Sometimes, Santana imagines she has something living inside of her.
She isn't cliché enough to call it a monster, though she thinks that she could understand why some people might, if they had ever felt the way she does.
In the past, she has never bothered with spending time thinking about it – or herself, much, in general – but now that she has so much alone time, she has a lot of opportunity to.. think.
She thinks mostly about Quinn and Brittany, but she also spends time thinking about herself; occasionally other people in the glee club, some of her closer friends on the Cheerios, her brother Martin and her cousin Javier (who got his driver's license last month and has been scaring her tia and mother to death).
Santana recognizes the thing inside of her that is other; it's something like a stranger living beneath her skin, dark and impenetrable. She isn't the imaginative type, so she never really allows herself to think of it with so much poetry. All she knows is, she feels uncomfortable in her own body, sometimes, and she finds herself doing and saying things that feel both utterly sincere and completely foreign at the same time.
That day on the bleachers – Santana has it burned into the blackness behind her eyelids, she's relived it so many times – Santana thinks that must have been some other person doing and saying those things.
Santana recoils from the idea that Brittany doesn't love her – of course she does. Brittany has loved her since they were small. That's a fundamental truth that Santana has built her life on.
Of course Brittany loves her.
Santana's gut curdles with sick anxiety when she confronts that question, and for the most part, she runs away from it.
Santana doesn't think that Brittany doesn't love her, so much that – well, Santana isn't sure Brittany could be in love with her, and that's the whole problem, isn't it?
On the surface of it, Santana wants to blame Brittany's fickleness and ability to 'love' everyone, to some extent. Brittany has a big heart, and she loves people. She obviously loves Quinn. Brittany loves everyone in the glee club. Brittany's ability to find most people lovable is part of the reason that Santana loves her.
It's just – if she goes around loving so many people, how can there be any left for Santana?
How is there any sort of difference?
It's those sorts of questions that haunt Santana and make it hard for her to sleep. She spends the weeks after that confrontation in a nearly zombie-like state, unable to eat or really function properly. She sits on the back row in glee and refuses the solos Mr. Schue wants to give her. She barely keeps up in Cheerios. She feels small and withdrawn, as if something inside of her had drawn tight and tense, pulling her skin taut.
Coach Sylvester notices, but for once – for whatever reason – she doesn't berate her. Santana is grateful, as much as she can be; and in turn, she drives the girls as hard as she possibly can.
She sees Quinn and Brittany holding hands in the hallway, kissing goodbye at their lockers. She sees the way Quinn smiles at Brittany, and how Brittany seems so –
It takes about three weeks, but Santana quits the glee club.
They don't let her go quietly. Rachel Berry stages an "intervention" that involves everyone except, conspicuously, the two people that Santana simultaneously yearns for and can't stand to be around.
"Santana, what is going on with you?"
Rachel has big eyes, and always seems so concerned and intense. Hudson sits beside her with a mildly constipated expression, while Lady Hummel (what is he wearing?) and Mr. Bowtie flank them. Santana knows that Mike, Sam, Puck, Mercedes, and Artie are somewhere, but she can't really focus beyond the four people in front of her.
She blinks. She wonders if she needs to get her vision checked. It's a little blurry.
"It's nothing, Buckbeak. I just have too much going on this year. It's my senior year, and I'm captain of the Cheerios, and I don't have time for glee."
Rachel presses her lips together, cocking her head. She leans out and places a hand on Santana's knee – which sends a jolt through Santana, because it's been so long since she had any kind of casual physical contact like that.
"It's more than that. We care about you. You have a lot of talent and a creative soul, and I think you need the glee club, just as much as it needs you."
Santana takes time to really look at Rachel Berry, something she has been avidly avoiding since freshman year. Rachel isn't so unfortunate looking these days – she got a tan, somehow, and a better haircut (but her wardrobe.. sheesh) – yet she's still that dopey, too-intense, too-high pitched girl that Santana has tried to ignore as much as she can. Santana scoots herself back on the table, sliding away from Rachel's hand, and re-adjusts her skirt around her thighs.
Finn frowns at her, and it makes Santana's lip curl.
"I appreciate the concern, Anne Frank, but I'm just.. I just can't do it all. I have to have priorities."
"When did glee club stop being the best part of your day?"
Santana rolls her eyes, folding her arms over her chest. "A long time ago, short stack."
"Is this about Quinn?" Tina asks. It makes Santana's head jerk in her direction. Where the hell did Tina even come from?
Mercedes elbows her roughly, causing her to squeak.
Artie looks at Santana nervously, playing with his hands in his lap. "You know, Santana, when Brittany broke up with me, I had a hard time with it, too."
Santana's throat closes on bile; she feels nausea tighten her abdomen. The room spins lazily around her, and her fingers clench into white-knuckled fists on the cold tabletop.
"What are you talking about, hot wheels?"
Artie clears his throat, but won't look Santana in the eye.
Kurt and Blaine share a glance.
Santana feels hot and cold all at once. She presses her lips together to stop herself from puking.
"We understand how it must be for you," Rachel says, very carefully. "We know that you and Brittany were – close."
"What do you know about it?" Santana snarls. "You haven't had any friends since your dad bribed Shelly Heckman in the first grade to play with you at recess."
Rachel flinches, visibly sinking into Finn, who wraps an arm around her. He squints at Santana, almost confused, and Santana lifts her chin in challenge.
"Look, this is a sweet gesture. Really." Santana's obvious sarcasm belies that statement. "But I'm okay. Brittany and Quinn – we're cool. We're still friends."
Santana thinks that lie tastes more like bitterness and bile than anything else ever could.
She swallows past it. "This is about me. This is about what I need to do. Glee club – it was fun, okay? But it isn't enough for me. I need to go all the way with the Cheerios this year. I'm working on a scholarship, and we need a national win for me to get it."
Rachel studies her, biting on her bottom lip.
Kurt clears his throat. "College is important, Santana, but so is – so is expressing yourself. So is showcasing your talent. Have you ever thought about applying for NYADA?"
Santana stares at him for half a heartbeat before she snorts.
"Seriously, glitter pants? Do you think I really have enough stunning footage from competition solos that I could piece together an application?"
The room's silence is thick and dense. Santana bites back a laugh.
"No, Berry and Shamu over here took all of that. The rest of us never stood a chance. Including you, Wheezy,"
Mercedes lifts a brow. "I don't want to go to NYADA."
Santana shrugs. "You know what I mean."
Blaine starts, "we care about you, Santana –"
"I'm sure." Santana slides him a look, hopping down off the table. "I like you guys all right, too. I'll still say hi in the hallways. Just subtract me from the headcount of Frodo's backup singers this season."
Tina looks after Santana, and Santana thinks that she understands the expression on her face – she seems both angry and perplexed, an emotion that Santana knows fairly well. Is it just now dawning on Chopsticks that Rachel stole all their thunder over the last three years? How could she be so oblivious?
The whispers start before she even clears the doorway.
"Sam – you ought to try something –"
"Do you think I'm suicidal -?"
"You used to be her boyfriend –"
"I could never compete with – well, actually, I thought it was Quinn that Santana was hung up on. There was always something sort of.. strange between them."
"No, it's definitely Brittany," Tina says.
