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my heart’s a leather jacket I am waiting to give to someone sweet

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"You know your face never looked so fun house mirror as it did the day you finally found a way to escape.

You terrible speller.

You busted compass.

My heart is still a leather jacket that I am waiting to give to someone sweet."

Andrea Gibson, “The Vinegar Club”


Mr. Dunngan’s AP Calc class starts at 8:35 in the morning, which means that Brittany has until 9:00 to show up before he will actually mark her late, and until 9:10 before he’ll actually get upset that she’s late.

Back in freshman year, the school administrators used to call her parents every day, all in a tizzy because she was consistently late to basically every single class—until they started to use Brittany’s work in mathematics to pull in grant money from prestigious universities. The money was intended to further her research, but nobody really traces where the money is distributed, and McKinley very quickly stopped bothering her about being late as long as she kept her mouth shut and continued to be their math monkey.

Mr. Dunngan is the only teacher who still bothers to care about Brittany outside of a human calculator, and as hard as Brittany works to cultivate a reputation as one of the school’s resident broody, uncaring rebels, she kind of hates disappointing Mr. Dunngan. It’s not like she really needs to actually go to math class—because math is about the only academic related thing that doesn’t make her want to drive her motocross bike off a really high cliff—but she likes Mr. Dunngan because he doesn’t treat her like some freaky idiot savant (a phrase Brittany had to google in eighth grade after hearing it lobbed at her during recess every other day, a phrase she still really fucking hates even to this day). Mr. Dunngan is the only teacher who doesn’t doubt Brittany the way all her other teachers do, and he’s about the only reason she actually still shows up to any of her classes, because he’s always believed she could graduate even without her math grades. 

Which is why, when she ends up skulking into his calculus class at 9:27—because her sister threw a tantrum in the back of Brittany’s truck while Brittany was dropping her off, which meant Brittany was forced into calming her down enough to walk her into the school, and then play with her to keep her distracted until the elementary school’s first period started—she quietly sets a coffee down on his desk before slouching into a seat at the very back of the classroom.

He understands, more than any other teacher at this dumb school, that his students have lives outside of his class and, as long as he gets a coffee on his desk, he’ll pretend that you weren’t almost an hour late to a sixty-seven minute class.

They’re only doing derivatives as rates of change anyways, and Brittany can basically do these types of questions in her sleep, so she just tugs her notebook out of her bag and copies down the questions on the board. She can solve them in her head, but she’s kind of feeling guilty about being so late, so she might as well pretend she’s actually paying attention. It takes her two steps to answer them—since she does most of the answering in her head—as she half-heartedly listens to Mr. Dunngan try to explain why you can’t square root a negative number to a student who really shouldn’t have even read the description for AP Calc. He went over why you can’t divide by zero last Friday with the same student, and most of the class completely zones out as Nathan Morgensen starts arguing with Mr. Dunngan about the things that are just mathematical common sense.

The bell rings after the argument and four more simple questions, and the entire class hurries to shove notebooks and textbooks and pencil cases into backpacks before rushing off to their next class. Brittany has a second period spare, so she is unhurried in packing her notebook away and dropping her pencil to the bottom of her ratty old backpack, knowing her bag will definitely shatter the lead in it but not caring enough to actually put the pencil in a safer place; it’s not like she can’t just pick up new pencils, or nab them off teachers’ desks when they aren’t paying attention. Mr. Dunngan greets Brittany before she can slip away behind his back as he erases the whiteboard, and Brittany inwardly groans. She doesn’t really want to have an awkward conversation about the fact that she can only ever get him gas station coffee instead of something from the Lima Bean like all the other student’s do, but since she has that damn second period spare—same as him—she doesn’t actually have any excuses to escape the impending conversation.

Instead of interrogating her or anything, Mr. Dunngan just smiles at her as if she was in class for more than fifteen minutes today and crosses the classroom to sit at his desk. He sips the gas station coffee Brittany brought him with an appreciative hum—one that Brittany’s pretty sure is only about sixty-seven percent faked—and gestures to the student desk that is closest to his own. Brittany rolls her eyes a little and rounds the three desks separating them, carelessly dropping her backpack on the floor by her feet. Instead of sitting in the desk, she just leans against the desk because she knows it annoys Mr. Dunngan, just a little bit, and he’s kind of funny when he gets annoyed because instead of getting mean like a lot of other people, he just gets snarky and rolls his eyes a lot.

He doesn’t verbally comment on her decision to slouch against the desk, but his pointed look and raised eyebrow gets the message across pretty clearly. He quickly recaps what Brittany missed in the first half of today’s lesson, and reassures Brittany that she really didn’t miss anything she doesn’t already understand.

“Is that all, Mr. D.?” she asks as soon as he’s done. Mr. Dunngan’s her favourite teacher, but that doesn’t make her any less itchy when talking to authority figures. Her mom says it’s natural for teenagers to rebel; she just thinks that it’s because she’s always hated when people tell her what to do.

(In the deepest part of her heart, she knows she can blame most of her rebellious tendencies and resistance to authority is because her bio-dad was a real asshole cop, before he was killed, and no number of uniformed pallbearers offering their deepest condolences to her will ever change that. It will make her take advantage of their pity, though, because she knows she can basically get away with every single small misdemeanour just by giving a sad sigh and a pout; because they all liked her bio-dad for whatever reason, and so they all give his bio-daughter special treatment even though he was never her dad at all. She’s never actually been arrested for graffiti or trespassing or shoplifting, even when she probably should have, but she figures she might as well take any advantage she can get.)

“I actually have something to talk to you about,” Mr. Dunngan says, interrupting her thoughts. Brittany winces a little and hopes it’s not about who’s been writing bad math jokes with sharpie in the girl’s bathroom by the arts wing; she’s a really bad liar.

“Okay, shoot.”

“You can decline this offer if you want, but I’d really like for you to honestly think about it,” he starts, “and then, if you decide you really don’t want to do it, I’ll respect your decision.”

“Okay,” Brittany says slowly.

Mr. Dunngan places his coffee back on his desk and spins his chair to fully face Brittany, his hands laced together and his elbows on his knees. That’s how Brittany knows he means business, and she really, really hopes that he’s not about to ask why she thinks that the slope of an ass can be calculated by x=ay^2+by+c, because then she might have to burn down the classroom and flee town.

There’s literally nothing more awkwardly embarrassing than talking about theoretical asses with your high school math teacher.

“There’s a student in your grade that needs a math tutor, and I was wondering if you would consider talking the job,” Mr. Dunngan explains, and Brittany almost tells him that she’s never even seen sharpie before in her life, but she manages to process what he’s actually saying before that happens.

“Why the fu— Uh,” Brittany cuts herself off when she remembers she’s talking to her teacher. She might get away with always being late to math class because of the whole math genius thing, but she doesn’t really think that will help her in the realm of cursing. “Uh, I mean why the, um, heck would anyone want me to tutor them?”

Mr. Dunngan gives her a look that means he’s letting her get away with almost slipping into a curse this one time because he’s got bigger fish to fry. “It was the parent that requested a tutor.”

Brittany just raises her eyebrows. “And?” she prompts.

“He was very insistent that the tutor provided is our top student in all the math classes McKinley offers or has ever offered.”

“And?” Brittany repeats. Mr. Dunngan doesn’t look impressed, and as much as Brittany is generally devil-may-care about her relationships with teachers, she does genuinely try not to be a complete asshole to Mr. Dunngan. “Come on, Mr. D., everyone and their mother knows that I’m not exactly a ‘model’ student,” she adds, bending the first two fingers on each hand and then immediately regretting it. She’s glad no other students are in the classroom right now because that was the lamest thing she’s ever done; and she’s in the glee club. “Can you really imagine me tutoring other students?”

Mr. Dunngan sighs and rubs a hand over his bald head like he does when he needs to bell curve the grades. Brittany wonders if the habit started when he had hair to run his hands through, but then she decides that might come off as more mean than genuinely curious, so she keeps the question to herself. “I know you’re not—”

“I’m not what?” Brittany bristles, something defensive flaring in her stomach covering the cracking in her chest.

Mr. Dunngan gives her a look that she’s always thought of as pitying, because she’s seen it on just about every adult in her life; though, right now, it just seems tired and sad. “You’re smart, Brittany.” Brittany tries not to scoff and instead crosses her arms, puffing herself up to make it seem like she’s not as small as she feels right now. “I know you are, even if you’re not the type of student that you think is the model student. If you just applied yours—”

“I just don’t think I’m tutoring material,” Brittany interrupts before the defensive thing can turn embarrassed and sad.

Mr. Dunngan sighs and changes tactics. “The parent was very insistent that only the student with the highest grades tutor his daughter. And I mean— Well, his daughter isn’t struggling too much, so you won’t have too much work to do with her. Personally, I don’t think she needs a tutor at all, but her father was rather insistent.”

“So?” Brittany slouches further against the desk, scowling at the ground, “It’s not like he’ll know if you assign a different student unless you tell him.”

“It’s not that simple, Brittany.” Mr. Dunngan’s never seemed so tired before. “This particular parent is a big name in the town.”

“And your point is?” Brittany drawls.

Mr. Dunngan shifts awkwardly in his desk chair, looking for all the world like the type of high school nerd that Brittany would usually avoid at all costs. “Her father makes sizeable donations to the school. And he’s on the board,” he finally admits painfully, sounding like Brittany is standing over him and pulling his teeth out with pliers instead of slouching against a desk ten feet away.

“Oh, so this is like a neophilism thing?”

“Nepotism,” Mr. Dunngan corrects without sounding condescending like her English teacher usually does, “But yeah, kind of like that.”

Brittany takes pity on her teacher just then, because she’s not actually being difficult just for the sake of being difficult, which, admittedly, is her usual M.O.; she is just kind of insecure about her academic ability after years upon years of being told that she’s stupid or that her genius regarding math is a fluke or that she’s never going to graduate. Mr. Dunngan doesn’t deserve her acting like an asshole on account of her own issues, because he’s always been the only teacher who’s always believed in her unconditionally. “I just don’t really think I’m the right student to, you know, teach others,” she finally mumbles, scuffing the dirty tiled ground with the toe of her even dirtier sneaker.

Mr. Dunngan sits back in his chair and offers Brittany a tiny smile. “I know you pretend to be all big and bad and broody and rebellious—” when Brittany sputters and tries to protest, he just smiles wider and keeps talking over her, “—but I know under that tough leather jacket, you’re sweet and helpful and smarter than you know.”

“Whatever,” Brittany mumbles, wishing her pale skin didn’t show her blush so easily.

Wishing that she could actually believe Mr. Dunngan when he said stuff like that.

Mr. Dunngan’s eyes twinkle like they do when he solves a really hard math problem for fun; it’s his gotcha! face, and Brittany hates to admit that he might have already gotten her roped into this thing. “Tutoring also pays fifteen dollars an hour. And it looks really good on applications.”

Brittany groans, because ever since her parents stopped paying her to babysit her sister, she’s been alternating between shovelling sidewalks in the winter and mowing lawns in the summer and picking up shifts at Hummel Tires & Lube whenever a motocross bike is (very rarely) brought in, all to try and make enough for gas money. “Can I think about it at least?” she says, trying to bite back the whine in her voice.

“Until the end of the day? Sure.”

“So, tomorrow?”

Mr. Dunngan starts shuffling his papers and sorting assignments. “Great, I’ll see you after the final bell later today then,” he says as if Brittany hadn’t even said anything.

“Ugh, fine,” Brittany groans, sliding off the desk and slinging her backpack over her shoulder as she sulks towards the door.

“Have a good rest of your day, Brittany!” Mr. Dunngan calls, and Brittany has no clue how he can be so chipper towards her when she just spent the last ten minutes being grumpy and difficult and moody.

She shuts the door more carefully than usual and resolves to be a little bit nicer to Mr. Dunngan; he’s about the only teacher that doesn’t dismiss her as a problem kid these days, and as much as she pretends not to care about anything, she really doesn’t want to lose that.

“Fifteen dollars an hour?” Brittany wrinkles her nose at the sight of chewed up cafeteria food that comes with that exclamation; she didn’t think it was possible, but somehow the cafeteria food looks even more unappetizing than it did before. “Jesus, maybe I should start tutoring.”

“You’re barely smart enough to count to fifteen, Puck,” Quinn says dismissively, “And your grades won’t make any impressions on girls so I don’t see why you’re even interested in it.”

“As if you wouldn’t be interested in seeing my A+ in anatomy—”

“As if I would actually be interested in seeing any of your failing marks—”

“As if you haven’t—”

“Guys, can we not rehash this again?” Mike interrupts tiredly. “This is, like, the third time this week. And it’s only Monday.”

“Aww,” Quinn pouts, her angelic face hiding the ice under her expression, “Did your little girlfriend keep you up late?”

“It’s only lunch,” Brittany retorts when Mike just rolls his eyes in response, “can we please at least wait until fourth period before trying to kill each other?”

The group all glares at each other until Puck cracks and starts laughing, causing a domino effect, except with amusement; Brittany loves the sound of her friend’s laughter because it’s contagious and bright, like an avalanche curling over on itself on a sunny day.

“So, tutoring,” Brittany says once they’ve finally all calmed down, “Yes or no?”

“Fifteen dollars an hour,” Puck repeats.

“It’s good experience to put on your resume or college application,” Quinn agrees.

“You don’t know if you’ll end up with some crazy person though,” Mike argues.

“You don’t not know that you’ll end up with some crazy person,” Puck says, and then frowns when he realizes he didn’t make much sense, “I mean, you might get a normal person. Or, uh—”

“Not to repeat Puck,” Quinn interrupts before Puck can talk circles around himself, “but fifteen dollars an hour is nothing to sneeze at, especially if they need a lot of help.”

“Ooh, you might end up with a hot person.” Puck wiggles his eyebrows suggestively, but they look more like bushes trying to do the worm so Brittany just rolls her eyes at him.

“If you get more gas money you can start driving me around,” Mike grins.

“Don’t you have a girlfriend with a fancy, expensive car for that?” Quinn asks snidely.

Mike shrugs and pokes at his food, shoving it around without meeting anyone’s eyes. “We’re not steady enough for me to constantly rely on her for rides.”

“Course not,” Quinn mutters. If Brittany didn’t know any better, she would think that Quinn was jealous of Mike’s girlfriend or something; but she does know better, and she knows that Quinn’s just worried about Mike. They all are, after watching his relationship with his on-again-off-again girlfriend yoyo wildly around for the past three years.

Mike looks at his plate instead of meeting Quinn’s stare, but he doesn’t seem upset, just thoughtful and a little bit sad; it’s his go to look when they gang up on his girlfriend, like he understands where they’re coming from, but knows that they’ll never understand his relationship. It’s been like this since that party sophomore year that kickstarted this whole yoyo of a relationship with his depends-on-the-day girlfriend.

“Okay,” Brittany says, hating the thick tension growing around the lunch table, “So, I guess I’m telling Mr. Dunngan that I accept.”

“Good for you,” Quinn says seriously, “Call me if they’re insane.” She’s always been a little protective of Brittany, which Brittany thinks is funny because Quinn is like tiny compared to her, and because Quinn has never actually been in a fight before. “But not that we’ve settled that, it’s my turn.”

It’s a Monday, so the rest of them all roll their eyes, knowing that Quinn’s about to launch into a long-winded and mostly bitchy complaint about the Cheerios captain running Monday morning practice. It’s been a weekly tradition ever since sophomore year when Coach Sylvester passed Quinn over for the captain spot after she joined the glee club. Quinn doesn’t actually care about the Cheerios, but it had taken her a while to understand that. Now, her complaints about the captain are mostly about how many wind sprints she had to do and less about Quinn seriously plotting her revenge—Brittany’s pretty sure she had genuine blueprints in sophomore year on how to best seek revenge and everything. This year, there’s an awkward truce between Quinn and her captain, and it makes Brittany grin because there’s nothing funnier than an awkward Quinn.

Mr. Dunngan is erasing the whiteboard when Brittany walks into his classroom five minutes after the final bell. She thought about waiting longer, just to make him sweat a little because he’s kind of amusing when he’s annoyed and snarky and skittish, but she still feels a little bad about being so difficult and moody this morning.

“Hey, Mr. D.,” she greets from the doorway, grinning when he jumps in surprise and throws the whiteboard eraser across the room. “Sorry,” she says, biting back a laugh because she’s not sorry at all.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, laugh it up,” Mr. Dunngan complains lightheartedly, like he didn’t just have a minor heart attack or something. “Did you make your decision?”

Brittany steps further into the classroom, not wanting anyone in the hallway to overhear their conversation, because tutoring is kind of lame and would drop her several spots on the high school status ladder if the wrong people found out; Mr. Dunngan’s classroom is located in the freshmen hallway and they’re all too terrified of Brittany S. Pierce to even look her in the eyes half the time, but still.

“Yeah,” she answers, dropping her backpack carelessly on the ground and collapsing into Mr. Dunngan’s desk chair. He rolls his eyes but hides a small smile as he bends to pick up the eraser he accidentally threw. Brittany knows that she’s his favourite student, and she definitely takes advantage of it—not like in a bad way or anything, because all her one-hundred percent tests are all her own work and not a result of favouritism, but just in a way that means she can get away with being a little bit more outright rebellious than she can with any other teacher.

“So?” he prompts when Brittany doesn’t say anything. She just spins back and forth in his chair because it’s far too much fun, and she figures it’s part of the reason why students get boring regular chairs at their desks, because they’d all pay even less attention than they already do if they had rolling chairs.

“I’ll do it,” she finally says, picking at her nails. It’s a habit she’s had since she was little, back when her mom would gently swat at her hands in attempts to break her from it after one ruined nail-bed too many, but she can’t help it; it’s completely unconscious because, whenever she’s nervous or awkward, picking at and fiddling with her nails undercuts some of the thick tension that builds in her spine and chokes her from her chest.

“Great.” Mr. Dunngan smiles like he already knew that would be her answer, and maybe he already did; being good at math makes you kind of psychic because you can predict all these things about the universe, so you can kind of predict the future in a way, too. He turns his back to Brittany and continues erasing the whiteboard. “You two can figure out your own schedule—whatever works for you and her. She’s a smart student, and I don’t really know why her father’s insisting on a tutor, but that will probably make your job easier. You two could even treat it as more of a study-buddy relationship if you wanted. And the school’s tutoring jobs are intended to be confidential—you’ll need to sign a form about it but I’ll print one off and you can sign it tomorrow or something. I know I can trust you though so it’s just mostly a formality. She’ll be paying you for your time at the end of every week so make sure you keep a tally of the hours. Any questions?” He finishes his explanation and erasing at the same time, setting the eraser down on the metal shelf at the bottom of the whiteboard before finally turning around. Brittany raises her eyebrows and just stares at him, but he only grows confused and frowns a little. “I’m pretty sure I covered everything?”

Brittany smirks. “I’d kind of like to know who I’m tutoring,” she prompts.

Mr. Dunngan’s face blooms in shock as he seems to think back on everything he just said, before he laughs and rubs a hand over his head sheepishly. “I suppose that might be useful.”

Brittany raises and eyebrow and tries not to smile as much as she wants too. “Maybe a little,” she agrees.

“Fine,” he says, raising his hands in joking surrender, “You’ll be tutoring Santana.”

Brittany’s mouth drops open and she doesn’t think she could hide her surprise even if she wanted to. “Santana like Santana Lopez Santana?” she manages. He nods and Brittany grows even more confused. “But, she’s like, actually smart,” she says without thinking.

Mr. Dunngan frowns a little. “You’re smart too, Britta—”

“No, no, no,” Brittany interrupts, forgetting to maintain her uncaring attitude, “I’m like fluke smart because I only understand math and everything else gets jumbled all the time and the only reason my GPA is halfway decent is because I’m like some kind of weird genius when it comes to theorems and laws and formulas or whatever. Santana’s like actually smart.”

Mr. Dunngan looks a little sad at Brittany’s words, and Brittany tries to hide the fact that her words, while true, make her a little sad too. “We all struggle with something,” he says comfortingly. Brittany scoffs and pretends that his words don’t just make her feel worse. It’s not that she struggles with something, it’s that she gets something and struggles with everything else. “Math is getting more difficult this semester,” he adds like that explains why Santana, a straight A student as far as Brittany knows, suddenly needs a tutor when she never has before.

“I guess,” Brittany mutters. Sometimes when she feels too much inside she gets really quiet on the outside; she’s glad she has glee practice after school today so she doesn’t have to pick up her little sister, because this feels like one of those times and her sister is annoying perceptive when it comes to Brittany’s moods.

“Like I said, you two can just study together instead of it being a formal tutoring thing if that helps,” he suggests, and Brittany just stares at him wordlessly.

Santana is like the town’s golden child, perfect and untouchable and incapable of making a mistake. She’s the only daughter of one of the three family doctors in town, who eventually became the first emerg doctor after the Lima General Hospital was finally built. Everyone knows Dr. Lopez because they’ve had him as a doctor for like twenty years, or they know him because he set their kid’s broken bone in emerg, or they know him because he’s on the town council, or they know him because he’s kind of one of the richest people in town and gives absurd donations to different community causes. Everyone knows Dr. Lopez because he’s basically everywhere, and because he has his hands (and his money) in basically everything in town.

Which means that everyone knows Santana Lopez, his perfect, pretty, athletic, smart, untouchable daughter. She’s the captain of the Cheerios, she’s a straight A student, she’s never been in detention, she’s the favourite of all the teachers, she’s bitchy but not an outright bully, she’s never turned in a late assignment, she never gets messy drunk during the few hours she makes an appearance at parties, she spends her lunch hours glaring at anyone who so much as glances in her direction, she’s locked up tighter than a maximum security prison, she’s been going to class with everyone since kindergarten but still all anyone knows about her is that she’s Dr. Lopez’s daughter, she’s aloof and distant and enticingly mysterious. She’s basically never made a mistake in her life, which makes Brittany think that she’s never really had fun in her life, and it also makes her think that Santana must be incredibly lonely. She’s never heard anyone call Santana their friend; not even Mike, and he’s been dating her for three years.

Brittany thinks that the school’s fascination with her is because she’s so mysterious; there’s a curiosity in the not-knowingness of something, and she figures that’s why everyone knows so much about Santana without really knowing anything about her at all. There’s something tempting about something someone so enigmatic—or, at least that’s what the school seems to think.


“What?” Brittany snaps, her cheeks flaming at being caught zoning out.

“I just asked if you’re okay with tutoring Santana?” Mr. Dunngan repeats, and if Brittany feels embarrassed for getting lost in her thoughts, it’s nothing compared to the awkwardness painting Mr. Dunngan’s face in bright red. “You two don’t have some sort of, uh, rivalry or— Or— Or, like, some sort of history—”

“No,” Brittany says quickly, putting both of them out of their misery, because there really is nothing like your high school math teacher asking if you and another student have too much history together to be able to work with each other. Somehow, she’s found something more awkwardly embarrassing than talking about the terrifying thought of talking about theoretical asses with your high school math teacher. “We’ve only spoken like three times. She’s kind of dating one of my friends, so.”

“Oh,” Mr. Dunngan looks even more awkward than before. “That’s, uh, good.”

Brittany doesn’t really think good is the right word, because it seems like Mike and Santana break up and then get back together every couple weeks, and that really can’t be healthy. Sure, Brittany’s switched girlfriends and boyfriends every couple weeks before, but it’s always been mutually casual, and she’s never broken up and gotten back together with someone that many times for three years straight.

“Yeah,” Brittany agrees. “Look, uh, I gotta go, ‘cause I have— ‘Cause glee practice is starting soon, so.”

Mr. Dunngan looks relieved and lamely waves goodbye, and Brittany would feel a little insulted that her favourite teacher was trying to get rid of her so quickly, but his classroom feels a little suffocating at the moment under the weight of his awkward embarrassment. “Let me know how it goes and, uh, I’ll get that form tomorrow and, uh, yeah,” he trails off uneasily.

“Sure, Mr. D.,” Brittany agrees, standing up out of his desk chair so suddenly that it spins feebly behind her. “See you tomorrow,” she calls as she slings her backpack over her shoulder and tries not to act like she’s fleeing the classroom.

She’s late to glee practice but it’s alright because, when she walks in the door, Rachel is still doing her usual rambling spiel to Mr. Schue about how she’s the best and deserves the best or whatever. Brittany started tuning her out in sophomore year and she hasn’t stopped.

Her head’s a little bit clearer now that she’s not so shocked by the news that she’ll be tutoring Santana Lopez. She really doesn’t know much about her—honestly, no one really does—and now that her surprise is starting to recede, she’s actually able to process the whole situation; but being able to process it doesn’t make her any less confused as to why in the world Santana Lopez would need a tutor.

Brittany slinks towards the risers by sticking close to the edges of the room, just far enough away from Rachel going on and on and on to Mr. Schue that she’ll be blurred in their peripheral vision. Most of the glee club grins at her as she creeps towards the chairs set up on the risers; most of them—the ones that aren’t close friends with Rachel, polar opposites to the ones that put up with and sometimes defend Rachel’s particular brand of bullshit—find Brittany’s antics amusing and stifle their snickers so they don’t draw attention to her. She drops her bag and carelessly nudges it under the empty chair beside Mike before slumping into it. A glance at the front of the room reveals that Rachel is still complaining about god knows what, so Brittany takes the opportunity to scooch her chair closer to Mike.

“How long’s she been going on like that?” she mutters.

“I don’t know,” Quinn answers from in front of them without turning her head, “I don’t hear Rachel when Rachel talks.”

Brittany snorts because Quinn’s weird hate-friendship with Rachel has been the source of her amusement for years; it’s like watching Mike’s yo-yoing relationship, but with awkward-barely-friends instead.

“Where’ve you been?” Mike mumbles out of the side of his mouth. The rest of the glee club are all staring straight ahead but having full on conversations with each other; they’ve had a lot of practice looking attentive without actually being attentive.

“Talking to Mr. Dunngan about the tutoring thing. He wanted an answer today.”

“Oh yeah? How’d that go?” Mike asks. Brittany can tell Quinn’s listening to them without ever seeing her even twitch a muscle, and Brittany suddenly feels like she has her hand in the cookie jar and is just waiting for her mom to turn around and see her, which is weird because it’s not like Quinn is anything like her mom. Maybe it’s because she knows that, despite the whole Good Christian Girl image that Quinn’s been projecting for as long as Brittany’s known her, she’s absolutely certain that Quinn would take advantage of this new information about Santana without a second thought; she’s slyly devious like that.

Thankfully, Tina takes that moment to start a conversation with Quinn, which saves Brittany from having to make the decision to let her know about who she’s tutoring; usually she tells her friends everything, but Mr. Dunngan said he could trust her and she really doesn’t want to ruin that. While Quinn is distracted, Brittany shifts her chair even closer to Mike, dropping her voice even more so Mike knows she’s being serious about this. “You can’t tell anyone, and I mean that, okay?” she whispers, forcing Mike to lean closer just to hear, “I’ll seriously kick your ass if you do and I find out about it. I’m not even kidding.”

Mike just looks at her with those trusting brown eyes of his and dips his head in a slight nod.

“I’m tutoring Santana,” she finally whispers.

Mike looks just as surprised as Brittany felt when Mr. Dunngan told her. “Really?” he asks with a small frown, his brow crinkling together like forks of lightning.

“Yeah,” Brittany confirms quietly, “Mr. Dunngan said her father requested it because otherwise her grades are decent or whatever.”

Mike’s whole body goes a little still at that comment, breathing deeply like he might unravel if he doesn’t focus on the movement of air through his lungs. Brittany stares at him out of the corner of her eye, scrunching her eyebrows in confusion because she never would have ever thought that Mike would be that stereotypical high school boyfriend who has issues with his girlfriend’s father. It seems so not like Mike that it throws Brittany for a loop.

“Does Santana know?” Mike finally asks, the pads of his middle fingers and thumbs pressing together so tightly that the nail beds turn white; it’s something he does when he’s trying to control his temper, and that confuses Brittany even more.

“I— Uh, I don’t know,” Brittany flounders for a moment at the sudden appearance of an angry Mike Chang, something she’s witnessed so rarely that she can count the number of times he’s lost his cool one hand, “I kind of thought you would know, ‘cause you’re her boyfriend and stuff.”

“Santana never said anything about it,” he says absently. Something a little sad curls in Brittany’s chest at that. It’s his answer for almost everything, and she wonders—not for the first time—why Santana seems to just keep playing with his feelings like that; why she doesn’t just dump Mike and be done with it instead of stringing him along, instead of having boyfriend but not acting like it. Mike is so sweet and caring, and as far as she knows Santana is just as aloof and distant and icy with Mike as she is with everyone. Brittany could understand their relationship if Santana, like, melted around Mike and was sweet with him while being cold with everyone else, because that’s kind of what Brittany was like with her first girlfriend back in freshman year; but half the time that Santana and Mike are ‘on,’ they don’t even seem to be friendly with each other, let alone dating. Honestly, they don’t even seem to like each other all that much because they so rarely acknowledge each other at school and only occasionally attend parties together, and it’s seriously so fucking confusing to Brittany. Mike is just so secretive about his relationship that their friend group does nothing but worry about how Santana is probably just playing with his feelings.

Tina and Quinn suddenly freeze and stop talking, so Brittany and Mike quickly lean away from each other as well. Rachel has just made an encompassing gesture to the rest of the group and whispered conversations die off immediately, everyone holding their breaths while they wait to see if they’ve been caught. But Rachel just turns back to Mr. Schue and continues with her rambling-rant-thing, so everyone rolls their eyes and picks their conversations back up where they left off.

“So you two don’t talk about school?” Brittany whispers, and Mike shifts a little beside her, his chair squeaking under his uncomfortable demeanour.

“No, it’s just that she doesn’t like to talk about her—” He cuts himself off and presses his middle fingers and thumbs so tightly together that Brittany thinks they might start to merge into one continuous, circular finger, which would probably be pretty impractical. “Santana’s just pretty private,” he says instead, “She, um, doesn’t really like to— We just don’t really talk about, uh, stuff like that.”

Brittany hums disbelievingly because Mike’s answer is kind of a bullshit copout. She doesn’t really like talking about feelings either, but she still manages to not be cold and aloof and bitchy to the people she’s supposed to care the most about; she doesn’t treat her boyfriends or girlfriends the way that Santana treats Mike.

“Just— Brittany, promise me something?” Mike suddenly says pleadingly, “I know you guys don’t like the two of us dating or, you know, like Santana at all, but she’s just— Her fa— She— She means a lot to me, and she isn’t actually— Just give her a chance, okay?”

Brittany is more than a little confused, because Mike almost never opens up about his girlfriend, despite being a pretty open person otherwise. “I, uh, I will,” she manages to mumble after a long moment of silence.

“Thanks,” Mike murmurs, and before Brittany can process the whole weird conversation, Rachel finally sits down and Mr. Schue starts rehearsal, forcing all the glee kids to switch from all-fake-paying-attention to (mostly-)all-real-paying-attention.

Mr. Schue allows the girls to have a quick five minute bathroom and water break while he works with Mike to teach some choreography to the boys. Mike shoots Brittany and Quinn a kill-me-now look when Finn trips into Puck and they nearly cause a domino effect, resulting in shoving Artie wildly rolling across the room and almost flattening Joe as he narrowly misses crashing into the piano. Brad the Piano Man looks like he actually might start murdering teenagers, and the girls all take that as their cue to flee the practice room. Tina, Lauren, and Rachel all head to the bathroom, while Quinn tugs Brittany in the opposite direction, leading them to the sole not disgusting water fountain in the entire school, the one by the office that’s basically on the other end of the building.

The silence is comfortable between them, only broken by the soft pad of Quinn’s flats and the shuffle-squeak of Brittany’s ratty sneakers and the distant sound of the janitor using the floor cleaner by the library. The hallways are completely empty, but there’s the steady thud basketballs growing louder as they approach the gym that makes it sound like the sweaty team is stomping along beside them.

“Hey, Quinn?” Brittany says suddenly, waiting for Quinn to glance up from her phone before she continues, “What’s Santana like as captain?”

Mike’s definitely positively biased about Santana because she’s his girlfriend, and Quinn is probably negatively biased because she spent sophomore year to junior year trying (and failing) to ruin Santana’s reputation, so she figures between the two of them she can kind of figure out what she should expect from Santana.

“Why do you wanna know?” Quinn asks suspiciously.

Brittany flounders for just a moment before she comes up with an answer. “Mr. Dunngan wants us to do some weird group math assignment thing tomorrow and I got stuck with Santana because I was late.”

“Ugh, gross,” Quinn scowls, her face twisted in distaste.

“So I wanna know what to expect,” Brittany prods gently.

Quinn needs no more prompting and immediately slides her phone back into her pocket, not even bothering to lock it before she eagerly launches into a rant about seemingly every single tiny thing that annoys her about Santana Lopez, from the way she captains the Cheerios (which is basically a rehash of Quinn’s lunchtime rant, so Brittany mostly tunes that one out) to how she’s a complete bitch about everything, from the way she walks across the classroom too loudly in history to the way her left-handedness smudges all her notes (which seems like a weird complaint unless Santana was reaching over and smudging Quinn’s notes, so), from the way she always ‘accidentally’ hits Quinn with her locker door when they’re both exchanging binders and textbooks in their neighbouring lockers to the way she corrects Mr. Schue in Spanish class (though, honestly, that one seems to be an admirable quality to Quinn), from the way she takes notes while teachers are lecturing to the way she makes checkmarks backwards while grading quizzes in class when the teacher is too lazy to grade then himself and outsources the job to his students (which seems like an extension of Quinn’s complaint about her left-handedness, which was also kind of a weird complaint to begin with).

“You done yet?” Brittany asks amusedly when Quinn finally pauses to take a breath, having already filled up their water bottles and started heading back to the glee practice room, passing Tina and Lauren on the way as they also head to fill up their water bottles at the sole not-disgusting water fountain in this dumb school.

Quinn rolls her eyes and swats at Brittany’s arm. Brittany grins, unrepentant, and dances out of the way of Quinn’s annoyed hand, causing the leather of her jacket to creak in protest, her amused shuffle echoing faintly in the empty hallway. Quinn rolls her eyes again, before turning serious again. “She’s alright, though, to be honest.”

Brittany blinks, trying to figure out if Quinn’s messing with her. “Look I’m glad you got all your Santana-related frustration out or whatever, but what a weird way to end a rant.”

Quinn just shrugs as they finally reach the glee practice room. “I mean, don’t get me wrong,” she says as they stop in front of the closed door, “I hated her for years because she got the Cheerios captainship over me, but whatever. I’m over it.”

“Right,” Brittany says after a beat of silence.

“I am,” Quinn insists. “I mean, yeah, am I still a little bitter that Coach Sylvester chose Santana as captain instead of me? Obviously. But I’m not taking it out on her anymore. She’s annoying as all hell and she can be, like, the absolute biggest bitch, but—ugh, I can’t believe I’m saying this—she is a good captain,” Quinn reluctantly admits. “And now that we aren’t at each other’s throats anymore, she’s actually been sharing her captaining duties with me this year.”

“Uh huh.”

“No, really, Britt.” Quinn finally softens, her expression turning serious. “It took me a really long time to realize that glee makes me happier than the Cheerios ever did. I mean, Coach Sylvester is like certifiably insane, and in glee I don’t risk permanent emotional and physical trauma like I do with the Cheerios—just social suicide, which I don’t care so much about anymore. And now that I’ve finally taken my head out of my ass and figured that out, I stopped hating Santana for getting picked as captain instead of me. Honestly, as much as I complain about her, she is actually a good fit for captain because she’s about the only person in this whole school who can stand up to Coach Sylvester without getting completely eviscerated. I still don’t really like her all that much, but I don’t hate her anymore.”

Brittany studies Quinn for a long moment, searching her pretty hazel eyes until she cracks and smiles a little. “I believe you, Quinn,” Brittany promises, “But this hasn’t really helped me at all.”

Quinn offers her a small smile in return. “You should probably just expect the unexpected with her.”

“That’s the thing,” Brittany whines, expect she doesn’t whine because she has a reputation to protect as the school’s resident broody rebel and whining really undercuts that, “I’m really bad at surprises and not knowing things. Remember last Christmas?”

“When you decided that surprise presents are useless and instead insisted that you shop for yourself while I pay for it and called it a Christmas gift?” Quinn asks wryly, “Yeah, I remember that.”

“Then you know how much I hate all this bingo shit.”

“Limbo,” Quinn corrects, “And, yeah, I do.”

“Why would I hate showing off my superior ability to bend backwards and shuffle under a stick?” Brittany deadpans. “I hate bingo because you spend the whole game in a state of suspense, waiting for some sad middle aged man to announce a single number at a time, and it’s all for nothing because your aunt somehow cheated the entire game anyways and won the pot and never shared it with you despite being her blood relative—and only niece at the time, I might add. What is distant family good for if they don’t even share their riches with you?”

Quinn giggles as she finally opens the door. “And then after that she was caught cheating and drinking during the game and was subsequently banned from entering your grandma’s nursing home ever again? I never would have guessed that she was your aunt,” Quinn comments idly, a small smirk playing at her lips.

Brittany sighs deeply and slouches even more. “My mom was a total prep during high school and my dad was a complete nerd. And then they got together and somehow produced me,” she agrees. “The rebellious gene my aunt got totally skipped my mom and went straight to me instead. She was so proud the first time I got caught graffiti-ing the middle school,” Brittany admits, struggling to keep her smug smile under control, “My mom was so mad at me and she called Aunt Nell in the hopes that she’d talk to me and give me hell and be all don’t follow in my footsteps, but instead she just taught me how to not get caught next time.”

“Of course she did,” Quinn grins at Brittany as they collapse into an empty pair of chairs. “And I’m sure she’d be so proud to discover you’ve turned into a tutoring nerd in her absence.”

“God,” Brittany groans, her eyes wide, “Give me your phone so I can delete her number from it so you can’t tell her because she’d never let me live this down.”

Quinn laughs loudly at that, startling the boys at the front of the room, none of whom had even noticed Quinn and Brittany returning because they were all too busy struggling to follow the simple choreography Mike and Mr. Schue are still demonstrating. “Maybe this will be good for you,” Quinn suggests around her laughter, “Maybe your nerdy little math pupil will squash those rebellious urges of yours and you’ll turn into the math nerd you’ve always been hiding deep inside.”

Brittany just groans and sinks deep into her seat, shrugging her shoulders up by her ears so she can hide her pout in the collar of her leather jacket. She’s pretty sure tutoring Santana definitely won’t squash her rebellious urges or turn her into a nerd; if anything, she’ll be lucky if she even survives tutoring, if Santana’s reputation is anything to go by. She should have just fled Mr. Dunngan’s classroom when she had the chance, because not even fifteen dollars an hour is worth losing her rebellious reputation and suffering Quinn’s endless teasing.

And god knows if her aunt—the wild tattooed California biker with a suspiciously sealed criminal record, the one Brittany’s mom still thinks is a bad influence on her daughters, the one that taught Brittany how to shoplift without getting caught and kind of completely validated her mom’s worries—ever found out that she was about to start tutoring Santana Lopez, the daughter of a man that Aunt Nell once called the ‘shittiest thing that Lima has ever produced, and that’s including those dumb fucking redneck hick jingles that play on that godawful rural radio every single commercial break,’ Brittany would never ever hear the end of it.

Brittany sinks deeper into her leather jacket and groans. She’s starting to think that she’s not going to make it through this dumb tutoring thing unscathed.


Chapter Text

Mr. Dunngan still won’t meet her eyes when she slips into his classroom at 8:46 the next day, which Brittany thinks is kind of hilarious. Apparently, he’s still thinking about his implication of history between her and Santana, because he seems to be avoiding Santana’s gaze too. Brittany finds his awkward embarrassment way more interesting than derivatives as rates of change (which is something she’s been an expert at since, like, freshmen year).

Unfortunately, she’s still supposed to attend AP Calculus even though she’s had all this stuff mastered for years and straight up researches for some of the most prestigious universities in the country; though that just means she only has to keep up the illusion of paying attention. So she pulls out her notebook and flips it open to a blank page, using her pencil to occupy her fingers instead of write down questions she can do in her head. Mr. Dunngan notices the rustling of her notebook and glances at the back of the classroom, catching her eye for only a moment before spinning away and running a hand over his head as he launches into a rambling explanation of the difference between velocity and acceleration, for the students who haven’t taken physics. Brittany smirks at the confused, blank looks the other students give him as he struggles to simplify it so Kyle Ekwisler can understand it, which is a struggle considering how much weed is probably already coursing through his veins—even this early in the morning—and the fact that his brain barely worked to start with.

Brittany tunes Mr. Dunngan out and instead sets her gaze on the softest looking dark waves that she’s ever seen.

Santana always sits at the very front of the classroom, and sets the most terrifying glare on anyone who mutters nerd under their breath at her. Santana’s super smart, but she’s definitely not a nerd; she’s more like weird combination of high school stereotypes, like a smart, popular, bitchy, loner. It still confuses Brittany why she needs a tutor, because she’s still about ninety-eight percent sure that Santana is a straight A student, but watching Santana in class reveals a couple things that Brittany’s never noticed about her until now.

Like there’s the fact that Santana is actually always in class on time, now that Brittany thinks about it. She never skips or shows up even later than Brittany does, which is what basically every other Cheerio does, taking advantage of Coach Sylvester’s iron grip on most of the school—she scares half the other teachers into submission, which means that the Cheerios can get away with just about anything. They could probably even get away with murder, knowing Coach Sylvester.

Or the fact that Santana never ever raises her hand to answer a question, even though Brittany’s pretty sure she knows all the answers. In fact, Brittany doesn’t think she’s ever seen Santana actually speak to a teacher unless they’ve spoken to her, which is weird because Brittany kind of assumed that Santana was a know-it-all. Santana does always know the answer when called on, but she never volunteers the answer, even when the entire class is shifting awkwardly in the silence as they pray that their teacher doesn’t catch their eye and call on them.

Or there’s the fact that Santana splits her time between writing down and answering the questions on the board and scribbling something in the margins of her notebook. Brittany sits in the chair closest to the door, which means that she’s sitting at an angle to Santana’s desk and can just barely see over Santana’s elbow, quickly realizing that most of Santana’s attention is focused on whatever she’s scribbling rather than on Mr. Dunngan’s lecture.

It surprises Brittany, just a little, because she’s always thought of Santana as the perfect model student, the type that all teachers want and that makes all the other students look bad. But that’s obviously not the case, because she barely even glances up before absently answering whatever question is on the board, immediately turning her attention to whatever it is that she’s scribbling in the margins of her notebook, the coil biting into her wrist seemingly insignificant to the quick movement of her pencil. Her profile reads like she’s utterly bored, but there’s a slight crinkle to her nose and twitch to her mouth that makes it seem like her mind is running through a million thoughts and she’s scrambling to write them all down as they speed past.

The more that Brittany watches Santana, the more she sees that Santana seems to be capable of emotion outside of resting bitch face; it’s crinkled in the creases below her eyes, hidden in the corners of her lips, and furrowed in the arch of her brow.

The more that Brittany watches Santana, the more intrigued she becomes by her.

The ringing bell shakes Brittany out of her stupor, and she glances around in poorly concealed surprise, realizing that she hasn’t written anything in her notebook all class because she’s been too busy staring at Santana for basically an entire hour.

She quickly shoves her notebook back in her bag before Mr. Dunngan sees the blank pages and turns to hurry out of the classroom, only to freeze as she meets a pair of unfathomably dark eyes staring at her from across the room.

She desperately hopes that Santana didn’t notice her staring, because she really doesn’t want to be on the receiving ends of one of Santana’s rants; especially because Brittany wouldn’t even be able to blame her, since she had kind of spent the entire class unabashedly staring at her and probably looking really creepy. It’s not that Brittany’s scared of Santana, because Brittany’s not one to back down or let people walk all over her—not since she was thirteen, at least—but she doesn’t really want to start this whole tutoring thing out on the wrong foot.

But Santana doesn’t jump down her throat or anything, she just stares at Brittany with something curious and a little defensive in her gaze, her dark eyes burning into Brittany’s like flame turned black. Someone bumps into Santana on their way out of the classroom, and the moment is broken as her scorching gaze settles on the poor guy. He flinches and scurries out of the room before Santana can react, and the other students all freeze and hover awkwardly in limbo until Santana rolls her eyes and exits the classroom, releasing the other students them from their collective fear of her turning that scowl on them.

Brittany takes just a moment to collect her thoughts, a little unnerved by Santana’s piercing gaze, and finally slips between two other students who are filing out of the classroom, not wanting to get caught alone with Mr. Dunngan since he’s probably expecting her to have a whole tutoring schedule planned out already.

Since it’s her second period spare—a time she would usually spend as far away from the school as she can possibly get without actually leaving town limits—she isn’t in a hurry. So she just wanders out of the classroom and scans the hallway for a head of dark hair. The freshmen are even more terrified of Santana than they are of her, so Brittany just follows the parted crowd at a leisurely pace, curious about where Santana is going but not wanting to be caught in that dark gaze again. Santana doesn’t have to weave around people like the rest of the students do because everyone instantly jumps out of her way, which makes it easy for Brittany to follow Santana without actually seeing her—since Santana is about the same height of most of the freshmen, and therefore impossible to pick out from the crowd otherwise, she just tracks the girl by following the line of freshmen who all startle and jump to the sides of the hallway. The bell rings to signal the start of second period, and the hallways start to clear, making it easier to see the bobbing head of dark hair that Brittany is following, but also forcing Brittany to slow her walk so she doesn’t risk getting too close to Santana.

She’s more than a little surprised to find Santana heading for arts wing of the school, because Brittany doesn’t think that Santana’s would ever be caught dead in this side of the school. She’s almost positive she’s seen Santana sneer any time the glee club or the drama kids or the music classes or the art students are even mentioned in her vicinity, so her curiosity spikes even more as she trails after Santana’s head of dark hair enter the hallway where the band room, the art classroom, and the glee practice room are located. The hallways are basically empty by now since most of the students have already rushed to class, and Brittany is completely taken aback as she watches Santana look both ways before jimmying the lock and slipping into the glee practice room. She completely misses Brittany slouched against the wall between a water fountain and a row of lockers, which Brittany finds a little amusing since Santana seems to have gone to all this trouble of not being seen by the glee practice room, but was too eager to slip get into the room and out of sight of the hallway to be patient enough for full stealth. Brittany gives it a couple minutes—to make sure Santana doesn’t immediately come back out of the glee room—before she approaches the door, keeping to the sides of the hallway to remain at least partially hidden in case Santana suddenly reappears.

Santana left the lights off, but the autumn sunlight streaming in from the windows set high in the wall behind the risers cast the room in shades of muted grey and brown, making shadows loom until the room looks almost unfamiliar in the dark. Brittany doesn’t even see Santana at first, curiously scanning the darkened corners of the room until she hears the faint notes of the piano.

Santana’s sitting at the piano bench, but her spine isn’t stiff and ramrod straight like it usually always is, even in the shitty public high school desks; instead she’s relaxed and comfortable for the first time Brittany’s ever seen her. A notebook is propped against the little lip of wood on the music rack where Brad usually puts his sheet music. Brittany squints but can’t read any of the light pencil scribbles through the darkened room because she’s so far away. Even Santana has to lean forward for long moments in order to read whatever’s written in the notebook before she shifts to settle her weight in the small of her back, her spine elongating and stretching the dark material of her expensive-looking sweater, frowning and swaying forward to squint at the pages whenever she plays a wrong note.

Her right hand continues to pluck out the simple melody that drew Brittany’s gaze to the piano in the first place, repeating a phrase of notes until she seems to gain confidence and finally sit fully back, her shoulders relaxing a little as the melody starts to come faster. Her left hand remains suspended over the keys for a few moments, twitching in the air like the music is fluttering her fingers and playing even before she touches the keys. She continues to repeat the melody until her left hand finally stills and lowers to the piano, just resting on the keys until the end of the melody’s phrase before starting to pick out something lower pitched to counter her right hand. The piano is quieter than Brittany’s ever heard it, and even pressed against the door the music is still faint. Brittany stares wide eyed through the small rectangular window cut into the door as Santana’s hands dance across the piano keys like it’s second nature to her, seamlessly extending the melody into something new but similar with her right hand and complimenting it with the low notes of her left hand. The song is haunting and unfamiliar to Brittany, who’s listened to a lot of music in the three years since Puck dragged her and Mike into the glee practice room back in sophomore year, dragging his friends with him as he hopelessly chased after Quinn.

But it’s not until Santana starts singing that Brittany realizes she’s intruding on something private, because as haunting as the unfamiliar melody is, it’s nothing to the raw, sorrowful, tormented voice that lifts over the piano’s accompaniment, seemingly ripped from somewhere inside Santana that sounds deep and dark and aching.

Brittany’s never hear anything so beautiful in her life.

Or anything so lonely.

Her entire body breaks out in goosebumps, even under her layers of clothes, and she presses her back to the wall beside the door, staring wide-eyed at the silent lockers on the other side of the empty hallway. Santana’s voice barely drifts through the door, but it somehow still makes something deep in her chest ache.

She’s already learned more about Santana in this one morning than she’s ever known in all the years since kindergarten combined.

Brittany skips her third period class—it’s only English, and she’s been speaking that since she was like two, so—and hides out in the tiny forested area behind the student parking lot. Usually, the town’s few homeless people and resident crackheads fill the spaces between these particular trees, but not during school hours anymore, not after receiving one too many warnings from the school about calling the police.

It’s quiet between the shades of green, nothing but the faint rustle of leaves and the distant sound of cars filling the spaces between Brittany’s breathing; which is good, because her thoughts feel too loud.

Even with all Brittany’s seen bubbling below Santana’s deceptively still surface, the girl is still a complete enigma to her. She’s the captain of the Cheerios, but she doesn’t take advantage of all the perks like the other cheerleaders do; she’s just as focused on school as her reputation implies, but she spends most of the class scribbling in the margins of her notebook instead of paying attention; she’s as defensive and cold as Brittany expected, but has a glimmer of curiosity in her dark glare.

She’s still just as aloof and distant as she’s always been, but she sings as if her soul is being torn in two.

Hearing her voice lifting hauntingly over the soft melody drifting from the piano is the first time Brittany’s ever felt that thing that Rachel is always rambling on about. Honestly, she had kind of always thought Rachel was just being all Rachel about it when she would go on and on about that spark of something while singing—Brittany understood that spark in dancing, but had never really understood how singing could ever achieve it. Somehow, Santana’s voice had burrowed its way into her chest and woken that slumbering part of her with just the faintest hint of a song.

Brittany groans and slouches against a tree before sliding to the ground; she’s grateful that it hasn’t rained in a couple days, because the last thing she needs on top of her muddled thoughts is wet jeans.

Santana confuses the hell of her, because she kind of thought she had Santana Lopez, Lima’s golden child and Dr. Lopez’s perfect daughter and McKinley’s bitchy mystery, all figured out—she’s known the girl since kindergarten after all. Granted, they’ve never actually had a conversation outside of that one time Brittany went to hang out with Mike and found Santana sprawled lazily on his bed, which was about the most awkward situation Brittany’s ever had the displeasure to be a part of—which includes that time her parents walked in on her while she was in the middle of ridding her then girlfriend of her shirt. Because as much as Brittany maintains a rebellious and brooding air, one that clings to her like a second skin made of leather jackets and ripped jeans and piercings her mom doesn’t necessarily approve of, Santana has mastered a mature cold, aloof, disaffected air. Brittany’s own brand of brooding grumpy charm that her reputation subsists on has got nothing on Santana’s usual cold stare and slight scowl, she has very quickly realized.

Which is why Brittany’s kind of always thought that Santana was cold and distant and aloof just to be cold and distant and aloof, but she sings about loneliness so beautifully that it’s completely muddled Brittany’s thoughts, and now she doesn’t know what’s reality and what’s an illusion that she’s seen through the lens of McKinley and Lima for most of her life. She’s always thought that Santana was the type of model student that all teachers secretly wish everyone was, the type of teenager that they talk about longingly in the teacher’s lounge during lunchtime because Brittany doesn’t really know what teacher’s actually do to entertain themselves. But Santana barely pays attention in class and never ever puts her hand up to answer questions, only ever speaking after being asked a direct question; though, she still always has the right answer, so Brittany supposes that Santana must be partially attentive in class, or possibly psychic or something. And while Santana’s not exactly a bully, Brittany wouldn’t ever class Santana under the category of nice no matter what the context is, and she’s definitely not afraid to get mean and bitchy and tear someone a new asshole if she so desires.

Brittany rolls her eyes at herself and sinks further into the tree behind her. This morning has done nothing but prove to Brittany that everything she thought she knew was wrong—or, at least, everything she thought she knew was actually obscuring the truth.

She really needs to quell her interest in Santana because staring at Santana all through their tutoring sessions to try and unravel her might make everything more than a little awkward. And then there’s the small problem that Brittany has of always getting crushes on the most inconvenient of people, and Santana’s like the definition of inconvenient on account of Brittany not actually knowing anything about her and the fact that her boyfriend is one of Brittany’s very best friends and the other tiny fact that Santana is very obviously extremely straight.

The only issue is that, despite all of the very valid and completely relevant reasons that Brittany can’t even entertain an interest in Santana, she can’t help but notice how pretty Santana is; she can’t help the fact that she has eyes and those eyes just so happen to be connected to a brain that finds girls distractingly pretty. And it’s practically criminal how pretty Santana is. Like, it’s completely unfair and utterly disarming; and she knows she’s not the only one to think so, too, because she overhears girls wondering how she gets her hair so shiny or her skin so clear and boys wondering what she even sees in Mike Chang (which, admittedly, is something her friend group often wonders in reverse).

Brittany bangs her head against the tree truck behind her a couple times before sighing deeply. She kind of has a giant weakness for pretty girls (and boys, but it’s the pretty girls that’s the issue for this particular problem), and she’s going to have to beat it down as far as she can to make it through however long this tutoring gig will last. Santana’s straight, she’s dating Mike, and Brittany doesn’t know anything about her, so.

Not that Brittany is interested in Santana like that to begin with, because she’s not. It’s just that there’s something about Santana that makes Brittany want to unravel her reputation as Lima’s golden child and McKinley’s perfect student. Even just the possibility of solving the paradox that is Santana Lopez makes Brittany’s—oft-times rather dangerous—curiosity spark with interest.

Brittany bangs her head against the tree she’s slouched against a couple more times, and when that doesn’t clear her thoughts of the annoyingly cryptic mystery that is Santana Lopez, she pulls her lighter out of her pocket and quickly swipes her thumb along the spark-wheel. The tinniest flame immediately springs to life, flickering and dancing in the autumn wind that manages to snake through the trees.

It’s the only thing she has of her bio-dad’s junk, something she slipped into her pocket at eleven the third time she spent the weekend at his apartment being ignored in person instead of in general—she’s always had quick hands and sticky fingers, something that’s endearing until you hit puberty, and he never even noticed the slight bulge in Brittany’s front jean pocket when he desperately tore apart his apartment the next time he tried to go out for a smoke. Apparently it was some fancy important lighter that he got from his own father or something, but Brittany didn’t really care, she just thought it looked pretty.

Despite inheriting all of his worldly possessions when he was killed five months after missing her thirteenth birthday, she had never even bothered to go through his apartment for keepsakes before it was cleared out for the next tenant; the lighter is the only thing of his that she ever kept because he didn’t actually give it to her, because it became hers when she slipped it into her pocket and not when he belatedly pretended to be her father through his Last Will and Testament.

She doesn’t use it to light cigarettes—aside from those few weeks she tried smoking with Puck before just giving up on it because she couldn’t stop coughing during the inhalation; she’d really never liked the smell of cigarette smoke anyways, it reminded her too much of her bio-dad—but she does use it to distract herself whenever she needs it.

Nothing like a good dose of bitter abandonment issues to distract her from whatever other problem’s she’s having.

She skips her fourth period class too, spending an hour angrily flicking the lighter on and off, to the point that she’ll need to pick up another lighter so she can MacGyver the new gas into her old lighter like she’s been doing for years. It means that she’ll have to go out of her way to the gas station on the other side of town so that her mom won’t hear about it—not that Brittany uses the lighter to fuel anything other than resentment, but she has a feeling her mom won’t see it that way—but her little sister has piano lessons in that direction anyways, and it’s Brittany’s turn to pick her sister up after school since their parents are both working late today.

She finally relents once the lighter fluid has almost completely burned away, the flame little more than a spark trying to catch, and stands with a groan. She’s always been a dancer, but her body doesn’t really care that she’s flexible and limber, because sitting in one position for almost two hours makes her stiff no matter how many hours she spends free-styling with Mike. Her stomach growls loudly as she slings her backpack over her shoulder and starts heading back towards the school, leaves crunching loudly underfoot. A couple birds startle and flee as she trudges back through the woods, seemingly surprised to see an angry girl stalking between the trees they call home.

Pale sunlight greets her as she emerges into the student parking lot and steps over the rope hanging between thick wooden posts, a makeshift fence that has been strewn up for about as many years as the school has been open. Brittany must have a deeper scowl set into her face than she realizes, because as she enters the school and sulks through the hallways, people jump out of her way even quicker than usual.

Puck and Quinn and Mike know better than to engage with Brittany when she’s in a mood like this, so they just offer her small smiles before completely ignoring her as she devours whatever passes for cafeteria food today. She half-heartedly pays attention to her friends’ conversation, but spends most of her time split between scowling at the table and eyeing Santana, who sits across from Brittany on the other end of the cafeteria, alone like usual, her own glower scaring away any poor student that wanders too close to her table.

It strikes Brittany as ironic that, even though Brittany started thinking about her bio-dad to distract her from thoughts about Santana, she’s now thinking about Santana to distract her from thoughts about her bio-dad—lest she skip the rest of the day to drive past Lima’s graveyard and destroy the plastic flowers from god-knows-who that are usually set by his grave.


