A/N - One more chapter left! Didn't think I'd be saying that LOL. In preparation for writing this chapter I binged a lot of Cheer on Netflix so if you see some similarities, that's why. Great show, you should all watch it. Changed up the pacing as well, hope it works out alright.
The last time Santana harbored a secret of this magnitude she's was hiding so deep in the closet that she was basically in Narnia. The difference this time though is that when she thinks of this particular secret, she can't help but feel giddy. Like a good giddy, a great giddy! This secret is going to change her life, it's going to change Brittany's life, and she really can't contain the joy that it brings when she thinks of it.
She's going to have to get it together though if she wants to pull this thing off, because although she has a bit of a track record when it comes to blurting things, she doesn't want that to happen with this. She already jumped the gun when it came to asking Britt to be her girlfriend and asking her out on a date, she doesn't want to do the same thing when it comes to proposing. It gets harder everyday though, because every little thing Brittany does has Santana itching to just drop down on one knee right then and there.
But she won't do it.
She has spent some time thinking about this, from the flashy grand gestures to intimate moments with just the two of them, she has thought of it all and she thinks she has finally devised the perfect plan. So she can't just blurt it out because Brittany decided to surprise her with breakfast in bed one Sunday morning or because Brittany said something really cute in her sleep or because Brittany coaxed her into an impromptu dance party when Santana was feeling grumpy about her favorite show being cancelled or because Brittany simply brought home flowers for her on the anniversary of her Abuelo's passing.
Santana has to find some type of self-control because what she has planned is going to be perfect and Brittany deserves that.
Santana is in the middle of getting dinner ready – which just means checking that the oven is still preheating– when her phone buzzes. It's Brittany telling her that she's on her way back to the apartment now and Santana smiles at the kiss emoji she ends the text with. She knows Brittany has been having a rough week with balancing dance classes and finalizing the Cheerios' Nationals routine, it's like the girl doesn't have an off switch because even when they don't have Cheerios' practice, she's putting work in at the dance studio.
Brittany's never been one to complain though, she just puts her head down and does what she has to do. Santana figured she'd do something nice and come over while Brittany's still in class and cook up all of her favorites to see if that might help cheer her up a little.
When Brittany breezes through the door 15 minutes later, Santana is still in the kitchen finishing off the salad she decided to make at the last minute. Brittany's strong arms wrap around her waist and then she settles her chin on Santana's shoulder. Santana grins at how Brittany instantly relaxes against her.
"Hi," Brittany greets then tilts her head just a little so that her lips brush against Santana's cheek for a lazy kiss.
"Hey B," Santana replies and twists around in Brittany's arms to face her. There's blonde hair falling from Brittany's loose bun and she smells like sweat and lavender laundry detergent. She looks so tired and Santana smooths out the little crinkle in her brow as she asks, "How was class?"
"Very, very intense," Brittany sighs and drops her forehead on Santana's shoulder. Santana takes the brunt of her weight and starts to rub up and down her back, "It was a good intense though, I think we might be able to incorporate some of what I've learned in the routine for Nationals."
"That's awesome," Santana grins while Brittany lifts her head again.
"Yeah, I'm thinking of maybe using Alex? She's the best tumbler and this stunt I'm thinking of needs someone with her skill level," Brittany explains and Santana can tell she's about to start thinking out loud, "I could put her in after the basket toss? No wait, I can put her in before and it can lead to the basket toss? But the transition… I could use Kelly? She's the next best tumbler? What do you think?"
"I think whatever you decide is going to look great, but maybe let's give that genius brain of yours a rest?" Santana suggests once she sees the deepening crease between Brittany's brows return. She goes to smooth over it again, "At least just for tonight, okay? Don't want you to burn yourself out."
Brittany softens at that but her smile falters. She pulls away from Santana goes to pour herself a glass of water, keeping her back to Santana as she says, "This is nothing compared to how I was at MIT. I was on 24/7."
"Yeah, you've told me and how did that work out for you?" Santana challenges with her brow quirked. She can see Brittany's shoulders droop a little before she turns to lean against the sink.
"I don't know," Brittany says sarcastically, "It got the job done, didn't it?"
Santana's surprised to hear that tone, but she doesn't take it personally. Instead she calls out Brittany's name warningly, "Britt. You don't have to do that again, I know how hard it was on you. I don't want to see you put yourself through that."
"This routine has to be perfect, San," Brittany tries to tell her with determination in her eyes, "We have to win, we have to do this for Sue. It was like…her dying request and she specifically asked me, asked us. I don't want to let her down and I don't know what happens if we fail, maybe 100 years of bad luck?"
Santana can see Brittany slowly getting stuck in her head but she chuckles dryly, "I really don't think it works that way."
"Well, I don't want to wait around to find out. Things just started to turn around for me, I think I'm finally getting somewhere and I don't want to mess that up with losing Nationals. I feel like I've found what I'm meant to do and what I'm meant to do is get this team to Nationals and win," Brittany pauses to catch her breath before saying, "You and Quinn and Sue and the whole squad are counting on me to choreograph this routine and if I have to work my ass off to get us there then so be it."
Santana can clearly see now that Brittany's wound up so tight she's just about to explode from the stress and pressure. She had a hunch that it might be taking a turn with the extra hours Brittany was putting in at the studio, but she didn't think it was like this. Santana feels a twinge of guilt for how long she let this go on for. Brittany was always the master of hiding her feelings, especially when it came down to things like this where she was so worried of letting people down.
