She's thirteen when she meets the king's daughter and the word 'princess' doesn't even begin to cover it, but all she can come up with is 'goddess' and even that seems like an insult in comparison to her beauty.
Of course, he's only the Mattress King, and perhaps there's no empire of mattresses for this girl to inherit, but if there was, she thinks this girl would feel the pea from the top of the highest stack imaginable. But when she felt that pea, instead of complaining, it's obvious her heart would break for the awful conditions to which this pea was subject.
The king's daughter is just that sort of girl, she decides.
She's about to pass out from her lungs refusing to even move in this girl's presence when a pale, skinny hand comes at her and she remembers she's supposed to shake.
If she had any chance of playing it cool, it was lost with her response. "You're beautiful?"
"Brittany," the girl laughs, and it's music. It's the kind of music that makes angels weep openly and banish their harps to the depths of Hell because nothing will ever compare to her song.
"I- Santana," she finally manages to get out, despite her voice wanting nothing more than to wrap around Brittany's laugh and melt into its glowing crevices until all that existed was sound.
The king has to move them along; mattresses don't sell themselves, but Brittany throws her arms around Santana and leaves a hovering songbird just outside Santana's ear.
"We should be friends."
She's fourteen when she learns that not everyone has opened their cage doors to let in Brittany's light. It's a shame, really, because she didn't even know she was living in darkness until this girl took her pinkie and danced her across the mattress store after closing.
They started high school together; joined the cheerleading team together; wound up in the Nessie club together. It's fine until it isn't and the freshness of the school year dissipates to a point where the other kids feel free to narrow their eyes at Brittany.
"I'd be so much better if I had hooks for hands," Brittany says in the middle of the locker room.
Of course Santana's response is a doe-eyed, "you're perfect the way you are, Britt," but a gangly girl a few benches away stiffens as if something pricked her.
Words aren't thorns, no matter how much Santana tries to argue this with herself. They're daggers that only poke holes in you if you let them.
"I wasn't aware they allowed Special Ed kids on the team," the girl says, drawling out her words for everyone around them to hear.
Someone snickers. It falls flat as Santana rises like an angered puma and extends her fingers like claws, ready to strike. Nearly a year ago, she promised the king she would take care of his daughter, no matter in what storm they found themselves. She is a keeper of promises (and secrets).
(Santana has lots of secrets, as sharp as razor blades; she hides them in her hair and ducks her head whenever anyone gets too close.)
"Bitch, I'll go all Lima Heights on your white ass," she says to the smirking girl, and though her neighborhood is known for its atrociously gaudy fish statues in nearly every yard, no one here knows this and it sounds a little threatening.
The room disperses into a buzzing silence and Brittany plants a kiss on Santana's knuckles.
It's at this moment that Santana realizes why her parents filled their yard with statues of lions instead of those creepy fish – it takes courage and a well-groomed mane to go against the current. Luckily she has both (and a sharp tongue, which will substitute for lion teeth if needed).
She's fifteen when she witnesses the wet roads after a thunderstorm create a mirror world for the king's daughter. In the reflection, her thoughts no longer come out backwards and though she dances as if lead by her left hand (which she's done sometimes for Santana's benefit), it's like she's fallen, upside-down, into her kingdom.
A car passes and it sends a tidal wave of dirty rainwater over Santana's new dress, but Brittany laughs so beautifully, like chimes dancing in the wind, that she can't find it in herself to be mad.
There's a world under her feet in which the two of them could be everything she dreams of them becoming and it only hurts when her footsteps ripple the surface.
(She once spent an hour memorizing Brittany's fingerprints and swore that if God Himself fell out of the clouds and landed in the ocean, his splash would ripple out exactly like the pattern on the pads of Brittany's fingers.)
When the roads fall silent again, her pinkie nestles into the crook of its companion and the two girls stand still in the largest puddle either has ever witnessed. Santana's mind folds a sailboat out of her ever-expanding love letter and sails it around the edges of the water until she can see it nudging up against Brittany's yellow boots.
"I love you," the paper whispers. "I'm the sun and you're the bang that starts the universe and together we'll fill the sky with as many stars needed for all the world's wishes and maybe in the morning I'll get to kiss you. And bring you tea. Maybe you'll dance for me."
The sun peeks out from behind a tattered cloud and when Brittany tilts her face to find her way into the warm rays, Santana wishes more than anything that Brittany could see the words printed along the delicate contours of her heart.
There are lions in her yard and she wishes she was a fish so she could take Brittany underneath the surface of this puddle where they could be together.
She's sixteen when she realizes her world revolves around the king's daughter. And, as these things usually go, it takes losing her for it to become apparent. Brittany's absence is more noticeable (and more painful) than as if her abdomen was carved out all the way to her spine, which she's sure is crooked without Brittany's laughter to keep her standing straight.
Even if she's always been a little crooked, she doesn't notice how the world only dives to catch her when Brittany's by her side until she finds herself walking alone.
The worst part of all of this (other than Brittany actually not being there) is that it's her own fault – her jar of crooked secrets and inability to unscrew the lid got in the way of loving Brittany in silence and suddenly she was a lizard and her feet tripped her six times as she tore out of Brittany's house, tears in her eyes.
