Chapter Fifteen: I See You
The first week of Rachel's recovery went by slower than I'd imagined it would. Her dads were in and out as was Kurt, and Quinn called or skyped nearly every night, but I was with Rachel practically every minute. I was there for every high and every low, as I intended to be throughout her entire recovery. I bathed her. I clothed her. I changed her bandages. I held her every night as she slept. I soothed her after every nightmare. I wiped every tear when she broke down afterward. I stayed up talking with her about anything and everything when she couldn't get back to sleep. I reminded her that she was beautiful every time she felt insecure. I reminded her that she was safe every time she felt afraid. I was there—every day, every night. I was there.
And god help me, it only made me fall more in love with her.
I learned more about Rachel Berry in that one week than I had ever learned about her in the entirety of the time I'd known her. She was so much more complex than I'd ever imagined, so much more than everyone had always labeled her to be. Outside of her talent and the confidence that supported it, outside of her loud mouth and extremely verbose manner of speaking, and outside of her quirky fashion sense and veganism, Rachel was surprising and…so beautiful. She could be so timid at times with a quiet stillness and shyness about her that made my heart flutter madly in my chest. She was colorful and layered, but also often black and white in a way that reminded me of those old-ass classic romance movies, because there was a drama about her even when she wasn't being dramatic. It was in the very way that she breathed, as if every breath and every word and every glance was a shocking secret or a precious declaration. I couldn't make any sense of it, but I knew that I wanted more of it.
She was gentle and compassionate, affectionate in ways that reached in and clutched at my soul. She talked to me about her dreams and about her fears. She told me one night that it wasn't the idea of never having Broadway that terrified her as much as it was the idea of her voice ever failing her. She said that her voice was the only thing she had in her life that was always consistent, always there for her, always rich and satisfying, always soothing, always hopeful, always confident, always able to make her feel full and complete and happy—her voice was the one thing that no one could ever put her down about. When she sang, she wasn't some Lima loser. She wasn't the girl in animal sweaters or the nerdy kid that everyone threw slushies at and made fun of. She wasn't a freak. No, when she sang, she said she felt like a star. She felt special. When Rachel Berry sang, there was no one more beautiful, more present, or more worthy of people's love, attention, and affection. She felt truly seen, like for once in her life, she mattered.
She had cried when she told me that, and my heart had ached in my chest as I cried with her, because I knew that I had been a part of what had always made her feel so invisible and so worthless. It pained me like few things ever had. We had lain in her bed together as the words came out of her in a cracked, whispered confession, and I just held her, wanting nothing more than to show her that she was special, always, and not just when she was singing.
She locked gazes with me in the dark that night and I swallowed thickly as she stared right through me, straight into my heart. "You're not singing right now," I whispered to her.
"What do you mean?" she asked me softly, her voice still broken.
I reached over and squeezed her hand tightly before saying, "You're not singing right now, but I still see you. You're still beautiful and…and you still matter to me."
I heard her suck in a shaky breath when I said those words and I wanted to say more, but before I could even open my mouth, I felt her hand on my cheek. It rested there softly as her thumb stroked over my bottom lip and her watery gaze never left mine. "You matter to me, too, Santana," she whispered back to me, and I knew that no words anyone had ever said to me before had ever or could ever mean more than those words, spoken by the only person I truly wanted to hear them from—the girl I had so suddenly and so helplessly and so beautifully fallen in love with.
Rachel would touch me like that sometimes, just a tender brush of her fingertips on my cheek or my arm, or lacing our fingers together, or gently resting her head on my chest or against my shoulder. She would touch me like that, and it always felt so intimate and so…I don't know…epic? That sounds so lame and dramatic, but it's the best I can manage, because it's true. When she touched me like that, all whispers of skin and silent safety, it was like sharing secrets. I had to hold my breath because I was terrified that if I let it out, if I spoke, if I moved, she would run—just scurry away from me like a scared animal. I had to hold my breath because I could feel her touch in every part of me. I had to hold my breath because if I didn't, if I didn't stop myself…I just knew my heart would betray me. It would fly right out of my mouth and confess what I was trying so desperately to keep hidden, not because I didn't want Rachel to know, but because I knew it would just be too much for her right now.
So I held my breath and enjoyed her tender touches in silence. I kept quiet. I waited, giving her my heart in the dark and reaching for hers in tiny increments, in subtle expressions, and in gentle moments, and I waited for the day that I could say it all out loud. I waited.
