A/N: As some of you already know, this is really only half of a chapter, so if it feels incomplete, that's why. I wanted to update, so I thought this was a good stopping point. This chapter is mostly Sancedes-related and I realize that not everyone cares about that lol, but I didn't want any more time to pass without a chapter.
Q: What do you call a cheesy, messy show that's not yours?
A: Nacho Glee.
Chapter 17: Homecoming
I told David that I needed to run a few errands before he dropped me off. When I directed him to parallel-park in front of Zippy Mart, he hesitated.
"You do remember what happened the last time we were here, right?" he asked.
"Yeah, but this time, I'm going inside and you're staying in the car," I explained. "You're probably way better at following directions than I am, so I don't anticipate us having any issues."
"Well, hurry back," he said, guiding his expensive sports car into the parking space with ease. "I don't want to hurt anybody, but if they try to steal my baby, we're going to have a problem."
I hopped out of the car and walked up to the store like I wasn't afraid of getting robbed. In Lima Heights, if you act like you're exactly where you're supposed to be, you're less likely to get killed (but statistically speaking, you're probably gonna get killed).
The bell above the door alerted Zippy to my presence. He looked up and grinned. "Ah, the ghost. She has returned to haunt me once more."
I rolled my eyes. "Only because you're such a pleasant and accommodating host, Zip."
He rushed past me to the front of the store and locked the door behind me. "I am guessing that you have come for your 'belongings.' We must hurry so that you can get the hell out of my store."
"What's the rush?" I laughed, following him as he speed-walked into the back of the store. "If you keep getting these bags, it'll be a good excuse for me to visit, right?"
Zippy didn't speak until he was seated at the desk in his office. There were two black messenger bags sitting there, identical to the one I'd gotten before. He gave me a withering look and rested his chin on his hairy, old knuckles.
"Would you want to be holding these in your store in this neighborhood?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Sorry, Zip," I mumbled. "I didn't mean to get you mixed up in this."
He waved my words away. "Apologies are meaningless now. We are not in control of these circumstances," he said gruffly.
It was his way of saying that he still thought it was my fault, but he wasn't going to hold it against me.
Just like the last time, there was a note stuck to one of the bags. I opened the flaps, verifying that both bags were full of money as I had initially suspected. Then I opened the note.
To the vigilante:
Bravo! You've exceeded my expectations by leaps and bounds! That disruption at the mall was simply amazing. I must admit that I was quite impressed by your ingenuity and flare for theatrics. Interrupting a ceremony to honor the city's favorite hero was brilliant. I'm very much aware that there are others who contributed to the melee and that they are far more deserving of credit than you are, but all things considered, that brawl would have ended very differently without you. Thank God you were there to send that situation spiraling out of control.
Although I'm pleased with and amused by your zany antics thus far, I'm not so sure about your commitment to this cause. Against my better judgment, I've doubled your reward this time. Take this generous gift as a bit of motivation and a vote of confidence in your ability to eventually do something meaningful.
While I could continue to give you money every time you embarrass the police department (I certainly have the means to do so), I fear that it will make you even lazier and more complacent than I already suspect you to be. So don't expect any more money until you've created some true chaos.
No more dessert until you've cleaned your plate.
"What an asshat," I muttered, folding up the note and slipping it into my back pocket. "Thanks for holding on to these for me, Zippy."
Zippy was staring at the black bags. "What will you do with the money?"
"If you're looking for a finder's fee, you're gonna have to wait." I picked up one of the bags and slipped the strap over my shoulder. "I have debts to pay. Once I get those squared away, you'll be handsomely rewarded for your trouble. I promise."
He hesitated for a moment, then shook his head. "No, no. Do not tempt me. It is your money and I cannot guarantee that I can resist such an offer at a time like this."
"At a time like what? Ten thirty?"
"You know that is not what I mean," Zippy said, rolling his eyes. His anger deflated immediately and he plopped down in his chair. His shoulders slumped in defeat. "I am being sued."
"Sued?" I asked incredulously. "By who?"
Zippy narrowed his eyes. "By that squishy criminal, Bamboo!" He slammed his fist on the desk with all of the strength of a 3000-year-old man.
It took a second for the name to register in my head and a few more seconds for me to remember the doughy face that belonged to it. "Wait, Howard Bamboo? That teddy-bear looking guy? Isn't he in jail?"
"Yes," Zippy hissed, "On the night of his crimes, he says that he was here. The security cameras were broken so he had no alibi. He is saying that I am negligent for not fixing them."
I looked up at the shiny, high-tech security cameras screwed into each corner of the store. Pretty much every store in the Heights with anything worth stealing was going to have security cameras.
"They don't look broken to me," I said.
"That is because they are not broken!" he shouted. It was the kind of shout that told me he'd said it a billion times to a million different people. "Do you think I would have broken security cameras in this neighborhood? I keep them running all the time! I gave those cops all of the footage I have! I do not know what they want from me! This woman is out for my blood. She just wants someone to get in trouble!"
"What woman?" I asked.
"Bamboo sends his big, crazy lawyer over here to yell at me. That woman, that Bieste," Zippy said with a tone that could only convey pure and utter hatred.
"That's a little harsh, don't you think?"
He waved his hand dismissively. "No, no. This is her name. Shannon Bieste. If I want to call her something bad, I have much worse names than that!"
"Did Howard Bamboo pay with a credit card?" I asked.
"He says he did not buy anything! It was 'too expensive,'" Zippy sneered.
"Oh. That sucks."
"Yes. It is very sucky."
"I'm sorry, Zippy," I said honestly. "You don't deserve that. You might be a crazy old man, but you're a pretty decent human being."
"Well, you know what is said. Life is not fair."
"Amen to that, Zip. Amen to that."
Ladies Night was the next logical stop because I still didn't want to keep large sums of money at my apartment. Sam was the only one who knew about the contents of my locker. No one else was going to open it or care about what was in it.
We drove past the employee lot. Mercedes's car wasn't there. I let out a sigh of relief.
"Drop me off in the back," I told David. "I'll find a way home from here."
"Are you sure? I can run you back to your place."
David nodded and drove his fancy car around to the back of the building. I hopped out and he opened the trunk for me to retrieve my messenger bags. I paused for a moment, leaning my forehead against the open trunk door and peering down at the bags of money.
Take the money. Pay your debts. Hang up your hat and call it a day.
I sighed, wondering what the hell I was going to do with the ever-increasing weirdness in my life. I was so lost in my thoughts that I almost jumped out of my skin when two arms wrapped themselves around my waist from behind. The owner of the arms buried their face into my back and let out a small whimper. I knew who it was as soon as I looked down. I would recognize those ridiculously expensive bangles anywhere. I stroked my hand across her forearms gently.
"Motta, you can't sneak up on me like that," I warned her. "I was two seconds from ending you."
She shook her head against my back and released me. By the time I turned around, she was already facing the opposite direction with her shoulders hunched and her arms wrapped around herself.
I lifted my bags out of the trunk, set them on the ground, and slammed the trunk closed before signaling to David that it was okay for him to leave. He seemed reluctant to go once he saw Sugar, but I waved him along until he started his car and drove away.
I turned back to Sugar, draping my arm over her shoulders. "What's wrong?"
She looked at me with big, sad eyes. "The last time I saw you, I made you work the bar in your underwear."
I laughed. "Yeah, you did. At least I didn't have to work a pole. I don't think anyone would've wanted to see that disaster."
"It's not funny, Santana," she said. "That could've been the last time I ever saw you and I made you do something you hated."
I rubbed her back comfortingly, scraping my hand on her orange sequined dress. "It's okay. I'm back. I'm not dead. No need to feel bad about what could have happened."
She wiped away her tears with the back of her hand. "One of these days, you're gonna disappear and not come back and the last thing I said to you will be-"
I stuck my finger in her face. "Hey. You push my buttons and I push your buttons. That's how we work."
She sniffled. "I know, but-"
"No buts. I don't want you treating me any differently than you normally do, okay?"
She just stared at me with glassy eyes.
"Sugar. Seriously." I was practically begging. "Don't go acting weird on me. I need normal right now and as much as I hate to say it, this might be the most normal relationship I have."
"Fine, have it your way," she grumbled. She gave me a quick side-hug before sliding out from under my arm, wiping her eyes again, and straightening her dress. "If you tell anyone I was crying, I'll deny it."
"I'll just tell them that you were out here turning tricks for sequins like you usually do." I picked up my bags from the ground and started to walk towards the back door. "What are you doing out here anyway?"
She shrugged. "Taking a smoke break."
"You don't smoke."
"I'm smoking hot in this dress and I needed a break, so… same thing."
"Sugar, you look like a tangerine at Pride."
"I'm not taking fashion advice from someone who usually shows up for her shift looking like the end of the 90s."
"Were you even alive in the 90s? Weren't you born in like, 2006 or something?"
She smiled. I smiled back. Normalcy had been achieved.
We walked back inside and when we reached the door to the employee lounge, I stopped. "Hey, I'll be out there in a second."
She kept walking down the hall towards the club. "Well, hurry up. I wanna do a shot of something terrible before I have to start working again."
When I walked into the lounge, it was empty.
I walked over to my locker and opened it. Sitting at the bottom of the locker was the first messenger bag that I'd received. I lifted the flap. It was still full of money. I don't know what I thought Sam had planned to do with it while I was gone, but it appeared that everything was exactly the way that I'd left it. I slid the other two bags in and they fit perfectly. The locker was getting a little full, but that was a problem for another day.
The lounge door opened and closed behind me. I froze. When the person who walked in didn't say anything about me randomly being at Ladies Night, I knew it had to be someone who was mad at me. I spun on my heel and Sam was standing there in a pair of swim trunks with his arms folded over his chest. It must have been body paint night because he had all kinds of nonsense written on him. Someone had even drawn a pair of glasses on his face.
"Sugar said you were in here," he said.
I shrugged. "Yup. Here I am."
He walked over to the bench in front of our lockers and sat down. There was a towel draped along the bench and he used it to start wiping the paint off of his body.
"So you left the hospital and you didn't bother saying anything to anyone?" he asked.
"Mercedes hasn't talked to me in two days and nobody else cares," I grumbled. "I figured it would be easier for both of us if I just found my own ride home."
He laughed humorlessly. "That's so… you. I don't know what I expected."
I narrowed my eyes at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that only you would show up completely unannounced and not care about how Mercedes is gonna react to that. It fits in with this new…" he waved his hand around "thing you're doing where you don't really think about her feelings."
I slammed my locker door shut. "Ok, you know what, Samuel? I've had it up to here with your bullshit. What the fuck is your problem?"
He looked at me like he didn't even know who I was. "You. You're my problem."
I snorted. "So you hate me. How original. Take a number, Trouty."
He shook his head. "I don't hate you, Santana. I've just had enough of this."
"Of what exactly?"
"This!" He stood up and gestured toward my locker. "Whatever crazy shit you have going on is poisoning everything and you've got your head so far up your own ass that you can't even see it!"
He stood there fuming for a few seconds before he turned around and opened his locker. He pulled out a pair of jeans and went fishing around in the pockets before pulling out a crumpled wad of yellow paper.
"Here," he said, thrusting it towards me.
I snatched the paper from him and began to unfold it. It was actually several pieces of paper stuck together. Once I'd pulled a few of them apart, I realized that they were sticky notes. When I saw Kurt's familiar purple scrawl, my stomach dropped.
Tell Santana that all of my offers have been rescinded.
I hope you have enjoyed your short, boring lives.
"That guy has been breaking in and leaving messages while Mercedes and I are sleeping," he said, his voice barely above a whisper. "It doesn't matter where we are- my apartment, your apartment, my parents' house, a hotel. He finds us."
Keep your friends close.
