A/N: *Tibbs walks in four months later, waving awkwardly* Heeeeeeey guys…
If you don't read my tumblr, here's what happened: I wanted to post before June 19th because that would give me a few days to proofread and post before I went on vacation. I went on vacation for three weeks. I was writing parts of the chapter on my phone (no laptop) and surviving off of free (and usually shitty) Wi-Fi. So then I got back into town and had to catch up on almost a month's worth of the-world-didn't-stop-while-you-were-gone stuff. Now here we are. So thank you for being here right now. Thank you for being a friend. Traveled down the road and back again. Your heart is true. You're a pal and a confidant.
God, I love the Golden Girls.
Disclaimer: I own nada. RIB/Fox owns Glee. "Midnight Train to Georgia" belongs to Gladys Knight and the Pips.
Chapter 15: Liar(s)
So, it kinda became a thing.
When Brittany woke up shaking the next morning, I "helped" her. When the shaking picked up again a couple of hours later, I "helped" her again. And again. And again.
It was silently understood that we weren't doing this for funsies. We were doing this so that Brittany could be comfortable and maintain some semblance of sanity. So if she wasn't shaking, we weren't taking our clothes off. She also understood that I needed to be on top, but there was really no rhyme or reason to how my body was going to react to her touching me. It was nerve-wracking.
Halfway through that first day, we'd gotten it down to a science. Brittany would lightly touch my elbow, make meaningful eye contact, and make her way to the bedroom. I'd wait a minute and follow behind, making some dumb excuse for why we were disappearing because Brittany was "hiding" our relationship from people who already just assumed we were together. No one ever really mentioned it. Brittany usually turned bright red when someone even hinted that we might be more than friends, so people eventually caught on and stopped bringing it up. Puck and Tina were the only ones that knew where we went when we disappeared every two or three hours. Puck had been teasing me about it since a shake-free Brittany had shown up to breakfast that first day.
I couldn't deny that our arrangement was extremely awkward. Brittany was still pissed off at me for lying to her and pissed off at herself for believing me, so she was struggling with that. I felt guilty and was still having problems navigating our current boundaries. "Helping" her was only complicating things. Unfortunately, there wasn't really anyway around it. Brittany needed to function so that she could train. She couldn't concentrate when her limbs were shaking uncontrollably. It was a necessary evil.
And when she came, when she had her momentary release from the fucked-up-ness of our situation and I didn't, it felt like a punishment.
"Everything's gonna be fine," I whispered, stroking Brittany's cheeks with my thumbs the way she always did to me. "They've done this a bajillion times, B. You're in good hands."
"I know, I know, I know," she said, doing a poor job of convincing me that she was fine.
Brittany had been freaking out since Figgins casually mentioned at dinner the night before that she was scheduled to get Juiced a few days early so they could ensure that there were no complications with the Goo wearing off too soon. Brittany vividly remembered waking up during her unpleasant Juicing four days earlier and she wasn't interested in experiencing that again. I'd asked everyone to leave the Juicing room when I realized that Brittany still wasn't ready. I was straddling her lap while she sat in her chamber, trying to calm her down.
"I'm scared, Santana," Brittany whispered. "It's loud and it hurts and there's no room and it feels like I can't breathe please don't make me do it please Santana-"
I shushed her and kissed her cheek tenderly. We still weren't kissing on the lips.
"I'm gonna be here the whole time. You've got nothing to be afraid of, okay?"
"I promise I'll do it next week," she pled. "Can I just, I don't know, skip it this time?"
The image of Brittany lying comatose, hooked up to machines appeared in my head. My stomach lurched at the thought of her ending up like Quinn. That weird feeling, the one that I was trying really hard not to put a name to, caused my chest to contract painfully.
"No, you can't," I said too urgently. "You have to do it today." I pulled her into a hug and patted her back under the guise of comforting her when really I just didn't want her to see the look of panic on my face. She wrapped her arms around me and rested her head on my shoulder.
"Do you think you can sleep?" I asked awkwardly.
Her body tensed up for a brief moment and she nodded without lifting her head. We both knew she could. The sex energy that we'd exchanged less than thirty minutes ago was quite tiring. Both of us had pretended that Brittany was shaking because of the energy in her body, not because she was afraid of getting Juiced again. I wasn't happy with myself for letting that happen. It would set a bad precedent.
A loud banging on the metal door startled us.
"Hey, guys?" Puck shouted. "I hate to interrupt your tea party, but some of us have thangs to do."
"You don't have shit to do, Puckerman," I shouted back.
"Yeah, but Tina wants to go to bed so let's put some pep in our step!"
I sighed and looked into Brittany's eyes as she raised her head. "You gonna be alright in there?"
She nodded. "Yeah. Just give me five minutes to fall asleep."
I gave her another squeeze before standing up and stepping out of the chamber. "I'll give you ten minutes and I won't let them in until you're fast asleep."
She smiled at me as she slid down to lie flat on her back. "Thanks, San."
I gave her the full ten minutes, but she was asleep in three.
There are two stages in the Juicing process.
The first stage, Absorption, is the easy stage. The person in the chamber just absorbs the radiation from the Goo for a few hours. It isn't the most comfortable thing in the world, but it can be slept through.
The second stage is called the Fluxional stage, commonly referred to as Flux and even more commonly referred to as "one hundred minutes in Hell." The Flux stage is broken up into ten Stabilization cycles. Each cycle alters the environment inside the chamber for ten minutes to test the stability of the patient's vitals under certain conditions. Some of those conditions include extreme and rapid pressure or temperature changes. The cycles are also randomized with the exception of Cycle Five, which is always the hottest cycle. If you managed to sleep through the Absorption stage, you were definitely going to wake up during Flux. Maybe while all of that was going on, you would want someone to talk to you and keep your mind off of things.
"Oh she's leaving-"
"-on that midnight train to Georgia," I wailed, pouring out every ounce of Motown soul in my body.
"Leaving on the midnight train!" my backup singers chimed in, doing a 70s-style shuffle on the other side of the chamber.
"She said she's going back-"
"Going back to find!"
"A simpler plaaaaaace and time-"
"When she takes that ride, guess who's gonna be right by- oof!"
Himanshu tripped and fell on Puck, Puck tripped and fell on David, and they all landed in a heap on the floor.
I groaned loudly. "Seriously, guys? Seriously?"
Puck shoved Himanshu roughly off of him. "It's Baby Figgins and his two left feet!"
"You stepped on my foot!" Himanshu shouted. He looked at me and pointed accusingly down at Puck. "He stepped on my foot!"
David stood up and dusted himself off. "I believe it. He stepped on mine, too."
"Liar!" Puck cried, hopping up off the ground.
"Shut up! All of you! You're ruining it!" I hissed. I knew Brittany could hear us. I pointed at Himanshu. "You! Your singing is actually making me ill."
Puck laughed, but I quickly turned on him. "Puck, you dance like you shat yourself."
David eyed me warily, waiting for my criticism. "And you… actually, you're pretty decent. You keep forgetting to change the gender pronouns, though. Don't think I don't hear you."
"Well, excuse us, Simon Cowell," Himanshu grumbled. "You made us learn these songs and all the choreography last night and you expect us to be good enough to hold a concert?"
"I expect you to not wipeout during every song. We're supposed to be Gladys Knight and the Pips, not Santana Lopez and the Three Stooges."
The sliding door behind me opened and Figgins walked in. He jumped at the sight before him.
"Oh! I didn't realize you had company," he said, looking from me back to the Stooges.
"Not anymore. I'm concluding this show right now," Himanshu said. "I've got to get back to my work."
I gasped. "We can't do the show with two Pips!"
David looked away guiltily. "Um… one Pip. I've got some things to get together for Brittany's training."
"Well, if you guys are bailing, I am too," Puck said. The three of them waved semi-apologetically as they walked out the door. Actually, Himanshu just glared at me, but whatever.
"This is so unprofessional!" I called after them. "You'll never work in this town again!"
Figgins looked at me like I was a crazy person.
"Ok… I'll keep this short then," he said. Someone had dragged a chair into the Juicing room at some point and he sat down in it, crossing his legs at the ankle. "I think it's time we had a frank discussion."
"Alright, Frank. What are we discussing?"
Tina walked in, crossed the room, and looked at the chamber's laptop.
"Just wanted to make sure that the last cycle ends properly," she said. "Then I'll be out of your hair."
Brittany had asked Tina to explain the Juicing process and the equipment to us in layman's terms. It was supposed to make us both feel more comfortable, but it only served to scare the living shit out of me because so much could go wrong. Luckily, Tina was sensed that. She somehow managed to be attentive enough to set my mind at ease while keeping enough distance so that I could be crazy by myself. Even though Brittany had already been Juiced and the guys had done it a million times without incident, I was terrified of the idea. No amount of reassurance from Tina could make the knot in my stomach loosen.
Tina hit a button on the keyboard and the laptop began to speak as text flashed across the screen.
"Stabilization Complete. Chamber Number Forty Seven will open in 60 seconds."
"You've got 58 seconds," I said.
Figgins cleared his throat. "As I mentioned when you arrived here, we need to discuss some things. One of those things is the mall incident. There are also some other items that Himanshu has brought to my attention recently."
"We could've talked about it earlier," I pointed out. "I haven't been doing a whole lot around here except... helping Brittany, um… train."
I wasn't sure if he knew what else we'd been doing, but if he did, he was polite enough not to mention it.
"I didn't want to overwhelm Brittany. You know how the first week of this major life change can be. It's important for her to focus on her training. These topics could prove to be upsetting and I would hate to hinder her progress."
"So what's the rush?"
"Some of these matters are time sensitive. I wanted to wait, but it seems we've stretched time as thinly as we can manage."
"You seem worried and it's freaking me out. You think that whatever we need to talk about is going to make Brittany upset enough to screw up her training?"
"Well…" He fidgeted, causing his leather shoes to slip against each other and squeak loudly. "It may be upsetting for both of you."
I frowned. "I'm going to start calling you 'the bearer of bad news' because that's what our relationship has become."
"That's fair," he sighed.
"Santana, you've got 10 seconds," Tina said, clicking around on the laptop.
"We'll have a meeting this evening after you return from the hospital," Figgins said as he stood from his chair. "It can't be delayed any longer."
I waved my arms at him, shooing him away. "Great, great, have your people call my people."
"Process Complete. Door Opening."
The chamber door swung open and Brittany sat up, looking completely disoriented. She climbed/fell out of the chamber, rolling over the side as she attempted to steady herself. She was shaking harder than ever.
Tina and I both stepped forward to help her, but she somehow managed to get to her feet and stumble out of the room without even looking at us. Numbing tingles shot up both of my legs and without warning, my feet propelled me forward, marching me out of the room.
"Oh for Pete's sake," I grumbled, helpless to resist the will of Brittany.
I saw Brittany ahead of me, all but sprinting down the hallway. She led us through the community spaces of the warehouse. Himanshu didn't even look up from his work. Puck was standing off to the side with a huge dumbbell in each hand. He stopped lifting when he saw Brittany power-walking with purpose.
"What up, B-Pizzle? How'd you like our- hey, where's the fire?" he called after her.
When he saw me jerkily following behind her, he started laughing.
"Nevermind," he snorted. "Carry on."
Puck and I knew exactly what was going on. He snickered as I passed by.
"Maybe we should've sung 'Afternoon Delight' instead."
"Oh shut up," I snapped.
We turned down another hallway and moved toward the back of the warehouse. Brittany darted into David's room and I arrived seconds later. As soon as I walked in and closed the door behind me, Brittany grabbed me by the collar of the shirt. I yelped in surprise as she fell backwards onto the bed, pulling me down on top of her. In a flash, her arm was around my waist holding me to her and her hand was snaking up my shirt to meet up with her two new friends. I flinched as her lips touched my neck. They felt like ice cubes.
"Holy shit," I gasped. "Britt, you're freezing!"
The "extreme cold" cycle must have been last.
Brittany pulled back and frowned.
"S-s-sorry," she choked out. Between the shaking from the energy and the shivering from the cold, she could barely speak. "W-we don't have to d-do th-this if y-y-"
I shushed her. "It's fine. It's okay."
I rolled off of her and we both began to undress until we were both lying there in our panties. It was an unwritten rule that panties never came off. I didn't know how comfortable Brittany was with the idea of total nudity, but I didn't want to force the issue. I pulled the comforter over us and rolled halfway on top of her. The chill from her skin sent a shiver through me.
"T-too c-c-cold? Y-you sure you w-want-t-t-t-"
"Yeah," I said, agreeing to the question that was caught on her tongue. I kissed her chin and whispered, "don't worry. I'll warm you up."
It was supposed to sound sexy, but it came out really cheesy. Brittany pulled the comforter up past my shoulders, up around my neck, and then in an unexpected move, slipped under me and disappeared.
"Brittany? What are you- oh!"
Her ice-cold tongue slid over my abs and everything in my body clenched.
Using every spare brain cell I had left, I pushed myself up onto my elbows and knees.
"S-sorry," she said between tummy kisses. Her hands slid up and down my sides. She wasn't showing any signs of slowing down.
"S'okay," I whispered. "Just… some warning would be nice."
"C-c-can you lay on m-me? Y-you're s-s-so warm."
I usually held myself up on all fours or sat on Brittany's lap. Full body contact was not forbidden, but it did tend to set me off. At the same time, I wanted her to warm up quickly. I nodded, conceding to her request and she immediately pulled me down on top of her, pressing her lips to my breast. That was definitely Brittany's favorite part of my anatomy. Sure, her hands would wander to my stomach, my legs, my ass, but while that was going on, her mouth was on a never-ending quest to kiss, suck, and lick every part of my breasts. It was sweet, sweet torture. I couldn't let myself enjoy it the way I wanted to. I couldn't just let go. I'd probably go off like a bomb and kill everyone in a five mile radius.
Brittany nudged my nipple with her nose and I hissed at the contact. My nipples had been getting so much attention lately that they were starting to feel a little raw. I could've healed them and made them as good as new, but I couldn't deny the fact that I liked it a little bit.