"I thought that about her and Quinn too," Mike pipes up.
Santana closes her eyes, digging her nails into the flesh of her palms. Her friends – what used to be her friends – can't find anything better to do than debate amongst themselves about which blonde Santana is more lovesick over.
Is it really that obvious?
Why do they have such a hard time seeing it, then?
It surprises Santana more than she wants to admit how much she misses Quinn through the holidays.
She expects to miss Brittany – Halloween comes and goes, and, for the first time, she spends it alone in her room instead of dressed up and out at a party somewhere, matching Brittany perfectly with coordinated costumes – so she has a coping mechanism built up for that. It's much harder to deal with the absence of Quinn (who has always snuck up on her, like an evening tide, slow but sure and utterly), and Santana's chest aches when she thinks about the Quinn's scent, or her laughter, or the way she would have looked – all pressed and pretty, with a ribbon in her hair and the perfect smile on her lips – during Thanksgiving with Abuela and the cousins.
Santana doesn't doubt it would have been that way. She has always known that the both of them loved her family – they both slid right in, as if they always belonged. Santana was sometimes jealous of Brittany growing up, because it was sort of uncanny the way Brittany picked up Spanish (she speaks it better than Santana does, sometimes, and with less of an accent – how messed up is that?) and how much Abuela likes her, and how Mami never found any sort of fault with Brittany. And Brittany was always the one causing the mischief! Santana smirks, despite herself, when she remembers how angry and futile she felt as a ten-year-old being grounded for whatever shenanigans Brittany caused. Brittany, ever the opportunist, always looked appropriately glum and morose, but never got in trouble.
Quinn was much quieter and less – well, less obvious about it, but she snuck up on the other Lopezes just the same as she did Santana, and it feels naked and empty without her in the house. Brittany was always a natural part of them, like skin, but Quinn was more a sort of pleasant surprise – the sort that makes one realize that, before it came along, things just weren't quite right. It was incomplete, somehow, until Quinn; though they never felt a sense of lacking anything at all.
Santana hurts, a hot burning behind her ribs, when she thinks about that.
Santana is lonely. She has never been this lonely before.
Her mother had battered her with questions and accusations when she stopped spending time with Brittany last year. It was easier to fend her off then than it is now – she still had Quinn for a majority of that – but Maribel seems to sense the innate and bottomless sadness in Santana. She asks after them almost every day, but she doesn't push, not the way she had done before. Maribel realizes that it's different this time.
Santana doesn't know if she likes it better this way, or if it only makes it worse.
It snows the week before Christmas, and because Lima is a sleepy town with only one snow plow, they get out for break early.
Santana spends the time in her room, watching mindless television and trying not to think.
Trying not to feel.
She's seen it a million times, but she lets Martin talk her into watching one of those cheesy claymation Rudolph movies. Martin has always had some sort of weird obsession with Christmas – one year, for Halloween, he went as Santa Claus (what? Who does that?) – and Santana usually avoids him like the plague for the whole month of December. Santana has nothing against Christmas, personally, because it means she gets new clothes and gadgets and money, but she isn't much for the decorations or caroling or goodwill-towards-men attitude.
Still, it's better to spend time with your cheerful, albeit stinky, brother, than cooped up alone on Christmas Eve.
Santana is contemplating taking a nap – even though it's five in the afternoon, and overcast, and she'd likely sleep all night anyway – when the doorbell rings.
Santana doesn't budge. She just shifts, sinking deeper into the couch.
It rings again.
"Santanita, go get the door," Martin nudges her.
Santana scowls. "You do it, elf."
Santana wants to muster up the energy to argue with him – really – but he keeps his eyes glued to the television and he's eating a gingerbread cookie and he looks so much like a Hallmark movie that it makes her sick. Eyes rolling, she launches herself upwards.
"If it's Goodwill or something, I'm going to tell them to fuck off."
"Santana!" Martin sounds personally offended. "Give them a donation."
"Oh, shut up,"
Santana's mother is blasting Christmas music from a radio in the kitchen. Santana wonders if a person can actually do physical damage with excessive eye rolling.
She braces herself, tucking an arm against her abdomen, before she opens the door with a little huff.
"We don't want any."
It takes a moment before anything registers – for one, there's about half a foot of snow covering the ground, so everything is white and gray and glittering in the half-light – and for two, Santana thinks it could possibly be a mirage. She can think of no other reason for why Quinn is standing on the porch right now.
Quinn's voice is quiet and reserved – much like it often is – but it still makes a lump form in Santana's throat. Her fingers fall away from the doorknob loosely while she stands there, mouth slightly agape. She doesn't even realize how ridiculous she looks until Quinn smiles.
Scowling, Santana runs a hand through her hair. "Why are you here?"
Quinn pauses, lifting a golden eyebrow. "Are you going to let me in?"
Santana debates on it – but she can't see a reason not to. Reluctantly, she pulls away from the door, sliding her body to the side. Quinn steps in, bringing with her the cold – melted snowflakes on her red peacoat, in her hair, in her eyelashes; her face is pink from the wind, and her hair smells like winter. Santana shivers, closing the door abruptly.
Santana's eyes go wide when she realizes she's wearing the footed onesie her Aunt Karina bought her.
"You look ridiculous."
Santana frowns. "Why are you here, Quinn?"
Quinn's smile fades, and Santana reads a darkness in her eyes – the kind that make them seem opaque and dense, and almost gray.
Santana's throat closes.
"Tanita? Who is it?"
Santana flinches when she hears her mother's voice.
"Don't lie to me!"
Santana rolls her eyes at the dramatic crash of a baking sheet clattering to the floor.
"You'll wish you stayed away," Santana promises Quinn only a heartbeat before Maribel comes skidding into the foyer.
"Quinn! My precious girl!"
Santana makes a gagging noise at the way Maribel holds Quinn's face and kisses it repeatedly.
"I'm so glad you're here!"
Quinn's laughter is muffled against Maribel's hands and face.
"Are you here for dinner? Of course you are!"
"Mami, let her go," Santana says with a sigh. She knows it's useless – she won't be able to pry Quinn away for another half hour.
"Oooh, what did you get me?" Maribel's tone is teasing.
Quinn replies with a quiet smile, "it's for Santana."
Maribel shifts, turning to face Santana, sliding her a loaded look. Santana only just realizes that Quinn is holding a small package wrapped in shiny green paper.
Santana frowns at her mother. "Ma, enough. You're killing her. Leave us alone."
"She's been so cranky lately," Maribel tells Quinn with a pout.
Quinn lifts an eyebrow, the corner of her mouth inching upwards in what might be a smirk – Santana grabs Quinn's wrist roughly and starts pulling her towards the staircase.
"You girls don't stay up there all night! We have lots to catch up on!"
"Jesus, Mother," Santana mutters.
"Your mom is cute," Quinn says. Santana can hear the smile in her voice.
Almost as an afterthought, she drops Quinn's wrist, and they finish climbing the stairs in silence.
Santana doesn't know why she should feel so nervous about this. It's just Quinn. But her heart starts kicking in fits behind her ribcage, battering her lungs, making it hard to breathe. She sits down carefully on the edge of her bed, keeping her eyes on Quinn – who only takes a moment to look around before she, too, sits on the bed.
