Authors Note: 1) I have a dislocated finger, so I'm choosing to blame all typos on that. Also on a complete and total lack of editing. 2) I don't even know. I just had it bugging me and wanted it out before I saw the episode tonight and went spiraling into a fit of rage. 3) Title is from a New Pornographers song; cookies to those who know it.
The story was supposed to go like this: win Regionals. Win cheerleading Nationals. Win show choir Nationals. Win an academic scholarship. Own the AP exams. Leave Lima forever with Brittany in tow.
The story wasn't supposed to go like this: let Rachel Berry coerce her into being a bridesmaid. Go to town hall. Listen to Mercedes' phone go off from six different missed calls leading up to the vows until she answers it. Find out that Mercedes' family is still listed as Quinn's emergency contact and that Quinn was hit by a car.
Life wasn't supposed to play out that way.
Instead of celebrating winning Regionals—she'd already planned it out, with Brittany's favorite tequila and an empty Lopez house at their disposal—or even an impromptu reception for Finn and Rachel, Santana sat, frozen to a sticky plastic seat, in the hospital. Brittany paced in front of her, bridesmaid's dress swishing softly in her agitation, and Rachel slumped across the room, borderline catatonic except for her eyes following Brittany's pacing. Sam and Mercedes sat next to her, Mercedes' head on his shoulder. Judy Fabray's head was in her hands, her shoulders shaking quietly.
Her husband was nowhere to be seen, and her daughter had been in surgery for four hours.
"Mercedes! Please, Finn needs to speak his vows, this really isn't the time to—"
"It's Quinn," Mercedes mumbled, the phone slipping from her hand to crack against the cheap flooring.
"Where is she?" Rachel snapped. Santana rolled her eyes at the way Rachel's eyes snapped briefly at Quinn's name. The two of them had the most convoluted friendship she'd ever seen, including her own with Brittany. "Is she going to be here? Because we can—"
"She was in an accident."
Rachel's teeth clacked together, and Mercedes stumbled backwards, hands trembling. Sam leapt to her side, Mike almost fell over from being shoved out of the way. "There was a car—the hospital called my parents—"
Santana froze, fingers wrenching the bouquet in her hands violently. Beside her, Brittany's breath whooshed out swiftly, a sharp exhalation that might have pushed over a weaker girl.
"Where?" Santana snapped. "What hospital?" Her tone was sharp and cold. Business first, emotion second. Sue Sylvester beat it into her enough to make it default.
"Where, Mercedes?" she half-shouted. She hurled the flowers away and grabbed Brittany's wrist in one smooth action, pulling her close. "What hospital?"
The panic welling in her chest was too clear, too familiar, except this time Brittany is at her side instead of being tended to by a paramedic in a cheerleading tent after a counselor forced his way in to take advantage of her. Instead of their new ally Quinn being the one to hold Santana together in the aftermath, Quinn was in an ambulance of her own and somehow Santana was supposed to be the one holding Brittany together.
"Baptist," Mercedes muttered, dazed.
They were halfway out the door before the others even breathed. She yanked her purse up from where it waited in one of the rear benches with all of their belongings, the clang of the buckle against the bench echoing through the empty room before everything fell silent in the wake of the door sliding shut behind them.
"Santana!" Rachel ran barefoot after them, dress hiked up but still trailing across the parking lot pavement. "Please, I have to—"
"Get in," Santana said shortly. Rachel threw herself into the backseat and Santana barely took the time to be sure Brittany was fully inside before taking off.
Halfway there, Santana spoke suddenly, startling them all. "My dad's working today." Her voice echoed hollowly in the car. "He's the best trauma surgeon they have." The unspoken He's Quinn's best shot pressed down against Santana's chest, and she gripped the steering wheel tighter.
The ER was almost empty when they get there, save for the quiet bustle of nurses prepping a bed. Santana practically shoved Brittany and Rachel to a seat and grabbed a nurse, flashing the ID badge her father had made for all of them.
"I'm Anthony Lopez's daughter," she bit out. "Where's Quinn Fabray?"
"Eighteen, blonde, car accident."
The nurse blinked, and then nodded, realization seeping across her face. "They're on their way."
"What?" Rachel said shrilly from disturbingly close. "How did we get here first?"
The nurses jaw set, the muscles in her neck tensing, and she glanced over her shoulder to where six other nurses are halfway-running around to get ready before looking back to them. "They had to wait for the fire department to get there," she said quietly. "The ambulances don't carry—"
"Jaws of life," Santana mumbled. Too many dinnertime conversations, too many pictures her father brought home from the ER when she was about to get her license, too many stern warnings and forced trips to the hospital to see teenagers in comas from careless driving. "They had to cut her out."
The nurse nodded once, sparing a moment for a sympathetic look, before striding off. Rachel was whimpering, leaning against Santana heavily, but all Santana could think of was Quinn and Brittany and emergency hydraulic extraction tools and everything they had ever been needed for. She absently frogwalked Rachel over to the bench and sat her down.
"Now what?" Brittany whispered. "Where is she?"
"We wait," Santana said heavily.
It was four in the morning when Santana's father finally came out of the operating room. Brittany was half-asleep, Judy pacing in her stead, and Mercedes and Sam had been ordered home by their parents. Finn sat next to Rachel, constantly looking her way and reaching out to touch her, but she was almost completely catatonic by then, eyes blank and unblinking and directed at the floor. Her parents sat on her other side, holding hands tightly.
Santana sat alone, knees pulled up to her chest. Her mother had brought a change of clothes—and a set of the sweats Brittany kept at the Lopez house, and some spare clothes for Rachel—and the material of her oldest sweatpants was soft under her skin where her chin rested atop her knee. She'd curled up into one of the chairs alone when Brittany had been shaking too hard to let Santana touch her, and hadn't moved since.
The sound of her father clearing his throat prompted her to move, and she leapt up towards him instinctively, only to halt abruptly when he reached for her and there was a flash of drying blood on the shirt his fresh scrubs were covering. Her hands hung between them, her eyes locked on where the dark splotches had been, and he reached a just-cleaned hand out to take hers.
"Is she—" The words cut off abruptly, dropping heavily from her mouth as if to crash onto the floor, and she yanked her hands back to wrap around her stomach.
"She's in a medically induced coma," he said softly. His eyes flicked over her shoulder momentarily, and a clammy, familiar hand wrapped around hers, Brittany suddenly at her side. A smaller one took her other hand, and Rachel was suddenly there as well. "There's some severe head trauma, so we have to keep an eye on that; the next 24 hours will be make or break. And—and her left side was crushed in the impact."
The word crushed ran through her like a current, and suddenly the hands in her own were all that held her up. Inexplicably, it was Rachel—the same one who whined to get her way, who had been silent and useless the whole time—who spoke up.
Dr. Lopez's eyes were mired with sympathy as he scanned the room before stopping on his daughter. "Collapsed lung, broken ribs, but she's breathing on her own now, so that's a good sign. Her forearm broke in three places, so we had to plate it, and some of the bones in her hand broke, but they were clean and should heal well. Her femur cracked, but it's only a hairline." His words caught in his throat, and Santana's eyes snapped up to meet his at the hitch in his breathing. He took a slow, shuddering breath, not looking away quickly enough to mask the regret in his eyes.
"Her lower leg was—was caught. The truck struck her directly in front of the driver's door, and the cars were—were stuck. They had to cut her out, and they did it as quickly as they could, but it—there wasn't even a possibility of saving it." He reached out for Santana again, cupping her face gently. She'd never seen him so defeated before. "We managed to save the knee. With a prosthesis—"
Santana wrenched away from him, from Rachel, from Brittany, stumbling over towards a garbage can just in time to throw up. In an instant, her mother was at her side, holding her, and Santana felt a curse—and then another, and another—rip out past her lips. She slumped against her mother, the anger leaving her body as quickly as the nausea, and suddenly, coldly, all she could do was cry.
Quinn was supposed to be going to Yale in six months, but she was in a coma. They were supposed to bring home a final cheerleading championship this year, their final fuck you to McKinley and all it did to hold them down, but Quinn was in a hospital bed with half of her leg cut off. They were supposed to be moving on, moving up, but Quinn was caught in traction.
There was nothing left in her, but Santana fell back towards the trash can, retching, anyways.
The week until Quinn woke up was hell on them all. Quinn's mother hadn't left the hospital once, sleeping in a narrow cot that had been rolled in for her at the request of Dr. Lopez. Santana had staunchly refused to go to school, snarling out a crude fuck you at her mother before clapping a horrified hand over her own mouth, and Brittany's parents had relented easily at the sight of Quinn's broken and unconscious body.
