It had been a mostly uneventful summer, as most summers in Lima were. There had been a few Glee Club pool parties at Brittany's house, where the girls tanned and the guys played mini-basketball in the pool. Santana wondered if they knew how… well, gay they all looked, splashing all over each other trying to gain control of that little plastic ball. Surely the macho boy assholes would be horrified. She gave some consideration to telling them, just to see their reactions, but there really wasn't much fun in seeing people freak out over the possibility of being gay anymore. It just hit a little too close to home these days. So she just rolled over and worked on evening out her tan. She never got her privileges back from Sue Sylvester even when she was on the Cheerios, so.
Santana had tried to hang out with Quinn periodically, just to make sure she wasn't about to slit her wrists after the meltdown in New York City. Quinn had taken to sitting in dark rooms by herself in complete silence, and it freaked the fuck out of Santana. So she went over and just sat with her. She never tried to turn on the lights, but after awhile she couldn't stand the quiet and had to put on the TV. They watched TV together, Santana occasionally sneaking a glance at Quinn's expression to see if she could tell what she was thinking. No such luck. Quinn was as unreadable as ever, and Santana mostly just braced herself for another random outburst to deal with.
If that was going to happen, Santana had Brittany on speed-dial for reinforcements. Not that Santana wasn't hanging out with Brittany, just… they had set rules. A new start, or something.
At the beginning of the summer, Brittany had outlined a plan for herself - she really was sticking to that "working on me" business. So she had cheer camp planned, and she wanted to read more, and she went dancing with Mike every Saturday. She played video games with Puck on Friday nights, dragged Rachel to karaoke every Thursday, brought takeout and movies to Quinn's every Tuesday, and went to kickboxing class at the gym with Tina every Monday.
Santana wasn't sure how often Brittany saw Artie. She didn't ask. She also didn't ask how exactly Brittany was tutoring Finn in geometry every Wednesday. Stranger things had to have happened, right?
Regardless, Brittany had taken it upon herself to hold the glee club together over the break, and Santana's day was Sunday. They mostly read magazines and gossiped; Brittany told her about all the activities she had with the other glee kids, and Santana tried her best to listen. Occasionally she'd break out her phone and come up with the most ridiculous sext and send it to Quinn, laughing hysterically at Quinn's angry replies. Brittany always smiled gamely, before saying quietly, "She's going through a rough time, Santana."
To which Santana always conceded, with a shrug and a "I'm just trying to make her laugh." And Brittany would giggle and say, "She's going to kill you."
Santana always smiled biggest when Brittany giggled.
One day, as the first day of school quickly approached, Brittany sat up from Santana's bed. "Santana?"
Santana looked up from her nails. "Hm?"
"We need a plan."
"You've been hanging out with Berry too much."
Brittany smiled fondly, as if remembering some far-off memory. "We did a duet to a Lady Gaga song last week."
Santana ignored her. "What kind of plan?"
"For the school year."
"Okay." It wasn't that Santana didn't want to go back to school. Summer was pretty boring, and there were only so many times she could hang out at Quinn's without wanting to go tearing through the house and mess up all the perfect decor. And maybe smack over a Jesus statue.
But going back to school meant dealing with the McKinley shark tank. And Santana was not a shark anymore. Santana was a minnow.
Life as a minnow sucked.
"I'm going back on the Cheerios," Brittany stated carefully.
Santana blinked at her, waiting for something more. Brittany soldiered on.
"Oh." Truthfully, Santana hadn't thought about it. She liked being able to wear whatever she wanted at school, and she could eat at Breadstix all the time now… but that Cheerios uniform protected her. It was shark skin.
"I love glee and I know it'll make Mr. Schuester mad, but I really need a scholarship for college. Coach Sylvester'll make sure I get one."
"Yeah," Santana exhaled. "You're right. I guess I'll rejoin, yeah."
"Well, we'll be seeing way more of each other again, and I know we'll probably get really close again, and I'm really happy about that, but… Santana, I don't want to date you."
The words stung Santana in the back of her eyes, and she tried not to let the tears prick out at the corners. She let out a wobbly laugh. Maintain some dignity.
"That's fine. No one's saying you need to. We hung out all summer, remember? We haven't even made out." She paused, mustering up a wicked grin. "And that's a big deal for me."
Brittany frowned. Santana dropped the pretense immediately, and focused her eyes downward, avoiding the look.
"Well, I just think there need to be boundaries. I love you so much Santana, but I don't think we're going to work right now. I just don't think we're ready. You're new at being you and you're new at dating and this is just a lot of stuff you've never done before, and I don't want to be the one…" She trailed off, like she'd said too much. Santana looked at her out of the corner of her eyes, a big gulp of air trapped in her lungs. She knew exactly what Brittany was going to say.
She didn't want to be the trial run. She didn't want to be the one Santana would surely fuck up with on her first attempt. Brittany's eyes caught the light, shining with tears.
