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The Onset of a Later Stage

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June 2019

So.

The doorbell rings, and Quinn goes from staring in that you-are-my-world way at Hayley to immediately looking annoyed at Sam, who is still talking to Rachel over by the barbecue and just does not look like he's going to get the door.

"Gimme," Santana says, holding out her arms, because that little bundle of Aryan supremacy is kind of adorable. Whatever, even though she doesn't want any of her own and Rachel gets more than enough of her fix of kids at work, she can admit that there's something kind of cute about Hayley's cooing and feeble grasping of everyone's fingers.

Quinn rolls her eyes, of course, but goes to the door, and Santana wanders over to the back of the house with Hayley, pointing out that her dad's a total dork and that Aunt Rachel really can't be trusted near anything with open gas fires. The baby laughs, like it actually understands what she's saying, and then two arms wrap around her back and a kiss is pressed to her cheek.

"Hey," Britt says, from over her shoulder, before peering down and tickling under Hayley's chin. "And hey, you! You're super cute. Your head isn't all big and smushed like your sister's was when she was born."

Santana laughs before looking at Quinn, who has pretty standard not amused face on right now, but whatever.

"How was the flight?" she asks Brittany, who is very sneakily unhanding her from the baby, but Brittany and babies is one of those things that just makes sense; Santana lets go willingly.

"Good. Long. But it's okay, it's like the first night of real sleep we've had in ages," Brittany says, with a fond look to Mike, who is shaking Sam's hand and clapping him on the shoulder in congratulations on the baby in the yard.

"Tell me about it," Santana sighs. "Being an adult sucks ass."

"Language," Quinn says, without even looking up from where she's pouring everyone some wine.

Santana rolls her eyes. "Anyway-how long are you grounded for now?"

"Oh, we're between tours," Britt says, tickling Hayley under her chin. "So we have like a month. We're not staying on the east coast that long, though. I mean, my lease is running out, and since we're always at his place anyway-it just doesn't make sense to not move in together, so that's going to happen."

The baby coos at something and for one weird, small moment, Santana realizes this could have been their life: moving in together, having babies. It feels-

"Only you would manage a scowl when looking at the sunniest two people on earth," Rachel says, with a laugh, before leaning in and giving Brittany a kiss on the cheek. "Hey, Britt."

"Hey yourself. How's teaching?"

"It's great, actually." It still comes out a little awkwardly, but Santana places a hand at the small of Rachel's back and Rachel laughs after a second and adds, "Well... maybe great isn't the word. I don't know how Mr. Schuester put up with girls like me, honestly. I just want to hit them all in the head with a mallet."

"Whatever, you love it," Santana says, because it's true. Rachel isn't actually bitter about where she ended up; not when every time she wants to do a small run of something, the dean is completely on board because it's excellent publicity for the school and a great learning opportunity for the kids in the acting programme.

Nobody asks Santana what law school is like, which is good, because at the end of her second year, she's completely out of positive things to say about it. She literally has five days off before her next internship starts and it seriously feels like she might die before this degree is over-but then she comes home and Rachel's singing in the kitchen and there's a cold beer in the fridge for her, and whatever, she knows she's just having a serious case of first world problems.

There will come a day when she's running to school districts all over the state, yelling at uncooperative school boards and local news media about tolerance and whatever, and it will all be worth it. (She can't even imagine how much frustration she'll be able to unleash on the world. It'll be fun, and way good for her blood pressure.)

They'll never be rich, but they're in New York and comfortable.

After their first five years there, that in and of itself feels like a dream.

...

Quinn's cooking and Santana joins her out of habit-she's the one with the knife skills, Rachel's just the one with the pitch-perfect palette-and it's honestly like they still see each other every other day for drinks or coffee or just pure, mindless gossip.

"Would you ever consider moving back?" she asks, unexpectedly, because if she gives in to that little five year old in her mind who just wants all of her friends in exactly the same place, that's the first thing that comes out.

"What, to the city?" Quinn asks, giving her a funny look. "I really don't see how, or why. It's not exactly the best place for Hayley to grow up, and I'm not even talking about school districts when I say that. Also, Sam is going to be in school for the remainder of his life at this rate-"

"It's only another three years, geez," he says, passing by them with a few more bottles of beer. He sticks his tongue out at her and Quinn rolls her eyes.