She lets thoughts of the complete mystery that Santana Lopez is distract her during her remaining classes, even all the way through her seventh period class—which is honestly far too easy considering that she spends her last period of the day locked in some empty classroom being supervised by a severely underpaid EA who could probably be spending their time actually helping other students instead of babysitting Brittany. Ever since McKinley started receiving grants from universities who wanted Brittany’s research—after she resolutely refused to graduate high school early and accept their admission offers—the school adjusted Brittany’s schedule to allow for Brittany to spend as much time as possible working on whatever mathematical problems and research materials that comes along with the grants.

It’s boring work because, while Brittany understands math, she’s not actually interested in math. But, because the school really didn’t want to lose out on the money that they were being sent whenever Brittany made a breakthrough or whatever, she was forced to become a math monkey for McKinley and scheduled into an hour of work every day for the school. If the grant money was actually evenly distributed around the school’s programs and employees then she wouldn’t mind so much, but instead of using the money for things like supplies or better pay for teachers and janitors or the arts program, the school spends their new funds on sports teams and athletic equipment and pointlessly renovating the gym and what ever other shit helps all of McKinley’s Titans at the cost of everyone not invested in athletics.

And she hates it more than anything; she hates the politics and she hates being forced to do something she doesn’t actually like—even if she is good at it—and she hates the fact that the funding that she is bringing in doesn’t even go towards anything she actually cares about in this dumb school. It’s one of the many reasons Brittany can’t stand Coach Sylvester, because most of the money mysteriously appears in the pockets of the Cheerios while the arts programs at the school bleed dry; Brittany may pretend that she’s all uncaring-rebellious-brooding-teenager, but the arts wing of the school means a lot to her, getting her through some of her more unhealthy coping mechanisms and bringing her closer to her friends. Sure, she can’t stand half the glee club on a good day, and she might actually snap the next time Rachel or Finn or Mr. Schue gives her that pitying I’m sorry but you’re not smart enough to comprehend this look, but glee club means more to her than just about anything else.

Brittany groans and smacks her forehead against the whiteboard, trying not to snap the dry-erase marker in her hand like she’s tempted to do. Just thinking about all the dumb fucking politics surrounding this stupid grant money that forces her to do stupid math for an even stupider school makes that impulsive temper of hers that her parents always worry about spike to reckless heights.

“Are you alright, Brittany?”

Brittany blinks and sighs, her shoulders slumping as she takes a couple deep breaths. “I’m fine, Mrs. Belling,” she answers as normally as she can manage even though it feels like smoke is pouring out of her nose, “It’s just been a long day.”

Mrs. Belling makes a noise of sympathy from where she sits at the teacher’s desk in the back of the room. “I keep telling them that they’re working you too hard. All this adult research is putting too much stress on you, and you’re only a teenager,” she says in a slightly scolding voice, which makes Brittany smile, just a little bit, because Mrs. Belling is basically the nicest person in the entire world. If politeness and compassion were personified, she’s pretty sure that Mrs. Belling would be it’s human form.

“I just have a lot on my mind today and it’s been distracting,” Brittany admits, straightening back up and frowning when she realizes that her head smudged the formula she was trying to solve. She rubs at her forehead and frowns even more at weirdly damp but somehow still crumbly remains the dry-erase marker left on her skin.

“If you ever need to talk about all your stress or frustrations or anything—anything at all—I’m always free to listen,” Mrs. Belling says earnestly, and Brittany knows she genuinely means it, even if Brittany will never take her up on her offer because adults and Brittany’s feelings never mix well without her getting difficult and grumpy.

“Thanks, Mrs. B.,” Brittany says, glancing over her shoulder to give the EA a small smile, “But I should get back to this work.”

Mrs. Belling smiles back at her, all motherly comfort and warmth and understanding and Brittany knows exactly why even the teenagers so often labelled as ‘problem kids’ by their parents and teachers and doctors always seem to flock to the educational assistant. “There’s still twenty minutes left until the final bell, if you want to take a snack break I won’t look.”

Brittany grins a little and immediately abandons the whiteboard to dig through her backpack until she pulls out a small bag of cookies she stole from the pantry even though they’re supposed to be for her little sister’s lunches. “Thanks, Mrs. B., you’re the best,” Brittany mumbles genuinely around a mouthful of cookie—she didn’t really eat much at lunch because her resentment got the better of her, so she’s actually kind of starving now.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Mrs. Belling says, failing to hide a tiny smile as Brittany stuffs another cookie in her mouth, “I would never condone students eating during class.”

Brittany grins again—mostly because the thought of this last hour of school in any way resembling a class is so ridiculous it’s laughable—and turns back to the whiteboard, regarding her work with a critical eye as she munches more slowly on her next cookie. There’s a circular smudge in the middle of the equation from her forehead, but she knows this particular formula by heart so she doesn’t bother re-writing it. The classroom is silent aside from Brittany’s chewing and Mrs. Belling’s pen scratching in a notebook, only broken by the occasional crinkle of Brittany’s cookie bag and the flutter of pages whenever Mrs. Belling turns flips through her book.

Brittany’s been working on this particular mathematical problem for a couple weeks, ever since school started and some prestigious university or another sent the problem along with more money in the hopes that Brittany would be able to crack it. She pops another cookie in her mouth and sighs, letting her mind drift away from the problem in front of her. She hasn’t made much progress in the last couple weeks, and she’s not really hopeful that she’ll ever make progress, even with everyone insisting that her mathematical genius will solve it; it’s not like anyone else has figured it out either, so she isn’t too stressed about being at a standstill in terms of progress.

Her thoughts drift to Mr. Dunngan and she wonders if maybe he would have any insights into this problem, or another way to approach it that Brittany hasn’t thought of, which only succeeds in turning her thoughts back to Santana.

They have fifth period chemistry and sixth period physics together, which was basically just two more hours of Brittany staring at Santana and trying not to be caught in that dark, piercing gaze again. Even after spending about half the day observing Santana—or, at the very least, thinking about her—the only thing she’s really gathered is that Santana seems to believe social interaction involves growling at anyone who gets too close (which is something Brittany can totally get behind, to be completely honest), only speaks when teachers ask her a direct question and stares blankly at anyone else who tries to talk to her, pays more attention to the margins of her notebook than the teacher but still manages to have all the right answers, and is still stupidly pretty. Out of all the realizations she’s had while observing Santana today, it’s how pretty she is that ends up distracting Brittany more than it really should. Because while she’s always thought Santana was objectively pretty, she’s never spent a whole day just looking at her, without anything to distract her from admiring the shine of her dark hair or the depths of her eyes or the fullness of her lips or the perfect fit of her jeans or the slender arch of her wrists.

She’s like the type of pretty that’s impossible to really describe in a book or capture in a portrait. Like the type of pretty that launched ships at Troy. Like the type of pretty that made Aphrodite jealous enough to kill. Like the type of pretty that captivates heroes and monsters alike.

She’s the type of pretty that makes your heart miss a beat and then start a whole new rhythm.

Brittany bites down too fiercely on the next cookie she pops in her mouth and hisses in pain as her tongue gets in the way, subtly glancing back to make sure that Mrs. Belling didn’t hear her, but the EA is thankfully too engrossed in her book to notice anything else. She sighs as she turns back to the board, trying to wipe the way Santana looked sitting at the piano in the glee room out of her mind, trying to remind herself that, while Santana is really pretty, getting a stupidly inconvenient crush on her would be awful and awkward and annoying.

The bell rings and startles Brittany out of her musing, realizing that she just spent the last twenty minutes of school staring blankly at the whiteboard and daydreaming about Santana. “Fuck,” she mutters as she grabs the whiteboard eraser and starts wiping the red and blue and green marker from sight, not bothering to write anything permanently down or take a picture because she definitely didn’t make any progress today. Mrs. Belling calls a farewell to Brittany as she gathers her stuff and heads out the door, and Brittany absently waves back at her as she tries to beat back the thoughts that have been plaguing her mind all day.

The hallways have already emptied and quieted by the time Brittany grabs her backpack and slinks out of the classroom, which is pretty normal; this end of the school is usually completely deserted barely ten minutes after the bell.

Which is why she doesn’t bother to watch where she’s going as she exits the classroom.

Which is why she is completely taken aback when she slams into someone passing the classroom.

Which is why she more or less distractedly bodychecks a solid warm weight and somehow remains standing tall while the person grunts in surprise and goes crashing to the ground.

It’s ironic, really, that she ends up running headfirst into Santana because she’s too busy being distracted by thoughts of Santana.

Brittany just stumbles a little but doesn’t falter otherwise. It’s Santana that she’s completely surprised to find sprawled on the ground, her binders and textbooks spread all around her and half slumped on her own bag. Those dark, burning eyes glare up at Brittany so fiercely that Brittany is completely captured in them, the skin of her face heating up like she’s about to catch on fire.

“I hope you’re better at math than you are at walking, Pierce,” Santana sneers, her voice dripping with the same distaste that Brittany has overheard a thousand times before.

Brittany finally manages to snap out of her rigid trance and immediately drops to her knees, her backpack falling to the ground as a genuine apology spills out of her, because she’s a rebel not completely heartless. And also just a little afraid that Santana might eviscerate her or something. She’s grateful that there is no one else in the hallway at the moment, because she’s pretty sure they would be about to witness a public execution. “I promise my math is more the sedimentary type.”

Santana rolls her eyes so hard that they look like they might pop right out of their sockets and into Brittany’s hands which, ew. No matter how pretty her eyes are, eyeballs not in their assigned places are disgusting; she’d never admit it, but movies with slightly too realistic eyeball props have always kind of freaked Brittany out. “God,” Santana says without any inflection in her voice, snapping Brittany out of the detour her thoughts had taken, “You mean sedentary.”

Brittany swallows and gathers Santana’s spilled binders and textbooks, her own ratty backpack forgotten somewhere behind her. “Sorry,” she says again, trying to stop the word vomit she can feel bubbling below the surface but knowing it’s pretty pointless, “I was thinking about finding you to set up a tutoring session and was just surprised when my psychic powers summoned you. That’s never happened before—usually I just see visions in orange toned technicolour.”

Santana’s lips twitch in the barest hint of a smile—really, it might just be, like, a muscle spasm or something—and Brittany’s heart just about leaps out of her chest. “That’s So Raven,” Santana says mildly, “Good to know you’re a child as well as a nerd.”

“Firstly, I have a little sister that only watches the Disney Channel, so there, and secondly, rude,” Brittany says before standing and shifting all of Santana’s books to one hand and slinging her backpack back over her shoulder, her face twisting in complete disgust, “I accept math genius, but nerd is an insult to my everything.”

Santana’s lips twitch again, and Brittany kind of thinks it might actually smile because her cheeks crease a little too this time; that, or Santana just has really strong facial muscle spasm—based on Santana’s reputation alone, there’s actually a pretty decent chance it’s the second option. Santana’s skin is cool and soft and smooth as she takes Brittany’s offered hand, so unlike Brittany’s own calloused palms from doing motocross for so long, that it shocks her a little. Brittany easily pulls Santana up to her feet, entranced as Santana’s lips curl into a full smirk, not unlike a lioness about to jump an unsuspecting gazelle. “I’ve heard you’re some sort of broody rebel, but knowing you watch the Disney Channel really ruins your street cred.” Santana releases Brittany’s hand and taps her mouth thoughtfully, her other hand on her hip. “Do you introduce Disney songs to your little glee club, or do you just sit back and allow that Yentl diva and her oaf of a frankenteen to order you around in the background while they stumble through the most simple of choreography?”

Brittany just blinks at Santana for a long moment. “I feel like I should defend Rachel and Finn, just on principle of being in glee club with them, but I’ve got nothing ‘cause I can’t even disagree with that.”

And, okay, so, here’s the thing about Santana that Brittany doesn’t think anyone (except maybe Mike) has ever discovered about her: When Santana smiles, like really actually smiles and not those fake polite ones she always gives the teachers, she has these little dimples that crease her cheeks. Dimples that Brittany didn’t even imagine could ever exist because the skin of Santana’s cheeks is smooth and unblemished and almost always completely expressionless except—

Except for right at this moment, because Santana is biting back a surprised laugh, and her lips are struggling to fall back into her usual scowl, and her eyes are shimmering as she tries to regain control of her expression. Something in Brittany’s chest flares in curiosity and something warm because just the barest glimpse of those two dimples sends Brittany’s thoughts racing with the realization that everything she’s observed today hasn’t been in her imagination, because the key to the emotions that lay beneath Santana’s deceptively still surface are hidden in those creased cheeks struggling to contain surprised amusement.

She thought that Santana was pretty before, but now that she knows what Santana looks like when she smiles, even just a little, she realizes just how much she’s missed these last nearly thirteen years, how much she’s missed even after spending the day observing her.

“Glad to know we at least have something in common,” Santana finally says with something almost warm in her raspy voice, and it takes Brittany a moment to remember what they were talking about because god, she’s so much more attractive with amusement clinging to her features and voice than she is when she’s tearing into some poor unsuspecting soul.

Brittany gathers enough of her scattered thoughts to somehow string together a response. “That, and That’s So Raven,” she adds, absently nabbing her backpack and slinging it over her shoulder just to give her hands something to do.

Santana’s eyes narrow, her amusement slipping off her like water shucks off a seal’s rubbery skin. “What?” she deadpans.

Brittany smirks a little, because Santana really walked right into that one. “Well, you recognized the reference, nerd.”

Santana’s eyes glow with something that’s less annoyance and more curiosity and something else, but Brittany doesn’t know her well enough to name it. “Yeah, from when the number on my birthday cake was still in the single digits.” Brittany’s smirk widens even more and she just hums, knowing how much it usually annoys people whenever she backs them into a conversation like this. Santana rolls her eyes but doesn’t eviscerate Brittany on the spot like her reputation suggests she will. “Whatever,” she says dismissively, “Let’s just figure out a schedule for this dumb tutoring thing.”

Brittany nods and quickly tells Santana her schedule, suggesting her second period spare or after school when she doesn’t have glee practice.

“Ugh,” Santana grumbles, her features flickering between cold disinterest and frustration for a moment, before her usual distant expression finally settles into the line of her mouth and the furrow of her eyebrows. “After school will have to work, I guess. Wednesdays and Fridays then?” she asks without it actually sounding like a question at all.

“That, or our spare,” Brittany suggests, and the way Santana stiffens a little doesn’t go unnoticed by Brittany. “You have a second period spare too, right?”

“I suppose we could do weekends too if we have to,” Santana says, completely ignoring Brittany’s suggestion.

Brittany frowns, bristling a little because no matter how pretty Santana is or how much she intrigues Brittany or how Brittany really doesn’t want their tutoring sessions to be awkward or how much Santana’s reputation suggests that she eats anyone who challenges her alive, absolutely no one just completely and rudely ignores her like that. “I know you have a second period spare, you spend it in the glee room,” Brittany says, hoping that today wasn’t just a one time thing that will make her accusation completely backfire.

It’s definitely not just a one time thing, because Santana’s eyes snap to Brittany’s, her dark glare hot and burning and fierce, but Brittany’s surprised to realize she could probably scrape that away with the edge of her thumb nail to reveal something distressed underneath. “What are you talking about, Pierce?” she hisses, her voice low and dangerous and rumbling.

Brittany’s not one to back down, even when she probably should based on the warning growl in Santana’s voice; her parents calls it careless recklessness but Brittany thinks it’s just standing up for herself, the way she never used to. So she squares her shoulders and meets Santana’s dark glower head on. “I’m talking about you sneaking into the glee room and playing piano during second period. And I know it’s gotta be your spare because daddy dearest would have your perfect little head for skipping class and ruining your perfect little attendance record, wouldn’t he?”

Santana grows very still for a moment, her jaw clenching and something in her dark eyes crackling with a type of energy that makes Brittany swallow thickly and desperately resist the urge to take a step back. “Fuck you, Pierce,” she says so lowly that Brittany barely hears it, the snarl in her voice rumbling across the space between them and vibrating Brittany’s sternum like an overly loud bassline during a concert. Her lips pull back in a slight snarl before she spins on her heel and storms away.

Brittany inwardly curses at herself and takes a couple quick steps to stop Santana, using her longer legs and dancer’s grace to her advantage as she slips into Santana’s path, blocking her from continuing down the hallway. “Look,” she says softly, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you mad.”

Santana’s jaw is tight and tense right at the hinge and Brittany imagines her teeth must be painfully protesting the pressure. “Yeah, whatever, Pierce,” she snarls, moving to step around Brittany and continue down the hallway.

Brittany reaches out and grabs Santana’s wrist with a gentleness that surprises even herself. “Santana,” she says quietly, “I won’t tell anyone. About the piano thing, I mean. I promise.” Santana hesitates, her dark gaze darting between Brittany’s eyes like a sparrow flits between trees. “I didn’t mean anything by it.”

Santana’s jaw loosens a little bit and her gaze drops down to somewhere past Brittany’s shoulder. “My—” Santana cuts herself off and shakes Brittany’s hand off her wrist. “We can study during second period if that works better,” she concedes, her voice barely more than a mutter, and Brittany blinks in surprise.

“We don’t—”

“It’s fine,” Santana interrupts before Brittany can even begin to process Santana’s sudden change in mood.

Brittany winces and smiles sheepishly, playing with one of the higher rips on her jeans, fiddling with the loose strings and rolling them between her thumb and forefinger. “This is coming out all wrong,” she mutters awkwardly. Santana raises her brows as if to say ya think? and Brittany kicks one leg behind the other to try and channel some of her embarrassment into movement. “Look, let me—” Brittany swallows thickly and offers her hand to Santana, her movements jerking her arm gracelessly, “I’m Brittany Pierce and Mr. Dunngan assigned me as your tutor. I’m known for accidentally bodychecking unsuspecting students in the hallway and being kind of an ass.”

Santana stares at Brittany’s hand for a long moment, the pauses between Brittany’s heartbeat shortening as she waits for Santana to swat her hand away and storm off. She’s more than a little surprised when Santana sighs and takes Brittany’s hand, her skin as cool and smooth and soft as it was earlier, before finally meeting Brittany’s eyes. “Santana Lopez,” she says, her tone so much softer than it has been in all of their conversation so far, something almost teasing in the lilt of her voice, “My controlling father is a big shot doctor and I’m a little touchy about it. I can also be kind of an ass.”

Brittany’s hand lingers in Santana’s a little too long, because her fingers start to tingle like that time she was playing around with her metal bike at the beginning of a thunderstorm, before her dad freaked out and dragged her into the house. She’s not sure what to do with her hand, so she quickly shoves it deep into the pocket of her leather jacket, rocking back on her heels and chewing her lip. “So, uh, I can’t do after school tomorrow or Mondays ‘cause glee club and all. But we can do second period any day if, you know, that works for you?”

Santana’s eyes soften a little and her shoulders droop, her posture a little more relaxed than it usually is when she’s marching through McKinley’s hallways and parting the crowds of students with little more than a glare. “Second period works,” she mutters, “But I’m not studying anywhere near the art wing.”

Brittany’s about to protest because the glee practice room is quiet and empty during that time—as Santana well knows, obviously—but something makes her decide against it. “We can just study in the library or whatever.”

Santana nods her assent and just stares at Brittany, until Brittany starts to shift her weight back and forth and attempts to not fidget too much under Santana’s unimpressed gaze. “Can I have my books back?” Santana finally asks idly.

Brittany blinks and startles a little, glancing down at the hand not buried in her pocket and realizing she’s still holding all of Santana’s stuff from when she accidentally bodychecked Santana to the ground. “Oh, uh, yeah, of course,” she manages to stammer as she offers Santana her binders and textbooks, cursing herself at the uncertainty in her voice as she flusters, desperately willing away the heat in her cheeks without even understanding why she’s blushing.

“Thanks,” Santana says after a beat, tucking her stuff under her arm. She doesn’t move for a moment, ducking her head a little and not meeting Brittany’s eyes, her teeth sinking into her bottom lip. She’s cute, Brittany thinks, and then shoves her now free hand into her other pocket and violently digs her fingernails into her palms because Jesus, get a grip, Pierce. “I’m sorry, too, for overreacting or whatever,” Santana finally mutters as she sweeps past Brittany, disappearing down the hallway without a second glance.

Brittany groans and takes a moment to glare at the ground. That could have gone a lot better, but she supposes it could have gone a lot worse too, so.

Her parents are over the moon as soon as she tells them that she’s been asked to tutor another student, going on and on and on about how good of an experience it is and how much the school must trust her and how proud her teachers must be.

Brittany just pushes her spaghetti around on her plate—still not all that hungry despite how little she’s had to eat today—and tries to ignore their excitement. She loves her parents, but they don’t really understand what it’s like at McKinley for her. The school mostly uses her for grant money and otherwise dismisses her as just another problem kid that will never amount to anything or make it out of Lima; she’s pretty sure most of the teachers think she’d never be on track to graduate if it wasn’t for her math grades and, to be honest, Brittany’s always kind of secretly agreed with them.

After years of watching every teacher—with very few exceptions—give up on her after a couple weeks, Brittany quickly stopped caring about her academics; she’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy that way, her teacher have always expected her to fail, so eventually she just gave up on trying to prove them wrong and started to meet the low expectations they all had for her. It’s why she dreads going to class everyday, because she can only take so many smug faux-disappointed stares before she wants to take a match and burn the school down around her.


Brittany jumps a little, her fork clattering to her plate and startling her little sister across the table. “What?” she says, sounding far more defensive than she intends to.

Her mom gives her the patented don’t take that tone with me, young lady look that all mother’s have, but lets it go when Brittany mutters an apology about zoning out. “I asked if you had a tutoring plan yet?”

“It’s only been a day,” she mutters, taking a violent bite out of a piece of garlic bread. “And I had to make sure that Sa—” Brittany cuts herself off as she remembers the confidentiality thing she signed when Mr. Dunngan cornered her at the back doors of the school after the whole conversation-incident-thing with Santana. She doesn’t think it includes her parents—because who the hell are they even going to tell?—but she still doesn’t really feel like letting anyone know who exactly she’s going to be tutoring. Mike’s different because Brittany trusts Mike more than she trusts herself most days, and he’s also Santana’s boyfriend so she figures he’ll find out eventually anyways. “I mean, I had to make sure that the student was actually going to agree to be tutored before I planned anything out.”

“And?” her mom prompts.

Brittany takes her time chewing her bite of garlic bread, swallowing so slowly it feels a little bit like she might start choking. “I’ll come up with something tonight,” she sighs.

“Brittany Susan,” her mom reprimands.


Her mom shakes her head. “Your tone,” she says with that fake patience she has mastered since the very first time Brittany got dragged home by the scruff when one of her bio-dad’s colleagues caught her testing out her art style with a couple spray bottles on the middle school brick wall. Her mom was all polite gratefulness and faux patience until the front door closed behind the cop, and then she spared no expense as she went right up one side of her daughter and straight down the other for being so irresponsible and reckless and thoughtless. Not that it actually dissuaded Brittany from doing it again or anything, it just made her more careful to not get caught the next time.

Brittany resists the urge to roll her eyes. “I’ll come up with something tonight,” she repeats, inserting false cheer into her voice.

Her dad gives her the look this time, but also lets it go. Her parents have learned to pick their battles when it comes to raising their teenaged daughter, and grumpy petulance at the dinner table is usually given a free pass compared to the other trouble Brittany generally gets in. “How’s this new research measuring up to your old stuff, buttercup?” he asks teasingly instead.

Brittany stabs at her spaghetti, satisfied when the scrape of fork against plate makes everyone wince a little, even if it was mostly on accident. “It’s going,” she says as she shoves her food into her mouth.

“I did research today too!” her sister pipes up, not to be outdone by her big sister, even if she’s half Brittany’s age.

“That’s great, munchkin,” Brittany says genuinely. Even when her parents are on her case about her academics or her attitude or her inclination for trouble or whatever else it is that parents complain about, her little sister still always manages to bring a smile to Brittany’s face—really, no matter how Brittany’s feeling, there’s very few times her sister can’t manage to cheer her up.

Her sister takes that as her cue to launch into a play-by-play of her entire day, starting in the middle when she got the assignment to research ladybugs, and then backtracking to the start of her day, skipping to the end, and bouncing right back to the middle. Brittany smiles as she listens to her sister narrate every single thing she experienced today, her awe at the smallest things of life lifting the dark cloud that had settled over her as soon as she told her parents about her new tutoring job. Her sister is only in grade four, so she’s never experienced the type of pressure and stress Brittany went through from eighth grade to now, and if she could protect her little munchkin from it all, she would without a second thought.

The three other Pierces listen to the youngest one ramble all through the rest of supper, and all through the cleanup, giving Brittany the perfect excuse to slip away to her room without her parents bugging her about creating a schedule for her and Santana’s tutoring session.

She knows she needs at least needs some sort of organization for this tutoring thing, but that’s kind of impossible to do before the first session with Santana, because she has absolutely no clue what Santana’s struggling with—that is, if she’s even actually struggling with anything, because based on Mr. Dunngan’s assessment, Santana doesn’t actually need any help. Mostly she’s frustrated because she’s one-hundred percent positive that she is definitely not the right person to tutor someone else, because she’s never been very good at teaching other people stuff no matter the topic—dance and motocross included—and it usually results in frustration all around.

She gives Santana three sessions before the girl realizes how bad of a teacher Brittany is and demands a new tutor; she gives herself half a session before she screams and gives up on the whole thing.

She spends an hour struggling her way through multiple half-hearted attempts to figure out some sort of plan for the session tomorrow, but only ends up even more annoyed and frustrated than when she started. She throws herself back on her bed, crumpling ripped up papers below her and sending her calculus textbook bouncing. She glares up at the ceiling until she hears the sudden sound of running water, and she doesn’t even think twice before she grabs her backpack off the floor and her keys off her dresser and creeps down the hallway, avoiding the creaky floorboard by her sister’s room. She can hear her mom and sister in the bathroom, her mom no doubt supervising to make sure her sister doesn’t put too many bubbles in her bath like last time, but they don’t notice the shadow slipping past the open door. Her dad’s snoring on the armchair in the living room and completely dead to the world as reruns of Jeopardy! play quietly in the background.

Brittany’s snuck out the front door so many times that she doesn’t even make a sound as she shoves her feet into her old sneakers and grabs her leather jacket and slips outside. She shrugs her jacket on once she’s on the front porch with the front door firmly closed behind her because, even though it’s still September, it’s already getting chilly at night as the temperature starts to dip closer to freezing than not; she’s learned her lesson of wearing her leather jacket while she sneaks out, now knowing that, no matter how slowly or carefully she moves, her mom has some supersonic hearing ability related specifically to the creak of Brittany’s leather jacket.

Instead of unlocking her truck with her key fob, she just sticks the key into the handle of the driver’s side door and unlocks it that way. It’s her cousin’s old truck, which Brittany got as soon as she got her drivers after begging her parents to let her get have it—so she would be able to haul her motocross bike around without needing a trailer like they did for the family SUV and not for tailgating parties like her parents suspected she wanted it for, though those are an added bonus. The neighbourhood is silent until Brittany starts the engine, quickly pulling away from the curb and heading down the street before either of her parents can think to look for her.

She drives around for a while to clear her head and ends up parked in the bus loop of her sister’s elementary school, the same one Brittany herself spent six years at. She grabs her backpack and locks her truck before trudging across the playground soccer field, the neatly cut grass slick under her sneakers. She heads straight for the small playground, the one with less jungle gym equipment because it has all the swing sets instead. The only sound in the night is the distant barking of dogs and the crunch of tiny rocks under Brittany’s feet as she passes the yellow and blue metal she had banged shins and elbows on more times than she could ever count.

She skips the regular swings and heads straight for the tire swings, dumping her backpack off to the side and sprawling out on the tire, settling with her butt pressed against the inside of the hole and flopping her back over the rest of the tire, using her long legs to lazily twirl herself around. Her toe scrapes a couple rocks and sends them flying, but the area below the tire swing is mostly dirt from years of kids kicking stones away as they swung their friends in circles fast enough to make the world spin.

Brittany can barely remember who pushed her on the tire swings, but she can remember the blur of colours the playground became, the loud rattle of chains as the next person hopped on, the panicked whistle of supervisors as they watched with dawning horror when students nearly went flying through the air, the cheers of excitement as the tire swung wildly from side to side as it twirled, the shuffle of rocks underfoot as kids jostled each other to be the next in line, the bright quiver beneath sunburnt skin as stomaches churned and legs wobbled for long moments after it was all done.

She doesn’t do any of that tonight, just stares up at the stars instead—the absence of streetlights and houselights making them twinkle brighter in the middle of the elementary school playground than they do in her backyard—and lets her mind wander through the whirlwind events of the last two days. In less than seventy-two hours, everything she’s ever known about Santana Lopez has simultaneously been confirmed and completely turned on its head. She’s been through more doubt about her academic abilities than she has in the past year, which makes her drained and exhausted usually, but the added thought that Santana will be free to judge her mathematical knowledge and teaching ability in less than twelve hours amplifies every single doubt she’s ever had about her intelligence. And she also managed to be a complete dick and seriously offend Santana within the first five minutes of their the only real conversation they’ve ever had in thirteen years, which was only after accidentally bodychecking her to the ground before they had said more than a single word to each other.

At ten o’clock on the dot, Brittany’s phone starts ringing and she already knows it’s her mom with the if you aren’t home in the next ten minutes there will be hell to pay speech that Brittany knows so well. She sighs and digs it out of her pocket, using one foot to send her spinning again as she answers it.

Just as expected, her mom demands that Brittany head home immediately, only softening when Brittany admits that she just needed to clear her head. Her parents might not truly understand how much Brittany actually suffers under all the expectations of brilliant success placed upon her mathematical genius—or all the expectations of failure placed upon all her other academic abilities—but they do understand that sometimes Brittany just needs a break from it all so she doesn’t explode under the pressure.

Her mom relents and tells her to be home by ten thirty, and not a minute later, before she hangs up. Brittany hadn’t realized her exhaustion and frustration was so evident in her tone, but she just shrugs and basks in the extra half hour of freedom she has.

She lets her head slump over the side of the tire swing, her blonde hair turning almost silver in the moonlight as she watches it shimmer and reach for the ground, before she finally pushes herself up and off the tire swing, grabbing her backpack as the jangling of the chains echo too loudly across the silent playground.

She’s about to turn and head straight for her truck, when something tempting catches her eye. It’s a brick wall that sits on the east side of the school, mostly obscured in the shadow cast by the absence of streetlights in the playground, and it’s just so clean and tempting that Brittany’s feet lead her there without her mind making a conscious decision to do so. She drops her backpack and kneels down to unzip it, pulling out her favourite spray paint can and her stained mask. She slips the mask on before starting to shake the pressurized canister, staring at the wall in contemplation as she tries to decide what to create. Nothing obscene, obviously, because her little sister goes to this school and all the students are under the age of eleven, and she’s rebellious but not a complete asshole.

She uses the black paint to start an outline without really deciding what to do yet, just letting her instincts guide her arm. The black lines quickly become a recognizable shape, and she smiles a little as she switches colours to start filling in the lines.

If nothing else, she knows her little sister will fall in love with the rainbow shark as soon as she sees it, so, that’s all that really matters.

She doesn’t actually want to go home yet, despite the fact that she’s really pushing her mom’s warning, so she detours away from the most direct path home—it’s not like it takes more than fifteen minutes to make it from one side of Lima to the other, especially at this time of night, so.

Her hands guide the steering wheel towards Lima Heights before she even realizes where she’s going, and she unconsciously slows down as the houses give way to larger houses that give way to extravagant houses. There’s basically no one else on the roads at this time, so she just stares at the most expensive homes in all of Lima with a perverse sort of awe. This display of wealth has always made her stomach twist uncomfortably; she comes from a home that lived pay-check to pay-check for most of her childhood, that questioned how in the world they would be able to raise another child the moment they found out about Brittany’s sister, that ate more canned vegetables than fresh ones because it was cheaper and less wasteful, and all of that instilled in her a resentment for the people who flaunt their wealth just because they can.

She’s not surprised at all to see that the Lopezes live in the most extravagant house—and probably the most expensive one—at the far end of Lima Heights, the rest of the neighbourhood seeming like nothing more than a driveway that leads to the huge Lopez house. She knows it’s their house because there’s one of those cheesy suburban surname signs under the even cheesier suburban mailbox. Brittany’s family gets their mail delivered about a block down the street with everyone from the same zip code in one of those regular mailboxes; the Lopezes get their mail hand-delivered because Dr. Lopez is just that important, or so Brittany guesses with only a hint of bitterness twisting the thought.

The yard is immaculate and the sidewalk and driveway is perfectly paved, unlike the worn cracked cement outside of Brittany’s house. The house looms imposingly rich in the darkness, but for all its extravagance, Brittany is surprised by how cold and lonely it looks.

There’s only one light on in the entire house, despite the fact that it’s really not that late and the fact that there are no small children with eight o’clock bedtimes living at the Lopez house; as far as Brittany knows, the Lopez family consists of Dr. Lopez and Santana, which makes the huge house seem even more ludicrously extravagant considering it’s only for two people. The sole lit window is above the three-car garage, and a lone figure sits silhouetted by the golden glow spilling onto the roof of the garage. It’s gotta be Santana, Brittany knows, because the silhouette is too small to be Dr. Lopez, and because the figure has chunky headphones on and is bopping her head to music. Brittany doesn’t know much about Dr. Lopez, other than the fact that he smiles even less than his daughter, so she’s pretty confident in assuming that he that doesn’t know how to bop his head to a beat. There’s no cars in the driveway, and there’s nothing to suggest any hint of life aside from the silhouette in the golden glow of the window, a flicker of light against the otherwise black night.

The house looks cold and distant and aloof, the same way Santana always looks cold and distant and aloof when she’s stalking down the halls of McKinley, imposing and elegant despite the fact that there never seems to be any lights on to warm the inside and greet guests.

More than that, it looks as lonely as Santana’s voice sounded during second period, a sorrowful song screamed into an otherwise cold and uncaring abyss. The house is perfect and elegant on the outside, but as cold and lonely on the inside as the melody that echoed faintly through the glee practice room, Brittany pressed against the wall on the other side of the door, suddenly realizing how deceptively still water can appear on the surface.


Chapter Text


Brittany seriously contemplates just skipping Calc when her alarm goes off the next morning, and maybe just sleeping right through her tutoring session and possibly the rest of the day. But she’s pretty sure that Mr. Dunngan might track her down and drag her to the session anyways, so instead she just sighs deeply and manages to drag herself out of bed. He always gets this disappointed look in his eyes whenever she skips his class and it actually makes her feel guilty, which is mostly because his reaction is so unlike every other teacher she has, who all just roll their eyes at Brittany’s attendance record; they all already expect her to skip, so she doesn’t really see the point of trying to prove them wrong.

She’s already snoozed her alarm like six times, so she has to hurry in her stumble to the bathroom. She winces at the harsh florescent light in the bathroom, and frowns deeply at the mirror while she brushes her teeth, taking in how the usual circles under her eyes have darkened a couple shades during her sleepless night. She looks like shit if she’s being honest with herself, her skin paler than usual and her lips chapped, but she forces herself to climb into the shower regardless. There’s barely any hot water because her parents have already gotten ready and left for work, and she shivers under the icy chill that sets into her bones, speeding through her usual shower routine so she doesn’t have to stand under the cold water for any longer than absolutely necessary.

Mondays and Wednesdays are Brittany’s day to drop her sister off at school, which means that it’s her turn to deal with the munchkin, who is even less of a morning person than her older sister. Brittany struggles into her usual black ripped jeans, grumbling when they stick to her shower dampened skin, and finds a shirt on her floor that smells clean to tug on before she heads down the hallway. Her sister’s door is opened, probably from their mom attempting to wake her before she left for work. The lump on the bed snores a little, and Brittany just grins as she flips on the light and crosses the room to scoop her sister out of bed, comforter and all.

Britty!” comes the surprised squeak from somewhere in the pile of blankets and squirming nine year-old.

“We’re leaving in thirty minutes, munchkin,” Brittany announces over her sister’s protests, easily maneuvering them down the hallway to the bathroom despite how much the munchkin struggles to escape Brittany’s hold, “If you aren’t down in the kitchen and eating your cereal by then, you’re walking to school.” It’s a complete lie, because Brittany would never leave her sister to fend for herself like that, but the munchkin doesn’t need to know that.

Brittany sets her giggling sister down on the bathroom floor, spinning her out of the tangled comforter before leaving her to her own devices, glad that she’s finally old enough to not need supervision while getting ready for school. She tosses her sister’s blankets back into her room, shrugging a little when they only half land on her bed; it’s not her room to clean so she doesn’t really care. She collects whatever notebooks and textbooks she needs for the day and shoves them haphazardly into her backpack, grabbing her leather jacket off the back of her door and her keys off her dresser before heading downstairs to pack her sister’s lunch and backpack and make them breakfast.

She pours herself a bowl of cereal, and has already finished it and gulped down half a cup of coffee—which is on the chillier side of lukewarm due to sitting in the pot for an hour after her parents made it, but it’s caffeine so Brittany doesn’t mind too much—by the time that her sister storms down the stairs. They only have five minutes by now, and Brittany rolls her eyes a little at the whirlwind that crashes into her hip on its way to the table. She pours another bowl of cereal—knowing from personal experience that letting her sister do it requires paper towel, the mop, and a need for an excused late at the elementary school—and sets it on the table in front of the munchkin. She finishes her coffee while her sister struggles to shovel her cereal into her mouth in less than four minutes while simultaneously talking Brittany’s ear off about everything and anything.

They reach the elementary school only a few minutes late, which is pretty miraculous when it’s Brittany’s turn to get the munchkin ready in the morning, and her sister bounds out of Brittany’s truck with a shouted Bye, Britty! and no temper tantrums, unlike Monday morning, for which Brittany is immensely thankful for.

Brittany waves at the tiny ball of energy that her sister is before pulling out of the drop-off loop and heading in the direction of McKinley. She’s hoping that the rest of the day will go as smoothly as her morning has, because the less stressed she is going into this dumb tutoring session the smoother it will probably go. Especially since she’s giving up her spare for this whole thing, and almost eight uninterrupted hours at high school is too much for Brittany’s sanity.

Apparently the universe only has goodwill for her prior to 8:25, because as soon as she enters the school’s back doors she walks right into the middle of a fight. She gets a wayward fist to her jaw for showing up to school on time for once, and Brittany’s not even surprised; there’s a reason she’s always late to first period, and that reason is that she hates having to navigate crowds of sweaty high schoolers who are still learning about the wonders of deodorant more than just about anything.

A surprised murmur ripples through the crowd, and a tense stillness immediately falls upon them all as the door swings shut with a heavy thud behind Brittany. She lifts a hand up to pinch her chin, wiggling her jaw around to assess the damage and allowing a deep scowl to settle on her face. It won’t leave any lasting damage—because barely-out-of-puberty fifteen year-old boys know nothing about how to throw a real punch—but she’s been hit enough times to know that she’s going to have a nasty bruise. Her scowl deepens because she knows that her mom, while usually rational and understanding, never believes her when she says the fist shaped bruises she comes home with aren’t her fault.

(To be fair, most of the time Brittany is at fault for her bruises, but that just makes it suck even more when her mom assumes the worst on the relatively rare occasions that she is completely blameless.)

The two sophomores seem to realize that the crowd has fallen silent and falter in their fight. They look around in confused sync, and immediately tense as their eyes land on Brittany, who is still rotating her jaw, the glare settling over her features icy and withering and dangerous. “Shit,” one of them mumbles as they both stumble back a step, partially tripping over each other.

Brittany straightens to her full height, towering over every teenage boy who hasn’t hit their growth spurt yet, the two sophomores included. They cower back a little, clinging to each other instead of trying to strangle each other like they were doing barely thirty seconds ago. Brittany takes a deep breath, practically able to smell the sharp scent of fear dancing through the crowd. She enjoys leaving everyone on their toes for a while, frozen in suspense as she keeps a disaffected sneer trained on the two sophomores. She might not inspire the same type of terror-inducing dread that Santana Lopez manages with one cold look, but she has a reputation as a broody rebel with regularly bruised knuckles for a reason.

She’s fairly sure that the two of them would actually be a pretty deadly combo if they were to ever team up; McKinley wouldn’t even knew what hit it.

“You’re lucky I’m too fucking tired to deal with this today,” Brittany finally growls, before stepping around the two sophomores and pushing through the crowd. She hears the other students murmuring about how lucky the two fighting sophomores are that she was feeling generous, and allows a small smirk to curl her lips as she heads to Mr. Dunngan’s classroom. Keeping people guessing on whether or not she will actually retaliate is half the fun.

If Mr. Dunngan is surprised to see her walking into his classroom right as the bell rings instead of ten to thirty minutes later, he doesn’t show it, he just offers her a small smile before quickly taking attendance and turning towards the board with his usual black marker raised.

Brittany casts her eyes around the room, unable to help herself as they land on the back of Santana’s head. Unlike yesterday, she seems to sense Brittany’s eyes on her because, barely a heartbeat later, she drops her chin to her shoulder and catches Brittany’s gaze as she glances back. Her dark eyes are as piercing as yesterday, but there’s that same hint of curiosity in them that makes Brittany want to fidget. She swallows thickly instead, and keeps her eyes locked on Santana’s until Mr. Dunngan asks the class a question about trigonometric derivates and rates of change and the moment is broken.

Brittany drops her gaze to her the blank page of her notebook with slight frown. A night of—admittedly fitful—sleep makes Santana Lopez no less confusing to her, and she’s still not sure how she’s going to handle this whole tutoring thing. She doesn’t have anything planned for the session, so she’s desperately hoping that Mr. Dunngan was correct in assuming that Santana doesn’t need much help, because that would make her job a whole lot easier. Fifteen dollars an hour to basically be a glorified calculator sounds amazing, so long as Santana doesn’t, like, execute her and hide the body—she’s pretty confident that Dr. Lopez could very easily get his daughter off the hook for murder, and she should probably leave a farewell note or something for her family and friends in advance, just in case.

Brittany rolls her eyes at herself, because that thought is more than a little farfetched. She glances at the clock hanging above Mr. Dunngan’s desk and is shocked to find that there’s only ten minutes left of class. Usually, Calc is a complete bore and drags on forever because Brittany already knows everything and is counting down the minutes to her spare. But today it feels like she’s barely sat down before the bell rings. She watches through a slight daze as everyone starts to shove their things into their bags and flee the classroom while Mr. Dunngan calls out their homework.

Brittany manages to blink out of her stupor and pack her stuff away when Santana appears in front of her desk, looming above Brittany’s desk and blocking out the harsh florescent lights above them despite her short stature.

“Let’s get this over with,” she mutters before Brittany can say anything.

Brittany remains slouched in her desk, one hand on the strap of her backpack where it rests on the floor, and smirks up at Santana, enjoying the way her dark eyes narrow to slits of annoyance. “Hello to you, too, Sunshine,” she drawls.

Santana’s eyes roll so hard her head rolls with them. “Oh, so you’re one of those types,” sh sneers.

“I prefer it when the stereotypes people give me are at least amusing and insulting instead of unoriginal and insulting,” Brittany retorts. Santana’s lips twitch the same way they did yesterday, and Brittany’s still on the fence about whether it’s a muscle spasm or a smile; she’s leaning more towards muscle spasm just based on Santana’s reputation alone.

“And I prefer it when you don’t speak,” Santana says dismissively, “so I guess neither of us gets what we want. Now let’s just go so I can imagine stabbing my eyes out with my pencil somewhere productive instead of here.” She doesn’t even give Brittany a moment to formulate a response before she sweeps past her, gracefully avoiding Brittany’s sprawled legs and backpack, and stalks out of the classroom.

Brittany remains rooted to her seat for a moment before she rolls her eyes and slides out of her desk, slinging her backpack over her shoulder as she follows the wave of apprehension that lingers in Santana’s wake like waves behind a boat. She easily catches sight of the head of dark hair that parts the crowd of students in the hallway, and does a half-jog that’s only slightly awkward to catch up to Santana—most people jump out of her way too, just like they do when Santana is storming down the hall, which makes traversing the school so much simpler.

“So if Sunshine is a no go, would you prefer something else?” Brittany asks as soon as she falls into step beside Santana, completely immune to the glare Santana throws at her. “Maybe Cupcake? Or Sweetheart? Ooh, what about Buttercup?”

“Why don’t you shut up while you still have a mouth to shut up with,” Santana suggests icily, “Darling.”

“Ooh, testy,” Brittany snickers. The scowl on Santana’s face causes the students on Brittany’s side of the hallway to cower into their lockers as they catch a glimpse of it, but Brittany just grins as they make their way through the crowd. Santana walks with her head held high enough that she seems to look down on the other students despite the fact that she’s so short, which makes Brittany bite back a smirk.

The library is empty when they reach it, aside from the ancient librarian, who is well on her way to sleep as she types slowly on her computer, using only her forefingers like most old people do, her face about two inches from the computer screen due to the fact that her glasses are perched neatly on her head. She doesn’t even notice them as Santana leads Brittany to the very back of the library, which is probably due to the fact that she startles herself awake with a loud snore after almost doing a sleep-induced face plant into the computer monitor.

Santana leads them to a table that’s hidden behind a bookshelf and an overlarge potted fake plant, which makes Brittany hesitate and frown. She’s almost positive that this particular table is used as one of Puck’s frequent rendezvous spots, because the librarian never pays attention to anyone and the table is practically invisible to the rest of the library.

When Brittany voices her concerns about the cleanliness of the table, Santana wrinkles her nose and fake-gags, but sits down and starts unzipping her bag anyways. “My father doesn’t want anyone to know I need a tutor,” Santana mutters when Brittany doesn’t move, every inch of her tense posture screaming exactly how reluctant she is to share her thoughts with Brittany, “And this is the best place in the school to hide from any curious eyes.”

“But I thought he was the one who wanted you to get a tutor in the first place,” Brittany blurts without thinking.

Santana is quiet for a long while, her fingers freezing on the zipper and her jaw clenching tight. “I don’t pretend to understand half the things my father does,” she finally says, bitter and sharp, “I’ve just learned to do as he says.”

Brittany swallows the dozens of questions that statement sparks, knowing her fair share about father-related resentment. “Okay,” she says when the silence stretches too long. When Santana’s head shoots up, her gaze is dark and surprised, but she quickly glances away and finishes unzipping her bag. She pulls out her textbook and notebook and a pencil while Brittany has a momentary panic about where to sit at the table. Her options are the numerous chairs around three sides of the table, or the bench that Santana is sitting on; the bench would be the most convenient in terms of tutoring, but it also might make Santana uncomfortable or start to act weird around her.

The memory of some of Brittany’s so-called friends telling her that she can’t sit beside them anymore after she came out as bi in freshmen year still stings, as sharp as it did when those words were only hours old.

“Yo, super smart math genius,” Santana says, immediately snapping Brittany out of her thoughts, “I understand that you have the highest math grade and a crazy high SAT score or whatever, but I’m sure you learned how to sit before you learned how to define limits, so demonstrating that skill sometime soon would be great.”

Brittany rolls her eyes and skulks around the table to sit beside Santana on the bench. For convenience and all. And not because Brittany gets really annoyingly gay around pretty girls who smell like vanilla. Definitely not.

She tugs her own notebook and a pencil that’s almost too short to be practical out of her backpack. Santana thumbs idly through her notebook, from back to front so Brittany can’t glimpse anything she’s already written, until she finds her notes and questions from today. She glances expectantly at Brittany, shaking her pencil back and forth until it’s just a blur of colour where it’s threaded between the middle and ring fingers of her left hand.

Brittany sighs and opens her own notebook to a blank page, since she didn’t actually end up taking any notes today, which is probably not great considering she’s supposed to actually be teaching someone the concepts they learn in class now. “I’ve never done this before,” Brittany warns with a deep sigh.

“Duh,” Santana deadpans, and before Brittany can do more than bristle at the implication that she’s not smart enough to have tutored before, Santana spins her pencil around her forefinger  before using it to gesture at Brittany’s leather jacket and ripped jeans, a small smirk playing at her lips, “That would’ve ruined the whole Danny Zuko schtick you’ve got going on.”

Grease,” Brittany says dumbly, unable to fully mask the surprise in her voice at the fact that Santana didn’t take the opportunity to tear down her intelligence like so many others have. She manages to compose herself enough to duck towards Santana—absently noting how she smells less of vanilla and more of pinewood and citrus this close—before raising her brows a little and tipping her chin down in a way that usually manages to get a blushing agreement to a date from whoever she turns it on. “Does that make you Sandy?” she grins.

Santana stares at her for a long moment, seemingly unaffected, before she lets a small smirk play at her lips. “No, it just makes you an asshole in a leather jacket and dirty sneakers.”

Brittany sits back up properly as a surprised laugh escapes her. “Fair enough.”

Santana’s smirk slips into something almost genuine, one of her dimples creasing her cheek for a split second before she composes herself. “Alright, the sooner we get this done with the sooner we can go our separate ways.”

“Right,” Brittany agrees, “So, uh, where do you wanna start?”

Santana gives her a droll look, tapping her notebook with the almost non-existent pink eraser of her pencil. “Aren’t you supposed to be the one with all the answers?”

“Well, yeah,” Brittany shifts uncomfortably, unsure how exactly to proceed without offending Santana like she did yesterday about the whole daddy dearest thing; no wonder people call her an asshole. “Mr. Dunngan kinda implied that you don’t actually really need a tutor, or anything, so. I wasn’t even sure what to prepare for today.”

Santana makes a small sound of acknowledgement and stares unseeingly at the blank page of her notebook. “Yeah, well, my father seems to be of the opinion that I won’t be able to graduate without a math tutor, even though it’s literally two weeks into the school year,” she finally admits with a small roll of her eyes. She seems to do that a lot, and honestly Brittany finds that it makes Santana look more cute than annoyed. “Every time one of my grades drop a couple of percentages it’s suddenly the end of the world and—” Santana cuts herself off and stiffens, “And I don’t know why I’m telling you this.”

Brittany shrugs and twists her body a little so she’s facing Santana more, using her elbow to prop herself up on the table. “I don’t mind.” Santana snorts at that and scowls down at the pencil she’s still shaking back and forth in her hand, the wood blurring into flashes of orange and shadow. “Hey, I told you yesterday I wouldn’t tell anyone about the, uh, you know. And I meant it,” Brittany promises, “I’m not going to tell anyone about this either. And not just because Mr. D. made me sign some weird non-disclosure thingy yesterday.”

Santana finally glances up enough to meet Brittany’s eyes, dark and fierce and cautious. Everything in Brittany stills like it’s holding its breath as she waits to see if Santana’s going to believe her, or if she’s going to eviscerate her, which, honestly, seems much more likely. “It’s nothing, really,” she finally says, and Brittany suddenly realizes she was actually holding her breath and not just imagining it when it quietly whooshes out of her. “It’s just my father being all you gotta have perfect grades or else,” she elaborates, her voice dripping with mockery, “Hence, the apparent need for a tutor.”

“Yeah,” Brittany says when nothing else comes to her mind, “Mr. D. said we could treat it more of a study buddy thing instead of me outright tutoring you if that makes this better.”

Santana snorts and her lips twitch, but the way the skin under her eyes creases makes her smile seem more bitter than anything. “Aside from the fact that my father is paying you to be my study buddy,” she says, sneering the last two words like they’ve personally offended her.

“Hey,” Brittany says, inserting false cheer into her voice as she nudges Santana’s arm with her elbow, “if it’s his pockets that this whole tutoring thing is coming out of, we might as well milk it for all it’s worth, right? Really take advantage of the fifteen dollars an hour and all. We could probably con him out of a couple paycheques and, you know, save the money and split it?”

Santana studies Brittany for a long moment, before her lips slowly start to curl up in amused surprise. “You know, you’re not nearly as much of a brooding asshole as your reputation suggests, Pierce,” she observes.

“And you’re not nearly as much of a bitch as your reputation suggests, Sunshine,” Brittany retorts with a small laugh.

Santana ducks her head and bites back a genuine smile—Brittany knows because those ever elusive dimples that she first saw yesterday appear for a too brief moment—before she manages to compose her face back into its usual cold look. “So, how should we do this then?” she asks, reaching forward to drag her textbook between them.

Brittany shrugs and scans the wall of questions covering the page. “Well, is there any concepts you need re-explained? Mr. D. is great and all but his voice is so monotone it always puts me to sleep. And I actually understand all this shit. So I can’t imagine how confused everyone else is when they wake up in the middle of him defining asymptotes.”

Brittany can feel Santana’s gaze on the side of her face, and when she glances up at her out of the corner of her eye, she finds that same confusing look that she’s noticed on Santana these past two days, the one that’s dark and defensive and curious.

What confuses her even more is the fact that she seems to be witnessing Santana defrosting before her very eyes, and that makes something weirdly warm flare up in her chest.

She snaps her eyes back to the textbook and tries to focus on Santana complaining about Mr. Dunngan’s confusing explanation of the Intermediate Value Theorem before that feeling can grow.

“Why are you purple?” Santana greets the next day.

Brittany had to stay behind to talk to Mr. Dunngan before their tutoring session, so she sent Santana on ahead, much to Santana’s eye rolling annoyance. She marvels at how well hidden their table is, because the only reason she knows that the table is occupied is due to the fact that she’s expecting someone to be there. It really is the perfect spot for their tutoring sessions. (And for Puck’s frequent rendezvous, the traitorous part of her mind that loves to watch her suffer reminds her. Since that part of her mind generally seems to hate her, Brittany attempts to shove that scarring thought out of her brain; it doesn’t work, of course, so instead she decides to just never think of Puck ever again. A complete over-exaggeration and unnecessarily dramatic? Obviously. Something that will actually work? Definitely not.)

Brittany frowns as she ducks around the overlarge fake tree and stares blankly at Santana. “Are you colourblind or something?” She gestures at her outfit, which is the same thing she wears everyday, occasionally with slight variations that only really involve dark plaid tied around her waist. “This is all black.”

“Your jaw,” Santana corrects with a pointed look, “It’s purple.”

“Oh,” Brittany says, collapsing on to the bench beside Santana, “It’s nothing.”

“I’d like to know if my tutor is going to be incapacitated early on,” Santana snipes, “So I can replace you as painlessly as possible.”

“You wound me, Sunshine,” Brittany gasps, placing her open palm melodramatically to her heart. Santana mutters something under her breath and, with her usual eye roll, turns back to her textbook and notebook. “It’s really nothing though,” Brittany suddenly explains without really knowing why she does, “Wasn’t paying attention yesterday and paid for it by walking right into some sophomore’s fists.”

Santana’s brow scrunches together like she can’t decide if she’s annoyed or curious. “That seems odd for someone with your reputation.” At Brittany’s questioning glance, Santana smirks a little and puffs herself up. “You know, all you should have seen the other guy,” she elaborates, her voice dropping a couple octaves to a drawling rasp with the intent to mock.

Brittany’s laughter surprises even herself. “It was two sophomores attempting to fight each other right in front of the back doors. It looked more like waltzing than fighting to be honest. Or like toddlers wrestling,” Brittany contemplates thoughtfully. “Either way, neither of them were landing any of their intended punches. Wouldn’t have actually hit anything if my face hadn’t suddenly appeared in front of the door.”

Something warm shimmers in Santana’s dark eyes for a moment, before her usual disaffected look spreads across her features. “Well, you’re my tutor because of your math skills and not your apparently abysmal dodging ability,” Brittany sputters in protest but Santana just smirks a little and ignores her completely as she keeps talking, “Now, you’ve got to re-explain whatever the hell Mr. Dunngan was going on about today with the whole tangent line relationship and implicit meaning thing, because I was so lost.”

“Implicit differentiation,” Brittany corrects with a tiny grin, pulling her notebook and pencil out of her backpack before dropping it carelessly on the ground beside her. “We were finding tangent lines to relations using implicit differentiation.”

Santana stares blankly at her for a long moment, long enough that Brittany has to suppress the urge to start fidgeting in her seat. “Can you say that again in English?” Santana finally asks, surprising another laugh out of Brittany.

She’s not so bad at this whole tutoring thing after all—in fact, she would even call yesterday’s session a resounding success, especially considering how her and Santana’s first real conversation went the day before that. It’s kind of weird to be the one with all the right answers and explanations for once, and it’s even weirder to be sitting beside someone who doesn’t look down their nose at her for the Cs she gets in the rest of her classes.

Plus, it’s not like Santana is hard to tutor or anything. Brittany’s quickly realized, just in the one session they’ve had so far, that the problem isn’t that Santana doesn’t get the material, it’s just that she doesn’t seem to care much about math and gets easily frustrated when she doesn’t understand it right away, which makes her care even less. Her frustration tends to cause her to skip steps or mess up formulas. And, honestly, Brittany kind of thinks Santana purposefully cares so little about math just to spite her dad. From the few things Santana’s said about him, and what she knows of Dr. Lopez just in general, Brittany doesn’t really blame her.

“Implicit differentiation,” Brittany slowly repeats, thinking carefully over her explanation before she actually voices it because this stuff is as easy as counting to five to her, but she knows most people’s brains don’t work like hers does, “is when you use the chain rule to deal with two variables by treating one of them as a function of the other.”

“Uh, right,” Santana says slowly.

Brittany tips her head to the side for a moment before she shrugs a little. “Basically it’s just when some function of y and x equals something else, where x doesn’t lead to y.”

“‘K,” Santana mutters, her pencil practically vibrating to a new level of being based on how quickly Santana jiggles it between her fingers.

