Quinn was asleep in her apartment when her phone rang (of course she was because she had no social life and it was 4 am), she grumbled, cursed and managed to grab it.
"Lo?" she said, any more than that was too much effort.
"Quinn?" it was Puck and it was too damn early for his shit.
"Noah, I'm not in the mood for-"
"Quinn, Brittany's dead," he bit out and she could tell the words were choking him.
The words also sobered her like a face full of ice cold water, "What?"
"A truck hit her, it wasn't her fault, but it hit her and it totaled her car," he was crying (she didn't know it yet, but she was too).
"Wha… wait… I don't…" it was too much tragedy, too fast, too early in the morning.
"It happened earlier, like seven last night and her parents were the first ones informed, but they are so stressed and," (his sobbing makes him hard to understand and Quinn's face is scrunched with the effort) "they called me to do it, but I can't Quinn, call me a coward or whatever, but I can't."
"I can't tell Santana."
Everything inside of Quinn froze and she looked at the receiver like it was a child rapist, she couldn't believe he woke her to put this burden on her shoulders. She could kill him! (she totally understands)
"Puck I can't…"
"Quinn she needs to come down to the morgue and identify the body." (Quinn can taste bile and she really wants to turn back time, unplug her phone and sleep guilt free)
"Why are you putting this on me?" she snapped and she could hear her own desperation and sorrow, making it all the more real.
"Because you're stronger than me, I can't do anything for her, I-" she hears him breaking down on the other end so she quits fighting it because she knows he won't do it and she won't be able sleep until someone does (which will take forever for someone to do because who volunteers for this?).
She tells him she'll do it (she is beginning to think that maybe she really is a masochist), and she is up, dressed and out the door in minutes.
It's raining (how cliché) and she cries loudly and messily in her car since the rain will wash it all away once she gets out and she knows that Santana is going to need her to be done with the tears.
She takes the long way, stops at all the yellow lights and even buys a cup of coffee (from a very worried street vendor who never asked what was wrong because this is New York) just to give herself enough time to cry herself dry. Then, an hour and a half later, she was standing in front of Santana's door with her finger over the buzzer and her heart slamming into her ribs.
Fifteen more minutes passed before she had the courage to press it and the sound made her heart speed up. There was no answer for the first three rings and for a moment she felt like maybe she was off the hook. If there was no answer then there was no way she could tell Santana anything. Then a groggy voice answered and her heart sank to her stomach and stayed there.
Quinn almost started crying again at the sound of her voice, but forced herself to pull it together.
"Santana it's Quinn," she said secretly proud of how strong her voice was.
"What the fuck Q it's like five in the morning."
"I know. Santana let me in please."
There was no answer, but the door buzzed and she pulled it open and began her long walk to the elevator.
As she stood inside the sterile metal box she tried to think of how in the hell to break the news. Puck had been too blunt… or had he? What was the right thing to do? She never seemed to know anymore and she missed the days when she had plans for everything whether they worked or not.
The elevator stopped (way too soon, she needed at least another three years), she stepped out, walked over to the door and knocked.
Santana stood there in boy shorts and a white t-shirt with a bad case of bed head that made her look so cute, and Quinn wished so much that she could make the other woman smile one more time, because she knows what she is going to say will take happiness away from her forever.
"Come on in," she said turning to go to the kitchen rubbing her eyes sleepily.
"Santana-" she starts, but her throat locks (a defense mechanism against causing so damn much pain?).
"What?" she growls and walks into the guest bedroom (they were going to make it a nursery…) and Quinn realizes with a gut wrenching pang that she's looking for Brittany.
"Santana come here," she says because she can't watch Santana's sleepy wanderings another second without bursting into tears.
The other woman walked over to her with a grumpy frown on her face and looked exasperatedly at Quinn, "What? I'm right here."
Quinn does the only thing she knows to do and pulls Santana into a tight hug (because she is going to break to pieces and something has to hold her together).
"Sweetheart, Brittany died in a car crash last night."
She feels Santana stiffen against her before violently wrenching away, "What?"
"I'm so sorry." (it's lame, but seriously what the hell else should she say?)