"Anyway-I don't see how we would ever afford it; not just on my salary, and I actually don't mind Philadelphia."

"Seriously?" Santana asks, knowing she's coming off like one of those awful transplants who think that the world boundaries end at Brooklyn Bridge. But... they sort of do, is the thing.

"It's like … a cross-section of Lima and New York," Quinn says, and then stops preparing the little pasties they're having as appetizers for a moment, before looking at Santana. "You are that city. I've always been a little bit more in between."

"Rachel is that city. I'm just where she is."

"Oh, please. Rachel isn't the only reason you still live there."

"She's the biggest one," Santana says, remembering getting into Georgetown and needing at least three weeks to decide whether or not it was going to be worth it to be away from Rachel for three years.

(Three weeks, because Rachel insisted on a rational and informed decision with a clear pro and con list-as opposed to Santana's gut instinct, which had always been "fuck, no".)

"It's okay to be happy there, you know," Quinn says, mildly.

Santana just smiles and continues butchering an onion.

...

Sam and Hayley are kind of adorable together, in this really weird way where even though she can't even sit upright you can totally tell she's going to be a daddy's girl later on in life. It's probably what Rachel was like with Hiram, actually, and Santana takes a boatload of pictures just so she can torture her sort-of-niece with them when she gets older.

"So like, honestly, guys-not that it's not fun to hang out like this, but what's the occasion?" Mike asks, one arm around Brittany's shoulders.

It's late in the evening, and they're all just lounging in the back yard, trying to be quiet since Hayley finally tuckered off half an hour ago.

"Yeah. I mean, you've had the baby; is it like, time for the bathwater?" Brittany asks.

Quinn snorts. "No. Whatever that means. I just wanted to throw a garden party."

"You're turning into your mother," Santana says, with a grin.

Quinn death-glares at her and flips her off.

Sam clears his throat and says, "We just thought-you know, we should probably establish some traditions. Sort of like ongoing excuses to see each other at least once a year, on top of Thanksgiving."

Santana almost laughs at how lame that sounds, but then it sort of sinks in that maybe they have a point.

Sam and Quinn don't have any reasons to go to Lima anymore, now that Santana's parents don't live there and Sam's uncle has passed away. Brittany and Mike barely even have a home, what with how much touring they do, and she and Rachel are so glued to New York that a kind of stasis has set in. The only one of them that manages to visit everyone regularly is Kurt, but it's because he only needs to be in the city for shows every so often, and spends the rest of his time roaming the country for inspiration with James.

"I'll make it a standing appointment," Rachel says, from behind her; the hand that's been on her shoulder for most of the evening squeezes gently, and Santana smiles unwillingly. "Though, honestly, if I ever get offered the lead in a Wicked revival, I'm sorry, Quinn, but it would probably take precedence."

Everyone laughs, because Rachel doesn't need to say that she's kidding anymore when she says shit like that, and really. Who would have thought, eight years ago, that this is what her circle of friends would look like?

...

Kurt and James arrive the next day in a rented this-years-model Lexus, looking every bit like a Ralph Lauren ad come to life, striped sweaters and sunglasses and all.

Santana's happy to see them, but has to actually stop herself from just throwing herself at the car and hugging it instead. (The only really fucked up thing about living in Manhattan is that owning a car is just a waste of money, because she likes cars and likes driving and also really likes Rachel's feeble complaints about how two functional adults with functional beds don't need to go down on each other in the back seat of a Volvo, because: whatever, Rachel.)

"What's up, sexy!" Rachel exclaims, bounding down the front steps to give Kurt a big hug..

They air kiss each other twice, and then Kurt lowers his sunglasses, looking both of them up and down. "Miss Rachel, looking divine as always... since someone saved your closet from despair in 2012, anyway."

Rachel sort of rolls her eyes and beams at the same time, which is when Kurt directs a sterner look at Santana. "What is that top? Discount H&M meets heroin abuse, rather than chic? I didn't even realize that was a thing."

