Author's Note: Another short chapter, but I did warn that once I had established this universe to my satisfaction, the chapters would decrease in length. This is not to say that there won't be other epic chapters, only that they are no longer necessary. Sometimes the emotional punch of a piece is better served with fewer words, and I don't want to force something that shouldn't be forced. Thank you, and I hope you like this small update.

Santana had thrown herself into a chair and feigned paying attention to her mother's furiously whispered scolding. She nodded in all the right places and made some grunting noises to indicate she was listening. It kind of reminded her of her last date with a guy.

The entire time, however, she was looking past her mother's shoulder and inwardly smirking at how Fink Hudson was being raked over the coals by his irate mother. It was almost orgasmic.

"Santana Maria Esperanza Lopez!" Lydia growled.

Santana decided she'd had enough. She'd had enough trying to placate people, enough of conforming to social conventions which were antithetical to her own ideals, and enough of trying to be someone she wasn't so that other people would just leave her the hell alone.

"You know what, Mom?" she quietly interrupted. "I'm not sorry. I don't feel guilty. I would do it again in a heartbeat. I wish I hadn't waited so long to do it. I have zero fucks to give when it comes to Finn Hudson."

Lydia stared, unused to her daughter not capitulating for the sake of it. Santana would eventually cave, at least where her parents were concerned, if only to keep the peace. She wouldn't always admit to being wrong, but she would apologize for her tactlessness.

"You have no idea how badly that son of a bitch has hurt my friend," Santana seethed, "and Kurt is my friend." She arched a brow. "Do you know why he is? Because he accepts me for who I am. He neither needs nor wants me to change. He doesn't want me to censor myself for the sake of other people. He doesn't want me to be inauthentic because it's easier. He doesn't want me to lie to spare the feelings of others. And you know what? I like that."

Lydia blinked.

"I like who I am when I'm with Kurt. He makes me happy. He makes me feel like I'm the person I've been trying to be for as long as I can remember. I don't have to apologize for my thoughts or feelings." She set her jaw. "I'm not a nice person, Mom, but I'm a good person. Kurt knows that, and he loves me for that."


"No," Santana interjected. "I wasn't finished. All of my life, I've lied to myself about who I am and what I want, and it's cost me the most important person I'll ever know. I love Brittany. I want to be with Brittany. What we had wasn't some passing fling. It wasn't a phase. I'm not going to get over it. It's not rebellion. It's not me being corrupted. It's not anything you and Dad did or didn't do, or did or didn't buy me when I was kid. It's not from lack of hugs. It's not because I was secretly molested and never told you, because that never happened.

"It's who I am, Mom, and who I am is a lesbian."

Tears filled Lydia's eyes.

"It's not going to change," Santana said flatly. "I'm not going to change. I don't want to change. I couldn't admit it before; not to you, and not even to myself. I've lost Brittany, probably for good. I treated her horribly, as though she were an experiment or an afterthought. She had always been there for me. There was nothing I couldn't tell her." She paused. "Except how much I love her."

She dropped her eyes. "And, in the end, that's what drove her away. That's how I drove her away." She shook her head and hastily wiped angry tears from her eyes. "Well, fuck that. I'm tired of compromising. I'm tired of living a half-life. I'm tired of pretending that I'm not terrified of what people will think of me. I'm tired of wondering if I'm going to lose you and Dad. I've already lost myself, and, frankly, that's so much worse than anything anyone else could say or do."

Lydia covered her mouth with a hand.

Santana looked past her, down the hall where Kurt had disappeared. "He makes me strong. He doesn't resent the strength I already possess. He knows everything about me and loves me anyway, and you have no idea how much that means to me." She finally met her mother's gaze. "I will hurt those who hurt him. Not because he asked me to, because he never would, but because they deserve it."

Her hands curled into fists. "For ten years I've watched people torment him, physically and verbally and emotionally. I've heard the taunts and the plots. I've seen the sneers and the disgust. I've felt their rancor and their own self-loathing. Finn was one of those people who did that to him, and I said nothing. I did nothing. Do you know why? Because whenever I saw Kurt being attacked, I understood how easily it could have been me. How likely it would have been me."

She tugged on her ponytail. "You have no idea how much I hate myself for that, how much I despise myself for being so weak. But Kurt doesn't hate me. He loves me, and that means everything."

