A/N- Alrighty everyone, here you go, the last chapter of this crazy journey. It's actually funny that I started writing this the day after I heard that Heather Morris was pregnant, and here I am, finishing on the day after she had her baby (big congratulations to her on baby Elijah!). Anyway, big thank you's to islheard2day, ruby-may89, mocblue, AlabamaMiles, Chuckleshan, StephaniieC, Foxfire01 & Blueskkies for your reviews on the last chapter!
It came as no surprise to me that just after two in the morning on June 17th, Brittany and I found ourselves in Annie's room, staring at our little girl as she lie sound asleep in the music note printed sleep sack that Rachel had found and just had to buy for her. The ocean sounds that came from her Sleep Sheep filled the room, and neither of us spoke, we were just content to silently watch her breathe, Brittany's hand resting over mine on the edge of the crib. When the clock read 2:17, I snapped a picture of her, knowing that we'd do the same thing every year of her childhood, and would probably try to get her on the phone at that time every year of her adulthood. At 2:17 on June 17, 2019, my life changed forever, in the best way possible, and there would never be a year that went by where I wouldn't want to remember why. She'd survived, our beautiful, perfect child, against the odds, and my heart was full with so much warmth thinking about how her breaths sounded so different now, so strong compared to the first ones she'd taken.
"Should we wake her up?" Brittany whispered, her head falling to rest on the top of mine as we both remembered the struggle it had been to get her into the world.
"I want to. Is that crazy?"
"Maybe, I don't know. I think we should anyway."
"Okay." I smiled, running my thumb up and down the side of Annie's face and echoed the words I'd said to her so many days earlier. "Open your eyes, baby girl."
Slowly, Annie blinked her eyes open and looked between the two of us, probably trying to figure out why her mothers felt the need to wake her up in the middle of the night, why we needed to interrupt whatever dreams she was having. She yawned, and brought her hand up to shield her eyes from the low light of the stars projected on the ceiling. My heart clenched watching her, it always did, and I felt Brittany's hand squeeze around my fingers as she started to sing and I quickly joined her.
Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to you. Happy birthday Annalise. Happy Birthday to you.
"Feliz cumpleaños, mija. Qué alegría que estas aqui." I leaned into the crib and kissed her between her sleepy little eyes.
"Sorry we woke you up sweetheart." Brittany told her softly. "But we just wanted to tell you how much we love you, and to wish you the happiest of birthdays in the whole world."
We didn't tear our eyes away from her as she sleepily mumbled our names before drifting back off to sleep, her fist still balled up against her cheek, just like it had been on the day she was born. I hadn't realized that there were tears in my eyes until I felt the wetness on my cheek, and I reached up to brush them away. When I looked at Brittany, I noticed the same thing, and swiped my thumb over her cheek, erasing the droplets.
"I'm not even sure why I am crying." Britt said softly, bringing her hand up over mine on her face. "I'm so happy that she's made it to this point, but is it normal to feel a little sad that she's growing up so fast?"
"Yes." I reassured her. "Because I feel it too. But she's ours, no matter what, even when she's in her horrible teenage years and we want to tape her mouth shut and lock her in her bedroom, I think we'll still sneak in her room and stare at her at night. She's our one perfect thing, and as much as I'm sad about the day she won't fit in our arms anymore, the day she won't let us kiss her in front of people, the day our names are no longer said with a reverent giggle, but a groan, I'm still so excited to see the beautiful life that's ahead for her."
"Yeah, it will be amazing to see what she grows up to be. I have a feeling she's going to take everyone's expectations and completely turn them upside down."
"That's our Annie." I laughed. "She does have a flair for doing the unexpected."
I wrapped my arms fully around Britt, and we stood there for a while longer. We both knew we should sleep, both knew we had a house full of company coming the next day and a lot to do to prepare for it, but none of that seemed as important at staring at Annie, none of it seemed as important as silently celebrating the fact that this beautiful child who almost never took her first breath was in front of us, thriving. My hand found it's way to the waistband of Brittany's sweatpants, which rested just on top of her scar, and I traced my fingers across the slightly raised skin there.
