"I told Rachel I'm doing the concert." Puck plops down beside her, dropping his tray of food next to hers and straddling the bench. "You need to do it too."
Santana blinks, registers the comment, and frowns. "Seriously? You're joining the shipwreck?"
He shrugs uncaringly. "She's right. It'd be good for morale. Plus I'm a stud no matter what, but there's a five to one guy-chick ratio out here. I gotta do shit to stand out."
Santana's mouth morphs into a smirk. "I didn't think you were having a problem with that."
He doesn't smile back. Instead, Puck shifts, glancing away before looking at her."You didn't tell me you fucking love each other."
The frank way he says it makes her stomach drop. Her face straightens immediately. "What the hell are you talking about?"
Puck snorts. "Really? Come on." He stares at her with such unnerving intensity, she can't hold the stare.
"I told you that we slept together," she admits, her cheeks flushed. "Once. It happened. It's over. She's with Finn, the big fucking love of her life now. Remember him? Your buddy in the gay chorus?"
"Mmhmm. You know, Santana, I always thought you were a bad ass. Like me. I never thought you were a coward."
Her eyes narrow. "Excuse me?"
"You think I don't know what you're doing? It's fucking textbook." Santana stares at him stonily. Brow arching, he continues. "When we were blitzed you told me Brittany wanted to be with you. Then she died and it was too late."
Santana's eyes water before she can help herself, and she sucks in a breath like she's been hit. "Puck," she begins, warning in her tone.
"And it hurt so fucking bad that you tell yourself you can't feel that again. You're like an island. Except you aren't. You've spent two years attached at the hip with Rachel and fucking surviving, and now you're in love with her and instead of learning your lesson and manning up and fighting for her, you pussy out."
"Puck, shut up."
"Look, if it was me? I'd be thanking my fucking lucky stars that I got a second chance. Then I wouldn't be a pussy and I'd take what's mine before it's too late and I spent the rest of my life regretting it twice. I'm just saying."
There's a hard, painful lump in her throat that makes it impossible to speak. Puck regards her.
"And the Rachel I remember? Didn't fuck anyone. Not unless she loved them. Otherwise I would have hit that the first day." With a resolute nod, he drops a flier in her lap and swings his leg over the bench. "Fucking chicken again? What is this, a slum?"
When she finds herself outside of Rachel's classroom, she's damn aggravated with herself.
It takes her almost a minute to gather up the courage to knock.
Rachel calls out to come in, and Santana does, twisting open the knob like she's tearing off a band-aid, fast and rough, to duck her head into Rachel's domain.
Rachel glances up, and the look on her face when she recognizes her reminds Santana of a besotted tween – excited and hopeful and slightly afraid.
"Santana," Rachel breathes, and Santana finds herself breathing raggedly, clutching the doorknob so hard her fingers ache.
"I'll do your stupid concert, okay?" she blurts out, and feels like such a fool she doesn't wait for Rachel's reaction.
Face flaming, teeth grinding, Santana falters, and against her better judgment, waits as Rachel rushes around the desk and comes up to her, widening the opening in the doorway and staring up at her with a thrilled grin.
"What?" she asks.
Rachel stares at her, ears tipped pink, and suddenly she launches herself into Santana's arms, taking her offguard and nearly squeezing the life out of her.
"Thank you," Rachel whispers.
Her breath tickles Santana's ear, and her breasts brush hers and she suddenly wants to KILL Noah Puckerman, because when the hell has the asshole ever been right?
The first rehearsal is painful.
Finn and Rachel go through 'Don't Stop Believing', but there's only Puck and Santana backing them up, and it's clear as always that there are eight voices missing, and no Mr. Schuester to glare at them for being offbeat.
Finn goes flat on a note; his voice is tight, vocal chords gone unused in years.
Rachel, who just months ago was afraid she'd forgotten how to sing, opens up her mouth and fills the room with her perfect pitch. It's bittersweet and somehow enchanting. Santana doesn't realize she's staring until she accidentally notices Puck smirking at her.
The choir room seems filled with ghosts. Mike slides across the linoleum, and Kurt sashays past her with a ridiculous scarf. Mercedes is hauntingly absent during 'Somebody to Love', her glory-note lingering only in their minds.
It's one of their mainstays, and it sounds hollow and unfulfilled. Finn grows frustrated fast.
"We're gonna suck," he complains, and Rachel just looks at him mournfully. Puck tells him to stop being a pussy, and when Finn looks affronted, storms out of the room in a perfect Rachel Diva fit, Puck just shakes his head and follows.
Clutching her bottle of water, Santana lowers herself onto a chair. From one side of the room to another, she imagines Brittany twirling, catches blond hair in the sunlight and white teeth, a blinding smile that grabs her around the heart and squeezes pure emotion.
Rachel settles beside her, looking tired and shaken. "Finn's right," she breathes, resting her chin on her palm. "This isn't going to work. We sound incomplete."
Santana blows out a ragged breath. "We are, Rachel. The arrangements were made for twelve people."
"I want this to work. I want this to be a tribute to them. To our past."