"I just think that... before, we didn't have any rules and it hurt both of us. So now I want rules. I don't want to lose you, so I want rules."
Santana took a shaky breath, feeling a little thump beat back into her heart at Brittany's words. She reached across the bed and grabbed her hand.
"I won't hurt you. And I won't date you. Okay?" She forced every ounce of nonchalance into her voice that she could muster.
Brittany smiled, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. "Okay." She squeezed Santana's hand. "'Cause I'm really trying to work on me. I like me. But I also like you. And I don't want me to get hurt by you. 'Cause then who am I going to like more?"
Santana chuckled. "I get it, B. You don't have to explain yourself." She reached around and pulled Brittany into a hug. A few tears slid down her cheek, now that Brittany couldn't see her face. "See?" She choked out a watery laugh, rubbing her hand down Brittany's back. "See how much I'm not hurting you right now?"
Brittany laughed, and Santana's heart rattled against her ribcage.
The first day of school was pretty uneventful. Santana showed up to McKinley and immediately sought out Kurt in the parking lot. The Bully Whips had disbanded, mostly because Figgins said they couldn't afford the laundry upkeep for their berets. But also, Karofsky had transferred, and Santana didn't really want to be the only one sticking up for teen gay safety.
It didn't mean she still couldn't walk with Kurt though. Like she would tell anybody, but having someone to protect meant that no one needed to protect her. So she waited for Kurt's car to roll up, and immediately greeted him with a critical look. "Why are you wearing a sweater? It's August."
Mercedes climbed out of the passenger seat, rolling her eyes.
Kurt ignored the exchange, and looked Santana up and down. His eyebrow raised. "Why are you wearing overalls? It's 2011."
Mercedes stifled a snicker. Santana sneered at him, but when Kurt turned around to get his attaché out of the passenger seat, she let a small smile creep onto her face.
Maybe this school year wouldn't be so bad.
Actually, the first day of school was pretty uneventful with one exception, and that was the sight of Quinn Fabray. Because Quinn Fabray had shown up to the first day of school with a ridiculous mop of pink hair. Santana knew, because she had the bump on her forehead to prove it.
She'd been walking down the hallway, having just deposited Kurt at his classroom, when she caught a flash of black and pink moving down a perpendicular walk through. Naturally, Santana turned and looked, because it's not every day that you see electric pink hair, and it's also not every day aforementioned electric pink hair on your sometimes-best-friend who usually has a stick so far up her ass you're pretty sure no medical procedure could remove it.
It's also not every day that you find electric pink hair… really fucking hot.
So Santana's head was permanently swiveled to the left, and, Jesus, was she walking in slow-motion? Santana was pretty much zoned out, as she stared Quinn up and down, wondering what the hell had happened since the last time she'd been over, and suddenly, shockingly, the side of her face connected with something metal.
She'd walked right into an open locker door. Great.
"Jesus, what the fuck?" Santana reeled backwards, clutching her head.
"Uh, are you okay?" A hand reached out to touch Santana's sore spot. She smacked it away, even unseeing, as her eyes were clenched shut with the pain. "That looked like it kind of hurt."
Santana squinted one eye open to see who she was looking at. It was a new girl. A very… cute new girl.
Santana groaned. If she was going to have to go through senior year wanting to make out with all the girls in school - including Quinn Fabray - then this whole "living honestly" plan was going to be hell on wheels. "Get out of my way," she groaned, steering around the New Girl and finding her way to class, one eye closed the whole way there.
As usual, Santana dropped into her seat next to Brittany, grumbling. "Are you okay?" Brittany reached out to the reddening mark on Santana's head, finger hovering over her skin. "I thought ethnic people didn't turn red or anything."
"I ran into a locker door," Santana mumbled embarrassedly as she fumbled with the pages of her text book. Brittany frowned sympathetically.
Last year, if they'd been at school or at home, Brittany would probably have kissed her finger and touched it to Santana's forehead, proudly proclaiming, "All better." There had been a phase in their childhood where Brittany swore her kisses had healing powers. Actually, to be specific, pain could be relieved by kissing the point of injury and then snorting loudly over it, which Santana always found deeply weird but also strangely charming. Coming from Brittany, anyways.
Over the years, it devolved into the feather-light press of a kissed finger, but today, it was simply not even a touch. Brittany's hand lingered over Santana's forehead for a moment, and then it quietly fell away.
Somehow, the lack of contact made the throbbing pain even worse.
After school, there was no other option in Santana's mind than to drop by Quinn's house. She hadn't gotten a chance to corner that pink hair after glee club, and there was no way she was going to stay in the dark on this one. Pink hair needed explaining, dammit.
So, she rapped twice on the Fabray door before Quinn opened it wordlessly and retreated back to the couch. Clearly Quinn was not offering up any explanations of her own.