"Happy baby's birthday to you too, Mama." I said softly and let another smile light up my face. "Thanks for giving me the greatest gift in the world."
"And happy baby's birthday to you, Mamí." She kissed my forehead and sighed against my skin. "Thanks for hanging on to us when we needed you the most."
We all slept in (and by slept in, I obviously mean until just after six) the next morning, given the fact that we'd been up throughout the night. Most of our morning was spent running around, picking up last minute things for the party, decorating the apartment, baking a fantastic two tier pink and white cake for our guests, and a matching cupcake for Annie to have all to herself. By the time everything was done, we had only an hour before people started to arrive (and knowing everyone in our lives, they never waited until the designated time to show up). Brittany and I quickly got ourselves showered and ready while Annie went down for her mid-day nap. When the baby finally woke up, just as smiley as she always was, Britt dressed her in a pink dress that matched the decorations and I combed her hair into tiny pigtails before securing a tiara on her head.
"You look like such a big girl, Annie!" I cooed, tickling her under her chin and smiling at Brittany who was standing beside us with the video camera. Before either of us could say anything else, the doorbell rang and I laughed while rolling my eyes. "Looks like everyone else is just as excited for your big day as we are."
"Come on, baby girl, let's get ready for the fun to begin." Brittany flipped off the camera and I slid the baby into her arms.
As I walked through the living room, I did one last visual once over of the apartment. Once again, I couldn't help but smile at the Happy 1st Birthday Annie banner that hung over the table and the three dozen balloons that filled up our little apartment. Okay, so maybe we'd gone a little overboard with the decorating, but considering we lived in New York, and there were a lot of people who spent as much on birthday parties as a wedding would cost back in Lima, I'd say we were actually pretty low key. With Brittany just a few steps behind me, ready to show off her miniature, I swung up in the door and was not surprised in the least that Finn and Rachel were the first to arrive. In his arms, Finn held an elaborately wrapped gift that was more than twice Annie's size and both he and Rachel had gigantic grins on their faces.
"I would have bet all of the money in the world that you two would be the first to get here." I smirked.
"I'm not even going to deny that we raced to get here early." Rachel laughed. "Maribel Lopez, the baby hog, will be here, and I need my Annie fix before that."
"That's true, my mother does need to learn how to share her."
"You want to go see Aunt Rachel?" Brittany kissed the baby before handing her off to her godmother.
"Happy Birthday, sweet girl." Rachel hummed and Finn leaned down, arms still full, to kiss her cheeks.
Finn dropped the ridiculously large gift by the door and rested his hand on the small of Rachel's back as the two of them walked over the the couch together, playfully teasing the baby. I stood back with Brittany, watching for a moment as Finn shifted the throw pillows on the couch for his wife before they sat together and he wrapped his arm around her, sharing Annie's attention. They looked at her so lovingly, and then I caught a gaze pass between the two of them and I felt a gigantic grin crack my face.
"You two are so obvious." I laughed, catching the twinkle in Brittany's eye that told me she'd figured it out too.
"What are you talking about?" Rachel tried to protest, but was betrayed by both her own face and the glance that Finn sent my way.
"You do realize you're talking to Santana, right Rach? I knew she'd see right through us. She's really not kidding when she says she has a Mexican Third Eye."
"You can't hide from the eye." I tapped my forehead and raised my eyebrow at Rachel, she knew better than anyone else. "I don't know why any of you even bother to try."
"I don't have magical telepathic powers, and even I could tell!" Brittany chirped excitedly. "Finn, you're looking at Rachel like she's made out of glass, the same way Santana looked at me for half of last year."
"Okay, caught." Finn couldn't keep the gigantic smile off of his face, and I found myself almost giddy at the thought. "We haven't told anyone else yet, though. Santana, we wanted to tell you first, since you're partially responsible for this."
"Wanky!" I interrupted and Finn flicked my arm playfully.
"We were going to wait until after Annie's party, so we didn't steal her thunder." Finn continued, rolling his eyes at my exclamation. "But yeah, Rachel's pregnant."
