Author Note: From an angst prompt.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Rachel can't believe her luck. She hasn't gotten slushied once today despite her celebratory pink and yellow outfit to herald the beginning of spring, she aced her math test, Santana and Brittany are sitting next to each other in glee and actually acknowledging the fact that they're a couple, and Quinn's even smiled at her, discretely taking her hand and twining their fingers together between their chairs while the other glee kids are busy watching Sylvester and Schuester duke it out again next to the piano.
It's enough to make her feel as if every bad day up until now has been worth it, although if she's being realistic—which she always tries to be, even if she doesn't manage it sometimes—she has to wonder with a sad smile if this is all a dream.
Santana covers her mouth with both hands, trying to hide a yawn from Schuester, and then picks her pencil up again, tapping the point with lead against the tabletop until a piece flecks of as she looks down at the empty page that's supposed to be full of notes. As she frowns and clicks more lead forward, Santana sneaks a glance to her right and feels the corner of her mouth twitch up in the beginning of a smile. Brittany's asleep, curled forward in her seat with her face in her arms, blonde hair let loose from the Cheerio ponytail for a period and splayed across the table. She's been asleep ever since they all filed in and Schuester started talking. The back of the class is the best and worst place to sit—the rows of people hide them, but sitting closest to the window means dealing with sunlight and constant drowsiness.
Sighing, Santana realizes that she's taking notes for two people, which isn't really that much of a surprise once she thinks about it, and tries to actually focus, jotting down some part of Schuester's lecture about Bogotá before Brittany jerks upright out of the blue, scattering the pencils that were sitting on the table between them as her paper, totally blank, is knocked to the side and slides off the desk. The people in the row in front of them turn to look and that starts some sort of domino effect, and then everyone's looking at them and they both blush, Santana resisting the urge to press her forehead to the desk in embarrassment as Schuester sighs disappointedly and gives them both detention.
Schuester's sitting at the desk at the front of the detention room, scribbling away at some proposal or grant for glee, and Brittany braces her feet against the legs of the single table. The front feet of the chair rise up as she pushes back, balancing carefully. Santana looks up from the homework she's trying to do since they've still got half an hour to waste and shoots her a look from the seat next to her that says you're going to fall and I'm going to laugh, but Brittany ignores her, tapping a finger against her chin thoughtfully as she wobbles slightly.
There's no one else in detention except the two of them, Puck, and some random junior. Puck's asleep, which Brittany finds kind of ironic considering that's why she's even in detention and Schuester's doesn't seem bothered by that. But of course, he puts her and Santana at different desks, and now she has to find a way to talk to Santana without him noticing. Texting is out of the question because Santana wouldn't understand what she's asking, and then she'd get frustrated—typical Santana—and moody and Brittany would end up having to go home after this instead of to her house. She's saved from having to think of elaborate plans to communicate because there's a soft scrape as Santana moves her chair closer and leans toward her discreetly.
"What?" she whispers, because Santana can tell she has something to say. Brittany lets the chair drop back down, and the noise the feet make as they hit the tile causes Puck's head to nod and Schuester to look them over, but he lets it slide and goes back to his paper, probably because he's a hippie born in the wrong era and doesn't even really believe in detention unless he's getting paid to run it.
"You're not going to believe me," Brittany says softly, turning her chair so that she's facing Santana's side. Santana's eyes dart up toward Schuester, but he doesn't notice, so she shakes her head and does the same so they're sitting almost knee-to-knee.
"Maybe," Santana answers truthfully, leaning forward to rest her elbows on her knees. "But you can try."
Brittany bites her lip, crossing her arms and looking away. "You're not going to like it."
There's a warm hand on her knee and a thumb brushing back and forth against her skin, and she can almost see Santana smirking as she speaks. "B, come on. Spit it out."
"You know how Rachel's been gone for a couple of days?" Brittany asks, looking around the room after she's finished talking. No one's paying them any attention, and Santana's looking at her worriedly, so she continues. "Well, uh. It's kind of complicated, but she talked to me."
"She called you?" Santana asks, and before she can make some crack about why Rachel even has her number, Brittany shakes her head before leaning closer, their faces only a few inches apart.
"Not really, no."
"Then what do you mean?" Santana says exasperatedly, her eyebrows slanting in that way that means she's either annoyed or worried. "Don't make me guess."
