Author: Gorshenin PM
AU. They said she was just a pretty face, a model fed lines to sell a product. But if you squinted, there was more to Santana Lopez than they gave her credit for, and reporter Brittany Pierce was going to get to the bottom of it. Brittana/FaberryRated: Fiction M - English - Drama/Romance - Brittany P. & Santana L. - Chapters: 38 - Words: 209,311 - Reviews: 1,824 - Favs: 1,748 - Follows: 2,363 - Updated: 07-31-12 - Published: 12-11-11 - id: 7627238
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
AN: Disclaimer to the tech talk. Tried my best.
The arena filled with the hundreds of bodies that were expected to come. People from the industry, technology buffs, reporters, college students, and people out for a good time. They came to be a part of the biggest technology convention on this side of the country, to see the latest and the greatest.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to welcome you to the sixth annual Titans of Tech Expo!"
Santana had to smile at the sound of Holly's voice over the speakers around the arena. From her place at the Clockwork booth, she could see Holly's figure on the stage, but couldn't quite make out her face. It wasn't a problem though, a close up image was being displayed on the projection board behind her. She looked like she was having a blast.
"I can't believe she's here," Santana glanced at Brittany, finding her eyes sparkling with an amusement that Santana felt was out of place. She quirked an eyebrow and asked, "What?"
"Nothing," Brittany shook her head, but her smile only grew.
"Britt," Santana asked again, feeling out of the loop.
"Okay, fine," she glanced over to the stage and back to her girlfriend. "It's just really cute to see you around Holly."
Santana scratched her nose, embarrassed because she knew that it was so obvious that she looked up to the professor.
"I'm glad she's here," Brittany added at Santana's blush. "It's good for you. I'd rather see you like this than a bucket of nerves."
"Me too," she looked back to the stage, "I feel kinda better about presenting now. If anything crazy went down, Holly would totally be able to play damage control."
"That's great," Brittany looked her over carefully. It was true, Santana's posture had eased. Her eyes were more interested in the world around her, instead of distrusting. She wanted to make the most of it, asking, "You want to walk around the booths?"
Santana glanced at her watch, "Yeah, I don't think anyone needs me right now, but I gotta be back in an hour."
"Then let's get moving," Brittany took her arm in a gentle grip, urging her away from the Clockwork employee area. "I'd like to see more than just your products."
Santana rolled her eyes, a hint of a smirk coming to her face, "You mean you want to see what not to buy."
"Not really, I could care less about knowing what to buy, but I do care about listening to you talk about it," Brittany chuckled, "and you promised you would tell me all about it."
Santana didn't disappoint. She led Brittany through the displays, pointing out the products and software that she appreciated and the things that she didn't. They moved through the crowds easily, seemingly lost in the commotion. Brittany was both surprised and ecstatic about how affectionate Santana was being. It was subtle, placing her hand on Brittany's lower back as they passed through a particularly crowded part of the floor, small touches to her arm before she gestured to what she was talking about. Santana would even lean in close to whisper her negative commentary in Brittany's ear if one of the representatives was within earshot and she would pull back with a private smile. What Brittany loved the most was that Santana took her time to let Brittany study everything that came to her fancy. Even if she expected Santana to be bored with some of the booths, she could never see it in her eyes, or on her face.
Every once in a while, because it really was inevitable, someone would recognize Santana for more than just another tech buff. Sometimes they would just watch her walk by, some would nudge their friends to point her out. Brittany noticed it more than Santana, or maybe Santana was just actively ignoring the people around her that weren't Brittany. At any rate, the journalist was keeping a careful eye out for Artie, or anyone associated with the man. She wouldn't let him ruin this for Santana. Brittany did, however, have her eye on one particular patron of the expo; the person that had been following them since they left the Clockwork booth.
"I like those because they're pretty," Brittany pointed to a few flashy monitors.
"They have horrible resolution," Santana rolled her eyes at the display.
"Yeah, but they look pretty," Brittany replied absently. She wasn't looking at the monitors, she was looking over Santana's shoulder.
"Just because it looks pretty doesn't mean it's functional," Santana mentioned in a lightly teasing tone. "These are a total waste of money, you have horrible taste."
"You're pretty and functional," the journalist nudged her shoulder and sent her a smile, "so I guess my taste isn't all bad."
Santana sucked her bottom lip into her mouth to keep from grinning to widely, "Whatever."
"Santana, I need to tell you something," Brittany turned back to the display in front of them.
"What's that, Britt?" Santana glanced over at her, a flash of concern in her eyes.
"Don't freak out," she smiled at Santana's instant frown, "seriously, I don't think that it's a big deal."
Santana only frowned deeper, "What's wrong?"
"This girl has been following us since we left the Clockwork station," Brittany focused to keep Santana's eyes, so she wouldn't point the girl out.
Surprisingly, Santana didn't break eye contact to search for the accused stalker, "Do you know them?"
"Nope," Brittany shook her head lightly, looking at her nails and citing her memory, "she looks like a college student. She's wearing a college sweater... NYIT?"