Santana turns and resumes her search in earnest, calling out for someone who is no longer there, who is no longer anywhere. When it is clear there is no one in the house but her and Quinn she comes back looking like a ghost of her former self, a terrified panicking ghost.
"She was on her way home from a photo shoot, she… she should be here."
"I'm so sorry."
Santana looked like she couldn't even take it in, like the words were too much, "Wait, where did you say she was?" ('thought not' went through Quinn's mind)
"Santana she died. She's at the morgue," she was blunt because anything less wouldn't get through. Excess words would only give her hope to cling to that Quinn just didn't have the energy to take from her.
"You're lying! She was fine a few hours ago!" she snapped, but Quinn just stood still, she watched her dash off into the kitchen again as if Brittany might be hiding there. Then she came back out looking paler still, "She didn't eat the dinner I left her in the microwave," she said pointing as if it mattered at all, "She always eats it, even if she's not hungry…" her face began to fall further and she looked Quinn in the eye for the first time since the blonde had broken the news, "Are you sure?" the question was weak and small and so desperate for hope Quinn couldn't give.
"They need you to identify her, but yes we're pretty sure."
Then an look passed over her face (one that would haunt Quinn for the rest of her life), a look that told her it had sunk in, and she knew she was watching the only person she had ever loved shatter like a china cup thrown off a ten story building. She was watching Santana die inside.
Quickly she pulled her into that same hug again, tight and binding, because she knew what was going to happen and when Santana's knees buckled under her Quinn brought her carefully to the ground. She could feel the tears before she heard the most gut twisting sob break out of her mouth and the apartment was filled with the sounds of her sorrow. Quinn sat on the floor holding Santana tightly, holding her together because if she let go the smaller woman would surely break apart on the outside as well.
It was hours before Santana cried herself hoarse, a few more before she had no more tears and only two before she fell asleep, sobbing even in her state of rest. And all through it Quinn stayed at her side, determinedly not crying because she knew there was so much more to get through. The first hurdle came three hours later when Santana woke with the light in her eyes that said she had forgotten, then reality grabbed it's steel bat and hit her in the face as hard as it could and she was back to sobbing uncontrollably.
Quinn had to call out of work for two days in a row to stay with her friend before she finally got her up and dressed (but no less weepy), and to the morgue. Quinn already knew the only reason Santana agreed to go was because then maybe she could prove it wasn't true, maybe it would be some other blonde with a similar car.
Puck (clearly guilt tripping hard) got Rachel and Kurt to join him in being there for Santana at this juncture and, though it was a little late, Quinn was thankful.
A withered old man showed Santana the body and Quinn didn't even have to ask when she saw the brunette vault to the sink and throw up absolutely everything Quinn had worked so hard to get her to eat. Kurt and Rachel rushed to her side, cleaned her up and said soothing words while Quinn talked to the coroner with Puck.
They collect the necessary papers and the old man wheels Brittany away humming jauntily (like she's a damn pastry cart), and Quinn has to try not to hit him.
She takes Santana home, and Kurt, Rachel and Puck follow. They stay, and offer condolences (none of which are acknowledged because Santana had become a zombie), but eventually they all go home. Everyone but Quinn who remains because as much as she wants to leave and go to bed in her own room and just cry for a few days she doesn't trust Santana alone.
So she stays.
She even calls in all her sick days (her boss warns her that her future as Dean is in jeopardy, but who gives a fuck when Santana is comatose with grief) and stays until the funeral. Which is a whole new bag of suck because everyone is crying and it is so hard not to join them, but she stays strong, keeping Santana standing through the whole thing, and though the other woman hasn't said a single word since her initial breakdown Quinn hears the tiniest moan of despair when the coffin is lowered into the ground. It was almost no noise at all, but she heard it. She holds Santana tightly again because she's shaking and even though she's not crying Quinn can tell she's breaking again.
There were countless statements of 'Sorry for your loss' and 'If there's anything I can do…' but again the day ends and it's just Santana and Quinn (she knows why they're not around. The only thing sadder in the whole world than Brittany dying was her leaving Santana. She would be long gone too if she didn't love the woman so damn much) and it's just them for the weeks to come.