She kissed her way up my boob and engulfed my nipple in her freezing cold mouth.
I gasped and closed my eyes at the relief and pleasure. Brittany hummed and sucked as she slid her hand up to cup my other breast, circling the other nipple with an icy fingertip. Brittany would be content to keep it up for as long as I let her, but I knew I couldn't handle too much of it. My job was to get Brittany to finish as quickly as possible because the longer it took, the more worked up I would get and the worse it would be to cool down later.
"Come on, Britt," I whispered. I stroked her arm gently. With the death of two couches on my conscience, I was afraid to touch her at all when I was charged up. I made sure to use the back of my hand. You can never be too careful with that kind of thing.
She released my nipple from her mouth with a pop.
"I c-could do that all d-d-day," she murmured into my skin. I grazed her elbow with the backs of my fingertips, imploring her to hurry because I was too charged up and too nervous.
Am I ever going to get use to this? Will I ever not feel like I'm playing with a loaded gun while she's touching me?
Brittany's body had started to warm up and I was grateful for that. Her hand snaked its way between us, slipping underneath her waistband and into her underwear. The vibrations from her shaky hand did not go unnoticed as she slid it under my body, grazing me where I wanted to be touched the most.
"Shit!" I squeaked, jerking my hips up and away from the pleasure/danger. Well, that's what I meant to do. My hips had a mind of their own and decided to hump the back of Brittany's arm. Once or twice.
Brittany paused her movements and I couldn't see her face since it was smashed against my chest. I felt deep, heavy puffs of air leaving her mouth, but other than her breathing, she remained still.
"I didn't mean to do that," I explained hoarsely, forcing my hips away from her and raising myself up on all fours again. "Sorry. Reflex."
She remained silent, but scooted up the bed until we were eye to freakishly-glowing eye. Without a word, she grabbed my raised hips with her free hand and slowly pulled them down until I was pressed directly against the most gloriously unstable hand in America. It was everything I'd ever needed in this world.
My eyes closed at the contact. "Oh fuck. Oh my fuck."
"Does it feel good?" I could feel her eyes on me, but I could barely hear her over the sound of blood pounding in my ears. She was all warmed up now. In fact, everything suddenly felt very hot, but that might've just been me. The weird sex energy that flowed between Brittany and I slowly rolled across my brain and rational thought processes began shutting down.
"Yes," I panted, using every shred of will power in my body to still my hips.
"Do you like it?" She pressed the back of her hand harder against me and I could barely gather enough brain cells to respond.
"Britt, we can't. I can't. You know that." My body was shaking as badly as Brittany's. I didn't open my eyes because I knew the look I would see there. We had done this many, many times and every single time, Brittany tried to get me to enjoy it the way she was enjoying it.
You can't. You'll hurt her. You have to stop hurting her.
"Please, Britt," I begged. "Just finish, okay? It's too much. I want to, but I can't."
"You can," she whispered back. "Look how much you're shaking. You need it, too."
I didn't fight her as tugged at my leg, pulling it over hers as she positioned my hips. Then she hesitantly slid her quivering thigh right between my legs. I couldn't handle it. With a soft moan, I stopped resisting and fell against her body. Once I was snugly and firmly wedged against her, Brittany moved both her hands to my ass, urging me to move. I buried my face in her neck as I began to shamelessly grind against her strong thigh.
"Britt, fuck," I moaned.
You can't get carried away. Be careful. Don't hurt her. Watch your hands.
I slid my hands as far away from our bodies as I could and pressed them into the mattress. Brittany saw the movement and pulled one of my hands toward her.
"You can touch me." The gentle pleading in her voice was hard to resist, but I knew my hands were dangerous and they didn't need to be anywhere near her when I was that charged up.
I shook my head. "No touching, B. It's not safe."
I used my arms to prop myself up. If I put all my body weight on my arms, she wouldn't be able to grab my hands. I opened my eyes to see if Brittany was upset about my unwillingness to touch her. She was quite the opposite. I had never seen Brittany look the way she did at that moment. Her expression was an odd mix of amazement and fear. I almost stopped what I was doing to ask if she was okay, but as I opened my mouth, the hand that was on my butt tentatively pulled down the back of my panties and began caressing my bare ass cheeks.
"I can feel you on my leg." Her voice was husky and sexy in a way that I rarely got to experience. "Oh god, you're so- oh my god."
It dawned on me that while Brittany had become fast friends with my breasts, this was her first encounter with my vagina, or any vagina for that matter. There was no way that she couldn't feel how hot and wet I was through my panties, how much I wanted this. With one hand on my butt and one on my thigh, she began to move in time with the rolling of my hips.
"I wish you weren't wearing panties," she whispered. She was staring right into my glowing eyes as she said it even though I knew she would normally be blushing if she wasn't already so flushed. "I wanna feel everything."
I whimpered pathetically, too turned on and too charged up to manage anything else. Apparently, my grasp of the English language had evaporated entirely. The other energy, the sexual kind, was rushing straight between my legs and powering the movement of my hips. I don't think I could've stopped myself if I tried. The light behind my eyes seemed to be pulsing in time to our movements. Unable to think past the pleasure, I pressed my forehead against hers and closed my eyes. Brittany pulled at my arm, even though it was holding me up.
"Come on, San." She pulled my hand to her lips and kissed my palm. I moved my hand away and gripped the pillow.
Somehow, I found my words again. "Britt, I can't-"
I meant that I couldn't touch her or expose her to my palms, but I guess she thought that I meant something else.
"You can, just relax. Don't worry. I know what you like."
She shifted me slightly and tilted my head, baring my neck to her. Before I knew it, Brittany's teeth were scraping against That Spot and I was dangerously close to coming, dying, or imploding.
Suddenly, I smelled smoke.
Either I'm having a stroke or something is burning.
I forced my eyes open. To my horror, the pillow next to Brittany's head was on fire. My hand had managed to ignite the pillow case. Every kind of energy in my body immediately dropped to zero as I yanked the pillow from under her head, grabbed the comforter, and beat crap out of the flames until they went out.
Brittany just laid there beneath me, looking bewildered as I caught my breath.
A wave of self-loathing and shame washed over me as I stared down at her. It was so intense that I felt slightly nauseous after it passed. My face and neck felt like they were on fire. My chest was tight and my muscles were tense. I wanted to sink right through the mattress and into the floor. The contents of my stomach were churning and I thought I might vomit.
Way to go, freak. You could've killed her.
She looked from me to the pillow as a small smile appeared on her face. "That was hot."
I frowned at her joke, rolled off of her, and flopped down onto my back. "That's not funny."
You can't touch her because it's dangerous and she can't touch you because you lose control. You're probably never going to be able to have sex. But you already figured that out, didn't you? You were just being irresponsible and putting Brittany's life at risk. No big deal, right?
This wasn't my typical descent into the Dungeon of Feelings. Usually, I was armed with a few stiff drinks, Mr. Ziggles, and the comforting words of my best friend. No, this was falling down the Dungeon stairs and smashing into the cold, hard stone floor, sober and alone.
Brittany propped herself up on her arm and leaned into my field of vision. "San, are you okay?"
Brittany was not allowed in the Dungeon of Feelings.
"I told you about my hands," I said angrily.
"I know, I just thought maybe-"
"Well, you were wrong," I snapped. "I told you and you didn't listen and I almost charbroiled your head."
"You didn't hurt me. I'm fine. Not even a burned hair." She smiled again like she was trying to pressure me into smiling, too, but I refused. I was livid with myself and if she was going to insist on trying to make it okay, I was going to take it out on her, too.
"I'm glad you think this is funny. I'm glad you don't take your safety seriously."
She stroked my cheek softly, frowning when I moved my head away from her hand. "A certain somebody told me that we can laugh at things if we want to, even if other people think it's inappropriate."
I shook my head. "No. Not about this."
I don't know whether to be happy that she actually listens to me or annoyed that she's using my own words against me.
She moved her hand from my face down to my exposed ribs. I squirmed as she ran the backs of her fingers up and down my side, repeatedly passing over a spot that made my knees weak. She'd kissed that area enough times to know.
She waited for me to make eye contact again before speaking. "I'm really sorry, Santana. I should have listened to you. I just really wanted you to… to finish this time."
"Look, it's fine, B. Don't worry about it." I yawned and stretched, trying to end the conversation. Sex energy usually made me really sleepy, but there was too much leftover adrenaline in my body. I just wanted to roll over and sulk.
"It's not fine," she insisted. "I mean, we never really talked about what happens when you get worked up. I guess I wasn't taking it seriously when you broke the couch, but I didn't even think about your beams. God, you must be terrified when you touch me. Or when I touch you."
Her eyes widened like she was having some kind of epiphany and I shrank away from her.
"San, why didn't you tell me? We keep doing this over and over. You never said you were scared."
She was looking at me like I was a science experiment that she just figured out and I hated it. My already volatile emotions were threatening to surface.
"I'm not scared. Now please," I pleaded, "drop it."
"San, you don't have to be embarr-"
Brittany was trying to understand and she'd been able to quickly figure me out. She was trying to join me in the Dungeon, but I couldn't allow her to see that part of me, the parts of me that even I couldn't stand to look at. So I did what I do best. I lashed out.
"You know what?" I snapped. "Maybe I'm not scared. Maybe I'm just tired of being your little vibrator all the time. Did you ever think of that?"
All the color drained from Brittany's face. She looked stricken. "I… I didn't know- you said you wanted to help. You never said-"
I gave a nonchalant, single-shoulder shrug. "It's not like I have much of a choice, what with the mind-control and all. Might as well comply. It just gets a little old when I get the hooker treatment. I mean, you won't even kiss me."
She opened her mouth and closed it a few times. She couldn't find the words to combat my asshole-ishness.
I rolled over. "I'm gonna take a nap. Wake me up when it's time to go to the hospital."
We both knew I wasn't capable of sleeping that long, with or without sex energy, but Brittany didn't argue.
"Okay," she said quietly before laying down on her side of the bed.
The room was silent for a while. After a few minutes, Brittany rolled onto her side like she normally did and wrapped her arm around my waist, spooning me from behind. Somehow, that made me feel even worse.
"So they take the sheet down and they show everybody that big clown head for the first time. And everybody's ooh-ing and ahh-ing. I look over and Santana's eyes are all big and she just goes 'he's a clown?'"
Every time Mercedes says "he's a clown," she bursts out laughing. It doesn't matter when or where or who the audience is. She will tell that stupid story to her trouty-mouthed grandkids and they won't even get it, but she'll be laughing the whole time.
This time was no different. I glared at her because I hate that story and I hate the way she tells it. Unfortunately, I couldn't stop her because Brittany was hanging off of her every word. We were all sitting on my hospital bed. I was sitting at the head of the bed while Mercedes and Brittany were squished in at the foot.
"And then," she said, barely able to get the words out because she was laughing so hard, "she flips out. She ran to the food court and hid under this big table with all these old people around it. So Abuela's trying to get the people to push Santana out from under it and Santana's screaming 'the clown is gonna eat me, the clown is gonna eat me!'"
"Oh no, poor baby," Brittany said, trying desperately not to laugh while I was pouting.
She rubbed my socked foot and smiled at me, letting loose a few giggles while trying to appear sympathetic. I was learning new things about Brittany every day and that day I learned that Brittany is really good at pretending everything is fine. She had been giving me forlorn looks while we were alone, but as soon as Mercedes had come through the door, she turned on her smile. I could see the worry around the edges, though. She thought I was mad at her, but in reality. I was still raking myself over the coals for almost killing her. For the sake of everyone's sanity, I was trying to get past it, but I just couldn't let it go.
"Yeah, I freaked out, much to Mercedes's eternal amusement," I yawned and slumped back against my pillow.
"I deserve to laugh at it now," Mercedes said defensively, "because it sure as hell wasn't funny when it was happening!"
"Well, you got ice cream and chocolate cake out of it, so let's not act traumatized."
Brittany was beaming. "Tell me another story," she said eagerly.
Mercedes's eyes twinkled devilishly. "Hmmm, which one should I tell? I have millions."
"No!" I pointed at Mercedes's face with one hand and stifled another yawn with the other. "Story time's over for today."
Mercedes had already told the story of how I dropped Mr. Ziggles in the mud while we were playing at her aunt's house and tried to wash him in the dishwasher… with regular dish soap. Fiona, who was supposed to be babysitting us at the time, got in huge trouble and the three of us had to clean up the sea of suds in the kitchen.
"Santana, don't be like that," Mercedes pouted.
I matched her pout with my own. "You always tell the bad stories that make me sound stupid or spoiled."
"I think you sound adorable," Brittany said softly. "I would've loved to have known you back then."
"She was entertaining," Mercedes said. She eyed me as I yawned again. "But right now, it looks like she needs a nap."
"No, I don't." Another yawn broke free just to spite me.
"Yeah, you do. You're being a Grumpy Gus today." Mercedes got up from the foot of the bed and waved her hand at me. "Scootch."
I "scootched" over for her and she sat down next to me, opening her arms wide. I didn't move.
She looked at me expectantly. "Well? Come on, you know you want to."
I grumpily scooted down and leaned my head on her ample bosom. My body was familiar with this routine and my eyes instantly began to close. I was helpless to resist. If there's one thing I've learned in this life, it's that Mercedes gives good nap. She was all soft curves and warmth, and she had been providing me with high-quality cuddles for years and years. I'd told her on more than one occasion that the Tempur Pedic people should seriously consider making a line of pillows modeled after her boobs. I would be first in line to buy one and I'd order one for every person I knew. Once my head hit her chest, it was over.
She used to be my favorite naptime cuddler, but Brittany took over the top spot. There was something about the way that Brittany's hips fit snugly against my butt as she spooned me, the almost possessive way her hand rested on my stomach or my hip, the way her legs ended up tangled with mine, the way she'd mumble incoherently against the back of my neck. It stirred something in me, the parts of me that wanted to feel claimed. It wasn't the same as lazily draping myself over my best friend.
