A/N: Special thanks as always to Jeune Fille En Fleur for being an amazing beta, and to grownupspashley for last minute editing and arm-twisting. This fic has been sitting, unfinished, on my desktop for months and just needed a little extra attention to get it right.
Santana sat rigidly on the bleachers in the gym. It was the last day of what she was sure was the worst school year of her career and she was certain it was going to take every last bit of her remaining strength and nerve to get through it. Today was yearbook day, which meant that everyone was going to get a chance to tell her how they felt about her, in writing, with no repercussions for an entire summer. She dreaded the thought and had almost stayed home. The only reason she'd even considered coming to school was the knowledge that Brittany would want her to be there so they could sign each other's yearbook.
The stacks of McKinley High Thunderclaps sat undistributed in boxes, piled at Sue Sylvester's feet. Sue stormed around them as she ranted on about what babies the Cheerios were and how she hadn't lost a Nationals title in six years and how they were the worst team she'd coached in more than a decade. Santana let the tirade wash over her. Since she had quit Cheerios, she no longer felt the need to pay attention to her coach's ravings. Unlike Quinn and Brittany, Santana had opted not to transfer out of first period gym class, which was required of all Cheerios, and so got to continue to experience Coach Sylvester in all her glory on a daily basis. Quinn, citing the need to focus on her grades now more than ever, had transferred into an honors English class, while Brittany had signed up for Home Ec with Tina, Kurt and Mercedes, saying that she was finally ready to "declassify" those recipes.
Santana, however, liked having gym first period. Without early morning Cheerios practice, it allowed her the opportunity to sleep late, arrive at school looking like she'd just rolled out of bed (she had), clear her head while exercising, and get ready for school, all at school. Since Coach Sylvester no longer acknowledged her presence, Santana worked out alone, running laps around the track or lifting weights in the workout room. As the school never called to say she was truant, Santana assumed that Sue was at least taking note of her attendance and hoped that she would see her way toward giving Santana a passing grade despite her defection from the cheerleading squad.
Finally done spewing her vitriol, Sue Sylvester called Becky to her side to help pass out the yearbooks. They were distributed amongst the cheerleaders who quickly devolved into squeals and giggles as various photos were pointed out.
"Sandbags." Santana looked up, too long conditioned to Sue's many nicknames to ignore her.
"I had to keep yours separate. I didn't want the stink of a quitter to get on my Cheerios' yearbooks. I also," she said, handing the yearbook to Santana, "took the liberty of putting your name on the inside so it wouldn't get mixed up with the non-loser yearbooks."
Santana flipped open the cover and sure enough, there was her name printed across the inside, the letters "SER" notched in between the "O" and the "P" so it now read "Santana LoSERpez." She sighed, closing the book without looking at any of the pictures and handed it to the nearest Cheerio, who just happened to be Becky, to sign. Since Becky was the only Cheerio who still spoke to Santana, it figured that she was the only one who would sit by her. With her usual enormous smile, Becky handed her yearbook to Santana and quickly pulled out a purple glittery troll pen to sign her name inside a heart next to her own beaming Cheerio picture.
Santana was instantly reminded of Brittany, who had a pen just like that, and was thrust back to her first day of school. She remembered sitting on the exact same bench, listening to Sue give an almost identical speech about the cheerleaders' very low level of ability to live up to her very high expectations. But Santana couldn't have felt more different today. Then, she was filled with the promise of a new school year and the feeling of being on top of the world. She was still sore from her summer surgery, but she was back as head Cheerio and better than ever; she looked flawless in her uniform, her ponytail was high and tight, Brittany was at her side, and nothing could go wrong. She'd felt invincible.
How quickly that bubble had burst.
Santana watched as her yearbook made its way amongst the Cheerios. A few passed it on with the same two-fingered pinch they'd use to handle a dead rat, but a few signed it and eventually Santana lost track of it as more yearbooks made their way to her to sign. Each time she opened the book to one of the four Cheerios pages she saw another picture that tugged at her heart. Black and white images of her and Brittany, or her and Quinn, always in their uniforms, executing a flawless routine or flashing a dazzling smile, reminded her of just what she had given up when she'd quit the Cheerios. It wasn't a national title, or even the popularity that came with wearing the uniform; it was a sense of camaraderie and belonging. It was something that she hadn't really found anywhere else and something that she didn't even realize until now that she had missed.