"New York Institute of Technology," Santana frowned in a thoughtful manner this time. Did she know anyone from that area?
"Is that a good school?"
"Nothing's as good as Holly Holiday," Santana said seriously, almost relaxed, if not seemingly baffled at the girl's presence. She was still trying to keep from looking around, watching Brittany's lanyard sway instead. "This chick is really stalking us?"
"Us? Probably not," Brittany laughed quietly. "You? Most definitely. Like I said though, she doesn't give me creepy stalker vibes."
"Where is she?" Santana glanced around, for the first time trying to spot the assumed college student among the crowd.
"Over by that display with all the newfangled GPS things."
Santana found her, she was sure because as soon as she made eye contact the young woman looked away quickly.
"What's her deal?" Santana asked Brittany like she knew.
"I don't know," Brittany smiled slyly, glad for the opening, "lemme go find out."
Santana blinked and Brittany was already gone, "Britt!"
She could hear her girlfriend laughing as she walked away. Santana watched her tap on the girl's shoulder, startling her with a large smile and words that Santana couldn't hear. They, awkwardly, shook hands and Brittany gestured over to her, Santana wasn't even ashamed to be caught watching. She almost laughed at the look on her face when Brittany started ushering her across the hall. The closer they got, the more at ease Santana was with the situation. If anything the girl looked more scared of Santana than Santana could ever be of her.
"Santana," Brittany smiled warmly, "I want you to meet my friend, Mackenzie. She's studying Information Technology at NYIT."
"With a concentration on computer security," the girl adds in a quick ramble. She's nervous, her thumbs hooked into her belt loops in an attempt to look causal.
"Huh," Santana looked her over with an appraising eye, "so, why have you been following me around the convention?"
"Santana," Brittany scolded and Santana shrugged, a small grin on her face. Now that she realized that this college student wasn't a threat, she might as well have some fun with her.
"Oh fuck," the girl, fidgeted with the sleeve of her NYIT sweater, looking up at Santana with a shy glance, "Miss Lopez, I came to the expo to see if maybe..."
"It's okay," Brittany smiled encouragingly, "just ask."
Santana has the feeling that Brittany already knew what the student wanted to ask. She fumbled with the messenger bag over her shoulder and surprisingly extracted a magazine and a sharpie. Brittany nearly giggled, watching Santana's eyes dart between the girl, her copy of The Lead, and herself.
In the short pause, Mackenzie asked, "Would you sign this?"
"You want my autograph?" Santana asked, nearly skeptically. No one had ever asked for her autograph before. It seemed so... bizarre. People don't ask people like her for autographs. You're supposed to ask movie stars or singers for that stuff, not... not her. She caught Brittany's eyes and found them beaming, proud and excited for Santana's fan moment.
"I would have brought a copy of that paper you wrote on monitoring employee computers in the workplace..." she was quoting a paper Santana had presented at an IT conference last year. The topics and presentations had revolved around ethical practices in technology from a personal user to business scale. "...but this article made everything you've already written or done... like, that much cooler. So..."
Santana took the magazine and the pen and looked down at the magazine, seeing it again for the first time. She nodded her head to Brittany, asking, "You know she's the author right?"
"I wondered if you were Brittany, as in Brittany Pierce," the college student mumbled with an embarrassed blush.
"How many Brittany's do you think I know?" Santana asked with a wry smile. She signed the magazine with her best signature. "She's doing a follow up on the convention, she's the only journalist I would ever trust to do this thing right."
"Santana," Brittany rolled her eyes, but blushed all the same.
"Will you sign it too?" the student asked, quiet and hopeful. "That would make it like, perfect."
"Oh I couldn't, the author isn't the important part," Brittany laughed, nudging Santana playfully in the side, "the subject is."
Santana held the pen up and said, "She asked nice, Britt."
With her own bashful look, Brittany signed her name, right next to Santana's. The loop of her B crossing into the down stroke of Santana's flaring P. Santana noticed and appreciated the way their names fit together. She even adored the small smiley face Brittany drew near them. Brittany capped the Sharpie and handed it back the student.
"Now, when do you graduate?" Santana asked a little formally, "Are you in grad school or..?"
"Yeah, finishing up this year," she stowed her magazine into her messenger bag.
"You said you were interested in computer security," Santana raised an eyebrow in a small challenge. "Why don't you tell me about it."
"Actually, I've been doing this huge project about data abuse on mobile Apps. People have so much personal information stored on their smart phones and even with general policies on access rights, I don't think—" she hesitated, doubting her own opinion in the face of Santana Lopez of Clockwork Technologies, "I um, don't think that major corporations are doing enough about the threat to personal security."
"What about," Santana pondered for the sake of argument, "Apps that in their very own creation, gives users the ability to see what information can be shared to a third party?"
"You mean like SRT AppGuard?"
Brittany watched the student's eyes light, finding an enjoyment of the discussion and a comfort speaking about things she was passionate about. Santana's were matching, and Brittany could pick up the smallest hint that her girlfriend was already impressed with what the student had to say.
"And what are your plans," Santana inquired, "after your graduation?"
