Chapter Eleven: To Be Clean Again
I lived in the hospital for the next two days, and on the second day, it was just the Berry men and I left. Quinn had had to leave to go back to New Haven. She was going to stay, but Rachel knew she had a big exam coming up and made her go. They had a heartfelt, teary goodbye as Quinn clung to Rachel and kept telling her over and over that she would be back as soon as she was able to get away. She then hugged the hell out of me and told me the same thing. I wanted to go with her to the train station, but it seemed like every time that I left the room while Rachel was awake, the girl would panic. She tried to hide it, but it was obvious in the way her breathing would grow rapid and her eyes would dart wildly around the room as if she was terrified someone was going to jump out from behind the monitors and attack her. So, I stayed and Rachel's dads escorted Quinn to the station instead.
Thankfully, Kurt brought me a couple spare changes of clothes. I could've kissed his porcelain face for that, because I felt disgusting, and though I didn't get the shower that I desperately wanted and needed, the clean clothes definitely helped. Rachel's dads spent the nights at their hotel even though they'd wanted to stay at the hospital. Rachel had insisted that they go, though, and quit fussing over her, but when they offered to escort me home, I locked gazes with Rachel and could see the worry in her deep, pleading chocolate eyes, so I thanked them but told them I'd rather stay. So, for two nights in a row I slept on a cot in the corner of Rachel's room, and thankfully the pain meds they gave her helped her sleep well through the night, and I was able to get a few hours each night, too. It didn't really keep me from feeling completely steamrolled, though. My body still ached with exhaustion, and all I wanted was a searing hot shower, my bed, and to not wake up for at least four or five days.
The hospital food actually wasn't half bad, and Rachel definitely made sure that I was eating, all but berating me every time I said I wasn't hungry. She always ordered double of everything when she would call down to the kitchens, and when I told her that I was a big girl and could go down to the cafeteria and get my own food, the glare she gave me actually caused my stomach to clench uncomfortably, so I just accepted that this was Rachel and tried to just be thankful that at least little bits of her old self were slipping through, even though they were the more annoyingly overbearing bits.
Hell, who am I kidding? I was so fucking thankful for every little annoying thing that came out of her mouth that I almost wished I could put her on repeat and let the familiarity of it all spill into me over and over again. Every second I spent with her in that hospital room, whether we spent those seconds watching some lame Lifetime movie on the television latched onto the wall or quietly avoiding talking about what had happened, I was thankful.
Several times throughout those two days, Rachel would look at me…and it was like I could just see everything in her eyes. She'd never looked at me like that before, like I meant something to her; like I meant everything. It made my heart flutter wildly in my chest and my stomach roll. I did my best to ignore the feelings brewing in my head and heart, though, because it just didn't seem right to be suddenly feeling things for Rachel under such fucked-up circumstances, but the more I tried to deny everything stirring inside me, the more those feelings assaulted me.
And honestly? It wasn't just out of respect for everything that had happened that I tried to force away my feelings. It was also because I didn't fucking understand them. I mean…Rachel had always just been Berry to me—an enemy, an annoyance, a diva, a talent, a friend, a roommate—but never anything more. I'd never even entertained the thought of such things, but hell, there was no denying them now. Fear spiked in my heart every time I caught myself staring at her or thinking about how soft her hair looked or how much I found myself wanting to run my fingers through it. My stomach churned uncomfortably every time I caught my gaze locked onto her lips, full and supple, and I just wanted to….NOPE! Don't go there, Santana.
Yeah, my internal monologue was a fucking mess over those two days, and all I could do was try like hell to ignore it and just be there for Rachel and hope to god that she didn't notice anything weird like me staring at her fucking mouth every chance I got. Maybe it was some kind of weird hero complex, only in reverse. Maybe I was suddenly only having these feelings for her because I saved her life, because we had experienced a fucking tragedy together and were both traumatized by it. Yeah…maybe that's what it was.
Or maybe I just loved her. And thus the endless fucking cycle continues. Ay, Dios mío!
Surprisingly enough, it felt kind of strange to actually be going home. I mean, I was relieved for sure, but at the same time, it also weirdly made it seem like the last few days hadn't happened at all. All it took was one look at Rachel in her wheelchair as Leroy pushed her onto the elevator of our building, though, to remind me otherwise. She just looked so fragile, so small. It wasn't the Rachel Berry I was used to. She'd always been tiny, but this was different. Even with her size, Rachel had always had such presence, had always been larger than life, and when she sang? God, when that girl sang it was like she consumed the entire world.