Brittany tugs her notebook closer to Santana, their shoulders brushing briefly, to write out the simplest example she can think of off the top of her head. She answers it slowly, explaining it step by step until Santana’s eyes light up a little, something that Brittany’s now realized means something has clicked for her. Brittany smiles a little and writes out another question for Santana to answer on her own.

Santana doesn’t bother copying the question down in her own notebook, or even moving Brittany’s notebook closer to her, before she starts answering it; she just leans into Brittany’s space, bringing her left arm up and across her body to scrawl down the steps leading to her answer. “Like that?” she asks with a satisfied smirk.

Brittany manages to remain outwardly unaffected even as her heart decides to go completely haywire at the scent of Santana’s shampoo and perfume that suddenly floods the tiny bit of space now separating them. She casts her gaze across Santana’s slightly messy writing. Honestly, it kind of surprised her at first to find out that Santana’s writing wasn’t perfect, but now that she’s starting to understand how Santana’s thinks, it doesn’t really surprise her all that much.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Brittany finally says once she’s checked over the answer.

“Cool,” Santana says with a tiny smile, she glances up and only now seems to realize how close they are, her eyes widening until her long lashes sweep across the peaks of her cheekbones as she rapidly blinks and jerks back. “What’s next?” she asks before Brittany can analyze her reaction. “Give me a harder question.”

Brittany flounders for a moment before she shakes herself out of her daze. She flips to a new page and writes a more difficult question down, leaning back a little bit as Santana drags the notebook towards herself to answer it, purposefully keeping a healthy amount distance between them and making certain that she doesn’t accidentally brush up against Brittany.

Brittany’s surprised to find that her arm is kind of cold without Santana pressed up against it, but she quickly squashes that thought and forces herself to focus her attention on her notebook as Santana quickly scribbles an answer.

Brittany doesn’t have glee practice on Fridays and Santana doesn’t have Cheerios practice for once—something about Coach Sylvester having a meeting and deciding to be merciful for the first, and probably only, time in her life—so they decide to move their tutoring session to after school instead of during their second period. The fact that it’s the end of the week also means that she’s getting paid for her tutoring, which means she’ll actually be able to get gas later instead of having to mow her neighbours’ yards and hoping she can scrape together enough money to fill her tank. And, honestly, the tutoring is not so bad, not really; it’ll definitely be the easiest forty-five dollars she’s ever made.

A tutoring session after school on Friday isn’t something her or Santana would have decided on themselves, but Santana is determined to appease her dad and Brittany knows not to argue with her about that particular subject. It actually ends up working out pretty well because there have already been a couple of whispering rumours floating around McKinley about her and Santana hanging out together, so having a tutoring session after school affords them a level of privacy that school hours don’t offer, especially on a Friday afternoon when everyone else will definitely escape McKinley to start their weekends as soon as possible.

Santana is extremely insistent on making sure that no rumours about them hanging out together spread any further than the walls of McKinley, even more insistent than she is about making sure that no one knows she needs a tutor for Calc. Brittany’s sure only part of it is because Santana’s dad doesn’t want anyone to find out about his daughter’s need for a math tutor. She’s pretty positive that the bigger part of Santana’s insistence is due to the fact that Brittany has a reputation just as well-known throughout Lima as Santana’s, though in a completely different way. She can’t imagine that Dr. Lopez would be too happy if he ever found out that his daughter is spending time with Lima’s resident delinquent, whether she’s just Santana’s tutor or not.

It’s kind of nice to have her second period free again, and since she didn’t actually do the reading for her third period English, she’s pretty sure she’ll just skip it, which frees her up to drive aimlessly around Lima like she usually does during her spare.

(She pretends she’s not already kind of missing Santana’s snark when the second bell rings and Santana stalks out of the classroom without even a glance in Brittany’s direction. Santana doesn’t acknowledge her during school outside of their library tutoring sessions, and Brittany returns the favour, so the fact that Brittany’s longing for Santana to throw a bitchy comment her way confuses her.)

(It’s not like they’re friends or anything, just stuck together because of this stupid tutoring thing. But Brittany can’t help but feel like they could be friends, like they might be on their way to friends, because she’s never seen Santana as expressive and at ease and lighthearted and playfully teasing as she is during the tutoring sessions they’ve had so far.)

The classroom is already mostly empty when Mr. Dunngan calls her over to his desk, and Brittany startles a little. She shoves her notebook into her backpack and skulks over to Mr. Dunngan’s desk; the rest of the students still loitering around the classroom shoot her looks that vary wildly between sympathetic and smug. The rest of her grade—outside of her close friends—don’t actually realize that she’s a certified genius when it comes to mathematics, which Brittany honestly prefers because it keeps her reputation in tact.

“What’s up, Mr. D.?” she asks, leaning against the top of the desk closest to his.

“I wanted to ask how the tutoring sessions are going so far?” He runs his hand over his head and gives Brittany a smile that’s somewhere between curious and sheepish.

Brittany shrugs and shoves her hands deep into the pockets of her leather jacket. “They’re going.” At Mr. Dunngan’s unimpressed look, Brittany shifts her weight further against the desk and tries not to fidget too much. “I dunno. We kinda got off on the wrong foot I guess, but we’ve been fine since then.”

“And the tutoring itself? Are you finding it difficult or anything?” Brittany tries not to bristle at the sentiment, but she can’t help it when her shoulders twitch and tense. “I know that teaching can be very different from comprehending,” Mr. Dunngan continues, shuffling some papers on his desk and not noticing the way Brittany draws herself up to her full height, surprised anger and betrayal radiating off of her in sharp waves. “It’s not unusual to have some difficulties in adjusting to the struggles of teaching and—”

“I’m fine,” Brittany snaps, feeling her lips curl back as something thick and wet gets caught in her throat. Mr. Dunngan glances up in surprise and concern, but Brittany is already storming towards the door. “I appreciate the concern but I’ve got it covered,” she growls over her shoulder, letting the door swing shut heavily behind her, Mr. Dunngan’s protests lost to her as she stalks down the hallway.

She doesn’t pay attention to where she’s going, glad that the hallways are clear because she’s not in the mood to deal with people at the moment. She just lets instinct guide her until she finds herself standing in front of the glee practice room, the one place she knows she won’t be disturbed because all the other glee kids are in class and Mr. Schue has Spanish to teach this period. She’s halfway through turning the doorknob when the faint sound of piano breaks through her haze of anger and she could just about scream in frustration. The last thing she needs right now is silent, judgmental Brad watching her bubbling rage break down into the betrayed hurt she knows is howling beneath her anger.

Brittany scowls and looks through the window in the door, and the choice words on the tip of her tongue evaporate like fog on the highway.

It’s Santana sitting at the piano bench, her eyes closed as her fingers dance across the piano keys like it’s the simplest thing in the world. Brittany feels some of the sharp tension immediately melt out of her, leaving behind the large aching hole of betrayal and misery that her anger is usually covering up. She leans her head against the cool glass of the window and closes her eyes, letting the faint music flow through her until all that’s left of her rage is the grief, stripped down to its rawest form.

And then the soft piano stops abruptly.

When Brittany allows her eyes to flutter back open, the first thing she sees is Santana’s burning glare, practically scorching Brittany even across the room and through the door. Santana’s movements are all violent and jerky as she slams the piano cover down and snatches her notebook off the music rack. It takes Brittany half a second to force her body to respond, and she fumbles with the doorknob before she manages to slip inside, pulling it firmly shut behind her before Santana can get more than a few steps away from the bench.

“Wait!” is all Brittany manages to get out before Santana is stalking up to her, so close and so furious that Brittany’s breath gets lost between her teeth as she presses back against the door.

“I fucking told you, Pierce,” Santana snarls, all hot breath and blazing eyes, her barely contained anger causing her to shake violently. She looks violent and dangerous, like a blackhole consuming stars and planets and light, ripping the universe apart at its seams. “That this was off limits. I didn’t think I had to spell it out when I meant that included you spying on me while I’m here.” Santana’s laugh is bitter and crackling and nothing like the hints of amusement that Brittany’s seen peeking out of the dimples creasing her cheeks these past couple days. “But of fucking course you would think this was just another rule you could break with no consequences, like you always fucking do.”

Santana takes a shuddering breath and Brittany catches a glimpse of the fear that she’s been suspecting resided under Santana’s anger, she recognizes it because it’s the same way she deals with fear too; the louder your anger is, the less people really see.

“But this isn’t just some stupid little rule that you can ignore,” Santana’s voice drops even lower, until Brittany can feel it vibrating against her sternum more than she can actually hear it, “McKinley would be delighted to know that self-proclaimed hater of the arts Santana Lopez plays piano in her spare time, and you probably know it. Hell, you could probably benefit from this if you wanted to. But, just know, that I will destroy you and this precious little rebellious reputation you’ve got going on if you even so much as think that this is something you can profit off of.” Santana glowers as she jerks herself away from Brittany, spinning on her heel and storming towards the other glee room door to escape.

Brittany blinks a couple times before she manages to launch herself forward, circling her fingers around Santana’s wrist and tugging her back towards her with a quiet Hey.

Santana’s posture remains painfully tense, all sharp edges and violent movements, and her jaw shifts right at the hinge as if she’s grinding her teeth together. “Fuck off, Pierce,” she manages to growl, barely moving her lips to spit the words out.

“I promised you I wouldn’t tell anyone,” Brittany rasps, not because she’s scared of Santana but because it doesn’t feel right to speak too loudly right now, “And I don’t intend to break my promise. I’m not going to tell anybody. I just—” Brittany cuts herself off and tightens her grip on Santana’s wrist, feeling the thin bones shift a little bit under the pads of her fingers. “Mr. Dunngan said something that— You know what? It doesn’t really matter. I just wanted to clear my head so I came here because this room is like the one place in this dumb fucking school where I know I won’t be judged or whatever. I swear I didn’t come looking for you.”

Santana’s eyes are defensive and dark, but there’s that spark of curiosity starting to glow in them now. “Then why’d you stay? Why hang around the door like a creep if you saw me in here already? After you promised not to mention this ever again?”

Brittany swallows thickly, debating her options for a long moment, before finally shrugging one shoulder. Honesty has worked so far with Santana, so she figures she might as well keep at it. “That day that I heard you playing and then today, I just— Your voice and your music, it’s just so— It cracked me open, okay?”

Santana sucks in a sharp breath and leans back a little, but doesn’t shake Brittany’s fingers off of her wrist. “What?” she asks blankly.

“I just— I heard you playing and it stripped away all my anger and until I couldn’t move,” Brittany whispers, “I didn’t mean to make it seem like I was spying on you or whatever.” Santana’s skin is warm under Brittany’s fingers, smooth and unblemished and surprisingly soft. Brittany doesn’t realize her thumb is running across the inside of Santana’s wrist until the gentle thrum of Santana’s steady pulse suddenly spikes and beats stronger and quicker. “Your music is beautiful,” Brittany says with quiet conviction, “So I don’t get why you wanna keep it a secret.”

Santana’s eyes are wide as they catch on Brittany’s for a long moment, before she drops her gaze and shifts awkwardly. “Sorry I overreacted,” she finally mumbles, resolutely staring at her feet to avoid Brittany’s eyes. “It’s just that if my father ever found out— He’s never liked the arts,” she admits, her voice barely a whisper. Brittany leans closer, tightening her fingers around Santana’s wrist, absently noticing how the strong thrumming under the pad of her thumb quickens again. “He’s always thought it was a waste of time. Especially because—” Santana cuts herself off and shakes her head violently, before finally lifting her chin to meet Brittany’s eyes, her gaze as dark as the midnight ocean is wide. “Well, let’s just say that whatever my father wants, he gets. And I’m pretty sure if he found out I love music, he’d find a way to ban it from Lima altogether.”

“I’m sorry,” Brittany murmurs.

Santana stiffens, her wrist disappearing from under Brittany’s fingers. “I don’t want your pity,” she hisses.

“Well, you don’t have it,” Brittany snaps, before taking a deep breath and letting her annoyance leave with it. “I just— I dunno. I know what shitty father’s are like, so. I kinda get it, in a way.”

Santana’s shoulders droop a little and she drops Brittany’s gaze again. “Yeah,” she finally says, shuffling her feet, “Well. Whatever.”

Brittany smirks a little at Santana’s slightly embarrassed reaction, before quickly stifling her amusement so Santana doesn’t see. “What were you playing anyways?” she asks, partially because she’s genuinely curious and partly because Santana looks like she might die of awkwardness soon, “You were playing the same thing on Tuesday too.”

“Oh,” Santana fidgets a little, her now free hand—the one that had been trapped in Brittany’s grip—fluttering against her thigh as she awkward shifts her weight between her feet, “it’s nothing. Not really, anyways. It’s just something I’ve been messing around with for a couple of days.”

Brittany blinks, feeling her brows inch up her forehead. “Wait, you mean you wrote that?”

Santana bristles a little, drawing herself up to her full height. “Yeah, and what about it?”

“It’s good, is all,” Brittany hurries to explain. It’s not that she’s trying to antagonize Santana, it’s just Brittany’s kind of good at putting her foot in her mouth around pretty girls, and she’s kind of an asshole who—more often than not—speaks before she thinks, and Santana’s like the most defensive and prickly person Brittany’s ever met in her life. “I didn’t know you wrote your own stuff.”

Santana shrugs and clutches the notebook in her hand a little tighter. “Why in the world would you know that?” she asks drolly, one eyebrow creeping up her forehead.

Brittany’s chuckle escapes her before she can even try to stop it, but Santana’s shoulders stay relaxed and there’s a tiny smirk playing on her lips. “Okay, smart ass,” she grins, “you have a point.” Santana rolls her eyes, and with the smirk on her lips it looks almost playful, which is not something she would ever have associated with Santana Lopez before this week. Brittany bites her lip and studies Santana thoughtfully. “Would you keep playing if I hang out here?”

Santana stiffens, but her expression tells Brittany that she’s just surprised, not angry and preparing to storm out of the glee practice room again. “What?”

Brittany nods at the piano, fighting the weird warm feeling that’s fluttering somewhere in her chest. “I don’t really wanna spend the rest of our spare wandering the school in case I run into Mr. Dunngan, and obviously you were planning on staying here all period before you noticed me, so,” she trails off awkwardly when Santana just stares at her, that same curiously defensive gleam in her dark eyes that’s been becoming more frequent these past couple of days. “I mean obviously if you don’t want to, I just thought—”


Brittany freezes for a moment, and then quickly snaps her mouth shut before Santana can comment on it. “What?”

Santana rolls her eyes and mutters something under her breath that sounds vaguely like your idea. “This is the only chance I ever get to play, and I trust you, for some—probably very dumb—reason, to not go blabbing about this. So, sure, why not?”

Brittany manages to nod but her body doesn’t seem to want to process any commands to move. She watches Santana walk back over to the piano and set her notebook back on the music rack, like her soul is floating somewhere in the air and observing the glee room while her physical body remains frozen in place. Despite asking the question, she didn’t actually have a plan for what to do if Santana agreed, because she figured Santana would vehemently refuse and kick Brittany out of the glee practice room or something.

“Hey, genius,” Santana calls, snapping Brittany back into movement as she takes a startled step forward, “I know I agreed to this, but it’s going to be really fucking creepy if you spend the next fifty minutes staring at me from over there.”

Brittany doesn’t have a smart answer to that, so she just bobs her head and heads to the risers, dropping her backpack by her feet and tugging out her phone as she drops into one of the chairs closest to the piano. The room is completely silent for a long moment, and when Brittany glances up she finds Santana sitting at the piano bench with her hands hovering above the keys, her dark gaze locked on Brittany.

“What?” Brittany asks, wrinkling her nose up in confusion.

“You know what’s weird,” Santana says with a small frown, “This doesn’t really feel weird.”

“Well surely you’ve played in front of more people than one broody teenager,” Brittany says wryly.

“That’s the thing,” Santana brow scrunches and Brittany quickly squashes down the part of her brain that thinks it’s adorable, “I haven’t played for anyone in years.” She glances down at the piano keys, fluttering her fingers above the keys before playing a quiet chord. “That’s why it’s so weird that this doesn’t feel weird.”

Before Brittany can even try to formulate a response, that same haunting melody Santana was playing earlier floats through the room, narrowing Brittany’s focus down to the sound of piano and Santana’s quiet humming above it.

Her phone remains forgotten in her hand as Brittany sinks into the uncomfortable plastic chair, letting her eyes flutter closed as she allows Santana to crack her open with her music once more.

It’s the silence that startles Brittany out of her daydream, blinking her eyes open to find Santana hunched over the piano scribbling furiously in the notebook on the music rack. She glances down at her phone and is shocked to find that it’s already 10:39, which means she has English in like twenty minutes. This past half hour has gone by so quickly that it leaves Brittany a little disoriented for a moment.

“It’s almost third period already?” she whines, sitting up and stretching her arms above her head until all her vertebrae crack. She sighs in relief and manages to drag herself to her feet.

“Yeah, lazy bones, and you haven’t done anything at all,” Santana says distractedly. She doesn’t give any other indication that she’s paying attention to Brittany until Brittany skulks over to the piano, dropping her backpack on the floor and collapsing unceremoniously on the bench beside Santana. She grumbles something unflattering under her breath and shuffles over on the bench a little so that Brittany has some room, but she doesn’t stop furiously scrawling something in the margins of her notebook. Santana’s already pulled the piano lid into place, so Brittany stretches her feet out in front of her and crosses one ankle over the other as she leans her elbows back on the key cover.

Santana glances at Brittany for long enough to demonstrate how unimpressed she is, but quickly turns her attention back to the notebook. Brittany tips her head back until she can see what has so completely distracted Santana, and snorts out a laugh when she processes what she’s looking at.

“No wonder you need a tutor,” Brittany teases, “Your math notebook is filled with music instead of derivatives and limits.”

“Oh, fuck off.” Santana rolls her eyes in annoyance even though there’s no real heat behind her words.

Brittany grins and slouches further into the piano bench. “As your tutor I must suggest that you actually write down what Mr. Dunngan says. It’ll probably help.”

“Why would I pay attention in class when I have you?” Santana retorts absently. Brittany tries to ignore the way her stomach flutters at that statement but, based on the pounding of her heart and the heat she feels quickly flooding her cheeks, it’s absolutely no use.

“Right,” she manages to say without squeaking too much. She shakes her head and wills away the heat crawling under her skin, because she’s Brittany S. Pierce and can have most of the boys and girls at McKinley falling all over her with a single well-placed smirk—she will not be done in by Santana Lopez of all people.

The universe seems to be looking out for her today, because Mr. Schue bursts into the glee practice room at that exact moment. He doesn’t notice them right away, but as soon as he catches sight of the unlikely duo on the piano bench, he freezes. His jaw drops dramatically—like a cartoon character or something—and his eyes practically bulge out of his skull. In the past couple of years, Brittany has learned that Mr. Schue is many things, but subtle is not one of them.

“Brittany,” he manages to sputter, and Brittany lifts one hand in a mocking two-finger salute, “and Santana. What are you doing here?”

Santana stiffens beside Brittany, snatching her notebook off the music rack and shooting Mr. Schue a scathing glare over her shoulder. “None of your business,” she growls.

Mr. Schue finally blinks—which is good, because Brittany kind of thinks that his eyes might have popped right out of his skull if they’d gotten any bigger—and takes an involuntary step backwards. “I have a right to know what goes on in my classroom,” he finally says. He even manages to sound a little authoritative, but Brittany’s seen his incredibly dorky side too many times to actually take him seriously.

“Hmm, that’s fair,” Santana says thoughtfully, “Though it is kind of weird that you’re here in the first place. I thought you had Spanish 10 during second period.” Santana’s voice turns sickly sweet, ice hidden in every lilt and drop, but Brittany can sense the fear rolling off her in sharp waves. “What a nice teacher you must be to break school policy and dismiss your students before the bell. Too bad Ms. Pillsbury is away today and you couldn’t stop and chat with her before your next class.”

Mr. Schue flounders for a moment before his eyes narrow. Brittany recognizes the look and inwardly rolls her eyes. Mr. Schue is a pretty cool glee director, but he sometimes has issues controlling his ego, which usually results in him puffing out his chest and taking advantage of his authority as a teacher.

While the universe saved her from the embarrassment of blushing in front of Santana Lopez, Brittany supposes that there’s only so much it can do in one day.

“Detention, both of you,” Mr. Schue snaps, somehow managing to sound smug and demanding all at once.

Santana’s scowl could probably frighten off the biker gang that passes through Lima every summer, and Brittany is grateful to not be on the receiving end of it for once. “What for?” she growls, her voice low and dangerous.

“For being in here without permission,” Mr. Schue explains, “There’s a lot of precious instruments in here that would be very expensive to replace if you two were messing around with them.” Brittany resists the urge to roll her eyes. There’s only two instrument stored in here—because the band keeps theirs in the band room—and those instruments are the piano and the drumset, neither of which her and Santana are doing anything untoward to, obviously.

“Really, Mr. Schue?” Brittany says, trying to heed off Santana protesting even more and making it worse for them.

Mr. Schue’s eyes snap to Brittany as if he forgot that she was in the room while flaunting his authority in front of Santana. “I expect both of you to be in detention after school today.”

Brittany sighs and stands up with a stretch, grabbing her backpack off the floor and slinging it over her shoulder. “Whatever,” she shrugs.

Santana’s jaw tightens and she squares her shoulders, looking like she’s about to take Mr. Schue on in one-on-one combat, but he’s luckily saved by the bell that signals the end of second period. Brittany’s witnessed Santana’s rage up close, and there’s no way she would bet against her. Santana shoves her stuff in her bag, glaring so fiercely at Mr. Schue as she stalks out of the classroom that Brittany’s surprised he doesn’t catch fire; Mr. Schue seems to be surprised too, if the way his eyebrows nearly hit his hairline is any indication.

If it were any of the other glee kids in here with Santana, they’d probably get off with a stern warning, but Brittany’s pretty sure that Mr. Schue has had it out for her since that first time she sneered in Rachel’s direction, all the way back in sophomore year. Mr. Schue is pretty alright and all, but his favouritism is more than a little annoying; honestly, Brittany wouldn’t mind it so much if he wasn’t so obvious about it. She’s not surprised to receive a detention from Mr. Schue, but including Santana in that punishment seems incredibly stupid. Dr. Lopez is the most powerful man in Lima, and Brittany’s pretty confident that Mr. Schue probably won’t have a job come Monday if he insists on giving Santana detention for something so harmless.

She walks up to him and arranges her expression into her most innocent and pleading one. It’s the one that works on the cops who used to work with her bio-dad, the one that convinces them that she’s grieving his death and just acting out, the one that’s stopped her from being arrested so many times before.

“C’mon, Mr. Schue,” Brittany wheedles, “Is this really necessary?”

“You two are not supposed to be in here,” Mr. Schue says, but he doesn’t quite meet Brittany’s eyes.

“Santana’s, like, the perfect student or whatever,” she says convincingly, “Do you really have to put this on her record for something as small as hanging out in the glee room while you’re not here?” Brittany doesn’t know much about Santana’s dad, but based on how she reacts whenever he’s mentioned, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that detention is not something Dr. Lopez would ever find acceptable. Plus, Mr. Schue should really be thanking her for protesting his insistence on giving Santana detention, for attempting to save his job from Dr. Lopez’s wrath. “It was my fault anyways. We both had a spare and this is the quietest place in the school so I said we could hang out here.”

Mr. Schue finally softens; he always has a soft spot for all the glee kids, even when they’re making trouble, even when he seems to have it out for some of them. “Fine,” he relents, “I won’t officially put a detention on her record as long as you both actually attend detention tonight.” He gives Brittany a pointed look and she smiles as innocently as she can manage. It’s not her fault that the gym teacher supervising detention most days falls asleep and makes it so easy to sneak out.

The bell to start third period rings and gives Brittany an excuse to escape. “Cool, thanks, Mr. Schue,” she calls over her shoulder as she flees the glee practice room.

She has no clue why she did that for Santana, but it kind of feels like today something changed between them, like she finally caught a glimpse of who Santana is underneath the perfect veneer of being Dr. Lopez’s golden child, of the Santana that awkwardly plays with her fingers and has messy writing and mutters under her breath when she hits a wrong note and gives Brittany slightly shy smiles when Brittany starts to hum along to her piano playing.

It’s not like they’re friends or anything, because it hasn’t even been a week since their first conversation, but there’s definitely something that’s changing between them.

It feels a little bit like becoming.

Mrs. Belling is really chatty during last period—she usually is on Fridays—and absentmindedly narrates her day while Brittany snacks on another of the bags of cookies intended for her sister’s lunches, halfheartedly studying the formula in front of her. She’s still made no progress on the equation, and she still hasn’t gotten around to asking Mr. Dunngan if he has any ideas, especially not after this morning. So instead she distracts herself with Mrs. Belling’s soothing voice and her own thoughts.

Brittany is starting to think she might understand Santana, just a little bit.

She still confuses the hell out of Brittany, because she still can’t quite get a read on Santana’s personality. But of the things that Brittany does understand, it just makes her want to know more about Santana. She stiffens every time her dad is brought up, but she is quick with a smirk whenever Brittany makes a comment about him. She’s aloof whenever they walk down the hall to the library, but surprisingly snarky and expressive when it’s just the two of them. She only ever mentions Mike when Brittany asks about what she does outside of school, but she’s no where near as cruel and cold to her boyfriend as Brittany imagined based on how on-again-off-again her and Mike’s relationship has been over the last three years. She glares more than glances at Brittany, but she’s not nearly as mean and bitchy and callous as her reputation suggests. She refuses to say anything positive about the arts programs at the school, but plays piano more beautifully than anyone Brittany’s ever heard. She is stoic and silent and still during class, but she fidgets almost all the time and sometimes hums under her breath when it’s just the two of them in the empty library. She’s reluctant and cautious around Brittany, but she’s not stony and distant like she is when other people are around.

And, perhaps the most surprising thing of all, she actually genuinely smiles around Brittany, kind of a lot.

After that first tutoring session, the twitch Brittany had kind of thought was a muscle spasm occurred more frequently, until those dimples appeared almost every time Brittany had a cheeky comment or a snarky complaint about whatever was on her mind. The first time Brittany heard Santana laugh, near the end of their first tutoring session, she thought her heart had stopped for a moment, because Santana’s bright laughter was utterly surprising and completely disarming, especially considering Santana’s reputation of being completely disaffected by literally everything.

Weirdly enough, especially after this morning, Brittany is almost certain that they’re definitely on their way to actually being friends. She’s certain that Santana doesn’t make friends easily, or use the term lightly, but based on Mike’s teasing comments about how Santana said she actually enjoyed their tutoring sessions, Brittany thinks she’s starting to fall into that category. It’s not nearly as weird as she thought it would be when she found out who she would be tutoring on Monday; in fact, it feels kind of natural to talk to and tease Santana as they work together on calculus.

Brittany lets a small smirk curl her lips as she steps forwards to write a correction to the formula she copied down at the beginning of the period. The idea that her and Santana Lopez are starting to become friends is a thought she never imagined would ever cross her mind, but here she is anyways.


Brittany startles a little and draws a thick line across her work at the sound of Mrs. Belling’s voice. “Huh?” she manages as she spins around.

Mrs. Belling tries to hide her laughter behind her hand, but doesn’t really succeed. “I asked if you were okay,” she says as if she’s been asking that for a while.

“Oh,” Brittany grins sheepishly, “Sorry. I was just distracted.”

Mrs. Belling hums knowingly and sets her pen down on the desk. “Is this the same distraction that was bothering you on Tuesday?”

Brittany smiles a little, because while the subject of her distraction is the same, the content and worry couldn’t be more different. “Nah, nothing quite so deep,” she answers.

Mrs. Belling maintains a suspicious look even as she turns back to her book. “If you say so,” she says skeptically.

Brittany grins and pops the last cookie from her bag into her mouth. She crumples the plastic bag in her hand and tosses it into the garbage by the whiteboard, before taking a deep breath and turning her thoughts to the equation in front of her, trying to focus on math for the last half hour still left of the school day.

She actually makes a little progress for the first time since she received this particular problem, trying a completely new approach to what she has before. When the bell rings, she waves goodbye to Mrs. Belling and snaps a couple pictures of the whiteboard—adding them to an album aptly called dumb math shit—before she collects her stuff and heads down the hallway to her locker. There’s a bunch of textbooks in her backpack right now that she doesn’t need for the weekend, so there’s no point in lugging them home only to forget them in her room like she always does. She spots Mike and Quinn huddling around Puck’s locker and changes direction to meet up with them; her and Santana now have detention after school anyways, so it’s not like she’s in too much of a hurry. Mr. Pyking knows her really well after all these years, and he doesn’t say much about her being late to detention as long as she gets there within fifteen minutes of the final bell.

“Britt,” Quinn greets exasperatedly, gesturing at Puck so wildly that he has to dodge the back of her hand, “Please tell this disaster of a human being why it’s a bad idea to go to Kyle Ekwisler’s party instead of attending Sully Johnston’s party.”

Brittany wrinkles her nose at the thought. “Unless you wanna spend your night hotboxed in a hoarder’s house, go to Sully’s party.”

Thank you,” Quinn says at the same time that Puck protests with a weak “But Emily Harson will be there.”

Mike finishes preparing his locker for the weekend and closes it before turning and patting Puck on the shoulder. “Just stop while you’re ahead,” he suggests. He gives Brittany a wide smile of greeting; he’s always been generous and unabashed with his affection for his friends, a trait that Brittany’s always admired in him. “Do you wanna catch a ride with us to the party? We’re all going to Breadstix for an early supper now and then heading over there.”

“I’ve got detention,” Brittany gives them a dry smirk and quickly elaborates before they can protest too much, “And the student I’m tutoring wants to do a session after that. Plus I’m actually getting paid today so I can’t skip it if I wanna pass Go and collect my forty-five dollars.”

Quinn and Puck both scoff, so in synch that it’s actually a little bit freaky, and immediately start trying to coax her into blowing detention and her tutoring session off. “What a nerd,” Puck sneers. “Who is it?”

Brittany rolls her eyes. “Like I’ve told you every time you’ve asked, I can’t tell you.” She resolutely avoids looking at Mike because, while she knows he won’t tell Puck and Quinn that he knows who it is, that would probably give it away.

“Still,” Quinn says snidely. For all her and Puck argue and mock each other, they are surprisingly on the same page for most things; she supposes it’s actually not all that surprising though, especially after Beth and everything that followed. “Obviously they don’t have a life at all if they want a tutoring session on a Friday night.”

“Super lame,” Puck agrees.

“I’ll just find you guys at Sully’s later,” Brittany says, trying to placate them. Honestly, it’s kind of amusing that the student that Puck and Quinn are so sure is a lame nerd without any semblance of a social life will probably be the talk of the party as soon as she makes her requisite brief appearance.

While Puck and Quinn continue to try and convince her to ditch detention and her tutoring session, Mike just studies her with his thoughtful brown eyes and wide smile. “C’mon, guys,” he finally cajoles, sending Brittany a wink over Puck and Quinn’s shoulders, “She’s obviously trying to be responsible for once.”

“Ha ha,” Brittany says dryly, “You’ll just have to make sure they don’t run out of alcohol before I get there.”

Puck and Quinn grumble their assent with only minimal complaining and whining. Mike grins when he throws another wrench in their plans because he has to meet up with Tina to talk about their group project for English, and sends Puck and Quinn on ahead to get a table at Breadstix, promising to only be fifteen minutes late.

“You guys are the worst,” Puck complains as Quinn drags him down the hallway in the direction of the student parking lot.

Brittany and Mike roll their eyes at each other, having long put up with their friends’ dramatics. For how uncaring Puck and Quinn pretend to be about everything, they’re the biggest drama queens she knows—aside from Rachel, obviously, but that’s a given. Brittany turns and heads down the hallway in the opposite direction of their friends so she can stop at her locker and messily dump all her unneeded textbooks in the bottom to be dealt with on Monday.

“So, detention, huh? What’d you do this time?” Mike asks as soon as Brittany’s shut her locker, grinning smugly as they take off down the nearly empty hallway. Mike’s English classroom is beside the classroom that detention is always held in, so they don’t even stop to discuss it before heading there together.

Heat rushes to Brittany’s cheeks for some reason and she fiercely wills it away. “Mr. Schue was on a power trip this morning,” she mutters, figuring that if anyone knows about Santana’s surprising talent for music, it’s her boyfriend of three years, “Santana and I were hanging out in the glee practice room during our spare and Santana was— Well, she was Santana, and Mr. Schue didn’t like that too much. Apparently we were in the glee room ‘without permission’ and could have been ‘messing around’ with the instruments, which is bullshit because it’s not like Santana was slamming on the keys of the piano or anything.”

Mike’s eyes are wide with surprise as he glances at Brittany out of the corner of his eye. “You mean Santana let you listen to her play?” he asks incredulously, his voice lowered to a barely audible hiss.

“Uh,” Brittany hesitates, because Mike’s reaction is not what she was expecting, “Yeah?”

Mike straightens and lets out a low whistle. “Interesting,” he hums.

Brittany scowls at a couple of juniors who are staring at them with too much interest. “Interesting why?”

Mike shrugs with a smug little smirk, his over-the-shoulder bag bumping against his hip at the motion. “Just interesting.”

“Michael Robert Chang, Jr.,” Brittany growls, “don’t make me hurt you.”

“Brittany Susan Pierce, I can’t believe you just full named me,” he gasps, holding a hand dramatically to his heart.

“Mike,” she says warningly, smacking him in the arm.

“Okay, okay,” Mike concedes with a bright laugh, “No need to harm the precious limbs.” Brittany makes sure she’s in his line of vision when she rolls her eyes, much to his amusement. “It’s just interesting that Santana let you listen to her play.”

Brittany kind of figured that based on Santana’s reaction, but she still finds herself asking “Why?” anyways.

Mike shrugs and casts a quick glance around the deserted hallways. “Santana’s not really one to make friends easily.”

“Yeah,” Brittany says wryly, “I kinda got that.”

Mike chuckles and nudges Brittany playfully. “She’s warmed up to you really quickly, though.” Brittany tries to ignore the warmth that curls in her chest at that, but she can feel the corners of her lips curling upwards and knows she’s failing. “Quicker than she did to me,” he adds with a fond laugh.

“Well, I’m much more charming,” Brittany teases, finding the warmth in her chest harder and harder to ignore, “And prettier.”

“Rude!” Mike cries. Brittany just grins, slowing her steps as they approach the English classroom. “See you later?”

Brittany gives him a mock salute and grins when he just laughs at her. She can hear the warmth in his voice when he greets Tina as he enters the classroom, while she slowly continues on down the hall. She’s always liked Tina—mostly because Tina’s never been a fan of Rachel—and she really wouldn’t mind it if Tina started hanging out with their friend group more, since Mike seems to be hanging out with her more and more often. She’s pretty sure Tina would fit in with their friends pretty well since she can be pretty snarky in her own right, and, at the very least, she’d get along with Mike really well.

There’s no one in the hallways as she passes down the short block of lockers separating the English classroom from the detention room, everybody having escaped McKinley as soon as humanly possible, especially because it’s Friday and the weekend is waiting. If it weren’t for Mr. Schue’s ego, Brittany would have been long gone from the school’s premises too, but she’s stuck here in the stuffy detention room for the next half hour, and she’ll probably be stuck in the library for another hour after that. She’s hoping she can convince Santana to only have a thirty minute session; the only reason they’re having a session on Friday is for Santana’s dad’s sake, after all, and he doesn’t need to know that they only actually worked for half an hour, especially because Mr. Dunngan was right in assuming that Santana wouldn’t need much guidance.

Mr. Pyking’s already snoring when Brittany steps into the classroom, and there’s a couple skanks and football players gossiping at the front of the classroom, none of them paying any attention to anything that doesn’t directly involve themselves.

The only person Brittany is interested in is sitting in the very back corner of the room, glowering at the whiteboard as if it had personally offended her. Brittany grins and skulks to the back of the classroom, unnoticed by everyone except for Santana, who’s dark gaze immediately zeros in on her. Brittany tries to arrange her face in an innocent expression as she drops into the desk beside Santana’s, but can’t quite manage anything more than a smirk.

“So, Santana Lopez,” she greets lowly, “in detention for the very first time.” Santana rolls her eyes and sinks further into her desk, eyeing the skanks and football players and snoring Mr. Pyking at the front of the classroom. “They won’t even notice you’re here,” Brittany offers when she realizes what Santana’s probably worried about.

“Really?” Santana snorts skeptically.

“Yeah,” Brittany reassures with a dismissive wave of her hand, “They’re too self-absorbed to even realize when they’re talking to someone unless it’s their own reflection.”

Santana rolls her eyes, but her lips twitch a little, a sign that she’s amused but pretending she’s not to save face. “Not that it really matters if they see me and start gossiping about it anyways,” she grumbles, “My father will kill me when he inevitably finds out, which means—luckily for you—that you’ll be able to keep your own reputation in tact since you won’t have to tutor me anymore.”

“And before my first paycheque?” Brittany gasps.

“Don’t worry about that,” Santana’s lips quirk in that bitter smile of hers, “My father would never try to cheat you out of money. It might sully his reputation.”

“Well, I was never one for gloomy people anyways.” At Santana’s amused but confused look, Brittany allows herself a tiny grin; she’s actually getting pretty good at getting Santana to smile and relax. “I got that one confused, didn’t I?”

“You’re thinking sullen,” Santana says dryly, but there’s no tone of mockery in her voice like Brittany’s so used to hearing, which still surprises her, just a little bit, “I meant ruin his reputation.”

“Well, Ms. Walking-Thesaurus, why didn’t you just say that in the first place instead of bringing Sully into this? His party isn’t until tonight,” Brittany retorts good-naturedly.

Santana rolls her eyes and bites back a small grin. “Who says I’m going?”

Brittany snorts. “As if you wouldn’t make your usual two and a half hour appearance before disappearing into the night.”

“So you’ve been watching me,” Santana challenges, glancing at Brittany out of the corner of her eye.

“Oh yeah, realizing that, for four years straight, you only show up for a couple of hours at parties takes some serious detective work, years of stakeouts instead of drinking and partying. And using my math genius to calculate when you arrive and leave are all I have to show for it.”

“Stalker,” Santana snipes, but the grin on her lips is wider than Brittany’s seen it yet, her dimples deep and unwavering, and it makes that warm thing that’s been flaring up in Brittany’s chest lately burn a little hotter, curling and settling deep under her sternum with a content hum.

(And, oh.)


(Oh, fuck.)

(She’s so screwed because Santana is dating her best friend and is also probably the straightest person ever and of fucking course this is happening right now. Brittany really, really, really should have recognized the signs sooner because this isn’t even the first time she’s become so utterly intrigued by someone so utterly unavailable. Brittany’s heart really couldn’t have picked a more inconvenient person to suddenly start crushing on?)

(Of course it couldn’t, because her heart always picks the most inconvenient person to develop sudden crushes on.)

(It will almost certainly subside within a couple weeks, because that’s usually how it goes with Brittany’s crushes, so there’s probably nothing to worry about.)

(Or, at least, she really hopes that there’s nothing to worry about.)

“Earth to Brittany Neutron,” Santana mutters, startling Brittany out of her newest revelation and mild panic, “Out of all the bickering we’ve done this week, the ‘stalker’ comment is what gets you?”

Jimmy Neutron,” Brittany manages to mumble, “Clever.”

Santana glances around for a moment and, seeing that everyone is as distracted as Brittany promised her they would be earlier, visibly softens, going from the Santana Lopez of the McKinley halls to the Santana that sits beside her for an hour of math with playfully snarky comments. “You okay?” she rasps, leaning close enough to Brittany across the space separating their desks that Brittany can smell the scent of vanilla that always clings to her, “Because you looked a little lost there.”

Brittany shivers a little because Santana’s concern in that voice is definitely not going to help her with her new problem. “Yeah, I’m fine,” she manages to say without swallowing her own tongue. “Just zoned out for a second.”

“Right.” Santana looks skeptical, which she probably should be because Brittany ‘zoned out’ in the middle of a conversation, but she drops it. “Anyways, I’m surprised you’re even here. Don’t you have a reputation for, like, never showing up to detention?”

Brittany shrugs a little and stretches out, lounging in the desk like her childhood cat used to in a sunbeam. “Figured you’d need someone to show you the ropes.”

“How hard can it be to figure out detention?” Santana retorts, but there’s a tiny grin on her lips and her eyes are lit up with that dark, curious spark. “You show up, you sit, you leave.”

“Well, if you wanna sneak out you gotta know someone with good timing,” Brittany grins.

Santana rolls her eyes. “Please, my father will kill me once he finds out I got detention, but if I got caught skipping detention, he would almost certainly bring me back just so he can kill me again.” Brittany can see Santana visibly deflate and don her cold demeanour at the thought of her dad, and Brittany desperately tries to figure out a way to pull her back. “I thought about just not showing up in the first place,” she admits quietly, her voice so tired and emotionless that it makes something in Brittany’s stomach twist uncomfortably, “but that’ll just make it worse.”

Brittany wasn’t actually going to tell Santana about what Mr. Schue agreed to this morning, because she has a reputation to protect and that reputation does not include acts of kindness for people she’s not friends with; and even when it comes to people who are her friends, her charity only extends so far. But she figures she can make an exception, because the harder Santana tries to look like she doesn’t care about her dad’s reaction to his daughter getting detention, the more Brittany wants to reach out and grab her hand to soothe her. And that’s definitely not something that will go over well, so instead she lowers her voice as she leans closer to Santana, but the question at the front of her mind and the question that actually spills out of her mouth are definitely not the same thing.

“Do you regret this morning? Even if you got detention out of it?” Brittany blinks as she processes the words coming out of her mouth, and winces a little. That seems like the kind of thing that will warrant her another glimpse of Santana’s temper, especially considering how Santana first reacted to catching Brittany listening to her play piano this morning, before Santana let her walls down for a moment.

Santana stiffens for just a moment, a slight snarl on her lips as she turns to glare at Brittany. Dark eyes meet blue and Brittany is completely taken aback as she watches Santana immediately soften, her brown eyes turning as warm as honey in the sunlight and her lips relaxing into a shy smile.

“It was,” Santana trails off and drops her gaze to Brittany’s desk, playing with her fingers and allowing the tiny smile to curl her lips up even more, “nice.”

Brittany can’t help the smile that tugs at her lips at how adorable Santana looks when she’s shy. “Nice?” she teases.

“Shut up, asshole,” Santana mumbles. “You like actually listened to me or whatever and it was,” she trails off again, her nose crinkling up cutely, “nice.”

Brittany smiles a little and sinks further into her desk, shoving her hands deep into the pockets of her leather jacket. “Well, I’m glad you thought it was nice and decided to not skip detention,” she drawls, but she’s unable to maintain the teasing tone to her voice as she finally meets Santana’s eyes, immediately feeling her expression and posture soften, “Because I kind of convinced Mr. Schue to not put this on your permanent record as long as you and I actually attended detention today.”

Santana’s eyes snap up to Brittany’s, surprise and curiosity and something warm and soft dancing in them. “Really?” she rasps. Brittany somehow manages to get her head to move in something resembling a nod, even though it kind of feels like her heart’s stopped beating and that’s definitely not good or healthy. “Thank you,” she murmurs, and there’s a smile playing across her lips that Brittany’s never seen before, softening her face until Brittany can’t even imagine how she’s the same person that stalks down McKinley’s halls like she owns them.

“Yeah,” Brittany manages to say, clearing her throat when her voice comes out a little strangled, her blood rushing in her ears as the warmth in her chest crawls up into her cheeks, “No problem.”

(Yeah, she’s so fucking screwed.)


Chapter Text

By the next week, they’ve started to alternate between tutoring sessions during their second period and tutoring sessions after school. Their decision to start randomly alternating between second period and after school began on Tuesday, when Puck had almost caught them in the library, which kind of freaked them both out; Santana because she was afraid of Puck opening his big mouth and telling McKinley about their tutoring sessions and Brittany because she had the displeasure of seeing Puck’s bare ass. Luckily for both of them though, him and whoever he was with were both too involved with each other as they stumbled towards the table that they probably wouldn’t have noticed if the school burned down around them, allowing Brittany and Santana the chance to hastily shove their stuff into whatever bag was closest to them and slip away unnoticed. The tense, secondhand-embarrassed silence between them lingered until they stumbled through the back doors of the school and immediately burst into laughter as they both slumped back against the doors, the autumn wind biting at their cheeks. They managed to catch their breaths enough to hand the stuff they shoved away into their bags back to the original owner—Brittany passing Santana her notebook and Santana giving Brittany her textbook and pencil back—before they caught each other’s eyes and fell into another laughing fit.

It’s a testament to how far they’ve already come that Santana only tenses long enough for Brittany to blink before relaxing and taking her notebook back with a tiny grin.

(Brittany tries her hardest to get her heartbeat to slow down at the sight of Santana’s smile, but her heart is dumb and wild and mischievous and refuses to listen to her.)

Since Brittany ends up having an unscheduled glee rehearsal on Thursday—unscheduled in the sense that Brittany forgot that Mr. Schue decided to schedule an extra rehearsal that day until Quinn reminded her at their lockers that morning—they have a tutoring session during their second period.

Brittany finds herself trailing half a hall length after Santana instead of slinking along beside her on their way out of Mr. Dunngan’s classroom like they have been doing lately. Brittany’s pretty sure their near-miss with Puck almost finding them panicked Santana more than she let on. Plus, there have already been rumours floating around McKinley about her and Santana hanging out with each other, and so Santana quickly decided that they shouldn’t walk to the library together anymore; Brittany’s sure only part of it is because Santana’s father doesn’t want anyone to know that Santana needs a tutor, she’s pretty sure that most of the reason is the fact that Brittany has a reputation just as well-known as Santana’s, though Brittany’s is definitely more infamous. She can’t imagine that Dr. Lopez would be too happy to find out that his only daughter is spending her time with the town’s resident troubled kid, who has definitely spent far more time on the wrong side of the law than the right side of it; it definitely wouldn’t matter to him if Brittany’s only tutoring Santana—completely legally, of course—or not.

So she doesn’t complain when Santana decides that they have to completely avoid each other at school, because she’s very quickly learned that Dr. Lopez is a touchy subject for Santana, a subject that is just about the only thing that will spark Santana’s rage in under a second. She doesn’t say anything or tease Santana or try to be difficult like she usually is, because Brittany’s not actually a complete asshole, after all.

She does find it amusing to see Santana glance both ways—or, more likely, glare both ways—before she skulks into the library. Brittany lingers in the hallway by the water fountain, leaning against the wall and pretending to check her phone even though it’s against school policy to have your phone out during school hours; Brittany’s never exactly been one for following policy.

She waits almost five minutes after the hallways clear before she peels herself off the wall and saunters down the hallway and into the library as if there’s nothing weird about her spending an hour a day in a room she’d never even set foot in before.

Santana’s already got all her stuff spread across the table, and offers her a slightly lopsided grin in greeting. Brittany gives her a mocking two-finger salute in return and ignores the eye roll that sends Santana’s head lolling, carelessly dropping her backpack on the ground as she flops onto the bench beside Santana. She doesn’t bother opening her backpack, because grabbing one of Santana’s spare pencils is much easier—they already use Santana’s textbook and it’s easier to write equations down in Santana’s notebook for her to answer instead of having her copy it down from Brittany’s notebook, so Brittany’s taken to just stealing one of Santana’s pencils too.

“You are literally the laziest person I know, you know that?” Santana comments idly, halfheartedly swatting at the hand that steals one of her pencils and putting up the same pointless protest that she always does.

“Oh, I’m aware,” Brittany says with a smirk, ducking forwards to leer at Santana.

Santana rolls her eyes and shoves Brittany’s face away from hers, her hand cool and soft against Brittany’s cheek. “Whatever,” she says dryly. There’s silence for a moment—broken only by the soft snores of the ancient librarian as she takes her usual second period nap—before Santana softens a little. “Have you talked to Mr. Dunngan lately?” she asks carefully, “He’s been trying to get your attention after class everyday but you always seem to flee before the bell even stops ringing.”

“It’s nothing.” Brittany sighs deeply and collapses on the table, burying her face in her arms and yelping when she accidentally stabs the inside of her elbow with her borrowed pencil.

Santana makes a noise that sounds vaguely sympathetic, and the pencil is suddenly taken from her grasp. She startles a little when Santana pokes her playfully in the shoulder with it. “C’mon, you can’t tutor from in there.” Brittany mumbles something that’s barely comprehensible to her, so it’s no surprise when all Santana responds with is a “Huh?”

Brittany lifts her head enough to settle her chin in the crook of her elbow, twisting her neck so she can see Santana out of the corner of her eye. “I said,” she repeats, smirking at the annoyed crinkle in Santana’s nose at her tone, “We’ll see about that.”

Santana rolls her eyes and pokes her again, continuing the assault until Brittany is sitting upright again, though she remains slouched just on principle. “I’d rather not listen to you Darth Vader your way through extreme value theorem and continuity,” she says haughtily.

Brittany lets her smirk widen and winks suggestively. “I definitely wouldn’t want to be your father.”

Santana both tenses and blushes at Brittany’s statement, and Brittany thinks she’s overstepped a boundary when Santana almost immediately relaxes again, giving Brittany an unimpressed once-over. “Yeah, you’re definitely more of a Han Solo type. Always shooting first from what I’ve heard.”

Brittany gasps and stares at Santana as if she has never seen her before. “Okay, that is completely untrue and bordering on slander. But, more importantly, Santana Lopez, did you just make a suggestive comment?”

“I would never,” Santana retorts, her tone completely affronted. She tries to bite back a tiny smirk as she turns back to her notebook, her head held high as if she’s above it all, but her eyes are warm and sparkling with amusement.

“I’m surprised someone of your caliber has even seen Star Wars,” Brittany teases, elbowing Santana in the side playfully. “Seems far too nerdy for you.”

“Mike loves those movies,” Santana explains with an eye roll. “I don’t know how many times he’s forced me to sit through them.”

“Oh right,” Brittany says. She swallows thickly and fiercely beats back the slight twinge of jealousy that sparks in her chest, because she just has a dumb little crush that will probably go away in a week, and Mike’s her best friend, and her heart has absolutely no right to ache the way it currently is. “He’s secretly such a nerd.”

Santana’s lips twitch in a fond smile of agreement, and Brittany quickly looks away to hide the annoyance she can feel forming on her face; sometimes it’s easier to be annoyed than it is to allow the pain to sprout. She pulls the textbook towards them and skims through it until she finds the chapter they were working on last period, ignoring the curious look Santana gives her. Santana opens her mouth as if she’s about to say something, but seems to decide against it, her mouth closing with an audible click of her teeth. Instead, she just sits quietly while Brittany starts to explain extreme value theorem in a way that is much simpler than Mr. Dunngan’s earlier explanation.

Santana keeps her curious gaze on the side of Brittany’s face until Brittany writes down a question in Santana’s notebook and pushes it towards her. Without those dark eyes studying her profile, the urge to fidget evaporates and Brittany’s shoulders relax. Santana seems to have no problems with extreme value theorem, so Brittany starts writing down more complex questions. Santana answers them in quick succession, her tongue poking out of the corner of her mouth in frustration whenever she makes a mistake in her solution and is forced to furiously erase the past couple steps. Brittany smiles a little and reaches over to show Santana a simple shortcut, her skin heating up a little at the grateful look Santana gives her.

Santana still gets frustrated really easily when she messes up or doesn’t understand something right away, and in the past almost two weeks, Brittany’s practically become an expert in soothing her aggravation when it comes to math. Santana grins as she circles her final answer and looks to Brittany for approval. Brittany knows that Santana can’t hear her heartbeat or anything, but it thuds so loud for a moment that Brittany’s sure that Santana’s about to flinch away from the sound.

Brittany swallows and pulls the notebook towards her, giving the question a critical look before allowing a small smile to curl her lips upwards. She doesn’t say anything, but instead writes another question down. Santana grins as she takes the notebook back and starts the next question. Brittany leans back on the bench, curling her fingers over the edge and stretching her legs out under the table to lounge lazily as Santana answers the question. She closes her eyes and sighs contently, tipping her head back.

A week ago she would have never felt comfortable enough in Santana’s presence to fully relax, too worried about Santana turning on her and eating her alive like the rumours surrounding her reputation implied. It’s weird how quickly Santana warmed up to her, everything considered, but Santana’s always seemed lonely, even when Brittany didn’t know anything about her, so she supposes it kind of makes sense, in its own way. Mike’s plea for her to give Santana a chance rings in her ears for a moment, and she allows a small smile to curl her lips because, surprisingly, Mike was right; Santana isn’t half as bad as her reputation suggests. Sure, she’s still snarky and bitchy and prickly, but she’s also playful and cheeky and mischievous; she has obvious issues with her father and can’t quite hide the bags under her eyes from the weight of being forced to carry his reputation and expectation around; she sneers every time someone publicly mentions music or the arts in general but she hums under her breath when its just the two of them and has bars of music scribbled in the margins of her notebook.

“Hey,” Brittany says suddenly, blinking open her eyes and glancing at Santana, “can I ask you a question?”

“You can, doesn’t mean I’ll answer it,” Santana says distractedly, her pencil methodically writing out every single step of her answer.

“Smart ass,” Brittany snipes with a wide grin, before growing serious again. “It’s just— I was wondering— You said your dad is not a fan of the arts, right?”

Santana stiffens, just a little, like she does every time her dad is brought up. “Uh huh,” she finally says when Brittany doesn’t continue.

“So then how did you get so good at piano?”

Santana’s pencil freezes midair, hovering above the lined paper below it, leaving the final step of her answer only half finished. “What?”

Brittany sits up out of her lounged position and leans forward on the bench, propping her elbow up on the table and settling the line of her jaw and most of her cheek into her palm, twisting herself so that her body is turned towards Santana. “It’s just— Well, you play really well. But you said your dad hates the arts. So I can’t imagine he would have been happy about putting you in piano lessons or whatever.”

“Yeah well,” Santana mutters, “I’ve stopped trying to figure out why he does anything by now. I’ve lived with him for almost seventeen years and I still don’t have a fucking clue how his brain works.”

Brittany doesn’t say anything, because Santana’s jaw is twitching right at the hinge like it does when she’s trying to control her anger. Instead, Brittany slowly shifts closer on the bench, allowing time for Santana to move away if she wants, pressing her arm to Santana’s in the hopes that it will calm her down or comfort her or something.

After long moments spent in complete silence, Santana finally relaxes against Brittany, leaning into her for a moment before straightening again. “He put me in piano lessons as soon as I was old enough,” she explains bitterly, “Some sort of elitist thing or whatever that he had in his head. All his colleagues’ kids could play so, of course, he expected me to be the best of them all. God forbid Dr. Lopez’s daughter doesn’t succeed at something immediately.”

Santana lets out a laugh that’s sharp and cold and so different from what Brittany’s grown used to that it throws her for a second.

“But then, I actually ended up loving piano, which he obviously didn’t expect. I was supposed to be good, but I wasn’t supposed to enjoy it,” Santana elaborates, her words sharp and acrid. “I dunno, music’s always come easy for me, and my piano teacher was actually pretty cool. So my father let me attend lessons with her for, like, eight years until I expressed an actual interest in pursing music after high school.” Santana rolls her eyes and gives Brittany a wry smile. “I’ve never seen my father be more interested in my life than when he was pulling me out of my lessons and making sure I would never be able to sign up for them again, with my piano teacher or anyone else in Lima. He got rid of the ludicrously expensive piano he bought for me to practice and all my music books and stuff. Being a musician has never been part of the life he’s had planned for me. Dr. Lopez’s only daughter is supposed to be a successful lawyer or a doctor or a judge or something equally prestigious—not a struggling musician.”

Brittany’s silent for a long moment, studying Santana’s profile. She suddenly looks so much smaller than Brittany’s ever seen before, like someone’s poked a hole in her and all the air is fizzing out.

“But it’s whatever, you know?” Santana continues with a forced smile, “After graduation I’ll be free to do whatever I want.”

“I could see you in New York or L.A.,” Brittany offers softly. Santana’s eyes snap to hers, defensive for a split second before they melt into that warm and curious gaze of hers. “You gotta get to some city with music in its soul,” she explains, and then frowns, “That was really fucking cheesy, I don’t know where that came from.”

It surprises a laugh out of Santana, which was kind of Brittany’s intention all along if she’s being honest. “What, no Nashville or Seattle?” she teases, her gaze bright like someone flicked the light behind her eyes back on.

Brittany twists her face into a playful sneer. “I swear to god if you’re into country music like everyone else in this hick town I’m marching out of this library and never coming back—” Santana’s laugh echoes across the library, bright and carefree and wild, apparently startling the ancient librarian awake if the sudden absence of snoring is any indication, “—and hipster music doesn’t really seem like your scene.”

Santana raises her eyebrows in outrage, but the expression is undercut by the wide grin dimpling her cheeks. “You don’t think I could make it as the lead in some pretentious underground Indie band?”

Brittany snorts and nudges Santana with her elbow. “Oh, you could totally make it. It just seems a far cry from the whole Amy-Winehouse’s-reincarnated-voice thing you’ve got going on.”

Santana’s lips part a little and she stares at Brittany with wide, dark, soulful eyes. Brittany starts to fidget a little as the silence stretches on, picking at her nails and dropping her gaze to the table where the math they’re supposed to be working on lays forgotten. “I think that’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me,” Santana finally whispers.

Brittany’s eyes dart back up to Santana’s and catch, dark and electric like a flash of lightning against the midnight sky. She swallows thickly and tries not to drown in Santana’s gaze, her stomach churning urgently. “Well,” she manages, voice a little strangled, “That’s a damn shame.”

Santana blinks and the moment is broken.