Being this close to Quinn is almost painful – in an intoxicating kind of way.
Santana can't help but wonder where Brittany is, why she isn't here, too.
Her heart hurts.
Quinn doesn't bother to take her coat off, or to remove her black leather gloves. It gives Santana the impression that she doesn't intend to stay long.
She doesn't know why that makes her feel almost dizzy.
"This is for you." Quinn doesn't offer any kind of explanation. Instead, she sets the package in Santana's lap.
Santana turns to look at it, picking it up delicately. It's so light that Santana imagines there must be nothing but air inside of it.
Slowly, she pulls at the corner of the box, picking at the tape. It takes time because her fingertips seem numb – they fumble, and her cheeks redden, before she finally loses patience and begins tearing at it in earnest.
Quinn sits silently beside her, and Santana doesn't have the courage to look at her.
Underneath the wrapping paper is a box depicting a snow globe. Without a pause, she begins picking at the edges of it, too, because she knows that there isn't a snow globe inside.
Finally, when it's open, she isn't sure what it is that she sees. Newspaper fills up most of the space of the box, but directly in the center of it is some – ceramic? Glass? – object. Carefully, Santana retrieves it, and she spends a moment studying it before looking at Quinn in question.
"It's a seashell," Quinn explains, her voice flat. Santana doesn't miss the way Quinn looks at it – her eyes are dull and distant – and that her face is expressionless. "Brittany made it."
Santana turns back to look at the object in the palm of her hand. It fits easily enough; she can enclose it almost entirely if she curls her fingers over it. The colors are pale pink and sapphire blue and flecks of yellow and red – it obviously isn't meant to mimic a natural seashell. It is good, though – Santana squints, pulling it close to her face. She can make out the tiny ridges along the back and the perfect curve of the shell. She slides a thumb over it, and then inside. She almost wants to put it to her ear to see if she can hear the ocean.
"How did she make this?"
"Out of glass." Santana detects the warmth – the pride – in Quinn, when she says this. "She was working on it for weeks."
Santana doesn't know what to say. She continues to rub the pad of her thumb over the slick, even surface.
The silence drags, making Santana claustrophobic.
"I don't get it."
Quinn just nods. "It's okay. I didn't think you would."
Santana waits for the ball to drop – but instead, Quinn is infuriatingly quiet, and it makes Santana want to shake her.
"Are you going to help me out, here, Q?"
At first, Santana doesn't think Quinn is going to respond. She watches Quinn's face – the way it seems frozen, as if Quinn has turned off all emotion; but Santana knows enough, by now, to know that Quinn does that when everything inside of her is too much. It makes a trepidation grow in Santana, tightening her diaphragm. She exhales in an attempt to loosen it.
Quinn closes her eyes, briefly, and seems to compress in on herself.
"Brittany gave me the snow globe." Quinn says quietly. She flicks her eyes at Santana – a quick glance – before they dart away. "She made you the seashell."
Santana looks at the box again.
"It has snowmen. You like snowmen."
Quinn's smile is brittle and sad. "She said the same thing to me when I opened it."
Santana bites her lip.
Quinn sighs, but it's so quiet that Santana doesn't hear it so much as she senses it.
"She isn't okay. She isn't – right."
Santana frowns. "What?"
"She hasn't been normal since what happened. She just isn't… happy."
Santana feels momentarily stunned, but she doesn't have time to digest it, because then Quinn says –
"She needs to be with you."
Santana stares at Quinn with utter shock for a moment before she lets out a derisive snort. "Quinn, she isn't – look. She picked you. Okay?"
Quinn swallows. She very determinedly keeps her face away from Santana, pointed at the wall.
"She only didn't choose you because you never asked. You never even offered."
Santana feels suddenly angry – she shifts, turning her body towards Quinn, her free hand curling into a loose fist in her lap. "You don't know – don't presume to – don't say things like that, Fabray. You don't know anything about us."
Quinn doesn't respond immediately, and the longer the silence grows between them, the more infuriated Santana becomes.
"You're right. I don't."
Quinn's quiet admission makes the fight drain out of Santana.
She feels hollow and now, somehow – empty.
"I thought that I did. I tried to. But I never did. Not really."
Santana swallows. The way heaviness drags at her gut lets her know she's done something terribly wrong – even if she can't quite pinpoint it yet – and the stilted sadness in Quinn's voice makes her ribs ache.
"I didn't mean it like that, Quinn." Santana tries to match Quinn's softness.
Quinn shrugs. "Either way, it's true."
Santana gnaws on the inside of her cheek.
Quinn runs a hand through her hair – still so short, still such a shock to Santana – before she sighs, this time louder.
"I want her to be happy. I want you to be happy. There's an easy solution for that."
Santana's eyebrows furrow. "What are you saying, Q?"
Quinn scoffs. "You're even more clueless now than you were before."
Santana glares – she has the urge to shove Quinn, or something – but Quinn just shakes her head.
"You have to talk to her. Make it right."
Santana shrugs helplessly. "I don't know how. Don't you think I would have done it by now if I did?"
Quinn turns to look at her – and the expression on her face is heartbreaking. Her eyes are wet and heavy, almost black; she presses her lips together to keep them from shaking.
"No. I don't – I really don't."
Santana doesn't know what to say. Quinn's name hangs there between them, weak and pleading, though for what, Santana doesn't have a clue.
"It's fine." Quinn blinks, sucking in a breath. "I'm done – I don't want to talk about that, Santana."
Santana feels like she can't breathe, and she doesn't even really understand why.
She doesn't know why looking at Quinn hurts – such a sharp, nagging pain in her side, just below her lungs. Why does Quinn's smell make her so sad?
"I missed you." Santana says it with simple honesty. Quinn nearly flinches, caught somewhere between distrust and confusion.
"I… missed you too, Santana." Quinn's tone is guarded.
Santana doesn't know why – she doesn't think about it – instead, she slides forward, her palm coming up to cup Quinn's cheek.
Quinn doesn't pull away, but knowledge of what Santana is going to do reflects in Quinn's eyes. Santana wonders, abstractly, how Quinn could possibly know it before even she did – but then her lips are pushing against Quinn's, and all of the air vacates her body; leaving her hot and suffocating. Quinn's lips are scorching, though her nose is still cold, and Santana steadies Quinn's face with her other hand, discarding the glass seashell on her bed.
Quinn doesn't respond immediately, except to bring her fingers up to circle Santana's wrist lightly. Santana feels Quinn's breath on her cheek, warm and humid, and in a moment Quinn angles her head so that their mouths fit together more securely.
Neither one of them attempts to deepen the kiss, or to move in any way – Santana is frozen, stunned by her own unpredictable moxie, and Quinn is reserved, almost in disbelief. Santana spends that long, breathless moment swiping her thumb over the curve of Quinn's cheekbone, chasing the pink chill that settled there.
Finally, Quinn's lips part, and she shifts until their bodies are closer together. Santana sucks in a breath – at last – and her head swims drunkenly when Quinn's tongue pushes into her mouth. Santana doesn't remember kissing Quinn and feeling this, that her body is floating and numb and tingly all at once – she doesn't remember the gallop-crash-stomp of her heart, or the way her blood races, igniting her nerves, or how her fingertips almost ache. She doesn't recall ever the way her ears buzz and screech, drowning out every other sound except that of her own heartbeat.
