Author Note: None.

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

Man Up

Glee had changed after sectionals. There were all a little nicer to Rachel, as little more understanding of Quinn's constant state of hormone-induced irritation, and all tip-toeing around Finn once he had come back to practice.

But things hadn't changed that much. They were only kids; petty, stupid, high school kids. Rachel still got slushied every morning, Quinn was still relegated to her lonely corner in glee, and the only reason Finn seemed to be coming back at all was to make Rachel happy.

The only lasting change was that Santana finally began to step out of her self-imposed exile to the closet. None of the glee kids really cared much either way, except Kurt, who was ecstatic, and Puck. Because as he sat, arms crossed and glowering as they went over their newest piece in glee, all he saw was Santana lean closer to Brittany, smile—actually smile—shyly, and press a tentative kiss to her cheek.

If word got out that Santana was gay for Brittany, Puck would never live it down. If he wasn't man enough for Santana, he could count on Karofski and the rest of the team beating the crap out of him every day from now until graduation and he'd be left to chasing cougars once the rumors of him being a lesbian starter kit got around McKinley. Not that Lima didn't offer some of the hottest cougars around, but for the rest of his high school career? No freaking way.

The only positive thing Puck could find in this whole mess was that even if Brittany didn't care about what people would say (or wasn't smart enough to know to care), the blonde knew that what they were doing wasn't something Santana wanted all of McKinley to know about. He was pretty good at inadvertently destroying relationships, but it was never something he did on purpose. Ok, so sleeping with Quinn was definitely something he had done on purpose, but the final outcome of splitting Quinn and Finn up hadn't been his goal.

But settling next to Brittany in glee one day when Santana was out sick and throwing an arm around her shoulder as he drew her closer, he found that messing with relationships, especially those of his friends, was all too easy.

---

Brittany was not known to hold grudges or dislike anyone. It wasn't because she didn't know what 'grudge' meant, but because she hadn't yet found someone she actually disliked. Everyone, no matter how cranky (Santana) or bossy (Quinn) or completely clueless (Rachel), had a good side to them, even if it was hidden pretty deep. So it surprises Brittany that she can feel an instant dislike toward Puck.

She can't remember ever having even talked to him, or been in the same vicinity as him outside of glee or the afternoons when Cheerio and football practice coincided. But as his meaty arms settle around her, she thinks she might have found someone she doesn't like.

"You know," Puck drawls in a hushed voice, and Brittany's nose wrinkles in displeasure as the scent of a gallon of Axe washes over her. "You and Santana look like you're getting pretty close."

"What's it to you, Puckerman?" she says curtly, shrugging him off and crossing her arms over her chest.

That's thrown him off. Good. For all her quietness and occasionally thoughtless remarks, Brittany's not stupid. But Puck finds his footing quickly, and the smirk's back on his face as he leans close, breath reeking of jerky.

Ugh. Football players.

"Seems kinda gay," he says offhandedly, and at that word, Brittany feels her stomach flip. She turns toward him, eyes narrowed and lips tight in a humorless scowl.

"Your point being?"

Puck shrugs carelessly, and then smiles. "It would be a shame if any of this—" he makes a flimsy circular motion with his hand, and Brittany knows he means her and Santana's relationship "—got beyond glee."

There's a heavy pause as Brittany processes his threat, and her gaze falls to the floor in defeat as she asks hesitantly, "What do you want?"

Puck leans close again, serious. "Whatever's going on with you and Santana needs to stop. You two are going to ruin my reputation as McKinley's resident stud."

Brittany had been fine with secrecy up until now, because pushing boundaries and touching Santana with other people around had been fun for a while, kind of like seeing how many answers she could get off Quinn's paper until Scheuster noticed. But now that everything's out to glee and no one seems to care, she's willing to take their relationship further. And, surprisingly, so is Santana.

But glee is its own little world, and in it, pretty much anything goes. She and Santana aren't ready for anyone else to know. Or at least that's what she assumes, considering that she and Santana haven't ever talked about this.

But it's probably what Santana would want, Brittany realizes painfully. And so she feels herself nod even though she doesn't mean to, and Puck smirks and stands and glee is over.

---

Ok, so it was totally clichéd and stupid to think it, but Santana felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from her shoulders once she realized that the glee kids hadn't breathed a word and that she and Brittany weren't getting tossed in the dumpster every morning (or worse).

She hadn't realized that keeping it on the down-low had been such a burden, or that just touching Brittany—not accidentally brushing up against her or hugging, but actually touching her—in glee could make her feel so free. Granted, she wasn't going to be going to any pride parades with Kurt and Rachel, because it wasn't about being gay or liking girls or anything—it was just her and Brittany.

So when they're stalling at Santana's locker before school starts or ditching English and lounging under the bleachers and Brittany brushes up against her and looks at her that way, Santana doesn't protest. In fact, she actually thinks about going further.

And she's totally ok with it.

Which is also why she's totally confused when Brittany jerks her hand out of hers.

As soon as the last bell rings, signaling the end of the school day, she and Brittany are the first ones out the door of their English class, completely ignoring the teacher's last shouted instructions to read the final chapter of some book for homework.

Brittany's walking quickly, and Santana struggles to keep up with her, shoving the ever-growing crowd of students out of her way.

"Brittany," Santana calls, sighing heavily in frustration as she knocks a freshman over. "You're walking too fast."

"No, I'm not!" Brittany shoots back over her shoulder, giving the other girl the iciest stare she can, which is not at all intimidating. Santana's brow furrows in confusion, and she reaches out to grab Brittany's hand.

