A/N: Hello everyone. Well, this is the final chapter of How to Save a Life. It has been a truly emotional and wonderful ride, and I want to thank everyone for taking this journey with me. Thank you for all of your favorites, follows, and reviews. I appreciate your support so much.
The events that have taken place in these two characters' lives in the world of this story would be impossible to resolve in one story, so you will notice that the story ends on more a positive note than anything. I am quite happy, though, with how I've chosen to end it, and I hope all of you will be satisfied as well.
I may write an epilogue to this story, but I am unsure if I want to yet or not. For now, I am going to mark it as complete, but I may add one at a later time. Thank you all so much, and I hope you enjoy. Take care, XO-Chrmdpoet
Chapter Thirty-Five: Saving Rachel
The material of my pillow case was saturated and sticky beneath my cheek, soaked with all the tears I'd cried in the last hour or two. I wasn't exactly sure how much time had passed. My head felt heavy even against the plush fluff of the pillow and was throbbing like someone had taken a damn hammer to my brain. My eyes were sore and itching, undoubtedly bloodshot, and my nose would not stop running. My cheeks felt tight with the tear tracks that had dried on my face, which pulled a bit every time I moved my mouth or nose or eyebrows even.
That was the thing about sorrow. It was thorough—as physical as it was emotional. Guaranteed to make you look as shitty as you felt.
Rachel lay across from me in my bed, her face just a few inches away from mine. I hated that she had to lay in the gross wetness of my pillow where I'd cried and snotted all over myself like a baby, but she didn't say anything. She didn't complain. She didn't move away. She just laid there, her lips a breath away from mine, and smiled softly at me.
Our fingers were softly tangled in the small space between our bodies, and every few minutes I felt Rachel's thumb swipe gently across the inside of my wrist. It made my whole body feel light and airy, like I could somehow just float away from all of this sorrow; float away in that feather-light touch and in the promise of comfort and love that her presence always provided me.
Only an hour or two, I think, had passed since Rachel had shown up on my doorstep without any warning, and I'd spent nearly that entire time crying while she held my cheeks or my hands or just my entire body. I hadn't even been able to bring myself to walk Rachel into the living room and introduce her to my parents. I'd merely shouted that she was there and that we were going to my room. I guess my parents understood because they didn't say anything in response.
And Rachel…she didn't speak a word when I helped her slowly up the stairs while carrying her crutches under my free arm. She didn't say a word when we crawled into my bed or when I cried against her lips and against her chest. She said nothing as she held me, as she stroked her fingers through my hair and rocked me gently back and forth.
It was strange, the way we didn't need words. That's the weird thing about tragedy, I guess. It shows you all the ways that one person can communicate with another without words.
That's how it was with us for those first few hours. We didn't need words. I told her all the ways I hurt through the way I clutched her body, through the salty moisture that I left behind on her cheeks and mouth. I told her how much I needed her through the way I burrowed against her and closed my eyes to the warmth of her skin and the comforting lullaby of her pulse against my ear.
And Rachel spoke back to me—no words, no sound. She told me she loved me with her tender kisses and easy rocking. She reminded me that I wasn't alone every time she slipped her fingers between mine and squeezed. She told me that I wasn't alone when she pulled my body flush against hers, laid her cheek against mine, and I felt her tears mingle with mine.
That was the way we communicated when we couldn't find the words to say the things that only our hearts knew. Those were the kind of things that had to be felt rather than heard.
Then finally, finally, my tears dried and that hammering throb in my chest quieted just a bit, enough that I could breathe easily again. I let out a slow breath and it seemed to go on forever, as if I'd been holding it in for hours. Maybe I had.
I felt Rachel's fingers tighten around my own as I looked into her big brown eyes and whispered, "You came all the way here for me."
It wasn't a question. It was the truth. I'd texted Rachel about my abuela, and she'd just jumped on a plane home. No thoughts. No second guesses. No matter how difficult that must have been for her with her crutches and everything, she just came anyway. I think that that might have been the most selfless thing anyone had ever done for me.
"You needed me," she said simply, her words hardly more than breath that floated from her lips and touched my face in a puff of minty air.
"Yeah," I sighed as I shuffled a bit closer to her so that our chests were brushing and our noses were gently tapping together. "I really did."
We fell asleep that way, with nothing more than a few words exchanged between us, and our hands still tangled tightly together.
The days that followed were a fucking morbid blur with few lighthearted moments. Those few moments, though, had been like little bursts of fresh air, and I was thankful for each and every one. One of those lighthearted moments happened the next morning when I'd taken Rachel to see her dads. They hadn't even known that she had flown in, because it had happened on such a whim.