Before she realized it, the bell was ringing to signal the end of first period. Yearbooks were quickly shuffled around as everyone scrambled to find their own and move on to their next class. Santana was surprised at how many signatures hers had when it eventually made its way back to her via Becky. Maybe she wasn't as hated by the Cheerios as she'd thought. A few even had "call me this summer" next to their names and one unsigned note simply read, "I really admire your courage. I'd give anything to quit." Santana was shocked at that missive and slowly made her way out of the gym trying to parse the information that someone actually thought she was brave for quitting the Cheerios.
"Lopez," Sue called out just as Santana was exiting the gym. "You know Sue Sylvester does not like being surrounded by losers and quitters. I expect better from you. Try not to disappoint me next year." Shocked, Santana could do nothing more than nod as she walked through the door. Once outside, she quickly fanned the pages of her yearbook until she found Sue Sylvester's picture. Next to it was written, "To one of my best Cheerios. Figure yourself out and come back better than ever next year. I'm counting on you." Underneath was rubberstamped "Vote Sue Sylvester, Ohio State Representative" bookended by tiny twin kicking donkeys.
Santana leaned against the wall, hardly able to draw breath. Sue Sylvester didn't hate her? Sue Sylvester, the giver of nasty nicknames and mastermind behind the dirt-filled locker fiasco, thought she was good and wanted her back next year? It just did not compute.
Santana's next class was Spanish and as she made her way through the crowded hallway, occasionally stopping when she was asked to sign people's yearbooks, her mood lightened. Maybe today wasn't going to be as bad as she'd anticipated.
Because she spoke Spanish better than Mr. Schuester (and they both knew it) second period was one class that she frequently missed and never paid attention in. Brittany shared the class with her, which was the only reason she decided to attend most days, today included, and she was excited to see her and show her what Sue had written in her yearbook.
Second period found Santana rather giddily signing everyone's yearbook as Finn, Mike and several others (who had all cheated off her a various times throughout the year) signed hers in more or less broken Spanish, which made her laugh. Sadly, Brittany was nowhere to be seen and as the bell rang to signal the end of the period Santana moved out into the hallway, saddened that she hadn't been able to talk to her best friend.
Third period was Chemistry. Santana was actually quite good at chemistry and, on the few occasions when her father was actually around to help her with her homework, had learned a lot of practical, medical applications that she used to wow both her teacher and fellow students. Beyond showing off though, Santana never spoke to anyone in her chemistry class, with the exception of Dave Karofsky.
Although they had briefly dated, she and Dave were not friends. Beyond their initial meeting at the Lima Bean, they never saw each other outside of school, saving all of their interactions for the halls of McKinley. As she and Dave swapped yearbooks in class, Santana saw the same guarded sadness in his eyes that she often saw reflected in her own, and she realized that maybe she should have made more of an effort to be nice to Dave. They hadn't even spoken since the night of Prom. All pretext of their "dating" vanished after his Prom King win (and her subsequent loss), and their alliance had extended only long enough for him to give her a ride home.
Santana turned to the pages featuring the Prom Royalty. Her own stunning image was there as well as Quinn's, Lauren's, Finn's and Kurt's. So far that day she had signed everyone else's yearbooks next to her own Prom candidacy picture. She knew she looked good in that picture, and she knew that highlighting her campaign for Prom Queen by signing her name next to her picture in everyone's yearbook would keep her popularity as a candidate (rather than her loss) in people's minds throughout the summer. Santana was nothing if not shrewd where social standing was concerned.
But, as she started to sign Dave's book next to her prom picture, she changed her mind, flipping the pages to a small black and white, ½ page photo toward the back of the book. "The Bullywhips" was captioned over a picture of her and Dave standing in their matching red jackets and berets, arms crossed, looking fierce. Funnily, they had neither wanted, nor tried, to recruit others in their anti-bullying gang, so the picture of just the two of them was quite small. Reduced to a medium gray, Santana discovered that her jacket did not look nearly as flashy, nor did her beret look quite as jaunty as she had first envisioned it. In fact, she realized, the entire ensemble looked neither as "French anti-couture," nor as "guardian angel bad-ass" as she'd thought and instead, looked, well… kind of… gay. No wonder Dave had needed so much cajoling to wear the thing. She vowed to hide it deep in her closet where it could not be found and worn again (oh, the irony!). She knew Brittany liked her in the outfit way too much to allow her not to wear it next year. Brittany really liked her in red. Brittany also really liked her in hats. And what Brittany wanted, she got, especially where Santana was concerned.