She quickly jerks her head forward to stare at the notebook in front of her, looking nearly windswept as she stares fiercely at the lined paper. Her pencil is clutched tightly in her hand and she shakily finishes the forgotten question, shoving it wordlessly over to Brittany and subtly shifting away so there’s more than a couple inches of space between them, leaving Brittany’s side cold and empty.

Brittany flounders as she writes down another question, desperately searching for something to cut the thick tension lingering between them. Her mind settles on a subject bound to stop the pounding of her heart as the butterflies in her stomach turn to stone and dust. “Is that why you and Mike get along so well?” she asks.


“You and Mike,” Brittany repeats, ignoring the sour taste in her mouth, “I’ve always wondered why you two are dating because you’re kind of nothing alike. But his dad is like the exact same type of controlling asshole as yours.”

“Oh,” Santana says as if she’s surprised, “Uh, yeah, I guess you’re right.”

“You guess?” Brittany asks skeptically.

“I don’t know,” Santana snaps defensively, “We’ve been dating for three years. I don’t remember every single thing we’ve talked about.”

“Jeez, sorry,” Brittany mutters, pushing the notebook back to Santana with the most complicated question she could come up with.

There’s a beat of silence before Santana reaches out to tug the notebook closer, letting her elbow brush against Brittany’s bicep without jerking away like it burns. “No,” Santana finally sighs, “I’m sorry.” She offers Brittany a half-smile that’s barely a twitch of her lips. “I’m not really used to people being friendly. Aside from Mike, obviously.”

Brittany concedes that point with a slight dip of her head—ignoring the twinge deep in her chest—because Mike doesn’t really know how to be anything other than friendly.

“I’m trying not to be so defensive, or whatever,” Santana adds awkwardly, “But sometimes I just— Sometimes I fuck up, okay?” Her dark eyes meet Brittany’s and the small, almost pained, smile that curls her lips makes something in Brittany leap to attention. “Don’t give up on me quite yet,” she whispers, her voice somewhere between pleading and begging.

Brittany’s breath is caught somewhere against her teeth as she struggles to form a coherent thought. (Brittany was right that first day Mr. Dunngan coerced her into this situation, she’s definitely not going to make it through this dumb tutoring thing unscathed.) She manages a laugh that sounds strangled and forced and winces a little; she’s Brittany S. Pierce and she has a reputation as a law-breaking, mischief-making, peace-disturbing, expertly brooding rebel, and it’s kind of embarrassing to have all of that unravelled by one pretty girl, by one Santana Lopez, of all people. “Hey,” Brittany soothes, grimacing when her voice comes out sounding far more raspy than she intended, “It takes a lot more than a few vicious words to scare me off.”

Santana doesn’t answer, but she ducks her head to hide the soft smile that’s curling her lips; Brittany can still see the dimple in her cheek though, so it doesn’t really do anything other than send the butterflies in Brittany’s stomach fluttering up into her ribcage. “To answer your question without getting all defensive,” Santana finally says, her voice warm and playful once again, “Our relationship is kind of complicated.”

“Then un-complicate it,” Brittany says cheekily.

Santana rolls her eyes, unamused as her head comes back up to meet Brittany’s eyes again. She swallows thickly and and shrugs a little, shaking her pencil back and forth until it blurs, something Brittany now recognizes as once of Santana’s many nervous ticks; it’s amazing what you start to see when you’re actually looking for it.

“It’s not that easy,” Santana finally says. Brittany just holds Santana’s gaze, watching helplessly as the light behind Santana’s eyes flickers off again. “Mike is—” she cuts herself off and closes her eyes briefly, “Mike’s thoughtful and sweet and I love him.” (Brittany ignores the clench in her chest because her tiny stupid little crush on Santana is inconvenient and annoying and temporary.) “But we’re— I don’t know. It’s just confusing and complicated,” she explains carefully, “He’s like the only decent guy at this dumb fucking school and about the only person who actually puts up with my shit. And I don’t make much fun of him for all his nerdy interests so he has someone to share them with. And our father’s have been planning our wedding for years or whatever. So, it makes sense for us to date, you know?”

That sounds weirdly rehearsed to Brittany, and not at all what a relationship should be based on, but she can see how uncomfortable Santana is getting and graciously decides to just drop it. “Yeah,” she agrees, “High school dating kind of sucks.”

“Yeah,” Santana says, her voice so lifeless that it makes Brittany’s stomach twist in sympathy. Maybe Brittany and her friends were completely off base with the years of assumptions that’s accumulated into a misconception of Mike’s bitchy, cold, uncaring girlfriend, because Brittany’s positive no one in the world is a good enough actress to fake the dejected tone to Santana’s voice. “Anyways,” Santana says, straightening her spine and turning back to the math they’ve been severely neglecting today, “That’s enough therapy for one day.”

Brittany snorts and sits forward a little to watch over Santana’s shoulder as she frowns at the question Brittany wrote for her. “Same time tomorrow?” she teases, “I might even be able to find a couch and a clipboard to really get into character.”

Santana pauses in scribbling down the next step of the equation, a playful smirk playing on her lips as she glances at Brittany. “You’re a dork,” she says cheekily.

Brittany gasps and reels backwards—nearly falling off the bench and on her ass, but thanking every dance move she’s ever done to give her the balance and quick reflexes to avoid that particular embarrassment. She presses a hand to her heart and stares at Santana in the most melodramatically outraged look she can manage. “How. Dare. You,” she enunciates slowly.

The laugh that bursts out of Santana is almost a giggle, and Brittany can do nothing but smile helplessly at her.

She really is fucking screwed.

Brittany manages to ignore Mr. Dunngan for a full week before she gets cornered in his classroom because Nathan Morgensen and Wyatt Smith are bickering in the doorway, blocking her escape.

She’s had a week to try and convince herself that Mr. Dunngan didn’t mean anything last Friday about his questions on how tutoring has been going, but she’s also had a week to let the bitter taste of betrayal linger on her tongue and fester in her stomach. He had been the only teacher who’s never once doubted her, and the remembering of that Friday morning aches like someone tore her ribcage open and dumped her on the side of the road, leaving her victim to the elements and scavengers.

With the door blocked she has no choice but to turn to Mr. Dunngan, unable to ignore him like she has been doing all week. Her mouth tastes like ash and her feet seem to have turned into cinder blocks, because it feels like it takes a Herculean effort just to cross the classroom, her backpack banging against her hip where it’s draped over one shoulder as if she had stuffed it full of bricks that morning. She sighs and glances to the side, meeting Santana’s dark eyes from where she’s standing up from her desk. Santana’s gaze pierces her just like it did that first time their eyes meet, but it doesn’t scorch Brittany anymore; Santana’s eyes are still unfathomably dark and there’s that curious thing still gleaming in them, but there’s something almost warm and concerned that flashes in them as she takes in Brittany’s expression.

She tips her head to the side a little and frowns at Brittany, lingering at her desk as Brittany forces herself across the classroom, her eyes flickering between Brittany and Mr. Dunngan in a strange mix of confusion and defensiveness. Brittany shrugs and glances away, breaking the moment, as she reaches Mr. Dunngan’s desk. She can hear Nathan Morgensen and Wyatt Smith—the reason she’s in this situation in the first place—finally walk through the door, and then the rest of the class filing out after them, followed by the somehow simultaneously hesitant and assertive footsteps of Santana exiting the classroom last.

(Brittany ignores the fact that she recognizes Santana’s footsteps, because the only reason Brittany she knows them is because they’ve spent a lot of time together lately. Obviously that’s it. There’s absolutely no other reason why Brittany knows what Santana’s footsteps sound like.)

“Brittany,” Mr. Dunngan greets hesitantly.

Brittany bites back a sneer and simply nods, stopping a couple feet from the desk she usually leans against and standing stiffly, shoving her hands deep in her leather jacket pockets; she doesn’t particularly feel like cheekily annoying him by leaning up against a desk like she usually does. “Mr. Dunngan,” she returns coolly, red hot satisfaction coiling in her stomach at the way Mr. Dunngan winces a little and runs his hand over his head.

She tries to ignore the voice in her head that screams how the satisfaction is really the betrayal that has clung to the insides of her stomach this past week.

“I wanted to— I mean I realized that last week— I didn’t intend to—”

“I really have to get going since Santana’s expecting me for a tutoring session,” Brittany grumbles, interrupting Mr. Dunngan’s stuttering, “So if you didn’t need me for anything else I’d like to go.”

Mr. Dunngan sighs and Brittany bristles, clutching at the the strap of her backpack and trying to keep her expression completely blank. “Brittany, I’m sorry for last Friday,” he says, sincere because he doesn’t know how to be anything else. “I didn’t mean for it to sound like I was doubting your tutoring abilities.”

“Yeah, well,” Brittany snaps, but bites off the rest of her sentence. Mr. Dunngan is still a teacher with the authority to give detentions, and it’s Friday, and Brittany doesn’t feel like spending anymore time in this dumb school than she has to.

“You’re smart, Brittany,” Mr. Dunngan continues earnestly, “and I didn’t mean to imply otherwise.” Brittany forces herself not to storm out, because despite the fact that she’s been waiting all week for this apology—pathetically yearning for it like a puppy begs for belly scratches, if she’s being honest with herself—she’s still not actually ready to accept it; betrayal always stings the worst when it comes from someone you trusted to never hurt you.

“Is that all?” Brittany asks without any inflection.

“Brittany,” Mr. Dunngan says quietly, a soft question somewhere in his voice that Brittany ignores. He sighs and glances down at his desk, at the lack of apologetic gas station coffees that have been missing all week. “I’ll see you on Monday then,” he says dejectedly, “Have a good weekend.”

“Yeah,” is all Brittany says as she turns to stalk out of the classroom.

The hallways are nearly empty by now, since the bell to start third period is due to ring in less than a minute, so it nearly surprises the betrayal and hurt clouding Brittany’s thoughts right out of her head when she looks up to meet Santana’s dark gaze. She’s leaning against the lockers directly across from Mr. Dunngan’s classroom door, looking for all the world like she somehow belongs right there, slouching in a high school hallway; Santana has the uncanny ability to make every place she stands her own, like she’s commanding all the attention and forcing people to see her as part of the setting, like she’s never out of place.

She straightens as soon as Brittany steps into the hallway, glancing over Brittany’s shoulder and back into the classroom with a strange glare on her face. “C’mon,” Brittany mutters as the bell rings, turning in the direction of the library, “Let’s just go.”

Santana’s silent for a while, which Brittany is thankful for, as they walk through the school. It gives Brittany time to gather her thoughts and try to suppress all the feelings bubbling up in her stomach and threatening to messily spill out onto the hallway floor.

“What was that all about?” Santana finally asks with a deep frown after a couple minutes of tense silence. She doesn’t seem to notice that they’re walking down the hallway together—something she had been adamant against at the beginning of the week—so Brittany doesn’t bring attention to that fact.

“It’s nothing,” Brittany mutters.

Santana’s frown deepens and she shoots Brittany an unimpressed look. “You know the more times you give me that excuse the less I actually believe it.”

Brittany sighs and glances at Santana out of the corner of her eye. The hallways have completely emptied by the time they’re outside the library, and she can already hear the librarian’s snoring drifting out through the double doors; honestly, Brittany’s not entirely convinced that the librarian actually gets any work done with the amount of time she spends sleeping.

She plays with the fraying strap of her backpack as Santana walks beside her, debating with herself as Santana silently watches her out of the corner of her eye. She almost ignores Santana completely, because every time she voices the anxiety she has surrounding her academic abilities, she’s either dismissed as being overdramatic, or she’s thought to be too stupid to worry about them, or she’s completely ignored because her intelligence regarding all things math apparently translates into an all around genius to some people. But, as they enter the quiet and deserted librarian—the ancient snoring machine sitting at the front desk aside—she catches sight of Santana’s soft eyes gazing at her in a mix of curiosity and concern, and she feels her resolve slip away. Santana’s shared so much of herself these past two weeks, and the least Brittany can do is share herself in turn, even if the thought of Santana finally turning on her makes her stomach twist and her throat close up.

“Mr. Dunngan asked me how tutoring was going last Friday,” Brittany finally mutters, something in her chest fluttering at the way Santana’s eyes immediately snap to hers as they reach their usual table and start dumping their stuff down before collapsing onto the bench. “And he kind of implied that I would probably be having some difficulties ‘adjusting to the struggles of teaching’ and made it seem like I was too stupid to do it or whatever.”

Santana pauses in unzipping her bag to stare at Brittany in astonishment. “Britt, you’re like the smartest person I know,” she says in shock, “Why would you ever think that?”

“Because it’s all anyone ever says about me!” Brittany snaps, her voice harsh and fervent and crackling. “It’s always oh, poor Brittany, too dumb to write a history paper, or oh, poor, Brittany, she’s so slow she can barely read out loud in English, or oh, poor, Brittany, she’s never going to pass this class, or oh, poor, Brittany, she would never be able to graduate if it wasn’t for math and I heard she cheated on her SAT anyways!”

Santana stares at Brittany with wide eyes, her jaw slack and her fingers fluttering briefly against her the zipper of her bag. Brittany struggles to get her breathing under control, to get her emotions under control, to get herself under control. The urge to pull out her bio-dad’s lighter nearly overwhelms her, and she struggles to not give into the darkness threatening to nurture every bitter, resentful thought she’s ever had. She’s so focused on steadying herself that she nearly jumps out of her skin when a hand wraps gently around her forearm, sending quiet squeaks echoing in their secluded corner of the library; even her leather jacket sounds as brittle and jagged as she feels inside.

“Brittany,” Santana says softly, and Brittany snaps her head towards Santana, latching onto the warmth in her voice and focusing on that instead of allowing the hurt to consume her like she usually does. “Hey, come back to me,” she whispers, her voice so low and raspy that it resonates deep in Brittany’s sternum. Santana’s hand slides down her jacket and past all the bracelets lining her wrist until cool, soft skin is pressed to her overheated hand, causing her to gasp. That seems to have been Santana’s intention, because she smiles softly when Brittany’s breathing restarts and steadies out again.

“Sorry,” Brittany mutters, embarrassment immediately flooding into all the places inside her that have been torn open.

Santana gives Brittany a wry smile, her fingers absently rubbing circles on her skin and unintentionally soothing Brittany. “Hey, I’ve had way more freak outs than you have so far. You’re just catching up.”

Brittany barks out a surprised laugh and relaxes her shoulders, sinking further into the bench. “Still,” she mumbles.

“Look,” Santana says seriously, the slight amusement playing on her lips fading away like fog in the morning sunlight, “If I’ve learned anything, it’s that bottling up everything inside fucks you up. Believe me, I’m like an expert in ignoring feelings.” Brittany cracks a small smile at that, because that doesn’t really surprise her at all. “And I don’t wanna invalidate what you’re feeling or anything, but don’t let the Neanderthals at this school get to you. All the students at McKinely collectively have, like, three brain cells to share between them, so you’re already leagues ahead of them. And literally everyone in Lima sucks. With like two and a half exceptions.”

“And a half?”

“The jury’s still out on you,” Santana teases. Brittany laughs again and shakes her head, glancing down to where Santana’s hand is still covering hers. “Look, the point is. You’re a math genius, Britt, certifiably. And all these other classes? None of them will even matter in like three years time, and barely any of these people will ever amount to anything more than drug addicts or drop outs or just plain old Lima losers. These teachers are stuck in Lima like they’re a particularly stubborn type of mold behind the school’s toilets, and most of them are just jealous that you’re going to, like, change the world despite the fact that you don’t have all the answers in History or English or whatever. The school system is set up for like one type of student and disregards everyone else because it was created by old white men who think that their word is law. So don’t let anyone tell you that you’re anything less than a genius. You’re working on doctoral level math problems, and all these lackwits couldn’t collectively count to twenty if their lives depended on it.”

“For being such a bitch, you’re surprising good at pep talks, Sunshine,” Brittany chokes out teasingly, something thick and warm clogging her throat.

Santana laughs and rolls her eyes, her dimples creasing her cheeks even as she ducks her head bashfully. “Yeah, well, you have a surprising amount of depth for a rebellious asshole, Pierce.”

Brittany tries to blink back the wetness stinging her eyes, reaching up to subtly scratch at the skin under her eye in an attempt at rubbing away the moisture without being too obvious. She knows that Santana can see her out of the corner of her eye, but she continues to stare at the table to give Brittany some privacy. It causes something warm and yearning to flare under Brittany’s sternum, and that’s kind of counterproductive to her resolution to ignore her emerging crush; so Brittany gruffly clears her throat and slides her hand out from under Santana’s, resting her hands on her thighs and fiddling with some of the strings of her ripped jeans.

Santana takes a sharp breath in through her nose before straightening her spine and finally continuing to unzip her bag. She pulls out her textbook and notebook and two pencils, handing one to Brittany without even bothering to see if Brittany’s already got one; she’s been borrowing Santana’s pencils for over a week now, so it’s a pretty safe assumption that Brittany’s not going to take out a pencil from her own ratty backpack.

“Hey,” Brittany says suddenly, causing Santana to startle and nearly rip out the page of her textbook that she was in the middle of turning. Brittany stifles a giggle, but can’t quite bite back her amusement as Santana glares at her. “Sorry,” she says after a beat, not sounding sorry in the least, “I was just wondering what you’re doing tonight?”

Santana shrugs a little and glances down at the table, her pencil blurring as she spins it between her fingers. “Probably digging through my freezer to see if I actually have any microwavable dinners left. My father’s not really one for grocery shopping,” she says wryly, “and I haven’t been in a while, so I’m hoping there’s, like, a frozen thing of lasagna or something hidden behind the ice cube trays. Why? You planning on making fun of my weekend plans instead of my weekday plans now?”

Brittany grins widely—the only reason she teases Santana is because she’s actually pretty adorable when she’s annoyed. “My parents’ anniversary is tonight so they’re off on some weekend long vacation thing and my sister’s sleeping over at a friend’s house, so I figured maybe we could hang out.” Santana’s lips part a little as her jaw falls slack, and Brittany’s heart clenches painfully as she immediately backtracks. “You know, without all this math stuff—” Brittany gestures to the table as her brain desperately tries to control her mouth and fails, “—I thought we could like grab supper and I dunno watch a movie or something. If you want, that is. If that’s—”

“What, like go out to Breadstix or something?” Santana interrupts, her eyebrows creeping up her forehead.

“Are you asking me out?” Brittany smirks, her panicking brain and rambling mouth unable to pass by an opportunity to tease Santana no matter how much her heart pounds from her frayed nerves. She’s equal parts surprised and delighted to see an actual blush creep across Santana’s cheeks. Usually Santana just bashfully ducks her head, which is the only sign that Brittany’s coaxed a blush out of her, but this time Santana’s ducked head can’t quite hide the way her cheeks glow with colour.

“You wish,” Santana manages to sputter after far too long to be believably calm about the suggestion. “And you were the one who suggested it.”

“I’m kidding,” Brittany grins, and then immediately softens as her smile falls into something a little smaller but a lot warmer. “I know you don’t want anyone to find out that you’re hanging out with me because of the tutoring thing. And I’m sure your dad wouldn’t be too fond of the fact that his only daughter is off gallivanting with the town’s problem kid. So I figured we could just order something and then no one will know. If you want, or whatever,” she adds in a mostly pointless attempt to not sound too desperate.

Santana keeps her head dropped, but glances up at Brittany out of the corner of her eye, her gaze warm and soft and curious. Heat blooms under the skin of Brittany’s cheeks and she can do nothing to make it stop. “That could be fun,” Santana finally whispers after long moments of silence.

Brittany swallows thickly and manages to convince herself that jumping for joy would be weird and dorky and definitely send Santana sprinting out of the library and demanding a new tutor. A slightly strangled “Cool” somehow rasps its way out of her throat, and she slouches back to lean her weight on the palms of her hands where they press into the bench. She takes a deep breath and tries to calm her racing heart, but quickly gives up when she realizes it’s pretty pointless.

Santana bobs her head in an agreeing nod and ducks towards the table; the curtain of dark hair that falls forward and blocks Brittany’s view of her face does nothing to mask the softness and warmth in Santana’s returning “Cool.”

“Brittany! A very pretty girl is waiting for you at the door! You better hurry while you’ve still got a chance!”

Brittany winces and stumbles as she hurries across her room, cursing as she accidentally kicks the leg of her bed frame. Her sister stands in the hallway giggling as Brittany hops across her room, holding her foot and muttering under her breath. “I’ll be right there, dad!” she calls as she reaches her door, “Don’t say anything else.”

She can hear her dad’s voice say something else in the entry hall, followed by a bright laugh, and her muttered cursing continues. She loves her dad, but he’s responsible for the roughly forty percent of her dates who don’t call her back; she supposes he’s just doing his job to embarrass her, and she’s totally going to take no small amount of glee in helping him do the same to the munchkin in a couple years, but that doesn’t excuse him completely.

“Britty’s saying bad words!” her sister shouts, a smirk playing on her lips that she definitely picked up from Brittany.

“Tattletale,” Brittany hisses.

“Now she’s calling me names!”

Brittany rolls her eyes as she stomps down the stairs, struggling to shrug on her leather jacket without knocking picture frames off the walls. “Oh, shut it, shortstack,” Brittany calls over her shoulder. Her sister’s petulant whine follows her all the way through the living room to the front door, where her dad stands with a disapproving look. “What?” Brittany asks innocently, slipping her sneakers on and sliding past her dad’s small frame attempting to block her way to the front door. Her dad just sighs and shakes his head, as Brittany dances her way through the entranceway to pull the door open. “Hey, Santana,” she greets, the same innocent smile on her face.

Santana rolls her eyes and shoves Brittany’s face away from her own. “Hey,” she grumbles, “You’re ridiculous.”

Brittany brightens and bounces slightly on her toes before gesturing for Santana to slip past her and out onto the porch. “C’mon, before I get grounded again.”

Santana rolls her eyes again, but quickly relents and steps past her. “Bye, Mr. Pierce,” she says politely, leaning around Brittany to wave at Brittany’s dad. Brittany snorts a little even while something warm and liquid surges through her chest; who would have thought that Santana Lopez, the terror of McKinley, was actually kind of a giant dork?

“Suck up,” Brittany coughs at the same time that her dad calls his own farewell and shuts the door after them; he only says goodbye to Santana—not that she can blame him—while Brittany just gets a pointed look.

“Oh fuck off,” Santana rolls her eyes, shoving Brittany playfully and sending her stumbling off the sidewalk. The annoyance on her face melts into something shy and warm and Brittany’s heart thuds loudly. “Your family’s pretty cool,” Santana murmurs, “My father’s never home so my house is just really cold and quiet. It’s kind of nice to be somewhere loud and warm for once.”

Brittany swallows and offers Santana a tiny smile; every time she opens up, even just a little, it makes that fluttering thing in Brittany’s chest spasm. “I’m glad at least someone likes the chaos of my house,” she says. Santana’s smile widens a little but she doesn’t say anything, she just climbs into the passenger side of Brittany’s truck, tossing her cheer bag into the backseat. Since she had Cheerios practice after school and no car today—Brittany’s not quite sure why, but Santana sneered something about her father in explanation and Brittany quickly dropped the issue—one of the other Cheerios who lives down the street from Brittany dropped Santana off at her house. It was convenient, since Mike was having his birthday party today, so Santana could just grab a ride with Brittany instead of bullying the Cheerio into being her own personal taxi for the day, which Brittany wouldn’t put past Santana.

The image of Santana using the Cheerios squad as her own personal taxi service makes Brittany’s own smile widen and she immediately tries to hide it by quickly rounding the front of her truck, her eyes trailed on her sneakers so Santana can’t glimpse her expression.

Despite some initial awkwardness last Friday, her and Santana actually had fun, eating too much pizza and watching too many movies and throwing too much popcorn at each other. It was almost weird how quickly they settled into opposite ends of the couch and sank into an easy banter, with Brittany making snarky comments about whatever movie they were watching and Santana shushing her while simultaneously making even snakier comments. Brittany feels comfortable around Santana, which is a miracle in of itself, because Brittany still doesn’t feel completely comfortable around the glee kids—people who’ve seen her in some pretty weird situations. Even more of a miracle, is that the way that Santana seems to soften and relax, just a little bit, around Brittany, because while Brittany still doesn’t know Santana all that well, she knows her enough to realize how incredible that fact truly is.

Brittany tosses Mike’s gift-bag into the backseat, careless because there’s nothing breakable in it, before eyeing Santana curiously. “You didn’t get him a gift?” she observes

Santana shrugs, disinterestedly and buckles her seatbelt. “I did, but I’ll give it to him at later at my house.”

Brittany shifts awkwardly, her stomach turning to lead and dropping somewhere down by her feet. She knows she shouldn’t feel jealous, that she has no right to feel like this, but her aching heart doesn’t care much for logic.

Santana finally glances at her, and even though Brittany tries to rearrange her face into something neutral, Santana’s eyes widen in surprise and then immediately narrow. “Oh, get your mind out of the gutter. He loves my baking so I made him some fancier stuff that I usually do. And I didn’t feel like lugging a basket of pastries all around school today.”

Brittany’s unable to hide the relief that floods her body, so she quickly shoves her keys into the ignition and avoids Santana’s eyes. “You bake?” she manages.

Santana’s eyes remain narrowed as she stares at the side of Brittany’s head, before she shrugs a little. “Yeah,” she says simply, “Mi abuela was very insistent that I learned how to properly bake before she died.”

“Oh,” Brittany says dumbly, still trying to get her dumb emotions under control, “That’s cool.”

Santana shrugs again and turns to look out the windshield. “Well,” she says with forced nonchalance, “It kept her from teaching me creative insults for a couple hours so I’m sure my father was delighted.”

Brittany bites back a small smile as she buckles her own seatbelt, trying to squash down the spark of delight that races through her every time that Santana opens up and shares a little piece of herself with Brittany. Santana tenses a little when she realizes what she said, but visibly reacts when she glances at Brittany, who carefully keeps her expression warm and open so as to not scare Santana away with mockery or judgement.

“I’m glad,” Brittany says suddenly, pausing before she turns the keys to start her truck, giving Santana a small smile, “That you don’t bite my head off every time you tell me something anymore.”

Santana lets out a breathy laugh and rolls her eyes, her fingers fluttering and twisting together on her thighs. “You’re one of Mike’s best friends and I trust him more than anyone. He told me to give you a chance, so I did.”

“Huh,” Brittany says dumbly, blinking and frowning as she stares out the windshield, “That’s weird.”

“What’s weird?” Santana asks after a long moment of silence, her voice coloured in exasperation.

Brittany shakes herself out of her daze and starts the truck, grateful that it only takes two tries to hum to life today rather than the usual four or five. “Oh, nothing.” She gives Santana a lopsided smirk before flipping her signal on and pulling out onto the street.

“Fine,” Santana huffs, rolling her eyes and staring out the window, “be a secretive asshole instead of just a regular asshole.”

Brittany grins; half the time the only reason she riles Santana up is because she’s kind of really cute when she’s annoyed. “Mike told me the same thing,” she finally relents, glancing at Santana and startling just a little when brown eyes are already on hers, “About giving you a chance I mean.”

“That little shit,” Santana mutters under her breath, so quietly that Brittany only hears it because of the beat of silence between two songs. She decides to not push it and instead just focuses on driving. “I can’t believe that Mike wants his seventeenth birthday to be at a bowling alley,” Santana complains as the streets of Lima rush past them.

“Are you really surprised?” Brittany asks wryly.

“Not at all.”

“At least it’s not dinosaur themed this year,” Brittany smirks.

Santana snorts and rolls her eyes. “Don’t remind me. I’m dating someone with the imagination of a child.”

Brittany swallows thickly but manages a tiny grin and a noise of agreement. The remaining streets between them and the bowling alley pass in comfortable silence, Brittany’s old, half-broken radio crackling between them.

Everybody else is already there by the time they walk in together, drawing curious glances from Puck and Quinn and a curiously knowing look from Mike; the rest of the glee kids are all too absorbed in their own conversations to even realize that more people have arrived.

The bowling alley is nearly empty—aside from a couple staff members and some college-aged guys playing pool in the corner—and Mike quickly crosses the carpet that was definitely installed in the seventies to greet them, grinning widely at Brittany and tilting his chin to allow Santana to quickly kiss his cheek. Brittany glances away, suddenly finding the toes of her ratty sneakers immensely interesting. She meets Quinn’s shrew gaze when she looks up, and quickly tries to school her features into something innocent that won’t give her away; Quinn’s far too observant and perceptive for her own good, and the last thing Brittany needs is another sympathetic speech on the perils of crushing on yet another a straight girl with a boyfriend.


Brittany breaks Quinn’s gaze and glances back at Santana and Mike, who are staring at her expectantly. “Huh?” she manages dumbly.

Mike smiles while Santana rolls her eyes and gives Brittany one of her usual droll looks. “I asked what lane you want to go on,” Mike repeats, something knowing sparking in his brown eyes as his gaze darts between Brittany and Quinn and Santana.

“Oh, I don’t care,” Brittany drawls.

Mike bobs his head and gives Brittany the tiniest of smirks, before turning to head back to the lanes. “Okay, you guys get shoes and I’ll add your names to a lane,” he calls over his shoulder.

“Does something seem up with Mike?” Brittany asks suspiciously.

Santana rolls her eyes under a deeply furrowed brow and crosses her arms. Brittany tries really hard to not let her eyes drift to the way the collar of Santana’s shirt gives way to an expanse of soft, golden skin; but she kind of definitely fails. “Yeah, he’s being weird,” she agrees, snapping Brittany out of her staring contest with Santana’s collarbone.

Brittany coughs a little and spins on her heel to head for the tired looking employee ready to hand out gross bowling shoes. She can feel Santana’s burning, questioning gaze on the back of her neck, heating the skin even more as Brittany wills her blush away; she pretty obviously fails, based on the weird look she gets from the employee. She glares at the worker until they turn away with a nervous shuffle and pass a pair of shoes to Brittany, and then a pair to Santana, who appears by Brittany’s elbow, giving Brittany a weird look of her own.

They silently pull on the bowling shoes and tie them before heading down to the lanes, following Mike’s smile as he waves them over. They end up on one of the end lanes with Mike and Tina; Quinn and Puck and Zizes are right beside them, and the rest of the glee club is spread out over the next couple lanes.

“At least we’re not beside Fetus Face and his loud mouthpiece,” Santana mutters as they reach their lane. Brittany has to bite back a loud laugh so no one looks over at them, but the smirk of agreement that she shoots over her shoulder at Santana causes something in Santana’s eyes to brighten.

Their names are in the third and forth spots, with Mike and Tina ahead of them, so they both slouch in the smooth plastic of the booth seats at the end of their lane, settling in to wait for their turn as Mike steps up to bowl first. The rest of the glee club eyes Santana in interest as she apathetically casts her cold gaze over them, her dark eyes causing everyone but Quinn—who is more than used to Santana’s glowers from being on the Cheerios with her for the past four years—to shudder and quickly glance away. This isn’t the first time that Santana’s managed to silently glare the glee club into submission and dissuade them from trying to speak with her; only Mike’s birthdays and the occasional party he hosts (only when his parents are out of town and with serious promises that nobody will trash his house) ever involve the appearance of his aloof girlfriend.

Quinn seems very interested in the lack of space between Santana and Brittany where they sit beside each other, Santana’s dark glower doing nothing to scare her off. Brittany uncomfortably shifts a little further away from Santana and resolutely ignores Quinn’s questioning look by turning her gaze to watch Tina throw her first ball. Santana grumbles when it’s her turn to go up, but throws a perfect strike as if it’s nothing, much to everyone’s surprise; Brittany’s too busy trying to keep herself distracted from staring at the tight fit of Santana’s dark jeans to process much of anything else.

It only takes a few rounds—interspersed with Santana’s grumbling complaints that are far more adorable than they have any right to be—for Brittany and Santana to pull far ahead of Mike and Tina on the scoreboard; Brittany’s good at bowling because it’s essentially just math and physics, and Santana’s good at bowling because she’s just good at almost everything, Brittany suspects.

It takes the same amount of rounds for Brittany to realize, with a growing amount of incredulity, that Mike and Tina seem to be getting along almost too well. Honestly, if Brittany wasn’t sitting right beside Mike’s girlfriend, she’d suspect that he was flirting with Tina, which doesn’t seem like him at all. She glances sidelong at Santana to see if she’s growing angry or possessive or jealous or something, but she’s too busy scowling at a minuscule chip of paint on her nails. Brittany watches Tina and Mike blushingly giggle with each other, and snaps her gaze to Quinn in the next lane, who is darting her gaze between the two blushing messes and Santana with the same incredulity that Brittany feels. Blue eyes snap to Brittany’s, and two thin eyebrows to crawl halfway up her forehead; Brittany shrugs, Quinn’s obvious confusion just as prominent as her own. Quinn startles and snaps her glare towards Puck when he prods her into going up for her turn, and Brittany turns her own eyes back to her lane, watching Mike burst into bright laughter when Tina throws a surprisingly fast ball straight into the gutter.

“Mike and Tina seem to be getting along really well,” Brittany comments mildly. She’s aiming for nonchalance but is unable to tear her eyes away from Santana’s face for fear of missing her reaction.

Santana barely looks up, her eyes lazily scanning the lane in front of them before she turns back to inspecting her nails. “Yeah, they do. I’d say good for them, but that would require actually caring, and that’s far too much work.”

Brittany blinks at Santana’s completely unfazed response, as if her boyfriend flirting with someone else right in front of her doesn’t bother her at all; she supposes that Santana’s just not the type to get jealous. “He’s your boyfriend,” Brittany needlessly points out.

Santana drops her hands to her lap and gives Brittany an amused look. “Thanks for the update, Oh Wise One.”

Brittany shrugs awkwardly and glances away from Santana’s dark, piercing gaze. “You aren’t like—” she cuts herself off and awkwardly falls silent, unsure what exactly she’s trying to say. She doesn’t want to sound accusing, but her confusion is messing with the words before they come out of her mouth, and she tries to bite them back before she can put her foot in her mouth.

“Jealous? Worried? Possessive?” Santana deadpans. Brittany manages a noise of agreement and tries to avoid meeting that dark gaze. Santana laughs a little and shrugs. “Mike and I have an understanding, and if he wants to have a go at the Shrinking Violet who’s about to blush herself into an aneurysm over there, then he knows where to find me for a break up.”

“Oh,” Brittany manages, her confusion somehow managing to triple itself in thirty seconds. 

Santana lets out another laugh and glances at Brittany out of the corner of her eye. “As if you’ve never have any sort of casual agreement with your long line of girls and boys.”

The acknowledgement shocks Brittany more than the accusation of having some sort of casual agreement in a relationship. “You know I’m bi?” she clarifies.

Santana rolls her eyes a little. “Obviously. Literally everybody at McKinley with more than two braincells and a working set of eyes knows you’re equally as likely to charm some hapless girl into your bed as you are to charm some poor guy. You’re not exactly quiet about your conquests.”

Brittany shifts a little awkwardly. She knows she’s a bit of a player, but everyone who’s ever been interested in her always knew that going in; sometimes it was part of the appeal. It still doesn’t make her feel particularly proud about her lack of steady or serious relationships, though. “And you’re—” she hesitates for a moment, long enough that Santana looks away from judging Mike’s awful bowling form as he tries to show Tina the best form to throw a ball with to glance at Brittany for a brief second, “—okay with it?”

Santana’s face twists in utter confusion. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“I don’t—” Brittany freezes and glances down, picking at her nails awkwardly, “I don’t know.”

Santana softens, just a little, as she ducks forward to meet Brittany’s eyes. “Hey, I may be a bitch but I’m not a conservative bitch,” she says, giving Brittany the tinniest of smiles. Brittany is helpless to do anything more than smile back at her. Even if Santana is straight and dating Brittany’s best friend and Brittany never even has a chance to do anything with her growing crush, just knowing that Santana isn’t going to abandon their blossoming friendship in disgust just because she likes girls is a weight off her shoulders that Brittany didn’t even know she was carrying.

She feels light and warm for the rest of the night, lounging beside Santana and desperately trying to hide her amusement at Santana’s snarky comments from the rest of the glee club, since said amusement is almost always at their expense.

Even watching Santana slide into Mike’s car—borrowed from his mom just for the night because it’s his birthday—so he can drop her off and get his birthday present is unable to wipe the smile from her face. The slight pang of jealousy sparking in her chest does nothing to squash the happiness that’s blossoming in her stomach, and the dorky little wave that Santana gives her before ducking into Mike’s car only makes it bloom brighter and warmer.

By the end of their third week of tutoring, Brittany and Santana have struck up an almost friendship, or, at least, that’s how it feels to Brittany. According to Mike, Santana’s never really had a friend before, so Brittany’s not really sure what Santana thinks about the strange partner-tutor-friendship they’ve got going on, and it’s not like she can just ask or anything, because that would come across as even weirder than whatever this almost friendship thing is.

The main problem Brittany has with tutoring Santana so frequently, is that Santana is improving her calculus grades at alarming speeds—alarming solely because Brittany is pretty confident in Santana’s ability to succeed for the rest of the semester without a math tutor, which would mean that they wouldn’t be forced to talk to each other anymore. Brittany’s not quite sure if Santana is only kind-of-sort-of friends with her because of the tutoring thing, and she really doesn’t want to find out. The only good thing about Santana’s improving grades is that it would probably help with the whole inconvenient crush situation that Brittany is still dealing with, even after three weeks, which is the longest any of Brittany’s crushes have ever lasted.

(Not including the ones that turned into relationships, but that’s something Brittany definitely cannot think about right now, especially because Santana is already in a relationship with Mike, Brittany’s best friend, and also definitely straight, as she has to frequently remind herself.)

To make matters worse in the inconvenient crush problem and more confusing in the question of friendship department, they’ve been hanging out outside of school lately too, without the pretext of tutoring, and Brittany’s only become more intrigued by the slowly unravelling mystery that is Santana Lopez. Outside of McKinely and away from the prying eyes of Lima—which mostly means Brittany’s living room—Brittany’s very quickly realized that Santana is much more relaxed and open and playful in general, her reputation melting off her as soon as she steps through the Pierce’s front door and revealing a person Brittany had only ever gotten glimpses of when hidden in the corner of the McKinley library. The Santana Lopez that Brittany had thought she knew for the past thirteen years and the Santana Lopez that Brittany tutors away from gossiping eyes of McKinley and the Santana Lopez that emerges in the Pierce house are all so different that they’re almost completely separate people.

It’s the last Santana Lopez that intrigues Brittany the most, and the one that Brittany likes being around the best; because that Santana Lopez laughs at her dumb jokes even when she rolls her eyes, and that Santana Lopez plays Monopoly with the munchkin and lets her buy boardwalk even when she’s one-hundred dollars short, and that Santana Lopez is surprisingly polite to Britany’s parents even when she’s shovelling homemade food into her mouth, and that Santana Lopez is snarky and playful and has that curious sparkle in her eyes every time she smiles at Brittany.

Because that Santana Lopez is the one that Brittany is almost positive is the real one, the one that hides behind resentment and bitterness and expectations and abandonment issues so she doesn’t have to show the world that, contrary to popular belief, she has a really soft and unprotected underbelly.


Brittany startles so violently that she slams her knees into the bottom of her desk, biting back a series of curses as she suddenly remembers where she is.

“What’s up, Mr. Dunngan?” she manages weakly, gritting her teeth against the pain and rubbing at her knees.

Mr. Dunngan gives her a look that’s caught between guilt and worry and amusement and mostly comes out as constipated. “Are you okay?”

“Oh yeah, definitely,” Brittany mumbles, “Slam my knees into my desk all the time. It’s fine.”

Mr. Dunngan makes a small noise of sympathy, but doesn’t say anything else, his eyes drifting to the doorway over Brittany’s shoulder as he awkwardly shifts his weight between his feet. Brittany frowns a little at his weird demeanour, and glances over her shoulder, her eyes immediately catching on a pair of dark ones that are equal parts questioning and defensive. She swallows thickly, nodding towards the door with a tiny smile that she hopes is reassuring. Santana hesitates for a long moment, her dark, burning gaze flitting between Mr. Dunngan and Brittany like songbirds between winter-thin branches. She gives Brittany an unreadable look before she finally turns and stalks out the door, leaving only the memory of the fiercely protective gaze hovering thickly in the stale air of the classroom.

Mr. Dunngan lets out an audible breath as Brittany turns her attention back to him, his eyes lingering on the door just long enough for Brittany to realize that Mr. Dunngan, like most of the teachers in McKinley, maintains a healthy fear of Santana Lopez.

It’s almost laughable to Brittany, who has seen Santana laugh so hard that she nearly snorted water out of her nose.

“So,” Mr. Dunngan starts, somehow even more awkward than before, now that it’s just him and Brittany.

After the silence drags on for too many moments, Brittany slouches further into her desk. “So?” she drawls.

“About the last two weeks—”

“Forget about it,” Brittany interrupts immediately, desperately wishing that she was anywhere else but here.

“No,” Mr. Dunngan says, straightening his spine and looking for the very first time like he wouldn’t be blown over by a strong breeze, “That Friday I said some things that hurt you. I didn’t even think about how my words would come across, and for that, I am truly sorry. I never doubted your ability to teach and tutor Santana, but my intentions and my words sometimes don’t match up. But I promise to do better next time, okay?”

Brittany swallows thickly and glances away for a long moment, eventually gathering enough of her scattering thoughts and confusing feelings to look up and meet Mr. Dunngan’s eyes for the first time in two weeks. The part of her that’s been pathetically yearning for an apology has perked up, somehow squishing down the part of her that demands she storm out of the classroom and never forgive Mr. Dunngan—she’s always been a little too good at holding grudges. The part of her that wins is the part of her that loves Mr. Dunngan for never giving up on her, for always believing in her intelligence even before her SAT scores, for being the only person she could turn to when the equations and formulas bouncing around her brain got too much; that part of her is so much bigger than any grudge she could ever hold.

“It’s cool, Mr. D.,” Brittany finally says, trying to contain the watery smile that threatens her, “Really. It’s all in the past.”

“It’s not cool because I hurt you,” Mr. Dunngan says with a sad smile, “But I appreciate you saying so.” Brittany nods because she doesn’t know what else to do, and Mr. Dunngan shifts his weight again and rubs his hand over his head. “Santana’s grades are really improving,” he continues awkwardly, just trying to fill the silence, “You really must be doing good work with her. I’m sure her father will be really pleased with her improvements.”

Brittany takes the peace offering for what it is because, in all honesty, she’s tired of ignoring Mr. Dunngan, one of only two adults in the school who actually care about her well being and mental health before any of her mathematical intellect or academic ability. “Well, I had a good teacher,” she finally says.

Mr. Dunngan’s small smile widens and creases deeply in his cheeks and the corners of his eyes. “Oh, I had nothing to do with it. That’s all you.”

Brittany shrugs and slides out of her desk, shoving her blank notebook into her bag and dropping her tiny pencil in after. “But I still needed someway to channel all that raw genius,” she says with a decisive zip of her backpack, “Somebody had to keep me in check.”

Mr. Dunngan ducks his head a little, trying and failing to hide his pleased acquiescence. “I suppose allowing the town genius to get arrested for graffiti-ing math formulas across the school would be in poor taste.”

Brittany smirks at Mr. Dunngan for the first time since the Friday she stormed off to the glee practice room with the intention of stewing in her own anger. “Come on, math jokes are hilarious.”

“Not in permanent spray paint, they’re not.”

“Eh, personal taste.”

“More like a distain for legality.”

Mr. Dunngan shakes his head as Brittany slings her backpack over her shoulder and walks backwards to the classroom door with her arms spread wide. “Oh come on, Mr. D., where’s the fun in legality?” she asks playfully, exiting the classroom and fleeing down the hallway without giving Mr. Dunngan a chance to respond.

The hallways are empty, so Brittany allows herself a slight spring in her step as she heads to the library, knowing that no prying eyes will be able to ruin her reputation right now. She can hear the ancient librarian’s usual snoring from the hallway, and she snorts as she crosses the even more ancient carpet to the table tucked away in the back. Santana is already there, her textbook and notebook in front of her and two pencils neatly laid beside them, but her eyes are trained blankly on the table as she plays with her fingers.

“Wow, who died?” Brittany greets.

The same dark gaze from Mr. Dunngan’s classroom snaps to hers, the glowing brown questioning and defensive and fierce, but there’s something else sparkling in them that Brittany first noticed during their first conversation, something she still can’t name even weeks later. “Funny,” she drawls dryly, but then she quickly softens, “You okay?”

Brittany gives Santana a small smile as she rounds the table and drops her backpack by one of the table legs before dropping to the bench beside Santana. “Yeah, I’m good.” When Santana’s brow remains furrowed in disbelief, Brittany nudges her with her elbow. “Really, I’m actually good this time. Mr. D. and I cleared everything up, so we’re good now.”

“Oh thank god,” Santana sighs dramatically, “I don’t know if I could take another day of icy silence between you two. You and Mr. Dunngan get along nauseatingly well and, I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, but I think I actually missed it.”

Brittany snorts and subtly shifts a little closer to Santana so their arms brush every time one of them breathes out. “You make it sound weird.”

“Not weird,” Santana corrects, “Just— I dunno. It’s kinda admirable, you know? You and Mr. Dunngan have that sort of easy companionable student-teacher relationship that’s really rare. And not in a creepy way,” Santana quickly adds when Brittany gives her a look. “It’s just—ugh—kind of sweet, I guess.”

Brittany wants to make a joke or tease Santana or something, anything to cut the suddenly thick tension that lingers between them as their eyes meet, but nothing comes out. Instead, she whispers a “Thanks” before somehow managing to break their gaze. “Mr. D. said that your grades are improving a lot.”

Thankfully, Santana doesn’t question the sudden change in topic, which is probably because she looks as grateful for the distraction as Brittany feels. “Yeah, Calc is getting a lot easier now that I have you to re-explain stuff to me.”

(Brittany’s heart absolutely does not leap to attention at that admission, and she definitely doesn’t have to look away again to hide the blood she can feel rushing to her cheeks.)

“Yeah, having a personal genius must be amazing,” Brittany drawls.

“Having a personal genius is exhausting because they’re an asshole and I have to deal with them every single day,” Santana corrects, ignoring Brittany’s protests with a wide grin.

“Rude,” Brittany deadpans, causing Santana’s dimples to appear as she grins. “Speaking of every single day, I just realized we never really talked about a schedule, we kind of just started showing up for an hour a day.”

Santana shrugs and her brown eyes are warm when they meet Brittany’s, only a hint of something like nervousness swimming in them. “If you don’t enjoy my daily company you could have just said something,” she smirks, somehow managing to sound playful and on edge at the same time.

“No,” Brittany gives a small smile, because spending less time with Santana is the last thing she wants, “That’s not what I meant. It’s just— Earlier Mr. Dunngan kind of implied that you don’t need me much more. Since you’re improving so much and all. So I dunno, maybe you wanna cut back on tutoring hours?”

Santana’s silent for a long moment, before her lips twitch in that familiar way that Brittany originally thought was a muscle spasm. “And miss seeing your smug face everyday? Besides, we had a plan to milk as much money out of my father as we could, don’t tell me you’re bailing on me now,” she teases, tugging a grin out of Brittany before she glances up and meets blue eyes again. “The truth is,” she admits quietly, her voice barely above a whisper, “You and I both know that I don’t actually need daily help in Calc. But I like being around you, and hiding out in this tiny corner of the library with you is about the only time I ever feel like I can just be me. That I can leave my reputation and the expectations of the Lopez name behind and just be a teenager for once.”

Brittany can feel her heartbeat in her fingertips, which isn’t something she’s ever experienced before and she’s a little concerned that she’s stroking or something, but she tries her best to ignore it because this is more important than any medical emergencies. “You’re the only person who’s never made me feel stupid,” she murmurs, pressing just a little closer to Santana and trying to ignore how her breathing goes irregular when Santana doesn’t pull away, “I don’t feel like a walking calculator around you, even though we spend most of our time together doing math.”

Santana sucks in a sharp breath, and before Brittany can process how freeing it feels to tell Santana exactly what it means to her that she takes away some of the stress and expectations placed upon her mathematical ability, her brain goes completely blank at the feeling of Santana’s warm body suddenly pressed up against her, shoulders and elbows and hips nudging together. “I’m glad,” Santana murmurs, and it takes an embarrassingly long time for Brittany to remember what they were talking about.

“So am I,” Brittany whispers. The heartbeat in her fingertips pounds even quicker and she presses her hands firmly against her thighs in an attempt to calm it down, which fails pretty spectacularly. “Tell you what,” she suddenly suggests, “I’ll give you a math problem and if you can solve it, then we’ll call off the tutoring because obviously you won’t need it anymore. Deal?”

Santana hesitates but eventually nods suspiciously. “Deal.”

“Here,” Brittany says with a tiny smile, reaching over Santana to grab her notebook and a pencil, “If you can solve this, we’ll tell Mr. Dunngan that you have learned all you need to know.” She writes down the complicated problem that she’s been working on since the start of the school year, the one that universities across America have sent to her in the hopes that she would finally be able to crack it.

Santana takes one look at it before she barks out a laugh and shoves Brittany playfully in the arm. “As if,” she protests with a dramatic eye roll.

“Welp,” Brittany grins, unable to completely hide the happiness threatening to burst from her, “Guess you still need a tutor.”

“Course I do if you want me to be able to solve that,” Santana whines, amusement colouring her complaints. “What even is it?”

“The Riemann Hypothesis,” Brittany explains, eyeing Santana with a smile that’s perhaps just a little bit too fond, “It’s this, like, speculative idea that the Riemann zeta function is a complex function where all nontrivial zeros occur at one over two plus bi for some b and all trivial zeros occur at negative even integers.”

Santana stares blankly at Brittany for several long moments, before she manages to blink. “What the fuck?” she deadpans.

Brittany laughs and shrugs a little. “It’s what I’ve been working on since the beginning of school this year. Universities send McKinley grant money and stuff for research in exchange for what basically boils down to using my brain as a calculator. That’s what I do in last period. Mrs. Belling sits at the back of the classroom reading and pretending to not see me eating cookies while I attempt to solve unsolvable math problems from the 1800s.”

“Oh my god, Britt,” Santana gasps, staring at Brittany with something warm and bright and unnameable sparkling in her eyes, “that’s fucking incredible. I mean, I knew you were a genius but that’s like Einstein levels of genius or something.”

Brittany shrugs self-consciously and picks at the rips of her jeans. “Yeah, well,” she mumbles.

A hand on hers both freezes Brittany and sends fire racing through her veins, her eyes snapping up to Santana’s completely involuntarily. “Seriously, Britt, that’s amazing.” Brittany somehow manages a smile because Santana’s eyes are warm and wonder-filled and her hand is soft and comfortable and Brittany’s heart is probably about to shatter her sternum and escape right out of her chest, which would definitely kill her and gross Santana out.

But, man, what a way to go.

“We’re kind of friends, right?” Brittany asks suddenly, her hand twitching under Santana’s as she desperately tries not to look as shy and uncertain as she feels.

“Kind of?” Santana snorts a little but her voice is still soft and warm. Brittany’s spent enough time with her by now to know that Santana’s bravado is all just a carefully constructed façade to protect the soft heart that resides underneath.

“Yeah, kind of. Is there an echo in here?” Brittany teases, trying and most definitely failing to hide the nervous pitch to her voice.

Santana, incredibly, softens even more. She completely sheds the Santana Lopez that is Dr. Lopez’s perfect daughter and McKinley’s golden child, leaving behind the Santana who is snarky and playful and who laughs at Brittany’s dumb jokes. She offers Brittany a tiny smile that still manages to bring out her dimples, her dark eyes softening and warming like hot chocolate after a cold winter day. “Yeah,” she rasps bashfully, ducking her head and tightening her hold on Brittany’s hand, even as her other one flutters on her thighs like she’s playing piano, “Yeah, I think we are.”

Brittany can’t help the smile that splits her face until there’s a dull ache in the hinge of her jaw, warmth flooding her chest. “Awesome,” she says. Santana rolls her eyes dramatically but can’t bite away how her smile widens too when Brittany’s fingers twist in hers until their pinkies link together.

“Shut up,” she mutters, her attempts at hiding her smile causing her words to come out all squished and adorable.

The same heat that flares in Brittany’s chest rushes to her cheeks, and she desperately tries to will it away by turning her attention to the notebook between them.

She’s really got to work on getting this stupidly inconvenient crush thing under control.

Chapter Text


Brittany sighs deeply and pinches the bridge of her nose, sucking in a sharp breath and desperately forcing herself to not get annoyed at her dad, even though this is like the sixth time he’s interrupted her in the last five minutes. “What?” she shouts. When he doesn’t answer she sighs again and prays to a god she doesn’t really believe in for patience, which has never been her strong point. She crosses her room and rips open her door, sticking her head out and getting momentarily distracted by the delicious scent of supper wafting through the house. “What?” she calls again.

“That very pretty girl is here again! I don’t know how you keep getting her to come back around with all that brooding you do!”

“Dad, I’m begging you to stop talking,” Brittany shouts down the stairs as she races through the house to save Santana—or, in reality, to save herself—from the embarrassment that is her dad.

“No can do, Kangaroo!” he retorts brightly.

“Dad,” Brittany groans, sidestepping around him and blindly grabbing onto something in the general vicinity of Santana’s person to drag her out of the entryway. Santana laughs politely and calls a greeting to Brittany’s mom, who is in the kitchen attempting to wrangle the munchkin into helping make supper, as she’s pulled up the stairs by what Brittany eventually realizes is the sleeve of Santana’s jacket. The munchkin attempts to escape helping their mom as soon as she spots Santana, but is pulled back by the scruff of her shirt; Brittany catches a glimpse of her sister pouting deeply, so she sticks her tongue out at her before fleeing up the stairs, an amused Santana in tow. The munchkin utterly adores Santana and loudly complains about not being able to hang out with her, which would be amusing if her sister wasn’t so embarrassing about it.

“Your dad’s fun,” Santana teases as soon as Brittany’s bedroom door is firmly shut behind them. Usually her parents have a pretty strict open door policy whenever she has anybody over, with the exception of Mike and Quinn and Puck; Santana fell into that category after Brittany managed to convince her parents that Santana and Mike are very much dating and Santana is very much straight and there will definitely be no funny business going on at any time.

(Sure, her heart ached at how hard she insisted that things between her and Santana were and would remain strictly platonic and that her parents had nothing to worry about, but—like it was a particularly annoying headache—she quickly escaped to her room and threw herself on her bed to sleep it off.)

(It didn’t really work, but it’s the effort of trying that counts.)

“Oh, fuck off, you,” Brittany chides, rolling her eyes dramatically, “You only think he’s fun because he embarrasses me.”

“Embarrassing father’s do seem rather fun when all I’ve got to compare them to is Mr. No-Nonsense-No-Laughter-No-Fun-Chang and Mr. I-Haven’t-Smiled-in-Sixteen-Years-Lopez,” Santana agrees dryly, not waiting for an invitation to make herself at home on Brittany’s bed, her dark jeans blending into the dark sheets.

There’s a question in Santana’s eyes that makes Brittany remember that day in the glee room, when Brittany told her that she understood what shitty father’s were like, but the lighter in her pocket weighs heavily and tonight is supposed to be lighthearted, a break from the walls of McKinley and the difficulties of calculus and all the stress of reputations, so Brittany pushes the explanation off for some other time.

“Dr. Lopez can smile?” Brittany gasps instead as she drops onto the bed beside Santana, sending her bouncing a bit, “Someone call The Lima News! This is front page material!”

Santana shrugs and fails to hide her smile, her dimples creasing her cheeks. “I have photo evidence from when I was a baby.”

“A miracle, truly,” Brittany says seriously.

The faint beeping of the oven drifts through the comfortable silence that settles over them, and Santana sucks in a deep breath, her dimples smoothing back out as the playfulness in her expression fades away. Brittany can smell the faint hint of garlic and tomato sauce and warmth even through her door, and her mouth waters at the thought of her mom’s homemade lasagna. She didn’t eat much at lunch, on account of Puck being somehow grosser than the cafeteria food, and her stomach growls quietly.

“You know you don’t have to do this,” Santana says softly, breaking the silence and drawing Brittany’s attention away from salivating at the scent of her mom’s homemade food. At Brittany’s confused look she shrugs a little and stares at her knees before elaborating. “Inviting me over for dinner every couple days.” If Santana didn’t look so serious, Brittany would totally make fun of her for saying dinner instead of supper. “I’ve gotten along just fine on my own once my father deemed me old enough to not need a nanny watching my every move. I don’t need you feeling sorry for me because I’m all by my lonesome.”

“I told you before it’s not pity,” Brittany immediately counters, and then softens at the unease furrowing Santana’s brow. “Honestly, it’s mostly to shut you up,” she teases, aiming for levity and biting back a grin when Santana’s eyes snap to hers, already narrowed in a glare, “You’re really annoying when you’re complaining about microwaveable dinners for the umpteenth time.”

Santana glowers at her and shoves her in the shoulder, sending Brittany tipping face first into her pillows, the plushy fabric muffling her laughter; the pillow doesn’t block her ears though, so the sound of Santana’s own laughter still makes her heart flip over in her chest. She’s glad that the pillow takes the brunt of her blush, and takes a few moments to let the fluttering in her stomach calm before she languidly rolls over, half lounged on her bed with her legs dangling off the edge and her hips still by Santana’s.

“Maybe if you have some real food in you then you won’t be such a giant grump all the time,” Brittany adds with a wide smirk.

“Oh, shut up,” Santana sneers, “There is no grump here. There’s an absence of grump. I’m grumpless.”

Brittany snorts and immediately curls in on herself when Santana reaches out to try and tickle her. She only has one ticklish spot on her, and she’s grateful that Santana has yet to find it. She keeps her expression completely deadpan until Santana eventually gives up with a frustrated huff. “You’re going to have to try harder than that if you wanna tickle me, Buttercup.”