"And a 'fuck you' to you too, Hummel," Santana says, rolling her eyes, because obviously she can't afford to shop where she wants to right now-any extra clothing money they have left goes to a few semi-necessary red carpet outfits for both of them.

(Either way, her t-shirt is Banana Republic and that bitch totally knows it.)

Kurt grins and then tosses the keys over, with a, "I know what that look is. Go on, take her for a spin."

She glances at Rachel with a head tilt, who is hugging James and asking about his work-out regime because his arms are looking "incredibly fierce"-and yeah, sometimes, her girlfriend of five years is the biggest gay man she knows, but it's kind of cute.

When Rachel meets her eyes and she holds up the car keys, Rachel shrugs and says "sure" before hopping into the passenger seat.

"Don't be too long, or you'll ruin Mama Fabray's impeccably timed afternoon tea arrangements," Kurt reminds them, loudly, probably just to annoy Quinn (now in the doorway, probably wondering what the hell is taking so long.)

Santana laughs as Quinn rolls her eyes before giving Kurt a chance to make faces at Hayley, and like, whatever. Even though this weekend is supposed to be about the gang getting back together, she's pretty sure that nobody will give a shit if she and Rachel disappear for a few hours to go and do some lame touristy stuff in Pennsylvania.

...

They end up just driving around county roads with no real destination in mind, until Rachel finally caves and turns on her cell phone GPS and directs them to some place about an hour out of town that's got one of those treasure hunt coin things on it.

A dirt road takes them to a gritty field with a mug-infested lake by it, and even though it's not exactly the paradise promised by that mysterious marker, Rachel nudges her and says, "Come on, live a little."

Rachel has always had an uncanny knack for finding magic where there is none, Santana thinks, when they wander to the edge of the lake in their flip flops and end up looking out from what feels like a miniature hill. They can see Philly in the distance, and a whole lot of countryside, and this is the kind of thing they just don't get in New York.

"Sometimes I miss Lima," Rachel says, almost echoing her thoughts.

"We can tell Hiram and Leroy that we want to do Hannukah at theirs; I mean, I know they've already booked tickets, but it's probably early enough to cancel with a refund," Santana offers, before sitting down Indian-style and staring off into the distance.

"What about your mom, though?"

"Still not Jewish, babe," Santana reminds, and Rachel kicks at her gently before also sitting down. "I mean it, though. I mean, Lima's not my favorite place on earth, but-"

"Do you ever think about getting married?" Rachel asks, cutting her off.

Santana almost falls over in shock. (No, seriously, and that shit would hurt because at the bottom of ye olde rustic hill is a bramble bush.)

Rachel catches her arm just in time and laughs. "God, are you okay? What was that?"

"You kind of … surprised me," Santana says, through nearly clenched teeth.

"I'm not trying to trap you into having a conversation where you can only say the wrong thing," Rachel promises, which is good, because those kind of conversations are kind of a Berry specialty, and every time one of them looms on the horizon Santana still flashes back to that awful afternoon in their apartment when they almost lost everything before they even got started.

"Okay, well, if you're not trapping me," she says, slowly, "I'm first of all going to point out that while we can get married where we live, there are obviously serious limits to what it means until the federal government gets its head out of its ass..."

"Pedantic, but valid," Rachel murmurs, linking their hands together after a moment.

"... and then I'm going to say that I think we're a little young... I mean, this is going to sound incredibly patriarchal, but I dislike the idea of actually marrying you before we're financially stable and I can provide for both of us, and-"

"Honestly, did you learn anything in that women's study degree?" Rachel asks, with a laugh.

"... and thirdly, I …" she pauses there, but Rachel's just sitting and waiting and it really doesn't feel like she's being tested. "... I sort of gave up on the idea of getting married when I realized I wasn't going to be marrying some older guy for money or fame, or whatever."

"Okay," Rachel says, easily enough, and looks out into the distance again.

They're quiet for a long moment, with just the occasional mosquito zig-zagging over, and Rachel demonstrates that uncanny ability to snatch things from the air and kill them a few times.

"What brought this on?" Santana finally asks.

Rachel shrugs. "I was just thinking about Quinn and Sam not getting married. I mean, I never would've thought."