She left; Brittany stayed in the bed they both called home while Santana left, so she shouldn't blame Brittany for leaving when she didn't move an inch but come Monday she's pushing a boy in a wheelchair and Santana's the one staying still.
"You weren't worth the hurt," is what Brittany's headshake tells her, and three months later when the wheelchair boy openly shames Brittany for her wandering mind (though it's more an explorer of uncharted thoughts) Santana wonders if she'll ever be worth more than that stupid boy, in Brittany's eyes.
No one tells her that Brittany will come back because they're all pleased to see her happy, even if her smile doesn't reach her eyes. (Even if Santana's the only one who notices.)
Life Without Brittany shakes her tree branch bones so hard all her leaves turn brown and fall to the ground like she's not worth waiting for autumn to come around again and all she thinks about is that day when the two of them tried to build an igloo out of fallen leaves. She convinced Brittany an Eskimo kiss involved lips. Her body hummed with so much electricity she thought about offering to power up all the villages in Africa so those commercials would stop making Brittany cry.
She's seventeen when I love you becomes an endless trail of rainbow scarves that she pulls out of her mouth each morning she wakes up holding the king's daughter.
There's no parade for her marching band heart but it finds a place in the song of Brittany's laughter and together they play for the angels at the hospital with naked heads and veins so drained they cry dust. Brittany steals a stethoscope from Santana's father and the two girls bring a few moments of music to the white rooms, wishing their hands could be blankets that would eradicate all pain.
She paints a mural of stars in the playroom and has Brittany kiss each one so all the wishes in this ward will come true.
This is the year she discovers how fiercely she loves.
This is also the year her doctor's eyes don't leave her chart as he tells her, quiet as a snowflake, that she most likely won't be able to have kids. Early menopause, he calls it. Her last menstrual cycle consists only of tears and the worst pain she's ever felt (aside from losing Brittany) while she hides herself in her girlfriend's arms.
"I'm still here," Brittany whispers, breath soft fingertips against Santana's open heart. "It's okay."
She settles on 'everything' as that includes princess, goddess, and first flower after the snow melts. Still, it doesn't fit as it should and though her heart screams it out, her lips can only form a kiss to place tenderly on the seal of Brittany's song.
She's eighteen when she buys the ring for the king's daughter.
Her parents will hopefully never know she 'borrowed' from her college fund to pay for the silver band, but she would have sold her entire family to get this ring if needed. She'd call it perfect, except it isn't yet on Brittany's finger.
The diamond sparkles with almost as much shine as Brittany's eyes when she tells Santana I love you and it's held in place by a braid of metal; each individual strand of silver rope boasting the pattern of Brittany's fingertips. She will spend the rest of her life swearing all the world's secrets hide between those ripples.
She carries the ring in a small black box in her pocket for three weeks straight and the heaviness of her rehearsed question pulls the skin under her eyes down into bags whose handles threaten to rip with each step.
She doesn't sleep; not when Brittany hums next to her in bed and all she wants is to ask will you… but her lips are for kissing Brittany's neck and all that escapes is a frustrated sigh.
One night after closing in the mattress store Brittany begs her to make a fort in the back room just like when they were younger and in the pillow castle, tucked softly between folds of Brittany's love, the words tumble out.
The silence hugs her like a coat of feathers as she pulls out the ring – opening the little box with shaking hands. Brittany stares as if it's a rose amongst poison ivy and suddenly Santana's wondering how much poison fell out with her question.
Brittany snaps her shadowed eyes up to Santana's and holds a response on her tongue for a few seconds before releasing it into the dense air between them. "I was going to ask… I thought you- I didn't think you'd ever…"
They both let out watery laughter and Brittany takes the ring from the box, sliding it onto her finger as if it was there all along, hiding under a shimmering cloak of invisibility.
"I'm yours, San."
She's thirty when she meets the king's granddaughter and words fail her completely as she tries not to let her tears fall on the pink bundle in her arms. Had anyone told her a baby would render her so utterly useless that she couldn't even meet her wife's lips for a kiss, years ago, she would have laughed. Now…
"You made an angel, San," Brittany whispers as she wipes sticky hair off of Santana's forehead, eyes transfixed on her daughter.
"We. We did. She's ours."
She never thought she'd be able to love something more than she loves Brittany but it isn't more, it's—this is her child; her and Britt's child. Her heart felt full before but now it's comfortably stuffed as if it should've been this way all along and she so desperately wants to go back to her twelfth birthday and take back the wish she made on the glittery pink candles because they all clapped when she traced just let me die into the brick walls of her mind and she never once thought she'd end up okay. This is more than okay; this is everything she never let herself dream about.
"What are we going to name her?"
Brittany runs her fingers soft along the contour of her daughter's face, mesmerized, as she shares a smile with her wife. "Freya. Our little goddess. Our miracle."
When the king holds his granddaughter for the first time, blue eyes wet with more than just awe, he trembles under the weight of this tiny infant's heart and has to pass her to his daughter before running a hand through his thinning hair.
"She looks like your mom, Britt. Just like her. She would've been so proud of you." He lets the tears fall freely now, unafraid of whatever they may mean to the rest of the room. "Both you girls. She… I wish she could be here."
This is everything she never thought she'd have.
She was five when she flipped through the first book on her own and her gaze landed on the king's daughter – so soft and rosy with her waves of shining blonde hair.
They told her only princes get the princess.