See part 11a for notes.
They ask her to leave her grandmother's room a little while later. One of the doctors comes to collect her and takes her up to the kids' ward. They give her a private room and tell her to get some sleep but then they leave her alone, teary-eyed and still confused, to think about everything she just learned.
She doesn't understand or really want to think about any of it but her mind won't listen. She sits on the bed in the dark with her brand new over-night bag sitting beside her and just sobs, unable to stop. The patient wristband feels like a shackle and she stares at it as she tries to remind herself that she's saving a life.
The pressure feels so big now, so overwhelming, and everything's so out of her control that she can't breathe.
She can't sleep.
She can't even understand it.
So she sits there in silence and tries not to think about it, tries to think about everything that isn't making her heart break with sadness.
She ends up thinking about Brittany. About how much she wants her. About how much she needs her. For hours, she thinks about how she wishes she were here to hold her hand or maybe just hold her. She wonders how she is, if she's okay, if she's crying too. She thinks about the possibility that maybe she's smiling and it soothes her for the first time all night.
She misses her smile.
It has the ability to always make her feel like everything's better.
She's not sure she knows what she's doing when she picks up her cell and dials Bobby's number. All she knows is that it's almost six am and this is all she's wanted to do all night.
She sniffs away a sob and snuggles into the pillow, pulling the itchy hospital sheets up over her head. “Yeah,” she whispers.
Bobby groans and she hears him rustling around, his bare feet hitting the floor as he sits up.
“Santana,” he whispers. “Santana, it's not even six o'clock in the morning.”
She gulps and nods her head, wiping her tears away with her fingertips. “I know,” she says, whispering just as quietly. “I know, I just... I wanted to call you before...” She shakes her head. “It doesn't matter right now. I just wanted to call you.”
There's a pause and she hears him look around the room, his breath steady and calm. He clears his throat and then she hears him stand up and walk across the room.
“Santana, what's wrong?” he asks quietly and she shakes her head because she shouldn't be doing this. She shouldn't be doing this because Brittany wanted to leave, she wanted to get away from her. She doesn't deserve anything. “Santana, you're scaring me.”
She ignores him and the voice in her head and indulges herself for once. “Is she okay?” she asks quietly.
Bobby sighs. She can almost hear him shaking his head and rubbing at the bridge of his nose like he always did when they'd wake him up too early.
“She's here... she's—she's asleep,” he says after a moment. “She slept in here last night.”
Santana whimpers at the thought. She feels left out even though she doesn't deserve to.
“But—but is she okay?” she asks, voice hitching dangerously.
Bobby breathes quietly on the phone for a while but then he sighs again. She can hear the telltale sign of him sinking back onto the bed. She feels closer to Brittany because of it.
“She's okay,” he whispers. He pauses and Santana holds her breath. “No, actually, I don't think she is,” he admits softly. “She—she's not herself right now.”
Santana tries to muffle her sobs into her palm. When she whispers “I'm sorry” she's not sure what she's apologizing for. She just clutches the phone to her ear and hopes that Bobby won't work out what's wrong, that he won't tell Brittany that she called him sobbing. She waits for him to ask more questions, to question her like he might do in any other circumstance. She's not prepared for him to ask what he does, though, especially when his voice is so soft and gentle.
“Do you love her, Santana?”
She nods her head instantly and sniffs into her palm, she shifts until her cheek can rest against her palm, flat against the bed, and nods again. “I do,” she whispers brokenly.
Bobby makes no sound of shock or anger. He just breathes as gently as he always does until Santana feels it begin to soothe her. “Did you hurt her?” he asks and there's no accusation in his voice, just curiosity.
She gulps and thinks for a moment before nodding.
“I think I did,” she whispers. Her face screws up at the thought, at how unbearable the knowledge of it is. She chokes against her wrist and shakes her head. “I didn't mean to,” she whispers, hoping that it'll help make things a little better.
It's a surprise to her when he doesn't start yelling at her. She braces herself for it, tenses her body for the impact, but the words never come. She wants them to. She thinks, sometimes, that Bobby's the only person who loves Brittany as much as she does. He used to hit people for the sake of protecting Brittany more than she did. If anything, she learned to follow by his example.
But he doesn't do that now. Instead, Bobby sighs and, for the first time, Santana hears him falter.
“Did something happen?” he asks quietly and her breath catches at the question. Her gentle tears feel like they're going to turn into proper sobs of anguish and she doesn't know how to stop them. “What did she do, Honey Bee?”
She doesn't think she'd ever be able to stop them once she hears that. A sob breaks free from her, loud and helpless, and she clutches her hand into the pillow wishing there was a warm, familiar body beneath it. She can't handle this. She can't handle the reminder of what she's lost because when Brittany left she took the place where Santana fit with her. Her cheeks feel warm and sticky with tears and she can hear Bobby hushing her quietly on the end of the line.
“You don't have to tell me if you don't want to,” he whispers quietly and she's glad because she wouldn't know how to explain it to him if she tried.
Her head shakes and, for a minute, she lets herself bask in Bobby's influence. She hadn't realized how much she'd missed him. She's not even sure how long it's been since they spoke. It must have been last summer because she didn't see him at Christmas because of Artie or Spring Break because of how weird everything was. She doesn't know how she didn't realize that she'd missed him.
“She left,” she whispers quietly and feels silly. “I didn't want her to,” her breath catches. “I never want her to.”
Bobby breathes but then she can't hear it for the sound of beeping somewhere nearby and the shouting of nurses as they rush up the hall.
“Santana,” Bobby starts once the line has lapsed into quiet again. “What's wrong? Where are you?”
“It doesn't matter,” she says softly. She doesn't want him to worry about her. He needs to be there. He needs to look after Brittany until Santana can figure out what she wants to do. She's glad when she hears Quinn and Uncle Frank's voices from somewhere down the hall. “I have to go.”