"Britt, you're no help to anyone if you push yourself too hard," Santana says softly but Brittany just glances away. Santana sighs at that and moves to close the distance between them, "Listen, you're a great choreographer and everyone is so grateful for the amount of work you do but, babe, you have got to give yourself a break too."
Brittany bites her lip at Santana's words.
"You're clearly the one with the most experience, but Quinn and I have some experience too. After all, I did spend some time at UofL and I'm pretty sure Quinn came out the womb with pompoms in her hands," Santana was pleased to see Brittany crack a small smile at the joke and took the moment to wrap her arms around her waist, "We can help you if you need us, all you have to do is ask."
When Brittany doesn't say anything, Santana squeezes at her hips and gives her sweet smile, "What do you say, hmm?"
Brittany rolls her eyes but she can't fight the smile that begs to match Santana's, "How can I argue when you're pulling a face like that?"
"That's what I thought. Now enough of that for tonight," Santana then rolls up to press a quick kiss to Brittany's lips before asking, "Are you hungry? I've got chicken nuggets in the oven and there's mac and cheese on the stove. I also made a salad that's in the fridge so we can still feel healthy. Oh! And also got that wine you like."
"Those are all of my favorite things."
"I know," Santana winks.
"That's perfect," Brittany beams as she runs her hands down Santana's arms, "Thank you, baby."
"I figured I could do this since you've had such a busy week," Santana replies casually, feeling a little bashfully beneath Brittany's gaze, "You've been working so hard."
"You're the best," Brittany tells her and dips down to kiss the tip of her nose, "Do I have time for a shower?"
Santana glances at the timer then back to Brittany, "Yeah, I just put them in so maybe like 20 minutes?"
"Sweet," Brittany starts to smirk as her hands settle on Santana's hips, "Do you have time for a shower?"
Santana giggles at that and doesn't even have to say yes before she's dragging Brittany to the bathroom, leaving a trail of clothes behind them.
An hour later, they're sitting on the couch freshly showered and their bellies full. Brittany has her head on Santana's lap while they watch some new reality show and Santana plays with the damp curls along Brittany's neck. Neither of them have said anything for awhile now and if it weren't for the occasional chuckles, Santana would've thought Brittany had fallen asleep.
It's then that Santana glances at the time and remembers the pile of laundry that she had forgotten to put on before she left for Brittany's. She hadn't realized how late it was getting so she starts to shift out from under Brittany to start cleaning up their empty plates.
"Where you goin'?" Brittany pouts once Santana is free.
"I'm just going to clean this before I go," Santana tells her as she gathers the plates.
"Go?" Brittany frowns and moves to crouch on her knees, following Santana with her eyes as she heads for the kitchen. She rests on the back of the couch and watches Santana take everything to the sink.
"Well yeah, I've got so much laundry to do. I completely forgot about it," Santana sighs as she starts the water.
"Do you have to though?"
"I'm dangerously low on panties."
"Since when is that a bad thing?"
Santana glances up to find Brittany smirking at her from the couch. She lets out a giggle as she shakes her head, "What's the point in buying all these cute sets from Victoria Secret if I don't wear them?"
"You have a point there," Brittany nods with this far away look in her eye, no doubt drifting into the gutter.
Santana leaves her with those thoughts and continues to do the rest of the dishes. She's so preoccupied with washing that she doesn't catch what Brittany says a moment later. She looks up when Brittany stands from the couch and starts to walk over to her looking perkier than before.
"I didn't hear what you said," Santana says because she feels like she's missed some joke or something but Brittany just smiles anyway.
"I said that you should just live here with me," Brittany repeats through her grin, "You should move in."
Santana's brows rise at the request and surprisingly she's a little taken off guard. Why? She has no idea, it seems like the next step to take anyway and it really would save time on having to go back and forth. Maybe it's because she hasn't lived with a significant other ever in her life and this is kind of big so naturally she's going to freak out a little.
Brittany seems to notice and starts to chuckle as she turns the water off and reaches for a dish towel to pass to Santana. The brunette dries off her hands but remains silent, thinking about Brittany's words.
"You practically live here already," Brittany explains, "You've got my spare key and a drawer in my dresser full of your clothes and everything. You might as well have some closet space too and maybe one of the shelves in the bathroom? We can have dinner together every night and you won't have to go home to do your laundry because I have a washing machine. We can go to sleep together and wake up together, it's like a never ending sleepover! Doesn't that sound awesome?"
Santana blinks and she doesn't realize she's smiling until Brittany's poking lightly at her dimple.
"You gonna say something or are you just gonna keep standing there being all cute again?" Brittany teases with this lopsided grin.
"I think that moving in with you is a capital idea," Santana finally says and her chest wells with pride. She planned on saying more, but Brittany had wrapped her up in a hug so fast that the rest of her words were knocked out of the way. Instead, she just laughs and hugs her back even tighter.
"We're so grown up now," Brittany jokes a moment later, "Living together and stuff."
"And stuff," Santana mocks lightly, "I honestly don't know when it happened…growing up."
Brittany just shrugs before kissing Santana's cheek, "Neither, but I'm glad I'm doing it with you."
Santana swoons on the spot and nearly drops down on one knee right then and there too.
They're all at practice the following Monday when Brittany starts to introduce the new routine to the squad. She ran it pass Santana and Quinn the day before and they've both given her any feedback they had, but it wasn't much because Brittany continuously comes up with amazing routines. Her background in dance and gymnastics combined with her years of cheerleading have created this awesome combination which makes her a fierce choreographer.
Santana's so damn proud of her. To think that Brittany almost gave this part of her up for good when she was at MIT, it blows Santana's mind. The sheer talent just oozes off of Brittany and the best part is that she's such a great teacher as well. She's the perfect amount of strict without being bitchy and the kids love her for that. They actually push themselves because they want to make her proud.