"But this is the part I don't think you'll like," Brittany explains, and Santana lets out a sigh before glancing up at the only clock in the room. They still have a good twenty minutes left, and she's obviously not eager to have Schuester, Puck, and some random kid listening in on their conversation. Brittany's not sure she wants anyone else to hear, either.
This time, Santana's sigh is a frustrated one. She turns her chair around and goes back to her homework without looking up from it once, her only other words until Schuester lets them go being, "Fine. Tell me once we get out, but it better be good."
Quinn's parents used to tell her people would judge her by the company she kept. Now, they're just happy—although that's not really a word she'd ever use to describe them—to have her home, the obedient daughter once again, and never to speak of the baby she gave up for adoption. It's almost like if they pretend it never existed, it will have never existed. Kind of like the unspoken but very real relationship she had with Rachel during her stay at the Berry's, Quinn thinks, but she shoves that thought from her mind and reaches over the side of the bed to the floor where her phone is buzzing.
Apparently, the company she keeps now is a pair of lesbian cheerleaders who have absolutely no qualms about calling her at two in the morning without so much as a hello. That's ungenerous, but she was never one to sugar-coat things. At least she's not saying it spitefully.
"Do you know where Rachel is?" Brittany says, and there's the sounds of a scuffle or shifting before Santana, audibly more composed, takes over.
"B thinks she might know."
"No," Quinn answers icily, and there's a pause on the other line as she winces to herself. Too harsh, even for her. Rachel's been missing from school for the past week, but after her parents took her back, whatever they had between them had fallen apart fairly quickly. They exchanged civil nods every now and then—although Quinn couldn't help but notice Rachel's was laced with tears—and so Quinn chalked up her absence to a cold or something and didn't bother to try to get the details from Rachel. "No, I don't. Do you?"
"You're not going to like this," Santana begins, and then the phone apparently changes hands again, because Brittany's adding, "Really, Q. Brace yourself."
Suddenly, there's a million horrible possibilities running through Quinn's mind—Rachel's a crack head and working as a prostitute in Columbus, Puck's keeping her in a well in his basement with some yappy little dog, she's been captured and sold to a sheik's pleasure yacht—before Santana's speaking again. She sounds distant, like she's holding the phone between them both.
"B fell asleep in Spanish—"
"It was really warm and sunny."
"—and had this dream where Rachel—"
"It was more like—"
"—came to her and told her she was dead."
The line falls silent as if they're giving her a moment to compose herself, but Quinn's just trying to comprehend Brittany and Santana's disjointed conversation.
"Dead?" she repeats, once it all finally sinks in. There's a crackle of static like one of them nodded with the phone to their ear before Santana clarifies succinctly.
Quinn closes her eyes and tries to remember how to breathe.
The next day, Quinn finds herself sitting on the sink counters in the girl's bathroom as Brittany hands her fistfuls of toilet paper because there's no tissue available. She held herself together the entire day, willing to write it off as some sick, drunk joke or something that's just entirely impossible, but come glee, whether what Brittany said was true or not, the sight of Rachel's empty chair brought tears to her eyes, and she walked quickly out of the room before the entire glee club could see her start to cry for no reason known to them. Brittany had followed her, and they'd both probably have explaining to do once they got back.
Quinn heaves a watery sigh as the door to the girl's bathroom swings open abruptly. Brittany looks up, and Quinn hopes that she can chase off whoever comes in, but it ends up being Santana. She stalks up to them both and takes in the tableau—Brittany looking unusually morose and Quinn with red eyes and used tissues balled in her hands
"Believe us now?" Santana says, and Quinn looks up at her.
"Are you turning this into a contest?" she asks incredulously. She lets out a low laugh although there's absolute nothing funny about any of this. "Are you proud that you're right?"
Santana makes a noise like a growl and steps forward, but Brittany reaches out, grabbing her wrist and pulling Santana to her. Santana ends up standing not unwillingly between her legs as Brittany scoots closer to the edge of the counter, her other hand settling on Santana's waist. If pain and guilt are a knife in Quinn already, then seeing them only twists it harder and pushes it deeper. That is how she should have been treating Rachel, she realizes, blinking quickly to hold back new tears. Like she was proud of her, instead of having her as a dirty secret or dumping her once she got a sliver of her parent's approval back.
"Of course she's not," Brittany says diplomatically, and Santana looks back at her, eyes narrowed.
"So what are you going to do?" she asks, and Quinn shrugs, tossing one of the tissues at the trashcan. It misses, but none of them make a move to pick it up.