"Y'know, if I didn't know better, I'd say this portrait was exactly like any other day," Santana began casually, dropping her bag on the ground and making her way to the armchair. "Something is different, though; what is it?" She feigned being deep in thought, a finger to her chin. "Well, let's see… the lights are off, that's the same. You're not talking, that's the same. Everything looks like the Vatican threw up in here; yep. Oh, and what, ho! Your hair's pink and you're dressed all in black! That's new!"
Quinn sent Santana a withering look, but still opted for silence. Santana dropped into a chair, waited a few seconds, and then tried a more direct tack.
"Care to explain, Fabray?"
"Figgins is making me change it back."
"Why? You look hot."
"Yes, well, apparently there's a dress code."
"Somebody shoulda told that to the guy who designed our Cheerios uniforms," Santana remarked.
Quinn laughed mirthlessly.
"You coming back with me and Britt?" Santana decided to let Quinn off the pink hair hook for at least a second.
"No," Quinn said quietly. "I don't think so. I just… want a change. I wanted a change." She gestured at her flyaway pink streaks.
"Tina totally wears blue and purple and shit in her hair; I don't get why Figgins has to be such an ass about it."
"Well, Tina's hair is mostly her natural color, and also Figgins said something about Asian vampires, so I have no idea if he understands anything about Tina. Fabray family? Vampire-free. Easy to grasp. This isn't acceptable." She looked around her for a moment, as if she were inventorying her surroundings. Repressed American family? Check. Broken home? Check.
Santana winced, suddenly feeling terrible for Quinn. So she offered the only platitude she could, standing up and extending her hand in invitation. "C'mon, I'll help you dye it back."
The next day, Quinn showed up with only the slightest pinkish hue to her hair, but still wearing darker clothes. It was enough for Santana not to run into any hard metal surfaces, though.
Rejoining the Cheerios was easy enough, as long as she waited patiently for Sue to finish her long string of boob jokes before trying out. She and Brittany had made the squad easily, and were given back their freshly-laundered uniforms. Sue didn't ask about Quinn. It's a wonder she didn't view them all as permanent traitors, and there was no point in pressing the issue.
In the locker rooms, Santana slid into the spanx and skirt and stared at herself in the mirror. She didn't feel any different. She still felt like an outsider. And now she was going to have to cheer on stupid fuckers who couldn't play football right but for some reason everybody worshiped them anyways.
She straightened her spine and narrowed her eyes, trying to intimidate her reflection. She had to find some way to still be her old self and let her be her new self too. There was no not being Santana anymore. She wanted that mostly for her own good, but really, if she were being 100% honest with herself (the policy these days) she wanted it for herself because Brittany wanted her to be happy. And she wanted to be happy for Brittany. It was almost as good as being happy with Brittany.
Santana always noticed the new kids. Usually, she didn't smack into their locker doors, but she noticed them all the same. Quinn had been the new kid once, with a hungry look in her eyes, and Santana immediately knew she was protection. She was the fast track to the top of the food chain, and in the ninth grade shark tank, that was a damn good deal.
There was also something lurking behind Quinn's eyes that made Santana want to be her friend: it just looked like she didn't have any. But then on their first day of tryouts, Sue put Santana on the top of the pyramid to test her out, and Quinn's hand slipped off Santana's foot, letting her tumble to the ground.
After that, Santana knew her place. And she knew that Quinn was keeping her there. It was… whatever. She'd had Brittany, and that was enough. Plus, Quinn protected her. She cared about Santana's status because Santana was just like Quinn, and so the only time Santana had to worry was when Quinn's own status was threatened. Because then the bus was coming, and Santana knew she'd get thrown underneath it. A hand slipped, a teammate dropped. It's how it was on the Cheerios.
Sam had been the new kid too, and Kurt wasn't the only one who thought Sam might be gay. But Santana didn't want to say anything. Only gay people have really good gaydars, right? And she didn't care enough about that Sam kid to put her neck out like that. Plus, Quinn got to him first and apparently he was either in the closet or just really not gay at all. And now he was dating Mercedes, according to Kurt. Whatever.
New Girl was… well, hot, for starters. Apparently she'd been on the dance team at her old school, and Santana wasn't really sure how that was going to transfer into popularity at McKinley.
New Girl's locker was five down from Santana's, and so Santana watched carefully out of the corner of her eye as she was decorating the inside of the door. Taped haphazardly on the inside, next to a mirror, was a Lady Gaga sticker, a picture of the recent winner of So You Think You Can Dance, and a photograph of New Girl herself, with her arms wrapped tightly around another girl.
Santana shut her locker, only to see Kurt standing right next to her.
"Jesus Christ! Don't you knock?"
Kurt lifted an eyebrow. "… on your locker door?"
Santana sneered at him. "Is that so much to ask?" She started to walk away, and then noticed that Kurt wasn't joining her. Grunting impatiently in her throat, she turned on her heel and grabbed him by the crook of his elbow, dragging him with her.