Quinn is gentle at first, almost exploring, her tongue lapping in and out of Santana's mouth in long, slow motions. It takes only the quickening of Santana's breath – her chest heaving, slightly, with the effort of breathing – before Quinn presses more urgently against her, her hand coming down to tug at Santana's waist, pulling her steady. The kiss changes, then, into something indescribably hotter – it makes Santana feel as if she is on fire, because now Quinn's tongue is insistent and demanding, and Santana can feel the sharp scrape of Quinn's teeth, and the hard pressure of Quinn's fingers digging into her hip.
Santana struggles to keep up, but she's buried under a tidal wave of sensation – too much, all at once. All she can do is hang on to Quinn, feebly, and gasp for air.
Quinn's kiss is furious – it's more like the way Santana remembers them being – and she pushes Santana back against the flat of the mattress, shrugging out of her coat and discarding her gloves with her mouth fused impatiently to Santana's. Santana's hands immediately dive beneath the sweater Quinn wears, hungry to feel her skin; she whines, low in her throat, when Quinn pulls away long enough to kick off her boots.
Everything is happening quickly, but not quickly enough – the heat inside of Santana is impatient and hungry, and she grunts, tugging at Quinn's clothes, when Quinn resettles atop of her. Quinn's weight is familiar and easy, but it's been so long since Santana has felt it that it still sends a thrill of excitement through her – she shivers, arching, when Quinn's knee presses between her thighs, spreading her legs.
Quinn's mouth moves to the curve of Santana's neck, and it blisters; Santana writhes at the tense tugging that starts somewhere behind her breastbone and continues down the center of her body. Quinn's hands are busy roaming over the curves of Santana's body, but it isn't enough – there's too much clothing between them – and Santana reaches up to peel down the zipper.
Quinn pauses, lifting her face, and Santana watches as her eyes – so large and dark – dart towards where Santana is ripping at her zipper. A small, vaguely amused smile flits across her mien, before she frowns.
"What are we doing?"
Santana's lips are still swollen. "What?" she can't quite catch her breath.
"Santana –" Quinn's frown grows. She shifts, pushing herself upwards.
Santana immediately misses Quinn's warmth.
Quinn sits up, pushing a hand through her hair. Slowly, Santana does the same, her pajamas unzipped and hanging loosely around her shoulders.
"We can't do this."
Santana squints at Quinn, as if Quinn has said something incomprehensible – not because she doesn't understand Quinn's words, but because she doesn't want to.
"This isn't the way to solve anything."
Santana pulls her bottom lip into her mouth.
Quinn looks at her and, for the first time, seems uncertain. "Say something."
Santana lets out a breath, jerks a shoulder in a shrug. "I want you."
Santana watches Quinn swallow.
"I don't know what else there is to say."
Quinn huffs, then slides herself further away from Santana. Small, jittery movements carefully put Quinn back together again; in moments, her hair is slicked down and neat, and her clothes are straightened. The only evidence left behind is the flush in her cheeks.
"I didn't come here for that." Quinn's voice is quiet.
Santana sighs. "Why did you, then?"
Quinn looks at her hands. "For Brittany."
Santana still doesn't understand.
"I don't know how to help her, Q."
Quinn's eyebrows pull together, and in a second she's angry – Santana is always a little stunned when it happens this quickly, though she ought to be used to it by now – and she turns, her expression fierce. "Yes you do! You love her, Santana, whether you want to admit it or not. And she loves you! She's heartbroken over the idea that you don't believe that."
Santana flinches, surprised at how much Quinn's words hurt her (though she ought to be used to that, too). She imagines Brittany – heartsick and depressed – and it fills her with a kind of dark misery that she doesn't want to face.
Santana expects Quinn to go on, to continue to berate her, but instead Quinn falls silent, and Santana is left feeling slightly hollow.
"You two have danced around each other long enough. Why can't you let yourself be happy?"
Santana doesn't know the answer to that question.
"You owe it to her, Santana. You owe it to her to try."
Santana studies the pattern on her bedspread, desperately trying to find something to say.
"What about you?"
Quinn is going to cry soon. Santana can tell – her breathing is stiff and uneven, and her lips are red.
"You love her, too, Quinn."
Quinn just nods.
"It isn't enough, Santana. It never was. I wish –"
Santana watches Quinn swallow, press the back of her hand to her mouth, both in an effort to keep the tears at bay. Santana's heart cracks and splits, and the agony is overwhelming.
Her own eyes burn.
"It isn't important." Quinn shrugs, swallows again. "I do love Brittany. That's why I'm doing this."
Santana narrows her eyes – and she doesn't know why she says it, or even why she thinks it, but she does – "you love her, but you would have cheated on her just now."
Quinn's gaze sharpens, and Santana's heart leaps in response; that look of fury and indignation on Quinn's face has always brought a rush of adrenaline to Santana (she's a masochist, after all).
She expects Quinn to snap or scream, but she doesn't.
"No. Even if we had – " Quinn's face twists – "it wouldn't.. if anything, Santana, she's been cheating on you with me this entire time."
"Quinn, it isn't like that." Santana doesn't know why she feels the need to reassure Quinn.
"No. It was always you two – it always will be. I think I always knew it. I just didn't want to believe it."
Santana feels herself fill up /with a suffocating, choking kind of pressure; it begins behind her navel and moves upwards, until she's drowning on it – it's a sinking, thick, tangible pain, sharp and violent and aching.
She reaches out between them, tugging Quinn's hand into her own.
"You – Quinn. You were important to us. To me." Santana's voice cracks. "You still are."
Quinn is silent for a moment, watching Santana's thumbs stroke over the back of her hand, pressing into the tendons and bones of her knuckles.
"I should have known it wouldn't last."
Santana wants to ask why – she isn't even sure what Quinn means – but Quinn answers before she gets a chance.
"Because I was just so.. happy." Quinn stares past Santana, her brows wrinkling incredulously, as if the memory of that happiness is hard to believe, now. "I should have realized it couldn't possibly last."
Quinn pulls her hand out of Santana's.
"Do the right thing, Santana. For once."
Santana can't breathe around her tears. She blinks, and the room dissolves; she presses the meat of her palm against her cheekbone, as if it would dam the flood.
"Quinn." Santana's tongue feels thick and clumsy. "I do love you."
Quinn shakes her head.
"That's what I've been telling you this whole time, Santana." Her voice is sad and hushed. "I know you don't believe me, so how do you expect me to believe you?"
"Because it's true." Santana knows that she's slowly sliding out of control, and in just a few moments communication is going to be impossible – she fights down the sobs that want to rip themselves out of her. "You're my best friend."
Quinn closes her eyes. Santana wants to reach out to her again and pull her close – but she's too afraid that Quinn will slap her hand away.
"Call Brittany soon. Make it right with her."
Quinn stands up abruptly. "Do it for her, Santana. Do it for yourself. And do it for me."
Santana watches Quinn put her boots on, shrug into her coat. She feels desperate for Quinn to stay, though just the sight of her is like a throbbing wound on Santana's heart – but still, she fumbles, trying to catch on to something that will stop Quinn from leaving.