For the months to come.
Quinn had eventually just moved Santana to her apartment (with zero complaint from the other woman because she never said anything anymore, and she never went to work hence the need for the move) and set her up in one of her guest rooms where she sat staring at a wall all day until Quinn came home (and then she would stare at the floor).
She had to be reminded to eat, sleep and bathe and it was so depressing to be in a house with her, even when she couldn't see Santana she could feel her sorrow in the air. Unless she could just plain hear it which wasn't unusual because the only way Quinn heard Santana's voice was when she cried into her pillow at night.
After seven months Santana was still a shell, she just moved from one location in the house to the next and she never left unless Quinn forced her (which was pointless seeing as how everywhere they went Santana would just sit staring blankly ahead). There were visitors for both of them now and again and even Mr. and Mrs. Pierce made an appearance, but Santana hadn't reacted (unless she counted the night after they left and Santana cried longer and louder than she had in ages).
Quinn took care of her anyway because she didn't know how to leave her and (more importantly) she didn't want to.
And like always, whenever she found some sort of Zen regarding her situation it changed on her.
Quinn always wondered if she wanted to classify what happened next as things getting better or worse.
She had been coming into Santana's room to put her laundry away when she had to stop at the door because Santana was looking at her (in the loosest definition of the word, looking past is more accurate), Santana never looked at anyone. She never acknowledged another's presence even when it was obvious she could hear and understand. But she was looking at (past) Quinn now with the most pitiable expression.
"It should have been me. It should have been me, not her," she said, her voice was weak and scratchy (and so, so broken).
Quinn dropped the basket she had been holding and rushed to her side and held her (because she was pathetic and had nothing else in her comforting repertoire), "No, it shouldn't have been either of you."
"She died alone," it wasn't just the words, it was the way she said them that let Quinn know everything was crumbling in her again.
"She was never alone, not when she had you."
The crying started again and she held her through it, but this time when it was over Santana was looking at (past) her again and she leaned forward and Quinn had a second (slowed in her mind to about thirty minutes) to understand what was happening.
Santana was going to kiss her and she knew it was wrong, and desperate and not going to fix a damn thing. Quinn knew what to do; push her back gently and give her a light, chaste kiss on the forehead and tell her that it isn't what she wants. To tell Santana that she won't be her emotional dumping ground for her loss of Brittany because she wants (deserves) love and until the past is healed they can't do anything together.
It was perfect and it would protect both of their feelings.
But that kiss from so long ago, at 5:39 pm in the science lab of McKinley High came hurling through time to make her weak, to make her give in to the thing she had wanted so badly the moment she knew it existed.
Despite all the rational thoughts in her head, despite knowing how bad of an idea it was, she met Santana's lips and it was everything she remembered and more. It made her heart grow and burst and pull itself together to do it all again.
It was as bad of a mistake as mixing Puck and wine coolers (she didn't know that then but she knows it now).
They kissed slowly at first, it was gentle and soft, but it soon became needy and heated and Quinn knew they were headed somewhere neither could navigate back from, but she wasn't a strong enough person to stop herself (God how she wanted to stop herself). Clothes were removed and she felt Santana kissing her neck and driving her wild, it was so much way too fast, but instead of trying to rally herself to stop this disaster she was focusing all her attention on not coming on the spot from the way Santana was touching her breasts. And once she laced her fingers in that black hair she gave up even caring if the world burned around them.
Which was why it wasn't a deal breaker when Santana slapped her hand over Quinn's mouth every time she made a sound besides heavy breathing or when Santana came hard with Brittany's name on her lips.
Quinn knew it was a mistake before, during and after.
But after she decided she didn't care at all.
Because the sex had been meaningless to Santana, disrespectful to Quinn, and plain bad for both of them. It was also the best sex Quinn ever had.
After that Santana seemed to slowly reboot. She was by no means back to her old self, but she could be seen moving around the house more often and she occasionally spoke ('morning', 'yes' and 'no' were the top three responses of choice).
