic to Wellington.
Both places had been sites of desperate activity during the weeks of Brittany's recovery. Even though they had had to hike in on foot, rescue crews had poured from Scenic to Wellington. The passenger cars had been dug out first, and then below them, the mail cars, all still carrying their loads of human cargo.
It had seemed to Brittany that the sleds carrying the bodies from the wreckage to the makeshift morgue near the hotel would never stop. To keep herself occupied, she had helped Mrs. Jones in the kitchen once more, helping to feed the rescue crews. She had been glad to keep busy but, more often than not, her appearance proved awkward. Entire tables of men would fall silent at her approach. They knew she was one of the survivors, and they had all heard about her ordeal.
But it was from overhearing talk at the tables that Brittany learned the fate of the Fabrays. Some of the bodies pulled from the wreckage were mangled almost beyond recognition, but not them. They appeared virtually untouched, as though they had simply fallen asleep under a vast blanket of snow. Beth had been clasped tightly in her mother's arms. Quinn had protected her to the very last.
As was the case with all the others, their bodies were loaded onto enormous sleds and hauled out to Scenic, the closest place where the trains were still running.
It was from a compassionate Mrs. Jones that Brittany had learned Brittney's fate. She had been entwined with the twisted metal wreckage of the Winnipeg. Only the fact that one of her hands was severed at the wrist had made it possible to identify her. Her face had been crushed beyond recognition.
Brittany's secret was well and truly safe now. It could not be given away, not even by the dead.
In spite of Brittany's pleading, Mrs. Jones had refused to let her see the body. There was no point in Brittany torturing herself, she had said. Brittney was gone. Nothing Brittany could ever do would bring her back.
She had meant the words as comfort, Brittany knew, but instead she felt guilt settle over her, like a great, dark cloak. What had the woman said who had first come to congratulate Miss Lopez and Miss Bennett on their romantic engagement?
The heart always knows its choice.
And because Brittany's heart had chosen Brittney's fiancé, and Santana's heart had chosen her, Brittany was alive and Brittney was dead. And because her friend was dead, Brittany could be free to leave her old life behind forever, if only she had courage enough to take the first step.
A step that felt much larger than the one that had taken her away from Finn and her life in Spokane. I was running away then, Brittany thought. Now, she was running toward. A leap of faith which she must make without a safety net.
"Britt—" a quiet voice said.
Brittany started and turned. Then she gave a quick, self-conscious laugh. Mrs. Jones had been there the whole time, she realized suddenly. Had even spoken to her once before, but Brittany had been too lost in her own comfortless thoughts to answer her.
She pulled in a deep breath. Now that the time to leave Wellington had come, Brittany felt awkward and uncertain. Without Mrs. Jones' support, Brittany was sure she never would have made it through the dark days after Santana's departure.
She managed a smile, determined to show the older woman good spirits. "Ready as I'll ever be," she said.
Mrs. Jones was quiet for a moment, gazing out toward the tracks. The day was cold and clear. Sunlight sparkled like diamonds on the surface of the hard-packed snow.
"Did you wire Santana?" Mrs. Jones asked.
Brittany nodded, unable to trust herself to speak.
"I gave her a piece of my mind before she left, you know," the other woman said.
"You did what?" Brittany asked, astonished.
Mrs. Jones chuckled, as if Brittany's startled reaction was exactly what she had hoped for. "I gave her a piece of my mind," she said again. "I don't know what's gone wrong between you two, but it's nothing that can't be cured by a little forgiveness. That's what I told her—and what I'm telling you."
But you can't know that for certain, Brittany thought to herself. Just as she couldn't know for certain that the Latina would be waiting for her at the other end.
"I'm not sure she can forgive me," she said aloud, sadness and fear obvious in her voice.
Mrs. Jones snorted. "Don't be ridiculous. Of course she can," she said. "But she's got to forgive herself first, same as you've got to forgive yourself. All the rest will follow after that."
Brittany felt her heart twist. "You make it sound so simple."