They want to make all of their coaches proud.
For the most part, they do. But there are some days when practice just drags on because the girls are just off of their game for some reason whether it be some outside distractions or drama. On those days, Santana gets to be very strict and she finds some joy in that.
Today though, it's a little bit of both. Santana can tell there's a rift going on with a couple girls which effects everyone else on the squad but there's also some excitement around learning the new routine so it balances out a little.
Santana's watching like a hawk though while the girls stretch and quickly spots some laziness.
"Excuse me, what is this?" Santana asks as she walks around one girl. She nudges at her foot, "Point your toe, I shouldn't have to say this to you when we're this far into the year."
The girl cowers away and corrects her mistake while Santana moves on but she doesn't get very far when she spots another error.
"Come on!" Santana groans and nudges the girl's foot too, "Why are we acting brand new, ladies? If I have to tell one more person to point their toes…"
Lucky for them, Santana doesn't spot any more of that and they're able to move on from warm-ups to conditioning. This is where Quinn takes over while Santana and Brittany hang back to watch everyone's form.
"You think Alex can do a back hand spring to a full?" Brittany asks quietly, "She's the top tumbler."
"She's also the best flyer and base. She's probably one of the only ones on the team that can do all three," Santana replies, "But don't tell her that, I don't want her head getting so big that it topples the pyramid."
"Like she doesn't know she's the best already," Brittany chuckles then calls out for Alex to come over.
"Yes Coach B?"
"Can you do a back hand spring to a full?" Brittany asks.
"That all?" Alex smirks before turning to walk over to the mats.
Santana and Brittany exchange a knowing look before watching what Alex can do.
It's really no surprise that she pulls it off effortlessly on the first try.
"Was that what you were looking for?" Alex asks upon jogging back over.
Brittany nods and jots down a note on her clipboard, "Yup, you'll need to work on your connection but I'll let you know if I decide to use you there. You can return to conditioning."
Alex looks a little surprised by Brittany's feedback but returns to the squad anyway.
When Santana glances over at Brittany's notes, she finds the blonde drawing a picture of a flower.
"I just wanted her to think I was writing something important," Brittany whispers, "But I'm totally going to use her for that one part. That was so awesome."
"So sneaky," Santana chuckles before they meet up with Quinn to run through the first 8-count of the new routine.
It's one of their more elaborate routines and definitely the hardest by far, but no one ever won Nationals by doing something easy. With the Cheerios' reputation and history of winning, there has to be certain standards and if anyone knows that, it's Santana, Brittany and Quinn.
They're about halfway through practice when a couple of the girls that Santana noticed at the start of practice begin to argue. She knew it was only a matter of time judging by the stink eye one was giving the other during warm-ups, so she was ready for this.
"Guys, chill!" Maddy tries breaking up the argument herself but the girls only go louder. When the pushing and hair pulling started up, Santana was quick to shut that down.
"Let go of each other right now or you're both out of here," Santana snaps as she pushes one girl away while Quinn moves the other. Santana grits her jaw and glares at the both of them, "I don't know what kind of drama is going on here and I don't care. I can tell you that it's not going to fly at practice though. You understand me?"
"Well if she wasn't so dam – "
"What?! Wasn't so what?!"
"Jesus," Santana groans before clapping her hands together, "Enough!"
The girls settle again, crossing their arms over their chests while Santana glares.
"You're a team, you have to trust each other and have each other's back because that is exactly how people get hurt. Whatever you've got going on, figure it out before you come in here. If you can't do that then there is no space for you on this team."
That threat surprised a lot of the girls, "But Coach S, Nationals is only four months away! We can't find a replacement that close."
"You're right we can't," Santana cuts off and whirls back on the two troublemakers, "So you two better do everything you can to sort this out or you'll cost the entire team Nationals. You want that? This is the last year to compete as a Cheerio for some girls here, you want to be the reason they can't win?"
"No Coach S," They said in unison, already looking remorseful.
Santana smirked at that, "Good. Get it together then."
Then she returned to her position in front of the squad where Brittany had been watching. The blonde smiled proudly at her before clapping her hands and taking a step towards the squad.
"Alright, let's take it from the top!" Brittany calls out then starts running through the counts.
It's taking everything in Santana to not bite her lip at the sight, because nothing is hotter than Brittany being strict. She makes these little sound effects when she's in the zone and Santana really can't help but let her thoughts drift a little.
"I think this is Brittany's best work yet," Quinn comments as she comes over to stand next to Santana. She's got her eyes on the girls, watching how they slowly get better and better after each run through.
Santana nods, "She's been working really hard on this one. Well, she works hard on every routine but more so this one. A lot is riding on this."
"We'll pull this off," Quinn says without hesitation, "This is a hardworking bunch so I'm not worried one bit. We've got this."
Santana soaks in Quinn's words and nods to agree. They've got less than four months to get this right, less than four months until they find out whether or not all their hard work has paid off.
10 Weeks Until Nationals;
The coaches stand back and anxiously watch as the squad attempts their 14th full out. It's rough at best and they can barely get through the entire routine without making at least five mistakes, but at least they're getting through it now.
"Push! Push! Push!" Quinn yells out over the music as Alex tumbles across the mat. Her technique is there but you can tell she's tired from the slight waver in her connections, but she pushes through and lands the final stunt perfectly.
"Yes!" Brittany cheers and she's jumping on her feet as the Alex returns to her position and they shift into the next 8 count. The blonde is nodding along with the music as she calls out the counts along with Santana.