Keep your enemy's friends closer.
Close enough to touch.
Sam's hands were shaking. "If I stay up all night, he won't come in, but if I fall asleep even for a few minutes, I find one of these on my forehead."
All I wanted was cooperation.
Now I require blood to be spilled.
It will be yours. Thank Santana.
The last sticky note had a gun drawn on it. I flipped it over.
Santana missed her shot.
I will not miss mine.
"That one… that one was on her chest." A sob broke free from Sam's mouth and he coughed roughly, choking the rest of his sobs down. "He put it over her heart."
I sat down hard on the bench. I felt like I was going to throw up. I put my face in my hands and tried to slow my breathing. "Does she know about this?"
"No. I always hide the notes before she wakes up. Every time I want to try sleeping somewhere else, I make up an excuse and she buys it for the most part."
"When did this start?"
"The day after you disappeared again. After the mall thing."
I crumpled the notes into a ball and threw them at the wall. "Sam, what the hell?! Why didn't you tell me about this?"
He threw his hands up in the air. "Because you already knew this was going to happen, Santana! You told that guy in the purple suit that you didn't want to work for him and he said it was going to be 'open season' on us! I was there, remember? I heard him and so did you. You made your choice and now we're all going to pay for it."
"He's not going to kill you. He's just doing this to fuck with me." I wasn't sure if that was true. I didn't even know if I believed it.
"Well, now he's fucking with me and he's fucking with Mercedes and I can't take any risks. Not with her. I can't lose her. I just can't." He shook his head and pulled at his hair with both hands. "I have to protect her from this. From you. That's why… that's why we have to leave."
"Wait, what?" I slowly lifted my head. "What are you talking about?"
He dropped his hands and looked at the floor. "I love you, Santana. I know you don't believe that right now, but it's true. You introduced me to the love of my life and-"
"What the fuck are you talking about, Sam?" I yelled over him.
"-I'll always be grateful for that, but I can't let you get her killed. I can't let you ruin our lives over this, whatever it is. That's why I've been trying to get her to leave Ohio. I've been trying everything I can to get her to go-"
"No." I said firmly. "You don't have to leave. That's not necessary."
"Somebody's threatening to kill us, Santana!" he shouted.
"And I will take care of it, Sam!" I shouted back.
"Really? What have you been doing to 'take care of it'? You've been chilling out in a hospital two hours away! And you're perfectly fine! I've seen you take a bullet to the chest and walk away without needing so much as a Band-Aid!" He laughed bitterly and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "That's the part that kills me about this whole thing. She worries about you constantly and there's nothing wrong with you! She thinks that if she leaves Ohio, you're gonna be like a lost puppy wandering the streets, but you're healthy and you're sitting on a buttload of cold, hard cash. She's making herself sick over you and you only care about yourself!"
"I care about Mercedes," I spat. "I love her! And I love you, you dickhead. I would never have left you here alone if I knew Kurt was threatening you. He's not the only enemy I have and I need to-"
"I don't care, Santana," he huffed. "I really, really don't. You wouldn't care either if you were me. Think about it. If I was doing what you're doing, if I was putting Mercedes in any kind of danger, you'd shut me down in a heartbeat. You'd tell Mercedes that I was a no-good bum and you'd convince her to break up with me. Wouldn't you?"
I glared at him, refusing to admit that he was right.
"I know you would," he said. "You'd do it because you love her. I love her, too. I love her too much to let you drag her down."
"So what now? You're going to make her hate me so that she'll move away?"
"No, I was just trying to make her see that you don't need her as much as she thinks you do. That's why I told her about the money. I was going to tell her about the whole purse snatching thing, but I don't have any proof and it sounds too crazy. When I figured out that you were probably that Lima Menace person that stopped the Zippy Mart robbery, I tried to get something out of Uncle Zippy. I just wanted to show Mercedes that you can take care of yourself. She doesn't think you can, but you can. You can take care of yourself and we can leave Ohio and get on with our lives."
"Your lives are here!" I slammed my hand on the bench for emphasis, but a thought occurred to me and I paused.
Something wasn't adding up.
"Hold up, Trouty," I said. "Mercedes is mad at me, madder than she's ever been before… but even if she's mad enough to break the lease and move out of our apartment, why would she want to leave Ohio? Her parents and grandparents are here. Your parents are here. Both of her jobs are here. She has no idea that Kurt is threatening you guys. So why would she agree to leave the state with you? Leaving Ohio doesn't make any sense to someone who doesn't know what's really going on."
Sam blanched, caught off guard. "Um, what?"
"Why would Mercedes want to leave Ohio, Sam?" I asked, enunciating my words slowly.
He pressed his lips into a thin line and looked down at his shoes. "I'm not supposed to tell you this, but you're probably gonna find out anyway."
He sighed. "Mercedes sold some songs to Holly Holiday for her new album."
"I know that," I muttered. "Rachel Berry told me, of all people."
"Well, did Rachel tell you that Holly loved the songs so much that she offered Mercedes a job out in LA?"
I jumped off the bench.
"Are you serious?!" It didn't matter that we were in the middle of an argument. My heart swelled with pride and my face broke out into the widest smile. Moving to LA to make music had been Mercedes dream for as long as I could remember and now it was going to come true. "Sam, that's amazing!"
She did it. She finally fucking did it.
"She turned it down."
As quickly as it had inflated, my happiness bubble burst. I sat back down on the bench. "What? You're joking, right?"
He shook his head. "The day you turned up at the hospital, she called Holly up and said 'no thanks.' She told me that she couldn't leave you, not when you needed her this much."
"Jesus." I ran my hand over my face and squeezed my eyes shut. "Why would she- ugh."
She was throwing away the opportunity of a lifetime to stay in Lima and babysit me. My mouth felt dry and suddenly the room was way too hot.
"I need a drink," I muttered. I stood up and walked to the door. Sam didn't move. "Well? Are you coming or not?"
He hesitated briefly before following me out of the employee lounge and up the hallway. We entered the club right next to the bar. It looked like body paint was only part of the theme for the night. The bartenders and strippers were all wearing leis. The boys were wearing swim trunks like Sam's and the girls were wearing grass skirts. We walked around the bar and sat down on a pair of empty stools.
Sunshine saw me first. She squealed and practically leapt over the bar to give me a hug. Aphasia was right behind her, hooking me around the neck and almost choking me.
"You look like you need a shot of something strong," Sunshine said. She had a smile on her face, but it was tinged with a hint of sadness.
I reached blindly into my pocket, pulled out a bill, and slapped it on the counter. "Give me the strongest drink you can think of."
"First of all, that's a dollar," Aphasia laughed. "Second, you know your money's no good here… especially not a one dollar bill. That's no good anywhere."
"And third, come over here and make it yourself," Sunshine said, tugging on my arm. "It feels weird having you on the other side of the bar. Come on, we promise we won't make you work."
They both stood there smiling at me until I felt like a jerk.
"Ok, fine." I got up and walked back around the bar.
Matt was sitting on the bar as some girl outlined his abs with a paint marker. His face lit up when he saw me and he reached out and mussed my hair when I was close enough. I gave him a quick hug from behind so I didn't disrupt his customer (or screw up his tip) and he turned his head until he could kiss my cheek.
The feeling of deja-vu was overwhelming even though I'd probably never experienced that exact sequence of events. It wasn't the actions that were putting my nerves on edge. It was the atmosphere. It was the familiar roar of the crowd at the beginning of a new strip routine. It was the way Sugar Motta always made fifty ab jokes right before Mike Chang jogged onto the stage. It was the sight of body paint smeared on the bar towels and abandoned drinks sitting on the back bar, evidence that nobody ever listened to me when I told them to stop doing that shit. It was the smell of fresh lemons, limes, and mint leaves. It was the thumping bass from the music coming from the DJ booth.
It was familiar. It was home. I clung to it with everything I had in me and when I looked up towards the platform where Mercedes's stand-in was grooving to the beat, I felt it all slipping away. I realized that at any given moment, I had only the most tenuous of grasps on the things that were the most important to me.
I looked away and continued my trek behind the bar until I was standing across from Sam. As a reflex, I almost took his order but at that moment, I wasn't capable of making him a drink without spitting in it. I grabbed the soda gun and filled a plastic cup with Coke. I snatched up two shot glasses and quickly filled them with whiskey, whiskey, and whiskey.
My good friends- Jim Beam, Johnnie Walker, and Jack Daniels.
Once the two shot glasses were filled, I picked up the first one and nodded at Sam. "Bottoms up."
Sam held out his hand. "Ew! Santana, don't-"
I downed the Three Wisemen in a smooth, well-practiced motion, flooding my system with liquor and feeling the instant regret that always follows that shot.
"Fuck," I croaked, quickly snatching up the Coke.
Sam grimaced. "Gross."
I gulped the Coke down, successfully suppressing the retching noises that my body so desperately wanted to make. I couldn't look like I was going to throw up. Maybe at any other bar in America, but not at Ladies Night. Not at my bar.
I allowed myself a single cough and wiped my mouth with a napkin. "Ugh. That is so much worse than I remember."
"You can pour that other shot out because there's no way in hell I'm taking it," Sam said.
I rolled my eyes. "Well, good because it's not for you."
I refilled the plastic cup with Coke and slid the second shot glass over so that it was directly in front of me. Sam stared at me in horror.
"What is wrong with you?" he asked.
I shrugged. "I'm sure Mercedes has told you how I get down. If we're really going to talk about serious shit tonight, then I don't want to be mentally present for it."
He narrowed his eyes at me. "What? You're really going to talk to her?"
"I'm going to tell her everything."
"And you're seriously going to get drunk right now?"
"She really wants to know what's up with you and you're going to scramble your brains just so you don't have to feel the same pain that she's feeling for you. Don't you think that's a little messed up?"
I picked up the second shot glass. "The only pain I want to feel is this and a hangover. The rest of it? No thank you. I already lived through this story once. So yeah, I'm gonna get pissy drunk and probably cry a lot tonight, and hopefully when I wake up tomorrow to vomit, everything will be fine again."
He raised a judgmental eyebrow at me. "Have you ever heard of the term 'emotionally unavailable'?"
I rested my hand on my stomach, which was still recovering from the Three Wisemen. "I'm familiar with that concept."
"I think if you look it up in the dictionary, there's a picture of you taking a shot in there."
"Tee hee hee, you're so funny," I deadpanned. I swallowed hard and got ready to toss the second shot back.
"Seriously, Santana. Don't." Sam's hand shot out and he grabbed my wrist. "She deserves better than that. You deserve better than that."
His pleading eyes stayed on my face and I avoided looking directly at him. A rogue strand of Bieber bang fell into his eyes. His roots were blond, but his hair was still a weird gray color on the ends. This was the kid who had dyed his hair black in mourning when he thought I was dead. Somewhere inside this guy was my friend Sam.
I didn't want to hate him. I didn't want to fight him. I just wanted everything to go back to normal, but I knew better than to hope for something like that.
I sighed and put the shot onto the counter. Sam patted my wrist gently.
"What a fucking mess," I muttered under my breath. Our eyes locked. We both looked tired and defeated. "I'm going to tell her everything. After that, if you guys want to pack up and move to LA, I wouldn't even blame you. I just… I want her to go to LA because she wants to go, not because she hates me or because it's not safe here."
He looked down at his hands and wiped them on his shorts. "I don't want to take her away from you."
I snorted. "I think we both know that's bullshit."
His brow crinkled under his Bieber bang. "Huh?"
"I'm in the way," I said simply. "Even if none of this other stuff was going on right now, we'd still be in the same situation because I'm in the way. You're getting married. Mercedes is going to be a star. She's ready to start her new life with you, but here I am. Always in the way."