"I'm sorry," Santana blurts. "I'm sorry for – for it all. I'm sorry about Sam and I'm sorry about everything I said."
Quinn looks at her, studies her face. Santana knows it must be a mess. Hot tears continue to leak down the corners of her eyes.
"I'm sorry, too." Quinn slowly straightens, pulling her gloves on. "For people who love each other so much, we sure did a lot of hurting each other."
"I think it doesn't have to be this way." Santana swallows. Her heart beats violently in her chest, like a caged bird wildly trying to escape. "I think we can – we could try it, Q. We really could."
Quinn looks the closest to breaking that she ever has at Santana's words – her eyes glitter and go soft, and her face contorts with pain. For a long moment, the only thing Santana can hear is her own blood pounding in her ears.
"I'm your best friend, remember?" Quinn's smile is rueful and tragic. "But it's really Brittany you want."
Santana wants to deny it – the words rush forward, tumbling in her mouth – but she can't, because part of her thinks that Quinn might be right.
Of course she wants Brittany. She's always wanted Brittany.
Santana feels like she might vomit up all of the words fighting to leave her mouth, so she presses her lips together and clenches her jaw.
Quinn doesn't say anything else. She closes Santana's door behind her quietly, leaving Santana alone.
She isn't sure what she's feeling, though it's overwhelming; like shattering; like being buried alive.
She realizes, only after she gives in and curls into her blankets, pressing her face into her pillow, that this – this burning numbness, this impenetrable flood – is grief, clawing at her heart.
Even with that revelation, she doesn't know exactly what it is she is grieving; all she knows is that she's lost something crucial, something vital.
Santana accepts Mercedes' invitation to her New Year's Eve party, though it's with grim precognizance that something, somehow is going to turn out horribly wrong.
Santana doesn't socialize with the glee kids much – she spends time with Mercedes in their advanced English lit class, and sits next to Rachel Berry (okay, like, there's a desk in between them, but usually nobody else sits there, so it's the same thing, isn't it?) in physics, and she even tolerates the Wheeled Wonder in world history, but that isn't exactly Friday nights at the movies or Saturday rehearsals or even coffee runs together before a Sunday shopping spree, and though she would never admit it aloud to anyone, including herself, Santana misses them.
Santana never stops thinking about Brittany and Quinn – and she knows that they'll be there, too.
She knows she probably shouldn't. She has no idea what she will do when she sees them.
Since Christmas, Santana has been in a state of paralysis when it comes to them. She knows that Quinn wants her to talk to Brittany – Quinn wants her to, somehow, convince Brittany to stop being so.. what did Quinn call her? Wrong?
Santana doesn't doubt that Quinn loves Brittany. Santana would have have to be a blind person to miss the way Quinn looks at Brittany – maybe ever since that first summer, after Quinn gave her baby away. Maybe before then. Santana thinks back and back, and for as long as she can remember, Quinn has been looking at Brittany like that. It's the sort of expression that causes Santana's diaphragm to tighten and her stomach tremble, because the love is so achingly tangible – it makes her jealous, because she doesn't know if anyone has ever looked at her that way (and who would, anyhow?).
Still, though Quinn loves Brittany, Santana maintains that Quinn can't understand Brittany as thoroughly as Santana does. There's really no competing with a lifetime of knowing someone. Santana has seen Brittany's sadness on occasion – at times it seems like a great vacuum, sucking the light and air out of a place – and she is familiar with it; but she also knows that Brittany can't sustain that sort of emotion for more than a little while. It isn't in her nature. Brittany, like most people, goes through every day ups and downs, but she never stays depressed for long.
Santana doesn't think Quinn understands exactly what she's asking Santana to do.
Santana has been thinking, though – she thinks that she's tired of being without them.
Though it makes her feel slightly ill, Santana believes she can tolerate the googly eyes Quinn throws at Brittany, and the indiscriminate way Brittany tosses around the words I love you, if it means that she gets to be around them again.
It isn't even about the sex – really. Santana misses it (it was great sex), but she misses them more. If the three of them can't come to some kind of agreement regarding that, Santana is willing to just be their friend again.
Being their friend was the best part, wasn't it?
The same nerves that attacked her when Quinn visited settle in her system on the drive over to Mercedes' house. She tries blaring mindless rock music, but it seems out of place with the decorations leftover from Christmas glittering in the early gloom, and Santana would never touch the station that plays holiday music anyway. In the end, she turns the radio off, tapping the steering wheel impatiently with her thumb.
Mercedes' parties are always tame compared to Puck's or even Rachel's, but Santana thinks that might be a good thing. Last year, Tina almost got alcohol poisoning because Puck kept egging her on after she drank half a case of beer by herself. Mike refused to speak to Puck for almost a month. It had been some drama.
Santana pulls her coat close to her when she steps out of her car, ducking her hair against the chill in the wind – the Jones's driveway is clear, but their yard is full of snow, and Santana eyes the concrete warily for patches of ice. She couldn't resist wearing stiletto boots – her mother yelled at her about wrenching an ankle on the way out – so her steps are slow and mincing. By the time she pushes past the heavy oak door, her nose is numb and her fingertips ache.
The temperature inside Mercedes' house is stifling. Santana shuts the door, immediately shedding her outer layers, because – even though she's half-frozen – she knows that she'll be sweating soon. Music thrums from the sound system, with bass so deep it's more felt than heard. Santana squints, confused, since Mercedes usually doesn't allow things to get so loud. She glances at her cell phone and realizes it's almost eleven already, so…
Almost as if on cue, Mercedes stumbles into the foyer, giggling.
Mercedes' outfit was probably carefully constructed prior to her alcohol consumption. Now it's a disheveled wreck. Her eyes are watery and bright, and she grins, wrapping an arm around Santana's waist.
"Playing beer pong?"
Laughing, Mercedes nods.
Santana smiles, resting her palm over Mercedes' hand, guiding them both into the living room.
There are people here Santana doesn't immediately recognize – her eyebrows fly upwards at the sight of some kid with tarantula-hair taking shots with Sam by Mercedes' coffee table. A girl with an obnoxious voice and a big pink bow laughs in one corner with Artie and another baby-faced dope who looks about twelve.
"Who are these clowns?"
Mercedes doesn't seem to hear her. Her attention is focused on Rachel, who is gesturing angrily at Kurt by the fireplace. In a second, Mercedes launches away from her, hollering before she even draws near to them.
Rolling her eyes, Santana heads towards the kitchen. She needs a drink.
Puck (of course) has the fridge door cracked open, and he laughs low at something Finn says. Santana nudges him and he turns, immediately smiling when his eyes land on her.
"Lopez! Lookin' good!"
Santana cocks her head in affirmation. "Wish I could say the same. Cut your hair."
Puck runs a palm over the shaggy strip on his scalp, frowning.
"It looks like you have a dead animal glued there."
Puck almost pouts. "Missed you too, Santana."
Santana shrugs, then bends down to dig around the fridge.
"I have the whiskey right here."