Mrs. Jones turned to her, her expression ever so slightly surprised. "Well, I think it is," she answered. "But simple is not the same as easy."
"No, it isn't," Brittany agreed. She took a breath. She thought of Brittney, her body crushed, unrecognizable in the snow. "I—I'm not sure I can forgive myself."
Mrs. Jones' expression turned compassionate. "But I think you must, my dear," she said. "Otherwise, how will you go on?"
Brittany looked back out over the snow, telling herself that her eyes burned because the sunlight was so dazzling.
"I don't know," she whispered.
Suddenly, Mrs. Jones handed Brittany a basket. It was covered with a red and white checked cloth, bright and cheery. "I fixed a little something for you," the older woman said. "A person should never go on a journey empty handed. Besides, I wanted to thank you for all your help."
"It's I who should thank you," Brittany responded, grateful for the change of subject. "It helped to keep busy."
The other woman nodded, as though she understood. "It's a good feeling to be useful, isn't it?" she commented.
The train let out a long, high whistle.
"Oh, there you go. Better get on board," Mrs. Jones said. She reached out to give Brittany a warm embrace. "Good luck, Britt."
"And to you," Brittany said. She returned Mrs. Jones' embrace, and then tucked the basket more firmly into the crook of her arm and strode down the porch steps without looking back. The snow crunched and squeaked as Brittany walked across it. For the last time, she walked toward the tracks at Wellington, the plume of steam from the great black engine shooting like a white geyser into the cold, blue air.
Just before she boarded the train, she stopped and turned in a slow circle. High above where the train now sat, the avalanche had left a jagged scar upon the land, wide and deep, like the scar in Brittany's heart. Who knew how long it would take the land to heal?
But I must be like the earth is, Brittany realized suddenly. She must be strong. She must be patient and relentless. She must commit herself to the future, not the past. Her dream of love had been born, and it had died in this place. But it could rise once more, reborn by the power of forgiveness.
She swung up into the train, settled into the day car, and set her basket at her feet. No sooner had she done so than she felt the train jerk forward. The future seemed to hurtle toward her as the train gathered speed. Brittany felt her heart lift and open.
There was pain there, pain for her own deception. Pain for the senseless loss of Brittney. Perhaps it would be there always. But pain was not enough to grow a future.
Please, Brittany thought as she watched Wellington disappear forever. Please, be there, Santana.
Late March 1910
Brittany couldn't find her anywhere.
The blonde stood outside the depot in Seattle, her heart pounding in her throat, fingers laced together tightly. Only a supreme act of will was keeping her from wringing her hands. She had watched the other passengers disembark, be greeted by their loved ones and depart, despair growing in her heart moment by moment, until now she stood all alone beside the great black engine.
It was warmer in Seattle than it was in the mountains, but Brittany was cold, so cold she didn't think that she would ever be warm again. She had made her choice, sending the telegram that showed she wanted a future with Santana.
And, in her absence, Brittany had her answer. Santana didn't want her. Didn't want a life together.
She wasn't coming. Brittany couldn't find the Latina anywhere.
All of a sudden, Brittany simply couldn't stand it. Go! Get moving! she urged herself. You can't stand around all night at the train depot.
But her legs felt slow and clumsy inside their cocoon of petticoats and skirts. As if her body was unwilling to move toward the future, preferring to stay rooted in the past. No matter how painful it had been, in this moment Brittany was sure the pain of the past would be nothing compared to that of the future.
She wasn't coming. Brittany was going to have to learn to live without her.
"Excuse me, miss—"
At the sound of the voice behind her, Brittany turned to find the train conductor hurrying along beside the tracks. In one hand, he held the basket that Mrs. Jones had given Brittany.
"I think you may have left this behind, miss," the conductor said.
"I did—thank you for noticing," Brittany said. She had been in such a hurry to find Santana that she had forgotten all about Mrs. Jones' gift. She took the basket, settling it into the crook of one arm.