“No,” she whispers. “I'll be okay. I just have to go now.” She shakes her head and sniffs, takes a moment to imagine Brittany in her pajamas, snuggled into Bobby's always-blue bedsheets. “Look after her.”
Bobby's voice catches like he wants to say something but then he breathes out heavily. He pauses and she's seconds away from hanging up when he speaks.
“Always,” he says and the determination in his voice sounds like the feeling she's had inside of her since she was five years-old.
It puts her at ease and she breathes a little easier as she hangs up the phone. She wipes tears from her cheeks as the door opens.
“Were you talking to somebody?” Quinn asks as she steps inside, carrying a fresh cup of coffee and a bagel.
Santana wipes her face subconsciously before she shakes her head.
Her room is quiet and tense with the three of them there. Frank avoids Santana's eyes and she avoids his, not knowing what will happen if she looks up at him and sees all this new knowledge reflected back at her. She feels like it might make this harder.
The nurses bustle in and out of the room, getting things ready and giving her more tests to make sure that everything's okay. They hand her another hospital gown and some socks, telling her to put them on because she'll be going to the OR soon. She takes a deep breath as she holds them, telling herself not to cry and refusing to let the pressure get to her.
Frank leaves the room but Quinn stays behind and messily attempts to fold up her clothes as Santana changes. She's glad for it because the thought of being alone scares her all of a sudden. It makes tingles prick at the ends of her fingers, her heart beat faster, and she worries her hands together as she sits at the edge of the bed and waits.
“You okay?” Quinn says, before Frank comes back in. Her hands work to pull the sheet up over Santana's legs and she easily takes Santana's hand. Santana nods, even though she knows she isn't. It's easier to pretend that she is because she knows that it'll make getting through this easier. It's better than worrying about something that hasn't happened yet.
“I'm fine,” she whispers, even as she wraps and squeezes her fist around Quinn's thumb. “I'm fine.”
More and more people start to come into her room and she doesn't know whether it makes her feel better or worse. Quinn remains sat on the edge of the bed as people move around them, she talks to Santana about the phone call Rachel subjected her to the night before, and never lets go of her hand.
Her thumb strokes over the back of Santana's shivering knuckles and smiles at her comfortingly. Santana doesn't know how or when this switched from her looking after Quinn to Quinn looking after her, but her mind rushes through everything they've been through recently and she figures that maybe that's not the point. Maybe they were always looking after each other.
They put her on an IV drip and she keeps her eyes on Quinn as the same nurse who took her blood test inserts the cannula into the back of her hand. It scratches and freaks her out a bit but Quinn's familiar face in front of her, and the sound of Bobby's voice still fresh in her memory, make her at ease.
When her doctor steps into the room, her heart beats faster. Quinn's bandaged hand moves to cover her own shaking one and she holds it, keeping it steady.
“Go look after Abuela,” she says to Uncle Frank as he leans down to kiss her good luck when they tell her it's time. He pulls back and nods, patting Quinn on the back before leaving.
Quinn holds her hand all the way to the OR and brushes a soothing hand over her cheek when Santana begins to panic at the chaos of people around her. It works because, for a moment, Santana doesn't think about the nurses and doctors and anesthesiologists that surround her. She thinks about Quinn and how she really will be an awesome mom one day because this caring thing really suits her. She's about to tell her when a nurse presses a hand to Quinn's shoulder and tells her this is as far as she can go.
“Quinn—” she whimpers pathetically. Quinn brushes her hair back off her face, tucking a stray dark lock back beneath the surgical cap they forced her to wear.
“I'll wait here,” she says kindly. “I'll see you when you wake up.”
Her hand doesn't leave Santana's until she's forced to let go. Santana squeezes her eyes shut tight, glad that she's got her best friend.
The lights are too bright and there are suddenly too many people wearing surgical scrubs and face masks surrounding her. They tell her how everything's going to go and to not be worried.
Santana barely listens and just keeps nodding her head at everything they say. She just wants it to be over with.
“Okay, Santana,” they say after a few moments of her being poked and prodded. She lets them stick and clip things to her skin without argument. “Can you open your eyes for us?”
She does, but only because she's too anxious not to. A nurse, with her face mask pulled down under her chin, smiles at her and strokes a thumb over her wrist where it lays spread out for the anesthesiologist.
“Good girl,” the nurse smiles, her green eyes kind behind her glasses. Santana wonders what they'll do with her own once she's asleep. She asks the nurse as much in a panic. “We'll keep them safe,” she says gently. “But first we need you to count back from ten as the doctor puts you to sleep, okay?”
She nods and starts when the nurse gives her an encouraging nod. A flurry of movement happens beside her and then she feels a rush as something is flushed into her blood stream.
She thinks she remembers getting to five before she doesn't remember anything at all.
“Santana! Santana, sweetheart, are you going to wake up for us?”
The voices sound like they should be loud but to her it's like they're underwater. They bubble and gurgle and she feels like she's breaking the surface as they jostle her to wake her up.
Her mind is fuzzy but someone told her once that anesthesia makes you partially deaf for a while afterward and the nurses have to yell at you to wake you up.
If she wasn't so groggy, she'd think it's ridiculous. She'd probably want to laugh, but all she feels is cold and sad. Too sad, really. Her throat hurts from where they put the tube down her throat and feels it ache as the tears bubble helplessly up her throat.
The weirdest thing is, she doesn't know why she's crying.
It's kind of lucky that she's still so out of it that she can't feel embarrassed. The only things that really register are the cold that surrounds her—which she knows is another thing caused by the anesthesia—and the ache in her back from the surgery. She slowly realizes that she's on her front and she buries her face into the pillow as the sobs increase.