Visitors trickled in and out at odd hours. During school, after, during dinner, in the middle of the night. Rachel came by on her way to school, alone and without her engagement ring, and after with a shell-shocked Finn. She came every day, despite Santana's sneers and blame and distaste, and stayed as long as she could. Mercedes came by after school every day and stayed until visiting hours had ended, her parents joining her half the time and looking sadly down at the girl they had once given a home. Puck came at sporadic intervals, most often in the middle of the night when everyone was meant to be sleeping.
Information came in bursts far more inconsistent than the visitors. The other driver was dead. He'd had a heart attack, most likely causing him to run the stop sign. Santana hated him on principle, and almost attacked the brokenhearted now-widow who had come by once. The dead man was held at fault and the Fabray's insurance company was running after his with vengeance, the agent promising Judy full coverage and a hefty settlement. Judy had simply nodded, signing the paperwork and turning back to her daughter.
Brittany painted Quinn's nails, for lack of anything else to do, and Rachel read to her, and Puck and Sam played the guitar, but Santana simply sat, silent and glowering, for hours on end. Quinn was the most stubborn of all of them, and she wouldn't wake up because of voices or music or painted fingernails. Knowing her, she wouldn't wake up until she felt there had been properly guilty histrionics at her bedside by all the people who had wronged her in the past, and Berry's books and Puck's whispered apologies were only as meaningful as the short hours they spent there each day.
Santana stayed around the clock, dropping her father's name whenever someone tried to make her leave, because it was somehow easier to look at Quinn's comatose form than to leave and remember—to remember Quinn's haircut in New York, Quinn unquestioningly helping with Brittany's student council campaign, Quinn reuniting the fractured New Directions even when they had all abandoned her at some point, none more so than Santana herself. The memories were oppressive and too sharp and only left her alone when she could hear Quinn's heartbeat, so she stayed and listened to the soft whirring and clicking and beeping of the machines helping keep her friend alive.
It figured, then, that it was the one time Rachel was in there alone that Quinn regained consciousness the first time. Santana walked back in from a vending machine run to see Rachel all but trembling, hands hovering over the bed.
"Quinn," Rachel said excitedly. "Quinn, can you hear me?"
There was an undecipherable rasp from the bed, and Santana, bottled water in hand, froze at the sound. The bottle slipped from her hands, thunking onto the floor softly, and she stared at Rachel's back and how it blocked Quinn from her view.
Rachel whirled around, eyes shining and lips trembling. "Santana, she—she woke up. For a minute, she woke up."
Santana nodded, words sticking in her throat, and her eyes locked on where Rachel's hand was wrapped around Quinn's, smooth tan skin covering what was available under a cast and a bandage. Rachel turned back to Quinn, reaching out shakily and smoothing blond hair back from where it had slipped out from the bandages. She may have woken up, but she was back asleep already. Rachel, though, was already out of the room to find a doctor.
Santana shuffled over to Rachel's vacated chair, sitting numbly, and stared, waiting. Bruises and lacerations dotted over the few uncovered patches of pale skin, the rest covered by the hospital gown and the casts and bandages and the brace on her neck. A heart monitor was wired to her hand and an IV pricking her wrist, leeds stuck to one side of her chest and a tube slithering out of the other side for drainage from the damaged lung. What Santana's father explained as a novacaine drip was wired into what remained of her leg to manage the pain when she woke up, and an oxygen mask covered her mouth and nose. A precaution, her father had explained, even though she didn't need a breathing tube.
A week's worth of practice had trained Santana to not look below the waist, lest she catch sight of the way the blankets went flat halfway down Quinn's left leg and fight a wave of nausea like she had the first four times. The rich navy painted neatly on her hands stood proudly against the crisp white sheets, the bandages, the stitches closing a laceration that Santana's father had said almost severed one of her fingers. Brittany had always been the best of them with nail polish, and Quinn had proven early in freshmen year that she was a far better subject than the fidgety Santana. She had let Brittany use her as a manicure experiment every week for three months in exchange for Santana helping her to perfect her back tuck.
Her eyes drifted down towards Quinn's leg anyways for a brief moment, unbidden images of late nights on the football field with a perfectionist friend and bitchy commentary swimming up from where she'd buried them away. A cough brought her attention up to where Quinn's eyes—one, at least; the whole left side of her face was swollen, shuttering that eye—opened halfway, blinking drowsily in the lights.
"H—hey," Santana stammered, leaping from her chair. She watched Quinn go almost cross-eyed trying to see the oxygen mask, and deliberated for only the shortest time before reaching out to pull it away and over her head. "Here, maybe—"
A pained, rattling inhale was all she was rewarded with, followed immediately by a grimace and a soft whimper that lanced through Santana.
"Hey, hey, be careful," she murmured. She stepped closer, hesitating only for a second before she moved to the other side of the bed and gripped gently at Quinn's uninjured hand. She doesn't realize until hours later that somehow, despite three years of the peculiarity that was their friendship, she'd never held Quinn's hand before. "Don't move too much, you'll hurt yourself or—or pop a stitch or something."
Quinn blinked at her, her gaze shifting slowly around the room, and Santana stood uncomfortably, suddenly concerned about the lack of makeup, the oversized scrubs she had changed into because her parents hadn't brought her a change of clothes yet, that her hair hadn't been washed in three days. Even then, with Quinn bound to a hospital bed by wires and monitors, Santana couldn't escape the need to live up to the standard of beauty in Lima, Ohio that started and stopped with Quinn Fabray.
Quinn blinked slowly, trying to wet her lips. Santana grabbed at the water bottle she'd salvaged, twisting the cap off swiftly and holding it up in a silent offering. She waited until Quinn met her eyes—why, she didn't know, just that where once they had communicated silently, she then held nothing but fear and uncertainty—before carefully holding it up and tipping some water into Quinn's mouth.
"What—" Quinn managed to get out before whimpering once more, her right hand flexing sporadically, fingers digging into the sheets. Santana winced in sympathy, and reached out to mash at the call button on the side of the bedframe.
"Shut up," she admonished. "Wait a minute, the nurse will get you something for the pain."
Quinn tried to speak again, croaking out something vaguely like English. Santana rolled her eyes and stretched a smile across her face. "What part of wait don't you get? God, you always were so damn stubborn." She held the water bottle up to Quinn's lips once more, her free hand hovering by Quinn's cheek protectively.
"There was an accident," she finally said, her voice quiet. "Some fat meathead farmer had a heart attack while he was driving and ran your stupid little clown car over."
Quinn stared at her, a pained look in her eyes, and there was just no way to tell if her words were understood or if Quinn just hurt.
"My dad took care of you, though." Santana forged ahead, offering her a third sip of water just to occupy her hands. "But I mean, your skull is so thick you probably would've been okay anyways, right? You're too stubborn to—to—"
She bit down on the words before they could escape. A nurse bustled in abruptly, followed by Santana's father and one of his colleagues and Judy, who had been down the hall signing insurance paperwork. Santana is shuffled out of the room and left to wait with a petulant Rachel, but not so quickly that she missed the fuzzy edges of panic spreading into Quinn's gaze. She and Rachel sat as far apart on the bench as possible, silent and untouching, across the hall from Quinn's room, and struggled to hear the voices rumbling through the door.
Brittany eventually walked up quietly to join them, and Santana curled up into the security of her side reflexively, but it wasn't until the familiar sound of Judy crying, followed abruptly by Quinn's voice—heated and hoarse and beautiful after a week of silence—rang out through the walls that she reacted.
"What do you mean, gone?" A sudden choked inhale cut off the last word, audible even through the door, and Santana bolted. She sprinted down the hallway, oblivious to Brittany's confusion and Rachel's tears as she blasted out of the hospital.
The story was supposed to go like this: Quinn would challenge for the top spot on the pyramid and irritate the hell out of everyone. Quinn had always been the best gymnast of all of them, and she would flip and cartwheel her way to leading them to victory. They would all walk across the graduation stage and tackle-hug each other afterwards and spend the summer like the one after their freshman year, before power and spite got in the way, swimming and tanning and working out together, going to movies, shopping, just being.
The story wasn't supposed to go like this: Quinn wasn't meant to be in a hospital bed, hearing words like amputation. Santana's school books weren't meant to be filled with brochures about prosthetics and recovery. Rachel wasn't supposed to have hurled her engagement ring at Finn and blamed him for Quinn's accident because he'd been rushing all of them. Brittany wasn't meant to be constantly shaking, her natural grace replaced by uncertainty.
Quinn was the strongest of them all, and suddenly Quinn couldn't even stand up.
Outside, she slumped against a column, forehead pressed against the rough brick as she clutched at her chest and struggled to breathe around the swell of panic pressing up from her ribcage. Sam and Mercedes walked across the parking lot, diverting towards her with a bouquet of flowers and some balloons, and Santana suddenly, terrifyingly despised them. Her fist slammed into the brick abruptly, a choked cry identical to Quinn's stealing the air from her lungs as her skin split and knuckles bruised under the impact.