"I think the enterprise sort of lost its sheen for her a while ago," Santana says, because this isn't the first time she's thought about it; Quinn having another kid without being married was still sort of the biggest shock of last year, and everyone knows it's not Sam that doesn't want to get married.

(Player was handing out rings like candy when he was seventeen, Santana's pretty sure he'd do it again now.)

"Because of her parents?"

"And mine," Santana says, with a shrug. "I don't know. She's not who we knew in high school anymore, you know?"

"Well, no, I imagine that even though Hayley wasn't totally planned, Quinn probably wasn't um, under the influence, when she was conceived," Rachel says, with a smile.

"It doesn't really matter, as long as she's happy," Santana finally says.

The sun is at an absolute high, and it's really warm and maybe this spot deserves its magical-mystery-Google-star after all, because this is probably the most relaxed she's felt in about three months. (Ninety percent of that is law school; the other ten is just New York.)

"So, if I told you that getting married was important to me," Rachel says, turning their hands over and playing with Santana's fingers. "Would that change anything?"

Santana rolls her eyes before lying down on her back; the rough grass tickles, but it's also kind of cool and nice. "Yeah, this isn't a trap. Geez, Rachel."

"Just hear me out. I'm not asking you about this because I'm worried that you'll wake up one day and realize you really do want to be with Brittany. I've just been thinking about where we are now, a lot, and..." Rachel sighs and flops down onto her back as well. "This is going to sound weird, because you know I'm completely Reform and I barely do anything that would be classified as practicing, but-maybe it does matter to me. Whether or not we commit to this, the seriousness and the lasting nature of our relationship … you know, before God."

This really isn't the conversation Santana thought they'd be having on one of their really, really rare days off, but maybe that's why it's happening now. (She guesses she should be grateful that Rachel hasn't randomly brought it up at like, midnight after she's spent her last ten bucks on lukewarm coffee and her eyes feel like they're going to bleed.)

She thinks hard, because... while she really could give a shit about whether or not they sign some papers (really, the meaning of that sort of loses its charm when she spends every waking hour learning how to do it) to signify that this is for real and serious, she's also not really... opposed to it.

"You know, we almost lost all of our friends, just by giving in to this," she says, finally, when that's the overriding thought left in her mind. "Us, I mean."

"I remember. I was there," Rachel says, raising her eyebrows faintly.

"Yeah, but." Santana takes a deep breath and then lies down next to Rachel, on her side. (This shirt is going to be ruined with stains all over, but whatever, maybe they should at least be looking at each other when they're talking about something so fucking serious.) "What I mean is, I guess I see your point. If us being together is worth losing, you know, everyone we care about, then... I guess it's probably also worth getting married over."

"Is that a yes?"

Santana stares at her for a moment. "Wait-"

"Yes," Rachel says, calmly, lowering her sunglasses until they're actually making eye contact.

"I thought this was a hypothetical discussion about like, feelings or something-"

"Santana-I'm asking."

"Seriously?" she manages, when Rachel's clearly not kidding.

"What did you think this weekend was about, babe? Quinn randomly throwing a garden party? Really?" Rachel asks, sounding incredibly amused. "My dads should be at the house by now, and your mom will be here later tonight."

Santana stupidly freezes for a long moment, staring at some unremarkable spot on Rachel's pink polo shirt, and then gapes at her face again. "What the fuck?"

"I knew you wouldn't appreciate some grand gesture of my love and devotion. And I'm not stupid enough to wait for you to come up with anything truly romantic, so I thought this would be the best way to do it," Rachel says, also rolling onto her side and reaching over to link their hands together again. "It would be nice if you could say something other than 'what the fuck', though."

Yeah, it would be, Santana thinks, dimly.

Rachel smiles hesitantly, after a moment. "We don't have to get married right away, but I honestly can't imagine being happier with anyone else, and like you said. We've already risked nearly everything we care about to be together. Why not try to turn that into something positive?"

She feels her fingers tighten around Rachel's before any words even leave her mouth, but that right there is enough of a sign. She's holding on. She's not going to stop holding on.

"Okay," she says. (Or she thinks she says. When asked later by her mother what exactly she said, Rachel will laughingly say that it was more of a 'gurgling noise' than a word.)