A hand, unfamiliar and strange, strokes over her back and she doesn't recognize the voice that tries to soothe her.
“My back hurts,” she whimpers and it kind of feels like she's drunk. Her body won't really move how she wants it to and her head is fuzzy. “My back hurts,” she repeats, and the nurses laugh at her a little. She hates it.
“It's okay, sweetie,” the nurse says to her, and she feels another blanket being tossed over her shoulders as she curls more around the pillow her body is resting on. “We'll get you something for your back.” Santana feels something rush up her arm, making her sleepy all over again. “You're going to be a hero,” she thinks she hears the nurse say before her body drifts back off to sleep again. “Heroes get special treatment.”
It's not until they take her back to the ward from the recovery room that she realizes how much she kinda underestimated this surgery. It's been an hour and she still can't really move her legs. Four nurses have to help her pull her body from the gurney onto her bed and she hates them all as they tug her around to make her comfortable.
She feels tired and hates them even more because they keep coming to check on her every few minutes, taking her blood pressure and asking her if she's okay. She keeps telling them that she just feels a little nauseous but they still won't leave her alone.
She's shocked when she opens her eyes and sees Quinn's face looking back at her. Maybe she fell asleep, she doesn't know, but Quinn is sat there and she's smiling wearily at her, like she's not sure what to do.
“How d'you feel?” she asks quietly.
Santana tucks herself tighter around her pillow. She thinks that maybe they've put a couple of pillows behind her but she doesn't care enough to check. She's comfortable, just aware of the pain that's left behind at her lower back. It feels tender and like she probably won't want to touch it for a while.
She takes a deep breath and coughs against the ache in her throat. “I don't know,” she mumbles, letting Quinn pull the blankets up around her chin. “Weird,” she manages to figure out.
Quinn smiles and rests her hand over Santana's. “It's okay,” she says affectionately. “Get some rest and tell me later.”
When she wakes up, Quinn's still there. She doesn't know how long it's been since she closed her eyes but she wants to open them now.
“I'm really sorry...” Santana starts, softly. Quinn moves closer to listen to her and shakes her head when Santana repeats herself. “No, I'm... I'm really sorry that I didn't realize you needed help sooner...” she whispers, her throat still croaky. She wants some water. “I'm sorry you had to turn into a lunatic.”
Quinn laughs and reaches to push her hair out of her face again. Santana feels her mouth rise in a dopey smile. She's not sure what's so funny.
“Don't worry about that now,” she giggles lowly. Her hands are warm on Santana's face. “You just keep enjoying that morphine.”
Santana nods and hums in agreement. “Morphine's awesome,” she breathes, nuzzling her cheek into Quinn's hand.
Quinn's smile widens. “I know,” she agrees. “I know it is.”
She doesn't really become aware of her surroundings until around two o'clock that afternoon. Quinn flicks through the hospital TV channels as Santana remains laying on her front after learning how much it ached to be on her back.
It doesn't bother her so much. It's worth it. She knew it was to be expected but from the comments she's heard the nurses making, she bruises like a peach. When she asked Quinn, the only comment she could make was that it made her hickeys look tame. Santana flushed because she'd completely forgotten about them.
It's kind of boring just laying there and she's really glad when Uncle Frank decides to show up.
She regrets that thought the instant she hears Quinn's panicked “Frank?” and catches sight of his pale, worried face.
Her stomach drops and she's instantly glad there's nothing in her stomach. She clutches the pillow until her knuckles go white and doesn't argue when Quinn takes her hand. They both just wait for Frank to do whatever he has to do as he stands and pants for breath at the foot of the bed.
It's like waiting to be hit by a car or for the ground to fall from beneath your feet. Her heart thumps in her chest and she hears louder beeps where she's still attached to the monitor behind her. Quinn rubs her knuckles to soothe her but it doesn't work. Santana's breathing becomes labored and scared.
“Frank!” Quinn snaps and he gasps out at the sharpness of her voice. Santana can see her flicking between them out of the corner of her eye, shaking her head at Frank to warn him. “What's wrong?” she says quietly, tucking the blankets further around Santana. “Did they give her the transplant yet?”
Frank breathes out and she hears his feet pacing again. After a few moments, she hears a hand slam against the wall before a harsh, bitter “FUCK!” is muffled into his hands. She's crying before he's even spoke.
“No,” he says, breathlessly. “No,” he repeats. “They didn't get a chance to.” She wants to punch him for pacing himself so much. She wants to get up out of this damn bed and shake him until he spills it. She doesn't know who she wants to hurt because she can't. She can still barely feel her legs. “I got there this morning and they said she'd been bad in the night. Within an hour they were taking her back up to the ICU because she could hardly breathe and then about an hour ago her lung collapsed and—” Santana's face falls and she doesn't know what she's meant to do. “Fuck,” Frank says. “I'm so sorry, Santana...” he whispers. “I'm so sorry. They say it's pneumonia.”
“I don't understand,” Quinn says as her hands reach out to brace Santana. Her face screws up against the pain but she ignores the aching and the stiffness of her muscles as she forces Quinn to pass her her clothes. “What does this mean? What does any of this mean?”
Santana whimpers and she flops back against the bed for a moment before forcing herself back up to sit.
“Santana,” her nurse says, gripping her around the shoulders. “You need to lay down; you're going to hurt yourself.”
She shrugs her away, tears streaming down her cheeks as she tugs her sweatpants from Quinn's hands.
“It means she's going to die,” Santana splutters as the nurse, Frank and Quinn all try to grapple control of her flailing arms and push her back to the bed. “Didn't you hear me?” she pushes their hands away and the monitors behind her beep in warning. “She has pneumonia! Pneumonia, Frank. Do you know what the odds of her surviving that without any fucking white blood cells are? Do you? Because I spent my entire fucking life scaring myself with this shit.” Her body buckles a little, her muscles aching. “The odds of her surviving this are nothing,” she whimpers. “Nothing. She's seventy-one years-old and she has leukemia, Uncle Frank. She doesn't stand a chance.”