Quinn wasn't surprised when Santana pretended nothing had happened between them and the blonde felt it was for the better. It felt like it wasn't so much a mistake as a mild slip up.
Until it happened again.
After a while it was just a regular thing, it was sex that felt phenomenal and hurt them both. Quinn knew she was a stand in, she had always known. Santana wasn't with her she was with Brittany and she didn't want Quinn intruding, so she couldn't speak or call out Santana's name or vocalize too much because that would break the fantasy. She had to just accept Brittany's name panted in her ear because she wasn't needed. Quinn also had to accept Santana's total lack of contact outside of the bedroom. She didn't want to be touched or held intimately and bristled at terms of endearment.
But time passed and Santana began to say full sentences and even go outside on walks unbidden (the first time had scared the crap out of Quinn, but then the brunette had come home looking for all the world like her leaving was normal). Santana even looked into finding work again, but curiously not into finding a new apartment (not that Quinn was complaining).
Santana seemed to be getting better, but then the fits started.
The first one was terrifying because it was a new wrinkle in their setup and it was totally out of nowhere.
One moment Santana was sitting at the table reading a newspaper and the next she had ripped it in half and thrown her coffee mug at the wall. Quinn just watched in stunned silence as Santana's rampage made her break the chair she had been sitting in and use one of the broken legs to smash everything in her room that could be broken.
When it was over she just broke down in tears and Quinn could only hold her.
It was weird and frightening.
And like the sex it just kept happening, though thankfully not as frequently.
Quinn understood it however, she understood the rage that would suddenly overtake her, but she wished she didn't have to buy new furniture and kitchenware every time it did.
She supposes she should say something about, it but every time afterwards (Quinn is quite sure it's meant as an apology) Santana would go down on her and when Quinn's hands are buried in soft black hair and Santana is doing the most amazing things with her mouth she can't even remember the definition of reprimand.
She gets the Dean position. Whatever that means. Well it means a pay increase and a status boost and people brown nosing so hard her butt hurts, but she doesn't know what it matters because she's tired from constantly repairing her house (while recovering from the world's most intense repeat orgasms) and she's tired from staying up and holding Santana's weeping form until she falls asleep and she's just plain tired.
Puck comes back in town for the first time since the funeral and meets her at her school (because he just can't face Santana yet and she still understands that) and they do lunch and all the other usual things.
They went for a walk and he asked about Santana and Quinn said she was better. He asked about her and she had to remain quiet because she isn't sure how big the lie will get by the end, but he gets it and keeps walking at her side.
He stays for almost a month at a hotel (he tells her it's because there are things that are hard to get done crashing on a friend's couch) and eventually comes to see Santana, Puck is the first to see her since she began talking again and Quinn isn't sure how she'll take guests, but she greets him with a (weak) smile and hugs him. They talk (about anything and everything but Brittany) and Quinn fixes them lunch and if she closes her eyes she can almost pretend everything is like it was. She can ignore the sunken look of Santana's face and that blatant sorrow in her eyes and the equally wounded look in Puck's at seeing her. Quinn can pretend that they are three old friends talking about their careers and life, and if she lets herself really go she can pretend Brittany is just in the next room working on one of her designs or on the phone with a client.
When she opened her eyes afterwards she found she was crying and that was curious.
But no one noticed and the day went on in a relatively pleasant way.
Quinn found that whenever Santana 'orally apologized' for one of her fits the level of pleasure given seemed linked to the amount of damage caused (or possibly the amount of guilt felt). Three hours after Puck left Quinn felt her eyes roll back in her head from her fourth orgasm in a row and wondered how in the hell either of them had the stamina to go for the fifth that Santana was clearly working for.
A new dining set, china cabinet, couch, television, spackling and three coats of paint later, things seemed to be more or less back to normal.
The sex is still beyond great, the fits have stopped for the moment and Santana even starts working two days a week at a small firm dealing with small claims cases that she can work on from home.
But Quinn knows better than to get comfortable by now because every time she does life dips and dives on her.
She hates being right.