I unlocked the door to our loft and slid it open. I knew Kurt was in class, so Rachel and I would have the place to ourselves for a while unless her dads decided to stay, which I assumed they would. However, Rachel quickly took care of that when she all but kicked them out less than five minutes after we'd gotten her inside.
"Please go," she told them. "Go out and have a nice dinner or go relax at the hotel."
"Honey, why won't you let us stay?" Leroy asked her, and I could see tears filling his eyes. I could only imagine how he felt, how both of the Berry men felt, because Rachel had been doing nothing but push them away since their arrival in the city a few days earlier. I felt like I was intruding on a family moment, so I awkwardly and silently slinked away and into the kitchen to make some coffee. Even with the bit of distance between us, though, our entire loft was still like one massive open space so I could hear everything they were saying.
"Because I don't need you here," she snapped at them before I heard her sigh heavily. She was quiet for another second or so before she said, "I'm sorry, Daddy. I didn't mean to snap at you. I just…I need some space, please. I feel like everyone has been breathing down my neck for days, and I would like some time to myself. Please allow me that."
Silence enveloped the loft but for the spewing sound of the coffee machine steadily filling the pot. Finally after several long minutes, when I'd already drained at least a quarter of my cup of coffee, I heard one of Rachel's dads sigh before Hiram's voice drifted in from the living room, saying, "Okay, Rachel. We can do that."
"But—" Leroy began to protest before his husband quickly cut him off with a snap.
"That's enough, Leroy," Hiram said, and his voice was resolute. "We're going." They shared gentle goodbyes with their daughter before they both stepped into the kitchen for a moment, and I turned to meet their gazes. Leroy stepped forward and pulled me into a hug, and when he did I could hear the hitch in his breathing that clearly signified that the man was crying, though he was definitely trying to hold it in. I patted his back and nodded into his shoulder when he whispered, "Please take care of her, Santana."
"I will," I promised him, before he stepped back and Hiram took his place. He kissed my forehead and said they'd be back tomorrow morning to take Rachel to the police station to give her full report of the attack. I nodded my understanding before seeing them to the door and waving goodbye as they headed out and over to the elevators.
When I closed the door and turned back, Rachel was still sitting in her wheelchair in the same spot, just staring at the floor. I don't know why I suddenly felt so awkward and uncomfortable, but fuck, it was like I was afraid to move or even breathe. I didn't know what to say or do, if I should try and hang with her or just leave her alone. After a few minutes of just standing there like an idiot, though, I finally just decided to act on instinct.
I took a step closer to her, but I didn't touch her as I asked, "Do you need anything?"
She didn't say anything, but shook her head in answer, her eyes never leaving the floor. "Alright, well, I can just leave you alone if you want," I said quietly.
I heard her release a shaky sigh before the tiniest whimper escaped her throat and she suddenly lifted her head to look up at me. My breath hitched in my throat as her eyes locked with mine, and I saw that she was crying, tears streaming down her cheeks. "Please don't," she whispered, her voice cracked and broken.
"But I heard you tell your dad that you wanted—"
"I lied," she said, quickly cutting me off as fresh tears spilled from her eyes and a quiet sob escaped her. It was the first time I'd really seen her cry since that first night in the hospital. I'd been wondering how she had kept it together so well when I had been a complete fucking mess and I wasn't even the one who was attacked. It was then that I realized that she had been holding it all in; just like Quinn, Rachel had been trying to be strong for everyone else. God, that just seemed so fucked up to me in that moment. If anyone deserved to lose their shit over the last few days, it was Rachel, and instead, she'd been bottling it all up and letting brew and bubble inside her.
I felt tears filling my own eyes, and I wanted to ask her why she'd lied to her dads, but I didn't. Instead, I just found myself nodding before I dropped to my knees in front of her and slowly slipped my hands into hers, resting them gently in her lap. "What do you need?" I asked her softly.
"I'm so sorry," she whispered to me, and my heart just fucking exploded in my chest, because why the hell was Rachel apologizing to me? The entire world owed her an apology for the shit that had happened to her, and yet here she was apologizing to me for god only knew what.
"Rachel…why are you apologizing?" I asked her, my voice a trembling mess as we stared into each other.
She squeezed my hands tightly before explaining, and every word out of her mouth just made me sick to my stomach. It was all just too much, every syllable like a stab to my heart. I hurt so much for Rachel in that moment, that I felt like I might actually splinter into pieces at any minute. "I can't do anything for myself, Santana," she whispered through her tears, "and you…you are all that I have here. I can't bathe on my own or change my bandages or my clothes, and you have been with me every step of the way. You shouldn't have to take care of me like that. I just…I don't want to be a burden on you."