Santana sighed, pushing the thoughts of Brittany's taste in her clothing away and tried to think of something to write. What did one say to one's former-bully, turned ally, turned gay beard, at the end of the school year? Looking up at him with a sigh, she faltered.
"Are you gonna sign it or not, Lopez?" Dave grumbled, rolling his eyes with almost enough exaggeration to match one of her own patented eye rolls, and Santana wondered if maybe they were more alike than she had previously thought.
"Do you want to get together over the summer, maybe?" She hesitated as she said it, not sure if maintaining their alliance was the right choice. Still, it's not like she had that many actual friends. And no one else understood what it was like to be in the closet at McKinley. No one.
Dave cast his eyes to the side, perhaps to see if anyone was listening, but also unsure if this might be another one of Santana Lopez's hare-brained schemes he was about to be roped into.
"May-be," he finally drawled. "I guess it would look good if I brought a girl home over the summer."
"No Dave. I'm not talking about 'bearding' for each other again." At this, she lowered her voice, also looking around to make sure no one heard. "I'm talking about us, talking about… stuff… you know. Look, we need each other. Maybe more than either of us even knows."
He paused, eyeing her with suspicion. This was not normal Santana Lopez behavior. She half-smiled at him, which was even more suspicious. He just stared, afraid to move, lest he angered her. Dave did not like angering Santana. It never turned out well for him.
"Argh. Whatever. Look, you know what? Never mind. I honestly don't know what I was thinking." She snatched up her yearbook and turned to leave.
"No, wait. Yeah. Yeah, okay. That might be… okay." Dave gulped. "So, will you still sign my yearbook?"
Santana exhaled with relief and quickly bent to write her name and phone number next to her Bullywhips picture. She did not forget to include a "thanks" in her note, knowing that her threats and revenge schemes had given Dave massive amounts of stress at the end of the year. Still, because of her, he had won Prom King, his popularity was at an all time high, and no one but she and Kurt were any wiser to his secret. When she later read her message from Dave, also written on the Bullywhips page, she noted with a smirk that he had signed it, "OVER, Dave K." with a winky face. Yes, maybe she and Dave might actually be more than just each other's prom beard some day.
Santana had US History fourth period. Again, Brittany was not in attendance, but Artie and Kurt were there, and she dropped her faux animosity of the two boys long enough to engage them in end of the year pleasantries and to swap yearbooks. Although she had loathed Artie for most of the year and had snarked at Kurt all of the previous year, she had to admit that she didn't really hate either of them. She patted herself on the back regularly when she remembered that it was her plan that had secured Kurt's return, the teachers and the school board doing nothing to help his situation.
As Santana was not friendly with any of the other students in her history class, she quickly found herself with nothing else to do except scan through the Thunderclap.
As she did, she made a point of finding and highlighting every picture of Brittany throughout the yearbook. In every one Brittany was smiling widely, so clearly happy that Santana couldn't help but smile back at the stationary grey images.
One particular picture caught her eye; it was a small group picture of the McKinley Highs Brainiacs. And there was Brittany, sitting in Artie's lap, face ecstatic, one arm raised holding the tiny trophy they'd (hell, She'd) won on the Smarty Pants Show. Santana didn't know if there was another picture in the whole yearbook that depicted a happier, more self-assured Brittany.
Although she had wanted to push Artie off a cliff every time she saw them together, Santana reluctantly agreed now (from the safety of their breakup) that he had been sorta good for Brittany. He'd been kind, if a bit condescending, to her and a very attentive boyfriend. She thought it was pretty big of her to admit that he'd even helped Brittany to stand up for herself and enabled her to become a lot more confident: two things that Santana was currently admiring about her best friend.