I don't know how long I was asleep, but sometime later, I was awakened by movement. A slight jiggle of Mercedes's boob slowly pushed my foggy, sleepy brain toward the unwelcome world of consciousness. It took a few seconds to register it in my brain, but someone was talking.
"I don't even think we'll have to wait that long," Brittany said, her voice hushed to keep from waking me. Mercedes's hand was positioned strategically on top of my head, gently rubbing and scratching my scalp. This was a well-known technique to calm me and help me go to sleep. At the other end of the bed, there was a hand wrapped around my ankle, presumably belonging to Brittany. Her thumb traced small circles on my skin. It was all too soothing and it really was making me sleepy.
"Really? You think this guy will be back that soon?" Mercedes asked.
"I was hoping he'd wait until Quinn woke up, but I don't think that will happen. He wasn't afraid to hurt Quinn at the mall, so maybe it doesn't matter to him whether she's awake or not. Maybe he'll come after her anyway. I have to be prepared for that."
"How? How are you gonna be prepared? These guys are too dangerous, Brittany. Even Mr. Finntastic isn't trying to mess with them. Word on the street is that he's in hiding."
"Well, he certainly wasn't looking for his missing girlfriend and he isn't visiting her in the hospital so he better be hiding," Brittany said angrily.
"He did get his ass beat in a supersuit," Mercedes pointed out. "I think I'd be a little scared to come outside, too."
"If I were him and I found out that the girl that I love was missing, I would be doing everything I could to find her."
"And you did."
There was a beat of silence. Brittany's thumb stopped moving and her hand gripped my ankle tightly.
"You did everything you could to find Santana," Mercedes stated simply.
Brittany cleared her throat and I felt my foot going numb as she cut off my circulation. "I-I-I'm… I'm not-"
"I didn't say that you were anything. It's true, though. You love her."
"I didn't say what kind of love," Mercedes huffed. "You love Judy, right? You love Quinn and your sisters and your dad. And I know you love me because you were at my house every day while Santana was gone, making sure I was taking care of myself, making sure that Sam was taking care of himself, and making sure that we were taking care of each other. You showed me love and you barely knew me. And that's all because of the love you have for Santana. Now, only you know what kind of love that is, but don't tell me it's not there. Nobody sings like you did at the vigil for somebody they don't love."
Brittany didn't say anything and Mercedes sighed.
"Lord, I swear you two are the same person sometimes. She used to do the exact same thing. Deer in headlights, all red-faced. Well, as red as she can get. Breathe, girl. You look like you're gonna catch fire."
Brittany inhaled sharply and her hand squeezed my ankle even tighter.
Good thing I'm not actually asleep because this ankle crushing would've woken me up.
"I didn't mean to get you all riled up," Mercedes said as Brittany caught her breath. "I know when to stop. I'll drop it."
No one spoke for a few minutes and Mercedes went back to scratching my scalp. When Brittany finally broke the silence, I could barely hear her voice over David/Quinn's life-support machinery.
"I'm… I'm not sure how to feel."
Mercedes shifted a little, sitting up straighter. "Oh?"
That definitely would've woken me up, but since I'm faking it, I'll let it slide.
"So many things have happened and things aren't really great between us right now," Brittany mumbled.
Mercedes sighed heavily. "What did she do this time? Actually, you know what? Don't even tell me. I'm just gonna go off on her if I find out what it is."
Brittany hesitated briefly before continuing. "She, um, she wasn't up front about something important and now… there's a trust issue. Now I feel like I have to question everything she tells me. And she's been trying to fix that and trying to get me to let her in, but today when I tried to get her to let me in, she freaked out."
"Oh, that's why she's being so moody today. I knew she was in her feelings about something." The movement of Mercedes's fingers slowed. "I know exactly what you mean. As weird as it sounds, I'm probably not the best person to help you."
"But you're her best friend," Brittany said.
"And I know this girl like the back of my hand, but I've never figured out the trust issue. Santana lies to me all the time and I just kinda let her do it."
My body went completely rigid. I could tell by the way her fingers stopped moving that she knew I was awake.
"She's not a compulsive liar or anything like that," Mercedes clarified. "I know she doesn't do it just for fun. She doesn't even do it to get out of trouble. She lies when she doesn't want to be a burden to me or when she thinks my opinion of her is going to change. I think if she had it her way, I still wouldn't know that she's gay."
The pressure on my ankle finally loosened as Brittany leaned forward. "Why? You're completely fine with it!"
"Rational people understand that, but not Santana." Mercedes turned her head and I knew she was speaking to me rather than about me. "I love her to death, but she's so guarded that even after all these years, she's still afraid that I'll just pick up and leave. Whenever something happens, she's always worried that 'uh-oh, this is going to be the thing that ruins everything.'"
"You guys have probably been through a lot together. What else do you need to do to convince her?"
Mercedes shrugged. "I don't think there's anything I can do. I can't make her trust issues go away."
"Does it bother you that she feels like she needs to lie to you?" Brittany asked.
"I used to get mad, but not anymore. I just decided that if she needed time to tell me something, I'd give it to her. It's not the best situation, but that's our relationship."
"I don't think I could handle that," Brittany said. "I was in a relationship with someone who lied to my face all the time because he thought I was too stupid to figure out what was going on. I just let him do it because I didn't think I could do any better. But I don't want those kinds of relationships with people anymore. I need honesty."
"Well, if you need honesty from her, let her know that the lying isn't going to fly with you. I never really put my foot down like that. She's a terrible liar, though. I don't think she knows that I can always tell. I usually don't call her out on it unless it's important because… well, you probably know. When you found out that she lied, did she get all clingy and needy, like a puppy?"
"Well, yeah," Brittany admitted. "It made me kind of uncomfortable… is that normal?"
"For her it is. When Santana gets scared, she either clings or pushes. She needs to know where she stands at all times. So whenever she gets like that, just reassure her. Let her know that you care about her and that you're not going anywhere. That's what she's worried about and if you tell her upfront, it calms her down."
It was kind of scary to realize that Mercedes knew things about me that I didn't know about myself. She knew exactly how to talk me down off of a ledge.
This girl has been mind-fucking me for years and I didn't even know it!
"She's calmed down a lot. We talked about it because I didn't really know how to handle it. I felt like there was a lot of pressure on me to hurry up and decide how I felt about things." Brittany started rubbing my ankle again. "How did you figure all of this out?"
"Years and years of practice. You can call me Encyclopedia Santanica."
They both laughed and I rolled my eyes behind my eyelids.
"I have to go to the bathroom," Brittany said. "I'll be right back."
Brittany's weight lifted off the end of the bed. I listened to her footsteps as she crossed the room and went into the bathroom, closing the door behind her.
"So now you know," Mercedes whispered.
"Know what?" I whispered back. "That you think I'm a liar?"
She sighed. "No, but you do lie, so don't act insulted. Now you know that you can have something real with Brittany. You just can't be the same way with her that you are with me." She started to rub my scalp again. I hummed softly as she rubbed my back with the other hand.
"Stop that," I mumbled. "I wanna be awake."
"Go back to sleep," she whispered. "You shouldn't be eavesdropping anyway. Grown-ups are talking."
My body was all too ready to comply with her request.
I'm too easy. I'm like a freaking pet.
I fought the lull of sleep, opening my eyes and tilting my head up to look at her. "You know I love you, right?"
"And you know that I wouldn't lie to you if I didn't think it was the right thing to do, right?"
"I know you think that, but you don't need to lie to me. You never had to."
The thought of losing people I loved terrified me. Mercedes had been the only constant in my life for so long and I had become accustomed to doing anything short of murder to keep her with me. Lying was a big part of that, but it was hurting her.
I swallowed hard. "I'll stop lying. I will. I mean it. Can you just- ugh." I wiped at the tears threatening to fall from my eyes, frustrated with myself. "Can you promise me you won't leave? Because I don't think I could handle that."
She smoothed down my hair and smiled sadly as my eyelids fluttered closed. "I don't know how many times I have to tell you I'm not leaving you before you start to believe it."
I was knocked out before Brittany came out of the bathroom.
I woke up to the sound of singing. When I cracked my eyes open and saw Rachel's head, I wasn't surprised. Rachel snuck in at the end of visiting hours to escape the wrath of Judy. No matter how close she cut it, she always managed to get a song in.
She was sitting by Quinn's bed with Brittany and they were both holding one of "Quinn's" hands. I didn't recognize the song, but Berry was conjuring up all sorts of Streisand vibes. When she finished, she closed her eyes and exhaled deeply, letting her whole body deflate. She stayed like that, slumped over and motionless for a full thirty seconds.
Brittany smiled. "That was really good, Rachel."
Rachel slowly regained use of her spine and sat up straight in her chair. "Do you think so? I hope it's helping. The power of music has been shown to have healing effects in the comatose. Coupled with my highly-trained vocals, the effects should be doubled for Quinn."
If only that were Quinn.
Brittany's smiled faded. "Yeah, let's hope so."
Rachel glanced in my direction, doing a double-take when she saw that I was awake. "Santana! I hope my singing didn't wake you."
"It's okay. I needed to wake up anyway."
Himanshu walked in, dressed in his Transformers scrubs. "Ms. Berry, visiting hours are ending in fifteen minutes," he said with a sheepish grin.
It was becoming apparent that Himanshu had a crush on anything producing estrogen. He hadn't so much as batted an eyelash at Brittany, though. It was implied that I would cause him great bodily harm if he even thought about it.
And by "implied", I mean "explicitly stated."
"Thank you, kind sir." Rachel threw him her warped version of a sexy smile. It was little gross to watch them flirt. Even Brittany made a face.
Rachel picked up her purse off of the floor. "I should probably leave now so that Finn has a chance to pop back in."
I thought I heard her incorrectly. "Who?"
"Finn," she repeated. She picked up the sheets of music that were strewn about next to Quinn's bed. "He was downstairs getting ice cream again."
"He's always getting ice cream in the cafeteria when I get here. Whenever I sing in hospitals, I like to get an orange from the cafeteria first. The extra Vitamin C boosts my immune system so that I don't catch-"
"So you're saying you saw Finn Hudson in this hospital?" I clarified.
She nodded cheerfully. "Of course! Today, yesterday, and the day before."
"That's funny because-"
"He said he was going to get ice cream on the way home," Brittany interrupted, shooting me a look. "Guess he couldn't wait. Silly Finn."
"Boys," Rachel laughed.
Himanshu laughed too. "Yeah, boys."
I rolled my eyes at him. "You have absolutely no game."
Once Rachel was ready to leave, we cheerfully waved her off until we were sure she was down the hall.
"Silly Finn?" I asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Rachel doesn't need to know that Finn hasn't visited Quinn," Brittany explained, "but if it's okay with you two, I'm gonna go down to the cafeteria and give him a piece of my mind."
My stomach clenched.
"Are you going to make a scene?" Himanshu asked. "Please don't get me in trouble with Uncle Raj. He'll take Optimus Prime away!"
I sat up fully in bed. "Maybe you shouldn't go looking for him. There's no way that he doesn't know where Quinn is by now. If he's coming all the way to Columbus and not taking the elevator to come up here, there's probably a reason."
Brittany frowned. "But I really, really want to yell at him."
"In due time, B. For now, let's lay low. Visiting hours are almost over anyway. They're not going to let him up here today."
The muscles in my stomach relaxed and I leaned back against my pillows. Something about Finn Hudson was very, very odd. Until I figured out what it was, I didn't want Brittany going anywhere near him.
As soon as we got back, I grabbed Brittany's hand and practically dragged her to the back of the warehouse.
"Come on," I whispered. "I don't want to go to this meeting. If we're quick enough, Figgins won't be able to corner us"
We turned down the hall to go to David's room and Figgins literally popped out of nowhere, scaring the shit out of us. I jumped about a foot in the air and Brittany tripped and ran into my back.
"I hope you all had a pleasant afternoon," Figgins said way too cheerfully.
"Where the hell did you come from?" I asked, slapping my hand over my racing heart.
"Thank you, Dr. Smartass."
"If you'll recall, you agreed to meet with me after your hospital visit."
"I didn't agree to anything," Brittany pointed out.
"Unfortunately, this technicality changes nothing, Ms. Pierce. You'll still need to be in attendance."
"Do I have to?" Brittany asked sweetly.
"Are you sure?"She batted her eyelashes at him.
I made a face. "Ew, Brittany. He's like, elderly."
"I am most certainly not elderly," Figgins said defensively, "and yes, I'm sure."
"Can we at least have a second to powder our noses?" I asked.
He waved us away toward the bedroom. "Yes, of course. We'll be waiting for you in the meeting room."
He strode down the hall and we went the other way, walking into David's room and locking the door behind us. Brittany went over to the closet and pulled out some clothes. I eyed her discreetly, unsure of what to do. Normally, when we got back from the hospital, it was time to do our "thing." After what I said that morning, I was pretty sure she wasn't interested in trying again. But she had started shaking before we even left the hospital and it was only getting worse.
"I'll change out here," she said. "You can use the bathroom if you want."
"Ok." I hesitantly approached the bathroom door. "Um… I didn't know if you wanted to, uh-"
"I'm alright," she said quickly. We briefly locked eyes, but I couldn't for the life of me decode the look on her face. "I'm fine, San. Go change. Figgins is waiting."
I walked into our small bathroom, grabbing some clothes on the way.
You've gotta let her know that you didn't mean what you said earlier.
My shoulders sagged as I took off my shirt. I really didn't want to have that conversation.
It just so happened that I looked in the mirror as I took off my bra to change into another one. I couldn't even put my finger on it at first, but I could sense that something wasn't quite right. My eyes searched my reflection until it dawned on me. Slowly, Mirror-Me raised her hand to her breast. Missing from my skin was the dark brown scar that was left behind when I healed my bullet wound. It wasn't faded or smaller. It was just gone.
I looked up at my reflection, then down at my boob. Up at my reflection. Down at my boob.
"Where the hell did it go?" I asked myself.