Santana would have preferred that the first time they held hands in public would have been under less stressed and, admittedly, slightly more romantic conditions. Not flowers-and-chocolate romantic, but like while she was walking Brittany to a class or something, at least. Not this.

She manages to drag Brittany to a halt, but the blonde yanks her hand back as soon as she feels Santana sidle closer, and Santana stops short of touching her, shock clear on her face.

"I can't," Brittany says sharply, crossing her arms as she looks away. "I mean, we can't. We can't touch, Santana."

Of all the responses that Santana can come up with, ranging from snippy one-liners to slick wheedling, all she says quietly is, "I thought that was what you wanted."

Brittany sniffs loudly, like she always does when she's trying not to start crying, and runs the flat of her palm roughly over her eyes as she turns away. But she doesn't pull back when Santana rests a hand on her shoulder and edges closer. "I guess it's not."

If Santana believed she had a heart, she thinks hers would have cracked, because that's so obviously a total lie. But she doesn't, so it must just be her resolve that breaks audibly, and she wraps her arms around Brittany, who thankfully doesn't fight it. Santana takes a breath and she feels a little woozy, not because of the amount of perfume Brittany's wearing but because she opens her mouth and admits something she's kept quiet for a long, long time.

"But I want it."

And then Brittany cracks, too, pulling her close and hugging her back as she whispers one name.

---

Puck is kind of scared.

He can stare down a 300-pound lineman that wants to crush him and use his carcass to punt the ball through the goalposts, but this? This is downright scary.

Brittany's still sniffling into a Kleenex, and Santana's sitting with her on the opposite side of the glee room, giving him the coldest look he's ever gotten. Ever. She's not even singing or attempting to do anything other then try to get him to spontaneously combust by sheer willpower, and Mr. Scheuster's not doing anything. Seriously, can't he get fired for neglect or something if she kills him in the glee room once he leaves?

He's not getting much help from any of the others, either. The baby drama's too fresh, and most people are firmly on Finn's side, making him and Quinn the bad guys.

So when everyone but Brittany, Santana, him, and Rachel, clueless as ever as she plunks away at the piano, are gone, he steels himself for whatever's coming. He could probably knock Santana down, but really, like he needs to add 'wife beater' to the list of unsightly titles that's tacking itself onto his name?

He stands up, hands in his pockets as Santana approaches him. As expected, she raises a fist, and he waits for the punch, staring her down sullenly. But then her bottom lip quivers and her eyes get hard and glassy, and she lets her hands drop to her sides, obviously trying to restrain herself for Brittany's sake.

"I always knew you were a self-centered dumb-ass, but I didn't think you'd ever really hurt someone on purpose," Santana says levelly. And then she might as well slap him in the face, because she ads, "You really are a Lima loser, Puck," before she walks out of the glee room, holding Brittany's hand the whole way.

Ignoring Rachel's shocked stare, all Puck can think of is that Santana must have talked to Quinn or something. But she's smart enough for him to know that he has to give her props for thinking that up all on her own, because she probably did. Santana was conceited and rash, but she knew where to hit him where it hurt.

And if it hadn't already made it through his head (and for the record, it had) that he had lost and that Brittany and Santana wouldn't back down, then that statement proved to him that he was done for.

---

Monday morning before school, Santana slips up behind Brittany as she's pulling books out of her locker, pins her to the metal as the blonde turns to face her, and kisses her in front of the entire hallway. They're so early there's only a grand totally of three other kids present, but hey, baby steps, right? Santana tells herself.

And the look on Brittany's face as she grins and pulls her in for a second kiss is so worth it.

Once Brittany has all her books, they lace their fingers together and head outside to wait by the bleachers for school to start. As they make their way toward the football field, they pass through the parking lot, and chance has it that Santana turns as she laughs at Brittany's joke to see Puck trying to throw something in the dumpster.

"Is he holding a baby whale?" Brittany asks incredulously. Santana rolls her eyes and tugs Brittany over to see what Puck's doing. They find him trying unsuccessfully to heave Karofski's limp body into a dumpster, because even thought he can probably bench press twice his own weight, this is still a Sisyphean challenge.

"Heard Karofski talking trash about you," he offers in explanation once he realizes they're standing behind him, grunting as Karofski's body slips back toward him.

He looks over his shoulder at them quickly, trying to gauge their reaction. Neither girl's expression changes, until Santana hands Brittany her books and walks toward him. Puck cringes visibly, trying to angle his body away from Santana and still hold up Karofski at the same time.

"Above the belt, Lopez!" he says as nicely as he can without licking her boots, because even when he's getting kicked in the junk, Noah Puckerman does not beg.

But Santana does that hair-flick thing girls do when they're being condescending and reaches up to sink her claws into Karofski's arm and help Puck tip him over the side of the dumpster. The whole thing rattles hollowly, and Brittany winces.

They're dusting off their hands as Puck clears his throat, turning to the two of them. "So, uh... Are we good?"

"Don't push your luck," Brittany says, and Santana arches an eyebrow, ready to agree. But then the blonde gives him a small smile and shrugs. "But yeah, I'd say we're good. For now."

Brittany nudges Santana's arm, and the girl makes a face and stalls for as long as she can before she thanks him in as few words as possible and stalks off toward the bleachers.

And later, when he sees the damage Santana can do when one of the football players mutters something inappropriate, Puck's really, really glad he didn't piss her off that bad.