“Ugh,” is all Santana says. She pushes herself off Brittany’s bed with an eye roll and a tiny grin that she tries to hide, wandering around Brittany’s room with interest.

“You know, it’s rude to snoop,” Brittany chides from the bed, desperately hoping that she doesn’t have anything embarrassing on her dresser or hanging on the wall.

“You know, it’s rude to be an asshole,” Santana retorts, glancing over her shoulder and giving Brittany a pointed look, “and yet.” Brittany grumbles something unflattering but Santana just ignores her. She’s at the bookshelf beside the closet now, which is filled with CDs and old DVDs more than books of any sort. “You have a very singular taste in music,” Santana drawls.

Brittany just shrugs and smirks from the bed.

“The Front Bottoms, Ramones, Green Day, Mother Mother, The Killers,” Santana reads as she runs her finger along the spines of the CDs, “You’re like a study in teenage rebellion and angst. Ooh, you’ve even got The Bellrays and Bloc Party?”

Brittany makes a noise of acknowledgement, glad that she purged her CD collection of all her more embarrassing taste in music years ago.

“And Queen?” Santana asks with a snort.

“Hey,” Brittany says threateningly, “That’s my mom’s favourite band, don’t make me throw you out of the house.”

Santana shoots Brittany a look over her shoulder that’s partially offended and partially amused. “Why would I make fun of Queen? They’re awesome. I was laughing because it’s kind of a bit of a genre jump, don’t you think?”

“You like Queen?” Brittany asks in disbelief instead of taking the bait Santana dangles in front of her.

“I mean, who doesn’t?” Santana answers distractedly. When Brittany doesn’t say anything for long moments, Santana finally looks up to meet Brittany’s eyes and grins widely at the surprised look she must see there. “Why, what’d you think I was into? Top 40s or something?” Her nose crinkles in disgust and Brittany laughs a little—not because what Santana said was particularly funny, but just because Santana’s cute.

“No, I just— I dunno. I never pegged you as a Queen fan, is all.”

“My mom left a pretty big record collection behind when she died,” Santana says with barely any emotion, considering that this is the first time Brittany’s ever heard Santana talk about her mom, “from literally every genre you can think of, and my father—surprisingly—never got rid of any it, so. I’ve kinda got a pretty wide taste in music. And Queen is iconic.”

Brittany blinks and tries her hardest to not act any differently to this new piece of information, as if Santana told her she doesn’t particularly like onions or that she’s always wanted to go to Greece and not that her mom is dead. “I mean, obviously,” she finally manages.

Santana doesn’t even seem to realize that Brittany’s voice is strangled, for which Brittany is more than thankful for. She continues wandering Brittany’s room, making her way over to the dresser that holds a bunch of old pictures; there’s a couple of her baby sister when the munchkin was literally her baby sister, a couple of her and Quinn back in middle school when Brittany’s leather jacket was purchased from the kids’ section and not inherited from her aunt, a couple of her and Mike in different dance classes throughout the years, and a glee photo from sophomore year when they won Sectionals.

She’s almost positive there’s nothing too embarrassing, but when Santana gasps in excitement and plucks a small frame off the dresser, Brittany knows exactly what picture it is that she forgot was on display.

“You were in ballet?” Santana giggles, turning to face Brittany with such a bright, guileless smile on her face that Brittany doesn’t have the heart to storm over and throw the evidence out the window like she kind of wants to.

“So what?” she challenges.

“Nothing,” Santana immediately says, but the wide smirk on her face suggests that it’s not nothing, “It’s just hilarious that you once wore tutus and pink and everything because you’re all brooding leather jacket now.”

Brittany frowns deeply. “I resent that implication.”

“Oh, I wasn’t implying anything, I was just telling the truth.”

“I’ll stop inviting you to supper,” Brittany threatens toothlessly.

“Too late,” Santana teases, “Your mom loves me.”

Brittany grumbles and throws herself back on her bed. “And people call me the asshole.”

Santana chuckles and puts the picture frame back on Brittany’s dresser, her gaze lingering on it for a moment and a small smile playing on her lips. She excuses herself to the bathroom down the hall then, and Brittany sighs deeply, sinking further into her bed. With the door open, she can smell the delicious scent of supper more strongly, the distant clanking of cutlery on wood as someone sets the table and the clattering of pots and pans drifting faintly through the house with the fragrant scent of garlic. She closes her eyes and doesn’t bother to fight the smile threatening her; there’s something both new and familiar about Santana in her space like this, something that feels like she’s always been snarking at Brittany from across her room or pulling faces at the munchkin while she shoves food into her mouth.

“Britty, supper’s ready and mom said to get your butts downstairs!”

Brittany blinks and lazily turns her head to see her sister standing in her doorway, her tiny hands on her hips in an adorable imitation of their mom.

“Where’s Santana?” the munchkin asks, wandering into the room, “You didn’t scare her off or something, did you?”

Brittany rolls her eyes good-naturedly and gives her sister a lopsided grin. “I threw her out of my window to see how high she bounces.”

The munchkin freezes and her gaze darts to Brittany’s window, taking in the curtains billowing slightly in the autumn breeze from the open window. Her dark eyes are wide and a little frightened, before they narrow at the poorly concealed amusement on Brittany’s face. “You’re lying,” she finally decides, only a hint of uncertainty lingering in her eyes.

Brittany languidly pushes herself up on her elbows and gives her sister a playful leer. “Am I?”

The munchkin’s eyes dart to the window again, before she draws herself up to all her four-foot-one glory. “No, you didn’t,” she says decisively, “The window’s not open enough for you to throw her out and the screen’s still in place. Plus, you wouldn’t toss your girlfriend out in the cold like that.”

Brittany finally relents and allows her smile to fully spread across her face. “First of all, I could have closed the window and put the screen back in place,” Brittany says mildly, grinning wider when her sister’s face scrunches in doubt, “And second of all, she’s not my girlfriend.”

(She considers it something of a success that her chest only aches a little bit at the admission.)

“She’s not?” the munchkin asks, her face scrunching up even more and the line of her furrowed brow falling heavily over confused eyes, “Then why is she around so much?”

“Because she’s my friend and we like hanging out together, Nancy Drew,” Brittany teases, “She’s actually dating Mike.”

“Oh,” the munchkin mumbles, her shoulders slumping in slight dejection, “Mike’s cool, I guess.”

“You guess?” Brittany laughs, “You’ve had a crush on him since the first time we babysat you.”

Her sister shrugs a little bit and doesn’t acknowledge the flush to her cheeks in a move that’s so reminiscent of herself that she can’t help the warm smile that twitches her lips. She wanders over to Brittany’s side and immediately slump against her on the side of the bed with a small sigh. Brittany’s a little surprised by how mopey her sister has suddenly gotten, but she wraps her arm around her shoulders to tug her closer regardless. “Come on, what’s got you so down, brown cow?”

The munchkin giggles a little at the name, just like Brittany was hoping she would, and snuggles closer to her older sister. “I dunno. You just smile a lot when she’s around and I like when you’re happy. So I was hoping she was your girlfriend and would keep making you smile and be happy for a really long time.”

Brittany’s breath catches in her throat and everything in her chest where her heart resides instantly melts like ice cream on a hot day at her sister’s words. “You’re the best little sister in the whole world, you know that?” Brittany murmurs, tugging her sister closer and wrapping her in a crushing hug, “But she makes me happy when she’s my friend, so don’t you worry about that.”

“You’re squishing me, Britty!” she giggles into Brittany’s chest.

“Good,” Brittany laughs, tipping them backwards on the bed and tightening her hold on a now squirming munchkin, “I’m a hug monster and I only hug the best sisters. There is no escape. You might as well just submit now.”

Her sister continues giggling into her chest and struggling to escape, both of them so distracted that they don’t notice Santana leaning in the doorway until she clears her throat. The munchkin’s giggles die off as Brittany’s hold on her loosens, and she quickly squirms into a sitting position to brightly greet Santana. Brittany sits up more cautiously as Santana smiles at the munchkin. There’s something bashful about Santana’s expression that Brittany’s never seen before, a softness to her cheeks and a flush to her lips, and it makes that ever present fluttering warmth in her chest flare up into a burning heat in her cheeks. She chalks up the slight flush of Santana’s skin to how warm the Pierce house always is because her dad gets cold really easily, because anything else involves hope, and Brittany knows how devastating that usually turns out to be when too much weight is placed upon it.

She desperately hopes that Santana hasn’t been standing there long, because if she overheard any part of that conversation with the munchkin, Brittany might just have to throw herself out of the window, slightly open pane and fastened screen be damned.

“Your mom said supper’s been ready for a while now and wants to know what’s taking you guys so long,” Santana says, breaking Brittany out of her thoughts. The same softness on her face is also in her voice and that thing in Brittany’s chest clenches tightly and makes it momentarily difficult to breathe.

The munchkin bounces off the bed—completely oblivious to her sister’s current struggle with air—with an adoring smile and skips over to Santana, immediately claiming one of her hands in both of hers and tugging excitedly on her arm. “Britty was just being silly!”

“Oh, was she now?” Santana asks indulgently, glancing at Brittany over the munchkin’s head and biting back a smirk. “She’s always being a little silly.”

The munchkin giggles at the same time that Brittany lets out a betrayed Hey. She stands and stretches, relishing the way her spine cracks, before she turns towards the door. Santana’s head jerks down quickly to mumble something under her breath just as Brittany’s eyes land on her, and she frowns a little at the slight flustered look on Santana’s face.

The munchkin’s loud giggles draws her attention away before she can ponder it too much though. “What are you laughing at?” Brittany grumbles as she reaches the doorway, ruffling her sister’s hair in the way she knows she hates.

The munchkin, predictably, ducks away and swats at Brittany’s hand, a scowl that could rival her sister’s own fixed on her face. She doesn’t loosen her hold on Santana’s hand at all, though, which makes Brittany bite back a smile; if she had the opportunity to hold Santana’s hand, she would also be hard pressed to let it go.

“Nothing,” Santana answers with an infuriatingly attractive smug smirk spreading across her face, “Right?”

The munchkin suddenly brightens, her sisterly annoyance already forgotten. “Right!”

Before Brittany can do more than make an offended noise, her mom’s bellowing voice drifts from the bottom of the stairs, informing them that supper’s getting cold and they better get their butts downstairs right this second, followed by the standard motherly caveat of “Don’t make me come up there!”

“We better get going,” Santana suggests right as Brittany’s stomach chooses that moment to growl. Loudly.

Her sister and Santana stare at her in silence for a beat before bursting into laughter. Brittany flushes and frowns deeply, quickly starting to shove them both out of her doorway. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, laugh it up,” she grumbles, “Hungry Brittany is hilarious.”

The munchkin keeps giggling even as she starts to drag Santana down the stairs, Brittany grumpily bringing up the rear.

Santana shoots Brittany such an affectionately amused smile over her shoulder that all of Brittany’s irritable thoughts sweeten right up; honestly, it’s a little concerning how much the brooding rebellious reputation she’s built up over the years falls away under Santana’s warm eyes.

She’s helpless to the way she flushes deeper and smiles at her toes as she trudges down the stairs after Santana, feeling a little bit like a lovesick puppy but—in the warmth of her house and with Santana’s bright eyes on her—she finds that she doesn’t care so much about that.

Brittany’s starting to grow a little suspicious of Mike, first with his decidedly weird smile at his birthday party last week and now with his even weirder actions all this week. She figures that it’s just Mike being Mike, which is probably all it is, but there’s no word for the way he’s been acting lately other than weird.

He’s been giving her weird looks and he’s been saying weird things and he’s been giving her weird smiles, and she’s very quickly grown tired of it all. She hates being the last to know anything, and when it has something to do with her or her friends, she—impossibly—gets even more impatient.

So, she figures that it warrants her grabbing him by the hood of his hoodie and dragging him to a secluded stairwell as soon as she spots him walking down the hallway at the beginning of their lunch period. Brittany’s glare scares away the two juniors making out in the corner, and they quickly disentangle from each other and flee, their shirts and hair hopelessly disheveled.

Mike goes along with it surprisingly complacently, with only minor grumbling as Brittany shoves him into the shadows under the stairs. He stumbles a little but regains his balance and shoots Brittany an unimpressed look. “I know we’re close and all, but if this is your way of confessing your deeply buried and romantic feelings for me, I really don’t like you like that, sorry,” he says grumpily.

Brittany rolls her eyes but doesn’t bother stifling her snort of amusement. Dating Mike would be like dating her her brother, if said hypothetical brother was a nearly six foot tall over-friendly golden retriever puppy with a knack for dancing. “Gross,” she deadpans.

Mike grins and his annoyance immediately melts right off of him. She’s always admired that about him, because he basically the complete opposite of her in that regard. “I feel like I should be offended, but honestly? Same.” Brittany grins and shoves Mike’s shoulder playfully. He adjusts the strap of his over-the-shoulder backpack and slouches against the wall with a curious expression. “So, to what do I owe the pleasure of your company in this fine back stairwell?”

Brittany immediately refocuses her attention on her original purpose when she dragged Mike down the hallway. She points threateningly at Mike and takes a step closer—he’s unfazed, of course, but it makes Brittany feel a little better to puff herself up as if her friends still hold a healthy fear of her like she used to. These days, they’re more likely to laugh in her face when she turns on the intimidation that still scares most of the student body at McKinley. “You’ve been acting really weird lately.”

Mike raises both his brows, a tiny frown playing at his lips. “What are you talking about?”

“Ever since your birthday party you’ve just been weird,” Brittany says suspiciously.

Mike holds up his hands defensively when Brittany takes another step closer. “What do you mean weird?”

“I don’t know,” Brittany falters for a moment, because she’s not entirely sure how to explain Mike’s behaviour lately, “Just weird.”

“Well, I’ll stop then?” Mike says uncertainly.

Brittany frowns suspiciously and just shakes her head. “This is hopeless.” She doesn’t wait for an answer, and instead just turns and stalks out of the stairwell.

Mike trails after her, jogging slightly to catch up. “You know, I’d probably be more helpful if you actually explained what I’m doing that’s so weird.”

“Does weird even sound like a real word anymore?” Brittany wonders aloud, before deciding that no, it definitely doesn’t at this point.

Mike agrees as he finally matches Brittany’s pace, his backpack bumping against his hip with every step, one hand wrapped tightly around the strap to keep it on his shoulder. They walk to the cafeteria in comfortable silence, playfully teasing each other about the inedibility of the food as they make their way through the line, and then sitting down across from Quinn and Puck at their usual table.

“Why’re you guys so late?” Puck mumbles around a mouthful of the food he’s currently shovelling in his mouth. Quinn eyes him with disgust and not-so-subtly puts some more space between them.

“Brittany was busy confronting me about my weirdness as of late,” Mike answers, completely unaffected by the dirty glare Brittany shoots his way.

Quinn’s eyes snap to Brittany’s in a way that makes Brittany want to start accusing Mike of his weirdness again, because the glint in Quinn’s eyes means that she knows exactly what Brittany is talking about.

“You’re always kinda weird, bro,” Puck supplies helpfully.

Brittany and Quinn roll their eyes at each other as Quinn scooches even further away from him.

“Thanks, bro,” Mike deadpans.

The two boys launch into a longwinded disagreement about Mike’s usual level of weird that Quinn and Brittany stop paying attention to almost immediately. Quinn gives Brittany a look that means they’ll probably be having a long conversation about Mike later, and Brittany smirks a little and nods; if there’s one person you don’t want in your business because she’ll find out every single little secret you have and weaponize them, it’s Quinn.

She turns to her food and unenthusiastically takes a mouthful, knowing that the first bite is always the worst. Quinn gets dragged into Puck and Mike’s argument—which has now somehow shifted into what local restaurant has the best breakfasts—and Brittany tunes them out, giving Puck a droll look when he attempts to rope her into the conversation to defend his pick of Cracker Barrel, which is obviously incorrect because Lulu’s Diner makes the best everything, even if Cracker Barrel does make pretty good pancakes.

She catches sight of Santana across the cafeteria, sitting alone like usual and using her glare to scare away anyone who dares get too close. Brittany smiles a little, because ever since they’ve started hanging out, Santana’s glare has gotten so ineffective to her that it’s become adorable instead of intimidating.

As if drawn by her thoughts, Santana’s eyes snap up and catch on Brittany’s, and she softens, just for a moment, in the crowded cafeteria, giving Brittany a tiny smile before hardening her glare again and fixing it on a sophomore who steps too close to the table.

“She’s cute when she’s not trying to be intimidating, isn’t she?”

Brittany agrees absently before snapping back into herself, whipping her head around to glare at Mike. “I— I mean— Obviously you think so because you’re dating her.”

Mike’s smirk widens and something in his eyes gleam. “True, but you’re not.”

“That’s not— I’m tutoring her,” she snaps, before stiffening and glancing at Quinn and Puck to make sure they didn’t overhear her. They’re too caught up in their argument, an extension of the earlier breakfast debate, to pay attention to Brittany’s lowered voice. “This is what I mean,” she finally hisses at Mike, “This is the weirdness I was talking about.”

Mike has the grace to look a little affronted at the accusation, but his eyes are too bright for it to be genuine offence. “Rude.”

Brittany shakes her head and drops his gaze before she can flush too deeply, stabbing violently at her lunch and shoving it into her mouth. She stifles a wince when the tine of the fork scrapes against her bottom lip, but doesn’t give Mike the satisfaction of seeing how much this conversation is affecting her.

She forcibly reminds herself that Mike is dating Santana and Brittany finding her pretty and snarky and sweet and basically the best person ever would make her the weird one, and not Mike.

She can feel Mike’s curious gaze on her, but she stubbornly stares down at the table and refuses to meet his eyes. The last thing she would ever want is to ruin her and Mike’s friendship over something like this stupid silly little crush she has, so she shoves whatever she’s feeling right now down as deep as she can and shoves another bite in her mouth.

Somehow, she just knows that the taste of ash in her mouth isn’t actually from the shitty cafeteria food for once.

It takes Brittany a whole ten minutes to convince herself to finally get out of her truck and walk up the Lopez walkway that weekend, and then another five minutes before she manages to raise her hand and stab a finger at the doorbell. She’s not sure why she’s nervous, because her and Santana are friends now, and they have been for weeks, and this isn’t the first time that they’ve hung out away from the library and the distraction that math offers. And Santana has seen Brittany’s house and clothes and ratty old backpack and never said a word about it, despite the fact that Brittany knows Santana’s grown up wealthy her whole life, with nannies and expensive vacations and brand name clothes and everything Brittany was so jealous of as a kid of working class parents who more often than not had two jobs just to make ends meet. Her parents are relatively financially stable now, and the munchkin has—thankfully—never had to listen to their parents wonder whether there’s enough cans in the pantry to make it to the next paycheque.

She knows that Santana doesn’t judge her for not being upper class or as rich as the Lopezes are—or, at least, if she does, she hides it really well—but she’s never ever actually had the opportunity to actually go into one of the houses in Lima Heights, and she’s definitely never been anywhere this extravagantly expensive before. She knows Quinn used to live down the street from the Lopezes, back when her dad was still around, but that was years before Brittany and her were put in the same sixth grade class and instantly became best friends through the bonding experience of judging everyone else.

Which explains most of her nerves, having never spent any real amount of time in Lima Heights, because no amount of scrubbing could make her sneakers clean again, and her jacket smells of old leather and sawdust and motor oil, and her backpack has more holes in it than years Brittany’s owned it. And Santana is always dressed in expensive clothes and wears expensive perfume and puts on expensive makeup and has an expensive haircut and is basically everything that made Brittany self-conscious when she used to walk to school in old hand-me-downs from some of her mom’s coworkers.

(The rest of her nerves are just because it’s Santana, and her heart still isn’t really used to seeing that ever elusive smile directed at her even now, not if the way it practically pounds out of her chest every single time is any indication.)

Santana answers the door about thirty seconds after Brittany rang the doorbell, which means that Brittany barely has time to contemplate turning around and just fleeing the Lopez front yard and Lima Heights and possibly Lima itself before Santana’s smirking at her, framed by the fancy oak doorframe. “I was beginning to think you’d just stare at the door all afternoon,” she greets.

Brittany manages an eye roll and shifts the strap of her backpack further up her shoulder. “Hello to you too,” Brittany says snidely.

Santana snorts a laugh and steps to the side to let Brittany into the house. She kicks off her sneakers on the corner of the front mat, glancing around the pristine entry hall with poorly concealed interest. “Well, here it is,” Santana says bitterly as she leads Brittany through the front entrance and into the rest of the house, “Home sweet home.”

It looks like a showhome, is what Brittany first realizes.

There’s no evidence that anybody actually lives in the giant house: There’s no jackets hung on closet doors or shoes haphazardly kicked off against the wall or dogeared books on the table or backpacks tossed on the floor; there’s no scuff marks on the walls or chips in the doors or coffee rings on side-tables or mail thrown on the counter; there’s no embarrassing pictures of a young Santana on the fireplace mantle or dust hidden on old knickknacks or silly magnets on the fridge or dirty dishes from last night’s dinner in the sink; there’s no stuffies to trip over or bunched up rugs or half drank cups of water or soccer balls in the corners.

Everything is neat and tidy, and not in the way the Pierce house is neat and tidy when company comes over, with everything tucked away but signs of life still peaking out. The decor in the Lopez house is purposefully placed in aesthetically pleasing places, the oil paintings hanging on the walls have no sense of adventure in the strokes, the fruit in the bowl on the table is fake, the counters are spotless, and there’s not a speck of dust on any surface.

“My father has a housekeeping service that comes through every couple of days,” Santana mutters when she sees Brittany running a finger along one of the shelves as they pass. Brittany flushes and straightens, jerking her arm back to her side and clenching her fist to keep herself from embarrassing herself further, pretending that she wasn’t just morbidly marvelling at how spotless the Lopez house is. Santana gives her a wry smile that doesn’t quite reach her dark eyes. “Keeps the house clean,” she elaborates, “and removes any evidence that people actually live here.”

For the first time, Brittany understands exactly why Santana is so distant and aloof and cold at school, why her icy interior only starts to thaw when she’s around people for a while or in the warmth of the Pierce house.

Santana’s lonely.

She basically lives alone in this giant house, with every semblance of her existence erased weekly by cleaning chemicals and shoved behind closed doors until there’s absolutely no personality or life within the cold walls.

Brittany shivers a little as and glances around again. The Lopez house is just as cold and empty as she suspected that night she drove past what feels like a lifetime ago. Her backpack weighs heavily on her shoulder as she studies the place. She’s not self-conscious about Santana being so much richer than she is or about Santana judging her anymore, because looking around this extravagantly expensive house, she realizes that there’s a reason that Santana softens whenever she’s at the Pierce house, that there’s a reason that she doesn’t mind the munchkin clinging to her hand, that there’s a reason she shovels homemade food into her mouth like she’s starving, that there’s a reason that she accepts every single one of Brittany’s invitations for supper even if she halfheartedly complains about them.

Santana leads them past the spotless kitchen and into the living room, heading for the stairs but freezing on the bottom step when she realizes that Brittany’s still lingering in the living room. “I know your legs work,” Santana comments idly, “So are you coming?”

Brittany swallows and glances at Santana, debating with herself for a long moment before she points at the large family portrait taking up most of the space of a living room wall. “Is this your mom?” she asks quietly.

Santana stiffens, just a little bit, before she sighs and drops her head. “Yeah,” she finally says, wandering back over to Brittany. She stops in front of the portrait, barely a hairsbreadth from Brittany, and stares up at the imposing figures with an unreadable expression.

The portrait is huge, and it honestly reminds Brittany of those old oil paintings that royalty always commissioned of themselves back in like the seventeenth century or whatever. Santana’s mom sits in an elaborately crafted chair, the frame gilded gold and the fabric a deep wine-red, with the same perfect posture that her daughter posses. There’s an almost mischievous smile playing on her lips that Brittany’s seen on Santana’s face more often than not lately.

Dr. Lopez stands with his hand on the back of the chair, a large signet ring sparkling on his pinkie finger. It’s the first time Brittany’s ever seen him up close, since she was never upper class enough to ever converse with his type of people at town events, and her parents never took her to his clinic for checkups as a kid. She frowns a little as she realizes that every single assumption she’s ever had about him is one hundred percent true. His face is impassive, features cold and expressionless, his salt and pepper hair combed back perfectly, his clothes pressed to sharp points, his posture sharp and straight, but it’s his eyes that send a slight chill down Brittany’s spine.

Santana has his eyes, Brittany realizes in surprise, but where Santana’s eyes are expressive and bright and full of life and every single emotion Santana feels, her father’s eyes are like obsidian stones, hard and cruel and sharp.

But it was the baby in the woman’s lap that first drew Brittany’s attention to the portrait, and a tiny smile plays at her lips as she studies the Santana in the portrait, frozen in time as an almost life-sized baby, cuddled on her mother’s lap. Her smile is mostly all gums, but she’s using all three of the teeth that she has to chew on her wrist, her eyes bright and curious and her wispy hair held back by a headband with a little bow on it. Santana’s somehow even more adorable as a baby than the grown up version that is standing beside Brittany is, which she didn’t really think was possible.

“You don’t really talk about her,” Brittany says cautiously, her voice echoing slightly off the mostly bare walls and around the high ceilings.

Santana just shrugs, her shoulder brushing up against Brittany’s leather jacket and pressing there, for comfort or something, Brittany hopes. “She died when I was a baby, so I don’t have any memories of her to talk about. All I have of her is just a couple pictures and her record collection and some jewelry or whatever.”

Brittany makes a small sympathetic sound in the back of her throat, with no real clue how she’s supposed to respond to that revelation. “I’m sorry,” she tries.

Santana shrugs again, and shoots Brittany a tiny smile. “I don’t really miss her or anything. Sometimes I get curious about her or what she was like or whatever, but you can’t really miss something that was never there.” Brittany presses even closer to Santana, her arms aching to hug her and hold her close, but frozen against her sides. “I guess I miss the missed opportunity,” Santana adds thoughtfully. “I don’t miss her because she’s dead because I don’t even remember her, but I miss what could have been. My father’s always been distant but sometimes I wonder what he’d be like if she was still here.”

“How’d she die?” Brittany asks, wincing a little at how insensitive that sounded.

But Santana doesn’t take offence, she just turns her gaze back to the portrait and looks at the woman that she so resembles. In a couple years they could probably be the spitting image of each other—it’s in the curl of their smiles, in the shape of their hairlines, in the line of their chins, in the slope of their brows, in the creases of their dimples.

Santana has her father’s eyes, but that bright spark of light in them is all her mom.

“She had cancer or something,” Santana answers absently, “Honestly, I don’t really know how exactly she died. My father never talks about it—not that he talks about much of anything with me—but that’s my guess. I found her obituary when I was in middle school, so.”

“I’m sorry,” Brittany repeats when her mind remains blank.

Santana just shifts against her, pressing them together from shoulder to elbow, and smiles, her gaze lingering on the image of her mom’s smile frozen in time before her eyes snap to Brittany’s. “It was a long time ago,” she says simply. “It’s not like I remember her anyways.”

Brittany swallows thickly. “Still.”

Santana rolls her eyes. “What did I saw about the pity thing?” she says, but her voice is playfully teasing rather than actually annoyed or insecure like it has been every time before. “Now come on, we have tutoring to do since Sue is the actual spawn of Satan and scheduled a four hour practice yesterday. I’m sore in muscles I didn’t even know I had, and there’s no chance in the seventh gate of Hell that I’m sure Sue guards that I’m dealing with the shitty modern table or the decorative couch we have down here.” Santana spins on her heel and starts marching towards the stairs, not bothering to see if Brittany is following. “My bed is the only thing that my muscles won’t scream on right now.”

Brittany smirks to hide her surprise at how easily they can switch from serious to playful—it’s comfortable and relaxed and everything Brittany thought would be impossible all those weeks ago. “Wow, only three and a half weeks and you’re already trying to get me into bed,” Brittany teases as she trails up the stairs after Santana, “I’m flattered, truly, but you have a boyfriend and I’ll have you know that I’m not that kind of girl.”

“Oh, fuck off, Pierce,” Santana snipes without turning around, her voice just a little strangled. Brittany grins at Santana’s back—how flustered and adorable Santana gets with her (mostly harmless) flirting is like ninety percent of the reason she does it.

Santana’s room faces the street, above the garage just like Brittany suspected that night she saw her silhouette in the window. The desk sits under the window with an open but asleep laptop and a pair of expensive looking headphones connected to them. A lamp sits on the corner of the desk with a small collection of knickknacks and an overflowing pencil holder scattered around the base, school textbooks stacked beside it and notebooks stacked beside those. The chair is leather and looks like the expensive type that is usually in lawyer’s offices; not that Brittany has ever been in a lawyer’s office, but she’s watched Law & Order: SUV once, so.

Santana’s bed sheets are dark and silky, especially compared to the light-coloured animal print rug covering most of the hardwood floor, and stuff for math is already spread across it—Santana’s notebook, her textbook, and a couple pencils. The pillows are the fluffiest ones that Brittany has ever seen in her life, and she wants nothing more than to sprawl out on Santana’s bed and take a long nap.

The walls are a deep maroon, unlike the cream and accent colours of the rest of the house, and a couple of album covers and pictures of old artists in black and white are scattered against them. Brittany doesn’t recognize most of them, especially those in black and white that look like they’re from the fifties or sixties, but there are a couple of relatively recent artists that Brittany does know, like Stevie Nicks and Amy Winehouse and Paula Abdul. There’s even an old original poster of West Side Story, which surprises Brittany the most out of the pictures lining Santana’s walls.

“Don’t say anything,” Santana mutters when she realizes that Brittany is standing in the middle of the room and gaping at everything.

Brittany’s jaw snaps closed and she swallows the snarky comment that was on the tip of her tongue—obviously Santana knows her too well by this point. “Cool record player,” she says instead, jerking her thumb over her shoulder. It sits on one of the tall oak dressers pushed against the wall, in pretty pristine condition despite how old it looks; a box obviously intended to store the vinyls sits beside the dresser.

“It was my mom’s,” Santana explains, her tone revealing that she’s probably a little surprised by the lack of teasing, “Guess my father couldn’t bring himself to get rid of it like he did with most of her other stuff.” She’s quietly bitter for a moment before she gives a sharp laugh. “Probably thought he could sell them some day or something.” Brittany wanders over to the dresser to study the record player closer. It looks less expensive than Brittany expected based on everything she knows about the Lopezes, like it was picked up from a pawn shop and not bought brand new, with a couple scratches on the cover and a slightly lopsided knob. She grins at the Fleetwood Mac record that is on the platter, just waiting to be played.

“She was a musician, you know?” Santana adds quietly, appearing at Brittany’s elbow, “Not like— Not like I am— I’m an amateur compared to her, but my mom was the real deal. A couple of the albums in here were hers,” Santana says proudly, gesturing at the box, “But then she married my father and, like I’ve said, he’s not the biggest fan of the arts. The year they got married was the year of her last record, so. I kinda always guessed that she stopped making music after their wedding.”

“Your dad’s kind of a giant asshole, isn’t he?” Brittany says slowly.

Santana barks out a laugh and gives Brittany a wide grin. “That’s one way to put it. He’s just—” she sighs deeply, the sound frustrated and bitter and tired all at once, “He’s just the type of father who probably should have never become a father, you know? And I don’t mean that in the way most teenagers hate their parents for birthing them sixteen years ago because of all their emo angst or whatever, but like— It’s like he treats me as a doll that he can dress up and show off at important functions to make him seem like the perfect stand-up guy, but pretends I don’t exist otherwise. Nothing I could ever do will be good enough for him, so I don’t see what the point is in trying anymore.”

“Yeah,” Brittany agrees, shoving her hands deep into her leather pockets, “I know what you mean. Father’s really fucking suck.”

“But—” Santana cuts herself off with a small frown. Brittany nudges her a little and gives her an encouraging smile, already knowing exactly what she’s about to ask. “I know that appearances can be deceiving or whatever, but your dad’s always seemed pretty decent. With the stereotypical dad jokes and the whole bear hug thing and the fact that he doesn’t look like he could hurt a fly. He’s cool, or whatever.”

Brittany’s smile widens a little, because her dad isn’t just a little cool, he’s really fucking awesome. But then she sighs and shrugs. “He’s not my bio-dad though.”

“Really?” Santana gasps.

“You’re really surprised that the tiny Korean dude isn’t blood related to the tall, freckle-faced, blue-eyed blonde?” Brittany asks skeptically.

Santana shrugs and plays with her fingers, glancing away from Brittany and ducking her head forward. “I dunno,” she mumbles, and she looks so cute that something in Brittany’s chest leaps to attention, “Genetics can be really weird. Plus I didn’t want to pry.”

Brittany smiles and takes pity on Santana, nudging her with her elbow. “I was just teasing you. Pierce is technically my step-dad, but my parents have been together since before I was born so he’s basically been more my dad more than my bio-dad ever was.”

“I don’t— I’m not following.”

“My bio-dad was, like, the definition of a deadbeat,” she admits quietly, something she’s never even told her closest friends. But here, in Santana’s room, the only place that has some semblance of life in this cold, empty house, with those dark, curious eyes on her, Brittany feels safer than she ever has before. “He knocked my mom up and then pretended he didn’t even know her despite the fact that they had been dating for months beforehand. My dad—Pierce, I mean—met my mom when she was like three months pregnant with me, and he didn’t care that she was going to have a baby or that it wasn’t his, he was just— He just loved my mom so much that her being pregnant didn’t even phase him. And when I was born he just loved me because I was his daughter no matter what my DNA said. He’s the best dad in the world and I love him so much, but my bio-dad is just—” Brittany chokes back the words because, even after all these years, it still sometimes feels like he’s not dead, like he’s going to show up on her doorstep asking for money or something and completely ruin all the progress she had made.

Santana’s arm is warm and firm where it presses against Brittany’s, her fingers sliding over Brittany’s wrist for a moment and sending all coherent thought out of Brittany’s brain, before Santana’s fingers disappear. Brittany can suddenly breathe again, and she bites back a small smile at the realization that Santana not only tried to comfort her, but that it actually worked.

“He came crawling back to my mom when I was like three after he got suspended from the force and had no where else to go,” Brittany sighs and drops her gaze to the floor, wiggling her socked toes a little against the hardwood floor. “My parent’s are way nicer than he ever deserved and helped him get back on his feet, not because my mom loved him or anything—her and my dad were married by that point—but for me or whatever. She wanted me to have a chance to get to know him later on, if that’s what I wanted. When I was in middle school I got curious about him. The custody arrangement allowed me, with my mom’s permission, to spend weekends with him. And that’s how I realized that he was just about the biggest asshole in the world. It made me love my real dad—Pierce, obviously—a whole lot more.”

Brittany takes a deep breath and lets it out, and it’s impressively not as shaky as she thought it would be. “My bio-dad was shot and killed on duty when I was thirteen and I just— I didn’t feel anything. I mean, I probably should have because he’s my bio-dad or whatever but— My dad adopted me as soon as he could, so he’s my real dad as far as I’m concerned.”

“Sometimes blood doesn’t mean much,” Santana says quietly, brown eyes immediately catching on blue as soon as Brittany tilts her head back towards Santana. Her sympathetic look melts into something teasing and playful. “So, we both agree that father’s can really suck, but this is just getting really fucking depressing now.”

Brittany laughs and takes a step away from the dresser. “Yeah, enough of this sharing feelings shit,” she retorts as she crosses the room and makes herself comfortable on Santana’s bed, “I can only have three emotions a day otherwise I’ll lose my brooding rebel vibe.”

“Tragic,” Santana deadpans as she settles herself across from Brittany, reaching for her notebook and a pencil.

Brittany’s stomach chooses that moment to growl loudly and remind Brittany—and everyone else within a ten foot radius—that the coffee and granola bar she shoved down her throat that morning was a very long time ago.

Santana stares at Brittany in surprise, clearly startled by the sound, before she bursts into laughter when Brittany’s stomach almost immediately grumbles again. “Well, if you’re nice and behave, we can order pizza and I’ll make you cookies later,” she suggests with a smirk.

“If I’m nice and if I behave?” Brittany repeats, affronted, “I’m always nice and I have never broken a rule ever in my life—”

“And you’re insulted I’d ever suggest it, yada yada yada,” Santana interrupts, “I’ve heard it all before so don’t bother.”

“Rude,” Brittany mutters as she tugs the textbook towards her, taking a quick glance over the notebook to remind herself of what exactly they did in Calc yesterday. She definitely fell asleep in that class because she had been up late and it was boring and she already knows everything math related anyways. “Besides, I don’t know if we’re close enough for you to start baking me cookies. That means I’ll have to give you something in return, and I’m lazy.”

Santana swats halfheartedly at Brittany’s shoulder, rolling her eyes so hard her head bobs with the motion. “Well, we unlocked each other’s tragic backstories, so I’d consider that we’re already probably too close.”

“Probably,” Brittany agrees with a wide grin. “But if I get pizza and cookies out of it, I don’t really care.”

Santana rolls her eyes again—affectionately, this time—and turns to her notebook, a small smile playing at her lips. “Like I said. Be nice and behave if you want them.”

“I’ll be on my best behaviour,” Brittany promises with mock-solemnity, holding one hand up like she’s taking an oath, “Scout’s honour.”

Santana snorts out a breathy laugh, shaking her head and glancing up at Brittany with undisguised fondness. “You’re ridiculous.”

Brittany couldn’t hide the way she brightens and beams at that even if she wanted to.

(Brittany doesn’t really care much about the cookies, to be honest, she just likes the way Santana looks at her when she’s smiling like that.)


Chapter Text

It’s already mid-October by the time that Brittany realizes the due date for her research is coming up faster than Brittany has been making progress on the equation. She’s supposed to have the answer or something equally as impressive by Thanksgiving weekend, and Brittany’s pretty positive she’s not going to have anything at all to show for it.

Mrs. Belling is chattering on in the background as this fact dawns on Brittany, and she can do little more than distractedly hum in acknowledgement to Mrs. Belling’s story and inwardly panic. She’s never not made a research deadline before, and she has no clue what will happen if she doesn’t have the answer. She figures with something like the Riemann Hypothesis, they can’t be too upset with her for not having solved a problem that’s been around for longer than she’s been alive, but all the universities who provide her with research grants—especially MIT—heavily implied that they would take away their funding if she didn’t have a solution by the due date. And McKinley itself took that subtle threat very seriously, if dedicating her entire last block solely to research is any indication.

Which is what makes it so frustrating that she hasn’t been able to solve the hypothesis yet, because as much as she hates the way McKinley treats her as a math monkey, she hates disappointing people even more—even if they’re the equivalent of a cruel medieval landlord.

She’s so focused on stressing about the realization that her deadline is in a month that she doesn’t even notice the bell ring, or remember saying a distracted Bye to Mrs. Belling, or realize that she’s late to meet Santana for a tutoring session.

“So this is where all the math magic happens?”

Brittany startles and whips around to the door, only just barely holding onto the dry erase marker in her hand and not accidentally throwing it across the room—suddenly, she has a lot more sympathy for Mr. Dunngan and all the times she’s scared him from the doorway while he was standing at the white board.

“What are you doing here?” Brittany manages once her heart stops trying to escape her chest.

Santana’s leaning lazily against the door frame, one foot kicked behind her and an unimpressed look on her face, her bag hanging from the unimpressed line of her shoulder, looking for all the world like she belongs there. “It’s, like, almost four,” Santana answers drolly, “I figured you must have been dead or in detention when you didn’t show up.”

Brittany bites back a small grin and tips her head to the side thoughtfully. “That does sound like me,” she agrees.

Santana’s cheeks crease for a moment before falling back into that aloof and cold expression she always wears within the walls of McKinley—their little, secluded corner of the library the only exception to that rule. “Now, what’s gotten your face all scrunchy and confused?” she asks, stepping fully into the room.

Brittany sighs and drops her chin to her chest to roll her neck back and forth in an unsatisfying stretch. “It’s nothing,” she mutters, turning back to the white board to search for an eraser.

Fingers around her wrist freeze her body before she can even think about moving her arm towards the eraser. Brittany manages to get her eyes to follow the fingers up to a delicate wrist, and then continue up Santana’s arm until she meets warm brown eyes. All it takes is one quiet Britt for Brittany’s resolve to crumble, her shoulders slouching and the tension in her stomach tightening.

“I just realized how close the deadline for my research is,” Brittany mutters, “And I’ve done nothing to make progress on this stupid hypothesis.”

The fingers around her wrist are warm and grounding and Santana’s eyes are dark and steady on hers. “I’m sure that’s not true,” she murmurs, “I know you haven’t just been goofing off during this period or skipping or anything. So, obviously you’re doing something.”

“None of it matters if I don’t have anything to give to them come November,” Brittany protests, feeling a little bit like a petulant child but unable to bring herself to actually care. Santana’s seen her curled up and drooling in the corner of her couch, having fallen asleep while they were watching a movie, and there’s really no saving her reputation as a brooding rebel around Santana at this point.

“Britt,” Santana says seriously, “when was this thing first created? Or whatever it is you math geniuses do to come up with this stuff.”

Brittany smiles a little at that and shrugs. “It was originally proposed in 1859.”

“So, that’s what, like, uh—”

“One-hundred and sixty years ago,” Brittany interrupts absently.

Santana rolls her eyes, a tiny smile tugging at her lips. “Okay, Ms. Math Genius, I get it, you’re smarter than me. No need to show off.” Brittany grins and ducks her head a little, the skin of her cheeks prickling with pleased heat. She doesn’t think she’s ever going to get used to Santana’s unwavering belief in her intelligence, and honestly, she doesn’t ever want to. “So, in a hundred and sixty years, has anybody ever solved this thing?”

“No, that’s why it’s an unproven hypothesis.”

“And you’re worried because you haven’t made any progress on it in six weeks?” Santana asks incredulously.

Brittany shuffles her feet sheepishly and studies the toes of her ratty sneakers. “Well, when you put it that way,” she mumbles. She supposes that Santana does have a good point, because there are some people who have dedicated most of their lives to solving the Riemann Hypothesis to no avail, but knowing that still doesn’t completely erase her worry about not meeting the deadline.

Santana tugs gently on Brittany’s wrist until she relents and glances up to meet Santana’s eyes, a little surprised by the fond amusement she sees there. “Brittany, you’re a certified genius, and just because you can’t see the progress you’ve made doesn’t mean it’s not there. How many different things have you tried?”

Brittany manages a shrug, unable to look away from Santana’s dark eyes. “I dunno,” she pauses to think through the past month and a half, about all the hours she’s put into her work on the Riemann Hypothesis, “A couple hundred things I guess.”

“So, now you’ve ruled out those couple hundred methods, right?” Brittany concedes Santana’s point with a nod. “So, come on,” Santana coaxes softly, “give your brain a break. Don’t let something you don’t love or even really care about get you all stressed and twitchy and frustrated.”

Santana’s fingers are still circling her wrist, and that’s all she can really focus on, but she manages to nod without really realizing what she’s agreeing too.

“Great,” Santana brightens, turning away and pulling Brittany after her, “Let’s go.”

“Huh?” Brittany says dumbly, “Where are we going?” Santana doesn’t say anything, just gives Brittany a smug smirk over her shoulder as they head down the hall, in the opposite direction of the library. “I thought we had a tutoring session?” Brittany asks in confusion, stumbling after Santana as she drags Brittany behind her.

“Nope,” Santana answers decisively as she faces forward again, marching down the hall with Brittany trailing after her, connected by the fingers that are still wrapped around Brittany’s wrist, “We have a date with some ice cream and no thoughts of math to disturb us.”

Brittany flushes and grins at the back of Santana’s head, relieved in the knowledge that Santana can’t see how wide and thankful her smile is, or how bright her blush probably is, or exactly how much Santana means to her, right in this moment.

“Come on, Santana,” Brittany wheedles, “It’s a really short practice cause Mr. Schue had a meeting. So you’ll only be in there for, like, half an hour. Just come with me.”


“But you’re my ride home ‘cause my truck’s still all broken and stuff,” Brittany whines, before brightening a little, “and I have the keys to get into my house so you need me if you want supper.”

Santana looks down at Brittany’s pathetic pout indifferently, one eyebrow half way up her forehead and her mouth twisted in a severe frown. “Your mom would let me in.” The only sign that Santana isn’t actually annoyed is the flicker of amusement Brittany recognizes in her brown eyes.

Brittany opens her mouth to retort but instead snaps it shut with an audible click. “Damn. You’re right.”

Santana can’t completely maintain her frown as her lips twitch, the same twitch that Brittany used to think was a muscle spasm. “I don’t need you,” she sneers snidely, “I can go and eat all of your dad’s fresh cookies before dinner without you, because you’re stuck in the loser’s club until five.”

Brittany slumps onto the table and stretches out, rolling over slightly so she can better pout up at Santana, like Lord Tubbington used to when begging for belly scratches. “Santana,” she whines, drawing out every vowel of her name, “Please.”


Please,” Brittany stretches herself across Santana’s textbook and notebook, “I’ll stop being annoying if you come.”

“Forever?” Santana asks, her eyes lighting up in interest for the first time since Brittany suggested that Santana just come with her to the quick glee practice instead of waiting in her car for thirty minutes by herself or, even worse, leaving Brittany to walk home all by herself even though she was the one to invite Santana over for supper.

She curses her cousins for giving her a truck that’s more broken than not, and for said broken truck to decide that the year’s first frost was just too much for it, and for Hummel Tires & Lube being so backed up this time of year, and for Finn needing to go to school instead of helping his dad in the shop, and for Mr. Schue insisting that they still have a glee practice today despite him having an hour long faculty meeting right after school.

Brittany rolls her eyes at the mock-hopeful glint in Santana’s eyes. “For the rest of the day.”

“A week?”

“Three days,” Brittany concedes, “and that’s my last offer.”

Santana’s lip lifts in a slight sneer as she stares down her nose at Brittany. “Fine,” she agrees, as if Brittany can’t read the amusement sparkling in her eyes. Brittany grins unabashedly even as Santana rolls her eyes and tries to shove Brittany off her school work. “You can stop being annoying anytime now,” she jeers.

Brittany sighs and curls further onto the table, pushing back at Santana’s attempts to move her, before finally relenting and sitting back up. She checks her phone before giving Santana a cheeky smile. “We’ve got ten minutes until glee, Sunshine, better start packing up.”

Santana frowns down at the table. “We haven’t finished yet.”

“As if we were actually doing math and not just hanging out in the library,” Brittany scoffs, grabbing her backpack and slinging it over her shoulder as she stands. “Now come on, we don’t wanna be late.”

“I hate you,” Santana mutters as she gathers her stuff and shoves it into her bag.

“No you don’t,” Brittany singsongs, pausing only for long enough for Santana to zip up her bag before heading out of the library. “Now turn that frown upside down, Sunshine,” she chides, startling the ancient librarian awake. Santana grumbles as they walk past her, ignoring the confused stares the librarian gives the two girls who weren’t there when she fell asleep.

The hallways are empty as they head to the glee practice room, aside from the janitors starting their rounds and the odd teacher walking to the photocopy room or to another teacher’s classroom—everyone is pretty sure that Mr. Haung has a massive crush on Ms. Marsh, one that everyone is also pretty sure is reciprocated, and more often than not if you’re looking for one of them you’ll find both of them. Since there’s no one in the hallway, Santana’s a little more relaxed as they tease each other on their through the school, but that lightheartedness quickly disappears as they near the glee room.

“Come on, you’ll be the most intimidating person in there,” Brittany coaxes, nudging Santana with her elbow.

Santana rolls her eyes but doesn’t respond, just tightens her grip on the strap of her bag. Brittany hesitates for a moment and eyes Santana’s hardening façade in concern, but eventually relents and walks through the door when she realizes that there’s nothing she can do to bring back the Santana who’s not defensive and aloof and cold.

Basically everyone is already in the glee room, most of them having probably showed up for their regular practice time and waited there as an excuse to not get started on homework. There’s a couple empty chairs in the back row, and Brittany leads Santana there. The glee kids watch her with interest out of the corners of their eyes—having slowly become aware of Brittany and Santana’s new and strange friendship over the last little bit as they both got less concerned with who knew they were spending time together—but are careful to not look too closely at her. While Brittany’s not afraid of Santana’s glare or her ability to completely eviscerate anyone on the spot anymore, she knows that most of the glee club have been on the wrong end of Santana’s ofttimes vicious words, sometimes more than once, and they’re all still (rightfully) pretty wary of her.

Santana stalks across the practice room as if it’s a battlefield and not a collection of McKinley’s most unwanted, and heads straight to the back row to sit in the empty chair beside the only other person aside from Brittany that she doesn’t scare into submission (Quinn probably also falls into that category, because of Cheerios and all, but she’s not in the room yet, so).

“What are you doing here?” Mike greets in confusion as Santana sits down beside him, Brittany dropping her backpack against the wall before falling carelessly into the chair beside Santana.

Santana doesn’t say anything but inclines her head slightly to indicate Brittany.

“My mom’s making chilli tonight,” Brittany explains when Mike continues to look curiously at them, and his face immediately clears with understanding.

“Aww man, why didn’t you invite me too?” Mike whines, “Your mom’s food is the best.”

“You’re not as cute,” Brittany teases, eyeing Santana and smirking a little when she notices the brief look of breathlessness that indicates Santana’s flush, the one that is almost always followed by Santana’s mostly playful annoyance for blushing at Brittany’s mostly harmless flirting.

As if on cue, Santana scoffs and rolls her eyes at Brittany. “As if,” she sneers, eyeing the rest of the glee club and well aware that, even if they’re engaging in their own conversations, their attention is closely on the three teenagers in the back row, “You have that dinner with your dad’s investors tonight so you’re busy.” Mike deflates with a put-out sigh, sounding as if he’d just received the most disappointing news of his life—which, to be fair, her mom’s chilli is delicious.

Now that Brittany actually knows Santana, she’s now realized that what she always mistook for cold indifference, is actually a lighthearted teasing relationship between her and Mike, Santana’s sneer and harsh tone hiding the amused affection in her eyes.

Santana bites back a grin before giving Mike a mocking pout, ignoring Brittany’s snort of laughter behind her. “Oh, poor baby.”

“Kiss it better?” Mike asks with a pout of his own.

Mr. Schue and Rachel and Quinn walk in the room before Santana can respond or Brittany’s stomach can twist in jealousy too much. Quinn’s eyes immediately zero in on Santana and then snap to Brittany with an inquisitive glint as she takes an empty seat beside Tina in the front row. Brittany sighs and sinks further into her chair, knowing from experience to start preparing for an interrogation now so she can get a head-start on it; honestly, Brittany thinks that Quinn should become a detective simply for her intimidating interrogations alone.

Rachel and Mr. Schue are too self involved to notice Santana until Mr. Schue has already written on the whiteboard and turned to ask the class a question.

“Santana,” Mr. Schue greets suspiciously, “What are you doing here?”

“She’s with me,” Mike and Brittany both say at the same time. Brittany slouches further into her chair and pretends that the curious eyes on her don’t bother her, and that her cheeks aren’t burning with heat. She resolutely refuses to glance at Mike or Santana, but she can hear their chairs shift as they turn to look at her as well.

“Well—” Mr. Schue starts, but before he can get more than that out, Rachel stands up from her spot in he front row and spins on her heel to glare at Santana, seemingly unafraid of the cold glare Santana gives her, even though her hands obviously shake where they’re clenched at her sides.

“This is a closed practice,” Rachel says snidely.

“No it’s not,” Quinn scoffs, not because she’s trying to defend Santana, but just because she likes arguing with Rachel.

Rachel turns her haughty attention on Quinn and the attention in the room shifts as Quinn and Rachel gear up for another one of their infamous arguments. Mr. Schue quickly steps forward for once, trying to control the room before the practice can completely devolve into chaos—Brittany’s lip curls up in dual amusement and disgust, knowing that if it were Puck and Finn going at it that Mr. Schue would hesitate until it got completely out of hand, just like he always has.

“Girls,” Mr. Schue says, wilting a little as two heated glares are turned on him, “we don’t have much time today, so let’s focus.” He takes a step back before turning his eyes on the back row. “We always welcome new members, and Santana can sit in on a practice if she wants to see what glee club is like before she decides to join.”

“Oh, I’m not joining glee,” Santana dismisses with a sneer of revulsion, confident and decisive. Brittany watches Santana out of the corner of her eye, her stomach twisting at how Santana’s face falls a little as soon as everyone’s attention is back on Mr. Schue as he finally starts practice. Brittany curses Santana’s father, not for the first time, knowing that Santana probably would have joined glee long ago if not for her dad’s derision of all things related to music and the arts, and his insistence on Santana maintaining that same derision for herself. She finally understands Mike’s reaction to the mention of Santana’s father forcing his daughter into tutoring that very first day Brittany was told she’d be tutoring Santana Lopez, because her own anger flares up at any mention of the man now too.

Glee goes by quickly since they’re only practicing for half an hour today, and everyone quickly files out of the glee room, calling goodbyes to each other as they head for lockers and bathrooms and doors out of the school. Santana mutters under her breath for a moment as she checks her bag, before grumbling about needing to go to the office and meet with the vice principle and knowing that she’ll be fifteen minutes at least. She offers to meet Brittany at the doors to the student parking lot, before stalking down the length of the hallway. Brittany shrugs and starts heading in the opposite direction, barely making it two steps before Quinn appears from seemingly nowhere and corners her against a block of lockers.

“Okay, spill,” she demands.

“What?” Brittany says dumbly, even though she already knows exactly what Quinn’s about to start interrogating her about.

“Santana,” is all Quinn says.

Brittany scoffs and tries to casually lean against the lockers, but fails a little when she misjudges the distance and slams her shoulder into the metal. She refuses to acknowledge it, even as Quinn’s lips twitch up into a grin. “What about her?”

“What are you doing with her?”

“Hanging out,” Brittany says mildly, “You should try it sometime.”

Quinn’s eyes narrow accusingly. “You’re one to talk. When was the last time we hung out together?”

“It was—” Brittany falters and then softens a little. “I’m sorry, Q, I didn’t realize it’d been so long.”

Quinn shrugs indifferently, but Brittany can read the relief in her eyes; they’ve been best friends since middle school, and they probably know each other better than anyone else. Which also means they know exactly when and how to call each other on their shit. “We’ve both been busy lately. You with tutoring and me with school.”

“That’s what happens when you take all AP classes and all three sciences, Einstein,” Brittany teases.

Quinn rolls her eyes. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, Ms. Math Genius, you’re one to talk.”

“Hey, I only do research because I’m practically forced at gunpoint to, not because I’m willingly trying to get into Yale,” Brittany retorts, unable to hide her proud smile. Quinn needs to get out of this town just as much as Brittany knows she needs too, and Yale isn’t a half bad place for her best friend to finally be free of Lima’s dangerous way of trapping people and dragging them down.

Quinn playfully shoves at Brittany’s shoulder, pushing her further into the lockers, that tiny smile of hers playing at her lips that means she’s pleased but doesn’t want to show it. “Don’t try to distract me,” she threatens toothlessly, “Why are you spending so much time with Lima’s biggest bitch?”

“It’s nothing,” Brittany lies, widening her eyes innocently when Quinn just stares at her, “Really. It’s nothing. Like, we’ve just kind of been hanging out but—”

“You’re rambling,” Quinn interrupts.

Brittany sighs and glances around the hallway to make sure they’re alone; of course the hallway’s empty, because it’s four thirty and the only people here are the janitors and which ever teachers are holed up in their offices doing prep work. “You can’t tell anyone, okay? I, like, signed a non-disclosure agreement and everything and I’m pretty sure it’s technically illegal to tell you this now, so you can’t say anything to anyone.”

Quinn seems to sense that Brittany’s not fucking around with this and nods seriously, reaching over to press her pinky against Brittany, something they started doing years ago when pinky promises seemed far too childish for their thirteen year-old selves.

“Santana’s the student I’ve been tutoring in Calc,” Brittany explains, watching as realization dawns on Quinn’s face. “Her dad forced her into it, and honestly she probably didn’t need it or anything. But we’ve been spending a lot of time one-on-one and,” Brittany shrugs, scuffing the toe of her sneaker across the tiled floor. “I dunno, she’s not as bad as I originally thought she was. Honestly, she’s not really anything like I thought she was. And we just kind of just click? We get along really well and she doesn’t judge me for not being an all around genius or whatever. And I dunno,” Brittany ducks her head and scrunches her face up as she tries to figure out what drew her to Santana in the first place, “she seems lonely. Like she needed a friend. So I teased her until she let me in.”

“You have a crush on her,” Quinn accuses softly, her pretty hazel eyes wide in dawning comprehension.

“What?” Brittany tries to say blankly, but her voice goes all high and crackly, like a boy going through puberty, “No, of course not. That’s ridiculous. Where’d you ever get that idea? I don’t—”

“You’re rambling,” Quinn says smugly, “You only ramble when you’re lying, and you’re awful at lying.”

Brittany deflates and sinks down against the lockers until she can drop her backpack to the floor, resting her arms on her knees and burying her face in the crook of an elbow. She’s tried so hard to keep this to herself, and especially to keep it from Mike, that she didn’t realize how much weight was pressing down on her shoulders until Quinn took some of it from her.

“I’m so fucked,” she sighs.

There’s movement beside her as Quinn slowly sinks down against the lockers too, her arm a warm comfort against Brittany’s side. “Come on,” she prompts, “it can’t be that bad.” As they always do, Quinn’s attempts at being cajoling bring a small smile to her face; just as quickly, though, it drops into a deep sigh that originates somewhere beneath her sternum as the reality of her current situation creeps back into her thoughts.

“I don’t think it’s just a crush anymore,” Brittany mumbles, “Or, at least, it’s starting to not be.” There’s dead silence in the hallway as Quinn stares at her in confusion before the proverbial penny drops.