"What? What did you say?" Brittany called from the bedroom.
"Nothing! Just, uh, just a sec!" I speed changed into my clothes and walked out of the bathroom.
Brittany's back was facing me. She was standing with her hands behind her back and her shoulders raised. It looked like she was holding her breath.
"You alright, Britt?"
She let out the breath she was holding and spun around quickly. "Yeah, I'm fine."
"You're not shaking," I observed. "Did you just…"
"No," she said quickly. "You've only been gone for like, two minutes."
She didn't look like she'd just masturbated. I knew what Brittany looked like after an orgasm.
Is it weird that I know that?
"If you didn't do that, then what did you do?"
She looked down at the floor. "You know those little strings that I see on everything? Well, muscles have strings, too. They're super small and kinda hard to find, but they're there. If I tighten them enough, I won't shake."
My mouth dropped open. "So you're literally holding yourself together? Brittany-"
"It's working. Come on, let's go." She turned on her heel and walked out of the room.
The meeting room was the only place besides the kitchen with a big enough table to for everyone. Figgins had neglected to mention that his "frank discussion" was a family affair. He and Puck were already seated when we got there. Between them sat a hooded figure, head bent to obscure his face. I would've been creeped out, but I'd seen this figure raiding the fridge in the middle of the night enough times to know it was Ben. Ben rarely left his room during the day. According to the others, that was typical behavior for him when he wasn't Juiced. He didn't want to be seen.
Tina, David, and Himanshu sat down as soon as we walked in. Brittany and I took the last two seats that were open.
"I'm glad you all could make it," Figgins said. "We have some pressing issues that need to be discussed."
"Such as?" I asked.
"There are some decisions that need to be made with regards to Kurt Hummel," Ben said. I hadn't heard him speak since he told me to get out of his room, so I was a little startled. "We need to know what's going on in his head. Perhaps you two can shed some light on that."
"Um… ok?" Brittany responded uncertainly.
"We're still not sure of what he was doing at the mall," Figgins said. "We thought you might be able to give us some insight on his motives and current objectives."
We spent the next twenty minutes relaying what we could remember from that day in as much detail as possible. There were some nods and puzzled looks from around the table. At the end of our tale, Himanshu placed a large metal ring on the table. It was the collar from Finntastic's super suit. There was a huge crack in it and a burn mark from where my eyebeam hit it.
"All of that hard work and now that suit in never going to work again," he muttered. "Why do I even bother?"
"Really?" Brittany asked. "That's all you have to do to break that suit?"
Himanshu turned the collar around so that the crack was facing us and pulled the crack open wider. "The collar itself isn't important, but the stuff inside of it is. This circuitry controls everything. Without it, the suit is scrap metal. I don't understand why Kurt would take the collar when he could've just yanked Finntastic out of the suit and stolen the whole thing."
"He didn't want the whole thing," Brittany pointed out. "Just the collar. I remember him saying that he used to want one of those suits, but it looked better on Finn."
"He did," I agreed. "He said he was there to get some things that were 'rightfully his.' The collar and Quinn. When I broke the collar, he was definitely pissed."
"Quinn?" Himanshu asked. "What's she got to do with anything?"
"Kurt loves going after friends and family." I scowled, remembering his threats toward Brittany and Mercedes. "Quinn's dating Finn, so Kurt probably considers her fair game."
"He was going to take both of us because he didn't know which one of us was the real Quinn," Brittany said.
"Ok, so maybe that part makes a tiny bit of sense, but what does stealing the collar do for Kurt?" Ben asked.
"Not much besides ruining the suit," Himanshu said. "The suit is useless unless he gets this exact collar back or gets a replica. Even if he did, the Coin is damaged beyond repair."
"What's a Coin?" Brittany asked.
Himanshu grinned. "Only the most advanced super suit technology known to man. The latest and the greatest, miles above the rest, the most epic-"
"Let me guess," I interrupted. "You invented it."
"Not to brag or anything, but yeah. It was all me." He pulled a small metal disk out of the collar and held it between his fingers. It was pretty badly burnt. "The Coin is the brain of the super suit. Everything in the suit talks to the Coin. Nothing happens without the Coin's permission."
"So Kurt stole Finn's brain and Santana accidentally destroyed it," Brittany summarized.
"It's not completely destroyed." Himanshu turned to Puck. "Here, let me see yours."
Puck pulled a thin chain from around his neck. It was so thin that it hid neatly under his shirt and you couldn't even tell he was wearing it. Hanging from that chain was a black medallion. He swiped his thumb rapidly across the medallion, and dropped it into Himanshu's open hand.
"Pull up the diagnostics, please?"
Puck rolled his eyes as if he were doing Himanshu a big favor, leaned over, and barked directly at the medallion. "Suit status!"
"They're voice activated," Himanshu said to Brittany and I. To himself he mumbled, "although you don't have to yell at them."
A bright light began to glow from the medallion's center as it projected words, numbers, and images into thin air. In the center of the display, the 3D-image of a silver football uniform rotated slowly for us.
"That's your suit," I said stupidly to Puck.
"This is Puck's Coin," Himanshu explained. "His suit is specially designed for him. In the heat of battle, he's got every bit of information he needs."
"Why is his Coin so big compared to the other one?" Brittany asked.
Puck wriggled his eyebrows suggestively. "You know what they say about guys with big Coins, right? They have big-"
"You're making me uncomfortable," Brittany said flatly.
Ben and David snickered while Puck sat there with his mouth hanging open. Tina just shook her head like the parent of an unruly child.
Himanshu smirked, but managed not to lose his composure. "The Coin is inside this protective case. I'll switch them out so you can see." He handed the medallion back to Puck, who dutifully swiped his thumb across it in what I now recognized to be a specific pattern. Himanshu opened the medallion, revealing a small silver Coin just like the one from Finn's collar. He popped Puck's Coin out, replaced it with Finn's damaged Coin, and closed the medallion again.
"Master override," Himanshu said, ten times quieter than Puck. "Suit status."
The medallion whirred to life again, but this time the images that it produced where straight-up terrible. Words and numbers were scrambled. The 3D image of the Finntastic super suit flickered wildly. Only the legs of the suit were visible.
"As you can see, this Coin has been severely damaged." Himanshu opened the medallion again, swapped the Coins, and handed Puck's stuff back to him. "I'm tempted to repair it, but if I leave it broken, there's no chance of it getting back into that suit."
"Why wouldn't you want the suit to work?" I asked.
His expression darkened. "To be quite frank, I'm sick of people joyriding in my freaking suit. JBI stole it, so Finn can get him to rebuild this Coin from scratch. If you can't fix it, then you don't deserve to have it."
"This isn't particularly helpful in figuring out Kurt's next move," Figgins said. "He's undergone the SNIX process and is quite powerful now. He doesn't even need a suit. The fact that he even bothered trying to steal the Coin doesn't make much sense."
"Maybe he's interested in the technology," Himanshu suggested.
"I doubt it," Ben said.
"What we need to be worried about is the fact that he's got a shit ton of premium Goo and an army of gorillas in plaid just waiting to be SNIX'd," Puck said. "We've never really fought other people with 'super powers' before and it shows because we got our asses handed to us at the mall. Can you imagine a hundred fucking Amalgamons running around? That's what we need to be focused on."
"Amalga-who?" I asked.
"An Amalgamon," Figgins said. "In the beginning of the McKinley project, we began to take note of the abilities that the participants developed. We put all of these abilities into several different categories. Take you and Ben for example. You are both considered to be in the 'Beamer' category, as your primary ability involves the use of beams."
He looked at Brittany. "Brittany, you and Wes Porter would fall firmly into the Psychic category."
"Kurt, Puck, and David fall into the Manipulator class. Manipulators have the ability to change themselves, other objects, or their environment. Amalgamons are a special type of Manipulator. Kurt has the ability to use his body as a medium for taking on the properties of an object and transferring those properties to other objects. He can also merge objects with himself. That's how he was able to pick up that stage during Mr. Finntastic's ceremony. Manips typically don't possess superhuman strength, so he merely merged his own body with the structure of the stage and was able to use it as an extension of himself. That's also how he was able to take a plastic sword and fuse it with the metal of another object, making it a viable weapon. His body adapts at a moment's notice."
I watched Brittany's face as Figgins spoke. She looked absolutely riveted by the whole thing.
"What about Blaine?" she asked.
"We haven't figured out a category for his… special skill," Tina said with a mildly amused look on her face, "although the word 'Disgusting' comes to mind."
Ben shifted in his chair and folded his arms. "I guess we'll just have to wait and see what Kurt does next. He knows Santana took the collar, so we'll see him again when he tracks her down."
I gave a defeated sigh. "I figured as much."
Brittany leaned forward, briefly glancing at me. "Wait, what do you mean? What's he going to do to her?"
"I can't follow this guy's logic for shit," Ben admitted, "but it would make sense for him to come after her again. Or maybe even you. He might think you know where the collar is since you were with her."
"He'll probably come after you anyway since he's on this new 'friends and family' plan," Puck added.
Brittany paled. "Oh."
Tina glared at Puck, who gave a "What? It's true" look.
Figgins cleared his throat. "Well then. On to more pressing matters."
"You mean there's more?" I scoffed.
"Oh, much more. As you both have heard, we're experiencing a Goo shortage."
I nodded in acknowledgement. Brittany still appeared to be in shock. I discreetly put my hand under the table and squeezed her knee, shaking her out of her trance. She put her hand over mine and squeezed it hard. No one really noticed this because everyone was watching Figgins. He reached into his lab coat pockets and pulled out two small glass vials. One was full of a sludgy black substance, while the other was filled with some kind of silvery mucus.
"The Goo is made up of two very distinct components with long names that you probably wouldn't remember if I told you." He held up the mucus. "Substance A was invented first. When exposed to radiation, it has highly restorative properties. It's the part of the Goo that heals injuries and cures diseases. Ironically enough, the amount of radiation you need to activate this substance would kill you before the substance could heal you. So it is essentially useless." He held up the sludge in his other hand. "Substance B takes small doses of radiation and chemically amplifies their effects. This was a great discovery because now we are able to use acceptable levels of radiation to activate Substance A. It's not much more than what's given off by the microwave in your kitchen. Unfortunately, using both substances together with even the smallest amount of radiation is what causes people to get superhuman abilities. In other words, we can't win for losing."
He held both vials up in front of his face. "Both substances are worthless on their own, but together, they form the Goo."
"So you're low on special sauce, then?" I asked.
"No, not at all. We have suppliers that are ready at a moment's notice to provide the 'special sauce' we need to make both of these substances. The issue is that we don't know how to process them." He put the vials next to each other on the table. "I could mix these together right now, but the resulting substance would not be Goo. In fact, that is precisely how we tried to make Goo in the beginning. It was even worse than SNIXing."
I shuddered involuntarily and everyone pretended not to notice.
"There is a special process that the Goo needs to go through before it's ready, one that Tina and I have never performed. This task is usually performed by a third party. Try as we might, we've been unsuccessful at replicating it."
Brittany looked at Figgins like he was the world's biggest moron. "So you guys survive off of this stuff, you've been using it in experiments for years, but you don't even really know how to make it?"
Figgins looked a little embarrassed, but Tina came to his rescue.
"We don't know how to make it on purpose," she said firmly. "One of Figgins' graduate students figured out the process that stabilizes the Goo. And when she finally did figure it out, we told her not to tell us how she did it."
"But why? Why wouldn't you want to know?"
"Because we knew what we had on our hands early on and frankly, we didn't want anyone to know about it. From a purely medical standpoint, the McKinley project was an utter failure. Who would prescribe medicine that is administered by a potentially lethal process and has the added side-effect of uncontrollable 'super powers'? It was ridiculous. But from a scientific standpoint, the project was dangerous for us. We had a strong feeling that our discovery wasn't going to stay secret for very long and we didn't know who was going to come knocking on our door for the recipe. It just so happened that the military got to us first, but it could have easily been someone like Kurt. By keeping all of the information separate, we can scatter to the winds and no one would ever be able to force us to produce the Goo for nefarious purposes. We simply don't know how."
Brittany still didn't look impressed. "So what do you do? Just ship the ingredients to your student and she sends you back the 'finished' Goo?"
"Yes," Tina said. "Unfortunately, we lost contact with her almost two months ago. That's what we wanted to talk to you about. We think you might be able to help us find her."
"Me?" Brittany's eyes widened and she sat up straighter in her chair.
Himanshu nodded solemnly. "Your sister has a Cannabis Prime button on her backpack."
"What's that got to do with anything? Don't try to drag my sister into this- this craziness," Brittany snapped.
"Believe me, the last thing I want to do is unnecessarily involve someone in McKinley madness, but I don't think we've ever been this desperate before," he said. "We have one barrel of Goo left and that's going to Puck. If we don't track down Uncle Raj's student soon, you and Puck are going to be in the same boat that Quinn is in. And if we run out of Goo, we can't even run anymore tests to find a way to reverse that. Cannabis Prime is the only lead we have."
Brittany's shoulders slumped in defeat. "What am I supposed to do? She could've gotten that from anywhere."
"I highly doubt it," Himanshu shook his head. "We've been using that image for years and we've never seen it pop up anywhere else."
"Using it for what?"
There was a brief moment of silence during which every single McKinley person looked up at the ceiling.
"Jesus, do I even want to know?" I muttered.
"So..." Himanshu trailed off. He looked nervously at the others who didn't look like they wanted to take over for him. "By the time Tina and Uncle Raj came back from jail, we'd already lost touch with all of the graduate students. They stopped answering our messages after everything went down with Artie, probably so they wouldn't end up in jail, too. Uncle Raj decided to give it one more shot and finally one responded, the one who had come up with the process for the Goo. But she was super paranoid about helping us again. We had to be really careful. She allowed us to meet with her in person one time to figure out how we were going to make this whole thing work. We devised a system that would involve a dumb courier-"
Brittany shot him a dirty look. "That's not nice."