"Rachel, stop," I told her, swallowing thickly as I squeezed her hands in return. "You are not a burden, okay? You and me…we're in this together, you know? And all of that shit—changing bandages and clothes and taking baths—it's nothing, okay?"
She only cried harder at that and shook her head from side to side as she whimpered, "It's not nothing."
"Hey," I said softly, reaching up to gently grab her chin and turn her face so that our eyes locked again, "you would do the same for me, right?"
We stared at each other for a long moment, both of our cheeks wet and our hands clasped tightly, and my heart swelled to bursting as she nodded and sweetly whispered, "You know I would."
"Exactly," I told her with a soft smile. "Besides, I'll finally get to see everything you've been hiding under all those animal sweaters, tube socks, and hit-me-baby-one-more-time skirts, yeah?"
A soft, quiet laugh escaped her and I sighed in relief before letting myself laugh with her. I slowly stood up again before leaning forward to wrap my arms carefully around her. We held each other for a long time before I cracked up laughing again as she spoke into my shoulder. "Well, if you're that eager, then do you think we could take care of that bath now, because I feel disgusting?"
"Oh god, I know!" I exclaimed as I pulled back and moved around to the back of her chair to push her toward her bedroom. "I've been dying for a shower!"
She laughed out loud and said, "Yeah, and you stink."
I just rolled my eyes and ruffled the hair on the top of her head though I couldn't stop the megawatt smile that instantly spread across my face. "Shut it, Berry."
Oh fuck, what did I get myself into?
My brain melted into a puddle of mush and my heart started hammering like a damn stampede was pounding through my chest as soon as Rachel reminded me that she could only have sponge baths until after her stitches were out, and her cast had to be kept out of the water as well. All those feelings that I'd been violently pushing as far beneath the surface as I could get them suddenly surged rapidly to the forefront of my mind, and all I could think was that not only was I about to see Rachel Berry naked for the first time ever, I was also going to have my hands all over her body.
Christ, Santana! Stop perving out on the girl! I mentally berated myself as I told myself over and over that it still was most definitely not the right time to be thinking or feeling such things. Just grit your teeth and get through it and try not to stare. The girl was sexually assaulted for fuck's sake. The last thing she needed was one of her friends creeping on her during a sponge bath. Fuck, what was wrong with me?
I swallowed thickly as I practically picked her up out her wheelchair and gently sat her down on the edge of her bed. I glanced at her face, our eyes instantly locking and I waited for her to give me some sort of sign that she was ready, permission for me to continue. I wasn't about to just strip her naked or touch her without her giving me the go-ahead. The last thing Rachel needed was someone making choices for her. In fact, I was pretty sure she could go the rest of her life without that after what she'd been through.
Her face was cherry red as she gave me a shy smile and nodded for me to go ahead, so I slowly ran my hands over her shoulders before settling my fingers on the top button of her shirt. The doctor had suggested she only wear button-ups for a while so that she wouldn't have to raise her arms and risk ripping the stitches in her shoulder, not to mention avoiding the pain such a movement would cause to her ribs and abdomen. We locked eyes as my fingers slipped from button to button, the flesh of her chest slowly becoming more and more visible with each freed button. I knew she didn't have a bra on, because it would have been too difficult to mess with, so she'd just gone without.
A strange sort of tension settled in the air around us as we stared into each other and I carefully freed the last button before slowly pulling the sleeves of her shirt down her arms and finally away from her body, dropping it onto the floor. It wasn't a sexual tension or anything of that nature. It was different. It was…almost intimate, like we were trusting each other in a way that we'd never allowed ourselves to trust before. It was like the world just narrowed around us and suddenly it was only us…just me and Rachel and nothing and no one else. It was the most intense thing I'd ever felt in my life, and on the inside, I couldn't help but pray that she felt it too, in some capacity at least. Because god…I really didn't want this to just be another fucking trick of my mind. I wanted it to be real.
Once I had her shirt off her body, I gently laid her down and pulled her legs up onto the mattress so that she was settled comfortably on her bed. I glanced briefly down, my eyes quickly absorbing the sight of Rachel's naked chest, though I did my best to avert my gaze as fast as possible because I didn't want to make her uncomfortable, but that one quick peek that I'd allowed myself? Yeah…it was enough for me to know that Rachel's body was incredible—small, pert breasts and perfectly defined abs beneath smooth, tan skin. I didn't even pay any mind to the bandages or the bruises, because they didn't matter to me. She was beautiful. When my hands graced her torso, her skin felt hot and soft beneath my fingertips and it didn't feel awkward at all anymore. Instead it felt like…
It felt like home.
I internally rolled my eyes and thought, Jesus Santana, don't be such a fucking sap! Then again, it was true. How the hell could I argue with something that just felt so right?