“Oh,” Quinn deadpans, her eyebrows climbing up her forehead and her eyes wide, mouth slightly ajar as she scrambles for something to say.

“Yeah,” Brittany says dejectedly, “Oh.”

“Britt,” Quinn sighs sympathetically, a cool hand determinedly peeling one of Brittany’s away from her so she can lace their fingers together. It brings a small amount of comfort to Brittany—especially because her and Quinn have never really been the touchy-feely type of friends, making the attempt to soothe her mean all the more.

“Hey, it’s not the first time I went and got a dumb crush on a straight girl with a boyfriend,” Brittany says quietly, turning her head a little so she can meet Quinn’s eyes with a self-deprecating smile, “And it probably won’t be the last.”

“Even if she wasn’t straight and dating Mike, you’re too good for her anyways,” Quinn offers.

Brittany knows that Quinn truly means it—Quinn may be distrusting and suspicious of most people, but she’s loyal to a fault to the people she cares about, and is sometimes overconfident in their abilities—but it doesn’t really make her feel better. “Thanks,” she says anyways.

Quinn hums and shuffles a little closer. Warmth flutters in Brittany’s chest at how little Quinn seems to care that she’s sat on the floor of a dirty hallway, despite usually being much too prim and proper to even think about getting her fancy clothes anywhere close to the filth of a public school. “You’re sure she’s straight?” Quinn asks quietly.

Brittany’s sure, because Santana’s never given her any indication that she’s into anybody but boys, based on having a boyfriend for three years and only ever commenting on guys’ attractiveness when they’re hanging out at the Lima Bean; Brittany knows better than most not to assume someone’s sexuality based solely on who she’s seen them with, but she also knows better than most that hoping only ever results in watery eyes and broken hearts.

“Does it even matter?” Brittany says rhetorically, “She’s dating Mike and despite how rocky I used to think that relationship was, they really do care for each other.”

Quinn hums thoughtfully and looks conflicted for a long moment, her brows scrunched and her nose wrinkled, before her face clears and she seems to decide something. “I think they’ll always care about each other, but I don’t think they’re actually in love with each other anymore, if they ever were. ‘Cause it’s high school and all.” Brittany squeezes Quinn’s hand where their fingers are still tangled, comforting her in turn; ever since sophomore year, Quinn’s had a rather cynical view of high school romances and high school in general—not that Brittany can blame her. “And besides, Mike and Tina seem to be getting really close. As in dating close.”

Brittany turns that thought over in her head for a long moment, thinking of the bowling alley and how often Tina’s been eating lunch with them lately and how much Mike has been smiling as of late. “I suppose so, but that doesn’t matter anyways because Santana’s straight,” Brittany manages to say without her throat clogging up too much.

“Come on,” Quinn sighs, “I know that’s not the real reason.”

“Yes it is.”

“No, it’s not. That’s not what’s got you so torn up inside. What’s the real reason?” Quinn murmurs, “And don’t give me a bullshit answer either, B, I’ve been on the receiving end of your don’t assume someone’s sexuality rant too many times to actually think that you believe that.”

Brittany breaks, just a little, and somehow manages to curl even more into herself. “It hurts,” she whispers, “It hurts to hope and then have them all shattered. It’s easier to know that she’s straight instead of hoping she’s not and then getting rejected anyways.”

Quinn makes a small noise of agreement in the back of her throat, but remains silent, knowing that sometimes Brittany just needs someone to listen. Instead she releases Brittany’s hand and wraps an arm around her shoulders, tugging Brittany into her side and holding them tightly together, somehow sensing that, more than silent understanding, what Brittany needs most right now is a hug.

Brittany feels fragile and cracked open inside, like she’s a live electric wire and her frayed ends are getting too close to broken metal, like Quinn’s the only thing keeping her from electrocuting her heart.

“Unrequited love fucking sucks,” Brittany finally mutters into the soft fabric covering Quinn’s shoulder, allowing herself to indulge in Quinn’s comforting embrace for a while longer before she has to pull herself together and face Santana again.

Quinn laughs a little and turns her head into Brittany’s, pressing her cheek to the top of Brittany’s head. “Yeah, B, it really fucking does.”

After Quinn’s apt observations about Mike and Tina, Brittany’s taken to watching them more closely, and slowly come to the same conclusions that Quinn had. Tina’s taken to eating lunch with their group of friends almost everyday lately, easily keeps up with their banter in her own form of snark. It has made Brittany appreciate Tina’s ability to hold in her comments during glee even more, knowing now what she actually thinks.

But Brittany doesn’t really understand exactly how close Mike and Tina have gotten until she finally convinces Santana to eat lunch with them, promising her a batch of her dad’s homemade cookies and to keep Puck’s gross comments to a minimum. Mike greets Santana with a quick squeeze of her hand as Santana sits down in between Mike and Brittany before turning back to his conversation with Tina; Santana somehow manages to ignore Puck’s leering and Quinn’s sneer of greeting and Tina’s nervous glances as she haughtily takes a long drink of her water, and Brittany bites back a smirk at the image of Santana as a queen from the 1600s or whatever, all regal and imposing and aloof to all those lacking her noble birth.

The smirk quickly fades though, because for the first time since they were still wary and hostile to each other, Brittany feels acutely awkward around Santana, unsure how to hold herself anymore. The knowledge that her crush is starting to run deeper than she ever anticipated it would is on the forefront of her mind, and the knowledge that Santana’s boyfriend is sitting just on the other side of Santana makes her stomach twist guiltily. She pushes her unappetizing food around on her plate and tries to ignore Santana’s confused look and Quinn’s knowing one, suddenly regretting her invitation and the fact that Santana is sitting beside her instead of across the cafeteria. It definitely doesn’t help that the entire cafeteria seems to have one eye on their table, since Santana sitting and eating with other people is unprecedented, and her group of friends all too aware of the way their being watched with morbid curiosity by a couple hundred pairs of eyes.

All except Mike and Tina, who remain completely absorbed in their own little world, not noticing the intrigued looks from most of the McKinley student body—even Puck has noticed how the cafeteria is staring at them, but even more absurd than that, is the fact that he seems to have realized something is up with Mike and Tina, his eyes darting back and forth between the two like he’s watching the ball at a tennis match.

Quinn, thankfully, suddenly speaks up to fill the awkward silence lingering between the other four people at the table—Brittany will have to give her about a thousand batches of her dad’s cookies or something of equal value to show her gratitude. Brittany immediately jumps into the conversation, barely even comprehending what they’re discussing, and tries to ignore the way her stomach churns guiltily.

Santana eyes Tina and Mike with detached indifference, but there’s something in her eyes that Brittany can’t read, and she suddenly realizes that for as close as they’ve gotten these past weeks, there’s still parts of Santana that Brittany doesn’t know yet, parts that she hasn’t been allowed to see, parts that Santana refuses to share with her.

It’s obvious that Tina has a crush on Mike and is all too aware of the fact that Mike and Santana are currently dating, and of the fact that no matter how many times they break up, they always seem to come back to each other. Brittany can sympathize, because there’s nothing quite like having a crush on someone so completely unavailable, something that Brittany has become intimately familiar with this school year.

She feels bad for Santana, knowing that she genuinely cares for Mike, but she feels even worse for how much relief she feels at the knowledge that Mike seems to be falling for Tina.

She knows that makes her a bad person, but she’s come to terms with that side of herself long ago, and mostly she just hopes that no one else at the table realizes.

It takes a while, but eventually Brittany is able to completely swallow her feelings—she’s pretty sure she can manage to do that for the thirty minutes of lunch, at least—and actually contribute to the conversation. Santana’s sat so close to her that their arms press together a little, and she can actually feel Santana softening, bit by bit, as the minutes pass. Puck behaves himself, mostly, and when he doesn’t, Brittany’s pretty sure the look of surprised pain on his face is the result of Quinn’s heel finding the sensitive parts of his foot.

The most amusing part of lunch, is Quinn and Santana’s subtle insults and threats, of which Brittany’s sure only about a quarter are actually genuine; they do hold grudging respect for each other, Brittany knows, but it’s still hilarious to watch them try to navigate that without letting the other know that they hold some small amount of admiration for each other.

It’s not until Quinn’s jaw drops in surprise at Santana asking her opinion on something Cheerios related that their carefully maintained masquerade of indifference towards each other slips. Quinn manages to recover in a split second, but Brittany recognizes the smug smile on Santana’s face, the one that means she knows exactly what she’s doing. Brittany rolls her eyes and elbows Santana to draw her attention away and give Quinn a chance of not combusting in shock; Puck’s too busy stuffing his face to realize the significance of what’s currently taking place, but that’s nothing new.

When Santana calls Quinn her unofficial co-captain, Brittany knows that there’s no way that they are going to be able to fool each other with their insults and the threats anymore. Something warm and comforting flares up in her stomach, clearing away the guilt of her possibly-becoming-something-more-crush at the knowledge that her best friend in the whole world and said crush just put aside all of their animosity; even if they don’t always agree, they’ll actually have each other’s backs now, and the fondness that Brittany feels for both of them at this very moment is bright and warm and indescribable.

The conversation devolves into the usual banter that their friend group engages in to show affection, and Santana fits in perfectly, going toe-to-toe with Quinn without any of the edge that was a staple of their conversations in sophomore and junior year; her glare does still work on Puck, who shrinks back and somehow manages to seem small, even with all of his six feet of height. Once Mike and Tina finally come out of their own world to join in on the group’s conversation, Brittany starts to wonder if it’s awkward for Santana to eat lunch with her boyfriend and the girl who so obviously has a crush on said boyfriend, but Santana’s too busy ganging up on Brittany with Quinn to notice the heart eyes that Mike and Tina seem to be giving each other. The thought quickly fizzes out as Brittany’s forced to threaten Puck into taking her side just so she has someone with her to battle the suddenly dangerous duo that Santana and Quinn have become, Mike and Tina no help because they’re both far to genuinely nice and good-hearted to go up against the combined might of Santana and Quinn’s particular brand of bitchy snark. They turn on Puck pretty quickly, who immediately turns poorly executed puppy dog eyes on the rest of the group, and an accusing glare on Brittany as she smirks and refuses to help him like he helped her.

Brittany’s actually content and happy for once in her life, she realizes with a start as she surveys the table, with almost all of the people she cares about the most around her and actively getting along better than she ever imagined they actually could. It’s something she never thought was possible, being content and happy after years of self-hate and resentment and anger that her bio-dad instilled in her, both actively and through his absence and death.

The rest of her friends continue to banter and tease each other, but Santana’s hand suddenly appears on her knee, giving a quick squeeze that comforts Brittany better than any words ever could. Brittany’s eyes shoot to Santana’s in surprise, and immediately catch on warm brown that are softer than she’s ever seen them, and something deep in Brittany’s chest leaps to attention and kickstarts her heart into a rhythm that seems to be specifically reserved for Santana.

Santana’s hand vanishes as quickly as it appeared, and Brittany’s knee feels somehow colder than the rest of her body in the sudden absence, but Santana’s eyes remain steady on Brittany’s, searching for something until she seems to be satisfied with what she found and turns back to the conversation as if she had never taken a moment to check on Brittany.

It’s sweet, which is something that seemed so impossible all those weeks ago, and it does nothing to keep Brittany’s crush away from the edge of something more.

October twenty-sixth is probably Brittany’s least favourite day in the entire year, and that includes the first day of school and her calculus final and the due date of her research and any day that she has to deal with that one conservative uncle who always says questionable things that are usually some combination of racist, sexist, and homophobic at every family get together.

It’s cold and frosted outside, and Brittany has a scratch in her throat that makes her think she’s going to get the same flu that her sister’s had for the past week, which means that the day is already awful before she even checks her phone and sees the date. It’s not like she counts down to it every year, but the date has never snuck up on her like this before; she’s been so busy and distracted lately with school and her research and her friends and tutoring that she completely lost track of the date.

She groans and tosses her phone off the side of her bed, tugging the covers back over her head and burying her face into her pillow. She doesn’t feel like dealing with her parents or her sister or her homework or the rest of the world at the moment, so she just squeezes her eyes shut and impatiently waits until she somehow manages to fall back asleep.

When she wakes up again, the comforter is carefully tucked under her chin and her blinds are pulled tightly shut, something she always forgets to do at night, and her phone is sitting on her bedside table, not thrown across the room. The note from her mom that’s sitting on top of her phone is unnecessary, because it’s obvious that she’s been in Brittany’s room to check up on her.

Brittany sighs deeply before screaming into her pillow, shoving her face so far into the fabric that it becomes impossible to breathe, muffling her anger so her parents won’t come in and check on her. When Brittany finally convinces herself that she will be able to exist without screaming, she pushes herself up onto her elbow and reaches over to check the time. It’s past four already, meaning that she’s thankfully slept most of the day away. Her mom would usually barge in by noon if she hadn’t emerged from her room yet, tugging off covers and insisting she get up and not waste the day away, but today is always different, and she kind of hates it.

Her parents always tiptoe around her as the date approaches, like the slightest annoyance will set her off or something. Brittany doesn’t usually feel angry on the twenty-sixth or anything, just empty and numb mostly, so her parents’ nervous wariness around her doesn’t little but get on her nerves.

She wastes almost another hour laying in bed before her bladder decides that she’s ignored it long enough and becomes unbearable in its insistence that she pay attention to it. The distant sound to the television gets warped and garbled as it drifts up the stairs as she quickly crosses the hallway and slips into the bathroom before her parents can realize she’s up. She brushes her teeth and feels the slightest sense of relief as her breath turns minty instead of sour, and then wastes even more time in the shower, running it so hot it steams up the bathroom like thick fog over a creek and turns her skin turns bright, painful pink. She stands under the burning water until she starts to shiver from the cold as the hot water eventually runs out, and then she finally shampoos and conditions her hair and washes her body.

Mostly, she just wants the day to be over already so her parents can go back to being normal again, and she’s glad to find that it’s after seven by the time she dries off and brushes her hair. She trudges back to her room and quickly gets dressed before digging her phone out from where she left it somewhere in the sheets of her bed. Her friends, much like her parents, know better than to bother her today unless they want to listen to silence, but Santana hasn’t been friends with her long enough to know the significance, so there’s a couple messages from her timestamped from the morning and from Brittany’s time in the shower.

Brittany doesn’t read them, but she quickly swipes to her phone app and calls Santana before she can think it through fully, desperately yearning to just feel normal again.

Santana answers after only two rings, greeting her with a snarky “Oh so your phone does work.”

“Are you busy?” Brittany mutters, ignoring Santana’s teasing tone.

Aside from searching my fridge for a late microwaveable dinner?” Santana answers, “No, not at all.

“You wanna go drive around Lima?”

There’s a long pause on the other end of the line, and Brittany presses her phone closer to her ear, desperately searching for the steady sound of Santana’s breathing and letting it comfort her a little. “Are you okay?” Santana finally asks quietly.

“Fine,” Brittany answers shortly, knowing she’s not convincing at all, “Do you wanna go?” There’s only a beat of silence this time, before Santana agrees. “Great, I’ll be there in five.”

She hangs up before Santana can answer or change her mind, shoving stuff into her backpack before slinging it forcefully over her shoulder, pain sprouting in her torso as the weight of her bag bangs against her back. The living room’s deserted, and she’s so focused on skipping over the squeaky steps and floorboards and slips her shoes on, that she doesn’t notice the light on above the stove or her mom sitting at the table with a cup of tea.

“And where exactly are you going?” her mom asks just as Brittany’s reaching for the door handle. Brittany winces, because she totally forgot to take her leather jacket off before trying to sneak through the house.

“Santana and I were just going to go for a drive,” Brittany answers carefully, keeping her hand on the doorknob and her eyes on the ground. “Mike bailed on her and she was bored, so.”

Her mom makes a slight noise of disbelief. “It’s ten o’clock,” she says, but what Brittany hears is It’s the twenty-sixth.

“It’s not a school night.”

“Fine. Be back by midnight,” her mom relents, and Brittany wastes no time in pulling the door open. “Brittany,” her mom stops her before she can get more than half a step outside, “you wouldn’t happen to know what happened to that six-pack of beer, would you?” It’s a trap, Brittany knows, her backpack weighing heavily on her shoulder, but she takes a moment to think before answering so she doesn’t give herself away.

“Oh yeah, did dad forgot to tell you? He took it with him for his work party thingy last weekend,” Brittany lies easily, as if she hadn’t snuck the six-pack into her room the week before in preparation for the date, before she somehow managed to get caught up in life and forget about the usual looming nature of the twenty-sixth. She wishes she felt at least a little bit guilty, but this day does stuff to her that makes her less empathetic or whatever.

“Hmm,” is all her mom says, and while Brittany knows she doesn’t believe her, she knows that her mom won’t question it. Not today.

“See you later,” Brittany says before practically running out the door. She flies across the yard and into her truck, tossing her backpack into the backseat with a satisfying thump and frustratedly twisting the key in the ignition a couple of times before her truck flares to life. She barely shoulder checks before pulling out onto the street and heading for Lima Heights; she knows it’s not particularly safe, but she feels numb and empty and sullen, and she’s always been bad at controlling her more reckless tendencies.

She gets to the imposingly empty Lopez house six minutes after hanging up on Santana, and only has to wait half a minute for the shadow of Santana to emerge from its dark depths. Santana turns briefly gold as she passes under the streetlamp at the end of her driveway, before crawling into Brittany’s truck. “Hey,” she greets, eyeing Brittany suspiciously.

Brittany tightens her grip on the steering wheel and takes a deep breath, forcing her more reckless tendencies down; she might be careless with herself tonight, but she doesn’t want Santana to get caught up in that. “Hey,” she manages without sounding too guff. Santana gives her a weird look but doesn’t comment on it, still eyeing Brittany with poorly concealed concern as Brittany pulls out of Lima Heights.

They drive aimlessly for a while, making inane conversation as they both relax a little—Santana from her suspicion and Brittany from her reckless numbness. When Brittany’s stomach growls they find a drive-through that’s open past nine o’clock and order inexpensively greasy food. Brittany drives them to the sketchy park on the far side of town, far away from her parents and Lima heights and the hospital Dr. Lopez works at. It’s in a neighbourhood Brittany lived in before she was in elementary school, when her parents were down on their luck and needed a cheap house to rent, and the green area the playground sits in is just as unkempt and messy as she remembers it. The rocks of the playground area crunch loudly under their feet as they navigate the park by the light of the distant streetlamps spilling between houses and the tiny sliver of moon hanging low in the sky.

Brittany pulls herself up onto the playground and sits on the old wood, dangling her feet over the edge and using the railings as a makeshift table as she tugs out her food. With a slightly crinkled nose, Santana follows, carefully lowering herself to the wood and grumbling something about ruined pants under her breath; it reminds Brittany of Quinn, just a little bit, and it almost tugs a smile out of her at the thought of how many similarities the two actually share—not that either of them would ever admit it, even under threat of death.

They eat in silence and watch the sky, allowing their eyes a moment to adjust to the lack of light before the stars sprawl above them, turning brighter the longer they look. Their cold light of indifference is comforting, in a way, because Brittany knows that no matter how numb and empty she feels today, it’s not permanent; their lives are nothing but a flicker of sparks shooting into the dark, something brief and insignificant and temporary in the grand scheme of things, something that is always in a state of flux and change.

Brittany shakes her head to rid herself of the existential musings she’s having when all she wants is to feel numb, so she reaches into her backpack and pulls out the six-pack of beer her mom definitely knows wasn’t used at Pierce’s work party, despite Brittany’s fairly decent attempt to lie to her.

“Beer,” Brittany offers, sneering when Santana shakes her head and huddles further into her jacket. “Figures,” she growls, anger sparking in her for the first time all day, “No underage drinking for the perfect Lopez daughter. But I’ve seen you at parties so I know better than that. I know that your perfect little reputation isn’t nearly as spotless as you tell daddy dearest.”

Santana snatches Brittany’s beer right out of her hand, taking one long sip as if proving a point before passing it back. There’s a tense, crackling silence between them for long moments, something dark and twisted that Brittany hadn’t felt since that first Friday in the glee practice room.

“When I drink at parties it’s for social reasons, not because I wanna feel nothing,” Santana finally says.

Brittany bristles and is about to jump up and storm away when something in her chest gets knocked loose by the understanding etched across Santana’s features, and she deflates as quickly as her anger sparked. “I just— I don’t— It feels—”

“Hey,” Santana interrupts softly, “You don’t have to explain it to me. I get it.”

Brittany falls quiet and takes a couple long drinks of the cheap beer, nearly draining the can in under a minute. She picks at the wood of the railing while Santana just sits quietly beside her. It takes a while still before she feels something choking and thick bubbling below her sternum. She gives Santana a few glances to make sure she’s actually in a safe place to allow herself to break, and then gives herself a few more moments before she can actually convince herself that it’s alright to feel something today.

“I hate him,” she spits suddenly, her voice echoing across the deserted park.

“I know,” Santana sighs.

A cool hand slips into Brittany’s and curls around her fingers, and Brittany clutches desperately to it as if the smooth palm against hers is the only thing that’s grounding her. Brittany sucks in a deep breath and is a little surprised that a sob chokes its way out of her—the first tears she’s ever cried over her bio-dad—but she feels disembodied, as if she’s floating above her body, watching as it curls into the comfort Santana offers with a violent sob.

The last thing Brittany is consciously aware of before she starts on her second beer and the night goes more than a little hazy, is the hair tickling her nose as she buries herself into Santana’s shoulder, the comfortable fit of fingers against hers, the steady rise and fall of Santana’s breathing under her cheek, and the quiet humming against her ear that smooths out some of the jagged pieces inside her.

Brittany tries to mumble a quiet thanks, but nothing but wet gibberish makes its way out of her mouth.

Santana seems to understand, though, because her fingers tighten and she slides their bodies closer together.

Brittany wakes up with a wicked headache in a room she’s never seen before.

Her first thought is that she got kidnapped by someone with expensive taste in interior design, and her second thought is that the coffee smells delicious.

The whole room is rather lifeless, with inoffensive white and pale decor and cream walls. She’s wearing the same clothes as the night before, but her shoes are missing and her leather jacket is draped over the chair of a desk in the corner of the room. Her head pounds like it hasn’t in a long time, and she knows that this hangover is going to linger all day. The bed is so soft and warm that she doesn’t really want to move, but the sunlight creeping across the bedspread is threatening to start shining in her eyes and the scent of coffee is getting harder and harder to resist.

She throws the covers back and sits up, immediately regretting it when her stomach rebels and threatens to empty itself on the dark hardwood floors. She slumps forward and hangs her head between her knees, waiting for the nausea to pass before she struggles to drag herself to her feet. Everywhere feels like she’s been stuffed with wet cotton and then hung out to dry, and her mouth and throat are almost painfully parched as she licks her chapped lips.

She grabs her jacket off the chair but doesn’t bother putting it on, a touch too warm from the feather comforter she woke up under. She blindly follows the scent of coffee, down the stairs and around a corner until she finds Santana in her pjs.

Santana must have heard her coming down the stairs, because there’s a steaming cup of coffee on the counter with cream and sugar beside it. The faint sound of Stevie Nicks drifts through the kitchen from where Santana’s record player is set up in the corner, occasionally obscured by the sizzle of bacon and the satisfying smack of half-cooked pancake batter on a hot frying pan.

“You’re alive,” Santana greets with a small smirk over her shoulder.

Brittany’s too tired and hungover to hide the way her eyes linger on the thin strip of skin revealed where Santana’s tank top rides up above the waistband of her patterned pj pants.

A harsh snap brings her out of her leering and she meets slightly narrowed brown eyes, Santana’s hand lingering in the air between them and her fingers posed to snap again if needed.

At least Brittany has the sense of mind to arrange her expression into something sheepish and chastised, even if all she wants is to reach out and run her fingers across that enticing sliver of skin. “Huh?”

“I said, you’re alive?” Santana rolls her eyes and turns back to the stove, expertly flipping three pancakes onto a plate in the oven—keeping the already made pancakes warm—and pouring perfectly proportioned batter into the pan again. It hisses a little and immediately start bubbling, captivating all of Brittany’s currently limited attention span until Santana gestures at the coffee on the counter with her spatula. “That’s for you.”

“Thanks,” Brittany mumbles, shuffling forward to pull the coffee mug into her hands. She doesn’t usually take her coffee black, but when she’s this hungover she knows its about the only thing that will erase the headache pounding behind her eyes. The mug is solidly coloured with no personality—much like the rest of the house—and Brittany frowns at it a little before slouching into one of the fancy stools at the breakfast bar; it’s uncomfortable, but at the moment standing hurts even more, so.

“How much do you remember of last night?” Santana asks without turning around, and without those dark eyes on hers, Brittany has no idea how to gauge her mood.

“Oh god, I did something embarrassing, didn’t I?” Brittany groans, flushing with panic at the thought of inadvertently exposing the crush that she is supposed to take to her grave.

Santana’s laugh still sounds beautiful even when it’s being filtered through Brittany’s hungover brain. “Aside from getting into an argument from the backseat with the steering wheel about the correct way home? No, not particularly.” Brittany groans again, this time in gratitude that her drunk self didn’t go around spilling all her secrets or something. Santana’s quiet for a long moment, catching Brittany’s eye over her shoulder before quickly looking away. “You were just really—” Santana hesitates before shrugging, seemingly more to herself than to Brittany. “Empty, I guess.”

“Father-related abandonment issues will do that to a person,” Brittany mutters. Santana hums in a tone of agreement that Brittany hates is so understanding—not because she doesn’t want Santana’s sympathy, but because she hates that Santana knows exactly what Brittany means. “It was the anniversary of his death,” Brittany explains quietly.

Santana pauses in pushing the bacon around the pan, the sizzling unable to fully mask the sigh that Santana lets out. “Yeah,” she finally says, “I figured.”

Brittany takes a long sip of her coffee, letting the caffeine sink into her bloodstream and start to chase the hangover away, closing her eyes and listening to Santana bustle around the stove. There’s not much else to say, not anything that hasn’t already been said in empathetic looks and comforting smiles, so neither of them really feel the need to discuss the events of last night.

“Thank you,” Brittany says once she’s heard Santana flip three more pancakes onto the plate in the oven, blinking open her eyes and wincing at the suddenly harsh light, “For not leaving me last night.”

Santana turns to fully face Brittany then, her spatula clutched in one hand as she gives Brittany an incredulous and nearly insulted look. “As if I would,” she scoffs.

Brittany swallows and takes the reply for what it is, letting it warm her insecurities and worries and fears. “How’d I spend the night here without my mom going all Hulk-Mom all over Lima trying to find me?”

Santana shrugs and turns back to the stove, reaching for an egg mixture and pouring it into a third frying pan. Brittany rests her head on her folded arms, entranced with watching Santana cook for no reason other than the fact that it’s soothing the pound of her hangover. “I just called her and told her we came back to my place to watch a movie. And since you fell asleep on the couch and it was late we decided it’d be easier to just sleep over.”

Brittany’s eyebrows creep up her forehead. “And she bought that?”

Santana snorts and gives Brittany a droll look over her shoulder. “What do you think?” Brittany tips her head to the side in mock-thoughtfulness before grinning wildly. “Obviously she knew I was lying, but she didn’t know what exactly I was lying about, so she just accepted it.”

“And how’d your father not notice that I’m here? Unless you have magical truck hiding powers, I’m sure he’d notice my hunk of junk on the otherwise pristine street.”

Santana rolls her eyes. “He’s still at work from last night. He picked up overtime this morning so he’s pulling a sixteen hour at emerg. He probably won’t be home until sometime long after noon, if at all.” At Brittany’s confused look Santana shrugs and aimlessly pushes the eggs around the pan. “He has a cot in his office so he spends most of his time there. He’s working tonight again so he’ll probably just sleep at the hospital and not come home.” Santana shakes her head a little before glancing over her shoulder with a small smirk. “So, does he know I carried you in from your truck or that you stayed the night? Not at all.”

There’s so many things to unpack there—like the fact that Brittany’s pretty sure Dr. Lopez’s parenting style should be filed under neglect, or the fact that Santana probably really needs a hug, or the fact that Brittany definitely embarrassed herself even if she kept her crush a secret, or the fact that she desperately wishes she could remember Santana carrying her in—but instead she focuses on connecting something Santana said earlier to her most recent statement.

“Wait, you drove my truck home?”

Santana laughs and shakes her head a little. “That’s what you pick up on?”

Brittany groans buries her face in her arms. “You’re too loud,” she whines petulantly, ignoring Santana’s snort of amusement, “And I’m hungover. My brain doesn’t work hungover.”

Brittany remains buried in the blissfully dark of her arms until there’s the clink of a plate beside her. She lifts her head to find a steaming pile of pancakes, bacon, and eggs on a plate, and beyond that is Santana smiling fondly at her. “Thanks,” Brittany whispers, hoping Santana knows that she means more than what she says, “You don’t have to do all this, but I appreciate it.”

Santana’s smile softens and her dimples crease her cheeks, her eyes melting and warm and unguarded. “You’re welcome,” she murmurs, and Brittany knows that Santana understood exactly what she actually meant.

They share a lingering smile before snapping out of it, busying themselves with their brunch and shovelling food into their mouths before they can really process their shared moment of peace. Brittany watches Santana out of the corner of her eye with a small smile on her face, blaming her hangover for allowing herself to—just for a moment—imagine that this is just a normal morning, that Santana standing in the kitchen in her pjs wasn’t a rare sight, that she was Santana’s and Santana was hers.

Brittany shakes herself out of the daydream, knowing how much it’ll hurt later, and shoves a bite of pancake in her mouth, allowing the delicious taste of Santana’s home-cooked breakfast food to distract her from her own thoughts.

(There’s a phantom memory, so faint that Brittany still kinda thinks she dreamt it, of someone with soft hands and affectionate eyes brushing her hair behind her ears and humming until Brittany fell asleep, of a brief press of warmth on her forehead, but it’s so indistinct and muted it that she dismisses it as the wishful thinking of her drunk brain.)

(Or, rather, she refuses to let herself hope.)


Chapter Text

Brittany’s pretty sure that it should be illegal to be awake before nine in the morning on Saturdays, especially because she’d been to one of Puck’s parties the night before and she feels a little bit like she’s been melted down and then stuffed with cotton and hung out to dry. It’s not the worst she’s ever felt, and it’s not anything like the last weekend when she woke up hungover and confused in the Lopez guest bedroom, but she still doesn’t feel stellar, or awake, or human.

The fact that she apparently left the volume of her phone all the way turned up doesn’t help her headache, and she blindly gropes for her phone as it starts shrilly ringing. Her head is still buried in her pillow and the blankets are tugged so high up that only her forehead is chilled by the air of her room. Her phone falls silent before she’s able to locate it, and she blessedly lets her arm drop back down to the bed; she wasn’t all that eager to answer the phone anyways, so. She’s barely tucked her arm back under her covers, hiding it from the cold of her room, when her phone rings again. She growls and peels one eye open to glare at her bedside table for a couple rings, before finally pushing herself up on an elbow and stretching to grab ahold of her charger cord, yanking her phone over to her bed and fumbling to bring pull it closer. She squints blearily at her screen, her annoyance lessening just a little bit at the glaring face that stares back at her.

“M’ing,” she mumbles, pressing the phone against her cheek and snuggling back down into the warmth of her bed.

Is this Brittany that answered or a walking hangover?” Santana greets snidely.

“‘M not walkin’ yet,” Brittany grumbles.

Of course not.” Brittany can hear the smirk in Santana’s voice and wants nothing more than to wipe it off her probably smug face—not all of her filters are back in place yet though, because her mind supplies that using her own lips would be the best way to shut Santana up, which is a thought that needs to be buried so deep down it never sees the light of day, as soon as she feels human again, of course. “I figured you’d be hurting after that second round of shotgunning against Karofsky.

“Hey, I won, didn’t I?” Brittany smirks, becoming a little more alert as the sleep clears from her brain and takes some of the head-stuffed-with-cotton-hangover-feeling with it. “Also, didn’t think you’d know what shotgunning is, let alone say it out loud, Miss I’m-Too-Pretentious-For-That-Stuff.”

I grew up in Lima,” Santana deadpans, “The only thing to do here is drive around or drink. Course I know what it is.

Brittany snorts to concede her point. There’s a reason small towns seem to have a higher than average number alcoholics, because there’s nothing else to do here; not that anyone would ever admit to knowing an alcoholic, because god help whoever accuses a family member of alcoholism and allows that rumour to spread. “Any particular reason you’re calling me at,” Brittany pauses to check her phone, rolling her eyes when she remembers Santana mentioning something about being a morning person because of her dad, “Nine-fourteen on a Saturday morning? After a Friday night party at Puck’s house?”

Brittany can practically hear Santana’s eye roll in the exasperated sigh she lets out. “You’re ridiculous,” she complains, a slight fondness to her tone that makes Brittany’s stomach swoop a little (though, that could definitely be the nausea, from the hangover and all), “I was wondering what you’re doing this weekend.


There’s a pause and a slight shuffling over the line, and Brittany allows her eyes to slide shut as the warmth of her bed starts to lull her back to sleep. “My father is in San Diego for some weekend long conference, that he neglected to mention until I found a note on the counter this morning.” Santana adds that last part in a disappointed but unsurprised mutter, and it makes something deep and aching in Brittany’s chest flare to life. There’s the slide of fabric on fabric again before Santana clears her throat. “Anyways, I was wondering if you were free. I figured we could study for that unit test next week or whatever. Maybe watch a couple movies and order pizza? You could stay in the guest room again. If you wanted to. Of course.

Brittany’s eyes snap open and her previously slow and sleepy heartbeat suddenly pounds in her ears, making it a little hard to hear Santana. “Like, a sleepover?” she asks dumbly.

Yeah, I guess,” Santana says, uncertain in a way that makes Brittany think she’s never had a sleepover before.

Brittany’s chest aches with longing and sympathy and something that feels the way rainy days look. She barely even has to think about her answer before she’s assuring Santana that she’ll be over in an hour with an expectation of brunch.

Brittany’s seen how lonely and cold that giant house at the end of Lima Heights is, and if she can put some life back into it, even if for a couple hours, she’s not going to hesitate.

She wants to fill all the empty places in Santana with laughter and warmth, and, given the chance, she supposes she can start with the Lopez house itself.

Brittany stands on the Lopez doorstep for a full two minutes before she realizes that the doorbell isn’t working. She knocks a couple times, but still gets no answer, and Santana hasn’t answered her texts yet, so she jiggles the doorknob and is a little taken aback when the door pops open.

She freezes for a moment before cautiously pushing the door open and poking her head through the crack. “Santana?” she calls, her voice echoing faintly. The house is still and empty, and there’s a tension in the air that makes her stomach twist nervously. She steps fully into the house and carefully closes the door behind her, dropping her backpack on the edge of the mat and quietly kicking her shoes off beside it. Her socks make no sound as she creeps through the front entrance, checking the living room and kitchen in succession but finding them as empty as the front of the house. “I swear if I get murdered in some Lopez targeted robbery I’m finding Santana and haunting her ass,” she mutters to herself.

The sound of shifting floorboards above her causes her to jump a little and glance upwards, before she heads towards the stairs. The garbled sound of a voice drifts down the hallway as Brittany reaches the top, and she creeps her way towards the slight ajar door of Santana’s room.

It’s obviously not an intruder harassing Santana, but her voice is as cold and brittle as if it was. Brittany pauses just outside the door, and shifts backwards on her heels to listen. Obviously she’s missing most of the conversation, but even just standing outside the door makes her feel like she’s helping Santana in some way, like she’s able to slip into her room and hug her if needed or something.

“—it was your idea,” Santana is saying bitterly as Brittany settles herself against the wall like an overprotective guard dog, “You were the one who thought I needed a tutor.” Brittany sucks in a sharp breath, realizing that it’s Santana’s father on the other end, and somehow knowing that it’s not going to end well at all.

Santana falls silent. The only sound is the soft padding of her feet across the lone rug in her room and the quiet rustle of fabric.

“Sorry,” she mutters, before clearing her throat. “Sorry,” she repeats, her voice pitched to something that would sound genuine if Brittany didn’t know her so well. Santana continues pacing across her room, as she listens to to her dad—presumably—berate her for giving him attitude.

“Yeah, it’s been going really well,” Santana suddenly says, “My grade’s improved from what it was and we get along really well.” Santana’s pacing seems to increase, the rustling of fabric growing louder and her footsteps falling heavier, as if the weight of the world is pressing down on her shoulders. “Brittany Pierce,” Santana says, and Brittany’s heart nearly stops before she realizes that Santana isn’t actually addressing her.

There’s a beat before everything falls so silent that Brittany almost stops breathing to compensate for the sudden silence. Santana’s stopped pacing and she doesn’t say anything for long, tense moments. Brittany’s fingertips tingle with the urge to fiddle with something in the strained silence.

Santana’s voice suddenly breaks the tension, lower and colder and more dangerous than Brittany’s ever heard her. Every other time that Brittany’s seen Santana’s temper flare up, she’s been heated and fiery and burning, like a wildfire blazing and consuming everything in its path; this tone is much more dangerous though, because it’s harsh and frigid and bitter and more deadly than the arctic.

“What did you just call her?”

Brittany’s stomach drops down somewhere by the main floor of the Lopez house, every single atom in her body locking up and shutting down as she realizes that, based on Santana’s tone, whatever Dr. Lopez just said about her was less than flattering.

Santana’s breathing is so heavy that Brittany can hear it out in the hallway now, breaking the restless resentment and bitterness in the air with uneven, crackling exhalations.

“I have to go,” Santana suddenly snarls coldly, “I have a tutoring session with that tortillera soon.”

Brittany swallows thickly because, while she has absolutely no clue what that word actually means, she just knows it can’t be good based on the way Santana spat it out.

There’s a muffled thud like Santana just threw her phone down on her bed, and then a growl before the springs on Santana’s bed squeak as she sinks down on it. Brittany takes a couple deep breaths and gives Santana a few minutes to compose herself, before she tiptoes forwards and raps her knuckles on the door, pushing it open with the force of her knock.

Jesus!” Santana shrieks, jumping up from her bed and spinning towards the door, her hands half-raised in an instinctive defensive gesture before she realizes who is standing in her doorway.

“Sorry,” Brittany says, actually genuine this time. Every other time she’s purposefully scared Santana she’s done it because Santana is always adorable when she’s using annoyance to conceal her fright, but this time is different. Her chest is tight and it feels like something is choking her at the conversation she just overheard, at the realization that no matter how bad of a dad she thought Dr. Lopez was before, she still underestimated his awfulness.

“Brittany Pierce!” Santana chides loudly, a hand clutched to her chest as she stares wide-eyed at Brittany.

Brittany arranges her face in something she hopes resembles playful innocence, and doesn’t give away the fact that she overheard Santana’s conversation with her father. “Gotcha,” she smirks.

Santana’s eyes narrow and dart to the hallway through the open door, a flicker of something almost fearful as she studies Brittany’s face, looking for some sort of spark of recognition. “How long have you been creeping around the hallway like some sort of brooding stalker?”

Brittany shrugs and forces her smirk to widen, hoping that Santana won’t see a crack of any kind. “You weren’t answering the door or my texts so I tried the door and found it unlocked—” that part, at least, is true, “—and since you weren’t downstairs I figured I’d sneak up here and try and scare you.” Santana still looks a little suspicious, her gaze lingering on the hallway still, but she doesn’t accuse Brittany of anything, so. “Which, obviously, worked swimmingly.”

She takes a couple steps into the room and moves over to lazily throw herself onto the bed, grinning up at Santana when she just wrinkles her nose at Brittany. “I hate you,” Santana sneers petulantly.

Brittany doesn’t respond to that, and instead just continues to smirk up at the ceiling, eyeing Santana out of the corner of her eye. There’s a weird look on her face, something caught between bitter guilt and shameful hopelessness, and it just reinforces the idea that Brittany really doesn’t want to know what tortillera means any time soon. Or ever.

So she forces her body to relax and focuses on soothing the ache deep beneath her sternum, and turns her attention on getting that look off of Santana’s face. “So, what are we doing after brunch? Since you woke me up so early today, I’m assuming you’re going to be feeding me food before we actually do anything.”

Santana rolls her eyes and the look on her face clears as she shoves Brittany’s legs over to make room for herself on the bed. Her thigh ends up pressed against Brittany’s, her knee to Brittany’s hip, and Brittany’s thoughts scatter at the solid warmth shifting against her. “It was nine-fifteen, it wasn’t that early, you big crybaby,” she retorts with fond eyes and a wide grin, “And I thought we were studying.”

A few of Brittany’s thoughts drift close enough for her to grasp and somehow form a coherent sentence as she pushes herself up on an elbow. “Please,” she drawls, “As if we actually do any math anymore. You just wanted an excuse to get me over here.”

Santana concedes her point with a smirk and a tip of her head. “Good, cause I left my Calc stuff in my locker anyways.” Brittany gives Santana a droll look, fighting the smile that threatens to curl her lips. “Let’s go make brunch then. You can help.”

Brittany lets her smile break through as she leers at Santana. “As if. You wake me up, you make me brunch.”

Despite Brittany’s best efforts, that look of guilt and shame and bitterness and hopelessness continues to cross Santana’s face as she gracefully moves around the kitchen and cooks. The record player in the corner is softly playing an album that Brittany’s a little embarrassed to admit she only recognizes one song off of, especially considering that Santana is humming quietly along to every song; a quick peek at the spinning vinyl when Santana’s not looking reveals that it’s The Foundations, a name Brittany recognizes but doesn’t actually know that well.

It’s comfortable—aside from the guilt-ridden looks that Santana gives her when she thinks she isn’t looking—to lounge at the breakfast bar and watch Santana weave through the kitchen with quiet expertise and a song under her breath. Brittany is in charge of keeping Santana’s coffee cup filled and flipping the record to the B-side when it stop and choosing a new one at the end of the album, and some traitorous part of her brain fixates on the ease and beauty of lazy Saturday mornings with Santana and crafts a painfully realistic vision of them five or ten or fifteen years from now doing the same thing.

Brittany chugs the last dredges of her coffee in an attempt to wipe that thought completely from her mind, because the last thing she needs is a broken heart in the first week of November.

When she glances up, Santana has that guilty look on her face again as she sets the plate down in front Brittany, but tries to cover it with a slightly wavering smile. Brittany murmurs her thanks and quickly starts shovelling food in her mouth, hoping that having something in her stomach will give her the energy to help her come up with something to cheer Santana up.

The idea comes to her when they’re cleaning up, as she’s putting pancakes in the freezer—apparently they make a quick meal when they’re put into the toaster—and realizes that the Lopez freezer is missing a staple of the Pierce household. She hides her grin in the fake cold pouring out of the freezer as she immediately starts planning something to remedy that, and hopefully make Santana smile again.

She pretends to have gotten a text message, tugging her phone out of her back pocket and unlocking it in exasperation. She opens her texts and types gibberish before glancing up at Santana. “My dad wants me to drive the munchkin to a friend’s house. And then I’ve got to do something for my aunt’s birthday tomorrow? I dunno, my dad’s really bad at texting.”

Santana glances up and is so obviously trying to hide her disappointment that Brittany has to bite back a smile. “Oh?” she says, and if Brittany wasn’t planning a surprise, Santana’s dejected expression would break her resolve in a split second.

“Yeah,” Brittany sighs, still trying to hide her true intentions, “I gotta go now.”

“Oh okay,” Santana mutters as she trails behind Brittany, who quickly slips her shoes on and slings her backpack over her shoulder, “I guess I’ll see you on Monday then?”

“Will you be okay?” Brittany asks playfully as she steps out onto the front porch.

Santana cracks a tiny smile. “Yeah, I’m sure I’ll survive. Maybe I’ll see if Mike’s finished with whatever the hell he was busy doing today.”

Brittany’s stomach twists uncomfortably as she realizes she might have made a mistake. “Isn’t he helping his dad at the firm or something?”

“Yeah,” Santana huffs, “But I didn’t actually ask if he was working this afternoon. Since you were supposed to stay the weekend.”

The jealousy that sticks to the inside of her stomach eases a little bit when Santana gives her a shy smile. “Well, I’m sorry for getting in between you and the boyfriend,” she teases without too much bile crawling up into her throat, “I’ll try and get back here tonight but I can’t promise anything, and you know how my parents are.”

Santana rolls her eyes. “I’d much rather hang out with you,” she says mildly, as if her words didn’t totally make Brittany’s heart soar with a hope she has been trying to suppress for months. “Mike’s great and all, but he can be such a teenage boy sometimes.”

“Tell me about it,” Brittany agrees, “You should see him and Puck when they get going at it.”

Santana’s nose crinkles in disgust. “I’d rather not,” she sniffs snidely.

Brittany smirks and pushes aside her worries about Santana disappearing to hang out with Mike before she can return with her plan, and instead gives Santana a wave as she lazily sulks down the driveway—trying to hide her excitement—and into the only vehicle in the neighbourhood that’s over three years old.

Brittany only takes about half an hour to run to the grocery store, grabbing probably more supplies than necessary for only two people, before she’s racing back across town. She’s hoping to get back before Santana has a chance to find out if Mike is busy—and not just for her own selfish crush-related reasons, but because she desperately wants to ease the guilt and hopelessness that’s been clinging to Santana like a particularly stubborn storm cloud since that phone call.

But she’s obviously too late, because Mike’s car is already parked in the driveway, and Brittany clutches the steering wheel until her knuckles turn white, something in her chest cracking a little bit. She parks along the sidewalk and presses her forehead to her hands, growling a little and scowling at her lap without turning her truck off, the radio croning faintly from whatever pop-esque channel the munchkin turned it to yesterday that Brittany hasn’t had a chance to change yet.

“—to me. Should be in your arms but I’m begging at your feet. It’s been a real hard night and I just hold my pillow tight. He won’t love me back, no, it’s not you and I. We’re not lovers, but more than friends—”

Brittany snaps her head up so she can violently stab the mute button and cut off the peppy song about unrequited love. She has a tiny soft spot for Carly Rae Jepson because of the munchkin—who is more or less obsessed with the singer—but she can’t handle her upbeat sad songs at this moment.

There’s no movement from the Lopez house, despite how much Brittany’s stomach churns with resentment and her nerve endings tremble with jealousy.

Mostly, she feels guilt claw at her insides until her fingertips go numb with it, barely able to grasp the keys to shut her truck off. She manages to talk herself into at least dropping off the supplies she went out and bought, because Mike’s still her best friend, and because Santana is quickly becoming one of her best friends, and because she doesn’t want this fucking inconvenient crush to affect either of those friendships, and because the supplies will definitely melt if she waits any longer.

She grabs her backpack and the grocery bag and gets out of the truck before she can talk herself out of it. There’s no answer—again—when she tries the doorbell, before knocking, and then knocking again after long moments of no answer. She’s pretty sure she’ll regret it if she sees Mike and Santana in some compromising position or something, but she tries the doorknob anyways and finds that the front door is still unlocked. She silently pushes it open and slips inside, only taking a couple steps before she realizes she can hear Santana and Mike talking in the kitchen. She freezes, straining to hear them over the faint sound of music still playing from Santana’s record player, as she settles against the front door, carefully trying to keep the plastic bag still so it doesn’t give her away. She’s already eavesdropped once today, so she might as well go all out—unless she hears something she really doesn’t want to, of course.

They’re laughing, the kind of laugh you can only do around a few select people, the kind of laugh that Brittany knows makes Mike’s eyes and brow scrunch and creases Santana’s cheeks with deep dimples. They’re trying to talk around their giggles, but she can’t hear it so she creeps closer, mindful of her ratty sneakers on the spotless entryway floor but not caring too much because she can actually hear Mike and Santana now, and what she hears throws her for a complete loop.

“It’s the biggest crush,” Santana is saying, her voice pitched slightly higher with stifled amusement, “Like, I’m surprised you haven’t gotten a call from the International Space Station going fuck man, that’s a big crush, you should really dial it down a little.”

For a brief second, Brittany’s chest tightens with panic, thinking that they must be talking about her—since she kind of has a crush that big, but she thought she did a decent job hiding it—until Mike laughs nervously. “Hey, I can’t help it. She’s pretty. And smart. And funny. And—”

“I get it,” Santana laughs, the sound bright and affectionate, “You should go for it, though, because I’m pretty sure your crush on her could also be seen from space.”

Brittany’s dumbfounded, because she’s pretty sure Santana is teasing Mike about having a crush on Tina—which is just about the exact opposite of what Brittany was expecting to walk in on when she saw Mike’s car in the driveway.

Mike and I have an understanding, Brittany suddenly remembers, from that night at the bowling alley when Santana couldn’t seem to have cared less about Tina and Mike’s blushing giggles, and if he wants to have a go at the Shrinking Violet who’s about to blush herself into an aneurysm over there, then he knows where to find me for a break up.

She wonders if this is part of that understanding, and if so, she finds herself desperately curious to know exactly what said understanding actually entails, because this type of arrangement seems much too mature for a high school relationship—or, exactly as immature as one would expect from a high school relationship.

There’s a sudden stillness to the kitchen and Brittany winces as her shifting weight causes the plastic bag in her hand to crinkle a little; neither of them seem to notice though, thankfully, and she quickly leans over to set it down quietly on the front rug.

“I feel really bad leaving you all alone, though,” Mike says quietly, Brittany once again straining to actually hear him.

Santana’s voice is wistful and just a hint bitter. “Don’t worry about me,” she says with false bravado, “I’ll be fine.”


There’s a creak of the counter, and Santana’s soft footsteps as she presumably crosses the kitchen. “If you every tell anyone this I will deny it but, Mike,” Santana says seriously, “you’re like my best friend. I want you to be happy, not holding yourself back because I’m too— I can handle not having a boyfriend.”

“Whatever you were about to say about yourself is wrong,” Mike says fiercely, “You, Santana Lopez, are the bravest person I know.”

Brittany can do little more than just blink, feeling a little bit like she stepped into the twilight zone, utterly confused by this whole conversation; it’s nothing like she thought it would be, though, to be fair, everything she’s ever learned about Santana has always turned out to be the exact opposite of what she thought, so she supposes she shouldn’t actually be too surprised.

Santana gives a watery laugh. “This is your fault,” she sniffles.

There’s more rustling fabric like they’re hugging. “Will you still bake me cookies and cupcakes and stuff?” Mike mumbles, his words muffled against something that’s probably Santana’s shoulder, “Because I could survive on your baking alone.”

Santana barks out a bright, surprised laugh. “Only my boyfriends get baked goods,” she says teasingly.

“Aw, man,” Mike groans playfully, “I take it back, I don’t have a crush on anyone then.”

There’s a slight scuffle and a stumble and a loud protest from Mike, before they’re both laughing again.

“Get off me,” Santana complains loudly, but Mike just hums something Brittany can’t hear before Santana is laughing again, carefree in a way that Brittany’s only ever seen when it’s just the two of them hidden away from prying eyes. “Fine, fine, I guess best friends can have some baked goods.”

Mike whoops and they dissolve into laughter and banter for a moment, and Brittany finds herself smiling even through her confusion—those are two of her best friends (granted, she has kind of a ginormous crush on one of them) in there, and hearing them carefree and laughing makes affectionate warmth curl in Brittany’s chest.

“So,” Mike drawls suggestively as they start to settle again, “We’ve talked—or, more accurately, you’ve teased me—about my crush, I think it’s time to—”

“No,” Santana snaps instantly, and there’s a tense beat of silence before Santana continues quietly, “I can’t think about that. Not yet. Not here.”

“But you do, right?” Mike asks, his voice softer and kinder than Brittany’s ever heard him, which is saying a lot for the boy who somehow managed to worm his way past Brittany’s bitterness and resentment and grief and get that first laugh out of her after her bio-dad was killed.

Santana lets out a slightly strangled laugh. “Obviously,” she says with a hint of a smile in her voice, “How could I not?”

Brittany swallows thickly at the sudden sadness in Santana’s tone, despite the fact that Brittany knows she’s smiling, at least a little.

“Hey,” Mike soothes, “It’s almost grad.” It’s not, because it’s still November, but neither Mike or Santana mention that. “And then you’ll be free, right?”

“Yeah,” Santana sighs.

There’s a long beat of silence—Brittany hadn’t even realized that the record stopped playing sometime during the conversation—before Mike clears his throat. “I should get going then,” he says, and Brittany’s eyes widen with panic as she realizes she somehow has to sneak out without them realizing she just eavesdropped on a very private conversation of them—

Brittany’s panic freezes for a moment as she wonders what exactly she just overheard. She supposes it was a breakup, but that doesn’t really seem like the right term for that particular conversation.

“So,” Mike draws out teasingly, snapping Brittany back into her panic, “You having any company over later?”

“Oh, shut the fuck up,” Santana snaps, her tone hot and high, “You’re just so—”

Brittany doesn’t hear the rest, because she’s already got a hold of her grocery bag and is easing the font door shut behind her.

She hurries down the walkway and makes it halfway down the driveway before she spins on her heel, feeling like a damn fool, and starts lazily walking back the way she came, as if she had just pulled up and was heading towards the front door for only the second time today, and not the first.

She glances up when the door closes and watches Mike’s face morph into surprise and then something amused and knowing as he rounds the corner of the garage and sees Brittany.

“Hey!” he greets, and Brittany’s shoulders relax a little as she realizes he obviously doesn’t know she spent the last ten minutes or so eavesdropping on him and Santana. “I was just stopping by to drop off something for Santana,” he explains brightly, and Brittany makes a sound of acknowledgement as if she doesn’t know he’s lying, “Santana said you wouldn’t be back until later. Something about your sister or your aunt or something?” He sounds much too at ease and happy to have just dumped—or gotten dumped by?—his girlfriend of three years. Brittany’s head hurts a little bit with all the confusion from the implications of the previous conversation.

“Yeah,” Brittany agrees when she realizes Mike’s waiting for a response. She holds up the grocery bag hanging limply against her side with a small smirk. “It was a cover story for sundae supplies,” she explains.

Mike grins and lets out a surprised laugh. “You’re a good friend,” he says earnestly, “Santana’s really lucky she got stuck with you for a tutor.” There’s a gleam in his eyes, the same weird gleam that Brittany’s noticed over the last couple weeks. And his tone has the same playful tone as when he accused Santana of teasing him about his crush. His crush on another girl. His crush on another girl which his—ex?—girlfriend of three years teased him about.

Brittany’s pretty sure she’s going to have a confused headache for the rest of the day at this point.

“Anyways,” Mike says cheerfully, “I should get going. I hope you got caramel syrup too.”

“Uh,” Brittany stutters, trying to wrap her head around Mike’s decidedly weird behaviour,  “Yeah, I did. Why?”

Mike shrugs and gives Brittany a cryptic smile as he starts heading for his car. “It’s Santana’s favourite, is all,” he explains, “See you on Monday.”

“Yeah,” Brittany says half-heartedly, before she physically shakes her confusion off as soon as Mike’s back is turned to her, “See you.”

She waves as Mike pulls out of the driveway before heading up the stairs, making sure to knock extra loudly and wait for Santana to answer.

Santana is already speaking as she opens the door, and Brittany can’t help the tiny smile that twitches her lips at Santana’s impatient tone as she growls out that “Mike, whatever the hell you forgot I’m keeping—” Santana’s jaw snaps closed as she blinks up at Brittany. “Oh,” she says dumbly, “You’re not Mike.”

Brittany’s tiny smile widens until it’s a full-on grin that scrunches her eyes up. “Last I checked,” she teases.

Santana rolls her eyes but steps aside to let Brittany into the house, without even checking if Brittany wants to come in, which is such a Santana thing to do that something in Brittany’s chest flutters a little. “I thought you had your aunt’s birthday or something?”

Brittany grins and holds up her bag. “That was just an excuse so I could escape before you trapped me in her.” Santana shoves Brittany further into the house with an eye roll so dramatic that Britany’s a little bit worried her eyes might get stuck in the back of her head. Brittany laughs as she stumbles out of her shoes, shooting Santana a smirk over her shoulder. “I’m kidding. Mostly,” she adds just to see Santana roll her eyes agin, “It was so I could go get a surprise without you realizing.”

“Oh?” Santana says, her brown eyes glowing with interest as she follows Brittany into the kitchen.

“Yeah,” Brittany says, mimicking her tone teasingly. She plops the bag down on the counter, pleased as she starts pulling out sundae supplies and sees Santana’s expression bloom into surprise and then joy and then unguarded affection.

“You got ice cream?” Santana says, something vulnerable and happy in her voice.

Brittany swallows the sudden swarm of butterflies that bursts through her body at Santana’s shy smile, and manages a nod.

“I barely remember the last time I made sundaes,” she says, reaching for the caramel sauce and turning it over with a slowly widening smile. “My father always thought they were too messy,” she adds, but there’s surprisingly no hint of bitterness in her tone, “He worked during my fifth birthday so my aunt and uncle had me over for a sleepover with my cousins and we made sundaes instead of having a birthday cake. That was probably the only time I’ve ever made them.”

“I’ve never heard you talk about your other family before,” Brittany says before she can stop herself.

Santana glances up and gives Brittany a tiny smile tinged with a sadness that makes Brittany’s heart ache, their shoulders brushing warmly against each other. “They moved towns a couple months after that birthday. My father cut off contact with them ‘cause my aunt was my mom’s sister, and they didn’t exactly fit with his perfect little family. I have no idea where they are now.”

“Have you tried looking for them?” Brittany asks softly.

“Yeah,” Santana gives her a wry grin, “But I don’t know anything about them other than their first names. I was too young to care back then, and I know better than to ask my father, and my mom’s obituary just said she’s survived by her mother and sister, but no names.”

“I’m sorry,” Brittany murmurs, not sure what else to say.