"I don't mean that the courier is actually an unintelligent person. I just mean that they have no knowledge of the overall system and they don't make any real decisions. The dumb courier just moves the packages from one place to another without really knowing what's in them, who sent them, or where they're going to end up. Once the dumb courier drops off the packages, the 'smart' courier looks for the Cannabis Prime image to determine which ones are Goo packages. That courier takes them to their final destination."
"That's why Kurt kidnapped me in the first place," I said. "He was looking for a 'special courier' and he thought that I was the one who..."
Wait a minute.
Something clicked into place in my brain. I remembered where I had seen Cannabis Prime before. I sat up straight in my chair. Himanshu gulped audibly.
Wait one motherfucking minute.
"Here it comes," Ben whispered to David.
It's me. I'm the dumb courier.
I jumped up from my chair and lunged across the table, reaching for Himanshu's neck. Brittany jumped up and pulled me back. She wrapped me up in her arms, pinning my own arms to my sides as I repeatedly tried to reach out and touch someone.
"You assholes!" I screeched. "This is all your fault!"
I wriggled in her grip, resisting the urge to use my super strength. Himanshu scooted as far back from the table as he could until his chair slammed into the wall.
"Let me go, Britt! I'm gonna fucking kill them!"
Brittany held me tighter, bewildered. "Santana, calm down! What's wrong?"
"You wanna know why our lives are a hot damn mess? It's because these people decided to have me send their crap for them and put me in harm's way! That's why I got kidnapped. Kurt figured out that I was the courier. It's me."
"You? Why would you be the courier?"
I realized why she was confused. I stopped struggling in her arms and finally did something that months ago would have been the scariest thing in the world.
"I'm a driver for Zizes," I said stupidly. "I, uh, drive a delivery truck. That's my day job."
Despite the fact that I had gone through some seriously hardcore shit since my kidnapping, I couldn't even bring myself to turn around and see her reaction. She didn't say anything and I wasn't sure if that was a good thing, so I kept talking.
"I remember seeing the Cannabis Prime sticker on some of the boxes I delivered. There's this weird psychedelic, skater-hippy store downtown. They ship everything in boxes covered with stickers from bands and clothing brands and stuff." I laughed bitterly, feeling like an idiot. "You just stuck an extra sticker on the box and shipped your shit with theirs, didn't you?"
I looked up at the people seated around the table for confirmation and almost peed my pants.
The old woman from the store was now sitting in David's seat. Every inch of skin below her jawline was tattooed. Her hair was about a million different colors, running long and sleek down her back. All she was missing were the many piercings she usually had in various places on her face.
I glared at David/Old Skater-Hippy Lady. "Can you warn me when you're going to do that? Jesus."
"It was a little more complicated than just throwing some random boxes in a pile," David said in the woman's raspy voice. "You can't just drop off huge boxes and make people think that it's their own mail. I had to watch that store for two weeks to figure out how everything worked. Luckily, the store manager's memory isn't what it used to be and her employees are really, really high most of the time. I wait until she goes out for lunch and I come back in as her. Then the employees load up the truck with whatever boxes I tell them to load. Things got confusing because sometimes the employees would complain to her about lifting heavy boxes, but she never knew what they were talking about. I think they just came to the conclusion that she was too old and they were too high to be worried about what was going on with the huge shipments of 'mountain bikes.'"
"That's brilliant," I admitted. "I still hate your guts, but that is brilliant."
"If it's any consolation, we didn't choose you for this," Figgins said. "My student did. She picked the store and she picked both couriers. We've never even met the smart courier. We merely get the boxes to the truck."
"I really don't think that's going to make her feel any better," Brittany replied. "Especially since you've been calling her dumb behind her back."
Himanshu let out a frustrated sigh. "Once again, it's not 'dumb' as in 'stupid,' it's-"
"It doesn't matter!" I interrupted. "I really don't want to hear it. You guys have been lying to me since day one! All this time, I thought Kurt made a mistake when he kidnapped me, but he was right! Now I'm worried about what else he might be right about when it comes to this motley crew."
"Just in case you forgot, Kurt tried to kill you. So don't break your leg while you're jumping on that bandwagon," Puck scoffed.
I gave him an incredulous look. "At least I know exactly where I stand with Kurt. You guys are always the ones hiding your hand. First, you're terrorists, now you've been using me without my knowledge. What's next?"
Brittany's eyes widened at the word "terrorists."
Fuck. I forgot she didn't know about that.
Puck rolled his eyes. "We didn't ask you to do anything but put some boxes in the mail. Don't be a martyr."
"Fuck you! You put me in the middle of your shit and didn't even try to protect me at all! What if I had gotten into an accident and your containers of toxic waste spilled all over me or other people? What if somebody found out that I was 'helping you' and carjacked me, grilled me for information, stole all your shit, and threw me in a basement to wait for death? That would never happen- OH WAIT. It fucking did."
Puck stood up and banged his fist on the table. "We did try to protect you! We came and got you, didn't we?"
"A lot of good that did!" I screamed back. "Thanks for showing up and pushing me into radioactive acid! It's done wonders for my complexion!"
Puck looked like I'd slapped him in the face. "Are you gonna bring that up every time you're pissed off? Is that just gonna be your go-to button?"
"Nope, you don't have to worry about me ever saying anything to any of you ever again. I'm leaving. Let me go, Brittany."
"What?" Brittany tightened her arms even more as I let my tensed muscles go slack.
"I'm done," I said, staring Puck down. "I'm done being a pawn in this game. I'm out of here."
Brittany didn't let go. "You can't do that!"
"I can do that. You can do that, too. They're asking you to use your sister to track down this person and you know what? You don't have to help them do anything. All you're going to get in return is lies, lies, and lies."
"Actually, I do have to help them, Santana," she said quietly. She let go of my arms and I turned around in her arms to face her. "If I don't help them, Ben will be burned like that forever."
I pursed my lips together, feigning indifference.
"David will be in a coma for the rest of his life," she went on, "and so will Puck."
"Why should I care about what happens to them when they clearly don't care about-"
"And so will I."
That feeling hit me, the one where my heart lodges itself in my esophagus while my stomach sinks lower and lower, ending up somewhere between my bladder and my uterus.
"I'll be just like them and Quinn will never wake up."
"No, B," I said firmly. "I would never let that happen."
"There's nothing we can do to stop it. Not without their help. The Goo shortage is my problem, too."
"Brittany, they lied," I huffed. "They keep secrets and they can't be trusted."
She shrugged. "You lied to me. You've kept secrets. Does that mean you can't be trusted?"
Oh snap. She went there. She went there, bought the t-shirt, and sent you a postcard. Damn.
I felt ashamed all over again. I looked down and away, but she waited until I looked at her to continue speaking. "I'm still upset, but we're not just throwing up our hands and walking away. We're going to fix things because it's important for both us. We're trying, right?"
I felt my neck heat up and I was suddenly very aware that we were having this conversation in front of six other people.
"Can we talk about this in private?" I whispered.
Brittany, who was usually hyper-aware of other people, realized that we had an audience and blushed, but was not deterred. "That, yes. But as for the rest of this, I think you guys need to talk about it before you just walk out and never look back." She gestured to my chair. Reluctantly, I sat.
We sat in silence for a few seconds with me just glaring at everyone else. Brittany cleared her throat. "I don't know how this is supposed to go, but if I were Santana I'd want to know why you didn't tell the truth."
"Because they're shady," I muttered under my breath. Brittany's shoe tapped against mine purposefully.
"Santana, we all sat down and talked about this while you were undergoing the SNIX process," Tina said. "We didn't tell you right away about the courier stuff because things were already crazy enough. If you had decided to storm out before your training ended, you probably would've gone out and accidentally killed someone or yourself."
"After that, it wasn't even relevant anymore," Ben added. "We were already trying to think of another system to send our packages. We were never planning on sending you out there again after what happened."
Himanshu slowly scooted his chair back to the table. "I'm not just saying this because you want to kill me, but honestly, you were never really in any danger until very, very recently. The whole courier thing was just a precaution born out of paranoia. Until Kurt popped up, we were only really worried about the military finding out."
I rolled my eyes.
Only the military.
David caught my eye roll. "It's been two years. If they've haven't knocked on your door yet, they either don't know or don't care."
Two years? I've been doing this for two years?
I stared blankly at the table. I didn't even know what to think about that.
The whole time I've been working at Zizes, I've been the secret-dumb McKinley courier.
"Santana," Brittany said softly, bringing me out of my thoughts. She put her hand on my knee under the table. "Do you have anything you want to say?"
My mind was reeling, so I just forced words to come out of my mouth. "What else don't I know?"
"That's a difficult question to answer," Figgins started. "There are so many things that you might want to know that we just haven't thought of telling you. To my knowledge, I think the only things that we've purposely avoided mentioning were your role as the courier and the full extent of our money-making ventures."
"But from now on, it's full disclosure," Tina assured me. "Anything you want to know, just ask."
The image of three charred delivery trucks entered my mind.
"Do you know what happened to the other delivery people that Kurt kidnapped?" I asked, suppressing a shudder.
"No," David said firmly. "We had no idea about that until we came to find you."
I gauged his expression, evaluating it before ultimately accepting his answer. It's not like I had a good track record for telling when people were lying anyway.
"Fine. I guess that's all for now." I crossed my arms over my chest and slumped in my chair. "I'll stay, but I'm only here for Brittany. Outside of that, you guys are basically dead to me... except you're alive… you guys are zombies to me. Got it?"
The last thing I expected was to see obvious disappointment on the faces of the McKinley Six.
"If that's how you wish to proceed, then we will respect that," Figgins said diplomatically.
I could see Brittany frowning at me from the corner of my eye, but I couldn't even conjure up a fuck to give. "Great. Now, that that's settled, what do we need to do?"
"The first thing you need to do is find out who gave Cannabis Prime to Brittany's sister," Himanshu said, "and hope to God that her 'friend' actually knows something and isn't just some random kid who thought it would make a cool button."
"What about the graduate student?" Brittany asked. "Can we know her name and what she looks like? That would probably make it a lot easier for us to find her."
"Yes," Figgins nodded. "I'll give you her file. Her name is Marley Rose."
Brittany's cell phone was still intact and had been sitting in a plastic bag with the rest of her belongings for a week. She sat on the floor next to Quinn's bed with her phone clutched in her hands for about an hour. I let her lean against me, not really sure how my presence was helping, but she assured me that it was. When the clock struck five, she finally pulled her sister's name up in her phone and called. As the phone began to ring, she slipped her free hand into mine and laced our fingers together.
When Mojo answered, Brittany jerked the phone away from her ear.
"Hey! Hey! Calm down!" Brittany shouted into the phone. She glanced over at Quinn as if her comatose friend was going to roll over and tell us to be quiet. "Everything's alright. I'm okay. Just stop yelling."
She gave Mojo a few seconds to calm down before speaking to her normally.
"No, everything's fine. I swear, 'Jo. I just wanted to talk to you in private without Dad or Judy hanging around, so I called."
I will not eavesdrop on this conversation. I will not eavesdrop on this conversation.
"Here, I'm gonna put you on speaker."
"Santana's here," she announced, holding the phone between us. "Say hi."
"Hi, Santana," Mojo said disinterestedly. I couldn't really blame her. If I got a call from a loved one who was in the "hospital," I wouldn't really be too concerned with their random friend either.
"Hi, Mojo," I said.
Brittany pulled the phone back to her mouth. "Mojo, we need to ask you about something. Is anybody around?"
"Nope. Dad's doing the weekend show, Judy's next door, and Frannie's out kissing Nat's ass somewhere. Did I say that out loud? Whoops. Sorry."
Neither of us really knew how to respond to that, so Brittany decided to ignore it. "So we needed to ask you something important."
Mojo barked out a laugh. "If I know it, it can't be that important."
"It is, trust me. Do you remember the first time you came to the hospital and the nurse asked you about your button?"
"The Transformers button? Yeah…" she answered warily.
"We need to know where you got it," I said.
There was a full ten seconds of silence on the line.
"Did we get disconnected?" I whispered to Brittany.
"Mojo?" Brittany called. "You there?"
"Yeah, I'm here. Why do you want to know about that button?" Mojo's tone was completely different now. She sounded guarded and tense.
I said the first thing that popped into my head. "That nurse guy thought it was really cool. He won't stop talking about it so we wanted to see if we could get him one. Hopefully, it will shut him up for a few seconds. Where did you get yours?"
"I got it from a friend," she said, repeating the same answer from her encounter with Himanshu.
"Yeah, you said that before. What friend? Who is this friend?" Brittany's tone had changed, too. She was in Big Sister mode and she was not playing around.
"A friend you don't know."
Brittany frowned at the phone. "I know all of your friends."
"Not this one. He's a new friend."
"He? A boy gave you that?"
"Yes, Mother, a boy gave me a button. Don't worry, I'll stay away from wine coolers and hot tubs."
"Bye, Mojo," Brittany said abruptly as she moved her thumb to the End Call button.
"Wait, wait! Jeez! I was just kidding!" Mojo huffed.
Brittany narrowed her eyes and didn't say anything until a feeble "sorry" came through the speaker phone. "What? I didn't catch that."
"I'm sorry," Mojo said petulantly.
"That's not even a little bit funny and you know it," Brittany snapped. Mojo mumbled out another apology and Brittany's irritation abated.
I'd never seen her stand up to someone so effortlessly. Her furrowed brow and pursed lips were incredibly sexy. Authoritative Brittany was hot when she was pissed off at somebody else. When she was pissed at me, I was too frazzled to be turned on.
I had tuned out the conversation a little, too busy staring at Brittany's profile to pay attention, when Mojo started yelling.
"Why are you getting all worked up about a freaking button?" she exploded. "Did Frannie and Natalie put you up to this?"
"Put me up to what?" Brittany asked.
"Frannie and Natalie can't keep their big mouths shut and they want everyone to know my business! Well, the next time they run to you to tattle on me, tell them I said they can shove it up-"
"What are you talking about? No one's been talking to Frannie or Natalie." Brittany turned to me and mouthed the words 'Have you?' I shook my head.