"Get her up there!" Santana yells as one of the flyers struggles to get in position. They're going off beat now as they try to get her up there, but the coaches are proud of their determination.
"Let's go, let's go!" Brittany chants as they try to recover the lost time and move onto the next stunt. If they pull off this and the next stunt, this will be the first time they've executed the entire routine without the pyramid crumbling.
Quinn's bouncing in her spot while Brittany and Santana just look on while holding their breath.
Maddy completes the first basket toss, perfect. Denise is next and it lands, perfect. Lastly, it's Alex and she's launched into the air but Santana knows the minute that she lands that it's not good.
Her side of the pyramid collapses as Alex crumples to the mat holding her foot.
"Shit," Santana says under her breath and Brittany is quick to turn off the music. Quinn and a trainer are already running over to Alex while Santana is telling everyone to clear the mat and hit those crunches. She hangs back with Brittany while Quinn speaks with the trainer and they look over Alex.
"Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!" Alex groans as she writhes from side to side in pain. She's going red in the face as she slams her fist against the mat.
"Hey, easy. You're alright," Quinn hums as she tries to comfort the girl, "You're going to be fine."
By the looks of it, Santana can tell Alex is already starting to beat herself up about this and it's hard to watch. She and Brittany continue to wait off to the side though, not wanting to crow them.
"It doesn't look broken," Brittany comments as she goes to squeeze at Santana's shoulder. She gives her a hopeful smile, "I've seen enough broken bones by now to tell the difference."
"Let's hope it isn't," Santana sighs.
The trainer looks over Alex's injured foot for a moment before finally breaking the news, "Bad news: it's a sprain. Good news: it's minor."
Alex slumps back, a mix of relief and annoyance, and asks through gritted teeth, "Will I still be able to cheer at Nationals?"
The trainer looks uncertain, "Possibly. With enough rest, it should heal up in time but that's a big if."
"Great," Alex grumbles and soon Quinn and the trainer are helping her off the mat. Once they've got her tended to on the side, Quinn jogs over to Brittany and Santana to give them the news.
"What happened?" Santana asks urgently.
"Is anything broken?" Brittany questions just as eagerly.
Quinn shakes her head, "No, but the trainer is saying it's a sprained toe."
"Santana!" Brittany scolds.
"What?" Santana softens, "The girl has nine more."
Brittany and Quinn both shake her heads at her for that.
"You can come back from a sprain and Alex is a tough kid. She'll bounce back," Santana tries to recover, "We'll be okay. We'll just have to put someone else in her place for now."
"Like who?" Brittany asks and Santana can already see the worry forming.
"We'll use Kelly," Santana is quick to say then gives them both an encouraging smile, "She knows Alex's routine anyway."
Brittany nods like she's letting the thought roll around, "True, she just needs to work on like…everything."
"Better get back to it then?" Santana smirks.
Brittany doesn't seem comforted but Quinn jumps in next with the encouragement.
"She can do it, Britt. We just have to push her a little harder," Quinn says, "We're 10 weeks out, we've got to start testing those back up plans."
"Quinn's right," Santana adds, "You didn't spend hours and hours coming up with them for nothing. How about it?"
That seems to break Brittany out of her thoughts long enough to smile, "Okay yeah, we go this."
8 Weeks Until Nationals;
Quinn and Brittany are cheering on the squad as they attempt another full out. With Kelly in Alex's place, things have been a little choppy but it's getting there and the coaches are really pleased with the squad's improvement.
"Hold it," Quinn urges as one of the base girls struggles to lift a flyer up. She wavers but soon she's locked in place and the pyramid holds. That's the first time it has happened so far.
"Yes!" Brittany yells and she's bouncing up and down while pumping her first.
Quinn's right there with her and clapping her hands, "Great job, ladies!"
It's not the prettiest sight, but it's getting better and they're progressing fast. Santana can't stop glancing over at Brittany as she praises everyone, she's just so perfect in this role and she loves to see her girl this proud.
Santana smiles but then catches sight of Alex with her leg propped up on a bench off to the side. She's clapping for her teammates and on the surface she looks proud too, but Santana knows her better than that.
"How's the toe?" Santana asks after waltzing over.
"Put me in and we'll find out," Alex challenges without missing a beat. It makes Santana toss back her head with a hearty laugh.
"Not a chance, kid."
"Come on, Coach, I need to get back in there. I'll wrap it and I'll be fine," Alex just about pleads.
"You want to risk injuring yourself even further?" Santana shakes her head, "No way."
Alex frowns and slumps back against the wall, "This is stupid."
"Sure is," Santana chuckles then pats her on the top of her head, "You'll be back in soon."
When Santana leaves her side to rejoin Quinn and Santana, they're breathless from all the cheering.
"That was so awesome," Brittany beams while the squad winds down amongst themselves, "I bet they'll perfect this by next week."
"Definitely," Quinn agrees then calls for the squad to gather one last time before being dismissed. They're slow to come over, drained from such an intense practice and quickly packing up the mats.
"Great work today, everyone!" Brittany tells them happily, "Like really awesome job, we're going to crush it at Nationals for sure."
The squad looks pleased with the feedback as they start pumping each other up.
"Rest up, tomorrow we're focusing on stunts again," Quinn tells them and the rest of the coaches wave to everyone as they all begin to gather their belongings. Quinn goes off to lock up the equipment room which leaves Santana and Brittany by the bleachers packing up.