“It’s fine,” Santana says easily, “I’m sure I’ll find them eventually. My father has too many secrets in his office for me to not find them through a good snooping session.”

“I’m a good lockpick,” Brittany offers, and Santana’s eyes glow with something curious and warm, that same look that Brittany’s still not sure how to read, their eyes caught on each other’s for long moments. Brittany clears her throat and breaks the gaze, suddenly remembering that Santana just broke up with her boyfriend of three years and this is not the time or place to wonder how soft Santana’s lips would feel against her own. “I ran into Mike on the driveway.”

Santana clears her throat too and glances down at the counter. “Oh yeah?” Brittany hums in accession and watches Santana debate with herself for a few moments before her shoulders deflate a little. “Yeah, he stopped by so we could break up. For good, this time,” Santana says nonchalantly, and even though Brittany actually heard the conversation of them breaking up, she’s still so confused by Santana and Mike’s collective casualness surrounding the end of a three year relationship. “We finally figured out we’re much better as just friends,” Santana adds, “Plus, he’s totally crushing on Tina.”

“I mean, obviously, he’s not exactly subtle about it,” Brittany says, still dumbfounded, before she snaps back into herself. “That was insensitive, wasn’t it?” she frowns, glancing at Santana and seeing nothing but amusement in her eyes, “I’m sorry.”

Santana shrugs, her arm rubbing against Brittany’s and warming the limb until it nearly burns. “It’s fine.”

Brittany doesn’t think before she tugs Santana into a hug, swallowing nervously as Santana stiffens against her in surprise before melting into Brittany’s chest. Santana may be acting nonchalant about the whole thing, but Brittany thinks she must just be in shock, because a three year relationship is not some casual three day fling that is barely a blip on a radar; it’s kind of a big deal, especially in high school when most people change boyfriends and girlfriends as often as they change their socks.

Brittany totally doesn’t use that as an excuse to hug Santana, and even if she had done that—which she obviously hadn’t—she wouldn’t feel too guilty about it, because Santana is nuzzling slightly into her neck and she honestly doesn’t seem the least bit upset by the breakup.

“I figured you needed a hug,” Brittany mumbles into her hair, distracted by the scent of vanilla and pinewood and citrus that fills her nose.

“Thanks,” Santana sighs into Brittany’s neck, her hot breath causing all of Brittany’s hair to stand on end as she fights the shiver threatening to wrack her body.

She kind of wants to hold Santana in her arms forever, their ribs fitting easily against each other and Santana’s nose pressed to her collarbone, but that would be inconvenient and weird and probably on the wrong side of creepy, so she reluctantly lets go and steps back before she does something stupid like reveal the secret she’s been trying so hard to keep.

Santana also takes a tiny step back a little, her cheeks flushed and warm as she gives Brittany a small smile.

“So,” Brittany says, aiming for casual and landing somewhere in the realm of too high, “Ice cream?”

Santana snorts in amusement as she reaches for the tub of vanilla ice cream and cracks the plastic holding the lid in place, only to find the ice cream melting and a little too soft. “Why’s this not frozen?” Santana asks, her brow scrunched up in confusion.

Brittany freezes as she scrambles for an answer, before remembering her excuse from before. “I lied about my aunt’s birthday,” she explains, “but my sister did actually need a ride to a friend’s house.”

“And you didn’t think to get the ice cream after dropping your sister off?” Santana asks mildly.

“Shhhhh,” Brittany says, shoving Santana’s face away from her, “Get out of here with your logic or you get no ice cream.”

“Or I get no melted ice cream, you mean.”

“It’s basically just soft serve now,” Brittany retorts.

“Oh, my apologies,” Santana snorts, “I didn’t realize you liked your ice cream soupy.”

“Hey,” Brittany says in mock-warning, barely able to hold her amusement back. As soon as Santana gives her an unimpressed look, one eyebrow creeping up her forehead, she cracks and they both burst into laughter.

“We can just refreeze it for a while,” Santana manages once they’ve both calmed down a little, pressing the lid back on the tub and crossing the kitchen to shove the ice cream into a barren freezer.

She breezes past Brittany and heads for the stairs, leaving Brittany to trail after her, her bag bumping against her hip as she takes the stairs two at a time to catch up to Santana. “Where are we going?”

“You’re still sleeping over, right?” Santana doesn’t look back at her, but Brittany can hear that same nervous tone in her voice as that morning when Santana asked her if she wanted to spend the weekend at the Lopez house with her.

“Yeah, of course,” Brittany answers automatically as she follows Santana into her room.

“Then you might as well drop your stuff off here so you aren’t wandering the house with a backpack on.” Brittany drops her backpack against the wall of Santana’s room and bites back a tiny grin as Santana immediately marches back out of the room. Brittany quickly strips herself of her leather jacket and dumps her jacket messily over the top of her bag as she follows Santana back out into the hallway.

An open door catches her attention, and she can’t help herself as she snoops, her jaw falling slack as she takes in the room.

“You’ve got a theatre room?” Brittany gasps, looking at the expensively luxurious couches and the ginormous flatscreen that takes up most of one wall. Santana pauses a couple doors down before turning back to Brittany with a tiny smirk.

“You think my father would allow a television in the downstairs living room where people could see it?” Santana asks, teasingly incredulous as she walks up to Brittany’s side.

Brittany wanders into the room, gaping at the expensive looking surround sound system and all the comfortable pillows littering the overstuffed couch. “That’s it,” Brittany says, turning to Santana with a mischievous grin, “We’re having a stupid rom-com movie day to help you get over your breakup.”

“I’m fine, really,” Santana promises, and while Brittany has no doubt of that, she also knows that sometimes you just need to take an afternoon to make fun of all the cheesy-stupid tropes that make awful rom-com’s so easy to make fun of, “It’s fine, I—”

“Nuh-uh,” Brittany interrupts as she flops down on the couch, “All breakups, no matter how big or small, need stupidly awful rom-coms and too much ice cream.”

“Oh, I see,” Santana drawls with teasing realization, “You just pretend to be a rebellious badass, but really you’re just a big ole’ softy underneath all that leather.”

“Watch it,” Brittany threatens toothlessly.

“Well, the ice cream is still downstairs,” Santana says, her arms crossed as she looms over Brittany’s sprawled form, “and half-melted.”

Brittany smirks as she grabs one of Santana’s elbows and easily tugs her down beside her. “Then we’ll get the ice cream part of this later.”

Santana rolls her eyes but settles herself onto the couch, inches from Brittany’s side, and charging the scant bit of space between them with a crackling type of energy that Brittany does her best to ignore.

“Now, what rom-com’s have you seen?” she asks as she leans forward to grab two remotes off the coffee table, pressing random buttons until the television starts to glow with life.

Santana snorts and sinks into the back of the couch. “Like, none of them?”

Brittany gasps and looks at Santana as if she’s never seen her before. “What? You’ve never spent a day making fun of rom-coms before?”

Santana lolls her head against the couch and stares incredulously at Brittany. “No, because, one, Mike’s always been more of a sci-fi guy, and two, don’t tell me that you have.”

Brittany shrugs and turns back to searching through whatever streaming service she manages to pull up first for the perfect rom-com to start Santana off on. “My best friend since I was eleven is Quinn, of course we watch bad movies and make fun of them.”

Santana doesn’t respond, but when Brittany glances at her out of the corner of her eye, there’s a tiny smile playing on her lips as she studies Brittany’s profile that makes Brittany’s stomach flip over a couple times.

She snaps her eyes forward before she makes a fool of herself, and grins as she settles on the best rom-com to introduce Santana to the delicate art of snarking her way through a movie.

Brittany wakes up with hair in her mouth, mumbling grumpily as she goes to swat at it, only to find that one arm is deeply asleep and trapped under something and her other arm is tangled in a blanket. She twitches the fingers of her asleep hand but barely feels them move, until they bump against something solid and her whole are starts painfully tingling as it wakes up. She hisses and her eyes shoot open to stare at an unfamiliar ceiling, the room darkened except for the bluish-white light dancing across the couch Brittany’s sprawled out on.

She squints at the television, recognizing the beautiful Greek landscape and faint sounds of an ABBA cover from one of the opening scenes of Mamma Mia. Obviously the streaming service has continued to to play on in the background because the last movie she remembers is Legally Blonde, which is weird because streaming services are too expensive for her family.

Something grumbles and shifts against her and Brittany stiffens, her eyes widening as she snaps her head down and sees a mass of dark hair spread across her chest and shoulders and everything from the past day comes slamming back to her memory. The scent of vanilla and citrus and pinewood fills her nose, and she’s pretty sure her pounding heart is going to wake up owner of the dark hair spread across her chest by this point. She’s never been more comfortable or stressed in her life, as she realizes that the weight pressing her body down into the couch is Santana’s warmth. Something clogs in her throat and chest at the feel of Santana’s face buried against her neck, her breath steadily puffing against her collarbone, and one hand curled in Brittany’s t-shirt against her stomach.

With Brittany’s head bent at this angle she can just barely glimpse Santana’s face, and her heart stills its furious pounding for a moment as she sees how relaxed and comfortable Santana looks when she’s sleeping, so different from her purposefully indifferent face, her brow relaxed and her mouth parted slightly. She shifts against Brittany for a moment, their legs sliding together as Santana struggles to get comfortable again. Brittany stops breathing for a moment, her face burning hotter than it ever has before, until it feels like she might actually set on fire, as she waits for Santana to resettle against her and fall back asleep—except she doesn’t. She starts stretching and yawning, lips brushing Brittany’s neck and sending her heart back into overdrive, her thoughts scattering completely.

It takes a few moments of Brittany silently starting to panic before Santana stiffens and seems to realize where she is, her head jerking up as she pushes herself off of Brittany’s chest. Their eyes met in embarrassed surprise as the try to figure out what the other is thinking, their legs still tangled together. One of Brittany’s hands presses into the small of Santana’s back and she’s loathe to remove it—partially because Santana’s warmth under her palm is addicting but mostly because she doesn’t want to draw attention to the almost possessive and definitely intimate hold.

“Fancy meeting you here,” Brittany breaks the silence with her best charming voice, ignoring the fact that her face is probably so red that Santana will be able to see it in the dim light of the television—she knows, because she can easily see the blush on Santana’s face in the dim light.

It surprises a laugh out of Santana, bright and high and embarrassed. “You must think you’re real funny,” she retorts.

Brittany can’t really help her wide grin, because despite how violently Santana woke up, she hasn’t made any move to extract herself from the blankets tangling them together any further. “I like to think so,” Brittany agrees brightly.

Santana rolls her eyes and glances around the room, taking in the sight of an abandoned pizza box and a couple bowls with the slight evidence of ice cream caking them. “Mamma Mia,” she observes as the title song plays through the surround sound speakers and Meryl Streep dances her way through a Greek island in her old overalls.

“You don’t know Legally Blonde or John Tucker Must Die but you know Mamma Mia?” Brittany snorts.

“Yeah, obviously. It’s iconic.”

“Right,” Brittany grins. Santana rolls her eyes and hovers above Brittany for a moment with her gaze on the screen before she glances down, both of them freezing again as their eyes meet.

Brittany’s pretty sure that Santana must be able to hear her heart pounding out of her chest, all her nerves on fire and tingling as she tries not to get too lost in Santana’s dark eyes.

Santana’s expression is completely unreadable for a moment as she searches Brittany’s eyes for something, and Brittany’s not actually sure whether she hopes that Santana finds whatever she’s looking for or not. Santana’s face clears a moment later and her cheeks seems to grow more flushed, her eyes darting away as she becomes breathless for a moment. She slides down and settles back in against Brittany’s chest, which causes all of the air in Brittany’s lungs to escape her in a surprised whoosh. Something warm and curling blooms in her stomach as Santana nuzzles into her so she can still see the television, tugging the blanket back up over her shoulders.

Brittany’s mind goes completely blank as the warm curling thing in her stomach spreads all throughout her body, ending in a shudder as Santana’s hand curls around her lower ribs.

“Is this okay?” Santana asks suddenly, her voice as shy and vulnerable and nervous as Brittany’s ever heard her.

“Yeah,” Brittany says, her voice pitching high with nerves and longing. She knows that this is probably just Santana looking for comfort after a breakup, that Santana’s one of her best friends and best friends sometimes cuddle while watching movies, that this probably doesn’t mean the same thing to Santana as it means to her, that this is probably just going to make it hurt more when Santana inevitably starts dating some other sweaty teenage boy—but she finds it really hard to care about any of that when Santana is warm and solid against her side. “Yeah, it’s okay.”

(She supposes it won’t be too bad to let herself dream, just this once, just through this one movie, just for this one moment.)


Chapter Text

It’s the second week of December when Mike and Tina officially start dating, almost a month to the day of when Santana and Mike broke-up—or, probably more accurately, when they did whatever weird thing that kitchen conversation was and confused the hell out of Brittany.

There seems to be no bitter or hard feelings between the two, no drama that tears apart their friend group and drives the rumour mill of McKinley, no passive-aggressive comments, no rebound dates to make the other jealous; in fact, it’s as if nothing’s changed between the two. There’s still just as much banter as when they were dating, they still tease each other, they still hang out basically every day, and they still understand each other better than anyone else. If Brittany didn’t know any better, she would assume they were still dating—which perhaps explains the lack of gossip about their break-up, since most of McKinley probably doesn’t think that they’ve broken up at all—but Santana had assured her that they are still very much broken up.

While Brittany is just generally confused about it, Quinn is very much suspicious of the whole situation, but because she’s insanely protective of her friends, and because everyone involved is her friend in some degree—some less than others (mainly Santana, who is technically Quinn’s friend, but you’d never know it with all the weird competitive mocking they do)—Quinn swings wildly from protectiveness to suspicion of Mike, Tina, and Santana based on the day.

Which means that, when they stumble upon Mike and Santana hugging in the stairwell, the afternoon after Mike and Tina walked into school blushing and holding hands, Quinn can’t seem to settle on protectiveness for Mike or Tina or Santana.

Brittany is firmly settled on one emotion, and that emotion is jealously, because if she doesn’t focus on the jealously, the heartbreak will become overwhelming.

“What the fuck?” Quinn hisses, grabbing Brittany by the elbow and yanking her against the wall beside the doorway to the stairwell.

Brittany, who so rarely hears Quinn curse and who is morbidly curious to the point of self-inflicted pain—curiosity killed the cat and all that—ducks under her restraining arm and peers around the corner. Her stomach immediately turns over and attempts to evict the granola bar she ate that morning while waiting for the munchkin to get ready.

Santana is hugging Mike tightly, their bodies slotted comfortably together like it’s natural—though she’s not holding him in the way she clung to Brittany in her kitchen the day her and Mike broke-up, some smugly jealous part of Brittany thinks.

“What the fuck?” Quinn repeats, wide-eyed and furious, though she still seems to be unsure as to where to direct that fury.

Brittany slowly pulls away from the sight of Mike and Santana tangled together, her eyes burning but her chest growing numb. “She said it was over for good,” Brittany mumbles, casting her gaze down to her toes to avoid the switch from protective fury to protective pity in Quinn’s eyes.

“B,” Quinn murmurs, pressing her pinky to Brittany’s forearm. Brittany shakes her off with a twitch of her head, her skin crawling and unable to accept Quinn’s comfort at this moment.

There’s a shuffling from within the stairwell, and Quinn and Brittany barely have time to press themselves further against the wall before Mike and Santana emerge and walk past them, not noticing either of Brittany or Quinn and laughing as if they haven’t cracked Brittany’s already fragile heart wide open or set off Quinn’s Kill Bill sirens.

They wait until Mike and Santana have turned the corner before they relax and turn to each other.

“What the fuck was that?” Quinn says again.

“I think you’ve sworn more in the past minute than you have in the past year,” Brittany says mildly. Now that Santana and Mike are out of sight, the clenching, twisting thing in her chest has eased a little bit and made it easier to breathe.

“I thought they were over,” Quinn says, as if she hadn’t heard Brittany’s quip.

Brittany looks away and scowls at the lockers across the hall as she tries to ignore the way her stomach tries to choke her at the reminder. “She said they were.”

“Well, she’s obviously a liar.”

“I trust her,” Brittany says without thinking, only realizing how true that statement is upon saying it aloud, “If she said they’re done then they’re done.”

Quinn deflates a little, reaching up to grab onto the shoulder strap of her bag and tugging it more firmly against her back. “It must be weird for them,” she concedes, “to not be dating after three years of being together.”

Brittany doesn’t really need the reminder, but agrees anyways. “Let’s go get lunch then,” she says, walking off without checking to see if Quinn is following her. Quinn knows better than to push the issue—not because Brittany will bite her head off for talking about Santana and Mike and (by extension) Brittany’s massive not-so-subtle-crush on Santana, but because it would break her heart further.

They fall back into their usual lunch-time conversation made up of complaining about teachers and homework and dumb jocks as the line up for food, neither of them mentioning how often their eyes stray to the table of their friends, where Puck remains oblivious, Santana remains aloof, and Mike and Tina remain in their own little world.

Quinn’s nose wrinkles in poorly concealed disgust at the food that is placed in front of her, making Brittany grin widely in amusement. Quinn and her mom may have fallen from their place in high society after Russel Fabray left them, but they’re both just as pretentious and elitist as they’ve always been; you can take them out of Lima Heights, but you can’t take the Lima Heights out of them.

Brittany may constantly complain about the cafeteria food but that’s mostly just to keep up her reputation (and because it’s genuinely disgusting), but she knows that for some kids it’s the only thing they’ll eat all day; she knows because, many years ago, she was that kid.

Quinn, for as empathetic and protective of Brittany as she is, still doesn’t quite understand because she was never put in that position as a kid. But Britany doesn’t begrudge her for that, it mostly just makes her find Quinn’s poorly concealed disgust of all things plebeian hilarious.

They head over to their usual table, Brittany claiming the empty seat beside Santana and leaving Quinn to sit beside Puck, sticking her tongue out in response to Quinn’s protests. “You’re such a child,” Quinn says snidely, and Brittany just puts the tip of her thumb to her nose and wiggles her fingers at Quinn, proving her point.

Mike and Tina glance up to greet them before resuming their conversation, while Puck only grunts in acknowledgement before continuing to shove food into his mouth. Quinn inches further away from him in her daily attempt to avoid what Puck has termed the splash zone, much to everyone else’s disgust. Quinn and Santana greet each other with their usual round of insults—neither of them willing to admit even under threat of death that they actually enjoy the other’s company—before Santana turns to give Brittany that smile that makes Brittany’s heart turn over a couple times.

She returns the smile as she sinks down beside Santana, slipping her backpack off and using the motion as an excuse to slide a little closer to Santana, their knees bumping under the table.

Santana’s face flushes a little when she meets Brittany’s eyes, a new development ever since they woke up tangled on Santana’s couch—the second time, because the first time resulted in more cuddles since they were both half-asleep, while the second time resulted in them jumping apart in embarrassment. The morning sunlight that had been streaming through the doorway from the large hallway windows the second time they had woken up all tangled together had casted their cuddling in a completely different light than their sleepy blushes of the night before.

It had been awkward, for a couple days after that—what Quinn has deemed The Incident after Brittany showed up to her house that afternoon groaning into her fancy-ass floral bedspread in mortification—before they fell back into their normal playful teasing. There’s still a slight edge of embarrassment between them every time they greet each other, but it’s mostly faded as November turned colder and snow started to cover the ground. Brittany knows why she’s slightly awkward and flushed, because she woke up with her crush sprawled on top of her, but she doesn’t understand the blush that lightly colours Santana’s cheeks every time they catch eyes; she supposes it’s probably because Santana’s never really had friends to accidentally fall asleep cuddling with—aside from Mike, but that’s obviously very different.

Brittany tries not to leap to conclusions, but Santana knows that Brittany is bi, and Brittany remembers freshmen year and all her female friends that became wary of physical affection as soon as the McKinley rumour wheel started spinning.

It still hurts, even after all this time, but she mostly tries to ignore it.

Quinn’s always been the one exception for her, who never once shied away from being physically affectionate with Brittany, and who never nervously covered herself when they were changing in the same room. She supposes Santana hasn’t really treated her any differently—aside from the blushing—even after waking up with her face buried in Brittany’s neck and both of Brittany’s arms wrapped tightly around her, which makes Brittany feel a little better, even if the guise of friends makes her heart ache.

Quinn’s exclamation of disgust draws Brittany back into the present, fighting the heat in her cheeks and willing it to go away before anyone notices. Quinn would definitely cover for her, and Mike and Tina are completely oblivious to the rest of the table, but Puck’s never been one for subtlety.

She glances at Santana to make sure that she hasn’t seen the flush to her cheeks, only to find that Santana’s eyes are unfocused and she definitely not wouldn’t notice Brittany’s blush because she’s not paying any attention to her at all.

She has a tiny, sad smile on her face as she watches Mike and Tina caught up in their own world; the same smile she gets when she speaks of her mom and what could have been, of the relationship she’s never had with her dad but still yearns for, of the longing looks she gives the glee practice room every time she walks past it.

Brittany slides her hand across the bench until it bumps against Santana’s fingers, a warm contrast to the chilled plastic bench under her sweaty palm. Santana stiffens for a moment, her eyes darting to Britany’s with a windswept flush to her cheeks, staring so intensely into Brittany’s eyes that she feels like Santana’s seeing the deepest parts of her. She takes a breath to summon some sort of courage from the bottom of her stomach, and wraps her pinky around Santana’s, squeezing it in a gesture she hopes comes off as comforting and not weird.

Santana softens almost immediately, her shoulders relaxing and her jaw unclenching, her eyes soft and warm as they both turn back to the table, looking like they’re actually listening to Quinn and Puck’s argument, careful to not draw any attention to them.

“You okay?” Brittany whispers.

Santana glances sidelong at her. “Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?” Her scrunched brow has no right to be as adorable as it is, and Brittany desperately tries to refocus on her original question.

“I mean, with—” Brittany cuts herself off, because saying their names would definitely get their attention, and instead nods at Mike and Tina, “You know.”

Santana’s brow smooths out and a genuine, tiny as it is, smile curls her lips. “Yeah, I’m good. I’m happy for them, actually.”

Brittany studies Santana for a long moment, forgetting that she’s trying to be subtle about this side conversation, searching for something that reveals she’s lying. But she finds no hint of deception in Santana’s expression, and she really doesn’t want Puck to start being his usual obnoxious self if he catches Brittany staring into Santana’s eyes, so she glances back at the table.

The image of Mike and Santana hugging in the stairwell flashes through her mind and for a moment it’s hard to breathe. “You don’t miss him?”

Santana’s eyes gleam with amusement and something Brittany still can’t name when she tilts her head to look at Brittany. “Nah, I still see him too much to miss him,” she says easily, “He’s still my best friend.”

Brittany glances up to find Mike staring at Tina—who has somehow got roped into Quinn and Puck’s argument and is, miraculously, managing to stand her ground—with a soft expression on his face that Brittany has only seen a couple times in her life: The day her sister was born and her dad brought her into her mom’s hospital room to meet the munchkin for the first time, the night she stumbled home from the park with a filthy and frightened kitten and demanded that her parents let her take care of it, the afternoon of her dad’s parent’s forty-fifth wedding anniversary when her grandpa offered her grandma a rose and a waltz, and the month after her bio-dad was killed when Pierce brought home adoption papers and officially made her his daughter in the eyes of the law, even though she had been his daughter since the moment he fell in love with her mom.

She looks at Santana and wonders if she’ll ever see that look on her face—she doesn’t care if it won’t ever be directed at her, just as long as Santana has somebody or something to put that look upon her face, to make her feel like the most important person in the world, to make her feel love beyond comprehension, because she deserves it more than anybody Brittany’s ever met.

Brittany doesn’t care who or what puts that look on Santana’s face, because as long as Santana is smiling, Brittany will be happy.

And that’s the moment that her crush starts sliding over to the edge of something more.

Brittany wakes up on the second to last day of school before Christmas break to her mom looming above her, her brow furrowed and a scowl on her face in the light spilling into Brittany’s room from the hallway. Brittany fumbles for her phone—because her first thought is that she is late for school—but finds that it’s still before seven, and there’s more than half an hour before her first alarm is set to go off. She falls back onto her bed with a groan, mustering as much of a glare as she can with half-closed, sleepy eyes.

“We need to talk,” her mom says, her voice giving nothing away.

Brittany quickly runs through a list of the less than legal things she’s done lately and, once she’s sure there’s no way her mom could have found out about any of it, allows herself a small, grumpy scowl. “It’s not even seven yet,” she grumbles.

Her mom sits on the side of the bed, pushing Brittany’s legs to the side, and gives her a chiding look; she’s pretty sure her mom can’t blame Brittany’s grumpiness on Brittany, seeing as she’s only half awake. “I was wondering what Santana is doing for Christmas?” she asks, getting right to the point.

Brittany’s bleary brain malfunctions a little and she only manages to give her mom a confused look. “Huh?”

“I said,” her mom repeats impatiently, and Brittany sleepily remembers that her mom should have left for work like ten minutes ago, “Do you know what Santana is doing for Christmas?”

“Uh, I dunno,” Brittany mumbles, “I’m not her keeper. Probably something with her dad?”

Even as she says it, she knows that it’s probably wishful thinking, to pretend that Santana’s dad is decent at least one day out of the year and that he’ll actually spend Christmas with his only daughter. She knows it’s not true, because she can vividly remember how Santana had quietly mumbled, one day in the library back in November, that her dad hadn’t even wished her a happy birthday, which was how Brittany found out about said birthday, a week after it had passed. She had managed to contain her shock and anger until she got home and complained to her parents about what a shitty dad Santana’s father was, to which both of her parents immediately started planning a belated birthday dinner, much to Brittany’s equal parts chagrin and delight—and much to Santana’s surprise.

(There may have been a few tears that indicated that nobody had celebrated Santana’s birthday in probably ever, and it may have made some latent protective instinct flare up in Brittany’s chest that just about led to her marching over to the Lopez house—or the hospital or wherever it was that Dr. Lopez went to avoid his daughter—and giving him a piece of her mind and probably a couple pieces of her fists.)

Whitney seems to be thinking the same thing, not only from the rumours she’s heard over the years from other parents, watching a young Santana Lopez hold her head high as various nannies picked her up and attended Christmas concerts and parent-teacher conferences in place of Dr. Lopez, but also from seeing exactly how starved for affection and comfort Santana is whenever she’s over at the Pierce’s house, no matter how Santana tries to hide it.

“You should invite her over here if she’s not doing anything,” her mom says after long moments of silence, “She can spend the afternoon with us after we pick up your grandparents.”

Brittany blinks, and then blinks again, unable to do much more than stare at her mom in confusion. “I— You— What?”

“Nobody should have to spend Christmas alone.” There’s something sad in her mom’s voice, and Brittany suddenly remembers the fact that her mom was three months pregnant with her during Christmas, back when the father of her baby refused to admit Whitney had ever existed and with parents on the other side of the country that she was too scared to call, back before she had met Brittany’s dad, back when it just her and a part-time job and no clue how to support the growing life inside her.

Her mom seems to shake herself out of whatever memory she was reliving and gives Brittany a small smile. “You should ask her if she’s doing anything, and if not, invite her to spend Christmas with us.”

“Okay,” Brittany says dumbly, her mind still struggling to work properly this early. “I’ll ask her today.”

Her mom beams and leans forward to press a kiss to Brittany’s forehead, before she hurries out the door so she’s not too late for work. Brittany stares at her closed door before shaking her head and rolling over, burrowing back into her pillow for a half hour of sleep before her alarm goes off—or, more accurately, before she snoozes her alarm too many times and ends up being late for school like usual.

By the time she manages to bundle up and herd her over-excited sister into her truck to drop her off at the elementary school, she’s pretty sure that the entire conversation with her mom was just some weird dream her mind conjured in the early hours of the morning. Or at least, that’s her conclusion until she receives text from her mom reminding her to ask Santana about her Christmas plans.

She stares blankly at her phone for a couple minutes until the munchkin prods her none-too-gently in the arm to hurry her along—her sister has a day of hot chocolate and Christmas movies and candy canes ahead of her, while Brittany has part two of a three day long Calc final and a Chemistry exam tomorrow to look forward to.

Having a younger sibling really makes her wish that she had appreciated the simplicity of elementary school more when she was in it, and not all these years later.

When she arrives at McKinley, her friends are all huddled around her locker waiting for her, and after about a minute of her struggling with her dumb sticky lock, Santana shows up too. She doesn’t have to look over her shoulder to know that Quinn’s probably giving her a smug look; Quinn seems to be under the impression that Santana only ever shows up to their friend group in the mornings when Brittany is there, but Brittany’s pretty sure that Quinn is just full of it. By the time Santana has snarkily greeted everybody, Brittany’s finally got her locker open and is digging around in it for a pencil. She’s gotten so used to relying on Santana for pencils that she stopped checking her bag for them, but they have part two of their Calc final today—and part three tomorrow—so she actually needs to have one for first period.

A pencil pokes her in the shoulder while she’s elbow deep in the mess of spare papers and textbooks that is her locker, and she glances up to find Santana’s smirking face inches from hers. She’s slid in between Brittany’s locker and the junior two down from Brittany’s locker, who is doing his best to dig around in his locker without accidentally bumping his locker door into Santana and setting off the wildfire that is her temper. “Hey,” Brittany says, unable to completely mask her surprise.

Santana rolls her eyes, but her lips are twitching, threatening to turn her smirk into something more genuine. “Hey,” she returns playfully. “I figured you’d never find anything in—” she gestures at Brittany’s locker with a wrinkled nose, “—that. So here.” She offers Brittany the pencil in her hand and something about the small gesture makes the butterflies that have started living in Brittany’s stomach since September flare up and flutter into her ribs.

“Thanks,” she manages before the butterflies choke her. Santana’s smirk melts into a brief smile before the regular noise of high school reminds her where she is and she straightens her spine and pushes herself off the locker, donning her usual untouchable façade. The bell rings and Brittany quickly locks her locker as their friend group disperses, Brittany and Santana falling into step beside each other as they head to Mr. Dunngan’s class, having long stopped caring about whatever rumours McKinley has tried to spread about them.

Brittany almost blurts out the question her mom wants her to ask Santana as they’re walking past the gym, because Santana gives her a small smile as they round the corner that makes Brittany’s heart flip over in her chest.

She doesn’t, because while Santana doesn’t mind being seen with Brittany or their friends anymore, she’s still as aloof and secretive and distant as always when it comes to McKinley’s oversensitive ears.

So she keeps her mouth shut and wishes her good luck as they step into Mr. Dunngan’s classroom, before slouching over to her regular seat and giving Mr. D. an amused smile where he’s exasperatedly marking their tests from yesterday. Brittany knows she got one-hundred percent on it, and she’s pretty sure that Santana got into the nineties from their conversation comparing answers yesterday, but based on the fact that Mr. D. seems to be trying to pull out his non-existent hair, she’s assuming the test he’s currently marking is far from A material.

It isn’t until half way through second period, when they’re studying together for their Chemistry final and their last Calc exam tomorrow—not tutoring by this point, but just studying together (even if Brittany is doing less studying and more checking of Santana’s answers)—that Brittany finally squashes down her nerves and manages to look at Santana without balking and calling her mom to do it instead.

“Hey,” Brittany asks, fighting the urge to awkwardly play with her pencil, “what are you doing for Christmas?”

Santana shrugs as she writes the next line of the equation she’s working on. “I dunno. My father’s working Christmas Eve and Christmas Day like usual, so I’ll probably just sleep in and watch Netflix or something all day. Usually I splurge on the higher quality frozen dinners, so, that’ll be a treat.”

Brittany ducks her head and studies her hands as if they’re the most interesting thing she’s ever seen. She mumbles something that’s incomprehensible even to her, and hopes that Santana doesn’t ask her to repeat it. No such luck, of course, and Santana’s question is accompanied by an equally questioning look. “I said,” Brittany finally mumbles, “That my parents wanted to know if you wanted to come over for Christmas supper.”

“I— Huh?” Santana says dumbly.

“It won’t be too crazy,” Brittany hurries to explain, “Just my parents and the munchkin and me, obviously. And my grandparents. And a couple aunts and uncles. And like my little cousins. And some family friends. And on second thought that is too crazy because they’re all my family and my family is crazy and—”

“You want me to have Christmas dinner with your family?” Santana interrupts, her eyes wide and unreadable.

“I mean, obviously you don’t want to so—”

“You want me to have Christmas dinner with your family?” Santana repeats, a tiny smile starting to play at her lips.

“Uh,” Brittany finally glance up and meets Santana’s dark eyes, warm and glowing like honey in the sunlight, “If you want to?”

Santana’s teeth sink into her lip as she looks down at the table, her smile slowly growing until it creases deeply in her cheeks. “I think I’d like that, crazy or not.”

“Yeah?” Brittany breathes, her awkwardness melting away for the first time since her that morning.

Santana nods, finally glancing up to meet Brittany’s eyes, and Brittany lets out an involuntarily breath of surprise at at the way they’re sparkling in the poor lighting of the library.

“Yeah,” she says breathlessly.

By the time Santana is set to arrive at the Pierce’s house on Christmas Day, Brittany’s worked herself into no less than three different panics and nearly jumped in her truck to escape Lima and never return. She’s being dramatic, she knows, but her parents put up mistletoe in strategic places around the house and Brittany is trying her hardest to avoid all of them—she thinks that they must know about her crush, based on the smirks they give her when she warily skirts around the mistletoe and announces that Santana is on her way.

She’s hoping her family behaves, but she’s not too optimistic because they’re Pierces or Cheongs—her dad had taken her mom’s name when they got married, since Brittany was born a Pierce and it made everything easier that way, and also because her dad thought it was hilarious to be named Pierce Pierce—which means that they’re all overly friendly and excitable and just a little bit crazy. On he bright side, her uncle that always says questionable things is spending Christmas with his wife’s side of the family, which means that Brittany won’t have to do damage control on that front—none of her immediate family have ever forgiven him for some things he said while drunk about Brittany’s parentage and sexuality and the fact that the munchkin and their dad are Korean.

Whitney is very similar to Brittany in that they’re both brilliant at holding grudges, and had assured her husband and Brittany—the munchkin was too young at the time to really understand what was going on—that she was never all that close with him anyways, even if childhood pictures say very different. But since he’s the baby of the family, Brittany’s grandpa and grandma give him special treatment even though they don’t think they do. They explained that since he was drunk he didn’t really mean what he said, and so he is still invited to all family gatherings, even when they’re held at Whitney and Pierce’s house; which means that Brittany and her parents have to grit their teeth and bear it. It’s one of the reasons she’s much closer to her halmeoni and halabeji, her dad’s parents, because they understand Brittany in a way that her mom’s parents don’t; and also for more practical reasons, because her mom’s parents moved to Florida after they retired and she’s only seen them in person a handful of times, whereas her dad’s parents live just on the other side of town.

Their Christmases usually end up with some weird mix of her mom’s relatives and her dad’s relatives, and an almost revolving door of aunts and uncles and cousins and family friends as they wander in out of the cold for the day or stop for a couple minutes on their way to another warm house that smells of turkey and gravy and Christmas cookies. The people who always make time to show up are her dad’s parents and her mom’s sister—the one that’s supposedly a bad influence on Brittany—and her dad’s brother and wife and kids (all of who Brittany actually trusts to meet Santana). But other than those few, Brittany can barely keep the rest of her relatives straight after that. Her parents both have more than a couple siblings each, and between divorces and remarriages and graduations and births, sometimes it feels like she’s meeting a new group of people every time she sees her family at Christmas and Easter and Thanksgiving.

Brittany dodges a ball of flying tinsel—the cousins under the age of ten have apparently decided that, since it’s too cold to go outside and supper will be ready soon, that their yearly snow ball fight will be done with spare tinsel today—on her way to the door, tiptoeing over messily kicked off shoes and cursing under her breath when she steps in a puddle of melted snow, leaving her right sock all gross and wet.

She pulls open the door and gasps at the sweep of cold that immediately chills her to the bone, hurrying Santana over the threshold and slamming the door behind her before she can even start to say hey. “It’s fucking cold,” Brittany says in lieu of a greeting.

Santana rolls her eyes, which draws Brittany’s full attention because it’s the only part of Santana’s face she can see, the rest of it is hidden behind a scarf that’s probably made of material more expensive than Brittany’s entire wardrobe—to be fair, most of Brittany’s wardrobe is made up of whatever band tees she can find secondhand and jeans on the sale rack, but still.

“Merry Christmas to you too,” Santana says drolly, her voice muffled by the scarf.

Brittany grins and reaches forward to playfully tug on the end of it. “Merry Christmas,” she parrots, managing to put every ounce of teenage obnoxiousness into the usually joyful phrase.

There’s a crash in the living room followed by one of Brittany’s aunts shouting at somebody to put something down right now before I come over there myself. Brittany tries to bite back a grin when Santana jumps and looks wildly around for the source of the noise, the bags in her hands crinkling at the motion, but she can feel her smile splitting her face because Santana is too adorable, especially in situations she’s unsure of. “You get used to that here,” Brittany assures as she slips past Santana, “C’mon, take your shoes off and we’ll dump you stuff up in my room.”

Santana quickly obeys, pushing her scarf from her face to hang around her neck, and trails after Brittany, immediately drawing every eye as they pass. She can tell Santana’s uncomfortably with all the attention, even without actually seeing her expression, so she smoothly bends down to pick up a stray tinsel ball and chucks it at her twelve year old cousin’s head. His nose is buried in a book, but Brittany knows he can hold his own among all the cousins, so it’s no surprise when he calmly sets his book down on the coffee table, barely finding room amid all the trays of nuts and crackers and cheeses, and turns to take revenge. Brittany quickly points at his younger sister before hurrying Santana away in the ensuing chaos and up the stairs, into the relative quiet of her room.

Brittany goes to grab a new pair of socks and tosses her damp pair in the general direction of her laundry hamper, while Santana sets down the bags in her hands and shrugs out of her coat. She’s wearing a nice sweater and dark jeans, obviously expensive—because she’s a Lopez, as everyone in Lima knows—but not showy in a way that makes Brittany want to shut her closet doors.

“What are those?” Brittany asks and nods at the bags, hopping around on one foot as she struggles to pull a sock on without losing her balance.

Santana shrugs and seems to flush a little when their eyes met, ducking her head a little. “Just a couple small presents for your family,” she mumbles.

Brittany’s heart flips over at the embarrassed admission and she can’t help the slightly strangled sound of affection that escapes her. “Aww, Santana, you didn’t have to,” she manages.

Santana shrugs and shifts back on her heels, fiddling with her fingers and still not looking directly at Brittany. “I know, but I wanted to.” Santana takes a deep breath before finally meeting Brittany’s eyes, that curious look in them that Brittany still can’t name lurking behind affection and longing. “Your family kind of took me in and— Well, before that, Mike’s parents weren’t really— I mean—” she cuts herself off with a frustrated sigh, running her hand through her hair as she sinks onto the edge Brittany’s bed, “I’m really bad at this.”

Brittany laughs and crosses the room, settling herself beside Santana and ready to blame the winter chill in the air on fact that she’s pressing herself up against Santana’s side. “I haven’t exactly won any communication awards either,” Brittany reminds her playfully.

It gets the desired reaction out of Santana, which is a small eye roll and an even smaller laugh. “Let me try again,” she says, frowning a little as she sorts out her thoughts in the silence.

Brittany feels no need to fill the quiet, not the way she usually does during glee or with acquaintances; it’s just comfortable to sit next to Santana even if they aren’t doing anything, in the same way her and Quinn can spend quality time together doing separate things, in the same way that her and Mike can understand each other through dance without ever saying a word.

“I was,” Santana pauses, not searching for a word, but seemingly trying to decide whether or not to say it. “Lonely,” she finally sighs, “Before I was forced into getting a tutor. I mean, I had Mike, but he’s Mike, and he’s friendly and outgoing where I’m prickly and distant, and I didn’t really like hanging out with any of his friends. And his parents are not the most affectionate people in the world, so I never really met them a whole bunch. And,” Santana’s face darkens a little, like a cloud has drifted over her head but somehow blocked out the light in her eyes instead of the sun, “you know what my father’s like.”

Brittany’s hands curl into fits on her lap at the thought of Santana’s father, but she doesn’t say anything, knowing that Santana needs to get this all out.

“And then you invited me over for dinner that first time and everything changed.” Santana smiles down at her fingers, which have stilled sometime during her answer. “I finally had somewhere that I didn’t have to be Santana Lopez, the perfect daughter or perfect student. I could just sit down with your family at dinner time and talk about my day without judgement. And I could listen to the munchkin—” Brittany’s delighted that the munchkin has caught on with Santana as a nickname for Brittany’s sister; her sister, however, is decidedly less so if her pout every time Santana calls her the munchkin is anything to go by, “—instead of some stupid tv show just to fill the silence. I just— I’m really glad my father forced me into getting a tutor, ‘cause as annoying as you were at first, I wouldn’t trade this for anything.”

Brittany feels something wet prickling at her eyes, so she does the only logical thing, which is to throw her arms around Santana and tug her into her embrace, nearly falling back on the bed with Santana pressed against her front. “I’m really glad your dad’s an asshole and forced you into getting a tutor too,” she mumbles into Santana’s hair. “Also I’m really glad we all got you presents too, because that would have been awkward.”

Santana laughs into Brittany’s neck and nuzzles closer, which is apparently the munchkin’s cue to burst into Brittany’s room like the hallway’s on fire. “Mom said that supper’s gonna be ready in ten minutes and she could use some help in the kitchen.”

Santana disentangles herself from Brittany, much to Brittany’s disappointment, and goes to stand up, only to be stopped by the munchkin’s eyes going wider than ever and gaping at Santana and then at Brittany. “You aren’t trying to throw her out the window again, are you?” the munchkin asks Brittany suspiciously.

Santana’s eyebrows crawl up her forehead but there’s something amused in the way her lips twitch. “Again?”

Brittany just smirks but doesn’t answer, breezing past Santana and shoving the munchkin out the door, not bothering to check if Santana’s following her.

They head straight to the kitchen to find that help really means herding the little cousins out from under everybody’s feet and pulling out plates and cutlery cause somehow everybody forgot to grab them in the chaos of cooking. She introduces Santana to the aunts and older cousins in the kitchen before her mom is shoving her towards the pantry to get some canned thing or the other—Santana gets roped into helping by proxy of Brittany, but she doesn’t seem to mind so much, especially when she’s handed a plate and offered free range over the entire spread of food.

Dishing up their plates is a chaotic mess, as it always is, with some food on the table and some on the kitchen counter. There’s not enough chairs in the dining room for everybody to sit at the table, so most of the family just finds a couch to sit on or a wall to lean up against or a piece of carpeted floor to sink down onto.

Santana and Brittany find the stairs unclaimed and quickly sink down onto the third from bottom step, balancing their plates on their laps and setting their drinks by their feet on the hardwood floor. As relatives pass, Brittany quickly introduces them to Santana, leaning over to whisper what she really thinks of them and how best to remember them in Santana’s ear as they’re walking away. Her grandparents fawn over Santana when Brittany introduces them as they pass the stairs to dish up their plates; and while Brittany doesn’t speak Korean all that well, she understands snippets like friend and pretty and a couple of somethings as they shuffle towards the kitchens

Most of Brittany’s relatives have—thankfully—seemed to have stopped staring at Santana in nosy interest once they realized that she is Brittany’s friend who is a girl and not her girlfriend (a confusion that Brittany blames on the munchkin and her parents), so Brittany and Santana eat in relative peace, complaining about the ridiculous last question of their Calc final and making fun of Brittany’s conservative uncles and laughing at the antics of the little cousins.

“So,” Brittany prompts, once her belly is full of turkey and various types of side dishes, “How are you finding the Pierce house at Christmastime?”

“It’s a little overwhelming after, you know, spending nearly seventeen years alone in my house,” Santana admits, “But it’s warm. And loud. And there’s real food. So I like it.”

“I’m glad,” Brittany says earnestly. She opens her mouth to say more, but is interrupted by a hand on her head ruffling her hair. She ducks away and looks up with a scowl, expecting to see one of her older male cousins, because they’re usually the ones to be assholes to her, but is met with someone she wasn’t expecting for Christmas this year.

“Aunt Nell!” Brittany exclaims, jumping up from the stairs to throw her arms around her favourite aunt. Her aunt laughs and hugs Brittany tightly, patting at her back. “I didn’t think you’d make it! Mom said there was a storm or something.”

“There was, but I couldn’t let my favourite niece down,” her aunt says as she pulls back, holding Brittany at arms length and giving her a slightly wild smile. “Don’t tell the other hooligans,” she whispers conspiratorially, “but you’re the only one of them upholding my legacy, so that makes you my favourite.” She spots Santana and eyes their combined dishes on the stairs above them with a tiny grin. “Brittany here is the only one who can rock a leather jacket—aside from me, obviously.” She winks at Santana and Brittany buries her face in her hands, groaning and wishing she was anywhere else. “Now, who’s your friend, Bumblebee?”

Santana laughs a little, her eyes bright and warm as she looks between the two of them. “Bumblebee?” she asks with poorly concealed amusement.

Brittany groans and starts pushing her aunt off her, trying to escape her tightening, teasing hug. She eventually gives up, knowing that her Aunt Nell is probably the strongest person in the room, including her six foot three uncle, and collapses against her aunt’s strong hold on her. “This is Santana,” Brittany says in defeat, “She’s my friend from school. Santana, this is my Aunt Nell. She’s my mom’s older sister.”

“Hmm,” her aunt says, giving Santana an appraising look that Brittany tries her best to block with her body. She loves her aunt, obviously, but she also knows that Aunt Nell can be a bit of an acquired taste, and she’s never been known for having a filter, or for adhering to polite etiquette. “Santana. I haven’t heard Brittany mention you before.”

Brittany rolls her eyes and gives a half-hearted squirm to try and escape her aunt’s hold yet again. “Probably because I haven’t heard from you since the summer. We started hanging out this year.”

“Well,” her aunt says in mock-haughtiness, “I was busy with some adult stuff.”

Brittany gives Santana a droll look. “By adult stuff she means illegal stuff.”

A pinch to her side has Brittany yelping and struggling away from her aunt again. “Now, now, Bumblebee, none of that.” Santana’s eyes are darting between the two women in front of her with amused interest and a small grin on her face. “You look familiar,” her aunt says to Santana, barely paying Brittany’s squirming any mind.

Brittany recognizes the way that Santana deflates a little, her shoulders rolling inward and her chin dropping a couple degrees. “My father’s a pretty big name around here,” she mumbles. Brittany falls limp against her aunt’s hold and frantically searches for someway to bring the light back to Santana’s dull eyes, knowing how much she hates people assuming they know her because they’ve met her dad.

“You’re a Lopez,” Aunt Nell says in realization, her voice and face completely unreadable, and Brittany gets a glimpse of the woman her mom is always worrying about, of the woman who is a hardened biker with a sealed criminal record. “I didn’t know that old codger would let his daughter associate with the likes of us Pierces. Aren’t we a little lower class for your usual company?”

Santana bristles a little, her lip curling up slightly and her brow drawing low over her eyes; Brittany would be worried about Santana’s temper flaring up if she couldn’t see the sadness glowing in those pretty brown eyes. But then almost immediately, Santana deflates again, like someone poked her with a needle and all the air is somehow both slowly and quickly fizzing out of her. “My father is very self-conscious about his image, yes,” she mutters, not saying elitist but meaning it based on her tone, “But I don’t care too much about his image when it comes to my friends.”

Something in Brittany’s chest blossoms so much that it feels like it’s spilling out between her ribs. She remembers Santana’s reaction to those first rumours spreading around McKinley of Brittany Pierce and Santana Lopez hanging out, how Santana took care to make sure they were never seen together for a while after that; and she remembers the first time Santana ate lunch with Brittany’s friends, how she glared at the cafeteria and dared anyone to be brave enough to say anything about her in order to hide her fear of it getting back to her father; and she remembers last day of classes before Christmas break too, how Santana didn’t even give the cafeteria a cursory glance before sitting down beside Quinn and launching into a complaint about their Chemistry test that afternoon.

“Huh,” Aunt Nell says, finally loosening her hold on Brittany, “Well go figure, when that overprivileged douchbag reproduced, he actually managed to not pass on the stick up his ass.” A small smirk quirks her aunt’s lips while Britany struggles to form a response to that, to find someway to soften the comment before Santana storms out the front door and never speaks to her again. “I’ve always said that he—and every single thing he’s done or made—is the shittiest thing that Lima has ever produced, and that includes those dumb fucking redneck hick jingles that play on the godawful rural radio every single commercial break—” Brittany can do little more than stare, wide-eyed and slack-jawed, at her aunt as she not only fulfills Brittany’s worry about what Aunt Nell would say if she found out about Brittany spending time with a Lopez, but also tangentially insults Santana to her face, “—but I suppose he at the very least he contributed the bare minimum to producing you, and I’ve always loved a good teenage rebellion against parental expectations. Plus, Brittany must keep you around for some reason. I have a good feeling about you, kid.”

“Aunt Nell!” Brittany finally manages, which is such a poor response that she kind of wants to slap herself, and then some common courtesy into her aunt, and then herself again for letting this happen. Sure, she has no love lost for Dr. Lopez, but she tries to keep her opinions mostly to herself because, while he’s definitely not winning any dad of the year awards, he’s still Santana’s father. She glances warily at Santana, hoping that her aunt’s comment hasn’t ruined one of the most important friendships in Brittany’s life.

But Santana’s looking at Brittany and Aunt Nell with wide eyes and a tiny grin, the air that had fizzed out of her earlier rushing back in and making her seem bigger and more beautiful. “I like her,” she declares to Brittany.

Aunt Nell throws back her head and laughs that loud, ridiculous laugh of hers, turning every head in the room and resulting in exclamations of surprise from the family as they recognize Nell, who wasn’t supposed to make it due to the storm, in their midst. Brittany’s more than a little dumbfounded as her aunt releases her and goes to greet the rest of their family, leaving Brittany to stumble towards the stairs and slump against Santana.

Santana reaches out to steady Brittany, her warm hand the only thing that seems to be grounding Brittany to this plane of existence, while Brittany struggles to get the neurons in her brain to fire enough to form a thought and force it out her mouth. Santana seems surprisingly calm, considering she just got insulted by a woman like Aunt Nell.

“So,” Santana drawls, startling Brittany a little and causing her to sit up straight, “your Aunt Nell is—”

“A little much,” Brittany interrupts with a wince that’s really more of a grimace, “I know.”

Santana grins so widely that her cheeks crease deeply and fully. “No, she reminds me of you.”

Brittany laughs a little and shakes her head. “It’s ‘cause my leather jacket used to be hers, and she left most of her bad attitude in it. And apparently kept all her shitty bitter comments to herself.”

Santana’s smile drops a little and she glances down, playing with her fingers as her shoulders cave in a little.

“Hey,” Brittany murmurs, reaching out for Santana’s hands to still them, “I’m sorry about what she said, you know, about your dad.”

Santana shrugs and straightens her fingers out, tangling them around Brittany’s as she curls them again. “She’s not really wrong. When I told him you were my tutor he said—” she cuts herself off by biting so hard into her lip that Brittany worries she might draw blood.

Brittany knows what he said, because she was eavesdropping (and kind of wishes she was a good enough person to feel at least a little guilty about it), but she still hasn’t googled what it meant; Santana’s dangerously brittle and cold tone had assured her that, no matter how morbidly curious Brittany usually is, she really doesn’t want to know what that word means.

“And contributing the bare minimum to producing me,” Santana says bitterly, somehow implying air quotes with just her tone, “is a pretty accurate assessment of him as a father.”

Brittany doesn’t really have any words for that, because she knows better than anyone exactly how much it hurts when fathers only contribute the bare minimum to producing a child. “Well, fuck him,” Brittany spits, not caring if Santana is taken aback by the venom in her tone, because Santana deserves a parent who actually cares for her.

Santana just looks at Brittany with unreadable eyes, before the smallest smile quirks her lips, her fingers twisting slightly against Brittany’s. “So,” she says, her tone cheeky and teasing and grateful all at once, “Bumblebee?”

“Oh shut up,” Brittany mutters, “It’s a dumb nickname from when I was a kid.”

“Whatever you say,” Santana concedes, and because Brittany is resolutely avoiding Santana’s eyes, she misses the wicked smirk that’s spreading across her face, “Bumblebee.”

(Santana doesn’t seem to notice that her fingers are still tangled up in Brittany’s, and Brittany has absolutely no intention of drawing her attention to it, not when Santana’s palm is warm and steady against hers.)

Honestly, Brittany’s a little surprised to see Santana at Dylan Miller’s New Years Eve party, mostly because she figured Santana would have told her she was going. Granted, Brittany hadn’t told Santana she’d be at this party tonight either, because it was kind of a last minute thing, getting dragged along by a Quinn who was insisting that Brittany play wingwoman to her newest fixation—a tall blonde kid from Delphos who reminds Brittany of an overgrown puppy with the way he follows around the two girls he came with.

Which reminds her, she really needs to ask Quinn how the fuck she knows someone from Delphos later.

Quinn wasn’t having much luck, which was probably because of said two girls with the overgrown puppy, and probably also because of the fact that Puck keeps looming ominously just over Quinn’s shoulder, though Brittany’s pretty sure his ominous nature is actually just worry. As soon as Puck accidentally made his presence known by not moving out of Quinn’s line of sight fast enough, Quinn spun on him with half a lecture already on the tip of her tongue, and Mike and Tina seemed to take that as their cue to step up and hopefully separate the two; Brittany took that as her cue to slip away and get a refill of her drink. She’s been just nursing the one all night, since she quickly became the designated as the driver as soon as Quinn took two shots at the beginning of the party—for liquid courage, or whatever it is that Quinn likes to call getting drunk—but she’s pretty sure she can find at least one can of unopened pop somewhere in the house.

It’s surprisingly quiet in the kitchen, since it’s tucked away at the back of the house behind a free standing wall, away from the sweaty, drunken teenagers jumping to the pounding bassline and calling it dancing. She’s more than a little surprised to see a familiar head of dark hair standing at the sink and washing their hands, and her step falters for a second as she admires a Santana unaware of eyes on her, and therefore not putting on a show.

Her hair is loosely curled and hangs in dark waves over her shoulders, with an elaborate twist of braids pinned to the back of her head to keep it off her face. The sweater she wears sparkles slightly under the warm kitchen lights and sends diamonds into Brittany’s vision, though that’s not enough to distract her from the pair of dark jeans that cling to her legs and make Brittany’s mouth go a little dry.

The tap shuts off and Brittany knows she has mere moments to get her thoughts back in check and make sure there’s no drool on her chin or anything, so as Santana reaches for the dishtowel hanging on the stove, she quickly downs the last mouthful of her now warm beer and steps fully into the kitchen.

“Fancy meeting you here,” Brittany greets, grinning a little when Santana startles and spins around with a glare already firmly in place, one that eases almost immediately as she takes in Brittany leaning on the kitchen island. Her eyes are alert but just a little bit glassy, her cheeks a little bit flushed from a combination of alcohol and the warmth of the house.

“I could say the same for you,” she teases. There’s a warm smile playing on Santana’s lips and threatening her dimples, one that makes Brittany’s stomach flip over in a way that has nothing to do with the single beer she’s had. “I thought you hated Dylan.”

“Oh, I do,” Brittany assures with a smirk, setting her empty cup down on the counter, “Quinn needed a wingwoman.”

Santana casts her dark eyes around the kitchen before allowing them to settle back on Brittany. “I can see you’re doing a wonderful job at that. Being here, with no Quinn in sight,” she  drawls.

Brittany shrugs and gives Santana a smile that barely passes as innocent. “It was hopeless from the beginning. And Puck’s keeping her occupied now.”

Santana’s nose wrinkles in disgust but her eyes are bright and worried. “Is that a good idea? What with sophomore year and all?”

It takes a minute for Brittany to understand what Santana’s implying, and once she does a warmth floods her chest and makes Brittany feel embarrassingly emotional. “Get your head out of the gutter, Buttercup,” Brittany manages without it sounding too strangled, “They’re having another of their famous arguments, not holed up in a bedroom somewhere.”

Santana’s face clears and she looks a little sheepish at where her mind went, but Brittany adores her all the more for her worry about their friend’s wellbeing. “So, what’s your schedule like for next semester?” Santana asks in what is an obvious attempt at changing the subject away from her moment of misinterpretation and flushing cheeks.

Brittany allows it, but only because Santana is so cute when she’s flustered. “More of the usual,” Brittany says with a shrug.

She rounds the kitchen island so she can stand beside Santana, leaning back against the counter with her arms crossed. Santana shifts so one of her hips is pressed to the counter as well, studying Brittany’s profile with slightly bleary eyes; she’s definitely not drunk or anything, but she seems to be a little more tipsy than she usually allows herself to get at parties. Brittany chalks it up to the holiday spirit, and the fact that Mike was the chosen designated driver for him and Tina and, presumably, Santana, because Brittany would have recognized her car on the street if she had drove here herself.

“I’ve got American Government and History with Mr. Bartlett,” Brittany starts, silently agreeing with Santana’s noise of disgust, “And biology with Mr. Haung—”

“Is Government first block and Biology fifth?” Santana interrupts. At Brittany’s nod, Santana gives her a small grin. “We’ve got those together then. Which will make them slightly more bearable.”

Brittany tries to bite back the full force of her pleased grin but mostly fails; the idea that Santana likes her company enough to counteract the slightly racist and sexist lectures that Mr. Bartlett’s history classes always turn into makes her heart warm and swell.