Santana straightens, her hand gripping a can of Coke. Puck gestures with the bottle of Jameson, and Santana lets him mix them into a red plastic cup. She takes a sip and knows immediately that it's too strong – her mouth burns and her sinuses immediately clear – but she doesn't grimace. Puck watches her carefully, which makes Santana's eyebrow dart upwards.
He smiles, then tugs the bottle to his lips, tipping it back. Santana sneers.
Santana wants to find Brittany and Quinn. She's been itching to see them since – well, she's never stopped, not really – and knowing that they're in the house somewhere puts her teeth on edge. She feels it like a nameless pressure down her spine and behind her navel.
She wanders into the dining room, where the beer pong table is set up. Blaine stands at one end with a paddle, smiling triumphantly at Mike. Tina hops up on her toes and cheers while Mike chugs. Santana laughs, shaking her head.
Tina almost trips over herself in an effort to round the table, and Santana braces herself for impact. Santana tolerates the way Tina wraps herself around her, smiling at Mike over Tina's frizzy hair. Tina is babbling – something Santana can't really hear over the thunder of the music – but she nods just the same.
"Play against me!"
Santana laughs. "You'll lose."
"That isn't fair!"
Mike sidles up behind Tina, wiping the beer from his mouth with the back of his hand, before he peels her away from Santana.
"You need some water."
Santana watches Mike guide her towards the kitchen, grumbling.
"How is everyone so drunk already?"
Blaine just shrugs. "Wanna play?"
"I don't drink beer."
Blaine frowns. "Oh."
Santana laughs. "Go find Finn. I'm sure he'll play with you."
Blaine salutes her with his paddle – it makes her chuckle – and she pushes through the doorway leading into the hall.
It's considerably quieter here than it is in the front of the house. There aren't any lights on, either, so it's almost eerie; Santana pushes open Mercedes' bedroom door with her fingertips, glancing around speculatively.
She wonders if Quinn and Brittany are hiding back here because they're getting it on.
She tries to push that image aside – it causes so many conflicting emotions inside of her – and continues searching, tapping with her fingernails on the bathroom door. There isn't an answer, so she turns the knob, and then shuts the door again with a quiet huff.
Santana hasn't ventured much beyond this point in the house, and she frowns at the rest of the doors lining the hallway. She knows one of them has to be Mercedes' parents' room (surely they wouldn't be doing something in there?), and the other one must be –
Oh. Mercedes' brother's room. Quinn's old room.
Biting her lip, Santana considers first one, then the other, before she finally turns the knob on the one at the very end.
It's a tiny room, smaller than any of the others Santana has been in so far. She immediately takes in the blue walls and posters of basketball players – the trophies lined up neatly on a dresser – before her eyes finally land on the bed.
Her heart catches in her chest, stuttering. Brittany's back is to her, and her hair fans out in a yellow pool on the black pillow. Santana watches the careful way Brittany's side rises and falls with her breath, and she can't make herself move an inch.
She feels stunned – why is looking at Brittany doing this to her? She wants to move forward, to touch Brittany's hip. She wants to close the door and leave. She tries to focus on anything besides the swimming noise in her ears, but she can't. It makes her vision dance.
Brittany's voice is thick and sad – it causes Santana's gaze to sharpen and her lips to press together when she sees Brittany looking at her with swollen eyes.
Santana forgets her inability to move in an instant. She closes the door behind her and moves to sit on the edge of the bed next to Brittany.
"What are you doing here?"
Brittany doesn't smile. Her face is splotchy and red, and Santana can see the gleam of tears in the creases of her skin.
"Mercedes invited me."
Brittany looks her over once, and then nods. "Oh."
Santana chews on the inside of her cheek, at a loss for words. Tentatively, she offers Brittany a sip of her drink. Brittany glances down at Santana's hand, and then moves to push herself up carefully.
Brittany gulps at the dark liquid. Santana notices the way her hand trembles.
Brittany stares down at the cup, watching the bubbles float to the top. "I'm not in the mood to party."
Santana swallows. She feels suddenly panicky – she hates the idea that there's something wrong with Brittany and she has no idea what. Santana just wants to fix it. Brittany is the most beautiful person Santana has ever known, and she can't tolerate the thought of something causing her even a moment of sadness.
Brittany looks up at her sharply – Santana feels like the blue in Brittany's eyes is somehow darker, now, than it ever has been – before she looks away. She sniffs, pushing at her face with the back of her wrist.
"She didn't come."
Santana's eyebrows fly up. "What?"
Brittany shrugs, her face crumpling miserably. "I don't know what I did wrong."
"Britt." Santana takes the cup from Brittany's hand and places it carefully on the floor, before pulling Brittany against her. Brittany doesn't resist. She lays her head against the crook of Santana's shoulder, pressing her face against Santana's neck.
"I'm sure it wasn't you. Maybe she's sick."
"She broke up with me."
Santana feels the wind get knocked out of her.
Brittany presses herself even harder into Santana.
"I don't know." Brittany's voice is small and tremulous. "She said that I wasn't happy – but I don't – she said –"
Santana squeezes Brittany, her heart cracking at the sound of Brittany's sobs. "I'm so sorry, Britt."
"I love her." Brittany chokes. "I don't know what I did wrong."
Santana moves until she draws Brittany into her lap, and even though it's awkward – Brittany is much taller, leggier, and even heavier than Santana is – Santana wraps an arm around Brittany's waist. Brittany sits there and lets Santana stroke her hair and rock her like a child, her tears wetting the material of Santana's dress.
Santana understands the way Brittany feels; hopeless, helpless, miserable. Santana hates that she knows that feeling – she hates it worse that Brittany has it, too.
Santana senses, in the pit of her stomach, that Brittany is blaming herself for something that is, ultimately, Santana's fault.
The truth of it is, Brittany never did anything wrong.
Santana wishes she could take it back, somehow. She wishes she could make it right.
Santana takes Brittany home with her on New Year's. They fall asleep, tangled in Santana's blankets, holding on to each other.
Maribel, Steven, and Martin treat Brittany's return like that of a long lost child. Brittany smiles and laughs with them, but – it never quite reaches her eyes. The blue shadows never quite dissipate, and even though she plays Uno with Martin and helps Santana's mother wash the dishes, there is something stilted and off about her.
Santana begins to realize what Quinn meant.
Brittany isn't happy, and it permeates from her very being.
Santana holds her when they're in bed, both of them sober and clean from bathing, and Brittany watches Santana, her face open and tired and indescribably sad. Santana strokes a hand down the curve of Brittany's cheek, over the spill of her neck and shoulder.
"I wish you would cheer up," Santana whispers.
Brittany watches Santana's lips, but doesn't say anything.
"I know you miss her. I miss her, too."
Brittany's lips tremble. "I missed you."
"I know." Santana tries to breathe around the stiffness in her throat. "I'm sorry. I missed you."
Brittany closes her eyes, but Santana still sees the tears leak out of them.
"Please don't be sad, Britt-Britt." Santana breathes. She feels desperate and unhappy and full of wild, thundering panic – her palms itch and her jaw hurts, because she's filled with the urge to do something, to take every bad thing from Brittany and banish it far, far away. If only she knew how.
"I just – I've never felt so.." Brittany squeezes her eyes even tighter. "I've never felt so scared before."
"Scared?" Santana murmurs. "Why are you scared?"