"So, who is she?" Kurt asked with such mustered-up cloying enthusiasm that Santana wanted to punch his stupid grinning face.
"Shut up." Santana tightened her grip on his elbow, steering him round the corner towards his first class.
"She's a dancer, Santana. You have a type!"
Santana dropped his arm immediately, and walked away, leaving him by himself in the McKinley hallway for the first time in six months.
The knock on the door was definitely audible over the blasting TV, but Santana's immediate reaction was to she'd pretend she didn't hear it. Jersey Shore was a far better outlet for her brain right now. Her dad wasn't home, as usual, and so it was just her with the house to herself. With the TV as loud as it could go, and all the lights on, because noise and chaos always made Santana feel better.
Which is why The Situation and gang were currently partying in her living room.
But the knock rapped louder, and Santana knew she couldn't hide forever. She muted the television - but didn't move from the couch.
"I know you're in there, Santana." Kurt's voice called from outside.
Ugh. Santana pulled herself off the couch and flung open the door. "What the hell do you want, Kurt?"
Kurt smiled proudly. "I knocked."
Santana stared at him for a second, blinked once, then turned and sat back down, leaving the door open.
"So, this is Lima Heights, huh?" Kurt stepped inside and shut the door behind him.
"Lima Heights Adjacent."
"How many venereal diseases do you think those idiots have?" Kurt sat next to her on the couch. Santana didn't look at him. She wondered if this was what it was like to be Quinn: sitting silently on the couch while people try and appease you. Except Quinn liked it quiet and dark, instead of under the blinding lights of Snooki and J-Woww.
"I hear chlamydia's lovely this time of year."
Kurt stifled a giggle, and Santana couldn't help a smile creep onto her face.
"What do you want, Kurt? Do you need an escort to the grocery store or something?"
"I'm not here for me, Santana. I want to… help you."
Santana turned to look accusingly at him. "Is that so?"
Kurt nodded, crossing and uncrossing his legs. "I figure… if I can support someone who shoved me into lockers and threatened my life, I can help out a teammate. And… friend." He ventured quietly at the last part, knowing full well that Santana could easily bite his head off right now.
"He texts me every day and asks about you, you know." Santana didn't really want to tell Kurt that - mostly because Dave made her promise not to, but she wasn't sure she cared anymore. She was stalling for time.
Kurt took a shaky breath. "Does he?"
"Yeah. To make sure you're safe. I always tell him you're fine. That you're happy, and in love, and no one's throwing you around. I also tell him that you don't miss him one bit, because, Jesus, Kurt, we don't even need to go down that road. He should still feel like shit for what he did."
Kurt smiled a tiny smile. "I appreciate it."
Santana smiled back at him, smugly. "I think he does, though. I make sure of it."
"My hero." Kurt clasped his hand to his chest.
"Stop changing the subject, Santana. I know you don't care about Blaine."
Santana didn't say anything. He was right. She didn't care about Blaine. But Kurt still had to answer the question. She was in charge of this conversation, dammit.
"He's… fine. He's loving college. So many new people, and places, and… he's having the time of his life. I'm happy for him." The sentiment didn't quite carry through to his voice.
"Are you guys still together?"
"Yes. We're trying to last the year, until I decide what I'm going to do for college."
"That's gotta suck."
"I think it's worth it."
"Maybe. Or maybe you're both stupid."
Another silence fell over them. Santana kept her eyes trained to the television screen.
"Santana, do you have a plan?"
"What is it with you people and your fucking plans?" Santana spat out before she could stop herself.
"Says the woman who could feasibly take out every couple in McKinley High with some well-placed mononucleosis." Kurt rolled his eyes. "I'm not talking a battle plan, or anything. I know you're capable of those. Just… do you have any idea about what you want to do? Are you going to come out before college?"
Santana felt her jaw clench. "Yes. No. I don't know."
"Will Brittany be with you if you come out?"
"No." Kurt waited patiently for her to continue, and Santana sighed. "We have a no-dating rule in place. She's trying to work on herself, and I think she wants me to too. Whatever that means," she added bitterly.
"Santana, you know exactly what that means," Kurt said gently. "You don't have to parade through the hallways with rainbow flags or anything, but I don't want you to sacrifice your identity simply because you're scared. It's not worth it."
Oh god. Santana felt tears start to leak out her eyes. If being gay meant crying this much, she would like to pass, thank you very much. Skip the homosexuality and, pardon the pun, go straight to dry-eyed happiness. Wouldn't that be nice?
But Santana had never been good at controlling her tears once they started. So she just let them fall down her face and down her neck, soaking uncomfortably through her shirt collar.
"Jesus fuck," she spat, reaching for tissues. "I hate this." Exasperated, she hiccuped back a sob, and chuckled mirthlessly at what she knew she sounded like. Kurt put his hand on her knee.