“I’ve got Ms. Marsh for English and Mr. Pyking for my psych elective. And Spanish with Mr. Schue, which is,” Santana pauses to demonstrate her displeasure with that by fake gagging and causing Brittany to burst into laughter, having never seen the usually perfectly put together Santana Lopez fake gag before—at least, not in public. Santana is very different from her usual façade of Dr. Lopez’s perfect daughter when she’s wearing a pair of Brittany’s old plaid pj bottoms and playing card games with all the Pierce-Cheong cousins, having basically been forced by Pierce and Whitney into staying over at their house Christmas night.

“I’ve got a second period spare again as well,” Santana adds, which causes Brittany to snap out of her musings.

“Score,” Brittany grins, holding her hand up for a high-five that only takes Santana a moment’s hesitance to return, “I’ve got a second period spare too.”

Santana’s grin turns mischievous and teasing. “Well, I won’t need a math tutor anymore so I guess this is it for us.”

Brittany snorts and rolls her eyes, because she hasn’t actually tutored Santana since sometime in the beginning of October; their sessions had very quickly evolved from actual work into an hour of playfully teasing each other in their hidden corner of the library. “Ha ha,” she says sarcastically, “You’re hilarious. A real stand up comedian in our midst.”

Santana preens a little and it has no right to be as attractive as it is. “What other classes do you have?” she asks after a moment of adorable gloating.

“Nothing else. Just Bio and American Government and History.”

Santana gives her a droll look. “Come on there’s gotta be more. You can’t have more than one spare.”

“I don’t, but those are the only classes I have.” Santana’s unimpressed expression morphs into confusion, and Brittany turns her body to fully face Santana, mirroring her by pressing one hip to the counter, to elaborate, trying to hide her bitterness. “Because of the whole selling my brain out to the highest bidder thing, my courses are kind of messed up. I guess the school board can do it because they did it to me, but instead of needing any electives to graduate they decided to give me credits for my research and dedicate another block to it. So my last two blocks are just for working on the Riemann Hypothesis. I guess I’d gotten further than anyone else so, even though I didn’t make the deadline, they extended my grant until June and are giving McKinley even more money for me to continue working on it.”

“You’re worth more than your brilliant math brain, you know,” Santana says softly, earnest and honest, her eyes darker and warmer than Brittany’s ever seen them.

It throws Brittany for a moment, before something in her chest cracks open and bleeds out through her body, intense and tender and burning all at once, like the sun and moon are fighting for space under her skin.

She’s in love with Santana Lopez.

It’s something she’s kind of been aware of lately, of the fact that her crush on Santana from that first week of tutoring back in September seemed to be more intense and had lasted longer than any crush Brittany had ever had before. And there were moments, like on the floor of the hallway with Quinn and that moment in the cafeteria after seeing Mike and Santana hugging in the stairwell, where Brittany had thought her crush was teetering on the edge of something more, but this— This is—

She’s in love with Santana Lopez.

There’s muffled shouting from the front of the house, a cacophony of drunken sound and carefree excitement that eventually forms a scream of Ten! that resonates underneath Britany’s sternum and startles her back into motion, breathing desperately in time with the shouts of a countdown.

Brittany blinks and the world comes rushing back in—the humid heat of dozens of dancing teenagers lingering in the air, the low thump of the bassline in the too loud music, the groan of wooden stairs as people thud up and down them, the scent of overpowering sweat and faint Christmas spices and sickly sweet alcohol, and Santana’s dark eyes, steady and warm on hers.

Brittany doesn’t quite hear the scream of Happy New Year! echoing through the house, loudly enough that the neighbours have probably already filed a noise complaint, because Santana’s lips are on her cheek before she can blink, soft and sweet and like every daydream Brittany’s ever had in the past four months.

“Happy New Year, Britt,” Santana murmurs, her face hovering so close to Brittany’s for a moment that Brittany can smell the sweet hint of mint lingering underneath the scent of vodka coolers, before she sinks back down from the tips of her toes.

“Happy New Year, Santana,” Brittany repeats dumbly. She can’t make her brain work properly, and her body seems to have been frozen to the counter by her hip, and her lungs have ceased all movement.

Breathing, Brittany thinks faintly, is one of the most mundane things she can do; people have been doing it for centuries upon centuries upon centuries, in amusement and tears and stories and joys and tragedies; even when you think you might stop breathing, when laughter has you gasping for breath or when heartbreak has robbed the air from your lungs, you still do it, you still breathe.

When your memories play on an old film reel against your eyelids, you never remember how many breaths you took, because you’ve been doing it since you took your first scream of life, because it’s natural and normal and human.

So Brittany can’t quite figure out why her lungs seem to have forgotten the concept of drawing oxygen back into them, why they seem to have forgotten the very essence of life, why she can’t seem to force them back into motion.

Brittany suddenly remembers how to breathe again as she watches a blush bloom prettily over the peaks of cheeks squished up against glowing brown eyes.

She’s in love with Santana Lopez.


Chapter Text

McKinley goes back to school in the new semester the Monday after New Year’s Eve, and it barely takes two minutes of being in the hallways before Brittany starts to hear the gossip.

Normally she doesn’t pay any mind to whatever it is that the majority of McKinley decides to care about on any given day, and she’s exhausted after being up most of the night talking to Quinn—New Year’s Eve has now been dubbed The Incident 2.0 by Quinn, who has spent more than a couple hours on different nights trying to calm Brittany down—but even she’s not sleepy enough to be completely oblivious to the number of eyes on her as she heads for her locker. Or to the fact that she’s pretty sure she hears Santana’s name in the whispers as she skulks down the hallway.

Everyone falls silent as soon as she shoots a glare their way though, shrinking back against their lockers and avoiding eye contact, so she’s not even really sure that they’re talking about her or Santana; Brittany can’t really blame them for cowering under her glare though, because she wasn’t able to have a coffee that morning since the munchkin decided to stage a full-scale rebellion instead of getting ready for school, and she knows she’s more than a little grumpy when caffeine hasn’t turned her zombie-like exhaustion into a semi-functioning human state.

Instead she ignores everyone and grumbles to herself as she continues down the hallway, deciding to deal with the weirdness that is McKinley later in the day when she’s a little more awake.

Quinn and Puck at standing awkwardly at her locker, Mike and Tina exaggeratedly making conversation to make up for the tension in the air. Brittany may have been talking to Quinn more than usual because of her minor freak-outs surrounding the fact that she’s kind of stupidly in love with Santana, but Quinn has been calling her an equal amount freaking out about Puck and whatever the hell their argument on New Year’s Eve was about—despite how much Quinn loves and trusts Brittany, she still hasn’t told her what exactly Puck said, which is either because she thinks Brittany might kill him, or because she’s still trying to process it, but Brittany has her suspicions.

Between the two of them, they probably have enough romantic angst to power most of Lima for the entire month of January, and then some.

“Brittany!” Mike and Tina exclaim in sync, looking relieved as she comes into earshot. Puck and Quinn both look up to greet Brittany, putting aside their weird habit of avoiding eye contact while awkwardly pretending they’re not actually staring at the other out of the corners of their eyes.

Brittany grunts out a greeting and presses herself between Puck and Quinn to get to her locker, separating their tension for a moment.

“How are you?” Quinn asks, ever the picture of politeness, even if Brittany knows by now that most of it’s an act. Quinn and Santana are actually very similar in a lot of ways, in how they were raised and in how ninety percent of what people see is all an elaborately constructed façade to hide how they really feel—not that they’d ever be caught dead admitting the fact that they might have something in common with the other.

“The munchkin decided that screaming at the top of her lungs was the appropriate way to get out of going to school this morning,” Brittany explains dryly as she fumbles with her sticky lock, “and as much as I relate to that, because, mood, I’m pretty sure my mom would kill me if I let the munchkin turn into me.”

“I don’t think your Aunt Nell has leather jackets small enough for the munchkin anyways,” Santana’s voice says out of nowhere, startling Brittany into trying to jerk her lock open too early. She focuses on trying again so she doesn’t have to focus on the fact that Santana smells like vanilla and citrus and sunshine and every good thing in the world.

Quinn brightens at Brittany’s side, sending Santana a wide smirk, reminiscent of that time Lord Tubbington somehow managed to claw his way up a tree sneakily enough to pounce on a sparrow and proudly dump his kill on Brittany’s lap. “You met Aunt Nell?” she grins.

Brittany can see where this is going, but she’s too tired to heed Quinn off.

“Yeah,” Santana says cautiously.

Quinn rocks forward and gives Santana a smile that Brittany would love to have the energy to wipe off her face. “Isn’t it like looking at Brittany in about thirty years?” she asks conspiratorially.

All of Santana’s suspicious caution vanishes in an instant as she immediately smirks at Quinn, though Brittany can feel the weight of Santana’s gaze on her the side of her head, and sure enough, when she glances at Santana out of the corner of her eye, their gazes met briefly. The lock finally gives way under Brittany’s hand and she quickly turns her head away to open her locker, dumping her gloves and hat into the general mess and sticking her head into it under the premise of looking for a pencil so she can hide from the weight of Santana’s gaze.

She doesn’t think Santana remembers New Year’s Eve, though she’s not quite sure if that’s a blessing or a curse. Despite Brittany’s recent development of the inability to form more than one coherent sentence at a time around Santana—due both in part to the whole cheek kiss situation and the realization that she’s definitely in love with Santana—she hasn’t noticed much of a change in Santana’s behaviour towards her, so she figures Santana either doesn’t remember it, or it didn’t mean as much to her as it did to Brittany.

She’s not sure which thought hurts more.

“She’s sure something alright,” Santana agrees with a grin, “I’ve never been so delighted to be so thoroughly insulted before.”

Quinn laughs and sends Brittany a side long glance that she resolutely ignores. “I’m surprised the two of you are still talking,” she says mildly, gesturing between Brittany and Santana, “Aunt Nell is usually pretty dismissive of people who grew up like us.”

“You mean rich?” Santana snorts.

Brittany sighs into her locker and continues her search for a pencil.

“I was aiming for a little more subtly,” Quinn concedes, “but yes, that. Brittany didn’t talk to me for like a week after the first time I met Aunt Nell because she had some choice words to say about the Fabrays and Britt was so worried I would hate her.”

Brittany rolls her eyes—her middle-school-self was far more aware of the fact that Quinn’s family had so much more money than the Pierces, and far she was far more worried about the thought that Quinn might abandon her if she ever realized just how far below the Fabrays the Pierces were in class. Now, it’s something that hasn’t even crossed her mind in years, because she’s pretty confident in the knowledge that it would probably take some apocalyptic shit to separate the two of them.

“Britt was pretty flustered the whole time,” Santana laughs, “I thought her face might catch fire.”

“And then it spreads up to her ears!” Quinn agrees gleefully.

“I liked you two better when you hated each other,” Brittany mutters, finally emerging from her locker.

“Aww, poor baby,” Quinn pouts at Brittany, showing absolutely no sympathy for the fact that two of Brittany’s favourite people are currently gaining up on her. The bitch.

The bell, thankfully, rings and gives Brittany an escape from the combined teasing force of Quinn and Santana. Quinn doesn’t give Puck a second look before she grabs Mike by the elbow and drags him off to their math class—Tina being tugged along after them by the fingers she has tangled with Mike’s—giving the rest of the group an absentminded wave. Puck gives Quinn’s retreating back such woeful puppy dog eyes that Brittany almost wants to give him a hug; instead of giving into that particularly emotional urge, she gives him a friendly pat on the shoulder and shoves him in the direction of his English class before turning back to Santana, who’s in the process of locking Brittany’s locker for her.

She’s not sure why, but it’s those tiny little actions that Santana does that makes Brittany’s heart flip over in her chest. But she’s so tired and sleepy today that she tries to squash down that feeling as best she can, because she doesn’t want any accidental confessions to fall out of her mouth if she’s caught off guard.

They’ve got American Government with Mr. Bartlett first period, which will probably be as much fun as pulling teeth, but if Santana sits beside her—instead of at the front of the class with Brittany at the back like Calc and Chem last semester, even after they became friends—it will probably be at least a little bearable.

There seems to be more eyes on them than usual, but Brittany chalks it up to the McKinley student body having nothing better to do than to be fucking nosy—they were fascinated enough with Brittany and Santana’s original formation of friendship back in October, so it’s probably just a carry-over from that.

“What’s up with Quinn and Puck?” Santana asks as wander down the halls, startling Brittany from her grumpy musings. Santana doesn’t seem to notice the extra eyes on them, so Brittany pushes that to the back of her mind; of the two of them, Santana’s always the one that’s more attuned to gossip and wandering eyes and public opinion, and if she’s not paying it any mind, Brittany figures it’s just her being overly sensitive to annoying teenagers today.

Brittany shrugs and sighs. She’s so grateful to have someone else in their friend group to vent to because her shoulders ache from the weight of Quinn’s Puck-related-anxiety, and Mike is much too soft-hearted for Brittany to deliberately drag him into such a messy situation between two of his best friends—he’d probably worry himself into an aneurysm over them. “Fuck if I know.”

“Is this about New Year’s Eve?” Santana asks with a tone of poorly concealed concern in her voice, “Because I thought you said they were just arguing not— You know.”

So she does remember at least part of their conversation from New Year’s Eve—Brittany’s not actually sure if that makes her feel better or not.

“As far as I know it was just another of their usual arguments. But Quinn still won’t tell me exactly what happened, so your guess is probably as good as mine in this particular instance,” Brittany explains, “And, I’m sorry, you know? What are we? Six?”

Santana rolls her eyes and shoves at Brittany’s elbow. They’re almost at Mr. Bartlett’s room now, which means their time to talk is quickly ticking down to single digits. “And risk someone overhearing me and going to squeal to my father?” Santana asks pointedly, “As if.”

It’s cute, how Santana refuses to say sex aloud, even if she actually has a decent excuse.

“Tragic,” Brittany deadpans, cracking a smile when Santana shoves her in the shoulder and sends her partially stumbling through Mr. Bartlett’s door. She knows that Santana knows she’s just messing with her, which is a relief because she spent more than her fair share of time back in September unintentionally insulting Santana.

The classroom is pretty deserted even though class is starting in less than a minute, so there’s a whole bunch of desks that are unclaimed, all set up in columns of two or three. For as lowkey racist and sexist as Mr. Bartlett can be, he’s pretty chill otherwise, which means he almost never enforces a seating policy—it doesn’t really make up for an hour straight of American Government through the lens of a man who proudly has Republican decal on his car and probably spends too much class time on the Confederacy’s motivations behind the Civil War, but it’s a minor comfort that makes his class a little step above the absolute worst thing in McKinley.

Santana doesn’t even give the front row a second glance as she heads straight for the third row, the column that’s farthest away from Mr. Bartlett’s desk, where two desks are pushed together.

Brittany wordlessly follows, carelessly dumping her backpack on the ground as she slumps into the free desk beside Santana’s. She tugs out a notebook and the pencil she rescued from her locker, while Santana does the same beside her, casting a glance around the room and inwardly groaning as she sees some of the other people in their class.

“I can’t believe Evan got into the upper level class,” Brittany mutters under her breath.

Santana’s elbow brushes against hers as she turns to Brittany so she can roll her eyes without anyone else noticing. “I can’t believe he made it past his front door this morning,” Santana sneers, “That requires more hand-eye coordination than I thought he was capable of.”

Brittany bites back a loud laugh as Mr. Bartlett breezes through the door just as the bell to start class rings, a stream of teenagers in various stages of rushing to class—from hurrying down the hallway and avoiding eye contact to lazily skulking through the door and ignoring the annoyed look Mr. Bartlett gives them—trickling in after him.

Brittany notices that for every teenager that walks in late, there seems to be another set of nosy eyes on her and Santana, whether from a late student or from someone else in the room, but then Mr. Bartlett starts taking attention and everyone’s eyes snap back to the front of the room.

As soon as he calls Brittany’s name, she zones out and nearly falls asleep to his monotone voice and the boring subject matter, her head dipping dangerously towards Santana’s shoulder, which she personally knows is actually really comfy. She focuses on the hinge of Santana’s jaw and the earrings sparkling and the sweep of dark hair to keep herself awake, which succeeds in keeping her conscious, but has the consequence of lulling Brittany into a daydream instead.

It’s not until they’re halfway through the class and Brittany’s absorbed nothing that Mr. Bartlett has said so far that she realizes how much of a problem sitting beside Santana is going to be.

Santana’s far too pretty to be conductive to Brittany’s attention span where history is concerned, which is both a blessing and a curse.

Brittany spends the rest of the day in a state of being half-asleep—except for her second period spare, which she spends teasing Santana more than usual so she doesn’t have any moments to accidentally confess that she’s in love with her—and slowly becoming more and more aware of the eyes on her.

Her two periods of research aren’t as bad as she thought they would be. Mrs. Belling still sits at the teacher’s desk during the last block and pretends she doesn’t see Brittany eating packaged cookies, but since she’s doing actual EA work during the first of Brittany’s research periods, Mr. Dunngan ends up supervising Brittany since he has a prep that block. Brittany doesn’t mind this change one bit, because Mr. D. is really cool about Brittany’s work process. Sometimes he wanders up to the front of the classroom and asks about what she’s done so far and if she has any new ideas, but mostly he just silently marks assignments or enters grades or prepares work for his students; it’s only when Brittany makes a noise of frustration that he looks up and cracks some type of dad-joke or offers her helpful suggestions.

It makes the two hours of generally pointless work on the Riemann Hypothesis feel a little less mind-numbing, having her two favourite teachers silently cheering her on in the back of the classroom.

She is glad to be done the day, though, yawning widely through her see you tomorrows to Mrs. Belling as she erases the whiteboard.

She steps out into the hallway and starts heading for her locker, only to be stopped by some snide, malicious comment from a group of senior boys by the lockers outside the classroom.

She turns on them with a snarl that has a couple of the boys warily backing away and fading into the rush of students hurrying to catch buses or escape the student parking lot. She doesn’t spare them a glance, other than to commend them on their intelligence of fleeing what’s bound to be a pretty ugly situation.

It’s Kyle Ekwisler—because of course it’s Kyle Ekwisler—who repeats his comment before snickering and holding up the newest edition of Jacob Ben Israel’s sleazy school paper, which is less known for being an actual school newspaper and more known for basically being the trashy McKinley version of Fox & Friends combined with the U.K.’s The Sun.

Brittany reaches out and snatches the copy of the The Muckraker from Dylan’s greasy little hands, delighting in the way most of the boys shrink back and away from her at the sudden move; a few of them have been on the wrong end of Brittany’s fists, and are appropriately wary of her.

She’s surprised to see her face staring back at her, though it’s not the first time she’s been front page The Muckraker material, as low as an accomplishment as that is, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Jacob Ben Israel dug up something nefarious from her not-so-squeaky-clean past.

But it’s the picture beside Brittany’s that makes an icy fist reach up through her stomach and close around her heart. It only takes a split second for the numbness in her body to flare up into an intense, burning fury that makes her see red for a second, the newspaper in her hands starting to blur and crinkle as Brittany’s hands curl into fists around it.

It feels like a wildfire is making itself at home in her body, bubbling like lava under her skin.

Except for her heart, which is still encased in an icy fist, because it’s Santana’s picture staring back up at her, under the headline Womanizer Pierce Corrupts Lopez with Salacious New Year’s Eve Kiss!, and Brittany’s not actually sure if she’ll be able stop herself from murdering someone today.

She can barely manage to read the article through the red blurring the edges of her vision, but she picks out phrases like sources say and no more boyfriends for Lopez and may not have been the first kiss—cheek or otherwise and strange friendship from the beginning of the school year and a possible secret relationship? and poor naive Mike Chang for being strung along and what will Lopez do once Pierce dumps her like she always does and see page 4 for more details and speculations from people close to the couple.

“What the fuck is this?” Brittany snarls, fixing Kyle Ekwisler with a glare that has him shrinking back into the lockers despite his tough guy bravado.

He tries to smirk at her, and starts to make some snide comment that is quickly cut off by a shriek of terror as Brittany’s fist thuds into the locker beside his head.

“I said,” Brittany hisses between her teeth, “what the fuck is this?” She holds the paper up in front of Kyle Ekwisler’s face, in case he forgot what exactly Brittany was asking him about.

“It’s nothing!” he yelps, a far cry from the big bad bully he’s known to be, “Just a dumb JBI article. You know what he’s like.”

“And you believe this piece of shit, I suppose,” Brittany asks lowly, shaking the paper a little for emphasis.

“Well, she’s been hanging around you and you’re a—”

“I’m a what?” Brittany spits.

Kyle Ekwisler hesitates, thinking with his brain for once in his life, before sputtering something that sounds vaguely like you’re, you know.

“Last I remember she dated Mike for three years,” Brittany snaps, never having been more glad for Mike and Santana’s long-term relationship—which has caused more than a couple sleepless, jealousy and heartbreak induced, nights—than she is in this moment. “Not that her sexuality actually matters to you walking skin sacs as long as you have a shot with her, right?”

“We just— The article said— And we thought— ”

“I don’t fucking care what you thought,” Brittany interrupts, “In fact, I’m actually a little surprised that you have any thoughts up there. I always thought you were living proof that man can survive without a brain.” Kyle Ekwisler looks like he might protest, but the line of Brittany’s arm centimetres from the side of his face, still pressed against the locker from where she punched it, makes him second guess himself. “Now, you’re going to do me a favour,” Brittany says, sickeningly sweet, in contrast to the flicker of fury in her eyes, “You’re going to never talk about Santana and who she sleeps with ever again, or it’s not going to be just a locker that’s dented next time.”

Brittany shoves the paper into his face and casts a glower at the wary ring of Kyle’s sidekicks, making sure they all know that she’s including them in her threat too, before finally pushing off the locker and away from the overpowering scent of sweat and Axe and fear radiating off Kyle Ekwisler. Sure enough, the locker beside his head is now bending slightly inward where it was once pristine, but Brittany barely feels the throb in her knuckles as she turns and stalks down the hallway.

As she reaches the corridor that Santana’s locker is in, she hears an increase of whispers and a sense of dread washes over her—she has a really bad feeling about this.

If people are actually calling her out about this stupid article, she knows that Santana must be somewhere getting assaulted by nosy teenagers as well; Brittany’s sexuality is old news by this point, and aside from the occasional homophobic or biphobic comment, she’s mostly ignored, but Santana’s sexuality has never been dragged into the florescent lights of McKinley before, and Brittany just knows that the McKinley rumour mill is going to latch on to her because this story is new and exciting.

It takes barely two strides down the hallway for Brittany to realize her gut instinct is right, and something is very wrong, because there’s a crowd gathered around Santana’s locker and she can hear Santana’s cutting voice—the low, dangerous one that hides the fact that Santana’s temper is about to explode—and a snide comment in response.

Brittany quickens her pace, barely noticing the fact that Mike and Quinn and Puck are storming down the hall from the opposite direction, and pushes her way through the crowd. They struggle to stay as one cohesive unit for only a split second before they realize it’s a murderous Brittany Pierce that’s trying to push her way through them, and they very quickly part to let her past.

Santana’s holding her own, because of course she is, but Brittany can see the exhaustion in her eyes, the numbness creeping in on the edges, and Brittany resolves to finish this quickly so Santana doesn’t have to deal with all this homophobic shit. Especially because she knows that Santana is straight, and she shouldn’t have to deal with any of this just because she’s friends with Brittany.

(It’s the guilt that Brittany can’t focus on right now, because she has a situation that needs her full attention right now, but she can feel it clawing at the inside of her stomach, the realization that this wouldn’t be happening if Santana had never become friends with her in the first place.)

It’s some douchey little prick that Brittany recognizes from detention—Josh Coleman, the sophomore rugby captain if the embroidering on his letterman jacket is anything to go by. Today’s copy of The Muckraker is clutched in his hand, and the smirk on his face makes Brittany’s skin crawl; she knows his type all too well, the ones who think that they can be the one to somehow eradicate the gay from girls.

“Ah, the second dyke has appeared—” is all that Josh Coleman gets out before Brittany’s fist connects with his face. He stumbles back and stares up at Brittany with shock that slowly starts to evolve into blind anger.

“You’re going to regret that,” he growls before taking a wild swing at Brittany.

For all the rage Brittany can feel burning through her veins, she’s still got a relatively clear head, and she simply steps to the side and allows Josh Coleman to charge into Santana’s locker door, which Santana holds steady as his forehead collides with the metal. He instantly groans and tries to get his bearings as the crowd around them wince sympathetically or cheer Brittany on—most of them are less the supportive type and more the hungering for a good fight type, but Brittany knows there’s at least a couple people (aside from her friends, obviously) in this godforsaken school who are on her side.

Santana looks a little shaken, but when she meets Brittany’s eyes for the brief moment of peace while Josh Coleman struggles to stand upright, she gives her a tiny little smile, grateful and angry and righteous all at once.

Brittany nods at her and readies herself for Josh Coleman as he shakes his dizziness off and squares up to Brittany for attempt number two.

It’s not much of a fight, and that’s not even Brittany’s cockiness speaking, it’s just the truth. Brittany’s been scrappy for most of her life, something that was fostered by Aunt Nell wrapping her hands and teaching her how to throw and take a punch whenever she was on babysitting duty while Whitney and Pierce were away, and her penchant for finding trouble that punched first and asked questions second has only made her confident in her own abilities.

“You wanna say that again?” Brittany asks Josh Coleman calmly, staring down her nose at him from where he’s curled on the ground clutching his bloodied face.

He groans something unintelligible and curls into himself.

“Good,” Brittany says, straightening in satisfaction and wiping the blood on her hands across her pants, ignoring the sting of pain from the pressure of her jeans on skinned knuckles. “If I hear any of you insinuating stuff about me, or about Santana, or about anybody’s sexuality again, Josh Coleman here will look like he got a little papercut. And the next time I’ll make sure there’s no cameras or witnesses.”

There’s a murmur of fear and shock that goes through the crowd, and Brittany allows her lip to curl up in a scowl. There’s a small trail of blood dripping sluggishly from her nose to her lip—from the single lucky shot Josh Coleman managed to get in—that she doesn’t bother wiping away; her lips tastes bitter when she licks her lips, sharp like the way pennies smell, and she savours the way the crowd shifts nervously under her glower.

“You all wanna be homophobic dicks, that’s on you,” she snarls, knowing she has the full attention of anyone within earshot, and knowing that it will only take a matter of hours for the rest of McKinley to be caught up to speed too, “But you take that issue directly up with me next time,” she flexes her fingers, making sure that everyone catches sight of the blood still dripping off her knuckles, “instead of hiding behind your locker doors and accusing straight people of being corrupted by me. Try to not let your puny little brains explode with this little next little bit, but the more time you all spend speculating about something that’s not even true, the more time I spend plotting your sweet, sweet revenge.”

Brittany knows she has the reputation to back up her threat, and if the collective shudder of remembrance that goes through the gathered crowd is any indication, they all know it too.

“And as for you,” Brittany says, turning around to spare Josh Coleman, still curled up on the ground and snivelling like the cowardly douche that he is, a disgusted glance. “Let’s hope for McKinley’s sake that you’re better at taking a tackle than you are at taking a punch.” She casts her gaze around until it lands on Jacob Ben Israel, who is huddled against the locker and attempting to slip away like the spineless little snake that he is—though that’s probably insulting to snakes.

“Where exactly are you going, JBI?” Brittany calls, causing him to freeze like a deer in the headlights. He turns slowly and stares at Brittany with wide-eyed fear. If Brittany were a better person, she might feel a little bit of guilt for the terror she can inflict on people with only a few words and a well placed glare, but instead all she feels is the warm curl of satisfaction in her stomach. “You ever print something attempting to out someone in that trash you call the news again,” she says, keeping her voice dangerously low instead of screaming, and delighting in the effect it has on Jacob Ben Israel when he visibly shudders, “And I’ll make sure you will never be able to write again.”

She flicks her gaze meaningfully down to Jacob Ben Israel’s fingers and flexes her own fingers before curling them into fists, grinning manically when he audibly gulps and clutches his precious hands to his chest.

By that point, Coach Sylvester and Coach Beiste and Mr. Schue are storming around the corner of the hallway—“Took them long enough,” Santana mutters bitterly—before slowing and gaping at the scene of terrified students, a bloody sophomore, a nearly in tears Jacob Ben Israel, and Brittany, in the middle of it all, with bloody knuckles and murder in her eyes.

And it’s at that moment that Brittany knows she’s in deep, deep shit.

But one look at Santana, standing against her locker with intense, grateful, burning eyes, and Brittany knows she would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

Santana’s worth it.

She has to give it to Mr. Schue, because for as spineless and egotistical as he usually is, he really would do just about anything for the glee club members. Which is how Brittany ends up with only two weeks of detention instead the expulsion Mr. Figgins was suggesting, after Mr. Schue brings up the fact that McKinley has an anti-bullying policy (which almost makes Brittany laugh out loud, because ineffective much?, but she contains herself because Mr. Figgins doesn’t look like he’s in much of a humorous mood) and Brittany was simply defending herself and Santana. The name-dropping of Dr. Lopez actually does wonders for Brittany’s case, because apparently protecting his daughter is the quickest way for Brittany to get out of trouble, and she reluctantly admits that his status within Lima and McKinley does have some merit after all—it’s a minuscule acquiescence, but she has to admit it does exist.

She’s excused for today and ordered to start her two weeks of detention tomorrow, because the meeting with Mr. Figgins and Mr. Schue and Brittany lasted over an hour and Mr. Pyking had already went home for the day by the time they get out. She managed to convince Mr. Figgins to hold off on calling her parents for the day, because she knows both of them are working and she doesn’t want to bother them with this, especially because it’s not like she’s getting expelled or something serious like that.

Josh Coleman gets patched up by the nurse and a week of detention for what Mr. Figgins classifies as bullying; Brittany’s pretty sure it’s just being a homophobic dick, but her opinion on the matter is ranked pretty low in Mr. Figgins’ eyes, considering.

Jacob Ben Israel is given a suspension from the AV Club and The Muckraker for using both to further a smear companion against certain students—it’s been going on for years, but apparently all it took to make an actual change was a couple bloody fists and a genuine threat from one Brittany Pierce.

For her part, Brittany keeps uncharacteristically quiet throughout the meeting, letting Mr. Schue go to bat for her because she still doesn’t quite have a handle on her anger yet, and she’s a little scared that whatever will spill out if she opens her mouth would get her expelled.

It’s sometime after four-thirty by the time she trails after Mr. Schue out of the principal’s office—glee practice had been cancelled on account of the whole incident, which is probably for the best considering Quinn and Mike and Tina and Puck would barely be paying attention to Rachel’s bossy leadership while Brittany is in a meeting with Mr. Figgins, knowing them.

“I’m glad you stood up for yourself and your friend,” Mr. Schue says suddenly, breaking Brittany out of her thoughts, “But maybe go for a little less violence next time. If only to make the next meeting less painful.”

“No promises, Mr. Schue,” Brittany says without really thinking about it, because she can’t imagine a world where she’s not willing to hold her fists up in defence of the people she cares about. At the exhausted sigh Mr. Schue lets out, Brittany relents, just a little bit. “But, I’ll try.”

Mr. Schue smiles and goes to leave, before turning around to study Brittany for a moment. He hesitates before he speaks, opening his mouth and closing it before seeming to settle on something else entirely. “Put some ice on that,” he finally says, nodding at Brittany’s hands, “Wouldn’t want them to get too sore.”

Brittany nods and slowly flexes her fingers, wincing at the throb of pain that shoots through her knuckles. “Thanks, Mr. Schue,” she says, managing to actually inflect the sincerity she feels into her voice.

“Anything for the New Directions,” he answers with a small smile, before turning and heading down the hallway that leads to Ms. Pillsbury’s office. Brittany wrinkles her nose at his retreating back—no matter how many times she hears it, the urge to gag at how New Directions sounds when spoken aloud by a teacher hasn’t ever disappeared—before she starts heading towards her locker.

The hallways are completely deserted by now, and most of the teachers have left too, their doors closed and their lights off. Her footsteps echo against the lockers and her jacket squeaks with each movement, the only sound in the empty school. Brittany brings her knuckles up to inspect them, frowning at the broken skin and blooming bruises. Even if Mr. Figgins wasn’t planning on calling her parents tomorrow to fill them in on the incident, there’s no way Brittany would be able to hide her hands from them until they completely healed.

She’s so distracted by examining her knuckles that she doesn’t realize the school isn’t as deserted as she thought, because standing at her locker is Santana.

Brittany blinks, and then blinks again, and when she determines that Santana is not a figment of her imagination, she gives her a small smile. “Hey,” she greets softly.

Santana’s head snaps up and the worry on her face transforms into an anger Brittany’s never seen before, on Santana or anyone. “You’re such a fucking idiot,” she snarls, stepping away from the locker and catching Brittany in a fierce hug before Brittany can even process it.

Brittany carefully hugs her back, not wanting to get blood on Santana’s expensive clothes. “You know, most people don’t insult someone and then hug them,” she says mildly.

“Shut up,” Santana mumbles into Brittany’s neck. There’s a beat of silence where Brittany swears she can feel Santana’s lips ghosting across the sensitive skin of her throat, before Santana pulls back enough to catch Brittany’s eyes, her arms still tight around Brittany. “Thank you,” she whispers, and her eyes flash with so many different emotions, like minnows darting towards safer waters in flashes of silver sunlight, that Brittany can’t even begin to name any of them.

Instead, she just tugs Santana back into her and sighs into her hair, relishing in the way that Santana clings to Brittany, in how the simple feeling of Santana’s arms around her manages to crack her open and allows everything sharp and angry in her veins recede back into peace and affection. “I’d do it for any of our friends,” she says, because it’s true and because she doesn’t want to let slip the depth of anger she felt when she saw Santana’s face staring up at her from the front page of The Muckraker, “But you’re welcome.”

They cling to each other for long moments before eventually disentangling from each other, Brittany ever aware of the blood on her knuckles. “You didn’t have to wait around for me,” Brittany finally says, quickly opening her locker to dumb unneeded textbooks and notebooks in it.

Some of the tension in Santana’s body eases and she gives Brittany a tiny smile. “You’re my knight in shining armour,” she teases, “What kind of lady would I be if I didn’t stick around to thank you.”

Brittany rolls her eyes even as her heart flips over in her chest and starts pounding out a rhythm that would probably be concerning if it showed up on an echocardiogram; she’s not going to lie, the thought of being Santana’s knight in shining armour is basically all she could ever want in life. “M’lady,” she deadpans to hide how pleased she is, bowing a little and holding out her arm.

Santana rolls her eyes so hard her head lolls back a little, even as she playfully threads her hand through Brittany’s arm, fingers twitching against the crook of her elbow. “Okay I take it back. You’re definitely not a knight in shining armour because I never what to hear you say that again.” She looks thoughtful for a moment before a wicked smirk spreads across her face. “Unless that knight in shining armour is Shrek, because then it fits.”

Brittany gasps and stares at Santana as if she’s never seen her before. “I can’t believe you would insult me like that—to my face—after I went through all that trouble for you.”

Santana immediately softens, her playful expression morphing into something affectionate and worried. “What’s Figgins’ verdict?” she asks, and somehow she manages to sound more worried about it now than Brittany was herself while sitting in Mr. Figgins’ office and listening to his decision.

“Two weeks of detention,” Brittany answers, smiling a little when Santana visibly relaxes, “Mr. Schue managed to talk him down from expulsion on account that I was standing up to a bully.”

Santana snorts a little because the idea that Jacob Ben Israel is something other than a creepy little reporter with too few hobbies and too much time for anyone’s own good, or that Josh Coleman is anything more than a sad, douchey attempt at a human being, or that either of them are capable of bullying Santana Lopez is almost laughable. “Never thought I’d say this,” Santana says reluctantly, “but thank god for Mr. Schue managing to actually be useful for once in his life.”

Brittany chuckles as they push open the back doors of the school and head for the student parking lot—she doesn’t draw attention to the fact Santana’s hand is still threaded through the crook of Brittany’s elbow because she really doesn’t want to let go of Santana. “I’m a little surprised that Quinn hadn’t staged a sit-in with you to be honest.”

“Oh no, Quinn was glued to your locker for most of the hour too,” Santana explains, “But then her mom called and she had to go run errands for her or something? I dunno. There was a lot of cursing and muttering about it before she finally left.”

“I should probably text her and let her know what happened,” Brittany muses. And probably Mike and Puck and Tina too, because they’ll probably be more than a little worried about her as well.

Santana seems to have the same thought, because she glances around for a moment to make sure they’re alone before giving Brittany a tiny smile. “Puck may or may not have matching bruises tomorrow,” Santana says slyly, nodding at Brittany’s hands, “And Mike and Tina may or may not have broken into Jewfro’s laptop and deleted most of his hard drive.”

Brittany doesn’t even bother biting back her smile, because she kind of has the best friends in the world; sure, none of that is necessarily legal per se, but in Brittany’s opinion, it’s the thought that counts.

“You should come over,” Santana suddenly blurts, her fingers tensing and curling against Brittany’s elbow, “For dinner, or whatever.” Brittany blinks and opens her mouth to respond, but Santana doesn’t give her a chance. “I mean, because I owe you one for, you know, today and everything. And you said you were craving pizza at lunch so we could order one or something. And I know your parents are working late today and my father’s at a week-long conference in California and the munchkin is at Emma’s house tonight and—”

“You’re cute when you ramble,” Brittany interrupts, letting her smile grow as Santana flusters for a moment and ducks her head.

“Oh shut up,” Santana mutters, shooting Brittany a glare that has absolutely no heat behind it. “I mean, you should come over and let me buy you dinner. As thanks.”

Brittany smiles, like she always does when Santana says dinner instead of supper. “Well, how could I say no to that,” she teases.

Santana rolls her eyes, but allows herself to be pulled along into the student parking lot.

By the time they get to the Lopez house, Brittany’s knuckles are throbbing in time with her heartbeat, feeling like they’ll be permanently curled from holding her steering wheel for the short ten minute drive. Even her nose is a little sore from the lucky punch Josh Coleman landed, but it was such a glancing blow that Brittany doesn’t think it will even bruise. But her knuckles—

Yeah, those are definitely going to hurt for a couple weeks.

She knows they’re not broken, because she can move them without wanting to scream—it still shoots pain up into her wrists and the centre of her palms, but it’s not the worst she’s ever had; fucking Josh Coleman just has a harder head than most.

Santana takes one look at the grimace on Brittany’s face as she steps out of her tuck, and immediately shakes her head and crosses the lawn to grab Brittany’s elbow and drag her up the Lopez driveway.

Brittany is quickly deposited in the kitchen by the sink and told—in no uncertain terms—to stay put, while Santana disappears into the depths of the house. Brittany disobeys Santana almost immediately, but it’s only to shrug off her leather jacket and drape it over the back of a chair so she can start washing her hands. She lets the water run lukewarm for a while—no need to add first degree burns to the list of injuries on her hands—and hisses as soon as she puts her hands under the water, the running water fluttering her slightly torn skin.

Santana reappears less than a minute later, but doesn’t reprimand Brittany for disobeying her orders, she just dumps her haul of supplies on the counter beside the sink and steps up beside Brittany. She reaches for Brittany’s hands and gently tugs them towards her, their hips nudging against each other in the limited space of the floor in front of the sink. She inspects Brittany’s knuckles for a long moment, her fingers barely brushing over the torn skin as she turns Brittany’s hands over in her own, but it still causes Brittany to suck in a sharp breath of pain.

“How badly do they hurt?” she murmurs.

Brittany shrugs. “I’ve had worse,” she says flippantly. Santana gives her a pointed look and Brittany softens, smiling wryly. “Yeah, they don’t really feel great.”

Santana tuts softly before releasing Brittany’s hands to reach for a soft facecloth, wetting it and squeezing out the excess water. “This is going to hurt,” she warns, before reaching for Brittany’s hands again. Brittany yelps at the first touch of cloth to her sore knuckles, but quickly bites her tongue to contain any other whimpers. “Sorry,” Santana mumbles, her brow furrowed in concentration as she quickly but thoroughly cleans the dried blood away.

“Did you know about The Muckraker shit before that prick cornered you?” Brittany asks through gritted teeth, trying to distract herself from the pain in her hands as Santana scrubs at her knuckles.

“No,” Santana mutters, releasing Brittany’s hands for a moment to rinse the cloth out, holding it until the running water until the pink water splashing in the spotless sink runs clear. “I mean I noticed the stares all day, but I didn’t realize what exactly they were all whispering about until after school. And then Josh Coleman,” she spits out his name like it’s a dirty word, “Came up to me and shoved that article in my face and told me—” Santana cuts herself off and shakes her head. “And then I realized that my worst nightmare had come true.”

“Because your father’s homophobic, right?” Brittany asks quietly.

Santana sighs. “He wouldn’t care if it’s true or not. The second there is ever any hint of his perfect little daughter being something he doesn’t like, he’d always squash it down or scare it out of me. I can’t even imagine what he’d do if he ever heard those rumours.”

“I’m sorry,” Brittany mutters, the guilt she had been trying to ignore since she saw that article finally bubbling up and sweeping through her body.

“Huh?” Santana says blankly, pausing in her ministrations to frown deeply at Brittany.

Brittany sighs and ducks her head, unable to meet Santana’s warm brown eyes. “For this whole mess with The Muckraker and Josh Coleman and all those other assholes who believed that article. If we didn’t become friends you would never have been put in that position. So I’m sorry.”

“Britt,” Santana breathes, her eyes wide under her furrowed brow, “I—”

Brittany’s yelp of pain startles them both, and they both glance down to where Santana had accidentally pressed too hard with the cloth. Brittany’s thankful for the distraction, because she doesn’t think she can take Santana’s platitudes when she knows that it’s true, that it’s her fault that Santana is caught up in the homophobia of McKinley.

Santana mutters an apology as she removes the cloth from Brittany’s knuckles, glancing up at Brittany with a small frown and something like worry flickering in her eyes. Brittany almost opens her mouth to speak again, but Santana unintentionally interrupts her before she can by reaching up to run a clean part of the cloth across the skin above Brittany’s mouth. She holds Brittany’s chin pinched gently between her thumb and forefinger and carefully manipulates Brittany’s head to clean the blood dried under her nose from Josh Coleman’s lucky shot, inspecting Brittany’s nose and cheekbones for bruises before making a small noise of satisfaction at the lack of facial injuries. She tosses the cloth onto the counter, reaching for the pile of supplies she had grabbed earlier and digging out two pill bottles. She shakes out two oblong brown pills and a round red one before offering them to Brittany and grabbing a glass from the counter, quickly filling it and pressing it into Brittany’s hand. Brittany just stares at the pills in her palm for a long moment before looking up at Santana in question.

“It’s just ibuprofen and acetaminophen,” Santana explains. At Brittany’s blank look, Santana cracks a small smile. “Advil and Tylenol. It’ll help with the swelling and pain.”

Brittany grins a little and drops the pills into her mouth all at once, downing them with a large gulp of water. Santana immediately takes Brittany’s hands again and makes sure they’re fully cleaned, before grabbing a white bottle with a green lid and a small cotton pad and dumping some clear, sterile smelling liquid onto the pad. “This one’s going to hurt too,” she warns before dabbing it along Brittany’s knuckles with surprising tenderness. It stings, sharp and painful, and Brittany hisses and grits her teeth harder until Santana finally relents. “It’s Bactine,” she explains, her thumb brushing softly along the uninjured part of Brittany’s fingers, “It’ll help keep it clean and prevent infection. And it numbs the pain a little.”

“Huh,” Brittany says as the pain eases almost in sync with Santana’s words and her knuckles start tingling a little, almost like the Rub A535 she sometimes uses after a particularly gruelling motocross course or a long dance session. “That feels weird.”

Santana gives her a small smile as she tosses the slightly pinked pad onto the cloth. She grabs a roll of gauze and carefully starts to wrap one of Brittany’s hands, hiding the bruised and scraped skin from sight with soft, sterile white. They’re both silent while they work, until Santana starts on the second hand.

“Britt,” Santana says quietly, avoiding Brittany’s eyes, “I think we need to talk.”

Brittany’s stomach drops down to somewhere in the basement of the Lopez house, because those six little words never mean anything good; usually it means things like sweetie, it’s about your birth father or sorry but I don’t feel comfortable in the change room with you or my mom doesn’t think we should hang out anymore or it’s not you, it’s me.

“Wow, that’s never good to hear,” Brittany manages to choke out through the blind panic starting to course through her veins.

Santana cracks a tiny smile and glances up at Brittany for a moment, but Brittany can’t read anything in her eyes. “It’s nothing bad,” she promises, “It’s just about today and that article and just, uh, something else we really need to talk about.”

Brittany shakes her head a little, her pulse pounding heavily in her ears. “About the article?” she manages.

Santana sighs and slows her wrapping of Brittany’s hand, still avoiding her eyes. “About the homophobia thing and our friendship and—”

“Listen I can— I can stop, okay?” Brittany interrupts, something desperate and fearful spilling out from under her skin and into her words, until they slur together a little and barely make any sense, “I don’t wanna lose you as a friend because of my dumb crush. And I know you said you knew I was bi forever ago and it didn’t matter to you then but I know it’s different when you’re the target of the rumours because of me and I know you’re straight and just give me some time, okay? I swear it will go away. I know it’s kind of a giant crush and maybe more than that but I know that it makes you uncomfortable and it will go away because my— My crushes on friends always do. And I swear that I’ll work on getting over you and—”


Everything inside Brittany goes cold and then hot and then cold again.

Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck—

“I— I, um,” Brittany stutters, her eyes wide as she struggles to not just run out the door. Santana’s fingers are still pressing lightly against her wrist where she had just secured the bandage before Brittany completely fucked up, her eyes wide and unreadable on Brittany’s face. “I— Can we, um, pretend that you didn’t hear that because—”

“Britt,” Santana interrupts, her voice soft and small, as if Brittany is a particularly skittish woodland creature; which isn’t all that far off, Brittany does rather feel like she might still give into the urge to flee this house and Lima and possibly the country.

Brittany snaps her eyes up to Santana’s and Santana still hasn’t made a disgusted face and run away yet and her fingers are still on Brittany’s wrist and her eyes are still soft and—

Why hasn’t she run away yet?

“I— You—”

“Britt,” Santana repeats, curling her fingers fully around Brittany’s wrist. “You need to breathe, okay?”

Brittany nods frantically as she sucks in gulping breaths, trying to ignore the fact that this will probably be the last time she will be allowed to stand in the Lopez kitchen. It’s only once Brittany’s breathing resumes its regular pace that she realizes Santana is smiling at her, just a little, fond and amused and with that same curious look that Brittany still can’t name even after all these months.

“You good now?” Santana asks quietly, “You aren’t going to hyperventilate on me, are you?”

Brittany manages to shake her head a little, utterly confused by how calmly Santana is taking the fact that one of her best friends just ramblingly confessed to a having a massive crush—and maybe more than that—on her.

Santana gives her a tiny smile. “Honestly, I kind of thought that you already knew.”

“Knew what?” Brittany asks, feeling about ten steps behind Santana and in a completely different universe. Santana’s lips quirk up in a tiny smile, and it just makes Brittany even more confused.

“I’m gay.”

Brittany blinks, the running chant of fuck fuck fuck fuck in the back of her head ceasing instantly. Santana’s eyes are bright and certain on Brittany’s, even if her smile is a little shaky, a little nervous. “What?” she croaks.

Santana’s lips twitch a little. “I’m gay.”

There’s nothing much of anything floating through Brittany’s mind right now, and she can’t grasp any words to form even a partial sentence, so she just wordlessly shakes her head in confusion.

There’s a bit of amusement dancing in Santana’s eyes now, just a hint of laughter hidden in the line of her brows and the creases under her eyes, and her fingers slide a little as she tightens her grip on Brittany’s wrist.

“I kind of thought Mike must have told you, to be honest, considering how close you two are,” Santana says, “About our relationship.”

“You dated for three years,” Brittany says dumbly, the first words that come to her mind, the words that used to viciously circle in front of her eyes whenever her heart decided that sleepless nights would somehow fix the aching hole of jealously in Brittany’s chest.

Santana’s smile widens, just a little, her cheeks creasing with the barest hint of her dimples. “I got a little drunk at a party in sophomore year and Mike found me hiding in the front coat closet—” Brittany lets out an involuntary laugh at that, because even though Brittany’s brain hasn’t quite processed the I’m gay yet, there’s something incredibly ironic about that; Santana seems to agree, because the corners of her smile twist into something amused and wry, “—Yeah, yeah, I know, hilarious irony. Anyways, I’m kind of an, uh, emotional drunk. And Mike was being so nice considering I probably looked like a hot mess. And my father had been his usual homophobic self that morning before he left for some conference or another. So I told him what I’d always known about myself, and he was surprisingly chill about it, considering we’d never exchanged more than two words prior to being huddled in that closet together.”

Brittany’s mouth had dropped open at some point during Santana’s explanation, so she quickly snaps it closed. “So, the dating?” she manages, her voice devoid of emotion because she’s still trying to process everything.

(There’s a tiny voice in the back of her head screaming, because if Santana is not straight that means there’s a chance that she might actually return Brittany’s feelings. And of course, Brittany knows that being into girls doesn’t mean Santana is into her, but her crush/desperately-in-love situation suddenly seems a whole lot less hopeless than it did when she was angst-ing about it to Quinn last night. And she can’t help the hope that’s starting to bloom and curl in her chest, even if she knows that’s just gonna make it hurt more later.)

“After I gay panicked all over him—” At Brittany’s wrinkled nose and muttered ew, Santana gives her a wide grin and tugs playfully on Brittany’s wrist. “Get your head out of the gutter, Pierce, not like that. It mostly involved a lot of drunken crying and Mike awkwardly patting me on the back.”

Brittany laughs a little at that, light and carefree and hopeful.

“Anyways, I’m sure you know what his parents are like. And you’ve heard me complain about my father more than enough times.” Santana’s eyes drift away for a moment, settling on the entrance to the living room, where the family portrait of her cold, distant father hangs, such a contrast to the laughing infant in her smiling mother’s arms. “Anyways, we kinda became friends after that. And my father came home to us baking in the kitchen one day and asked if we were dating, and I kind of panicked and said yes. Mike took it in stride and, after having another slight gay panic all over him again, he offered to help me keep up the appearance that I was super straight in exchange for some of my baking.”

Santana fondly rolls her eyes at the memory, and Brittany manages a small smile through her shock at how awesome of a friend Mike is, and at how much he really only ever thinks with his stomach and his heart.

“It ended up working pretty well for both of us. Mike’s parents liked that I was from such a prestigious family,” Santana spits the word like it tastes of jet fuel, “And my father liked that Mike’s parents were so well off and high status as well. It kept them off both of our backs for most of high school, and it kept my father from suspecting I was a little less than his perfectly straight little daughter.”

Santana meets Brittany’s eyes and a small jolt goes through her body, starting at her wrist where the pads of Santana’s fingers are gently brushing bare skin and ending somewhere deep in her chest, somewhere under the hope and the longing and the love.

“Wow,” Brittany manages, unable to look away from Santana’s glowing eyes, like honey or molasses or something equally as thick and sweet and warm.

“You really had no idea?” Santana laughs, her smile dimpled and wondrous and bright.

Brittany shakes her head wordlessly. “Definitely not, otherwise I wouldn’t have been so—” she cuts herself off bit biting violently down on her bottom lip.

“So what?” Santana asks, her head tipped to the side and her smile tiny and amused. She looks so adorable that Brittany has to swallow thickly and resist the urge to thread her hands into those dark waves and just kiss Santana in answer.

(Brittany’s heart speeds up at that though, at the thought that she genuinely has a shot at kissing Santana in more than just her dreams now.)

“Well,” Brittany says slowly, “About what I said— Before the, you know. And then the—” She growls in frustration and drops her head. “Can I start again?” she asks hopefully. Santana laughs, fond and amused, and nods. “Okay,” Brittany takes a deep breath and slowly meets Santana’s eyes, gathering every single ounce of courage she has buried in her body, “About my crush.”

Santana’s smile falters just for a second before it starts to spread even wider, her dimples deep and her lips parted and her eyes sparkling and glowing and causing that stupid, stupid, stupid balloon of hope to anchor permanently in Brittany’s chest and grow too big to be contained by a silly thing like ribs.

“I, um, I—” Brittany says, struggling to find any words to describe the way her chest aches with adoration and hope and love whenever she’s around Santana, and whenever she’s thinking about Santana, and whenever she’s awake. “Can I kiss you?” she blurts instead, and then immediately groans in embarrassment, because that wasn’t anywhere near as eloquent or subtle or romantic as she wanted to be. “I mean— Um—”

“Britt,” Santana interrupts softly, a little bit sincere and a little bit playful and a little bit teasing and everything Brittany’s grown to love about her, “I’d really like it if you kissed me.”

“Okay,” Brittany says dumbly, smiling helplessly as Santana’s face starts to draw closer to hers, “Okay, that’s good. That’s really, really goo—”

She doesn’t get anything else out, because Santana’s lips are on hers and stealing the words right from the source.

It’s like every daydream and hope and longing that Brittany’s ever had tangled up in the memory of New Year’s Eve, all wrapped into one kiss, except so much better.

It’s clumsy and a little bit awkward at first, with Santana’s hand still curled around her wrist, trapping their arms between their bodies, and their noses squashed together as their lips fumble against each other, but then Santana sighs into her mouth and they suddenly fit together perfectly. Santana’s thumb on her wrist and Brittany’s fingers brushing under the hem of Santana’s sleeve, Brittany’s palm cupping the line of Santana’s jaw and Santana’s arm slipping around Brittany’s lower back.

It feels a little bit like becoming, like tearing apart at the seams and coming back together. 

It takes a moment for Brittany to realize that Santana is smiling against her lips, and another for her to realize that she’s smiling just as widely back. It makes it hard to maintain the kiss, but Santana’s lips are soft and she tastes like mint and something sweet, so she doesn’t really care all that much. Brittany guides Santana’s mouth against her by the hand cupping her jaw, ignoring the throb of pain in her knuckles as she sweeps her thumb across Santana’s cheek and searches in vain for the source of the sweet flavour.

After long moments and whimpers that could have originated from Santana’s throat or from her own in equal measure, Brittany decides that the sweet taste is just Santana herself and sighs into Santana’s mouth, though she’s definitely not complaining about her apparently futile search at all, because the more time she spends kissing Santana the better in Brittany’s opinion.

It eventually becomes nearly impossible to actually kiss at all around their smiles, so Brittany pulls back only enough to press their foreheads together, her heart racing and her chest warming with so much relief and hope and happiness that she thinks she might actually be physically glowing.

“Hey,” Santana says with a wide grin.

Brittany laughs and can’t resist ducking her chin forward to kiss Santana again. “Hey.”

Santana giggles against Brittany’s mouth and nuzzles their noses together before Brittany pulls back again.

“So,” Brittany drawls playfully, “I take it you don’t really mind too much that I kind of have a massive crush on you, then.”

Santana snorts out a laugh, and her warm breath fans across Brittany’s face and it basically feels like the best thing in the entire world. “So long as you don’t really mind too much that I also kind of have a massive crush on you,” she teases.

“Ass,” Brittany mutters, but it comes out much too adoring for it to actually be insulting.

Santana beams and curls her arm tighter around Brittany’s back, drawing their bodies closer together. “Don’t call your girlfriend an ass,” Santana reprimands, and as confident as she sounds, her eyes are shy and nervous and adorable.

“Oh,” Brittany drawls, “You’re going to be that kind of girlfriend.”

Something in Santana’s expression eases and Brittany can actually feel how the tension leaks out of her body. “Careful,” she threatens toothlessly, “Or I’ll kick your ass.”

Brittany grins, unable to do much more than stare adoringly at Santana even when they’re bickering like usual.

A thrill arcs through her body at the realization that she doesn’t have to desperately try to hide her feelings from Santana anymore, that she doesn’t have to bite back loving smiles or tender words or adoring eyes anymore.

Brittany twists her wrist in Santana’s loose grip a little in reminder, her smile threatening to crack open her cheeks at the realization that she can openly love Santana in the way she deserves. “I seem to remember only one of us heroically and publicly kicking ass today.”

Santana’s smile suddenly falters and her eyes drop down, and Brittany’s chest clenches, desperately wishing that she could erase whatever dumb words spilled out of her mouth in the last five seconds. “You’re right. And,” Santana says quietly, and Brittany’s heart trembles in panic, “I don’t want to force you back into the closet after everything. But with my father and—”

“Hey,” Brittany interrupts, shaking off Santana’s hand from her wrist and reaching up to cup both of Santana’s cheeks, wishing that her hands weren’t bandaged so she could actually feel Santana’s soft skin under her palms. “You aren’t forcing me anywhere, okay?” Brittany whispers, waiting until Santana finally meets her eyes, “I get it. And I would never force you to come out when it’s not safe or you’re not ready.

“You don’t have to wait for me,” Santana protests, her eyes glassy and shiny, “You should be out dating and having fun and I can’t— I can’t be with you in public, and I don’t want you to waste your time and regret it and resent me for—”

Brittany shakes her head and presses their foreheads together, kissing Santana until Santana finally relaxes under her before she pulls away slightly. “You’re worth it,” she breathes, her lips brushing against Santana’s at her words, “You’re worth the wait. I’m not going to ever regret you or resent you, and especially not for something so out of your control.”

Santana lets out a shuddering breath and gives Brittany a slightly watery smile. “If you’re sure,” she says.

“I’ve never been surer,” Brittany promises, her thumbs tenderly sweeping across Santana’s cheeks, pressing briefly against Santana’s dimples on their path, “And besides, I won’t be back in the closet, I’ll just be standing at the door.”

“You’re absolutely ridiculous,” Santana says with a dramatic roll her eyes.

“Oh yeah?” Brittany challenges, “And what are you going to d—”

Santana finds a much more effective way of shutting Brittany up than anything she’s ever tried before, and Brittany is pretty sure she’s never going to ever complain about Santana’s newest method.