It wasn't anything special that happened while we were there. It was just that those moments we spent with them just seemed lighter and happier somehow. We didn't sit around laughing or joking or anything like that, but we didn't cry either. We didn't roll around in the sorrow that seemed to be following me everywhere I went, even into my dreams.
I'd told them about my abuela and they'd hugged me and told me they loved me. That had been one of those good moments. I'd just sunk into their embraces and let myself be held, Rachel squished between the three of us. It felt like they were as much my family as my actual family was, and that…well, that somehow made my heart hurt a little less.
The second lighthearted moment came later that evening when my mother had talked Rachel and I into going to the store for her so that she could make us something for dinner and undoubtedly embarrass me by asking Rachel about our relationship.
I'd managed to convince Rachel to ride around in one of those automated wheelchair buggy things instead of hobbling through the store on her crutches. I could tell how much they wore her out, and sometimes her underarms would be red and sore to the touch if she spent too much time on her crutches. That bothered me, so it took some coaxing, but she finally agreed.
She helped me pick out all of the vegan alternatives to each of the ingredients that my mom had asked us to buy. We spent a good deal of time just reading labels on a few of the items, but it was worth it, because I knew it was making Rachel happy. She laughed when I mispronounced maltodextrin three times. For some reason, my tongue apparently refused to say the word correctly.
It wasn't that I didn't know how to pronounce it. It was just that I weirdly got tongue-tied each time I said it. I gave up after the third time, grabbed a bag of marshmallows off of the shelf, and chunked them at her head. She squealed when they hit her in the face with a soft "kush" sound, and the laughter that followed was so beautiful that it brought tears to my eyes.
I know…trust me, I know how seriously corny that sounds, but what can I say? Rachel Berry had turned me into a ball of mush, and maybe it wasn't even because I loved her laugh, though undoubtedly, I did; maybe it was more because that was the happiest sound I'd heard in what felt like forever.
I'd been walking around with a weight on my heart since the moment I'd gotten off the plane in Ohio, and that weight had only grown heavier when my abuela passed, but when Rachel laughed like that…
When Rachel laughed like that, that weight just cracked open and crumbled away. The sound reminded me that I wasn't alone. It reminded me that things would get better, that they already were. It reminded me that even with all of that sorrow aching inside me, I had a lot of joy, too. I had so many reasons to be thankful and to be happy, and a lot of those reasons were wrapped up inside those brown eyes and that wide smile and that fucking perfect voice.
We'd been in the store for only about half an hour when we rounded an aisle and I nearly smacked right into someone that I really hadn't wanted to see. Finn Hudson.
"Sor—oh, Santana," he'd said as he realized that it was me he had nearly barreled over.
"Finn," I said dryly, and that's when I noticed his eyes shoot right by me to the girl in the automated wheelchair behind me. He started to step around me and toward her, but I quickly sidestepped and stopped him. He locked eyes with me and I just subtly shook my head to let him know that I wasn't going to be having any of his bullshit that night, and I sure as shit wasn't letting him near Rachel.
I was completely surprised then when he just nodded and took a step back. "Uh…hi, Rach," he muttered.
Rachel gently waved a hand at him and offered him a small smile. "Hello Finn," she replied, and I wasn't positive, but I was pretty sure that I could hear a little disdain decorating her voice. It wouldn't have surprised me given that Finn's immature behavior on Facebook weeks prior had really upset her. Then again, I could have just been hearing what I wanted to hear.
"How are you?" he asked, and she offered him a quick, "I'm quite well, thank you."
He then surprised me again when he turned to me and asked again, "How are you?"
"Shitty," I told him honestly. "I'm going to a funeral the day after tomorrow, so…sucks."
"Oh," he said, shuffling awkwardly where he stood and clutching onto a small jar of whey protein powder. Was the dude trying to pump up? "Well, sorry…"
Things got really awkward then. Finn and I just stood there staring at each other, you know, when his wandering eyes weren't darting over to my girlfriend and setting my fucking teeth on edge. And just when I was about to explode with the awkwardness, Finn cleared his throat, lowered his voice, and asked, "So…you guys are like…really, you know?"
I arched a brow at him as I propped my hands on my hips and said, "Uh yeah, Finnocence, we are like really…you know."
I heard Rachel laugh softly behind me and I couldn't help the smile that crawled across my lips, but still, I braced myself. If the whole Facebook debacle had been anything to go by, I half expected Finn to throw a damn temper tantrum right in the middle of the granola aisle, call me a manipulative lesbo and Rachel my unwilling victim lover; all while implying that she belonged to him somehow. What actually happened, though, was quite the opposite and that's when that lighthearted moment happened for me.