"You can be who you are and no one can touch you. You just can't let them. And it's not a Cheerios uniform, or bitchy insults, or random hook-ups that protect you. You protect you, just by being you. Santana, you're the scariest girl I know. Why do you think no one's threatened me with a slushie in months?" He reached for Santana's hand and grabbed her half-soaked Kleenex, bringing it up to her eyes and dabbing at her bleeding mascara. "Good things can happen to you, Santana. I just... want good things to happen to you for the right reasons." He was almost timid in the way he said it.
Santana struggled to catch her breath as Kurt blotted at her makeup. He took the moment to muster up some more courage. "So. New Girl is named Sugar, and she's a dancer. Rumor has it she's at least bi, because she had a reputation for making out with the other girls on the dance team. She went to school in Philadelphia," he added. "There's an area there called the 'Gayborhood,' so she's probably at least pretty open-minded."
"I told her to get out of my way the other day. I don't think she likes me."
Kurt laughed. "Sweetie, that's just part of your charm. If she doesn't like that, then you probably shouldn't date her."
They fell silent again, and she let Kurt put his arm around her, snuggling up to his side as the people on TV got shit-faced.
"I swear these people are missing chromosomes," Kurt remarked. Santana rolled her eyes and tried not to sniffle into his shirt.
Later that night, she got a text message that said Just be happy, Santana. She wondered if encouraging text messages were the bread and butter of supportive gay relationships. Gross.
But she kept it in her inbox anyways, unanswered.
Santana really wished Ms. Pillsbury would stop staring at her. They'd been sitting in her office for five minutes now, listening to the clock tick by at a mercilessly slow pace. And she was just... staring at her.
"Is this your idea of counseling?" Santana finally had to break the silence. She picked at loose thread on her Cheerios skirt.
"Well," Ms. Pillsbury enunciated, in that obnoxiously distinct way, "I'm trying something new."
"Oh, so, like, actually counseling then? There wasn't a pamphlet for this?"
"If you must know," Santana knew she was treading carefully, choosing not to take the bait. "Principal Figgins is trying to shape up McKinley. Our student population… well, we're not very well ranked as a safe learning environment."
Santana scoffed. "Some shitty-ass people go to this school."
Ms. Pillsbury pursed her lips. She was trying to decide whether or not to lie, Santana knew. This was a test - for the guidance counselor, not her. She narrowed her eyes.
Finally, "Yes. There really are an inordinate amount of miscreants in attendance here." She sighed.
Santana smirked. Ms. Pillsbury had passed. Honesty was always Santana's best policy.
You know, unless lying was particularly beneficial to her that day. But otherwise; yeah. Honesty.
"So what am I here for, then?"
"Santana, I know you've changed a lot since you joined glee club, and I just want to make sure you're… okay." She sat back in her chair.
"I'm good. I like glee. I'm back on the Cheerios. Coach doesn't make as many boob jokes, and Rachel Berry has stopped stinking up the hallways with her depressing pheromones. In all, I say everybody's winning."
"How's your... relationship with Brittany?"
Santana felt the heat rise in her neck. Not a chance, Bambi. Not this easy.
"How's your relationship with Professor Buttchin?"
Okay, so maturity was not a necessary component in the battle plan.
"Wow; okay. Well, alright. We're… dating. Cautiously."
Santana looked up. She wasn't expecting more honesty. Or being talked to like she was a real person and not just a teen cheerleading bitch with fake jugs. Oh, fuck all.
Squinting her eyes and tilting her head, Santana let out a breath she didn't know she was holding.
"It's fine. We are not dating. Cautiously or otherwise." She shrugged flippantly.
"Why not? As far as I saw it, you two were the most well-adjusted couple in this school."
"We were never a couple," Santana spat bitterly. "More like a pair." Ridiculing Ms. Pillsbury for her inaccuracies seemed like the best option right now. "Besides, I don't date. I've always been too good at sex to want to actually date anyone. Dating is for pussies and virgins."
Ms. Pillsbury winced at Santana's words. She took a moment to compose herself, and Santana felt her anger dissipate again. Ugh.
"Well, maybe you should consider dating."
"I told you; I'm not good at dating."
"Well, maybe you should consider getting good at dating."
Santana looked up, and at the exact moment, saw New Girl pass by outside Ms. Pillsbury's office. Dammit. She turned back to look at that damn annoying smile and a cupcake-yellow cardigan.
"Shut up." Santana got up out of her chair, leaving it purposefully askew so that Ms. Pillsbury would have to fix it.
This year in chemistry, they had to switch lab partners every week. Santana scrolled her eyes down the list. Fuck. She was on rotation with Tina, Puck, Mike, and… Berry. Double fuck. She still hadn't forgiven the midget for screwing up their chances at Nationals. She'd help write that song and everything, and really just wanted them to at least place. At least then she'd have happy memories from New York so she could look forward to going back there. But instead she just had the image of Finn sucking on Rachel's face in front of a thousand people burned into her brain, and the stupid hiccups of Quinn saying "I just want somebody to love me." It was like the world's lamest movie set to the world's most depressing soundtrack.