"Oh my God, congratulations!" Brittany yelped, and I couldn't control my own actions as I dragged her towards our friends for a group hug. A group hug, I was actually the one who'd initiated a group hug, and I didn't even feel the desire to internally make fun of myself. I was that excited for them.
"Annie, do you hear that?" I squeezed my daughter's hand as Rachel just smiled down at her, silent. "Aunt Rachel and Uncle Finn are going to give you a new friend, and for some reason, your normally very loud godmother is not speaking."
"Sorry." Rachel didn't tear her eyes away from Annie as she spoke, her eyes misty. "It just feels really, really real, sitting here with Annie and telling someone. I think I'm probably still a little shocked."
"Rach." I joked, trying to calm her nerves. "Do you need me to sing you a song, make you feel better?"
At that, she cracked up and I turned to hug Brittany close to me, loving the idea that my best friends would have a kid so close in age to ours. As a kid, I had this horrific fear of growing up, but the older I got, the more exciting it became. Even a year earlier, none of us were even as close to as mature as we were now, and the maturity was so much better. My blissful state in Brittany's arms didn't last long, since obviously no one else was going to wait until 3:00 to start arriving. Our parents and Liz were next, having driven over from their hotel together (and my mom, of course, immediately stole her granddaughter from Rachel) followed by Kurt and Blaine with Tina and Mercedes (who seriously were pretty awesome for coming all the way to New York for a one-year-old's party with no alcohol), Quinn and her husband, Rosa and Benny and finally, fresh from their drive from Akron, all four of the Evans followed. I stood back for a moment, taking it all in, taking in the noise, the hugging, just the ridiculous amount of love in the room. It was my mother-in-law who finally joined me in the kitchen archway, placing her arm on my shoulder.
"I remember the days you would have fled to your bedroom and locked the door with this kind of display of emotion." Susan laughed softly.
"It wasn't so long ago." I smiled. "Thanks Susan."
"For always believing in me, for not telling Britt to run far, far away because I was bad news. She, and now Annie, are the only ones who I've really wanted to be better for, and I'm glad you gave me the chance to do that. If it hadn't been for that, I'd probably still be a scared little girl, so completely unhappy with myself."
"Santana, I've watched you grow up in the most incredible ways. I watched you come into your own and accept how much you loved my daughter, I watched you break your own heart after you went to Kentucky because you knew how hard it all was for Brittany. And now, just in a year I've watched you become this incredible wife, this incredible mother, and I watched you sit in a room and do the hardest thing in the world with your head held high. I'm so proud to call you my daughter-in-law, and the reason I never thought you should stay away from Brittany is because I knew this woman was inside of you, just buried under a lot of fear and a pretty bad attitude."
I didn't have words to respond to Susan, so instead, I just wrapped my arms around her. My own mom and I had been through a lot, but my relationship with my mother-in-law was something entirely different. It was one of the many things that made me proud to have the Pierce in my name, that ability to see the good hidden under the bad. I loved that Susan and Stephen never gave up on me, never second guessed my ability to love their daughter, to mother their granddaughter. When I felt another set of arms around me and saw who they were attached to, I smiled and laced my fingers with Brittany's.
"C'mon San, you need to tell everyone about the video messages you want them to record for Annie. My dad said he'd deal with the camera so we can enjoy the party." Britt untangled me from her mom's embrace, and I gave Susan one last grateful smile.
Coming back into the living room, I looked over everyone again, trying to keep myself from getting lost in all of the amazing emotions that were coursing through my body. It was almost impossible when I looked over at Annie, sitting on Penny's lap while my mother tickled her feet. Susan kicked Liz out of her seat on the other side of Penny, and I really thought the site of my daughter with all three of her grandmothers, the perfect testament to the strange patchwork family she was a part of, was going to be too much for me. What I would have once thought was a completely absurd possibility had become a reality, and it was more beautiful than I ever would have imagined. Sensing my emotional struggle, Brittany pressed a kiss just behind my ear and squeezed my arm, reassuring me that it was okay to become overwhelmed by my feelings on such a big day.
