They show up late and nobody cares. It doesn't really matter. Santana knows that the last block party of the summer is always a wash anyway, kids acting extra crazy just because they know that, in a few short days, crazy—or at least this kind of crazy—will be hard to come by.
In the old days, Puck used to thrive on these parties, getting in more noncommittal hookups and tequila shots than anyone could even count, but, this year, he's the only other glee kid who even shows up, and he only stays long enough to swipe a bottle of Jack from the host's parents' liquor cabinet, do a keg stand, give a sophomore a wedgie, and leave. Finn doesn't even make an appearance; he's probably too wiped out from working at Mr. Hummel's shop all day to even remember there's a party. God only knows where Quinn is.
From glee, it's just Brittany and Santana—the last two queens in their dynasty—making the rounds, recapturing something of their old invincibility, proving that they deserve to be here with the other popular kids, that they belong.
Except they really don't.
Sure, they slip easily into the gossip circles of the other Cheerios, bitching and backbiting with the rest of them, causing the freshmen to cower and the older girls to flare with jealousy because they're so unapproachable and cool, even after months off the squad, but their hearts aren't really in it. Parties used to be a showcase for them: a place they went to prove to people that they were who they weren't.
Now that neither of them can even fake an interest in making out with that new wide receiver who transferred from Shawnee, somehow it all seems like a joke—and maybe that's why they spend most of the party looking at each other under the wavering, orange bonfire light and grinning like idiots, drinks in hand.
Or mostly why, anyway.
As they sit on the edge of the hot tub, their bare feet submersed in the water, eerie green light rippling over their skin, Brittany leans over and sets her head on Santana's shoulder, sighing for a different reason than she would have last year. Her voice sounds honeyed sweet and happy—content. She has a wine cooler balanced between her knees; Santana gave up on her rum and Coke a while ago, abandoning it somewhere on the deck.
They're alone on the far side of the party, everyone else around the bonfire, slopping and faltering. No one can see them; they're perfect. All summer, it's been like magnets between them, and the pull has grown stronger with every passing month. Santana can always feel Brittany tugging at her heart, no matter where they go.
Fuck it, Santana thinks. Her lips hover, open, just over the crown of Brittany's head. She breathes in the scent of sugar flower sweet pea Brittany, the hot chlorine wafting up from the water, and the yeasty sourness of alcohol hanging over the yard. "I love you," she whispers conspiratorially, the words warming her from the insides out. She smiles into Brittany's hair, feeling tipsier than she really is for a moment.
Brittany squeezes Santana's kneecap and nestles closer to Santana, resting her head against Santana's neck. "I love you, too, San," Brittany says. Santana can feel Brittany smiling into her skin. Brittany starts to hum something in a major key and the sound buzzes through the both of them. Santana starts to wonder how many other ways she can sneak love to Brittany tonight.
She thinks of it like a game.
So maybe Santana roasts Brittany a marshmallow when they sit down next to the bonfire to dry their feet. Maybe she makes it golden brown, a thin crust over the melted inside, just the way Brittany likes it, not charred to ash like what tastes best to Santana, and offers it to Brittany, fresh off the tine. Maybe she sets her hand on Brittany's lower back to steady Brittany when she sits down. (Okay, so maybe no one's looking and maybe Santana knows it.) Maybe she keeps knocking their knees together in time to the LMFAO song blaring from the speakers perched on the deck. Maybe Brittany starts to catch on at that point.
After that, they hang off each other's elbows, meandering through the crowds, lips pursed like they've got some secret that they're awfully smug about; maybe they do. They dance together once or twice and no one seems to notice that, this time, it's different, that it isn't like last year, all desperate and trumped up—that, this time, it's fun and easy instead; they have a rhythm. When their bodies curl against each other, nothing in them shies away from the other.
They fit together perfectly.
They're still subtle, of course. Or subtle-ish.
Around the time the JV linemen decide to "cowboy up" and collectively take a piss in the pool, ass by ass, Santana and Brittany decide it's time to leave; it's after midnight anyway.