But she didn't have to deal with Rachel Berry today anyways, as her eyes shifted to the calendar and saw that she'd be with Tina for the class period. Well, whatever. She could handle that.
Tina was already at the lab table, pulling her notebook out of her bag. She was dressed… slightly differently? Her hair was pulled back, and she was wearing way less clothing. Still all black, though. Just… a black t-shirt with black leggings and a black skirt. Weird.
"What, did your closet burst into flames because it saw sunlight this summer?" Santana dropped her backpack on the floor and situated herself on the stool.
Tina didn't look up. "Nice to see you too, Santana."
"I know; you've missed me."
"How was your summer?"
"Ah, you know. Burned all my Rachel Berry dolls and sacrificed Finn Hudson's football jersey to the show choir competition gods. The usual."
Tina snorted a giggle. She shifted in her chair to meet Santana's eyes. "Write any more awkward songs for your fish-faced boyfriends?"
Santana scoffed. "No."
Tina grinned. "Good. 'Cause I'd be pissed if you didn't let me in on that."
They worked well through most of the period, with Tina handling the chemicals as Santana made faces and wrote down data. In the middle of droppering some saline solution, Tina broke the silence.
"So I'm joining the football team this year."
Santana leaned back, impressed. "Oh, really? They gonna let you do that? Y'know, being of the lady persuasion?"
"They let Finn on the team, didn't they?"
A wicked grin broke out on Santana's face. "Duly noted."
"It's just… it's senior year and this is my last chance to do whatever I want. And I want to be on the football team. I've been working out with Brittany all summer, and I think I can really pull it off."
Santana frowned at the mention of Brittany's name, and felt the distinct need to pretend she didn't hear it. "Are you quitting Glee?"
"What? No. What the hell, Santana? It's possible to do both."
"Well, not if you're Lady Hudson." Santana doodled in the margins of her paper. "But yeah, good luck getting Schuester to give you a solo now that you're splitting your time. And is Mikey okay with this?"
Tina paused. "We… broke up."
"What the fuck? You two were like, the most functional couple in this school. There's no hope for anybody if the Asian Invasion falls apart."
Tina gave her a Look, and Santana remembered what Ms. Pillsbury had said about her and Brittany. Was this like, fucking common knowledge or something? Jesus Christ.
"Well, it started when I didn't want to go to Asian Camp this summer. He went instead, and when he got back, we just… didn't really have the same connection. I think it's one of those things where like, we'll get back together in ten years or so, when we know what we want and who we are and everything."
Santana narrowed her eyes. "I guess. I kind of think that's bullshit, though. You both know exactly who you are and what you want. Turns out you just didn't want each other."
Tina didn't respond that for at least a minute, before she just offered a simple, "I guess so."
Santana saw New Girl every day at least six times, because that was how often they both went to their lockers - in between every class. Stupid New Girl with her stupid dancer's legs, and apparent ignorance to the fact that this school was a fucking nightmare - she smiled at everyone and said hello, and somehow everyone from Azimio to Rachel Berry thought she was fantastic.
"We should try and recruit her for the glee club!" she'd exclaimed.
"We haven't even heard her sing," Quinn replied sharply.
"Yes, but she has such a good attitude… unlike some people, Quinn," Rachel said matter-of-factly, without a trace of bitchiness. Quinn merely rolled her eyes.
Regardless, everyone seemed to love Stupid New Girl, and for the first time in her life Santana hated that she was just like everybody else. But Kurt's voice and Emma's voice and Brittany's voice were all swimming in her head, and so she made the very stupid decision of walking up to Stupid New Girl's locker. Because apparently she just hadn't learned her lesson about talking to girls at their lockers.
"Hey, New Girl," Santana offered, casually leaning up against a locker. Stupid New Girl looked at her and smiled.
"Hey… Santana, right?" Santana nodded, trying out a cocky smile. "Yeah… you told me to get out of your way the other day."
Santana's face fell. Then she felt a tap on her shoulder. Azimio appeared behind her. "I need to get to my locker, Amy Wine-whore," he proclaimed loudly, and pushed Santana out of the way. She stumbled backwards, readying her arsenal of swear words... and ran smack into Brittany.
"Wow, you have no game," she said, smiling and helping Santana right herself. The fight immediately drained out of her; she was basically being held in Brittany's arms.
"Shut up," Santana mumbled as Brittany released her, and she chose to direct her energies into smoothing the pleats on her Cheerios uniform. "Where's Kurt?"
"He's in class already; don't worry." She started walking, and Santana fell into step with her. It was never hard to fall into step with Brittany.