"I don't know," she admits quietly. Brittany bites her lip as Santana lets out a short laugh and turns on her, or as much as she can still trapped by the other girl.
"Really? Your girlfriend might be dead, and you don't know what to do?"
Quinn gapes at her for a minute, wordless. She doesn't know what to correct first—that Rachel's not her girlfriend, or that she can't possibly be dead, or that Santana shouldn't be sticking her nose in her business.
"I don't know what to do, Santana," she says again, sliding off the counter. She leaves them both in the bathroom, deciding to skip glee and just go home. She heads for the door, but not before she hears Brittany speak again.
"If you don't do anything soon, we will."
Santana's used to Brittany moving around in her sleep. Really, she is. She's even got a bruise on her shin from last week to prove it. But the other girl's particularly restless tonight, managing to elbow her in the stomach before Santana decides enough is enough and Ms. Little Spoon can sleep by herself if this is the thanks she gets for her services.
Rolling onto her side, Santana lies with her back to Brittany, trying to will herself back to sleep, but there's a million things running through her mind and then an arm over her waist and a face pressing against her shoulder blade before she can even pull the blankets back up to her ears.
"Santana," Brittany says quietly, and the lucidity in her voice angers Santana—because then there's no way the elbowing was an accident—before she takes a deep breath, calms herself, and answers.
Brittany's grip tightens and Santana rolls over again, accepting Brittany's legs tangling with hers and her head against the crook of her shoulder.
"Rachel again," Brittany says, although it's mumbled almost incoherently against her skin. "Something about Puck."
Santana sits up, blinking in the darkness as she reaches up to run a trembling hand through her hair. Brittany's chin digs into her shoulder as she follows, sitting up and leaning against her.
"It just came to me right now," Brittany says, almost apologetically. There's a hand dipping under her shirt and stopping over her stomach, soft and cool. "And I'm sorry for elbowing you."
"It's fine, Britt," Santana breathes, clasping a hand over Brittany's. Brittany slides it out from under hers almost instantly, and Santana would be hurt if it weren't already on her shoulder, dragging her back down toward the bed.
"We'll deal with it tomorrow," Brittany whispers in her ear before pressing a kiss to her cheek, and Santana realizes this is one of the many things she takes for granted every day. "Somehow."
Puck's in her history class, and the seat next to him—Rachel's—is empty, so Brittany takes it, trusting the teacher will notice she's switched and not mark her down as absent.
Puck eyes her warily as the class starts. It's only ten minutes in, once the teacher has started lecturing in earnest, that she can pass him a note written on a scrap of paper torn from the back of a notebook.
Puck looks at the note quickly before jotting something down and pushing it back across the table to her.
Brittany rolls her eyes.
Duh. But where is she?
Dunno. We went out Friday, but that's the last I heard from her.
Yeah. Went out to the theater she wanted to go to and then I drove her home after.
Brittany nods, although it's mostly for her own benefit. She pauses, thinking, before she scribbles down something and slides it back to Puck.
Can I get a ride home? Santana's busy.
She can see Puck leering out of the corner of her eye, and she half expects some filthy proposition from him on the note. He holds the note until class is over, and as she's gathering her things, he drops it in front of her and heads out the door before she can stop him.
Can't. Car's in the shop.
When Quinn sees Brittany walking toward her, she wonders what to expect. Santana, she knows, has it out for her ever since the bathroom incident. Brittany, she's unsure about. Whatever she asks about Rachel, though, she won't get an answer. It hurts too much.
"Hi," Brittany says, falling in step with her as Quinn heads toward the parking lot. Quinn looks at her sideways and nods, the books clutched loosely to her chest bumping with every step. "Do you talk to Puck at all?"
Quinn snorts as they pass through the double-doors of McKinley, pausing as she waits for her eyes to adjust to the sunlight. It's odd that it's almost spring already. She's not ready for it, all the sunshine and flowers. It's morbid, considering everything that's happening.
"No," she answers truthfully as they walk out onto the asphalt. "I try to keep as far away from him as possible."
She sees a flash of blonde that's Brittany bobbing her head. "Well, do you know what kind of car he has?"
Quinn stops abruptly, and Brittany takes a couple of steps before she notices Quinn's no longer there. She turns around, and Quinn hugs her books to herself more tightly.
"What are you doing?"
"Nothing," Brittany replies, blue eyes wide. "I think. What do you mean?"
"This. Asking about Puck, like some stupid dream really means anything."