"Suuuuuure you haven't." I could practically hear Mojo's eyes rolling. "I told them not to tell you anything because you're sick and you shouldn't have to deal with all of this crap, but no, they told you anyway."
"We have no idea what you're talking about, Mojo," Brittany said. "What's going on over there?"
"Nothing, Britt." She took a deep breath and took her voice down a few notches. "Everything's great. Just rest up and get better, okay? Everybody wants to see you come home. We really miss you. I gotta go, so I'll call you later."
She ended the call and Brittany sat there looking at the screen.
"Britt?" I squeezed the hand I was holding.
She lifted her head and cleared her throat. "I have to go home."
"Britt, you can't just show up at your house. What are you going to tell your family?"
"I have no idea, but I have to go, San. Something's wrong. I can't fix it from here, but something is really wrong. I can't let this fall apart. Not again."
It wasn't difficult to get Figgins and Co. to agree to let us leave once we explained that Mojo wasn't going to tell us anything over the phone. Desperate times called for desperate measures and if we had any hope in fixing the Goo shortage, Brittany and I were going to have to figure out what the fuck was going on with Mojo. It helped that they knew Brittany wasn't a flight risk after she'd talked me into sticking around earlier.
The McKinleys only had one car that wasn't a robot in disguise. It was a beat-up, raggedy 1975 Pontiac Trans Am. It didn't even have a color. It was just rust in the shape of the car.
"I think this car is Knight Rider's grandpa," Brittany whispered, warily eyeing the old beast as Puck tried desperately to get it to start.
I snickered. "More like great-grandpa. Wait, was the car's name Knight Rider or was the guy's name Knight Rider?"
"Nobody's name was Knight Rider," Puck said exasperatedly from behind the wheel.
Brittany ran her finger across the roof and probably caught tetanus in the process. "I'd rather ride in Rachel's car than in this thing."
"I wouldn't go that far," I said.
"Rachel's car is ugly, but I'm never afraid that it's going to break down or explode. This thing looks… unsafe."
Unsafe was an understatement, but it was the only option we had. Himanshu didn't want any "untrained drivers" in his Transformers and frankly, I didn't want to be behind the wheel of one of those things, either. I'd had enough surprises to last a lifetime. The last thing I needed was for my car to randomly turn into Bumblebee in the middle of town.
"At least we know it's not going to get stolen," I pointed out.
Brittany snorted. "My dad lives in Rockwood. You can leave the keys in a brand new car with the engine running and no one will steal it."
"Don't do that in Lima Heights. I saw somebody steal a car with four flat tires once." I couldn't even keep a straight face as I said it.
"No, you didn't," Brittany laughed.
"Yes, I did."
"Oh really? How'd they do that?"
"Stolen tow truck."
"Would they steal Rachel's car? I parked outside your apartment and nobody touched it. I was kinda disappointed."
"No one would steal that thing. I think they'd slash her tires just because it's so visually offensive."
The engine roared to life and Puck stepped out of the car, grinning triumphantly.
"It looks like the old girl still has some life in her!" He gave the car an affectionate pat on the door. The driver's side mirror fell off and smashed on the ground.
Brittany frowned. "It looks like she's on her death bed."
"Hey now," he said defensively. "This is an awesome car! I'll have you know that I'm gonna fully restore her one day. She just needs a little TLC, that's all."
I swept the broken glass away from our feet. "Let me know how that turns out, T-Boz. In the meantime, I guess we have no choice but to put some miles on this rust bucket."
Things were still a little tense after our earlier exchange, so even my normal level of taunting felt like an attack.
He pouted for a millisecond before puffing out his chest like a macho, macho man. "You do know that you can fly, right? You don't have to take my 'rust bucket' if you don't want to."
"How are we going to explain how we magically got from 'Columbus' to Lima without some kind of transportation?" I asked.
"Good point. Carry on."
Brittany walked over to the driver's side. "Mind if I drive?"
Her hands weren't shaking, so I didn't see any reason why not.
"Sure." I made my way to the passenger's side, opened the door, and sat down. As soon as my butt hit the seat, I knew something was wrong.
Brittany plopped down in her seat and made a retching noise. "It smells like something died in here! And this seat- it feels like it's made out of bean bag chair."
"It is made out of bean bag chair," Puck said. "My butt is sensitive."
"My eyes are sensitive to these leopard print seat covers," I muttered. My eyes were drawn to the small pine tree hanging from the rearview mirror. "Where did you buy this air freshener? What's this scent? Roadkill?"
"It came with the car."
"You should give it back." Brittany gagged and pulled her shirt up over her nose.
Puck reached in through the window and yanked the air freshener out of the car. "Have a nice trip, ladies. Don't hurry back."
The travel time from McKinley's temporary headquarters on the outskirts of Lima to Rockwood was about 30 minutes. Every minute in that car felt like an hour. Even with the windows down, the smell was crazy bad. I had to restrain the urge to fling myself out of the car multiple times during the trip.
We parked at a strip mall a few blocks away from the house. That car was going to draw too much attention. After a few minutes of walking, we finally reached a light blue two-story house with a green rocking chair on the front porch.
"Is this it?" I asked.
"Yup, this is my dad's house. Hopefully, Mojo's here."
"It doesn't look like anyone is home. There aren't any cars in the driveway."
She pointed across the yard to the house next door. "Judy's around."
She started walking toward the front door and I quickly followed behind, wondering if I had missed something or if I was just stupid.
"Why is Judy parked in the neighbor's driveway?" I asked, following behind.
"Judy is the neighbor. That's her house." She said it as though it should've been obvious.
"She doesn't live here?"
"She lives here most of the time. When she gets pissed off, she goes back to her house for a while. That doesn't happen a lot, so when it does, you know it's bad."
"Jeez. I've heard of husbands and wives having separate bedrooms, but never separate houses."
Brittany's hand hovered over the door handle. "It's not really, you know, official or whatever… they're not actually 'married.' Legally."
"Now I'm completely confused."
"Here, come inside. I'll explain."
Brittany opened the front door and walked inside. I stood on the porch with my mouth hanging open.
"Aren't you coming inside?" she asked.
"You leave the front door unlocked?"
"What if somebody walked in here and stole all your stuff?"
Her eyes widened like the thought had never occurred to her. "Who's going to do that? Nobody's going to do that."
I shook my head as I walked through the doorway. "This place is so weird. I need to go back to the Heights where things make sense."
The living room was beautifully decorated with swanky-looking furniture except one couch that looked like it had been strapped to the roof of a DeLorean and transported straight from the 70s. There were family pictures all over the place and everything looked cozy and welcoming. I walked up to one of the family pictures and realized that the strikingly beautiful blonde woman playing with young Brittany and young Quinn was not Judy.
This must be Brittany's mom.
"So Mo and Judy aren't married?" I asked, discretely looking for Judy in other pictures. She appeared in a few of them, but Brittany's mom was always there, too. It looked like no one had put up any pictures since she'd disappeared.
"No. I think a lot of people just assume that they are. Sometimes they pretend to be, even though they don't really like each other very much. I think it's more of an image thing for Judy. Otherwise, people wouldn't understand. They still don't understand."
Brittany swallowed and cleared her throat. I took her hand and she accepted mine gratefully. "Judy and my mom were best friends. A lot of people think Judy moved in on my dad after my mom went missing and Mr. Fabray ran off with his secretary. But they don't know about my dad's… problem. When he gets upset, he starts drinking again. He never hits us or anything like that, but he just isn't a good dad when he gets like that. Judy was the best thing that ever happened to us because she saw that both of our families were missing something and she came over and whipped everything into shape. Now we're like the Brady Bunch without all the boy-children. Or Alice. Or a dog."
Her face changed. She was shooting for some kind of half-smile to make light of the situation, but she missed entirely and grimaced. "I know you're not Judy's biggest fan, but I've always appreciated her for what she does. It gets really tough around here when she's gone and when my dad is drinking."
I put my hand on her back and rubbed it soothingly. Her muscles were ridiculously tense. "I know she's important to you. I would never try to get in the way of that."
"Thank you for understanding." She took my hand and started to lead me across the room. "Come on, let's get moving. Mojo's room is upstairs."
Once we got upstairs, Brittany walked down the hall to the last room on the left. She threw the door open without knocking and walked in. Mojo's bedroom looked like two different people were sharing it. Half of it was decorated with cheerleading posters and posters of the heartthrob of the moment while the other half was decorated with various posters of drug paraphernalia.
"Mojo?" Brittany walked across the room and stuck her head in the bathroom.
"Doesn't look like anyone is home," I observed.
"I guess we'll have to wait for her," she said. "My dad has the Sunday night show and the Monday morning show back to back, so he won't be home. Judy's next door and that means Frannie will go there tonight. So I guess we can just hang out in my room until Mojo shows up."
I followed her out of Mojo's room and all the way to the other end of the hall. She opened the door to her room and stepped inside. The walls and shelves were covered in cheerleading stuff. There were trophies, ribbons, plaques, certificates. There were even pom-poms hanging from the mirror and red streamers hanging from the fan.
From the corner of my eye, I saw a huge gray blur dart out of the closet and under the bed.
What the fuck?
"This is my old room," Brittany said, gesturing around with her hand as she walked around the bed. "Make yourself at- oof!"
Something jolted her roughly. She pinwheeled her arms before falling onto the floor and out of sight. I immediately sprang into action.
I ran around the bed with my Hand of Death at the ready. Sitting on Brittany's legs and quickly scaling her body was a huge… I didn't even know what the fuck it was.
"Leave her alone!" I bellowed, cupping my hand and forming a ball of energy. "Get off of her!"
Brittany sat up immediately. "No! Don't!"
"I'm not gonna hit you, Britt. Just sit still."
I pulled my arm back, ready to throw, but she snatched up the blob and pulled it to her chest. She was hugging it and staring at me like I was some kind of crazy person. "Santana, put your hand down, please!"
I was so confused. "Brittany… what the hell is that thing?"
"This is Lord Tubbington, my cat." She turned him around and sure enough, that big, gray blob had a kitty head on it. He squirmed in Brittany's arms, turning himself back around so that he could nuzzle her.
That's not a cat. That's a Winnebago.
I powered myself down as she struggled to get up from the floor with the thousand-pound feline in her arms.
"I thought it was attacking you," I said stupidly.
She sat down at the head of the bed with Lord Tubbington. "He was just excited. Just running a little too fast."
She patted the other side of the bed. I closed the bedroom door as I walked around the bed and sat down next to her.
"Can you hear that?" she whispered. "He's purring."
It was impossible for me not to hear it. That cat sounded like a fucking chainsaw. I was convinced he had a diesel engine somewhere in his large body. Even though the sheer size of the cat was freaking me out, he was clearly crazy about Brittany. He was moving his head every which way so that she could stroke him, scratch behind his ears, and just love on him in general.
"Your voice," she said as she petted Lord Tubbington. "I've never heard you do that before."
I cringed. Every time I wanted Brittany to ignore something, she went straight for it.
"Yes, you have," I mumbled.
"Yeah, I've heard you, but not you. Not as Santana."
"Is it weird for you?" I asked. "I mean, it has to be, right? To see me with crazy eyes and hear that creepy voice coming out of me?"
She mulled over that for a second before answering my question with a question. "Is it weird for you to do that in front of me? Does it make you uncomfortable to show me that?"
Yeah, how does it feel to be a freak?
"He really missed you," I said, gesturing to the cat as I abruptly changed the subject. I could feel Brittany's eyes boring into me.
"I usually come by every day after work. He was probably worried sick. Looks like he hasn't been eating well."
I bit my tongue so hard that I tasted blood in my mouth.
She kissed Lord Tubbington's fat head and started talking to him in a cutesy voice. "Aren't you supposed to be at work, Tubbs? How's my dad gonna pick the Tubby Tabby Tunes if you're at home?"
Lord Tubbington meowed loudly.
"Is your tummy upset or did you just miss Mommy?" The cat made a weird noise and buried his face in her boobs. Brittany scratched his head and rolled her eyes. "Alright, I guess nobody wants to talk about anything today."
"I get the feeling that that was directed at me, too," I guessed.
"Yeah, it was." She chuckled a little to herself and shook her head. "You and Lord Tubbington have a lot in common."
I looked down at my waistline and frowned. "Not that much."
"You both have this big, tough exterior that you show everybody, but when someone flips you over, you're just soft and fluffy underneath." She lowered Lord Tubbington to her lap so that she could pet him with both hands.
"I don't try to be big and tough," I said defensively. "I'm like, 5' 4". Nobody's afraid of me."
"No, I mean, your personality. Your sarcasm and your jokes and stuff. It keeps people from getting too close. A lot of people don't get close to Tubbs because he's a big guy." She grabbed my hand. "Here, pet him."
"Come on, San. I swear, he's the sweetest cat ever."
I put my hand on his wide back. He was way softer than I would've guessed, but he was also uncomfortably warm. As soon as I started to pet him, his jiggly body tensed up.
"It's ok, Tubbs," she whispered. "She's not gonna hurt you."
She put her hand next to mine and started petting him again. I followed her lead and slowly, the cat relaxed his muscles. There was a lot of muscle underneath all of that blubber.
No wonder he knocked Brittany over. This cat is strong.
She grinned. "See? He likes you."
I looked down and almost jumped out of my skin. Lord Tubbington was giving me a murderous death glare and I knew exactly why. I was encroaching on his territory and crashing his "Mommy and Me" time. I knew he was just tolerating me and I was under no illusions about this cat being my friend.
"So I have a tough personality?" I asked, reluctantly tearing my gaze away from the cat.
"I've just noticed how you are around people." She blushed. "I've been watching you for a long time."
"At the bar. I would watch you with other people. Customers, other bartenders, everybody. It's not that you were rude to them… well, sometimes you were, but most of the time, you would just serve them and then make them feel uncomfortable if they tried to start up a real conversation. Or you would just tell a joke and walk away while they were laughing. But you actually talked to me. It made me feel special because nobody else got to have these long conversations with you. But today, I realized that all we talked about was me. We never talked about you. You were hiding yourself from me, even back then. I mean, the Zizes thing? You could've told me about that and I never would've judged you." Brittany sighed and shook her head. "Santana, do I know anything about you?"