Her hands shook with rage. "He was destroyed last night. Kurt was one of the few virgins I knew, not because no one would have him, but because he wanted to wait for the right person. Because he respects himself. And he did wait, and he found that person, and he fell in love. He came back here smiling and confident and...and joyous, and then Finn and Mercedes just shat all over him. And that is not okay."

She shook her head in anger. "I wish I had waited. I wish I had the love and respect for myself that Kurt has, that he has for me, but I didn't. I acted out. I slept around. I gave it away. Not because I enjoyed it, but because I thought I could overcome what I knew to be true, that I could lock it away and drown it out, but I couldn't, and I won't do it any longer."

She stared into her mother's eyes. "I deserve better than that. I'm worth more than that. And Kurt's the one who made me realize it. So, yeah, if I can make his life easier, I will. If I can dilute some of the poison with which he surrounds himself because he wants to be fair or be a nice guy, then I will. I won't be sorry. I won't regret it. Because that's exactly what he would do for me. He stands up for every one of his friends, and I won't do any less for him, because that's not the person I want to be. Not anymore."

She bit her lip. "I understand if you can't accept this, and I'm sorry if this upsets you or makes you uncomfortable, but I won't be sorry for being who I am. I've apologized for that enough, and I'm not going to continue doing it. Not for you, not for Dad, not for the kids at school. I'm angry with myself for not being able to do it for Brittany, and I hope one day she can forgive me, but if she can't, it's no less than I deserve."

She took a deep breath. "But I will be strong for Kurt, because I couldn't live with myself if I wasn't. I won't be yet another person who tells him that he needs to forgive and forget. I won't tell him that he needs to turn the other cheek, because he's already been struck across all four. I won't tell him that he needs to change in order to make other people feel more comfortable about being assholes. I will be the friend to him that I was never able to be for myself."

Unbeknownst to Santana and Lydia, they had acquired an audience. Kurt and Camille, Seeley and Puck, Carole and Finn, and Tina and Brittany had all gathered around, staring at mother and daughter.

Puck was nodding his head so furiously, at any moment it might have snapped off and rolled into Oncology. Finally, he had the words to express his own revelation with regard to Kurt and Finn and their fucked-up high school. He wanted to be friends with Kurt not just because Kurt was awesome, but because there were aspects of himself in Kurt, ones he couldn't or wouldn't previously acknowledge. Like Santana, he had acted out, but he had channeled his anger at Kurt because his lizard brain viewed Kurt as the source of his turmoil.

But that was over now, and Noah was all the better for it. If Kurt could forgive him, then perhaps Noah would one day be able to forgive Puck.

Finn was gawking at Santana as though he had no idea who the girl before him was, and it was in that moment that he realized how true that was. He didn't know Santana. Oh, he knew Santana Lopez, he had known her for more years than he wanted to admit, but he had never known the girl behind the name, behind the mask, either because he hadn't been looking or he hadn't wanted to look. Or, because Santana had never allowed it. He supposed it was some combination of the three.

Her words were like a kick in the nuts, and Finn wondered why it always took the intervention of another for him to recognize that Kurt was an awesome dude. Sure, Kurt had his bad points, everyone did, but at least Kurt acknowledged his faults, and he did so to others. Finn, meanwhile, only admitted his deficits in the privacy of his own mind, or to one other person, like his mother or Rachel.

For the past year, he had continually fucked up where Kurt was concerned, and while he had known it and that Kurt would always forgive him for it, he finally got that that time was now over. It had to be, for all of their sakes, but also because, for the first time ever, he totally understood he had pushed Kurt to the limit. It was only a matter of time before Kurt started pushing back, and Finn knew just how hard Kurt could push.

Also, Kurt no longer stood alone. Artie, Tina, and Brittany were still in his corner, as they had always been, but now there was Sam, an unknown; and Rachel, who could actually be pretty damned scary when she put her mind to it.

He suspected that she had put her mind to it. He had manipulated her last night, and it had cost her whatever ground she had managed to gain with Kurt. He well knew that Rachel was, for whatever reason, kind of obsessed with Kurt. His opinion mattered to her, was one of the few that did, and she wouldn't let herself be backed into a corner again.

Finn had pushed Rachel to make a choice, and she had, but it had been the wrong one. She wouldn't make that mistake again.