"Because I don't know anything anymore." Brittany sucks in a breath, turning away from Santana to stare at the ceiling. Her tears trickle down the length of her face, pooling beneath her jaw.
"Everything is going to be okay, Brittany."
Brittany wipes at the tears tickling her earlobe. "I hope you're right, Santana. But I just don't know."
Santana strokes a hand down the length of Brittany's arm.
"This is my fault. It's my fault you feel this way."
Brittany doesn't move.
"Britt – I'm sorry, okay?"
Brittany turns her head slowly, looking at Santana fully.
"I'm sorry I said what I did. I'm sorry that I – I'm sorry I was so stubborn, that I didn't think.." Santana is frustrated with the clumsiness of her own tongue, the way the words mash and tumble and fall out of her without any rhyme or reason. "I love you, Brittany."
Brittany goes completely still, watching the flutter of Santana's eyelashes. Santana tries to keep herself as open as possible, even though the weight of Brittany's gaze makes her want to recoil – it's an instinct she has to fight hard against.
The muscles in her jaw ache from clenching by the time Brittany looks away.
"I love you, too."
"I spent too much time questioning what that means – what it is, why it is," Santana murmurs. Her throat is dry and hoarse; her words crack and tremble. "I never just accepted it."
"Do you now?"
Santana licks her lips. Her insides squeeze and quake, trembling with ceaseless emotion; she feels it rattling her bones, quivering along her sinews and tendons.
"I'm trying, Britt." Santana's vocal chords are strained and raw. "I want to."
Brittany nods. "Do you love Quinn, Santana?"
Santana slams her eyes shut. She didn't expect Brittany to ask that – not now, not when everything inside of her is so fragile and shaken.
"Yes," Santana wheezes.
Brittany nods again. "She loves you too, I think."
Santana squints her eyes open, wiping at the moisture that collected there.
"She loves you, Brittany. I know she does."
Brittany looks at Santana for a silent moment – her face solemn and grim.
"I used to know that, too, Santana." Brittany's voice is dull. "I was wrong. I was wrong about a lot. I don't know anything, really."
Brittany shakes her head, denying Santana a chance to defend Quinn.
"I want to go to sleep now," Brittany whispers.
Santana lets Brittany turn her over, so that Brittany can tuck her abdomen against Santana's back. Santana's eyelids flutter – she is always immediately drowsy when Brittany cups her body like this; the soft rhythm of Brittany's breath on her neck is as relaxing as a lullaby to Santana – and she struggles to stay awake, to try to sift through the things Brittany said.
Santana feels like, somehow, the three of them are in a maze, wandering aimlessly, striving to reach the center. Sometimes one will snag onto another – and then break away, and catch on to the third; or the third will find the first, leaving the second alone – it seems as if the three of them can't catch hold of one another and grip tight; always, one or two or all of them go spinning away, out of reach, out of sight.
Brittany's scent is as familiar as her own, right down to the earthy pitch of her skin. Santana has hungered for Brittany to hold her just like this so many times beyond counting, yet she feels hollowed out and empty.
She knows it's because that, even while Brittany is wrapped around her, her arms ache with the absence of Quinn.
Santana has spent most of her time as a high school student at the top of the pecking order. She and Quinn and Brittany manhandled their way to the top as freshmen, and – except for a few slips and slides along the way – Santana has, of the three of them, for the most part, stayed there.
It's ironic, really, given how indelicate she can be, at times – Quinn was always the more socially aware one – and how she often forgets the fact that (no matter what) she always has some sort of audience.
It completely slips her mind when she sees Quinn on the first day after winter break, wearing a faded coral sweater (like something Santana's old aunt Sofia would wear) and a white skirt, her hair tied up in a bun on top of her head like a librarian. Santana has often felt impatient with the clothes Quinn wears, and not only because she knows exactly what they hide beneath them.
(If Santana somehow missed the tutorial on how to maintain her cool in public, then Quinn completely sidestepped the lesson in popular fashion, or even the one in how to not look like somebody's grandma.)
Regardless, Santana doesn't pay any attention to the crowd of students milling the hallways, deaf to the way her white sneakers squeak against the linoleum, wet from tracking in snow; she frowns, determinedly, at the base of Quinn's neck, weaving through a group of giggling sophomores, dodging unbelievably tall basketball players, and roughly pushing aside a group of nobodies, to plant a palm firmly on Quinn's shoulder. Santana jerks Quinn around, heedless of the noise or the commotion it makes.
"You broke up with her?" Santana almost shouts. She flings her hands up. "What a brilliant idea that was!"
"Santana," Quinn's voice is low and warning. "Let's talk about this later."
"No!" Santana doesn't know why she's so furious – except that she is, suddenly; like a solar flare, a blinding explosion. When she woke up, Santana had no intention of confronting Quinn at school, much less like this, before the first bell; but the sight of Quinn, frowning over her schedule, set Santana off. "I want to talk about it now! What were you thinking?"
Quinn shifts, folding her arms over her midsection. Her jaw flexes, pulling her lips in a straight line across her face; her expression is patently displeased. Her eyes slink from one side to the other, taking in the small gaggle of kids looking their way.
"It's not – it doesn't concern you."
"Oh, that's bullshit, Quinn," Santana spits.
"You broke her heart!"
Quinn's face tenses, flinching beneath the accusation, and she shifts, using her palm to grip Santana's forearm. With a tug, she pulls Santana closer, and uses her own body to shield Santana from the other students.
"Santana," Quinn hisses, "we talked about this. I told you –"
"Bullshit!" Santana's face is full of furious wrinkles. "You said –"
"I know what I said!" Quinn's voice lashes out, whiplike. "I couldn't keep being with Brittany while she was so miserable! No matter what I did – it was never enough. I'm not you, Santana,"
Santana watches the tiny muscles beneath the skin of Quinn's face quiver and flex, working to control her expression; she sees the inevitable flush creep along Quinn's cheeks, the way her throat works on a swallow.
"Brittany loves you for you, Quinn. She doesn't deserve this."
Quinn scoffs. "I know that she loves me. I never doubted it."
Santana frowns, puzzled.
"I also realize that she isn't happy without you, Santana. That means something."
Santana feels as if she is suddenly treading water – she has to struggle to keep her chin above the surface.
"Quinn," her voice is hesitant and halting, "I don't think –"
"I'm sorry that it hurt her. I never wanted to." Quinn's words are clipped and short.
Santana blows out a breath.
"Don't tell me. Tell her."
For the first time since this conversation started, pain flashes across Quinn's face.
"I can't," Quinn chokes.
Santana reaches for her out of instinct – she can see the beginning of tears glimmering – but Quinn shakes her head quickly, pulling back.
In a moment, Quinn is gone. She pushes past the wall of curious girls watching them, using the back of her knuckles to dab at her eyes.
Santana stares after her and wonders when, precisely, it became so important to her to see Brittany and Quinn together again.
Santana learns from Tina that Quinn quit the glee club.
Tina finds her one day – Santana thinks, vaguely, that Tina should be in her AP English class or something – and unleashes a righteous fury that, initially, bewilders Santana.
"How could you?" Tina confronts Santana near the bleachers in the gym, trapping her between the metal structure and her own body. Santana nearly drops the clipboard she was holding, her pen clattering to the ground.