Finn nodded firmly and quietly said, "Okay. Well…if you guys are happy, then I'm happy for you." He then awkwardly shuffled a bit closer to me and patted me on the arm. He lowered his voice to a whisper and looked me in the eyes. "I'm sorry for those things I said. It wasn't cool. I'm sorry."
I stood there kind of slack-jawed for a minute, but when I actually got my shit together and started to say something, Finn just ducked his head and quickly darted out of the aisle and away from us. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone or something. Like, had Finn Hudson really just apologized to me?
I turned and arched a brow at Rachel, but she just smiled at me and reached out a hand. I took it in mine and felt her squeeze my fingers before tugging on my hand as if to ask me to bend down. I leaned over the handlebars of her buggy and she cupped one of my cheeks in her hand before pressing her lips softly to mine right there in a grocery store in conservative-ass Lima, Ohio.
My heart felt like it was floating.
Surprisingly enough, my parents hadn't embarrassed me too much at dinner that night. I had a bit of a scare when my mom started asking Rachel if she wanted to get married someday and how many kids she wanted. However, Rachel had just answered that shit with grace, squeezed my hand under the table, and then expertly changed the subject before my cheeks could get any redder.
When Rachel and I had gone to bed that night, we'd just lain side by side like we had the night before. We didn't say anything, didn't talk like we'd done so many countless nights before—learning about one another and timidly dancing around our feelings. This was just different. It was new, but it was comfortable. We held each other's hands under the covers and we kissed softly a few times, but mostly, we just looked at each other. We just shared the same slow, easy breaths.
And then, we fell asleep.
The best and most lighthearted moment happened about an hour after Rachel and I woke up that next day. I'd just gotten out of the shower and was dripping down the hallway, thanks to my hair, as I made my way back to my room in a small pair of shorts and a tank top. When I opened the door, tears instantly pooled in my eyes even as a smile blasted across my face.
Before I could even say anything, I was enveloped in slender arms and a tender kiss was pressed to my cheek. I couldn't stop the tears then. I buried my face in blonde hair and breathed in the scent of my closest friend.
I cried into Quinn's neck as she just rubbed my back and whispered that she was sorry for my loss.
When I'd finally calmed down, I pulled back so that I could look into her hazel eyes and asked, "What are you doing here, Q?"
Quinn didn't say anything as she laced her fingers through mine and gave my hand a comforting squeeze. She tilted her head in the direction of the bed where Rachel was still bundled under the covers and watching us with a small smile on her face. "Rach?" I choked out, and she nodded gently.
"I texted Quinn when I boarded the plane to Ohio and told her what happened," Rachel said, and my heart swelled to the point of bursting. "I knew you would want her here with you."
Q squeezed my hand again and said, "I can only stay through the funeral tomorrow because I have an exam that I have to get back for, but Santana…I wish you would've just called me. I wouldn't have missed it."
Fresh tears stung on my eyelids as I shook my head gently, but all I could manage to say was, "I love you guys."
The sun was blazing hot as it melted into my black dress and itched at my skin. I sat just a few feet away from my abuela's casket, in a scorching, folding metal chair that was wedged between two others. Rachel sat to my right and Quinn to my left.
It was the first time I'd seen Rachel dressed in anything other than sweatpants since her attack. She and Quinn had gone to Rachel's dads' house that morning while I spent a little time with my family, and Rachel had donned one of her old dresses. It was blue, I think…like a midnight blue that was almost black except for when the sun hit it just right. Her hair was lightly curled in at the ends and she even had makeup on.
She looked beautiful, breathtaking even. I wanted to celebrate that moment for her, the moment in which Rachel Berry reclaimed a part of herself and let go of the part that felt so compelled to hide her body. I wanted to tell her all the ways that she was beautiful and amazing and so incredibly strong, but the weight of the day kept those words hidden in my throat, hidden behind tears that I tried to keep from spilling out.
Rachel's left hand was laced with my right, and Quinn's right hand was laced with my left. They both held tightly to me as I listened to some priest or preacher or whatever that I didn't even recognize drone on about how strong and amazing a woman my abuela had been. I tried to block out his voice, because I didn't care about the words.
I didn't need to hear any words of comfort or hope of a pleasant afterlife. What I felt in my heart was enough for me that day—all the moments I kept inside me; the laughter I'd shared with my abuela, the way she'd always held my hand everywhere we went, her cooking, her jokes, the many things she taught me of our heritage. I didn't need anyone else to tell me what an amazing woman my abuela had been, though undoubtedly flawed.