His large mouth worked itself into a variety of shapes until he finally mumbled, "It's just that I don't think she's ever going to pick me over you. I'm afraid to ask her to because I know I'm just gonna get my feelings hurt."
"It shouldn't be a contest where one of us wins and one of us loses, Sam."
"That's easy for you to say," he said. "I don't think you've ever lost. I mean, come on. I proposed to her and she still renewed her lease with you."
My eyes widened. "She told me you were cool with that."
He shook his head. "I wasn't. I'm not. She was supposed to move in with me after your lease ended and before I knew it, she'd already signed the damn thing."
"I had no idea," I said. "She never told me that you wanted to move in together before the wedding."
He did a weird hopeless shrug with only his eyebrows. "Actually, she was supposed to move in with me way before that. We were going to find an apartment together after she graduated."
I drummed my fingertips on the countertop and stared at the bottles of whiskey in front of me. "Didn't know that, either."
I was so confused. "I never asked her to move in with me when she came back to Ohio. I sure as hell wouldn't have asked her to come slum it with me in fucking Lima Heights. So why would she suggest it if you guys already had plans?"
He looked away. "You were going through a lot. It had been almost a year since your abuela passed and you were still struggling. She-"
"She felt bad for me," I interrupted. "She felt bad for me, so she told me she needed a place to stay and moved in with me."
"No, that's not what I meant." He tugged at his hair in frustration. "You weren't taking care of yourself-"
"I know that. I was there," I snapped. "She never told me that. She never told me any of it."
"She worries, Santana. She loves you." He frowned. "I love you, too. I never meant to hurt you."
"Yeah, you did."
He looked down at the bar. "Yeah, maybe I did. I'm sorry."
I put my hand on top of his. "Maybe you're a meddling idiot, but you love her and you were thinking about her. I'm sorry I brought this mess into her life and I love you, too. You fucking moron."
"Okay, okay, I get it." He smiled weakly. "Are we okay?"
"Not yet. We will be. I think we both need some time."
"Yeah." He looked up at the DJ booth. "Make her happy again, please? She's really, really sad."
I frowned. "I'll try my best."
God, I hope I succeed.
I flew home, carrying my shoes around my neck the whole way.
Maybe if I had let David give me a ride, I would've seen the suspicious black SUV parked up the street from my building.
Unfortunately, I had lost my house keys during the scuffle with Kurt at the mall. I had to knock on the door and wait for Mercedes to answer it. After a full minute passed, I was afraid she wasn't going to let me in. When the door finally opened, Mercedes was on the other side wearing a head scarf and her purple velvet pajamas. Her expression was blank and accusatory at the same time.
"Hi," I said. It was all I could think to say.
Mercedes stepped back and let me in without the responding. The door slammed shut behind me and she trudged across the room, picked up a book that was lying open on the coffee table, and lay down on the couch.
"We should really think about replacing that thing," I said. The couch was still broken from my "incident" with Brittany.
"Can't." She looked at me over the top of her book. "Don't have the money."
We stood there as her gaze bore a hole into me and I sputtered for something to say.
"Look, Mercedes. We need to talk- I mean I need to talk. To you. I need to tell you about… something… well, a few things-"
"What? What do you have to say, Santana?" she snapped. She tossed her book to the side and sat up. "You know, since we can only talk when you wanna talk. Did I pass the test? Did I earn the truth this time?"
My mind went blank. Mercedes was always direct when she called me out, but never aggressive or mocking. That was my schtick. I didn't know how to respond.
She held up her hand. "You know what? Forget it. I don't even wanna know what it is you're hiding from me anymore. It looks illegal and I'm not going to jail for anybody, not my mama, not my daddy, not Sam, and not you. The less I know, the better."
If Sam's anger had caught me off guard, then Mercedes's anger left me speechless. It felt hard to breathe. It felt like there was no air in the room.
I said the only thing I could think to say. "Please don't hate me."
She sighed heavily and rolled her eyes. "I don't hate you."
"It kinda feels like it," I mumbled.
"Well, I don't. I don't think I could hate you even if I wanted to, so you better thank God that you're never going to know what that feels like."
"I know you're angry, but I can fix this," I said firmly. "Please, just let me-"
"You know what your problem is?" She stood up and folded her arms. "You spend so much time trying to fix things and half the time, I don't even know what's broken! I'm tired of trying to guess what's wrong, Santana! I'm tired of watching you run around in circles and wear yourself down doing everything you can think of to keep me from hating you when all you have to do, all you've ever had to do was just sit still and let me love you."
"Mercedes, I promise I can explain."
"Don't fix it," she said flatly. "Don't 'explain' anything to me if nothing's gonna change because you can't keep doing this to me-" Her voice broke, but her gaze didn't waver, even as she blinked away tears. "You can't keep treating me like I don't deserve the truth until you're too beaten down to keep it from me. You came in here like you were gonna drop some bomb on me and I was just going to listen like I always do, but I can't. That's the funny thing about the truth, Santana. It's only worth something if I believe you… and I don't even know if I can believe you anymore. I don't know if you remember how to tell me the truth."
It certainly wasn't the response I was expecting.
"It's like I don't even know you anymore. I look at you and I see someone I don't even recognize." She was trying so hard not to cry that she couldn't stop blinking. "That's okay, though. I taught you how to treat me. That's why you keep doing this. But this is the last time. I'm done."
"What?" My heart dropped into my stomach and everything in my body went ice cold. I walked forward until I was standing directly in front of her.
"I don't know if I have it in me to do this with you again."
"What? What does that even mean?" I grabbed her hand and she pulled it away.
"It means…" She let out a shuddery breath. "It means I can't keep letting you hurt me and I can't keep hurting myself for you. It means that you have to love me enough not to let me do that."
She's blaming you for missing the chance of a lifetime.
I didn't even know if that was true, but suddenly, I was pissed off about it. I wasn't even supposed to know about Holly Holiday, so how could it be my fault?
"Oh, so now I don't love you because I kept something from you?" I shot back. "What about all the shit you're keeping from me? I guess it's okay when you lie!"
"What are you talking about?" she scoffed.
"I'm talking about Holly Fucking Holiday and how you didn't tell me about landing your dream job!" I shouted. "You turned it down to stay here! What the fuck were you thinking?"
She stared at me in shock. "Who told you about that?"
Does it matter? She clearly didn't want you to know!
"Does it matter? You clearly didn't want me to know! But I forgot- it's different when you hide things. You're not a filthy, rotten liar like me, right?"
Something horrible was bubbling around in my chest, something strange and hot and toxic. I coughed hard to clear the weird congestion in my lungs, but it just made things worse. The muscles in my back contracted so painfully that I gasped. Mercedes didn't notice. She was too busy yelling.
"I hid one thing from you!" She held up a single finger. "One thing! I've been honest with you from Day One, but every time you have a secret, you act like you can't trust me! Like you haven't know me since I was six years old! Do you know how crazy that makes me? To have to prove myself over and over again to you?"
"You never had to-"
"Yes. I. Do. Every. Single. Time. So don't even try to act like what I did is the same as what you always do because it's not and you know it!"
"First of all, it's not just one thing! I found out a lot of shit today that you were probably just never gonna tell me and it changes things. It changes a lot of things."
"Then how do you think I feel every time you do it?!" We were screaming at each other now and I was worried that the Rosenbaums would come by to investigate soon. "It's one thing keep stuff to yourself while you work out your feelings, but that bag of money… that's a whole different kind of lying. I don't know where that money came from or how you got it, but I know that you wouldn't be hiding it if it was legit."
I narrowed my eyes. "That money is irrelevant! Whatever Sam told you is a-"
She stuck her finger in my face. "If you say 'lie,' so help me God, I will lose it. You don't have the right to call anybody a liar."
I was fuming.
Now she won't even let you explain!
"Well, if you would just let me explain-"
"I gave you a chance to explain! I asked you what was going on and you said 'I don't have to tell you everything.'" She used the whiniest voice possible to imitate me and I clenched my fists.
YOU DON'T HAVE TO TELL HER ANYTHING. SHE'S NOT YOUR MOTHER.
"I don't have to tell you anything!" I shouted. "You're not my mother!"
"Yeah, I know! I actually care about you!" she shouted back.
It felt like she'd punched me right in the face.
I could tell that Mercedes regretted it as soon as she said it. Her eyes widened and her mouth fell open. She gasped. I don't know what expression I had on my face. The anger that had been building inside my chest left me very suddenly and I didn't feel anything at all. It was the absence of all feeling- pure shock.
And then everything came rushing back all at once- the anger at Sam's scheming, the sadness of disappointing Mercedes over and over, the shame of never earning my mother's love, the panic at the prospect of losing my best friend forever-
The fear of being completely alone. Again.
A wave of energy hit me so roughly that it took my breath away. It surged so high and so hard that I had to turn around, I had to look away for fear of what might happen if I didn't. I couldn't assign a number to my charge level, but it was definitely more than ten.
LET IT TAKE YOU OVER.
As soon as her hand touched my shoulder, lightning lit up the night sky. The thunder that followed boomed so loudly, I felt it in my bones. The lights went out. She snatched her hand back. It was almost as if she knew that I'd caused it.
"Don't touch me." My voice was distorted and twisted, but there was nothing I could do about it.
"S-santana?" she whispered.
"You care about me? You love me? Is that why you're here? Or is it just because you pity me?" Everything that I never wanted to say was coming out in a rush of hateful words and all I could do was stand there and let it happen. The Dungeon of Feelings was open. "There's no possible way that you could love me as much as you say you do."
"What are you-" Her words evaporated as I whirled around. My eyes lit up the room and she froze, staring at me the way I'd always feared she would.
SHE'LL SURELY LEAVE YOU NOW. THEY'LL ALL LEAVE YOU.
"Leave," I growled. "If that's what you want, then go. Take your husband and leave!"
Somebody banged on the door.
"Mercedes?" Mrs. Rosenbaum yelled from the hallway. "Are you in there, dear? The power is out in the whole building! We thought we heard some shouting. Is everything alright?"
"We're- I'm fine! Everything's fine!" Mercedes called back, never breaking eye contact with me. She lowered her voice and whispered, "I'm right here, Santana, okay? I'm not going anywhere."
"Well that's too bad because I don't want you here anymore." I leaned forward, but she didn't step back. "Get the fuck out. Leave. Now. You know you want to. You never wanted to be here with me."
She shook her head and stared me down even though her knees where shaking. "No, that's not true."
IT IS TRUE. YOU KNEW IT. YOU ALWAYS KNEW.
"It is true. I knew it. I always knew. What was I, some kind of charity case? Shitty mom, shitty stepdad. I guess you were gonna fly the coop after college, but the whole dead abuela thing roped you back in, huh?" The thing inside me, that dark thing that sounded a lot like Wes now that I could really hear it, laughed coldly. It felt like he was rummaging around inside my head, pulling out my deepest, most private thoughts at random, twisting and distorting them to the point of absurdity, and wielding them like weapons at Mercedes. "That's why I couldn't trust you. It's because this was inevitable. I knew it. Even when I was little, I knew you'd do this to me. I knew that eventually you wouldn't feel sorry enough for me to stay."
Mrs. Rosenbaum kept talking, but Mercedes just kept staring me down like her life depended on it. She didn't know why my eyes were glowing or why my voice was distorted and she didn't ask. She knew that she was fighting something inside me and she wasn't going to back down.
"You don't believe that," she said, "and you know that I love you. You're my best friend. You're my sister. We've always been there for each other-"
"WRONG!" I screamed. "That is a lie!"
More banging on the door. "Mercedes! What is that? Is someone in there with you?"
"It's just the TV! I'm fine!" Mercedes yelled.
"But the power's out!"