And I didn't regret it, because Rachel Berry? She was worth the wait.
At the end of the week, Hiram, Leroy, and I took Rachel back to the hospital to have her stitches removed, which both Rachel and I were thankful for because that meant we wouldn't have to mess with the bandages anymore or have to wash around them. It also meant that she would be able to actually have a real bath as long as we wrapped her cast in a plastic bag to keep it dry and as long as we were careful, because her ribs were still an issue and her incisions would still need to be tended to with the salve and spray for at least another week. Nonetheless, though, it was manageable, and we were both pretty excited about it.
Once we were done at the hospital, we picked up some Thai food on the way back to the loft, and after we ate, Rachel surprised us all by asking her dads to go back to Lima.
"I love you both and I appreciate you being here for me more than you know, but I am an adult now. You don't have to stick by my side and make sure that I'm okay. I assure you that I can care for myself adequately enough, and for the few things I am unable to do, I am sure that Santana or Kurt can assist me well enough. So, please, stop putting your lives on hold for me, for this, because I am fine. I will be fine. Please, go home," she told them with a gentle smile and love in her eyes.
The Berry men seemed pretty conflicted at first, both looking like they wanted to argue with their daughter, but neither actually doing so. I sat there in silence, feeling awkward as hell because I was all up in the middle of another Berry family moment that I shouldn't have been a part of at all. But hell…what was I supposed to do? Rachel had a knack for springing those moments on people before anyone ever had a chance to run away, so yeah…I was stuck just sort of eating the floor with my eyes and biting my lip, keeping quiet until the uncomfortable moment passed.
Thankfully, it did pass a few minutes later when Hiram and Leroy agreed to go back to Lima the next day. I was surprised to realize that I was actually going to be pretty sad to see them go; then again, they had kind of been like fathers to me the past week and we'd gotten pretty close. Maybe it was the whole we're-gay-and-you're-gay-so-we-have-shit-in-common thing, but I really think that that was just an added bonus. Rachel's dads were genuinely just great people and they made me feel safe. They made me feel loved. I was definitely going to miss them.
An hour or so later, they said their tearful goodbyes and I-love-yous to Rachel before turning to me with a long-winded, Rachel-Berry-style lecture about keeping their little girl safe and healthy and happy, which of course I promised to do. I rolled my eyes but couldn't help laughing when they gave me at least six different numbers that I could call if I needed to get in touch with them as well as three different e-mail addresses. Then they both pulled me into a tight hug, and my heart warmed to the point of melting as both Hiram and Leroy told me that they loved me.
I didn't even feel awkward when I said it back, and I didn't hesitate, because yeah…I really did love them, too.
When they left, I slid the door softly shut behind them and turned to see that Rachel was staring at me, a soft smile quirking up at the corners of her lips and her eyes gleaming. "What?" I asked as I made my way back over and plopped down onto the couch beside her.
"My dads love you," she said, reaching out a hand to poke at my side as her smile grew and spread over her lips, beautifully lighting up her features.
I smacked at her hand and said, "Well duh. I'm awesome."
She only smiled wider as she said, "And you said you loved them, too." Crap, she'd heard that.
I just rolled my eyes and said, "Shut it, dwarf." She only laughed out loud at that, and the sound sang right to my soul. I couldn't help the smile that spread across my own features as her laughter spilled into the room. I rose to my feet so that I could go and grab my phone from the kitchen.
"I'm gonna go call Kurt and tell him that we saved him some food so that he doesn't pick anything up on his way home," I told her as I stepped over her legs propped up on a pillow on the coffee table in front of the couch. Before I left the room, though, I did something so stupidly sappy that I made even myself gag.
I leaned down and pressed a kiss to her cheek and said, "I missed your laugh." And as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I practically sprinted toward the kitchen, my cheeks burning with embarrassment. So…so…gay, Santana. Seriously.
The next day, I had to make a grocery run, so I made Kurt stay at the loft with Rachel since he didn't have classes that day. Little did I know, though, that Lady Hummel had made plans with his new NYADA choir crush, Adam, and that little miss I'm-not-an-invalid Rachel Berry would actually end up convincing him to go and leave her there alone. Which I guess wouldn't have been a big deal since I wasn't planning on being gone all that long, except that it actually was a really freaking big deal, because it was that day that a bunch of ogre-sized shit decided to hit the fan.