She slumps and her chin drops to her chest as she realizes how too-exhausted she is to hold it up. Her head still feels woozy from the drugs, her body still aching from the surgery. She just wants to curl up and for someone to hold her. She just wants to feel the warmth and comfort of someone wrapped around her body until she feels strong again. She doesn't want to feel alone and scared and disappointed in herself and the universe anymore. She wants everything to stop going fucking wrong and she wants to live her life in peace.
More than anything, she wishes that she could just live her life in peace without all this hurt constantly settling in her chest and making it difficult to breathe.
Her face falls into her hands, the wire of her IV wrapping around her wrist, as she sobs. She doesn't know what to do. She doesn't know what to do.
After a few minutes, she's aware of Quinn sinking into the spot behind her on the bed as Uncle Frank drops into the one in front of her. His large hands reach to wrap around the back of her head and he pulls her into his shoulder as Quinn carefully strokes up and down her back.
None of the three of them speak but eventually the nurse does. She takes Santana's hand and untangles the wire from around her wrist, making sure everything's still in place. She checks Santana's vitals and then she squeezes past Quinn to check her bandages. There's some tugging and some sharp intakes of breath, but eventually, the nurse covers her back up and forces Santana to look at her.
“I need you to drink some water, eat something and pee,” she whispers gently. “And then I will get you in a wheelchair and make sure you get to your grandmother, okay?”
Santana nods and doesn't argue when three separate hands reach to wipe away her tears.
It's the most powerless she's ever felt.
Her nurse and Quinn help her to get dressed. She lets her body relax, gives control over to them completely, too tired to fight anymore. She's not sure if there's any point anyway.
The nurse eventually leaves to get Santana a wheelchair, leaving Quinn behind with her.
“I'm not going to tell you that everything's going to be okay,” Quinn whispers as she tidies Santana's hair, tucking some of it behind her ear. “I don't know that and I don't want to lie anymore.” Santana looks up at her, swallowing thickly. Quinn tilts her head to the side. “But I will promise you that I'm here.” She shrugs. “Whatever you need, okay?”
Santana looks at her for a second but then she nods. Quinn smiles and she looks more grateful than anything. She reaches to take Santana's glasses from her pocket and Santana doesn't ask any questions, just lets Quinn open the arms and slip them onto her nose.
They wheel her back onto the intensive care unit and she gets deja vu as she catches sight of Uncle Frank, talking quietly to a nurse and a doctor like he'd been when she arrived.
He breathes out when he sees her, stepping towards her quietly, his face the picture of worry.
“Hi, Cookie,” he whispers quietly and she gulps at him as the same doctor from days before steps up beside him.
“Ms. Lopez,” he says kindly. His voice doesn't sound real. It sounds like it's filled with false empathy and pity. She always said that if she were ever a doctor she would never pretend to be something other than what she was. “How are you?”
She shakes her head, doesn't want to talk about her, and attempts to work her mouth around the words she wants to say.
“What—what...” she trails off and clears her throat. “What happened?”
The doctor shakes his head. “We don't know,” he admits. “With her immune system the way it is, the pneumonia could have been caused by anything. That's the problem. It's volatile. Dr. Burns said the nurses noticed that she was having some trouble breathing late last night and they thought it was just left over from her infection. They put her on oxygen but by the morning she could barely breathe.”
Santana blinks and nods. She feels like the smallest person here with all these people stood up around her. She swallows and fights everything inside of her telling her to scream.
“And now?” she whispers.
“She's unconscious,” the doctor tells her gently. “But she's still fighting to breathe on her own.”
“But?” Santana asks, even though she's pretty sure she knows.
The doctor clears his throat and Santana feels Quinn's hand squeeze her shoulder.
“We have to wait and see if she comes around,” the doctor says. “Then we'll have a better chance of determining what we need to do from here. Right now we're pushing antibiotics but, from what we can see, the infection is so fast and severe that the possibility of them working is unlikely.”
Santana's eyes widen because twenty-four hours ago she was going to save her grandmother's life. She was going to have this transplant and then everything would be okay for just a little while longer.
“And the bone marrow?” she chokes, grasping, grappling, scratching for any kind of hope she can.
The doctor sighs and bends down to face her. His hand reaches to grip her other shoulder. “Santana,” he says kindly and she notices how less like a doctor he suddenly looks. “I think we're beyond that now. I think the time for that has passed.”
Santana shakes her head at him. “No,” she whispers angrily, because she doesn't need him—a stranger—coming here and telling her what is and what isn't. He obviously doesn't know her grandmother. He doesn't know who her family is. She's a fighter and there's no way she's giving up now. She's come too far. “She's going to fight this and she's going to live. She's going to fucking live. You watch.”
“No,” she spits. “No!” The tears feel like acid down the back of her already aching throat. Today has been a long day. “You don't get to take her away from me yet. No fucking way. She still has a chance and you're not taking that away yet. Do you understand me?”
The doctor nods, his neck unsure and soft like spaghetti. “Of course,” he whispers.
Immediate family only is what they tell them.
Santana doesn't care what rules they have; she'd ignore all of them if they meant she couldn't sit with her grandmother.
It's different for Quinn and Uncle Frank, though. Quinn quietly tells her she's going to go back to the hotel and Frank, too anxious to sit and wait, tells her he's going for a walk. Santana doesn't really listen to either of them, just asks her nurse to leave her things as one of the ICU nurses wheels her to see her grandmother.
She doesn't realize it's Nurse June until the woman kneels down in front of her and asks her if she needs anything.