Rachel flips back onto her back with a deep, relieved-sounding sigh and says, "You have no idea how hard it's been to hide the ring from you for the last week, what with your pathological need to look through every drawer in the apartment every time you can't find your keys."

Santana just blinks at her a few more times and then exhales the only word that really comes to mind, "Dude."

"Stop channeling Puck, babe," Rachel says, poking her in the side, and only then does Santana finally manage to form a coherent thought:

They're getting married, and they should probably make out like crazy to celebrate that shit.

...

"Nice," Sam says, when they knock on the door for the third time. "That strand of wild grass in your hair really doesn't make it look like you two have just spent ages rolling around in a field, or anything."

"I hate you, Evans," she tells him, but he picks her up into a hug before smiling at Rachel and carries her into the living room, where seriously everyone she fucking knows is sitting with these seriously expectant grins on their faces.

"As they are still talking to each other, I'm pretty sure I can present to you all: the future Mrs. and Mrs. Berry," Sam says, with sort of a half-bow.

"Uh, no way," Santana says, elbowing him in the gut before he puts her down. "Santana Berry? I'd sound like a fucking Spongebob character."

"Charming as always, Santana," Leroy says, rolling his eyes, but then he gets up and gives her a big hug anyway. "Good call, saying yes. Now I don't have to kill you."

"Please, like I had a choice," Santana mumbles into his shirt, and he laughs for a moment before passing her over to the next person-Quinn, in tears, of course, and they're probably tears of laughter, because:

"You're marrying Rachel fucking Berry," she says, and something about that also gets to Santana's under-worked tear ducts, because next thing, they're sort of clinging to each other and laughing about how incredibly strange this all is.

Kurt toasts them, in typically half-bitchy/mostly-sweet Kurt fashion, and Rachel hugs him afterwards and asks him to be her best man.

"Can I wear a skirt?" he asks, raising his eyebrow.

"As long as you design it yourself," Rachel says, leaning into him, and Santana knows she's sort of grinning like an idiot, but whatever.

Her mother, when she arrives, cries buckets, and then says how happy she is that Santana's gay and not marrying some "numbskull" like that Noah Puckerman, and then turns her attention to Quinn and pointedly says that it would be nice if everyone could demonstrate a willingness to commit as sweetly as Rachel did.

Sam swallows hard and disappears upstairs to check on Hayley.

...

The evening doesn't really quieten down at any point; Puck calls from LA and hollers so loud that Santana's pretty sure she's punctured an eardrum, and whatever, it's all kind of perfect-even when Hiram and Leroy break out Pictionary, which is super lame but also exactly what they'd do any other night, so... maybe it's just how her family works.

It's close to midnight when Quinn, with a teasing smile, finally says, "I figured you two would've disappeared about an hour ago by now; you know, to check on your luggage-"

"Or the laundry," Sam adds.

"Or whether or not that earring Santana is missing is in the back of our car," Leroy sighs, before shaking his head. "I don't know what I did to deserve Santana as my daughter-in-law, but must've been some seriously, seriously awful shit."

Rachel, with a pink flush on her cheeks that beautifully complements her polo shirt, sort of juts her chin and up and says, "Forgive me for attempting some decorum, however poorly executed; if I left this up to Santana she'd just hook me over her shoulder-"

"Well, she'd try, maybe," Quinn says, dryly; Santana pelts a peanut at her across the room, and everyone chuckles.

When she glances over at Rachel, Santana figures this is as good an out as they're going to get, and just puts a hand on Rachel's waist and says, "How's this for decorum? You can all go fu-"

"Santana Maria Lopez!" her mother calls out, and she sighs before eating another peanut.

Rachel clears her throat a full minute later, even as the conversation switches back to whether The West Wing or Buffy was the greatest thing on television in the late 90s, and says, "Well, since you all seem to be waiting for this anyway; I think I lost something in our bedroom."

"Something important?" Santana asks, unable to hide her grin.

"Yes. Very. I'll need your help looking for it," Rachel says, and fuck, she looks great. It's taken Santana a few years to get used to the last bits of barely-there baby fat to fall off Rachel's face, but anything about her that was a little awkward when she was a teenager is definitely long gone, and when the corner of Rachel's mouth turns up, all she wants to do is kiss it and then-

"Yeah, okay, cool," she says, and glances at everyone else in the room. "I'm glad you guys were here. I hope you all brought earplugs."