"I've been working on a few applications," she looked to Brittany, finding strength in her kind smile, "for a few internships or entry level positions along the coast."
"Well," Santana waved back towards the way they had come from, "Clockwork will start interviewing for its internship program in a few months. If you happen to make it back to the Clockwork booth, and ask for a man named Kurt, he'll take your information and you can consider yourself a very good candidate, Mackenzie."
She wasn't sure who was smiling wider, the student or the journalist next to her, but Santana had to smile along with them.
"And now, if I could have your moderately divided attention," Holly was walking back onto the center of the stage as the last presenter moved off, "we will begin our main events, and get this party started!"
There was a light uproar from the crowd, and Santana rolled her eyes at Holly's ridiculous smile.
"As you may know, the Titans of Tech originally started as a gaggle of obsessive college students getting together to troll about their tinkering and impress others with their ideas," Holly stood at the podium as stage hands rolled out props for the next event. "From the embarrassment of a borrowed basement, the gathering evolved into a meeting of sorts, then gained it's own status as convention, and finally earned enough experience points to level up into the exhibition that you see before you."
Many people around the stage started to clap, and Santana took a look around. The floor was full to a point where it was just under uncomfortable. The booths were from all sorts of companies and industry tycoons. People of all kinds of skill sets were meeting, discussing, networking. This really was impressive.
"While the products and ideas that have been showcased here have always become more advanced with time, there will always be a special place in our heart for the pioneers of the world around us. The ones that skirt the edge of the future and make more possible for us every day."
"This is one of my favorite parts of this thing," Santana leaned over to Brittany, whispering in her ear. After Santana has helped Sam with his presentation, they had taken refuge at the Clockwork booth to watch some of the events.
Holly continued her speech, "Each year names are submitted for, what I would like to refer to as a friendly competition, between industry leaders. While they already compete so adamantly for product sales and consumer attention, this competition brings it all back to square one. Who is the true Titan of Tech?"
"They pull people up to those desks and have like, a quiz bowl of technology questions," Santana pointed to the stage where two desks had been placed, facing each other and with desktop computers. "Last year this software designer was so damn impressive up there, he was offered a job at some big name company right on the spot."
"Really?" Brittany blinked, impressed, "Has anyone from Clockwork ever—"
"Our first nomination this evening will be," Holly opened an envelope while a drum roll played over the speakers. Holly hesitated at the name, her eyes glancing up into the audience. Santana frowned, noticing what others couldn't, the masked reserve and regret. It was blinked away before she smiled thinly, "From Orbit Technologies, Artie Abrams."
"Gross," Brittany said, scrunching her nose distastefully.
"Gag me," Santana agreed. She shifted uncomfortably in her chair, crossing her arms and recrossing her legs. Leave it to Abrams to make her favorite part of this convention about him. She sighed quietly to herself and hoped that who ever was up against him own his ass.
"And for his competition," Holly called out the name of someone Santana had never heard of, from a company that she had no real experience with. She felt her hopes of Artie's loss slipping.
"Do you know who that is?" Brittany asked her.
"No," Santana saw that she was thinking the same thing, "but I hope he kicks Abrams' ass."
Brittany had to smile at that, "Me too."
She watched Artie appear from off stage, wheeling himself to one of the desks as a stagehand took the useless chair away and fitted him with a wireless headset microphone.
"This just in, folks," Holly came back to her podium after being called offstage, "unfortunately, Mr. Havens isn't able to make it today so we'll consult our list of contenders—"
"Excuse me, Miss Holiday?"
Santana watched the large image of her former professor ignore the man speaking behind her.
"—and be right back with—"
"Miss Holiday?" Artie spoke a fraction louder.
Holly turned from her podium, "It's still Professor."
Santana chuckled at the short tone in her voice, it was so very obvious that the woman still had a very healthy sense of disdain for the man.
"Professor, then, if I could make a suggestion," he looked at the camera and Santana felt the big projection version of his eyes staring down at her, "I'd like to make a challenge."
Holly's eyes narrowed, she tried to cut him off, "No, I think we'll stick to the—"
"I'd like to challenge Clockwork's Santana Lopez," his lip curled into a daring smile, "to be my competition."
His words rippled through he arena; heads turned, words were muttered, someone started clapping. Santana Lopez was just called out; it was exciting in the way a crowd likes. People always like to watch a competition, but it's even better if it's personal. Nothing beats a grudge match and that was exactly what Artie was implying.
Orbit vs Clockwork.
And because he said it to an arena full of people, the idea became law in a matter of seconds. Santana knew that's exactly what he was hoping for.
Artie Abrams had challenged Santana Lopez in the Titans of Tech challenge.
"God damn it," Santana hissed through her teeth.
Around her she could feel the eyes of her fellow Clockwork affiliates, smiling and clapping. They were excited for her chance to prove that Clockwork was the best. Excited for her opportunity. In retrospect she might take solace in the idea that all of them appeared to be very confident that she could take him on, but right now, she was just trying not to hyperventilate. Her chest was tight, shoulders tense. Santana wasn't sure when, but she had already started gripping her new pen for dear life.