"God, I can't wait to go home," Santana sighs as she stuffs everything in her duffle, "I'm ready for a hot shower and I think we should order take out from that one place you love so much too and like veg out on the –"
Santana's words are cut off when she feels Brittany's lips press against her cheek. It catches her off guard but she turns to her and smiles like a dope.
"What was that for?" She asks when she finds Brittany grinning.
"You said home," Brittany tells her simply, "You called the apartment home. You've never called it that before."
Santana blushes at the fact and suddenly she feels a little shy about it, "It just came out."
"I know," Brittany smirks as she pulls her bag onto her shoulder, "That's what makes it so great."
Santana bites her lip at that and lifts her bag to her shoulder too. Soon Brittany's hand slides into Santana's and their fingers thread together. It's warm and soft and it makes Santana feel grounded.
"Let's go home."
"Okay," Santana grins and squeezes at Britt's hand before calling out over her shoulder towards the equipment room, "Hurry up, Q! We're about to leave your ass!"
6 Weeks Until Nationals;
Santana watches alongside with the rest of the coaches as Denise is tossed into the air and nearly collides with Maddy when securing her position. The shaky movements have the base girls struggling to get their footing and soon Denise crashes into Maddy and the two come toppling down. Their falls are broken so no one gets hurt, but that kind of mistake shouldn't be happening this far into practice.
"Listen to directions people!" Santana scolds, "Laura and Steph, you have to hold it. You can't just walk away, you have to try and save it. I've told you this so many times already. You have got to listen if you're gonna work on a team. This is how accidents happen."
"Sorry Coach," They frown and go to shake out their arms.
Santana just shakes her head, "Go back to conditioning."
She's got her hands on her hips and she's doing everything she can to keep Snixxx at bay. Brittany tries to comfort Santana as she puts some distance between the squad and her.
"You okay?" Brittany asks hesitantly as Santana goes for her water bottle.
"That could've ended so badly," She says after taking a drink. She glances over to where Quinn is working with Alex in some easy conditioning and adds, "Maddy and Denise could've been injured. We could've been down three girls."
"Yeah, but that didn't happen," Brittany tries and she places a comforting hand on Santana's arm, "It could've but it didn't. We're just going to have to make sure it never happens."
Santana sighs but nods along with Brittany in the end, "Why is this job so stressful? You know I found a grey hair last night? Just ridiculous, I did not sign up for this."
Brittany chuckles at her dramatics and pokes at Santana's side, "You make a great coach, babe."
"I guess," Santana grumbles playfully and plasters on a look of confidence before turning back to the squad, "Alright, let's do this again! We're not stopping until we get it right."
4 Weeks Until Nationals;
"Check this out, Coach S!" Alex calls out and goes to take a running start before tumbling across the mat. She hits a back hand spring to full and lands it perfectly, showing off a proud smile. Her teammates are jumping excitedly from the sidelines and Santana swears Maddy's cheers come be heard above them all.
"Glad to have you back," Santana smirks, "Now if you're done showing off maybe we can get back to this pyramid?"
"Going full out today," Alex nods resolutely and she jogs off as everyone takes their position.
"Let's see it then," Santana smiles proudly and turns back to Brittany and Quinn, "Record this. I have a good feeling about it."
Quinn nods and gets out her phone while Brittany waits by the speaker for the signal to start. Santana nods and turns back to the squad as they begin with the routine. Everyone is hitting their stunts and it's actually looking pretty flawless; even Alex falls back into place as if not time had been lost. Kelly looks even better than before with all the extra practice she's been putting in to fill Alex's place and it really rounds out the entire routine.
"Okay, here we go," Santana mumbles to herself as Maddy is thrown up, followed by Denise, then Alex and it all holds to form a perfect pyramid.
"Hold it, hold it!" Brittany chants and the girls hold their positions for a couple seconds longer before turning out and landing in their next position. Brittany claps and pumps her fist in the air, "That's it! Yes!"
When the music fades the girls are all cheering for each other after pulling off their first full out with Alex back that was more than perfect.
"I think we're almost there," Quinn comments quietly after stopping the recording, "That looked really good."
"Just need to stay on them," Santana adds, "It has to be perfect. They've got to be doing these moves in their sleep."
"They probably already do judging by that last full out," Brittany smirked.
The coaches all exchange a look of relief before breaking off to dismiss the girls for today's practice.
2 Days Until Nationals;
"I want you all to understand something before we get on this flight tomorrow," Quinn says once the squad gathers after another grueling practice. Santana and Brittany flank her as she speaks seriously, "These next couple of days aren't going to be a vacation just because we're in a new place. We're going to L.A. on a mission. We're going to win, there is no other option. When we go anywhere, you're representing this school and the long line of Cheerios that are looking to you to uphold this legacy. It is very serious and you all need to keep that in mind when you're out there. Understand?"
"Yes Coach," The team says in unison.
"Good," Quinn nods and looks between the other coaches, "Anything to add?"
"We're really proud of the progress you've made over the last few months," Brittany says through a smile, "Trust each other, know what you have to do. Go out there and do your job and represent us well."
"What Coach B said," Santana agrees, "And everyone please show up on time tomorrow morning. I know it's early but if I have to be up at the crack of dawn then so do you. I don't want to hear any complaints other than my own."
The squad nods and once they're happy with their final words until L.A., they dismiss the team for the night.
"This is it," Quinn says to Santana and Brittany. They all let out a sigh and the nerves are already there, but Santana's not sure they ever really left.
"Yeah, it is," Santana nods and they all exchange a look before she says, "We'll see you in the morning."
