Brittany's just climbed out of the Time Machine from another one of Spacegirl Spice's intrepid adventures to Zog-9 when LT prowls over from the pile of comic books and peers at the box. He's stroking his soft chin like he's got an idea, so Brittany prompts, "What is it, Lord T?"
Instead of answering, he reaches out to touch the box's flaps curiously. It's upright now—not the Transmogrifier—and she's about to ask if he wants to go see the dinosaurs again when he tips it onto its side.
Brittany's eyes go wide. "What's it do?" she asks eagerly, retrieving the big black Sharpie from her desk drawer.
"Lemme see," he says, grabbing the marker when she hands it to him. He bends to the box like a mechanic and when he stands up, he points proudly to "DUPLICATOR," spelled in careful capital letters.
With a squeal, Brittany says, "I can clone myself?"
"So can I!" he says, insistent.
"Of course," she says. "D.O.T.S. has a mission!"
LT grins at her; his tail curls happily. "What's the mission?" he asks, scurrying across the room to grab their newspaper caps.
"No, leave those off," she says. "That way we can tell the clones from the originals. We'll put the hats on after."
"Perfect," LT purrs, setting them carefully on top of the box. "But what's the mission?"
Brittany shrugs as she climbs between the box flaps. "Drive Fink Hudson crazy, obviously."
After all, it turns out Fink Hudson is back to babysit her, and with eight Brittanys and four LTs, Fink is nowhere near prepared.
First, Brittany has the LT team follow Fink around the house, turning all the furniture upside down as soon as he leaves a room. He figures it out pretty quickly, though, and he keeps staring at the living room while he makes a sandwich in the kitchen.
So, then, Brittany finds his bag and starts passing its contents amongst herselves. "What are these?" asks Brittany 5, wandering into the living room, and Fink shouts and barrels at her to snatch the box of condiments from her hands.
Brittany 5 skips away while Fink blushes and hides the box. "We're only looking," Brittany 3 scolds him seriously, taking Brittany 5's place in front of him.
Fink looks at her funny, but his face always looks funny, so Brittany 3 just leaves again. Brittany and Brittany 2 sneak over to his chair and start eating the sandwich he's left unattended by the TV. "Hey, you can't do that!" he yells; Brittany 2 ducks under the couch, out of sight, and Brittany scurries out of the room.
"Come back here!" he says, bent at the waist to swipe helplessly at her, but it's almost too easy to keep ahead of him. Brittany giggles—Fink really is a dumb butt, to take the bait like this—and she runs out the door onto the driveway. He follows her around the cars and shrieks when she throws a basketball at his mom's minivan.
"Stop that!" he instructs, but Brittany's already climbing through the window LT 3 and Brittany 6 are holding open. They watch him congratulate himself on his authoritative voice while Brittany 7 locks the front door, and their snickers turn into howled laughter at the way his face falls when the handle won't turn.
Fink's getting angry, now, with the basketball held between his ankles and both hands trying to force the door. "This isn't funny, Brittany!" he bellows, rattling the door in its frame.
The plan's going awesome, but this phase is complete. Brittany and LT usher their copies upstairs and let the Duplicator suck them back in, offering high-fives and congratulatory handshakes as each duplicate packs sullenly into the machine.
Then, Brittany and LT scamper back down to the kitchen. Fink's not rattling the door anymore; they see him struggling to open the locked window to the living room. They share a grin—even if he succeeds, he'll set off the burglar alarm Brittany's parents set before they left, and that'll get him into even bigger trouble—and find Fink's bag again.
"Ooh, lookit," Brittany announces, holding Fink's cell phone triumphantly above her head. They're out of his sightline, and LT coos happily behind her while she works to figure out his passcode.
It's F-I-N-N. Too easy.
"What should we do? Prank call an infomercial?" asks Brittany.
LT shakes his head and leans around her. "Look for ICE contacts," he says.
She does, and they hit the jackpot: Apparently, Fink's girlfriend is real, and her name is "ICE Quinn Fabrey" in his phone.
It only rings a few times before Fink's girlfriend picks up. "What is it, Finn?" Quinn asks.
Brittany and LT make their spinach grimace at each other. Brittany says, "Is this Quinn?"
"What? Yes," Quinn says, sounding confused. "Who's this? Where's Finn?"
"He's otherwise engaged," LT snickers.
Brittany giggles with him and says, "Yeah, we wanted to take this opportunity to warn you—"
"Warn me about what?" asks Quinn, growing annoyed.
"—that he's a big buttface, and he's keeping me trapped in my room," Brittany says right when she hears a back window creak open and Finn's stupid heavy body falling onto the floor.
He yells her name, through the house, and Brittany speeds up: "—and he's a giant jerk zorg monster person and he's mean to me and—"
Fink scoops her up and wrestles his phone from her fingers. Brittany starts screaming and LT plugs his ears. "Hello?" Fink says into his phone. He grimaces as Brittany struggles in his arms, but his face goes pale at Quinn's answer. "No, I'm just—I'm babysitting, like I told you," he explains.