Artie fucking Abrams.
He wanted to call her out in front of the entire industry. He wanted to try to make a fool of her, again. He wanted to make her vulnerable, anxious, uncomfortable, all over again. He was either banking on the idea that she wouldn't show, and look like a coward, or that she would feel pressured to compete and be so flustered that she loses, making her look like an idiot.
Santana wasn't having any of it. She refused to feel anything but anger. She wanted to march onto that stage, embarrass him, then promptly roll him right off it. She realized that while he had the upper hand, he knew of her stage fright, he knew that she would be thrown off guard, he knew that she would always be thinking of what might appear on the screen above them; while she knew all of that, Santana realized that this was just as much of an opportunity for her.
She was going to prove to him that she deserved every bit of her success.
She was going to shut him down.
"Santana," Brittany took her arm and made her look at her. She saw the spark of fury mixed into the deep brown color. She took a risk and brushed a strand of Santana's hair behind her ear, keeping her focus entirely on her face, "You can do this. You know you can do this, right?"
Santana swallowed thickly, clenching her jaw and nodding, "I'm going to fucking bury him."
At that Brittany smiled a brilliantly proud smile, "That's my girl."
"Walk me up?" Santana whispered as she started to stand, straightening the hem of her blazer and the way her lanyard laid over her chest. She touched the pen Brittany had given her, just to be sure she still had it.
"Of course," Brittany linked their arms together and started guiding her girlfriend through the small exit in the back of Clockwork's booth. This route would take them to the back stage entrance with fewer interruptions and far less people.
Quinn, however, was the first person to find them, calling from behind them as she rushed to catch up, "Santana, wait!"
"Quinn," Santana turned, catching her friend off guard with a hug. She wasn't sure who it was meant to calm, herself or Quinn.
"San, you realize that this could be a big fucking trap right?" Quinn held her tight, "That he might be setting you up again?"
"Yeah," Santana pulled away, "and if he pulls another show-and-tell, then no one will ever be able to blackmail me ever again, Clockwork will drop me as their figurehead because I'll be a scandal, and we'll finally have something to prosecute him for."
Quinn and Brittany shared a look. Santana was over letting people control her. She had taken it to Jesse St. James and she'll take it to Artie. If he wanted to play dirty again, she didn't even care about the consequences by this point because she was so completely over it. The women standing in front of her would still love her if everyone knew the truth, if Artie embarrassed her again, if she lost her job at Clockwork and had to work at the Geek Squad inside a Best Buy the rest of her life.
They would still love her.
"Or," Santana continued her bitter anger fueling her resolution, "I can kick his ass in front of the entire industry."
"I like that idea better," Brittany licked her lips, while she knew Santana could do it, she was still worried. "I want you to beat him. I know you can and I want to see it."
"I want you to kill him," Quinn ran her hand through her hair, "and I mean literally, kill him."
Santana let out a small laugh, rumbling with nerves and the frustration she felt from her situation, "I'll do what I can, Q."
Holly was making her way towards them as soon as she was at the edge of the stage, being sure to shut off her wireless microphone on her ear, "Santana, I'm so sorry, you don't have to do this."
"You're fine," Santana assured her, glancing to the stagehands around them. "I do, I have to do this. I'm gonna do this."
Holly's eyes shifted around her face, finding the stubborn resolution, the thinly veil anger, "You got it, girl."
"San," Brittany gripped her shoulder, gaining her attention and holding up a microphone headset. With Santana's small smile as permission, Brittany set it in place. "I love you, so much. I'll be right here when you're done."
"I love you too, B," Santana pulled her into a tight hug, letting her lips press nearly discreetly against Brittany's cheek.
"Ladies and gentle nerds!" Holly had stepped onto the stage, faking enthusiasm with genuine pride for Santana, "I give you our challenger, the Head of Information Technology at Clockwork Tech, and my former student, the lovely, Santana Lopez."
"That's my cue," Santana gave Brittany one last look, squeezing her hand, and walked onto the stage.
The lights hit her before anything else. Before she became aware of the thousands of eyes on her, the cameras blasting her image on the overhead projector, the horribly devilish glint in Artie's eyes. She was surprised by the shear sound of the applause her appearance created, and she offered a small wave to the audience as she walked curtly to her place at the desk. She sat primly, tugging down on the hem of her blazer to make sure it fit right, and pushing a strand of hair behind her ear. Glasses sitting squarely on her nose.
"Hello again, Santana," Artie greeted her from the desk across from her. His eyes were dark and she met them with a glare of her own.
She didn't respond, only looked around her new habitat. She had a view of him, a computer monitor, to the left of her was the audience, and to the right, the projection screen. Santana pulled her keyboard and mouse into comfortable positions and looked to Holly for direction. The professor was talking to the audience, explaining the rules and trying to gather some of the hype lost in the delay. She was glad that she already knew the rules and game play. She eyed the buzzer that would be used for the question and answer portion, the little light on top of her computer monitor.
Artie seemed to be determined to get a rise out of her, "How are you?"