The trip from Lima to L.A. goes smoothly and after everyone gets checked into the hotel, the coaches are able to sneak off for an hour to meet up with Mercedes for coffee. It's not a whole lot of time, but they're happy that they're able to catch up with her and get a little break from the cheering even if it's only for an hour.
"You guys are going to kill it," Mercedes tells them, "I can't wait to see. I've never been to a cheer competition before."
"It's intense," Brittany says after taking a sip of her iced latte, "The energy there is like no other. These kids have really been busting their butts the whole year just for this moment. I guess it's kind of similar to Glee Club but no one gets thrown in the air for that."
"It'll be awesome," Santana adds and she squeezes at Brittany's thigh from under the table which earns her a smile, "Britt did an amazing job choreographing."
"So is this what you're planning to do now, Britt?" Mercedes asks, "You were always a bomb choreographer and I figured you'd go towards dance but sounds like you're doing a great job with cheerleading. You could open a studio or something? I heard Mike was doing something like that out in Chicago."
Santana's interest is piqued because she actually hasn't ever heard Brittany talk about what she wanted to do for a career. She knows she has a degree, but like Santana, she isn't really using it. Britt's just a natural when it comes to teaching, she lights up when she dances, but Santana stays quiet as she waits for Brittany's reply.
"A studio would be cool, but I haven't really made any concrete plans," She shrugs and chances a shy glance towards Santana, "Just going with the flow for now."
For some reason, the look makes Santana's stomach flip.
"That's cool," Mercedes nods and looks to Santana, "How about you, Satan? Any big plans when the school year ends, you gonna stay in Lima?"
Santana's stomach flips again. She wants to ask what's with the twenty questions but she knows Mercedes is genuinely curious. She's just a little on edge because she and Brittany haven't actually talked about what happens after the year is up. She has a plan, sort of, but it's not too in depth career-wise so she just speaks truthfully.
"I'm going wherever Britt goes," Santana replies and chances a glance at Brittany to find her grinning back.
Thankfully Brittany's too busy staring at Santana to notice the knowing look Quinn gives them both.
They spend the rest of the time catching up but soon they're back at the hotel, gathering the squad for practice. It's a different kind of energy practicing at the pop-up gym designated for the competing teams, but Santana can tell that the squad is pumped. Every full out is executed perfectly and they're at the point now where there are no longer any slip-ups.
But even with that in mind, once they get out there tomorrow anything could happen. They could perform the routine perfectly in practice like they have been but go out there end up making the easiest mistake. She has seen it happen to even the top rated squads so no one is exempt now matter how much you practice. All they can do know is hope that all their work pays off and that they'd done everything they can to prepare the squad for this moment.
Waking up the next morning, Santana can already tell it's going to be a day. Her stomach is still in knots after her shower and she can hardly keep her breakfast down. Brittany looks to her like she's going to fall apart at any moment, but Santana is tough.
Or at least, she can put on a brave face in front of everyone else.
"Here babe, drink this," Brittany offers Santana a bottle of ginger ale she must've picked up downstairs. Quinn's off showering while Santana sits at the edge of her and Brittany's bed trying to get thoughts together.
"Thanks," Santana smiles and starts to sip the drink slowly. She always hated how worked up she got for these sort of things. No matter what kind of pep talk she gave herself, she always ended up with an uneasy stomach.
Brittany comes to sit at the edge of the bed next to Santana and starts to rub comforting circles between her shoulder blades. When it came to competition day jitters, Brittany always handled them way better than Santana. Granted, her secret was waking up two hours before their alarm to go for a run to clear her mind. You couldn't get Santana to do that even if you bribed her with sex afterwards.
"I hate this feeling," Santana grumbles after taking a deep breath. She brings the bottle up to her lips again and goes for another sip, but she still feels so nauseous.
"I know you do," Brittany gives her an apologetic smile and continues to rub at her back, "They're going to be great out there, you know that."
"Yeah," Santana hums, "I know."
Quinn emerges a moment later and looks to Santana, "Still feeling shitty?"
"I should be good to go once I finish this," Santana says as she raises the bottle.
Quinn nods and sets off to finish getting ready while Santana and Brittany count down the minutes left before they need to start checking on the girls. With the start of the competition just a couple of hours away, they need to hurry up and get out there. The most practice they can get in before it's their time, the better.
"Love it. You look stunning. Great. Beautiful. Amazing," Brittany compliments each girl that passes her as the squad enters the practice space in a single file line. There are other competing squads around so the tension is already in the air.
"Did Jessica do this poof?" Santana smirks as another girl passes her by, "It looks so good! Snooki would be very proud."
"Higher the hair, the closer to God," Quinn comments as she gives each girl an approving nod.
Once everyone gets settled on the mat, the coaches go to stand in front of them. They eye everyone from their hair to their make upto their uniforms and everyone looks on point. That's an easy ten points right there! They go on the perform their routine in its entirety and even gain the attention of a couple other squads that aren't in the same bracket as them.
The coaches fill with pride upon seeing the awed expressions of the little audience they've gained. With completing another flawless execution, the onlookers clap and compliment the squad before dispersing. It's great for the girls' confidence and even settles some of Santana's nerves that are still hanging around.
Santana has entered the fight or flight mode level of her anxiousness and is working on pure adrenaline for the time being. In front of the squad, she still rules with an iron fist and drills perfection into everyone's heads even if she feels like puking every five minutes. With just fifteen minutes left until it's their time to perform, the start making their way to the stage.
Everyone's holding their heads high, determination in their eyes, as they walk through the sea of their competition. They all look fierce and the crowds part for them easily. There's just something about the Cheerios that have always commanded attention; is it the amount of wins or is it their reputation? Santana doesn't know, but she's not going to ask questions either. This is one of the awesome perks of the Cheerios legacy, everyone knows who they are.