“I can get you a chocolate milk, if you want,” she says quietly and Santana shakes her head, touched and saddened by her kindness.
“I just want to sit with her,” she croaks out.
June nods and pats her knee. “Well, I'm here if you need me.” She pauses and looks at Santana pointedly. “For anything.”
The silence is unbearable but she'll wait as long as she needs to. The rhythmic beeps of the machines behind her grandmother are so familiar that she barely even notices them anymore. She just sits and looks out of the window to where the sun begins to set warmly on the horizon.
Nurses and doctors move in and out of the room but none of them talk to her. June occasionally comes in and stands beside her, rests her hands on Santana's shoulder before leaving again. Frank doesn't return and Santana's cell phone is probably dead and out of battery in her bag by now. She doesn't know why it matters. She doesn't know who she'd call.
Maybe Brittany, if she wasn't so scared of how little Brittany probably wanted to talk to her now, how much she can't bear to be near Santana that she ran back across the country to get away from her.
She takes a breath.
God, why didn't she just tell her the truth? Why is she always so fucking late in everything she does?
She leans forward to bury her face in her hands, breathing as steadily as she can. It hurts her back but she doesn't care. The pain is good to concentrate on.
She jumps when she hears something move. Her eyes open wide and she looks up frantically to find its source. She almost bursts into tears with joy when she sees her grandmother's eyes flickering, her body twitching as she fades back into consciousness.
“Abuela?” she whispers uncertainly. She pushes herself as far forward in her wheelchair as she can, still unsteady on her feet. Her grandmother keeps shifting, soft sounds leaving her mouth. “Abuela?” Santana tries again. “Can you hear me?”
She knows she shouldn't but she does it anyway. Her hands brace her against the edge of the bed and she winces a little as she fights against her aching muscles to stand and hover over her grandmother.
“Abuela?” she whispers, hand reaching to touch her grandmother's cheek. “Can you hear me?”
Santana's stomach drops and in a second she feels a tear rolling down her cheek. “No, Abuela, it's me. It's Santana. It's Cookie.”
Her grandmother groans, eyes spaced and delirious as they flicker open to search around. She mumbles softly, a mix of Spanish and English, but Santana still understands it. She still hears the unmistakeable begging for someone who isn't her. It hurts for a million different reasons.
“No, Abuela,” she whispers around a choked whimper of her own. “It's Santana. I'm here.”
When her grandmother begins to sob quietly, Santana sobs out helplessly too. “I want Libby,” her grandmother begs. “F-find Libby. I—I need Libby...”
“Abuela...” she tries but it's useless. Tears roll down her grandmother's cheeks and she doesn't know whether to wipe them away or not. She doesn't know if it's safe.
“I want Libby,” her grandmother whimpers. “That's all I ever wanted. Just her. Why was that so wrong?” she asks and Santana wishes she had an answer almost as much as she wishes her grandmother's voice wasn't rough and struggled from what fills her lungs.“Why is it so wrong for me to want her here? I want her here.”
Santana wipes away her own tears and ignores how her arm quivers from holding up most of her weight. “I know,” she says softly. “I know you do. I know and I'm sorry she's not here. I'm sorry.”
“She is...” Her grandmother struggles on the bed and Santana does do something then. She stops her from rolling or rocking so she doesn't hit the bars that stop her from falling off the bed. “She's here...”
Santana knows this is what happens. It's the fever. It's a symptom of the condition. She tries to hush her grandmother because having to make her realize that Libby isn't here is going to be one of the roughest and hardest things she'll ever have to do. Listening to someone tell you that the person you love isn't there is one of the hardest things to hear.
“She isn't, Abuela,” she whispers brokenly. “She left, remember? She left after Daddy was born.”
Santana pauses at the sudden strength in her grandmother's voice. Her eyes widen and Santana sees the determination in them, the desperation for Santana to understand. Santana stutters, her eyes narrowing as she searches out her grandmother's face. Her grandmother pants for breath as she waits for Santana to realize what she's trying to tell her.
“N—No?” she whispers questioningly.
“No,” her grandmother repeats and Santana watches her but she's not even looking at her anymore. Her eyes have fallen away and she's looking around Santana, beyond her, at something that makes her face fill with relief. Santana feels her heart begin to pound as she slowly prepares herself to turn and see what that thing is.
“Libby...” her grandmother sighs and Santana can't wait anymore. She turns to look in the doorway.
Her breath hitches as she forgets how to breathe.
For a moment, she wonders if she's still unconscious from her surgery.
That thought is taken from her when the woman stood in the doorway takes a timid step closer and smiles.
“Hello,” she says in one of the gentlest voices Santana's ever heard, even as it breaks a little. “My name is Elizabeth... I've heard a lot about you.”
Santana's quiet as she stares at the woman, her eyes wide.
She takes in her graying hair and the green of her eyes, the unmistakeable sharpness of her cheekbones that perfectly match those of the young woman she'd seen in photographs. She takes in her flower-covered scrubs and her bright pink surgical shoes. She takes in her smile and how scared it looks, the warmth of her body as it steps closer to Santana and her grandmother. She watches her with wide eyes as the woman walks and moves, stepping closer to the bed until she forgets Santana's even there and leans down to press her hand to her grandmother's cheek to wipe away her tears. She listens as the woman quietly whispers that she's here now and everything's okay.
It's then that Santana gasps for breath, her body edging backwards until she can fall back into the wheelchair.
Her first coherent thought is that she can't take this anymore.
“Wh—what... what?” she mumbles as she can't fight back the need to sob. The two women look at her, their eyes widening and softening at the sight of her. Santana's almost hyperventilating when Elizabeth steps around the bed and kneels down to look at her.