It's so idealistic. Santana can't find the heart to tell her it's pathetic and depressing. "You were right, you know." Rachel glances at her, gnawing on her lower lip. "You said that I thought Brittany was the only person who would ever love me, no matter what. It's true." She doesn't expect a disagreement. When Rachel says nothing, she just smiles bitterly and ignores the pang in her heart. "So I took advantage. I thought I had all the time in the world and it turns out, I didn't. I was stupid and I'll carry that regret for the rest of my life. And I once told myself I wouldn't regret anything." She hears Rachel exhale noisily beside her. "But we're not the same people we were. We can't sing these songs because they're not ours anymore."
She finally glances up, and sees Rachel staring at her with shining, dark eyes. "So what should we sing?"
Santana shrugs. "New songs? Songs that aren't about Brittany, or Mike or Kurt but about who we are. What we've become. How we've changed. How they changed us."
Rachel's eyes are nearly liquid now. "Careful, Santana," she whispers, soft and reverent. "I might think you have a heart."
Santana can only laugh at the irony when she finally admits, "I think I said goodbye to that a long time ago."
Rachel instructs them to find songs to fit their voices, and they do.
By the fourth rehearsal, they sound whole.
Finn starts to smile again, and when the last song ends and Rachel tells them that they're ready, he playfully shoves at Puck and slings his rifle over his shoulder, heading out the door and waving to them both.
"You look confused." Santana blinks. At the piano, Rachel shoots her a knowing smile. "I lived with you, slept with you, showered with you for two years, Santana. Don't tell me I don't know when you look confused."
A flush stains Santana's cheeks, and it feels utterly moronic, to blush like a damn school girl in front of Rachel Berry.
"I'm just wondering why Finn isn't waiting around for you." Rachel arches a brow, and Santana folds her arms, looks at her knowingly. "Isn't that what boy scouts do? Wait around? Carry your bags, gay shit like that?"
"Boyfriends do," Rachel acknowledged. "Friends don't." When Santana inhales, glances at Rachel sharply, the other girl swallows visibly and glances down at her sheet music. "You were right. I wanted everything too much. If I wanted a second chance, I had to make a choice, before I ran out of time."
Something that feels strangely like hope wants to burgeon in Santana's chest. She squelches it down, refuses to feel it.
"You were also right about the fact that we're different people now. Finn and I both are. I'm not the starry-eyed ingénue and he's not the hunky male lead. We're adults now. We've had two years of traumatic experiences to shape us and it's turned us into different people. Who I've become isn't the person who's best suited for Finn."
Santana glances helplessly at the door, at a loss to understand Rachel's monologue.
"But you were wrong about one thing. Brittany isn't the only person who would love you, no matter what."
This time, Rachel actually looks at her. The pointed glare speaks volumes, and before Santana can quite process what Rachel is truly saying, the other woman presses play on her IPOD speaker, and the lyrical sounds of Tom Petty fill the room.
"Do you remember this? We would have won Regionals with it." As the harmonica plays, Rachel goes through those same damn steps. "People come, people go, some grow young, some grow cold."
Santana stands, frozen, and that hope she wants to suppress so badly bursts through and pushes a smile onto her face that feels so wide it hurts.
"I woke up in between a memory and a dream. " Rachel pivots, and reaches for Santana, waiting.
With a dip of her head, and one terrifying step forward, Santana takes Rachel's hand. "So let's get to the point, Let's roll another joint, Let's head on down the road, There's somewhere I gotta go…And you don't know how it feels… You don't know how it feels…To be me."
Rachel's eyes meet hers and her smile fades. Her palm turns against hers their fingers are aligned. Deliberately, Rachel slides the digits between Santana's, until they're tangled together. Santana can hear her breath go ragged, before Rachel quietly regards her, waiting.
A phantom voice suddenly rises sharply in her mind, echoing in her ear. "I don't want to wait anymore."
She yanks, pulls Rachel into her, and opens her lips against hers. Rachel throws her arms around her shoulders, grips her tight, and kisses her back shamelessly.
One long moment later, Santana breaks the kiss, and wraps her arms tight around Rachel. Her palms spread against Rachel's back and bunches the fabric of Rachel's shirt in her fists, dizzy and afraid to let go.
"I missed you," she hears. "I couldn't breathe without you."
"I love you," she says, fast and terrified and then Rachel's kissing her again, swallowing her words in her mouth and mumbling them back at her. The relief floods her so fast it leaves her weak-kneed, because Santana never realized how scared she really was.
They live in a world where a virus infects people and turns them into zombies and it's only partially contained, but getting better every day. They live in a highly secured military base, and Santana's traded a cheerleading uniform for a military uniform and a gun. She wears it like she was born in it.
Puck's tattered yearbook photo sits in her back pocket wherever she goes, and when she remembers Brittany, she remembers an angel who brought a smile wherever she went.
When they give their concert, it's for Brittany that she sings Pink's, 'Who Knew'. When it's over, and the surprisingly crowded hall applauds (Puck jokes that they're REALLY hard up for entertainment), Rachel's waiting for her, eyes watering and arms open.
Santana clutches her shamelessly, hides her tears in the crook of Rachel's neck.
Rachel tells her she loves her, and it's suddenly okay.
Their world's a hell but it's all gonna be okay, because it's her and Rachel Berry against the fucking world.
In her more determined moments, Santana likes to think they're kicking its ass.