"Ready to kick you ass," Santana offered shortly. There were a few laughs from the audience and she knew that everything she was saying was being amplified by the microphones.
"I'm surprised you decided to show," he taunted lightly.
"I'm not scared of you," Santana didn't realized how much it was true until she had said it with such a definite tone. It almost took her by surprise and looked like it did startle the man in front of her, if his nervous twitch of adjusting his bangs said anything.
She stared him down until he looked away. The smirk on her face came subconsciously, realizing that when Holly asked, "Are my contestants ready?"
She was so ready.
Santana tapped her finger against the buzzer, waiting for the next question. She was ahead by three. Artie was probably regretting calling her up here by now. Sure, there was plenty of game play left, and anything could happen, but in the back of her head Santana was feeling good about this. She recrossed her ankles under the desk and sat up straighter; she had this in the bag.
"This programing language was originally designed for processing text," Holly read the next question aloud as it showed on the monitor in front of her, "and has become one of the most popular languages for writing CGI scripts."
She hit her buzzer, but Artie got to it first. Santana sat back casually, and waited for him to answer. She wanted to glare at him, throw her keyboard at him, anything, but it would serve her better to look confident even if he has the opportunity to answer a question. She was still in the lead and he's been hating it. Hating her casual confidence and disinterested attitude. He wanted her to squirm and because that's not happening, he's the one fidgeting behind his desk.
"Visual Basic Scripting," Artie answers.
Santana looks at Holly to catch the professor's smile, "I'm sorry, but that's incorrect. Miss Lopez, you have a chance to take the point."
"Practical Extraction and Report Language," Santana supplied, as she studies her nails. Her subtle confidence is slipping into a cocky show and she knows it. She looked from her nails to Artie and smiled, "Commonly known as Perl."
"That's correct!" Holly isn't even trying to hide her enthusiasm for Santana's lead, "Lopez, six. Abrams, two."
He swears under his breath.
"Explain the concept of an evil twin."
Santana was first to hit the buzzer this time, "An evil twin is a fake WiFi hotspot gimmick. It's set up with software that finds and mirrors a real hotspot's SSID so that users will log into their malicious network, that gives the hacker an opportunity to intercept personal information."
A handful of members of the audience, maybe towards Clockwork's booth started cheering even before Holly announced her answer to be correct and when that happened the rest of the audience joined in. It was a feeling Santana had never experienced before. The mass of bodies on the floor, they were on her side, rooting for her. They wanted her to succeed. It was almost more disconcerting than the heavy stage lights and the rally of questions. This crowd wasn't here to judge her or tear her down, they hadn't even expected her to be there, but somehow they chose her over Artie as the favorite.
She readjusted her hand over the buzzer, waiting for the next question. There was a small smirk on her face, the hint of a confidence that was no longer forced. She glanced over to Artie, the sweat on his forehead shining in the harsh lights. He looked so frustrated that Santana was surprised that he could even hear the questions.
"Name three e-commerce business models."
Again, Santana's light was flashing before Artie's. She took her time to send him a smile before answering the question.
"I don't even know what they're talking about," Quinn huffed, her nerves turning into agitation.
"I think I knew the answer for the last one," Brittany didn't take her eyes off Santana as she spoke, "but that's only because Mike and Sam were talking about it the other day."
"At least she's winning," Quinn bit her lip, her eyes kept skating to the big screen, waiting for any signs of foul play. "Did she..."
Brittany looked away from Santana to watch Quinn struggle with her words.
"Tell me about what Artie did to her final project?" Brittany finished tightly. "Yeah, she did."
Quinn only looked surprised for a moment, "She really does tell you everything."
"I had to needle," Brittany glanced back to the stage, watching Santana answer another question correctly.
"She still told you," Quinn said quietly, "that's kind of a big deal."
"I know," Brittany breathed thinly. "Quinn, if he hurts her, I swear..."
"I know," Quinn shook her head with a grim smile. "I'll be the first to help, trust me."
Holly was probably more excited that she won round one than she was. The professor was just about skipping around the stage singing her praises.
"And Santana takes round one!" she placed one hand on Santana's shoulder, beaming to the audience. "With an impressive score of ten to five. I can't say I'm surprised, I taught her everything she knows."
Santana laughed, glancing up at Holly then leaning forward slightly to see if she could get a view of Brittany. She could, Brittany and Quinn were standing just past a stagehand and both looked ridiculously excited for her, and it almost covered up their uncertainty. They still didn't like that Santana was out in the open like that, on a stage with him. It didn't matter, Santana could see the shine in Brittany's eyes, the ecstatic adoration.
That was all that mattered,
"Now, the next portion of our challenge will be a practical application of their field," Holly told the audience, staying resolutely at Santana's shoulder. "During the first round our team has selected programs for each competitor to complete on the computer they have in front of them. This program will mimic troubleshooting and system maintenance that they might find on a daily basis as IT professionals. First player to pass their hurdles and complete the program, wins!"
Santana shifted her seat, moving towards the computer screen in front of her and glancing at the screen. Right now it was showing a picture of the expo's logo, but she was ready for that to change. The screen will come to life, she'll have to run though a troubleshoot program like the ones Holly used to have her students do in college classes.