"Hey everybody." I started, feeling kind of shy for some inexplicable reason. "I don't know, am I supposed to thank you all for coming? I'm not, like giving a toast or anything, I'm just-"
"Here, wait, I'll start." Brittany smiled and reached down to take Annie from Penny's arms. "Maybe we should kind of give some kind of speech or something? So yeah, we do want to thank you all for coming, because seriously, everyone who is in this room right now means more to the three of us than you'll ever know. I'm going to make this really short, but you obviously know that this past year has been a whirlwind for us, and now, we're celebrating the first year of life for the best possible thing that could have ever happened to us."
"I think you can all agree that having Annie in your lives-" I stopped to tap her nose, causing her giggles to escape. "Has made it just a little bit better. So I guess, what we're saying is thank you."
"Thank you for loving her, for supporting us, and for being a part of this life we've created. There's something we'd like from all of you, and I think Santana can say it better than I can." She wrapped her free arm around my waist and nodded her encouragement.
"Throughout our daughter's life, she's going to have a lot of questions, questions that we'll try to explain to the best of our ability, but the one thing we never want her to question is how loved she truly is. I'm sure you're all going to make fun of me for how cheesy this is." I gave Kurt a playful glare, knowing he would probably be the first. "But we want all of you to record a message to Annie, telling her as much, that we'll give to her on her eighteenth birthday."
"You totally stole that from Friends." Blaine chided.
"Shut it, Uncle Warbler. Yes, maybe I did get the idea from there, from the episode where I used to totally make fun of the idea of having a huge party for a kid who wouldn't even remember anything. But now that I'm a mother, now that I've seen so many big moments happen in Annie's short life, I think it's important to celebrate every single one." I tried my hardest not to look at Rachel and Finn, knowing one glance from me would threaten to give away their secret, and instead looked over at Stephen who was videotaping our impromptu speech. "Even if she won't remember things, I'm sure her Poppy will have so many of them on film, and one day, she'll be able to look back and see that even before she knew what it meant, she had so many people who already loved her so much."
I felt the heat rise in my cheeks from speaking so candidly about my feelings, and I turned to Brittany and Annie, wrapping them both in a hug that would hide my reddening face. Brittany was smiling against my hair, I could feel it, and before I showed my face again, I kissed her softly on the lips and kissed Annie's forehead.
"And I'm sure Aunt Rachel has prepared some kind of musical number, so do me a favor and make sure we get it on tape." I joked. "I do actually want Annie to remember that."
"Whoa." Kurt chuckled. "Get your coats, everyone, because I think it's possible that hell has just frozen over."
Even I couldn't contain my laughter at the truth behind Kurt's words as I pretended to put on my best bitch face. Brittany handed off the baby to Liz and Stacey Evans, who were standing off in the corner chatting with each other, and Stacey gave me a warm smile. My heart skipped a little bit at that, since I was still a little nervous around Sam's family, and I reached out to squeeze her hand, a silent thank you for not hating me. Brittany watched contently, so grateful for how everything turned out, and then grabbed my hand to lead me into the kitchen so we could start putting food out. While the two of us stood side by side, working in sync to unwrap trays of sandwiches and take lids off of potato salad and coleslaw, Mercedes and Tina appeared in the doorway.
"Do you two need any help?" Mercedes asked.
"No, I don't think so." Brittany looked to me for confirmation and I shook my head. "Seriously, you guys coming was more than enough. We so appreciate you coming all the way to New York for Annie's party."
"We know it's not the big Hollywood parties you're used to, 'Cedes, or the insane post-tour events I'm sure Mike takes you to, Tina, but it really means a lot to us that you thought this was important."
"Well, I, for one, have always been Team Brittana." Tina shook her head, caught up in the memories of our younger selves. "Why do you think I always meddled so much in your business?"
"Oh, so that's your reasoning?" I laughed.
"Okay, I loved the gossip too, but you two were always the couple that made the most sense."
"And we're so glad to have you both back in our lives, so we'll be here for any party you invite us to." Mercedes promised. "And also, Santana, I wanted to sit down and talk to you before I went back, see if there's anything I could do to help you with your big plans."