She whirled around at the tentative touch of a hand on her shoulder and before she could think, the palm of her hand ached as much as the bloodied knuckles as her hand cracked across Sam's face. Mercedes' shriek of indignation and Sam's head whipped to the side brutally. He didn't say a word, but rather just looked at her sadly and dabbed at his split lip, flexing his own bruised fist.
Santana sat curled into a chair in Quinn's room, calculus homework spread across her lap and ignored. Judy was half asleep, slumped over with her head pillowed on folded arms by Quinn's uninjured knee. Her hands shook constantly, and no one could tell if it was from stress or exhaustion or the fact that she hadn't been alone to have a drink in three days. Brittany was due at any time, with a change of clothes and take-out for them to eat, but all Santana could see was the way half of Quinn's face was covered in bruises and cuts and bandages. Somehow, she was still beautiful.
The door opened, drawing Santana's gaze, and Sam and Brittany eased into the room quietly. Brittany moved directly to Santana, pulling her up into a solid embrace. There was no way to tell which one of them was trembling, as if their bodies were compensating for Quinn's stillness. They had been a unit, the three of them, and now a third of that unit was lifeless and incomplete, and Santana was as unsteadied by it that she may as well have lost one of her own limbs.
The door opened once more, drawing her attention, and her fingers dug claw-like into Brittany's back at the sight of Russell Fabray standing in the open door. Sam whirled around, his brow furrowing and an uncharacteristic glare forming as he moved to stand at Judy's side, a hand on her shoulder as she stared tiredly at her ex-husband.
"Get out," she said softly. "Now."
"Get out!" she snapped, leaping to her feet. Sam kept a hand on her shoulder and Santana just stared, unable to process the fact that he was standing there like he thought he was a superhero there to protect them all.
"She's my daughter, too," Russell said. His voice was tight, his jaw working heavily around them as his eyes slotted over to Quinn's form before darting back around the room and landing on Santana and Brittany. The curl of his lip was enough to push Santana into action, and she stepped around Brittany, shielding her just as Sam was shielding Judy and crossing her arms across her chest.
"Even if the company she keeps clearly hasn't improved since I left." He looked Santana up and down with contempt. "You're Maria Lopez's granddaughter, aren't you? Looks like you clearly didn't learn anything from her. It's probably your depravity that—"
He was cut off as Santana snapped, moving to launch towards him only for Brittany to hold her back with long arms, but it was Sam who was across the room in a split second to throw a viscous punch to Russell's jaw. There was a sickening crack and he stumbled back out the open door, into the opposite wall, where he slid to the floor dazedly. Brittany's hold on Santana tightened, pulling her back heavily, but Santana was too shocked at Sam Evans—Sam, the sci fi nerd, the nice guy, really one of the best of them all—had just landed one hell of a right hook to Quinn's dad.
Sam stood over Russell, fists clenched, and stared down at him while security came running with two of the nurses and Santana's father. Santana watched numbly as Judy and Sam spoke to security, and Russell was manhandled down the hallway by security.
Judy collapsed back into her chair feebly, trembling, and Brittany's arms finally fell from around Santana. She kept a hand on Santana's arm until Santana moved to drag her chair over to Judy's side and sat down. For the first time since in three days of shared silence, Santana reached out and touched her best friend's mother, gripping her hand tightly.
Brittany wandered out of the room, murmuring something about finding Sam, and Santana could barely tear her eyes from the floor to acknowledge her.
The moments when Quinn was awake were measured in blocks of minutes. By the time Santana made it back inside with Sam and Mercedes and an injured hand, Quinn was back under, a harsh line of skin reddened from the inside out tracking up her uninjured arm from the burn of a morphine injection. A nurse was in the room every hour, waking her just to be sure she could be awoken, before checking her medicine and slipping back outside.
Santana sat quietly, nursing a salad Judy had brought with her own lunch two hours ago, and stared out the window. Quinn was asleep again, but the oxygen mask was gone and it made all the difference in the world, just as the bruises fading from her face did. If she closed her eyes and listened to the gentle sounds of Quinn sleeping, it was almost like when she had snuck into the hospital after Beth was born, just to see with her own eyes that the friend she would always deny having had was okay.
The sound of shifting cotton drew Santana's focus from the window to where Quinn was struggling to push herself into a sitting position, and instinct jerked her muscles into tense readiness.
"Whoa, shit, what are you—stop, okay?" Santana ground out, leaping out of her chair.
"Shut up," Quinn said. Her voice was raspy and so familiarly biting that Santana almost sobbed. "When was the last time you spent a week laying down?"
"Just—wait a second, you idiot," Santana threw back. "Here." She picked up the remote connected to the bed and handed it to Quinn, because Quinn would pitch a fit if Santana did it for her. Once the bed was adjusted, the top half raised halfway up, Santana manhandled her way under Quinn's arm, arm slung around her lower back, and maneuvered until Quinn was almost sitting up.
"Thanks," Quinn muttered after a long minute of pained wheezing.
Santana shrugged and stuck her leg out to hook her foot around the chair she'd been in, dragging it over and dropping back into it. "I don't need my dad getting sued because you rebroke your ribs and tore another hole in your lung. I need his cash to pay for college."
Quinn's head lolled over to the right as she stared at Santana blankly. The neck brace was gone and the swelling was halfway vanished from her face. "Right," she drawled, though it could have been the painkillers slowing her speech as much as sarcasm, and the thought that Quinn still had some semblance of her weird humor made Santana's limbs twitch with the need to do something frivolous and active.
She was saved by a knock on the door, and Rachel stuck her head in, Mercedes, Sam, Blaine, and Kurt behind her. "Hey," Rachel said brightly, a wide smile spreading across her face. "We wanted to bring you—we thought that, now that you're awake, you might want something to keep you entertained."
She stepped into the room, followed by the others and their train of flowers and stuffed animals and balloons. Rachel held out a stack of books for Quinn to see, and an iPod, before setting them ceremoniously on the bedside table.
"She doesn't need entertainment, Berry," Santana sniped. "That's why I'm here."
The fact that Sam laughed around his still-healing lip was enough to make Santana smirk, and she shot him a grateful look. The moment of cheer she felt at his lopsided, understanding smile vanished the second she saw Kurt step uncertainly up to Quinn's side and say, quietly and ashamedly,
"I'm so sorry."
Rachel's confusion matched Santana's, but Mercedes and Sam shifted uncomfortably, and Quinn stared back at Kurt with a sharpness in her eyes that hadn't returned until just then. His eyes darted around, avoiding hers and avoiding her severed leg and avoiding everyone else until they settled somewhere to the right of her broken arm.
"Sorry about what?" Santana bit out.
Kurt, to his credit, met her eyes. "I—I said some unkind and untrue things, after David's—after we found out what he did." He inhaled slowly. "We disagreed about the morality of his actions, and I may have belittled the last few years of her life in comparison to what David was going through."
The words sank slowly into her, imbedding themselves into her skin, and seconds passed silently before she latched onto the lapel of his blazer and dragged him out of the room, throwing him into the wall that Russell Fabray had impacted earlier that week. That Quinn had enough of a voice to be heard when she called for Santana to stop didn't register, because all Santana could see was Kurt and his arrogance, melting together with Russell's sneer and the roped off crash site she'd driven to and the bloodstained remnants of Quinn's ruined car into a single reddened smear of anger.
"Santana, wait," he started. His hands hovered between them, defensive and useless, and he regarded her apprehensively as her hands clenched into fists. "I know I shouldn't have, alright? What happened to David hit too close to home for me, and I was angry and guilty, and I took it out on her. I'm here to apologize for that."
"It's too late for that," Santana said, her voice low.
"Santana, no," Rachel piped in from somewhere behind them, but Santana simply flung a hand out behind her.
"Shut up, Berry," she said. Her eyes stayed locked on Kurt. "You think you're the only one here who's suffered? That you get to talk down to other peoples' pain? You're so full of shit, Hummel." The sound of his breath bursting out of his lungs when she shoved him heavily back into the wall was warm and satisfying. "You have the most supportive family in this entire country, and you think you have the right to talk down to her? What about me? Hudson outed me, and I didn't see you yelling at him for my suffering."
She was shouting by the time she reached Finn's name, and gripping at Kurt's shoulders as she slammed him into the wall again. "What about Brittany's? What about your friend who you tear down in front of all of us and always want to beat?
"And you think Quinn didn't have it worse than you? Everyone abandoned her. Everyone. Her family, her boyfriend, her fri—her friends. She didn't have anything and I let her live through every one of my nightmares because I was a coward and you sure as hell weren't there to offer her shit. So where the hell do you get off saying David fucking Karofsky had it worse than her?"