The days are still dog's tongue-hot, but an autumn coolness has begun to seep into the nighttime air, hinting at the season to come. The freshmen at the party all got wasted, but Brittany and Santana held back, building up a pleasant buzz, but nothing too outrageous. Now the world feels soft around them, muddled, like water-stained edges on a photograph. They can still smell the hot hickory roast of bonfire fanning over the neighborhood. It will stay in their clothes and hair until tomorrow.
Music follows them, a faint heartbeat thump in the background, as they walk down the street, away from the shouting and whoops of the McKinley High royalty, away from the party, back to their bed. Brittany doesn't live too far away from the host's house, but far enough that the chill in the air catches up with them before they make it home; Brittany starts shivering, rubbing her hands together, exhaling with voice behind it, not just breath. She's in a miniskirt and short sleeves and her hair is still kind of wet from where someone splashed her when she got too close to the pool. Brittany is the kind of girl who wears shorts even in the winter, but that doesn't mean she never gets cold.
"... and then she totally tied the little cherry stem up with her tongue and made out with Randy Mackey on the trampoline. I think I could do it, if I practiced—the cherry part, I mean. I can do that weird tongue thing, you know?" she's saying, demonstrating, opening her mouth to Santana. Her tongue folds into three parts, like leaves on a clover.
"BrittBritt!" Santana says, reciprocating; she can't do the trick like Brittany can, so mostly she just smiles, giddy, and wags her tongue around. Brittany jumps up and down, delighted, and suddenly Santana feels like she has the world's best kept secret all to herself. Sometimes Santana has to wonder how anyone can keep from falling in love with Brittany Pierce after meeting her at all. Brittany is perfect, perfect, perfect.
Brittany laughs at Santana as they walk under a streetlight and Santana catches sight of the goosebumps on Brittany's arms. Brittany's still shaking. Apparently, goofing around doesn't do anything to warm her up.
"Here," Santana says suddenly. She wiggles her shoulders, shaking one arm free from her blazer, then the other; she holds the blazer out to Brittany like a peace flag, waiting for her to say something.
Brittany doesn't say anything. She flashes Santana that same curious look she's been giving her all summer: soft, hopeful, deep, and wise. Brittany accepts the jacket and starts to pull it on, fumbling a little with the right sleeve—maybe because she's tipsy, maybe because it's dark—and Santana reaches over to help her with it. For a second, Santana feels like she could do fucking anything.
"Got it, pretty girl?" she says, glad that, for one thing, she never really blushes, and that, for another, it's dark, so that even if she were blushing—which she isn't—Brittany couldn't see it. Probably.
"Thank you," Brittany says. And, okay, so the way that she's looking at Santana right now just might make Santana want to do a cartwheel or something. A pause. Then. "You gave me your jacket," Brittany singsongs.
Lately, Brittany's taken to pointing it out whenever Santana does something especially coupley. It kind of makes Santana feel like a hero, but it also reminds her of how much she has left to do. They still haven't really talked about this part. "No one would notice that it's mine," Santana mutters. "It's just a girl's jacket. And you're a girl."
Brittany shrugs, her grin still going strong. "But I know it's your jacket, San."
"And I think it's cute."
"And I'm not cold anymore. So."
"Hey, Brittany, will you hold my hand?"
It's out before Santana even realizes that she's said it. They can still only do things like this in secret, under the shade of night or in Santana's big, empty house or under Brittany's pastel sheets when they fall asleep. They held hands that once when they went to see Quinn, but still not where it counts and never spontaneously.
Brittany reaches over and slides her fingers between Santana's. Her whole hand feels like ice.
"Jesus!" Santana says before she can stop herself.
"Sorry," Brittany shrugs.