"Thank you," she said again, smiling at the conductor.
He touched one hand to the brim of his cap. "Think nothing of it, ma'am," he said as he walked past Brittany.
"Evening, miss," he greeted someone behind Brittany as he moved on toward the depot.
Brittany spun around, the basket flying out from her elbow as she swiftly turned. She heard a grunt as it connected.
"Whoa—be careful!" a voice exclaimed.
Brittany stopped dead. All she could do was stare into a pair of warm brown eyes she had been so sure she would never see again.
"Santana," she whispered. She swayed as her leg, so unwilling to move a moment before, now threatened to stop holding her up. Santana reached to hold her at once, her hands grasping both of Brittany's elbows in a tight, firm grip.
"I was delayed. I couldn't help it, Britt."
"I thought you weren't coming," Brittany replied. She wanted to call the words back the moment she said them. But she had been so cold, so terribly cold and alone and afraid.
Santana winced. "I know—I'm sorry—I—I'm not making a very good start of this, am I?" she said with a nervous chuckle.
Do something, Brittany ordered herself. You've come so far, had so many misunderstandings. Don't let one last one ruin things now.
"What's that?" Santana asked suddenly. Brittany followed her gaze to where Mrs. Jones' basket still dangled from the crook of one of her elbows.
"Mrs. Jones gave it to me, just before I left," she said. "Probably just food for the trip. I didn't even look—I wasn't hungry—"
"No," Santana interrupted, her expression intent. "No, I don't think so. Look, Britt."
Santana released one of her elbows to ease the checked cloth back. From the depths of the basket, Brittany could see glossy green leaves. Mrs. Jones had given her one of her plants, the one that had cheered her from the table by her sickbed.
Brittany felt her body begin to tingle. Felt the rush of her blood, just beneath the surface of her skin. Mrs. Jones had given her something strong and alive, yet that nevertheless must be tended carefully.
Like my love for Santana, Brittany thought as a smile slowly spread across her face. Like the life we want to build together.
She looked up to find Santana watching her intently, her brown eyes burning with the thing Brittany had feared she had put out forever: a strong and steady flame. Brittany felt the ice around her heart melt and dissolve away as though it had never been there. She was warm once again.
"Britt—I—" Santana began, but Brittany placed gentle fingertips against the Latina's lips to silence her.
"I love you, Santana," she said, moving her hand to stroke the brunette's soft check with the pad of her thumb, her gaze never once leaving the shorter woman's. "My heart always knew that you would come—only my fear made me doubt. I'll never listen to it again."
Santana made a strangled sound and leaned forward a little to rest her forehead against the blonde's. "I was so afraid you wouldn't come," she confessed, her husky voice whisper-soft. "Ten times a day, I told myself I was a fool for leaving you. I don't want to live without you—not for one moment longer. Will you marry me, Britt?"
"Yes, I will," Brittany beamed, her heart full to bursting with joy.
Santana gave a great whoop and lifted the taller woman off her feet, spinning her until they were both breathless and laughing. Then the Latina set Brittany on her feet, took her porcelain face between her hands, and kissed her until the sounds of the depot dropped away and all Brittany could hear was the beat of Santana's heart and hers, together.
Hand in hand, they walked to the hansom cab that would take them to Santana's home, and her waiting parents. Safe in the cab, in the shelter of Santana's arms, Brittany touched the plant that Mrs. Jones had given her with gentle fingers.
The winter had been long and bitter, and Brittany knew she would never forget it. But now, in the blossoming of the love she shared with Santana, Brittany also knew that she would see the spring.
A/N: ...and they lived happily ever after. So precious *wipes tear from eye* ;)
I hope you guys enjoyed this story and thanks for joining me along the journey! :D
Shameless plug: I have started another story (I'm posting the first chapter right after I post this one, just FYI. I don't know when it'll show up on the site, but that's when I'm posting it lol) entitled Washed Ashore, in case some of you might be interested. :D
Thanks again for reading! Bye! :)