"Are they too old to be grounded, Lee?" Hiram asks, and Leroy just groans and says, "I think we better head back to the hotel before we witness something damaging."

"Can I come with you?" Maria asks, and Quinn snorts, before giving them a serious look.

"You are washing those sheets before you leave, and so help me, if you make enough noise to wake Hayley up-"

Okay, so being reminded they're in a bedroom next to the baby is kind of the ultimate boner killer, but-well, the back of a Volvo wasn't much better, and Santana gets to her feet and pulls Rachel up with her. "We'll be good. I'm always good, right, babe?"

Rachel makes a strangled noise and then just shakes her head. "Is it too late to retract my invitation to be with her forever?"

A rousing "yes" sounds from everyone in the room, and Rachel just laughs and says, "Oh, well."

They manage to leave with some dignity, but as soon as Rachel sets one foot on the staircase, Santana says, "C'mon, woman, we have all night but that's still only about six hours, so-" and slaps her on the ass.

"Santana!" Rachel sort of gasps, in that scandalized voice that is Santana's absolute favorite, but then she giggles and sprints up the rest of the stairs.

Good girl, Santana thinks, giving chase, and by the time she reaches the bedroom, Rachel's already managed to remove three articles of clothing and is shifting backwards onto the bed.

"Hi there, the future Mrs. Mine," she then says, a little coyly, and Santana can't really help grinning stupidly at that.

Just for a second, anyway.

"Future, my ass," she then says, before climbing on top of Rachel and kissing her senseless.

There probably are worse times for Rachel to say, "Wow, it's just occurred to me that you are in quite the logistical pickle when it comes to your half of the wedding party", than when Santana is knuckle deep inside of her, for the third time tonight, but she can't think of any right then, and just lifts her head and stares.

"Seriously?"

"I'm sorry, you're-don't stop, but I was just-" Rachel says, before running a hand through her hair and pushing it off her damp forehead. "I mean... who is going to be your maid of honor?"

"Wait, why do I have a maid of honor? Why do you have a best man?" Santana asks, and yeah, okay; her hand does slow down then, and Rachel sort of sighs and says, "That can keep; let's talk."

Santana sighs, shifts up, and then curls up at Rachel's side, toying with her boob with sticky fingers just because she can, really. They're great boobs, even years later; the kind of rental that's worth purchasing, she thinks, and then glances at her ring finger, and the dark red ruby that now shines on it. Rachel chose well; it's not gaudy, but it's definitely there, and that's exactly how she likes her jewelry.

"I think that the only fair thing to do would be for both of us to have a best man and a maid of honor," Rachel says, running a hand through Santana's hair and then pressing a kiss to her forehead. "I have Kurt, obviously, so..."

"Puck or Sam," Santana sighs. "Shit, and that's an easier decision than Quinn or Britt."

"It has to be Quinn," Rachel says, and when Santana looks Rachel has a really amusing look on her face. "Do you have any idea how unbearable she'd be if it wasn't her? You can take the girl out of the prom, but-"

"Quinn's like a sister to me. It makes sense, but-"

"I'll put a spin on it whereby I don't have any alternative options," Rachel says, softly. "It's not entirely untrue, anyway. So-I get Britt, and you get Quinn?"

Santana frowns after a moment. "Why do I get the feeling that you somehow just got a much better deal than I did?"

"Because my maid of honor isn't going to go all Bridezilla on me," Rachel says, with a small grin.

"You just completely played me, didn't you."

"Well, … can you imagine Quinn as my maid of honor?"

Santana snorts unintentionally loudly and then covers her face, because, crap, the baby.

They both hold their breath for a few moments, but then, when there's no sound from next door, Santana glares at Rachel again. "Obviously Quinn can't be your maid of honor, but-shit, I don't know. Let me talk to Britt first, okay?"

"Sure," Rachel says, before glancing down at her own breasts, where Santana's hand is still cupping one. "That ring looks good, there. I think, anyway."

Santana nods, stretching just a little, and then giving a small squeeze. "Agreed."