"I know!" he shouted back. He shoved her hands off of his shoulders, his face a blotchy red of anger and tears. "I know and I'm trying to fix it and I just want to apologize." He slumped back against the wall.
A trio of nurses appeared, hands on their hips and glares out in full force at the shouting. "Santana," one of them said warningly. "Don't make me throw you all out."
"Don't bother," Santana said with a sneer. "He was just leaving." She strode back into the room, shoving the door shut behind her.
Quinn regarded her blandly from the bed. "That was stupid," she said hoarsely.
"You're welcome," Santana snapped. She automatically reached for the pitcher of water on the small table and poured some into a cup before offering it to Quinn.
"I don't need you to protect me from Kurt," Quinn said, not taking the water. "Besides, you've been more of a bitch to me than he ever has."
"I'm not protecting you," Santana countered. She purposefully ignores the second half of Quinn's words, thrusting the water towards her again. "Kurt's an arrogant little bitch and I happen to like yelling at him."
"Santana," Quinn said shortly. Her voice creaked, and her whole chest heaved with the effort, her head falling back onto the pillow and eyes slamming shut against an obvious wave of pain. Santana gripped the Styrofoam cup in her hand tighter, until suddenly water was dripping over skin and falling down onto the blankets covering Quinn.
"Shit," she muttered. Quinn opened her eyes slowly and took in the water dripping onto her bed. Santana fumbled for another cup, sliding it under the now-leaking one to catch the water.
"Ingenious," Quinn said, her voice flat.
"Shut up, Crash Bandicoot," Santana muttered instinctively. Before the words were halfway out of her mouth she jerked forward shortly, as if to grab them back, eyes wide as Quinn just stared at her.
"Sam had that game," she finally said neutrally. "I was terrible at it."
Santana snorted, relief dropping her to sprawl in the chair beside the bed. The tiny uptick at the corner of Quinn's mouth betrayed her deadpan gaze, just as it had during the first official Cheerios practice of the tenth grade, when Quinn was named captain over four seniors and six juniors and had stood in front of them all with the vaguest hint of a smirk that only Santana had identified.
"You would be."
"I need you to cut my hair again," Quinn said abruptly, smirk gone and eyes not meeting Santana's.
"How did you get from video games to haircuts? That's like a Brittany-style leap." She propped her feet up by Quinn's right elbow casually, and smirked when Quinn pushed at them weakly.
"It was easier to deal with last year," Quinn mumbled. "After New York. And I can't—not with my—" Her breath hitched and Santana watched silently as pale fingers and painted nails dug into the blanket by her feet and Quinn's throat worked furiously for short seconds. She waited, lips pressed into a thin line, for Quinn to say the words she needed to.
"I can't stand to take a shower," Quinn finally said softly, eyes dry and blank. "It's simpler to have it short again."
"You know, if you're trying to gay-bait Berry into playing nurse with you, we can do more than just cut your hair," Santana offered with a cheeky smile. It stretched to a full-blown grin when Quinn's shock managed to summon the strength for her to swat loudly at Santana's shin.
"I'm just saying," Santana said, shrugging nonchalantly at Quinn's familiar eye roll. "You've been all woman-scorned since she stuck that ugly pebble on her hand. It makes sense, though why you would look at her when you've got me and B standing in front of you—"
Quinn laughed, short and sharp and bright, for the first time since she woke up. She winced immediately, her entire body tensing and then shaking and releasing in a split second, but the corners of tired eyes still wrinkled from a smile. It wasn't the smile Santana had first seen on Quinn, on day one of cheerleading tryouts, when a guarded blonde girl who walked as if her limbs were too loose situated herself silently in front of all of the other freshmen and smiled blindingly at Coach Sylvester, and it wasn't the humility and happiness she'd vibrated with when announcing her acceptance to Yale. It was more like the first time Santana had seen her drunk, fourteen and sleepy-happy off of box wine in Santana's room, when they were both too tired to be guarded.
"I'm not—I don't like Rachel," Quinn said, and she rolled her eyes again when Santana scoffed. "No, really. I mean, she's—but I'm not really into that. I just really needed her to get her head back on straight and get out of Lima."
"Right," Santana said slowly. "Because that reeks of heterosexuality."
Quinn huffed out an exasperated breath, wincing slightly less than a moment earlier. "Really. It's Rachel Berry, S. She was always bigger than this stupid town and she never let anyone forget it until she got wrapped up with Finn. And if she can't get out of here, what chance do any of us have?"
Santana stared at Quinn evenly, inquisitively, until Quinn's unrelenting eye contact—even more intimidating now, with her bruised features and maimed body, than when she carried a Cheerios bullhorn or the volatility of pregnancy hormones or the condescending weight of a Celibacy Club—forced her to break away.
"Way to get all serious and shit, roadkill," she finally muttered, wrinkling her nose in distaste. "It's more fun if I get to mock you going gay for Rachel's berries."
Quinn snorted. "Sorry to disappoint," she said. Her tone was as dry as her voice, and she coughed heavily. Santana pushed up to her feet with an exaggerated sigh and poured her another drink of water, this time managing not to spill it.
"We should give you a faux hawk," Santana suggested. "Show Puckerman's dead squirrel what a legit mohawk would look like."
"Santana, I swear to God if you—"
"What's that, crutches? I can't hear you over the sound of you being completely incapable of threatening me right now."
"Don't be so sure," Quinn said, amusement tingeing her voice and making Santana relax even more. "One phone call to Brittany and you're in the doghouse."
Santana fumbled the mostly-empty water pitcher, almost dumping it all over the floor. "You wouldn't."
"Try me," Quinn said serenely. One eyebrow twitched, the movement familiar and comforting to look at, even if it pulled at the still-healing skin on the left side of her face and tugged her mouth into a grimace.
A nurse strode in and bustled by Santana, chattering about the weather. Santana rolled her eyes and sneered at the nurse's back, grabbed her phone, and strode out into the hallway. She paused, halfway out into the hallway, and leaned her head back into the room, just enough to catch Quinn's attention.
"I'm still going to run Kurt up the flagpole by his designer pants," she said. She winked at Quinn's scoff—it was easy, it was real, it was them as they always had been when they were at their best together—and blew a kiss to the offended nurse before continuing out in to the hallway to call Brittany and warn her not to listen to anything Quinn said, car accident or no.
Sam had only been gone for ten minutes—leaving Santana to slump back tiredly in the chair between Quinn's silent form and Brittany's lanky one sprawled, sleeping, across another chair while Judy was on a trip home to shower and change—when the door creaked open once more and Rachel stepped in hesitantly.
"Hi," she said softly, shutting the door behind her. Her shoulders were curved downwards, her spine slumping forward tiredly, and Santana impassively surveyed her weak posture.
"Visiting hours end in fifteen," Santana said, her voice dull. Her gaze stayed locked on her phone, one thumb swiping across the touchscreen while the other hand stayed wrapped loosely with Brittany's.
"I know. I wanted to come by earlier, but my parents insisted I not stop practicing for my NYADA audition and—"
"Don't care, Berry," Santana intoned. "If you're going to be here, kindly keep your mouth shut. If you wake B up, I'll kick you in the kidney."
Rachel's mouth pressed into a thin line, her hands tightening around one another in front of her. "Why are you being so mean to me? You've been less than cruel, at least, to everyone else, but you still single me out."
"Maybe because this is all your fault," Santana said. Her tone was light and bored, but her hand tightened around Brittany's.
"Shut up." Santana finally looked up at her. "If it wasn't your fault, you'd still be wearing Hudson's pathetic excuse for an engagement ring. That guilt you're feeling? It's completely justified, so congratulations on finally pulling your head out of your ass long enough to realize it."
"It's not my fault," Rachel said firmly, but her entire body wavered, balance stalling and posture weakening even more as she rocked back on her heels unsteadily. "She's my friend, too, and she said she wanted to be there."
"None of us wanted to be there," Santana said coolly. If Brittany were awake, she would speak for Santana's softer side, would explain that the other driver was dead and there was no one to blame and Rachel was an easy target. But Brittany was exhausted and asleep, just like Quinn was broken and unconscious, and the fingers on Rachel's right hand were constantly brushing over the empty ring finger on her left, so Santana didn't stop. "Both of you are too stupid to realize that it was a shit idea that would have ruined both of your lives, and now she's the one who's paying for it, all because you're a moron and for some absolutely unfathomable reason she's decided that you matter. So yes, it's your fault, and I'm tired of your self-pitying bullshit, so just leave and stay away from us."
"Us?" Rachel repeated. "Don't sit there on your moral high ground and blame me for an accident that isn't anyone's fault and pretend that you're losing your closest friend. You've been a bitch to her like you have been to everyone else. The only person you've ever cared about besides yourself is Brittany. Quinn was never part of the picture for you.