YOU'RE ALL ALONE AGAIN. JUST LIKE BEFORE.
"When I needed someone the most, nobody was there!" I sneered. "You weren't there! Sam wasn't there! I was alone! The one time I really needed you, you couldn't even answer your goddamn phone! So don't tell me you were there for me! I was all by myself!"
It was Mercedes turn to look stricken as she realized exactly what I was talking about. When I realized what Wes had drug up from the depths of the Dungeon, I felt dread wash through me.
Mercedes had apologized for that. I had forgiven her for that. We didn't talk about that.
And yet here it was again because apparently, I hadn't let it go.
My body didn't pause. It just kept going full-tilt, screaming and raging and building, building, building until I felt like I was going to explode. "I don't fucking need you! Leave! Just go! Go! Go away and leave me alone!"
Her face fell and Mrs. Rosenbaum yelled something, but all I heard was the crack and boom of thunder and lightning as the energy in me surged again and I fell to the ground in a heap.
Oh god. Oh my god. I don't know where you are, but- fuck. Mercedes. Please pick up.
"I think she moved! Shit! Whatever you're doing, it's working!"
"What's working? Can somebody tell me what's happening? We can't see!"
"Santana moved. Her face twitched a little. Ooo! Her finger moved!"
"I need to clean her up. All this blood- oh god."
"Sam, can you move the phone so that we can see better?"
"Will everyone please stop talking?! You're breaking my concentration!"
Please pick up. I can't- oh my god, I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't do this.
"The rain is letting up a little. Is that a good sign?"
"Maybe? You mean you don't know?"
"'Incredible Hulk Shit' isn't an exact science. I'm a medical doctor, not a psychologist."
"All of you! Shut up! I can't think!"
She- she's gone. Abuela… she died. I don't know what to do. Please pick up. I need you. Please.
"Santana, can you hear me?"
I don't know what to do.
I'm all alone.
I opened my eyes and a chill ran from my head to my toes. I swallowed thickly. My mouth was full of blood.
"Praise Jesus," Mercedes whispered. I couldn't see where she was, but I knew she was close by.
I was still charged up beyond the point of no return. My eyes were shining like spotlights. Brittany's face was the only thing in my field of vision. The sides of my head felt warm and I realized that she was holding my head in her lap. She didn't look away from my eyes. She focused directly on them. The numbing fuzz of mind control was sweeping through my brain and right below that, I felt the heavy curtain of unconsciousness threatening to fall again.
She was keeping me awake.
"Are you in there, San?" she whispered.
"Where the fuck else would I be?" I growled in response. I almost jumped at the sound of my own voice. It wasn't me controlling my mouth and it didn't even feel like Wes. My eyes weren't glowing blue. It was the something else, something wrong.
Brittany stroked my cheeks gently, using the motion that usually calmed me down.
"Don't fucking touch me!" I spat.
"Jesus Christ," Sam whispered from somewhere in the room. "This is like The Exorcist."
Mercedes shushed him.
"I know you're in there, but… what else is in there, sweetie?" Brittany asked. She moved a hand from my face and put it over my heart. "There's something here. It's dark. It's making you sleep and it's keeping you charged up."
"Can you 'see' anything, Brittany? With your ability?" Figgins's voice. He wasn't in the room, though. It sounded like he was on speakerphone.
Brittany hesitated. "Yeah, it's like… I don't know. Like a clot or something? It's dark purple. Like a big bruise on her chest right over her heart. A shadow." She turned my head to the side. "It's in her brain, too. I think it's blocking her from coming out of this."
"Tina, do you think it might have something to do with the spores?" Puck asked. Apparently, McKinley was having their own little pow-wow from the warehouse. "Do you think Wes is doing this?"
"Yes? No? Maybe? I'm completely out of my element here," Tina said in exasperation. "I'm no psychic."
"I did it. It's my fault." Mercedes leaned forward so that she was in my field of view, peering down at me. Her expression was grave as she wiped my mouth and nose with a blood-stained washcloth. "I think I hurt her. I hurt her really bad."
"It wasn't you, Mercedes," Brittany said. "Something strong is holding her."
"It's gotta be Wes," Puck said. "He must have found out she was back and pounced."
"She's been back for five minutes and someone's already doing this to her?" Sam asked.
"They were probably lying in wait," he pointed out. "Ben and David are on their way over to scout out the area. Himanshu's got some robots in the air, too. If they find him lurking around, they'll punch him in the dick and Santana will be back to normal."
"If it's Wes and he's lurking around, then why didn't he get me, too?" Brittany asked. "He knows I have spores in my brain."
Mercedes looked over in Sam's direction. I didn't know how much had been explained to them while I was out, but it wasn't enough.
There was silence on the line before Puck spoke again. "Beats me. Motives aren't my strong suit."
"If he's not trying to control me and he's not making Santana destroy anything, then he's probably not here," Brittany concluded.
"Does that really matter?"
"Yeah, it does. If he's not here, then he's not doing this. He probably started it, but I think it's all Santana now."
"…so there's nobody to punch in the dick," Sam said, catching on.
"Yeesh. I was kinda banking on the dick-punch solution," Puck muttered.
"We're gonna have to fix this ourselves." Brittany grabbed one of Mercedes hands and kept the other over my heart. "Come on. I need help making this clot disappear."
"How?" Mercedes asked, eyes pleading.
"I don't know exactly. I can heal people, but I've only healed physical stuff. This thing inside her looks physical, but it feels psychic. I can try to heal it, but I don't know if I can. Based on what you told me, I think it's something deep that maybe only you can fix."
"I… I don't know what she needs anymore," Mercedes whispered sullenly.
"Mercedes," Brittany said sternly, "she's not herself. Whatever she said- it wasn't her. She loves you and she needs you to bring her back, okay? Bring her back to us."
Mercedes sniffled and nodded. "Okay. What should I do?"
"Try to talk to her. Try to get around it."
"I'll try." She looked down at me, searching my face as if it would tell her where and how to begin. "Oh! Wait!"
She jumped up from the ground and disappeared, returning thirty seconds later with Mr. Ziggles. She pressed his face against mine and moved it back and forth like he was nuzzling me. The feeling of his soft fur had always calmed me. I felt my muscles relax slightly, but not much.
"Santana," she started, "I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere, do you hear me? I am not your mother. I am not gonna 'take my husband and leave.'"
"You will," the thing inside me sneered at her. "You'll leave. Everybody leaves."
"No, I'll always be here," she promised, putting her hand over my heart. "Even if I live on the other side of the country, the world, the universe, you are always in my heart. You know that."
My hands shook a little. Brittany was still staring down at me. Her eyes were glowing faintly, not the way that mine did, but the light was still there. I felt the numbing sensation pushing against my brain and tugging at my heart. I squirmed at the discomfort.
I glared at her. "Stop, Brittany. It's not gonna work."
Brittany glared right back at me. "Keep talking, Mercedes."
Mercedes focused completely on me. "Even when we were little, you always thought I was going to forget about you at recess or let you sit by yourself at lunch. I never did. You always thought I would, but I never did."
"Until now. You're not always there when it counts. When it really matters."
Brittany let go of Mercedes' hand and put her hands on the sides of my face again. She was straining against the thing in my body. "Come on," she whispered hoarsely. "Move. Move."
"You're right. I wasn't there when Abuela died." Mercedes said. She looked up briefly at Brittany and then looked away and I could see the shame written on her face. "I wasn't there when you needed me the most and I've regretted it for over two years now."
Brittany held my head tighter. "Come on, you stupid clot."
She squeezed hard and I gasped as something inside me shifted. I let out a low, almost inhuman growl. Brittany growled back.
"LET GO!" I roared.
"Never," she said through clenched teeth. "Mercedes, keep going!"
"I'm so sorry," Mercedes said and her voice finally broke. Tears sprung to her eyes and she held onto me for dear life. "If I could go back in time, I would be there with you, but I can't change what happened. I can only apologize and hope that it's enough. I love you. I love you more than you know."
As she said it, Brittany gave one last psychic, Herculean push. The noise in my head was deafening. It sounded like someone was ripping a Sequoia out of the ground. Brittany grunted and my back twisted at a horrifying angle as my eyes rolled back into my head. My mouth opened and my lungs emptied themselves forcefully. My arms and legs twitched and then every muscle in my body relaxed. The energy coursing through me immediately ceased, leaving me an empty, cold, heaving heap in Brittany's lap. Shaking, I curled up into the fetal position.
"The rain stopped," Sam whispered. Since I was now lying on my side, I could see him. He was holding my phone up so that the McKinley crew could see us via FaceTime.
"Did it work?" Mercedes asked.
I opened my eyes. They weren't shining. Brittany was staring down at me anxiously, waiting for me to do something.
"I'm here," I croaked, afraid to move my shaky limbs. "I'm here. I'm okay."
"Oh my god," she whispered. She leaned over and gave me a long kiss on the forehead. "Jesus Christ."
Mercedes wiped her eyes frantically, whispering quiet "thank you's" to God.
"Is everything okay over there?" Tina asked.
"Yeah, I think so," Brittany answered. "I can't see the bruise anym-"
Brittany's phone started screaming from inside her pocket. "I SAY A LITTLE PRAYER FOR YOUUUUUU!"
She pulled her phone out. "Crap, Quinn's awake. She's probably wondering where I am. Everyone be quiet for a second." She pressed the answer button. "Hey, Quinn, what's up?"
I felt her body go rigid under my head.
"Get away from her!" Brittany hissed. "If you touch her, I swear to God!"
As drained as I was, I forced myself to sit up and face her. "What's wrong?"
She pulled the phone away from her face and looked at the display. Call Ended.
Brittany jumped up from the floor. "He's at my house!" she shouted. "He's in Quinn's room!"
"Who?" I asked.
"Wes!" She was shaking frantically. "I have to go! I have to get him away from her!"
"Brittany, no! You can't go over there by yourself!" Tina said. "He can control your mind. Let David and Ben handle it. I'm sending them a message to change their course immediately."
"I have to be there!" she screamed at the phone. "He was probably waiting for me to leave her alone and then- oh god, what if I leave and he comes back here?"
She looked at me, terrified at the prospect of leaving me without any super-powered people to protect me. I looked at her, equally terrified at the prospect of letting her leave without any super-powered people to protect her.
"Don't go," I pleaded.
She bounced on the balls of her feet, not know what to do.
"They're gonna be there soon," I assured her. "Let them make sure the coast is clear."
She fell to her knees and wrapped her arms around me. "Okay," she said. "Okay, not yet."
Brittany's phone rang again with a different ringtone and she jumped. She pulled out her phone and stared at it. "I don't know this number."
"It should be Ben and David," Tina said.
She answered it without letting go of me. After a brief pause, she rattled off her address, said a few thank you's, and hung up.
"They're on their way," she said.
"What do we do now?" Sam asked.
"I guess… I guess we wait."
Himanshu's robots landed on our fire escape soon after. Those things are extremely useful. One of them sat on the floor and let us use it's face to Skype with McKinley while the other one made hot tea for the four freaked out people in the apartment.
I took a sip of my tea and let out a deep breath.
"It's Tension Tamer tea," the robot whispered in its mechanical voice. "Enjoy!"
We were all sitting in the dark. I was on the floor in front of the couch and Brittany was leaning against my shoulder, holding my hand. Sam was sprawled out on the ground from what I could see. The coffee table was between us. I didn't know if he was even awake. The rain outside had stopped, but thunder and lightning were still rolling across the sky. I wasn't causing it to happen anymore, but I didn't really know if I could make it go away.
Brittany was incredibly tense. She checked her phone every five seconds for some sign that Ben and David had arrived at her apartment. I felt bad for making her stay with me, but sending her into Wes's trap would help no one, not even Quinn.