"Jesus, Chang," Santana breathes, pressing a palm to her chest.
"I knew you were self-centered, but I never knew you were so selfish."
Santana's eyebrows furrow. "What?"
"Don't play stupid!" Tina's fists clench. "Did you think no one would notice?"
"What are you talking about?"
"We all know Brittany dumped Quinn for you!"
Santana's eyes widen abruptly – she glances around at the other Cheerios, who are all busy doing stretches – before she ducks her head. "Not true! And be quiet!"
"It's no use lying, Santana!"
"Hey! Shut your mouth, Saigon!"
Tina's jaw snaps shut.
"I didn't have anything to do with that," Santana tries to control her volume. "Honestly."
Tina rolls her eyes.
"Well, it's because of your homewrecking that we can't go to nationals now. Are you happy?"
Santana squints at Tina.
"Quinn quit. Just like you."
Tina's tone drips disgust.
Santana doesn't know what to do with this information.
"Don't know what to tell you." It comes off brusque and cold because Santana still needs time to process.
"Yeah, I figured you didn't care," Tina snarls.
Santana almost lets her go – she's still rattled from the revelation – but instead, she says, "look, I'll talk to her."
"How could everything turn out like this?" None of the fire has left Tina, and she whips around, glaring. "This is wrong. Everything about it is wrong."
Santana knows that Tina is right. Tina pushes through the swinging doors the gym, letting them clatter violently closed.
Tina might have just been talking about glee club – but the words strike Santana much closer to her heart.
Santana has a hard time finding Quinn that day, or the next. It worries her.
What worries her more, though, is the fact that Brittany is acting so odd – she talks to Santana, and walks with her in the hallways; she smiles and, on occasion, laughs, but there's something missing. Santana can't quite put a finger on it, exactly. All she knows is that it makes all the hair on her body stand on edge and sends a shiver down her spine. Brittany looks at her with strange, empty eyes and even her words ring hollow.
If Santana didn't know any better, she would think that Brittany is some kind of puppet, or a robot.
There's a listlessness about her – a sort of meandering malaise that Santana can't get her to shake. Brittany finds ways to be near Santana, and always stands with part of her body touching Santana's, which is not so different from usual. Yet, still.. some sort of intensity that was always present in the past that is missing now. Santana used to be able to sense where Brittany was just by the way the air shifted in the room, as if Brittany carried with her an intangible pressure; now, somehow, it's gone.
Santana sits with Brittany at lunch and braids her hair, while Brittany twirls a bracelet around her wrist and doesn't bother touching her food.
"Have you seen Quinn?"
Brittany shakes her head.
Santana sighs, running her fingers down the length of Brittany's hair. It makes her think of countless nights she spent doing this with Quinn, and how much she loved the thick, rich weight of Quinn's hair in her hands. She remembers that Quinn cut it off – it makes something inside of Santana go hard and brittle.
"I told Tina I would talk to her about going back to the glee club."
Santana shrugs, even though Brittany can't see it. "I feel bad. You guys can't compete without her."
Santana's heart twinges at the sadness in Brittany's voice.
"Maybe we could both talk to her."
Brittany shakes her head.
Santana curls her fingers, hesitating, and then rubs the pads of her fingers along the base of Brittany's neck. "Britt, I think it would help if you did."
"She doesn't want to talk to me."
Brittany just shakes her head again.
Santana bites her lip. She can see how Brittany's shoulders are coiling, the muscles hard and stiff beneath the skin.
"Were you ever this upset when I—?"
Brittany turns, suddenly, and Santana is confronted with something that shocks her; she nearly slides out of her chair.
Brittany's face is a cold, unmoving mask; her eyes are dull and lifeless. It isn't quite apathy, though – it's more like the surface of something unspeakable, like haunting, indescribable grief.
Santana's mouth is suddenly dry.
"I have to go."
Brittany pushes back from the table abruptly, her chair legs scratching the tile abrasively. Santana chews on her lip, swallowing back the flood of heat and pain that erupted from her solar plexus. She doesn't know if she wants to cry or vomit or scream.
She knows that she's said the words I'm sorry a dozen times, two dozen, since she talked to Quinn over winter break and Brittany on New Year's Eve. She knows that it must sound so meek and feeble coming from her – it must sound just as pointless as it feels to speak it – but still, it's all she has to offer.
Santana hates feeling like this; so helpless and frantic and sad. God, she's sad. It's worse seeing Brittany this way than not seeing her at all – at least then she could imagine Brittany was happy. It's worse imagining Quinn, isolated and lonely, locked away somewhere, confined with her own inner demons.
Santana doesn't question the way she feels for both of the girls, and how they might compete within her. She never has – in fact, she's survived this long precisely by not thinking overmuch about it. She loves Brittany, fine. She also loves Quinn – to deny that at this point would be foolish – but in love? How can someone be in love with two people at once?
How can it be, then, that she's in love with Brittany, but she would give anything – including her own happiness – for Brittany to smile again and mean it, even if it that means seeing Brittany and Quinn together?
How is it that she can't stand the thought of Quinn suffering, even for a second? Even if the source of that suffering is herself?
Santana isn't heartless. Maybe she shouldn't be so surprised about it. She thinks, though, that maybe she would feel some kind of relief over the idea that Quinn and Brittany can't bear to speak to one another. Maybe a small, selfish part of her would be glad that they didn't choose each other after all.
Santana used to spend her time daydreaming about a life she would build with Brittany, when they were grown and far, far away from Lima. Sometimes, those idle fantasies were the only thing that would get Santana through the day. Now – when she thinks of it, it feels half-formed, somehow. She doesn't get the same contented warmth from it.
She knows what it means; she understands what it's missing. She refuses to let herself add Quinn to the dream, though. Not just yet.
Of course she loves Quinn. Quinn is more like Santana than either of them would want to admit – so Santana sees parts of herself reflected back at her when she looks at Quinn. It makes her love Quinn more, if that's possible, because she knows what it's like to live with such flaws.
Quinn is better than Santana, too, in a myriad of ways; Santana finds herself both loving and hating Quinn for that.
Santana lets herself think – for one trembling instant – that if she had never met Brittany, and had somehow stumbled upon Quinn and the two of them, by whatever chance, didn't kill each other over the course of their years as friends.. she thinks that, maybe, in that universe, she would be in love with Quinn.
(As she is now -)
It's too much. It's too hard.
Santana rips up a napkin in frustration, tossing the pieces back onto the tray. She carries it with an angry huff to a trashcan, dumping the contents inside.
There has to be some sort of solution to this.
She has no idea what it is, but she does know one thing –
None of them can keep going on the way they are for much longer.
A/N: An unfortunate wrist injury has stopped me from completing this chapter as fully as I originally intended. This was supposed to be the final chapter in this story. I hate to leave it like this, but I don't know when I'll finish it, and I figured I would give you all something.
I appreciate everyone who has been reading this story for the last year and more, and for those of you just finding it now, and for all the support and encouragement I've gotten. Triune has been a labor of love for me, and I'm thankful for everyone who has taken the time to leave me feedback.
I'll try to get it completed before too long, but you know how that goes.