I didn't need the words, because I had the feelings. I had the proof dancing in my memories and in my own personality, the traits of the woman that I had grown to be much because of the woman that we were burying that day.
I wept behind my sunglasses, silent tears streaking out from beneath them, but I held in my sobs and I tried not to focus so much on my sorrow. I tried to think about all those great moments and all the things that my abuela had given me.
And the only words that truly resounded in my mind as I said goodbye to my abuela, were the last ones she had ever spoken to me.
You are perfect the way you are.
And I wondered if I would ever actually feel that way again.
Quinn left shortly after the funeral, but she'd stayed long enough to ask me at least fifteen different times if I was okay. Surprisingly enough, I was. I was so much better than I thought I'd be, and maybe that was because she'd been there, her and Rachel, holding my hands through the whole thing.
Maybe it was because I was so loved. Maybe it was because, for the first time in my life, I was starting to understand that I wasn't so alone. In fact, I wasn't alone at all.
I spent much of the rest of the day on auto-pilot, Rachel's hand in mine being the only thing that kept me grounded and present in each moment. I sat quietly through the massive dinner that my family and my extended family had at my parents' house. I responded in kind when people talked to me, though never much more than a few words—mostly saying thank you when they offered their condolences. I just sort of floated through it.
And I was so damn thankful to have Rachel beside me through it all. It sometimes blew my mind how comforting her presence was to me. It was like nothing mattered, nothing could hurt me or touch me or fuck me up when she was beside me. It was like the rest of the world just disappeared or just grew so quiet that all I could feel was her hand in mine and all I could hear was our heartbeats and our breath and our loving whispers to one another.
Yeah, you know…I think that that was when I realized that it wasn't just me. It wasn't just me that was a rock for Rachel after all that she'd been through. It was both of us. We were that source of strength for one another, because if we were being totally honest…well, we were both broken.
We were broken together, but we were also healing together. We were becoming so much more together than we ever had been on our own.
When my mom had finally managed to get the horde of people out of her house later that night, Rachel and I had both bid goodnights to my parents and then I practically carried her up the stairs. I dropped her unceremoniously into my bed before crawling up and collapsing next to her as she giggled into the sheet of our shared pillow. The sound was beautiful and it warmed every part of me.
"Hey," I whispered as I rolled onto my side, wrapped my arms around her waist, and pulled her closer to me.
Her hand came up then to cup around my cheek as she smiled softly at me. "Hi," she whispered in return.
"I missed you," I told her and watched as her smile grew, her cheeks flushing a gentle pink.
"You've been with me all day," she said as she booped my nose with her index finger.
"So," I answered, rolling my eyes. I then pulled her impossibly closer so that it seemed like every inch of our bodies was touching. "I still missed you. I missed this."
Her smile grew again so that it was big and bright and beautiful, and I couldn't help but laugh as I playfully asked, "Christ, do you hear me? You've turned me into one of those sappy lesbos that tries to U-Haul on the second damn date."
She laughed loudly at that and the sound fluttered around inside my ears and inside my heart long after she stopped. "I love it when you're sappy," she told me, "and you and I already live together, so no U-Haul required."
I sighed dramatically as I said, "Fine, Rachel, I guess I will be a lame stereotype with you." She laughed as she pressed a kiss to my chin. "But I draw the line at like mutual pregnancy with the same splooge donor. I've got a hot bod to maintain."
Rachel snorted she laughed so hard and I wrapped my arms more tightly around her as I chuckled along. It hit me then that this was really the most that Rachel and I had talked, just talked, since she'd shown up on my doorstep. It was nice.
I loved our silences, loved that we were able to communicate so clearly that way as well; but I loved when we talked, too. Her voice was always so soothing, and it just felt so fucking good to hear her laughing and to know that I was the source of that laughter. It made the whole world and all of the sorrows in it just melt away from us until it was only me and only Rachel.
"Deal," she laughed out. She then grew quiet for a long moment as we just stared in each other's eyes and listened to the sounds of our breathing. So, it was like some straight-up romance movie shit when she stroked her thumb across my bottom lip in the quiet and whispered, "I love you, Santana."
Tingles exploded at the base of my spine and rippled up the length of it. I sucked in a sharp breath, smiled softly at her, and said, "Right now."
Her brows furrowed as if confused, and I quickly clarified. "You love me right now," I told her, "right?"
"Oh," she whispered before shaking her head. That definitely intrigued me, and what she told me next completely changed my life. I can't tell you why. I can't explain why it seemed so monumental, but it did. It felt like everything.
"I suppose I should tell you now," she said softly. "I meant to sooner, but it simply didn't feel like the right time with the funeral and everything. I just wanted to be there for you."