The day pressed on. Santana was surprised that it did get better. In each class, she signed yearbooks, got lots of signatures in her own book, wished fellow students a happy summer, and received praises from teachers; it was shaping up to be a pretty decent day. It would have been excellent if Santana had seen even a glimpse of Brittany, but she was nowhere to be found. She wasn't in any of the classes they shared, nor was she at her locker, nor had she been spied in the hallway. Santana made her way into Glee club at the end of the day, knowing that it was her last chance to see Brittany before the school year ended. There was no way, she thought, Brittany would forego seeing all of her friends in Glee on yearbook day.
Santana knew she was thought of as a bitch who "kept it real," but so far not one person had said anything to her that day about her attitude or her animosity or her lack of friends. In fact, it had been quite the opposite, as her fellow students clamored to both sign and have her sign their yearbooks. She was about to end the day feeling a lot lighter than she'd started it.
Entering the choir room turned out to be the cherry on top of Santana's day. Arriving late because she'd been scouring the halls for Brittany, Santana entered to a full house and an actual chorus of welcome. As pleased as she'd been with the day, it still floored her that the Glee club was excited to see her. Quinn and Puck crossed to her quickly, their yearbooks held out, and everyone else threw "hellos" and "about times" in her direction. Her yearbook was yanked from her hand as she was ushered to a seat, a stack of books in her arms and Rachel seated next to her, yammering to anyone that would listen about her summer plans.
In that moment, Santana realized that Brittany had been right when she'd said that Glee club was like a family. Sure, it was as dysfunctional as any she'd seen (her own included) but they did love each other. And for maybe the first time Santana felt that love as everyone discussed how much they were going to miss each other over the summer and which of Rachel's many summer rehearsal strategies they could all agree on. Being a part of Glee Club wasn't like being in the Cheerios. Being a Cheerio meant being a part of a group that sweated and worked and played and grumbled together, who were united in their fear of their leader and their common goal of a championship win. But there was no love in the Cheerios. The members of Glee Club loved each other, for better and for worse, in the face of break-ups and make-ups and stolen solos and heart attacks and homelessness; they were there for one another. All things considered, Santana was glad that she had made the decision she did.
Opening the first of the yearbooks she was to sign, Santana again flipped past her prom picture and found the two pages that were devoted to the New Directions near the back. On one page was the group photo they'd taken way back in the fall when she, Brittany and Quinn were still wearing their uniforms daily. All twelve of them were smiling huge, ridiculous grins, not even caring that they were posing for a picture they knew would get defaced. The opposite page was filled with candids from their various performances. There was one from their Rocky Horror debacle. Santana grinned as she looked at herself and Brittany in their Magenta and Columbia costumes, and her mind very quickly cast back to a memory of the two of them making out behind the Spanish classroom, while Mr. Schuester and Miss Pillsbury "rehearsed" their song inside. Santana recalled following up that little visual by singing and dancing with Britt in the hallway, and with a private "rehearsal" of their own.
Next to their Rocky Horror photo was a picture of them at sectionals with Santana front and center singing Valerie. The picture was small and crammed into the corner, but Santana felt like it was the thing she was most proud of in the entire yearbook. That moment, more than any other the whole year, confirmed to Santana her love of performing. She remembered being giddy afterward, so high on the applause of the crowd and the satisfaction of a job well done that she couldn't stop smiling and laughing for hours afterward; so unlike the everyday Santana Lopez. Even now, she felt a grin spread across her face as she recalled that day, and it widened even more as she recalled how she had celebrated their win that night with Brittany.
Santana was beginning to sense a trend where Brittany and performing were concerned.
Scattered on the page were also pictures of the Glee Club at Regionals, in their Christmas sweaters performing for the faculty, performing in their Alcohol Awareness Week Ke$ha number (before the "special effects," of course), there was even one from Mr. and Mrs. Hummel's wedding. But at the center of the page was the picture taken of them at the halftime show at the conference finals. There they all were; the Glee club, the football players, the three ex-Cheerios, all dressed in their zombie finest, singing Thriller. In that moment they were not popular kids and gleeks, they were unified. For Santana that performance was bittersweet. It marked the end of an era for her, and the start of what she considered the downward spiral of the school year. Still, looking at the picture now, Santana only remembered the unmitigated joy she felt as she sang and zombie-danced across the football field. In that moment she had no regrets: the crowd was cheering, and she had Brittany and Quinn and her other friends at her side. Santana was a part of something bigger than herself, she was a carefree teenager, and she was having fun. In that moment, life was good.