"Am I really that bad?" Santana said quietly as they maneuvered through the throngs of students.
"I can help you, if you want. I've dated the whole school. I'm really good at attracting people."
Yeah, no shit, Santana thought miserably. But she straightened herself up and tried to salvage some of her dignity. "Nah, I got this, Britt. It's cool."
And before Brittany could say anything, she turned into the waiting doorway of her English classroom.
Dealing with Puck in chemistry class was… annoying. Mostly because every time he said the word "chemistry," he wriggled his eyebrows at her and licked his lips.
Also he was a deadbeat partner.
"Did you hear that Tina's joining the football team?" Puck watched as Santana fiddled with the gauge on their burner.
"Yeah, that's cool," Santana replied, not really caring enough to make any sort of commentary. Mostly she just wanted help on this dumb lab. She handed Puck a dropper to use, but he just took it and set it down on the table.
"It's kind of awesome is what it is. How badass is that?"
"Why do you keep talking to me in the form of questions?"
Puck frowned. "I'm just excited, man. This'll be interesting. Maybe if we can get Kurt to come back and be kicker we'll keep the winning team. 'Cause with Karofsky gone…" He trailed off, and swiveled once around on his lab stool, simply to amuse himself.
"Puck, you don't think it looks like I need help or anything, do you?"
"Nah, it really looks like you have this under control." He grinned up at Santana, who smiled sweetly, then reached down and snapped the wrists of his latex gloves.
His reaction was well worth the extra work Santana'd had to do all period.
Every day at their lockers, Santana had gotten in the habit of nodding at Stupid New Girl and simply saying, "Hey, New Girl." Stupid New Girl just nodded back and said, "How's the forehead, Santana?" Then they both sort of half-smiled and walked away.
Every repeat of this encounter felt like a small triumph, even though somewhere in the back of her brain Santana knew it was the lamest thing on the planet. But, whatever. She was pretty sure they were flirting, and that was something, right?
Of course, she really only had it on Kurt's word that Stupid New Girl was at all interested in women, except for maybe that picture in her locker. So on Tuesday, Santana tried to test the waters.
It was just like any other day, their pleasantries exchanged, complete with Santana's inner high five and self-congratulation when they transpired successfully. But today, after Santana shut her locker, she walked up behind Stupid New Girl's and waited for her.
"Is that your girlfriend?" Santana asked casually, hoping she wouldn't scare the girl out of her skin. Luckily, Stupid New Girl turned calmly around, and smiled politely.
"No, it's my sister."
"Seriously? She doesn't even look like you. She's not even pretty."
Santana hadn't really know what to do with the information, so she'd said the first thing that came into her head.
Stupid New Girl opened her mouth to reply, and at that exact moment, Kurt skipped up to them. "Are you ready?" He looked at Santana, who was trying to keep a poker face after realizing what she'd just said, and then back to Sugar, whose mouth still hung open in confusion.
"Okay, let's go, Santana!" There was a high-pitched urgency in his voice as he realized some social faux pas was unfurling before his eyes, in horrendous slow-motion. He grabbed Santana by the crook of her elbow, dragging her away, and for some reason Santana felt the need to call an over-casual "See you around!" to Sugar as they parted.
"Stop talking!" Kurt hissed, swatting at her. "What did you do?"
"I told her her sister wasn't pretty." Santana couldn't really find it in her to be upset. At this point, she was just going to have to accept the fact that she was irreversibly terrible at hitting on girls.
"Oh, Santana…" Kurt shook his head. "You're hopeless. Absolutely hopeless."
"Y'know, in my defense, technically I also called her pretty. It's not my fault her sister had to take the hit for the sake of the compliment."
Kurt chuckled, and turned towards his classroom. "You're beyond hopeless."
Santana shrugged, blithely. "Yeah."
That afternoon, Santana decided to check on Quinn, whose after school activities still seemed to involve sitting in the dark in utter silence.
It was comforting to know that someone was in worse shape than she was these days. And sometimes, Santana felt the gratifying twist of vindication over the fact that it was Quinn's turn. Payback was a bitch, and it was nice that karma did a little of Santana's work for her sometimes.
But as Santana stepped into the Fabray house, she noticed one thing - the light was on. Quinn sat in her usual spot, on the couch, staring off into nothing. A book sat on the coffee table in front of her.
"Wow, lights on today, Fabray? I'm impressed."
Quinn turned to look at Santana, as if she only just realized she was here. She blinked a couple times. "Rachel turned them on and didn't turn them back off when she left."
"Why was Care Bear here?"
"Checking on me?" Quinn shrugged. "She said Brittany told her I hadn't been myself lately, and so she just… came over."
"Weird. Did she trot out her boyfriend just to make you jealous?" Santana dropped next to Quinn on the couch and reached for the remote.
"They're apparently not together."
"That's… unexpected." Santana flipped through the channels. "Want me to turn the light off?"