"That would be great." I felt the butterflies in my stomach that I had started getting every time I thought about the future, the best kind of butterflies. "We'll grab lunch on Monday, you'd be great to bounce ideas off of."
"Well." Quinn said, the next to appear in the kitchen. "Mr. Schu would be so proud of everyone helping each other out."
"Yeah." Brittany agreed. "And he'd probably break into another version of Don't Stop Believing."
Our three friends ended up helping us to carry the platters out to the folding tables we'd set up in the living room and Brittany and I dragged Annie's highchair out so she could sit with everyone else. Rosa had ended up with the baby in her arms, and carefully strapped her into the chair, speaking to her quietly in Spanish as she did so. Stephen finished up filming Stevie and Stacey's joint message to Annie, and everyone slowly made their way to the table. Britt sat beside Annie, feeding her applesauce while I alternated between eating myself and sticking forkfuls of potato salad into my wife's mouth. Everyone talked over each other animately, and I didn't say much, instead wanting to soak up the happiness of everyone around me. It was another one of those days where I felt so normal, and I loved every moment of it.
After everyone was finished eating and we'd cleared off the table, Britt and I went back in the kitchen to bring out the cake. While Brittany set the big cake on the table, my mother secured another first birthday bib around Annie's neck and I adjusted her tiara while placing the cupcake down in front of her. Despite having never even seen one, Annie shrieked happily, and everyone in the room laughed, knowing how much Brittany loved anything sweet. Stephen turned the video camera back on and my dad had the still camera, snapping dozens of pictures of us getting the baby ready. Britt and I each took one of the baby's hands to keep her away from the flame as I lit a glittery number one candle in front of her. Her eyes lit up at the flickering, and as everyone sang, she couldn't stop laughing. Before we blew out the candle for her, Brittany and I moved closer to our daughter, kissing her cheeks, posing for pictures with the biggest smiles on our faces, before we extinguished the flame and let go of Annie's hands so she could attack the cupcake in front of her.
After Annie managed to cover herself in frosting and Britt and I took turns actually feeding her bites of the cupcake she destroyed, we opened gifts and everyone slowly began to leave. Before they left, we made arrangements with the Evans for them to come over in the morning, so they could spend much needed time with the baby, without the chaos of everyone else around, and we hugged each of them in turn, so glad they'd driven all the way to New York to spend just one night. I knew it was still difficult for all of them, especially Penny, but she wanted so desperately to be a part of Annie's life, that she worked hard to suppress her feelings. When everyone else had gone, my parents and the Pierces remained, Annie sleeping on my dad's chest on the couch. Brittany and I curled up together in our oversized chair and my mom smiled over at us.
"You two did such a great job today." Mamí announced, and the others nodded in agreement. "It really was a beautiful party."
"Thanks, Mamí. I'm sure they'll only get bigger every year."
"Oh, don't I know it." She exchanged a glance with Susan who smiled in her direction. "But really, everything you've both done in the past year has been incredible. It's hard to believe that it's only been a year since we were all sitting for days on end in a hospital waiting room."
"We've come really far." Brittany looked into my eyes and I stopped running my fingers through her hair to place a soft kiss on her forehead. It was true, in every way possible. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, we were in such a better place. "You know, we really couldn't have done it without your support."
I watched Brittany have a silent exchange with my mother and I knew they were both thinking about the conversation they'd had back in the hospital, the conversation that had repaired the damage that another conversation in the hospital had caused. Both of their daughter's survived, Mamí's more than once, and I glanced over at my father rubbing circle's on Annie's back, and I knew there was nothing greater in the world than small miracles.
"Congratulations to you both." Stephen said. "Celebrating your daughter's birth with always be a big accomplishment, and I think I speak for all of us when I say that we're so impressed with you."
"Absolutely." My father affirmed in a whisper, so as not to wake the baby. "The men around here don't speak many words, we have too many women shouting over us, but I can't wait to celebrate so many more special days with this family."