Brittany had always thought that Santana could type fast, and she thought she had seen her at her fastest, but she was wrong. Santana's fingers were flying. She could see what Santana was typing, her monitor was being displayed on the large projection screen next to one of Artie's. It looked like a foreign language.
"I have no idea what's going on, but it looks like she's kicking his ass," Quinn said what Brittany was thinking.
"Yeah," Brittany agreed, "I'm pretty sure Holly thinks so too."
Quinn looked over, the professor was watching along with everyone else, adding in commentary every now and then. The grin on her face was so telling. Santana was ahead of Artie by a long shot. The black command window in her screen was alive with prompts and cues and Santana was on a roll. Her bottom lips tucked into her mouth and her brows furrowed in concentration, Brittany wished that she had brought her camera from the Clockwork booth. Santana, confident and competitive, was beautiful. Brittany needed something, so she pulled her phone out of her pocket and took a quick snapshot.
"Good thinking," Quinn smirked, "I want to remember this day for the rest of my life."
"I think she will too," Brittany didn't want to count her chickens before they hatched, but she had the feeling that Santana was going to win.
"I say we rush the stage and jump him after she wins," Quinn looked around, "or find some sort of food product to throw at him."
Brittany laughed despite herself, "I told him to stay the hell away from her. I can't decide if I want to give him a piece of my mind after this or let Santana's win do the talking."
"I'm sure she wouldn't want us causing any more of a fuss than this already is," Quinn nearly pouted, "he looks like such an ass right now, calling her out only to get the crap beaten out of him."
"I wonder if he'll ever stop underestimating her," Brittany sighed quietly.
There's a thoughtful pause, both women giving the idea a fair about of consideration. They turn from the stage at the same time.
"Not a chance."
Santana never knew she could feel so satisfied with a single keystroke.
But she hit that enter key and it felt damn good.
The light on her monitor lit up with the flashing shine of success. She had beaten Artie Abrams in the Titans of Tech challenge and she was simply thrilled, inwardly of course. On the outside she held a calmly modest smile, like she was surprised that she won.
When the applause and cheers died down Holly was able to announce her the official winner of that years competition. Holly didn't even try to hold back how excited she was for her, or that she knew Santana was going to win all along, or that Artie never stood a chance. In fact, she didn't even recognize Artie for an obligatory, thanks for competing, round of applause.
Santana stood from her desk and walked around it. She made sure to take off her headset as Artie was doing the same. She didn't say anything, she wasn't sure if she had a single thing to say to the man, she simply held out her hand. A handshake after a competition was proper, it was commendable, it was above the level of decency she thought he deserved, but she had to try.
Something was telling her to try.
He looked at her hand, then up to her, a dark sneer marring his face as he said, "One more way I've made you look better."
Santana dropped her hand, "You're kidding me, right?"
He rolled away and Santana didn't dwell on it, Holly was shuffling her towards the front of the stage to make a quick chat session and welcome everyone to stick around for Santana's presentation later in the day.
"Remember folds," Holly told the crowd as Santana walked off the stage, "I taught her everything she knows."
Santana burst into laughter, a deliriously happy laugh that shook her to her core. She laughed into Brittany's arms and smiled all the way back to the Clockwork booth while Brittany and Quinn told her how they were making bets as to how much she would win by.
"I heard this terrible noise, I thought a truck had crashed into the side of the building, the power went out in the entire building," Holly places a hand over her heart, feigning her true concern.
Santana rolls her eyes, fidgeting in her seat next to Brittany. After the competition, Holly was free to grab lunch with them as there were no presentations until around one.
She was using the opportunity to give Brittany a small insight into Santana's college days, mush to Santana's embarrassment.
"So I rush into the lab, and she's standing there with a fire extinguisher and a pile of something that could have been her robotics project."
"I destroyed it," Santana shrugged, a small smile on her face. Scooting the tomatoes in her salad towards the corner of the plastic bin.
"You were covered in that white powder from the fire extinguisher," Holly chuckled.
"It took me forever to get that crap out of my hair," Santana groaned at the memory, and Brittany laughed.
"You're lucky you didn't get hurt."
Santana rolled her eyes and picked at her salad, "It wasn't all that bad."
"I think she's a lot safer in the lab now," Brittany admitted, she had never seen anything worse than a small cut from sharp sheet metal.
"Tell me again," Holly pleaded, "because I can't seem to get my head around how you two were able to keep away from each other for so long."
"That's easy," Santana told her, "we were being professionals."
"A professional prude more like it," Holly scoffed before taking a drink of her water. "You wouldn't shut up about the journalist following you around the office."
Brittany caught the annoyed and mildly embarrassed look Santana sent the professor, "That's not even fair, I didn't even know if she dated women, how was I supposed to know it would be okay to make a move?"
"Somehow I doubt you would have made a move even if you did know," Holly teases, very accurately.
Santana looked at Brittany, "Yeah, probably not."