"Why are you even here?" Rachel continued, her voice rising higher and thinning. "You're the only one who's ever hit her, you gave her mono, you—"
"You don't know what you're talking about," Santana said, her voice icy. Brittany was starting to stir, and Judy would be back soon. "Get out. Now."
She turned her attention back to the phone that was still in her hand. The only sound in the room was the ticking of the oxygen tank and the steady beep of Quinn's heartbeat, until Rachel finally left, heels tap-tapping softly on the floor and the door swishing shut behind her.
Santana's mother forced her back to school, citing the importance of education and attendance and college and a whole host of things Santana basically cared nothing for. It took Brittany pouting and murmuring something about being lonely without either her or Quinn there, and Quinn rolling her eyes and snapping "I'm asleep half the time anyways, and only one of us here already got accepted into college" in a manner so similar to day one of Head Cheerio Quinn that Santana couldn't help but smirk and agree.
When she made it back to the hospital near dinner time, after classes and glee and cheerleading practice, Rachel was sitting at Quinn's bedside with tense shoulders, her back to the doorway Santana stood in. Quinn's gaze was turned down and to the right, just far enough to keep her left leg out of her direct eyeline, as it so often did then. Santana's fingers tightened on the stack of notes and homework in her hands—Mike and Rachel were the only others besides her sharing AP classes with Quinn, and Santana had commandeered the responsibility as soon as she walked into the school that morning—and her jaw clenched at the sight before her.
"Quinn, please, just let me—"
"Stop!" Quinn's voice was tight, and Santana dug her toes into the soles of her sneakers—after a week in sweats and scrubs, the Cheerios uniform was almost painfully restricting to pull back on—to stop herself from dragging Rachel out of the room by her hair. "Just don't, Rachel."
"You heard her, Frodo," Santana said shortly, making both of them jump. "Maybe it's time you scurry on back to the Shire. Off you go."
"Santana, we were in the middle of—"
"Rachel," Quinn said quietly. "Please."
Rachel's mouth clicked shut immediately, so obediently it was almost scary, and a brief stab of sympathy jerked through Santana at her red-rimmed eyes.
"Okay," Rachel said, her voice quiet. She gathered her purse and stood slowly. "I—may I come by tomorrow?"
Santana's mouth opened to turn her down flat on instinct, but Quinn managed to speak first. "Yeah. That's fine."
"Okay," Rachel repeated. She smiled halfheartedly at Quinn, one hand twitching as if to reach out and touch her, before she inhaled deeply and made her way out of the room. Santana shifted to the side to allow her to pass, bowing mockingly.
"Say hi to Bilbo!" she called, smirking again and pushing the door shut with one foot.
"Stop," Quinn said tiredly. Santana turned around to see her slumping back against the pillow, eyes shut and body limp. "Be nice to her, S."
"Please," Santana said with a scoff. She set the homework on the table that sat beside Quinn's bed. "Statistics, world history, English, chemistry. If you're nice I'll do the math for you. And being nice to her is a pointless exercise and way less fun."
"Seriously," Quinn said sharply. Her entire body—that she had muscle control over, at least; her left arm was immobilized and the remaining muscles in her leg were already atrophied—tensed, and she glared at Santana. "Leave her alone."
"Look, I know you want on that or whatever now, but—"
"Santana, stop," Quinn snapped, her voice louder than it had been since she woke up. Santana's stared, brow furrowing and a scowl forming instinctively. "Leave her alone or leave when she's here."
"What? You're choosing Berry over me?" Her hands came to rest on her hips, defensively and intuitively, and Santana felt her stomach drop because they'd been here too many times before, with tense shoulders and distrusting eyes.
"I'm telling you to act like a human being," Quinn said lowly. "I know it's a foreign concept for you, but give a shot."
"Oh, that's nice coming from you," Santana sneered. "Like you would know anything about that."
Quinn didn't rise to the bait—she never did, not anymore, not since she woke up—and just shifted her weight in the bed, wincing and ignoring the way Santana was glaring at her. "Just don't be a bitch to her," she ground out once she'd stopped moving, voice tight with pain and her heart monitor reflecting the exertion it had taken to move.
"Whatever, princess," Santana said. Her skin felt hot, but not like it did when she had Brittany pressing against her indecently and perfectly. It was more like when Finn ran his mouth in the hallways and outed her, or that ad aired for the first time, or her grandmother threw her out; heated and uncomfortable and like she was going to claw her way out of her own skin rather than stay where she was. "Your high and mighty Christian spiel didn't work on me two years ago, and it sure as hell isn't going to—"
"They cut off my leg!" Quinn shouted. Her voice broke in the middle and screeched across the space between them; her head snapped back to the pillow, jaw grinding and face contorting in pain as her uninjured hand flew up to press against her left side and the bandages covering her broken ribs. Santana's entire body flinched at the sight and her eyes fell to where the blankets laid flat over the mattress below Quinn's knee.
"I can't walk." Her voice came out more like a wheeze than a whisper. "Don't you get it? Everything's changed and the stupid high school games don't matter anymore. So just stop, okay? It's just stupid."
A nurse burst into the room, clipboard in hand, and shoved past Santana to hover at Quinn's side. "You need to calm down," she said firmly, checking and resettling the tubes and wires that still traced lines into Quinn's body. "Your body needs energy to heal, and you don't have any to waste with getting worked up."
"I'm fine," Quinn muttered. "It's nothing."
Her heart monitor had already slowed down, but the nurse kept fiddling with the machines; Santana sighed impatiently and crossed her arms over her chest, unable to stop the smirk she directed at Quinn when the other girl rolled her eyes at the nurse.
"How's your pain level? On a—"
"Scale of one to ten," Quinn said coolly. "I know the drill by now."
"One to ten, then?" the nurse said, her voice brusque and posture stiffening.
"Seventeen." Quinn's deadpan drew an indignant glare from the nurse and another smirk from Santana. "I got hit by a truck, after all."
Santana snorted, unable to stop herself, as the nurse sighed dramatically. "I think she's good to go, Nurse Ratched." She settled into her usual chair, angling it towards the TV and propping her feet up next to Quinn's ankle. "Bye bye."
The nurse strode out of the room, and Santana laughed loudly at her exit. She grabbed her statistics textbook off of the table, tossing one copy of the homework onto Quinn's lap. "I'm still annoyed at you," she said conversationally. "But whatever, you got like flattened by a fat farmer and his truck, so I guess you're allowed to be all zen-barbie now, and I probably used up all of my chances to mock cripples when Britt was with Wheels last year, anyways."
"You're so benevolent," Quinn muttered. She tossed the homework back at Santana. "You do the math, I'll do the chemistry."
"I did the math last time," Santana said, even as she handed the textbook over.
"And I'm better at chem," Quinn shot back. "Stop whining and give me a pencil."
"Whatever." Santana flipped a pencil over her shoulder, smirking when it landed on Quinn's chest, and slumped down in the chair so she could prop the book on her legs. She blindly fished her phone out of her purse and started a Pandora station before dropping it onto the bed between them.
Halfway through her assignment, she pushed her chair around so she could face Quinn and still put her feet on the bed. "I don't have to be nice to her now, do I?"
Quinn rolled her eyes. "It won't actually hurt you to be nice, you know."
"It might. I think I get a rash."
"Give me a good haircut and I'll settle for you not being a heinous bitch."
"A mohawk counts as a good haircut, right? Because you could totally pull it off and look ten times hotter than Puckerman ever has with one."
Quinn's chemistry workbook hit her square in the face.
"Done with chem," Quinn said blandly. "What's next?"
"I hate you," Santana muttered, but she handed over the English homework anyways.
Santana wasn't there for Quinn's first physical therapy appointment. When she walked in that afternoon, though, Quinn was sound asleep with an oxygen mask over her face and an ice pack on her right shoulder, her broken wrist propped up securely in a way it hadn't needed to be in days. Her mother sat at her side, a stack of legal paperwork in her lap and her left hand gripping Quinn's uninjured one gently. The reading glasses perched on her nose and the way she flipped through the papers with one hand with ease clearly borne of practice stopped Santana just as much as Quinn's oxygen mask did, until a hazy memory of a tipsy Judy explaining that she met Quinn's father when working as a paralegal at a firm he'd once worked at.
"What happened?" Santana's voice came out louder than she expected it to, and she winced at the way Judy jerked in surprise.
"She had a physical therapy appointment this morning," Judy said softly. "They wanted to get her up and walking with a pros—with a temporary prosthetic. Apparently they would normally have encouraged it earlier, but the rest of her body just wasn't up for it." She sighed tiredly, moving the paperwork out of her lap and slumping slightly back in her chair. The circles under her eyes looked almost like bruises.