"Are you going to-I mean-" Rachel says, before pressing her lips together and not finishing her sentence at all.

Santana smiles inwardly and then shifts until she's leaning up on one elbow, and can trace long, sweeping-and claiming, if she's honest-lines down Rachel's torso. "I've known exactly what your engagement ring would look like for... oh, shit, I don't know. Maybe since junior year?"

The soft look on Rachel's face at that simple admission is worth the several credit cards worth of debt it's going to cost her to actually get the thing made. "You have?"

"Mmhm," Santana says, and leans down to kiss Rachel's shoulder. "It's obvious, really, but-I thought about it when you were doing that run of Fiddler and you came home whining about how the lights reflected off all the butcher knives in the background?"

Rachel gives her a comical look and she chuckles softly.

"Not what it sounds like; no, it just got me thinking, about jewelry you could wear on stage, in general. And the thing is, I wouldn't want you wearing some matte band that you could hide or anything. I'd want something so fucking shiny, that every time you take a bow, the entire world knows you're married because they're blinded by that rock on your hand."

Rachel starts laughing and says, "Baby, you know you don't have anything to worry about, right?"

"Yeah, it's not about that," Santana says, slapping Rachel's side gently. "I just want you to feel like, y'know. I'm there. Even when I'm not, because I'm in court or can't fucking handle hearing Tonight one more time or-"

Rachel kisses her. "And this fictive ring-is it more than just huge and shiny?"

"I have a sketch, of a … it's a small, but visible five point star," Santana says, her nails scratching low by Rachel's hip, and Rachel shifts into her automatically; she loves that trick, just like she loves the way Rachel's thoughts flit over her face in rapid succession.

"Band?"

"Platinum, but not matte," she says, her hand skating down further again, until she's trailing her fingers up Rachel's thigh. "I'd probably buy you matching earrings for some anniversary."

"Sounds like you've got this all planned out, Miss Lopez," Rachel finally says, a little more breathy than a second before, but the look on her face is pure adoration, and that's probably a little more important than how well Santana knows how to work her body.

"You know me; I like plans," she murmurs, before shifting back on top of Rachel and settling in that space that feels completely made for her, right between her thighs.

Maybe it's just the fact that she doesn't want to close her eyes and have this day end, but when Rachel finally falls into a slumber at around 5am, she's still wide awake; and since the baby will be waking up soon anyway, if Quinn's tired emails about her feeding schedule are anything to go by, she slips out of the covers and tugs on an old NYU hoodie that smells like Rachel and a pair of cheerleading shorts that are finally starting to fall apart a little.

She pads down the stairs quietly and then heads into the kitchen, hitting a button for coffee and then pouring herself a mug when it's done percolating, less than thirty seconds later.

Mike and Britt are on a pull-out in the living room, and so she heads out onto the porch; it's chilly, but not devastatingly so, and with the hoodie on she's all right to have her feet in the damp grass down below, once she settles on the steps.

Her coffee's almost done when the door opens and closes behind her, and she smiles when Brittany says, "You should not be awake right now."

"Nobody should be awake right now," Santana amends, and then watches as Brittany settles down next to her, in yoga pants and and loose top. "Early morning stretches?"

"I have to keep them up, or my knee gets tight," Britt says, already bending over at the waist, and yeah-it'll never not be impressive, the way she can flatting her cheek to her legs like she's made of rubber. "It's getting harder, though. We're getting old."

"We're barely twenty-six," Santana says, with a small smile. "Old is like-Leroy and Berry White, and my mom."

Brittany smiles after a moment and says, "Well, your career's only just starting. Mine's already winding down, and... I don't know. I think it'll be nice. Settling down in California with Mike, y'know, because the warm weather makes our injuries hurt less. I think we'll open up a dance studio together."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. And then maybe have some kids," Brittany says, before straightening again and tipping her head onto Santana's shoulder. "I think I want a boy and a girl, and I'd really like you to be their... um. Not step-mom. What's that other-"

"Godmother?" Santana asks, before carefully finishing her coffee and putting the mug down.

"Yeah, y'know. So if we die, the kids go to you."