She presses her hand to Santana's chest and Santana gasps at it in shock. Before now, she could almost pretend that the woman wasn't real, just a story her grandmother told her. Now, her warm hands are pressed to Santana's skin, her green eyes looking at her gently as she quietly checks Santana's pulse. Her grandmother's hand somehow manages to rest in the woman's hair and Santana doesn't know what to do or say, so she just waits for someone to prompt her into action.
“We need to keep an eye on you,” Elizabeth says gently. Her hand falls from where it was counting on the watch attached to the front of her scrubs to squeeze Santana's knee. “You've had a long day.”
Santana feels herself slowly starting to breathe better because of the woman's hand on her chest and she doesn't understand why. “You're...” she starts. “You're here.”
Elizabeth smiles and Santana thinks she hears her breath hitch a little as she opens her mouth to speak. “Oh, sweetheart,” she whispers. “I was always here.”
Santana tilts her head to question but the woman just pats her knee and smiles again. She stands up and Santana watches as she moves back around the bed, leaning over her grandmother to hush her quietly as she whimpers her name. Santana ignores that and finally notices the woman's scrubs.
Has she really been here all along? Did Santana just not notice her?
“It's okay,” Elizabeth whispers, pulling her from her reverie.
Her grandmother clutches at Elizabeth's wrist. “Tell her,” Santana hears her whisper. “Tell her the truth.”
“Shhh...” Libby whispers and Santana just watches, shocked and unfamiliar with this stranger who's touching her grandmother so intimately.
“Tell her,” her grandmother begs. “Please.”
The woman nods and Santana just watches as something quiet and unspoken goes between them. She tries to control her breathing, tries not to burst into tears but, for once, she feels like she doesn't actually know how to. Instead, she watches as knuckles stroke over her grandmother's cheek, as green eyes look into dark, dark brown until it feels like she's intruding on two people in their own little world.
“Okay,” Libby says after a moment. Her voice is nothing but a hum. “I'll tell her.” She smiles. “But you make sure you warn me if I'm telling it wrong, okay?” Her grandmother just blinks in response as Libby reaches for an oxygen mask and begins to slip it over her face. “Okay.”
Santana's still as the woman maneuvers herself so that her body is laying half on, half off the bed. Her eyes don't move away from watching the woman's hand as, at first, it strokes her grandmother's hip, before steadily moving back up to cup her cheek and stroke her face. Green eyes don't look at Santana—they look at her grandmother—and, after a few moments, Santana realizes the hand her grandmother has clutched at the back of the woman's scrubs, keeping her close.
“I did what I promised to do,” Elizabeth starts. “I promised I'd stay away and I did. I moved back to New Orleans and I got my nursing degree but I moved back eventually. I moved back to Miami because I promised to wait for her and that's what I did. I waited and then she came and found me.” Her eyes soften as she smiles. “Didn'tcha?” she breathes gently. “You went looking everywhere but the one place you should have found me but, it's okay, you found me in the end.” Her eyes suddenly snap to Santana. “In May of last year, she found me. I was working at a hospital in Fort Lauderdale and I got out of work one day and she was sat there waiting for me in that ridiculous Cadillac of hers.” She chuckles. “We didn't even have to say anything, did we?”
Santana feels her heart break when her grandmother shakes her head in agreement.
“We thought that was it, that we wouldn't have to wait anymore and that we could just finally be together,” Libby breathes. “I waited so long and I finally got to date My Elena.” Her grandmother smiles lazily and Santana feels her mouth quirking at the corners too. “I finally got to have her and then one day she just... started getting sick.” She shakes her head woefully. “She refused to admit it at first but there were bruises and she was just...” Her grandmother's hand drifts up to grip at the wrist of the hand on her cheek. “I was a mess,” she goes on. “A complete mess, at first, but then I found hope. I always had hope when it came to you,” she whispers to her grandmother and Santana's breath chokes. “I told her she had to tell your father, and you, of course,” she nods her head at Santana. “She didn't want to but I forced her and she did, last thanksgiving.”
“Thanksgiving?” Santana says because, somewhere, in the back of her mind, things start to clear of dust and make sense.
Libby nods. “When you'd gone back to school, before she caught her plane, she told your parents. They told her to move to Ohio but...” she shakes her head and without even pausing leans forward to kiss her grandmother's forehead. “...when she told them she wasn't going to because I was going to look after her, they told her she was crazy. They told her she was being ridiculous and the more she refused, the less cooperative they became. They started threatening her, saying that she was always trying to ruin your family.” She bites the words out and sounds angry. If Santana knew her better, she might know but she sounds angry. “She refused everything until they played their last hand...”
She turns to Santana and her smile is watery. Santana's brow quirks. “Me?”
Libby nods. Her grandmother's looking at her now too. “They told her that they didn't want you to be exposed to this, that she wasn't allowed to see you until she stopped with this 'nonsense' and I'm so sorry she was so stubborn. I told her to do whatever they wanted but she wouldn't... she wouldn't.” Santana's shell-shocked, stunned and aching more than she knew she could as the woman speaks. “She came home and she tried to get better but nothing was working. I quit work to look after her but... nothing. So, about a month ago, I called your father and asked that, if he wasn't going to do anything, he could at least let her see you one more time and he agreed just as long as we didn't tell you about the leukemia... or me.”
Santana feels her body slump. She feels like she's been used. She falls back against the chair and sobs.
“But she wanted to see you one last time,” Libby tells her. “She wanted to say goodbye and she never thought you would try and save her. That's never what she wanted. She never wanted to use you for the gift you so happily tried to give her.” Elizabeth's voice chokes up as her grandmother stares wide-eyed between them. “She just wanted to say goodbye.”
Her grandmother's hand reaches for her unsteadily and Santana leans forward and takes it without a second thought. She curls both her hands around her grandmother's and kisses her knuckles, desperate to cling to her for as long as she can. She can't lose her... she's all she has.