Santana gives Brittany's hand a squeeze to tell her it's okay and Brittany just laughs and swings their arms between them. She starts to get that little dance in her feet, more skipping than walking, dragging Santana along. By now, they can't hear the party anymore; there's no music, only the distant sound of traffic and the nighttime opus of Lima—the crickets and the faraway cop sirens, the random rustles and airplane jets overhead. Brittany looks beautiful, half in shadow and half in streetlight, her hair falling out of its clip, cheeks pink from the cold. Santana feels nothing but warmth. She feels nothing but home.
Brittany takes a flying leap onto the sidewalk from the street, fluttering her feet in a fleet jeté. She's still giggling to herself, petting the bones in Santana's hand with her chilly fingers, yanking her onto the curb.
"What's so funny?" Santana asks, laughing because Brittany's laughing, laughing because Brittany's perfect.
Brittany grins at Santana like she's about to tell her a secret. "Being in love is so much fun!" she whoops.
And even though Santana could make a joke about all the fun they had last year, she doesn't, because she finally gets it.
For so long, loving Brittany was something Santana tried not to do because it felt impossible. She spent long nights curled up in her bed, music blaring through her earbuds, trying to fall asleep without thinking or feeling anything, only to see Brittany at Cheerios practice the next day and lose all her resolve, crumbling in on herself. Love sucked. It felt like getting tied in knots—and especially during those long months between March and the prom, when every day went uphill and forever, and everyone spooked Santana, even Brittany.
But now love feels like everything good and makes everything good. That party was fucking stupid, but Brittany was there so Santana had fun. Even though she's loved Brittany for forever, this summer is the first time Santana has really enjoyed it.
Just then, something catches Santana's eye.
"Look, Britt!" she says quickly, pointing up at the sky, vast and clear, with a gray summer moon and just the faintest freckling of stars visible over the Lima light pollution.
"A shooting star!" Brittany gasps and Santana says at the same time, "Make a wish!" as if she has to tell Brittany twice.
Brittany takes wishes very seriously: birthday candles, wishing wells, and 11:11 in both the morning and the night all border on the sacred for her. She holds her breath and closes her eyes, in tune with whatever great blank something it is out there that grants wishes in the same way she's in tune with music and can always find a beat, even in what should be danceless songs. Brittany never tells what she wishes for and Santana's always been too scared to ask her.
Santana can't believe in wishes quite the way that Brittany does. Wishes just seem so weightless to her, like something invisible and impossible to touch. Santana believes in goals and plans and things she can measure out and feel between her fingers. Brittany tells Santana that wishes and goals aren't opposites of each other, so Santana can believe in both, if she wants to. Santana tries, but she just doesn't trust it, and she's told Brittany so. Brittany promises her that it's okay; she says that sometimes wanting to believe is as good as believing itself.
Tonight, Santana wants to believe. She has every reason to.
The shock of white light flares then fizzles, a melting camera flash over the horizon. It leaves a floating afterimage seared against their retinas. Santana blinks and blinks and blinks until it fades enough for her to look over at Brittany, who still has her eyes cinched shut and her nose scrunched up, her whole face tight like a button. Santana gives her hand a squeeze.
"BrittBritt?" she says.
"Did you make a wish, San?" Brittany looks at her now, searching her face. Missed chances for wishes make Brittany heartsore, just like spoiled wishes do.
"Yeah, Britty, I did. Did you?"
Brittany looks at Santana for a long second, her eyes tracing over Santana's face, mapping her out, a long, deep, hopeful look on her face. There's none of that old sadness from last year. "Yeah, San. I did." Something passes between them. Santana feels it deeper than her skin or heart or even blood; it runs through the core of her like an aquifer. She shivers and so does Brittany, a brightness in their eyes.
That night, when they lie in Brittany's bed, bodies still soft from the alcohol, Santana sinks her face into Brittany's hair and breathes deeply, taking in her sleep scent and hoping Brittany's dreaming. "I'm sorry," she sighs, pressing a kiss to Brittany's scalp, but what she really means is "I hope," or maybe more "I wish."
They spend September in the quiet and October in more silence.
When November comes and that last summer heat has died away, Santana remembers her wish.