He drags Brittany up the stairs with one arm while he listens to Quinn. "For the Pierces. Like I always do. She said—what?" He glares at her, just before they reach her room. Brittany glares ferociously and bites down on his arm.
"Ow! Cut it out, you little brat!" he shouts, shooing her into her room and shutting the door.
When her parents get home, she gets grounded for another three weeks, but LT gives her a high-five and it was super duper funny, so whatever.
It's Friday afternoon, and all kinds of gorgeous outside, but Mr. Schuester's insistent she consider the problem set in front of her.
Blitz Phoenix leans back and props her feet on the desk, puffing cigar smoke into her dim office in the general direction of Schuester's face. She'd hoped for a light day—Fridays are usually when you get into trouble; it's Monday before you start trying to get out of trouble—but clearly, Schuester's got other plans for her.
She's done favors for him before, because even if he's a daisy with greasy hair, he means well and pays even better. In this town, it's tough to be a Private Investigator. The guys are all squeaky clean and the broads are tight-lipped. Mostly, they don't take kindly to types like Phoenix sniffing around their business, but she's never been inclined to shy away from rougher cases. That's why Schuester owes her so many favors.
He's about to owe her another one because his problem is even more suspicious than usual. These two kids, Jack and Jill, are building a fence to plant a garden, but they've only got so much fence. He wants Phoenix to help these saps make a garden with the most possible area.
Of course, that's not the real question, here. Schuester's dizzy with a dame named Pillsbury, and she's got family connections to the mob and at least three cousins in the big house. This "garden" is clearly some poor cat's shallow grave. But whose? And why do they need her help? They shouldn't want her anywhere near this mess.
Still, is Schuester the victim, the villain, or the hero? Phoenix needs some more information; casually, once Schuester's left her alone to work the case, she makes her way over to Santana Lopez. The Lopez dame is an odd one, to be sure, but she's been a little sweet on Phoenix since she moved into town, and there's no better source than a canary willing to sing.
"What are you doing?" Lopez hisses. She's in a mood, so Phoenix just chews her cigar and cranes her neck back over Lopez's shoulder. It doesn't work, though; Lopez just shoves her and whispers, "Do your own work!"
Worth a shot. Phoenix decides a walk might clear her head. She's got a hunch halfway cooking when Schuester interrupts her on her second lap. "Come finish your worksheet, Brittany!" he sighs, obviously anxious for answers so he can go help his moll.
Just as she slinks back into her seat, the answer hits Phoenix like an Amtrak rattler. She draws a star on the page, so Schuester and his tomato can bury five stiffs for the price of one.
One fence, that is.
Phoenix turns her paper in early with a proud grin.
Santana lives on her street, so today, she catches up with Brittany after school. "Do you wanna walk with me?" she asks, after five full seconds of shyly toeing the sidewalk.
Honestly, Brittany'd rather walk on her own so she could try climbing on the rocks again, but walking separately in the same direction would be really weird. "Yeah, okay."
It makes Santana all happy—she grins widely and skips more than walks for the first few steps—and pretty soon, Santana's telling Brittany about her older primos in New York and how she gets to visit them with her abuela this summer. Brittany's not totally sure what primos or abuelas are, but Santana's voice sounds too nice for Brittany to interrupt.
Then, she sees it. A little way down, in the ravine beside the road, there's a little ball of fluff. Brittany makes a noise and jumps down toward it; she mostly wants to see what it is, but it might be an animal, and animals are awesome, too.
"What is it?" calls Santana, following her hesitantly. Brittany's frozen, though, above the little yellow duckling, fluttering its wings with every belabored breath. "Oh my God!" says Santana when she comes up beside Brittany.
"He's alive," Brittany whispers, "but he looks like he's hurt."
That makes Santana turn toward her, but she doesn't say anything else. "I'll—I'll get my mom," Santana suggests suddenly. "She's a doctor. Maybe she can help!"
Before Brittany can tell her that there are special doctors for animals, and maybe even specialer ones for ducks, Santana's sprinting down the street.
It's only a couple of minutes before Santana comes back, leading her mom and carrying a shoebox, but Brittany's already crying by the time they come up beside her. "Hi, Brittany," says Santana's mother, super gently.
"Hi," Brittany croaks, looking up from where she's sitting in the leaves next to the duckling she's named Marty. "Can you help him?"
Santana's mom doesn't hesitate: She takes the box from Santana and kneels next to the duck. "Well, I'm a people doctor, not an animal doctor," she says as if Brittany doesn't know about veterinarians, "but I'll do what I can."
It's clear she means it, because she's wrapping the duckling tenderly in a dishtowel before Brittany can say anything back. Santana holds the box so her mom can put the duckling inside, and Brittany notices that Santana's crying as hard as she is.