I kissed her temple. "Sip your tea. It will help."
She shook her head and squeezed my hand a little tighter.
Mercedes came back in from the hallway where she had been speaking with the Rosenbaums. She plopped down on the floor next to me and took a sip of my tea. "They probably think I'm a psycho now."
I stole my tea back. "You mean they know you're a psycho now."
She smiled weakly and looked down at her hands. Things were weird. Everything felt off. We were not okay.
"They should be there by now, right?" Brittany asked. "Do you think something happened to them? Maybe they got ambushed by Kurt or something. Maybe-"
"I'm talking to them right now," Puck said from inside the robot's face. "They're gonna land on your roof in about twenty seconds."
Brittany proceeded to hold her breath for twenty seconds.
"Okay, they're on the roof and heading down the stairwell."
She nodded, relived. "Okay. Good. That's good."
When I realized she was holding her breath again, I put my hand on her ribs and leaned against her. "Breathe, B."
Brittany took a deep breath and buried her face in my shoulder. "I just need for her to be okay. She's so weak right now, San. Please, please, please let her be okay."
Mercedes got up from her seat on the floor and moved to the other side of us. She grabbed Brittany's free hand and held it in both of hers.
"Heavenly Father," she said quietly, "we ask You today to protect Quinn. We ask You to hold her safely in Your loving arms, Father, and we pray that no harm comes to her. In Jesus's name we pray, amen."
"Amen," Brittany echoed, not moving her face from my shirt. Mercedes started to sing softly in the quiet living room. It was hymn and I didn't know it. I didn't think Brittany knew it either, but a few bars later, she started humming along with the tune. When the song ended, Brittany looked up and smiled at Mercedes. "You remembered. Thank you."
Mercedes nodded. "Anytime."
We sat there for minute after agonizing minute until finally, Puck said, "all clear. Looks like Wes must've taken off. Quinn is sleeping like a baby. Vitals look good."
Brittany deflated instantly, letting go of our hands to rub at her face. She was breathing like she just ran a marathon. Mercedes kissed her on the cheek and patted her shoulder before getting up and returning to her position next to me on the floor.
"David and Ben wanna hang out for a bit if you don't mind. We've got Transformers checking the nearby streets and alleys, but they want to do a sweep of the building. Someone will be with Quinn at all times. They should be done in about an hour."
Brittany nodded. "Okay. Tell them to be careful."
Puck was being really helpful and I knew it was probably killing him to be stuck in the warehouse. I decided to swallow my pride and show some gratitude.
"Thanks a lot, Puck," I said. "We really appreciate your help."
His mouth flattened into a thin line. "Didn't do it for you."
The Skype transmission ended and the room was silent again.
"Jeez, what was that about?" Sam asked.
I waved a hand dismissively in the robot's direction. "Puck's an asshole, that's what it's about. He's still mad about something I said."
"Really? He seemed pretty worried about you when you were… you know." He gestured to the area on the floor where I had been lying earlier.
"Well, when he makes the long journey down from Mount Shithead, we can have a heart-to-heart."
"I think you should cut him some slack," Brittany said.
"Oh, I'll cut him alright."
"You know he already felt bad about the accident before you guys argued."
"Good! They all should feel bad about it!"
"San, come on."
The corner of Mercedes's mouth lifted slightly and I knew she was laughing at "San." There was a very short list of names that people were allowed to call me without running the risk of being fatally wounded. That list consisted of my first name, my last name, "Santanita" because my abuela insisted on it, "Santana-Banana" because of April Rhodes, and "bitch" because I hadn't been successful in my efforts to get people to stop calling me that. No "Tana." No "Ana." No "Satan" (even though people fought hard to make that one stick). So the fact that I'd allowed Brittany to drop half of my name without complaint was highly amusing to Mercedes.
When I didn't respond, Brittany gently poked me in the ribs. "Please don't start anything with them. They're saving our butts right now. We don't have anybody else on our side and we've got a lot of people against us. So even if they're not the best people in the world, they're the only people we've got."
When I still didn't say anything, she gave me a peck on the cheek. "San. Be good."
"I am," I whined.
Mercedes smirk grew wider until she caught my eye. She dropped the grin immediately. While Brittany was practically draped over me, there was a good deal of space between Mercedes and me. Our hands were awkwardly lying next to each other, but not touching. It had never been like this before. It made me sad.
Brittany shifted her body weight and looked across us, noticing the space. The robot brought Mercedes her own mug of tea and she sipped from it, looking awkward and uncomfortable.
"Well, while we're all just sitting here, maybe we should clear the air," Brittany said, disturbing the quiet.
She didn't really have any air to clear, so we all knew who she meant by "we."
Mercedes and I looked at each other and I've never felt more uncomfortable with her in my life. Neither of us spoke. Brittany nudged me in the ribs.
"I don't want to make you mad again," I said cautiously. "You said you didn't want to hear what I had to say and if you still don't, I'll respect that."
She bit her lip and folder her hands in her lap. "Go ahead."
I reached into my pocket and pulled out the note that had come with the last bag of money. Mercedes watched me carefully. Brittany squeezed my hand again and a little of the tension left my body. It gave me the push I needed to pass the note to Mercedes and let her read it. When she was done, she looked up at me with a puzzled expression. I took the note from her and handed it to Brittany.
"This is not the way I planned to tell you about all of this," I sighed. "I'm not sure how much everyone told you while I was unconscious about… well, all of this weird shit that just went down."
"I called Brittany when you passed out and she said that something happened to you while you were missing and that's why you..." She couldn't finish her sentence. Sam dragged himself closer to us until he was lying underneath the coffee table. He reached out his hand and Mercedes stuck out her leg so he could grab her ankle. It was a weirdly intimate gesture- not so much the ankle grab, but the fact that he knew that it was all she needed. It made me feel even worse. I had blocked Mercedes out so much "for her own good" that I couldn't even sense her anymore in the way that I used to.
I cleared my throat, trying not to get emotional. "Something did happen. I fell into this weird chemical that's supposed to heal people, but it also kinda… it gives them super powers."
"That's what that was? Your super powers?" She spoke quietly as if the volume of her voice would set me off again.
I nodded. "Yeah. I have other ones, too."
"Like super speed and lasers that come out of my hands and being a colossal jerk. I'm sorry, Mercedes. I should have just told you."
She ignored my apology. "So you're a super hero, then?"
"Not really," I admitted. "I've tried to do some good things, but I always mess them up."
I could tell that Brittany wanted to argue, but she left it alone.
"And Brittany, you have super powers, too?" Mercedes asked. "That's how you helped Santana just now?"
"I've only had them since we disappeared from the mall. I got hurt. That chemical that gave Santana powers? It saved my life."
Mercedes pointed to the note. "And the money?"
"It's a separate thing, but um, kinda related." I shrunk down a little because now everyone was looking at me. Brittany didn't know about the money, either. "I don't know who's sending it. They've been giving it to Zippy to give to me. Every time I do something epically stupid and upset the police department, they send me money."
"How much money?" Brittany asked.
"Um," I cleared my throat. "I got seven hundred and fifty thousand so far."
"Seven hun- oh my god."
Three pairs of eyes stared at me like my head had just caught fire.
"You have to give it back," Mercedes said.
I sat up straight. "What?! No way!"
"There's no way that money is clean. It could be drug money!"
"Or it could be perfectly fine! There's no way for me to know, so I might as well just keep it."
"I think she's right, San," Brittany said. Mercedes smirked at the nickname again, but Brittany didn't notice. "There's gotta be something wrong with it."
"I can't give this money back," I said. "I need it. I owe a lot of money and this is my only way out."
Mercedes locked eyes with me and I could tell that the question was sitting on the tip of her tongue. Unfortunately, years of lies and secrets had trained her not to trust me.
"Ask me," I pleaded. "I won't lie. Just ask me."
She shook her head. "Fine. Who do you owe money to?"
Her head snapped up. It wasn't what she was expecting at all.
I forced out a laugh. "You know Abuela didn't believe in insurance."
Mercedes's eyes widened. "Santana. Tell me you didn't."
"What else was I going to do?" I asked.
"What did you do?" Brittany asked gently. She seemed hesitant, as if she didn't want to intrude, but I wanted her to know. I was tired of having secrets. So I just started talking and hoped I would end up in the right place.
"My abuela got sick." My throat threatened to close up on me.
Haven't you had enough for today, you masochist?
I shook my head. I was going to say it. I was going to tell the truth.
"My Ladies Night check wasn't making a dent in her medical bills at all. So I asked my stepfather for money."
"Santana, why?" Mercedes interrupted, sounding pained. "You know that man is evil! Why didn't you-"
"She was dying, Mercedes. What was I supposed to do? I wanted her to have whatever she needed. I wanted the doctors to freaking save her. After she… I needed money for the funeral. My mom would've done something crappy and cheap. I wanted it to be nice. Then, my stupid junker car kept breaking down and it needed a lot of work. I had to move out of Abuela's house and into an apartment and start paying rent. I asked him for more money just so I'd have some place to stay. His late fees and interest are insane. Before I knew it, I was up to my eyes in debt with no way out."
"You should've told me," she said. "I would've gotten money from my parents or my grandparents or, I don't know, anybody else in the world but him!"
"I couldn't ask you or anybody else I know for that much money. My stepfather is richer than God. It's not hurting him to give away that much cash. So yeah, I sold my soul to the devil, but honestly, I don't even regret it." My voice broke and I shoved down everything that wanted to come crashing out of me. "I would've given anything. I would go back in time and do it again and again and again every time- even if I knew it wasn't going to help. I had to try."
She closed the space between us, wrapping her arms around me and leaning her head against mine. I could feel her tears hit my shirt and neck.
"So stubborn and bullheaded and crazy," she muttered into my hair. "Just like her. I can't believe you didn't even tell me."
I closed my eyes. "I stopped telling you stuff because I was distracting you. You were staying up all night on the phone, listening to me try to figure out how to cure terminal illnesses and you started missing your morning classes."
"Who cares about my stupid morning classes? I wanted to know what was going on back here."
"I cared about your stupid morning classes! Hardly anybody from the Heights makes it to college in the first place! Out of those kids, eighty percent of them will end up right back here because they ran out of money or they fucked it up. I didn't want you to fuck it up. I wanted you to get out of here. I still want you to get out of here. You're better than this dump."
She shook her head. "I wanted to know, Santana. I didn't want you to go through all of that alone. I would've been here if I could have. I would've been right by your side if you told me how bad things had gotten-"
"Mercedes, I was in denial about so many things… my head was screwed up and I wasn't making good decisions." I wiped my eyes. "In my head, everything made sense: 'borrow money from your stepdad because he's filthy rich,' 'don't tell Mercedes about how it's going because she'll flunk out of school,' and-" my mouth screwed up into a bitter scowl, "and 'don't write the will yet because she's not going to die.'"
Reflecting on my stupidity during that awful, awful time made me feel embarrassed and ashamed, but when I felt Brittany's arms wrap around me from behind, the feelings abated. She rested her head on my shoulder again and for a second, I allowed myself to absorb the comfort that she and Mercedes were wrapping me in.
I cleared my throat, reminding myself that I had a point to make. "The money that I got from this mystery donor is going to my stepdad. I don't care where the money came from, but this is probably the only chance I have to break his hold on me. I'll throw this free money at him and he'll be out of my life forever."
"There's no such thing as free money," Sam piped up from under the coffee table. "Whoever gave you this money is trying to buy you. Are you sure you want to trade your stepfather for someone who might be even worse?"
It was a good point, one that I hadn't really given much thought to.
I shrugged. "What could be worse than my stepfather? Some rich, rude nutjob? I'm being stalked by angry, super-powered homosexuals right now. I'm pretty sure I can take on Scrooge McDuck or whoever the hell is sending me this money."
