Chapter Eight: Just Love Her

When Hiram and Leroy came back into the waiting room after only ten minutes of being with Rachel, both Quinn and I looked up in surprise, confused as to why their visit had been so brief, but I guessed that maybe Rachel was still sleeping. She'd had a rough go of it after all. After the surgery, Dr. Hart had told us that there had been a few complications while Rachel was under. One of her lungs had collapsed, punctured by the jagged edge of a fractured rib, and her stats had briefly plummeted before they were able to repair the damage and thankfully stabilize her again. He said that while it would be a slow and painful process, he expected that, physically, Rachel would fully recover within six months to a year.

Hiram settled into the chair next to Quinn, wiping at his cheeks and sniffling quietly as his gaze devoured the floor. Q and I looked at each other worriedly, unsure of whether we should even ask or say anything at all, but before either of us could come to a conclusion, I felt Leroy's hand settle on my shoulder as he moved to stand next to me. My body trembled subtly as I turned to look up at him, afraid of what he might say, but when he did finally say something, my heart swelled in my chest.

"We tried to talk to her, tried to talk to her about what happened, but she was upset. She wouldn't even let us touch her. She's…" his voice cracked a bit and so he paused, swallowing thickly as he collected himself. "She just keeps saying the same thing over and over again. Your name, Santana. Sweetie, she only wants to see you."

I let out a shaky breath as my pulse fluttered wildly, my blood scorching through my veins, and suddenly I was terrified. I was elated to see Rachel, of course, to see with my own eyes that she was alive and okay, but at the same time, I was so fucking nervous I could hardly breathe. What was I supposed to say to her? How was I supposed to comfort her if her own fathers had been unable to?

I remembered what that detective had said—that I should be prepared for this, that Rachel might cling to me, but it didn't mean that I was ready for that. I wanted to be a rock for her. I really did, but I was such a damn mess myself. If I couldn't keep it together for five minutes on my own, then how the hell was I supposed to keep it together for Rachel who would undoubtedly be an infinitely larger mess than I was? God, it should be Quinn. She's the strong one. She would know what to do, what to say. She would be able to be Rachel's rock, but not me. I wasn't the one Rachel really needed, no matter how much she might think that I was. I was terrified that all I would ever be able to really do was disappoint her, hurt her worse than she was already hurt.

"You can do this," I heard Quinn whisper in my ear as she squeezed my hand. See? There she was again, being the fucking hero that I supposedly was. It was her. It had always been her. She was the one whose friendship Rachel had always coveted and fought for. She was the one who Rachel had always idolized, and she was the one who knew Rachel the best. It should be her.

I turned to look at her, and I could only imagine how terrified I must look in that moment. If my face looked anything like how I felt then I'm surprised people weren't lining up right there in the hospital waiting room to cast my ass in the next major horror flick, because my heart was fucking hammering like an axe murderer had just burst into the damn room. "I don't know what to do, Q," I whispered to her, my voice a panicked, trembling mess as I tried to lose myself in the comfort of her hazel eyes and just escape the feeling of Leroy's hand on my shoulder. It felt so heavy in that moment, like it was full of a million hopes and expectations all weighing down on me like the world had just crashed and crumbled on top of me. "What…what do I do, Q? What do I do?"

She smiled sadly at me, and that was when I noticed her bottom lip trembling. Her eyes were wide and glistening as if she was desperately trying to fight back tears and just be strong for me, and suddenly I felt guilty. Since the moment Quinn had walked into that waiting room, she'd been nothing but my strength and my comfort, and I hadn't even been able to get over my own fucked-up trauma just long enough to try and comfort her in return. God, I sucked.

"I don't know," she whispered back to me, shaking her head a little as a single tear fell from one of her eyes and she instantly reached up to wipe it away. "But I think maybe…maybe you go in there, and you just love her. Just love her, Santana."

We stared at each other for a long time, both of us crying silently and both of us terrified and both of us just trying to figure out how the hell we were going to get past this, all of us, including Rachel. I let Quinn's words sink into me, and they played in my head on repeat as I nodded and slowly lifted myself up out of my chair.

Just love her.

My heart hammered rapidly in my chest with every step I took through the halls of the hospital, but every other part of me felt like I was moving in slow motion.

Just love her.

Everything seemed to speed past me, all the nurses and doctors scurrying about, none of them paying me any mind. Now that I wasn't covered in blood, I guess I no longer warranted any attention. I couldn't help but be relieved by that. I hated feeling their eyes on me before. It only reminded me that everything Rachel and I had been through that night had been unnatural and unkind and so…fucking…wrong.

Just love her.

Sounds bounced around me as I creeped down the hallway, my steps small and slow. Machines beeped. Fingers clicked rapidly over keyboards. Pens scratched on charts. Doctors and nurses whispered to one another or chatted quietly. Feet shuffled and scuffed about on the tiled floors. Doors clicked open and closed. Elevators dinged their arrivals. And everything just sounded too loud…too overbearing. I tried to block them out, but they kept digging into me, so I focused on my steps, Quinn's words still echoing in my head along with the sound of my own frantic heartbeat. Walk Santana, I told myself. Just keep walking.

Just love her.