"What's with the oxygen?"
Judy sighed again, shoulders lifting briefly in a shrug. "You know how she is," she said. One corner of her mouth lifted tiredly. "She said it didn't hurt and pushed too hard. It put a lot of strain on her lungs, and then with her asthma, she just… couldn't breathe. The therapists had ahold of her, so she didn't fall, but she almost passed out, and they said she pulled some muscles in her shoulder trying to catch herself."
"So it's just like an asthma attack?" Santana said. "She won't need it for long?"
"That's what the doctor said."
Santana dropped into the other chair, crossing her arms over her chest. "Stubborn brat," she said affectionately, and chanced a smile when she saw Judy's own smile widen a tiny bit.
"Strong," she corrected. "But also stubborn, you're right." She stood, turning to face the bed, and straightened Quinn's hair needlessly, carefully. Her hands still shook.
A nurse stepped into the room quietly, nodding at the two of them before she hung a bagful of liquid by the bed and wired it to the IV, checked Quinn's heart monitors and the ice pack, and slipped back out just as quietly. Santana frowned, glancing at the clock instinctively.
"What was that?" Two weeks in the same room with the same nurses had set a schedule, and Quinn's IV was never changed in the early evenings.
"The medicine she's on makes her nauseas," Judy murmured. Her eyes stayed trained on Quinn's bandaged figure. She moved back to the bedside from where she'd stepped out of the nurse's way, her trembling hands hovering over Quinn's uninjured arm. "She hasn't been able to keep anything down. She's so thin."
The last words were quiet and heavy, and Santana's hands clench tightly at her own arms because there was no questioning why Quinn was so thin that her body couldn't heal itself. There had been too many days skipping lunch with the other Cheerios in favor of an extra run, and it wasn't until Santana had become captain that she'd discovered how much harder Coach Sylvester had pressured Quinn to maintain the standard, or how easily Quinn had managed to starve herself when necessary because of years of practice. Judy's words and the guilt weighting them down woke a flash of fury in Santana, and she gripped tightly to her own arms to keep from lashing out.
"When is she going home?" she asked instead.
"Soon." Judy's voice wavered almost as much as her hands as they smoothed over Quinn's blanket. "Soon. I—I've been doing a lot of reading, and I moved her things to the guest room on the first floor, and some of the boys from your club said they could build a ramp. Everything should be ready by the weekend."
Santana watched, silent, as her friend's mother fretted uselessly over blankets and blonde bangs, hands always trembling. If she were a kinder person, she might ask how Judy was holding up, if Russell was giving her trouble, if Quinn's sister had been in touch, if she needed any help.
Instead, she simply nodded once and put her headphones in as she started on her homework and counted the minutes until Brittany arrived.
The morning Quinn was sent home, she had enough pill bottles and syringes to fill a shoebox, a stack of instructions and appointment cards that filled up a binder that Rachel had so kindly provided—there was, strangely enough, only one small gold star in one corner of the front cover, and a surprisingly demure "Q" emblazoned in dark blue—crutches, and a wheelchair. By then she could make it around her hospital room on crutches without collapsing, even if stairs were too ambitious a goal for even Santana to aim for.
It took two trips for Brittany and Santana to get everything to Judy's car, and then a third, longer one for Quinn to make it out there. She had to break every thirty seconds, it seemed, to catch her breath or snap at whoever offered her a push because she refused to have anyone push her in a wheelchair again, even if she could barely roll in a straight line because of the weakness in her left arm and the cast still wrapped around it. Artie rolled slowly at her side, quiet and encouraging and with a spare set of his gloves in his lap in case she wanted them. Santana trailed behind them with Judy, her pinky wrapped around Brittany's to keep herself grounded, and for the first time since before he dated Brittany she felt like hugging him.
By the time Quinn made it up the sidewalk and to the base of the ramp at the house, her skin was flushed with the exertion of pushing herself, and her arms shook visibly with every turn of the wheels. Santana held fast to Brittany's hand, her other hand crossing over to wrap gently around the taller girl's elbow when she moved to help Quinn up the ramp. Santana tugged Brittany into her side, shaking her head silently and holding her tightly, and Brittany turned with the momentum, her forehead coming down to Santana's shoulder and breath beating heavily against her skin.
Santana watched, jaw clenched, over Brittany's shoulder as Quinn made it up the ramp and onto the level front porch. "She's up," she whispered into Brittany's ear, squeezing her once and kissing the side of her head before turning her to face the house again. They shuffled up the ramp behind Artie, hands locked together.
"I—we moved your things down to the guest room," Judy said softly. "Sam and—and Noah and Michael, they moved the furniture."
Quinn was breathing shallowly, head tipped back and sweat shining on her skin. The lacerations on her face and neck were healing but still visible; they traced down the length of her neck to her shoulder and along her upper arm, exposed by the tank top Judy had helped her change into for her discharge, and seemed even darker and heavier against the backdrop of flushed skin and perspiration. What would have been a curt thanks came out more breathless and wheezing and pathetic than anything from Quinn Fabray ever should, and it twisted Santana's stomach.
Half an hour later, Quinn was out of the chair and into her own bed, her breathing slowing down to a more reasonable pace. Santana stood, leaning back against Brittany, who was propped against the wall behind them, and watched as Artie rattled off tips about getting from the bed to the chair.
"It'll be easier than it was for me," he said good naturedly. "You still have—you can still use your lower body. Just remember when you get out of the chair to lock the brakes so it doesn't run away from you when you're trying to get back into it. Trust me, girl, you don't want to try and chase a loose wheelchair, because you will lose and you will fall flat on your face and carpet burn on the forehead is not sexy."
Quinn cracked a tired smile, and Santana relaxed into Brittany's arms and silently recanted every cruel thought she'd ever had towards Artie Abrams.
By the time everyone else left, the sun was starting to set and the homework Quinn was ostensibly working on lay forgotten atop the blankets in her lap as she drifted off to sleep for the third time since getting home. Brittany, looking up from her spot on the floor where she was making her way through a Spanish assignment, forehead creasing at the way Quinn's head was slumping back against the pillows.
"She's sleeping? Again?"
Santana snorted and kicked out at Brittany's leg affectionately from her seat in a recliner. "She needs it. What else is she gonna do? Chemistry? Whatever," she scoffed. "Sleep is totally better."
"But all she does anymore is sleep," Brittany whispered.
"She's tired, B," Santana said softly, struck with a wave of exhaustion of her own. Two weeks of running from sunup to sundown, making time for class and Cheerios training and glee practice and Brittany and Quinn, had run her into the ground and her body felt too heavy to stand straight sometimes.
Then again, at least she had two legs to stand on.
"I can hear you two, you know," Quinn interjected, eyes still shut and head turned away from them. "I don't sleep that much."
"You kinda do." Brittany's nose wrinkled adorably, and Santana grinned in spite of herself, because even Quinn graced the gesture with a small smile of her own, head rolling tiredly back over to face them.
"You should," Santana said. "If you're asleep then you're less likely to do dumb shit like try to walk around without someone to catch your punk ass, stumpy the clown."
"You're one to talk," Quinn said raspily. "I'm not the one who fell out of a tree because Samantha Murphy dared me to climb it drunk."
"Totally worth putting that bitch in her place," Santana said, crossing her arms.
"Maybe for you it was." Quinn propped herself up slowly into a more upright position, using just her right arm to sit up and then shuffling back into a sitting position, trying to engage the withering muscles left in her left leg, just like the physical therapists had taught her. It hurt to watch—literally hurt, because the skin on Quinn's left arm and shoulder, exposed by the tank top she wore, was scabbed and scarring and pulled tightly with every movement, and she grimaced every time she so much as shifted, and Santana always had to dig her fingernails into her palms to stop from moving to fix it—but she could do it alone finally, which made every grimace worthwhile.
"Yeah, we had to carry your books for like two months," Brittany chimed in after Quinn was settled again, sitting up and taking slow, shallow breaths. "And you complained about the cast the whole time.
"Worth it." Santana tossed a sneer at the both of them as she settled back down to her homework. She flipped through the pages for less than a second before scoffing and standing back up. "Let's do something else. I'm bored. This is boring."
"So sorry," Quinn drawled. "Next time I get run over by a car, I'll try to make sure the aftermath lives up to your entertainment standards."
"You do that," Santana said. "Do you have any movies in this museum, now that Daddy Fabray is gone?" She and Brittany had only slept over at Quinn's house once, years ago, before the three of them unanimously decided that her parents' restrictions were too stifling for any kind of real fun and relocated their sleepovers to Brittany's house.
"Probably not," Quinn said tiredly. "I don't have a TV in here, anyways." She was already slumping back against the pillows, breaths still coming heavily. Santana shrugged and grabbed her backpack off the floor.