"What are you talking about?" I asked her. "I'm a little…should I be worried?"
"No, no," she said quickly, leaning in to press a soft kiss to my lips. "It's nothing bad, Santana. In fact, it's wonderful."
Somehow, those words made me even more on edge. My whole body was buzzing with the need to know whatever the hell it was that Rachel was very slowly getting at.
"Okay…" I drawled. "So…what is it?"
She took a deep breath, her eyes never leaving mine, before starting again. "I spoke to my therapist about you. As you know, I had my first appointment a few days ago, and you were the very first topic of discussion. Of course, that was because I was eager to speak with the therapist about you. I went on and on about our budding relationship and how I felt and my worries and your concerns, and honestly, I was starting to think that I was getting on his nerves because he didn't seem to be saying much of anything at first, and I was—"
"Babe," I interjected, smiling like an idiot, "you're rambling."
"Right, sorry," she said with a chuckle as she slipped her hand down my arm and stroked at my palm before lacing our fingers together. "The point is that when he did finally respond, he told me that our relationship and my feelings for you did not resemble a typical hero worship. He said that hero worship typically presented as a heavy infatuation bordering on obsession, and that what I had described to him sounded much deeper, more mutual, and more resembling a legitimate relationship. He also said that the fact that we knew one another before the attack and the fact that our relationship had already been growing was a testament to the legitimacy of our feelings."
My heart was fluttering wildly in my chest, and my eyes were locked hard onto Rachel's as I whispered, "So…?"
She smiled brightly at me, and I could see tears beginning to well in her chocolate eyes as she said, "So, he thinks it is healthy and acceptable for me to continue to explore my feelings for you and allow them to develop."
"So…?" I asked again, and my voice cracked on that single, soft word as I clutched tightly to Rachel's hand beneath the covers.
She let out the softest, most beautiful laugh as she raggedly said, "So, yes, Santana, I love you right now." She then leaned forward and pressed her lips to mine. When she pulled back, just slightly, she locked her gaze with mine again and whispered, "But, if you will let me, I'd also like to love you forever."
Tears slipped silently down my cheeks as I stared into her eyes, unable to move. My breath was caught in my throat and my lungs had started to burn by the time I was finally able to let it out in one rushed sigh. "Really?" I asked her, the word so quiet that I was sure I had only spoken it inside my head, but then she smiled at me.
She smiled at me in a way that made me feel like maybe she'd smile at me like that for the rest of our lives, and she whispered, "Really."
My lips were on hers before I could take another breath, my heart pounding so loudly in my chest that I swear it was like a soundtrack to that moment. I kissed her again and again until her lips were wet and swollen, and when she smiled at me again, I pressed my forehead to hers and nodded, our noses brushing gently.
"Yes?" she asked me softly, her fingers still clenching around mine, and her minty breath touching me in a hot puff of air.
I nodded against her forehead again, my lips dancing across hers as I whispered a gentle "yes" into her mouth.
And we held each other. We held each other for hours, hours that seemed to morph into days that seemed to morph into lifetimes. We held each other, and we had hope.
We had hope for a future that we might actually share together. There were no guarantees. Rachel and I both knew that. We knew that we were young and that life, sometimes, could be so long and so cruel. There were twists and turns, and some people stayed together and some people drifted apart.
And Rachel and I? We had a lot to learn, and we had a lot left to get through. Neither one of us could deny that we still had a long way to go on the path to healing, a lot of growing to do both separately and together.
Our lives had been turned upside down and completely stripped bare after Rachel's attack. It was something we would never forget, could never forget, and it was likely something that would take us many years to truly ever learn to live with and let go of.
But everything, all of that, just melted away in that moment.
In that moment, we were free. In that moment, we loved each other enough to last a lifetime, and whether or not we made it for the long haul, our love in that moment was enough for both of us.
I held her in my arms as I tucked my face into the crook of her neck and breathed her in. She smelled like comfort and she felt like home. And it was in that moment, with my heart slowly mending in my chest, that I realized the truth.
Everything had changed that night in that dark alley. Yeah, I'd saved Rachel's life, but that wasn't all that happened. A door was opened somehow—a door that led to this, this somehow imperfectly perfect moment. It led to this smile and this touch and these quiet confessions. It led to this happiness that neither of us could have ever even dreamed up, this one happiness that couldn't be tainted—the way we felt for each other.
Saving Rachel gave me this light, this love. It gave me this joy that I couldn't even put into words. It gave me strength and comfort and hope, a hope that I'd never had before.
Saving Rachel...saved me.