Quinn nudged at the book with her foot. "No, that's okay."
The fourth week of school rolled around, meaning Santana's lab partner rotated through to Mike Chang. She hadn't really talked to him at all in the new year, mostly because he kind of avoided glee events, probably on account of Tina.
Nobody at McKinley really knew it, but Santana had known Mike the longest out of any of the people at school. Most everybody else she'd met at some point in middle school, but she and Mike Chang went back to the Golden Bridge Academy, Lima's annoyingly repressed private elementary school. Santana had shown up to the first day of school in her uniform, with the sweater and skirt like a mini Rachel Berry, and she'd been desperately trying to fit in. All the other kids were drawing neat sketches with pencils, of their families and houses and pets, and Santana did her best to mimic them. Her page had looked pretty dumb though, with only her little scribble of herself and the scribble of her dad, standing about four feet apart. No pets, no siblings. No mom. She hadn't really felt like drawing her house.
Then, Mike Chang had walked up to her desk, a huge grin on his face and neon-colored paint on his fingers, and he swiped his hand over her paper.
Santana liked it a lot better that way, and it was thus that Mike Chang taught Santana Lopez the wonders of chaotic finger painting.
(There may have been one incident down the line where they both ran around the room smearing the colors all over the walls. Santana, purposefully being obnoxious, had gotten some of the other kids in their pristine uniforms too. Ever since then, the teachers separated Mike and Santana, and Mike's parents encouraged him to distance himself from her.)
But even still, Santana had always counted Mike Chang as a friend, although he hung out with Brittany more than her, and they barely spoke any words to one another. Without Mike Chang, Santana would probably still be wearing knee socks and ties, tremulously trying to draw the right picture. She'd always wondered that if she stayed close with Mike, she wouldn't have been so hung up on popularity. He seemed to have no issues with it - he finger painted his way right to glee from football and managed both easily.
She envied him.
But not now, though, because he was miserable in the wake of his split from Tina.
"You okay, Mikey?" Santana nudged him with her elbow as he set to work writing their lab without a word.
"Yeah, I'll be okay."
And that was it, and always how it was. A mutual unspoken friendship. They didn't talk about things. But they were friends, because of one single day in preschool.
"Santana, can I talk to you?"
These were the words Santana never wanted to hear out of Rachel Berry's mouth. Especially when she was in her current state of anger with her over Nationals. Still. Probably always, a little bit.
"What do you want?" Santana sighed, trying her hardest to make it clear she was burdened with indifference. The club had all departed to the bathrooms to prep for their performances, and Santana had apparently made the worst decision in staying behind to dig out her makeup bag. Rachel had cornered her.
"I want to apologize again for my actions at Nationals," Rachel began.
"Forget it," Santana interrupted, hoping she'd be able to cut this short.
"But," Rachel cut her off. "I would like to remind you that it takes two people to share an onstage kiss, however poorly timed or inappropriate. And I don't see you threatening to kill Finn."
"That's because Finn's stupid and I don't care about him," Santana returned easily and then immediately stopped rooting around in her bag. She looked up at Rachel, whose mouth twitched into a little smile as she realized the implications of what Santana'd just said.
Santana scoffed. "Whatever." She went back to shuffling through her bag, even though the makeup kit was clutched firmly in her hand.
"That's actually what I wanted to talk to you about. As you may know, Finn and I are no longer an item. It's been an adjustment, but I feel good about the decision, and I'm ready to focus all my energies on getting us to Nationals again this year. But Finn is a little hurt by it, and it's his decision to step down as co-captain of glee."
Santana stopped her rifling again, and looked up suspiciously.
"Well, I know you pretend not to care, but I actually have an acute sense of recognizing a performer's devotion. You're the only one here who cares as much about winning and performing as I do," Rachel shrugged. "So I thought I'd ask if you'd care to be my co-captain."
"What about Kurt or Mercedes?"
"I think we're too similar. Plus, they said no. They both want solos, but they don't actually want to put in the work to captain the club."
"Finn did work for this?"
Rachel looked away, and shrugged. "Sometimes."
Santana eyed Rachel. "What makes you think we won't kill each other?"
"Because if we don't kill each other, we'll be unstoppable."
"You're not allowed to make any of the costumes argyle."
"And there is a minimum on how many shmoopy duets you can sing with people, or about people. You don't want me to barf onstage, do you?"
"And you're not allowed to send me more than five e-mails a day with song suggestions."
"I think I can manage."
Santana narrowed her eyes again, and stuck out her hand, makeup bag still firmly clutched in it. Puzzled, Rachel accepted the bag - but Santana kept her hand held out. Rachel's face split into an annoyingly bright grin as she realized that Santana was acquiescing, and grabbed the outstretched hand. They shook on it.
"Okay, so Sectionals," Rachel began as they walked out of the classroom together, Rachel still carrying Santana's makeup bag for her.