There are a lot of things Santana could say here, about how legally, she'd be unlikely to get custody unless they made this a really, really formal arrangement-but that's the kind of thing that Mike would be dealing with, anyway, and so this question is more about the sentiment.

Which is huge.

"I'm not great with kids," Santana says, after a moment.

Brittany shrugs. "I'm not either, but I figure you learn when they're there. It's like orgasms, you know?"

Santana snorts. "... no, I really don't."

"Well, you don't know what those are like until you have them either. Then they're great, and you want more. I think kids are kind of like that," Brittany says, her toes wiggling in the grass below, and Santana suddenly feels like she's fifteen again, hanging out with her best friend like not a minute of time has passed since then.

"Why me?" she asks, when Brittany just stays next to her and doesn't add anything else.

At that, Brittany sighs softly and then sits up puts a hand on her shoulder. "Because you're kind of my hero."

"I'm... what?" Santana asks, blinking at her rapidly.

"You taught me everything I know about... well, almost everything. But definitely about love. How sometimes it's hard, and sometimes it doesn't work, and then sometimes it just kind of sneaks up on you. You taught me that you have to fight for it, and wait for it, and then keep it safe when it's there. And I would want someone to teach my kids all that stuff, if I can't do it myself," Brittany says, before looking away. "Plus, Rachel knows all the best take-away places in New York and how to work really complicated laundry machines, so I think the two of you together would-"

"Okay," Santana says, reaching for Brittany's good knee and squeezing it. "Okay, I'll do it."

"Yeah?" Brittany asks, before breaking out into a big smile. "Awesome."

They sit together quietly for a long time, and then Santana says, "Goes both ways, you know. If it wasn't for you-"

"I know," Brittany says, and then turns when the sound of a crying baby sounds behind them.

Moments later, Quinn appears in the door, looking exhausted and cradling Hayley and a bottle. "My 'alarm' here woke me up; what on earth are you two doing out here?"

"Santana's going to parent my babies," Brittany says, before getting back up to her feet and giving Quinn a bright smile and Hayley a quick kiss to the top of her head. "I should go tell Mike."

Quinn blinks twice and then looks at Santana, who just laughs. "Don't ask."

"I try not to, as a general rule," Quinn says, before settling down next to her.

Hayley turns her wide blue eyes towards Santana and makes a sort of choking noise, and Santana stares back at her and says, "You want to be my maid of honor?"

"If you think our friendship will survive it," Quinn says, before tipping Hayley over her shoulder and burping her.

"Well, you're mine or Rachel's, so-"

"And yours it is," Quinn says, but with kind of an amused look on her face; the sting has been taken out of that conflict long ago now, and Santana smiles before looking back out over the yard.

"You ever thought this was how we'd end up, after sophomore year?"

"God, no. I was going to marry either Finn Hudson or an investment banker and settle in Connecticut and organize horrible dinner parties just like my mother," Quinn says, before looking down at her daughter with an unexpectedly soft smile. "And then your daddy came and rambled at me about video games for years and years, and now we have you!"

Hayley giggles loudly at just the word 'daddy', and Santana rolls her eyes.

"Lord, kill me."

"A serious answer, then?" Quinn asks, and even though it's five am, Santana realizes she kind fo wants to hear it anyway.

She nods, and Quinn averts her eyes, narrowing them towards the distance.

"Frankly, I'm happier than I ever thought I would be, back then. Beth is doing wonderfully and doesn't hate me or Noah for the choices we've made, and Sam is the best partner I could ever wish for," Quinn says, gazing off to where the sun is just about peeking past the trees in their back yard; then, she turns and looks at Santana with a small smile. "So-no. I didn't think this was how we'd end up. I didn't think we'd be this lucky."

Santana feels her chest get heavy for a moment, because any thought of junior year still comes with that sharp sting of serious loss that she just didn't see coming-but then Hayley gurgles again and makes a noise before pointing at her ring, and all of those thoughts just disappear into thin air.

"Me either," Santana says, and an overwhelming desire to see Rachel right there and then propels her back to her feet.

Sure, there's about a seventy five percent chance she's going to get killed for waking Rachel up after fucking her all night and only letting her have an hour of sleep, but she's willing to take that chance head on.

The other twenty five percent have always been more than worth it.