It's also terrifying because Santana, Brittany and Quinn can either continue the tradition of winning or they can run the legacy right into the ground. Was Sue's faith in them misplaced or did she know something the three of them didn't? Did they do everything the can to secure a win? Did they do everything they can to prepare the squad?
These are the kind of thoughts that race through Santana's minds as the squad gathers backstage.
"Okay girls, listen up!" Quinn calls out and everyone quickly comes together for a huddle. They're all holding each other's hands tightly as Quinn speaks, "This is your moment, this is what you've been working so hard for all year. You're going to go out there and kill it. You already know what to do."
"No matter what we place," Santana adds, "You will wait and accept the award with a smile on your face. Then you will go over to whoever won first place and you will congratulate them. Get me?"
The girls all nod before Brittany begins to speak next.
"Who run the world?" She asks, trying to hype the girls up.
"I said, who run the world?" Brittany calls out again, this time a little louder.
"That's right," Brittany grins proudly then nods to the stage, "Go get'em."
It's the most nerve-racking 2:15 minutes of Santana's entire life, but she gets through it without passing out so that's a plus. She had been screaming her lungs out along with Brittany and Quinn from the front of the stage where they were allowed to watch. Her palms were sore from smacking them so hard against the mat and her voice was hoarse but she'd do it all over again because their girls fucking did the damn thing.
There were a couple places that were shakier than they were in practice and there might've been a close call halfway through the routine, but nothing too detrimental. At least, not in comparison to some of the other teams' mistakes she saw.
That First Place trophy was there's, it has to be!
The top five teams gather on stage and Santana's squeezing Brittany and Quinn's hands so tightly that she's beginning to lose feeling. She has to remind herself to breathe as she watches the man slide open envelope after envelope. They watch anxiously as the remaining awards are slowly given away and the feeling only intensifies the longer the Cheerios stand there.
It's a good thing, that means they've still got a shot at first.
The announcer couldn't be any slower though as he reads out the team names and Santana hates the ridiculous build up as he finally gets around to calling out the team who placed third.
It takes her a moment to realize it, but she's actually shaking from anticipation when he finally announces the Third Place winner.
She doesn't hear the name of the squad, she doesn't care.
All she knows is that it isn't their girls.
The Cheerios are now in the top two.
"Please, please," Santana hears Brittany mumble as the three of them watch on with high hope.
They worked their asses off, the coaches worked their asses off, they've got to win this!
The year has been full of development and Santana needs to hear their name, she needs to because these girls deserve it after losing their previous coach and having to deal with the three of them who have little experience.
She needs to hear their name because they need to be rewarded for how hard they worked for this, they need to be rewarded for the blood, sweat and tears they put into this.
She needs to hear their name because she, Brittany and Quinn never would've pictured themselves in this position. They never dreamed of being coaches; they weren't even talking before Sue roped them into doing this and now…to see how far they come, it would be gut-wrenching for them not to bring this win home.
"In Second Place," The announcer starts off before taking a pause, "With a score of 98.4633…"
Santana just about blacks out as the announcer calls out the Second Place winner. He waves his hand towards the designated squad as his colleague presents them with a significantly smaller trophy.
The Cheerios remain stoic, just as Santana told them, as they watch the trophy get handed out.
Santana squeezes on the hands she's holding a little tighter because the trophy is going to the team standing adjacent from the their girls.
"So in First Place with a score of 98.4751," The announcer is suddenly speaking quickly, "The William McKinley High School Cheerios!"
Santana hasn't felt this kind of high since winning Nationals in New York so she can only imagine how the kids feel toting around the giant Nationals trophy through the halls of WMHS upon their return to Lima.
Faculty and students watch on as they make their way through the halls and Santana can hear is the sound of We are the Champions playing through the loud speakers.
She's been replaying the moment the trophy was handed to the girls on stage back in L.A.; how Brittany lifted her in the air and spun around just as she always does, how Quinn scrambled to get climb on stage and nearly busted her ass getting up there, the feeling of pure accomplishment as they all gathered to have their picture taken.
They did it, they actually fucking did it.
They took this squad and managed to coach them all the way to Nationals without a bit of experience coaching and won.
They put their lives on hold and took on Sue's random proposition and succeeded.
So now what?
"Welcome Coaches!" Figgins greets loudly and he's standing behind his desk with his arms held out. If the desk wasn't in the way, Santana's sure he would go in for a hug, "And National Champions, congratulations!"
The three coaches bow their heads in thanks as they settle into their usual seats.
"As you know, Sue enlisted you three to lead the Cheerios to another win and you have accomplished that. Sue also promised a bonus if you were to place at Nationals."
"Yes. We know," Santana replies, already over the anticipation.
Figgins' smile falters as he goes to reach beneath his desk to retrieve a stack of tapes, "Sue left these behind as well. There is a tape for every instance you may have encountered," He starts to squint at the labels and read out the titles, "Didn't place at Sectionals? Disgrace. Didn't Place at Regionals? Shameful. Didn't Place at Nationals? Outrageous."
"None of those apply to us," Quinn states with furrowed brows.
Figgins smiles grows, "Yes. I have a tape for that too." He leans over to slide the tape into the VCR – why is that even a thing still, Santana will never know.
Soon the screen fills with Sue sitting at her desk. There's a proud smirk on her face as she greets the coaches, "Well, well, well…looks like you three aren't completely useless after all. If you're watching this, that means you actually took the squad all the way to Nationals and won. If that's not the case, Figgins…you're fired."