She gasps against her skin and shakes her head, lets this woman she barely knows take her hand from her grandmother's cheek to rest it in her own messy hair. She knows that she understands how this feels.
“I would have done it either way,” Santana says around a sob as she looks up at them both. Her lungs ache but she knows it's nothing compared to what her grandmother feels. “I would have done it anyway, you know that? If you'd have asked, I would have done it.”
When they both nod, she feels absolved.
Her grandmother starts to drift in and out of consciousness, her breathing labored and heavy. It sparks fear in Santana, fear of the inevitable and she lets Libby stand behind her with her hands on her shoulders as the doctors check over her to see what's happening.
There's another chest x-ray and a million people listening to her grandmother's chest. Nurses pump her with more drugs but, after a few hours, the doctor turns to them, his face blank.
Santana knows what's coming before he even opens his mouth.
“I'm sorry,” he says in a whisper, like that will help soften the blow. Santana doesn't even question how Libby's hands pull her shoulders against her, her thumbs stroking soothingly. “The antibiotics aren't working and we can try to drain some of the fluid but it would do more harm than good. Her lungs...” the doctor falters. “Her lungs just aren't strong enough.”
And then he pauses before he says the one thing Santana doesn't want to hear.
“I'm sorry,” he breathes and she can almost hear guilt in his voice. “There's nothing more we can do.”
Libby sits on one side of the bed while Santana sits on the other. Nurse June got them both a comfy chair but Santana doesn't really care about that now. She's pretty sure that Libby doesn't either. Her body slumps sleepily over the side of the bed, one hand clutched around her grandmother's wrist and the other thrown over her grandmother's thighs. Santana resists the urge to hold it with her own spare hand that isn't clutching her grandmother's. She wonders what it must have been like to sit and hope and for it to come to this. She wonders how exhausting it was.
“Are you... okay?” someone asks and Santana jolts a little to look up to see her grandmother looking at her with worried eyes.
Santana tries to smile. “Don't worry about that.”
Her grandmother smiles, her eyes rolling back into her head a little. Santana knows that, soon, the oxygen in her lungs will become so low that she'll probably not wake up again, that they'll have to wait until she stops breathing all together.
Her grandmother's hand twitches in her own. “But I do,” she struggles. “I want to know...” she takes in a breath that makes Santana wince. She almost wants to put the mask more comfortably back on her grandmother's face from where it's fallen to the side. “I want to know... what you're thinking about.”
Santana blinks away tears and tries to smile again. It's hard. “I'm thinking about you,” she whispers. “I'm thinking about you and—and how much I wanted you to see me graduate.” She sniffs away the tingling of tears that aches at her cheeks and the back of her throat. “I'm thinking about how you won't get to see me get married to...” She trails off before she says something she doesn't want to jinx. “You were supposed to see me get married,” she tries again. “And—and have babies and...”
Her grandmother weakly squeezes her hand in Santana's own. “I know...” she blinks. “I know,” she repeats and Santana looks up at her. “But... but the thought that you will? That's enough for me.”
Santana bites back a whimper. “Yeah?”
“Yes,” her grandmother nods and her smile is wider now. She swallows gently. “Brittany... loves you,” she whispers. “She loves you and just because she's not here now doesn't make that any different.” Her grandmother shrugs off Santana's hand until she can rest her own over it, until her thumb strokes tiredly over Santana's knuckles. “Trust me,” she breathes. “I know these things... Just because... something hasn't happened yet... doesn't mean it won't later.”
Santana smiles. “Yeah?”
“Some things...” she gulps and Santana watches as a tear squeezes its way from the corner of her eye. “Some things are meant to be.”
The look in her eyes is unstoppable, the reassurance and the certainty something that Santana wouldn't dare try to argue with. She feels it wrap its way around her as her grandmother looks at her softly and, as Libby jolts back into wakefulness across from her, Santana finds it hard to deny that, sometimes, what her grandmother's saying is true.
The only light in the room comes from the small lamp above her grandmother's bed that beams down softly on all three of them.
Santana's eyes don't move from watching her grandmother. She watches as she breathes out and looks around, seeking out Libby where she's moved further up the bed to keep a closer eye on her.
Libby practically jumps when her grandmother calls her name, bends over her and strokes her cheek again, lifting the oxygen mask from her face to listen to her.
“What's wrong, my love?” she breathes. Santana blinks out another wave of tears.
Her grandmother sighs, her eyes fluttering. “Lay with me,” she requests. Libby does, climbing onto the bed and wrapping an arm around her waist until she can grip at her grandmother's hand where it still covers Santana's. Santana watches curiously as her grandmother looks at her, really looks at her, even as her eyes begin to close again. “I'm tired,” she whispers.
Libby's face flashes with something and she swallows, sucking in her bottom lip.
“Okay,” she whispers and her voice is strange, struggled, scared. “Okay, my love.”
Her grandmother nods. “I think... I think you better call a priest,” she whispers and Santana doesn't know why, but terror rushes through her body at the thought.
Libby just smiles at her. “Okay,” she nods. “Whatever you need.”
The priest looks at the sight of Libby laying beside her grandmother and narrows his eyes. Santana looks at him until he stops quietly judging them and begins to say all the things he's supposed to say.
Santana doesn't listen to any of it. She just covers her spare hand over Libby and her grandmother's until they're both sandwiched between her own. Her lips linger over her grandmother's wrist and she kisses against it as she closes her eyes and braces herself for everything.
It takes her a few moments to realize that she's praying and even longer for her to wonder why.
It's been a long time but, she's willing to try anything.
The priest leaves them alone.
Santana understands because she feels like she's intruding, as she watches her grandmother and Libby look at each other. For a moment, she questions if she should leave but knows they would never let her. Neither of them.