"And you're sure you have no idea who it could be?" Brittany asked.
"It's definitely not somebody I know. My stepdad is the only rich person I know and there's no way he'd just give away money unless he had the opportunity to gloat and rub it in. Besides, I don't think he has an axe to grind with the police. That's why I'm getting paid in the first place. Every time I make the cops look stupid, I get money for it."
"Why would you want to make the cops look stupid?" Sam asked.
"The cops are not good people, Sam." Brittany scowled and Sam shrank into the carpet. "They are the worst people you could imagine."
"Worse than this purple suit guy?" Mercedes asked. "If the cops are bad, how are we supposed to get out of this mess?"
Brittany shrugged. "We haven't figured that out yet."
"We've made a lot of enemies since I've been back. I didn't want to tell you what was happening, but I should have because you're not safe. None of us are safe anymore. These people are dangerous."
She narrowed her eyes. "Well, if somebody wants to get to you, they gotta go through me first."
"I'm not gonna let you-"
"You don't have to let me and you can't stop me," she said. "We've always protected each other. Nothing's gonna change that. Ride or die."
I frowned. "The 'die' part is pretty literal in this case."
"Nobody's dying, okay?" Sam tightened his hold on Mercedes's ankle and looked at her desperately. "Babe, don't talk like that."
"Santana and I are going to do the best we can to protect you guys and Quinn and Rachel, but we can only be in so many places at once," Brittany said. "That's why we need you guys to be on your guard. If you see anything weird, let us know right away. Keep an eye on your families because we don't know if they're targets, too. And whatever you do, stay away from the police."
Mercedes barked out a laugh. "Girl, we're from Lima Heights. 'Stay Away From the Police' was the theme of our senior prom."
Exactly an hour after he had last spoken to us, Puck called us back.
"Alright, ladies and Sam," he announced, "Brittany's condo and the surrounding area is completely clear."
"Great!" Brittany said. She was still sitting on the floor, wrapped around me.
She didn't move.
"Are you going to be okay? I don't… I'm afraid to leave you," she whispered.
"I'll be alright, B," I assured her. "It's probably better if you go home. If Wes comes back here, he could turn both of us crazy and there would be no one here to help."
"I don't want to leave you alone," she said.
"We'll protect her," Sam said, rising to his feet.
"Sam, you're not going to be able to stop her if Wes gets inside her brain."
"We'll do our best," Mercedes said. "But what about you? What if this guy comes and gets inside your brain at your place?"
Puck hummed in thought. "What if we bring Ben over here and have David stay at Brittany's? That way, everybody has somebody 'super' around in case something goes down."
Brittany nodded nervously. "Okay. Okay, that could work."
"Excellent. We've got a Transformer downstairs waiting to take you home. It's a bright yellow Camaro. Looks like Bumblebee, you can't miss him."
I carefully untangled myself from Brittany and stood. "Do you want me to walk you down?"
"No, you stay up here. I'll be fine." She reached out a hand to Mercedes and pulled her up off the ground. They hugged each other tightly. "Stay safe and call me if you need anything. Anything at all."
"I'm gonna hold you to that," Mercedes said.
Sam rolled out from under the coffee table and got to his feet. "Stay safe, Brittany. Call us if you need anything."
"I'm gonna hold you to that," she echoed as she hugged him.
I walked her to the front door, but didn't open it. We both just stood there looking at each other. Neither of us wanted her to leave. She put her hand on my cheek.
"Please stay safe, San," she whispered. "If you get hurt… I don't know what I'll do."
I already knew what it was like to watch Brittany get hurt. She had seen me get hurt as Rumplestiltskin, but I knew that it wasn't the same. I knew by the way that she was acting that she was seeing things a little differently. She was being more cautious. The danger was becoming more real.
"I'll stay safe if you stay safe," I promised. Her eyes were so blue and clear and honest and open that I had to look away because I thought I was seeing something in her gaze that might not be there. Instead, I let my eyes drop to her lips. "Can I have a kiss goodbye?"
Just like at the hospital, she didn't look around or hesitate. She stepped forward, cupped my face, and kissed me. I felt of flicker of energy pass through me, but my body's reaction was half-hearted at best. It was exhausted. I slowly guided Brittany out of the kiss until we were just standing there with our lips touching. I opened my eyes. Brittany blinked, looking at me as if she'd just woken up.
"Okay, I'm really leaving now," she said. She looked back at Mercedes and Sam, but instead of apologizing for the kiss, she just smiled at them. "I'll see you guys later."
Then she left. I could hear her running down the hall.
I was listening to see if she'd take the elevator or the stairs when Puck's voice startled me. "You know what this means, right? I mean, no one is saying it, but it's kind of implied."
"What?" I asked.
"If Wes is actively fucking with you guys, then you aren't gonna get a moment's rest while he's still in the picture. On top of that, I can't set foot outside to help with the Kurt problem. What no one is saying is that Kurt's shenanigans are no longer our top priority. We've got a new objective."
I looked at the floor, mostly because I didn't want to see Mercedes and Sam's faces when Puck said what I knew he was going to say next.
"Wes Porter needs to die. Immediately."
"I know you said you weren't hungry, but I made you a plate anyway. Throw it in the microwave if you get hungry. Do you even use microwaves? Or do you just like, cook the food in your mouth?"
Ben laughed. "Yes, I use microwaves and no, my mouth is not a toaster over. Thanks for doing that. You didn't have to."
I shrugged. "It's just some leftover spaghetti. No big deal. Just a warning- Sam uses whole wheat pasta and a bunch of other healthy shit that I don't want to talk about. It's edible, but it's a little disappointing."
Ben was sitting on the couch in some shorts and a t-shirt that he borrowed from Sam, folding his own clothes neatly and setting them off to the side. Mercedes and Sam were quietly whispering about us in the kitchen while simultaneously trying to eavesdrop. I rolled my eyes at them and sat down on the couch next to Ben.
"You don't have to sleep on this busted-up couch," I said, fluffing one of the ugly couch pillows. "You can take my bed and I can sleep out here. I think we might have an air mattress somewhere, too."
Ben genuinely smiled at me. "Trust me, I've slept on much worse things in much worse places. It's not a problem."
Surprisingly, Ben was an easy-going house guest. He was extremely polite to Mercedes and Sam, and I got the feeling that he was purposely trying to be as low maintenance as possible. I was used to being lectured and instructed by my mentor, but he was just going with the flow and it was freaking me out.
If the vibe in the apartment had been weird after my little episode, it had gotten even weirder when Ben showed up. The whole ordeal was becoming more and more real to Mercedes and Sam. Names were being put with faces. People and robots were showing up at the house and crashing for the night. It was a lot to handle. Watching my worlds collide after I'd gone to great lengths to keep them separate was quite the mindfuck. Unfortunately for me, the super-powered cat was out of its proverbial bag and it wasn't going back in. The crazy train had officially gone off the rails. We had passed the point of no return and now Mercedes and Sam "knew" and were "in on it."
"Are you gonna have some spaghetti?" Mercedes asked, walking out of the kitchen and approaching the couch.
"No, it's okay. I'm really not all that hungry," Ben said for the billionth time.
"Are you sure, Mr. Ranger?" Sam asked. "I made it myself. It's delicious and nutritious."
Sam had been referring to Ben as "Mr. Ranger" since he got there and he would actually blush every time Ben spoke to him. I was embarrassed for all of us. He was not allowed to meet anyone else.
Ben smiled politely. "Once again, I'm not a Power Ranger. I'm normal person with special abilities, just like Santana. "
"Whatever you say, sir." Sam winked at him and I could physically feel Ben judging all of us.
"You're a lot nicer than Santana said you were," Mercedes said, probably trying to distract everyone from her fiancé's cringe-worthy behavior. "She made it sound like you were a real jerk."
"I have my moments." Ben bent down and started to remove his socks. "I figure that at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter how nice I am. I kill people for money. It kind of cancels everything else out."
Sam, who was about to embarrass himself again, froze and his mouth snapped shut. Mercedes gawked at the stranger on my couch and then looked at me like I was crazy for bringing him here.
"That was probably not the best way to reveal that information," I said.
"We're trying this new 'truth up front' thing," Ben explained. "I figured your people should know what they're dealing with. We didn't do it with you, but we should have."
In all honesty, I didn't even know what I was dealing with. I didn't ask about McKinley's exploits and they didn't tell. Ignorance was bliss, but I wasn't ignorant, not completely. I knew enough to be wary.
I had always pegged Kurt as a "wildcard" because I couldn't predict his next move, but even though I didn't know what Kurt's plan was, I had no doubt that he had one somewhere in his crazy head. The true wildcards were the people I had gotten closest to, the ones with the penchant for inflicting indiscriminate chaos purely for monetary gain, the people that I trusted enough to sleep on my couch and protect me and my loved ones from those who would harm us.
Unfortunately, when powerful people want you dead, you don't have the luxury of acting morally superior and walking away from the only people who have your back.
About an hour after Mr. Ziggles and I called it a night, Mercedes appeared in my doorway. I couldn't sleep, so I was up watching TV when she came in.
"I thought you went to bed."
"No. Sam and I were up talking about… everything."
She stood there, looking at the ground. After a few minutes of awkward silence, I threw the covers back.
"Cuddles?" I offered.
She looked relieved, as if she'd expected me to send her away. She crawled into bed and snuggled up next to me in our usual tangle of limbs.
"I really fucked everything up," I said once she was settled.
"No you didn't."
"When you need an invitation for cuddles, then yeah, I fucked everything up."
"I didn't wanna just assume-"
I stared her down with the most serious expression. "You never have to ask for cuddles. There will always be cuddles for you."
She broke my gaze and looked at everything except my face. "After what I said about your mom, I don't even deserve cuddles."
"That really hurt my feelings," I said softly.
"I know. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean it."
"Yes you did."
"…yes I did. She doesn't deserve you."
"I don't want to talk about her," I grumbled. "You were mad. I get that. Are you still… I mean, you were so mad before… I was afraid you'd never talk to me again."
"I was at the end of my rope, I guess. I didn't know what else to do or say. I felt like I was losing you to the Dark Side or something. Now that I know a little bit about what you've been doing, I'm not as mad as I was."
"Are you totally freaked out?" I asked.
"A little. Your eyes and your voice… I thought I broke you or something," she admitted, her expression pained. "I don't like the idea of people controlling your mind and I'm scared because people are after us, but… I'm just glad that I know now."
"But I didn't tell you. You found out because I lost my shit and everybody had to come rescue me," I protested. "I lied to you. Don't let me get away with it."
"No, Mercedes," I said firmly. "Don't let me off the hook. You always let me off the hook."
She looked surprised that I'd say something like that.
"I remember what you said to Brittany at the hospital," I went on. "I lie to you all the time. It's not right. You don't deserve that. You deserve to be trusted. You're right- I've made you prove that you're trustworthy so many times. Meanwhile, I've been lying through my teeth about so many things, I can't even keep track. You deserve better than what I give you because you're not my mom and you didn't leave me. You never leave me and you never give up on me, even when I give up on myself. So don't go easy on me, okay? Tell me that I suck and that I'm the worst friend ever. Just don't let me keep hurting you."
I was confused. "You put your foot down today. You were mad as hell and you weren't going to take it anymore. What happened to that?"
"I thought you were selling drugs," she said sheepishly. "You were acting so weird and not sleeping and the money- of course I was mad."
My eyes bulged out of my head and I propped myself up on my elbow. "Drugs? What the hell, Mercedes? You really think I'd do something like that?"
She covered her face. "I know, I know, but I didn't know what else to think! People around here are either selling drugs or robbing people and I know how you feel about stealing."