Quinn comes home early on a Thursday night to find Santana sitting at the dining room table with a knife pressed in her wrist, not deeply, but enough for a steady stream of blood to have pooled on the table. Quinn curses loudly, snatches it away and forces the other woman to the bathroom so she can stop the bleeding, Santana doesn't seem to mind, she just watches it all happen. And Quinn's heart is trying to pound its way out of her chest because she can't lose Santana too (losing Brittany already hurt so much more than she thought it would).
She screams and yells and demands to know what in the hell she'd been thinking, but the smaller woman is looking past her again (like she has always done) and simply says, 'I was trying to let the pain out, it's stuck in me and I was just trying to let it out.'
It was a ridiculous answer, but she can see in Santana's face that this is a woman out of options, that the hurt is so much more than she's even showing and she just wants it gone, even if she has to try insane things.
But she scared Quinn so bad she can't stop yelling at her to never do it again.
Unfortunately it's one yell too many because Santana's face turns stony and Quinn sees Bitch Santana a second before she hears her.
"Don't treat me like I'm a goddam child!"
"Then don't act like one and do stupid shit like this!" she yelled because she was angry and hurt, she tried not to because she knew it would help nothing.
"Fuck you Fabray! All you do is mope around your own home and play house with me because you're too pathetic to just go out and find someone for yourself! Don't try and slip into a spot you aren't qualified to fill! You aren't Brittany and you never will be!"
They both knew right when the words left Santana's mouth how endlessly sorry she was and they both knew there was nothing she could say to make it right.
"Quinn I-" Santana started, but the blonde turned and marched out the door shouting 'Do whatever the fuck you want!' before slamming the door and driving straight to Puck's hotel, praying he was alone.
He wasn't. But when he saw her face he made his lady caller scram and took Quinn in his arms and let her cry. It was weird being the one held because the last person to do it had been Mercedes after she had given up Beth.
Puck rocked her and shushed her and told her everything was okay. But it wasn't, because Quinn was so very hurt by what Santana had said even though every word of it had been true and her guts were shredded (it hurt so bad). And worst of all, through her tears and pain, she really wanted to go home and make sure Santana hadn't done anything to herself.
At that point Quinn began to fully understand how hopelessly in love she was.
She cried into Puck's arms for hours and afterwards they lay together in bed all night, clothes on, just holding each other and it was far more intimate than anything she and Santana had done.
In the morning he tells her she should send Santana packing, that she had grieved enough and it's time for her to learn how to live life on her own. He tells Quinn how ill she's looking nowadays (she assumes that's true because there has to be a reason she has intentionally not stepped in front of a mirror in a year) and that Santana is being an emotional vampire and soon she'll drain Quinn dry and move on.
Maybe so, but Quinn was a willing victim, so she thanked him for his time, left (ignoring that sad look on his face) and drove home dreading what she would find.
At her door she paused because she had to consider what she would do if she opened the door and saw Santana lying dead.
The thought made her freeze there for another few minutes before she pushed the door open, her eyes frantically scanning the floor, but instead she was tackled from her left by a hug.
It was Santana and, even though she should have still been angry and she was still hurt, she hugged her back.
The first words she said were, 'Lo siento Quinn I'm so, so sorry, I didn't mean it,' and Quinn is forced back to seeing Santana kneel before Brittany and simply apologizing to her and the memory makes her eyes prickle and overflow (it somehow also puts a Band-Aid on her fresh gaping emotional wounds and it miraculously staunches the bleeding).
But she shakes her head into the other woman's warm and comforting shoulder, "You did, but it's alright because you aren't wrong. I do need to find someone, but I stick around because I love you." (Santana stiffens at that, but Quinn continues anyway) "I know I'm not Brittany, but I also know you need me to let you think I am sometimes."
Santana pulled away, her eyes trained on the floor, "I'm sorry about that too."
"Don't be. I know the only way to have you is to be her and I'm sure that makes me all kinds of pathetic, but I'll do it."
The statement makes Quinn feel bad for herself and she can see Santana does too,but she ignores it and for the first time she leans forward and kisses Santana. Never before had she instigated anything between them, but she was now and the smaller woman wasn't denying her.