“Libby...” her grandmother whispers again and Santana wonders, in the pause between her words, how long she must have wanted to just call her that, to call her Libby, to call her her own. “I'm tired,” she eventually says again. It's quieter this time.
Libby leans forward and kisses her forehead, her temple, her cheek. “Then you should go to sleep,” she whispers. “It's okay.”
Her grandmother tries to nod. “Okay,” she whispers from beneath her oxygen mask. “But...but... can you kiss me first?”
Santana watches, her lip trembling as Libby pulls her hand from Santana's grasp and strokes it over her grandmother's jaw. She quietly removes the oxygen mask from her face and cradles her grandmother's head in her hand. She looks at her softly and it's hard not to see the fear in her face, the reluctance.
“I love you... Miss Elizabeth,” her grandmother says softly. Her tired brown eyes search out green ones and she smiles a little when she finally focuses. “My Libby...” she breathes proudly.
Libby gasps out a sob but she's smiling and Santana doesn't understand but then she does. She does and it makes her bury her nose into the back of her hand to stop herself from sobbing and ruining this moment that doesn't belong to her.
“Yours,” Libby nods in agreement. “Always yours.” She leans forward and takes that moment to kiss her, to press their lips together for as long as she can. When she pulls back, there are tears on her grandmother's cheeks that Libby promptly wipes away. “I love you,” she tells her softly. “I always will.”
Her grandmother nods softly and she looks so peaceful that Santana can't look away. It's almost like she isn't real. Libby chokes out a sob and kisses her again, kisses every part of her skin she can see and reach.
“Don't go too far, okay?” Libby asks and Santana doesn't know what to do. She muffles her sobs into her hand and tries to pretend she isn't there, even as she feels more honored than she's ever felt to witness this moment.
Her grandmother gives Libby a look and then she smiles, wide and happy and relieved. She shakes her head in as much adamant refusal as she can. She nudges her nose against Libby's until Libby pulls their faces together as close as she can.
When she speaks, her voice is a whisper, meant only for one person.
“I'll wait for you,” Santana hears her say and she knows it's a promise. She knows, beyond anything, that between them, it couldn't be anything but a promise that they'll always keep.
Libby smiles and then she slips her hand from her grandmother's cheek, reaches down to cover Santana's with it, before resting her head on the pillow beside her grandmother's.
Without a word, Santana removes her hand from beneath Libby's and places it atop it. She kisses the back of her knuckles, before resting her cheek softly against it.
For a moment, everything goes quiet before Libby speaks.
“Go to sleep,” she whispers. “Go to sleep, my love.”
The machines keep beeping behind her, their rhythms slowing as Santana and Libby wait for them to stop. Somewhere in the hours after her grandmother slips out of consciousness for the last time, the door opens and Santana barely turns to see a doctor and Nurse June step in, Uncle Frank following, until she closes it behind them.
They talk in hushed whispers until Frank sits himself in Libby's vacated chair and reaches forward to hold her grandmother's knee. Santana doesn't look at him, doesn't look at any of them. She feels indescribably empty as she concentrates on the slow, struggled rise and fall of her grandmother's chest.
It's easier than listening to the beeps of the machines.
She doesn't know how long it takes, just that she wouldn't miss a second of it for the world. She doesn't know how people take another person's breath for granted so easily.
In the hours they all sit and wait, the sound of her grandmother's breathing is the loudest and quietest thing in the room.
Until it stops, and the room falls into silence.
Santana jerks at the sudden buzzing of the machines, thankful when Nurse June leans over and switches them off.
“Time of death,” the doctor says quietly. “Three-twenty-two.”
Uncle Frank cries, but Santana and Libby don't.
They share a look as Libby wordlessly pulls her grandmother's hand from Santana's and places it in her lap before tapping her hand on the empty space where it sat.
“C'mon,” she whispers quietly and Santana does as she's told, accepting the help Nurse June gives her in putting down the side of the bed so Santana can crawl into the space beside her grandmother.
As she holds her, she's glad that, for a moment, all she feels is relief.
Uncle Frank leaves at some point but Santana stays, her hand covering her grandmother's. It's weird but she likes it. She feels like a little kid again, sneaking into her abuela's bed before she wakes up.
“Just let me know when you're ready,” Nurse June whispers, covering Libby's hand. “And I'll come in and get everything sorted.”
Libby nods. “Thank you,” she says. “But I think I want to do it myself.”
June smiles kindly and then squeezes Libby's hand.
“Of course,” she nods, and then she's gone.
She doesn't know how much longer they lay there but, eventually, Libby takes a deep breath and turns away from her grandmother's face to look at Santana. Santana looks back at her and notices how tired she looks at the same time she looks at peace.
“Would you like to help me tuck her in?” she asks quietly and Santana gulps at the dryness of her throat before nodding.
They tidy her up, Libby giving quiet instruction that Santana follows without argument. They tuck the blankets around her and Santana doesn't say anything when Libby comments that they don't want her to get cold. It doesn't matter that she will, just that they don't want her to.
“Was it worth it?” Santana says suddenly, catching herself off guard as well as Libby. The woman looks up at her and narrows her eyes from where she straightens her grandmother's headscarf. Santana takes in a breath that hitches in her throat. “Waiting... all that time... all that loneliness. Was it worth it? Just for a year?”
Libby looks away from her, her eyes gliding over her grandmother reverently. Wordlessly, her hands stroke over her arms, her hands, her body now removed of all the things that were keeping her alive. She really does look like she's sleeping.
When Libby looks at her, her green eyes are brimming with tears and happiness and pride. Santana gasps at it in shock as Libby nods adamantly.
“An hour would have been worth it,” she says earnestly. “A minute.”
She smiles proudly.
Santana cries, but not for her grandmother.