"Are you okay?" I asked softly, locking gazes with Rachel again.
She smiled shyly at me again before whispering, "I'm okay, Santana. Go ahead."
I gulped a bit as I nodded and moved my hands to the waistband of the baggy sweatpants that Kurt had brought to the hospital for her. I tucked my fingers beneath the elastic and also beneath the top of her panties before carefully pulling them both down in one slow, gentle motion. I felt the unshaven hairs on her legs prickle beneath my fingertips and knew my own legs were probably in the same condition given that neither of us had had an opportunity to shave while at the hospital. I didn't mind it so much, though. Honestly, I'd never understood why people freaked over little, insignificant things like that. I mean, don't get me wrong. I preferred my legs and any woman's legs, really, to be cleanly shaven and smooth; if they weren't, though, or if they couldn't be for some reason like now, it wasn't like it was the end of the world. It didn't make Rachel any less attractive to me.
I maneuvered Rachel's pant leg over the cast on her foot and finally freed her body entirely of clothing. I swallowed thickly as I took quick, subtle glances because I couldn't fucking help myself. I wasn't perving on the girl. I thought I was going to before all this began, but it just wasn't like that. It felt so innocent, precious even. It was simple curiosity, getting to know the body that I would be taking care of for the next few months. But god…she was breathtaking, every inch of her, all the way up to her crimson cheeks, flushed with embarrassment, her shy smile, and her nervous, vulnerable eyes.
I moved up to sit next to her, pressed into her side as I reached over for the large bowl of warm, soapy water I'd brought from the bathroom. I dipped my hand into the bowl and grabbed the sponge soaking there before ringing it out and gently placing it to Rachel's chest to begin washing her. Goosebumps rippled across her flesh as I moved the sponge carefully up and down her arms and over her neck, chest, and stomach, making sure to avoid her bandages. I could feel her eyes on me the entire time I washed her, burning into me in a way that made tingles shoot down my spine and my heart flutter like a hoard of butterflies were trapped in my chest.
I sucked in a heavy breath as I moved lower, but just as I was about to begin washing her below the waist, I felt her hand wrap around my wrist, and I looked up to meet her tear-filled gaze. I instantly froze in place, terrified that I had hurt her. "I'm sorry," I quickly said. "Did I…does it hurt?"
She smiled sadly at me as a few tears spilled from the corners of her eyes and slid across her temples and into her hair. She shook her head softly before whimpering, "Santana…"
I moved back up on the bed to be closer to her face, concerned as she continued to stare into me and cry. I took her hand in mine and just sat there with her, waiting for her to say something. It was several minutes before she did, but when she finally did, I just wanted to die. "I feel so ugly," she whispered, her soft voice a strangled mess. "I…I feel like he ruined me."
Anger surged through me before fading into an epic heartache that coursed through my veins and spilled from my eyes. It was the first time I'd heard Rachel even mention her attacker, and it just made me feel sick all over, my stomach knotting and churning and my chest constricting as I forced myself not to fall apart at her words. I couldn't stand that that pathetic excuse for a human being had made Rachel feel ugly…ruined. It tore at me like jagged glass.
I lifted a hand and cupped it gently around her cheek, making sure that I kept eye contact with her as I felt my heart rocket up my throat and onto my tongue before I offered it to Rachel in the form of words. "You are not ruined," I told her and I heard the tremble in my voice, tears stinging in my eyes and clawing at my throat. "You are perfect. Don't you dare think anything less of yourself."
I leaned forward and pressed a tender kiss to her forehead before moving down and pressing another to her cheek and yet another to her neck just below her ear and whispering, "You're beautiful, Rachel." A sob escaped her as she turned her face into my neck and nuzzled into me. I just pressed another kiss to her neck and said, "You're so fucking beautiful."
After I finished up with Rachel's sponge bath and got her into some pajamas, it wasn't long before she drifted off to sleep, and I took the opportunity to take a shower. I turned the knob until the water was piping hot and just let it rain over me. I couldn't help the moans that escaped me as I scrubbed at my skin and scalp and hair before letting the water soak into me and make me feel truly clean again.
Rachel's quiet, heart-wrenching confession of how her attacker had made her feel kept ripping through my head over and over again and I couldn't help the tears that came. They dripped down my cheeks, mingling with the hot water spraying over me, and I just cried. I cried until the water ran cold, and when I couldn't stand it any longer, I shut off the shower, wrapped a towel around my body, and quietly made my way to my section of the loft.
I threw on some sweats and a t-shirt before dropping onto my bed and within seconds, I drifted off, thoughts of Rachel still dancing in my head.