Not to mention others had sided with Kurt, including Mike, Matt, and Mr. Schuester. Hell, if even Schue was now willing to come across for Kurt, Finn knew he had no hope of coming out of this with any shred of dignity intact. Not like he had one, or ever had.

Somehow, and against every law of probability, Quinn, Puck, and even Santana had joined Team Kurt.

Finn knew just how monumental an achievement that was. Quinn had never cared about having friends. Puck had never really cared about anyone except himself and maybe his sister. Santana...well, he'd never understand her. He'd never trust her, despite her words just moments ago.

Of course, his opinion didn't really matter, and that realization was finally starting to sink in. The entire club had turned against him. It wasn't a matter of taking sides, as they had done when various members had gotten together or broken up; this had been a universal declaration. All of them supported Kurt, and he and Mercedes had been left out in the cold.

Finn didn't like the cold, and he really didn't like being in the same boat as Mercedes. He also didn't understand what the hell was wrong with that girl. Sure, he was jealous, too. He was jealous of Kurt, he was jealous of the friendships Kurt had with other people, and, yeah, he was finally recognizing that he wanted Kurt all to himself. He guessed the same was true of Mercedes, but it still didn't make sense.

Kurt had been her best friend, and that was a major thing. Kurt had never let anyone as close to him as he had Mercedes, and that should have told the girl how much he valued her and their friendship. Yeah, they'd had their squabbles and silences, but they had always made up and appeared to come out stronger for the strife.

Finn supposed that had all been a sham, a front both of them had put forward to disguise their vulnerabilities from each other and everyone else.

But why was Mercedes so pissed off that Kurt had had sex? Finn knew he was upset because his feelings for Kurt were all conflicted and he understood he was going to have to spend a lot of time working them out, but what was Mercedes' deal? She knew Kurt was gay. Everyone knew Kurt was gay, that he'd never end up with a girl. Mercedes had to know that, so he was positive there was something more going on than Mercedes just being jealous that Kurt got laid. He wondered what it was.

He'd certainly never ask. He didn't like Mercedes, never had, and especially not after she had blabbed about Beth's paternity to everyone in the club except for him and then convinced them to keep their mouths shut about it. Finn was still confused about that, particularly about why Kurt had gone along with it. At that point in time, Kurt's feelings for him had been at their strongest, and Kurt wasn't the kind of person to keep secrets that would end up hurting someone he loved.

It was all so weird.

He wanted to run away. He knew he didn't belong here, that he never should have come. He really cared about Burt, maybe even loved him like a dad, but this wasn't his place, and he didn't need the earlier angry gazes of Puck and Santana to tell him that.

He had been devastated when he'd heard of Burt's stroke. He'd also been angry, furious that Kurt hadn't told him. He'd stupidly admitted that to his mother, who had been quick to bring him to heel, blasting at him that Kurt didn't owe him anything, particularly after the events of last night. Her lecture from this morning came back to him in full-force, and she screamed her fury that he had basically ignored everything she had told him.

Kurt wasn't his brother; Kurt wasn't even his friend anymore.

God, that hurt.

If he didn't have Kurt, who did he have? At the end of last year, the club had united for the competition, but the distance between them had been greater than ever before. Sure, he had Rachel, which was what he had told himself was all he wanted, but now he knew that wasn't strictly true. Rachel wanted him, but he was pretty sure it wasn't for the right reasons. He had paid careful attention to her watching Sam and Kurt's performance yesterday, and then Kurt's solo later. Rachel may have loved him, but not enough to curtail her need to be number one.

Kurt...Kurt had just loved him.

And Finn had thrown it away like so much garbage, as though it hadn't meant anything. Now that he saw Kurt giving love to other people, he was angry, and hurt, and sad. He was feeling everything he had put Kurt through, and, as usual, he was trying to blame everyone but himself.

Kurt loving him had meant everything. He was just too stupid to see it at the time.

He'd been so stupid about so many things. The problem was that he didn't know how to stop being stupid, and it terrified him, especially now that there were so many others waiting in the wings to be the friend to Kurt he should have been.

That he had wanted to be.

Finn knew there was nothing he could ever say, nothing he could ever do, that would ever compare to the words Santana had just so freely given.

It was sobering to realize that, for all her evilness, she was a better person than he was.