And the sex that night was dangerously close to being called love making, but Quinn had no delusions because Santana wouldn't let her have them. Brittany's name still stayed on her lips and Quinn still kept her moans of pleasure inside, but the touches were more tender and slow and when Quinn came crashing over the edge she felt like she fell harder and farther than before.
After they lay in bed next to each other (another change because usually Santana immediately departs for her own room) looking at the darkness in the room not saying a word. There was only the sound of steady breathing before Santana said, 'Marry me.'
Quinn heard her and closed her eyes because she knew if she didn't she would cry again.
She knew what that meant, she knew why it was a statement and not a question. Because it was a plea.
It wasn't the 'Please share the rest of your life with me' that she had offered Brittany, this was a 'Please don't ever leave me'. A fraught appeal to Quinn's weak nature, to the blonde's unrequited love to stay with her, to suffer with her because no one else ever would (ever could). She was asking Quinn to damn herself to this life always and the tears really did fall when she gave the only answer she ever could give since that kiss at 5:39 pm in the science lab.
Their marriage was a quiet private affair and about as awkward as any one event could possibly be (mainly because half of the guests are shocked that Quinn's marrying a woman and the other half are shocked that Santana's getting married at all so no one knows what to say). Legally they were married but there was no wedding ceremony, just a small reception for family and close friends. Well, close friends; Santana's parents had been distant since her engagement to Brittany and Judy didn't believe her daughter could suddenly turn gay so dismissed the whole thing (and Fran was Fran, she wasn't invited because she wouldn't come). Puck, Mercedes, Rachel, Kurt and a few of Santana and Quinn's college friends showed, they ate dinner at a nice restaurant and talked about new times (because old times involved Brittany and no one was that stupid) and for the most part conversations were pleasant if not forced. Santana hardly spoke and Quinn was busy making polite conversation while ignoring the pity in her guest's eyes (especially Puck's) because everyone who had known them since McKinley knew exactly what this was (and how sad it was). They were married, yet they both kept their own names (Quinn Fabray and Santana Pierce-Lopez) and the whole thing stunk of desperation, but their newer friends seemed happiest (though not really happy) for them, maybe because they didn't know how far back the story went (they all knew of the love and loss Santana had experienced) but something about knowing all the facts since elementary school seemed to be a little too telling for their long time friends.
When the reception finished they said goodbye to their friends and went home. Quinn fully expected a fit, but instead Santana just curled up next to her on the couch and they watched television until they both fell asleep (would it be irony of foreshadowing that they have sex on almost every night, but their wedding night?).
Months pass and for the first time in seemingly ever Quinn is allowed to get comfortable in a routine, though the routine wasn't constant, it was there. Santana finally stopped destroying her (their) home at random and she even went out every now and again to visit friends. A new firm opened close to home so she began to work full time and Quinn was ecstatic. But between them personally everything was the same, she still looked at (past, sometimes through, to another universe) Quinn like she couldn't see her and the blonde wondered if her wife had any idea what she looked like.
During the day she was Quinn, but at night when they were alone in bed (turns out it was irony) she was still Brittany and she still had mind numbing orgasms (Oh how she wished they would also numb the pain in her heart). After sex Santana stays in bed with her, but she couldn't be farther away, and sometimes she just curls up and cries and Quinn is right there to hold her together.
So maybe the marriage isn't perfect and maybe Santana will never see her, but they do love each other (in vastly different ways). Quinn sometimes wonders what her life would be like if her parents had never moved to Ohio, or better yet had just sent her to a different kindergarten. She wonders if she still would have run into Santana and if so would she feel the same?
She wonders if she would have ever had a chance if so much of her life hadn't been spent loving (and pointlessly fighting loving) Santana.
She fell asleep on one night of many holding her weeping wife wondering if it could all be different, but knowing she wouldn't change a thing about her feelings for Santana. When it came down to it she couldn't even say she would change Santana's feelings for Brittany because the other woman was such a huge part of who she was. Quinn did wish Santana had loved her first though, because with the love Brittany and Santana shared Quinn had to just accept that she would always be a day late and a dollar short.