The air felt so thick around me that it was like breathing cough syrup and I nearly gagged as it spilled into my lungs and stayed there, churning, bubbling, and threatening to drown me from the inside out. My skin felt sticky with sweat and anxiety, and my hands and feet tingled—it was like that pins-and-needles feeling you get when your limbs have fallen asleep after staying in the same position for too long. I hated it. Every part of me was aching, and that ache wouldn't stop. It just kept burrowing further and further until it lived in my every cell.

Just love her.

Colors ripped past me, the bright greens and blues of scrubs as the hospital's employees flitted around. They blurred and blended and made my eyes water painfully or maybe they'd been watering since before I'd ever even left my seat in the waiting room. God knows I'd been crying for what felt like decades at this point.

Just love her.

I don't even know how it was that I finally got to my destination. I hadn't even really been paying attention to where I was going, too lost inside my head; too lost inside Quinn's words. But there I was all of a sudden…staring through the large glass windows separating me from where the source of my anxiety restlessly wriggled around in a large, white hospital bed.

And there she was…Rachel. She'd been cleaned up, and her face was no longer streaked with grime, but there were tear tracks on her cheeks. Her eyes were glancing around to the sides of her bed and behind her, taking in the machines and their various sounds and screens. I could only imagine how scared she must be.

Just love her, Santana.

And with that thought still rolling around inside my head and inside my heart, I took a deep, steadying breath and stepped around the glass and into Rachel's room. Within seconds, her deep, chocolate eyes locked onto mine and instantly softened.

"Santana," she whispered, and my name sounded different on her tongue than I'd ever heard it sound before…almost as if she had spoken it with reverence, with love. The sound of it sank into me, melting through my flesh and dancing around inside my heart, and suddenly I felt like maybe we would be okay, Rachel and me…maybe we could come back from this. Together.

She just kept staring into me as I shuffled awkwardly, shifting my weight from leg to leg as I stood silently at the foot of her bed. I didn't have the slightest clue as to why, but the way she was looking at me, her eyes so full of something…something I'd never seen there before, it touched me. It fluttered wildly in my gut and I just wanted to wrap around her and never fucking let go.

Finally, after another long moment of silence, she spoke to me again. "Come here," she said, her voice gravelly but still beautiful. I swallowed thickly and fought the tears threatening to escape again as I nodded and moved around to the side of her bed, ever closer to her. She reached out a weak, tired hand and wrapped it around my wrist before tugging gently at me, pulling me down to sit on the bed beside her.

When I settled gingerly on the edge of her bed, her hand slid down from my wrist and wrapped around my own hand, and I don't know why, but I immediately flipped her hand over and laced our fingers together, squeezing tightly for only a moment before easing up. The silence settled over us again as we both just stared down at our interlocked fingers, but it didn't feel awkward like all the other silences had felt that night. It didn't feel heavy or uncomfortable. It just was…it was nice.

"They said you carried me," she whispered after a long time, and I instantly felt bile rising up my throat as those haunting images swam around behind my eyes again, but I choked it back down and clenched my eyes tightly closed. I felt tears slide down my cheeks but I didn't wipe them away as Rachel whispered to me again. "My dads...they said you picked me up and you ran with me in your arms all the way here."

I kept my eyes tightly closed as I shakily let out a breath and said, "Anyone…anyone would have done the same th—"

"It wasn't anyone, Santana," she rasped, cutting me off quickly, and her voice…it was still so full of reverence, so full that I could hardly breathe in the wake of it. "It was you."

I finally let myself open my eyes and they instantly locked with Rachel's. She smiled softly at me, though her eyes reflected the pain she felt in every part of her, and I felt my heart break all over again.

"You saved my life," she said softly and then she reached up with her free hand, wincing in pain for only a moment before wrapping her fingers in the neck of my gift-shop shirt and pulling me down until my face was practically touching hers. My heart was thudding so heavily in my chest that I was sure she could hear it, and my mind was fucking racing, because her nose was brushing mine and I didn't know what the hell was happening. And then before I could internally freak out any further, she very gently pressed her lips to mine. It was only a second or not even a second, more like a millisecond, but I swear to fucking god that my heart just exploded in my chest like a barrel full of dynamite, and when she pulled back, she caressed my cheek and whispered, "Thank you, Santana."

It was a kiss of gratitude, and I guessed she'd only kissed me because she had a few fractured ribs and it'd hurt too much to hug me. I told myself it didn't mean anything. Nope. Nope. Nope. Don't go there, Santana. This was Rachel Freaking Berry; repeat, Rachel-Freaking-Berry. It was just a kiss, a barely there brush of lips that Rachel had given me just to thank me for saving her life, nothing more. But god, for some reason, it felt like so much more than that.

I suddenly had the urge to lift a hand and touch my lips where hers had only just barely been, but I fought the urge and pulled back instead, squeezing tightly to the hand still wrapped in my own and smiling softly down at her.

"Thank you for not dying on me," I whispered back to her as tears continued to slip down my cheeks, and then the silence settled in again and she sighed, a small comforted sigh that sounded like heaven. She was alive, and she would be okay…one way or another, she would be okay. We both would.

Just love her, Santana.

Quinn's words drifted through my head again as I sat there quietly with Rachel, watching her drift off to sleep, and I suddenly realized that maybe I did…maybe I had for a long time. Or at least…maybe I could.