"I don't think I would have been able to let you just walk away though," Brittany picked up one of Santana's discarded tomatoes and popped it into her mouth. "We would have figured it out eventually."
The certainty in her voice, that they would have come together somehow, made Santana's heart race. Brittany had so much faith, in them and in her. She still wasn't sure she deserved it, but she would sure as hell try.
"You two have got to come out to California this summer," Holly changes the subject easily, sensing Santana's private moment. "I'm putting together this program for teenage girls interested in computer science and robotics."
Santana perked up at that, "Really, at UCLA?"
"Yeah, it's shaping out to be about two weeks long, the girls will stay in the dorms," she explained. "We'll take over the computer science class rooms and the labs and it's going to be girls on gadgets galore."
"That sounds like a lot of fun," Brittany smiled, watching the gears turn behind Santana's head.
"Who's teaching, just you?" Santana asked.
"Well I was thinking about bringing a few people into the mix," Holly pondered coyly. "You know anyone that would be free?"
"I'm sure I could convince somebody to do it," Santana shrugged, already planing her vacation.
"How are you feeling?" Brittany asked with a small smile.
They were backstage, Santana was getting fitted for her presentation and Brittany had come along for the ride, and because Santana had asked her to.
"I feel great," Santana licked her lips, searching herself for the crippling anxiety she had expected. She couldn't find it. "After this morning? I feel like I could give my presentation naked."
Brittany laughed, shaking her head to clear the image, "I kinda saw something like that this weekend, and trust me, I loved it, but I don't want everyone else to see it too."
Santana snorted, remembering how she ran through her presentation a few times with Brittany as an audience this weekend. She might not have been wearing anything more than a tank top and a borrowed pair of Brittany's boxer shorts. She almost felt bad because Brittany's probably seen this presentation more times than she should have been subjected too and has to sit through it again.
"No, you're right," Santana chuckled, "I don't know why, Britt... I just feel good."
"Well, you look good," Brittany said quietly, brushing a stray hair from Santana's shoulder and catching her eyes, "great even."
Santana flushed, her eyes falling to the small device in her hand that will let her change the slides of her presentation at will. Even after the months they had been together, Brittany could still make the butterflies stir in her stomach. She coughed into the back of her fist, trying to save face, trying to ignore how the blue eyes in front of her were sparkling knowingly.
"You're going to be awesome," she told Santana with every bit of confidence she's always afforded her.
Santana squeezed her hand and didn't say anything, she didn't have to. She knew Brittany understood how much it meant to her to be supportive like this, so easily confident in her abilities that it seemed almost silly to doubt herself.
Holly walked towards them, "Good luck, Santana. You're gonna bring the house down."
"You mean for the second time," Santana quipped, smiling when Holly laughed.
"I guess you don't really need me to be your hype man then, do you?" Holly straightened her shirt and adjusting her headset. She was getting ready to announce Santana to the stage for her presentation. Again, Santana had the idea that Holly was more excited than she was.
"I'd hate for your talent to go to waste."
"I think you just like hearing me talk about you."
Santana shrugged simply, "Who wouldn't?"
"I'll see you out there," she threw them one last smile and walked onto the stage.
Santana watched her go, noticing how easily she addresses the audience, the way her smile was genuine and fun loving, how she interacted with the crowd like she was born to do it.
"She's always been such a showboat," Santana said not unkindly, with a hint of a smirk on her face.
Brittany glanced from Santana to Holly and back, "Is she like this when she's teaching?"
"Worse," Santana rolled her eyes, "because she always gets to know her students really well and calls them out on stuff. It's like a college lecture mixed with a comedy act. It was awesome."
Brittany slipped her arm around Santana's waist and squeezed, "You're going to be awesome too, just have fun with it."
Hearing Holly's cue, Santana shuffled a small half step closer to the journalist and pressed a chaste kiss to the curve of her chin, "I'll try."
Holly actually did a great job introducing Santana, she even stayed on the stage to have a little talk about the convention and remind the audience that Santana had just won the Titans of Tech competition. Their small conversation lasted long enough to make Santana feel more than comfortable on stage and Santana was glad for it.
She got right into her presentation after that, speaking confidently and with a coy smile that Brittany recognized from the mornings they spent at the COG when Santana was telling everyone about a new idea she had. She was in her zone, gesturing calmly, speaking eloquently, and holding a smiley face pen.
Brittany was delighted, standing with Holly and Quinn in the sidelines. Santana's gaggle of blondes, all watching with proud smiles.
"In the past year, Clockwork has taken a new interest in the world of cloud computing and enabling it to be a stable part of a company's business computing model."
Brittany watched her walk the stage, moving in timed practice. She knew that every bit of this presentation was planned out. Everything from the pauses in dialogue to the hand gestures. Santana was a nervous speaker and rehearsals were one of the only things that could keep her calm. If she squinted, Brittany could make out the ever present death grip Santana had on the smiley face pen.
"We all understand that with new technologies come new vulnerabilities to our systems and their security," Santana explained through her presentation, "and while cloud computing is versatile and efficient; that fluidity also has the prospect of being taken advantage of."