Pulling out her pen, Santana sighed and got down to the business of signing yearbooks. She put a little heart in place of the "O" in Lopez in every book and included her phone number (something she previously was loath to give to some of the members of Glee Club) along with a personal note and a wish to get together over the summer. In between books, she talked with every other member of the club. At one point they all decided they should recreate their worst number ever, but the plan fell apart when no one could agree if it was Run Joey Run, You Can't Touch This (library style), a Glee version of Sue Sylvester's Physical, or the very out of tune a cappella version of Ride wit Me they'd done the previous year. Mr. Schue even suggested some Journey, but they all vetoed him and the plan devolved into just Rachel, Kurt and Mercedes trying to out-diva each other at the piano as they competed to see who could hit the most number of notes in a run. Santana enjoyed hanging out with everyone, but all the while, she felt the loss of the most important person missing from their group.
Even though the bell finally rang, no one wanted to leave, so they all stuck around for a while longer as the hallways cleared for the last time. A few passing students peered into the choir room and shook their heads in wonder at the gleeks who didn't even want to leave school for the summer. Eventually, Mr. Kidney, the janitor, turned up to clean and shooed them all out. It still took several more minutes for the hugs and the goodbyes and the last minute 'I'll call you's to send everyone their separate ways.
As Santana made her way to her car, which sat alone on the edge of the parking lot, she finally spied the one thing she'd spent the day searching for. Brittany sat on the hood of her car, leaning back on splayed arms, her face turned toward the sun, soaking in its rays. Santana couldn't help but smile as she sped up to reach her new hood ornament.
"And what are you doing out here spread all over my car? I should call the police and say I've been vandalized."
Brittany laughed as she hopped down off the car and turned her now very pink nose Santana's direction. "I was waiting for you, silly. And I think this car looks a lot better with me on the hood, don't you?"
Santana could only chuckle as she nodded in agreement that Brittany had indeed made her car look much better. "So why haven't I seen you today, and why weren't you in glee club? You won't believe what people wrote in my yearbook."
It was unusual for Brittany to turn shy, but she looked down at her own shuffling feet as she mumbled something.
"What did you say?" Santana leaned closer to Brittany, capturing her hands and holding them tightly, not wanting Brittany to escape.
"I said I wanted to wait and have you sign my yearbook last, so I avoided you all day."
"But what about glee club, Britt? You said everyone in glee is your friend; didn't you want them to sign your book too?
"I saw everybody in Glee Club in my classes during the day already and my yearbook was getting full and I wanted to save some room for you, so I skipped." Brittany reached behind her, pulling her yearbook out of her bag on Santana's car and handing it to her. "Here, I saved the last page for you."
"You saved the whole last page for me? Why?"
Santana took the book from Brittany, flipping it open to the last page to find it encircled by a colorful string of attached hearts and captioned with the phrase "Saved For Santana Lopez" with "Happy Endings" written underneath that. At the bottom of one corner the phrase "Best Friends Forever" was written, with the phrase, "Anything's Possible" as its counterpart in the opposite corner. Inside the chain of hearts the words "I love you, I love you, I love you, like never before," flowed: a continuous line of writing that insulated and protected the wall of hearts around the paper.
"Don't worry, I added the words after everyone else signed so no one saw."
"Why did you do this, B?"
"Because, you're my favorite, Santana. You're the most awesomest girl I know."
Santana gulped, not sure what to say in the face of Brittany's revelation.
"So, will you sign my yearbook?" Brittany asked.
"Proudly, Brittany. But only if you'll sign mine." Santana pushed her own yearbook into Brittany's hands, opening it as she did so to the first page. Brittany saw that it read Santana LoSERpez but as she held it, Santana took out her pen and changed it to say Santana LOves Brittany PiErce in rather haphazard diagonal writing complete with arrows and scratched out letters. She scrawled a large heart underneath on the blank page and then Santana looked at Brittany expectantly. Brittany nodded and grinned widely as she accepted the book.
Santana reached for Brittany's pinky with her own as they sat down together in the shadow of Santana's car and began to write in each other's yearbooks. The worst year of her school career was over. It was the first day of summer; Santana had her best friend by her side and a book full of well wishes and kind thoughts. In that moment, life was good.