"It wasn't just a dream," Brittany starts hotly, her eyes narrowing, but Quinn cuts her off.
"Puck didn't do anything. He couldn't have," Quinn says sharply, although she lowers her voice once she realizes what she's saying. "Wouldn't it be all over the news by now if a McKinley student was a murderer, or they found anything linking him to it? Or even if he knew anything about why she's gone? Jesus, Brittany. It's common sense. I don't know where Rachel is, but Puck didn't have anything to do with it."
Brittany's mouth snaps shut, and she looks like she's about a second away from turning and leaving Quinn.
"Some girlfriend," she finally says with all the venom she can muster. Quinn huffs and starts walking again, not particularly caring if Brittany follows her or not.
"She's not my girlfriend," Quinn insists. "She never was."
"You're pathetic, Quinn," she hears Brittany say from several feet behind her. She lets out a little laugh, because she can feel it building and if she doesn't, she'll cry.
"Go suck face with Santana, Brittany," Quinn says over her shoulder, refusing to look back.
They haven't had sex in nine whole days. Not that Santana's keeping track or anything.
Okay, maybe she is, but she doesn't know why she is and it's not like she'd want to even if there were an opportunity. This Rachel business is depressing and frustrating as all hell and worst of all, it's upsetting Brittany, who's the one getting these weird messages from missing girls in the first place. It's driving Quinn away too, but that's one person Santana's happy to be seeing the last of.
They're paying no attention to the television, Brittany sitting with her back to the arm of the couch and Santana between her legs, leaning back to let her braid her hair. Brittany finishes one braid and secures it with a rubber band and then starts on the other, and Santana knows once Brittany's done, she'll look like a four-year-old or Pocahontas. She'll do it to distract Brittany, though, but it will only work for so long.
One Brittany's secured the other braid and Santana's turned around, lying half-on her, she goes quiet until Santana can find something appropriate to say.
"You okay?" is the best she can come up with. Brittany tries to smile for her, but she can't, and Santana props herself up on her elbows as Brittany speaks.
"I don't know what to do."
"I don't think there's anything we can do," Santana admits quietly. Seeing Brittany's face, she holds up a hand, wobbling. "No, listen. Cando, not want to do. I want to do something, but we have nothing to go on. People still think she's out sick, B."
"I know," Brittany says with a sigh, and Santana reaches out to tug on a lock of blonde hair.
"It'll be okay," she says, even though she doesn't believe it. Brittany nods, but Santana can see she doesn't either.
Rachel was always waiting for people to catch up to her, like in glee, where Quinn was always sharp and Finn was flat and Matt was totally useless, or in talent, where she outstripped everyone in Lima and would outstrip anyone on Broadway. But there's one person on par with her, almost. Brittany's the only one who understands, or at least understands more than anyone else.
Rachel's not quite sure how any of this works. It's a minor miracle and a total fluke that she even reached Brittany in the first place, and she doesn't know how to repeat it or if it can be repeated. Whatever it is, she can't do it again and help Brittany, although the whole school finds out eventually, and Lima mourns. But they don't know the whole truth, like how Puck, despite insisting he isn't a loser, still acts like one, or how Rachel tries to suppress the bitterness in herself, hearing Mercedes sigh when she gets the news and Kurt mutter, "There go our chances at nationals," or how Brittany and Santana—Santana!—actually try to help.
They're not detectives and there's no proof other than a vague feeling Brittany has, so there's not much they can do except estrange themselves from Quinn and watch Puck with disgust.
They graduate, and Rachel, watching, does not.
Brittany opens her eyes, watching the fields go by, tinted pink from her sunglasses and licking her chapped lips as the tips of her hair whip her in the face.
"Masochist," Santana says, followed by a string of curses as they miss the highway on-ramp and the GPS informs them of this in a cheerful voice two seconds too late.
Brittany nods but doesn't speak. She thinks about Quinn, leaving behind a baby and a girlfriend somewhere and never looking back, or Puck and the guilt he may or may not deserve and probably wouldn't have weighing him down anyway. Or them, off to college and still together, things Rachel will never get to have.
Santana clears her throat loudly, and Brittany realizes she was probably waiting for an answer, so she gives her one.
"The window," Santana says more loudly, assuming that Brittany can't really hear her over the wind. "You're a masochist."
And then Santana turns the radio up loud, trying to drown out the silence, but Brittany doesn't pull away from the open window even when Lima's far, far behind.