"Lucky for your boring self, I came prepared." She surfaced from the backpack with a handful of DVDs in hand.
"We can watch on my laptop," Brittany offered.
"What? No way, B," Santana said. "Come on, there's a gigantic plasma and an even bigger couch in the den."
"S," Quinn said, her voice soft. "Not right now."
"Nuh uh, Fabray," Santana said. "Come on, you've been complaining for ages about being stuck in bed. You can crutch it ten feet down the hallway."
"Santana," Brittany murmured. "We can watch it in here, can't we?"
"No," Santana said stubbornly. "Come on, stubbles. Don't be such a drag." She spun on her heel and stalked out of the room, movies clutched tightly in her hands.
Just as she was starting to doubt herself—after she'd blindly stuck a disc in the DVD player and perched on the arm of the couch to wait—she heard the telltale creak of aluminum crutches, and smiled triumphantly. She made her way back out into the hallway and winked at Brittany, who was hovering at Quinn's left side, as she took her spot at Quinn's right.
"Any day now, hopalong," she said playfully.
"I hate you, you insufferable bitch," Quinn muttered.
"Besties for life," Santana said in a sing-song voice. She nodded at Brittany, who slid through the doorway before them and pushed an ottoman out of the way, and hovered at Quinn's side with her hands out cautiously until Quinn made it to the couch.
Her right leg was shaking with the effort, her forehead shining with sweat and her breaths coming heavily, as Brittany and Santana helped her unstrap her left forearm from the crutch it rested on and sit on the couch. Brittany immediately coaxed her to lay down, taking a seat and settling a pillow in her lap for Quinn's head to rest on. Santana watched, not caring to ignore the stab of pride she felt for the both of them, as Quinn's head dropped back tiredly and her eyes slipped shut when Brittany's fingers combed through her hair.
"We need to get that haircut taken care of, Fabgay," Santana said. She eased down on the other end of the couch, hesitating only for a second before grabbing another pillow and propping it under Quinn's left knee—the shorts she wore ended mid-thigh, leaving an expanse of pale skin covered in healing abrasions and faded bruises over atrophied muscle visible above the sterile white bandages covering the stump just below her knee—and tugging her foot up into her lap. "Your operating room lop-job looks like shit."
"If you tickle me, I swear to God I will end you," Quinn said sleepily, not opening her eyes. "And I'm not gay. That's all you, golf pro."
Santana pinched the arch of her foot, rolling her eyes at the weak jerk in her leg, and turned up the volume of the movie. "Stop talking. Some of us are trying to watch a movie."
By the time the movie was half over, Quinn was dead asleep and breathing calmly. She didn't stir until Brittany's phone rang, her mother summoning her home for her midnight curfew, and then only to grumble drowsily as Brittany eased out from under her.
"Don't wake her up," Brittany whispered as Santana moved to do just that. She eased her arms under Quinn's body and lifted her easily. "Get the door."
Santana shook her head with a smile and did as Brittany instructed, Quinn's crutches in hand. It was impressive and depressing, how easily Brittany could carry their friend. A lifetime of dance and cheerleading and obsessive exercise had made Brittany lithe and powerful, but Quinn had wasted away to almost nothing since the accident. Her shirt rode up as Brittany carried her, and the faint outline of ribs under her skin was visible even in the dim light of the hallway.
Judy came in as they were settling Quinn in her bed, and she thanked them quietly, as she had every night since Quinn woke up. Santana brushed her hand over the top of Quinn's head, gentle and almost affectionate, before she let Brittany's pinky wrap around her own and tug her out of the house.
Quinn hadn't been back to school, the school system bowing to the surprisingly intimidating presence of Judy Fabray and allowing Quinn to complete her work from home, but she had to be present for finals and the AP exams. She had been back in the emergency room twice since her release—once when an infection settled in the almost-healed stump below her knee, and once when a blood clot formed in her thigh— but her wrist was cast-free and recovering well, and she could crutch around the house in short bursts without someone hovering at her side to catch her when her body gave out.
She arrived at the school on the day of her first exam in a wheelchair, the distrust of her own body evident to Santana's impassive gaze as she waited for Quinn to make it out of Judy's car. The prosthetic was hidden underneath dark denim and Chuck Taylors so clean they had to be brand new. Her hair was as short as it had been when they left New York a year earlier; it suited her as much as it had then, even if Quinn had cried quietly while Santana cut off inches and inches of blonde hair that had finally started to grow back out to a respectable length.
Brittany waited with Santana, even though she didn't have an exam to take, as Quinn stubbornly made her way out of the car without help, balancing on her right leg as she maneuvered around to lower herself to the wheelchair. As Quinn rolled towards them, gliding forward in a straight line and with sure pressure on the wheels, just like Artie did, Brittany bounded out to meet her.
Santana watched wordlessly as her girlfriend, as she had become wont to do in the past week, settled herself in Quinn's lap with a bright smile. It had started as a joke in physical therapy one day, a way to help build Quinn's upper body strength, but simply never stopped. It coaxed a smile from Quinn whenever she could manage to push them both around, and Brittany treated it like a pony ride, directing Quinn authoritatively and wrapping her arms around Quinn's shoulders so she could prod her in the back to go faster.
"I'm going to kick your ass on this exam," Santana said in greeting as she fell into step beside them.
"Be nice," Brittany chastised.
"What? I'm not going to lie to her to make her feel better. That's totally Manhands' job."
"Santana," Quinn said exasperatedly. She wasn't even out of breath.
"Rachel's job," Santana said. She shoved Quinn's shoulder. "Doesn't matter. I'm still going to own this thing."
"Nerd," Quinn muttered. She rolled to a stop in front of the library, where the statistics exam would take place. "And you wish. I beat you in calculus, I can beat you in stats."
"Whatever, crutches," Santana said, waving dismissively. Brittany patted Quinn on the head and chuckled softly, hopping to her feet. She kissed Santana swiftly, winked at Quinn, and twirled away from them both, a cheerful "Good luck!" floating over her shoulder.
"Even your girlfriend isn't going to stick up for your test taking capabilities," Quinn said drily. "Speaks so well to your chances."
"Shut up," Santana grumbled. She edged the door open wide enough for Quinn's wheelchair with her hip. Quinn's smirk followed her into the room, where the test proctor shushed them brusquely. Just before the exam officially started, Santana glanced over her shoulder to where Quinn sat at a table in the back, wheeling back and forth impatiently. She winked and blew a kiss at Quinn, who rolled her eyes and smirked back at Santana.
There were only fifteen people taking the AP statistics exam, and the same group were taking the chemistry exam that afternoon. The lunch break between exams was a subdued affair, taken in the library, and Santana sprawled across four chairs at Quinn's table, groaning tiredly.
"Doesn't sound very victorious," Quinn said lightly. She flicked a cherry tomato from her salad across the table; it bounced once and landed on Santana's cheek before falling to the floor.
"Ugh, stop it, you heinous bitch," Santana grumbled. "I hate you."
"You wish," Quinn threw back. "You kind of killed that argument by living in nasty hospital scrubs for two weeks at my bedside."
"Brittany made me do it." Santana rolled onto her back, flinging an arm across her eyes to shield them from the lights overhead.
"You wish," Quinn said again. Another tomato skittered across the table and landed on Santana's chest.
"Cut it out, tubbers," Santana said. She sat up and lobbed the tomato back at Quinn, smirking when it hit her in the forehead and she half-squealed at the impact.
Quinn fell quiet, eyes dropping to where she picked at her salad listlessly. "Why did you?" she asked after a long moment.
"You're the one who started throwing things," Santana said grumpily.
"No, not—why did you stay," Quinn murmured. She glanced up, but only briefly, before her gaze shifted back down at her food. More than half of the salad was left. "With me, at the hospital. At home. All of it."
"We're friends," Santana said, awkward and unsure. "Why wouldn't I?"
"Because I told Coach about your surgery? Because you gave me mono?"
Santana exhaled slowly, casting her gaze upward briefly. "We're friends," she repeated. "Because—maybe I owed you." It came out soft and hesitant, and felt far too much like the first time she whispered I want you to Brittany in the dark of her own bedroom. Santana fidgeted with the edge of the plastic container that had housed her own salad, not meeting Quinn's eyes.
"You always knew, about me and Brittany, and you never said anything. Or did anything. You could have ruined me, but you didn't. And you—do you—you remember cheer camp, right?"
"Kind of hard to forget," Quinn said distractedly. Santana's skin itched hotly under Quinn's scrutiny, and she took a deep breath.
"The first year," she said, her voice quiet. "Before we were on the Cheerios, the one in Dayton. With the tents. When Britt—when that counselor—" Her voice broke and her breath hitched, and across the table Quinn inhaled sharply.