"You also know how I feel about drugs!"
"Excuse me if 'getting paid for wrecking the city with her super powers' wasn't my first choice!" She glared at me. "Yes, I thought you were selling drugs. When Sam showed me that money, I thought 'maybe Santana keeps getting kidnapped because she's in trouble with drug dealers or the Knightmares or something' and you know what? That made me really, really mad at you. You'd be mad too if you were worrying about someone and you found out that they were doing something as stupid as running with these dope boys."
I could see the hurt and pain and worry etched on her face.
"So now that I know what happened, what? You want me to yell at you because somebody kidnapped you and gave you superpowers? You want me to punish you for having enemies and stalkers? Should I cuss you out for saving Sam? Is that gonna make you feel better? Is that gonna make us even?"
"You know that's not what I'm saying. Hold me accountable for lying," I said. "Put your foot down."
She watched me for a second and then spoke so quietly, I had to strain to hear her. "Okay. I'm not gonna enable you anymore. You're my best friend. I love you. Stop doubting that. Don't lie to me and don't tell me the truth just because I'll get angry if you lie. Tell me the truth because you believe that you deserve my trust."
One day, you're going to have to be the person you say you are, Santanita.
"I'm never gonna lie to you again," I whispered. She didn't look convinced and that probably hurt more than anything. "Seriously. You were ready to end our friendship today because of how shitty I've been to you and I don't ever want to push you the edge like that again. I don't want to be a liar. I don't want to be 'emotionally unavailable' or manipulative or whatever else I've been. I've been a shitty friend for a really long time. You… you didn't even get a chance to say goodbye because I didn't tell you how bad she was doing."
The subject change caught her off guard. She took a deep breath and settled back against the pillow so that she could stare up at the ceiling.
"The last thing I wanted was for you to be alone when she died," Mercedes whispered. I could hear the threat of tears in her voice. "I would've never gone on that stupid cruise if I knew she wasn't doing well. I would've come home. You know that, right? You know I wanted to be there with you when it happened?"
I nodded. "I know. It wasn't your fault. It was mine. I should have told you that she was getting worse. You deserved a chance to say goodbye and I took that from you. She was your abuela, too."
Mercedes shook her head. "I should've come home to see her more."
"You had school. That was your job. And you were doing great."
"I should've made sure you were doing okay and asked about the will and the money-"
I scowled. "Hey, stop that. I'm not gonna let you blame yourself. That was all me."
"I should've figured out that something was wrong. I was so caught up in school and Sam-" She lost her hold, bursting into tears. "I barely made it back in time for the funeral. You had to make the arrangements by yourself and-"
I hugged her tightly. "Shut your crazy mouth, silly. You didn't know. You didn't have your phone. It's not your fault. Okay? You hear me?"
She nodded and scrubbed her face with her hands, slowly letting her breath even out.
"Not your fault," I whispered. When she looked like she was calm again, I released her. "I'm sorry that I even brought that up today. I couldn't control what I was saying."
"So you weren't still mad about that?" she asked.
I sighed. "I haven't thought about that since it happened, but maybe subconsciously, it stayed with me. Wes was able to tap into my emotions somehow and he made me release some weird, dark stuff that was inside me. But it's out now. I'm not holding on to that anymore."
"That stuff you said… about knowing that I would leave someday… about not trusting me…"
I closed my eyes in shame. "Everything that I said came from somewhere inside me. I'm not gonna deny that. He twisted it, but it was there."
"I will never abandon you, Santana," she said fervently. "I don't know what I have to say. I don't know what I have to do to make you know that."
I stared at my best friend, the most loving, forgiving, selfless person I had ever met, and I knew what I needed to say.
"You have to go."
"Go to LA." She opened her mouth to protest, but I kept talking. "Call Holly Holiday up tomorrow and take your dream job. Opportunities like this only come once in a lifetime and I will never forgive myself if you miss it. Show me how much you love me by loving yourself. It's like you said earlier- I have to love you enough to not let you hurt yourself for me. If you don't take this job, that's exactly what you're doing."
She untangled her arms from mine and folded them across her chest. "I'm not gonna do that. I'm not gonna leave you here by yourself."
"It will get you away from this danger-"
"And leave you to fend for yourself with all this madness going on? Yeah, no. Not gonna happen." She reached over me and turned off the lamp on the bedside table. "Goodnight, crazy."
"Hey!" I turned the light back on. "You can't turn the light off and expect me to just go to sleep like we weren't in the middle of a conversation! I'm not a parrot!"
She leaned over and turned the light off again. "I'll think about it. When things calm down around here, we can talk about it again."
"But it might be too late by-"
Mercedes faked the world's loudest yawn. "I'm exhausted, girl. I need my beauty rest. Let's talk about it later."
"Fine," I huffed. "Goodnight."
She laughed at herself for a full two minutes before I hit her in the face with Mr. Ziggles.
"Santana! Hey! Wake up!" Someone was shaking me repeatedly. Annoyingly.
I opened my eyes and Sam was standing next to the bed, staring at me with wide eyes. The lights were on. It was still dark outside. Mercedes was nowhere to be found.
"Go away," I groaned.
"You might want to see this." He threw back my covers and I hissed at him like a wild animal. "Come on."
I reluctantly sat up and stretched before trudging out of the room with my eyes half open. "This better be important. I'm really not in the mood for any more-"
I stopped dead in my tracks as I entered the living room.
Mercedes was pressed fearfully against the wall while Ben sat on the couch, the definition of calm. The coffee table had been shattered into a million wooden splinters and on top of the mess was a man in a plaid grey suit. He was tied up with the sheets that I'd given Ben to sleep with. He had a pillow case over his head.
"-foolishness," I finished.
"The robots found this guy lurking around the fire escape," Ben explained. "I checked his pockets and found these."
He held up a pad of sticky notes. I walked forward, stepping around the mess, and took the pad. Only the top sticky note was written on.
A Threat: I will kill you.
A Promise: You will kill her.
The lead weight of dread and impending doom dropped into my stomach. The people that controlled my mind were going to try and make me kill… who? Mercedes? Brittany? Quinn?
I wanted to vomit.
I swallowed thickly and forced myself to be calm. I had already had enough out-of-control episodes. I wasn't interested in having another one. For some strange reason, I didn't feel the surge of emotion that I'd expected, the panic and fear. I just felt a low hum of anger and a lot of focused determination.
"Stand him up," I said. My voice was eerily calm.
Ben raised an eyebrow at me, but complied with my request
"Sam, hold him."
Sam looked back and forth between me and Ben. Ben just shrugged, so Sam stepped forward, looped his arms under the guy's armpits, and held him up. The guy's arms were tied uncomfortably behind his back and his feet were crossed and tied together at the ankle and the knee. Once Sam had him secured, I ripped the pillowcase off of his head.
He wasn't someone I knew. Kurt wouldn't send someone important to do a simple job like this. He was a peon, a young one at that. He looked like he couldn't have been older than 18. He was white with short brown hair and watery brown eyes. Someone, probably Ben, had put tape over his mouth. I ripped it off and he gasped in pain.
"Where is he?" I said.
"Where is who?" he sniffled.
"Don't play dumb with me. I'm not in the mood for games." I gripped his chin tightly, painfully, so that he would not misunderstand.
My eyes flickered on of their own accord, powered by my anger.
"Where. Is. Kurt. Hummel?"
"I-I-I don't know!" He squirmed and tried to move away, but he was tied tightly and Sam had a good grip on him. "I don't know anything!"
"Something tells me that that's just not true. Don't worry, though. My friend Ben has a little present that he likes to give to people who don't know anything."
Ben snapped his fingers. A small ball of flame hovered over his palm, burning brightly in the dimly-lit living room. Mercedes shrank further against the wall and Sam almost dropped the guy on the floor. Ben lowered the ball of flame until it was right in front of the guy's crotch.
"Please don't do that!" he begged. "Please! I don't know anything, I swear to God!"
"You better know something because I'm about to grill your hot dog, man." Ben inched closer to the guy's zipper.
"No, please! I don't know!" he sobbed.
"That's too bad." The flames licked at the plaid pants and two seconds later, the weenie roast had begun.
"FUCK! FUCK! I DON'T KNOW WHERE THE FUCK HE-"
I slapped him hard across the face. "If you wake up my neighbors, you're going to jail. So I suggest you shut your face up… unless of course, you have something you need to tell me."
Everything came out of him in a big, wheezing whine. "I don't know where Kurt is- I get orders from Wes, but he's gone now! He left a few hours ago! He sent me and another guy out to deliver the sticky notes! The other guy's in Rockmore! That's all I know, I swear! I fucking swear!"
Fumbling, I pulled out my phone and started calling Brittany as fast I could.
"Okay, that's enough," I said to Ben.
Ben killed his fireball, made a fist, and wiggled his fingers. A cool, icy mist came out of his hand and snuffed out the flames. He took the pillow case and shoved it in the guy's mouth.
"This was for Wes, but he's not here and you are, so enjoy," Ben said before punching the guy right in the dick. Sam dropped him onto the floor. As the guy howled in pain, Ben pulled out his own phone.
After what seemed like an eternity, Brittany finally answered.
"Santana! Is everything okay over there?" She sounded frantic.
The fact that she was alive and breathing relieved my anxiety.
"Yeah, we just had a little security incident over here." I poked our new friend with my foot and he groaned loudly.
"Puck! Conference call! Now!" Ben barked into his phone.
"We did, too," Brittany said. "I was just about to call you. There was a guy lurking on the roof. David says he's one of Kurt's men."
"What did you do with him?"
"David and the robot beat the crap out of him and gave him swirlies in the bathroom. Thank god Rachel's not here tonight. Quinn is still knocked out from her meds."
"Are you okay?" I asked.
"Yeah, now that I can hear your voice." I could practically hear her blushing through the phone. "I was worried that Wes went back to your house."
"No, this guy says that Wes left town."
"And you believe him?"
"His crotch was on fire when he said it, for what it's worth. I'm not sure that I care either way. Even if Wes left, I know he's coming back."
The robot, who had been standing dutifully on the fire escape, walked into the living room, picked up our new friend, and threw him over his shoulder.
"Hey, R2D2. What are you doing?" I asked. The robot didn't answer.
"Did your robot just pick up your guy, too?" Brittany asked.
"Yeah." I looked warily at Ben, who was staring back at me. I put Brittany on speakerphone and indicated that he should do the same. "Care to explain, Ben?"
He grudgingly pushed the speakerphone button as he answered me. "We can't let them go back."
"Where are you taking them?" Brittany asked.
Puck laughed loudly through the phone. "Don't worry, we're not going to kill them. I mean, we were going to kill them, but we figured you guys wouldn't like that."
Mercedes put her hands on her hips. "She asked you a question. Where are you taking them?"
"We know some people that will keep an eye on them for us," David chimed in.
"Nobody special. They're regular criminals. Once we deal with the Kurt problem, we'll figure out what to do with these guys."
"How do we deal with the Kurt problem?" I asked.
"I don't know," Ben said evenly, "you tell me."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
He plopped back down on the couch and started to smooth out the linens that had been disturbed in the scuffle. "We have a lot of people involved in this thing now…" he looked around the room pointedly, "and we're taking that into consideration. We're willing to resolve this in a way that suits your world view."
"You don't even know us," Mercedes snapped. "What do you know about our 'world view'?"
"Not much, but most people would probably rather see a 'bad guy' get thrown into some kind of prison than have me kill him in their living room." He said this while he was fluffing a pillow and the whole conversation started to feel a little surreal.
"But we could totally just kill them right now," Puck said rudely. "Your choice. You already know what my vote is."
"I'm inclined to agree with you," David said. "They could escape. It's too great of a risk."