Once Annie woke up from the late nap she had, our families took their leave too. The three of us lay on the couch for a while, just spending the rest of Annalise's birthday quietly together. Despite her late nap, all of the excitement still had the baby exhausted, so we put her in the tub, washing the frosting out of her hair and letting her splash away. After Brittany fed her (weaning her was well underway, but she was still being breastfed before bed) we all sat together in her room, singing one last Happy Birthday and putting her down for the night. Together, Britt and I went into our room and changed out of our party clothes and into pajamas, wanting to be our natural selves as we recorded the final messages on Annie's tape. I held the camera for Britt first, smiling to myself as she talked about what she remembered about the night our daughter was born, about how she'd turned her Mamí every sweeter (I tried to roll my eyes, but couldn't control my grin), how she couldn't wait to see if she'd become an astronaut, a veterinarian, a dancer, or something completely different. When she finished, I switched the camera off and traded places with her, pulling my hair up before sitting down on our bed and taking a deep breath.
"To my sweet, beautiful Annie on your eighteenth birthday. By now, you've heard a lot of stories, I'm sure you know how things were during the first year in my life, I'm sure you know the circumstances of how you came to be. The first time I knew how much I loved you was the day I sat in the doctor's office, holding your Mama's hand as I listened to your heartbeat, and I've loved you more and more every day since. But I don't think I knew that you were truly mine until I watched you, this impossibly tiny little thing, open your eyes for the first time. You saved me in so many more ways than you'll ever understand, and every single day for the rest of your life, I will be grateful to you for that. You taught me how to smile easily again, you taught me what it meant to be a mother, and you taught me how to love in a way I never had before. I don't know who you are, as you watch this video this day in the distant future, I don't know what kind of dreams you're dreaming, or if you've already met the person who stole your heart the way Mama stole mine. But what I do know is that every single person whose messages you've now listened to loves you so much. When Mama was pregnant with you, your abuela told me that there were things I'd never understand until I was a mother myself. It's true, Annie, and I'll tell you the same thing some day, when you meet the man or woman who you'll spend the rest of your life with." Tears were streaming down my face by that point, but I didn't brush them away, I just continued to talk to the woman my daughter would become. "I don't know if you'll have sisters or brothers by the time you see this, I can't tell the future, and while I'll love you all just as strongly, know that I loved you first, both for who you are and who you taught me to be. You're my little burst of sunshine, baby girl, and don't you ever forget that. Te amo con todo mi corazon."
I let myself breathe for a minute, smiling at Brittany and the camera, thinking about the life Annie would lead, the life we would all lead together, and the woman my young daughter had helped me to become. I didn't want to end the tape alone, I wanted it to end with both of her moms, both of the woman who would always love her most, how would give their own lives for her.
"Come here, Britt, put the camera on the dresser." I told her, and she did, coming to sit beside me on the bed.
"Hey Annie." She waved. "I'm back."
"This is it, the end of our tape to you. The two of us will always love you more than anyone else in the world. Felices dieciocho, mija."
"Happy eighteenth birthday, sweetheart."
"We love you!" The two of us called out at the same time, blowing kisses to the camera.
Brittany got up and turned off the camera before coming back to the bed and falling into my open arms. We just sat there for a long time, holding each other, reflecting on everything that had led us to the point we were at. It was amazing, that Annie had survived against the odds, that our relationship had survived against all odds, and I sent a silent thank you out to the universe for giving me everything I'd ever wanted. Brittany and I had found our way back to each other, I'd found my way back to myself, and most importantly, together, we were finding our way into the future. As we lay back on our bed, still locked in an embrace, whispering I love you's back and forth to each other, I knew that even with whatever uncertainty lied ahead, in that very moment, I had everything I could ever ask for.
End Note: Annnnnndddd that's a wrap (cue Rachel Berry curtsy)! I really cannot thank you all enough for all of the encouragement and your lovely words throughout this entire story. And thank you to all of my silent readers (which I am, more often than not!) as well. I'd love to hear what you all think, now that it's all over. Look for the sequel, Beautiful Life, set three years in the future, later this week! And if you want to read all kinds of angsty season 5 Britt POV feels, look for Out of the Blue, Uninvited on Thursday! See you on the other side! :)
As of 10/1/13, Beautiful Life is POSTED!