"She's fucking brilliant," Holly declared under her breath, Brittany and Quinn nod.
They watched, Brittany knowing exactly what to expect—until that happened.
Santana's screen, the huge stage projection board, blanked out. Santana stared at it, wide eyed and slack jawed. Her eyes darted to Holly, who was already trying to figure out what was going wrong.
"Get a computer," Holly said to anyone, maybe even herself as she rushes off, "I need my computer."
Quinn was still looking at the screen, a horrible feeling in her chest, she sent Brittany a look, "I'm finding Abrams. If he's within rolling distance to a computer I'm going to rip his fingers off one by one."
Brittany's watching Santana, standing frozen on the stage, lost in her own private fear and the idea of what might happen next.
"Brittany," Holly's voice catches her attention and Brittany looked over to where she was setting up her laptop, "go and help her out."
"What?" Brittany asked, confused, "Quinn?"
"No, Santana," she throws a sympathetic look to her former student, the screen has turned an eerie black, "someone's fucking with her presentation. I'm going to try to get them to cut off the projector—if they wont I'm going to do it myself."
"You can do that?"
"There's not much I can't do with a computer," Holly points to the stage, "now get out there and help a girl out. Stall if you can or help her through the presentation, her speech is on the display on the front of the stage."
"I can't read," Brittany said without thinking.
Brittany doesn't even bother correcting herself, she just holds her hand out, "Give me your headset."
Holly doesn't argue.
Brittany's on the stage in a second. The lights are bright against her eyes and it doesn't help her nerves. She's not a good public speaker either; she tried it, failed, and was much happier behind the safe realm of a pen and paper. She spared a look to the small monitors that display the notes of the speaker, they look like a jumbled mess of letters, pulsing and shifting, she can't focus on them. She's never hated her dyslexia more than right now.
Hopefully she wont need the notes.
"Hey, everyone!" she smiles warmly to the audience, "Sorry about the interruption, but as you can see, we're having some minor technical difficulties. It'll be fixed real soon, I promise."
She's next to Santana now, and her heart clenches at the look on her face. She's so scared; her eyes are darting from Brittany to the projection screen and back. Brittany covers her microphone and says, "Holly's working on it, don't worry."
"Britt," Santana says in a deceptively calm whisper. She's about to freak out.
"Trust me," Brittany gives her a promise she can't exactly keep, all she knows is that people that care about Santana are working on it; working to help her, protect her, and save her from her worst nightmare.
"So how is everyone?" Brittany diverts her attention to the audience, trying to give them something else to look at besides Santana standing stock still. There's a mild rumble of a response. She laughs, keeping her spirits up, "I'm glad, my names Brittany S. Pierce and I'm a journalist with a magazine called The Lead, had anyone heard of it?"
There's a slightly larger rumble.
"That's great!" Brittany is actually kind of excited for that response, "Then maybe you read the article I wrote on yours truly, Miss Santana Lopez."
The round of applause is telling, and Santana is startled into a small awkward wave of acknowledgment, a hesitant smile on her face. They both miss the way the screen flickers behind them.
"Well, while I was shadowing, Miss Lopez around Clockwork," Brittany sends her a reassuring and remembering smile, "I was able to watch her finish up this project of hers. The one she was just about to tell you all about."
Santana looks at her, confused, but trying to follow her lead.
"Even now, I still don't know as much as you guys know about all this techie stuff, I mean, you have information floating around in the clouds," Brittany jokes easily.
That earns a laugh, and gives Brittany some confidence. Santana's lips quirk into a slow smile.
"And like Miss Lopez was saying," she continues, "you put the information out there in that nice puffy cloud, even when you think it's too high in the sky for anyone to reach, there's always a chance that someone can fly over and steal a piece of your cloud, but her new software and programs, offered through Clockwork, will let you put as much information as you want in those clouds without needing to worry."
Brittany looking over to Santana, encouraging her to take the lead, continued her presentation.
"That's right, Miss Pierce," Santana starts out in a quiet voice.
Brittany remembered what Santana was going to talk about next, "Now, what security problems do people normally run into when they're working with clouds?"
Santana blinked, she knew the answer, she just didn't understand how Brittany could turn her presentation into a question and answer skit. If she had any hesitation, Brittany's calm and interested eyes sold her, suddenly she wasn't on a stage in front of an audience; if she looked really hard she could pretend that they were back in her lab, just the two of them and Santana was only talking to her, just answering another of Brittany's questions, "A few common security concerns for cloud computing are..."
Santana fell into it easily, answering Brittany's questions and running through all the material that she had planned on saying anyway. Brittany remembered it all. She hit every bullet and every topic of Santana's original presentation and even peppered in a few jokes for entertainment's sake. She was almost as good as Holly.
They didn't even miss a beat when Santana's presentation appeared on the screen and a triumphant, "Yes! Shove it, Abrams!" called out from backstage.
"And what is this all called?" Brittany asked with a private smile, "The cloud security system from Clockwork?"
Santana flicked through the presentation slides until she got to the final page, a mockup design for the new product logo and cover, "I call it Snixware."