Mercedes straightened her spine, trying her best not to look intimidated, but I knew her. She was afraid of these cold-blooded killers that I had let into our home – the ones that wore plaid and the ones that didn't. "I think killing them is a little extreme."
"I… I'm not so sure about that," Sam said timidly. Mercedes's eyes nearly popped out of her head. "Hear me out, babe. These guys have been terrorizing us for weeks. I never knew if they were going to come into the house and hurt us or kill us. They're capable of anything."
"Anyone is capable of anything as far as we know, Sam," Brittany said.
Mercedes shook her head. "We need to vote on this."
Puck snorted. "The hell we do! You don't get a vote. You're not even involved."
"I'm not involved?" Mercedes put her hands on her hips. Sam and I instinctively stepped back.
"Uh oh," Sam muttered.
I covered my mouth to hide my grin. Being rude and dismissive to me was one thing, but Puck didn't know Mercedes. She was not one to be dismissed.
"So let me get this straight: your enemy kidnapped my roommate because he was trying to get to you, he put a gun to my fiancé's head and threatened to kill him, he's got guys in suits sneaking all up and through my house threatening my life, and y'all just smashed my coffee table for no good reason- but I'm not involved?" She stuck her finger in Ben's face. "You don't get to decide if somebody gets killed in my living room. You know why? Because. You. Don't. Pay. Rent. Here. So you guys need to figure out your backup plan, call whatever criminals you need to call, and take your asses back to bed."
She spun on her heel and stormed out of the room, muttering under her breath as she walked by. When she got to the doorway of her bedroom, she called out, "And the living room better not look like this when I get up in the morning!"
The door slammed behind her causing the three of us to jump.
Nobody moved or spoke until the robot's eyes lit up and the sound of Himanshu's laughter filled the room.
"Whatever," Puck muttered.
"Serves you right," I said under my breath.
Ben pointed at me. "You see why I'm not nice to people? Somebody else runs their mouth and I get yelled at!"
"She turns into her mother when she gets mad," Sam explained.
"She sure does," I said, smiling fondly. "I love that lady."
After a million trips to Mercedes's house, I could quite easily imagine Mrs. Jones wading through all of toys that we'd scattered on the floor and calling out, "the living room better not look like this when I get back from the store!"
Since the only option left on the table was to leave Kurt's men with some criminal babysitters, McKinley ended their conference call to make arrangements. Half an hour later, the robots took flight with their precious cargo in tow. Two hours later, the robots were back and Kurt's men were nowhere to be found.
Sam got locked out of Mercedes's room and knew that waking her up was probably gonna be a bad idea, so naturally he ended up in my bed.
"Can you put a sock in his mouth?" Brittany giggled.
I thought about it briefly. "There isn't a sock big enough for that mouth."
It was 5:45AM at that point and we had been talking on FaceTime because despite being exhausted, neither of us could go back to sleep. Brittany was in Quinn's bed, stroking her hair absently while her friend enjoyed the peaceful slumber of the heavily medicated. I was propped up on pillows, petting Ziggles and keeping a safe distance from Sam the Sleep Kicker. We both had our TVs set to the same channel so that we could watch TV together.
I wanted her there with me so badly that it hurt.
"My sleep schedule is going to be even more jacked up than it already was," I complained.
"Yeah, me too. I think I could sleep if you were here."
The corner of my mouth quirked up of its own accord. "Same. I like waking up with you. How do you always look so beautiful this early in the morning?"
"Stop it. I look like a train wreck," she laughed. She looked down at Quinn, checking quickly to see if she was still sedated. "It was really hard for me to leave you. I… I almost didn't. I feel like a bad friend for wanting to stay with you and a bad girlfriend for leaving you there."
"You're the best friend that Quinn could have, Britt. I wish she realized how much you're willing to give up for her," I said. "You're the best girlfriend I could ever have, too. You saved me from like, my inner darkness or something. I could've hurt Mercedes or Sam or myself. I can't thank you enough for what you did."
I love you.
It was the wrong time for that, but it didn't stop me from thinking it or from feeling it.
I looked away, hoping that the words weren't written all over my face.
She smiled. "You don't have to thank me. You saved me from Kurt and the cops. I'm just starting to pay you back."
We sat in silence for a moment, letting the morning newscast play in the background.
I remembered something from earlier that I wanted to ask her about. "What was that song that you and Mercedes were singing earlier?"
She tucked her head down. "It's a hymn that she likes. After you disappeared, she sang it a lot. She would sing it whenever she felt scared and it made her feel a little bit better. I told her I liked it and that it made me feel better, too. I'm not really religious, but sometimes it feels nice to sing or pray or just do something, even if you don't think it's really gonna work the way it's supposed to. She remembered that I liked it, so she sang it for me today because I was scared for Quinn."
I smiled. "She's the best, isn't she?"
"She really is. Oh wow." Brittany sat up straight in bed. "Are you watching this? You remember that guy that looks like a stuffed animal? They're locking him up and throwing away the key."
I looked up at the TV just as the words "Howard Bamboo" flashed across the screen. His pudgy sad face appeared, but I couldn't hear what the reporter was saying about him.
I reached for the remote and turned up the volume just slightly, but by then he was gone and his image was replaced with that of the smarmy weasel-prosecutor, Sebastian Smythe. He was standing on the steps of the courthouse being swarmed by reporters.
"Typically, a pre-sentencing investigation takes several months," the Channel 5 reporter said. "This investigation only took one. How were you able to complete the process so quickly?"
"To put it bluntly, Mr. Bamboo is not a good man." Sebastian had this pseudo-grave expression on his face, as if he was genuinely torn up about the fact that Howard Bamboo wasn't a saint. "He's got an extensive criminal record, but we know he's dealt at higher levels in organized crime than what he's been arrested for in the past. We didn't need to dig any deeper than that."
The image cut to Howard Bamboo being escorted out of the courthouse in an orange jumpsuit. Lumbering behind him was a large, burly woman with curly hair. She looked like she wanted to break every camera around them. She also looked like she could do it with her bare hands.
The reporter's voice-over accompanied the footage. "Bamboo's attorney, Shannon Bieste-Menkins, had this to say after the hearing."
"Holy shit! That's the lawyer that's suing Uncle Zippy!" I hissed.
Shannon Bieste-Menkins pointed directly into one of the cameras and snarled "This man does not deserve to spend his life in prison. Justice has not been served."
The newscast returned to the studio where the anchors wrapped up the segment and moved on to the next topic, which was the upcoming presidential debate. As clips of President Howell and Mayor Schuester on the campaign trail played in the background, I tried to remember why Shannon Bieste-Menkins looked familiar.
"Uncle Zippy? Is that the guy that runs the convenience store on your street?" she asked.
"Yeah, Zippy Mart," I said distractedly. "They're suing him for negligence. They think he messed up Bamboo's alibi. God, I can't figure out why that Bieste lady is giving me a crazy case of déjà vu,"
"That's a weird way to spell beast," she said. "It would probably be more fitting to spell it the other way. That woman is ripped."
"Yeah, her press conference looked like a WWE pre-fight interview. I thought she was about to challenge that Smythe guy to a cage match."
"That wouldn't even be a fair fight," Brittany laughed. "He's about the size of my pinky. Shannon Bieste would eat him alive."
The human brain works in weird ways.
Sometimes, it takes just the right ordering of words and just the right amount of sleep deprivation for your brain to make certain connections. I think if Brittany had made that comment an hour earlier or worded it differently, I wouldn't have thought anything of it.
When she said it then and like that, it jostled something in my memory, a memory that wasn't even the one I was racking my brain for.
"Feed those bitches to the beast and this will all be over with."
"Fuck," I whispered, sitting up straight in my bed.
"I think- shit. What if-" My eyes were darting back and forth and I couldn't make my thoughts come out coherently.
"Slow down, San. Your brain's moving faster than your mouth."
I took a deep breath. "The cop from the hospital, Paul? When he was talking about those girls that were going to expose him, he said that the cops should 'feed those bitches to the beast.'"
Brittany froze as she realized what I had realized.
"Not 'beast,'" she said slowly, "Bieste."
"Feed those bitches to the Bieste and this will all be over with.' Oh my god," she whispered.
I flopped back onto my pillows. "This might be more far-reaching than we thought."
"I need to call Shelby," she said. "We have to meet with her as soon as possible. We need to fill her in on everything."
"Why?" I asked skeptically. "I think we can handle it ourselves."
"We need her because we only know about stuff that's happening right now," she explained. "Shelby knows Lima like the back of her hand, the history, the secrets. It's her job. She can use that fill in the blanks and make some sense of this stuff." She paused. "I still want to stop the cops from hurting people. Don't you?"
"I do, but… I don't know."
"I think Shelby can help us figure this out faster so we can put a stop to this craziness," she gauged my expression, "but I won't call her if you don't want me to."
I didn't really trust Shelby, but that wasn't what was holding me back. I still didn't think that I was the right person to be taking down the police department. I didn't doubt that Brittany was. She had the kind of steadfast conviction that made people want to follow her into impossible battles. I wanted to follow her, but she wanted to walk beside me, and therein lay the problem.
"Santana," she said softly. I looked up and saw her staring earnestly into the camera. "Paul was attacking me. You had every right to react the way you did."
In true Brittany fashion, somehow she knew what was really bothering me. Paul Karofsky's legs. It was hard to think about. It was hard to rationalize that I had done something so permanently damaging on a whim and that if we pursued this, I would have to do it again. There would be more high pressure, split-second decisions to make. I was going to fuck it up. I was going to go too far and I knew it.
This is the kind of shit that I don't talk about in interviews.
Along with not telling people that I became a superhero to win a pissing match with Finntastic, I also leave out the part about not wanting to be a superhero in the first place. I always give Brittany the credit that she's due, of course. I would be nothing without her. I just leave out the part where I sat shaking in my bed, sleep deprived and afraid of myself.
"I wanna do the right thing." I was practically begging, but I didn't even know what I was begging for. "I want to stop them, but I don't trust myself."
"Do you trust me?" she asked.
"Yes," I said honestly.
"Then let me be brave for you today. Tomorrow, too. The next day. Every day that you need it. I'll be brave for you." Her eyes were clear and shining brightly. "I'll be brave for you every day that you need me to be. Okay?"
I nodded and closed my eyes. I put the phone up against my cheek and took slow, deep breaths.
"I wish I was there with you now," she said quietly and I never needed anything more than I needed that right then.
"How can you be so gung-ho about this?" I asked, pulling the phone away from my face. "I'm practically shitting myself over here."
She sighed. "Honestly, I am afraid, but it's weird. I'm way more afraid of Wes than anything else. With the cops, it's like more… it's like we're jumping into a hole and we can't see the bottom. I'm worried about where we might land."
"Well, I can be brave for you, too, you know," I offered.
She looked down at Quinn and back at me. "You already are. You're brave for me in other ways."
I grinned. "Go call Shelby before she gets caught up in a story or something."
"I'll call you back." She blew me a kiss as she ended the call.
I deflated and sank back into my pillows. Brittany was right. We were afraid of different things. We were jumping into a hole and Brittany was afraid of finding out just how deep it went. I, on the other hand, was afraid of what we'd have to do to get back out.
A/N: So yeah, lots of Sancedes for your feels. I hope you found that enjoyable. I know there wasn't a lot of Brittana, but the next chapter is chock-full of Brittana goodness. It's the second half of what I wanted to do here. Much more Brittana, much more action. I feel like an advertisement. Chapter 18! Now with 50% more Brittana!
Just checked before posting this and we hit 1000 reviews today! Honestly, I'm floored. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this story over the past 2, almost 2.5 years now. Thank you for your continued readership, support, and good vibes. Thank you... just thank you.
Peace and Love,