"You know about Mr. Ziggles," I offered. "That's more than most people know."
"So do you just keep everyone at arm's length then? Do you ever let anyone know you?"
"It's not like I have a list of things I hide from people," I said defensively. "I just don't tell everybody that I'm an adult that sometimes sleeps with a stuffed giraffe. And I didn't see any point in telling you that I deliver packages and apparently radioactive chemicals for a living."
"And you didn't see any point in telling me that you saved me when I got mugged and that you had super powers," she finished.
"Well, now you're all filled in and look where it's gotten you. You're caught up in all of this bullshit, which is exactly what I didn't want to happen."
Brittany shook her head. "I don't think you would've told me about your powers even if you weren't caught up in this stuff."
"Really. It's just like Mercedes said." She paused for a moment. "By the way, I know you were awake when I was talking to Mercedes."
My eyes damn near fell out of my head. "Wha- how did you know?"
"Mercedes pointed at you and mouthed 'she's awake.'"
I need to go bestie shopping because this is just not working out.
"She said that you lie when you think her opinion of you is going to change," Brittany went on. "You thought my opinion of you was going to change if I knew about your job, so you didn't tell me. Same with your powers."
"I already told you that I was afraid that you would freak out," I pointed out.
"I know and at the time, I took it personally. Part of it is personal because I've pushed you away before. But even if I had never pushed you away, I still don't think you would've told me."
I raised my hand. "Objection! Speculation!"
"Judging by the fact that you haven't told Mercedes, your best friend for life, I'd say I'm right." She let out a short laugh. "Thank god I talked to her. You make a lot more sense when I have some idea of what's going on inside your head."
I started to pull my hand off of Tubbs, but she put her hand on top of mine. "I'm just trying to understand you, San. The more I learn, the more I realize that I really don't know anything about you. We don't really know a lot about each other. I mean, I've told you a lot about how Tommy is a douchebag, but I haven't told you about my Mr. Ziggles and how he's gotten me through every problem I've ever had." She bent down and gave the morbidly obese cat another kiss on the head. He let out a loud meow, staring me down as he did so. He was gloating, that fat bastard.
Resisting the urge to push him off the bed, I turned my attention back to the conversation at hand. "So have you been holding back from me this whole time, too?"
"I have." She kept her eyes on Lord Tubbington. "Since you told me the truth about everything, I've had to do a lot of thinking about us. What we are, how we got here, what my part in it was. And I realized that I was mad at you for doing the same thing I was doing to you. I was holding back the real stuff, giving you stuff that didn't make me uncomfortable. Maybe everyone does that when they first meet, but you can't go anywhere until someone opens up. I couldn't open up and I think it had a lot to do with the fact that you're a girl and part of me wasn't ready to accept that I wanted to take things further with you."
"Part of you still doesn't want to accept that," I said.
She bit her lip. "Yeah, you're right. I'm struggling with that, but I'm not denying it anymore. So I have to own up to my part in this. We both do. This is going to have to be a two-way street, San. We can't beg the other person to open up while we keep ourselves closed off." She looked straight into my eyes. "And we have to be honest with each other. I've been with a liar and I can't do that again. I don't want that for us. I can't do that. So I'm laying down the law. You can't lie to me like you lie to Mercedes. I'm not going to do that with you. If you have something you're not ready to tell me, just say so. But don't lie to me. Show me that you trust me. Act like you trust me. Okay?"
I nodded, wrapping my head around all of the stuff that had been thrown at me. "You really have been thinking about this a lot, haven't you?"
"You weren't thinking about it?"
"I was, but I really wasn't doing anything constructive with it. I was mostly just moping," I admitted. "So you knew I was listening to you and Mercedes, but you still said all of that stuff?"
She smiled bashfully. "I kinda wanted you to hear it and it's easier to talk to you when you're pretending to be asleep."
"Well, anytime you want to know something, you can just ask me. You don't have to go to Encyclopedia Santanica." I shook my head at Mercedes's terrible joke.
Her smile faded. "I tried to ask you about how you were feeling this morning and it didn't go so well."
"I'm so sorry about that. I said a bunch of horrible things that I didn't mean."
"Santana, you don't have to take it back," she said, looking down at her cat.
"No, seriously, Britt." I said. "I didn't mean any of that. I felt like such a freak. I was mad at myself and I took it out on you."
"Mad at yourself?" she asked.
"For letting things get out of control. For almost killing you. For not being normal anymore and…" I wrung my hands in my lap.
"And?" She waited and when I continued to sit in silence, she squeezed my hand. "What else were you feeling?"
She waited for my long, long pause.
"General feelings of inadequacy," I mumbled quickly.
"What? Santana, you are not inadequate," she protested.
I felt the tightness in my chest that is typically associated with sober forays into the Dungeon of Feelings. I only talked about that kind of stuff with Mercedes and even then it was hard. I gulped. "It's just that I, uh… I don't really… um… I don't like myself sometimes and I don't want you to see me like that."
Brittany looked at me in disbelief. She took my cheeks in both hands and pulled me forward, planting a big kiss on my nose. "I like you more than enough for the both of us," she said. "You've always been amazing to me since that first night we met. And even though I hate that you kept it from me, you were there on the worst night of my life, risking your life me. I don't think people get much better than you."
Tension I wasn't even aware of left my body and my shoulders slumped. "Thank you."
We were quiet for a minute before she said, "can I kiss you?"
"Of course," I practically shouted.
You could've waited a second before answering.
"I haven't been kissing you because-" her cheeks started to turn red, "-because when I kiss you, I get butterflies in my stomach."
It was probably the last thing I expected her to say. I couldn't stop my dopey grin from escaping its prison. "Is that so?"
"Every time," she said quietly. "So I stopped kissing you to make sure that I was thinking clearly. Butterflies are distracting."
As she continued to talk, the urge to kiss her grew tenfold. I just wanted to give her that feeling over and over again.
"And I don't kiss you while you're 'helping' me because… I mean, this is all pretty intimate, don't you think?" She didn't wait for a response, instead choosing to nervously power through it. "It's like we're doing this super intimate thing, but we're both acting like it's nothing. Like it's some favor that you can do for your friend and it doesn't mean anything. I don't think I can treat it like nothing while I'm kissing you."
"I was afraid that if we made it into some big, serious thing, you'd freak out," I said.
"Then let me freak out. Anything is better than you feeling like I'm using you. You're not a vibrator, San. You're so much more than that to me." With that, she leaned forward and kissed me softly on the lips.
It was a simple kiss, just the soft, slow movement of lips sliding against each other. The energy was manageable and Brittany wasn't doing anything that would cause me to skyrocket into space. I released her lips with a loud smack. She giggled and I went back in for another kiss. As soon as our lips touched, I felt small, sharp cat teeth sinking themselves into my hand.
Really? Bite this, Lard.
Purely out of spite, I leaned further into the kiss and slowly maneuvered my tongue into Brittany's mouth. She made a small moan of contentment in the back of her throat and stopped petting the cat completely. Lard Tubbingon bit down harder and since he probably had enough power in his jaw to break an adult femur, I tapped out and broke the kiss.
A slow smile spread across Brittany's face. "I missed that."
"Britt, your cat is biting the shit out of me," I said, tattling like a kindergartner.
She looked down, catching Lord Blubberton right in the act. "Tubbs! What are you doing? Stop that!"
At the sound of Brittany's command, he released me. Brittany took my hand and inspected it. It hurt like hell.
"You're bleeding," she whispered.
"It's fine," I said. I held my hand up in front of my face. It wasn't bleeding very much, but the holes were deep enough to need some attention. Lord Tubbington had sunk his vampire fangs deep into the fleshy fat of my thumb.
"I'm gonna get the first aid kit." She hopped off the bed and ran into the bathroom. "I don't know what's gotten into him. He never bites."
As soon as Brittany was out of sight, Tubbs flattened his ears and hissed at me. I just grinned at him. Part of me felt really, really stupid for beefing with a house cat, but the less mature parts of me were finally happy to be in a feud with someone who didn't have super powers or weapons.
"It's okay," I called to her. "He's just not used to me yet."
That cat looked at me like he wanted to claw my face off.
"Guess your mommy likes to kiss me, too," I snickered. "What's the matter, Lard? You jealous?"
Lord Tubbington hopped off the bed (which surprisingly didn't cause an earthquake) and stalked off to the closet, probably to plot my death. Brittany came back with a small first aid kit and took my hand.
"I can heal it myself, Britt."
"At least let me clean off the blood." She opened two disinfecting wipes and thoroughly cleansed the area. "I'm so sorry. He's normally such a good kitty, I swear."
I felt kinda bad for antagonizing Garfield. "He just wants to spend time with you. I was in the way."
"He can't just go around biting people or he's going to have to back to anger management," she said firmly.
When the corners of her mouth turned up slightly, I smiled.
Ah, okay. Brittany joke. Got it.
"All clean," she announced, doing a final swipe of the wipe over my palm.
She pulled my hand into her lap, running her fingers over the place where Tub of Lard had impaled me with his fangs. It took me a second to realize that she was actually tracing the dark brown scar from my little thumb incident.
"I did that to myself," I reminded her. "I told you that story."
She nodded. "I know. I just don't like to think of you being hurt."
"It's okay," I said. "Tina took care of me."
I frowned as I said it. It reminded me of the whole courier thing, which made my stomach turn.
"I should've been there. Next time, I will be." She pulled my hand to her face, closed her eyes, and kissed the scar on my hand. The kiss was long, yet chaste. She was holding my hand so tightly that it was starting to tingle and go numb. After all that had happened in the past few days, she was showing me such tenderness and care that I thought I might melt into a puddle of mush.
It really does help when she knows what's going on in your head. You both need to stop screwing around and open up.
Suddenly, the bedroom door swung open and slammed against the wall. Mojo stumbled into the room, dressed in a grungy pair of ripped jeans and a Bob Marley shirt. She was also wielding a baseball bat. Brittany dropped my hand like a bad habit and even though I understood her action rationally, I couldn't stop the brief pang that went through me.
"Brittany?" Mojo lowered the bat. "I thought you were a burglar!"
She ran across the room in an instant and threw her arms around Brittany's neck. Brittany hugged her little sister back with equal enthusiasm.
"Oh my god, no one told me you were coming home! I wanted to be there when you got out of the hospital-"
"Mojo," Brittany said firmly, pulling her sister back. "We haven't been released yet. We're not supposed to be here."
Mojo threw a glance at me and her eyebrows shot up in surprise. "You escaped from the hospital?"
I shrugged. "I guess you could say that."
"What are you, crazy? You're sick! What if something happens? Look at you! You're shaking! You have to go back!"
Mojo was right. Brittany's shaking at gotten a little worse. She had been holding herself together for a while now and I didn't know if she was getting tired or if the shaking was just too much. I gave her concerned look, but she ignored it. "We will, we'll go back right away. But first we need to talk. What the heck is going on around here?"
"Ugh! Why don't you ask Frannie Fatmouth since she's already told you everything anyway?" Mojo spat.
"Mojo, I've only talked to Frannie at the hospital. I have no idea what you're talking about."
She regarded us with a rebellious teenager stare and said nothing.
"You took down all of the Cheerios stuff on your side of the room," Brittany continued. "Did something happen at school?"
It was almost scary how pale Mojo got. "What? No! School is fine! Nothing's wrong at school!"
"I think you're lying," Brittany said bluntly.
"J," Mojo said suddenly. "J gave me the button. It was J."
"What? Who is J?" I asked. The complete change of topic made my head spin. It was clear that the answer to our original question had only come out because Brittany had gotten too close to the other issues that were going on around here.
"Just this guy I met at the skate park. Sarah's sister knows him or something." Mojo's attempt at being nonchalant was failing, but the color was slowly coming back to her face.
"You were at the skate park?" Brittany asked skeptically.
"I can go to the skate park!" Mojo shot back.
"How old is this guy? Sarah's older sister is older than me."
Mojo bit her lip and mumbled something under her breath.
"I'm sorry, you're gonna have to speak up," Brittany said.
Mojo looked down sheepishly. "I said 'he's twenty six.'"
"Twenty six!" Brittany shrieked. "Mojo, are you crazy? Have you lost your mind?"
"There's nothing wrong with having an older friend!"
Fearing that the Pierce sisters would get sidetracked, I stepped in. "Can we talk to this J person? It's kind of important."
Mojo shrugged. "I was on my way to a party. He'll be there. I guess you can go if you promise to be cool."
"Do we really want to roll into a high school party?" I asked Brittany.
Mojo laughed. "Psh! It's a college party! Like I'd be caught dead at a-"
The look on Brittany's face shut her up immediately.
"Um, anyway, my ride is coming to pick me up in a bit. You guys can ride with us."
I remembered the crapmobile and sighed. "We have our own car. Give us the address of the party and we can meet you there."
Brittany pointed right between Mojo's eyeballs. "And don't think that we're not gonna have a talk after this, Maureen Josephine."
"Well, if that's the case then maybe we should talk about why you escaped from the hospital and drove two hours just to buy a button for a nurse," Mojo smirked.
Brittany glared at her. Mojo knew full well that we were hiding something, too.
She blew Brittany a kiss. "Love you, Big Sis. See you out front."
According to the address that Mojo had so graciously scribbled on a scrap of paper for us, the party was in North Lima.
North Lima was this small rectangle of land, boxed in by West Lima, East Lima, Downtown Lima, and the wilderness. It was a business district for the most part, although there were some houses on both the east and west edges. I hadn't spent a ton of time in North Lima, but Brittany must have. She took one look at the address, declined my offer to look up directions on my phone, and took off. She took some back roads to get out of East Lima and before I knew it, we were driving up Silver Avenue, the main street in North Lima.