"I hope he'll be okay," Brittany barely whispers while they walk home behind Santana's mom. She feels terrible.
Santana looks just as wide-eyed and scared. "Me too," she admits, super quiet.
Brittany turns to watch the back of Santana's mom's head, bobbing as she walks. Her black hair looks a lot like Santana's.
A tingle at her wrist draws her eyes back downward: Santana's fingertips, ghosting tentatively across her wrist and down her palm.
Brittany shifts and locks their hands tight together, so tight she can feel the lifeline across Santana's palm pressing against hers, like two strands of one thread.
There's not a lot they can do, Santana's mom explains to them, and she just puts Marty in the garage with something to eat and a little bowl of water. She offers to let Brittany stay for dinner, and when Brittany says that'd be nice, Santana's mom goes inside to call Brittany's mom.
Brittany and Santana sit on the steps inside the garage, still holding hands, so tight Brittany's knuckles are shaking a little and she's not sure she'll be able to move her hand into another position ever again.
That doesn't matter, though, when she watches Marty's scary, shaky breaths, and the only things she wants in this world are for Marty to be okay and for Santana to keep holding her hand until then.
"Do you think he'll be okay?" Santana whispers, after forever.
Brittany lifts her shoulders up and down. She knows animals don't always get better, and she guesses maybe people don't either, but she's never had to think about it before, and it makes her brain hurt a lot.
Just when she realizes she's crying again, Santana's head tips over onto her shoulder. Santana nestles there and Brittany takes a deep, deep breath, as if she can compensate for Marty.
"Will you come back tomorrow?" asks Santana in a small voice, because Santana's mom said that if Marty made it through the night, they could try to find a vet and maybe he'd be okay.
Brittany nods. Her chin rubs against Santana's hair.
Finally, after another forever, Brittany mumbles, "Please don't die, Marty."
Santana sniffles against Brittany's shoulder. "We'll miss you if you go."
Their words hang in the air. They keep cuddled on the stair until Santana's mom collects them for dinner.
First thing in the morning, Brittany throws her clothes and shoes on and runs across the street, so fast her mom barely catches her in the yard. "Where are you going?" she snaps, eyes hard beneath the brim of her gardening hat.
"I wanna check on Marty," Brittany reminds her, shaking with fear and anticipation.
It takes her mom a moment to remember, but when she does, she lets go of Brittany's shirt and sighs. "Okay, honey. Just—come back after, okay? Don't just run off all day."
Brittany nods, barely listening, and runs to Santana's house untethered. When she knocks on the door, though, Santana's mom looks sad and says, "I'm sorry, sweetie, I'm afraid he didn't make it."
It's too much to understand, and Brittany just stares with big eyes. Santana shows up, ducking around her mom, and grabs Brittany in the tightest hug she's ever had, except maybe the ones from her dad's brother who used to be a really strong football player.
Santana's sobbing, and that makes Brittany start crying too, hard, into Santana's shoulder.
They stand in Santana's yard for a while after Santana's mom leaves. Eventually, Santana grabs her hand again, while she uses her other one to wipe her nose. "I don't get it," mumbles Brittany miserably. "Why'd he have to die?"
There's another moment of quiet and Santana hiccups. "My—my mom says it's… it's like a life cycle. Like The Lion King."
"There's no ducks in The Lion King," Brittany sniffles. "Just The Ugly Duckling." She pauses. "And Lilo & Stitch."
Santana's quiet for a bit. "I dunno. She said, like, death and birth are both important for life to happen. But we don't really know anything more than that."
Brittany soaks that in and grips Santana's hand tighter. "Why not?" Santana looks confused, so she clarifies, "Why don't we know more?"
Santana looks down at the little grave and shrugs sadly. "Beats me," she admits.
They stare a while longer. A breeze shifts the leaves on the lawn.
"I guess that makes sense," Brittany mumbles.
Santana's hand flexes against hers. "Just—you can't die, okay?" Brittany looks up in surprise and Santana's crying again. "Don't go anywhere. 'Cause Snix wants you to come have tea with us tomorrow."
Brittany smiles just a little because Santana's unicorn is super dopey. "Can LT come?" she asks shyly.
A smile. "Yeah, okay," whispers Santana.
Brittany ducks her head and giggles. "Just let me ask my mom."
Santana grins at her, earnest and happy, finally. "Yeah, of course."
Their sweat slicks their palms together. Brittany squeezes their lifelines against each other and feels her breath catch. "Don't you leave me either, okay?"
Santana gulps and looks deep at her eyes. "Yeah," she whispers. "Of course."
"You promise?" asks Brittany.
Santana holds up her free hand, pinky outstretched. "You too. Pinky promise."
Brittany nods and reaches her free hand to meet Santana's. Their fingers link together and Brittany leans in, impulsively, to kiss their knocking knuckles.