"She can't fire me," Figgins assures them, but the girls remain focused on the screen.
"You've managed to take this team worthy of greatness and lead them to victory. Without my tutelage, they would've failed but I had faith in you that you three would be able to carry on my legacy and – look at that – I wasn't wrong. Congratulations ladies, you've earned this. Figgins! Hand out the envelopes."
Figgins nods as if Sue is really there and starts to pass out three envelopes.
"I am a woman of my word so inside those envelopes you will find the bonus checks I promised to you at the beginning of the year."
Santana's eyes go wide as she counts the zeroes, "How in the hell?"
"Don't question where it comes from, Sandbags," Sue points out and Santana pales at the call out. Maybe Sue really is there in spirit? "You've earned it ladies, I'm sure the squad put you through hell but maybe now you can understand why I am the way that I am. Or was? I'm technically speaking to you from beyond."
Brittany chuckles at that but Santana's still in shock from the amount of money jotted down on this check.
"The odds were against you this year and truthfully, I didn't think you'd get this far. Maybe place first at Sectionals, because anyone can place first there, but Nationals is a whole other thing. You exceeded my expectations of you and for that, I have one thing left to ask."
"Here we go," Quinn mumbles as the three of them scoot to the edges of their seat in anticipation for what's about to come.
"You've managed to take this team all the way to Nationals with little experience and you won," Sue reiterates, "That is the making of true greatness, I would know. Not just anyone is worthy of this role, so extend the offer to you three once more. Coach the girls again, bring home another win, uphold the Cheerios legacy. Give it one more year. The same offer will continue to renew for as long as you decide to stay."
Then the tape cuts out and the screen goes black.
Santana, Brittany and Quinn are left there staring at the screen as if it'll give it more answers. Santana doesn't know what to think, she doesn't know how to react. She just sits there and lets it all soak in.
Another offer. One more year. Stay in Lima.
"Well Coaches, the decision is yours," Figgins says after a moment, "You have time to think it over, but I do hope you return. We would be so lucky to have you all coach for us again."
Santana doesn't really hear anything Quinn says as she stands, but she takes note of Brittany's movements too and follows them both out of the room when they turn to leave. Her mind is moving a mile a minute and the bonus check weighs heavily in her hand. She made enough money over the year to return to New York and this bonus check is enough to find a way nicer place than she had before.
But that's just a big chunk of money that she'll have to chip away over time, how long will it last? Could she return to working at the Spotlight Diner just to make ends meet when it all runs out? Could she even go back to that after the kind of accomplishments she earned while coaching? Does she have any idea what she wants to after this?
"You look like you're going to explode," Brittany comments as she nudges Santana.
Santana blinks slowly and realizes that they're out in the parking lot. She sees Quinn hanging back a little while Brittany rests against the car. Santana tries to smile at them both, "It's a lot to take in."
"Yeah," Brittany chuckles lightly and reaches out to hold Santana's hand.
"Like Figgins said, we've got time to decide," Quinn shrugs as she takes out her car keys, "You guys talk about it and let me know what you want to do. Okay?"
"Yeah, that sounds good," Brittany nods and looks to Santana expectantly.
"Yeah, I can do that," Santana says too.
"Okay, well I'm going to head off then," Quinn replies and goes to hug them both, "I'll see you both on Monday."
Once Quinn leaves, Brittany and Santana linger by Brittany's car. They don't move to get in, just rest against it in silence. It's not awkward but there's some tension there that Santana's starts to hate the longer it stays.
"Do you want to – "
"It's good money, Britt," Santana blurts out and she's already so deep in thought. She has been since leaving Figgins' office.
Brittany softens, "San – "
"There's benefits and it's stable, the hours aren't ridiculous and the kids aren't so bad," Santana starts to list aloud. She pauses for a moment, "But it's Lima and I don't know how I feel about staying here…because it's Lima. We always said we'd get out of here and we did but coming back was never part of the plan. But the plan…it's not exactly what it once was because none of this was apart of the plan. The plan involved living in New York – "
"You don't have to do this now," Brittany offers as she turns to look at Santana, "There's time to talk about this."
Santana can see what looks like sadness or maybe worry in blue eyes and Santana wonders why that is as she says, "I know but I can't just push it aside, not when it's something this big. I'm just going to keep thinking about it until we decide."
"Wait…We?" Brittany questions and suddenly the sadness fades, "As in, you and I?"
Santana smiles at her surprised tone, "Well, yeah? You're my girlfriend, Britt, we do things together. We decide on things together. This isn't just my choice, not when it effects you too."
Brittany blinks like she's taken aback and that surprises Santana.
"I – I thought…" Brittany stammers and a shy smile finds its way onto her lips as she shakes her head, "Nevermind, it was a silly thought."
Did she think they weren't going to do this together? Did she think she was going to leave her behind again? Santana can't help but wonder.
"We've done the whole trying to do what's best for each other without actually talking about it and that never ends well," Santana adds as she pulls Brittany towards her. Her hands settle on her hips and Brittany's instantly run up Santana's arms, "And like I've said all year, I want to do things right this time. I want us to work. So I think we should go home and talk about this, because I don't want to make this decision without us both being on the same page. Does that sound alright with you?"
"Yes," The smile Brittany gives her is the brightest, most hopeful Santana's ever seen before. It's almost has her dropping down on one knee for maybe the third time all week.
Next Friday really can't come fast enough.
A/N - Fun fact, I didn't know who was going to win Nationals until I wrote that scene. I was tossing up between first and second place all the way to the very end.