"Come here often?" I asked jokingly. "It's like you had a route planned."
"My mom used to work over here," Brittany said. "This is the same way she used to take to get around the slow lights. I couldn't drive back then so I didn't really know the streets, but I remembered all of the buildings we used to pass."
"Oh. Sorry," I said sheepishly.
"No, it's fine." She smiled softly. "I haven't been out this way in a while. I know it doesn't seem like it, but I like to think about her. I have the best memories of going to-"
A police siren whooped behind us. We both looked in the rearview mirror just in time to see an unmarked cruiser pull onto Silver Ave behind us.
Brittany let out a frustrated growl. "Seriously? I wasn't even doing anything!"
The rust bucket slowed as Brittany pulled the car over and parked by the curb. She glared at the rear view mirror as the cop car parked behind us. "I hope the license plate didn't fall off or something stupid like that."
When two cops got out and started walking toward us, I groaned. It was the pair of douchebags I'd encountered at the police station while giving my statement about the kidnapping. Karofsky and Azimio.
"Not these assholes," I groaned.
"Maybe it won't be too bad. Hopefully, we'll get off with a warning for whatever it is." Brittany rolled down her window. The annoyed scowl fell off her face and was replaced with a cheery smile. When Karofksy reached the window, she greeted him chipperly. "Good evening, officer. What seems to be the problem?"
We were at such a weird angle in the Trans Am that I couldn't see anything but beer bellies and arms. They were both wearing long-sleeved cop shirts. Karofsky's was lumpy and weird in places. Azimio stood outside my window, but I made no move to roll it down until he tapped it with one of his big sausage fingers.
"License and registration, please," Karofsky commanded in a monotone-cop voice. It was the first time I'd ever heard him sound even remotely professional.
"Of course, just one second." Brittany only had her phone and her license, both of which were wedged firmly in her front pocket. As she fished her ID out of her pocket, she gestured to the glove box. I popped it open. The only things in there were dust and cobwebs.
"That's not good," I whispered. "Not good at all."
Brittany gulped, blindly handing her license to Karofsky through her window. "What are we gonna do?"
"I have no clue."
"Where's your registration? Ma'am, we don't have time for-" Azimio leaned down into the window and his chubby face popped into view. When he saw me, his face lit up like a Christmas tree. Every bit of professionalism evaporated into thin air and his voice jumped about an octave.
"Hey, it's the Lady Lover!" he crowed obnoxiously. "Long time, no fuckin' see!"
Brittany inhaled deeply and her eyes widened. I didn't know what to make of her reaction since he was clearly talking to me and not her.
"Britt?" I asked, barely moving my lips. "Brittany?"
"Lady lover? Is it that Lopez chick?" Karofsky called to his partner as he pulled out his ticket book. "I'm not surprised she's driving a hunk of shit like this. Fuckin' West Lima trash."
He started laughing and Brittany's spine snapped ramrod straight. Her entire body went rigid. Her hands balled into fists in her lap and her eyes glazed over.
I felt myself starting to panic. Something was really wrong with Brittany, but I couldn't help her. I couldn't even talk to her with those two hyenas giggling in the background.
"Britt, what's wrong?" I whispered.
She let out a quiet whimper and her bottom lip quivered.
Oh god. Don't freak out now. Control yourself.
"Here's a present to take back to your side of town," Karofsky sneered, tapping his ticket book on the edge of the open window. I watched as his big meaty hands flipped Brittany's ID so that it was facing the right way and despite Azimio's loud cackling, I heard him utter a quiet but clear "oh fuck."
Azimio went on, focusing only on me and unloading whatever rage he had let build since we'd last seen each other. "I bet you thought you were real funny showing Tanaka those spray paint cans, huh?"
"Z," Karofsky croaked. His shaking hands almost dropped the license. He bent down so that he could actually see into the car and his face paled when he saw Brittany in the driver's seat.
"You know what's really funny? This $300 speeding ticket you're about to get slapped with. We'll see who gets the last laugh."
"What?" Azimio glared across the car and looked at Karofsky, who was jerking his head toward Brittany. He looked at Brittany and his big, fat mouth snapped shut. He jerked his head out of the car window. Karofsky pulled his head out of the car, too. I couldn't make out the conversation they were having across the roof, but it didn't last very long.
"We're gonna, um, run this license and uh, do some cop stuff," Karofsky said stupidly. "Don't move."
They quickly and stiffly walked back to their cruiser. As soon as they were gone, I unbuckled my seat and turned to face Brittany. I gently grabbed her by the cheeks and turned her heads towards me.
"Talk to me, B," I cooed. "Tell me what's wrong. Please, you're scaring me."
Her eyes slowly focused on my face and she took a deep, deep breath. Her body shuddered and her eyes filled with tears.
"The voices," she whispered. "It's them. Oh god, it's them."
"It's who?" My eyes darted back and forth, searching hers for whatever it was that I was missing.
Her blue eyes locked with mine. "The alley. The guys from the alley. It's them."
It took a second for it to register in my head. "What? Are you sure?"
"I've played that mugging over and over again in my head a million times. I'll never forget what those voices sound like."
A tear fell from her eye and I wiped it away with my thumb. I focused my super hearing behind us. Inside of the cruiser, Karofsky was shouting.
"-and of all the people in the world, you wanted to pull over one of the two people we're not supposed to have contact with!"
I thought hard back to that night, trying to remember everything I could about the three men in the alley.
"Dude, you're not gonna believe it! We got us a super hombre! You wanna rumble, Pedro?"
Brittany was right. It was him. Same gruff baby-man voice. The same stocky build. This was the man who had held a gun to my head and hadn't been fast enough to pull the trigger.
"How the fuck was I supposed to know it was her driving this old ass hoopty in North Lima?" Azimio shouted back. "Tanaka said she was in the hospital!"
"Maybe we don't want your money."
And Azimio was the round one who I'd thrown into the trash.
You knew those voices were familiar and you didn't put two and two together?
The answer has been right in front of my face the whole time and I hadn't seen it.
"Do you think she knows it's us?" Karofsky asked.
"I don't know, but if we want to keep our jobs, we need to get the fuck out of here. We're already stuck on speed trap duty because your dumb ass got shot."
"How is that my fault?! Paul shot me when that crazy freak attacked us!"
"You got grazed!" I watched through the rear view mirror as Azimio punched Karofsky in the weird, lumpy part of his arm. "Stop acting like a little bitch! All wrapped up like a mummy over a damn flesh wound!"
Karofsky jerked his arm away. "Fuck you!"
It was amazing how obvious it was now that I was listening to them argue. I didn't know how I could've missed it.
"Maybe we don't want your money."
"Yeah, maybe we want something else."
The sound of Karofsky's hand slapping Brittany's ass echoed through my head. Her sobs. Their laughter.
"You offering that up, too?"
Brittany's head whipped in my direction. "Santana! What are you doing?"
I looked down and saw that my right hand was crushing the door and my left hand was crushing the center console. My breathing was heavy and labored. Energy was pulsing through me sporadically. I took a deep breath to steady myself, but truth be told, I didn't want to feel steady. I wanted to feel out of fucking control.
"Stay here. I'll be back." My voice dropped into its distorted state and crackled with anger. I hated letting Brittany hear that.
She grabbed the hand that was cracking the center console. "Santana, no! Don't get out of the car!"
The hinges on the passenger door creaked as I pushed it open without using the handle. It popped open and Brittany grabbed my forearm.
"Brittany, let me go. I'm not going to do anything."
I wasn't sure what would happen if I got out of the car, but I knew that I was definitely going to do something. In that moment, every fiber of my being wanted Karofsky and Azimio dead.
"Santana, you are not going out there," she said. "Just stay- wait, he's coming back. Close your eyes!"
My eyes slammed shut against my will. I tried to force them open, but Brittany was holding then shut with her mind. I heard Karofsky's heavy shuffle-walk on the asphalt. He stopped by Brittany's window again.
"Here's your license," he said gruffly, tossing it into the car. It was ridiculously obvious that he was trying to disguise his voice. He sounded like a kid pretending to be his dad so that he could call in sick from school. "The speed limit is 25 here. Don't speed."
He practically ran back to his cruiser and two seconds later, the car peeled off down the street.
A second later, I heard the sound of the door opening. I could see Brittany's outline in my peripheral vision as she leaned out of the car and vomited.
I wanted to help her, but I was essentially useless. My senses were highly tuned and majorly fucked up at the same time. My vision was blinding white. I could see outlines of things, but not colors. Every sound was magnified times a thousand, so I couldn't tell if Brittany was dry heaving or trying to force her organs out through her throat. Every single one of my movements was at super speed and super strength. I couldn't rub her back or hold her hair. I'd probably rip her apart.
After a few minutes, the vomiting stopped.
"Great, I got some on the seat," Brittany muttered.
"Are you okay?"
"You just threw up."
"Maybe fine is the wrong word." She closed the car door and slumped in her seat. "I'm scared to death. I feel like crap. Nothing makes any sense. My stomach is in knots. Better?"
"More accurate, at least."
"What's wrong with you? You're not moving." A soft hand felt my forehead. "You're burning up, San."
"I need to power down, but I really don't want to. I really, really, really want to go hurt those guys."
Brittany's hand slid down to my chin and turned my face towards hers. Even in my whitewashed vision, she had an ethereal glow to her. I don't know what brought Brittany out of her panicked state, but suddenly she was almost as forceful with me as she was with Mojo.
"You can't. You're already in enough trouble with them as it is. And what if one of them tried to kill you or something?"
"I think I can handle those two beer kegs. I kicked their asses once and I can do it again. Karofsky's still healing from the last time."
"You're strong, but you're not invincible," she said. "I'm not gonna lose Quinn and I'm not gonna lose you. So you're staying here. We've got enough people trying to fight you already."
I closed my eyes and sighed, defeated. "Ok, ok. They're safe. For now."
I slowly and carefully powered down. With my vision restored, I looked down at my hands which had little pieces of plastic embedded in them from my fit of rage.
"Puck's gonna be pissed that I tore up his jalopy," I muttered. "We better get going."
She shook her head. "Not until after the party."
"What? We're still going to that? Britt, you don't have to put on a brave face. I know you're shaken up."
"I am shaken up," she said, "but my sister is running around with a 26-year-old, so we're going to the party. Besides, we need to find out what this J guy has to do with Marley."
I let my head fall back and stared at the roof of the car. "Oh yeah. We probably should take care of that, huh? Do you want me to drive?"
"No, I got it. I just want to stop by the 7-11 and get some gum or something," she said, making a face.
She put the car in drive and pulled out onto the street, speeding up to a conservative 23 miles per hour. I thought she was crazy for not wanting to go back to the warehouse and vegetate after what had just transpired. I was still reeling over the fact that the cops were actually mugging people. Shelby had guessed that they were hiring thugs to do their dirty work, but no. Actual cops were dressing up in ski masks and mugging people they didn't like.
What did I walk in to when I saved Shelby? Was Finntastic hiding in the shadows that time, too? Did I fuck up their whole plan? And this Paul guy must be a cop, too then. He's the tall one, the one who killed Bryan Ryan and shot Karofsky in the arm. Where is he?
It wasn't a huge breakthrough in the case since it left me with more questions than answers. It gnawed at me as I sat in the parking lot of 7-11, waiting for Brittany to buy her gum and a bottle of ginger ale to settle her stomach.
It's different. It's different when they're not thugs. Bloods, Crips, Knightmares, they all have a price. But the cops? The low level guys like Karofsky and Azimio? They're not raking in cash doing this shit. Tanaka doesn't even have to pay them because they're either too weak to say no or they enjoy it. So he sends them off to do his dirty work. It's fun for him. It's bloodsport.
If all of this shit goes south, who can I call? There are no police for me. No military. There's McKinley, if I trust them enough. If they even give a fuck and want to help me. If there's even any Goo left on the planet. Can I protect Brittany and Mercedes and Sam and Sugar and Ziggles in a city where the police chief has no limits to what he'll do? I can't be everywhere all the time. So what happens when Tanaka pulls Brittany over? What happens when Kurt tracks her down and I'm not there? What happens when we leave the warehouse and come back home?
Suddenly, I wanted to throw up.
A/N: Some people had already guessed that Karofsky and Azimio were the muggers, so I'm sure a lot of you figured it out. Santana and Brittany didn't know! It doesn't change much about their current situation, but it leads to some other things that are important.
Also, let me know if I'm getting too technical or if detailed explanations of random shit are boring to you. I know some people like it. In real life, I'm terrible at verbally explaining things, so I like to make sure everything I write makes sense. If you ever don't get something, ask me about it and I'll try to reword it so that it makes sense.
I've been trying to develop the Brittana more and make it deeper, so I hope that's working. I kind of like making Brittany and Santana as different from each other as possible because it shows how much they complement each other. So I wanted Brittany to be the one who was really being introspective and proactive and trying to solve the trust issue while Santana just kinda freaked out, but didn't really get any traction on it because she spent so much time brooding. I don't know, just trying some things.
Tubbtana: I was going to introduce Tubbs five chapters ago, but it didn't really work out and it was basically crack!fic. I like Tubbtana in all forms, whether they love or hate each other, so it was fun to make Tubbs immediately loathe her just for being there. I don't know if they'll become friends at some point, but she'll never stop calling him "Lard."
I'm trying to figure out some strategies for being more effective (and faster) at this whole thing. I have an issue with writing a lot of stuff that never gets used. For example, I wrote scene where Santana and Brittany watch a Cheerios practice. I wrote a completely different cop scene. I wrote the party scene. Where is that stuff? Not in this chapter. But all of that added time to getting the chapter finished. I'm not really as efficient as I used to be. At the rate I'm going, it's gonna take another five years to finish this story XD So I'm addressing the issue, whatever that means. Probably a writing schedule of some sort… and really evaluating new ideas and scenes before I start writing them.
Anyway, a big chunk of the party scene is already written so that should help move things along.
Thank you again for sticking with me and I hope to see you at J's party.
Don't worry, all the cool kids will be there XD