"I panicked and freaked out, and you didn't," Santana continued. "You kept it together, and you kept me together, for Brittany. You never used it against me."
Quinn was silent, and Santana kept her gaze trained on the notes in front of her.
"Everything changed after that," Quinn finally said quietly. "You were gone for the rest of camp, and things were different when school started. You were never that bitchy until Brittany was—"
"I know," Santana said, short and sharp. It was hard enough to listen to Brittany speak at all casually about it, so many months ago when Rachel had bored them all with her indecision about sleeping with Finn, but Quinn's tone carried a weight of understanding and sympathy that Santana couldn't handle. The words alien invasion hurt to hear from Brittany's lips, but the word rape from Quinn's would be that much worse.
Quinn abandoned her salad, tossing the plastic fork into it and shutting the plastic container gently. She slid it off the table until it clattered into the trash can below, the sound filling up the discomfort hanging heavily between them, and Santana shoved her empty container across the table as well. Mike looked up from his spot at the table next to them at the sound and smiled his nice-guy smile; Quinn offered a tight smile of her own and Santana ignored him completely.
"I'm going to go get some water," Quinn said eventually. She pushed herself back from the table, catching the wheels and spinning the chair to the side.
"I can get it," Santana said, standing on autopilot, but Quinn was already wheeling rapidly towards the door. Santana rolled her eyes, grabbing Quinn's empty water bottle from where it still stood on the table and following her out into the hallway.
Quinn accepted the water bottle silently and filled it at the fountain around the corner. The hallway was empty except for them, and Santana crossed her arms across her chest protectively. Quinn had more to say, there was no doubt.
"We were never friends," Quinn said quietly, not turning from the slow stream of water filling the bottle.
Quinn set the water bottle on the edge of the fountain and spun the chair around rapidly, looking up at Santana blandly, mirroring her posture. "We were never friends, and you know it," she repeated. "We were teammates and we watched our backs, but we weren't friends. You and B were friends, and I was on the periphery."
"I'm not trying to guilt you," Quinn said, her voice gentle and obnoxiously serene.
"Well, that's a first," Santana muttered.
Quinn laughed, shaking her head, and before Santana could move, Quinn's hands were locking down the brakes on the wheelchair and then bracing on the arm rests, pushing her towards a standing position.
"Whoa, wait, hold on," Santana said hurriedly, leaping forward with her hands out to grab Quinn.
"Don't." It came out short and clipped, and stopped Santana in mid-movement as Quinn slowly made it up to her feet. Both of them stared down at her legs, at the tremble in her left knee and the tightening of muscles in her right. Standing with her back straight and shoulders back, with her jeans and shoes covering the prosthetic, she looked almost like herself again.
Long seconds slipped by before Quinn spoke again. She was taller than Santana again, and Santana cursed her own stature. It had been too easy to forget that Quinn actually was taller than her.
"We weren't friends," Quinn said once more. "But maybe we are now."
"Maybe?" Santana said incredulously. "I've been babysitting your broken ass for three months. If that's not me being the best damn friend you've got, then I'm buying you a new dictionary."
Quinn snorted, crossing her arms again. "Count on you to find a way to make a nice moment completely sarcastic."
"Please," Santana scoffed. "It's like my second greatest quality and you love it."
Quinn's eyes widened at Santana's smirk, and she leveled a glare at Santana. "Don't! I don't want to know—" she said hurriedly just as Santana started to say, "First is this thing I can do with my tongue, B totally—"
Quinn flushed bright red and reached out to shove Santana; Santana didn't move an inch, but Quinn stumbled, her left leg buckling abruptly. Santana leapt forward and grabbed her around the waist, stopping her fall and guiding her back into the chair.
"Shit," Quinn muttered almost imperceptibly as she tried to reposition her left leg; she had to lift it back into position with her hands, the muscles in her thigh pushed to the point of fatigue from standing.
"Stubborn," Santana said lightly, watching as Quinn hefted her leg and the prosthesis up and positioned it correctly.
"It's my second greatest quality and you love it," Quinn parroted back at her. The sarcasm was mitigated by the tightness in her voice, but she smirked up at Santana anyways.
"And what's the first, magical powers of blue-balling?" Santana settled comfortably down onto Quinn's lap, crossing her legs jauntily, and kissed her wetly on the cheek. "Mush, Balto."
Quinn rolled her eyes and rolled backwards to the water fountain. "Get my water," she said impassively. Santana grabbed it, and they set off back down towards the library. She slowed to a stop halfway down the hallway, glaring at Santana. "Oh my God, are you seriously groping me? Wrong blonde."
Santana laughed, but moved her hand anyways. Settling the water bottle in her lap, she made a show of pulling her hands away from Quinn's body. "Whatever you say, oh captain my captain."
"Well, I always was a better head cheerleader than you, it's true," Quinn said as she started moving again.
"You wish, hood ornament."
"It's true," Quinn hummed noncommittally. "Really, the only thing you were ever better at than me was screwing Brittany's brains out." She abruptly locked the brakes on the wheelchair, jerking to a stop and smirking as the sudden halt and Santana's surprise at her words sent the other girl tumbling to the floor in a flurry of curses.
Quinn smiled sweetly down at her, spinning the wheelchair expertly around her fallen form and backing through the door into the library.
"Bitch," Santana muttered affectionately as she stood up, too entertained to be creative. The proctor appeared in the doorway and glared at her, pointing angrily at the clock. Santana rolled her eyes and sauntered into the room, retaking her seat next to Mike and pausing only briefly to flip her middle finger at Quinn before the exam started.
Quinn settled easily into life at Yale, and Santana made the trip from NYU to show up unannounced with Brittany on the one year anniversary of the accident. Annoyingly enough, Rachel was already there—well announced, she informed them, because their lives were too busy for spontaneity and surprises; Brittany caught the pillow Santana threw before it could hit Rachel in the face—but Santana didn't let it stop her from dragging Quinn off campus for lunch and drinks procured with the help of her fabulously expensive fake ID.
Rachel left in the early evening, per her itinerary, because she had a morning rehearsal. As soon as she was gone, Santana grabbed Quinn's left hand and Brittany grabbed her right, and they frog-walked from the bus station to a tattoo shop. An hour later, they walked out with matching bandages covering small tattoos of a set of crutches spanning across the inside of their wrists.
The winter air in Connecticut carried a sharper bite than Ohio had ever quite managed, and it was clear in the way Quinn's gait slowed as the cold air seeped into her still-healing joints. On her right, Santana silently slowed her stride to match, and Brittany did as well on her other side without pausing in the story she was telling. They ambled up to the bus stop to wait—it was only three more blocks back to campus, but Quinn was getting tired and they didn't have to speak to make a decision to take the bus— and Brittany dropped Quinn's hand and spun to stand in front of them, gesturing with her hands as she kept talking excitedly.
Santana let go of her hand as well, moving to wrap an around her waist, and Quinn leaned tiredly into her, taking the weight off her prosthesis. They leaned against each other, listening to Brittany's story, until Quinn suddenly squeaked and leapt back, flushing bright red and landing expertly with her weight on her right leg as she leveled a glare at Santana. Brittany stopped mid-sentence, brow furrowing, as Santana burst out laughing.
"Tell your girlfriend to stop grabbing my ass," Quinn half-shouted at Brittany, who simply laughed as well. The bus rolled to a stop in front of them, and Santana darted onboard, away from Quinn's glare.
"Take it as a compliment," Brittany advised. "She never gropes anyone but me. Here, climb on," she added, changing topics abruptly and turning around to kneel in front of Quinn.
"I can get on a bus by my—"
"Up!" Brittany said loudly. Quinn rolled her eyes and obliged, climbing onto Brittany's back. "How long does it take the bus?"
"Ten minutes?" Quinn grunted as Brittany shifted her weight, maneuvering Quinn's body as if it weighed nothing.
"Awesome," Brittany said. "Wave to Santana. We'll totally beat her back." She suddenly took off, jogging down the sidewalk towards campus, as the bus started in the other direction.
Looking back over her shoulder as she held on for dear life, Quinn watched as Santana sat in the back of the bus, a strangely quiet smile on her lips as she waved before Brittany turned the corner, taking them out of her sight.
They beat the bus back by three minutes. Santana slapped Quinn on the ass and kissed Brittany indecently in retaliation, and then dragged them both to Quinn's dorm room to get drunk. She woke up the next morning wedged between Brittany and Quinn on the floor, under a disastrous mess of blankets. Brittany grumbled in her sleep, wrapping an arm tighter around Santana's stomach, and Santana dragged a hand through the mess of disheveled blonde hair that was Quinn's head resting on her chest before settling back onto her pillow and sliding back into sleep.